Background Information: We are a family of 5, but only 4 of us went, as our 19yo DD is in college and her spring break did not coincide with ours. So, it was myself and my DH (early-mid 40's) and our two DS ages 17 and 13. This was my 10th cruise overall (7th with Carnival), and probably DH's 8th overall and the boys' 7th overall. We have also cruised with NCL twice and Costa once. We have most often sailed 4-day itineraries, but have done 3, 4, 5, and 7 day cruises throughout the years. We have sailed from almost every southern US homeport: Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale, Pt. Canaveral, Miami, Tampa, Charleston, and now NOLA. We choose cruises by cost, itinerary, fit with kids' schedules, and driving distance from Ohio and/or our relative's home in eastern Florida.
Travel To Port of Embarkation: We drove from central Ohio to NOLA overnight Saturday/Sunday. The drive is easy as far as it being all highways. We hit two major accidents with unmarked detours (thank goodness for GPS on my I Phone!), and a large thunderstorm system on the way down. This caused the drive to be over 16 hours (Mapquest estimated 14.25 hours). We would do it again though, rather than pay over $1000 for four people to fly, and pay for transfers/baggage fees etc.
Hotel Info: We booked the Courtyard Convention Center with a two-queen room including parking for the week for around $147 including taxes. This saved us the $80 to park at the cruise terminal, so it was a great deal. One drawback is they do not offer free breakfast. Parking was in an attached covered lot with do-it-yourself parking with in/out privileges. It seemed very secure. We arrived at around 1:00pm and our room was ready. We asked for and got a room facing the pool with a balcony. I would stay there again if we ever go back to NOLA with a car. The hotel is 3 blocks from the port and Riverwalk, and close to the Aquarium and about a 15-minute walk to the French Quarter.
Embarkation: DH and I took the large luggage over to the terminal in our car to check with the porter. The drop-off area was well-organized and they had very friendly porters. We were back at the hotel around 10:15 to get the small bags and the boys, parked the car, and walked the 3 blocks to the Riverwalk and over to the terminal from there. It is a very do-able walk with small, wheeled luggage. We arrived at the line to get into the terminal around 11:00. Lines were short and embarkation was very, very organized and quick. We were walking on the ship before noon (we were in zone 7 for boarding).
Ship Info/Stateroom: Our IS cabin seemed smaller than what I remember from the Fantasy class ships. I think there was more space dedicated to closets, the in-room vanity counter, and the bathroom, leaving less floor space in the room itself. They still have the big corner console where the TV sits with the life vests stowed inside (I was on Inspiration a while back and they had removed these and had the TV hanging from the ceiling). The nice big bathroom counter with a shelf below and a medicine cabinet was nice. Our bunks were down out of the ceiling when we arrived, which was strange as they are usually up until after they do the turn down service (after dinner). We weren't in there much during the day anyway, so no big deal.
We had dinner in the Paris dining room on deck 3 (lower level, aft dining room). We were assigned a booth for just the 4 of us. This was nice, but the booth lacked comfort because the bench was low and/or the table too high! The table, when seated, was almost up to my neck! Also, the dining room was dark, so picture us 40-somethings trying to read menus without reading glasses and not being able to do that thing you have to do to get focused on what you're reading because the table is so high. Those of you over 40 know exactly what I mean! Anyway, this was a minor irritation, but minor irritations can add up after a while.
The ship was clean and most things were in good working order. Exceptions would be the midship elevators due to a "rogue turn" after leaving Progreso, which dumped the lido pool contents. I wasn't up there when it happened, but I heard from someone who was that the water was about mid-calf deep on the deck. The elevators in the middle got wet and were inoperable for the rest of that night into the next day. (I have seen this happen once on a smaller ship in bad weather and the water from the pool wiped out a drink waiter carrying a tray.) This time it was strange because the seas were not that bad, so I'm not really sure what caused the sudden list other than wind and a too-sharp turn. Someone on our roll call said they heard that the cabins below had water coming in too. I feel bad for those folks, but what can you do? It's not like they did it on purpose or something.
The boys complained about the arcade machines not working well. The machine you use your card in to get game tokens was inoperable for most of the cruise. The games were mostly $1.25 each, and sometimes they weren't working right either.
Public areas were always clean. The ice cream machines weren't working well the first day. Food lines were long on the Lido deck/buffet, but there are other options nearby, so don't waste time waiting in long lines. For example, there is an Asian station just inside the Lido restaurant, as well as a deli station which both had no lines ever.
Speaking of lines at the buffet...we discovered the third morning there is a station with most of the hot breakfast lines set up in the middle of the inside part of the buffet---where they have desserts and stuff during the day. Nobody was taking advantage of it, so no line for us in the morning any more! Just look for it in the morning and avoid the long lines at the main line/outside line.
The ship does have a few dead-ends on decks 3-4 where the galley is between the dining rooms, or where the middle dining room blocks forward/aft passage. I never did quite remember that and got a bit frustrated a couple times trying to get where I wanted to be. Best thing to do is use a floor with cabins on it to go from back to front and then go up or down to wherever you want from there.
Activities/Entertainment: Casino was so-so for us this cruise. We are not high-rollers, but we enjoy the casino on cruises. DH and I went to the casino for about 45 minutes the first night. The slots were very tight the first night. I didn't see anyone doing well. Craps has a $10 minimum bet, so no craps for DH. However, the craps table was always hopping at night. We went to the casino again the next night, and it was a little better than the night before (like I was entertained at a penny slot for about an hour for $20). Eventually, they ate all my money, but at least I got to play for a while (unlike the first night). It seemed better each night, really. We had a little more cash left to donate to the casino on the last night. I took $15 and made it last like 4 hours on a penny slot! Had a couple of small wins that I gave to DH so he could promptly go donate it at the BJ table. He said playing slots to him is like death by a million paper cuts. I think losing all your $ in 5 minutes at blackjack is like watching your still beating heart ripped out of your chest as you die a fast horrible death. LOL! We have to agree to disagree on our preferred methods of giving all our money to the casino!
I did see one person win like $4K on a penny slot one night, and one person won $2500 on a quarter machine another night. Blackjack had $5 minimums, but was always crowded during prime time in the evenings. They have limited your betting options on the slots too. For example, you can bet as many credits per line as you want, but you can only choose 9 lines on the penny slots. They disabled the 3, 5, 18, and how ever many other line choices the machines are made with. Minimum bet on a "penny" slot is now 18 cents by the way they have them set up. This is fine for most, because lots of players like to bet max anyway. However, the max bet is also lowered because you can only use 9 lines. I'm sure the payouts are much reduced that way somehow.
The shows were great according to DH! I never went to any of them, but he saw the magic show and the "R" rated burlesque show. He said it wasn't really R rated, and both were very good talent-wise and the effects/lighting, etc. were really impressive. We enjoyed the evening music and karaoke near the casino each evening.
The "Love and Marriage" show (aka the Newlywed game) was great as usual! We went hoping to be selected as the "middle" couple as we have been married 20 years. Turns out, they said the "middle" couple had to be married between 10-15 years, so we were out of the running for that! Yet another "ship on a stick" I wouldn't be getting. I guess we'll have to wait to play the game as the "older" couple after we've been married over 50 years or something! The game was absolutely hilarious as usual! This was one of my favorite activities, as it is on every cruise. Kind of strange they held it in the middle of the last afternoon the last day though.
Service: The cabin steward, Bambang from the Phillipines was really nice (excellent service). He spoke my name every time I saw him (which was a lot). We had a "Premium bon Voyage Package" from the Ocean Player's club (casino people) which included 2 large water bottles, a $15 photo coupon, and a large fruit, cheese, cracker basket with a bottle of white wine. Nice. I put the wine on ice in the small room ice bucket. When we returned from dinner, the steward had obtained one of those buckets from the "buckets of beer" they sell and filled it with ice to put the wine in. He kept it filled all week too. I thought that was a very nice touch, and thanked him for it. We received excellent cabin service from our steward and his assistant. Towel animals every night, room made up magically whenever we were all out of the cabin in the morning and evening (we don't keep regular hours—so I was impressed that they stayed on top of it). Top 3 cabin service out of all our cruises for sure.
Dining room service was friendly, but hit-and-miss as far as timing. I felt that our servers were rushed, and couldn't spend the time to give us that "cared-for" feeling. I am not picky at all, but it just seemed a bit off this cruise.
Service desk (aka purser's desk) had great service whenever I went there to set up our on-board account, ask a question, check the balance, etc. Very friendly and efficient.
Port & Shore Excursions: Progreso-We had booked our tour to the Uxmal ruins in advance through Autoprogreso Tours. They were waiting for us with a sign with my name on it. We paid for our tour at that time with cash (they also take credit cards), were given wristbands, and were led to the shuttle bus. This company is the same company that Carnival uses to do their tours, and they are the company that runs all the free shuttles from the pier over to the mainland (over the 4.5 mile pier) into Progreso. The buses are modern, comfy, and air-conditioned. The guide gives a little historical info and explains that the return buses leave every 20 minutes. The last shuttle is at 3:30 SHIP time...he was very specific about that. They also hawked their tours in case anyone on the bus was looking for something to do.
At the end of the drive, you are dropped off at a small shopping area (very good prices if you want to buy souvenirs). Both ends of the shuttle ride had good restrooms and good shopping with non-pushy vendors. If you want to buy, I would shop here rather than Cozumel because the prices are better and the vendors less pushy. We had to wait about 30 minutes for our tour bus to the ruins. When the bus arrived, we grabbed the front row of seats to have a good view of the sights. The tour guide, Gerardo gave a talk for about the first 45 minutes of our 1.5-hour ride to the ruins. His talk was very interesting. DH particularly liked sitting up front because he could ask lots of questions.
When you arrive at the ruins, there is a small shopping area with nice, clean restroom facilities, very few vendors, and relatively few other tourists. We chose the Uxmal ruins over the Chichen Itza ruins because it was ½ hour closer to the port and we'd read about large crowds and aggressive vendors at Chichen Itza. We were not disappointed with our choice! Our tour guide walked us through the majority of the ruins area, giving history of the area and the Mayan culture. That part was around an hour. Then, he left us at the pyramid where you can climb to the top and view the whole ruins complex. I did not climb it, nor did DS2, but DH and DS 1 did. It is a steep climb and the way down would have been scary to me, so I took pictures of them from below! There are no hand-holds or anything like there would be at such a place if it were in the US. You have to side-step down the pyramid. This place is right up there with visiting somewhere like Roman or Egyptian ruins. It was a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing! For $49/pp through the local tour operator, it was truly priceless...I think Carnival charges around 2.5 times that per person for the same tour.
After walking through the ruins, we ate a very quick lunch at the restaurant there. We ordered two appetizers and an entrEe, plus 4 waters, and they gave you chips/salsa. The total cost of lunch was $30 plus tip. We were a bit rushed at that time b/c there was one family on the tour who were from the Carnival Ecstasy that was to leave an hour before our ship. Honestly, if I were that family, I would not have booked this excursion. They had to be back on board by 2:30 for a 3:00 sailaway. The bus arrived at the dock (15 minute walk through crowds at the shopping area from there to ships) around 2:00, but if there had been a traffic issue or something on the way back, they would have been late.
Cozumel- We had planned to get off the ship around 9:15 and grab a taxi to Nachi Cocom. The ship was still not docked at 9:40 and the CD came on and said we'd be docking in about 10-15 minutes and then it would be another 10-15 minutes to clear customs or whatever. Now, she is still telling us we're only docking 30 minutes late even though at 9:30 we are already 40 minutes late, plus there is still 20-30 minutes until ppl will be able to debark? Must be that new British-CD-Jen math or something! We didn't really care because we were going to Nachi, which opens at 10:00 Coz time anyway, plus they gave us an extra 30 minutes for returning to the ship (5:00 instead of 4:30). Problem would be if you had a scheduled excursion booked outside of Carnival early in the morning.
Debarkation at Cozumel was an absolute cluster that morning! Ship-sponsored tours scheduled for 9:30 or 10:00 were being held for a half-hour, with the rest leaving as planned. We walked down to deck 1 to make our way forward to the forward deck 0 exit and encountered a line back to the middle elevator area. This was around 10:15. We waited about 15 minutes to get to the front lobby on deck 1, and then decided to hop an elevator down to 0. Good plan! Next time, we will go up a couple floors and take the elevator right down to deck 0 and miss the line.
I think the wait to get off was so bad partly because we were late arriving and partly because Ecstasy's gangplank was directly across from ours. With the photographers holding up the line, it made for quite a crowd in that area just outside. Hundreds of ppl getting off all in the same space is not a good idea. They should alternate gangplanks or something (like one ship uses the middle/rear door and the other uses the front).
We made a beeline to the taxi stand and grabbed a car (not a van) taxi to get to Nachi. TIP: If you have 4 ppl, take a car, not a van. It is cheaper per person to do it that way for some strange reason. The cab was $15 plus tip each way. It is about a 10-minute ride to Nachi form the taxi stand. We arrived around 11:15, so it was about an hour total from when we started trying to get off the ship. Not too bad.
Nachi Cocom is a great all-inclusive beach for $49/adult and $29/teen. It can bee booked online through Island Marketing, and includes open bar and a 3 course lunch. They only let 100 people in/day, so it is not crowded. You are assigned a palapa with a chair for each person. The kids can have all the pop or frozen virgin drinks they want all day, and adults can try various frozen adult drinks, regular mixed drinks, beer, etc. I find this a more economical and relaxing option than some of the busier beaches such as Playa Mia and Paradise Beach. If you want lots of action and beach toys, this place is not for you. They do have wave runners for rent or you can purchase a snorkeling tour. We just sat around enjoying the beach, food, drink, pool/hot tub, swim-up bar, etc. This is truly a paradise. The food/service wasn't as good as we remembered it from 4 years ago, but we had tipped up front that time, which we waited until the end this time, so that may have been a factor. We stayed there until about 3:45. A few minutes before you leave, you tell them to order a taxi and it will be there waiting when you walk out.
Dining: Don't get me wrong, most of the food was good, and the service was generally good, but there was always one thing that either didn't come, didn't come as ordered, or was not delivered in a timely manner at each meal we had in the MDR (4 dinners and two lunches x 4 people). I will acknowledge that our dinner servers had their work cut out for them with a large high school group in our section, but we had to make an effort to not be too fussy about the little things.
Dinners varied from really bad to really good. It seemed that the beef dishes were generally bad, except for the prime rib, which they offered two nights. The desserts were really good. I especially enjoyed the warm chocolate melting cake (with two ice creams), and the crème brulee. Lobster night/elegant night was the best! The lobster tails were really good this time. The BBQ ribs were great on the last night.
Childrens' Clubs: This was a downer for us this time. Our 13 yo son finally warmed up to Circle C after a couple of days, but our 17 year-old HS junior son never really clicked with club O2. It seemed like they really didn't have many organized activities for that age group besides just "hanging out."
Disembarkation: We missed the time for the luggage cut off at 11:00 the last night! First time I've ever made that mistake. I had all the big bags packed, but just forgot to put them out before we went out for the evening! I called the purser's desk when we got back and they said just put them out ant they make another bag run at 5:00 in the morning. The bags did arrive safely in the terminal the next morning at debarkation. We had luggage tag #19. They started calling self-assist around 7:15. Ours was called around 9:15. It took about 45 minutes total to debark, and we found our luggage instantly. They have a very organized system at the port of NOLA. DH and DS1 went to the hotel to bring the car while DS2 and I waited with the luggage at the terminal. That took about 30 minutes. We loaded up the car and were on the road by about 10:45 or so. It is very easy to get to the highway from the port.
Summary: A cruise is what you make of it! This was not our best cruise (not in my top 5, really). But, it was a cruise and I didn't have to make beds, do laundry, wash dishes, go to work, etc! Thanks for reading! If you have specific questions you can send e-mail to yahoo dot com using the prefix/username mommy3k3. There were a million kids on this cruise! We always sail at Thanksgiving or spring break, and this was the first time I noticed that it seemed half the passengers were under 21. It was verging on too many kids for my tastes, and the sheer volume of teens may have actually been detrimental to my sons' enjoyment of the kids clubs.
We might go back to Fantasy class on Carnival since we like the smaller feeling and better layout of the ships/cabins. We also are thinking of trying Costa again, as we all agreed that that was our best cruise ever (2008) since our first cruise as a family together on Sensation in 2001. Overall, service was excellent (a strong point), but the food has taken a downturn for sure (our biggest complaint this cruise). Everything else remained pretty much on par with our other Carnival cruises. If the price, itinerary, and timing are right, we will definitely be back on a Carnival cruise sometime soon. We would also sail out of New Orleans again, but would like to add a little more time there pre-cruise—so much to see, so little time!