We are a 37 year old married couple, who have cruised 5 previous times on Royal Caribbean, and this is our second on Carnival. We are traveling with our 4 year old daughter (first cruise for her), and my parents, 57/62 years old who have cruised 3 times on Holland America. This is their first time on Carnival. We cruised Carnival 5 years ago for our honeymoon, and though nothing about them blew us away at the time, we gave them another try because we have grown a bit bored with Royal Caribbean's (RC) itineraries. We were excited to visit Costa Rica and Panama.
Let me preface this review by saying that we are not "negative" travelers. When I've read the more negative reviews on these boards, I've always taken them with a grain of salt, because, really, how bad can a cruise be? That being said, I am sorry to say that this will take a rather negative tone, even though all in all we still had a good time. Just not the great time that we are used to on RC.
We flew in a day early and stayed at the Comfort Inn Airport/Cruiseport on Stirling Ave. in Hollywood. For $90 we got a pretty decent room that was quiet, had a good free breakfast and a nice pool area with grill and music. The vanity sink light did not work, so we had to use the bathroom light to see the mirror, but the vent fan in the bathroom was so loud that we just said forget it. There was a fridge in the room but it smelled terrible and was unusable, but we didn't really need it for one night anyway. There is a KMart and Big Lots within a short walking distance, which we visited to buy water & such, but there are very few places to eat. Next door is a Taco Bell, followed by Mcdonald's, and a Chipotle across the busy street. That's it. We waited over 30 minutes in line at McDonald's (with only one person in line in front of us)only to be told that they were out of three things we tried to order. Hmmmmm... I would still recommend the hotel, but now I know why they had their own grill fired up at the pool. Use it! The free shuttles worked very well.
We took the 9:45am shuttle, and were able to just leave our bags on the curb since we had our cruise tags already attached. That was nice, and we appreciated being able to do so, but I'll never get used to the rude porters demanding tips. Our porter took our $5 tip and two of our bags, then just left us standing with the rest of our bags. We had to call him back over for the rest of our bags, then he demanded another tip, which we were afraid to not give him. We always tip well for their hard work, but prefer not to do so twice! We then followed the sign pointing to check in, which led nowhere. We had to ask where to go, and were told to go to the red carpet and follow it. So we walked back past the sign with the arrow pointing in the opposite direction, to the red carpet, which had a sign stating it was VIP check in. Well, we're not VIP's(except in our own mind, of course), so we were completely confused. We went on in here anyway, and had a very quick check in. There never seemed to be a long line while we were in the terminal. We were allowed on board around noon. There are soda machines in the terminal waiting area, but no free refreshments like at RC, nor did we ever see any restrooms. Embarkation was quick and easy.
We went straight up to the Lido, and the confusion began. Though there never really seemed to be a crowd per se, the lines are terrible. As previous reviews have stated, the Lido setup is awful. There are several different foods stations and lines, but you can't tell what's being served in each line without waiting through each line. There are menus posted at the beginning of each line, but you still can't "see" if it's what you want to eat. The Lido is our biggest complaint of the whole cruise. Not only were the lines terrible and annoying, but the selection is awful. It sounds great to say you can get a hamburger or a grilled sandwich or pizza or stirfry or fish, but you're on your own if you want anything else with it. My ideal meal was a sandwich from the grill, fries, and a salad, but the get that, I had to wait through three different lines. Every day. That got old, and by then end of the week, we just didn't care anymore. We would make do with whatever we could grab, and then were starving by dinner. Honestly, it just wasn't worth fighting the separate lines, and I am an eater! I love food, and always look forward to cruise ship dining. We had the Monglian Grill embarkation day, because I had read so many great things about it. It was okay, but there is no rice, so I had this nice bowl of chicken, veggies, and sauce, but no side dish to enjoy. I ended up setting it down at the table with my family while I went in search of rice, thinking there has to some around there somewhere, right? I then went throught the grand buffet line, where I got a salad and saw literally nothing else that looked appetizing. Drinks are served in kid sized cups, and only on the first day was there someone walking around with refills. We learned to just make 3 trips to the drink station or fill up a tray with drinks before we sat down to eat. The grand buffet was a joke every day, with nothing appealing on it. The deli sandwiches were good, but it always had a long line, and there were no chips or fries available here. The grill had tortilla chips, cheese, salsa (though I use that term loosley), chili, chicken strips, burgers, hot dogs, and grilled chicken. The burgers were consistently overcooked shoeleather and were inedible. Great in theory, just not in reality. The pizzaria was pretty good, and you could at least get a caesar salad at the same station here. I was really looking forward to the Fish N Chips station, and again, at least there were fries available here as well, but the fish was SO greasy. So, to beat a dead horse, the Lido food was just not good. And I won't even get started on the breakfast, which was just as bad with even less selection. Okay, well, I have to give a minute to the "bacon police" that we've read so much about. I honestly thought that I wouldn't care about that, because I figured it was their way of keeping people from crunching the bacon to smithereens in search of the perfect piece. But, what it really is, is portion control. For one thing, the bacon was digustingly limp, greasy and fatty, so after a few days of that I gave up anyway. There was also the "ham police", who would dole out one half slice of ham, about the size of three matchbooks. If you want to have some fun, just ask for another slice. The first time I did, the attendant acted as if he didn't hear me. The second time, he actually turned away and left his station until I moved on. And guess what, the same thing happened when I asked for a second slice the next day. It seems that must be what they're told to do to keep usage down. By about the third day, it had become the "hot food police", and now every hot entree was served by an attendant, even the toast. I had given up having any protein for breakfast by this point anyway, but seriously, now I have to beg for my bagel? At lunch, one day I had fried chicken--one teeny partial breast portion--and had to wait for the attendant to finish serving meat to about 5 people before he could serve me some mashed potatoes. We tried the Lido for dinner one night when the dining room menu was not the greatest, and will never do that again. It was AWFUL, and had NO selection. There was no beef to be found, anywhere.
The dining room food was excellent, however. I had printed the menus off these boards and zydecocruiser.com, so I was prepared. There were a few discrepancies, so I'll try to list what I had each night so you can determine the correct order of the menus. Embarkation night I had shrimp cocktail, ordered the cream of tomato soup, but never got it, flat iron steak which was served with mac and cheese and creamed peas and carrots, and creme brulee. The steak and mac and cheese was excellent, though it sat on our table for a good ten minutes while our waiter tried to track down A-1 sauce. There was no New York Strip steak, nor asparagus soup, as listed on the menus on the boards. The creme brulee was also excellent, and a huge portion. On night 2(formal night) I had shrimp cocktail, lobster and shrimp served with broccoli (no risotto as listed), I ordered a baked potato that I never got (starting to get worried at this trend, but this was thankfully the end of it), and the apple puff pastry. Everything was excellent, except the dessert. It was bland, dry, and hard. Night 3 was the disasterous night that we decided to go to the Lido because the menu didn't look great. It is the menu that has the Petite Marmite and Langoustino cocktail apps. Night 4 was the chicken quesedilla (just okay, very black beany), field greens ( which I was really looking forward to because of the pics I've seen of the "cheddar melt"on it which looks like 2 fried cheesesticks, but alas, the cheddarmelt is no more. Now it's just the field greens, which were still good, just a typical salad), and instead of an entree I had 2 shrimp cocktail and a baked potato, and the first of many warm chocolate melting cakes (WCMC). The WCMC is more like hot pudding than cake, but it was delicious. Night 5 was fried mozzarella (excellent), caesar salad (it is made with anchovy paste, and you can taste that, FYI), seafood newburg ( I did not care for this)and WCMC. Night 6 was chicken breast in thai spices ( just okay), filet mignon over short ribs (delicious)and......WCMC! Night 7(formal night) was corn chowder (excellent, really good soup), griled shrimp (my favorite thing all week, served with yummy creamy pototes and charred cauliflower--really very good!)and WCMC. The last night was the crab cake (pretty good), shrimp cocktail, panko crusted shrimp(delicious, thought the corn medley under it was gross)and WCMC. The dining room food was very good, but the service, while adequate, was not what we are used to on RC. The waiters never asked our names, nor attempted to get to know our preferences. I asked for iced tea on the first night, figuring it would be waiting for me each night after that, but after I asked again the second night, I didn't bother to on subsequent nights. I felt a little like I was bothering them by asking. We were also never offered an additional entree, or brought out anything new to try. Not that that is a make it or break it for me, but that is what we are used to from RC. We were always offered a 2nd piece of bread, though the choices never varied from night to night. Portions were good, and food temp was just right. I must make a note here that our table location was horrid! We were placed at a table in the lobby of the dining room. As in, you walk through the vestibule doors in the dining room, and it was as if they threw up two more tables to squeeze a few more in. So, every person that enered or left had to turn sideways to get past our table, but everyone sure got a good look at what we were eating! It felt like we were the proverbial "kids table" at Thanksgiving! After the second night, though, we didn't really mind. Our waiter apparently only had three tables, one being a very large 12-14 seater, and no one ever showed up at those tables, so we had very fast service, which was nice. Just lacking a little in personalization. We did breakfast in the dining room one day, and it was nice and relaxing.
The ship itsself was very clean, with a confusing layout, and the infamous decor we've read so much about. I agree with previous reviewers, that the decor is pretty over the top, but I didn't pay any attention to it after the first day. You have to take the glass elevators when you first embark: you are surrounded by reptile-like paint and then as the elevator moves, all the colored lights in the atrium look like snake eyes. Weird. All I can say is, weird. The layout is very frustrating, and we never did quite get the hang of it. If we were going from our cabin on deck one to the dining room on deck 3, we first had to go to deck 5, walk across the ship, then back down to deck 3, because deck 3 does not go across the whole ship. So remember, deck 5 will get you where you need to go, Frustrating! The pools were nice, and we did see them drained and cleaned quite a bit. The Serenity area is very nice, with very comfy furniture. Go early to get a seat. I wish I could have spent more time there. The baskeball court is a joke, not even worth having, and we always spend a lot of time here on RC ships. Mini golf looked nice, there was a corn hole game sat out every now and then, and there were plenty of deck chairs. I'm not sure where the "chair hogging" comes into play, unless you want one right by the pool. There are literally hundreds of chairs around the sides of the ship. Other than that, there isn't much else to do. We were actually a little bored at times. There are very few planned activities. The "Funtimes" (used to be the Capers)was really a waste of paper. I did keep them all, if anyone has specific questions, but there just wasn't a lot going on. We attended the "Big Easy" show, and it was good, but waaaay too long. The hyptnotist show was great according to my parents. We got in the habit of afternoon naps, followed by room service, which was great. They offer the best lunch on board, and worth the couple of bucks in tips to get everthing you want from one place.
Our cabin was 1285, which we booked as an outside guarantee (GU). I was pretty leery of this, as I don' like the unknown, but the price difference to book an outside versus the GU was ridiculous. Our cabin actually turned out to be great, and we were able to even be only two doors down from my parents, also on a GU. Only problem was the overwhelming smell of vomit near the couch (which was made into my daughter's bed.) Terrible! Ugh! But our cabin attendant took care of that best he could while we were at dinner. It makes it tough, as no fresh air gets in there. Tuesday night, when we hit rough seas, my daughter vomited on that same spot by the couch, but fortunately I had the foresight to put a towel by the floor when she went to bed with an upset stomach. I think that spot is cursed! The crew advised us that seas are always very rough between Cozumel and Panama, so for about 3 days, we had a pretty rough voyage, with the night we left Panama being the worst. 14 foot waves, and a whole lotta people sick. FYI, the couch makes up very nicely into a large bed, big enough for an adult, but it stays made up the whole cruise. It doesn't get made back into a couch during the day. Cabin was large and nice. You can check the lunch and dinner menus on the TV. We had a connecting cabin, and the people in the cabin next to us smoked constantly, to the point that we could smell and actually see the smoke come through the adjoining door, which made our cabin smell like smoke too. But, they were quiet, so we didn't want to stir up trouble. We had a fridge in the cabin, but it was never unlocked so we could use it. Too bad for them, because I bet it was full of goodies my 4 year old would have whined for until she got them. Speaking of my 4 year old. I cannot say enough good things about Camp Carnival. Excellent! She loved it, and they really did a lot of neat things and sent her back with a lot of nice souvenirs. For free! I wished we would have utilized the Camp dinner service for her before the next to last night instead of dragging her to the dining room with us. She had a great time eating with the other kids, and Camp took care of it all. Excellent job all around. We tipped the Camp counselors on the last day, and they seemed shocked to get it. They earned every penny.
Ports: In Cozumel, we took a taxi ($13 each way) to Paradise Beach. Not the best we've been to. Water was murky and full of plant life, and only about a 10 foot section of sand is available to enter the water from. The rest is all sharp rocks. Husband bought $12 wristband to use water toys, but only went down twice, as he was worn out after the long swim to get out to them. $2 to rent one lounge chair. We had an excellent lunch here (menu at paradisebeach.com)but 2 entrees, an order of nachos, and 2 cokes was $51. Ouch! Plus, the flies were so bad we could hardly eat. Literally, the waiter brought us aluminum foil to put over our plates between bites, plus set up a fan next to our table, and the flies were still terrible. Shops at the pier are nice, and T shirts start at $4. Nice port.
In Costa Rica, we booked a tour through Oscar Brown. It was okay, but not as advertised. We were picked up in a car, not a van, for the 5 of us plus the driver. He took us around the countryside, pointing out EVERY school we passed (apparently they are VERY proud of their schools)on the way to our Tortuguero Canal tour. The Canal tour was about an hour, and was just okay. Too long for our 4 year old. He then took us to the banana plantation, which was a short stay, but interesting. We were given one bottle of water here, but no snacks. He then took us to a supermarket, which we were really looking forward to, but it was too confusing to try to figure out what the products were and the prices. No English anywhere. We did see the universal Pepsi symbol, and figured we got the 20 oz bottle for about 80 cents. Ground coffee was about $1.50 a bag, with beans being around $3.00. Never did get vanilla, because I couldn't tell if the package was pure or imitation. Might want to look up that translation before you go, if you're interested. Our tour guide never took us to the bamboo trade school, cocoa bean farm, or white sand beach as advertised, and we're still not sure if the advertised city tour, rich area and highest part of the city is what we saw. There is a small flea market off the dock that is fun to look in, but there isn't much air moving though it, so it is HOT! There are also booths inside offering hair braiding, and manicures and pedicures. Nothing picturesque at the terminal itself. Costa Rica was just okay, not as lush and beautiful as I expected.
In Panama, we booked a tour with myfriendmario.com. This was on a actual bus, which was very well kept. Our only complaint about this tour is the amount of time we spent waiting on this one family that was late getting back from every stop. The tour was to depart at 7:40am. Everyone else was on board and getting antsy to go, but at 8:30 we were still waiting for this family. Finally they showed up, and we were supposed to have a 20 minute drive to the Locks, which ended up taking 3 hours (yes, 3 hours)because they wanted to stop and look at every tree in the rainforest while the rest of us waited on the bus. Then we get to a restroom stop, and they were again the last people back on the bus. More time wasted waiting for them. We then went to the San Lorenzo Fort, where we were supposed to have 30 minutes. ONE HOUR and 30 minutes later, they got back on the bus. Growlllllll. The Fort was beautiful though. Then, on to the Gatun Locks, where we now only have 45 minutes left to see what we've all traveled all this way to see. On the way, our tour guide offered another restroom stop, to which the entire bus yelled a resounding "NO!!!", and then we could hear other people saying what we were thinking, which was that we really needed to go, but didn't want to lose another hour waiting on the one family to get back on board. So, first order of business at the Locks was to go to the one restroom, and wait 30 minutes in line. Yeah, try doing that with a 4 year old. By this time, though, we were all wise to the tricks, and stayed at the viewing area for as long as we wanted, until we saw that one family start to move toward the exit. So, we ended up having enough time to see everything at the Canal, and guess who was still the last on the bus? We really enjoyed what we saw on this tour, but it was infuriating that the guide would not take control. I can only hope that family tipped him well. It was a looooonnnnggg day for the rest of us. We were served water, glass bottled soda (yum), beer, emapanadas (homemade meat pies that were pretty good), expired Doritos (so hungry we didn't care) and lemon cookies on the bus. We got back to the pier with just a few minutes to spare, which really was okay, since there is really only one shop in the terminal. T shirts were $5 for white, $10 for colors.
We enjoyed getting to see a part of the world that most only dream about, but Carnival just isn't for us. We like Royal Caribbean's personal service, and food setup much better, plus their ships just can't be beat. The Carnival Freedom was a very clean and spacious ship, but the lack of activities just made it seems boring. One last thing that I always look forward to is the library paperback swap. On this ship, the library was only open for an hour or so in the evenings, and the paperback swap shelf was kept locked other than these times, so there were no books available there. I missed the open shelves of RC, where I could scope out new fun reads, and pass mine on for someone else to enjoy.
There's really no such thing as a bad cruise, but some are just better than others. We'll be going back to RC.