Some quick impressions on the 4th of July Pride cruise to Grand Turk, HMC, and Freeport.
The Ship: Beautiful, spotless, well maintained. The Renaissance decor lends interest to your stay on board. DW and I did not find the ship to be overly dark, as some previous reviewers have stated. If you're one who likes to pretend that women don't have boobies, that men look like Ken dolls under their shorts, and that children must at all costs be protected from the horrors of human anatomy, pick another boat.
The Cabins: Very nice, very clean, and roomy enough for 2 (tight for more than that). The balcony is nice, but reading on a rocking boat while the water rushes by below is a bit like reading in a car. You can only take so much. The boat did pitch and roll a bit more that we expected. Took some getting used to, and the seas were not particularly rough.
The Pools. They are very small, we didn't even bother with them, other than lying next to them all day with fruity drink in hand. Which was not such a bad thing. The so-called adult pool at the stern was anything but, as Carnival did not enforce the no-kids rule. That said, we did not see much of a problem with noisy or unruly kids on the boat, even though this was a midsummer cruise.
Shipboard life: The shows were generally good. Some of the comics were excellent. The ventriloquist in particular was hilarious. We were expecting a cheesy, poorly executed Jeff Dunham knockoff, but it turned out to be quite a good Jeff Dunham knockoff. Afternoons onboard can drag a little if you're not into donating to the casino. We embraced the traditional midday nap, helped considerably by the not so traditional midday pina colada. "Cruise Director Kirk" got a little annoying at times, but that's pretty much his job I guess.
The Food: A previous reviewer complained about the lack of "normal" food in the buffet in favor of "all that fancy stuff." My initial reaction was "it's a dining experience, grow up and expand your horizons a little!" HOWEVER, after experiencing firsthand a week of Eggplant Doo-Dahs and Fromage-avec-I-don't-know-what's, I could sympathize. Many a time I would have killed for something recognizeable— a simple piece of chicken, or maybe a Chinese dish without those little octopuses in it. Something between haute cuisine and haute dogs.
The Pizza: Mediocre and greasy. Note to Carnival: Buy an extra can or two of sauce, and use it.
The coffee: Sludge. Bilge water. Horrible stuff. Note to Carnival, fire your coffee chef and make the (extra cost) premium stuff available free as part of the package.
The water: Quite good. We just refilled a water bottle from the buffet fountains or (we're not squeamish), the bathroom sink in our cabin. Don't waste your $$ on bottled water.
The 24-hr a day Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt: Better than sex.
The main dining room fare was generally good, not great. Portions were a bit on the skimpy side, but of course you can order 12 of everything if you're so inclined. The singing-dancing waiter schtick was entertaining. Spent all our money on booze so we did not try David's ?
The Ports: Grand Turk was the most interesting, as long as you're willing to get your tush out of the massive, multi-million dollar cruise terminal that Carnival constructed to protect you from coming into contact with any actual local culture. The cruise terminal is essentially an extension of the boat, so you might as well stay on board if that's the only place you intend to go on this stop. The island has some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. It is, however, a bit of a 3rd world country so be prepared to see some ramshackle areas and farm animals roaming the streets. We walked through the main town, met some of the locals, and always felt safe.
Half Moon Cay is as beautiful as previous reviewers said it is. Take an excursion here and spend the rest of the day on the beach. We considered renting a cabana, decided not to, and realized that it would have been a waste of $$, as we spent most of the day exploring the island and only an hour or 2 on the beach. YMMV.
Freeport: Basically a shopping stop because there's not a lot of time to do much else. The public beach at Lacaya is beautiful and has some snorkeling opportunities. The shopping is touristy, but we had fun with it. Be prepared for very uncomfortable weather, as in hot and humid. Getting from the port to the shopping areas and back is simple, the cabs line up for you at both ends.
Overall impression: A great time, and we would do it again. And we probably will.
HEY CARNIVAL, here's what sucked:
The useless "Port Shopping Guides" that steered you only to the Carnival-affiliated outlets, 80% of which were jewelry stores. What is it with cruise ships and jewelry sales anyway? I felt like I was on the Gold and Diamond Tour of the Bahamas.
The paparazzi constantly taking your picture and hawking the photos.
Allowing people to reserve deck chairs the moment they are put out in the morning, and hold them all day with a towel. Carnival makes no attempt to enforce its policy against this.
The price of drinks. Now, I don't EVER want to be stuck on a ship where there is free unlimited alcohol. Because people are idiots. And I realize that Carnival has to do some onboard "revenue collection" to make it all work. But $8 per to a captive weeklong audience is gouging, pure and simple. Readers should feel no guilt for smuggling their own favorite liquids onboard.
The extra cost for activities that should be included in the price. Come on Carnival, morning aerobics on the Lido deck should be part of the package!