This was our first cruise and after spending past vacations at all inclusive resorts, we were concerned this would not be as fun for us. I have to say how wrong that belief was! This was a great intro to the cruising world for us. My husband and I are in our late 30s with no kids. I booked this cruise before finding Cruise Critic's website. After reading reviews and being on the message boards here, I worried that the amount of children on the boat would drive us mad. I have to say that this ship and crew did a wonderful job of balancing adults only with families on the ship in regards to activities so I never was bothered by the kids onboard.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We had a 6 hour drive to Jacksonville and once we arrived at 12:30pm, getting on the ship did not take forever compared to flying somewhere. When we dropped off our luggage, we did not know our cabin assignment. The porter looked us up, fixed our tags with a Sharpie pen, and off we went into the terminal, no problems. When going through lines I had a small cooler with a bag of ice and my insulin in it and no one made me dump the ice. Representatives asked about it and when I told them it was to keep my insulin cold, they let me straight through. It was so easy compared to flying somewhere. We were on the ship by 1:45pm and our cabin was ready.
We were assigned a cabin on the Riviera deck. The room was bigger than I anticipated (I had sailed on ferries over in Europe where the rooms are like coffins) and very clean. I had been told by customer service upon booking that there would be a small fridge for my insulin in the room when I boarded the ship. We were also expecting a fruit, cheese, and wine basket in the cabin which wasn't there yet. A quick visit to the guest services desk fixed that and we had both the fridge and basket within an hour of going to the desk. I was impressed at the crew's friendly attitude and customer service skills. The cabin was kept spotless throughout our cruise and our steward was nice when we did see him. I didn't mind not seeing him all the time because I knew he had been there with the Fun Times, chocolates, and towel animals left for us. Loved these little touches, so did my husband!
Ship does look a little dated in some ways as neon lighting is everywhere in the center area of the ship. I have to say all the floors and carpets were very clean as were the public bathrooms. There were tons of little areas where you could sit and be away from other people, which was very nice. My only complaint is that you cannot smoke in the Serenity area, which is adults only. I would have thought at least one side of the area would have been smoking but that was not the case. My husband and I enjoyed the pool on the Lido deck (plan to go swimming after breakfast and you will have plenty of room to swim around) and the water slide area. It was easy to get to all the areas of the ship very quickly and you will get exercise from walking around. My blood sugar stayed in normal range the whole trip due to all the walking I did (which is incredible when you take into account how many deserts I ate from the Lido buffet!). If we didn't feel like walking, the elevators were fast, with little wait time.
I felt the dining was a big part of why I enjoyed my time on this ship. Having been at all inclusive resorts before, I expected to be disappointed. I was not disappointed at all! We did the Lido buffet for breakfast (much better than the dining room at breakfast, more choices of foods and omelets made to order), Lido for lunch (either the buffet, pizza or deli sandwiches), and the dining room for dinner. We loved the dining room for dinner. The portions were just the right size, you could order more than one entrEe if you wished to, and the service was incredible! The staff were so attentive and you didn't have to be dressed to the nines, even on formal night (unless you enjoy that kind of thing). The desserts are to die for and if you have a super sweet tooth, eat at the dining room and then head down to the Lido and hit their desert table. Tons desert choices at lunch and dinner, more than you will see in the dining room. Room service is fast and friendly and nothing too fancy but a nice thing to have access to.
If you drink, make sure you bring a bottle of wine per passenger to reduce what you will spend on alcoholic drinks. I watched alot of people spend hundreds of dollars on booze before they even realized it. We ended up spending very little on alcohol from taking time to search the message boards here to find best drink values. Make a plan and stick to it so you don't go broke!!!!
There were so many activities, you cannot do them all. I hated that I could not fit in all the things I wanted to! If you do not want to leave the ship on a port day, there are plenty of activities for you to participate in. The children on the boat seemed to really enjoy the activities that were available for them. You will not be bored on this ship if you do not enjoy lazing around, there is plenty to do. Make sure you go to the afternoon tea during sea days, this was a nice activity that many on the ship did not take advantage of. I am not sure why, how often do you have an opportunity to have a quiet afternoon with dainty sandwiches and pastries at no additional charge to you?
I felt all the staff were friendly and helpful. The representatives at Guest Services were very helpful at fixing issues if you had any. The dining staff were attentive and fun. I loved the singing and dancing they did at dinner. When I booked my cruise, I listed a special occasion as my anniversary with my husband. I totally forgot about it until the first night of the cruise when we were in the dining room and our wait staff and maitre de came over with a piece of cake, singing to us. The maitre de used a spoon to put frosting on my lips and then put a cloth napkin in front of us, telling my husband to "clean that frosting off." It was silly and kind of embarrassing, but totally fun. In the Lido area there is a less service and attention to detail, since it is buffet style but if you ask for help or need something, a staff member will help immediately. The folks who work behind the bars were super nice, always ready to refill my cup since I got a Soda card. After a refill or two, I didn't even have to remind them I needed diet coke, they always remembered! My only complaint about service is when we ordered room service we were told to put the trays outside of our door when we were finished and they would be picked up shortly. We had one tray that sat outside of our door for almost 24 hours. That kind of grossed me out.
We were disappointed in the casino and wished we had done more research on this before we left. The starting bids on the tables were pretty high if you are a casual gambler. We were hoping to find $1 tables and all of them were $5 minimum. Too rich for our blood so we just played some slots. We did like that you can smoke in the casino.
We found it difficult to get seating at most of the shows as they were packed with other passengers. Often we stood at the back of the theater and watched some of the shows this way. The shows were cheesy and campy, but really fun. Do not miss the comedy shows, you will die laughing at these. We saw all the comedy shows we could onboard, really worth it even if there are no seats available. The entertainment I enjoyed the most was a gentleman who was outside of the casino in the evenings, playing guitar and singing. His name is JJ Paolino and I spent more time at that little bar near the casino than anywhere else. He plays a big catalog of music like Jack Johnson, Maroon 5, Jason Mraz, the signer songwriter type of music. Do not miss this guy if you want to hear some fun, chill out beachy music that is not cheesy. You can check him out on iTunes if you want to hear his music style before you get to the ship.
Port & Shore Excursions
We did not book our shore excursions through Carnival. In Freeport we took a taxi to Port Lucaya and did some walking around by ourselves. We also did research before we went on vacation as to where to get cracked conch in Freeport. We went to Billy Joes on the beach and it was great! We booked an all inclusive water sports trip for Nassau through the web with an independent company. When we arrived at port, we found that the port was really well organized and the locals were really nice. Be careful as you come out of the port building, there are a ton of women who want to braid your hair. There are plenty of locals there who can set you up with an excursion or a carriage ride around the city if you feel adventurous and didn't book an excursion through Carnival. The independent company was on time to pick us up and take us to our excursion. We snorkeled, had included chicken and rice lunch, rode jetskis, took a banana boat ride, and parasailed. Upon finishing the excursion we were brought back to welcome center so we went shopping. I enjoyed the Nassau port more than Freeport so I plan on going back there again on a future cruise.
I felt like Carnival did a good job of giving us the info we needed to be ready to disembark. Luggage tags and instructions were on our bed the last full day of the cruise. We were the last group to disembark so there was a bit of waiting around after breakfast to be allowed off the ship. Customs was pretty quick and we were back in our car within 30 minutes of being let off the ship.
We really enjoyed our first cruise and we learned that we need a longer cruise next time we go. 4 nights is not enough, especially if you want some relaxing downtime. I would sail on this ship again but plan on looking for other destinations and ships for our next cruise. I am already planning our next cruise for February. I would definitely suggest cruising to others and this particular cruise is a great starter/beginners cruise. It's not such a big ship that you feel overwhelmed but you do get spoiled.