We have cruised Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean since our last Carnival cruise, swearing never to sail with them again. But the pricing value was just so advantageous that we decided to take a chance and go again.
Embarkation did not bode well for me: Miami was a zoo, in spite of our having arrived early. Multiple lines with long queues were daunting, as was all the walking and shoving through throngs of people. Although we booked a year in advance, Carnival had us on a wait list for My Time Dining, so our first stop was to arrange that. After a line at Guest Services, we were sent to a line for the maitre d'. He did facilitate that.
After that, things looked up! The cabin, aft with extended balcony, was just what we expected, but no amenities except shower gel and shampoo in dispensers in the shower. I had to ask for bar soap for the sink! The room was in good condition; and Daniel, our steward, served us very well all week, including remembering we needed extra hand towels each day, and always having plenty of ice. We never got a key for the mini-bar and there were no directions for that, which didn't matter to us, but seemed weird. Warning! The safe needs to be secured by swiping a credit card, which means you have to carry your credit card with you all the time. Someone gave me a good tip: any mag strip card will work. I locked up my credit card and used my AAA card. A WalMart gift card with a minimal amount on it is a good purchase, if you have no other mag strip cards. Other cruise lines allow you to set your own combination and lock up your credit cards. The only other complaint about the room is that the room service menu is very limited. Breakfast only has continental available and the rest of the menu is pretty limited to sandwiches and a couple of salads and a few uninspired desserts. We would have enjoyed breakfast on the balcony and evening hors d'oeuvres, but that was not to be.
We usually ate in the dining room, rather than the buffet, except for lunch on sea days and one breakfast when we needed to debark early. The public rooms were very nice, not as glitzy as most Carnival ships, and with a continued theme of heroes and heroism. Entertainment was good, but not great. Service was excellent in the room, in the dining room, and at the pools and bars, always attentive. The food as well was good, not great. Except the melting chocolate cake. I don't even like chocolate and loved it! I also appreciated the availability of the spa menu and some fruit based and sugar-free desserts. I consider it a success that I only gained one pound over the week! Fish meals were mostly delicious. The salads were good, but the Caesar was uninspired.
Selection of activities on board on sea days was pretty standard. None of the pools was big enough to swim in, and all were very crowded on sea days. And someone had an infant in diapers in the adults only pool, even after being asked to remove her.
I used the gym twice. The treadmills are all lined up in front of oceanfront windows, but they are only chest high, so you can't see out while walking! The track on the sky deck was much more pleasant. There was a decent selection of weight benches and free weights and the gym and locker rooms were clean. Most classes incur an extra fee, except the morning stretch and abs classes. There were no aerobics or water aerobics classes or Tai Chi offered, which I found unusual and lacking.
Embarkation and debarkation on shore days was crowded but went smoothly and quickly. The itinerary, Grand Cayman, Isla Roatan, Belize, Cozumel, was very much to our liking and we chose well with our shore excursions. The ship sailed PROMPTLY at sailaway time, so don't lag behind until the last minute!
The Guest Services desk was most helpful and patient with all sorts of requests. I found all the people I encountered to be very service oriented and tuned in to individual needs and requests. However, Carnival's corporate policies are not as customer friendly. There are no facilities to change hard and fast rules (like switching to My Time Dining before sailing!)and service people are restricted to apologies, which always seemed genuine. The staff on board so seem to like working on this ship, which is a tribute to management.
I took the galley tour. If you enjoy cooking or are in any restaurant business, this is a must-do. It was fascinating and, to me, amazing. I ended up buying the Carnival Creations cookbook at the formal wear shop.
We are in our early 60's, but fit and active. We were definitely the "Grandparents of the Cruise." Couples we connected with all compared us to their parents and called us "Pop" and "Mama" or "Mamacita." That was okay; mostly we kept up with them, but didn't drink a lot, which would have surely slowed us down!
Someone had complained about the aggressive photographers. We found it easy to say "No, thank you," and they complied without making it uncomfortable. On the other hand, I do like purchasing some of the photos. Realize, this is where Carnival makes big profits, along with the bar and casino, not on the cruise fares. If you go with other people, have them take pictures of you, and you do the same for them. We often asked other cruisers to please snap us together at critical vista points, then offered to do the same for them. The ship photos are very over-priced, but are all you have left after you lose the weight you gained!
We were so pleased with the value for the dollar-ship, food, service- that we purchased the certificate for a deposit on our next Carnival cruise. And this was after having sworn never to sail with them again. NO, it's not top-notch cruising luxury, but it was lots of fun and you get more than what you pay for!