Let me start off by saying that although I did not have a great experience on my cruise, I still had a great vacation, because it was much better than being at work or in the cold weather at home, and the ports of call were great. We also met some great friends on the ship.
That being said...
This was my first cruise on Carnival. After reading tons of reviews, I thought for the price it was a good choice. I had only cruised on the Norwegian Pearl in the past, so this is all I had to compare it to.
We flew into Miami 3 days before the cruise and stayed at the Richmond Hotel in Miami Beach. It is an oceanfront hotel. I think we paid about $130 a night for the room. The hotel was rated a 3.5/4 star hotel out of 5 stars, so I thought this would be a safe choice. It was located a couple of blocks from the Lincoln Road Mall and was close to many shops and restaurants. The location was great. We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel and I believe it costed approximately $25 total. We walked everywhere while we stayed at this hotel and it was fine. The hotel itself is not a luxury hotel, but it was by far one of the cleaner and quieter hotels I have stayed at in South Beach, for this price. I would stay here again for a few days. I would not stay here, if this was going to be the only place I was on vacation, or for longer than a few days.
We arrived at the port around 11:45am. We walked inside and this is about when the chaos began. There were people everywhere going in all different directions, creating it hard to walk or get anywhere and the lines were very long. I think after all was said and done we were on the ship at about 1:15-1:30PM. Some may say that is normal, but we arrived at the same time last year for NCL and the process was a lot smoother and it only took us about 20 minutes to get on the ship. I think we stood in line for about an hour to check in and then sat the rest of the time, waiting to be called to get on.
Also, when we got to the port, we were handed a sheet of paper telling us that two of our ports(Roatan and Cozumel) had been switched around, so we were scrambling trying to contact the private excursions we booked and seeing if we could switch days. We weren't able to get in contact with them until after our ship left, so we paid about $25 in internet fees trying to email with them before we got to the port. Beware of this, because many people on the ship were saying Carnival has been doing this a lot lately, at the last minute, without a reason. The speculation was that, this gets people to book the last minute excursions with Carnival, or to book with Carnival in the future for excursions, to avoid this stress with private excursions. I just think they should tell you a few days before your cruise, if they plan on doing this.
Once we got on the ship, we wanted to get something to eat, so we headed to Rosies Restaurant, where the buffet is set up. There were not enough tables for everyone to sit down at, so you had to wait for one to open up. The buffet area is set up horribly and does not flow nicely, creating lots of chaos and crowding. Standing in line at the buffet line took a long time, and when we finally got our food, I was not impressed. So far, NCL was better.
After eating, we got into our room. We booked an ocean view room. It was much larger than our inside room we had on NCL. However, we soon came to realize it was a little noisy. I know this has a lot to do with where we were located and that is to blame. We were deck 2 midship. This didn't bother me too much. I was usually so exhausted by the end of the day from the sun, that I slept great! ?
First Day at Sea:
We spent this day on the lido deck laying in the sun and reading. We quickly found our favorite place to go. We went all the way up to deck 14, where it was less crowded and really quiet. We always found chairs. There were a lot available. We did go down and check out the adult only area and it was very musty and had a weird smell to it. It was also mostly enclosed(this is probably the reason for the smell), and we wanted the fresh air and view of the water, so we never went here. Also, there were always younger kids yelling and running around(even though it was adults only!), so we just avoided this area. It didn't really bother us, because I like being outside.
We had pizza for lunch from the 24 hour pizza place and it was pretty good. (Not too hard to screw up pizza!) This was the first elegant night, so we dressed up and went to the Lincoln Dining Room to eat around 8pm. We had anytime dining and to our surprise, we had to wait about an hour for a table. We had to get on a waiting list for a pager, because they did not have any pagers left either! Once we finally got to eat, we thought the food was good. It was much better than the food at the buffet. Also, if you are looking to dine at a table for two, they will accommodate you, but they put about a 2 inch space between your table and the next couple's, so it is not a private table, and you end up talking to the people next to you anyways, because it's a little awkward if you don't. ? This turned out to be fine with us, because we enjoyed meeting new friends. It was just different than what we were used to on NCL and having more privacy.
To pass the time, we walked around the ship and took a few pictures with the many photographers set up. We didn't end up buying any of the pictures because for one 8x10 it was about $22. I can blow up one of my own pics from my camera for a few dollars, so I wasn't going to pay $22 for one that had me posed like I was at prom in high school with my hubby. ?
All in all, it was a very relaxing day at sea. The weather was beautiful and the sun was warm. The food in the dining room was much better than the food at the buffet, so we had a great dinner once we finally were able to get a table.
Grand Cayman Islands
This was our favorite port!! I loved this island. It is absolutely beautiful!!! We booked a private excursion to Sting Ray City through Moby Dick Tours and it was awesome. It was about $40pp, and included a snorkeling trip, the sting ray city stop, and then going to 7 mile beach to wrap up the day. I would HIGHLY recommend this private tour. The guides were great and the entire process was very comfortable. It was a great day. When we got back to the port, we were greeted with a line that started at the ship that wrapped all the way down the street and around a building. I'd say it was about 2,000 people long. They only had one door open to get back on the ship and only one tender boat going back and forth, for all of these people. I think we stood in line in the sun for about 45 minutes to an hour to get back on the ship. We noticed after this, that this was a trend throughout the rest of the cruise and not just a one time occurrence. The Carnival employees also were not informing people of what was going on, or updating us on anything. They also did not apologize for anything. It just seemed like there was not any organization or leadership going on with the employees. It was just pure chaos.
We arrived in Cozumel and were told that all Carnival water based excursions were canceled due to high winds. My husband was looking forward to diving this day and was really upset that he didn't get to do it. (If we would have been to Cozumel on Friday, like originally planned, he would have been able to, because the winds died down at the end of the week.) I think there was an announcement that morning that we could go down and get off the ship at anytime. So we got up with what seemed like EVERYONE else on the ship and made our way down to the one gangway that was open. We got to about the 3rd floor and then we had to stand in a line that wrapped all the way down the back of the ship. The line went from the door to get out, up a flight of stairs and then down one of the cabin hallways and wrapped back around the other way. We waited for about 1 hour to get off the ship in this congested line that wound throughout the cabin hallways on the ship. There were no other announcements about what to do or what was happening. People were cutting and shoving and getting crabby with each other. I'll just say everyone was VERY irritated by the time they got off the ship, and many people missed their shore excursions that day, if they had a private one booked. Also, there were not any Carnival employees trying to control or organize the long line that had formed. I would think this would be a fire hazard to block so many hallways and stairs.
Once we got off the ship, we took a taxi to a beach that was quiet and not very touristy. I can not remember the name, but it was pretty nice. The water was still choppy, but it was an ok day. It did start raining half way through, but we went up to the bar with another couple we met and had some drinks, until it was time to go back. Once we got back, getting back on the ship was much easier for some reason. That was a relief!!!
We woke up and looked out the window to see dark cloudy skies, and rain! ? We had an excursion planned for this day to go to Goff's Caye. We booked private for this one as well, through Island Marketing. This was a tender port, so we waited to hear any instructions. None came. We asked a passing employee in the hallway who told us to go to the Eagles Lounge to get a ticket to get off. So on this day, they decided to organize people into groups to get off and not have a crazy mass of people stuck in the hallways and staircases. You would think after doing cruises every week, they would have this organized at each port by now. We went to the Eagles Lounge, where we got a number. We sat and waited about 15 minutes to get called and then proceeded to get in line to get on a tender boat. The ride was VERY choppy. It was about 20-25 minutes long to get to shore. It seemed a little dangerous. The tender boat kept banging against our ship and they could barely get people on it. Once we got to land, we were not impressed with Belize. It might have been the weather, but it just didn't look that good. Our excursion was canceled. We walked around for a bit and then 20 min later got back on the tender to come back. I don't think many people got off at this port. In my opinion, it should have been skipped for a day at sea or to another port. The weather was terrible.
We were in port this day from 8am-3pm. We booked a private excursion to do the West Bay Beach Break. It was pretty windy and the water was choppy. The beach was nice and I'm sure the water would have been beautiful, if it wasn't so wavy. We had heard the snorkeling was great here, but it was really hard to see due to the waves. My husband did see some great fish, in the time that he did snorkel though. With this excursion we got a free drink, a beach chair, and a ride to and from. It was about a 30 min ride. It was neat because we got to drive through the middle of the island and see where the natives lived and get away from the touristy parts. This is a poor country, and it is really eye opening to travel to places like this. It really makes you appreciate things. We saw a little boy when we stopped at a shop, and he kept peaking around and smiling. It was very cute. They are all very nice people. On the way back, we saw from the ship, the Mohagany Bay Beach. It looked really nice! Some of the people on the ship said it was about a 5 minute walk from the port and very nice. They also said there was some good snorkeling. The water was very calm on this side. The line to get back on the ship was once again long, and down the entire pier (the length of the ship) and onto the land up by the shops. By now we were used to the lines.
Day at Sea
The weather was a little cool and windy on our last day at sea, but in the sun it felt warm enough to lay out. We spent our last day relaxing outside and then had a good dinner with some of the friends we made on the ship.
The day before we were due back to Miami, we asked guest services and our room steward what the fastest way to get off the ship would be. We had an 11am flight, so we wanted to be one of the first off. We were given a zone 2 tag to put on our luggage and were told we would be called first along with zone 1 to get off the ship as soon as it was cleared. They said this usually happens around 7:30-8. We were told to go to the Ivanhoe Theatre and wait at 7:15 until our zone was called. We showed up at 7am to wait. The theatre soon began to fill up very fast with what looked like half of the people on the ship. There were people from all zones. It was about 8am and still no announcement. No Carnival employees were to be seen. There were no seats left on the first floor of the theatre for people to sit down in so they started lining up down the aisles and spilling into the hallways. Around 8:15 we noticed those people out in the hallways and aisles started moving. No zones were called and some of these people were from zone 20 and higher. So we got up and started moving with them and after about 20 minutes were off the ship. No zones were called, nothing was organized. No one was told anything. I guess I'm glad we just started doing whatever, and got off, but I thought that was VERY weird. We talked to some people in the customs line that were in zone 1 and were told as part of the balcony suite they purchased, one of the advantages was being able to disembark early. They didn't hear any announcement either and made there way down to the gangway and asked an employee what happened. The employee said the people who were getting off cruised with Carnival before and just know how it works. Basically you just get up and get off. No announcements are made and the zone tags are only used to find your luggage easily. Who knows!
One thing I did notice about the employees, was that they all looked tired and not very happy to be there. I know it's their job and most of us are not happy at our jobs, but they could have at least smiled once in a while. Our room steward, Ivan, was great, but the rest of the people we encountered seemed a little cold. I also noticed that every time we were walking somewhere and we were approaching them, they would keep walking and we would have to step aside to let them pass. I just thought that was a little rude. If I was at work and my client was walking up and there was only room for one, I would let them go past and I'd stand aside with a smile on my face. I guess good customer service is hard to find anywhere you go, but this was something that stuck out to me.
The food was pretty good, for the most part. I didn't care for the buffet food, but enjoyed the dining room food, room service, and the pizza. Oh, the sushi was great each day before dinner too.
The best part about this trip was the great friends and people we met, and the days when the weather was nice and we were able to soak up the sun.
The entertainment was ok. It was your basic cruise ship entertainment and was similar in comparison to most of the all inclusive resorts we have been to as well.
We made the best of the vacation we had. All in all, we had a good vacation, but I am wondering if there are some Carnival ships that are a little more organized and I'd like any input on this, because I'd like to cruise with Carnival again in the future, but never again on this ship.
Norwegian was so much better, I think we will cruise on them again or try a different cruise line. When you think of cruises, you think of being treated great and not having to worry about anything. This cruise was stressful, crowded, and chaotic. They need to get their act together.