I booked this cruise for the itinerary. I had read and heard varying reports about Carnival and, as our only other cruise had been on Holland America, I wasn't sure how much I would like it. However I was pleasantly surprised. The ship's dEcor wasn't really to my taste and much of it certainly looked like 'Las Vegas on steroids'. The glass elevators in the atrium were fun but I didn't much like the dark interiors of the public rooms on the lower decks and wished the seating looked more out to sea. But the public areas were kept clean and in good order.
But I was very pleased with my cabin. I had a port side 7A balcony with an obstructed view over the top of the lifeboats but it was between two lifeboats and was very good value. And I enjoyed sitting out watching the boats being launched to serve as tenders at Kona. However, a tip for this itinerary - a starboard cabin would have been better as twice the port side was docked right up against the tall warehouses at the commercial ports so sitting out on the balcony wasn't that great. I did see inside an obstructed view 5A cabin with full-length windows but no balcony, again between two lifeboats, and was impressed by how light and airy it was. Next time, I'd be happy to settle for one of those.
The cabin was spacious with plenty of storage and well laid out. The bathroom was good with, again, plenty of storage and I preferred having just a shower rather than climbing in and out of a small bathtub to have a shower. The bed was rather too firm for me so (having read up on the Carnivals boards) I immediately asked the steward for a foam topper pad which made all the difference. My steward, Lawrence, was excellent. He was always very pleasant, kept the cabin very clean and while I can live without towel animals, some of them were very cute. I really appreciated having a laundry available but putting a proper cover on the ironing board would have been a help and it was somewhat disappointing to find that both machines in the laundry on my deck had broken before the end of cruise.
On the whole, service in board was very good with staff always very polite and friendly. The exception was on the Lido deck where tables were often left uncleared for quite a while and cleaning of the tables seemed somewhat perfunctory. With the ever present risk of norovirus, I expected higher standards of hygiene. There seemed to be too few staff looking after the tables and too many bar servers trying to sell drinks. This was the most irritating part of the cruise. On one occasion, on the Fantail deck, I was asked if I wanted to buy a drink 5 times in 15 minutes yet no one came to take away the dirty dishes beside me. Carnival need to stop this pressuring of their customers to buy drinks as I wasn't the only person who found it very annoying.
Food on the Lido was reasonable with the Taste of Nations often offering good choices but the pizza was disappointing - too doughy and not enough topping. Breakfast offerings on the Lido were OK but I was dismayed to find one morning that many of the usual selections had already been removed even though breakfast service still had more half an hour to go. I preferred having breakfast in the dining room (but for some reason that wasn't available on port days) or a continental breakfast in my cabin from room service which was always prompt. The smoked salmon and bagel was very generous and the melon selection always nicely presented. One service I really liked was the complimentary soft serve icecream always available and the ice cream parlor open every afternoon on sea days. But why wasn't it offered on port days? Many guests were back on board by later in the afternoon and in the hot weather it would have been very welcome. If this is a cost cutting measure, then it's one that Carnival should reconsider.
I had anytime dining and never had to wait for a table. If it looked like there would be a wait, I would offer to share a table and was always taken to one immediately. On one occasion, I was asked to share but feeling tired, I just wanted a quick dinner so asked for a table to myself and was given one right away. The food in the dining room was very good and mostly excellent! And I'm quite picky and like really good food. Service was good AND pleasant.
I loved the five sea days on this cruise. The weather was mostly very good and people were out swimming and sunbathing from the start of the cruise. The three pools were great and, even on the warmest days, there were always sun loungers available. There were quite a lot of activities going on. I did enjoy the trivia (and won two of the famous 'ship on a stick') and generally enjoyed watching some of the games and competitions taking place. And the naturalist talks were very interesting and it was good to be able to watch them in the comfort of your cabin. I only went to a couple of shows. The hypnotist wasn't that interesting and a comedian was so lame that I left after 10 minutes. Fortunately there weren't nearly as many announcements from the cruise director as I'd feared and the daily update from the captain on sea days were fun! Though, there was certainly a push to sell spa treatments, excursions etc.
I only purchased two ship's excursions - one to the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens at Hilo which was very good and included a pleasant drive passing some sights on the way. The other was the Maui Tropical Plantation and Iao Needle. The plantation had lovely gardens and there was a craft market next door which had local crafts at excellent prices. I had expected to see more private tour operators at the ports but they seemed to be kept out by the strict security. In fact, the security seemed rather excessive and no one could understand why our belongings had to be x-rayed twice every time we re-boarded. In the port areas only a couple of taxis seemed to be allowed into the port area at any time.
At Kona, I just walked around and saw the sights on my own. At Kauai, I went over to the taxi area and luckily met up with 5 others looking to hire a taxi. We paid $40 each for a 4 hour tour to the Waimea Canyon and some other sights. It was better value and much more enjoyable than a bus tour. On Maui, I'd done my research and printed the timetable for the public bus from the shopping centre to Lahaina for a dollar. There was a big queue in the sun for the free shuttle to the shopping centre so some of us got together and shared a taxi. Lahaina was delightful and the public bus is a great way to get about on Maui.
I was very disappointed that the ship didn't go past the lava flow on the Big Island at night. I had been looking forward to it as a highlight of the cruise and it was even more disappointing to hear that the return cruise to the States was going past the lava flow. No reason was given for the change of itinerary.
In conclusion, I still prefer Holland America but this cruise was very enjoyable and Carnival gave good value for the price I paid at the early saver rate.