I am a young professional single dad (26) traveling with my girlfriend who is a single mother (24). We left our kids with our exes for the week to recharge ourselves with some adult time. We live in Northern VA so we were dropped off at the pier and didn't have to pay airfare. Furthermore we booked an inside cabin at the absolute lowest rate of $409 and got a deal through cruise.com that gave us an additional $100 per person on board credit. Had I spent more my expectations may have been higher but for this price it is hard to complain about much.
We arrived around noon and were through customs and on board by 130PM. We smuggled liquor in 6 32oz rumrunners and legally brought a 12 pack of 20 oz coke bottles and a 12 pack of red bull as well as two bottles of berringer type wine. The rumrunners were in our checked luggage and all the legal stuff was in our carry ons. I would definitely recommend rumrunners for anyone who is thinking about drinking every night as cocktails average $8 and beer is at least $5, not including tax or tip that is automatically added. Some vodka with the onboard lemonade is delicious and you'll have plenty of ice for refills. It got a little tiresome carrying around the coke and redbull in a tote bag because our rooms were not available until around 6pm. If I did it again I would bring a backpack or find someplace on the lido deck to relax instead of trying to explore the whole ship on the first day.
We had an interior stateroom on deck 1 (the lowest for passengers) and seeing as it was our first cruise we can't compare it to a balcony or window room. However I really liked being able to turn off the lights and have it pitch black. The rooms are all the same size (I checked right when we got on) and to me I'd rather save the money as even $10/per person per day is $140 just for a window that I can see if I just walk up another deck. We were also right near the dining room, theatre, and comedy club, and even so didn't hear any noise when napping or sleeping. The beds were very comfortable and I didn't even miss my memory foam mattress at home one bit. The showers were roomy, even for me a 6'4" guy pushing 300lbs. My girlfriend loved the towel animals and there was enough room in the minibar to put some coke and red bull in to chill.
The food in the Normandie (main dining room) was delicious and the service was among the best I've had. We did anytime dining which was great for us because we plan our dinner around our evening instead of most people having to plan their evening around their dinner. We were always sat immediately and watched as the traditional dinners formed a line into the elevator lobby. We also ate dinner by ourselves every night which gave us privacy. For breakfast and lunch we sat with strangers which was fun sharing stories so we had the best of both worlds I imagine. The only con for every time dining was that our food was never HOT. It was always warm but never felt like it was out of the oven. Perhaps that was because we were given the plates left on the "warming rack" from the early seaters but as another plus we rarely waited more than 5 minutes for our next course.
The food in the Lido deck was subpar if you ask me. We ate there for breakfast most days and the buffet was what you'd expect from a holiday inn breakfast bar. The omelette station was good but there was always a line. There was also often a line for lunch. The burgers are only made well done even if you ask for medium. The fries were ok but never hot. The hot dogs were worse than the ones at my local gas stations. The pizza was "supermarket" quality and not the digiorno kind. Nonetheless burnt burgers and cardboard pizza was delicious for a drunken midnight snack.
We ate at David's Steakhouse which was the premium restaurant that charges $30 more per person. I would say that the difference between it and the Normandie are negligible and not worth the extra money. You get an appetizer AND a salad rather than your choice of one in the main dining room. The atmosphere and service was again negligible. The only plus was that the steaks were HUGE and HOT and cooked perfectly to our desire (med-rare). The deserts were also fancier (well garnished) but tasted the same. If you're curious and have the extra money try it out, otherwise you're not missing out on much.
On formal night and most others nights there are photographers eager to take your picture for free. What we didn't find out until the second night was that to purchase just one 8x10 is $23 and additional copies are $9 each. I would suggest asking a friendly cruiser to take your picture on your own camera and return the favor. You won't be able to use the "beach" backdrop or the fake champagne glasses on the piano but the ship is full of natural backgrounds and CVS will print out your pictures for a fraction of the price.
The "Pride" dancers were horrendous. Their "vegas" style shows were more fitting for a high school stage and the "featured" signers were more like half decent karaoke singers. In fact on the last night some passengers got up to sing in the "Legends" show and put the "professionals" to shame. The girls are cute and wear skimpy outfits but that can't even make me forget what I'm watching.
There was a great pianist in the Ivory Bar most nights that would take requests and you'd get to sing along on mic or off. It was very entertaining watching him play.
The comedians I found were subpar from what you'd find at the Arlington Drafthouse or Warner Theatre in DC. They were ok when they were making fun of Carnival and their ships but their regular material was hacky. My girlfriend on the other hand enjoyed them, but I think that's just because she hasn't seen Louis C.K. or Craig Shoemaker live. To each their own and the comedians are swapped out every week so you probably won't see the same ones I did.
They had a good comic/juggler, Thien Fu, who was a funny juggler but spoke broken english so he was kind of hard to follow. There was also a table magician who had hacky card tricks and rope/ring stunts which would have been ok if it wasn't obvious how he was doing his tricks.
The best entertainment on the ship was when the crowd participated. They had the marriage/newlywed show, a men vs. women show, and a beefed up costume Karaoke at the end of the cruise. We caught the last part of the Carnival Quest contest which seemed like a riot with their cross-dressing runway walk. All in all I guess its what you should expect from a cruise ship.
Stay away from the Casino. If you must, go play BINGO. That is all. I may be biased after losing $500 bucks so try your luck if you must.
In Port Canaveral we met up with some of my family. They took us to Ron Jon's surf shop and Cocoa beach which seemed popular on the ship as after thursday everyone seemed to have a Ron Jon t-shirt on. Disney and Universal were just too far away to justify the money.
Our favorite port was Nassau. We rented a scooter immediately after we debarked. We did not plan this but the guy offered me the whole day for $60 and I had been thinking about buying a scooter for commuting around DC. We were able to drive anywhere on the island and although I have my Motorcycle license in the States I don't think that even mattered. It takes some getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road so don't do it unless you're comfortable. We drove about 3 miles east away from all the packed tourist beaches (at least I'd imagine they were packed) and found a Public but very empty beach called Goodman's Cay right next to the Sandals resort. The sand was clean and the water was clear. It was perfect for laying out and just what you'd imagine from the commercials. After a few hours of laying out we took the scooter to a local fish fry called Twin Brothers that was nothing special but good food. We tried Kalika (local Bahamian) beer that in my opinion was amongst the worst I've ever had but my girlfriend said "it tastes like beer to me". After lunch we took our scooter on a tour of downtown nassau which was fantastic. I wouldn't recommend this but my girlfriend videotaped the drive and we saw parts of Nassau that you just wouldn't see on foot or an organized excursion. The best part about the scooter was that we felt like we could (and nearly did) explore all of the island. At the queens staircase there was a "courtesy" guide who gave us a speech about the history of the islands and was well worth the 3 bucks my girlfriend tipped. After some sight seeing and shopping at the local market we headed back to the ship.
Freeport was bad weather. It was cloudy all day and started to rain soon after we got off the ship. We didn't exactly land in Freeport so you were either stuck with the shops close to the ship or paying for a shuttle bus to the actual city. We just bought a hand carved wooden statue and a necklace or t-shirts for our families and went back on the ship. Most other excursions were canceled for the weather and you're only docked for about 5 hours anyway.
We packed everything up the night before and opted for self assist debarkation where you carry all your own bags. If we checked our bags we would have been the last off the ship at around 1215PM but as it stood we were the first deck called for debarkation. We docked at around 915 and cleared customs around 945. As I said we were called first but I suspect a lot of people who weren't on Deck 1 were getting off the ship first anyways and no one was checking. We got off a little after 10AM and hit up McDonald's before returning to our lives in Northern VA
I would definitely take another 7 day cruise at this price or around $1000 total and try to skip the airfare again.