We are a "newlywed" couple 51 & 59 who enjoy good food, good wine, laying by the pool, sitting in the hot tub, an entertaining show, music to dance to, the casino, a cigar and people watching and meeting new people.
With that said. Let me add that there is really no such thing as a BAD CRUISE. If I can find a chair in the sun and someone occasionally walks by to offer to bring me a drink with an umbrella in it and for 7 days I am not cooking, cleaning or washing dishes, it is hard to be critical.
But after 8 cruises on different lines we have started to figure out what we like and don't like. Part of the fun of cruising is meeting other people and realizing that we all look for different things on a cruise. So this is just our opinion on how this cruise fared for us.
Embarkation was smooth and easy.
We arrived early, about 10:45 am and walked up to a kiosk and since we had everything completed from home, we just showed our passports and were sent to the short line to receive our sign and sail cards. This was my 2nd Carnival cruise and my husbands 1st so he got a blue card and mine was gold. I felt special! We were given a card to tell us when to board. Even getting there early we were the 3rd group allowed on. They had a "Ophrah-ish" look-under-your-seat in the waiting area and if you found a paper attached you won the opportunity to board with the VIPs ... we hoped our luck would come later... in the casino!
Boarding the ship there was someone to take our sail and sign card and "ding" us in to indicate we were on board, but nobody there to point us in any direction. I have been on other cruises where they orient you as you board and there is someone standing at the top of each stairwell and by every elevator for the entire embarkation period to assist you. It was no problem for us, but for a first time cruiser it can be overwhelming.
Cabin: Large and spacious
This was our 2nd AFT cabin. #8450 on deck 8 at the very back of the ship with an extended balcony. We enjoy the view from back there. You never get confused about which side of the ship you are on or where your cabin is! The restaurant was also very nearby. The shower was spacious and had great temperature ranges, the sink was a regular sink, not the kind where you have to plunge and let the water get sucked away. note: THERE ARE NO PLUG OUTLETS IN THE BATHROOM In the top drawer of the vanity in the cabin there is a hairdryer plugged in that cannot be unplugged. You must use your thumb to depress the on switch at all times. A small hassle. There is one additional outlet on the top of the vanity for shavers or curling irons with an outlet for US or European prongs. Next time we sail my husband wants to bring a multiple outlet extender. We wanted to charge batteries for the cameras, etc. The bed was one of the most comfortable we ever had. Closet space and shelf space was ample. The TV was not a flat screen and did not offer anything worthwhile to view without paying $9.99 for a movie. There was a locked servi-bar we never opened. Our cabin steward named "Boy" was efficient in keeping our room tidy, turning towels into figures and not ever seeming to be in the way. We left him some extra scratch on the last nigh in addition to his tip included in the price of the cruise charges.
The main pool has a slide and a huge digital screen that plays videos and movies at night. There is the usual steel band during the day, pool games, endless announcements by the cruise director and drinks parading around each day with their own "souvenir" plastic cups shaped like coconuts, the ships exhaust stack, tulip shaped, etc. I know they do this for safety sake but I miss the old days when you got crystal stemware. For that you have to go to the bar in the lobby atrium. The center pool below the slide was always packed with kids splashing about. We were grateful for the aft "adults only" pool and hot tubs. I had to point out this fact a few times to parents who chose to pretend like they couldn't read, but without this pool we would have been without a quiet place to relax and enjoy the day.
Drink prices and quality
Drink prices ranged from a morning special $4.75 to a typical tropical concoction of $8.75. Any time you ask for a semi-top shelf it would be an additional $2.00 plus gratuity automatically added on. Typical of all cruises.
We brought on the allowed 2 bottles of wine at sailing and enjoyed a fabulous bottle of Prosecco while cruising out of the port of Miami. The 2nd bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon came home with us because we had trouble finishing the wine package we bought. 5 bottles of PREMIUM wine for $129.00. The Chardonnay was 2008 (too old and nearly undrinkable) The Pinot Noir was good however (Mondavi) and so was the Cline Zinfindel, but the (Mondavi) Cabernet was too tanic and gave us both heartburn. The worst complaint we had about it all was the service in the dining room to ask about wine, order, receive wine was terrible. We had no wine steward. The waiter, who knew nothing about wine would take our coupon and retrieve the wine. When they poured it, they would ask if it was ok, but as in all the food service we experienced.... they are well trained to ask you how everything is, but they don't really care what your answer is. More on this later..... We have sailed before where an unfinished bottle of wine is stored for you. We tried this on the Liberty but the bottle got lost the next evening when we asked for it to be delivered to our room. When we showed up at the dining room they could not find it and it turned into a comedy of errors, which could have easily been handled by a good wait staff and maitre'd, but instead it turned into an argument and we didn't get a glass of wine in front of us until the 2nd course of that dinner.
Main dining room (Silver) We had late seating at 8:15. (tip ...do not arrive on time or 10 minutes early or you will be in line waiting to get in and stampede the dining room. Arrive at 8:25-8:30 and you will stroll in directly to your table. We were sitting with a nice young couple the first night, but we had terrible trouble making any conversation with them, in addition our table was right by the door and the bus station. We spoke to the maitr d' assistant who told us that Elvis (our maitre'd) had left the building for the evening. She told us to return in the morning, but alas he was not there in the morning either. She took the information and mid day we received a note under our door that our table had been switched from #402 to #422. It was a nicer table in the center of the dining room. We sat down and 5 minutes later, who shows up at our table???? Our previous table mates, exclaiming that they had changed their table too. Talk about a clueless maitre'd. That was a formal night too. We did not stay for the waiters antics at the end or even dessert. Each night they announce "it's show time" and the waiters get up on the pedestals used for setting the dining trays on during dinner service and dance. It's cute the first time you see it and I am sure kids and first time cruisers love it. I accept it... after all it's Carnival, but given a choice, I would opt for better service and leave the dancing to the dancers in the shows. At least not every night.
We had room service one morning using the order form you hang on the door. The coffee was not hot. Everything else was just ok...it filled our tummy for the morning we left the ship early.
The menu was decent. The food was mostly tasty, but it was never hot enough. Breakfast was always the exact same menu. They needed more variety. We never ate lunch in the main dining rooms.We came to learn much about how the ships kitchen works on the 2nd night. We attended the "Chefs Table" for 12 guests. They do this 2 times per cruise and it carries a price tag of $75 per person plus a gratuity. $180.00. It was fun. I heard about this from someone on Cruise Critic. We started in the atrium bar with an introduction to the Chef. Then he walked us into the main galley and we stood around a prep table and were served sparkling wine and 3 or 4 different appetizers while he talked about where he learned to be a chef and how the ships different sections all work each day. After that we moved to another prep table and witnessed them making the popular MELTING CHOCOLATE dessert and that was..in theory... the same dessert we would later be served as part of our dessert course. From there we rounded different stations in the kitchen while the prep cooks were busy with the 1st seating dinner. NCL cruise line used to offer a similar tour of the kitchen to every passenger on the Chocaholic buffet night. It probably raised a hygiene issue having 2000 guests parading through the kitchen. But this tour was indeed more intimate with the Chef. He is from Calcutta and talked fast and was difficult for some to understand. When we left the kitchen we were taken into a special dining room and seated at a long banquet table. The wine flowed freely, an Italian Pinot Grigio which I liked and an Australian Cab which I have seen before on the shelf at the grocery store for about $10. For 12 of us there were at least 6 servers and course after course we nibbled and drank and feasted on the likes of Chilean Sea Bass and Filet Mignon. We really enjoyed ourselves but would probably not do it again. Dinner took 3 hours so we missed all the shows that night.
We went to 2 shows. The first night. We sat in the only available seat, stage right (that's on the left) where we were 8 feet behind the front of the stage and could see into the wings. My husband found that very interesting....hmmmm
We were not impressed by the quality of the singing, dancing or costumes, so we passed the rest of the week. I love a good show. I have been impressed before on NCL when the had the Jean Ann Ryan Company and on Princess, even Costa (more singing and international flavor)...but Carnival did not impress. They seem to be big on getting people to cheer for their city or country (50/50 US and Canadians) and making up for talent with passengers cheering themselves on.
We hit the comedy shows a couple of times (always the adult shows) and chuckled to ourselves during the week about a punchline we had heard and passed through our thoughts the day after.
We stumbled into the piano bar with Brad and got caught up in his raunchy but fun show. "William Shatner" fans.. you know what I am talking about.
I loved the latin band who moved from stage to stage. There is always an Asian band doing popular cover songs ranging in genre from the 50s to the 90's. Fun but too loud and too smoky. Karaoke seemed to be very popular. Carnival added the twist of using a live band. All the lounges except the main showroom were too smoky. My husband even likes a cigar from time to time but I can't stand being forced to have smoke in my face. I prefer ships who keep it on the decks outside or that have one room only designated for smoking. If I can't sit at a black jack table that is smoke free, I don't play. If I don't play.. they lose... because I am a terrible player! The pianist in the atrium was very Lawrence Welk-ish .... it always said "music for dancing", but she was too subdued for dancing.
The Paparrazzi Bar was popular with many on formal nights ...we never were able to get in there in time to enjoy a cocktail before dinner. Forget about having a cocktail in the main dining room. Dinner service will not wait for you to have a martini first.
The Lido buffets were average. I hated grabbing a hot plate to put cold salad on. But they did have plenty of food and choices for the buffet goers. One day while we were poolside I went down for a few slices of pizza, but it too was not hot enough.
As always, people love the readily available food everywhere and the ice cream cones. We never tried the sushi this trip nor the fish and chips place upstairs on deck 10.
SPA: Did not use, but the sauna and steam rooms are not co ed and they have big picture windows to the sea. I really meant to go in there.
GYM: Did not use, but it was crowded with dancers (as they always are) and it reminded me of my gym at home after work hours when it's crowded and everyone is watching everyone. I probably picked the wrong time of day to peek in.
Pool: Pet peeve... Carnival requires you to check out a towel and sign for it and return it. This is a major hassle especially since there is only one place on a ship the length of 3 football fields to accomplish this task and one gal flipping through pages of names on a list when it's time to return the towel.
In all we did have a very fun time. I just wish we had more fun in the dining room. I miss the old days when you had the same waiter most of the week and you tipped him accordingly at the end of the week. I laughed at the request on channel 17 to tip the maitre'd - We ate at Harry's steakhouse the final night.
Harry's was good but an additional $30 per person plus gratuity it should have been better. My husband and I both ordered a Porterhouse steak. My was truly superb (but way too much meat for any reasonable person to eat). My husband's steak on the other hand had so much gristle in it, you would have a hard time convincing me it was USDA "prime". Much better was the Pinnicle dining room on Holland America or the NCL dining room (extra fees for them as well)
This was actually my first cruise where I came home completely empty handed int he souvenir department. Not a keychain from the ship, a tee shirt, a wooden figure, or anything from DIAMONDS INTERNATIONAL either. I feel liberated.
And although I would not book a new Carnival cruise we are going on another one November 12, 2011 for a family reunion on my husbands 60th birthday on the Splendor. I hope there are some differences that will help me change my mind about Carnival.