This was our second cruise with Carnival, the first being the same time of year (January) in 2010 aboard the Carnival Liberty. Our 17 and 12 year old children enjoyed the Liberty so much that they had looked forward to this cruise for months.
Things started out badly when we arrived at the port prior to 12 noon and the line was extended out around the building. Not a big deal to me. After an hour of waiting in line patiently a Carnival representative opened the line just behind us, letting people flood into the VIP line. I took a deep breath, determined not to let it bother me. 20 minutes or so later, she did this again. I saw people passing me who I saw get out of cabs and in line almost an hour after us. By this time people were sneaking under the queue to go through the VIP line. We finally made it through the scanner 45 minutes later and into the next area to wait another 30-45 minutes to get our Sail and Sign card. My husband kept pointing out people finishing up who had arrived at the port long after us. When we got to the front we were told that their system was down so they wrote my credit card information down by hand. I still have concerns about my information floating around and not being destroyed properly. Needless to say, I was not smiling in the group picture they took just after this point. We were herded like cattle into another long line and forced to wait because there were problems with the photo machine to put your picture on the Sail and Sign card. It was almost 3 hours total waiting before we were able to board. I understand that problems can arise with technology so it isn't fair to blame them, but the way they handled the situation left a lot to be desired.
I cruised the Liberty last year and found it to be a very pretty ship. There is nothing pretty about this ship. Truly, I felt that the theme was more like Aladdin's Castle meets That 70's Show. There were browns, oranges, purples, and reds everywhere. The colors in the elevators with the brown and orange swirls made me feel like I was on a bad drug trip. The atrium had rounded, shiny purple borders on all of the deck railings. The Liberty atrium was classy, this was definitely not. My family thought I was being overly critical. It took only a few hours for my kids to realize that there were few people within their age ranges on board. While up on the deck watching as we sailed away from port, my husband asked me several times if I was sure that I hadn't booked us on a 'senior' cruise. Having booked this 8 months in advance,I didn't book it as a last minute special, but we noticed that the ship was definitely not filled to capacity. I don't know if Florida resident specials or age related discounts had been offered to try to fill the cabins or if it was because of the 8 day length or perhaps the itinerary. When we saw power scooters plugged into charging receptacles in every nook on our deck that night it was very obvious that the demographics for this cruise were leaning toward the older set. We heard a 'code Bright Star' along with cabin number on the third day or so. We learned that this means a medical emergency. We had another later in the week, then on Friday (I think) we were told that we had to change course to take an ill passenger to Grand Cayman which had the nearest medical facility. If I remember correctly we had to deboard someone else in Cozumel for a medical emergency. Another code Bright Star and a call over the paging system for blood donation to transfer to a passenger was just another occurrence. Even my 17 year old called and volunteered to donate as we have the same blood type mentioned. My 12 year old was told that several passengers died on this cruise. With so many codes called and the older ages of the passengers it is quite possible. I have been a nurse for years and honestly felt like I needed to be working to help out much of the time. Lots of walkers, wheelchairs, canes and power scooters. I enjoyed the other passengers and truly don't mean my comments to sound as if this was a problem. It was just a far different composition of passengers than I would have anticipated. We are in our mid to upper 40's and hope to be cruising also when we are older.
We hurried to make it back to the ship in time at every port, but the ship was late to leave every time. I understand that a few passengers were left behind in Cozumel. We were at least 2 hours delayed leaving Panama, but a ship sponsored excursion was delayed so this prevented the passengers from being stranded in port. After the diversion to Grand Cayman we were really going fast to make it back to home port on time, and I got seasick in the end despite wearing a patch. I had not had any problems earlier in the cruise.
For the pros: Even a bad cruise beats no cruise. There were really good times to be had. We liked the end of cruise party, with free alcohol for an hour. Give the waiter a tip and he/she will bring you lots of extra drinks during the last 5 minutes. The dining room food was really good for the most part. Omelets made to order at breakfast were really good. I like that you can bring bottles of wine on board (one per adult) and soft drinks. This is really a money saver. The stage shows were really good. For as bad as embarkation was, the debarkation was a breeze.
A few of the cons:
They never opened both sides of the buffet and the other stations were not opened as often as I recalled on the previous cruise. The buffet food was not good at all. The hamburger station was not found to be open very often, and this should be a staple by the pool. The general entertainment was lacking. They tend to rely on passengers to provide karaoke for many of the venues. The dining room/any time dining did not go very smoothly in many cases. Any time dining means you are entitled to wait for a table. After the Cozumel stop, we were told that there would be no other opportunities for shopping. There were lots of shops in Panama, and Costa Rica had a nice area set up for the locals to sell goods. I suppose that Carnival doesn't get a kickback from these ports. We were basically told to buy any souvenirs in Cozumel if we wanted anything. Although I do enjoy shopping there, it bothered me to know that I almost didn't go looking for things in the other ports based on that misinformation. The hot tubs were lukewarm at best. The decor of the ship is very unattractive, but was clean which is the main thing. The staff overall were not friendly. My prior experiences cruising were that they tend to remember your name and preferences. None of that here. A few notable mentions though: Ivana (the hostess in the Chic dining room) was wonderful. I had to hug her on my last night because she was such a sweet person. Not all passengers were kind to her. Bernard was our favorite waiter (I think that was his name). My 17 year old son loved Danny Black, the acoustic guitarist. He had to buy his CD before we left.
I like Carnival because I can get a balcony room for less than an interior room on most cruises. I still think the value was fairly good for this cruise, but had I not cruised with Carnival before I doubt I would try them again. We are preparing to book another cruise for the same time of year next year. While we may give Carnival one more chance, I will NOT go back on the Freedom.