This trip is my fourth cruise and my wife's fifth cruise. I have cruised before with Celebrity (Canada & New England) and Princess (Canada & New England and Alaska). My wife sailed with Carnival about twelve years ago. The trip was spontaneous as it coincided with my winter break and my wife was able to get time off. I was a bit skeptical to sail with Carnival given its reputation but I had some pleasant surprises.
I went into this trip with an understanding of some of the differences between Carnival and the other lines I have taken. For the price I got, I had a week of good food, good service, a nice cabin, and absolutely beautiful weather. The cruise director was comical but very polite and gracioius. That said, I have learned that although I certainly would consider cruising with Carnival again given my experience, there are things about this line that do not match with me. This line is somewhat "pushy" with trying to sell you drinks, take your picture, and sell you pictures. This was also true of excursions. Much of the fellow cruisers were excellent but there were a bit more who were a bit crass. There was also a large number of children on this line (which is to be expected-it is very kid-friendly.) Specific reviews for each area follows:
It went smoothly. We were there early and, as a result, had to wait for probably about 15-30 minutes after we were checked in. Nevertheless, check-in was very organized. Unfortunately, no sooner was I off the gangway than someone tried to sell me a tropical drink (on Celebrity, I was greeted with a glass of complimentary champagne.)
Similar to the other reviews, the Mermaid Grille buffet was not only crowded, but confusing. Sometimes there were stations that looked identical but sometimes there were different stations (such as the Asian station). It took a few days to get used to this. Once the weather was warm enough to eat outside, the crowds were not a problem. Due to our late seating, we took advantage of the sushi bar that was open from 5-8:15 daily, which seemed to help. Dinner in the MDR was good most nights and our waiter was very attentive and friendly. He made time to chat with us when we ran into him on the lido deck one night. We spent one night at David's specialty restaurant, which was a nice quiet evening away from the crowd. The food generally was good. I suffered a warm salad one night and found nothing I wanted on another but otherwise it was good. I thought the food was, ironically, better than Celebrity but not as good as what I had on Princess. The bar drinks were pricey but not unreasonable and the bartenders tended to be "generous" with the spirits.
Most of the public areas were clean. The ship is beautiful; probably one of the most beautiful ships I have been on. If one stands in the center atrium, there is a "courtyard" effect that spans to the top floor. The floors were beautiful and the wood railings were nicely varnished. I wished the promenade went around the whole ship. The gym was fine although air conditioning would have been nice. There were way too many announcements.
My wife and I really enjoy trivia and there was plenty of opportunity for it on this ship. There were quite a few more people who participated in this than on other cruises, which was nice. The evening shows were okay-the around the world (cannot remember the actual name for it) was best.
Debarking: Truthfully, it was the people who made this harder than it had to be-Carnival is actually quite organized with this. We were delayed because there were people who were trying to run off the ship rather than wait for their deck to be called. The cruise director came over the intercom and admonished passengers for being verbally abusive to the staff...and good for him for doing so! The staff worked really hard to be courteous and those who thought themselves above regulations could probably use an elementary school lesson on how to follow rules. Once our deck was called-we were in our car within 15 minutes!
Again, the clientele and the atmosphere really wasn't a match but this is not a slight on Carnival-it is simply the paradigm they have established. The staff was courteous and professional. If you can be disciplined to resist what they are trying to sell you (or, go ahead and partake if you like), you can have an affordable vacation in a beautiful destination. We're interested in trying RC and so far we like Princess best but we certainly would not rule out a future Carnival cruise.