Embarkation: Due to a customs snafu, didn't start on time, or even close to on time, it was about 2 hours late. The "Pre-Checkin" line was at least 40 yards long, and never got any shorter even though we boarded a couple hours late. Once the boarding process began, it did move quickly, though I think the last time I did this it moved faster. I was in the 8th group to be called, so my wait wasn't bad, however, there was other groups as far as the eye could see, I wouldn't doubt that there was 30+ groups, I wasn't leaving my area to find out. With the delay that we had, it would have been nice if Carnival could have provided at least water for their guests. The line for the ladies room was out the door and down the building. Mens room, as usual - no waiting.
We had stayed on the Queen Mary the night before, so all we had to finally do is walk across the parking lot. However, there was some misinformation on the Queen Mary, as we were told that we could do our Pre-Checkin in the engine room of the Queen Mary between 9:30 and 11:00. They didn't tell us we had to do it 2 days in advance...otherwise we would have made our way over earlier and would have been able to get ours done and then go to the Champaign Brunch on the Queen Mary and would have scheduled it a little better.
Cabins: Once on the ship, we found that all the cabins were ready, which with 2 extra hours, they should have been in my opinion. We headed to our cabin, which was a aft balcony on the Empress deck (#7440). When I first saw the cabin, the thing that hit me was that it was quite a bit smaller than a regular balcony (our last balcony was #7363). We went out to see the bigger size of the deck, and it was quite a bit bigger, but when we walked out the door the first impression was that they hadn't cleaned any of the outside glass on the window, door, or balcony railing in some time. About that time, our room steward come in and introduced himself to us (Puco), and we inquired about getting some distilled water for an APAC machine, where he swiftly told me that all he did was "clean the room". That I would have to call room service or guest services for that, he had nothing to do with it (which is not was Guest Services had told us on the telephone the week before). We called room service, and got the water, because we knew getting through to Guest Services on Embarkation Day would be a nightmare, with the line they had downstairs when we came aboard. Problem solved, in any case. Puco became more friendly as the week went on. We hardly seen his assistants.
Safety Drill: We waited for the Lifeboat drill that is mandatory, waited until they called us the third time in fact to avoid being crushed against the back wall. Didn't do a lot of good, only bought us a spot in the line in front of the line on the back wall. The Safety drill begins, and there are no crew members in sight to demonstrate the life vests, the only crew member we saw was a officer that walked by and yelled at everyone to "Be Quiet" as he kept walking. What did they expect? Introductions were in order. Lol! Nobody from the ship was anywhere to be seen, and the presentation over the loud speaker was, well about as boring as the ones you get on the airplanes, right?
After the Safety Drill/Fellow Passenger Introduction Period, we went back to the cabin and got ready for dinner, and headed that way. This time it was nice because our set of elevators went right outside the dining room entrance (as well as straight up to the Lido Deck buffet).
Dining: Everyone waits patiently, and the doors finally open at 6:00 sharp. We find our table, which was on the wall facing a window, a 4-topper. Our waiter and comes right over to give us our menus and water. Cool. Then he comes back and gets our order right away. Then he does the same with two large tables across the isle. That is where it goes bad. From there on, we were a second thought, as was the table next to us. The two large tables had their meals eaten, and we were looking at empty salad plates for a lengthy amount of time. Disappointing, but we finish dinner, and write it off to everyone's schedule being thrown off by the customs snafu. There is no entertainment the first night.
Second night...more of the same. This is formal night, lobster night. After an hour and 20 minutes, we are still looking at a salad plate, and everyone else is done with dessert. This gets under my skin, as well as the gf's. So we decided we could just go to the Lido deck and eat, but tell the waiter that we are tired of not being fed with the rest of the diners, we also stopped and told the metre d' about our service, and he apologized and offered us a new table the next night. We accepted, and our Server was Sheila from then on, and she was like night and day. She also had two large tables, but there was no wait, and everyone at all her tables were served at the same time or close to the same time. The metre d', even stopped by the table as we were finishing and asked if things were better, and we told he they were. The next night he asked again, and even remembered my first name - impressive. The rest of the week in the dining room was a pleasure. The food was excellent, though we ate too much of it, and whined about it afterward...not their fault.
Lido Deck Food Venues: The hours are too limited, and they have cut their choices on the buffet by quite a bit. There were long lines, especially when they had half of the buffet shut down. Breakfast was one meal I enjoyed there, especially the omelets. Very often times it is hard to find a clean or open table.
The Rotisserie on Deck 10:: Kind of hidden, and unless you know it is there you probably would miss it. Doesn't anyone know how to cut a chicken? The chicken seemed like they to an ax and just started whacking off chunks of meat. The side dishes up here were very slim for the picking. And who puts corn on the cob in an inch of milk to serve cold? Disgusting!
The Deli by the back pool: This was the one place that I could rely on, besides pizza to get something to eat most hours of the day. The sandwiches were great. Would love to see more sides, like potato salad?
Pizza Counter: Always open, and never enough pizza to get a slice of something without having them go to the back and make a new one.
Burger Bar: Always seemed to be a line. Guests favorite, just a little slow, and hit and miss on the hours of operation, just like most of the food venues.
Entertainment: Well, since Carnival has not imposed the fuel surcharge, and fuel has been over $100 a barrel, they had to cut somewhere. There was a lot less entertainment. To replace it it seemed like there was the silly games they come up with for the passengers, and karaoke - LOTS of karaoke. They had a lady playing music on the piano a couple of time in the main lobby, as well as two guys that played guitar solos, problem is they sounded just like each other, not much variety there.
There was a group of teen girls on board that put on a dance demonstration. They turned out to be better than the Splendors dance troupe, as they made a lot of visible mistakes in their shows, which was not impressive. The music of these shows ran along the same lines that the shows did two years ago.
The comedians were pretty good, when they were around. They changed acts in Cabo for some reason, and there was a couple nights without any at all, which they filled with karaoke of course.
Bars: The service at the bars was excellent. I tried to use the same bars as often as I could, and got to know some of the bartenders, and got a lot of useful information from them about what is going on and where. The Piano Bar had Chris, for a few nights anyway, then he disappeared. They tried taking it and turning it into a smoking bar, which 90% of the guests complained about to Chris, and he complained that he was losing his voice because of it. Chris played a lot of jazz instrumentals, which don't exactly fall into the "Sing Along" that they advertise. After a couple nights, we also found that Chris was pretty limited in his repertoire, as he played the same music each night pretty much, and was not able to fill many requests.
Debarkation: It went about as smooth as it could with 3500 guests aboard. Everyone seemed to be patient, and waited for when they were to go. The elevators didn't even seem to be crowded when our group was called. Customs was a breeze. Getting a porter didn't seem to be that big of a deal either. Embarkation went smoothly in my opinion.
Overall Assessment: I would like to try another cruise line, or at least another ship. I didn't come away after this cruise as impressed as I was the last time. There seemed to be less to do, the food venues seemed to have less hours during the day, and room service didn't have the menu that they did two years ago either. The drink prices have gone up. The overall level of service has declined a little bit.
I won't be running back to Carnival. I won't totally rule them out either, but they have a few things they need to clean up a little bit. For the money it costs for the cruise, and then all the inflated prices on pictures, drinks, etc., you would think you would get more in the way of service and have better hours of operation for the food venues. I hope they get it together and start to listen to their guests, because that is the complaint that I heard over and over, especially from Platinum cruisers.
We took two excursions in one day...a bit of a brain fart on our part, as we were totally worn out from all the time in the sun afterwards. But it was GOOD!
We started the day leaving at 7 am ship time (who does excursions at 7 am while they are on vacation? Whose idea is this?) by taking a Tequila Factory Tour, actually it was a tour of two family owned factories. They both used different processing, so it was very interesting. All total we got about 8 shots or half shots of Tequila, and I bought 4 liters of Tequila, since one of the guides told us we were allowed 6 liters duty free - WRONG! We later found out that we are only allowed 1 liter each. So, guess what was "hidden" in our luggage as we left the ship? We got to see some of the countryside, have some of the trees pointed out to us and how they use them in Mexico, and got to see the local prison (where we were warned not to take pictures). Then we drove back into the old part of Puerto Vallarta. Cobblestone streets, traffic, and a lot of party spots. There were some sand sculptures on the beach we drove along, and the guide told us the history of the statues that lined the beach. Interesting. Then came the shopping. They took us down to a little narrow street, and told us that we had 30 minutes to shop. No problem...for me. The shops were the same tourist type stuff you see everywhere on the Mexican Riviera. Boring...thank God it was only for 30 minutes.
We then went back to the port, and gf and I decide to go back aboard to drop off the tequila (which they take until the last night when they give it back to you) and get something to eat. LONG line at the booze table, took me 30 minutes to get it checked. Then we went upstairs and had a quick bite to eat, before having to come back down at 4:45 for our Sunset Sail.
The Sunset Sail was totally amazing. We actually say a whale not too far from our boat. They tried to put up the sails, but since there was no wind, it was decided to see if we couldn't spot the whale when it came back up, which it didn't. No problem, everyone on board was having a good time. They had to use a little boat to get us to the schooner, and there was one lady that I didn't think was going to make it through the night, but I asked her afterwards, and even she had a good time. The crew made sure we had all we wanted to drink, and even told us a lot about whales that we didn't know. Oh, and the sunset - it happens so fast, and on the water is really beautiful. We got lots of pictures, along with the memories. I would do this again in an instant. I was kind of leary since I can get sea sick, but my sea bands did the trick. When it came time to go back to port, none of us passengers wanted to go. But we had to be back on the ship by 9 pm, which we were actually back by 7:30 or so. If you ever get a chance to do this excursion, as Michael says - "Just Do It!"