I have been on one cruise prior to this one with Norwegian. Didn't really care for it, and didn't want to cruise again, but my wife wanted to try Carnival. I booked this cruise a month in advance, but after reading reviews a week prior to embarkation, was about to cancel....SO GLAD I DIDN'T!!!
My wife and I are experienced travellers, so I'll share a few tips we have learned over the years and many countries we have been to.
First Cruising tip: Research available things to do and see in your ports of call. Don't book in advance, and be flexible. Have a couple different ideas. We learned from our first cruise that there is always a taxi available when you get to port. Use them. Shore excursions cost big bucks, and the cruise line allows waaay too much time for travel to and from these excursions, cutting down your fun time by HOURS!
Embarkation: Easy, fast, got our bags quickly.
Room: We paid for an interior room, they gave us a room with french doors to a used to be balcony. View semi-obstructed by lifeboats, but it was definitely ocean-view, GREAT ROOM! Unexpected upgrade!
Room was cleaned twice a day. Awesome job the crew did!
I though the room was very spacious as well.
On this cruise, first port of call was Port Canaveral. My wife and I took a taxi to a liquor store, filled a cooler with beer, and hit Cocoa beach. Then went and played mini golf at a cool place, complete with live alligators lounging around the course. (there are fences, you're not going to get eaten) Think it was called Fantasia golf, right on the main drag. Went to a nice LOCAL seafood restaurant, then went back to the ship right after the big gust went through blowing her off the dock. Total cost that day, $120 (restaurant was steep.)
I'll pause for a minute to let you good folks know a few things about ship handling. I attend the Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, MI. I graduate next year as a 3rd mate, and can get hired on any size vessel (including a cruise ship). An 85 knot gust of wind hitting a "skyscraper" laying on its' side, floating in liquid is a problem. A BIG problem. Once the ship broke from the dock, the only thing stopping it from grounding or hitting another pier, or worse, a vessel across the waterway is to drop the anchor as fast as you can. The anchor winches and mechanical equipment are not made to do this instantly. As most of you know by now, the mechanism broke and we all had to wait in the building until the ship was resecured. This could only happen if the assembly was fixed and the anchor could be pulled up. The engineers did a phenomenal job fixing the problem in 3 hours. It was the Coast Guard and red tape bureaucracy that held the ship overnight.
Travel tip: Things happen unexpectedly...deal with it! Be flexible. The world (weather and other acts of God) doesn't revolve around you.
Yes, $25 per person was refunded for the trouble of missing Nassau. Yes, handing out free bottled water when we got back on board was a slap in the face. Yes, people were upset. Yes, everyone was refunded their excursions pre-paid for Nassau. Yes, some people were told while getting back on board and even the next morning that the ship was still headed to Nassau. THEY DIDN'T LIE! The front desk has NO CLUE what is going on up in the bridge. The Captain doesn't give the front desk a play by play. The Captain did everything he could to correct the situation, and try to save everyone's vacation. He made Freeport an overnight port of call. I'll move on. Stay with me....
Freeport: I was ecstatic that we skipped Nassau! I am bias in this area, my wife and I love non-touristy things. I already knew what to do when we got to Freeport since I researched the LOCAL fun stuff. Upon getting into Freeport, we took a taxi to the liquor store, loaded up on LOCAL beer, and went to Taino beach, about three miles from Lucaya market where two thousand other cruisers headed. We had the ENTIRE beach to ourselves!!! There were two LOCAL conch vendors (Toni Maccaroni's and one other one) and a beach bar a little ways down. After we polished off our malty Bahamian brews, we watched the sunset, danced on the beach, and threw broken coral at ghost crabs. After dark, the LOCAL beach bar started a bonfire. We moseyed over there and found that they had a couple 10 gallon coolers of rum punch. They serve you all night, just give them what you think it's worth! They were excited at $1 per drink. Try finding THAT deal at the tourist trap! Our taxi showed up to pick us up at the time we specified. The locals are very nice and keep their word. The next day we went to the marketplace. It was practically empty since it was a little cloudy and a few squalls came up. We got some souvenirs (haggling is ok, it's not Nassau!) and you guessed it, went to the many liquor stores and walked around with brown-bag singles all morning. In short, we had the time of our life. Total cost in Freeport including souvenirs: $120.
I'm going to focus on some of the things people were complaining about that just about made me cancel this vacation.
1) FOOD. It's a cruise ship. There is no limit on how much food you can eat or throw away. If you don't like it, try something else. It's that simple. The buffet food ranged from good to questionable, to unexplainable mass of goo. Hello! It's a BUFFET! It's mass produced! Live a little bit and go eat in Normandie dining area. They did a fantastic job there! The service was impeccable! Again, you can order as many things off the menu as you want. If you don't like it, get something else! There is no reason to not enjoy your dining experience on this ship! I owned two restaurants before going to school. I sold them. I know food! In my opinion, the complainers in other postings didn't have enough class to appreciate foreign and ethnic foods. But you don't have to just eat that! I had 4 lobsters, 16 jumbo shrimp, and a steak in one meal. I crammed in dessert (chocolate melting cake...scrumptious!) as well. We were NEVER disappointed eating at Normandie. They plated everything beautifully. The wait staff anticipates your every need, are prompt, and know your name even the first day you sit down. Go to David's Steakhouse!!!!! It's $30 per person, but I challenge anyone to find a meal like that with service like that, for less than $120 on land.
Cruise tip: Go to David's the first night and get a free bottle of wine!!!!
2) the pools. Go to the adults only deck in the morning and jump in the hot tub. We did 4 out of the seven mornings. The pool is chilly, but why are people complaining? Its early spring! DUH! The Lido deck is always packed, always loud, but it is nice if there is bad weather, there is a covering over the poolside area and you can still enjoy being outside without getting wet. Great idea Carnival!
3) Top deck closed often: Early spring is very windy on the atlantic. Don't complain about the Captain looking out for your safety. Wind gusts are upwards of 60 knots. Imagine the cruise everyone would have if you fell overboard? DUH! Do something else!
Price Price Price: It's a cruise ship. They are there to take money. It's the goal of for-profit businesses to make a profit. If you take a cruise, expect drinks to cost money. Expect pictures, bingo, nice restaurants, organized fun, most everything to cost money. If you have a problem spending the money, a) dont go, or.... b) go but don't buy drinks c)don't play in the casino d)don't play bingo all day. You know what? Simple budgeting would be a great idea. DUH! My wife and I didn't drink much on board. When we did, we got bloody mary's in the morning when they were on sale, beer from the tap which is a lot less, or got it free. We did get pictures, great deal by the way. I did gamble...and won $150. Even with the $70 per person for room services, our total onboard cost was $320. If you can't afford it, don't go!
Cruise tip: Go to the farewell party on the sixth day. Free drinks for an hour, and they keep 'em coming! We downed 9 with time to spare, but didn't want to hurt ourselves. Also, that same day, it's late, but go to the party at the casino (around 11:00pm) Again, free drinks for an hour if you are still thirsty. Go to the art auctions, free champagne. If you MUST drink beer from a can, get the bucket of beer, saves a couple bucks.
Cruise tip: Pictures....walk up to the picture counter with the photos you want, and the ones you don't want. Pay for the ones you want, but if there are some that you like but don't want to pay for, sometimes (if its late and the employees are tired) they will shove all the pictures in the envelope... you just got a handful of free ones! Ain't stealin!
Gratuities: For you cheapo's out there that complain that everything has 15% gratuity on it, you need to do a waiter's job. These people are working 12-14 hrs a day, every day, for up to 9 months. Show some decency and don't complain about the mandatory tip. It's only there because y'all kept stiffing them in previous years. The crew did a fantastic job, and they should be thanked whenever you get the chance.
Artwork: The Masters and bohemians call it fine art, most people call it porn. I was a little nervous initially since my wife is quite protective of what goes in front of my eyes, but the overall atmosphere that Carnival created is just amazing. They truly make you feel like you are living a posh life back in a better time. The ship is beautiful.
Dirty ship: This complaint really shows people's ignorance. Salt water leaves a salt residue when it evaporates. It's not dirt. Picture a ship sailing the briny deep...imagine if you can a wave hitting the bow causing a magnificent explosion of spray and foam. Believe it or not, some water gets on the windows. Sun does have a tendency to dry and evaporate water, especially on a tinted glass surface. Dirty ship....HA!
Thanks for reading this novel, and I hope that you go on this cruise. You have the power to go with a good attitude. They say that they are the Fun Ships, but YOU have to decide to make it fun. If you have a negative attitude about everything, you need more than a vacation, you need psychological help. Bon Voyage!!!