BACKGROUND-We are a married couple (42m/38f) from Nashville, Tn. This was our 7th cruise but our first cruise overseas. We are generally an active beach going couple that enjoy sitting on the beaches and taking it easy so we knew this was going to be a little different trip for us.
FLIGHTS/HOTEL- We flew from Nashville to Venice via JKF and Madrid 2 days prior to sailing. Flights were non-eventful and all in all went quickly. We took the bus at the airport to Piazza Roma along with our 4 very large suitcases and two backpacks. We stayed at the Hotel Pappadopli very near the Piazza Roma. It was a very short walk over only one bridge to get the hotel. We had originally thought of leaving a portion of our luggage at the left baggage storage location but when we couldn't find it right away so we just took all our luggage with us to the hotel and it was pretty easy to do so. The hotel is pretty nice and the rooms were spacious enough. I will say we did have some ants in the room that were roaming around on the floor some but that could be a Venice as a whole problem? The best thing about this hotel is the convience to the Piazza Roma.
PORTS- I will not go in to detail on all the ports of call here as there is just too much to tell but will try to focus on the ship and the embarkation and debarkation. We took a cab from the Piazza Roma to the cruise ship terminal. It was maybe a 5-10 minute cab ride and the cost was around 20E if I remember correctly. From start to finish for the embarkation process was 20 minutes if even that. Very smooth and efficient. Not realizing that all the liquor stores would be closed on Sunday May 1 for holiday we had to buy 2 bottles of wine at the port to have in our room. We were told by the clerk working at the shop that we could bring on 5 bottles of wine (each) and 1 bottle of spirits (each). The way it worked here is you bought your bottles and they gave you a ticket. Once you checked in, went thru security they had a window set up for you to hand them your ticket and they handed you your purchases. So after picking up our bottles we never were checked again for what we were bringing on the ship. Might be different in Barcelona but this is how it worked in Venice. If you brought that many bottles to the port and brought them thru security I am not for sure if they would say anything or not. But we also brought back on board two bottles from a winery in Florence and was told to drop them off at the desk but for some reason we forgot to stop at the desk to give them the bottles. Ooops!!!
STATE ROOM- We stayed in Cove balcony room #2400. We picked this cabin because we enjoy balconies and were interested in staying that close to the water for the experience.
First the good points about the balcony- great size and layout of room and balcony, private when sailing as no one can see from above or below, you can see side to side some if you are looking but you would need to be somewhat a peeping tom. Obviously being the first sailing it was very clean and new smelling, bed was very comfortable. The location was very close to the aft elevators so it was pretty easy to get where you needed to go but it was quite a walk to the spa and serenity deck. There was plenty of storage in the room and that was good because we had way too much stuff with us.
Bad points to the balcony- we were right below the galley and it was pretty loud most all the time. Either someone dragging something across the floor, mixing something, cleaning something, stacking stuff etc... They work in there pretty much non-stop so there was always some noise. When we would come back from the casino even late at night there was still a lot of noise and afternoon naps were a little tough due to banging, dragging etc... If you are a light sleeper or need a lot of peace and quiet in your room be careful when picking your cove balconies to see what is above you. I know some say they had no noise on other parts of the ship, but I can say we had lots of noise and as did our neighbors. Our TV remote worked on its own schedule (sometimes it worked great, sometimes it didn't work at all), room steward called about it several times but the problem was never really fixed the whole cruise. Not a big deal really but could be nuisance to some. At night they have to keep the life boats lit for safety reasons obviously so we did get some light on your balcony from that. Again not a big deal but it you want to gaze at the stars it would a little tough.
I did a lot of research on our stateroom before we left and even thought about changing location when I knew we were below the galley but figured it wouldn't be that bad. We enjoyed the cove balcony and were able to tolerate the noise but would be more strategic on picking our room location next time and probably would book a spa room if we had to do it all over again. We used the spa on our second sea day and we really enjoyed it a lot. We booked a hot stone couples massage for 8am which lasted about an hour and then we purchased the day pass to the spa for $35 each and were able to use both steam rooms, Thalasso therapy pool, and thermal suites. We enjoyed all the spa facilities that day and would recommend the day pass for sure. They do have dry saunas for free use in the regular dressing rooms for men and women but they are quite small.
DINING- We did the anytime dining option and only had to wait for a table on the first sea day for about 20 minutes, the other nights we were seated right away. We ate in the dining room 4 nights and the food was very good each night, you just have to remember they are cooking for thousands and thousands of guests so if you are expecting everything to be cooked perfectly just for you then you might be asking a bit much. Service was hit and miss on some nights, bar service was slow on occasion, the ice cream on my chocolate melting cake was a chunk of ice one night and small things like that but if that is all there is to complain about in 4 nights of dining in the main dining room then I would say they did a great job especially on an inaugural cruise.
We did eat at the steakhouse two nights and both nights were fantastic. You will not leave there hungry at all. Wife had the steak and lobster both nights and I had the NY strip the first night and the ribeye the second night. They were both great but preferred the NY strip as it was probably one of the better steaks I have ever eaten and we've enjoyed very upscale steakhouses throughout the country. For $30 per person it is a very good deal and you would probably spend somewhere in the $150-$200 range for the same meal at Morton's, Ruth Chris or Smith and Wollensky.
We ate at Cucina Del Capitano for lunch one day at it was great also. At lunch they give you a sheet and you check off which pasta you want, the sauce you want, meat, etc... and they make it the way you like. It was quick, easy and very tasty. We didn't eat there for dinner but they do require reservations at dinner time (lunch is free, dinner is $10 for adults, $5 for kids).
We ate at the various grills, buffets, pizzeria etc... throughout the ship and all were the typical cruise ship foods. In general all the food was above average for sure and we had no problems with lines at all for any of the food venues. We didn't think about not going during peak times or things like that. We just went when we felt like eating something and never had a problem.
RED FROG PUB- We visited the pub 3 nights and did order the Conch Fritters and Coconut Shrimp one night. Both were good with tasty dipping sauces and it made for a great quick snack for dinner one night. The "local" Red Frog beers are excellent and highly recommend them. It took them a few nights to get the kinks worked out with the kegs but after that no problems at all. With this being the first sailing, one can expect a few things to not go exactly as planned. The entertainment in the pub is excellent, with two great musicians performing on different nights, playing all your favorite music from all different genres of music. We enjoyed the musicians here much more than the piano bar since they will play more current music and also some of the classic sing-a-longs. We were always able to find a table here each night and they even have tables outside that we didn't find til the last day on board. This was a great idea for Carnival as it seemed like one of the more popular places on the ship. (I would say it's like a local pub at home where you'd hang out often and again the local beer is excellent. They have other Caribbean beers and drinks and even have fishbowls.)
CASINO- Typical casino really. They have table games, plenty of slots machines (penny slots to $5 was the highest I saw but they may have higher), two poker tables, blackjack, craps, roulette, etc.. You can get free drinks in the casino once you hit 1500 points on your players club card (your sail and sign card). I think you get points more quickly by playing the slots or might just be easier for them to keep up with. We won some, lost some, typical casino I would say. We budget money that we are willing to risk/lose as a cost of entertainment to us but I wouldn't go to the casino on board a cruise ship and expect to walk out rich by playing the slots. It was a little crowded in there from about 8pm to midnight but never to a point you couldn't get on a slot machine or sit down at a table. I will say bar service was very slow when playing in the casino and especially noticeable when you do hit the 1500 point "free drink" total since those free drinks seem to go down just a little bit faster. Our bar service girl from dinner on the first night also worked the casino so she was fantastic and always took pretty good care of us each night so we compensated her directly for her great service. When we were in the casino why she was still serving in the dining room we had a very difficult time getting bar service.
POOL/DECK CHAIRS- It was still pretty cool for the first half of our cruise which included two sea days so it was never a problem to find a chair. We had to skip Monaco so we had another sea day at the end of the cruise and the weather was much warmer and we still didn't have a problem finding a chair. It was crowded right around the pool areas but still lots and lots of areas to enjoy the sun.
We didn't get in any of the pools or hot tubs on board or do the water slides. But the pools were never really full (maybe due to chillness in the air) and the hot tubs had your typical folks that would sit in there for hours on end and some that would just get in and out. I think all in all there are 6 hot tubs on board (2 at the rear pool, and 2 on each side of the promenade deck). Slides looked like fun but we didn't try them (we had some friends that went down them and said they were really fun).
OTHER SHIP AMENITIES- we played mini golf which is fun, you play the 9 holes on deck 11 & 12. They had ladder ropes you could walk above that which was cool but we didn't try it. They also had a pool table and foosball tables out there. They have lots of other things for kids to do as well (nice arcade, clubs, etc.).
EXCURSIONS- We didn't book any excursions with Carnival directly but did private tours in Naples, Rome, Florence and did on our own excursions in Croatia, Messina (Taormina) and Barcelona (2 days post cruise). In Naples and Florence we shared a tour with three other couples we met prior to sailing through Cruise Critic and it worked out perfectly. We were able to see lots of sights, skip lots of lines and experience a lot of the local feel being in a smaller group. Our tour guides provided lots of valuable insight and information about the Italian way of life and it was great having someone explain all the different monuments and sights and the history behind them. I HIGHLY recommend the smaller/private tours. We used Share a Shore Excursions and Daniel was wonderful! And Amalfi Tours with Katherine who was also absolutely wonderful. Both were very knowledgeable and accommodating.
GENERAL- We really enjoyed the ship a lot. There were a few problems here and there but that can be expected on any ship anywhere in the world. We never felt crowded on the ship and lines to just about anything on board weren't bad at all. Carnival was also offering a service to have a personal photography session either on board or in a port of call with a professional photographer and you could buy packages of photos from that shoot. We scheduled twice with the photographer, once in Dubrovnik and we didn't hear from the photographer until after we left the port and it was also raining that day and we scheduled for Monaco but we missed that port due to winds so we weren't able to do the photography session. I guess it just wasn't meant to be for us since both ports didn't work out but it looked like a great service if you are looking for a more upscale type of photography session. Just check pricing as we got several different prices from different people in the photo shop. Stick with the pricing that the photographer will give you when he calls you to set up your times.
DISEMBARKATION- This went very smooth and we were off the ship in about 5 minutes after our number was called. I'm not sure if that was the norm or we just got lucky but from the time we left our room to picking up our luggage and getting a cab to our hotel in Barcelona was maybe 10-15 minutes.
HOTEL IN BARCELONA- We stayed at the Hesperia Ramblas right off La Rambla street. This was a nice hotel for the price. It was right off of La Rambla which was a great location with lots going on. (a lot of shops, restaurants, the market just around the corner, a Metro stop right there, etc.) This location made it easy for us to get around and see everything. We felt safe and were given guidance on where to go and what to do/what to watch out for. Lots of great sites to see and they are easily accessible by walking or subway. On our last night Barcelona celebrated its third straight Spanish league title and the celebration was an incredible sight to see.