Booking: We booked online and never had a bit of trouble. We also booked out Excursions online and that too was seamless. We both ordered some surprises from Bon Voyage and the only issue we had there was not asking for an e-mail receipt and not being able to "confirm" our orders. Being a Texas Port, our Drink Tickets got to us after we had our first drinks during departure.
Documents: We never had a bit of trouble with documents at any time. The system was easy to use and everything printed very easily. We both have Passports and are glad we did (more later re: debarkation). We made copies of them for shore excursions and should have had them with us but forgot. Not an issue but could have been I guess.
Excursions: We booked our Shore Excursions on Carnival's site and had a very trouble free experience. We may have paid a little extra but the convenience and peace of mind knowing that Carnival knew where we were and when we'd be back was worth it to us. The tickets were delivered to our stateroom the first night and everything worked just like clockwork.
Packing: We over packed. There I admitted it. We each had a large rolling check bag, a small rolling carryon bag, and a HUGE purse or reasonable backpack. Too much. We both had clothes left over, tools and gadgets we did not use, Jackets we did not need, shoes we did not wear. We did bring a Laptop for downloading pics and budgeting and were glad.
Transportation: We live in Nacogdoches, Texas (120 miles N. of Houston) and added a weekend in Galveston to our vacation so we could drive down and be in town all weekend before departure. In reading all the concerns about transfers from Houston Hobby and Intercontinental to Galveston, we feel very fortunate to be able to drive down. So my best advice would be to plan on staying the night before in Galveston and taking a shuttle or walking to the terminal and not trying to juggle arriving the day of departure.
Lodging: Even though this is not a review of hotels, I must include; staying at the Harbor House almost next door to the terminal was nearly as nice as the cruise itself. We left our car in their gated parking lot for $20 and walked to the terminal on Monday morning in 10 min. The rooms all have harbor views and are all what I would call mini-suites. $119 - $199 is a little pricey but if you compare that to other hotels in Galveston, it is right in line. The Tremont House is also Downtown and in walking distance but has little parking. Many other hotels on the island have free parking and a free shuttle to the terminal.
Parking: As I said, parking at the hotel and walking or taking a shuttle is the way to go but, all the other parking is right across Harborside Drive from the terminal and you can even walk to the terminal from some of them.
Embarkation: Never, for a single step, once we reached the door of the terminal, were we ever out of site of a Carnival employee guiding us along the route to the check-in area and then onboard. The process was smooth, the lines were reasonable; the time it took was actually a little less than expected. We left the hotel on foot at 11 am and arrived at 11:10. We were onboard at 12:15. Not bad.
Sail & Sign: There was some anxiety regarding how to fund our Sail & Sign Card. We got rid of all our credit cards a couple of years ago and use only cash and Debit Cards. Our regular checking / Debit Card is like everyone else's and contains just enough to pay the bills and day to day expenses, however, we have a Debit Card attached to another checking account linked to a separate savings account that we never use unless travelling. We estimated our Sail & Sign expenses then move TWICE that amount to the other checking account that card debits, so that it would cover any reserved amount and the actual charges. Then when the charges hit and the reserve is reversed, we move the remainder in the checking account back to savings. Worked like a charm.
Cash: We used cash for all other expenses and split it up between us so that either of us was not carrying all of it at any one time. Cash in the ports will get you an extra discount sometimes.
Ecstasy in General: What a nice ship. Ecstasy is the only Cruise Ship we have been on, and this is our second on her but I am somewhat familiar with commercial shipping and offshore facilities and this is a very nice "old" ship. She is even a little nicer now than in 2005 when we last sailed her. My only two "complaints" about the whole trip is, the window (port) in our Ocean-view Room could have been cleaned of caulk and smears on the outside and, the toilet tissue racks should be on the wall opposite the toilet rather than beside it so you could sit straight on the pot! She was spotless, up to date, and a joy to sail. We will miss her in Galveston even as we look forward to the Magic.
Lido Buffet: As soon as we stepped on board we were invited to the Lunch Buffet on the Lido Deck and the feast had begun! They were ready and fully functional and the food was very good. The first thing we did after reading so much about it in the Forums is try the coffee. It was surprisingly good and turns out that it is the same as is served in the MDR and Room Service. The problem is that it sits sometimes and gets stale and overcooked.
Stateroom: They said they'd let us in the stateroom corridors at 1:30 and they were done and right on time. The rooms are very nice, spotless, surprisingly roomy, 3 closets, 4 drawers, VERY comfortable bed and bedding, good lighting, nice size shower, flat screen TV, nice freebies, good body wash and shampoo on the shower wall, good towels, plenty of good pillows, adequate simple safe with 4 digit combination, ...
Room Steward: She was fantastic. She was from Thailand and just as polite and nice as she was efficient. We never lacked for ice or towels, or service of any sort. We tipped her well on the last morning! She was worth it!
Drill: We had the mandatory "Muster Drill" right on time at 3:30. It's nice that you no longer have to show up in your Life Jacket. We never did find out where our actual lifeboats were but fortunately, no icebergs were encountered in the Gulf and the "SS Stockholm" was far far away.
Departure: Lines were cast and thrusters were engaged right on time at 4:00 while we were still at Muster. When we were released we went up on deck and bid farewell to Galveston from the Observation Deck right above the bridge. The weather was beautiful, although windy enough that DW "flashed" the upper deck (no beads please), the water in the ship channel was a lovely slime green but the seagulls, Brown Pelicans, and the Bottle Nose Dolphins seemed to love it and escorted us all the way to the Gulf. I am amazed how the water turns from brown to green to a lovely deep blue in just a few short miles even in the Gulf.
MDR: WOW! Again after reading the Forums for weeks we were very pleasantly surprised at the quality, quantity, and presentation of the food and the level of service in the MDR. The whole experience was at the level of the very nicest restaurants on the mainland, maybe not the very finest in the world but what most folks would consider a very special evening out. The Appetizers were Spectacular, the Main Courses were a small step down the quality scale at Very Good, the Desserts were Sensational (The Warm Chocolate Melting Cake was everything it was touted to be), the Drink Service was Pretty Good (a little slow), and the Table Service was Outstanding. Our Head Waiter was from Nepal and was very attentive. You ask for hot sauce once and never have to ask again. We chose early dining because that is when we generally eat and wanted the experience of making closer friends with our tablemates than we might with Any Time Dining. It worked!
Room Service: The selection is not huge but what we got, mainly morning coffee and Croissants was, right on time, hot or cold as indicated and always very good. The Croissants are buttery and melt in your mouth.
Day 1 at Sea: Overnight, Monday, the seas built until we were running into a 50 kt headwind and 12 foot seas. There was a little movement but the stabilizers worked well and I saw no one sick. Not even DW, Jeanell, who is prone to be. She wore wrist bands and took Dramamine. No trouble! Due to the broken cloud cover the sunrise was really nice. Got up at 4:30 and had the deck to myself for a while. Later in the morning, the Serenity Deck was generally just that, SERENE! We could not go up on the Observation Deck due to a 65-70 kt wind over the deck but it was very nice everywhere else.
Spa Carnival: DW had the Fire and Ice Manicure on Day 1 @ Sea and the Pedicure on Day 2 @ Sea and loved them both. They were a little pricey and came with some mild pressure to purchase Elimis stuff but all in all a very nice experience.
Cruise Formal Night: This night was special in every way. All the folks were lovely, the staff was lively, the food was wonderful and ..... I even remembered how to tie a tie. DW was gorgeous in her Salsa Dress. We saw two teenagers in cut up jeans, tee shirts, and ball caps on sideways. The Maitre d' asked them to remove their hats or leave. They did so. Good for him!!
Serenity: The Serenity Deck was just that SERENE. Generally it was anyway. We had one small teen invasion that was quickly repulsed, and one runaway Hot Tub that got to 115 deg before the boss intervened and had it fixed. I'm not sure the stern is the best place for it but I believe it is elsewhere on newer vessels in the fleet. Pretty much our favorite spot on the ship other than MDR.
Progreso: We did not spend any time in Progreso proper. We went to Dzibilchaltun and viewed the ruins. Very informative, very organized, and did not take all day as a trip to Chichen Itza. It was hot and humid and we were pooped when we got back. We shopped a little at the terminal and went back on board. Wimps that we are. There were no other ships docked at one of the longest piers in the world. This was my choice of excursions.
Cozumel: DW chose Snorkeling in Cozumel. Quite a surprise since she is a very weak swimmer; but it was wonderful. Antonio towed her and two other "terrapods" around behind a float so that all they had to do was breath and look. DW tipped him heavily. I thought she was going to kiss him! The shallow reef and beach area was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma, and has been extensively rebuilt. The coral is growing again, the artificial habitats are attracting fish and it is really amazing to see the progress. While she was being towed, I was able to dive on the reef in 12-20 feet of crystal clear water. We all saw thousands or multi colored fish, new coral, Stingrays, Star Fish, Sea Fans, ...
While in Cozumel we did some serious shopping. With the help of Hila, the Shopping DIVA aboard Ecstasy, we were able to find a Ruby Pendant, we had saved (cash) for, that was perfect for DW. We also bought Vanilla, Hot Sauces, Tee Shirts, some costume jewelry, and coffee. Liquor was cheaper onboard so ... We docked at Playa Maya and it was actually a little nicer than downtown where we were in 2005. We shared the dock with Carnival Triumph (Coming to Galveston in the fall as our new 4-5 Day Cruise Ship) but since the area is so much larger than Progreso, it was not really any more crowded than Progreso. We took our S&S cards, our Driver's License, and cash ashore in a $4 watertight neck wallet and it was all we needed. We intended to take photocopies of our passports also and forgot.
Day 2 at Sea: What can I say? Serenity, sea breezes, sun, a rain shower, good food, great companions, superior service, a beautiful ship; Friday at sea was magic. Dinner was my experimental evening. Escargot, Chateaubriand, Poached Pear. All fantastic!
Fun Shops: The Fun Shops were just fine. A little small on Ecstasy, but just fine. Anything you might need you can get. I started a tradition; I am buying a watch on every cruise. I got a Citizen Echo-Drive Dress Watch for a very good 40% off retail, and a couple of "Box Watches" for gifts.
Entertainment: The Comedy was good, the musicians were good and I'm sure the show was good, but again, as on our first cruise, we missed the show. Next time for sure. I wish they put it on more than one night per cruise. Maybe they do on a 7 day cruise?
Debarkation: Beginning the night before, the instructions are plentiful, clear, and precise. WE packed up and had plenty room without taking out the extra god we brought. We attached out new Zone Tags and set them outside. They disappeared only to reappear in the terminal the next morning. We were in the third Zone after the Self Service folks; even so, we were off by 10:00 and walking to the car. No muss, no fuss, no hassle! We will try and pack better next time so as to qualify for the Self Service departure.
Passports: Get a passport! If, for no other reason, the line in the terminal for customs is MUCH shorter (1/5) than the line for all other guests. It streamlines everything. Just get one!
Port of Galveston: The "little" Port of Galveston is just fine and they do a very good job. They will have their work cut out for them to handle the Magic and the Triumph for Carnival, and a Princess ship, and NCL, and Disney but it can be done. There will be some growing pains but, as seamlessly as they handle things right now, my level of confidence is very high that by the summer of 2012, it will be ticking like a clock again.
Summary: On a scale of 1-10, this cruise gets a 9.5 and our loyalty to Carnival as our preferred Cruise Line. I'm not saying we will not sail other lines but ... For example, we want to sail Hawaii in a couple of years. NCL bases a ship in Honolulu and you fly directly there and spend seven days in paradise. With Carnival and everyone else, you spend 12-15 days to visit Hawaii and still have to fly to the west coast unless you live there.
Future Cruises: We will be booking a Seven Day Cruise out of Galveston aboard Carnival Magic for next summer. Then Hawaii, then Alaska, then .....
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