My husband and I stayed in an oceanview stateroom with our two sons, aged 13 and 15. Our overall cruise experience was fine. We had a wonderful time, and our kids can't wait to go back, although next time we may try a different cruise line. I think that one of the reasons our experience was so enjoyable was the fact that we chose to look at everything with a positive attitude - we were determined to have fun, so we did. There were definitely aspects of our cruise experience that were less than satisfactory, and often required a good sense of humor.
By far the worst part of my experience was Spa Carnival. I had decided I wanted a full-body massage on one of the days at sea, so I looked on their website to see what my choices were. In the massage category, choices were extremely limited, and a simple massage was not on the list. The only way I could get the massage I wanted was to combine it with a seaweed wrap for $269 - not what I wanted, but it seemed to be the only way to get a massage, so I booked it for the first full day onboard. I thought about waiting until I boarded to see if there were more choices but feared they would be booked up if I waited. On the day of my appointment, a flyer was placed in our room advertising all sorts of much less-expensive spa treatments that were closer to what I wanted, but it was too late to cancel without being charged half of the price. I actually enjoyed the treatment, but when it was over, the masseuse proceeded to subject me to a lengthy high-pressure campaign to sell me nearly $400 worth of products I didn't want, but that she insisted I simply had to have or my seaweed treatment would be useless. It took me forever to convince her that I couldn't afford what she was selling (nor did I want any of it), and finally I bought a $60 product just to get out of there. It was extremely upsetting and stressful, which pretty much defeated the purpose of getting a massage in the first place.
Then she pointed out to me that unlike most of the services onboard, spa treatment tips are not included, so I tipped her $20. Altogether, my spa "experience" cost me $350, and all I wanted was a massage, which I could have gotten for $139 if I had waited and booked after I boarded (or $80 if I just waited until I got home). Even worse, the specials for the last day onboard were even cheaper, but by then my feelings about the spa were so sour, I didn't want to set foot in the place again. Note to self: Next time, when the masseuse goes to leave the room for me to dress, I will say, "By the way, thank you for the massage, but if you walk back in here with any products, not only will I not buy anything, I also will not tip you. If you don't try to sell me anything, not only will I tip, but I will schedule another massage for later in the week and you'll get another tip. Have a nice day."
Next, I had always heard that one of the best things about cruising is the food, and several years ago when we traveled with the Disney Cruise Line, this was definitely true. Perhaps it is unfair to compare Carnival to an upscale line such as Disney, and I did bear that in mind, but at times the food on the Carnival ship was barely edible - hit or miss, at best. Unless you just need something quick to eat, I would avoid the buffet as much as you can. I recommend eating as many meals as possible in the formal dining room. While my kids did enjoy the pizza station and the deli, the actual buffet was nothing to write home about, and the lines were often ridiculously long. There is a grill in the pool area where you can get decent burgers, etc., but the lines for that are often very long too. 24-hour room service is offered, but the selection is pitiful, so we never bothered, even though there were times when ordering room service would have been really convenient.
The dining room dinners were, for the most part, very good. However, I had heard others talk about ordering two entrees in order to try two different things and, while technically you are allowed to do that, what you can expect, in reality, is that they will conveniently forget to bring one of your dishes. There were a couple of times when I didn't care for my entree, and it would have been nice to have a second one on hand. Tip: If you want to try several things, or you just want something extra in case you don't like something, try ordering two appetizers. I never had trouble getting two different appetizers and since the appetizer portions are often very small, you will be more likely to get enough food that way.
As I said, the dining room food was consistently the best option, but having said that, I have to admit that the absolute worst food experience we had the whole trip was in the dining room one day at lunch. We shared a large round table with five other people, and most of us ordered the fish and chips. Imagine our reaction when they brought us all FROZEN FISHSTICKS, probably straight from the microwave, because the breading was soggy!!! Unbelievable!!!
We were a family of four in an oceanview stateroom and, while you have to expect cruise line staterooms to be small, the equivalent Disney stateroom was laid out much better. With two children, there is no avoiding having two bunks that fold out of the wall, but with Carnival one bunk was horizontal above the pillows of the double bed, with the other bunk parallel to it on the opposite wall, at the foot of the double bed. To get in and out of the double bed, the person on the side by the wall had to crawl over the other person in the bed and over the corner table at the foot of the bed, while being sure to keep their head down until they had cleared both bunks. I felt like I spent a good portion of my cruise either crawling or walking doubled over, and if I had a dime for every time a member of my family whacked their head on one of the bunks, I could afford another cruise! Disney solves this problem by placing the two bunks on the same wall, one above the other, like real bunk beds, which leaves a little more room to maneuver. And they do not place them over the double bed so that people using that bed can't even sit up.
The kids' programs get mixed reviews from us. They seem to be mostly for small children and, for the most part, there weren't very many scheduled activities in the Circle "C" Club (ages 12-14) that our 13-year-old son was interested in - a large portion of the activities seemed geared more toward girls. The one time that he did venture into the club, he returned immediately to our stateroom because a group of kids had refused to let him have a turn at a game, cutting in front of him and keeping him out of their clique, and nothing was done by the crew members to stop this. He never went back and spent every minute of the cruise with my husband and me. Fortunately, with the exception of the casino and the adults only pool area, all areas of the ship are open to children, including the lounges and bars as long as they are accompanied by their parents. He enjoyed the live music with us and was treated as if he was perfectly welcome, even in those settings. On the other hand, our 15-year-old made several friends in Club "02" and we hardly ever saw him except at dinner and on the excursions. He didn't participate in any of the organized activities though. He and his friends mostly just played video games.
As long as you understand that you are on a bargain-basement cruise line and you get what you pay for, you should have a good time. Just keep your expectations low. The service in the dining room is good, and for the most part the personnel are pleasant, although we did notice a couple of hostesses who looked consistently miserable. Some of the onboard entertainment is actually entertaining, though it never rated above adequate. The poolside island-style music was okay and set the right mood. We enjoyed the acoustic music of Tommy Green Jr., and the Sing-Along Party with Bruce in Duke's Bar was my personal entertainment highlight. In addition to performing a fun selection of tunes to sing-along with, Bruce was also friendly and personable between sets and sometimes spent his breaks conversing with us. Very fun! My husband's favorite was the classic rock group "Music Power" that performed mostly in the Romeo and Juliet Lounge, although with their Philipino accents some songs worked better than others. The comedians ran the gamut from funny to just irritating, so the comedy shows are definitely hit or miss.
One huge complaint we had about the entertainment related to anything in the main theatre, the Mikado Lounge. For some ridiculous reason, most of the shows scheduled in the theatre are preceded by Bingo, so the theatre fills up with people playing Bingo and they stay for the show, so even if you show up 30 minutes before a show, good luck getting a seat. If you want to pay to play Bingo just to get to see a show, feel free, because that's probably the only way you're going to see one.
The shore excursions that we took part in were first-rate, probably the same ones available on more upscale cruise lines. We highly recommend SeaTrek Helmets, available in Cozumel and Grand Cayman. The experience of walking around on the bottom of the ocean about 25-feet below surface, and having air constantly pumped into a large helmet with a high degree of visibility was one of the highlights of our cruise, and we got amazing pictures using a disposable waterproof camera. Another excursion that you should do if you can possibly afford it is the Dolphin Ride and Swim with lunch in Cozumel. The up-close and personal interaction with these beautiful, gentle creatures is not to be missed, and the fajitas served at lunch were delicious. The only disappointment, and it was only slight, was the Montego Bay Seawinds Family All-Inclusive Beach Day. It was a fun day, but the description stated "enjoy the lively Jamaican entertainment" which implies some sort of live music, not the piped-in recording we heard all day.
The experience of boarding and leaving the ship, while time-consuming, hot and boring, could not be any more organized, in my opinion, and the personnel at the port of Mobile were pleasant and helpful. Our luggage arrived on the ship and back off again without incident, and the porters who transported it between our car and ship and back again were fast, courteous, and efficient.
We will definitely cruise again, and we may even cruise with Carnival again, but only because it's the cheapest. We're pretty good at having fun under less than perfect circumstances, and it's mostly about the ports and excursions anyway.