This was my first cruise, in what will hopefully be one of many. I traveled with a family group of 8.
To start off, the embarkation onto the boat was flawless. Even though it has been noted that you could not board until 11:30, we had made the mistake of booking a cab too early (or so we thought) and arrived at the port an hour early. I was chagrined to see lines upon lines of people everywhere - waiting for taxis, hanging outside of the port building, looking miserable. To my delight, we got out of our taxi, was immediately met by a porter who whisked our luggage away and we were ushered into the modern, immaculate building. I later learned that I would be one of the huddled masses looking for a way out of the port at the end of the trip. Check in was a breeze, and anticipating having to wait around in the port building before we'd be allowed on the Carnival Magic, we were instead welcomed upon the boat and invited to start strapping on the feed bag immediately. That was my introduction to cruising, and it was a heady delight, that spread out before me was a magnificent buffet and it was mine for the taking. Sitting out on the Lido deck, gazing out into the ocean, dining al fresco, having my dishes whisked away the second I was done with them....amazing. That was the type of moment you'll always remember on your first cruise.
Now, for exploring the boat. How bizarre it was remember that this was a brand new boat, only having a few other sailings before mine. I was somewhat chagrined to see that many things already appeared worn (wooden steps, some furniture) or dirty (windows, carpets). I've read in other reviews that Carnival ships usually lean towards a "cheesy" design, and I would wholeheartedly agree. I was expecting things on a grand, modern scale, but that was absolutely not the case. I felt much of the decor was straight out of the 70's, and not in a good way. The only area I felt had a sleek, interesting design was the Spa area, which was beautiful - aqua glass, ocean colored tiles, soothing colors, muted patterns. Otherwise, it was boring beige-ness, hideous carpets, fixtures and lightings that seemed dated already. For the number of people on the boat, it seemed that there should be more actual pool as well, for once the ship was full, you had to cram yourself in for some swim time...forget about swimming laps or having any space. And really, unless you are like the other passengers and hog a deck chair with your personal belongings though you may be decks away and have no intention of returning to it any time soon, you'll find that having a area to sit can be difficult to come by. That infuriated me time and time again that people were no where to be found, but towels,books, etc. were always strewn over the chairs, "holding them" but remained empty for hours at a time. That held true for the adult area, the waterslide area and the pool areas.
Not that this should come as any surprise, but though you've paid for your cruise, Carnival will continue to try and part you from your money from the time you enter the ship until you leave. Truly, it would have been easy enough to avoid extra costs beside the $10/day gratuities, but it was sad to see how many things you had to pay extra for. Of course, any alcohol, which is understandable, and goodness knows, there will be a server asking constantly if they can bring you a drink, though no one was ever pushy about it. Things like a "coffee house" where you had to buy frou frou coffees or large desserts... that was ridiculous to me. In the pub, you have to pay extra for any grub. Pictures, pictures, pictures all over the place, but exorbitant prices to buy them. Ridiculous bingo games constantly. I thought there would be more shopping aboard the boat, like souvenir type items, but they have wasted space on having a candy shoppe (where of course, you pay for everything).
As this is a port heavy cruise, I wasn't expecting a huge amount of on board entertainment, but thank goodness I wasn't, because there was very little of interest, especially during the day. Some trivia games, casino tournaments, kareoke, but I guess I was just expecting more little classes or lectures, crafts...I don't know, just more. I went to one of the evening shows, singers and dancers were good, set was very nice, songs were somewhat "meh", but since most of them were from the 70's, it fit with the overall environment of the boat, I suppose. Saw the comedians, they were decent. Magic show was abysmal, literally 2-3 "tricks" per performer, and lame at that.
Back to my favorite thing, and that's food. There was plenty to be had onboard. Eating at the buffets, there was always something tasty. Some of the desserts were hit or miss (especially any cheesecake product...blech!). When it was busy, waiting in line is excruciating. When I am hungry, I am not patient, but I was a sight better than many people who would just barge in and jump the line, grab something and be on their way, making the rest of us sucker wait that much longer in the line. I sampled most of what they had to offer on board. One thing that I should have mentioned about the ship itself, is that I was constantly turned around and confused, though that might be more due to my lack of sense of direction. In any case, there were indoor buffets, then outdoor kiosk specialty restaurants, which I could never remember which one was where. From my recollection, there were 4 - a deli, hamburger/hotdog stand, tandoori food and pizza place. Never ate at the deli, but sandwiches my sister got looked good. Hamburger/hotdogs were good, fries excellent. Tandoor was awesome, though naan bread was always snatched up, needing to be replaced. Pizza was OK, staff never seemed to be there, you had to wait if you ordered anything beyond cheese. Inside at the buffets, there was a burrito bar, a la Chipotle, that was quite good, though the buffet came with tortilla chips and had the odd experience of having 1 out of every 3 chips be stale and disgusting, and the remainder delicious. Huh. Mongolian Wok line was also long and infuriating and the sauce choice was poor the day I went and ended up not even liking what I had "created". And no rice? That was odd. Now, the dining room experience - ate there a few times for breakfast, and that got old quickly, since the menu was pretty limited. For dinner? Phenomenal! The service, the food, the selection... top notch! Was always happy, if anything was not good, just asked for something different and it was whisked to the table in no time. Probably since we had a private table next to a window, we were luckier and happier than most, but I looked forward to every single dinner.
To the cabin - my better half decided not to come on the cruise, so I had to share a room with two other family members. However, it was not as miserable as anticipated. Was very pleased to find that there were two separate bathroom areas in the oceanview cabin - one with toilet, sink and shower, the other with sink and bathtub. Outside of both, a long shelf and dressing table for storage and for prepping for the day. Ideal for 3 women sharing a space, and all three like to primp. The closet space was great and shelves/drawers aplenty to hold all our junk. The bathrooms also had great space for toiletries, of which I brought way too many, but still was able to spread them out. Bed was comfy - service to the room, again was phenomenal. Like ninjas, the staff cleaned the heck out of the room the minute we stepped out of it, never running into them servicing the room, either in the morning or evening. To have turn down service, mints on the pillow, towel animal at night.... aaah, that will also be the takeaway love of the cruise along with the food.
To be honest, I was initially somewhat miffed at the idea of being charged an additional $70 for gratuities, especially with three people in the cabin...did they (dining, room staff) really deserve $210? They sure did, and I was scraping together my dollars to give them even more by the end, because I was that impressed at the level of service. Everyone was friendly, helpful... I could never do that job and still be in such a good mood and keep a smile on my face.
The casino was marginal...I was hoping for a lot more video slots, but Vegas , it was not. I don't like the "one armed bandit" reel slots, and they had majority of those. I like to be entertained by ridiculous cartoons, etc. while I'm losing my money :)
My shore excursion experiences ended up being pretty boring. To save money, I only booked one excursion, Rome at It's Best. The organization to get off the boat and onto your bus was fine, coach was comfy, initial guide was good, taking us into the city, giving us free time. The included lunch was at a random restaurant, and food was given to us, no choice at all, which was disappointing, especially since the main course was meat filled lasagna, which while tasty to me, was no good for picky kids or vegetarians, especially since the salad was filled with tuna, so it was bread for those who didn't eat meat. But a ton of wine was included, so the rest of the tour was somewhat blurry, if not completely boring. The second tour guide that met us in Rome for the afternoon was awful, and it is not even worth describing how excruciating she made the Basillica and the Colloseum with her vast amounts of talking and making us stand in one place instead of actually exploring Rome's magnificence. Thank heavens I had visited Rome before and will not carry just those memories of the worst tour guide ever. However, I should probably thank her for giving me the most hilarious pictures of the entire trip, when I took pictures of every single person in my family looking exhausted, angry, bored and mutinous all in one expression while in the Colosseum. However, don't let that dissuade you from taking this tour...we just got the worst tour guide is all. Rome deserves a lot more time than a day excursion, anyway...
For the other ports, despite my initial plans to have tours on my own, they turned into more wandering than anything. Monaco was very nice to explore on your own and it was easy enough to walk through the country without trouble. Livorno, I should have gone to Florence or Pisa, but since it came right after the Rome day, we were tired and just not in the mood to plan. After getting a shuttle bus (5 euro for round trip) into town was good enough, getting some lovely gelato. Naples, had every intention of going to Capri, but again, just wandered around the city, which had a lot more to explore than Livorno, but was very real and gritty, not touristy the way I thought a port city would be, but good. Messina, nothing struck my fancy, so again, just walked the city and there was some neat things to see, churches, church bells, souvenir shops, restaurants, shops.
So then, it was time to return to the real world. Debarkation was easy enough, though early in the morning, starting at 6, they were shoving you off the boat via overhead announcements as fast as they could. Who could blame them, with a whole new group of travelers getting on that same day, but a jarring end to it all. We walked off ourselves with luggage, easy enough. Fortunately found the shuttle bus to our hotel and didn't have to wait in the inhumane taxi line or sit with our bags on the curb like a hobo family for very long...only 15 minutes or so, looking with jealousy at the fresh faced new group going into the terminal for their upcoming cruise on the boat we just left.
Finally, a word about Barcelona...I absolutely loved it. It was never on my radar as a city (or Spain as a country) I had any interest in visiting - I've traveled extensively elsewhere - England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland (N and S), France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, etc. but was really surprised at how accessible Barcelona was as a city, it's beauty and architecture, great transportation system, especially the Metro. The people were friendly, accomodating and took pride in keeping their city nice. Before embarkation, we stayed at Apartments Spain Square in Eixample for three nights and then at the Renaissance Airport Hotel for two nights afterwards, and both places provided advantages for seeing the city. Using self catering accomodations saved a lot of money in the beginning as well.
Overall, it was a trip to remember, and I will carry many more positive memories than anything else.