Getting to the ship was easy enough as we live in one of the boroughs of New York. My wife has a tendency to be late for everything, so I implored, begged, and pleaded for her to be ready to leave the house by 10AM so we could avoid traffic and board early to start enjoying our cruise as soon as possible. Thankfully, she was ready even earlier than I had hoped and we made our way by 9:30. We arrived at the terminal about 45 minutes later, and curiously, we drove up to one lot only to be redirected to another. Not sure why we couldn't go straight to the appropriate lot to begin with, but it wasn't a big deal. We paid an outrageous $150 for long term parking ($30 per night) and made our way to the lower level to begin check in.
Check in was the best I have ever experienced. Since we were so early, we walked right to where we needed to go, without even one person in front of us at any time. In fact, when we got to the counter, the rep told us to go to any agent we wanted as every last one of them was waiting for someone to service. I will say this though, given that we took it upon ourselves to arrive early and avoid any lines, it did seem that there was more than enough staff on hand from start to finish to accommodate large crowds and get them to where they needed to be quickly and efficiently, so I give Carnival much credit for this.
We received our boarding zone number and went to our designated waiting area by 10:30, where boarding took place a little over an hour later. Boarding was very organized, with zero logjams or delays.
Once on board, we oriented ourselves with the public areas and went to the upper decks to check them out as well, and to have some lunch. Started off with the pizza I heard so much about and have to say that it was pretty good all things considered. The buffet, as I would soon find out to be the norm, was just OK. After lunch, we walked around the top decks enjoying the view and the weather, before making our way down to the cabin.
This was an anniversary cruise for us, so I had the room decorated with the anniversary package offered online. It was exactly as described, and a very nice touch. My wife was surprised by it and it made for a great start to the trip. Our cabin was a balcony cabin, starboard side, aft, and I was quite pleased with it. It was a nice size for two, very clean, and very nicely done. Sometimes room size can be a crapshoot, but no complaints at all with the cabin. We loved it! Just to mention, a month before sailing I was offered an upgrade to an extended balcony for a small fee that we turned down as my wife's number is 13, which is what the digits in our room number added up to, and I'm glad we did as the regular balcony was just fine with its table and two chairs. We never felt a need at any time for something bigger.
Our cabin steward was always on top of things. Room was always made up quickly after we left for breakfast, and we loved the towel animals made each night. We would come back to our stateroom at the end of the evening guessing what animal would be waiting for us. All of the staff on board were friendly and courteous. In fact, I can't remember one time where we passed a crew member in the halls or on deck where they didn't offer a greeting. The service in the restaurants was very good as well, although it would be nice to be asked if anything was needed during the meal. That said, I am a creature of habit, so I love it when the wait staff knows what I want without even asking. We were served our drinks shortly after sitting down, which was another nice touch. Our maitre'd Yusuf was awesome as well. His singing and dancing every night was made funnier by the fact that you would never expect it from his professional demeanor. Note:***He also helped us out with a problem that I am sure others have encountered. I wanted a table for two as my wife has been going through some medical issues, as well as it being our aforementioned anniversary, so it was important for us to have this privacy. A week before sailing, I called Carnival with my booking number, and the phone rep said she saw the booking as a table for two. As well, I went to the Golden Dining Room to speak with someone right after boarding, to confirm the table for two, and all they could offer was that they would put a request in. I thought I would be good, so imagine my surprise that evening when we were seated for dinner at a round table for 10! No one at the table wanted to be there, it was obvious. I went to speak with Yusuf, and he was able to get us our table for two no problem, although we waited to sit there until the following evening so as not to offend anyone by getting up and leaving the table. Turns out 3 of the other couples found other arrangements as well as the cruise went on. Why oh why does Carnival do this? Please have the dining room arranged for less community tables and more for couples. We are not anti social by any means, but with the kids staying home and it just being the two of us, we wanted to just have time to ourselves. I know they want to encourage socializing, but forcing people to dine with you shouldn't be the best they can come up with. I made the mistake one morning at the restaurant not specifically asking for a table for two, and we got stuck at a table with two other couples. Not coincidentally, this was the only restaurant meal where the service was not good, with orders not being filled properly or given to the wrong people.
The cruise director Josh seems like a nice enough guy and you can see he really enjoys his job, but I really don't recall seeing him much on the ship. Would have been nice to bump into him along the way to let him know how things were going.
Had second sitting dinner, which is later than I like, but the wife wanted it, so there you go. Food was NOT the highlight of the trip for us. I cruised with Home Lines on the Oceanic and Atlantic in the 70's & 80's, so I remember the food being a hallmark of a cruise. Not so much here. Unlike what I remember, there was plenty of food here to be had during non dining hours, with constant buffets and food stations serving (never did have the Mongolian Wok as lines were just too prohibitive. Keep it open longer!). As mentioned earlier, pizza was a pleasant surprise. Burgers were good as well, but how can you mess up a burger anyway, lol? As for the buffets, I was really disappointed. I thought the selection was a little light, and the quality of the food was average. It wasn't bad or inedible, but nothing great. Came off as very mass produced, as if they were more concerned just getting something out there to fill people's plates with. Checked out the breakfast buffet once, and that was it. Very crowded, too much time looking for a table, and horrible selection. Scrambled eggs were some of the worst I've had, and no french toast? Just pancakes and an omelet station that wasn't worth the lines. This is especially disappointing for me as I love a big breakfast. Meals in the restaurant were a little better, but nothing to rave about. Again, food was just OK most of the time, and was never served hot. Ordered Belgian waffle one morning expecting one of those big round, fluffy deals, and all I got was a flat, soggy square. Wife had french toast, and it was served as one slice of bread. Huh? Eggs Benedict was far and away the best the breakfast menu had to offer. Dinner experience was similar. The flat iron steak was good, but I can't remember one thing off the menu that had me wanting more. The warm chocolate cake was great though. Had it 3 nights.
I really wish food was served hot though. Even the burrito bar, where one day I was one of the first in line when it opened, meat was not hot, as if it was prepared a while earlier. The hottest food I was served the entire cruise was the pizza. Overall, it seemed like they had food ready to go on minute's notice to get people served and on their way. I know feeding 3,000 people is not an easy task, and this is probably the most efficient way to do it, so I guess that's just the way it goes on mega-liners these days.
I've read other reviews where people claim activities have been cut. This might be true, but we always found something to do on sea days. At night we went to the Amber Palace after dinner. The shows were good IMO. Other reviewers didn't care for them, but we enjoyed the dancers and the singers. Justin Illusion was entertaining as well. No complaints with the show and I really like the theater. The Love and Marriage game wasn't as good as I thought it would be, but it had its moments. One thing I didn't care for was the timing of some events. For example, the free cruise raffle was a winner-needs-to-be-present drawing at 10:05 PM, and with second sitting dinner, I had to leave early. There was another raffle that went off at 7:30 PM for a $100 shopping spree, so that affected first sitting diners. Why schedule things like this during dining hours? Did not care for the ridiculous $20 bingo cards, I don't care if they give you three to play. We played a very windy round of mini golf, but it is pretty high up so it was to be expected. It's awesome to be able to stand right next to the funnel. Didn't go into the pools as that's not what we do, but I heard it was saltwater and they appeared to be small, and only a couple of them. Mostly kids in them anyway so I don't think anyone had a problem.
Ship stopped at Saint John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Arrived to fog at Saint John, which eventually gave way to cloudy skies. Port is okay, nothing to write home about. Did the Big Pink Bus excursion which is actually a 3 for 1 deal with 3 different routes. Bay of Fundy wasn't as interesting to me as they make it out to be. A marketplace tent is set up right on the pier that sells different things. A short walk away is a shopping mall marketplace. Visited the Loyalist cemetery which was interesting. Did not eat at this port, just grabbed a snack along the way.
The next day our arrival at Halifax was delayed for 2 ½ hours due to fog. Luckily our excursion to Peggy's Cove and Titanic Gravesite leaves at 1:15. Amazingly, once we docked in the fog, the weather took a dramatic turn for the better and we enjoyed beautiful sunny blue skies, which is apparently rare for them this year. There are more shops and restaurants dockside than Saint John and we spent more money there that the previous port. Peggy's Cove is a must in my opinion. Amazingly beautiful scenery and a quaint little village made it a great time. Takes a while to get there but well worth it. You only get 1 hour there so we went shopping and took pictures rather than sit down and eat. The Titanic tour is more interesting than you would think, and is very moving to see the gravestones, especially the one of the little child recovered. Our tour guide Liz was well versed on this tour and provided lots of good information. The better port of the two by far, and that alone would make me take this cruise again.
What I liked: The ship is a beautiful ship. Always clean, always well maintained. The main lobby with the kaleidoscope theme was bright and inviting. I enjoyed the dEcor of our dining room, the Platinum Dining Room. Loved the maitre'd and staff singing and dancing. Always left us waiting for what the next night would bring. The main decks were also decorated nicely, with nothing boring about them. There were a couple of bars where I never saw anyone, but I guess those get busy well past my bedtime. Amber Palace was also very nice. The Lido deck area, with the Red Sail Restaurant, and the different stations and bars were easy to enjoy. I loved eating at Red Sail enjoying the ocean view. The bartender by the aft pool was a little rude, which maybe explains why that bar was never busy. Serenity area is a godsend. Lots of space to lay on a deck chair, and having zero kids around to spoil the serenity is immeasurable.
What I didn't like: Not much to complain about, but there are a few things. First and foremost, the previously mentioned seating at dining. I don't think people should have to jump through hoops just to be able to sit with their spouse privately. I understand the need for larger tables, but you should be able to secure the table of your choosing at the time of booking.
A not so distant second are the elevators, specifically the wait time for them. I work in Manhattan and know all about waiting for elevators, but this was beyond ridiculous. Not only were the wait times long, but often the elevator would just go past your floor without stopping, increasing the wait. Why is it like this? Plus, there are no lights to easily signal which elevator is arriving, so if you're midship and are waiting for the regular and glass elevators, good luck figuring out which elevator is there. Luckily we were on deck 7 so it was only a couple of flights most of the times we just gave up waiting. I've seen this complaint before and couldn't agree more!
The only other thing that comes to mind is that the layout of the ship can be frustrating at times. You can't walk across decks 3 or 4, the restaurant decks, so if you are aft or fwd you need to go up to deck 5 just to get back down to deck 3, which is made worse but the elevator wait times. Also, because of this, we quickly realized it best to arrive for dinner 15 minutes late as the mob that forms waiting for the restaurant to open chokes the waiting area, and people have a hard time getting off the elevators.
We loved the cruise and would take it again, or any other Carnival cruise for that matter. The ships are clean, the service excellent, and the atmosphere wonderful. The fact that it leaves from my hometown makes it even better. My wife liked it so much that just yesterday we went down by the Verrazano bridge to watch the Glory leave New York. As annoying as the few complaints are, it was not nearly enough to detract from our overall enjoyment of this trip.