We just got back from a 5-night Halifax/St.John cruise from NYC. We're New Yorkers, so it seemed like that would be a great place to leave for a cruise. We were a group of 15, including 4 kids aged 5-7, and almost all of us were first-time cruisers.
We got to the terminal at 12:45 or so, and there were a LOT of folks there... it took us an hour and a half to get through the security & embarkation lines. That was pretty off-putting, I have to say, but we knew that we weren't as early as we had wanted to be, so we dealt with it. By the time we got on the ship, we were all ready to have a great time. The room was lovely, and very well-kept throughout the cruise. The stewards and staff were wonderful and attentive.
The pools were FULL of children (my friend called the hot tub "Kid Soup"), including my own, but I was not interested in being in there with all of them. Not exactly relaxing, since the pools are not huge.
There were photographers everywhere, and they took great pictures... until I discovered that the pics were $21.95 +tax. No thank you.
Shows were ok. Nothing great, nothing terrible. Casino & Karaoke were fun. Lots of "fun activities" like mixology & hairy chest contests at the Lido Deck pools with a guy yelling into a microphone were annoying and made it difficult to relax. I don't mind a few things like that, but not all the time. It felt like freshman orientation every day.
Dinner was in the Golden Dining Room, and we really enjoyed our waiter. The food was ok, not great, though there were a few meals I really enjoyed, and the others were pleasant enough. Never really hot enough, and drinks were slow to appear. Even the bottles of wine that we ordered took a long time to get to us, to the point that we almost told them not to bother. The buffet was ALWAYS crowded, and it seemed like there were a lot of rude people, kids and adults, just cutting in line. I really wanted to try the Mongolian Wok, but there was a ridiculously long line for it every day. I started to feel pretty claustrophobic with all the people bumping into one another. I don't know if that's just how it goes on cruises normally, but I did not enjoy it. Pizza was the best lunch we had.
My daughter has a severe peanut allergy, and I told the maitre d' as soon as I could after we got on board. He sent over Ana, a lovely young woman from Serbia who took care of ordering for my daughter. She put my mind at ease... it's sometimes a little challenging to travel with a peanut allergy, and she made sure that my daughter's food was safe to eat. She found me every day and went over the next day's menu so my daughter could pick out her meals. It was a level of service I wasn't anticipating, but for which I was extremely grateful.
We toured St. John for a few hours, which is not very exciting, though the people are extremely nice. Halifax was beautiful, with much more to do. We did not want to participate in the shore excursions endlessly hawked by Carnival, so I had contacted a private car company to take us around. This was hands-down the best part of our trip. The service was called Your Cab (yourcab.ca), and the guide, Jonathan Duru, was wonderful. He brought us wherever we wanted to go, including showing us the city, the Titanic graveyard, a maple shop, and the best local restaurant (not touristy) in Peggy's Cove. We did not have hoards of tour bus patrons around, and got the best lobster rolls and other lobster things we've ever had. (Good burgers and beer, too!) We were above and beyond happy with this decision, and it was well worth the money we spent. The price, by the way, was less than the price of Carnival's excursions.
The biggest complaints I have are regarding getting on and off the boat. As I stated before, it took a long time to get on the boat, and there were long lines (20-30 minutes) for getting back on during excursions. It also took FOREVER to debark in NYC. We waited more than 3 hours for our debarkation numbers to be called, and then another 30 minutes to clear Customs. Now, we did have some special circumstances: Hurricane Irene was headed our way, and everyone was anxious to get off, and another cruise ship pulled in around the same time as we did. Neither of these things should have held us up on board for that long, however, and I was beyond angry. So much so that I will not be returning to Carnival for future cruises. This is a shame, since the crew worked very hard and we had a good time during our stay, but the experiences we had just trying to get on and off were just too much to do again.