I hesitate to write this review because it mirrors very much the last Carnival sailing we made two years ago. If you want to go back in the Carnival archives and find my review of the Carnival Victory for November 2009, you would get much of the sense of this review. Our second sailing on Carnival confirmed my earlier comment that I would never intentionally sail Carnival. We prefer a more traditional cruise experience as opposed to the Fun Ship concept that is characteristic of Carnival and Norwegian. This will be confirmed with our sailing in April 2012 on Regent to the Mediterranean.
So, you might ask, why take this cruise? As was the case two years ago, we "won" this cruise as part of an incentive with my business. As such, our hosts provided us with balcony cabins, all transportation and transfers, two private cocktail parties with food and entertainment (one night we "owned" the disco for an hour), on board credits to cover tips and more, a soda card, and a special dinner at Scarlett's Steakhouse. Thus the many perks by our hosts turned the experience -- which would have been a 3-3.5 under normal circumstances -- into a 4.5-5.
We flew down from NC on the day of embarkation with our group totalling about 38. Due top available flights to meet a 4:00PM sailing, we arrived at the cruise terminal EARLY...11:00AM. And while our check in in the terminal went quickly, we then had to wait until after NOON to board the ship. Thus a word to the wise...don't plan to get to the ship until after NOON if possible. We did board, explored, had some lunch, and then explored some more. We were able to take possession of our cabin around 1:45, and our luggage was all delivered by 6:30PM.
Our cabin was a most adequate starboard balcony...located on deck 6 -- midway between the Washington Dining Room and the Lido Buffet...very convenient. No complaints about the cabin and its amenities, and since we love a balcony, there were many early mornings and mid to late afternoons spent there. Our cabin steward was good...we hardly ever saw him. The room was also cleaned promptly.
As for the ship, I'll not repeat the information from the ship's profiles. We usually avoided the outdoor pool area with the big screen area. If we had to be near a pool, we chose the adult pool area at the stern. We most preferred reading, relaxing, napping, sunning at Serenity on Deck 12 -- the adults only area. No, no nude or topless sunbathing, but great lounge chairs, sofas and chaises, and a great place to relax. Had it's own hot tub and bar. A great place to get away...and we were there a lot.
We had a late dinner seating in the Washington Dining Room. We prefer this time so we can get back from shore adventures, take a nap, clean up, and go have a drink, dance, listen to music before dinner. I'm continue to be constantly amazed at how folks seem to line up 10-15 minutes prior to the dinner hour and then complain when they have to wait or are not seated promptly. After all, one already has a guaranteed table so what's the rush. We find an entrance 5-10 minutes after the dinner gong sounds is perfect, and we seem to get much more attention from our waiter and/or the maitre d or his/her assistants. Interestingly, our Maitre d' for this cruise had been on the Victory two years before and it was nice to renew friendships. We also ate breakfast 5 of 7 mornings in the main dining room. Despite complaints to the contrary, we were promptly served. And we always requested...and received...a table for 2 at breakfast with no argument from the staff.
Food everywhere was plentiful, although certainly not gourmet. I ate nothing "bad" the whole week, but can't think of anything I'd have re-ordered. A real highlight was an evening at Scarlett's Steakhouse. This is an excellent alternative dining experience, great menu, and worth the additional $30.00. I'd compare it with a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.
We are not much on "shows" and only attended one or two. I really can't remember much about them. The "Newlywed Game" -- or the attempt thereof -- was pretty good, as was the "Tribute to the 1980s". We saw several of the comedians perform...and like most...there was good and bad. The show band in the casino seemed to draw a lot of attention. I was a bit disappointed in the piano player, Maggie, who did well, but had to play from music as opposed to memories, and I don't think spoke English. She didn't interact with guests.
As far as the itinerary, we had two sea days sandwiching four ports. We'd never gone to the Western Caribbean via cruise, so we were not sure what to expect. We did realize that this is a heavily scuba, snorkeling, and beach itinerary, and since we live 30 minutes from the ocean and own a second home at the ocean, this was not important to us. We are not shore excursion people, preferring to rent a car and explore on our own, wanting to see life away from the cruise ship dock. Many of our party participated in the various shore excursions and we heard nothing negative.
As for our activities ashore: in Grand Cayman, we were unable to rent a car, so we hopped a van for a 3-hour tour of the island. Pleasant enough. Glad to get back to the ship. At Cozmel, we rented a car and drove around the island, stopping where we wanted. We lunched at a beach hotel with great food out by the water. We stayed on the ship in Belize -- partly because we didn't want to deal with a 20-minute each way tender, and we'd heard that unless you were on a ship excursion, the port was not safe. Roatan/Honduras was our favorite, where we rented scooters and explored the island, had lunch at a neat restaurant at West Bay, and ended back at the Mahogany Bay port terminal with some nice shops.
Debarkation on Sunday was pretty painless. Our hosts had arranged for us to depart in the last group, which really only meant that we sat on the ship as opposed to sitting in Miami airport.
A few final random thoughts: There were a lot of children on this cruise -- more than when we sailed two years ago from Miami. They were no bother at all. Photographers are everywhere...especially hawking their services on the way to and from dinner. They are pleasant enough, but a bit obnoxious. Finally, this is a casual cruise, and yet, it did seem that folks dressed up a bit more. I wore my tuxedo on one formal night and my white dinner jacket on the second, and notice a surprisingly large number of folks who followed this practice.
All in all, it was a pleasant experience and very relaxing. Our hosts provided sufficient perks to make it really fun. I'll probably not return to the Western Caribbean on purpose.