We are a no-kids couple just shy of 30. We recently moved from the Midwest to central Texas, and being so close to the Gulf now, we decided to try a cruise for our vacation this year. We like good food, good shows, and adventurous experiences like scuba, caving, and ziplining. We don't really care for gambling, heavy drinking, or club-type partying.
We arrived around 1:30 pm and parked at Galveston Park 'N Cruise, right across the street from the ship. There were still a fair amount of people working their way through the terminal, but though the line seemed long, it moved quickly enough. We were on the ship probably by 2:00, and since it was late enough for the staterooms to be open, we headed right for ours to drop off our luggage.
Our stateroom was #7-384, an interior which was right by the aft stairs and elevators. There was some noise from fellow guests in this area, but I'm sure a couple more rooms away would have been perfect.
There was no fridge in our stateroom, but it was no trouble for us to pop down the hall to refill the ice bucket. On occasion, the room steward or one of his assistants would refresh it when cleaning the room.
Two blue Carnival beach towels were in our room when we arrived; we used them in Cozumel and they got wet and sandy. Housekeeping picked them up but it took over a day for them to return fresh ones. In the meantime, when we wanted them as coverups to sit out by the pool (it was just a bit nippy), we were able to get them from the "towel bar" located by the forward pool, tucked in the corner. This same location also dispenses the balls and clubs for the mini-golf. They take down your room number in case you don't return the items.
The bed was comfortable enough, considering that it was really two twin beds pushed together. Forget about cuddling in the middle of the bed, though, unless you are somehow able to sleep on what felt like a 45-degree angle.
Our bathroom sink was cracked, which we found a little odd considering that the ship just left dry dock. Otherwise, the bathroom was in general good repair. There was a distinct sewage smell that seemed to randomly appear and disappear throughout the cruise. We made certain to always keep the bathroom door closed when not in use, and that kept the smell from entering the rest of the stateroom.
The TV in the stateroom was an older, bulky model, which isn't a big deal to us, but the brightness setting had been turned incredibly dark and we had no way of changing it.
Carnival's interior staterooms are apparently among the largest in the cruise industry (along with Disney's), and it was a good thing, as we found it difficult to find a place quiet enough to relax elsewhere on the ship.
The ship is very strangely divided, and on a few of the main public decks, it is impossible to walk the entire length of the ship without heading to a different deck. You cannot access deck zero (where they open the gangway at Cozumel) from any elevators but the forward set. Speaking of the elevators, a recorded voice announces every floor, LOUDLY. It was loud enough to make us wince - I can only imagine how it would affect someone who was seasick or hung over!
The sewage smell wasn't just limited to our stateroom bathroom; one night in the comedy club it was so bad I spent most of the show with my nose against my husband's shoulder.
The big television screen out over the pool had several dead spots in it, including one long black bar that went nearly 1/4th of the way across the screen toward the bottom. Again, you'd think that would have been something they fixed during dry dock!
Are people really so dirty that staterooms need to be cleaned twice a day? I was rather baffled at the idea that our room needed to be serviced by two different guys who were overseen by a third "room steward". Every hotel I've ever stayed at has seemed to find daily service more than sufficient.
We took part in the "free liquor tasting" - two little half-shots per person. They were really pushing one particular coffee & cream liqueur that isn't distributed in the U.S., and we did end up buying their discounted "2 bottles for $X" deal. Come the end of the cruise, we learned that we needed to fill out separate customs declaration forms rather than one family form, as each person is only allowed to bring one liter of alcohol back with them, and that if you fill out the family form, the entire family is restricted to the same allowances as a single individual. Good thing we hadn't tried to buy more!
On two different nights, the ship was rocking and rolling as though the seas were very rough, but the surf report on the television showed "slight" seas of 0-4 feet. Maybe someone was drunk at the controls? I don't know, but at dinner, our water glasses danced like something out of Jurassic Park.
The food, honestly, was terrible. Cruise ships must be the #1 place where the stereotype of the gluttonous American is seemingly confirmed to the international crew every day, because to get enough "just edible" food, we found ourselves opting to get "backup" appetizers or mains. The hotdogs at the grill became my staple at lunches, because even though the bun was always stale, at least it was otherwise okay, though nothing great. The pizza was swimming in grease, the asian station had "mystery meat", and the buffet's hot dishes were usually cold and the cold dishes lukewarm.
The story didn't change in the dining room, where we tried mushy escargot and greasy frog legs, mealy cheesecake and melted ice cream. The best part of dinner each night was the cappucino served with dessert, because the dining room was always FREEZING!
We had Your Time Dining, and even though Carnival has been doing this for a while, it seems like they are still working out the kinks. The first night, we waited nearly 40 minutes for a table (the following nights, five minutes or less). We were given a "private" table each night, though said table was often less than a foot from the next table over. One night we had to stand and wait as they split a two-top off of a six-top for us, after just having walked past empty two-top tables. ??? The rest of that night, we kept finding missing utensils from our table that had been left on the other.
Another annoying thing was that nowhere in the pre-cruise information were we told that there were TWO "Cruise Elegant" nights for our sailing, instead of only one like most 5-night cruises have, so we only packed one nice outfit each. New Year's Eve was on the usual night for elegant night, but for some reason, they chose to make the night before it elegant as well. We knew about that one because our waiters told us the first night that "tomorrow will be elegant night". Unfortunately, we didn't look closely enough at our Fun Times on NYE to learn that it was ALSO a Cruise Elegant night, so we ended up wearing casual clothing to the dining room. The staff let us in and didn't say one word about it...we didn't know until a woman at a nearby table made a loud, snotty remark to her husband that, "Gee, and I was worried I'd be underdressed."
We love going to shows -- comics, concerts, musicals, all kinds. So we were looking forward to their supposedly "award-winning" shows (at least, that's what our CD Felipe kept claiming). Well, they won a personal award with us -- the "How Do I Even Begin to Describe the Tacky Horror I'm Witnessing?" award. Honestly, I've seen high school plays that were better put together. The dancers and singers had obvious skill (especially when the ship was really pitching), but the "works" that their talent was bringing to life were just terrible!
Now, not all the hired singers were talented -- just the ones leading the "shows". The gentleman who played in the Atrium daily, by the main elevators, was SO BAD that it would have been funny...if we hadn't had to listen to him during that entire 40-minute wait for our first dinner.
We did enjoy the "Love and Marriage" show (basically The Newlywed Game with contestants of varying relationship length). But that was basically six audience volunteers and the CD.
We also kinda enjoyed one of the comics -- at least enough to go to two of his shows when there wasn't much else to do. I'd say he was "Last Comic Standing" caliber, if you've seen that reality show. Good for a couple laughs during a set, but with other bits that just leave you going, "What?"
Our favorite "hang out and relax" places, outside of our room, were the Oxford Bar or the deck chairs further away from the pool (up toward deck 10 and 11 by the waterslide). We did play one round of mini-golf, but it is up on deck 11, and it was so windy that the wind was moving the balls more than our putters were! :)
We did feel the lack of an adults-only area on the ship. The hot tubs were always crammed full of kids.
--Port & Excursions--
As much as we didn't like the ship, we did really enjoy Cozumel...all 7.5 hours we got to spend there.
We booked a beginner's scuba excursion with Sand Dollar Sports, through Carnival, both because it was our first time and because SDS requires all cruising guests to book to through their cruise lines. Any excursion you book through Carnival is easy to identify. The only way off the pier is through a big duty-free shop -- when you exit this shop, people will be standing under multiple Carnival-branded signs that list the different excursions. Just go up to yours and show them your tickets.
We really loved learning to scuba! We were finished and back at Puerta Maya by about 1:30. We browsed through the shops and got a Christmas ornament (travel tradition). We sat and relaxed along a little stretch of "beach" right by the pier, then grabbed a little lunch at a nearby restaurant called Pancho's Backyard.
We were required to be back on the ship by 4:30 for a 5:00 pm sailaway. We watched the sun set as Cozumel slowly faded into the distance.
Getting off the ship was a fairly quick and smooth process, although any form of travel that requires me to get up early on my last vacation day earns a black mark in my book. We opted to self-assist, since everyone was required to be out of their rooms by 8:30 whether you were getting off the ship at that time or not. We were back in our car and on the highway heading for the mainland by 8:45.
Some elements of the cruise just seemed uniformly bad to us, especially the food and the shows. We found ourselves wondering "Does anyone really enjoy these?" Apparently, given the several five-star reviews here, and the rave reviews of the warm chocolate melting cake over on the CC boards, many people do.
Other elements just made us think that this style of vacationing isn't for us, though we could see where others may enjoy it:
- Announcements loud enough to wake up anyone sleeping are broadcast through the ship randomly throughout the day -- forget about sleeping in, they're just so excited to let you know about the hairy chest contest and the towel animal class! "Ciao for now -- woohoo!" (GAG)
- Most forms of on-ship entertainment just don't appeal to us (see the above contest and class, as well as the casino, karaoke, etc.)
- Nearly EVERYWHERE that is not your stateroom is LOUD.
- The over-the-top attention from your stateroom attendants. Really, I'm a simple girl. Just replace my towels and straighten the bed and I'm thrilled. I do not need to be fawned over -- in fact, it makes me uncomfortable.
- The inability to sleep in on your last morning of vacation! "We're back -- now get out!" They're polite about it, but that's still how it feels.
In the middle of the trip, I told my husband, "This feels like Vegas on a boat," to compare it with another vacation where I felt like the atmosphere and entertainment options were not really in line with our interests. But that isn't exactly true. At least Vegas had Blue Man Group and several actually-award-winning Cirque shows!
At the end of the day, when choosing our subsequent vacations, I will spend my dollars somewhere that lets me sleep as long as I want, where housekeeping isn't straightening up seemingly every time I leave the room, and with more appealing food and entertainment options.