Sorry for the delay, but decided I should put this in the reviews section of the site. Had originally done it as a simple posting on 2/8/05. As a frame of reference, we have cruised five times previously, on Cunard, RCCL, HAL and Celebrity. First time on Carnival. My wife, sister and I, all in our 50s, took our mother, age 83, on her third cruise on 1/23/05 on the Victory.
We were hesitant to cruise on Carnival, in light of their former reputation as the high school cruise line. Plus, our younger son was married on the Fantasy some years ago, and we recalled the neon garishness of that ship. But we had been hearing for some time how Carnival has really turned itself around and was working really hard to rid itself of the spring break reputation. The final push was provided by my boss having taken two Carnival cruises in the last few years and giving good reports on them.
Embarkation was about 90 minutes of standing in line. It did not appear that the Fun Pass meant anything; I think everyone had them, so everyone stood in line. The only folks who actually skipped the mess were those who had checked in the evening before through their Miami hotel.
Once on board, we hit the Lido and decided we would probably eat all our meals thereafter in the dining room. Later in the week, we actually did have a late lunch at the deli one day and the sandwiches were good. I also enjoyed the soft ice cream in the starboard aft area throughout the week.
Decor/Ambiance: The ship was more garish than the five previous vessels we had sailed, but not so much so as to be significantly offensive. We do prefer understated elegance to Las Vegas glitz, maybe because we lived in Nevada for five years and have had our share of OHMIGOD decor. The dining rooms would benefit from some attention to detail: there are countless little twinkle lights in both and many of the bulbs are burned out. That should have been taken care of in the recent dry dock. What I did not enjoy, by way of ambiance, was passing by the tattoo artist emblazoning temporary airbrushed glory on the chest of a shirtless man, in the atrium, on our way to dinner.
Ports: We usually go Eastern, as my DW loves to shop at St. Thomas. Had no experience with St. Maarten, tho' we were supposed to have landed there (as well as St. Thomas) on a cruise in '99. Problem was, a hurricane beat us to St. Thomas, and our Eastern turned into a Western. Have been reading that St. Maarten is THE place to shop, not St Thomas. Having now experienced it, I must agree. I stocked my bar there, not at St. Thomas. Much better prices. Thing is, St. Thomas liquor stores deliver to the ship and the cheaper St Maarten ones don't. Soooo...take along a folding wheeled luggage rack (Wal-Mart $10) and wheel year boxes o' booze back to the ship (where Carnival will take custody of them till the last night). That rack comes in real handy on debarkation, too, in wheeling the booze off the ship. Good prices on jewelry and watches too. I saw a family huddled around the South African watch salesman in the ship's store on day two, getting ready to buy a Tag wristwatch. I whispered in the father's ear, "I'd price that in St Maarten first". He just looked at me. Ten minutes later, his daughter went ahead and bought her absent husband the Tag at ship prices! I bet they would have saved a bundle if they had only waited till the islands! Heck, I wasn't even buying an expensive watch, but I did much better on St Maarten. I just happen to like Citizen Eco-Drive watches. I had three of em before this cruise. My favorite was a stainless black dial chrono with perpetual calendar. Didn't need another. However, they were selling Eco-Drives on the ship and put a multipage full color flyer in the capers. One was a gorgeous gold metal watch with bracelet, white dial, gold markers, chronograph with perpetual calendar, the new 2005 design. MSRP $475, being sold at 44% discount. The price stayed the same for the entire cruise, tho they went thru the motions of having a "Citizen Sale", late in the week. I got it on St Maarten for 44% of the MSRP, not 44% discount. DW also did well on a very pretty ring on St Maarten (same store, Ballerina).
Dining: We had requested the 8 pm sitting, but were assigned the 830 pm sitting. Tho we were concerned we would be late for the shows, since my mother eats rather slowly, it was never a problem. We were out of the dining room in plenty of time to catch all the shows. We were in the Atlantic dining room and preferred it to the Pacific where open seating breakfast and lunch were served. The Pacific seemed noisier. Our servers, Mirela and Silvia were as good as, or better than, any waiters we have had on our prior cruises. The dining room food was good. It felt a little strange, finding only one knife, one fork and one spoon at each place setting, instead of the usual full formal array of silver one finds at table on a cruise ship. (However, a former poster's comments to the contrary notwithstanding, that did not mean one has to eat the entire meal with one fork. When one leaves the fork and knife across the appetizer plate, salad plate, etc., they are removed with the china, and fresh silver is then placed on the table for the next course.)
Shows: The production shows (Vroom and Living in America) were good, especially the latter. There were a juggler, a magician and three comics. The juggler and magician were quite entertaining and one of the comedians, Tim Harkleroad was a riot. The other comics, David Miller and David Sayh, were not. Interestingly, Sayh's PG show the first night was not bad. In his midnite show, however, he proved he knows some dirty words (just a couple, actually, which he repeated a lot) but apparently can't be funny when he uses them.
The cabin: We were in a starboard 8E on the 10th deck, 1039. First time with a balcony. Everyone told us "Once you've had a balcony, you can never go back". I don't think so. I was surprised how little time we spent on it. If you get a balcony on the eastern itinerary. I would suggest getting it on the port side. I think you'd have better views at the ports. The cabin was pleasantly spacious. Felt good taking a shower without touching the shower curtain. Did notice the bedspread was worn and the carpet was dirty. Cabin service was OK. Got no glasses with the ice bucket one night, but had great towel animals four nights. The bungee cord trick does work to hold open the balcony door.
Cruise director/staff/rah-rah-rah: On a cruise ship you really can't get away from the cruise director. Even if you hole up in your room, you will hear him making "day's activities" announcements over the PA system. Thus I was dreading our experience with Dana, reported on the boards to be a really, really annoying cruise director. Good news! Skip replaced him one or two cruises before ours. Skip is OK. Can be entertaining. And the only annoying thing I found about him was his overuse of the expression "Put your hands together for...", every damn time he introduced someone, all week long. There are other ways to say "Clap now", and occasionally he should use one of them. Basically, however, good cruise director. One of his assistants, Mike (who calls himself "Verbalicious") is a major pain in the keister. Bet the 17 year olds think he's cool, tho'. Actually, my trepidation aside, it does seem like Carnival has matured a good deal. They had the same silly game shows all the cruise lines have. One annoying touch was added though. At the outset, we were informed that, depending on one's dining room seating assignment, all passengers were on team red, or white, or blue. Then, throughout the week, point were accumulated by the three fictional teams, when a passenger bingoed, a couple won the Newlywed Game, etc. Judging from the whoops and shrieks that greeted each announcement of one of the "teams" getting points, most of the passengers seemed to enjoy the whole thing. Tho' I considered it puerile and pointless, it was harmless and didn't really bother me. That is, until the maitre d' announced the running totals in the middle of the dining room, between the entree and dessert at dinner, and the screams and hollering made me feel I was in a high school pep rally. No thank you. The last possibility that Carnival could muster some elegance at dinner at least was shot.
Debarkation: What a mess! The much-vaunted self-debarkation is a disaster. Folks doing that fill up every available square inch of deck three. Other passengers attempt to come down from their staterooms, as instructed, to wait in the showroom for their color to be called. The elevator doors open but they can't get out as the whole deck is full of self-debarkers standing for an hour or so with their luggage. Once they were all gone and the deck was no longer a disaster waiting to happen, we thought all the problems were over. Nope. Seems there was a group of a couple hundred passengers from the Port Charlotte area whose luggage Carnival had arranged to take directly to their buses, bypassing the luggage warehouse where one ordinarily seeks for and retrieves his bag after leaving the ship. Too bad they also took my mother's bag as well. So, when we got to the luggage warehouse, it was already gone. Of course, we didn't know that at the time. Found out later. Days later. Upshot of it all was Carnival told the tour group to mail the bag COD to the address on the tag. That happened to be my mother's address in Indiana. Unfortunately, she was going to be with us another week in Orlando before heading home and now had no clothes to wear. Further, Carnival knew she was here in Orlando as my sister told the lost baggage guy she dealt with at debarkation, and gave him our Orlando address and phone number. Luckily, mom had trip insurance, so I trust she will be reimbursed for the clothes she had to buy to get her back to where she can claim her suitcase tomorrow (2/9/05) in Indiana.
Will we cruise Carnival again? Probably not. But the food was good, as was the service, the ports were enjoyable and the ship did not sink. Another good cruise.