I've never trusted January, so I booked this quick getaway over the King holiday to escape the cold mid-Atlantic...except of course that the mid-Atlantic has been anything but cold this winter, but never mind, who could have guessed? This was my 12th cruise, and as on a few of my previous trips, I enjoyed traveling by myself.
I sailed Carnival Ecstasy on her first cruise out of Port Canaveral in November of last year, and while it was fun, it wasn't all roses - you can read my review below on this board, where I compared the trip to the nursery rhyme about the little girl with a curl: "when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid." I was also still recovering from an illness then, so I wasn't exactly at my best. I decided to give Ecstasy another try.
As usual, I flew in the day before embarkation, to Orlando this time and stayed at the Days Inn on South Orange Blossom Trail. My room was not large but was clean and well-equipped with fridge, microwave, iron & board, and a coffee maker with enough coffee to make 2 pots each of decaf or high-test - very nice! I recommend this place.
I rented a car from Budget because it was cheaper than booking a shuttle to the port. I returned it at the port - Budget has a free shuttle from their office to the pier, and while waiting for the shuttle I met a group of about 9 women from Des Moines traveling together, we had a fine time chatting and I thought it was a great way to begin the day.
Once we got to the pier, embarkation was simply unbelievable - in a good way! I got there around 11:00 a.m., stopped at the passport/document check, stopped again at the metal detector, stopped again at the Sail & Sign check-in, and then walked directly onto the ship - at this port, you don't board into the atrium but on a lower deck, and as cabins weren't ready till 1:30 (they never are) Carnival had a staffer in each of the elevators to take passengers to the lido deck. I was eating lunch by 11:30 and kicking back a Fun Ship Special, too. The process couldn't have been more different from the chaotic embarkation I experienced in November.
The ship is clean and bright, and although it's neither new nor as big as newer ships and so lacks some of the amenities of more modern vessels, it's one of my favorites. It's easy to get around, is exceptionally well maintained, and has everything you need to get you through the day. It also has the most amazing crew - every person who served me once called me by name the second time. If you sail because, as a CC member says, "that's where the ocean is," you will like this ship a lot. It helps to remember that when it was new, it was state of the art.
I stayed in a porthole cabin on Upper Deck - room steward Rene and assistant Martha kept my cabin immaculate and were very friendly. These are great cabins and often available at the price of a 1A, cheaper than a Category 4 inside. If you're traveling solo, they're the only reasonably priced cabins that come with a view, and having that nice king-size bed to yourself is just fine and a big reason to choose these over 1A's. I love 'em. For some reason when I opened the ceiling vent for the a/c, the air blew out with the smell of stale cigarette smoke. Not pleasant, but not a terrible minus as I really didn't need the a/c so mostly kept the vent closed.
The passengers were the usual slice of life. For the first time ever I didn't wear a tie on 'elegant' night, and although there were a few predictable proles in sweat pants, etc., I actually felt underdressed. There were way more jackets-and-ties among the men than anything else. My fellow travelers were a friendly bunch, as usual with Carnival, and not a one did I see acting stupid foolish drunk.
I had late dining at a table with 8 other passengers - hi Tracy and Bee, Siri and Rachel, Melissa and Sean, and Oliver and Tamara, had a fantastic time with all of you! Ollie is, like me, a fan of Formula 1 auto racing - I'm sorry I didn't get his e-mail addy. Everything I ate was tasty, and portions were ample. One of my all-time Carnival favorites continues into the 'new' menu - the West Indian pumpkin soup. All of the soups were particularly delicious. The service was generally good, food was timely served at an appropriate temperature. (Thanks, Dewa!) The buffet was decent, and it does feature some made-to-order food: omelets or real eggs (you can see the yolk and everything!) made to order in the morning; and for lunch and later, the Mongolian Wok, a deli with good sandwiches, a grill for burgers and fantastic hot dogs, Carnival's famous 24/7 pizza (not quite as good this time as on some other trips but still tasty), and a rotisserie where they'll carve the meat o' the day. The food isn't gourmet, but it isn't greasy spoon either.
The shows were the same as my previous trip, but lots of the entertainers had changed. The cover band Best Day Ever wasn't - their lead singer was disappointing. But the piano bar guy was the same, he's excellent. And Jerry, the one-man band guitar player, was once again a real treat. They had a new reggae band - I don't remember their name, they were good but not as good as Supernova from my earlier trip. The comedians were Lewis Nixon - I've seen before and he was a little funnier this time - and Macio, who did a bit about going to church that was not offensive but was so funny I almost fell out of my chair. Don't miss Steve the cruise director and his fiddle playing - he's also a pretty good juggler.
The public areas are attractive and well kept. The Serenity deck was my favorite hang-out even though "serene" is sometimes in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. The disco wasn't particularly lively this trip except for the night of the Michael Jackson tribute, when it was absolutely packed, worthy of any hot big city club. The casino dealers and other staff were friendly, as, for a change, were the games. The gym is decently equipped and was never busy in the afternoons when I was there. The men's locker room (I'd assume the women's too) has been redone and is more modern, though the changing area was much colder than the rest of the facility.
Our ports were Freeport and Nassau - I'm not a big fan of either, but a snorkeling/catamaran excursion in Freeport was fun, and Cable Beach in Nassau made for an acceptable seaside afternoon.
Disembarkation was just as smooth as boarding. I booked the Carnival shuttle back to Orlando before I knew that I could have toured the Kennedy Space Center because my flight was so late. Maybe next time.
And there well might be a next time. I really enjoyed getting reacquainted with Ecstasy in more pleasant circumstances than my first cruise on her. No, it's not 5-star, but it's a solid 4-star trip - good food, comfy cabin, fun atmosphere, great crew, generously poured cocktails, the beautiful ocean... lovely. I prefer the 5-day trip to the 4-day, but I was happy to take what I could get. Like all other cruise lines, Carnival isn't for everyone, but I think serious cruisers owe it to themselves to at least try Carnival - most will be very pleasantly surprised. It's no wonder to me that they're the biggest cruise line in the world. I have two of their future cruise certificates (you have to buy them on board) and I'll be happy to use them when the time's right.