In order to provide background, please recognize that I write from the perspective of a virgin cruiser, so I have absolutely no point of comparison from which to write this review. However, I consider myself extremely well-versed in terms of travel, having been all over the world in a variety of travel contexts. With that said....
We are an athletic, educated, young professional couple from Colorado in our early thirties taking a vacation from our careers as teachers during Spring Break week. We approached this cruise with anticipation, open to absorbing the "cruising" culture. Knowing that we had not opted for one of the more "luxury" cruiselines, as I had been told Carnival is more the "every man's cruise," we had realistic expectations for this trip. We are not pretentious or overly picky, but we do value the little time we have off from work and desire to get good value for our (limited) travel budgets.
EMBARKATION: Embarkation was smooth. We arrived at the Port of Miami just past 10:30am via a hotel shuttle, and were quickly moved through the check-in process. The Carnival terminal is clean and efficient, but be prepared for the possibility of a "thorough" bag check in which some fellow passengers' attempts to smuggle booze onboard were foiled. I found it amusing/annoying that passengers were assigned zone numbers for boarding, when in reality, all zones were called at the same time, thus creating a sense of mass chaos and a tiny preview into the gluttony, selfish indulgence, and constant line-standing-in that would prevail throughout the majority of the trip. Fortunately, we were aboard the ship by 11:37am and had the (rare) opportunity to do some photographing of the ship while few passengers were on board.
FIRST DAY: We had a pleasant afternoon in the Port of Miami aboard the Glory waiting for the ship to sail. Because the weather was favorable, the Lido deck was quickly filling, but it was exciting to see the energy of the crowds generate the pre-trip fun. Live welcome music played (albeit too loudly) throughout the afternoon, and all of the restaurants were open and available for grazing. I found the drink sales pressure to be ridiculously annoying, as we were literally approached every five minutes by a server trying to make a tip off of us. It was frustrating and distracting - a preface of the tone for the remainder of the trip.
The muster drill was fairly efficient, though by this point, a good 30% of the passengers were already drunk and making the drill fairly difficult to navigate for those who weren't half in the bag. Luggage delivery was quite slow, however. We didn't receive our bags until nearly 6pm...after we set sail. We were dismayed to find that one of our bags had been damaged and the zippers were broken with the contents literally spilling out all over the hallway. The guest services representatives provided us with a letter that claimed we could send in a receipt for the costs of new luggage..., but that did little to assuage our frustration.
THE SHIP: With no real point of comparison, my best assessment is that the Glory is...dated...and not nearly as luxurious as other ships. Though not an impediment to enjoying a trip, the decor, as mentioned frequently on this site, is garish and reminds me of a bad 80s Vegas hotel. The low ceilings and blaring neon lights did little to alleviate the sea sickness that permeated our trip the first two days. Though some areas of the ship were fairly nice and creative in decor (the atrium, some of the bars, the locker rooms), I generally felt like the ship's appearance was a bit lackluster.
Having vacationed at some beautiful all-inclusive resorts over the years, the biggest disappointment for me were the pools. They were tiny, dirty, and nothing about the Lido deck was beautiful or tropical in nature. I mean really -- who wants to enter a "hot tub" that is filled (literally) with 17 children? I did find the gym space to be an appealing feature of the boat, and the equipment was suitable for maintenance workouts throughout the week. The promenade area was also nicely appointed with the various shops and musical venues.
THE ENTERTAINMENT: Throughout our cruise, we opted to attend one adults-only comedy show in the Ebony Cabaret, the rock and roll show in the Amber Palace, spent a few nights in the casino, and enjoyed one of the movie nights on the Lido deck with the big screen TV. The comedy show was so-so...largely reliant on capitalizing on people's drunkenness to make up for the lack of substantive humor (hey - if you like f-bombs being dropped every two seconds, then this is the comedy show for you!). Again, constant pressure to buy drinks and incredible levels of boat rocking due to the placement of the lounge near the back of the ship made the experience frustrating.
We thought the musical show in the Amber Palace was excellent and far surpassed any of the shows we've seen at resorts throughout Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
The casino was small, and as a non-smoker, the smells were nearly unbearable and made it difficult to enjoy more than short stints in the casino. However, the slot machines were quite good to me, and I made about $260 throughout the week, so the casino remained on my good side as a result. ;)
The Carnival entertainment staff were friendly and energetic, though as mentioned in several other reviews -- a bit over the top. At times it seemed as though the cruise director simply enjoyed hearing himself talk..., and the constant announcements and pressure to buy, buy, buy got old.
THE FOOD and FOOD SERVICE: Be warned that my impression of food is framed by the reality that I am a very picky, health-oriented eater who abides by a strict gluten-free diet. With this said, I am not a "foodie" who goes on trips simply for the chance to eat myself into the oblivions, so my attitude toward food is take-it-or-leave-it, but I am more likely to leave it if it's not up to my standards.
As such, I found myself "leaving it" more often than not on this trip. Breakfast, my favorite meal of the day, was disappointing. The breakfast foods were greasy and I opted for fresh fruit and cereal each day. Lunch buffets were tolerable as a vast array of salads and fruits are available along with several meat options, but...as I am not attracted to rubbery chicken or gray-colored meat, I stuck with my lettuce.
Other lunch options existed as well. We heard positive comments about the Monoglian wok, but the lines were always so long we never felt like waiting. The burrito bar, according to my boyfriend, was average at best. The pizzeria was to be expected: greasy pizza...tolerable, but not delectable. The burger station was just that: burgers, hotdogs, fries, nachos, etc.
Our experiences in the main dining rooms were slightly better. The menu has an interesting collection of feature items each night, as well as a collection of "everyday items" that are sort of standby favorites: salmon, chicken breast, hamburger, etc. I give them credit for creativity on their menu, and the visual presentation of the food was lovely. However, indescribeably slow service, disgruntled and rude waiters, and utter lack of flavor and abundance of grease/butter/fat on most of the food rendered the experience less than memorable for me. (To be fair, however, others raved about the food...so I think this really is a subjective issue). The only saving grace, accordingly to my boyfriend, was the warm chocolate melting cake. I never indulged due to my gluten free status (which begs another complaint...no food for people with dietary restrictions).
All told, we were personally underwhelmed by the food, frustrated with the service and the amount of money we spent on "required" tips, and instead of gaining the average 1.5 pounds per day, I likely lost weight. Was it horrible? No. Was it amazing? Not even close.
THE DRINKS: We bought few drinks because a) the prices were outrageous, b) the servers assailed us at every turn, pressuring us to buy constantly, and c) sea sicknesses warranted us disinterested in drinking. What I did try was pleasant, though. I tried one of the funship drinks on the port of Miami day...delicious, festive, expensive, but good. I ordered a few glasses of wine (be prepared to spend $7-12 a glass) and one bottle of wine at dinner (bottles start at aroud $20 plus an automatic 15% tip). Wine list was comprehensive and interesting - comparable to a nice restaurant.
THE STATEROOM: We were pleased with our room - a balcony stateroom on the Panorama deck. The location was excellent for us in terms of accessibility to the gym and the Lido deck. It was more spacious than I expected with ample room for storage. The flat screen TVs seemed relatively new, and it was great to have movie service in our room. It was also handy to have a safe in room. The shower was wonderfully warm with excellent water pressure, and we were glad we opted to spend extra money on a balcony - often appreciating the chance for a quiet reprieve, beautiful private views, and wildlife (dolphins and whales) often appearing below our room in the waters. We travelled with friends who had an interior room, and I can safely say that having a balcony added an element of fun and romance to our trip that our friends were not privvy to in their more dark and small interior room. Beds -- average at best. Decor -- cheesy at best. Service -- excellent, efficient, daily attention to towels, trash etc.
THE PORTS: By far, the true pleasure for us in this trip was the itinerary. A truly excellent collection of ports made each day feel adventuresome and different. The ports were well-spaced through the cruise, never affording us more than one day at sea in a row. I do think we arrived too early on several occasions (7am...difficult as very few things are even open at that time), thereby rendering our sail away early as well...7am-2pm is not really a desirable day's schedule..., but outside of the schedule, I have nothing but positive things to say about all of the ports.
We did not opt to purchase any of the shore excursions, choosing instead, to create our excursions ourselves based on our research and our mood each day. Each port was unique and had different things to offer to any type of traveller: shopping, drinking/partying, history, recreational opportunities, beach life, nature adventures...the lists go on. If forced to rank the ports in my order of most favorite to least, I'd say the following (though again, we truly enjoyed them all):
1. St. Thomas....beautiful scenery, beautiful beaches, and we opted to take the ferry to the less crowded isle of St. John
2. San Juan...a wonderful mixture of history and nature blend together in this unique cultural port
3. Nassau...beautiful scenery, though more limited in terms of options for what to do
4. Grand Turk...gorgeous waters, but this tiny island is too small to absorb the numbers of passengers on board the ships. It was overcrowded and nearly impossible to escape the crowds. It turned into a wild drunk fest at Margaritaville, and the island itself exhibits no natural beauty.
The wonderful experience of waking up each day in a new country was enough to convince me that cruising was worth it. These ports, in particular, were enjoyable and memorable for us.
Cruising...would do it again with the right itinerary.
Carnival....would likely do it again for the right price, but only with a balcony room.
Eastern Caribbean...excellent. Looking forward to trying Southeran Caribbean, too.
My tan -- awesome.