We chose this cruise primarily because of the departure date and port of Charleston. We had spent a day in Charleston the year prior during our Myrtle Beach trip and fell in love with the city so we drove down two days before the cruise ... Read More
We chose this cruise primarily because of the departure date and port of Charleston. We had spent a day in Charleston the year prior during our Myrtle Beach trip and fell in love with the city so we drove down two days before the cruise (Monday departure) to do more sight seeing. Our grown family of four was celebrating a college graduation and birthday. This is a bullet point review. My husband and I sailed Carnival in 1994 when it was deemed more of a party boat than a family boat, then Disney in 2005 (no comparison) and Norwegian in 2016 (Norwegian Spirit, similar age and size cruise ship as the Ecstasy).
- Arriving at port...we purchased port parking online ahead of time. We arrived at the corner of Conrad and Lauren around 10:15 and were able to drive inside the gated area for early luggage check-in, which I am glad we did (our luggage was at our cabins by 1:30, much earlier than many). At this time, we also were pre-checked (boarding passes, ID) after which we were directed outside of the gated area but found parking around the corner where we sat about 10 cars away from entrance again until about 11:15. We parked and were shuttled to the port by bus and were on board by 12:30 (without the Faster to the Fun option).
- There is some wear and tear on the ship, some areas of rust, worn carpet in areas, but mostly clean and interior is appealing, not gaudy.
- Cabins on Riviera deck R156 ocean view - adequate in size (roomier than our balcony cabin on Norwegian Spirit), plenty of storage, nice lighted vanity with stool...great location close to midship elevator. Our bed had pee-stained sheets. Kids across the hall in R154 interior (roomy for the two but had a funky smell). We had contact with our cabin steward once; he was very inconsistent/incomplete...left dirty towels, gave kids pool towels, us none, bottled water in one cabin, none in the other. Didn't appear to do much which is unusual in our limited cruising experience.
- Unlike Norwegian (which only allows smoking in the casino and outside), smoking is allowed in a few areas inside the ship, mainly lounges, bars. At times we also did smell musty and sewage smells inside at times, although not a lot (as mentioned in other reviews).
- The ship is a nice size, easy to get around. Not too many people.
- Muster drill did not start on time, I imagine due to passengers not arriving on time; however, it took much longer than our previous cruises, a good 45 minutes to nearly an hour.
- DINING: Unlike Norwegian, there is no breakfast or lunch in the dining room(s) apart from sea days where they do offer a nice Sea Day Brunch from 8:30-3:00ish. The buffet selection is SMALL (disappointing) in comparison, but there is an omelette station at breakfast. Carnival makes up a little for the buffet by offering breakfast and lunch at Blue Iguana Cantina, and lunch at Guy Fieri's Burgers (spelling?), both of which are good. Pizza is available on the Lido deck 24 hours as is Swirls ice cream. There is a nice deli there also that is open from lunch until 11 p.m....a great option I underused. We chose early (6:00) dinner in the WindSong dining room. Our wait staff was excellent. Norwegian had an extensive wine list while Carnival had about 6-8 offerings. The food was decent, not as good as Norwegian. (I can't even compare to Disney, but you do pay through the nose for Disney.) Our milkshakes at the coffee bar were nothing more than chocolate milk. We do not drink coffee so I can't comment although my daughter had coffee at the buffet and said it was awful. Room service is free for many items, but pizza and some other items have a charge. Soda and alcoholic beverages are not free through room service even if you purchase the beverage package.
- The mini-golf on the 13th (sports) deck is nice when not too windy. There are tables where you can sit. There is a small deck on the front side of the windows in front of the course where you can stand at the front of the ship and enjoy the view. This is a nice area to escape the crowds and enjoy a little quiet. The adults only Serenity deck on deck 9 at the back of the ship is another place I underused. There are thickly padded chaise lounges, a few umbrellas, two hot tubs and a shaded seating area with chairs and ottomans...a great place to spend time reading and relaxing, and just below the Lido area close to food and beverages.
- Shows in comparison to Norwegian...not as good, Motown and The Brits. The Hasbro game show was fun to watch! We enjoyed the Punchline Comedy Club!
- We had fun participating in the raffles at the Galleria/jewelry store and in the spa. It's a fun diversion from the sun, and with sometimes 30-40 people participating, your chances of winning of pretty good, although we did not. We enjoyed the bracelet and watch specials, 2 for $20 t-shirt sales. We also enjoyed family game time in The Explorer's Club, where there are many Hasbro games to choose from. You can have as much fun as you choose to have. My daughter and I attended a Ladies Pamper Party in the spa, which was an educational sales pitch basically but we got to use Elemis spa products for free and perform self-facials, and I got to be a model for a Sun Glow application; we had fun at no cost to us.
In conclusion, we wanted a fun and affordable family cruise, and this fit the bill. The difference (which is why you pay less with Carnival) is in the details. We experienced more personal service on the Norwegian Spirit last year. Little details made the difference on Norwegian, like cooling towels upon returning from excursions, lots of staff ready at our service, better food in the dining room and choice of breakfast and lunch in the dining room. The spa on the Norwegian was nicer. We would choose another cruise line for another couple's cruise, but again, for our family, this was adequate and enjoyable. Read Less