Why the Ecstasy-
We chose to sail on the Ecstasy because it left out of Charleston, which is about a 3-4 hour drive from us and because it allowed all 5 of us (2 adults and 3 kids) in one room. So, for just $1600ish before gratuities ... Read More
Why the Ecstasy-
We chose to sail on the Ecstasy because it left out of Charleston, which is about a 3-4 hour drive from us and because it allowed all 5 of us (2 adults and 3 kids) in one room. So, for just $1600ish before gratuities and excursions, we were able to take a 5-night cruise to the Bahamas in January. It also had a sail date that coincided with some days the kids had off from school. I also don't like being cold.
We found pretty clear direction for parking at Charleston and parked in an open lot by the water. The embarkation process and line was very similar to airport security. We did wait in line, but it wasn't an hour.
I think the main thing that helped us enjoy this cruise was that we have only cruised once before, almost 20 years ago and separately in our early 20s. Our kids have never cruised, so this was a good starter cruise to see if they liked it. Because we have not sailed in so long and knew the price we had paid and how old the ship was, we did not have high expectations. We figured the room would be like camping, the ship would be old, the other people would also be the type of people looking for a cheap cruise, etc. We decided the make the most of it and be joiners to as many fun activities as we could find. I have celiac disease, so this was also a chance for me to try out how Carnival does gluten free.
Our kids were so excited to be on the ship, and they loved the towel animals. We have a 5, 7, and 10 year old. As soon as my outgoing 10 year old experienced the kids club, he was hooked. The 7 year old did not like it at first because she is a more reserved girl and didn't like feeling like she had to participate. She would avoid the club in the afternoon when the ages were mixed and they were playing games in the conference room, but she liked going in the evening when they were actually in the Camp Ocean room. The 5 year old didn't like being in with the 2-5 year old group as he is almost 6 and wanted to be with his siblings (or at least one of them). We found upon asking that he could move up one age group level, and after that he was happy. Even when his sister wasn't in there with him during the day, we had to convince him to take a lunch break on our last sea day. My daughter enjoyed making a paper maiche volcano, and my older son enjoyed giant speed stacks as well as all the other games and occasional access to the pre-teen club. They would also bring the kids together for dance parties in the night club sometimes.
Camp Ocean has their own schedule, and their opening times and activity schedule is not in the regular schedule that is delivered to your room. You need to pick up their schedule from them early on. Camp is open most of the time, but they close from 5-6. They will feed the kids on the Lido at 6 so that you can have dinner without them. That is nice, but because they close/cost extra at 10, it made it a challenge for us to get dinner and also see one of the shows. The shows were usually at 7:30 and 9:30, and so we couldn't finish dinner in time to catch the first one usually, and the shows didn't usually end in time for us to get kids by 10, so we didn't get to see the 9:30 one either.
If you eat dinner on the Lido, you can avoid this problem, but because of being gluten free, I preferred to eat in the dining room. We finally figured out on the last day which server was the best, skipped the appetizer, and got to a show in time.
So, let me say this to you first as your friend, esp if you have kids. Leave earlier than you think you need. Bring Dramamine. Our son puked in the car before we got out of town. Yes, he puked the day we were getting on a cruise ship. While finding a place to clean him up, my husband and I were trying to reassure ourselves that it was motion sickness from the morning rush hour stop and go traffic but also internally freaking out that it could be a virus. We were not out of our city but not close enough to home to turn back, so we just tossed the clothes he was wearing in the closest Dunkin Donuts and pulled some clean clothes from the suitcase. I thankfully had Dramamine for Kids ready in my backpack that I was going to give them about an hour before sailing, but I gave him 2 right away. He asked for a donut, and so we felt a little reassured that it probably wasn't a virus. We bought one for him, gave it to him when we got out of traffic, and he ate it and immediately fell asleep from the dramamine. He never puked again, but there were a few times on the ship that I could tell him tummy was turning and had a chewable dramamine at the ready. Definitely bring those. My friends went on this same cruise in November and had very rough seas and a lot of trouble. You can buy Dramamine for adults and for kids on Amazon, and keep it on your person on in your carry-on.
We had dinner all together in the anytime dining room the first night. I had called to warn them of my dietary special needs ahead of time, but I hadn't gotten on the ship early enough to pre-order a dinner. They were still able to accommodate me very well for dinner. That night, I got the menu for the following night and pre-ordered my dinner. I ordered off of the regular menu, and they generally were able to specially make anything I wanted gluten free unless it was just very clearly gluten-based. There was a balloon artist there to entertain the kids a bit as dinner does take a long time. That first dinner took the longest.
Our second day was a sea day, and I had gluten free pancakes for breakfast. The kids swam as much as they could in the cold water and went down the slides once or twice, but they mostly stayed in the hot tubs. I tried to get a burger at Guy's burger because I heard that they could do that gluten free, but it was difficult to tell the guy what I needed due to the loud music. He did finally tell me that it would be 10 minutes to get the gluten free bun. That was fine with me, so I stayed put and waited. He didn't seem all that comfortable with me waiting though and asked a chef for help. I told the chef I would eat just about anything as long as it was GF. He told me to wait there, and he came back after a while with a delicious plate from the Blue Iguana. I wish I caught his name because I really appreciated that special service. We did go to the CLUE show, which was a little scary for young kids. Once the scary part was over though, the kids were into the whole Clue thing. Unfortunately, I didn't think that the staff made the most of the game, perhaps because it is a smaller ship and they have less staff. All of the other CLUE events were just showing up to have cards revealed. At the end, as far as I know, you still had to guess as you didn't have enough clues. Some of the details on the Clue card that they give you did not happen on this cruise (there were never characters wandering the ship available for you to ask questions, for example). Still fun to follow though.
Our third day was at Princess Cays, and our kids marveled at how beautiful the water was. The water was a little chilly, but the air was warm. The kids were fine to play in the water with the toys I bought. We never found much of a reef, but there is a little pier, and there were some zebra fish to check out over there. We also found fully intact conch shells that we of course let stay where they were. Water shoes would be a good idea here - even the swimming areas are a bit rocky. We did not do an excursion. If you go to the right when you get off the tender instead of going straight, you go around to the back of the tender and cross a bridge to more dining and beach chairs if the area straight ahead is busy. We enjoyed eating our buffet lunch over there, but I think the buffet was the same. There were some little food truck on that side though that may have had different options. Gluten free is never easy on a buffet line. There were a couple of things that actually said "gluten free" on the sign, but the music was blaring, and I didn't have much luck asking about the other items that might have gluten in them. For example, if you also follow this diet, you know that hot dogs and hamburgers can sometimes have wheat in them but don't usually. There were some dishes listed as gluten free, but the burgers and hot dogs were not. I had to just take my chances and grab a hot dog. At any rate, I had enough to eat, and it wasn't bad. There was plenty of fruit that I could have for dessert as all of the regular desserts had gluten. The clamshell blue shades are not free; you can rent them. If you wait long enough though, some people may go back to the ship and you can use theirs. :) Beware the buckets of beer. They are more expensive than you can think after gratuities and tax are added.
Our fourth day was at Nassau, and we did the Blue Lagoon family beach day excursion. It was clear where to go when we got off the ship as there were Blue Lagoon staffers right there on the pier. We did not have to go through a market. We had previously considered getting a resort day pass near the pier and walking there, but I am glad we didn't. Blue Lagoon took us to their island on a two story boat, and the ride was lovely. The island is beautiful, and the lagoon is shallow and fun for kids to play in. There are some games like giant Connect 4 on the island, but there wasn't a whole lot else. You can rent snorkel gear or kayaks, but I don't think kayaking would be much fun there. It says that tubes and mats are free, but I never saw any mats. We had to wait until the Royal Caribbean people left to get a tube. (Did I mention that we docked next to the giant Symphony of the Seas at Nassau? I was trying to tell my kids that our ship was waaay better, lol.) We had a great time here, lunch was delish, mostly because it had fried plantains. I also had to kind of just guess what would be safe and gluten-free for me as it was loud, and the person that I asked was not helpful though he tried. We took a walk around the animal encounter side and got to watch people having dolphin and sea lion encounters. It was a lot of fun to watch and not have to pay, esp since I think there was a minimum age requirement anyway that the kids could not have met. We watched them leaping in the water and being trained by a trainer to make a toot sound with their blow holes. That was a big hit with the kids, of course. Blue Lagoon island has a very interesting history that they don't advertise, by the way. We noticed a canon on the way in, and I looked it up on Wikipedia after we got back to SC. Pirates, WWII training, etc. Look it up!
We enjoyed the Dr. Suess breakfast on the final sea day. You must reserve this ahead of time and it costs $5 per person. Call guest services after you get on board - don't wait in the line - and they will tell you what number to call or transfer you to make the reservation. There are some good reviews of it on youtube - they have themed food, character photos (they didn't come to individual tables though), and decorations. My 10 year old was a bit too old for the story time and parade on the first day, but we did it as a family anyway, and my 5 and 7 year olds seemed to like it ok. I had the gluten free pizza from the pizza pirate. It took a little while to make, and the crust was thick, which I didn't expect. I actually prefer thin crust, but I was really happy just to be able to have pizza. It's pretty special that they make it fresh instead of just heating up a frozen one, and I am grateful that they offer it at all. We also did two scavenger hunts on the final sea day - the regular one (got a medal for completing in 20 minutes) and the Camp Ocean family one (got some swag but came in second and didn't get a ship on a stick). The pictures from those digital scavenger hunts are worth it alone. We did the final lip sync challenge show that night, which was fun, and the 80s trivia music night. We were being joiners, and my husband got chosen for his bad dad-dancing to compete in a dance-off. He finally won us not one, but two ships on a stick! (They gave him an extra one for doing the "Dirty Dancing" lift with Kyle.)
On debarkation day, we left our luggage in the room and had breakfast in the Wind Song dining room around 7:30ish. That was very nice and not crowded, and they were able to give me GF toast. We had to be out of the room by 8:30am I believe, and there was a long line to get off the ship. It wasn't all that terrible of a wait though, and we were warm during that wait (it was cold outside now back in Charleston). After getting back through customs and everything, we did have to wait outside a little bit to get the parking bus. We were sad to leave that smelly, old ship!
Here's my suggestions if you go on this cruise (which will only be a short time as the Ecstasy is leaving Charleston) - bring dramamine for adults and for kids. Bring a little cold, pain, and fever medicine just in case. Maybe bring something to neutralize odors. I did not find the various smells on the ship appealing, including in our room. I can't describe it, and it didn't ruin it, but just be warned. You do not need to bring beach towels. Bring games and books in case the kids don't want to go to Camp Ocean. Bring a book for yourself in case they do! The alchemy bar area is a nice indoors place to read. Bring plenty of sunscreen for the Bahamas. You might want to bring a way to play a movie for the kids, although there were more stations on TV available than I expected. Bring an extension cord or power strip that is not a surge protector.
You do not need to bring a hair dryer, even if you are not in a suite. Our interior room had one in the drawer. Join in the activities. We especially enjoyed the scavenger hunts and trivia parties. If you want to see the shows and eat in the dining room, eat early and skip either the app or the dessert. Crispin is the best server. Bring cash for extra tips if you like - they work hard! Consider the Blue Lagoon excursions in Nassau. If you have the space and have kids, bring some inflatable beach toys and snorkel gear. That will help them be entertained at Princess Cays and maybe save you some money.
You can bring a bottle of wine per person and a 12 pack of soda per person (no bottles). We brought the wine but not the soda (not expecting much room in an interior stateroom for 5). We didn't miss the soda. I would have been ok without the wine, but my husband had some. We put a corkscrew in our checked bag, and it was fine.
I expected this cruise to be a ship in fairly poor condition with possibly bad food, constantly loud music, heavy drinkers, and smoke smell everywhere. The ship is not in great condition, but because I expected that, it wasn't that bad. The food was just fine in my opinion and often quite good. There was occasional loud music, but it wasn't all that bad. It was mostly annoying at the buffet when I needed to ask a question. All of the other times, I did what you are supposed to do and shook my booty. I didn't encounter any music or drinking behavior before 10pm that was inappropriate for the kids. It wasn't always Disney-level kid-friendly, but it wasn't therapy inducing either. No one was funneling beer near the kids or anything. There is a smoking area in one section of the upper Lido deck and allowed in the casino also. Because the casino is so open, it smells of smoke pretty strongly in that area. The kids weren't hanging out there though, so it was only annoying when I wanted to enjoy the live music in that area. Overall, we had a really good time, but I rated it a 3 because I know that it is not all that great compared to other ships. Read Less