As first time cruisers, traveling with children, we wanted to make our experience as simple as possible. With Charleston being an easy 5 hr car ride, we chose to leave from there and traveled down the day before embarkation. We took ... Read More
As first time cruisers, traveling with children, we wanted to make our experience as simple as possible. With Charleston being an easy 5 hr car ride, we chose to leave from there and traveled down the day before embarkation. We took advantage of a hotel deal where we could stay the night, have a sit down breakfast, park our car for the week, and take the hotel shuttle to and from the port- this worked out beautifully! Hotel Indigo in Mt. Pleasant is just across the bridge. The shuttle worked out flawlessly, and was actually nicer than I had expected. For about $30 more than the price of parking at the port all week, we got a good night's rest, a meal, parking, and the shuttle. We did go out into Charleston the night before to meet some friends and enjoyed ourselves at Carmella's for drinks and desert.
When we arrived at the port the next morning, there was a bit of a wait in the shuttle line and when we got off, the baggage handlers were nice enough but were obviously trying to be hasty. There was one particularly loud one shouting everything. He was nice when we realized I had not printed enough bag tags and he helped us get some on quickly, despite his loud first impression. Our shuttle driver pointed out to us where he would be during disembarkation and we headed to the terminal to go through security.
The line was long, but moved quickly. It was during the line wait that I realized I made my first rookie mistake of putting my wine in our checked suitcase instead of my carry on. I researched but forgot this detail, apparently. I spent the next several hours praying it wouldn't burst all over our clothing. In the end, they ended up 'confiscating it' and we had clean clothing. Security was smooth until we got to the desk where they check birth certs and IDs, etc. My husband's documents had to be taken to customs due to his name being commonly flagged (?). The lady came back and said well, its good news since I have no customs agent with me! Well, I'd hope so!! She explained that he just had a common name, and it was often flagged. However, my husband is a Veteran and in all his travels has never ran into any issues regarding his name. I still am not sure what all this was about but did not appreciate the delay. We were finally sent to the next checkpoint and there, we weren't listed as 'checked in' due to the previous "issue" so we stood there for another few minutes while they got that sorted. This kind of initially spoiled the faster to the fun option we bought- this hiccup of Carnival's ended up costing us more time in security that I had hoped to be there, with children. However, the final checkpoint agent apologized and stated this was an issue on their end, not ours.... and we were on our way.
Once we got on board, our room was not ready so we went for a drink, lunch, and some ship exploring. Once we got back to the room, we had 1 of 3 suitcases which just hours before was brand new but at this point, appeared to have been dragged through the desert a few times. We waited in the room to see if we would get the other two soon and one did arrive but not our main one (at this point I was still waiting to see if we had wine stained clothing so I was anxious to get it and get unpacked and organized). We waited a bit longer, watching the dolphins play from our cabin window, and it still didn't arrive so we left again. The main suitcase arrived sometime later and like I said, our clothing was clean but the wine had been confiscated. We never did get it back and were told they were unable to locate it during disembarkation. I did not complain- it wasn't special wine and I was relieved to not have to pay to launder an entire suitcase full of clothing but it does make me wonder why it was confiscated and couldn't have been delivered to the room since we're allowed to have it anyway.
The Ecstacy is showing her age in places. The decor could certainly use an update but it was clean and sufficient. All elevators worked fine except for the last night when one was down for maintenance for just a bit. We took stairs any time we could. Our cabin was M218 towards the end of the ship and made for some long walks at times; the room itself suited the four of us fine but I would spring for a suite next time for more room, if possible. One major complaint was the sewage smell coming from the drains in the bathroom. We found that if we plugged the sink, it was somewhat better. The shower had good water pressure and was always hot, however. I brought a cheap, clear, shoe hanger for our door and don't know what I would have done with all our stuff without it! There is no storage room other than a tiny shelf in the bathroom. I think the rooms could use a dresser instead of a desk/vanity. We had to put all clothing on the shelves in the closets and they're just not easily accessible. The beds were comfortable and my girls (8 and 11) had fun sitting on the window ledge. They had a pull down bunk and a roll away bad close to the floor. The pull down made me have to crawl over my husband but thats not really an issue for us. There was a small leak in our window which ruined a book a had sitting up there, due to heavy rain and sea spray the last day. In common areas, there was often not enough seating for popular places or shows, the pool is too small (and one is not enough).
For the most part, I found the staff exceptional. They really do work so hard. Our Cruise Director, Leon, was fabulous and our steward Hermogenes made our room homey and was a sight for sore eyes after a day of tiring fun- he always had a smile and a kind word for us. Our waitstaff Saw and Ni Nguyen made sure we were well cared for at dinner, remembered our favorite drinks/wine/my kids favored foods and didn't judge when we wanted two of something. haha. We had a nicer breakfast during two on board brunches and our waiter there was also exceptional though I did not ever get his name. He went out of his way for my youngest child and it was very appreciated. My second rookie mistake was skipping the first formal night. We missed the lobster which I was looking forward to. We went to the second formal night but.. no lobster that time. We did have escargot and really enjoyed it.
There were a few staff, both bartenders, actually who I thought needed a night off and were less than friendly. I see a lot of complaints about the ship rocking. This is also something else I expected... you're in the ocean, no? It's no fault of anyone involved and we did have one very turbulent day on the last day at sea. The cruise shop sold a small bottle of essential oils that helped tremendously with any queasiness. We also brought non drowsy dramamine.
I will be the first to tell anyone I figured all the shows would be horribly cheesy and I wouldn't be able to sit through them. We saw some great ones though! The Brits show, America Rocks, and the Motown review were pretty good. There was a cute Christmas show that my daughter enjoyed too. My kids also enjoyed Camp Ocean- they actually asked to go back to it. They spent the majority of our last night there and came back with a sweet swag bag full of stuff. I do wish the kids camps were open longer than 10pm without the extra expense of "night owls". There are many adult shows we wanted to attend and chose not to so that we wouldn't have to pay $16/ hour ($8/ child, per hour). The deck dance parties were fun but adults take their glow sticks seriously and my younger daughter's feelings got hurt over not getting a giant glow stick while the adults around her snatched for them. My girls did the Build A Bear even on board and even though they had done this before, they really enjoyed it and liked taking their animals everywhere they went. We took our kids to the piano bar and karaoke which they enjoyed.
Our ports were Amber Cove, Grand Turk, and Princess Cay. We were supposed to go to Half Moon Cay but it was changed months before we left. We enjoyed them all but Grand Turk was our fave. We chose not to do any excursions and just relax and play on the beaches. While my kids really enjoyed the pool at Amber Cove, if we returned there, we would probably do an excursion to see more of the island. The port area is very commercialized compared to (for example) Grand Turk and it seems you can't really explore otherwise. We simply rented a nice snorkeling set up in Grand Turk and had fun with the kids on the beaches there. The girls got their hair braided and I enjoyed interacting with the locals down the beach (away from Margaritaville). Princess Cay was very relaxing and it was nice to have lunch provided. However, the seas there were rough and we took a shuttle boat to the island due to the lack of pier there. It was fine for our family and others but we were later made aware that one of the last shuttle boats back to the main ship got stuck out in the water for hours due to a blown engine, without any communication. They had children on board and it was dusk, then dark in rough waters. We were told by someone on that boat that Carnival only offered them a $50 room credit for this. This is hardly sufficient for lack of communication when something should have been previously worked out in the event of this happening. We did enjoy our time there but the waves were rough for the kids so they couldn't swim as far as they would have liked.
We enjoyed the majority of the food. Some stand outs were the Blue Iguana Tacos, Guys Burgers, of course the kids liked the pizza and ice cream; french toast and omelets for breakfast, the prime rib, escargot, and chocolate melting cake and the souffle in the dining room. We also enjoyed the fried shrimp during the last lunch at the grill in the lido. The St. Helena Merlot is a good choice for a cheaper glass of wine! We also really liked the tropical mules, and the bite of the iguana margarita from blue iguana bar. On the other hand, most of the desserts in the lido aren't worth the calories, the coffee is not good, and the pasta dishes at night in the dining room seem recycled. It is possible to eat fairly healthy on a cruise. I was able to eat salad and fruit daily, though I wish they served pineapple. I do recommend ordering bottled water to your room. I ordered 4 packs and that was too much for us, even for 7 days. Really only needed half that.
The Faster to the fun really came in handy when we received priority boarding for the shuttle boats to Princess Cay. We were in one of the first boats over which allowed for us to grab good lounge chairs close to everything. It was also really helpful during disembarkation as we were off the ship quickly and hours before many others. That is helpful with children. So, don't overpack so that you cant take your own bags off the ship. Our hotel shuttle was there waiting for us when we got to him and it was again painless to get to our car and on our way home.
My kids really enjoyed themselves and while we would have been able to relax more child free, this was perfect for a family vacation. We would certainly go again with a few things done differently:
-We'd do the cheers packages
-Take the wine in the carry ons!
-Take more regular clothing- I took a lot of beach wear/coverups/comfy stuff and dresses but not much in the middle.
-Dont skip the first formal night
-Get a larger cabin, midship, if possible
-Get more pics of the whole family taken during dinner (I swore I wouldn't want any of those, but I did! And would have gotten more if my whole family was in them)
-Get Faster to the Fun again
We're already looking for our next cruise! I hope this review is helpful to someone. I included things I'd want to know. Read Less