For a little background information: my husband and I are newlyweds and picked this cruise for our honeymoon because it worked with our schedule and because Charleston is relatively close to home. It was our very first cruise and we ... Read More
For a little background information: my husband and I are newlyweds and picked this cruise for our honeymoon because it worked with our schedule and because Charleston is relatively close to home. It was our very first cruise and we don't have any children. We weren't able to explore Charleston before embarkation, but we spent the Saturday after debarkation exploring the gorgeous city. If you've never been to Charleston, it's a lovely place to relax. If you're looking for a home port with lots and lots of entertainment, look elsewhere. Charleston is all about its history and charm. If you're fortunate enough to be there on a Saturday, check out the market. We went early in the morning, which was very nice, but it gets much busier as the day goes on.
Now, as far as embarkation goes, it went incredibly smoothly. We arrived about an hour and a half early before we were able to park, but that wasn't really an issue. We parked nearby on the curbside until officials let us go through the process of getting our parking passes and be checked through. This was when they also took our luggage for it to be checked and delivered to the room. Some folks said that their luggage was late and possibly lost, but luckily ours arrived on time to the cabin. We parked in a very large, warehouse-like garage. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the cars would be covered and out of the elements.
Now, this is where the fun begins. As soon as we entered we noticed several crew members holding up very large, white tarps. A woman then approached us, informed us that there had been a medical emergency, and asked us to "check out the art gallery" while they handled the situation.
We roamed about for a little while and then found our way to the Lido deck. What I first really noticed upon entering the ship was the pungent smell of cigarette smoke. I believe that with the ship being older, it has been smoked in quite a bit and unfortunately the scent truly permeated most parts of the vessel (even our stateroom). This wasn't too hard to get used to, but may bother someone who has breathing issues. We had an ocean view room, which came with two portholes. We were able to get a free room upgrade on Cyber Monday from an interior room to the portholes, but I think it would be worth it to pay a little extra to have them. The natural light really helps.
We went to dinner and had a fantastic time the first night. We chose anytime dining and were assigned to the Windstar restaurant. On our first night, our waiter came and sang "Happy Honeymoon!" to us, and brought us a dessert with a single candle to blow out. It was honestly just fun and adorable! We giggled, laughed, kissed, finished our meal and tried to just get used to being on the ship. I'm not completely sure how they knew it was our honeymoon unless my husband entered it into our account somewhere, so I do recommend making notes online if you're celebrating a special occasion. They will likely surprise you somewhere like they did for us!
After the first night, the service seemed to steadily decline. The waitstaff seemed a bit disinterested and less attentive. We began to realize that many people (mainly older adults) were using this time to spend their week as drunk and ridiculously wasted as possible. People would very frequently disrupt shows and make fools of themselves as they were extremely intoxicated. There seems to be no regulation of the behavior of others on this ship, even when it begins to hinder others' enjoyment of the experience. My husband and I don't drink, and if we had realized that such a huge emphasis would be placed on getting drunk, we probably would have picked a different line. Also, many of the activities that we wanted to do were located in a bar that was heavily consumed with cigarette smoke, which made things like trivia sessions not very enjoyable.
Overall, the best part of the cruise was always when we got to visit one of the ports. Now, keep in mind that this can be accomplished on any cruise ship. However, we really enjoyed every port and excursion that we were able to do. We booked our excursions ahead of time and decided to do a Dolphin Encounter + Private Beach day in Balmoral Island (Nassau) and an Electric Hummer Tour in Grand Turk. Both were exceptionally fun and we are so glad that we spent the extra money to do them! Thankfully Carnival made it fairly simple to find your excursion, as you are assigned a meeting place/time on the ship where you will gather with all those who chose the same excursion. Then you disembark the ship and are guided to the excursion together. We had no problems, but we believe that some guests had to wait much longer than others for the excursion in Nassau as not everyone was able to board the first boat that took us to Balmoral Island. I would definitely recommend that you do at least one excursion, especially in Nassau.
Half Moon Cay was our beach day and we absolutely loved how gorgeous it was. Carnival owns the island, so purchasing drinks and food is convenient as you can just put it on your sail and sign card. It did get a bit crowded on the beach, but bring snorkel gear because there is a large area designated safe for swimming. We saw a few angelfish and some other, silver-colored fish as well. It was so nice to lay out and cool off in the gorgeous, crystal-clear water!
Our sea days were a little less than enjoyable because there just isn't much to do on the Ecstasy if you're not either a child or an adult who likes to party. The only pool was constantly in use by the kids, so the only place an adult could really get in the water was one of the two hot tubs on the Serenity deck (kids frequented the Lido deck hot tubs too often for anyone else to use them). However, there wasn't always room on the Serenity Deck and we were often left without a place to lay out other than the smoker's deck, as people tended to leave their towels and things in the deck chairs and disappear for hours.
The food was also just average. We often had to wait for 30-45 minutes for our assigned dining location to have a seat available, and the buffet was often closed. It appeared to only be open during "typical" meal times, while the pizza place and deli were supposedly open 27/7. This didn't work for a number of reasons. Mainly because people aren't on their 9-5 eating schedule when they're on a cruise. Often they will sleep in, have brunch, and then maybe want to eat again around 2-3. This put too much pressure on the pizza and deli places to supply everyone's food during non-typical meal times, causing them to have too long of a wait and to run out of hot/prepared food. I went to grab some pizza at around 3:00 PM and they were fresh out. Also, the ice cream station usually only had a very bad vanilla and was out of order. I think they only had strawberry-flavored ice cream on the first day.
Debarkation was very simple and easy, and we were through customs in about one minute. My husband and I purchased a conch shell on Grand Turk and declared it on the form they give you. They did not search/check our luggage or anything, and had no problems getting back to the car and leaving the port.
Overall, we were able to make the very most out of our honeymoon cruise. Some of our problems may come from the cruise just not being a good "match" for us (we don't drink or party, which was highly emphasized), but other issues are really due to the ship being old. For example, on one of the port days we noticed a terrible sewage smell as we got close to the gangway. We later heard that a sewage pipe had burst and flooded the 4th floor. Many more seasoned cruisers pleaded to not let this turn us off from cruising, and said that it was the worst cruise (some out of 10-20 cruises!) that they had ever been on. If this inexpensive seven-day cruise had one extra port day on its itinerary, I would say that it *might* be worth it, just to visit so many wonderful places, but after this experience I would definitely not recommend that anyone sail on this ship. We probably will never sail with Carnival again, but are definitely open to looking at other cruise lines. Read Less