My boyfriend and I took the 5-night Bahama cruise from Charleston, SC and it was a blast! I had never cruised with Carnival before and did not know what to expect, so I was very pleasantly surprised. It was my boyfriend's first cruise, I've cruised with Royal Caribbean before. We spent the night in Charleston with friends who drove us to the port on Monday. That maze of concrete barriers was fun, LOL. Based on some things I'd read earlier, we decided to arrive a little late. I'll explain why in a bit. We got there around 1 p.m., got the shuttle bus over to the ship around 1:30. Yes, there was a line of people, but I doubt we waited longer than 15 minutes before reaching security.
If you've never been through airport security (and there were some there who obviously had not), remove everything from your pockets, take off your watch and belt, remove your jacket, place it all on the belt for the X-ray machine. Don't muck up the process by trying to just walk on through. You are allowed one bottle of wine per person over 21. You can also bring bottled water. Alcohol is otherwise a no-no. However, and I'm just sayin'... a plastic bottle of alcohol that is still sealed and wrapped in a bunch of your clothes will most likely make it through the baggage process for your CHECKED bags (not your carry-ons) if you arrive late. Why? Look around, there's hundreds of people with 2+ bags per person and they don't have time to scrutinize it all by that point in the day. We did just fine, saved a ton of money on drinks onboard. Early birds will have their plastic water bottles shaken, so if you think you can sneak vodka in that way, think again. They can tell the difference and will toss them.
At $7.50 a pop for a watered-down drink, if you don't bring anything with you, opt for wine. They can't do much to weaken that. If you do pack alcohol and they find it, you'll be paged to come to the naughty room and they will tag it for you to pick up when you return home. No loss. If you try to put it in water bottles or Listerine bottles as some told me they tried, they will toss it. Glass bottles will be spotted right away. Early birds got everything searched and another reason not to arrive too early is that your cabin may not be ready and you'll be stuck lugging your carry-ons around deck with you. Nobody even looked in our bags at security, with wine, champagne and bottled water in our bags, we sailed right on through. They will ask for your passport (or you can bring a notarized birth certificate and driver's license) and then issue your sign and sail card. DO NOT lose this. It's your entry onto the ship, you need it when you exit the ship, and it's your key to your cabin. It's also how you buy things on board. Be sure to take a photo ID with you whenever you exit the ship, they will ask to see it.
Our cabin was ready, just one deck below the main floor, two decks below the restaurants. It was bigger than we expected. With a king size bed, we had nightstands on either side, a vanity with Hollywood-style lights on either side, chair and another table. Ice bucket was filled, they provide you with bottled water and soft drinks you can buy. Closets were ample with shelves, plenty of hangers, a combination safe you set up yourself, robes, etc. Most luggage will fit under the bed. It was quiet the entire trip. Note: there is no heat. You really don't need it, though. There is an AC vent in the ceiling that you control yourself by turning a knob. They provide a down comforter on the bed and another is in the closet under your life vests. Bed and pillows were comfy, no need to bring any from home. Two pillows per person, and they'll bring you more if you need them. Bathroom was spotless. We had a welcome basket of two toothpastes, two lotions, sunscreen, and Breathe Right strips. There's a flat screen TV which has all three major networks from Miami, TNT and some other cable channels, a movie channel that runs a different movie each day, all day long. There is a channel featuring videos shot each day on the ship (those can be funny), views of the ship, and another channel that gives you all the stats: speed, longtitude, etc. Average speed was 11 knots except on the last day when we were hauling it back at 17 knots.
Muster was weird. On other cruises we were required to bring our life vests with us so we could show them we knew how to put them on. Not here, you just go upstairs, sit and watch them put one on, then you wait....and wait....and wait. We got to listen to the slot machine music for 15 minutes before they told us to go up on deck to our station. It's required, so just grin and bear it.
Food was fantastic. I didn't have anything I didn't like the entire trip. I usually ordered a couple of starters, a soup or salad, then an entree (sometimes added a second entree if I couldn't decide and then just ate what I wanted until full) and dessert. I had the molten chocolate lava cake with ice cream every night. I loved it. Tried additional desserts too, my boyfriend really loved the pineapple ice cream. I would highly recommend the Chateaubriand served to us on Thursday, it melted in my mouth. After dinner drinks are offered in these really nice shot glasses you get to keep.
Lots of people lined up for the buffets on the Lido deck or inside in the grill. I don't understand why unless they just really like burgers or hot dogs. We chose the dining rooms for most meals as the selections were better, service was quicker, and you are seated immediately. No standing in line for a buffet then standing around trying to figure out where to sit. As we left port we went to the Lido deck, didn't have any trouble finding a table and chairs. One guy who worked there was meticulous about lining up all the chairs when people would leave a table. It's good food, but basic stuff like burgers, fries, etc. Someone mentioned in an earlier review that there was no mayonnaise. We found it easily. It's not in a container as the ketchup and mustard are, it's on the buffet line. I think they treat it as a dressing.
In the dining rooms you have two menus for dinner. One is constant on the left-hand page, it never changes. The other on the right changes each day. There's always comfort food too, like fried chicken or meat loaf. Breakfast has the same menu each day, the lunch menu changes. One day I ordered eggs benedict for breakfast. The hollandaise sauce looked odd to me, it was sort of hard...not runny...so I didn't order that again. They will fix eggs any way you want them, omelettes made as you like, fruit, cereal, etc. It's really like dining in a restaurant. As far as dress goes, we dressed casual for breakfast or lunch since we were going into ports or sunning on the decks. Dinners we dressed nicely, and there is one night they call "Elegant Dining" where you are expected to dress to the nines. Everyone looked beautiful and they take lots of photos that night. You don't need a tux or evening dress. I wore evening slacks and a long Oriental silk jacket, my boyfriend wore all black without a tie.
On "at sea" days, I'd recommend the serenity deck if you want peaceful sunbathing or reading time. If you go to the Lido deck, walk back through the grill, go outside then down a flight of stairs, you'll find it at the stern of the ship. Cushioned deck chairs, a bartender right there on call, and NO KIDS allowed. :) There are two hot tubs also.
If you are a smoker, it's allowed outside only, and look for the tables with ashtrays as it's not allowed all over the outside area. No ashtray, no smoking in that area.
Soft drinks will cost you around $2 each. Buy the unlimited soft drink wrist band if you want them for $5 total all week, but I heard someone say they are from a tap and flat, not like a canned drink. I saw a lot of people bringing bottled water on board, but don't know if they'll let you bring a case of sodas.
I won't even try to list the stuff to do on board. We played the girls vs. guys trivia one night in one of the ballrooms, it was a hoot. We also took in some of the shows, they were quite good. Those kids in the shows really dance and sing their butts off. We went into the karaoke bar just for laughs and found some surprisingly GOOD singers were on board. Some bad ones too, but hey, what do you go to a karaoke bar for anyway? This isn't Vegas, people, so don't go expecting to see or hear Wayne Newton or Neil Diamond. Anyone who doesn't attend at least one show isn't getting their money's worth.
There's a jogging track on the top deck, with a water slide for kids and kids at heart. They also have a gym but we did enough exercising on shore to last the week. Plenty of deck chairs up there, it's a nice place to people watch or sit and read. It gets a little noisy on the Lido deck level and that's where everyone goes to hang out by the pool or the hot tub. The music down there during the day is LOUD, so be prepared. They have things like limbo contests and hairy chest contests to keep people laughing.
People had told us ahead of time we'd not like Freeport. Wrong. We had a ball there. You have to know what to do, however. We booked the Heritage Tour with Snorkeling. I don't snorkel, but my boyfriend does, and even if you don't you will still enjoy it. Chad and Dwayne were our tour guides, ask for them if you take this tour. Chad is a walking encyclopedia on history of the islands and he calls us all "Family" for as he put it we're all related in one way or another. Dwayne is a dead ringer for Chris Rock, and his humor is just as good. Our first stop is at a lighthouse where you can see coral for miles. I noticed litter and no trash cans. Chad said that they pick up the trash themselves, and I suggested they buy some cans and get an Adopt A Highway program started. LOL Then we got to see a blowhole, which is a small area of water with underground caves. From there we stopped at a park-like place with a nature trail where they explained all the plants native to the islands and showed us some of the underground caves where people would go when the hurricanes would come. At this stop, there were two women and a man selling goods they'd made themselves, across the road from where we parked. There was no pressure to buy from them, but as we were leaving I saw they'd packed up and left -- which made me realize we were the only reason they'd come out there. Wish I'd bought something from them after that.
Our final stop was Paradise Cove. This was worth the price of the tour by itself. It's a private beach that only opens for the tours. We were about the only people there. Lunch is included in the tour, hamburgers or hot dogs, conch fritters (YUM) and a soft drink. You can buy fries or extra stuff from the two lovely ladies working in the bar area. Yes, they have plenty of beer, wine or mixed drinks you can purchase. I tried a Bahamian beer called Bush Crack. The name alone made me curious, but it tastes like Budweiser. The beaches are white, water is clear and not too terribly cold. Chad will fix you up with a lounge chair on the beach if you want, which I did, and he will tell you over and over "this is YOUR day, you just let me know whatever I can do for you." I hated to leave this place, it was so serene and beautiful. I gathered shell and coral (hide that, by the way, the cruise lines don't like you bringing coral or shells on board unless you buy them but Chad says it's perfectly fine with them).
My boyfriend and the rest of the snorkelers saw some sting rays, barracudas, lots of colorful little fish. It's well worth it, he said.
There is a little bar next to some shops by the ship (I think it's called Stephen's) when you get back that has wi-fi for $5/hr. On board the ship it's $24.95 per half hour. I had my iPad and was able to check messages there before we went back on board. Phone calls on board are $2 per minute. Wireless calls are high, check with your carrier to see what international rates are.
In Nassau we opted to go local and hire a driver. There are plenty waiting for you when you get off, trust me. JoJo found us and told us he had a stretch limo. That sounded better than being in a van or taxi. At $25 per person it ended up being a bargain. We saw the good, the bad and the ugly of the city with JoJo. He took us up to Fort Fincastle so we could see the area from above. Streets are so narrow there, I kept expecting to hear the screeching of metal against another vehicle. There are gift shacks there as well, where I bought a conch shell for $5. We saw a boatload of them just lying around on the side of the road in Freeport, but Chad told us they stink since they've not been properly cleaned yet, so we didn't take any of those.
We stopped at Atlantis Resort. What a bunch of snobs. But, for $2,500 per night/4 night minimum, I guess they can afford to be. Not being guests, we were not allowed to come in the main entrance, but were constantly being herded off to side entrances or stairways. It's beautiful in a gaudy Vegas way, but I prefer hanging with locals. We got back to town and went to Senor Frog's. As you get back to the ship area where the taxis are, head to your left if you are facing the ship. It's got a red terra cotta roof, just listen for the music. What a fun place! Everyone wearing hats made from twisted long balloons, singing, conga lines for shots of tequila. Nachos are to die for. Great margaritas. Had to buy my t-shirt there. Met two nice high school boys from SC who were having the time of their lives. You can also buy Cuban cigars at a store nearby on your way back to the ship. Hide them, as you'll put your bag into Xray when you come back on board. They are not legal to bring back into the US, but since nobody looks in your bags when you come through customs (they didn't ours, anyway) you can put them in your carry-on or in the bottom of your purse.
Word of warning about slot machines anywhere on the islands or the ships. They are not calibrated to the US standards so save your money. People were having problems with the ones on the ship eating their money. If you must gamble, they have craps, roulette, blackjack and Texas Hold-em tournaments.
Friday was a bouncy day at sea and after talking to some folks who'd taken this trip at other times, they said that is the norm. So bring your seasick meds. Took me all morning to get myself ready and able to eat lunch. I was fine after that. We were traveling along at 17 knots in order to get back to Charleston by Saturday morning (we arrived around 6) so that didn't help matters. Stores onboard will be having things on sale by this last day so if you've been eyeing a souvenir, wait until then. We bought two of the big blue beach towels since our travel agent had given us vouchers for onboard purchases, voucher for photos and a bottle of wine. She's the best!! My boyfriend got his haircut in the salon for $25 and it looked really nice. I didn't do any of the spa stuff, it was way overpriced. Duty free alcohol is actually pretty cheap. We didn't buy any, but I'm pretty sure they hold it for you until you disembark.
The staff of Carnival did a fantastic job of making everyone feel welcome and relaxed. Our cabin steward was awesome, we rarely ever saw him unless he needed to ask us something. They have a Cruise/Snooze door hanger you can use. We didn't have to except on the mornings we were at sea so they'd know we were at breakfast. After dinner the bed was always turned down and the towel animal was waiting to greet us. We used room service a couple of times, food was good and they delivered within the alloted time frame we requested.
There is a video on the TV with information about disembarkation that runs all day on Friday. We opted to put our bags out the night before instead of trying to deal with them ourselves. Watch the TV screen on the channel indicated and it will tell you when to go to the lounge by your deck number. By the time we got there, they told us to go on down and out. Line to get our luggage was a little long, but moved along quickly. Oh, the drug dogs come on board early in the morning to sniff the halls. I heard one bark and it startled me to hear a dog on board the ship. I guess they let them sniff all the bags before loading them up as well. So, if you're thinking of bringing back any contraband, I'd think twice.
Overall, we had a great time and met some really nice people. Not a lot of kids at this time of year, so we really enjoyed the peace and quiet. Temps were a little windy/chilly that first day, but by the time we got further south I was glad I had the sunscreen and plenty of shorts/t-shirts. I would definitely take this cruise again or recommend it to others. Read Less