We have been on 29 cruises, with no commitment to a particular line. Our selection is made, based on a mix of itinerary, price, ship, and time of the year. My experiences with Carnival, over decades, range from the worst ever (the initial sailing of the Sunshine), to this very good seven day cruise from Galveston to Key West, Freeport, and Nassau.
We were scheduled for check-in to the ship between Noon-12:30 PM. We dropped off our bags at the designated area, and were marched, in line, to seating, by group, with our group the first to be processed after Diamond, Suites, military etc. As we had earlier completed docs and sail account on line, it just took minutes before we were quickly moved to the ship. A generous buffet of a variety of well prepared foods awaited us on the Lido deck. There was no problem getting seating. Guys Burgers and the pizza area were also open. Before long, our cabins were ready, with our bags showing up a few hours later. Perfect!
We had booked this cruise less than a month before sailing, so cabin selection was limited. The only outside cabins left were on deck 1, but we were able to get one mid-ship, cabin #1379. With no public areas above or below us, and because of it's location mid-ship, we had a quiet sleep. We have never been on that low of a deck on a larger ship, and found the view of the waves from the windows, mesmerizing. The cabin had a generous sized bathroom with just the basic, on-wall, shampoo and liquid soap dispensers in the shower, and a tiny bar of soap on the sink. The cabin had loads of storage, with three closets, shelves, drawers, and under-bed storage. Twin beds could be joined. There was also a sleeper-sofa. The mattresses on the beds were VERY good quality. The TV, safe, phone, and hairdryer, all worked well. The carpeting was spotless, the towels always fluffy, and the bedding crisp. Nothing was frayed, worn, smelly, or busted. I was delightfully surprised by this cabin and service of it.
With all the concern about ship-born illnesses, and victims of it in the past, ourselves, we were very aware of the health factors. Wherever we went on the ship, there were crew, cleaning the railings, the windows, refilling purex containers, and continuously reminding folks to wash their hands, and use the hand sanitizers around the ship. Public bathrooms even had sanitized sheet dispensers by the door when you left the bathroom, as well as a trash container to throw it after use, so you did not have to touch the door handle with a bare hand on the way out. They also schooled you on exposure while on-shore. Our cabin was spotless throughout the seven day cruise. Carnival did a terrific job in this normal area of concern for cruisers.
This was a delightful surprise. We did not have a bad meal. We selected the early seating, and was assigned to the Posh dining room. Although serviced was slow, taking close to two hours, and that was without extra orders, or bar, the food delivered was as described, well prepared, and always hot. It was so slow, though, a few times, we had to leave the dining room before dessert, so we would not miss the scheduled Playlist Production show in the Victoriana theater on the opposite end of the ship. The food, though, was welcome surprise. as an example, one night we had a tasty, well prepared prime rib, medium rare, that came out perfect. It was a decent, tasty, piece of meat, even before the perfectly prepared sauces. Sides, whether a starch or other vegetable, were spot on. Appetizers and desserts did not disappoint us. Some of the desserts were creative, like a vanilla creme brulee with popcorn and a caramel sauce. The food was so good that we elected not to do their specialty dining. Breakfasts and lunches were in the Lido. This ship got the Guy's burger thing RIGHT, and the pizza was thin, was a good sauce and FRESH mozzarella. The only downer was the afternoon "tea". It was a few select desserts, with slow, surly, service, and totally unnecessary for us, seeing that we would be sitting down at the early dinner in a few hours. We do not eat Mexican food so we cannot comment on that, nor did we try the seafood grill, or any of the specialty coffees, desserts or other $$$ venues. We also do not drink alcohol, so cannot speak to the quality of the beverages.
Entertainment & Activities
The Playlist Production shows were pretty good, and worth seeing. There were a lot of repeat cruisers on this 85% Texas ship, many who had seen the shows before, so getting a seat at the show was never a problem. Music is pre-recorded. Surprisingly, considering the regional draw, they had no country themed shows or music venues, although people kept asking for them. We were okay and flexible on that. Singers and dancers were adequate. Typical historic events like the hairy-chest type contests, were well represented. Lots of trivia, but also lots of people looking up answers on their Smart phones, diminshed our interest in participating. The fitness area was well appointed, we were thrilled to see it was never that busy when we were there. Daily specials on watches, handbags, etc, consistent, with cruises, were here as well. Nothing was that great, that cheap, or that meaningful to us to buy or shlepp off the ship. I think we bought one beach bag for $10.
The tv viewing selections left a lot to be desired. They had about 6 channels relative to the ship, but many just repeated sales pitches for jewelry, shorex, and things that had already happened days earlier. There were a few very old movies, occasionally, and CNN. None of the shows or events form the ship were televised later, for those who were possibly unable to attend the event. This is something pretty traditional with most cruises. There was no weather channel. Live daily announcements often mentioned the wrong comedians (from several days earlier) or even the wrong date (It was Feb 1 and they were announcing it was January 25th. Wrong cruise too. We had not sailed until Jan 27th). BTW, the comedians performing had left the ship days earlier. Longitude and Latitude on the ship were flashed regularly, but never the outside temperature. When I asked the CD why they did not post it somewhere, or make it available on tv, he said they did not want to responsible for weather forecasts. HUH? I was also referred to their APP, being told I could find out on there. Puzzling...on the APP but not on one fo their tv channels.. We were also informed by the CD at the Cruise Critic meeting that Carnival has decided to ELIMINATE THE PAPER VERSION OF THE FUN TIMES, AND PASSENGERS WOULD NEED TO RELY SOLELY ON THEIR "APP"....he said, to save on the high cost of paper. Better bring your Smart phone folks, and plan to use it. One woman expressed concern that she and her husband do not have the type of phone with this capability. He shrugged. He said Carnival has already made the decision to move forward on this, and is in meetings to consider the implementation date. I questioned the wisdom of this decision for safety and other reasons. Most on this ship were retirees, and many, I suspect, not tech savvy, or just not wanting to use their phones on vacation. Most of the features using your phone had a fee.
The Spa---well, I cannot say anything good. They push the Spa services continuously, and bombard you with paper ads daily in your cabin. I was given a birthday card with a $50 gift card for the Spa enclosed...but only good for the two upcoming days we were at port, for which we had already purchased shorex from Carnival. So, I tried to buy products from the Spa, only to learn from them that it could only be used for services. So I asked what services they had for men, and how much they were, thinking I maybe could fit something in. After some scrambling about, they handed me a sheet, but told me they had nothing with the prices on it, and could not tell me what they were. HUH? I walked away, checked out the sheets, and it only had two men's services on it. Only those could I use this credit on. I went to guest services, but they told me that this was done by corporate, but they could give me $9 in drinks but I would have to pay a 20% gratuity. Later, I spoke with another passenger who also got one of these, and she advised that they do it for the whole ship. This was no gift, it was a "promotion" to fill the spa on their slow days, and although she had booked services earlier, she was told she could not use the "gift" either. From those who DID use the Spa, most complained about the quality of services. The space could be better used for other purposes.
Ports and Shore Excursions
- Before the cruise, we independently purchased a non-Carnival shorex for the local the Hop-On, Hop Off. Although I have killed many brain cells during my early years in Key West, it was nice to revisit some spots, like the East Martello fort/museum, and pay our respect to "Robert" the haunted doll, check out some of the current art, and crawl the fort. The Ho-Ho gave us the widest , and most convenient, spread around the key, stopping also at places like the African Memorial, where 294 slaves lost their lives and were buried on the beach, and the AIDS Memorial near one of the nicest piers in KW. We stood clear of the busy crowded spots and bars. KW was pretty much cleaned up since the late year hurricane and the damage from the previous year. KW has something for everyone.
- The day we arrived was cold and windy. The islanders were clad in winter coats, hats, scarfs, and gloves. Some of the shorex were cancelled due to the weather. You did not really know how cold it was until you got off the ship onto the pier, because the ship would not provide the temperatures. Many we watched disembark, then come back on, to get warmer clothes. Freeport never appeared to have recovered from the storms, and a lot of properties were closed and boarded up. Several ships elected to by-pass Freeport and replace it with a Cuba stop, so local businesses suffered even more. At first we thought we would stay on the ship, but at the last minute, decided to take the Carnival offered shorex to the Garden Of The Groves. It was inexpensive, offered us some time off the ship, and the opportunity to stop at The Lucayan Village, which was supposedly THE place to shop on the island, offering a variety of crafts, restaurants,and high end stores. On the bus ride to the Garden, the driver shared information on the island, in his own inimitable way. Many enjoyed his singing and comical nature. Garden of the Groves (named for the wealthy Grove family who were instrumental in developing this port) looked like it had been quite the place some decades ago, but plantings did not look to be maintained. The jungle took much of it over, so it was more like walkways through jungle and mangrove-like vegetation, downed, dead trees, with an occasional surprise flowering bush pushing up out of the weeds giving us a hint of what it was like in it's glory days. Insect-devoured plants hung on for life. In the "hibiscus" section, now a kids play area, with some picnic benches, we discovered two lowly red hibiscus blossoms, with no others to be found. You could see the layout of what must have been a beautiful area earlier in time. A small plain, white, chapel originally built by Mr Grove for his religious workers, still stands.Occasionally, you would encounter a small body of water, with a duck or two about. We initially had a tour guide there for about an hour, Katrina, who met our bus. She was very pleasant and knowledgeable on the history of the place, and did a good job. At no time, in the few hours there, did we see anyone tending to the grounds, but we did see several employees just standing around, chatting. We made the most of it, and enjoyed ourselves exploring this raw wilderness
We then were driven to the Lucayan Marketplace. Half of the small wood frame stores were boarded up, businesses closed, and there were just a few souvenir stores, a branch of Diamonds International and some emerald place. Across the way they were three rows of stalls, all selling the same low-end tee shirts, key chains, and tacky wood pieces. The sellers were sitting around jawing about the lack of business, and kept quizzing each other about the last time they sold anything. We were in and out of there in 20 minutes, and hunted down the bus, . Across the main road was a huge multi-story hotel that, we learned, had gone bankrupt, and was looking for new owner They could have skipped this shopping stop.
We elected to take the Discover Atlantis tour. We were warned that it would be too dangerous to venture away from the ship, unless we were on a tour, something they repeated several times. We were met at Atlantis after a short, organized, bus ride. It was a nice orientation to the resort, walking thorough the casino, checking out some of the lovely Chihuly glass pieces, then descending down to the underground aquarium and make-shift deco typical of what one may experience on the mythical Atlantis. It was nicely done. We were then brought over to view the water features including the pyramid slide between two pools of sharks. The tour continued around the grounds. We then had free hours to explore the shopping village, restaurants and facilities. Buses continuously left back to the ships. This was probably one of the least expensive shorex, but well worth the few bucks you paid. Now, if you wanted to USE the water park, that would set you back serious bucks. We were very pleased and recommend this tour.
We were at the bottom of the ship. Normally, we would do a self-disembark, but, being two levels below the gangway, we got lazy, and did not want to have to fight for elevators to go four levels up to deck 5 with the bags, only to have to drag them down two levels when we were allowed to leave. Sooooo, we put out our bags the night before. As a result, all upper decks without bags left first, then over time, they would go to a lower deck. Then they allowed those, like us, without bags, to depart, but, of course, they started at the top of the ship again. We were the last group on the ship to depart, but, as it turned out, all went fast, and we departed an hour before they projected. They had "Funniest Home Videos" on the screens in the Victoriana theater to keep us occupied. The 9th level Lido was also opened if someone wanted to grab a snack. When advised of our time, we departed. Our bags were in the appropriate place in the terminal, and we just grabbed them and walked out. Very organized, very efficient. Carnival did a great job. The cruise, overall, was a pleasant surprise, and we are glad we made the decision to take it. Read Less