DW and I were scheduled for the Mexican Itinerary that was canceled due to the swine flu outbreak. At first, we were wary about traveling to Canada for our first cruise and canceled our cruise. However, when the price ... Read More
DW and I were scheduled for the Mexican Itinerary that was canceled due to the swine flu outbreak. At first, we were wary about traveling to Canada for our first cruise and canceled our cruise. However, when the price dropped so dramatically that we were able to book a Spa Balcony Cabin (Spa Level) for the same price as an ocean view (which was still about 50% less than our originally booked inside Cabin!), we decided to take a gamble and book the entire family. The booking considered of myself, DW, and two sons (ages 5 and 8). Although we travel frequently and extensively, I was very apprehensive about cruising for multiple reasons, not the least of which: 1) I'm not crazy about the idea of motion sickness and rough seas. 2) I actually like spending time in the places I visit.
I've heard so many wonderful things about cruising, and really wanted to enjoy the experience, but I can honestly only give this cruise a mixed review in comparison with other trips I have taken.
We drove early in the morning from the Sacramento California area, and arrived at the Long Beach Terminal at about 10:30am. Traffic was light, and once we got to the port, signs were visible, and it was very easy to navigate. I dropped my family and luggage off at the curb, and parked on the second level. We took our time shopping with vendors before our early check in, and found there was no line when we arrived. We were in Zone 3 boarding, and the whole process was very smooth. We were on board having lunch by 12:30. I saw reports on CC, that many people received phone calls telling them not to check in until 2pm, but we didn't get that call...and they actually started boarding earlier than usual (11am ), so I am not sure what the problem was, or why the call for delay.
I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food on the Lido Deck. It was certainly better than the kind of buffet fair offered at other venues, and I appreciated the wide assortment of food available. The only complaint that I have regarding the Lido, is that the Lemonade and other free beverages offered were almost undrinkable. The water and drink mixes never seemed to be set up properly on the machines, so it was always a guess as to how much water needed to be added to make the drink tolerable. I don't drink alcohol, and though I enjoy soda, the brands that I prefer to drink (Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew) were not readily available. I also found the price $2.34 per can, to be a bit steep. Lesson Learned: Next time I cruise... I'm bringing my own beverages.
We were scheduled for 6pm dining in the Black Pearl Dining Room. We had a booth for the four of us in the upper level. It suited us, especially since we were traveling with younger children that haven't exactly perfected their table manners yet. I found the food to be very good, although, not necessarily comparable to some of the finer dining venues I have been to. Considering the amount of people they had to feed, I certainly have no complaint with how well the food was prepared.
Service was just okay. The waiter was friendly, and we could tell he was working very hard. One night we waited over 40 minutes for our drinks. Another...it took 2 hours just to be served our meals (We didn't get out of there until after 8pm!). While some people might have complained (and I was pretty close!), I could tell that the waiter was working hard, and decided to just let it go. The last few nights, the service was very quick, and we were very happy with it.
Breakfast was served in the Golden Pearl Dining Room. We ate there twice. Although the food was very good, the dining room was shaking constantly both times...so much so, I was concerned that my food might just shake off the table if I didn't hold onto it. My 5 year old was quite afraid...and I had to reassure him constantly that this was normal. I'm just glad The Golden Pearl was not my regular dining room, especially based on this experience.
Although I heard a great deal of complaining regarding the dEcor of this ship on the CC reviews, I personally thought the ship looked great. It didn't bother me in the slightest. The public areas were kept very clean. Although we were on a full ship, I never struggled to find a place to sit, and I had zero problems finding a poolside chair any time I needed one. The way the decks were laid out were a tad confusing, but considering all the food I was eating...I didn't mind a little extra exercise.
The Cabin was well appointed. I was a little concerned before the cruise, about how crowded the cabin would be with 4 people, but my concerns were unfounded. There was plenty of storage space and room for 4, and we actually spent quite a bit of time in our cabin, so that was good. Having the balcony was wonderful, even though it was somewhat windy and chilly at sea. Other deck spaces were crowded and loud, so it was nice to have that space to ourselves. The cabin steward did an excellent job, no complaints here.
I enjoyed the evening shows. The dancers and singers were great, especially considering the variety of music they had to deal with. The comedians and even the juggler ("edge") were all good.
Most of the other activities were mediocre at best. Brad, the cruise director, and the assistant cruise directors, just didn't seem to really like their jobs. They went through the motions, put on the "Carnival Smile", but there just wasn't much energy behind it. I found the entertainment options during the day to be quite lacking. Unfortunately, traveling with children...I didn't partake of much of the evening activities which might have been quite good. Unfortunately...Camp Carnival did not turn out to be a very good option for my family, as I will explain later.
The pools were too cold to swim in, except for the Lido pool that was covered almost the entire trip. Unfortunately, this pool was closed and emptied twice during the trip. Both front and aft Hot Tubs were often closed...and when they were open, people were almost on top of each other crammed in there. The kids splash park was closed almost the entire cruise. The water slide was a joke... very few people could even get moving in it...I had to walk myself down...it was so slow... The mini golf was pretty fun...although the experience was over rather quickly.
Spa and Fitness
Ahh...The Spa...one of my favorite parts of the cruise. Before booking the cruise...I honestly would not have paid the extra money for this experience. Since my booking included Spa access, I decided to give it a try.
I thought the spa was as relaxing an experience as the Splendor Crew set out to make it. Given the crowded and often noisy ship, it was nice to have a relatively quiet and solitary part of the ship to enjoy. The Thalassotherapy Pool was more than twice as large as any hot tub on the ship, and usually had less than 1/3 the amount of people in it. The steam rooms, and Saunas were great...and hardly ever seemed crowded.
I didn't spend too much time in the Gym...but it didn't seem to be too crowded, at the times I visited and equipment seemed readily available.
When I cruise again...I will now seriously consider the extra money for the Spa...it seems like money well spent.
Camp Carnival is divided into 3 age groups 2-5, 6-8, and 9-11. Before the cruise I looked at some of the activities, and felt that they were geared a little too young for my children. I was hoping that my concerns in this area were unjustified, but unfortunately that is not the case, My children ages 5, and 8, are both at the oldest end of the spectrum in their perspective groups. In fact...they are both much closer to ages 6 and 9, than 5 and 8. The 2-5 year old group is mostly geared towards toddlers. There are only toddler toys to play with, and the activities are all "toddler friendly". Similarly...the group activities for the 6-8 year olds are geared more for 5-6 year olds. When we registered for Camp Carnival, we talked to the youth director about moving our 5 year old up to the 6-8 year olds to join his older brother. They refused, and we put him in the 2-5 group. He hated it...and was absolutely bored. On the second day, they agreed to move him into the 6-8 year old group, and he seemed to like that better, but his older brother had the same problem with the older group. The 8 year old would have preferred the activities for the 9-11 year olds (For example, He loves to swim...but no swimming if you are under 9) He also complained that the staff was mean...and often yelling at the kids as a way to get them organized for different activities. If it wasn't for the staff...he probably would have enjoyed Camp Carnival enough to stay around a little longer. Unfortuately, he didn't like it AT ALL...and since it was his vacation too, I decided not to push the issue.
As it turned out...Our kids "fell through the cracks" so to speak...and we were all very disappointed with the Camp Carnival Experience. This detracted from our vacation quite significantly, because we weren't able to use Camp Carnival as much as we would have liked. I have a feeling, that if my kids were just a year older, they would have enjoyed this experience quite a bit more.
Ports of Call
The first port was Astoria, and Disembarkation was a mess. There were really only a few hours to enjoy this port...and an hour was spent waiting in cramped hallways of the ship, just trying to get off! It was a nice little town...but there was precious little time to enjoy it.
The second port of call was Victoria. There was no line to get off the ship, and all day to visit. We used the public transit system which was very easy to use. The bus drivers were all very friendly, and more than happy to help us out. In fact...on one transfer (at the terminal) The bus driver actually got off the bus, and led a group of us across a busy intersection, to show us where to get on the next bus. We had Canadian Currency, but American Currency was accepted on the busses, and paper currency was not an issue. We visited Butchart Gardens (a bit pricey, but a must if you have never visited!) and the Castle (really, just an old mansion). We also enjoyed a nice walk in downtown.
Vancouver was also an easy port to visit. We exited the terminal and took the Sea Bus to North Vancouver. From that terminal there was a bus straight up to Grouse Mountain, and Capilano Suspension Bridge. We enjoyed our excursions there, and then made it back to town in time to visit China Town, and Gas Town.
Disembarkation went very smoothly. The only complaint I have...is that at 8:45am, we were told by our cabin steward that we could leave (For early disembarkation) only to take all of our luggage down to the 3rd floor, and be told that we had to go back up to the 9th floor to wait for disembarkation. Other than that little snafu, everything else went smoothly...we were in our car, driving home by 9:30am.
I am very happy with much of the experience that Carnival provided on this cruise. The Ship was great, the food was good, and I enjoyed quite a bit of the amenities. I couldn't be happier with the price that I paid...but I admit being a little sad knowing that I will have to pay FAR more in the future, to enjoy the same level of amenities. As for my mixed feelings...I suppose they have to do more with the experience of cruising, rather than with the ship herself. I would have enjoyed spending more time in ports...and less time on the ship herself. I also think that this type of trip, and perhaps even this particular itinerary, might have been better suited for just adults or perhaps with older children. I have future cruise credits (From my canceled cruise) which ensure that I will take another cruise. I just hope that a change to a warmer itinerary, perhaps just a trip for the adults, might improve my perspective about this way of vacationing. Read Less