This was my second cruise ship experience (the first a North American Pacific Coast repositioning trip in October 2015 on the NCL Jewel) and my first and last Carnival ship. I will never cruise Carnival again if I can help it. While my trip certainly could have been worse (for instance, we didn’t capsize and I’m not aware of any food poisoning) it definitely should have been a whole lot better, and on a 1 to 10 scale (where 10 is “wow—perfect!”) I give it a 3. This review covers the good, the bad, and a summary of the excursions we did.
Out of respect for your (you, the reader) time, the short version of this trip is: I am disgusted and disappointment with my trip. I told at least one colleague, "I would have been better setting fire to $2,200 in my driveway and saving the 56 hours in PTO". I never want to go on another Carnival ship again. If (and that’s a strong if) I ever go on a third cruise it will be a smaller ship with a different line that isn’t so unbelievably loud and child-centric in design and philosophy. There is nothing of peace or tranquility that I could find on this adventure, and I came back angrier and more stressed-out than when I’d started. Simply put, the Carnival Breeze was a gamble I lost big-time on.
For frame of reference, our trip was a Western Caribbean sailing from 2-9 February 2019, leaving out of Port Canaveral with stops in Costa Maya, Mahogany Bay, Belize, and Cozumel. Our stateroom was 8446, an aft, port-side balcony (not a “aft balcony”, however). Now, here’s a little bit about me. I’m a happily single, overweight middle-aged man from the American Midwest who doesn’t like children. I took my widowed, senior citizen mother on this trip, and we flew down the day before. Mom has some balance, vision, and walking issues, so nothing is fast with her. The ship took good care of her. Our brilliant travel agent found us a great deal and upgraded us from an ocean view room to balcony room. Now, if you love children— and especially if you’re traveling with your own—Carnival is a child fantasia, a kid-tastic wonderland of screaming, coughing, running noses, and constant noise from sun-up to well past sundown, based on my Carnival Breeze experience, which was also during the school year. I am pretty sure that during spring break and the summers these ships are absolutely crawling with the stroller set.
First, the good points. While I’d wanted to be in the Sapphire dining room we were very well taken care of by our waitstaff (Ruben and his assistants Jordan and Rutchiel) in the Blush dining room. The food was good to great every night, and they outdid themselves on the lobster for the first formal night. Mom wanted to go to both of the high teas, and I have to admit the first one was pretty good, and both were held on Deck 4 (Mezzanine) in the Blush dining room. We were at Table 501 (assigned seating for dinner) with two couples: one Diamond and the other Platinum in the Carnival loyalty program. All four of them were lovely people from Georgia, three of whom had retired. Mom and I very much enjoyed our time with them.
Diane Ford was the only decent comedian of the three I saw onboard. She's from Minnesota originally and has a Jeanne Robertson (of North Carolina) delivery. I liked her. William Lee Martin was not my kind of comedian (he's a budget "Blue Collar Comedy" sort with a stronger religious focus) and Chris Strait was fine but didn't wow me. I'm a big fan of stand-up comedy (though I myself am about as funny as a broken smartphone screen) so it wasn't a great lineup. Particularly in the case of Ford, there was far too much chatter during her set. Many people don’t realize it takes dozens (and often hundreds) of hours to develop 30-60 minutes of material over months and years of work. With perhaps the exception of an opera or symphony, a well-constructed standup set is the most difficult piece of performance theater possible—audience members should be much more respectful.
There were several good musical acts (Six O'Clock Dock, Patrick Duffy, and the string trio) onboard. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like entertainment started on the ship until 1:30 to 3:30 in the afternoon every day. In the case of the string trio and some of the other electrified groups the music was way, way too loud. That's one thing when you're in a darkened theater watching the main stage for a production-- that's where 100 percent of your attention should be. However, when you're in a club/lounge-type setting you want to be able to hear your drink waitress/waiter and your 1-3 companions seated at your small table for four when a question is asked or a suggestion is made.
The bartenders are all good at Alchemy-- Zsolt from Romania was a genius and did every martini tasting I went to-- and can only praise them. I like to drink mixed drinks, listen to bawdy, inappropriate piano bar performers at night, and find quiet places around the ship during the day to read or write. Sea days are my favorite. The problem is there are no quiet areas on the ship open to passengers, and there was no daytime piano bar (or similar) performer, compared to the NCL Jewel.
Nearly all of the 1,200 support staff and crew are very hardworking and dedicated. English was the primary language on the ship, but a few people I came into contact with (including someone working the desk at the Cucina del Capitano) were seriously deficient in even basic conversational English. She told me they were closed until 2:30 p.m. at 2:50 p.m. It was a baffling conversation and I went away unserved. Mom and I came back from our Honduras excursion on a different day and had a nice lunch there, though. The adults-only top deck was often closed for cleaning or repairs, and no one could give a straight answer on when they’d reopen. Those are the two exceptions, though, and almost everyone from our stateroom attendant (Erman) to the people cleaning the hallways was earnest, hardworking, and pleasant. Guest Services was good at splitting our bill, too, appropriately—if you’re not a couple traveling on a cruise ship you’ll want to do this, because they always assume the two of you are an item, even when you’re not. As a single person it is frustrating, since cruising is really designed for families and especially couples.
We flew into Orlando International Airport (MCO) and used the snooze and cruise package through Go Port Canaveral. This is a private company and while they work with Carnival and the other major cruise ship companies, they are a separate entity. It turned out to be very popular option and it worked very well for us. We never needed a rental car as a result.
Now the bad. There were approximately 4,000 passengers and 1,200 support staff and crew on the ship. While the latter group was mostly terrific (as previously mentioned), there were 1,000 too many adults and 200 children. The waiting areas (especially outside the dining room) were woefully inadequate (people standing on two flights of stairs and landings, from Decks 3-5 to all come in at Deck 3). Cruise line companies should have a better understanding that when they build floating cities/megaships the chokepoints (like outside of the dining rooms) need to be much larger. For a ship cruising during the school year there were still hundreds of kids on board.
Continuing the poor ship design theme, many of the hallways were barely five feet wide. That might seem sufficient, but when a person of considerable size (many passengers were in excess of 400 pounds) that requires people coming from the opposite direction to duck into the alcoves outside of rooms. If you're a person in need of mobility assistance-- especially a scooter-- you're in a large community on the Carnival Breeze that all drives down the dead center of those narrow hallways and the employees bend over backwards to accommodate you. That's excellent behavior and it is gratifying to see people with disabilities respected. However, if you're the person/people (40-60 of us at times) behind the person on the scooter you're in a pedestrian version of gridlock. And if you have a scooter, relax! Apparently you don't need to store it in your stateroom as if it were your private property! Instead, store it in the hallways where other people can walk around it and admire your space-eating conveyance. Again, the hallways should have been much wider. I respect every square inch on a cruise ship is money to build, maintain, and propel, but the narrowness of the hallways was such a problem it was laughable at times.
We found out 3/4 of the way through the cruise that it was an official, designated-by-Carnival gambling adventure. Prior to this, we had no idea. Another ship design defect presented itself in the casino. I walked through the casino about twice. Both times I almost threw up (asthma and prolific cigarette smoke don't mix) and would have avoided it, except cruise ships-- for whatever reason-- really, really want people to walk through their casinos, even if they don't gamble, so they put them in bad places. If you gamble and smoke, more power to you, but it poured and billowed from the casino to the Ocean Plaza, Alchemy Bar, and Red Frog Pub, tainting everything. One day I lasted a good 45 minutes listening to Six O’Clock Dock before the pollution was too much to bear.
Deck 3 does not allow any side passage/walk-through access for passengers between the Blush dining room and the rest of the ship. This is another design flaw.
Elevator capacity and speed was sorely lacking on the ship. I took the stairs a lot because I didn’t have the 10-15 minutes to wait sometimes for an available car to come. I say “available” because when the doors would open we often had a totally-full car looking back at us. Insider tip: if you’re on Deck 3 and need to go to Deck 1 or Deck 0 during peak shore periods, go up to get down… sure you might stop at Decks 4, 5, 6, and 10 both ways, but you’ll have a spot to get down on the return trip. Again, another design flaw that should never have been allowed to get past the drawing board. Bigger, faster elevators are a must on megaships.
Continuing the theme of design flaw issues, the laundry facilities are of questionable performance (clothing sopping, soaking wet, even after 99 minutes in the dryer), insufficient capacity in relation to vigorous user demand, and at $3 a wash and $3 a dry, pricy. We did laundry three times. With airlines billing people additional charges for baggage over 50 pounds, laundry is a necessity for a week-long cruise. The third time was so bad that mom filed a complaint and was so angry—mind you, she liked the trip and gives it a much better review than I do—that a stateroom attendant took the soaking wet load and got it dried and delivered back to her free of charge after refunding her money. Good move, Carnival.
Mom and I tried the hot tubs once. This was a first on any ship for both of us (nine cruises for her, two for me, counting this one). We finally found space in the fourth hot tub we checked. Minutes later a 13-year-old boy entered with his mom and talked my ear off for almost an hour about every B monster movie made since 1961, the 10 novels he wanted to write, and tried to shove the name of every dinosaur in every Jurassic Park book and movie into my brain at 100 miles an hour in an uninterrupted verbal stream of consciousness explosion. A hot tub soak should not leave you shell-shocked. The mom did nothing to stop this, and I couldn’t find a graceful way to extricate myself from the barrage. I did find out the kid had Asperger’s afterwards (so reading social cues is often difficult), and while I respect this a real disorder on the autism spectrum (just like respecting those with physical disabilities I respect we need to accommodate those with mental and psychological limitations) I didn’t volunteer to have what should have been a relaxing few minutes shattered. Parents, your children are wonderful—to you. Good luck with them and I hope everything turns out great. For those of us who’d rather dig a tunnel to the moon than raise them, though, please spare us. Pry them away from us when we’re too polite to let you know we’re being tortured. There was simply no-where on the ship to go that was restful, tranquil, pleasant, and quiet, and the unending herd—including the children—was the primary culprit.
I wish a cruise company would start offering adults-only cruising. Ideally with drinks not as watered down as they are on Carnival. While I understand the LGBT-themed events generally operate under this policy, it would be nice for the rest of us to have a few options per year where we could be in a kid-free environment. Just wishful thinking, I guess.
Despite a smattering of good smaller acts in bar and lounge areas, there was absolutely nothing on the mainstage worthy of praise, except the towel animal show, which was clever and aimed at kids. Daytime entertainment in both places was pointedly absent. Optimally I'm able to go somewhere quiet to write or read with the ocean visible. Mom wanted to use the Library Bar (it is a library environment with drink-mixing robots) but it was too dark in there to read. I think I wrote about three pages on the entire trip... there was no-where quiet-- not even our balcony-- to go. Our excellent travel agent called me with a balcony upgrade because I wanted to surprise mom-- thank you!-- but I am guessing what happened was someone out of the 4-8 "stateroom party" bloc all around us had to cancel or back out. We were in the middle of someone else’s rambunctious vacation. The travel agent did a nice thing and we just got caught in the middle of "slam the door thoughtless loud and rude" party central. None of the three of us could have foreseen this. People were so loud I could hear every word of several conversations below and forward on Deck 5, three floors down, starting around 8:00 a.m. every morning until several hours after sunset.
Our cruise director was a loud, obnoxious man named Chris Salazar who went by the name "Donkey". An absolute, unfortunate, unfunny annoyance. He was so awful every time I heard the three-note PA cue overhead I tensed up, bracing for his grating voice.
Tips. I understand that tips are part of the tourism industry, but I am tipped out. In Honduras some of the parents have their kids helping them sell stuff, humanizing and ingratiating themselves ("hi, my name's Charlie, what's yours?" was an actual line I heard in Honduras) in an effort to hock their wares. Between mom and myself we must have tipped at least $150 on this trip. People want tips for tendering us in (yuck! I'd much rather dock! we were way, way too unsafe-levels full without enough life jackets at Belize in our tender), for taking us on our shore excursions, for bringing us our drinks, for giving us advice, etc. It was wallet-numbing after a while. For ship personnel, all of this on top of 18 percent standard gratuity for every bill printed, and on top of the pre-paid gratuities. I feel like some people were tipped three times as a result.
Mom wanted to do an excursion at every port (a total of four). That was too many for me, and expensive. I will admit, we had great weather for the entire cruise, which I am grateful for.
And now, the excursions.
Costa Maya, Mexico – Bacalar and Seven Colors Lagoon. Not at all what I expected. While we got to go by Ft. Bacalar we didn’t get to tour it. Instead, we took a long boat ride after a long bus ride to a few different cenotes (those dark holes in crystal clear lagoon environments). Our guide was unprofessional and must have said “my friends” 75 times. Don’t call me that. If you’re my friend you know my favorite color, or at least my name. The water was beautiful and we got to see how the truly wealthy in Mexico live, by observing their homes. There are swimming opportunities, and you can bring your suit. Disappointing excursion, though.
Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan, Honduras—Sea and See Island Tour. The ship came in fast and as part of the docking procedure it felt like we were living through a 4.5 earthquake for almost 10 minutes. Mom and I were in the Blush dining room having breakfast at the time and we spent a good portion of those 10 minutes keeping silverware and dishware from rattling off the tables and falling to the floor. Terrifying experience. Honduras was a much better experience than Costa Maya. After a detailed bus ride with a knowledgeable guide she took us to a factory where an Italian professor turns conch shells into lamps and other stunning works of art, exhibited all over the world. I actually got to meet him, very briefly. Nice man and a wonderful shop. The professor was following in his great-grandfather’s footsteps, who did the same thing. Before that we went on a submerged (6-10 feet down) boat ride with glad walls. We got to see barracuda, sea grass, and the beautiful blue-green water. The stairs down are very steep and I tipped the employee who helped me help mom up and down—definitely a hazard for those who can’t walk well/have balance issues. We got to see the Meso-American coral reef as well… it is dying, but people from Mexico to Belize are working hard to save it.
Belize – Scenic Wildlife River Cruise. We were tendered into Belize. If the tender ship was supposed to hold 60 people (I am speculating, I don’t know actual numbers) we must have had 80-90 people on this back-jarring adventure. It was filled to an unsafe level. The return trip was almost as tight and we came back shortly after our excursion finished. Belize is beautiful and we saw—very briefly—2-3 manatees, and 2-3 dolphins, two of which (a mom and her calf) followed us for a while. It was a very good excursion, with more beautiful water and fascinating iguanas.
Cozumel – Atlantis Submarine. Mom had done this before and I was glad I could revisit it with her. Our sub went down 111 feet and we got to observe more of the threatened Meso-American coral reef, including a planned ship wreck designed to give new life to threatened coral. I wanted to ask the pilot a question, but three other passengers talked with him non-stop the entire time we were down. The submarine isn’t off a dock, but rather requires a 15-20 minute tender ride out to the ship the submarine is docked with. Watch your step—mom needed a little help, but not as much as was required in Mahogany Bay for the submerged glass-walled boat ride. The coral reef is fairly spartan, but it will give many people a very different understanding of how open and empty the ocean actually is in many places.
Port Canaveral—the return. It was challenging to get off the ship, but not nearly the horror show I was concerned it would have been. I was the happiest person to get off the ship! So much so that I’m afraid my glee at being free of the Carnival Breeze offended the gentleman in front of me. There’s no place like home! Read Less