My wife and I went on this cruise out of Charleston with another couple. This was my 5th time cruising with carnival, (all in the last 5 years) and my 2nd time out of Charleston. My very first cruise was out of Charleston in 2011 on the Carnival Fantasy so I was already familiar with the route as well as the type of ship I'd be sailing on. All of our subsequent cruises were to much nicer ports and on much newer ships with Carnival, so I was definitely curious to see how the Ecstasy would compare given that it was a noticeable step down. I'll try to break the entire experience down as best as I can. First things first.....Charleston!
Part of the draw for this cruise is definitely the departure port! The "Holy City", as it is often called thanks to the numerous steeples that dominate its skyline, is truly one of a kind! My wife and I are from Wilmington NC and we travel to Charleston at least twice a year anyway. It was recently rated by a major travel magazine (I forget which one) as the number one city to travel to in the entire world. This city is one of America's coastal gems, and every time I visit it gets harder to leave. You really can't go wrong anywhere in the city. We usually stay just over the bridge in Mt Pleasant or near the old city market on Vendue Ave. If you do decide to stay on Vendue, you can easily walk to the cruise port, which I highly recommend since from what I've read the parking at the terminal seems to be a bit of a nightmare. Of course staying down in the historic districts means that things can get a bit pricey so if you have to stay in MT Pleasant your looking at about a 5 to 10 minute ride to the port. Here is my big piece of advice......Park in the public lot at the end of Vendue and walk in. It's literally feet from the terminal and it will save you so much time and stress when you get off your cruise. Its about the same price, (16 dollars a day as opposed to the 17 you will pay at the terminal parking) but would pay even more for the convenience. We stayed at the Embassy Suites, (225 a night....but two hours of free cocktails for happy hour will save you some money) and as usual with that hotel, it was exceptional service. We woke up in the morning went for a run around the city, (A must on the list if you are a runner) and headed for the terminal.
The reviews had said this was a nightmare and I was surprised because five years ago it was a breeze......but times they are a changing! This was a very disorganized boarding process. We walked up about 20 minutes before we could board, and we were forced to wait outside in the August heat of a South Carolina late morning. We probably waited (and sweat) in line for a good half hour. Once we were ushered in there was a lot of walking as you wind your way through security. My wife and I, along with our travel companions had asked about luggage drop off and had been directed to stand in line....guess we missed the memo because we ended up carrying all of our bags on board with us. If you are going to park and walk up like we did please be aware of this. Not sure where the luggage drop is but it was a bit of a pain to carry all of your bags with us and have them on deck while we were trying to explore and enjoy the ship on our first afternoon. I'll come back to a discussion on the ship itself in a bit, but regardless, after that slight inconvenience, we were setting sail for the Bahama's, drink in hand and friends at our side.....all was right with the world!
First Sea Day:
This is usually my favorite day of a cruise.....the excitement that comes with starting a vacation is palpable. People are drinking....a lot.... music is playing, there's the smell of salt in the air and everyone is having a great time! My wife and I always get up at 7:30 and grab chairs. We then go back to sleep on those chairs. If you value your sea days, I think this is a must, particularly on this ship as there is only one pool. I'm a big time extrovert and so I like to participate in the activities on board. This is my 5th cruise and my 4th hairy chest contest, (Shaved my chest on the first cruise, unaware that such a contest existed). I'd won 1, gone to the finals in 2 and lost, and got the W with this one! What a blast. (I'm very small guy, so it's always nice to go up against a big "Bubba" and get the job done) Francis, our assistant cruise director was very good and the competition helped us to meet a lot of people on the boat throughout the cruise! After that we stayed on the lido deck and explored the Serenity some. Ecstasy's serenity gets high marks for having, by far, the hottest hot tubs I have ever seen on a cruise! Cruise veteran's will understand what I mean! Really really nice to sit in a hot tub with friends at night and it was also a bonus to have the serenity at the back of the ship as it was out of the wind and seemed more quiet.
A lot of people are going to tell you to go to Paradise Island. The thing is, the traffic getting there is horrible, the beach is probably the most overrated in the entire Caribbean (often rough, sand is "meh") and you are limited on food selection. This time I did my research and I highly recommend Junkanoo Beach, Arawak Cay and Cable Beach. Once you get off the Cruise ship head right and keep going till you hit the straw market and Senor Frogs. Follow the road up and around, (there will be signs) and you'll end up at Junkanoo Beach. There are dozens of great bars with amazing food, (my wife swears the the conch fritters she ate were the absolute greatest things she has ever eaten in her entire life) and great drink deals. Junkanoo can be loud, and a bit crowded and messy in spots, but even with 6 ships in port there was plenty of room to be had. (especially if you walk down maybe three or 4 minutes after you first get to the beach)
Most important, the water is classic Caribbean blue! It's the perfect place to float an afternoon away while sippin on some cocktails. If you want to get a great bite with a few more options keep walking or take a real quick cab ride to Arawak Cay just down the rode for some of the greatest fried seafood in the entire world. A little past that you'll find Cable Beach. Quieter and cleaner than Junkanoo, Cable is home to the Islands Bahamian resorts not named Atlantis, (Sandals has a home here) and you can see why with the water. It is a public beach, but be sure to have the cab driver take you to a public access. Otherwise its anywhere from 10-25 dollars per person to use a resorts facilities.
Freeport, you know I love you, but this is the Cleveland of the Caribbean! Good beaches are hard to come by on the island known as "the industrial jewel of the bahamas" They can be found, but their are more largely dependent on conditions than other islands and there just isn't that much to be enjoyed outside of the usual tourist traps. If you haven't done a swim with dolphins, UNEXSO offers a great one in some really good water. I recommend doing that! Sadly, other than that there is only port Lucaya marketplace that I would consider really worth a look. If neither one of those interest you, stay on the boat, drink and eat at Senor Frogs, and try to enjoy the fact your not at the office, rather than lament the fact that your vacation to you to Paradises' version of Cleveland!
Last Sea Day and Debarkation:
The last sea day was similar to the first only a bit more low key. Just sun and pool. It gets really packed up on deck as people are trying to soak up every last bit of sun before its back to reality. Due to a City ordinance, no announcements can be made by Cruise ships so debarkation is silent. We always do self-assist which has never been anything even approaching a problem. The best way I can describe it is "get your stuff and walk off! At 7:30 that is what we did and we were in the car at 7:45 on our way to pick up the kids from Grandma's.
So if you read this reviews some our very negative about the quality of the ship. To an extent, (and this is me, a very positive person saying this) I get it! If the Ecstasy were your car, she would actually be an antique! Every so often a strange smell wafted its way into our rooms. I'd have to describe it as sewage mixed with burnt hair and stuffed in a dead possum! It was literally that bad. But then it would go away almost as quickly as it came on (10 minutes or so.....no more) and the party would be back on.
If you're used to sailing on the bigger ships like Conquest class or Dream class vessels, than you are definitely going to notice a difference stepping back down to Ecstasy. Besides the age, there are just fewer spots to get a bite to eat, grab a drink, or see a show; and fewer spots means longer lines. I certainly didn't mind.....I understand that when you put so many people on a ship, it's just going to get crowded at obvious meal times. And with no for-fee options, there is only one place to eat for lunch and breakfast. (breakfast is available on Sea Days in the MDR but hardly anybody I saw took that option) All that being said, the ship has its good points. Having everything on Decks 7 and up made for much less stair climbing, and there really isn't a room on this ship that doesn't have easy access to the atrium, promenade, or lido deck. Also, with fewer passengers, the Lido deck never felt quite as crowded on sea days.....although the pool definitely did.
Great Location! My wife and I had a balcony cabin that connected with the other couple we were traveling with through an outdoor balcony! Highly recommended. Balconies are hard to come by on this ship, so book early. We were in Deck 7 rooms E103 and E99. It might have been the absolute perfect spot on the ship. Right in the middle of everything! One word of warning, on the first night our partition was knocking up against the rail of our balcony. I read someone in this cabin complain getting no sleep thanks to deck chairs moving and I am almost certain that this was her problem as the Lido is three floors above 7. If you are in any balcony, bring a towel and wedge it in the space between the partition and the balcony so that it can shake. This is what we did and after a sleepless first night, it definitely solved the problem
MDR: I'll preface this by stressing again that I am not a complainer. I like to think I am one of the most positive people on the high seas. But to be perfectly honest, the food on this cruise, with a few exceptions, was not nearly as good as I have been accustomed to. Our first evening in the MDR gave us food of a very poor quality! Cold Chicken, Well done instead of Rare Steak, and on and on. Of course I don't really see what people get so upset about, I'm just being honest as to quality. I was still on a cruise, still spending time with my wife, and still relaxed. We paid a lot of money to make this happen, and one meal is not going to make or break a trip for me. As far as the lines and the service were concerned they were exceptional! Quick, polite, and efficient.
Buffet: Again I feel like here too, the food was not up to par. I have no idea as to why, or whether or not this is something that is happening all across the line, but this really was Golden Corral for the most part. Breakfast was much better than lunch and dinner, and I understand that when you are cooking for thousands of people in a moving kitchen, you can't really nail every detail, but other buffets on other ships have greatly outshone what I had on Ecstasy.
Pizza and Deli: The one bright spot food wise was the Deli. The Pizza was what you get on carnival...edible and takes forever! But the Deli was quick and the sandwiches were always excellent!
Not bad in some respects, not much in others. The shows in the main theater were actually pretty good. On the last night it was a talent showed made up of local passengers and they were all pretty impressive. The crowd really enjoyed it....myself included. The Comedy shows were just OK. Once again this was a step down from other ships. Jimmy Carroll was fantastic but Denis Regan was not very good at all. We walked out of his first show and didn't go to another one. Nothing obvious.....just not funny!
Overall the Ship did not have nearly as much in the way of activities as larger carnival ships. It was certainly a light menu when it came to the usual carnival staples like scavenger hunts, art auctions, and trivia. Often times we would get back on board and really didn't have anything to do. It wasn't a big problem as we always felt like we could make our own fun, but I always enjoy the activities....especially on Sea Days.
This is a personal passion of mine. These guys work hard! I'm not saying that you don't, but if you're reading this, chances are you've been on a cruise. It might be hard to realize, but you are a 1 percent in terms of world earners. Yes, its frustrating when you pay almost 1 months salary on a week's vacation and everything is not perfect. But too many times I saw people taking it out on people who haven't seen their kids in 9 months just so they could serve you!! The staff from top to bottom was excellent. If you take two seconds to talk to them like people you will learn a lot about where they come from, how hard they work, and the type of sacrifices they make to try and make sure you have a great vacation.
My wife and I live in NC now, but we are Yankees, and we both speak sarcasm like it is its own language. So please understand that I am being sarcastic when I say that they should rename this vessel the Carnival Bubba! No doubt about it, this was a southeastern cruise. More country music was played on the Lido then my preferred steel drums and Reggae. For the most part that was fine....fun in fact. But some people really amaze me when it comes to how they treat other guests and staff. There was one women next door to me whom I overheard through the walls having an absolute fit on the poor woman who worked at the front desk! She called to complain because there weren't any french fries at 10:45. She was screaming and cursing...asking why she paid so many thousands of dollars and couldn't eat French Fries when she damn well pleased! Really sad sometimes to see people's priorities. Had she just waited 15 minutes (Late night eats doesn't start until 11) she could have eaten fries till Tuesday morning.
Carnival Hub app:
Not quite ready for launch! A neat idea, but I have a couple of issues with it. First, it makes it so you now need your phone (it's free to hook up to their wi-fi and get it if you turn on airplane mode) when part of the fun of cruising, (at least for me) has been putting that thing in a drawer for a week! Second, they have started to make the fun times smaller so there is less info in that and more on the phone. Sometimes each one had something the other didn't, so I always felt like I needed both. I hope they keep improving on this, because if we could use it to start getting our pictures, I think it would be fantastic. I'm not a major environmentalist or anything, but I'm also not comfortable watching thousands upon thousands of pictures printed and flushed on a daily basis. I'm hoping that before long Carnival goes full tilt Disney and starts using bracelets. Having that card with you is still kind of a pain!
Was it perfect, it certainly wasn't! Was it a blast? Absolutely! I feel terrible for people who go and have a horrible time and say it was because of something carnival did or didn't do. You can't rely on any one company to do things perfectly because you will usually end up disappointed. I think some people really need to change their perspective on what a problem really is. My wife and I have already booked our next carnival cruise. We are 100 days out leaving on the 19th out of Miami for 8 days on the Splendor. This time we are taking the kids! Happy sailing to all who read! Bon Voyage!!