We recently came back from a great 4-day cruise. Faster to the Fun (FTTF) is worth every cent -will never, ever go on a Carnival cruise again without it. Arrived at the terminal just before 11 and took about 5 minutes to check in. Without FTTF, I’d estimate it would take 15-20 minutes based on the size of the line. We started lining up to board about 11:40 and were on board a little after noon. We immediately went to Shore Excursions to sign up for the Behind the Fun tour. Again, so worth every penny – I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about what goes on behind the scene. It’s $55 per person and is an amazing tour (more about that later). We ate at the Blue Iguana for lunch -- very yummy. DD went to Guy’s Burgers and said it was very good as well.
We purchased Cheers for us and Bottomless Bubbles for the kids (2 17-year-olds). For us, Cheers was totally worth it and we definitely got our monies worth. As a side note, please remember to tip your waiter/bar staff because the Cheers program has really taken away many of their tips. We asked some of the wait staff we had gotten to know well and learned $1.00 would be a reasonable tip. They work so hard and get paid next to nothing (heard it’s about $300 a month, not counting tips). As far as Bottomless Bubbles, that was a waste of money for our kids as I don’t think they had more than 4 sodas the whole trip. Definitely buy the bottled water through the in-room store if you like to take bottles of water to the gym or on excursions. It was only $3.99 for 12 bottles and beats hauling the bottles on the ship.
We went on this cruise because the kids wanted one last cruise before aging out of the kids’ program (and we couldn’t afford a longer cruise, because after all, we have two kids in college now!) They made so many friends and loved the cruise. They didn’t do much at Club O2 outside of meeting people the first night. After that, most of the time was spent hanging out with their new friends outside Club O2 but it’s a great way to meet kids initially. One friend from the ship has already made a trip from Arizona to Northern California to visit DD.
DH and I ate in the Mardi Gras Dining Room every breakfast except debarkation morning and the kids joined us for dinner every night for Your Time Dining. Regarding YTD, the first night we went about 6:30 p.m. since the kids wanted to go to the O2 Meet and Greet. We got in with no wait. The second night was formal night and we took pictures until 8:45 thinking there would be no wait. But when we got there, we had to get a pager that never went off. At 9:30 we went to the dining room and they were seating anyone with a pager that didn’t go off. In hindsight, we should have signed up for a pager before taking pictures. For the other two nights, we picked up pagers 30 minutes before we wanted to eat (so if you want to eat at 7:30, sign up for a pager at 7). I think if we take another Carnival cruise, we’ll do late dining because I missed having a regular wait staff (although the service every night was excellent). Do be prepared for service that is probably longer than you are used to. My impression was it wasn’t the wait staff but the kitchen staff that was slow. If I had one gripe it would be on formal night when we got seated late, the waiter seemed more interested in cleaning up and preparing for the next day than serving dessert but that’s understandable since it was so late. But I felt like it’s not my fault they seated us late (DS jokes he’s still waiting for that Sprite he ordered at dinner).
The food in the MDR was very good. It’s restaurant quality but don’t expect a 5-star restaurant. Sea day brunch was very good. It goes on until 1 p.m. so there is no excuse to miss it if you’re a late riser! We only did the Lido buffet the last morning. There was a good selection and it’s good, buffet food (key word - buffet, don’t expect more).
For entertainment, the Love and Marriage and Hasbro shows are fun to watch. We saw the late night comedian one night. He was funny but it wasn’t our style of comedy so we didn’t go back. We saw the VIP show the last night and it was very good.
Our cabin steward, Natt, was excellent. We had four people in the cabin so I’m sure it was quite challenging working around our clutter but he did a great job!
With FTTF, you get priority embarkation so you get onboard really early. Your luggage is delivered early (and it was) and you get priority tendering in Catalina. We showed up at the designated place and they immediately took us down to board the tender with no waiting. We had a 10:45 arrival time for our golf cart. We went to the Rhapsody Lounge at 10 o’clock not knowing how long the process takes and were on Catalina Island with 20 minutes to wander around. You also get a priority line at Guest Services and priority debarkation if desired (7 a.m. self-assist or 8:40 a.m. checked baggage). It was worth every penny.
With the Behind the Fun tour you see the galley, food storage area, engine control room, bridge, crew muster stations, crew common areas, crew training room, and theater dressing room. You get to ask questions of the management in these areas after they tell you about their jobs/daily activities. You’ll get a cap, lanyard, and group picture for souvenirs.
Debarkation was a breeze, especially with FTTF. Carnival really has their act together here. Overall it was a great cruise. If you’re looking for 5-star experience everywhere you go, choose a different cruise line but if you’re looking for a fun time, with great service, and good food and entertainment at a reasonable price, Carnival is your ticket.
I read a previous post about hearing crew on nearby stairs in this room. I only heard steps once (last night) and to me it was obviously the crew was deliberately trying to avoid the steps to not make noise. I did hear loud noises while docking for about 45 minutes to an hour (estimate -- when you're awaken from a dead sleep, your time estimates may be warped). DH thinks it’s from the ropes they pull out when docking. I’d recommend wearing earplugs or keeping them right next to the bed so you don’t have to get up to find them. I didn’t do that and just suffered through the noise. If you’re an early riser, you’ll never hear it.
Temperature control was a challenge. It was hot without the vent open (took us a day to find it -- look above the bed) and cold with it open. Pick your poison and plan accordingly.
Outside of that the cabin was fine -- a little bit of a challenge to get around with two pull down beds but that more about me not wanting to buy FTTF for two cabins so I'm blaming myself. If you want ease free access around the room with 4 people, pay for two cabins. Considering the cost, one cabin worked fine for us even with my slobby daughter!