After a challenging year, my husband and I were looking forward to an affordable getaway in the sun. We drove from Southern Ontario, Canada to Mobile, Alabama, US to board the ship.
Mobile felt welcoming, safe and uncrowded. Embarkation was the smoothest of our 9 cruise experiences... pay-by-text parking with plenty of spaces, efficient and attentive staff... it was 15 minutes from our arrival to boarding the ship. Brilliant!
This smaller ship - the eldest in the Carnival fleet - is lovely and well-maintained. Everyday, throughout our cruise, we saw maintenance personnel working on painting, shampooing, repairing, etc. This is a sea-going vessel of 20 years, hosting thousands of guests per week, so a few signs of wear and tear are both realistic and charming. I cannot see any reason to complain... particularly when you consider the vacation price. Great value!
We aren't usually keen on ship designs that include split dining rooms (much preferring the layout of the Panamax ships like Carnival Legend), because we find that it interrupts movement/flow of people, resulting in crowding. However, that wasn't an issue on this ship because of the smaller passenger capacity - a pleasant surprise! There were rarely issues with finding a seat in the Lido buffet, around the pool (if you're flexible about location) or at the very-popular comedy shows.
Our cabin - an aft-facing oceanview - was clean and in good working order, with a comfortable bed and accommodating attendant, Artawa (who learned our names and preferences very well). I would recommend a change of the shower curtain and the art work above the bed, which both looked a tired/worn, to keep things fresh.
We registered for and received flexible dining, where we could have a private table for two on our own schedule. The new American-inspired dining room menu is less extravagant than in years past, but still very good... especially if you are willing to try their locally-inspired options. On our first night, we were assigned to an excellent dining room team - Nelson with Octavian and Darma - and opted to request them each night for the duration of the cruise. Since we prefer to eat dinner after 8:00 pm, there was never a wait time and we got more face-to-face time to get to know our team. Every night, Nelson made a recommendation to match with our wine selection, or to match our experience from the day, and they were all great. We were so pleased that we chose to leave an extra $100 USD in cash gratuities for them, in addition to our prepaid amount.
The key to the highly successful entertainment team was the AMAZING cruise director, Paully: hilarious, energetic and very friendly. We had a completely unique cruise experience (even compared to our previous sailings with Carnival), because we chose to attend events that we would normally skip, in order to see him, and those experiences became the highlight of this vacation - 80s and 90s music trivia in the Atrium, Cruise for St Jude, deck parties, etc.
This vacation really was about spending time relaxing in the sun, so much time was spent enjoying Serenity and the Lido pool deck areas.
In Cozumel, we purchased a Downtown Shopping and Beach Excursion from Carnival and had a great time. The host Ricki and the driver Hector were both knowledgeable and accommodating. There were two shopping stops - one more commercial with mass-produced trinckets at posted prices, and one more traditional with handicrafts at negotiated rates. The beach club was excellent - all facilities (pool, beach, chairs, change rooms, bathrooms, wifi, snorkels, etc) were included and well maintained. There was also a bar and restaurant for an additional fee, which we did not try, and some on-site shopping. We enjoyed the beach and were particularly impressed with the lifeguards and snorkeling staff who interacted very well with all the guests. We did participate in a local Tequila tasting and purchased a nice bottle of locally-made Anejo as a souvenir.
In Progreso, the ship docks out in an industrial area a few minutes' drive from downtown (shuttles are available). It was a very hot day, so we chose to only explore the small duty-free area right beside the ship and, then, get back onboard, taking advantage of the nearly-empty public spaces. We noticed several other guests chose to stay onboard as well, with many finding a quiet corner to enjoy a board game or a book. So relaxing!
If I had to recommend two improvements for this ship:
1) Main theatre - reconfigure the seating to improve the view. There isn't enough elevation between rows, particularly on the balcony, to allow an unobstructed view of the stage.
2) Add Alchemy bar (perhaps replacing the one beside the comedy club venue) - We missed those unique cocktails from our previous cruises.
Overall, we had a fun and relaxing time. Our cruise director and dining room team made the experience extra special. The warm weather was great, and the vacation value cannot be matched. Highly recommend!
Debarkation was handled very well. There was a short wait where they had to slow down the flow of people through the immigration check point, but that was no inconvenience. Paully walked down the line of guests, explaining the delay and making sure we were still smiling. The terminal was extremely efficient, and we were sitting in our car (which was surprisingly cool considering the hot weather that week) within a short time... and wishing we were boarding again! Seriously, we called long-distance from our Canadian cell phones to see if Carnival was sold out for that next departure.
In Mobile, we visited the USS Alabama and USS Drum historical site, which was interesting, affordable and well-staffed to handle the influx of cruise visitors. We were given a discounted entry rate and spent hours exploring. We left late in the afternoon and started to make our way back home (to plan our next cruise adventure).
We're looking forward to our next opportunity to book with Carnival.