We needed a break, but without flying half way across the world. We are Kiwis, with about 10 cruises under our belt. We love Princess. Unfortunately, at this time of year, there is only Carnival sailing out of Aussie, we had a break in work pressure, so it was now or 6 months time. We are an extremely middle aged husband and wife.
We scored a good two-for-one deal, and we didnt find out until we were about to leave NZ that our balcony had been upgraded to a suite! We were quite excited about that. A quick look on the deck plans showed it was a large suite, over the back of the boat.
The first disappointment with Carnival is there lack of info. We couldnt find out what, if any extras you got with a suite. No information on what we could take aboard (bottled water, for instance), alcohol packages, port excursion costs, how to book a set time dining, were toiletries supplied, you know, just basic stuff.
We fly to Sydney and eagerly wait the next day. We stayed the night a couple of hundred meters away for the terminal at Circular Quay, so next morning, after a bit of shopping, we head down. We dropped out bags at the bag drop and then went back to the shops, returning a few hours later.
We were a bit early from our designated time, but were told as we were suite, we could go straight on (again, would have been good to know, as we were basically mooching round, killing time).
Embarkation was the usual, but the worse things were the passengers! I could not belive the amount of people that had to stop and take selfies every few steps! This was not the young either, and why oh why could they not wait until they could step aside and let the queue behind them through??? do you really need five of the walk up to the gang plank, one on the gang plank and one as you put your first foot on the boat?? are you really going to look at these photos again?? So yes, I was the grumpy person that rudely pushed past you. Have some consideration people!
We found our floor, then the room. Some better signage would have helped. They could also use Princess's trick of different colour carpet on port and starboard side. It didnt really matter too much to us, as we were along the back, and you could walk right round, but it would have made things a little easier.
We found our room, which was a different setup to what we were use to. You walked along a narrow part which had a desk on one side, then to a wider part that had a couch with a chair in front of the couch (really, really surplus to requirement, it just took up room), I assume the couch probably folded out to a bed, but as there were only the two of us, we never found out. The couch was quite comfy. After the desk (with its own chair)there was another table that had the fridge under it.
If you sat on the couch, you would be looking at about a 16 inch TV set into about a 26 inch cabinet with another table underneath and a cupboard. No mini bar!
In the middle of the cabin was the bathroom, which was a decent size and not too bad a layout. It did have a shower over the spa bath. I would have loved a bath, but it just looked a bit, well, gungy. Between the bathroom and a passage way that led to the bedroom was a small dressing room. It was like they didnt know what to do with the space, so there was a table (with a stool) and mirror there. There was also a make up mirror in the bathroom, I guess this is what makes a suite a bit different from a balcony cabin, I dont know.
Then you walked into the bedroom. On one side was a double sliding door wardrobe, the same sort of TV set up in the middle and another door leading the dressing/make up room. We didnt use this door, as it opened into the room, causing a barrier that in the middle of the night you would have walked into.
The cabin, while not tatty, did have a lot of wear marks, worn areas, etc. Again, it certainly felt a little gungy.
There was a picture on the bedroom wall, of a pre adolescence Venus and Cupid, naked in a sexual pose. While some may have called it art, I actually found it quite offensive (and I am no prude). The murals on the walls in the corridors were of a Roman/Greek style and to me, they just did not look appropriate on a family type ship. A lot of the decor looked like the kids had gotten carried away in the crayon box. So there were heavily patterned walls and squiggly patterned carpets. It was a bit claustrophobic.
The general layout of the ship was not overly difficult to find your way around, if you got off the lifts there were usually the names of the areas in bright different coloured lights above the door ways leading to the public areas. The cabins were all on some floors and the entertainment/food areas on others, so everything was grouped together.
We did a couple of trivia events, but apart from the Red Frog, there didnt really seem to be any seperate areas like we were use to. The Trivia was just down one side of the boat and you couldnt really hear, unless you were close. The middle of the ship was hollow for about 7 or 8 floors, so the noise carried quite a bit. It was all a bit noisy and busy.
Before cast off, we had the usual safety briefing. If you thought the rapping Air New Zealand one was bad, this was worse. We had to all go to the muster stations, which were outside, along the decks. Then we all had to line up, shoulder to shoulder, about 5 deep. Straight lines please. We then had to stand there for about 30 minutes while they (did something, I assume). We were scanned in, so I guess it was looking for those that hadnt arrived, I dont know. The usual talk took about 3 minutes, they we had to all fight our way back in. Thankfully we didnt have to take our life jackets, but it was a very degrading experience.
Dinner that night was pretty disappointing. We ate at the main dining room (we were booked for 7.45, but managed to get it changed to 5.30 thereafter). I had a prawn cocktail with a nice sauce (I think it may have been bourbon flavoured?). it was a tasty sauce, I remember that much! The steak was also from the every night menu and was very average. Dessert was their "signature" dish, a chocolate cake in a ramakin with a chocolate sauce inside and some vanilla ice cream. Again, very average. I have had that dessert at a local restaurant. Still, it was only night 1 and it takes a day for everything to settle.
We had an early night, as we were tired from travelling and all the excitement of getting on board, etc. Watched a little TV and a good nights sleep. The bed was reasonably comfy and it was great to have a top sheet, instead of just the duvet. The pillows were a little flat, but Hubby likes that.
The next morning, we were up the the old buffet style for breakfast. There were lots of stations set up with different things. A quick walk around to see what was available and which stations to avoid (remember the old cruise joke about going on as a passenger and leaving as luggage)
I found some water melon and put that on a plate, there were no trays supplied, so I useed a larger plate to hold the smaller plate. Then I found the eggs bene (the quality varied from day-to-day), further round some nice french toast, then some wee pots that you put in the butter, maple syrup, etc (or sauce or jam or whatever). By the time I had queued for each of these and found a table, it was cold. The idea is good, but it was just too hard, without jumping up and down every few mouthfuls to get the next course to have it hot. Very disappointing.
I finished unpacking and sorting the cabin. The young lad had been in the day before and asked what time would we like the cabin serviced. Again, this was a little disappointing as it was a suite. With Princess, they come when you are not there, morning and evening. He hadnt come at the agreed time (we gave him a couple of hours), but did come later and we got it right for the rest of the cruise. Toiletries were not replaced as they were used, shampoo and conditioner were a dispense container on the wall. Fortunately, we had bought our own.
Tea that night was better, but again the selection was pretty average. I also dont consider a mince pie find dining. Tonight, the wait staff not only had to do a great job (which they did pretty good at) serving the meal, but there were expected to do two dances between main and dessert courses. Yes, it was fun but come on Carnival, these guys had a lot to do anyway. I cant remember how big the dining room was but it was over two floors. The downstairs was booked dining and upstairs anytime. The tables were all laid out with about 3 waiters per 4 or 5 tables. Again, Princess has this better with each waiters tables set in little alcoves where they can serve the meals/drinks from. This was again very noisy with a lot of kids yelling and screaming. There were even some sitting on the tables! Yes, there had also been some at the late time the night before.
I didnt make it to much of the entertainment or the outside pool decks, etc. Partly because we had our own balcony, which was the best I have ever had. It was quite wide and wrapped around to the side of the cabln. Probably had something to do with the shape of the boat. It was very, very spacious and the furniture appeared to be in good nick. There was a lot of rust on the metal parts of the ship. Unfortunately, we did have about 24 hours of 6m swells and that kept me very cabin bound, not enjoying the cruise much! That was no ones fault, but the risk you take with cruising. I do enjoy a bit of gentle rocking usually (esp at night when you are going to sleep), but this was rather excessive!
Would I pay for a suite? No. For us, a balcony represents better value for money. We do tend to spend a lot of time in the cabin. We dont use the pools, so it is nice to have that fresh air. This suite did not have great views of the sea, as the windows were not all floor to ceiling and they were broken up with panals that probably had something to do with the structure of the ship. There were no other gains (apart from getting on faster) that we could ascertain from having a suite.
About three days out, the disembarkation notice came round. We were expected to take our own bags off, Those needing assistance could opt for that. Again, it felt very cheap and we felt unloved.
There was some info came round with shore trips, but by then we had made our own arrangements. See below.
Overall, it is definitely designed with families in mind. If you like a more peaceful cruise, or something a little more refined, then this is not the line for you.
We did the hop on hop off bus at Noumea. There really was nothing to see, a couple of arcade type malls, no good shopping and an expensive ice cream! A market with about 10 stalls, not very inspiring. Most people just went round and back to the boat. Ship docked at container terminal and you could not wander round. Straight off ship and onto bus or tour. AU$25pp. but the ticket on board (charge to room) before disembarking.
Didnt get off a Mare as the weather was wet and not that warm. A lot of those that did, came straight back on again. Tender port.
Isle of Pines was nice, nice beach that we swum at. Locals had small market with local and coconuts food for sale. Could have paid AU$50 each to go to another beach that had turtles, etc, but the local one was nice. Plenty of fish to see if snorkling.
Not a great layout, cant really see the sea. A lot of wasted space. Shower over bath, bath a little gunky.
Nothing too exciting. Shops not that great. I did buy a wee turtle at the market and had to show that when re-entering Australia at disembarkation. Ice cream expensive. They did have out some welcome flags at the last shopping mall. If I did it again, I would probably just go to the beach across the road. Apparently there is a good chocolate shop not far from the terminal, but the bus wasnt going to stop. AU$20 (or 25, cant remember) pp. Island is only about 50km round, so not huge.
Probably the nicest stop. Nice white sand, locals do a bit of a food market (half a crayfish for $30, chicken and other local delicacies, but do take some snacks, water etc ashore with you). Not sure how safe the food is to eat. Swimming is good, but with a ship load, a little crowded. I enjoyed this stop the best.