CARNIVAL GLORY 11/22 - 11/29 Eastern Caribbean - Thanksgiving
We are not prolific cruisers, but my wife and I have recently become fans of cruising, having done 3 within the last year or so. The first two were Royal Caribbean and MSC. All were through the Eastern Caribbean and shared many common ports. We are a family of 8 (7 went), 45/45/22/20/17/16/15/13. The last cruise was over Thanksgiving 2014 on the Carnival Glory with the entire family.
I have seen many very thorough reviews on here, some of which we have used to make our own cruising decisions (Thank You People!). It may not be totally fair to call this a "review," since I'm not going to spend time on every facet of the experience, and am instead just covering key points.
STAFF: The staff, in general, was cordial, courteous, and ready to make you happy. The housekeeping staff was particularly hardworking and seemed to always smile. The room was always immaculate. I thought the bartenders were relatively quick and helpful, although there was one particular female (very old) bartender at the Red Frog bar on the pool deck (deck 9) that was very cantankerous. We rarely use the wait staff to order drinks, usually opting instead to just head to the bar and do it ourselves. After we had a few beers my wife headed to the bar to grab a water (gotta hydrate!). This bartender seemed incredibly put out that she had to even to waste her time to wait on my wife for "just" a water. She was rude. She told my wife, "You know, for future reference, it would be much quicker if you went to the buffet to get a water." Well, gee, old grumpy lady bartender person, thanks for your insight. That's a difficult concept for me to grasp since I would have to walk 30 yards PAST the bar to go to the buffet. And for your future reference, I'm on a boat in the middle of the ocean for a 7 day vacation. This is day 1. Time is my friend right now and I will spend it as I please. Now please get me a water. This unfortunate encounter aside, the rest of the staff was helpful and polite and we had no other issues.
CHEERS: This was probably one of the more defining experiences during our cruise. We aren't huge drinkers, but I have six kids so I have to (ha). We did a lot of research on the Cheers alcohol plan before we picked this cruise and decided to purchase plans for us. We purchased this cruise in the Spring of 2014, months in advance, and the price of cheers was $37.95/day per person. This was a large factor in choosing Carnival over Royal Caribbean. Not only were the rooms cheaper, but with also a cheaper alcohol plan, we would save hundreds and hundreds of $$. Because we had 7 travelers, my wife and I were assigned different rooms, so we didn't have to buy two plans, but we intended to because the price was reasonable and its just so much more convenient. While the embarkation was smooth and awesome, my first 30 minutes on the boat threatened to drive me insane. We merrily went to the small Cheers table setup to buy the plans and bought two. I checked the receipt after paying (which frankly I normally don't do) and WHOA! $800 for two plans ($400 each: $350+tips/tax). "Um, excuse me, this is supposed to be wayyyy less," I told the woman. She didn't speak great English so she kinda pointed to the posterboard, and told me it was $49.95, which indeed said $49.95/day. I protested that it was $37.95 (or 37.50, couldnt remember) and she just kept pointing to the board and saying, "Look, see, it's $49.95." I have never wanted an entire message board population by my side before, but now I did. I wanted all you kind and informative cruisecritic board users with me to help me "prove" that I could have sworn it was $37.95. She didn't relent. Finally, a supervisor of some type came over and gave me a knowing grin, clasping his hands and explaining, yes, you are correct, it WAS $37.95/day but just a few weeks ago had been raised to $49.95. After all, $37.95 was a "promotional" price they said. Wait, back this truck up. This pricing was a huge factor in deciding to purchase this cruise, which I did while overseas months and months ago. I tried to prepay for the Cheers plan but they wouldn't let me (They had no problem with me "prepaying" for the entire cost of my cruise, however). Now you tell me the price is some 30% higher? I was refunded the $800 dollars and eventually found a man in a smashing white uniform milling about and explained this dilemma to him. This turned out to be Alain Lopez, an officer. I explained the absurdity of the situation. You have marketed this cruise at price A, which a large percentage of the pricing is wrapped up in two alcohol plans I intended to purchase. Now that I'm fully paid and on board, you are informing me the alcohol plan, which I could not prepay, is now price B, which is more expensive. Are you not going to offer the people who purchased the cruise during the time it was $37.95 that price? I told him I bought this cruise not only for the particular dates, but also because i could AFFORD it. Now you won't even let me buy the Cheers plan at the price it was when I bought the cruise! Mr. Lopez nodded and said he couldn't do anything but would have the bar operations manager call me. Anyone who knows chain of command knows that when a superior pushes a problem from himself to a subordinate, the importance of that "problem" has heretofore be deemed zero. Problems should be elevated up a chain, not lowered down it. The bar manager did in fact call me, then called back and left a message nothing could be done because this was Carnival HQ's decision, not the ship policy. Good one.
I will not dispute that Carnival can price things however they want and change the pricing whenever you want. But no one will ever convince me that this anything less than deceptive marketing. You can't offer the price of an inherently important and expensive facet of your cruise experience at one price, get me to book a cruise based in large part on that, not permit me to prepurchase it, then not offer me that price when I board. I shielded this particular issue from the kids and we all truly had a great time believe it or not. After receiving my refund I told the bar supervisor that you had completely deincentivized me to buy two cheers plans, and this bait and switch pricing would encourage people to buy just one and share and I thought there practices justified me doing the same. The supervisor said that wasn't allowed and since I was completely exasperated at this point I said, "Watch me," and he responded, "We'll see about that."
Well, clearly Carnival doesn't know me very well. I had been challenged. Please read the following to yourself in your best French accent: "You have been dishonest and unfair to me and now you challenge me to a duel? A duel you say?!? You silly cruise line. You have met your match!" I was looking forward to handing over my hard earned cash for two packages. In fact I did before I was refunded. But Carnival created this mess. Needless to say, after being completely discouraged by Carnival from holding up my end of the bargain, we bought one Cheers package. I didn't think twice either about slugging beers with my wonderful wife sitting side by side at the bar, ordering them every five minutes. Yea, we'll definitely see about that.
Carnival's unillingness to see the deceptive nature of this practice and make it right is, to me, a harbinger of larger issues. I will not hand over responsibility for my family's experience and essentially their safety to a company that thinks these practices are fair and reasonable. This is a dealbreaker for me. This is my first, and last, Carnival cruise. In my brief cruising career I've quickly learned that there are many very good and reputable cruise lines perfectly willing to take my money. And I am more than happy to give it to them if they just play fair.
ENTERTAINMENT: The quality of the entertainment was good overall. I've been to my share of AC/DC and Motley Crue concerts so I'm no librarian, but the poolside DJ was loud. Wow. I mean his volume really did go to 11. My wife and I had to yell to enjoy poolside conversation. He also concentrated on hip hop and your standard beach songs 100% of the time. I'm eclectic and maybe that's not the norm, but I like it all. Can we throw in a country song, 80s, james taylor, heck, james brown, jazz, def leppard, whatever, just something different, every once in a while? Man, it was relentless. The show performers were good. Hardworking and talented. The Epic Rock show was cool, the comedy was fun, and the newlywed show was great. After the DJ they usually did a solo act in the pool area corner. They were good, it just wasn't very exciting. They did a lot of trivia games, some in the theater and many in the casino. These are fun and we joined in but again, it's more of the same kind of passive entertainment. The casino, by the way, unless you're a 20 year smoker or actually live in an ashtray, is disgusting. It smelled like 50 years of smoke and made watching bands or doing trivia in the casino somewhat unpleasant. The smoking thing is weird to me, because Carnival seemed committed to no smoking in general. No smoking on the pool decks or in the comedy lounge, two places notorious for smoking. But in the casino it was katie bar the door, and you could tell. I guess gambling and smoking go hand in hand, neither of which i do. I won't pass judgement, I'll just say it wasn't for me.
POOL: Third cruise in a year. This is the first one where there were NO pool games!! The pool was absurdly small and they couldn't/wouldn't hold any pool games in there. Whether you participate in them or not, getting strangers together in a pool for small but fun competitions is a great way to get people involved, and it brings people together. You can meet new friends on your team, enjoy the competitive aspect, or just sit back enjoy the debacle that inevitably ensues when overly tipsy travelers try to do stuff. I really think pool games are a requirement for me. It's interactive whether you're actually involved or just actively spectating. Carnival did the "hottest body" contest and stuff like that, but again, that's just not as universally fun and more of a spectacle than an event. For active people that love sports like myself, I found Carnival to be way more geared toward passive activities like listening to a DJ or a singer rather than active get-up and-do-it stuff. This surprised me a great deal since I thought coming in that Carnival skewed younger and more active.
GYM/COURTS: I workout a lot and used the gym a lot. It wasn't good or bad. It had the basics but not the best stuff. No cables? Do you know how many exercises you can do with a cable machine? Its the best use of space in a gym, to not have one is a major oversight. Literally you can work every muscle group with cables. The gym lockeroom looked strangely dated and kinda dirty and gross. I just whisked through it to the gym and never used anything in it. I can find a workout without weights if i have to, i just thought that based on the decent size of it, it should have been much better. The sports court was really really small compared to other ships. My complaint here was they ONLY played basketball!!! There were exactly zero other sports events planned our week in the courts. No soccer, no dodgeball. I don't care, make up a game, Killer Hopscotch, I don't care, but to just cater to a single sports audience all week is ridiculous. Above that, it was a strange feeling i had and please don't take this the wrong way fellow Americans, but it seemed like Carnival was catering to the fat American, not an active, energetic get up and go crowd. I dunno, the lack of activity on the courts was disappointing to say the least. They did have 13-15 year old dodgeball one day, but nothing for adults. Ever. On the RCI cruise, i spent hours up on the court playing with my new Aussie friends in all sorts of competitions.
HOT TUBS: You people are really going to think i'm some old stick in the mud with some of my comments but i promise i'm not. I play sports with college kids at 45 and love concerts and working out. But the Hot Tubs, where to begin? Okay, so they have a Serenity section which is adults only. I realize some of you will say I should have just gone there. But you know what, the pool is where the action is supposed to be, so i want to be there, not exiled to the serenity section. Wanna try out the hot tub? Unless you're under 10 years old, forget it. No joke, between 11am and 5pm the hot tubs in the main area were basically a frothy kid cappuccino. Imagine 10 or so small kids (with no parents mind you) jammed into a hot tub. Now imagine a large number of those 10 kids with ice cream cones, plates and bowls and silverware eating in that hot tub. I have a photo to prove it. There were old smashed ice cream cones, plates and lots of grossness left around the hot tub all day long. At night, pretty similar, all the kids pile into the hot tub and watch the poolside movie. With popcorn. Yea, that's not gross at all. I enjoy wading in water with popcorn floating all around me. I like to pretend I'm the last unpopped kernel just waiting to get hot enough. One mom actually looked nervously around from outside the gate surrounding the tub and told the mass of 8 year old humanity in the tub to be careful, because her two year old she was letting get in the swirling 105 degree water filled with awkward 8 year olds "can't swim." And I have 6 kids mind you so I'm no freaked out empty-nester, im just freaked out.
BARS: The bars were okay. The bartenders were eager to please and fairly quick. I tried the EA sports bar briefly on turkey day to watch a few minutes of fball with the boys (because this is required). Eh. I will never understand why Carnival would spend so much money on those 2x2 tvs that combine to make one giant screen but then totally fail by not spending a few extra bucks for an High Definition signal. It's available right? Please don't tell me you can get a wireless internet signal on a boat hundreds of miles from civilization but you can't get a HD signal. You realize big screens look even worse than small ones when you show a SD signal on them because, well, they're bigger, right? This is sports watching 101. You call your bar "EA Sports." EA stands for Electronic Arts, one of the largest video game production and manufacturing companies in the world. They sell tens of millions of games every year, many of which are sports games, which are played on millions of gaming systems, every single one of which is high definition. Your bar is called EA Sports and your tvs are combined to be about 65 inches square but your signal dates back to 2004. This is the gaming equivalent of passing on your Madden 2014 and instead playing Atari Football from 1978. Small point but big impact.
FOOD/DINING ROOM: I thought the buffett was horrible, period. I ate cafeteria food in Afghanistan for 7 months this year and it was better than this. The burger/burrito/pizza joints were very very good. The dining room was better than the buffet but not great. They did one thing i found very odd but maybe its not. When you order a beer or mixed drink or even a soda, which we only did a few times, they take FOREVER to bring it. I think they actually go out of the dining room to a bar and grab it there, so it takes much longer to arrive. The delay in getting these drinks made us stop even trying by midweek.
PORTS/ETC: The ports were incredible. I won't bore you with all the details but we had an absolute blast. The best times were definitely off the ship, as is the case with most im sure, but it was awesome.
O2 TEEN CLUB: I may be getting the name wrong, whichever club was for teenagers to dance in. I had unrealistically high hopes for the teen club. I have four teenagers and I was truly hoping they could have hung out in the teen disco after dinner for a bit and enjoyed dancing and meeting friends. My kids spent exactly 35 combined seconds in the club before they determined the crowd in there was not to their liking. My wife and I stopped by there one day to satisfy our own curiosity and we found it dark, mostly empty, and playing music i definitely wouldn't want my daughters dancing with boys to.
After all this is said and done, we had a good time. Aside from Cheers, the negative issues were not endemic and could for the most part happen anywhere. They are highlighted here because they deserve to be but many positives happened along the way and because the kids were mostly unaware of even the smaller negatives, they had a blast. That said, I mean what I say about my distrust and lack of confidence in Carnival after the Cheers ordeal. I won't choose Carnival again. Having three very similar trips on three cruise lines within a short period of time gave us the benefit of being able to compare different lines on a lot of the very same criteria, making the comparison less subjective in my mind.
With a large family, we are bargain hunters and somewhat frugal. We learn how to scrutinize our purchases and do quite a bit of homework for almost all our purchases. (Rather than spend $3k to fly to and from VA to FL, we rented a van, one way on both ends for about $500 total, and drove 14+ hours straight -- i did almost 1,000 miles in one sitting on Nov 29). That said, many people know that with some products, you just get what you pay for, like toilet paper or carpet. The difference in quality between a cheaper and more expensive product is too great to justify purchasing the least expensive. I think one of my conclusions is a cruise line may be one of those products. While we got GREAT deals on the other two trips, Carnival was, overall, more of an economical choice during this last holiday trip. After all is said and done, however, it was by far our least favorite ship and least favorite experience, although the kids had so much fun they couldn't care less.