We drove from South Carolina to Miami over two days. My first tip to anyone driving to Port Miami is to gas up your car in Fort Lauderdale before arriving at Miami. I-95 into Miami is a nightmare to drive. There are a lot of exits with no entrances back onto the highway. Most of the exits dump you into the ghettos. When you exit to get to the port you have to drive through some very rough parts of town to get to the docks so gassing up will save you a lot of grief. We paid $48 to park in the parking garage which was not too bad. The garage is in close proximity to the ship.
Embarkation took a little longer than expected but wasn’t too bad. We pre-enrolled online and had our “fun pass” ready. Even with the fun pass there was a rather long line mainly because a lot of first time cruisers didn’t have the right paperwork ready (which of course is not the cruise lines fault). After about 10 minutes at the counter we finally boarded.
On The Boat:
I have heard a lot of complaints about the boat being dirty but it seemed very clean overall to me. Of course there was a spot here or there but not enough to gross anyone out. The boat is 10 years old and has overall aged very well.
Our luggage arrived faster than any other cruise ship we have been on. Our bags were in front of our doors in an hour after boarding.
We booked an interior cabin on the Riviera Deck R34 & R38. The room was ok in size about the same as you would expect on Holland America or Celebrity (RCL has notoriously small rooms). The first disappointment we ran into was the television. We were told by several people (TA and carnival reps) that our boys could hook up their playstation in their room. This was in fact not the case since there are no audio/video hook-ups on the TV. There are few movies shown on the TV and they don’t even give you boat information. Every other cruise ship I have been on shows you the boat location and usually has a bow camera so you could look at the weather outside from your room.
Now the biggest disappointment of all, NO THERMOSTAT IN THE ROOM! You are regulated to whatever temperature Carnival decides to keep your room. We were stunned. The room temperature was not miserable but it certainly was not cool enough for us to sleep comfortably. They put duvets on the bed which were nice but it was too hot to enjoy them. Each room comes with a sample basket with various toiletries. The shower has a shampoo and shower gel dispenser.
Carnival has the worst muster experience I have ever had to go through. They issue you a stiff uncomfortable life jacket. Then you are told to go to the barely air conditioned theater where some staff member keeps telling you that “We won’t begin until everyone is wearing their life vests”. After sitting there for 15 minutes in a pool of your own sweat they then march you upstairs to the outside deck. The whole experience takes about a half hour. Let me tell you now that they do not keep any kind of records so if you can just hide in your room and avoid this mess.
The Lido restaurant is a good place to avoid. First they don’t give you any trays so it becomes a juggling act to carry your food to the table. The Lido is usually hot inside because they leave the entrance doors propped open. The buffet they serve for both breakfast and lunch is small and not very good. The ice machines are often broken or work poorly. If you must eat here I recommend getting a table on one of the back decks where you can at least get a breeze.
A better place to eat is located at the back of the Lido. The deli back there makes terrific sandwiches. I had a very good Rueben and an equally good roast beef on baguette. They have about 5 or 6 sandwiches to choose from which stay the same day to day.
Another good place to eat is the pizzeria located at the back of the Lido right next to the deli. They have the best pizza I have ever had on a cruise ship. There are six varieties ranging from plain cheese, pepperoni, sausage with onions and peppers, veggie etc.
They will also make you a calzone but you have to wait about 10 minutes for them to cook it. The calzone comes stuffed with sausage, salami, and tomatoes and is very tasty.
The poolside grill serves the same thing as the lido in the morning but in the afternoon they serve hamburgers and hot dogs. They hamburgers are terrific and the best I’ve had at see yet. They are a must try on this boat.
The main dining rooms are the places to eat. The breakfasts are substantially better. My wife and I had scrambled eggs and pancakes in both the Lido and the main dining room and the difference is noticeable. We never had lunch in the dining room since we loved the pizza, burgers, and sandwiches so much. Dinner was our biggest surprise. We had always heard that Carnival had lesser quality food than other cruise lines. This is a lie. We had some of the best food we ever had on a ship in their main dining room. We even found ourselves ordering two entrees (something we have never done on any other line). Every meal we had for dinner was delicious. Juicy prime rib and filet mignon, lobster cooked better than I’ve had on any other line, and a wonderful variety of sumptuous seafood dishes rounded out our dining experience. I cannot express enough the great quality and taste of the meals served here. The only negative side to our main dining experience was the missing baked Alaska parade we have enjoyed on other ships. Some people may be annoyed by it but we have always enjoyed it ourselves and felt disappointed our boys didn’t get to experience it.
Finally I would like to touch on room service. We only ordered once but it was prompt and my wife said the roast beef and brie sandwich on baguette was very good. My step-son and his room mate ordered room service about 7 or 8 times a day. They got a big kick out of being brought food with just a phone call.
In the area of entertainment Carnival does one thing that I would like to see other cruise lines follow suit on. They offer late night comedy and adult shows. The comedian will still do his two evening shows but will also do a midnight show with more risqué humor. There was also a singer who did a more adult oriented show at midnight. It’s really a great choice to have available.
The Palace Theater was Ok but the seating was not really laid out that well. There were large half-circle couches with a table that were comfortable but you wind up having to share your couch with strangers. There are also some large poles which can obstruct your view depending on where you sit.
The comedian was very good as was the singer. There was an acrobat that gave a really great performance as well. We didn’t attend any of the song and dance shows because to be quite frank, once you see one you pretty much have seen them all.
We went to the trivia events in the theater as well as bingo. The not so newlywed game was not as good as on other ships. Most of the time husbands and wives go back stage for the questions which makes for some really interesting reactions. For the Fascination’s show the put the couples back to back with a pad to write their answers down which just wasn’t as funny.
We went to the Karaoke bar one night and laughed and laughed. One little boy no more that eight did his rendition of Britney Spears “Oops I did it again” which was hilarious.
We enjoyed the pool band on this ship but they did not play enough especially during sea days.
There was a Lido deck party but my wife and I opted out since the music was really loud (man I sound old) and the deck was packed with teenagers.
There pool area on this ship is rather large which is nice. There is an upper and lower deck with a lot of chairs. But I have to emphasize this…Bring your own towel!! Carnival issues you one towel per guest which you have to carry to the pool. The towels are small and don’t cover the entire chair. If you lose your towel or someone else takes it the line charges you $22. This for a towel you could buy at Wal-Mart for $5. Every other cruise I have taken has given out free towels by the pool as many as you want.
If you want a decent chair you need to get out early to beat the crowds. By 9am the pool area was completely full and by 10am there was not a chair to be had. There could have been a few more pool games. This is supposed to be the fun ship and on the one sea day they did only one game. When you pick your chair be wary of sitting near the slide since it sends water flying over the side drenching those sitting below.
Another tip I would like to impart is when ordering a drink be sure to ask for a regular glass as they will try to automatically stick you with a souvenir cup which costs more.
I am of the firm belief that there is no cabin steward on this cruise. Let me give you a typical scenario. I need a bucket of ice so I pick up the phone to call the steward. A recorded message tells me he has been paged. I wait for 30 minutes occasionally looking down the hall to find no one coming. I finally have to call room service which apparently employs actual staff members. Most ships let you call the steward directly. This was the same scenario for us several times. I guess I could have yelled at the recorded message.
Our waiter was very good. He was polite and very prompt with the food. Not a whole lot of personality though which was Ok for us since we hate waiters who try to act like they are your best friend.
The cruise director was horrible. He was stout little man from Ohio who told old corny jokes and laughed at them with a laugh similar to woody woodpecker. My wife found a lot of his humor offensive and inappropriate.
The assistant cruise director should be the cruise director. He was a British fellow who was polite and quite funny without being a ham.
There was also a young British girl who did well with interacting with the crowd and was very pleasant. They should promote these two people and dump the lump from Ohio.
Once again I would like to note that the term “Fun Ship” seems just that… an empty promise. While there was entertainment provided I found no difference from what Carnival provides versus any other cruise line. In fact RCL had more fun activities by far than this cruise. I believe Carnival is resting on its laurels and just relying on its brand name to fill ships. If you truly want a fun ship with a lot to do book a RCL cruise.
There was a lack of announcements which was good and bad. While I did not miss the constant bingo announcements I would have like to hear the captain give us information as to where we are and the weather. There was no announcement when the ship was docked and ready to debark. When we got to Cozumel there was no indication either by announcement or in the “Capers” newsletter that Mexico time was one hour behind the ships time. That certainly could lead to people missing the boat.
The security staff on this boat is so slow you shouldn’t even bother calling them. On our first night out a very drunk teenager and his mother (who seemed to be the one feeding him drinks) got into a loud shouting match in the hallway complete which plenty of F*** you comments volleyed back and forth. My teenage boys and my family were trying to sleep. I called security and 20 minutes later a woman with a walkie talkie shows up. Well by then the two had retreated to their room. The security person turned to me and remarked “Seems Ok now”. Brilliant deduction Sherlock! Maybe if she had waddled herself down a little faster the incident could have been resolved. Sure enough as soon as she left the drunk family emerged again into the hall spouting more and more F-bombs. My wife and I had to shout them down ourselves to get them to shut up.
The front desk staff seems to try to be as lame as possible. After loosing my sun tan lotion I was asked to describe it. “Well let’s see….it’s a bottle with white lotion inside of it.” I’m surprised I didn’t have to do a lotion line up.
When we asked to see a copy of our account statement we were told they could not print us a copy and that one would be delivered to our stateroom (by our supposed cabin steward) on the day of departure. Now let me get this straight the woman who is typing on a COMPUTER cannot print our statement…hmmm. After some badgering we finally got our statement copy. I guess they don’t want you to see how much they are charging you with their lovely automatic tipping policy (don’t get me started on that).
There is a teen club on board but to us the activities seemed more geared to girls instead of boys. Lots of dancing and pajama movie night. I would have liked to see more video game oriented activities. Some teen trivia for prizes would have been nice as well as maybe some teen name that tune with popular music. All in all the teen club was lame and my boys had no motivation to attend any of the events.
Key West is lame. Just read about everyone else’s review and you will get the same opinion. Better to stay on the boat and enjoy a not crowded pool day. Basically it’s one big tourist trap. You have your beach supply stores, souvenir shops, bars and etc. You can’t really enjoy the bars because you are there in the early afternoon and leave by 4pm. You can take a boring trolley ride around the town and see where Hemmingway liked to drink (wahoo!).
Cozumel was the main reason we booked this itinerary. Chankanaab park is our favorite stop. A couple of years ago my wife and I swam with the dolphins at the park and loved it. We now wanted to share that experience with the boys. Many people book shore excursions to this park but that’s a waste of money. The park is only about 2-3 miles from the dock so it’s easy to get to. Cab fare will cost you $10 per car one way. If you book one of their animal encounters you get free admission to the park, otherwise you have to stand in line to get in. The ship excursion is a dolphin encounter which has very little interaction. We booked two encounters, swim with the sea lions and we booked 2 royal swims with the dolphins for the boys.
It was a nice sunny day when we arrived at the park. Since we prebooked our encounters we bypassed the lines and went right into the park. Chankanaab is a beautiful park which the employees keep immaculate. There is a long lush white sandy beach with chairs and thatched umbrellas for shade. There is bar service on the beach if you wish to enjoy a margarita or pina’ colada while sunning. The water is so clear you can snorkel right off the beach, snorkel equipment is available to rent if you didn’t bring you own. They have snuba and sea trekking available as well. Since we booked our animal encounter we got free admission to the sea lion show. We walked around the park to kill time beforehand.
All around the park are various iguanas which my stepson threatened to take home with him. They have some statues which are recreations of ancient Mayan art. Finally after our walk around the park the show began. It was interesting to see a sea lion show with a Mexican flare. The actors spoke in both English and Spanish so all could enjoy the show. They did a great job and it was very entertaining.
Next was our swim with the sea lions. My wife and I and our two boys entered the sea lion pool with about six other people. We held our arms out and petted Carla our friendly little sea lion. Next each one of us did the sea lion kiss and hug. The trainer asked Carla is she wanted to kiss me and she shook her head no because I had wiskers (my beard and mustache). After a good laugh Carla came over and kissed my cheek then swam into my arms for a hug and of course a snapshot from the park photographer. We also got to have Carla jump over our arms and she performed some other tricks as well. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience this wonderful animal up close and personal. Well worth the money.
Next we took the boys over to get ready for their dolphin swim. Now if you book through the boat the best you can get is an encounter which includes some minimal touching and watching them doing various tricks. If you book through the park for about the same price you can have what is called the “royal swim”. This includes petting the dolphin, getting a dolphin kiss and shaking its flipper, a dorsal fin tow where two dolphins pull you to the dock by their dorsal fins, and a foot push where two dolphins push you out of the water by pushing your feet. After finishing with these they give you some free time to swim with them and touch them as you like. The boys had a ball with this. I believe you can get more information by looking up dolphin discovery on the internet.
Carnival does offer a self debarkation which is very nice. You simply keep your luggage and meet in the Palace Theater where they guide you off the ship. We were able to get to our car by 8am and on the road. Other cruises should offer this as well.
There were lots of ups and downs on this cruise. We had a good time overall. The food was good and the Caribbean sun cooperative. Our boys had a blast on their spring break which this was mostly about (even with the lack of playstations).
However Carnival left a bad taste in my mouth. This is supposed to be the fun ship yet their activities are the same as other cruise lines and in fact they had less entertainment than RCL. They are supposed to be the inexpensive alternative but I found their pricing to be no less than what other lines charge. Other lines seem to give you much better service with a more attentive staff. I think Carnival banks on the fact that a lot of people have trepidations about exploring other lines. There are better cruise lines out there people, just look for them.