February 11, 2001
This was our third cruise overall and our first with Carnival. Our two previous were on the Nordic Empress and Sovereign of the Seas. We traveled to New Orleans the day before and stayed at the Hampton Inn French Quarter (which is actually a block west of the Quarter). The hotel was very nice and the price was reasonable. We didn't have any trouble walking to the French Quarter and seeing the sights. The night we were there was the kickoff to Mardi Gras. The crowd was not too bad though. We highly recommend the restaurant NOLA on St. Louis Street. The food was a bit pricey, but probably one of the best meals we have ever had. The service was excellent as well.
Embarkation - Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel around 11 AM and headed straight for the pier. The parking is very easy to find and quite convenient to the cruise terminal. There are plenty of porters waiting to help you with your luggage. Embarkation was a breeze with a sail and sign card in hand 30 minutes later. We had an outside cabin on the Upper deck. The rooms are much bigger than the older Royal Caribbean ships. I hear the newer RCCL builds are bit more spacious. We had a gift basket with assorted toiletries along with robes in the closet.
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Overall Impression of the Ship - The decor is a bit gaudy and takes some getting used to. However, the ship is very clean and there are always people cleaning and polishing. The atrium is quite nice with most of the public areas centered in that area. The galley is located between the two dining rooms which forced you to go up or down a few levels to get from the front to the back of the ship. Overall, it wasn't too hard to get around. Probably our favorite part of the ship was the pool deck. We didn't really have a problem finding deck chairs though it did get crowded from time to time. There were always attendants discarding of unattended towels which cut down on the saving of chairs. Our favorite entertainment was the Calypso band which played for a couple of hours each day.
Service - We found the service to be pretty good. Our cabin steward kept our room clean and always left us with an interesting animal towel. The service in the dining room was spotty with one dinner taking us over two hours to complete. The problem actually had to do more with the kitchen and less to do with the servers. We found our waiter and assistant waiter to be friendly and very hard working. You could often see the frustration they were having with the kitchen problems. This will be covered more in the food section. We tried room service a couple of times, and after the first day they were very quick in bringing your requests. Carnival (like most cruise lines) makes a substantial percentage on their drinks, so you didn't go more than 10 minutes without a drink server coming by. We found the pushing of photographs a bit excessive as well.
Food - Definitely the low point of the cruise. We had breakfast in the main dining room and upstairs in the Brasserie several times. The food was basic but good breakfast fare. The service was also quite good. Lunch in the main dining room was also good with a nice selection to choose from. The Brasserie offerings for lunch were fair at best. They were mostly leftovers and they looked that way. Most of the time, we found ourselves gravitating to the pizzeria. The pizza was very, very good (probably the best food on the ship).
Now to dinner. This being our third cruise, we had somewhat of a benchmark to compare the food with. We would have to characterize the food as poor to fair. Out of seven nights, I can only think of two entrees that were above average (filet mignon and sweet/sour shrimp). We have never sent food back on a cruise before, but we became well experienced by week's end. I actually had one entree', Beef Wellington, that I was not able to cut with a sharp steak knife. The lobster tail was very rubbery as well. You could see the frustration that our waiter (Suphkadee) had with the food preparation. After a few days, we think he started bringing us extra food just in case. Let me say though that we don't go on vacation for the food, so it didn't spoil our vacation in the least. We had two wonderful couples as dinner mates which more than made up for the sub-par food. The dancing and singing by the waiters was also very entertaining.
Entertainment - Horse racing, bingo, newlywed game, hairy chest contest, game shows...the standard cruise fare. We enjoyed the couples and lovers party at the Avant Garde lounge. They gave you free champagne if you participated in the video diary show that night. My wife couldn't have the champagne because she was five months pregnant. As a matter of fact, many of the activities (captain's party, art auctions) provided free champagne. It would have been nice to provide a non-alcoholic alternative as well. Again, the pool band was very good and definitely entertaining. We also enjoyed the art auctions, although we are not exactly art afficionados. The auctioneer was very informative and you felt like you knew more about art when you left the auction. We purchased two Warner Brothers serigraph (for the baby's room) at a significant savings. We only saw a couple of the shows in the main lounge, but they were pretty good as well.
1st Port - Montego Bay - We had heard many negative things about Jamaica. However, we really enjoyed our time on the island. We signed up for the Black River Safari. We were a bit hesitant about this tour since it was not even mentioned in the shore excursion talk the cruise director led earlier. The tour bus picked us up right at the pier and we started our journey to the south coast. The ride was a bumpy, bumpy hour and a half ride. However, the tour guide was very informative and you got to see the real Jamaica outside of the tourist areas. The island is actually very beautiful. We drove along the south coast where we saw some of the most beautiful (and unspoiled) beaches we have ever seen. The safari itself was pretty neat with close-up views of several crocodiles, egrets and cranes. It was also amazing how cool and relaxing it was on the Black River. On the return visit, our guide sang us the Jamaican national anthem and the Americans and Canadians responded in kind. We did a little shopping in Montego Bay, but we found the vendors there to be a bit pushy. I found you could get a better deal in Black River than you could in Montego Bay.
2nd Port - Grand Cayman. We caught a tender to the island without having to wait (which was a improvement over most peoples experiences). This is a small island, and was quite crowded with three large ships in port. We did the beach break at the Dive Resort. Note: buying this excursion on the boat is no cheaper than purchasing a day pass at the resort. The beach was a bit crowded, but when you're on a beautiful beach and in crystal clear water what difference does it make! We really enjoyed the beach and wish the boat was in port longer. After leaving the beach, we did a little shopping and found a few bargains. Returning to the ship was quite an adventure. It turns out the one of the tenders broke down and they were only running one.
3rd Port - Playa del Carmen/Cozumel - We did the Tulum tour. Note: if you are prone to seasickness, the ferry to/from Playa del Carmen could be an adventure. That is the only time during the cruise that Kay felt a little sick, and I was glad I hadn't eaten a big breakfast! The bus ride to Tulum is not too long. You make a stop on the way at a souvenir stand. The brochure states there is a $10 fee for video cameras, but it is only $4. Interesting enough, the admission to the ruins is only $3. When you first see the ruins, it is an impressive and awesome sight. A tour guide walks you through the ruins then gives you free time to walk around. If you have never seen the Mayan ruins before, it is worth the trip. Remember, the temperature at Tulum is very, very hot and you should bring plenty of water. The guide provides beer and soda on the return trip. After getting to Cozumel, we did a little shopping and found a few bargains. It was interesting pulling up to the pier at Cozumel and viewing two sets of cruise ships. One was the Crown Princess and Fred Olsen's (I think) Black Watch side by side. The other two ships were the Voyager of the Seas and Regal Empress side by side. It definitely gave you two different views of a cruise experience - the floating hotel/resort and the classic designed small ships.
Debarkation - Relatively painless. Your luggage and time to leave the ship is based on the color of your bag tags. We did have a bit of a wait to get off, but once our color was called we were on our way home pretty quickly.
Summary - We enjoyed our first seven day cruise for the most part. Would we go on Carnival again? Perhaps, if the price was right. I think we might try Royal Caribbean, Norwegian or Holland America next time we decide to cruise. We also preferred to see more ports as opposed to "fun days" at sea.