Who we are: My wife and I are in our mid thirties and we have a 19 month old daughter who went with us. This having been our first cruise we weren't sure what to expect, other than what we'd read about in other reviews and people we've talked to.
Embarkation: Carnival cruises has an early check-in desk on the Queen Mary for those of you who arrive before the main check-in opens. This was quite helpful as it allowed us to get registered and check our bags (using the curb-side porters) without waiting in any lines. After this early registration we just had to go through security when they started boarding at noon (not 1:30 like the ticket says). When we arrived to begin boarding we were escorted to the front of the boarding line since we were in a Category 11 room (balcony). This made boarding take less than 15 minutes from the parking lot to our cabin - a nice surprise.
Our Cabin: The cabin was small for a "mini-suite" but quite comfortable and thoughtfully arranged. Here is what the room contained: A queen sized bed which wasvery comfortable even for a tall person (I'm 6' 7"), a sofa that folds into a bed (there was enough room to leave the sofa as a bed for the whole cruise without getting in the way), a small balcony with two chairs and a table (bring a bungee cord if you want to keep the door open), a mini-refrigerator (empty), a large number of drink glasses of various kinds, a color TV (ours had a problem and only shown in B&W), two closets with enough hangers and shelves to bring 'the whole catastrophe' (we did, and we still had LOTS of room to spare -- good job Carnival). A built-in desk/mirrored vanity with stool, a generously sized bathroom that had a repositionable/removable shower head that could be positioned high enough so I could wash my hair without bending over (another thumbs up for Carnival). The shower also contained a dispenser of shampoo and bath gel. There was no hair dryer in the room.
The Veranda deck: I think a cabin on the Veranda deck is the way to go. It's closer to everything than any of the other cabins: it's a 30 second walk from the cabin to your deck chair overlooking the pool, and it's very quite -- not much in the way of people noise or engine noise. It's also the only cabins with verandas other than the penthouse suites. Carnival makes it known that the last three cabins (aft) on the Veranda deck have partially obstructed views. Here's the deal with that: These cabins are partially obstructed by the lifeboats. But, there are two sizes of life boats: the giant 150+ passenger "mega-boats", and the rescue Zodiac. The foreword-most of the three cabins (V34 on the port side, V23 on the starboard) are only obstructed by the Zodiac which doesn't block much of the view. So, if there are no other choices, V34 and V23 are decent choices. I'd stay away from V38, V42, V25, & V27 as they are almost completely blocked by the lifeboats. Also, if you like privacy in your cabin and don't want to have the curtains drawn all the time, I'd stay away from the two forward most cabins on either side (V1, V2, V3, & V4) since people out front on the observation platform (on the same deck) can see right into your cabin -- not a very good design.
The Ship: Not as glitzy as some ships that I've seen (pictures of) but nicely decorated in a Vegas sort of way. Very clean -- never saw any stains on the carpet, or anything that appeared to need cleaning. There were a few odors that we detected on the city lights blvd. but it wasn't very noticeable and definitely not obnoxious.
Entertainment: The only show that we saw was "Dream On". It was a Vegas-style show with a combination of singing, dancing, acting, and gymnastics. It was quite entertaining and the cast was quite talented. One word of caution: try to sit on the lower level of the Blue Sapphire lounge as the upper level's incline is quite shallow giving you a better view of the back of the person's head in front of you than of the stage. The lower level was much better. On deck there was always something going on. There was a live steel drum band playing on the deck most of the time which gave a tropical feel to the deck activities. The ice carving demonstration was also quite amazing and drew what seemed like the entire ship to the lido deck.
The Staff: The staff was very attentive -- it seemed as though they were everywhere. During dinner it seemed at times that there were more waiters then diners -- very easy to get immediate service. Everyone seemed to enjoy their job and had a good attitude. Since we booked our cruise just a few weeks before the sail date, we didn't get early seating for dinner as we had hoped, but a quick trip to the maitre d' before sailing and he got us an early seating. -- (The people at the information desk had informed us that the ship was completely booked and there wasn't much chance of getting an early seating... I guess it always pays to ask.)
Dining: The food was good to very good. I was expecting that the buffet food wouldn't be so good, but I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't have any dish that didn't taste fresh and well made. Nicely done, Carnival. Even the lobster tail at the formal dinner was tender and quite good (other people on the cruise concurred) -- contrary to what some other people have written in their reviews on earlier cruises. Also, we never spent more than 2 or 3 minutes in line for food at any meal -- another surprise. We ate most of our meals in the Panorama Bar and Grill which always had a window table available and never seemed to be very crowded.
Shore Excursions: Since I had been to Catalina a few times before, we decided to just wing it and did not book a shore excursion. We went ashore early (8:30) and found no lines for the tenders (the boat is serviced by tenders in Catalina as there is no dock big enough for the ship). We rented a golf cart (for $30 per hour) and spend an hour and a half driving around Avalon -- this is a great way to see the town. After some shopping we were back on board the ship by noon to pick up our daughter from Camp Carnival (more on that later). Again, no line for the tender. The second port of call was Ensenada. Again, as I'd been there before we decided not to purchase one of the shore excursions on the ship. We got off the boat around noon and took the bus into town for $3 round trip. During the ride the bus "tour guide" tried to sell us a trip to see "La Bufadora" (the blow-hole). Since we had never seen it, we decided to pay the $13 each to go. I heard that buying the same excursion on the ship costs more, but I didn't verify that. Since we were leaving mid-day the bus was only half-full so we had a comfortable ride down the coast (40 min each way). La Bufadora is one of only three blow-holes in the world - a hole in a partially submerged cavern that blows water up to 100' in the air when a wave comes in. Kinda cool. The other part of the attraction is the gauntlet of shops along the walk from the parking area to La Bufadora. You'll get better deals on the 'useless crap' here than you will in town. Overall, a fun trip but don't expect too much -- it's Ensenada's only tourist attraction so they hype it up.
Camp Carnival: Carnival has a great kids program for kids from ages 2 to 15. Since our daughter was under 2 we had to use their baby sitting services which were quite limited: every night from 10pm to 3am, every port day from 8am until noon, and at-sea days from noon until 2pm: not very accommodating. But, if your kid is over 2, they had quite a list of activities and extensive hours. They will even take your kids to meals if you don't pick them up in time for lunch or dinner. Also, they issue you a pager that works on the ship (and in Avalon) so if they need you for something or to remind you to pick up your kid, they can get in touch with you.
Alcohol: If you were wondering about bringing alcohol with you on board, here is our experience: We were able to bring a bottle of vodka in our checked bags without any problem. I've heard that that works better than trying to bring the bottles in your carry-on as they're stricter with the carry-on baggage (go figure). I would suggest plastic bottles to avoid a broken bottle mess -- those baggage handlers can be kinda rough.
Debarkation: On the last day, everyone is told to be out of their cabin by 8am and be in your assigned waiting area. Ours was the Neon bar and Card room. As you wait in your assigned area, they call different cabin areas to begin disembarking based on your baggage tag color (which is based on your room location). Since we were the first group called (lucky us) we were out, had our bags and were in the car by 8:30am -- very smooth. A few tips on making the morning go smoother -- the gangway is on the Empress deck but the only way to the Empress deck from the upper decks is via the circular Atrium staircase from the Atlantic deck. Neither the elevators nor the other nearby staircases will get you there -- they close the fire doors and deactivate the Empress deck button in the elevators. Everyone made the mistake of going down the wrong way and had to come back up -- not much fun with a stroller. Also, have a passport as they have separate customs lines for people with passports and it moves faster.
Hope this helps.
This was the second cruise my wife and I took,and the first time to bring our 8 year old son.We were on Massdam,the Western Caribbean prior to this.We drove down to San Pedro pier due to lack of right flight connections from So.Cen.Idaho.Eleven hours ,big deal.We had to wait a bit at check-in,not a smooth system here, as Holland America was more so.We got to our cabin and started exploring the ship.The muster drill was a bit held up by drunken bachelor party guests,sad that eight lumps held up over two thousand other guests,wasted already to the gills.Party boat, oh boy!The weather wasn`t the best and that kept the ship from stopping at Catalina,a small disappointment.I had not been there for fourty plus years.We headed slowly to Ensenada after cruising in cicles wating for fair weather around Catalina region.
Ensenada was good for shopping but that was it.Many other guest weren`t very happy about the excursions they had taken.We always do our own thing ,never taking what the ships offer, as far as excursions go.Slight rain continued to fall the entire cruise.But the sea wasn`t very rough,thankfully.
As the ship goes it wasclean enough.Our son had lots of fun with the kids program.The food in both the buffet and the main dinning room was forgetable.The few drinks we had were more expensive than other ships.The entertainment was passable if you lower your sights, to the price paid for this itinerary and the older ship.Some of the guests got a little to happy for theirs and everyones, good.To say that. This was a fun cruise for kids and party animals.But if you enjoy higher intellect, try H.A.L or Celebrity ,even R.C.C.L,of which we have tried after this ship.The crew was fairly good,and smiles are the norm as with all cruise boats.As for taking another Carnival ship!We will try a more expensive trip and hope that weeds out some of the less shameless types.But cruising is the best!
First we got to the ship. I was stunned by the size this being my first time. It was huge. Even against the RC Vision of the Seas that was also in port in Los Angeles. We got to the ship ay about 4:15 so we rushed a bit to get there, but we had plenty of time. We got checked in and were on the boat in 15 min. Security is fairly lax, we had discovered that my wife's passport was expired the night before departure, so I spent hours finding her birth certificate and marriage paperwork so we could prove who she was. They told me at the terminal that they would have taken the expired passport. Hmmm....
Anyway we got on board, took the picture and headed for our room. We had a cat 11 suite on the V deck. The room was smaller than I thought, but we had a little balcony. Unfortunately the view was partially blocked by a lifeboat. Carnivals web site does not mention this, but Travelocity's does. Wish I would have known that. The room was ok.
My wife was already feeling themovement of the boat, so we went to the gift shop to get some barf medication. We are on a ship heading to sea, and they were all out before we even left. No worries though, if that happens to any of you, just go to the purser's desk; they will give it to you for free.
The crowd on deck was young. I knew we were in for a good party. We got drinks, and explored the ship. Best part about the trip was the bars serve Bass Ale. One of the best English beers. I was very happy to see that. Everything up top was great, but when you go below decks, sometimes the smell of, I don't even want to know what, is revolting. It's really bad in some places. I had read that you get used to the smell. I would say to those people " liar liar pants on fire ". You can't get used to that smell.. Our bathroom in our room had a hint of the same smell. That didn't bother me as much as the other places on the ship. The ship is a little cheesy with all the Vegas decor, but I liked it. I did not notice the carpets, or the lights being out, and I did look. I guess some people really have nothing better to do. The crew worked hard every day cleaning and polishing. I thought it was fine. We had a late seating for dinner. Our tablemates were great, we had a lot of fun with them.
The food was good. Mine was bSo on to day 2 and 3. We pulled into Ensenada early. My wife and were not even going to bother getting off the ship. We have spent a lot of time in Mexico, and it has to be one of the most depressing places on earth. I can only take so much plight. We spent most of the day by the pool, which was indeed filled with salt water. The pool could not have been more that 55 degrees, so nobody except a few psycho kids were getting in. I think they could not resist the water slide. They need to do something about that. Anyway the boat was nearly empty with everyone on shore. We had a very relaxing morning. About 2:30 my wife started to wonder if we should get off and go look around. We went down to get off, but the computer system was down so nobody was getting off or backs on. Correct me is I am wrong, but didn't they have cruise ships BEFORE computers? I was laughing that they only had to take us to one port, and they couldn't even get that going right. After about 30 min of standing around, they finally let us off tails, so don't be shy about ordering as much as you want. We planned on making the comedy show that night, but once we went back to the cabin to change, we both laid down to rest a min. I woke up at about 2am fully clothed including shoes. Maybe eating all of that was not a good idea. We actually only made 1 show the last night. It was the Mambo show, and it was fun.
We gambled on the last night, and here is where my only real gripe comes in. I am a blackjack player so I sat down at a table with 4 others. Within 5 min we got a new dealer, and this was bad. The 2nd hand in she deals all the cards out. She has a face card, so she checks it with the reader to see if she has a BJ. She says nothing, so people are playing their hands, doubling down and so on. Well once everyone is done, she flips over her down card and it's an Ace. She had a BJ the whole time. She took everyone's money including the people who had doubled down. 1st mistake. Then about 3 hands later, she deals the cards, and she has a 9 showing. We are all playing our hands, and again some people have doubled down, one guys has 150.00 out there. Then to our shock she calls the pit boss over and tells him she had forgot to take a 2nd card. All she had was the 9. We are all stunned. We tell the pit boss Hector that this is a misdeal, not the first, and they should cover the bets. The pit boss tells us that they wiAnyway, that's about it for our trip. I would give them a 4 out of 5 for the entire cruise. We really did have a good time. The only downgrades would be for the gambling, and that smell on the lower decks. The crew was very attentive, the food was great, the one show we saw was fun, getting on was a breeze, and so was getting off. They started calling tags at 8:30, and I was in my car leaving the parking lot at 8:55. I think most people's problems with getting off are because of the cabins they choose.. I would pay the extra for a nice room just to get on quick, and get off first.
Pre-Cruise: We left Las Vegas for LA the day before the cruise and stayed at the Hilton Port of LA/San Pedro under the Park and Cruise Program. Had joined the Hilton Honors Club online (free) and was automatically upgraded to a balcony room. Champagne and full American breakfast included. Room was quite comfortable. The Hilton watched our car for the cruise duration and shuttled us back and forth to the pier as part of the Park and Cruise. All in all.worth every penny.
Embarkation: Arrived at the pier at 11:00 and was onboard by 12:30. Carnival is just initiating the Skippers Club in LA, so personnel were unsure of the routine for CAT 11 & 12 Suite passengers. Basically, we got VIP check-in and boarded among the first cruisers. Curbside porters take baggage leaving you with carry-on for the X-ray machines. Security is tight with everyone getting checked closely. The embarkation personnel were very friendly and upbeat. Had to show birth certificates and photo ID along with cruise docs. Pier is undergoing construction so it's pretty basic, but lots of seating available. This is the place where you get your "Sign and Sail"cards (one for each person including children). Just have all your paperwork from the cruise docs completed and check-in is quick and hassle free. There are lines, though, so be patient. Overall: Efficient process considering the amount of people checking on board.
Boarding: As we boarded the Ecstasy, we inserted our Sign and Sail card into a slot and a photo was recorded for the security camera. This is used each time you embark and disembark the ship at ports to assure the correct person is matched with the card. We entered the ship at the atrium level and were immediately struck by the bright colors and festive decor. Ship personnel directed us to the correct elevators for our suite, as there are lots of elevators, stairways and hallways to get lost in! We were impressed by how clean and well maintained the ship looked. Overall: Exciting, smooth introduction to the Ecstasy.
Cabin Suite: Suite U102 - Upper deck. As first-time cruisers we were unsure what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised. Walk-in closet with hangers provided, shelves to stack shoes, etc. and a full length mirror. Bathroom with shelves for toiletries, glass shower doors and whirlpool tub. Lots of towels. Two twin beds (a bit firm) with a nightstand in between. Large vanity area with 8 dresser drawers. This is where the only plug in the room is located, so bring a power strip! TV, VCR, refrigerator (not very cold) and bar is attached. Sitting area with pull-out sofa bed (double) sectional, coffee table, two side chairs and a large window. Door to balcony is heavy, bring a bungee cord to hold it open if you want. Balcony has two chairs and one lounge chair and worth the price of the suite by itself. We had seen postings from other cruisers about the "worn out look" of the furnishings and occasionally about unpleasant odors, however we found the furnishings quite satisfactory and no odors anywhere on the ship (except the wonderful smells from the galley). Complaints about the suite: fridge could be colder, bars in the sofa bed might bother a light sleeper. Overall: Great! Our cabin steward, Anne Marie, was attentive and accommodating. And the balcony was "wonderful"!
Food: We ate dinners in the Wind Star Dining Room with a wonderful wait-staff. The menu changes every night so you never get tired of the same food. Everything from Steak to Lamb to Chicken to Fish to Lobster to Pasta dishes. Our waiter, Regino, made us feel quite special each meal and made sure no one left hungry. You can get two or three of anything. We had purchased a Soda Card ($18) and had unlimited soft drinks for the entire cruise. With soda at $2.50 a glass it was worth it. We alternated breakfast at the dining room or the Lido deck where it was buffet style. The Lido deck breakfast was faster on mornings we had to be ashore for tours. There was also a buffet-style for lunch with a grill for burgers etc. This is also where the midnight buffet and the 24hr Pizza were located. You certainly won't go hungry on the Ecstasy! Complaint: Ice cream bar needs more topping choices. Overall: Variety of food outstanding - availability of food outstanding - buffet typical for that style - dining room meals while not 5 star were certainly a strong 4 star.
Tours: Try and decide on your tours before you get on the ship as they fill up very quickly. The secret is to put your carry-on in your cabin and immediately go up to the shoretour desk and fill out the tour request and drop it in the box. You can do this even before they open. This way you are almost assured the tours you want.
Catalina Island: Beautiful island. Be sure and rent one of the golf carts. We got a special.. 3hrs for $60 for a four person cart. You can go all over the place in them, although they give you a map with a scenic route to follow. We signed up for the "Inside Adventure Tour" which takes you to the top of the island where you visit an airport. Along the way you get to see the buffalo roaming free and the tour guide is funny and a resource of facts about Catalina and its famous residents. Hint: This tour, on a bus, takes you on a very windy, narrow road with hairpin turns.definitely not for those afraid of heights. I found it too much for my level of comfort. My daughter took the Eco Tour which takes you around the island on a power raft with the intention of seeing dolphins and sea life face-to-face. It is a bit rough at high speeds, but highly recommended. The shopping is wonderful in Catalina and there are many places for lunch or drinks. You have to be ferried from the ship to the pier, but it goes quickly and you can get some great shots of the Ecstasy. Complaint: Not enough time on the Island. Overall: Enjoyable day!
Ensenada: Welcome to Mexico! As we disembarked we were greeted by a Mariachi band and some native "savages" for a great photo opportunity. It was also raining a bit, which put a damper on the day. At the foot of the ship is a grouping of merchants selling everything from liquor to Mexican art. Hint: Check the prices in town before you buy here, plus the prices seem to get lower here by the end of the day when you are getting back on board the ship. We took the "Scenic Gold Coast Tour" with a great tour guide, Juan. Great tour and a lot more comfortable with regard to heights (the road is fine). It takes you on a private tour of the Casino and two resorts. Free drinks (the Margarita is authentic!) and lots of scenery and history. My daughter went horseback riding and advises that the experience is great with horses for all levels of riders. The shopping is all you expect. Great bargains and remember to try and talk down the prices. I never paid more than half the tagged price! Warning: Don't be upset by all the little children begging with paper cups and homemade necklaces. Its just tourist trapping according to our tour guide. A polite "no thank you" and they will leave you alone. Bring good shoes and a sense of adventure and you will bargain shop successfully. Overall: Great shopping, great tours and great food. Don't forget to visit Papa's & Beers! Bring lots of film, the scenery is wonderful.
Ecstasy Entertainment: The entertainment was varied and there always seemed to be something to do. Galley Tours, Bingo, Horse Races, Contests, Poolside dance lessons, Art Auctions and more during the day. Casino, Shows, Dancing, great music and comedy into the night. Our Cruise Director, Matt, was funny and accessible. Overall: If you wanted to be entertained, something was happening all the time. That's why its called the "Fun Ship" I guess. However, if you wanted to sit alone by the pool or in the lounge, no one bothered you at all.
Miscellaneous: The gift shops were not too expensive and seemed to be well stocked. The stabilizers must have been working quite well as movement was at a minimum the whole cruise. Everyday they posted the photos taken the day before by the photography staff. It was great fun trying to find yourself among the masses of pix. No pressure at all to buy any. Check the Capers (ships newspaper) delivered to your cabin each evening for the info about the next day's activities. It is probably the most informative directive on the ship. Room service is a real treat. We placed an order for 6:30 am coffee each night at bedtime and really enjoyed the coffee on the balcony each sunrise.
Debarkation: There is a brief information session the night before the end of your cruise given by the Cruise Director. If you follow the instructions, Debarkation procedures go quickly with immigration and customs. All the luggage is put outside your cabin by midnight the last evening and is picked up by the porters and miraculously appears at the pier when you leave the ship. The morning of debarkation, everything is done in order by color-coded groups. We got our color called, papers filled out and stamped about 8:00 a.m. and then went on to breakfast. At 9:30 our color group was relaxing in a lounge awaiting the word to disembark. Unfortunately, a few reluctant cruisers failed to get immigration and customs paperwork done and held the ship up until 11:30. But eventually we left and met our luggage and Hilton shuttle driver.
Summary: We had a marvelous experience. I really believe cruising is a state of mind as well as a change of scenery. We expected to have a wonderful time, and did. We expected there to be some lines, and there were. What we did not expect was the wonderful service, sincerely friendly staff and moments of pure "fun". Carnival is not for those cruisers looking for quiet, elegant, stately sailing. Carnival delivers on its "Fun Ship" advertisement. Our little group ranges in age from 30 to 57 and each found their own experience to be quite memorable. Would be cruise again on Carnival or specifically on the Ecstasy? Lets just say the Carnival brochures are back out on the coffee table and we are back on the bulletin boards researching!
E-mail me with any specific questions.
Carnival Cruise Lines Carnival Ecstasy by Barry Cooper Mexico March 4, 2002
Flew from Washington Dulles on Saturday, March 2 on United Airlines. Security at Dulles was extra. United Airlines screens all checked and carry-on luggage at Dulles. Must carry luggage into airport (no curb-side check-in). Arrived 2 hours early for our 9:15 flight, was through security and at gate in 30 minutes.Boarding --------
Took airport transfer from LAX to pier on Monday, March 4. We got there at 10:00 AM, bus did not arrive until 11:30. Just a minor annoyance, last one of the cruise! Since we were on United Airlines which is the last terminal at LAX, we went straight to the pier after getting on the bus. The LA terminal at San Pedro is undergoing renovations. Was pretty barren and not as many check-in agents as either Miami or Port Canaveral where we have sailed before. Line was not too long and we were on the ship by 1:00.Cabin -----
This is the 5th time we have had the same cabin on the Ecstasy (and the 3 times we have sailed on it's sister ship, the Fantasy). We werein E114 about mid ship with an ocean view. Room is very nice. Air Conditioning worked almost too well. Cabin steward was very good.Dining/Food -----------
We ate all of our dinners and breakfast's in the main dining room. Our waiter was very good and our assistant waiter was excellent. On all our cruises, we have mostly had excellent or very good waiters and only once have had just an average waiter (on Royal Caribbean - Sovereign of the Seas). All of our lunches were on the Lido deck. The lunches were about as good as you get with mass quantities of food and buffet style (nothing to write home about, but we did not go hungry either).
As usual, my pet peeve was there: they let people in the dining room on formal night that were wearing jeans (but at least no shorts!). Did not let it bother us.Ports -----
Catalina Island was really nice. Tenders take you to/from the island. We took the Inside Adventure tour of the island. Saw lots of buffalo and took some great pictures. Would definitely recommend this tour.
Ensenada was okay. Took the La Bufadora (Blow Hole) tour. Tour was not that bad, but La Bufadora was not very active (just misting). Only negative was that we spent 1 1/2 hours there to see the Blow Hole and of course shop (I am just not much into shopping). Probably an hour would have been enough. Our tour guide on the bus was excellent. Gave us lots of information about Mexico and sights we saw on the way to La Bufadora. I would recommend this tour with the warning that depending on the tide and mother nature, it might not be what you expected. I did not go into town, but my wife did. Said it was pretty typical of a tourist town, with lots of shops selling pretty much all the same things.Ship Activities ---------------
Seemed to have the typing Carnival activities. We did not make it to any of the night-time shows (well, the casino WAS open :). They only had one (1) art auction rather than several. One nice thing they had on the last day at sea was a 30 minute show, the juggler who also did comedy, at 3:30 in the afternoon for 1/2 hour.
Casino seemed normal. Casino employees all were very friendly. The only thing different that I noticed was that the minimum bet on the craps table was $10 the first two nights (did not make it on the third night). On the last day at sea, it was $5 all day and night.
Used Internet Cafe to check email. Prices were $100 for 250 minutes, $55 for 100 minutes and $.75/minute for no plan. There was also a one-time activation fee for $3.95. Was a little pricey, but worth it to me as we used the $55 plan.Observation -----------
Seemed like most passengers were from the US which is different from the Caribbean cruises we have taken previously. Also noticed that the oral instructions for the life boat drill and all other announcements were only done in English.Return ------
Took airport transfer back to LAX. No problems, but since we were on United, we were the last to be dropped off. We left the ship at about 9:45 and were at the United terminal at about 10:40. LAX does allow curb-side check-in and we had no problems getting through security.
If anyone has any specific questions, let me know and I will be happy to reply.Barry
ECSTACY: FACT OR FICTION?
"A day at sea is better than a day at work" and "a vacation (or a cruise) is what you make of it". When thinking about these famous statements, it makes me think about cruising. In the first case, I cannot wait until I can break away again, at last, and remember the best times I have had at sea. In the latter, I think of all of the potentially fantastic vacations I could have had.
Fantastic is an experience that I savor and enjoy each and every moment. Whether something simple, such as standing in the sun a couple of minutes before going into the office when I am already late, or experiencing a new restaurant, I savor each "special" experience. Cruising does that for me often; but not always.
Mediocre is "passing" through time, where there are moments that are enjoyable and there are moments where one watches the clock. For me, if I even look at my watch, and Yes, I always wear one, even on vacation, it means I think I am missing something. I accept mediocre all right, within certain terms.
As afairly new, but seasoned cruiser, I accept certain things. Certain things include decent service, decent entertainment and decent food. On certain cruise lines, I expect higher than "normal" and in others less (Carnival). On a three day cruise I don't expect outstanding, or even very good, I just expect OK.
On the Ecstasy, I was EXTREMELY disappointed. I embarked with a great attitude (how hard is OK?). What I found was a very "big old boat". I cannot express how horrible I found this "burned boat". The announcements were annoying, typical of Carnival, but permissible. The accommodations were typical of Fantasy class. The dinning room service was actually good for Carnival, since I only overheard two conversations (out of three nights) about wages. I wish I had spent my 1k in Cabo San Lucas.
Our cabin was small, which is normal for the ship type, but I could not believe that about half of the tiles in our bathroom were missing! When one of us would walk into the bathroom, tiles would stick to our feet, amazing! In addition, my husband would joke every night, counting the number of lights that were out in the dinning room (about 30 to 40 percent). Our six dinner mates, none of whom had cruised before, "never even noticed", when we asked them the first night. (They sure noticed after that and started counting too: they thought it was for "affect").
The maintenance is horrendous on this "big old boat". Forget it! Check into the Motel Six in San Pedro, you will be better off!
I am horrified to think that Carnival Cruise Lines actually books people on this cruise. As a Carnival (at the time) stock holder and a chat host for a cruise magazine, I used to believe that the line had it merits. However, I will NEVER book a cruise again on this line and I even cancelled one that I had booked on the Legend, primarily because of the Motel Six comparison.
Also, I did say that I would never cruise on Carnival again once before after sailing on the Triumph, when she was six months "OLD". On that cruise, we hit the Book of World Records for the most passengers on a cruise ship, ever. Rhetorical: Do I consider this positive? (no deck chairs, no service, etc). That was another hell cruise and the first time I swore off Carnival. After this last time, NEVER NEVER NEVER again!
Just returned from a 4 day cruise out of San Pedro (Los Angeles)
We stayed the day prior to the cruise at the Best Western Sunrise Hotel, across the street and down the block from the dock. The Best Western has free parking during your cruise. The parking fee at the dock is $40 for a four day cruise cash in advance. The hotel was nice but nothing fancy. Free shuttle to and from the dock also a continental breakfast is provided without charge.
We arrived at the dock around 11:45 and had a 20 min. wait to check in. Carnival gave you a group boarding number from 1 to 19. They started calling boarding numbers at 12:30 and by 1:15 had called all 19 numbers. People arriving after 1:15 were not given any numbers as they could walk right on board by that time.
The ship was in pretty good shape in all the public areas. The hall-way carpet on the Riviera deck ,our deck, was stained in a lot of places. There were pockets of sewer odor here and there around the ship. This odor was also presentin our room. by the end of the second day I did not notice any odors, don't know if problem was fixed or I just got use to the smell.
We had booked this cruise via allcruies auction.com and had bid on an inside cabin. We were upgraded to a outside cabin on the lowest deck, Riviera which is on the 4th level. The elevators were never a problem and usually had one within a minute of hitting the call button. One elevator in the forward section was always going into the overload mode even with one person. by the middle of the second day most passengers learned to step out of the elevator until the overload light was out then begin the ride.
Our beds were separated and we asked to have them put together. The person we asked said they would tell our room steward. When we checked after dinner they had been turned down but not put together, we did this ourselves. The second day was going to be a day in Catalina Island, but due to high winds they could not tender so we spent the day at sea going around Catalina in the hopes that the next day we could tender. We were in and out of our cabin a few times that day but our room was never made up. I kept looking for the room steward but no luck. We never did see the room steward the entire trip. Never introduced him or her self. I could not tell you anything about this invisible person, other than they did not know where the soap was, never had a new bar past the original that was in the room. The room was turned down every night and made up three out of four days and that is about all. Oh! we did get a towel animal on two nights.
We had early seating at 5:45 for dinner and 7:00am for breakfast, never made that one til the last morning.
Our waiter was all business, did his job without any chit chat, took the orders and brought the food. The Assistant waiter Lora, from Germany had a little more personality. She would joke and talk while getting the drinks and bread. She did a good job of keeping tea and water full. If you ordered milk it would not arrive until the main course and you were not asked if you wanted a refill. I would say, on this trip, the service was a little above Denny's.
I will not comment on the quality of the food as I have the taste of the average 8 year old, would rather have a pb&J sandwich than anything on the main menu. So I could not tell you if the food was good or not. I know from our only morning breakfast that the Lido buffet is the same as the dining room food, so you are better off at the Lido if you like seconds and the food may be a little hotter also.
At lunch I could always find a hot dog, hamburger and pizza, this was the best time of day for me :).
Room service had ham, turkey and pb&j sandwiches also fruit trays,derserts milk, hot coca, ice tea ( which was instant) and a variety of cookies. The delivery time was less than 10 minutes.
We saw both production shows they were pretty good if you like singing and dancing. There were also two comedians they were both very good. They had two shows each, one family and one adult.
Our first stop, a day late was, Catalina. I had book a tour on line with discovery tours in Catalina for a inland 4 hour tour. on the off chance we did not make it to shore on our scheduled day ,which was what happened I brought my cell phone and was able to call and re book for the next day. We were the first off the ship as we had the 9:00 am tour. There were only six of us on the tender. We finished the tour around 1pm and were going to go back to the ship for lunch then return for some shopping. The line to board the tenders was all the way down the dock across the street and up about one block. It took us over an hour and a half to get to the tender. They had two security men for over 1800 people and they were going through all packages and scanning everyone with a metal detector. They even spent time going through my sisters wallet picture by picture. The ship was held up for over an hour past sailing time while people were still going through the line.
You had to get in line two hours before sailing just to make it back to the ship on time. Waste of shore time.
This was ridiculous and for this very reason I will never take this itinerary again. They were taking silverware people had purchased on shore, if you wanted a knife just take one at dinner. Again this was really stupid. We were lucky the day was overcast. If the sun had been out, there was no shade along the line, a lot of people would have been in serious trouble.
We paid $2 to take a shuttle into town. The sign outside the pier said round trip, but when you were on the bus the told you it would be $1 to return to the ship. It is only about a four block walk into town and we walked back to the ship in less than 10 min. On the bus they were trying to sell tickets to the blow hole and outdoor market for 13.00. We passed on this and walked tow blocks and got a taxi to the blow hole for $8 each min. four people. The taxi will wait an hour while you look around for that same fee. The bus will wait an hour and half. It is about a 30- 40 minute taxi ride. When we got there it was low tide so no big sprays only a small puff. Getting back on the ship took only 3 min. The ship sailed at 6:00 instead of 10pm due to the sea day being first instead of last.
As usual we were the last color called. We had to wait in the show room from 8:45 until after 10. One of the comedians did a show while we were waiting so the time went by fast.
If this had been our first cruise it would have probably have been our last especially with the Catalina experience. This being our 7th cruise I know there are lots better out there. The poor cabin service did not make too much difference, still tipped him or her the suggested amount. I will not be taking carnival on this itinerary again. We were on the Paradise two years ago and had a much better cruise, so carnival is not out of the question but they just went to the bottom of our list with Princess on top.Gary Davis
This was our 8th cruise together. We decided to go on this particular cruise just a few weeks ago. We wanted to do something for Thanksgiving, and decided that a cruise the day after would be a good way to enjoy the weekend. We also took my wife's parents with us for this cruise. This was our third time sailing with Carnival, and our fourth cruise in 2001. This was our first experience on a Fantasy Class ship, as our previous Carnival cruises were both on the Destiny. I will say up front that we had an enjoyable cruise on the Ecstasy.
We live in San Diego, and had never actually taken a cruise from the West Coast, so we actually enjoyed not flying in a day ahead. We drove to the pier, and parking was abundant. The charge was $10 a day, payable immediately.
Check-in was very easy. We got to the pier at a little after Noon. My mother-in-law uses a wheelchair, and a Carnival rep. escorted us to special assistance check-in. After giving us our sail and sign cards, we took the elevator up to the boardinglevel where another Carnival rep. got us our room keys. One more stop to get our photo taken for the sail and sign card, and we were on board. Our one bag we left with the porters made it to our cabin fairly quickly. (We actually planned on carrying it on board our selves, but it was too big for carry on size x-ray machine).
We had cabin M-106, a Category 6B outside cabin, right in the middle of the ship. The cabin itself was very functional, and there was plenty of storage space. We are now totally spoiled, and prefer a balcony cabin, but for a three-day cruise we didn't think that it was worth the money to go for Category 11 or 12. We met our Cabin Stewardess, Erika from Romania right after the lifeboat drill. She put both beds together for us, and did a good job keeping the cabin tidy. We did get one towel animal on the second night of the cruise. At the Captain's cocktail party on the second night, Erika was also one of the servers, and when she saw us sit down, she ran over immediately to offer us appetizers. I thought she did a very good job overall.
For a 10 year-old ship, the Ecstasy was in pretty good shape. We did not notice any strange smells, the elevators worked for the most part, and the carpets showed only mild wear and tear. If you like neon and flashy colors, the Ecstasy is your ship. The ship's layout is very easy to navigate. The bottom three passenger decks have staterooms only. The Empress deck has staterooms as well as the photo gallery and the Purser's desk. Continuing our way upward, the Atlantic deck has the kids play room, both dining rooms, (named Wind Song and Wind Star) as well as the library, card room, shopping area and lower level of the main show lounge, called the Blue Sapphire lounge. The next deck up is the Promenade deck. Here you will find the upper level of the Blue Sapphire lounge, the casino, the Metropolis Bar, the Chinatown club, the Rolls Royce Cafe, Stripes Dance Club, the Society bar, the Starlight Lounge, and then outside at the aft of the deck is the kids pool. The Lido deck has the main pool and Jacuzzis, the snack bar and then at the aft of the ship is the Panorama Bar and Grill, which is where breakfast and lunch are served as well as an alternate dining spot for dinner. There is also a pizzeria at the aft end of the dining area as well as another bar. The Veranda deck has another pool and Jacuzzi as well as another bar. The Sports deck has the Spa and gym, and finally the Sun deck is where the jogging track is.
The service that we experienced on this cruise was good. I already mentioned our Cabin Stewardess above. We requested early dining, and when we checked in noticed that our dining was late, at 8:00. (Carnival does not guarantee dining assignments by the way.) We saw the Maitre D' a few minutes after boarding and requested a change to early seating. He said that the ship was full, but he would see what could be done. We would have to go to the 8:00 seating on the first night. When we retired to our cabin for the evening, there was a card in our room saying that our dining time was changed to 5:45 PM for the rest of the cruise. When we came back from Ensenada, there was another card showing our "final" table assignment, which turned out to be a very nice booth for the four of us. Our dining room waiter ended up being Arnold from the Philippines. He was very personable, and it would have been nice to have him the entire time instead of just two of the three nights. Our Assistant Waiter was Jan from the Czech Republic. He was also very personable, but I thought he had too many tables. It always took him more time than usual to bring us bread and water. A couple of times Arnold ended up doing Jan's job as well as his own. Overall, we thought that the service was better than our last cruise on the Destiny in January 2000, but could still use some refinement.
In the main dining room, the food was very good. Carnival has made great strides in their food quality over the last few years. However, the menus didn't change from our cruise in January. That's not all bad, as I did get to repeat some of my favorites. I had a very good veal as well as Beef Wellington on this short cruise, while my wife enjoyed the fish. We used the Panorama Grill for a couple of breakfasts and lunches. The food was good there as well as in the pizzeria. When the Panorama Grill was busy, the food was hotter and tastier. When the crowd thinned out, the hot food did not stay hot very long. Overall though, we like Carnival's food better than both Royal Caribbean and Princess. Your mileage of course may vary.
I did have one massage at the Spa. Before the massage started, I told the Steiner masseuse that I was not interested in buying any of their products. That worked well, and I had a very relaxing massage without the hard sell afterward. One negative of the spa however was the overpowering aromatherapy smell. It was so strong, that my wife, who is allergic to most aromatherapy products, started to wheeze after just a few minutes of being around the spa. Needless to say, that made the comment card!
Ports of Call
This cruise had only one port, Ensenada. We did not go on the cruise for the port, but we still wanted to walk around town. We took the shuttle from the pier ($3 per person round trip) and walked around and did a little shopping in "downtown" Ensenada. There were some excursions offered, and the guide on the shuttle from the pier tried to sell us one of their tours to the "blow hole" (which I heard was not all that exciting) and to the local flea market. We can say that the weather was pleasant, and we did have a nice day.
The entertainment was very good. We enjoyed one of the lounge acts, "The Curveball Brothers" tremendously. My in-laws liked both of the stage shows, and we also liked both of the comedians we saw. We started out ahead in the casino, but in the end, the house came out the winner. We did hit one bingo game (for the free cruise), but as usual, we did not come away with the grand prize. One art auction was held on Sunday (the sea day), but we did not attend. The on board entertainment is always one of Carnival's strong points.
We thought that debarkation was handled fairly well. Since it was a short cruise, we did wheel our own bags off the ship. My in-laws were able to get off first due to the wheel chair, and we left when the first color was called. We got outside to the curb just seconds after they did, got the car, and were on the way home by 9:45 AM.
We had a nice long weekend, and would like to do this type of cruise again. I am sorry that Royal Caribbean is pulling out of the short cruise market from L.A. because I think the competition is good for Carnival. Overall, the ship was fine, the service good and even the weather cooperated. Would we take Carnival again? Sure. Even though there are some things about the line that annoy us, (the singing waiters, for example), we are usually pleased with their overall product and enjoy their ships.Anthony Klang
Background- This was my 4th cruise, 2nd on Carnival and my husband Chuck's 3rd cruise, 1st on Carnival... It was a surprise birthday gift for Chuck and he didn't know he was going on a cruise until the morning of sailing... I am 41 and Chuck turned 55 during the cruise...
Pre-cruise hotel- We stayed at the Sheraton Biscayne Bay for 2 nights... The room was clean, but we had to call housekeeping to replace a lamp and 2 light bulbs... The pool was small, but not crowded... The restaurant was empty, but the food was ok.. We were able to check in for the cruise with Carnival on the morning of sailing, which saved a lot of time at the pier...
Embarkation- Since we checked in with Carnival at the hotel, we were amongst the first to board the ship... We arrived at the pier at about 11:30am and were allowed onboard at 12:30, just after the keys were delivered to the embarkation area...
Cabin- Our cabin was on the Empress deck, just behind the international information desk. It was a good location, midship and easy to get to... When wefirst got in, the cabin was clean although there was no amenities basket as Carnival promises and we couldn't find the room steward to put the beds together until hours later. There were 2 robes hanging in the closet, soap and glasses in the medicine cabinet. The room is a nice size, with one open closet, two with doors and shelves inside one,and a desk with 4 drawers... plenty of storage space... The safe in the cabin was small, square shaped, and required a key which we got from the cabin steward... There is no hairdryer and only one outlet...
Service- Our waiter, Jesus from the Phillipines, and our asst. waiter, Balina from Bulgaria, were fantastic... They were there when we needed them, did not flinch when we made a special request, and our wine was at our table each night waiting for us... Our room steward, Diego, was an elderly gentleman who should retire... He was slow, did not speak much english, and seemed to pass all his work on to his assistant... When we asked why we didn't have an amenities basket, he said that there were none on the ship... After talking to the purser's desk, we were told that there WERE *some* on the ship, but we had to ask our steward for it... When we asked Diego once again, he said he would ask his supervisor... We didn't see him again until the last morning of the cruise...
Dining Room- We were seated at a table for 8, next to a window, in the Wind Star dining room... The Head Waiter came to our table the first night and introduced himself, but we didn't see him again until the last night (Chuck's birthday AND tip night).. .As I said previously, our service was flawless and I will tell you about the food in another section... All of our tablemates had purchased the cruise through the same online auction that we used, and all but 2 were from the same state as us... Our tablemates consisted of a mother and daughter from Indiana, a gentleman (my age) and his friend, a couple, probably in their early 30s, and us, all from the Chicago area... The couple came to dinner on the first two nights, and then none of us saw them after that... We don't know if they switched tables or just didn't eat in the dining room...
Pool area- We had no trouble finding lounge chairs at the pool, plenty were available.. I was disappointed though that there was no live band on deck as I had on the Imagination last April... There was a DJ and occasionally a live steel drum with background music... The daily activities were the usual, horseraces, trivia, ice carving demonstration, and of course, the hairy chest contest...
Food- Skip this if you don't want details... I'm a foodie, so it mattered to me... Chuck and I ate in the dining room for all dinners, one lunch, and 3 out of 4 breakfasts... the other times, we ate on Lido deck... Breakfast in the dining room- same menu every day... the lox was delicious and hand cut, the omelettes were hot, but the eggs benedict were very dry.. on lido deck, the eggs were ok, the coffee was strong, but the bacon was great... Lunch in the dining room- I had only a California roll appetizer and chilled avocado soup... both were very good and all I missed were the chopsticks... Chuck had a burger with guacomole, grilled onions and bacon, and it was excellent... On the Lido deck, we had pizza twice, with caesar salad, which was wonderful, but another day we opted for the buffet, which was just fair...
Dinner- I love dinner... we were not afraid to order multiple appetizers and main courses, and we did.. here is a little rundown of what we had and what we thought of it... Appetizers- Mussels and shrimp gratinee, great- duck breast with liver mousse, ok- crab cocktail, more like a crab salad, eh- grilled portabella mushroom, delicious- gazpacho, spicy but good- cream of wild mushroom soup, wonderful-shrimp cocktail, puny but tasty- lobster bisque, to die for-escargot, deeeeeeeelicious-french onion soup, standard- hickory smoked salmon, yummy-broccoli cheddar soup, not Wisconsin... Entrees-Beef Wellington, tasty but tough for tenderloin- Rack of Lamb, perfect- Seafood Newburg, very good- Lobster tail, couldn't have been better- Prime rib, perfection- Grilled shrimp, huge and garlicky (yummmm)-Sirloin steak with 3 peppercorn sauce, very tasty- Veal Parmesan, tender and delicious- Chateaubriand, once again, tasty, but tough for tenderloin- Sea Bass with citrus vinigarette, tasty but not hot- Pork tenderloin medallions with Porcini Sabayon, yummy but on the dry side, a bit overcooked... Desserts- The Grand Marnier Souffle was the best, everything else was ok... I did have a cheese plate one night, with a glass of port, and I think that was my favorite...
Debarkation- We were amongst the first group to get off the ship and our luggage was easy to find.. Debarkation started at about 10am and we were off in less than 15 minutes...
Overall- We had a great time as we went onboard with the attitude that any cruise is better than being at home... Since I had just been on Imagination 5 months prior, I was unable to avoid comparisons... Imagination was a better cruise for several reasons... I had better room steward service, the food was a bit better (although I liked the variety better on this cruise), I missed having a live band on the Lido deck, and something seemed to be lacking here... I can't quite put my finger on it though... We had the usual baby crying nearby one morning, a very nasty argument in the cabin next to us on the last morning, and one night, we heard kids running down the hallway... These are all things that I believe can happen on any cruise...
As a positive, there were not many kids on this sailing and the ones that were there were out of sight/ out of mind... The weather was great except for a cloudy day in Cozumel, and the only shore excursion we took was a tour of SoBe after the cruise to kill time for our late flight out of FL... We met some people from online on the first day of the cruise, which was nice, and we ran in to them a lot during our trip... I was disappointed that Carnival advertises amenities baskets and does not provide them (not a big deal, but don't tell people they are gonna get something they're not gonna get)... Would I do it again??? If I were to do a 4 day again, I might choose another ship (Imagination), but yeah, I would do it again on Ecstasy too... It was a great relaxing vacation and I can't think of a better way to spend my time... We're taking our 4 kids on Triumph in 3 months, and I can't wait : ) I know they will have a blast!
This is a review from a pair of first-time cruisers, so we had no prior experience to skew our expectations!
I thoroughly researched all of the review sites for info on our upcoming cruise prior to departing, and read everyone's great tips on how this cruise was probably going to be based on the overall opinion on Carnival, but let me give you some up to date details, and you may want to look at this ship the next time you are looking for a short, fun cruise. I took copious notes during this trip, both written and mental, and came up with quite a few details that will interest you if you are thinking of going "Carnival."
Let's review in chronological order.
Booking: We booked five weeks in advance through a travel agent in our hometown, West Palm Beach, Florida. Being local means no airlines to contend with, so this is simply a cruise review. We did, however, talk to several cruisemates who used the Air & Sea program, and we heard no complaints regarding Carnival.
We booked a cabin on the Verandah Deck, category 11, about 8 cabins back fromthe bow (right under the "c" in "Ecstasy" painted on ship's top deck.) This is important later, and I'll tell you why! We were on the port side in V-26. The charge was $795.00 each, all charges included. Our cruise package and tickets arrived at the agent's about ten days later for pick-up.
We were now scheduled and eagerly anticipating our three-day cruise to Nassau from Miami!
There are swarms of porters who will try to practically grab your bags, and one inferred that we were REQUIRED to give him our luggage for portage to the terminal. We wanted to walk the short distance ourselves to keep our luggage close at hand and did so, and this is fine (and saves a tip) if you choose to do so yourself.
Embarkation Now THIS is an area we expected to be a huge hassle based on some other reviews. Therefore, we arrived at Miami's port at 11:00 AM on Friday May 19, and were happy to find that being early got us a parking space about thirty yards from Terminal 8, where the Ecstasy was docked. The parking is $30 for three day cruises, $40 for four days. No lines, hassle, or searching for a space at all.
Inside the #8 building, however, was the first of our very few negatives. The seating in this room is sparse- there are twenty linked seats- and the staff seemed worn-out and quite unhappy to be there. They do not greet you at all, and quickly bring your happy expectations to a level closer to the earth. Carnival should strive to teach these people that while they may have seen this embarkation process hundreds of times, the passengers may be on their very first cruise (we were!) and may be wanting a more uplifting atmosphere. However, nobody was rude, and when questioned, the employees would answer accurately. No information or updates are offered, however, and absolutely nobody smiles.
However, at about noon, we were allowed through Security (two quickly-moving queues through a metal detector and some dour guards) and into a large and comfortable processing room. Don't worry if you are bringing along anything small that you don't want seen, as nobody looks or asks, or sniffs, in any way shape or form. They only scan to make sure you aren't bringing booze, because then you are cutting in on their action!
Anyway, we were at the counter within 5 minutes, and, having already filled out our Bahamas entry cards and our Sign-and-Sail application, we were in the "go-aboard" room within 5 more minutes. Sign-in, therefore, was quick and painless, although again we met with the same efficient but dour service people at the counter. WELCOME your people better, Carnival, as "Fun Ship" should start with a more party-going atmosphere than this during the necessary evil of embarkation processing.
A couple of Security tips: Yes, they do scan luggage for liquor bottles coming aboard, and one couple nearby was pulled aside discretely to have their bags looked at. Second, have all the sign-in cards filled out before you head to the port. Some people didn't and we saw them delay others as a result. Other than this, it was a breeze.
After 35 minutes waiting for the ship to be "cleared" by Customs from the previous cruise, we were allowed up the escalator to the ship. We carried our own five bags aboard as we had heard from other Carnival vets that if Carnival takes your luggage during sign-in, it may not be brought up to your cabin until 7 or 8 PM; this turned out to be true. If you are in the early-seating dinner, you will need to bring clothes in a carry-on. "Casual elegance," by the way, is the dress code for the dining rooms on the first night.
First Impression: We traversed the gang-plank and entered a new world aboard the ship. You enter into the Grand Atrium on the main deck. This is a large space, seven decks high, that is decorated in a neon-plastic-stainless-steel multicolor melange. The overriding colors seem to be purple, black, red, and some pink.
It is certainly garish in its meeting of 80's and futuristic decor, but if you want the physical attributes of a party ship, this is what you expect, and we did. It isn't offensive at all, just kind of almost-tacky. But it works, just like the Hawaiin shirt I had packed for this cruise; I wouldn't wear it at home but I wanted it on this ship! We were happy an excited, and I'm glad to note that at this point, the REAL Carnival service and atmosphere took over. The employees in tis area DO greet you, they DO smile, and the DO ask what they can do to help or answer questions. Very nice. We were pointed to one of the two very neat glass elevators that ascend through the atrium (great view, very very slow) and took it to the Verandah deck.
The Cabin: This is the HIGHLIGHT of our cruise. Oh, did we love our cabin! We immediately met some of the others on our deck and I have a lot of tips about how to book on this deck.
First of all, BE on this Verandah deck. We walked through the entire remainder of the ship for sample views of cabins during the course of the cruise, and none matched our Verandah cabin for overall appeal in our opinion. There is one higher cabin grade, Category 12, but although we saw that these rooms were nicer, they are on the low part of the ship and you don't get the same viewing perspective that we got in our Category 11 balcony room. After having this balcony, I don't think I will ever cruise without one again, as it turned out that we spent 75% of our cabin time on our verandah. It is a wonderful feeling.
Second of all, get the RIGHT Verandah cabin. The four closest to the bow on each side are too close to an outdoor stairway between the decks, and there is little privacy on your balcony what with passengers constantly going up and down in front of you. Stay away from the back five Verandah cabins as well, because these have a lifeboat hanging right in front of the window! Get one of the middle ones. And don't get an inside one at all, as our friends did, because even though they are on the "Verandah"deck, they don't even have a window, nevermind a verandah.
Third, you should know that as Verandah deck passengers, you will have the most comfortable Debarkation meeting site (more later) in the Starlight Lounge, close to coffee, and FIRST to get off the ship. We thank our travel agent for these first three tips.
We entered our cabin with the keys (plastic hole-puch cards) we had been given at sign in, and were immediately very happy. The room was fresh, clean, elegant and inviting. I had ordered the "Superior" flower arrangement, a bottle of Asti, a tux, a beach wrap and drink coupons from the "Bon Voyage" card in the ticket package. The wine was on ise with two glasses (spotted, by the way, but clean), the flowers were a very nice contemporary orchid arrangement in a hologrammed vase (my girlfriend loved them) and there were stubs on the counter with the already-activated Sail-and-Sign cards on the vanity. Nice. As far as the tux goes, that has to be picked up on the Promenade deck from the flower shop "Formalities" and for some reason they don't leave the drink tickets in the room, you have to get them at dinner from the headwaiter. I wouldn't bother with these as they didn't save money or time when buying bar drinks.
The decor was perfectly acceptable. The left wall contained a tri-mirror, large vanity with four drawers, there was a double-doored, deep wardrobe with one full-length side for hangers and the other with more large shelves. A coat closet, also full length, was just inside the door. Hangers were provided. The TV was above a slide-open bar that contained a couple dozen wine and drink glasses in front of mirrors. The TV got about thirty channels (several are looping info channels, channel 6 shows video highlights continuously of the previous day's on-board activity.) There is a VCR built in. The wood that this was all constructed of was a dark-brown gloss, in good shape, but with some scratches and gouges. Nothing too bad.
The carpeting and linens were in good shape, and again, fresh and clean. We had a love seat and a coffee table next to our Queen bed, very comfortable on both counts. To both sides of the bed are dome lights with just the right shape and brightness to set the atmosphere; we loved the lighting! Along with these lights, there are switches for a bank of adjustable spotlights as well as a room-encircling set of bright fluorescents. Very nice job.
We had heard that there is only one electrical outlet in the staterooms, but that must be on other decks because we had one in the cabin and in the bathroom light fixture as well. As far as other electrical switches go, here's a tip: the air conditioning control is in the vent itself in the ceiling! And it worked just fine as long as the balcony door was closed.
The bathroom was better than we expected. Plenty of space, big shower, hand-held nozzle (watch out to not spray it on the shower curtain, because it WILL hit the floor outside the shower stall) and plenty of hot water at good pressure. A medicine cabinet with clean glasses and lots of space hung above the slightly aging sink. The room was lit with a fluorescent above this, and tiled in battleship gray.
The balcony itself is floored with the same smooth, clean hardwood of the decks, is nicely seperated by a heavy divider from the neighboring balconies, and while small is just fine for sitting. It's about three feet wide and ten feet long furnished with two heavy white plastic deck chairs and a table.
Fun Stuff: There was a copy of the Carnival Capers waiting in the room when we arrived. On the back page is the best part: "Today at a Glance." I cut this off every day and folded it inside the ship directory for my pocket, and we would take it out and look at it all day long every day for "What's happening now." Of course, we are not the "plan it all out" types; we had decided to just go, see what there was to do, and decide whether or not to do it just before it was time to happen.
We liked everything we saw. The on-board music is watered down a bit to try to please everyone, but it worked, and the activities are diverse enough to suit any taste. It was very "one-size-fits-all" as far as activities go, so see what you are in the mood for. Highlights: the comedian in the Starlight Lounge was very funny, the rock band in the ChinaTown Bar ("The Dirt Poets" were their name) was talented enough to pull this off, and the Singles Party next door at Stripes Disco was extremely fun (and full of drunk people doing things they would not do soberly!) Good spice and great atmosphere, great staff in Stripes leading the party.
by the way, the cruise Director, "Peter," gives several speeches on the necessaries ("Coming Baoard", "Debarkation", etc.) and is terrific at what he does. Even the dry was entertaining, and his "Cruise Director's Top 10 Stupid Questions" routine for Debark was great (sample: at one stop, a passenger standing at a seaside dock asked him "So, what do you think the altitude is around here?") We unpacked, hung out on our balcony for a while, then went for our first lunch at the Lido deck buffet.
Food: There are several ways to eat aboard this ship. You can have all three meals in the main dining rooms, but we went for the buffets at breakfast and lunch and did Dinner in the mains (the "WindStar" and the "WindSong.") Then, there is a midnight buffet starting at 11:30-11:45 PM, and pizza and room sevice as fill-ins between seatings and buffets.
Buffets on the Lido Deck: surprise! We expected cool french fries, steamed hot dogs, and dry burgers here at lunch, and soggy eggs, limp bacon and hard rolls for breakfast. We were SO surprised. The breakfast items were much better than we expected; serve yourself crispy bacon, good hot sausage, several danishes, a lot of fruits, always something being sliced on a cutting board (ham, etc.) and a made-to-order omelet station. Lunch was even better! Yes, the burgers and dogs were there, but there was a great salad and fruit bar, including some of the best herb-and-sour-cream potato salad I've ever had. The cutting board was out at lunch too, including a lamb roast one day! Also, the entree items included very good (for buffet) Italian and Chinese-type items. Much to choose, and none of it was disappointing or tasted aged or stale.
I have to also mention the tables and the servise in the buffet. For one thing, there are dozens of bussers picking up and wiping down constantly, so you don't really wait or look long for a free table. You can sit outside on the deck, with sun or shade, inside in a galley hall, or in the two cafeteria areas. The tables have a little fresh-flower vase, salt pepper ketchup mustard relish, and your silverware comes rolled in a maroon linen napkin. If you need something, someone gets it for you quickly with a smile. We were really happy here, and think that some of the reviews we had read about the Lido buffets were overly critical; we were pleased and satisfied. The only negative I can think of here is that the trays themselves seemed kind of beaten up, and the plastic cups for the juice just had kind of a "slick" feeling to them.
In the Main dining room (we were late-seaters (8:15 PM) for the Windsong room) we were treated to superb service (we loved the assistant waiter, who was talkative, funny, and had a great dry sense of humor.) The headwaiter, "Babu", attended well and we often saw him running the room with his little notepad keeping tabs and making things smooth. Our tablemate, we learned, was having a birthday the second night, so my girlfriend let Babu know, and out came his little notebook and sure enough the next night a personalized cake was delivered with a song from our waiters. We ordered wine the first night (go right ahead, the selection is adequate and the prices are perfectly reasonable) and this was served promptly and correctly. Everything arrived on time and as ordered.
The food itself in the dining room isn't quite multi-star, however. It's much better than "OK" and is presented very prettily, but it's a bit on the steam-table side. I can tell you that the salads were crispy and tasted fresh all three nights, with good dressings. The appetizers were good but very small. You can order two of anything, but do it up front to make sure you get it in the right order. I especially liked the Jamaican Bean Soup- it was great stuff. Our table had escargot one night and this passed muster, but again- pre-cooked and kept-heated is how I would describe everything, which is expected, but Carnival should adjust their thinking on selection based on this necessity. You can't serve a steam-table steak, for instance, but I got one when I ordered the Peppered New York Strip steak one night, thinking they HAD to cook these to order- well, they don't, and the less said about this one really bad item, the better. The atmosphere and the service easily compensate for the steam table food, and there are few disappointments. Some tips: if you order the rack of lamb chops or the lobster tails, order two because these are very small. Yes, they will insist on bringing you two separate plates, (no, they won't put them together for you, I don't know why) but you can put them discretely together yourself. Nobody even raises an eyebrow at double orders, and many passengers seem to do it. I do have to say that not one of the desserts stood out; I do not remember what I ordered on any of the three nights for dessert, and I remember thinking "bland" when eating some one of these... this is an area for improvement.
As far as the Midnight Buffet goes, the food was served in the main dining rooms two nights and on the Lidao deck the second night. The Lido one was best, but the food and selection were comparable to the surprising lunch buffets but with not quite the same service. There are fewer staff, expectedly a bit tired, but still good Carnival attitudes EXCEPT for one guy doing the dining room seating the first and third night; he was a bit rude, handled seating as if he were handling a busload of ninth-graders on a field trip, and wanted to force groups together at tables in an effore to reduce cleanup. Tacky. Go ahead and let people sit where they want to in a midnight buffet, and just staff it for the extra cleanup. We didn't really want to socialize by force at midnight.
Room service. Well, they serve it quickly, and the fruit tray was good. Drinks were delivered quickly. Everything else we ordered from room service was sub-par. There isn't much selection. The roast beef sub was dry and skimpy. The veggie tray had been frozen and thawed at some point. We really tossed more of it than we ate, I'm sorry to say; this area needs improvement.
After Dinner: There was a deck party on the Day at Sea night, and the Carnival staff really keep up the same great atmosphere. The judge hairy chests, knobby knees, best Elvis impression (to "Jailhouse Rock"), best Aretha Franklin (to "Respect") and have loads of other mini-events throughout. Its a good time.
There are six or seven bars on the ship. Try for your own tastes as they run from quiet mood music to blaring disco. However, all shared some commonalities:
Number one, Carnival does NOT water down their drinks. (They don't have Chambord aboard, though, in case (like my girlfriend) you drink it.)
Number two, they do NOT rip you off on drinks. Most were under four bucks. Even fully-garnished (all drinks were fully garnished in all areas, a nice touch) frozen drinks were only five bucks. They do add a tip to all drinks, but a little cash on the side is probably warranted because I usually tip a buck a drink and I felt bad that Carnival only adds about fifty cents to most drink orders (15%.)
Number three, service is great. Carnival seems to have a great system of moving their wait staff on a just-in-time basis. We really never waited at any time on board in any objectionable lines.
In the Casino, I won $90 over the three nights but that is only because I saved myself with a fourteen hand run at Blackjack. Otherwise, I would have lost. The staff here is good, professional, and impressive in that they can take a drink order from you and find you fifteen minutes later every time even if you've moved quite a bit since ordering. It never failed. Drinks still cost in the Casino, by the way, to the vet gamblers. I'm not a vet gambler, but I could tell that the slots really weren't paying anybody much, hate to say it. They don't really "tease"you with some small hits, you just seem to pump it in and lose it a little faster than in most casinos that aren't on board a ship. Stick to the stuff where the odds are the same as you're used to and you'll have a good time, as we did. Again, no lines or elbows in the Casino either. The tables did fill up, though, at the peak on Saturday night.
Staff in General: Our cabin was kept extremely well by the Cabin Steward, and we did get one towel animal (a bunny on the last night was waiting for us on the bed.) Our steward didn't watch the toilet paper, as we did almost run out, but everything else was terrific about him, and the deck staff was quite pleasant. Everyone else was helpful and funny as well. Questions were answered politely and accurately. The only quibble I have is that of the two people taking reservations for shore excursions (at a card table set upon the Promenade deck) one of them, the male, was not knowledgable of Nassau at all (he had never heard of the "Straw Market" and the woman was reluctant to give us info on how to get to the Straw Market as we weren't booking anything with her. Only later did we find out that these people aren't helpful Carnival people- Carnival doesn't run their shore excursions. They contract it all out for a "cut." So, you get some salesmanship from people who have no specific motive to serve the cruiseline's best interest regarding protecting its image. And it showed a bit here. We didn't go with any of the excursions because we wanted to be free of schedules, but we did find from our friends that they are worth the money, especially the "Blue Lagoon" beach party. We did our own excursion by walking ten minutes to the Nassau Straw Market and then cabbing it to Atlantis/PAradise Island. The Market was full of very colorful shops and people all pushing practically the EXACT same items. There were literally hundreds of booths, but we saw the same items repeated at each of them and very, very little unique. It was too pushy for our tastes, and although we got a few deals and were generally happy, we probably won't center a Nassau excursion around it again. Paradise Island, however, for a four-buck cabride (everyine takes US dollars) and a $25 entry fee was superb. Loads of water slides and pools in a tropical lagoon setting with a rich, elegant atmosphere and an outstanding underground aquarium. Very, very impressive. There was one drawback, however; they don't have lockers for your valuables if you decide to get your swimsuit on, so be advised.
Shops and Ship in General: The Ecstasy was very easy to learn and get around on (although we had trouble finding the doorway to get out of the ship at Nassau! Memorize where it is the first time you go there!) It was also quite clean and felt sanitary. Some old review problems don't seem to exist anymore (bathrooms were all clean and working, we didn't notice any funny smells other than where you'd expect them anywhere.) On a sanitary scale from one-to-ten, I'd give it the "9." And no evidence at all of that fire they had on board two years ago.
Some quibbles: perhaps they could speed up the two glass elevators, and perhaps the photo room could be made wider and with more than two cashiers (they take a lot of photos on board, but to purchase them became a hassle.) The shops on board need more items, and a higher grade of item, perhaps. The duty-free shop indeed was not a gimmick, however; we purchased two litres of Absolut (the Customs limit is one litre each, and a carton of cigarettes each) and two cartons of smokes for a grand total of fifty bucks; the tab at home in West Palm Beach would have been ninety bucks! Overall, the experience exceeded our expectations.
Disembarkation: Finally, it was time to leave. I despise that they make you get up and out so early on the last day, but I understand they want to turn it around to save money. Still, nine-thirty would have been so much better than eight AM, especially since we sat in the debark meeting room for 45 minutes. Eventually, they troop you off, and the process is painless. Customs was literally zero- we walked right past them as did every other passenger from our group. There was no interaction at all. No dogs, searches, questions or security- we just handed them our declaration forms and went home.
But we shall return to Carnival, in hopefully the same cabin for another (longer!) cruise!