February 23, 2013
It’s Friday February 22nd and were off on our 30th cruise. Took many (17) years to accomplish as we have never cruised more than twice a year. This will be our 8th Carnival cruise. The draw for this one was that the itinerary visits many of our favorite ports and the cost was only $519pp plus tax for an inside cat 4A cabin. It was a great price for an 8 night cruise. Balcony cabins were however, much more expensive.
Our day before pre cruise flight from upstate NY was uneventful. Weather was good, although in the teens, and our non stop Southwest flight arrived in Ft Lauderdale at around noon. 78 degrees now and was much anticipated. Wish our flight time was earlier. We would have rented a car and visited the beach for the afternoon. Our hotel booked on Priceline was the Hyatt Place Convention Center. It’s an older hotel and much less fancy than some others we’ve stayed, but is in great shape. Our room looked to be very recently refurbished as it was spotless and looked new. A new 42 in LG plasma was in the center of the huge room consisting of 2 double beds and a huge living area with a large sofa and dry sink. Also a safe and ironing area as well as free wifi. We wouldn’t go here again if booking a room directly, but wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if we got it again on Priceline. There are just other hotels in the area that we like better. The Hyatt was within a 5 minute walk to a shopping are called Harbor Shops. It has lots of restaurants and shops as well as a grocery store. We utilized that for our allotment of wine and soda for the ship. We sat by the pool for a few hrs. Lucky to get lounges as there were very few (seven). The hotel had a continental breakfast in the morning starting at 6:30 AM that was decent.
This review is entirely mine and my wife’s opinion. Tried to be accurate and fair. I hope you agree.
Day 1 - Saturday - Ft Lauderdale
Left the hotel at 10:30 by taxi. Cost was $13 including tip to the port. We were checked in and seated by 11:00. Priority was called at 11:45 and our #8 was called at a little after noon. We were told cabins would not be ready until 1:30, but when on the ship were told 12:30. We went after lunch at around 1 and the room was ready. For lunch, it was terribly crowded. As frequent cruisers, we realize that that’s the way it is and can’t be avoided. We found a table in front of Off The Grill. Wife headed looking for her preferred Asian food. Found it at Mongolian Wok on this ship. I got in the short line at the grill and got a really good juicy cheeseburger hot off the fire. This is a huge plus for Carnival as our preferred cruise line Royal Caribbean, does not offer this on their ships. After a quick change, we headed for Serenity, an over 21 area on Carnival’s ships. On this ship it’s 2 decks on 11 and 12 forward. We found a nice place to sit near the 2 hot tubs on the upper area. Had a very nice afternoon there. At around 3:20 the cruise director comes on and announces that Muster will be in 10 minutes time. So most everyone leaves to go back to their cabins and wait for the announcement to proceed to your area. Then the CD comes on at 3:40 and says muster will be in 20 minutes. WHAT!!!! You changed your mind? At 4 the alarm goes off and we headed to our area out on deck. Took longer than many in the past. We went back up to Serenity to see sail away. There were at least 7 or 8 ships in port today. Next to us is Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, Been on it and pretty much nothing else compares. Pretty much everyone on deck is eyeballing that ship. It’s huge as most reading this already know. I’d imagine a lot would rather be on it. I did as we get great perks as diamond members. Thought it was a riot that the Freedom’s ship photographer was taking pictures of people against the railing with Oasis in the background, LOL. After sail away we dressed for dinner and headed for Posh Dining Room aft. Our luggage has still not arrived at 5:45. Not liking that. We were seated at a 4 person table even though a large table was requested. Met Jan and Bob from Canada. Turned out to be a fun couple. The menus have been changed in the last year to 18 months. Problem is, not for the good. Cutbacks have been very deep with food quality and choices. I had a shrimp cocktail and a Caesar salad for appetizers, both available on the every day menu. Shrimp was mushy and the salad was just a salad. For the main, the choices were not very good. I usually eat a meat dish and the choices were the flat iron steak on the everyday menu or the comfort choice of beef brisket on the days menu. I chose the beef brisket. Wasn’t bad, but nothing I can’t get anywhere. It was just a pot roast type dish IMO. Wife had the sweet n sour shrimp. Just was not impressed with that either. We both had the crème brulee for desert. Back to the cabin and happy to see that luggage has finally arrived. Found the next day’s Funtimes activity paper along with a free drink coupon for each of us up to a $9 value. Problem is that it’s only good for the dining room at breakfast, lunch, or brunch. Why the restriction? If you want to treat me to a drink, do it. Why make us eat in a certain place? We never ate in the dining room for those meals so never used the coupons. We walked a bit browsing in the shops ,then headed for International Lounge, deck 5 aft for karaoke at 9. The room reeked of smoke even though as far as I know, there is no smoking there. The host was very energetic and could actually sing quite well to start it off. Found out later, she sang a lot at many other activities. A couple decent singers and then a drunk or two. We were tired and left by 9:30. Too tired for the welcome show at 10:30 or the adult comedian at 11:45. Back to the cabin and started hearing a motor or something next door. Seemed to go off every few minutes or so. Then my wife thought she remembered a review saying that it was the ice machine being used by the room stewards at night. Seem to stop before midnight or so. The cabin is not quiet! The vent that is in the bottom of the door lets in every little sound or voice from the outside. No clue why they need vents in the doors. Other ships don’t have them. After the vents are blocked with whatever you can find such as pillows and quilts, the noise is pretty much gone. Slept well after blocking the vents and after the mechanical noise quit.
Day 2 - Sunday - At Sea
Up at 7:45. Wife has already showered and thinks it’s time for me to get up. Off to breakfast on Lido deck 9. Not a big fan of standing in line just for the little I want. On Royal Caribbean there are multiple stations on their ships. You just go to the type of food you want and grab it. No lines. Wife had an omelet and fruit. I had a light breakfast of cereal, bacon and coffee. Wife missed the salmon and fresh pineapple that she enjoys on RCCL. Looks like a gorgeous day today and we head for Serenity for some relaxing. The day turned out to be awesome. A light breeze with 100% sunshine. Not too hot either with a nice breeze. Stayed all day until 4:30. Back to the cabin to get dressed for elegant night. Dollar off drinks because it’s the Captain‘s celebration. Dinner had Lobster and prime rib as two of the mains. We had the stuffed mushrooms for appetizer. Pretty good. Haven’t seen these offered before. I had the prime rib. It was just ok. Wife had the spaghetti Carbonara as a starter and the Lobster and Shrimp for her main. For desert, I had the warm melting cake. I try it most every time on Carnival, but never finish it. Don’t know what everyone raves about it for. Basically warm, half cooked brownies to me. The main show tonight is “The Big Easy”. We both thought it was excellent. The singers were very strong as well as the many dancers. They totaled 16 singers and dancers, not 8 like I recently read in a review. The biggest annoyance I had was the huge microphones in front of the faces of the singers that are mounted to their ears. They often had to adjust them during the show because they don‘t stay put while dancing. With today’s technology, microphones can be almost invisible. I would think Carnival would spend a few thousand dollars for this well worth investment. A bigger annoyance was the terrible seating. We were in the second row and they are totally worn out and we felt like we were sliding out of our seats. Very uncomfortable on the back. Being so uncomfortable really took away from enjoying a great show. After the show we headed to Punch Liners in the International. John Rathbone was the first of two adult comedians. He was a riot. I’d pay to go see him. Oh wait, I DID! There was no show immediately after so he extended his time a little. He greeted those that wanted to meet him upon exiting. It’s almost 11 now and tired again. Checked out the full moon per wife’s instruction and then retired to cabin.
Day 3 - Monday - Grand Turk
We docked around 6AM. Our inside deck one forward cabin (1234) can be a little noisy during this time, but didn’t last long. We had an early breakfast and were off the ship by 7:30. Really nice day with nice breeze. Captain said it was going to be 77 today. We picked out two lounges with an umbrella right next to the pool at Margaritaville. Turns out this would be a good move as the sand fleas on the beach were out in full force. First thing I did was try to get free internet as we had read. Right away I was connected, but after 15 minutes or so, I lost it and never got it back. Maybe was too far away from the source or maybe too many were trying to access? My wife took off beach combing for shells and sea glass. She was gone most of the morning, but checking in from time to time so I didn‘t worry. Loves to walk the beach wherever we go. Not much luck today as she only found a few pieces. But still had a good time. We left at 12:15. Took 20 minutes to get on the ship after we reached the end of the line to get back on. Found a nice spot on deck for sail away. This evening is the welcome back party for gold and up members at 4:30. The servers started off with huge trays of large 16oz (?) rum punches. They were delicious and NOT watered down as is often the norm. You could also order what you wanted. Toward the end of the 45 minute party, the drinks were still coming out. Certainly no one went thirsty at this party. One of the appetizers served was a cold chunk of the same beef brisket that I had for my main entry 2 nights before. Yuck! The CD, Hennie van Heerden as well as some other crew hosted this party. Captain Agostino Fazio was introduced and he talked for a couple minutes. After the party there was a gap of 45 minutes until dinner. We wish the party was scheduled to be just before dinner which is usually the norm. We sat on deck 5 promenade and sipped our rum punches. Dinner was just so so again tonight. I had the French Onion soup (just ok) for starter and wife had the Prusciotto Melon which she liked. For the main my wife had the seafood and penne. She thought it was excellent. No meat dish on the daily side that I thought sounded good, so I tried the everyday flat iron steak on the everyday menu. Won’t make that mistake again. Desert was very sparse. I ended up getting just ice cream. Wife had the fig-date desert. Not good. One of the comedians that we hadn’t seen was doing a show at 7:30 so we hustled up to the International on deck 5. This was the family show and was not well attended. I’m reasonably sure he would have been a lot better with a full showroom. Afterwards we took in the 8:45 main show Jump, Jive, and Wail, Songs of the 40’s. I don’t think my own mother would have wanted to hear songs of the 40’s. Thinking maybe Carnival started this show in the 70’s aboard their first ship Mardi Gras? The singers and dancers were again excellent. We tried sitting in a different area on the side hoping the seating would be better. Maybe was slightly, but still worn. We froze there as the ac blew on us the whole show. Too tired to go to the next comedian show, so back to the cabin to retire. Woke up a couple times during the night as the ship was catching big waves every so often. We like it rough though, ha ha.
Day 4 - Tuesday - San Juan
Not arriving till around 11 today, so we leisurely dressed and headed to breakfast at around 8. The usual exciting fare. Afterward we went back to the cabin and found it already made up. Great cabin attendant and team this cruise. We decide to go to Serenity to wait for San Juan arrival. Lots of clouds and breezy, but still nice. We arrived right on time at 11. Had a quick lunch at the grill and headed off the ship to our preferred beach in San Juan, Isle Verde. It’s a 20 minute $22 taxi ride. Expensive for 2, but really inexpensive if you have several in your group. Stayed from 12:30 to 3:30. We showered and listened to the music in the atrium until dinner at 6. Dinner is casual. I had the fried shrimp for starter which was good. Wife had the potato soup and turkey bowtie pasta as starter. Nether was good at all. Denney’s quality at best. I had the beef stroganoff from the comfort selection for main while wife had enchiladas. Mine was ok, but more like a crock pot roast to me. Wife said that her selection was good. Desert was nothing special as seems to be the norm. I had the banana split off the kids menu. Pretty plain, but ok. Wife had the bitter n blanc (bread pudding). Hated it. After dinner there was nothing going on. We looked at pictures. Seems after a day or two, they throw some of them in a box to look through. Looked through the few shops that are offered and then to family karaoke. Some kids were singing. The main show tonight is at 8:30, Ron Joseph singing Motown. Heard enough Motown on past cruises to last a lifetime. As good as they are, we’re very tired of hearing the exact same songs sung over and over. We left after the 3rd one. We took a walk outside and found Forest Gump playing on the outdoor screen. No, we didn’t stay. Wife went back to the cabin to read and I went o the casino for the first time. As much as I wanted to stay longer, I decided to leave on a winning note. Back to the cabin at 9:45 pm. Henie was just announcing throughout the ship (loudly) that there would be bingo soon. A little late at night to be doing that!
Day 5 - Wednesday - Tortola
Docked by 8AM. We had eaten and were ready for the beach. We were here a couple years ago. Wasn‘t nice and rained hard. Today is the opposite. It’s beautiful. My wife had done a lot of research and thought that Brewers Bay would be a great place to go for the day. Could not find anyone to take us. They were all pushing tours or Cane Garden Bay for the preferred beach spot. We relented and went to Cane Garden. It was $8 pp each way and about 15-20 minutes to get there. The roads are very steep and winding with beautiful views on both sides. Arriving, we decide on a shady area under some trees down the beach a bit. Someone quickly collected $5 per lounge. The beach is very narrow and the water comes right up and under your lounge depending on where you are sitting. Lots of waves today as it’s very breezy and in the 80‘s. Lots of outdoor shops and a few bars. We decided on an ice cream lunch. Large ice cream bars (made in NJ) were only $2. It’s very pretty with numerous yachts and sail boats in the bay. We had a great time and left around 3. Back on the ship, we stayed an hr or so outside before getting ready for dinner. Tonight is casual again. I had the langostino starter. I’ve had it before and knew I liked it. Wife got it too. I ate hers. Wife also got the Carpaccio Beets which she enjoyed. For the main I got the NY strip steak while my wife got the lamb chops. Our table mates ordered the same and we all agreed that this was the best meal of the cruise so far. Why did it take until Wednesday? For desert, my wife got the pizzerelle which she did not like. The other 3 of us all got banana splits that were customized with our favorite ice cream flavor. This was great, but took a long time and extended our dinner to close to 2 hrs. After dinner, not much going on. We tried out the Havana Lounge where there was a band playing soft rock. Some very comfortable chairs there. On to Superstar Karaoke in the International. It’s absolutely freezing and not very good anyway. Haven’t seen any quality singers yet. At 10:30 was the passenger talent show. The best was the first who sang and played the harmonica. The other talent included more singers and a belly dancer. Like others have commented we thought it was a cheap way to go for Carnival to provide this kind of entertainment as the featured show of the night.
Day 6 - Thursday - St Thomas
Docked about 7AM in Charlotte Amalie and find that we are in back of one of our most favorite ships that we've been on many times, Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of The Seas. Another beautiful weather day. We grabbed breakfast early and went to Emerald Beach for our much anticipated day. We tried to get a ride there from right outside the ship with an open air taxi, but we were the first in and we knew it wasn’t leaving until full. We weren’t having that so we jumped out and walked out to the street where the taxi stand is. We quickly found a taxi and were on our way at a cost of $7 pp. This beach is never crowded although today there were more than normal. It’s our favorite after years of going to all the tourist trap beaches on the island. Megan’s and Sapphire may be beautiful, but don’t let the “voted top 10 beaches in the world” hold too much weight in determining which beach to visit. Seems all the nice beaches in the world have been voted that one time or another. Today is the warmest of all so far with no lack of sunshine. Emerald has a couple restaurants, bars, and bathrooms, one at each end. We split a turkey sandwich at $13 and washed it down with a beer and pina colada. We stayed until 3PM as the ship is all aboard at 4:30. We don’t want to cut it too close. We caught an open air taxi outside the hotel that we came to find out later on the ride back was reserved by the Carnival dancers. Not sure if they were all there, but most of them were. They were all in a great mood. Lot’s of laughing and joking with the 7 or 8 tourists on the taxi. Someone said that there was no way we’d miss the ship because we were with all the dancers. They said no, not true. The ship will sail on time even without them. Said the only person the ship will not sail without is the ship’s doctor. I would guess that the Captain might have to be on board too. Arriving back, we showered even though it was quite early. We went up to deck 5 promenade and watched sail away through the windows. Dinner tonight featured not too much to get excited about. At least not starters. Chicken soup???? Seriously? So much for fine dining. Had the shrimp cocktail and a cesaer salad from the every day list selection. For main, a combo Fillet Mignon and lamb was offered. I suspect it was basically the left over lamb from a few nights ago. The fillet was quite good, just a little small. Wife had the snapper. Liked the flavor, but was unfortunately over cooked and she did not finish it. The desert choices were apple pie, diet pumpkin pie, and a raspberry something. We both had that. Passable at best. After dinner we rushed to the International where there was supposed to be a comedy act. Unfortunately there was an error in the planner and karaoke was being held instead. Pretty bad actually. Both the karaoke and the planning. Can’t anyone sing on this ship???
Spoiler Alert - Do not read the next paragraph if you do not want to hear about the hypnotist show and it’s secrets
The main show at 9 PM is comedy hypnotism. Never saw a show like this and was looking forward to it. There was a row of 22 chairs lined up on stage. Then the hypnotist called for volunteers. It was funny but entirely fake as some of the people on stage were the carnival dancers helping the show along. Painfully obvious because most of the ones the hypnotist spoke with spoke with an English accent. The person who was “put to sleep” in the audience and called up to the stage was also one of the dancers. She sat in front of us on the taxi back from the beach. As the show went on, many people on stage who were laughing too hard to continue and not able to go along with the show were sent back to their seats. There ended up being about 8 left. Actually got to be more funny because of the over acting.We enjoyed the show despite it not being “real.” Tired after the show and we retired. Slept like rocks.
Day 7 - Friday - At Sea
Up about 7:30 and to breakfast on Lido deck. Sunny, warm, and not too breezy so far today. Ship was traveling a little slower. Checked out Serenity but was very warm, stuffy, and quite crowded. Overheard one lady saying she got there at 4:45 am to save her seat. Guess she wanted it really bad. We moved aft of the noise (TV Screen = Noise) under an overhang to escape the hot sun. Wife didn’t feel well after lunch, so she soon retired to the cabin for rest. Didn’t feel well the rest of the day and night also so unfortunately we missed formal dinner. We ate in the cabin and I did not leave. From what we heard, we also missed a great show (Ticket To Ride) by the Carnival singers and dancers. I’m sure it was very good from seeing their past performances.
Day 8 - Last Day At Sea
Wife is still down for the count, only a bagel and tea for breakfast for her. I walked around for awhile in the mid morning. Very cool and windy out. The CD Hennie has changed the outdoor activities to indoors. Wife felt she would be able to get up and go to lunch so we went up to Lido deck and the lines were incredible. Not good on a sea day when outside is not an option. Wife looked for something healthy and light (and not salad) which is not often easy in the buffet. She ended up eating a roll and some fruit. I headed for Off the Grill for a decent cheeseburger and met up with my wife on deck 10 fish and chips. A little quieter up there and almost always seating to be found. My wife stayed while I waited in line for the chocolate buffet. 15 minutes long, but I had to suffer for that. The Love and Marriage game is at 2:30. I doubt it’s usually well attended at this time, but for the reason of the weather being lousy outside, it was. Very good in spite of a CD who tries too hard to be funny. Wife took a short nap and then decided she would try dinner although still not feeling perfect. There was no farewell party. Much anticipated and one of Carnival’s good perks for all, it didn’t happen. More cutbacks? Dinner tonight was just ok. I had the crab cake (good) and wife had the cold mango soup (yuck). For the main, I had the Panko Crusted Shrimp. Was good, but something I’d expect for an appetizer. Wife had the Salmon off the everyday menu and thought it was very good. For desert, we had the Cappuccino Pie which was just ok and wife the Grand Marnier souffle which she had looked forward to but it was not well baked (eggy and heavy, not light) so she did not eat much. Our dining room waiter and his team did their job and that was it. They did not interact at all with our table. Went back to the cabin for a couple minutes and found that our cabin attendant had taken it upon himself to take an unopened can of soda that I purposely left out on the desk (in the back) and put it back in the fridge and then locked it. There was a reason that I left it out. Because I knew the fridge would be locked and I wanted the soda for later. The team was very good, but that ruined their perfect score with me. Our last chance to see the comedians. We usually try not to miss any, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The first family friendly show was Azeem. Bad, Bad, Bad. He tried to interact with the audience and he couldn’t do it. How about telling jokes? The second, this time adult show, was Chas Elstner. He was great. Has his own HBO special and you can see him on UTUBE. We tried Azeem’s adult show soon after, and he was much better . Interacting with the audience for laughs is not his strong suit, IMO. Afterwards it’s almost 11:30, so my wife retired and I headed for the casino for some late night blackjack. Not too much luck this time and gave some back after losing to the dealer getting blackjack 3 straight times. Back to the cabin after cashing out and the ship is really loud hitting the waves. I’m assuming I’m hearing and feeling that more because we’re on deck 1.
Day 9 - Ft Lauderdale
Up by 7:00 and announcements already being made for walk offs. We went to the main dining room for breakfast and it was slow. I had the French Toast and wife had the salmon plate with bagel and scrambled eggs. All good. Back to the cabin to grab our bags and on to wait in the deck 3 show lounge. Thought we’d be getting off early being called by decks and didn’t realize that we’d be getting off almost last having tag 27. I guess the upper decks are called first? Not called until after 10. Not in a rush as our flight was at 1:45. I know better than to book an early flight cruiising with Carnival. We are cruising on Carnival Liberty in September with family. If we all hadn’t booked early saver, we would not be. We’ll hope for the best, but will consider it transportation to some great ports. This cruise would have been so much better had the menu been a little less like Denny’s. Meatloaf, lasagna, and macaroni and cheese are not what most cruisers want to see on the menu. Cruiser’s want more choices and better quality. Deserts overall have been poor for years. This is certainly not fine dining. We used to love the deserts. Royal Caribbean’s new menu implemented starting September of 2012 is much, much better. Carnival’s design makes it impossible to have stations in Lido Dining for grabbing what you want to eat rather than standing in a sometimes very long line waiting to get there. The one station they do have is for deserts and so there is very easy to get anything you want without a wait. The outdoor grill and fish and chips are good options for lunch since they move fast and are tasty.
A higher average age on this cruise than we‘ve typically seen on Carnival. Probably near 50.
Saw the usual t-shirts and shorts in the dining room, but overall, people dressed nicer. Probably because there were more adults.
Very few children. Back to school as the previous cruise had tons because it was Presidents Week.
Cruise Director Hennie van Heerden - Tries to be funny making faces and stupid sounds(Ca-Caw!). It was ok the first day or two, but not after that
Outdated sound system in main show
Talent show for the evening entertainment is cheap. Love and Marriage could have been swapped with this. Still cheap, but a better alternative
Extremely uncomfortable seating in the main show lounge. More so toward the front where they are most used.
Menu is limited and very plain. Food quality overall suffers. There are still some very good dishes, but there are less it seems with every cruise we go on. If only two regular and one diet desert are offered, then they should be top quality
No band by the pool. Carnival can’t even pretend that’s not being cheap
Cost of beer seems to go up more every cruise. A 16 oz Coors Light is $5.75 plus tip. Only $4.25 for 12 oz on RCCL. Soda is a reasonable $1.95 and even a whisky sour or Fuzzy Navel for only $4.95
No farewell party
Poor loyalty perks. Aside from the shareholder OBC that anyone can get, nothing is offered for frequent cruisers. Royals program offers numerous perks for those with even only 1 sailing
Welcome back party was excellent
Love the comedians multiple evenings during the week
Like the live music during some Karaoke
The singers and dancers were top notch
Serenity is a big plus with Carnival. Similar to the Solarium on RCCL.
Fish & Chips on the upper level of Lido
Outdoor “Off The Grill” - Carnival got this right. When will other lines catch on?
OBC for being a Carnival Shareholder
Questions? Email Joslinm1 at hotmail.com