We’re in our mid 50’s celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary today. This is our 27th cruse, 6th with Carnival. My sister in law will be joining us for our cruise.
Saturday - Pre Cruise
Up early to catch our direct 7:25 AM Southwest flight out of Albany to FLL. All on time and arrived at about 10:20. Our SAS transportation driver called as we were exiting the plane and told us to call when we retrieved our luggage. Called and he was at the curb in 45 seconds. We picked up some others traveling to the port on another cruise. We made a stop for soda at Walgreen’s and then on to the Intercontinental in Miami. Great deal for $15 pp. Arriving at the Intercontinental at around noon, we were pleased that we were able to check in immediately. We headed for the 25th floor to wait for our luggage and another surprise. The floor was renovated and we were the first to occupy it. Smelled brand new. Carpet was nice. Drapes went up and down with a push of a button and the new 40 in plasma was the topping on the cake. We love this place because it’s only a 5 minute walk to Bayside. For lunch we stayed in the hotel. They have an in house Starbucks where we purchased a couple turkey sandwiches to hold us till dinner. Not to great. Very dry to say the least. It’s 85 out so we headed to the pool for the afternoon. There an attendant gave out great big towels and an umbrella. Enjoyed for a couple hrs or so until the skies opened up. Back to the cabin (opps getting ahead of myself), room to shower. To Bayside around 4:15 where we window shopped for awhile. After an hr, we headed to Hooters, a tradition we started many years ago. Great food, beer, and atmosphere. Just relaxed after dinner people watching outside the many shops and restaurants. Back to the hotel around 7:30 and soon called it a day. To bed at 8:30 and slept like a rock till 7:20. The new bedding is wonderful.
Sunday - Miami
Since it’s been 9 years since we’ve cruised on Carnival, I’ll be comparing the pluses and minuses with comparable ships (Voyager and Freedom class) from Royal Caribbean. We’re diamond (almost D+) members there.
Sunday - Embarkation
It’s cruise day one!!!!!!
Got coffees at Starbucks and relaxed awhile in the lobby before taking a walk along the water. It’s very warm and humid, around 85 by 10:30. LOVE IT!!!!
Left the hotel around 10:45 for the short $7 taxi ride to the port arriving around 11, we dumped our luggage and headed into the terminal. If you didn’t receive a zone card before you get to the first line make sure you look for the person handing them out. This is how they call you on the ship. Next we were confronted with check in terminals such as you see in airports. You swipe your passports and credit cards there, and then head to another line where you pick up your sail and sign card. This is not a big deal, but it saves THEM time, not you. Just another line to stand in, something we will be seeing a lot of this coming week. Here is where RCL does it better. When you first receive your card, RCL takes your picture right there. Done. No extra line (delay) to wait for. Zones started being called at 11:35. We were zone 7 and were on at noon where we waited 12 minutes in line for that sail and sign card picture. As cabins are not ready until 1:30, we headed to Rosie’s, Carnivals version of RCL’s windjammer. Pretty good food, but it’s like a cafeteria and looks like a cheap diner. You have to wait in line rather than going to stations as on RCL When there are stations, it spreads out the crowd making it much faster to get what you want to eat. There are rarely lines with this setup. As I said, good food though. I like the carving station (same as RCL), but better deserts than on RCL. It’s 1:30 already and we are really itching to get to our cabins. Our cat 8A was very similar in size to RCL’s cat D balcony cabins on RCL. Those of you that keep implying the Carnival’s cabins are larger are living in the past or not comparing apples with apples. After depositing our luggage in our cabins we went exploring and then to muster at 3:40. Dinner first seating is at 6 and unfortunately the 3 of us are alone at a “booth”. We enjoy large tables where we can meet and make some new friends. RCL’s dining rooms crush Carnival’s in appearance. Sorry Carnival fans. Another thing that I noticed right away and throughout the cruise is that Carnival has these cheapest of all cheap napkins (often pilled like an old sweater) and table cloths. I have sheets on my bed that are of a heavier weight. Our waiter and assistant waiter did their jobs, but nothing at all strikingly better than any cruise we’ve been on. Just average is all. For the meal, I almost always get the meat selection. There wasn’t one. What’s with that???? RCL has one every night. I ended up choosing the flat iron steak from the every day side of the menu. I thought it was quite good. Cooked perfectly and very flavorful. Wife had the sweet n sour shrimp and she thought it was quite good. For desert, wife had the crème brulet. Very good. I had the warm chocolate cake. Everyone on the Carnival threads say it’s soo good. I had to get it right away. YUCK!!!! IMO, wasted menu space as it’s on the menu every night. After dinner, we walked around looking in some of the shops. Ended up at karaoke at 9. On Carnival it’s with a live band which is a real plus IMO. Great, but was cut short because the hostess had to get to the welcome aboard show at 10:15. We went to that, but didn’t like much. Back to the cabin for the night. Left our balcony door open all night to hear the waves. A plus for Carnival as the AC stays on whereas on RCL it goes off with the door open.
Monday - Half Moon Cay
Wife is up at 6:30 AM expecting to jump in a hot tub. Not open. Everything netted. Checking hrs in the Funtimes and find hrs for pools and hot tubs today are 12 pm till 8 PM. 8 hours? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!!!! RCL has at least 1 pool and hot tub open 24/7. As the week went on, the hours increased, but never opened before 8 in the morning and always closed by 11PM at the latest. A big negative for us for Carnival. Ate breakfast at Rosie’s. Thought RCL windjammer breakfasts were poor, as you can tell from my previous reviews of their ships. Can’t believe this is worse. No donuts, salmon, pineapple, watermelon, whole milk, and more. Here at Rosie’s, you can get an omelet if you’re willing to wait quite awhile if there is a line (usually). Not impressed at all. There was a set hr for getting tender tickets to get to the island. We were near the front of the line when they opened. Then we get “unless you’re ready to go, (tenders don’t start for an hr) you can’t get a ticket”. DA! What’s the point of the ticket? So we went later, got our ticket, and sat in the lounge waiting for our number to be called. Very lucky this went fast as they decided to let a few more on the full tender that was still waiting to leave. So we get on and it’s wall to wall standing room only. Where’s the safety officer as there is no way this is. We arrive at Halfmoon Cay and it’s beautiful long sandy beach. Then we discover that to get shade, you pay. Yes, $20 for a clamshell over your lounges. Not such a free island for those of us who would like not to be in the direct sun all day. So we cough up the $20 and enjoy the beautiful beach on this 86 degree day. For Carnival’s barbeque, we were hoping for a bit better than RCL’s Labadee and Coco Cay. It was ok, but definitely not better. Just the usual barbeque food. After getting on the tender and arriving back at the ship, there was a huge delay. Carnival doesn’t seem to be able to scan people back in as fast as RCL. Took at least 20 minutes after getting to the ship before we got through security. Relaxed the rest of the day and to before dinner drinks at 5. We sat next to the singer by the casino. Carnival gets the nod by quite a margin for it’s live ship entertainment. They were all excellent this cruise. On the other hand RCL gets the nod for it’s wonderful Viking Crown Lounge on all it’s ships. Best place for sail away and before dinner cocktails. Early seating had French Onion Soup, braised short ribs, penne with mussels, shrimp, scallops, and calamari. All excellent. After dinner, we went to the “family friendly” comedians in the Eagles Lounge. Both were ok, but soon after found that the later “R” rated versions of the acts were far better. There were 4 comedians on board this week and we loved them all. Carnival gets the nod for having multiple comedians. One sore spot we both had is that after you see one of them for their 30 minute time, you are not allowed to stay seated for the next one in 20-30 minutes. They want to “refresh the room”. So you lose your seat and have to go out and in line to get in again. Don’t agree with that at all. Later we hit the “Love and Marriage” show. Funny, but far from the best we’ve seen. The cruise director makes or breaks it and this one was nothing special at all.
Tuesday - At Sea
Wife is up with her sister at 6:30 for coffee at Rosie’s. Still no hot tubs until 8 today. Back in awhile she made me get up and off to the dining room for breakfast. Nothing special there and very slow. I’ll give RCL the nod for main dining room breakfast. More selections and their French Toast can’t be beat.
After breakfast we looked for a spot outside to sun that was not overly windy. Found a place in Serenity that wasn’t too bad and stayed there for awhile.
For lunch my wife stood in line at the Mongolian grill, but when the line went nowhere for 10 minutes she went with me to the regular buffet. I decided that this was not for me and went upstairs to the fish and chips area. Liked that a lot. Carnival gets the nod for the outdoor grill and fish and chips area, but loses to RCL because regular buffet has fewer lines and they have Asian Food in Jade (wife loves the place) on most of the large ships.
Later had pre formal dinner drinks on deck 5 promenade. A dollar off for some time. On RCL, you get free champagne for an hr at the Captains Dinner and he is out in the open promenade speaking to everyone and introducing the officers. On this ship we never saw the captain.
Dinner was lobster, shrimp, prime rib, and more. All delicious.
Show is at 8:30. We like that time for a 6PM early seating. Not so long to wait as a 9PM show that is usually the norm on RCL. This 80’s music show had very strong singers as well as the dancers. The shows on RCL are more Broadway themed and a lot of times make no sense at all although the singers and dancers are usually just as good as we saw on this cruise. RCL also puts much more into it’s sets. Carnival is more Vegas style. I’ll say pretty much even between the two lines even though totally different styles.
After the show, we made a beeline for the Eagles lounge and the 2 adult comedian shows. First up was Lewis Nixon. A riot and very, very bad. Wish I could tell you a couple of his jokes, but sure can’t here. Second, after we
had to go out of the lounge and come back in was Allyn Ball and he was good too.
Wednesday - St Thomas
Had room service at 7 this morning. RCL gets the nod by a wide margin with breakfast at least. Nothing hot on the menu for Carnival. Sometimes not the coffee either. Wife is off to the hot tub at 8 but couldn’t find one hot enough. This is a problem a have heard from other Carnival reviews. Of the ship at 9 and off to Sapphire Beach, a $10 pp ride. We went there about 10 years ago and didn’t care for it. Unfortunately I didn’t review that cruise and couldn’t remember why. Now I know. Apparently everyone else does too. The place was empty. Beach was not clean. The pictures you see are not what it looks like. We decide to leave almost immediately. Another $12 pp for the ride to Emerald. Over by the airport, it’s every bit as beautiful as Megan’s Bay, but without the crowds. Has decent bathrooms and a bar - restaurant. It’s just paradise to us. We left at 4. The sun was getting low and clouds started rolling in. Started to rain after awhile in the taxi. $7pp to get back to the ship from Emerald. For dinner, we all selected the lamb rack. Not good as all of ours were overcooked and dry. The show tonight was the magician. We’ve seen him before someplace. He was pretty good. No complaint. Later was Carnival Quest. HMMM. Did Carnival steal this popular show from another line? Off to bed and wow, was it loud outside our 6414 cabin. You can hear all talking and also the elevator ding all the time. I realized that most of the sound was coming from the vent (why is it there) in the bottom of the door. After building up towels to cover it, the noise was almost totally eliminated.
Thursday - San Juan
Rosie’s for breakfast at 7:30. The earliest we could eat breakfast. RCL gets the nod for their windjammer. Opens earlier and at the same time every day. Off the ship in San Juan, we planned to go to Isle Verde. It’s a beautiful long, wide, sandy beach and costs only $20 for the taxi ride. Lounges available for $4. For lunch, you can walk across the street to Burger King. We stayed 9:30 to 1:30. Back at the terminal we sampled some liquor, but didn’t buy any. I did want to buy soda though. A 6 pack would have been enough to finish the cruise. They did have 9 packs of Pepsi, but I walked away when they told me $8 for it. Give me a break! Booze is half off. Soda is double. Sailed at 3:30. The welcome back party is at 5:15 and was great. Free flowing drinks to be had. Carnival gets my nod for this. RCL has the same but less selections although they will let you order anything you want. At RCL’s party, the captain will speak and answer questions. RCL gets my approval for the openness of the captain on their ships. Dinner tonight was fillet mignon for me and lasagna bolognese for DW. My meat was good, but not hot. The show at 8:30 featured Marcus Anthony. He was excellent! Would rather he sang the songs rather than let the audience though. We like the deck parties, but decide to skip this one as we were beat.
Friday - Grand Turk
We are up by 7 and hungry. Off to Rosie’s for what they do have. Then my wife and SIL decide that they’d like to try the slide. Board I guess. Up to serenity for awhile to wait for our arrival in Grand Turk at 11. Very convenient with the pier to get on the island instead of those tenders. We soon parked ourselves under a tree on the beach where it quickly got very crowded. There is a Margaritaville right off the pier and that was packed to the roof. Wife found lots of sea glass to bring home on a walk she took. We later went for a swim and saw lots of fish and a small sting ray. Wish I had some snorkel equipment as there seemed to be a lot to see. We browsed some some of the shops there on the way out, but bought nothing. Back to the ship to shower and a before dinner drink on the promenade. Unfortunately it was not going to be easy today I guess. We sat on the promenade outside the casino in full view of the bar for 5 -10 minutes while watching the servers chat it up among themselves. We left and went down to deck 3 and listened to the piano music for a good 5 minutes or more until someone decide to take our order. Not a good overall bar service when it happens at 2 different places.
Dinner tonight was very good. I had both the Chateaubriand and the grilled shrimp and were both delicious. Wife had the “Award Winning” (that’s why she got it) bass fillet. Said it was good, but nothing outstanding about it.
After dinner we went to see John Night in the Punchliner Comedy Club. This was his family show and wasn’t all that great. I suspected he’d be better at the R rated show later at 10 and he was.
The show at 8:30 had Carnivals own singers and dancers in Nightclub Express. Very good for the most part. The dancers seemed to be slightly off to me, but this was their first show on the ship so I could understand. All excellent though.
Saturday - Sea Day
The last day is always very depressing and to boot it’s raining. Went to Rosie’s for breakfast, then to Serenity to sit and read. Started to clear and wound up being a great sunny day with a nice breeze. For lunch, I just went to the outdoor grill. Had one of their huge hotdogs and found that it was not only good, it was hot. Probably the first ever hot hot dog I’ve had on a ship. There was a chocolate buffet at lunch today too. Lot’s of different cakes, etc. Not bad at all. Brought it all back to our seat in Serenity to eat. At 5 we went to the farewell party in the Eagles Lounge. Here the drinks flowed again. Very good. For dinner, my wife tried the frog legs. YUCK! I had the crab cake. That was good. Also had the prime rib. That never seems to come out of the kitchen medium rare like I like and wasn’t hot either night I had it. RCL gets my nod for more consistently serving food hot. After dinner, the girls went to the hot tub while I went in the casino for awhile. They stayed longer than I did. Went to the final R rated comedian at 10. Very funny. Suitcases are out we are off to bed
Sunday - Miami
Docked at about 6:15 or so. Down to the MDR for breakfast this time. I had the French Toast. Good but not as good as RCL’s. Took forever to get out. Well over and hour. We had group 17 to get off and it was called exactly on time at around 9. Found our cases quickly with the airport style belts. Makes it easier than sifting through groups of suitcases on the floor.
Our SAS driver called about the time we were out and was there very quickly. Had to wait for the others that reserved and then off for the 35 minute ride to FLL. Our flight back to Albany was not until 1:55, so I made use of the free internet service getting caught up on my many emails. Also a big dent in this review. The time passed very quickly. Home at around 5 and thinking about where to go next time
Our reason to go on this cruise was that we haven’t cruised Carnival in some 9 years or so. We wanted to see if what great things everyone (Carnival Cheerleaders) says about the line is true. Some were. Some weren’t.
1. The food was great. Definitely just as good as RCL if not better some nights. There were a night or two that my selection let me down, same as can happen anywhere.
2. The itinerary caught my wife’s eye. This cruise went to Carnival’s private island and also Grand Turk. Two places that were new for us.
3. Cost. This cruise was about $1500 for an 8A balcony, a great deal, but other things cost more than RCL after you get on. Alcohol for example. In all instances for the things my wife and I drink, the cost was more. Pictures also cost more. We never have a huge bar bill, but I know some spend many hundreds on drinks. The same would cost less on RCL making that Carnival economy cruise seem to be not so cheap after all in the end
4. Production shows on both lines are about the same I would say. The singers and dancers on both lines are excellent.
5. The booking of four comedians (on this cruise) was a plus compared to the 1 or 2 RCL generally has. Made up for times when there would have been no entertainment aside from the normal activities on the ship.
Carnival Thumbs Up
The ship is in great shape. No stained carpets, the outside painted surfaces are spotless
Very good MDR meals - Many were at least as good if not better than RCL
Excellent repeaters party - Much, much better than RCL because there are more drink choices and more staff to bring them to you.
Theater seating has tables in front of you making it easier to get by vs. getting stepped on with RCL theater seating.
Great disco from what I saw looking in. RCL’s are poor and small IMO
Serenity - Great outdoor adult only area with padded chairs, couches, lounges. Can get very windy is the only negative
Nice thick towels in your cabin
Carnival Thumbs Down
Rosie’s - Very cheap looking compared to any RCL Windjammer and massive lines at times
No table service in Rosie’s - In RCL’s Windjammer, you can sit and have coffee served to you for breakfast
Rosie’s - Lack of staff picking up and cleaning tables vs. RCL where they are waiting for you to leave to clean
No hot room service breakfast
Internet - .75 minute PLUS $3.95 fee to sign up first time. RCL is .65 minute with no fee
Over priced drinks - More expensive than RCL in most every case. Beer (Coors for example) is the least difference. Carnival is $5.75 for 16 oz vs. $4.25 for 12 oz on RCL. Whiskey Sour for another example. $5.50 unless you forget to specify house liquor. If you don’t, expect to get charged an extra .75 to $1.50 for top shelf.. I was never asked. On RCL, the same drink is $5.75 I believe, but is twice as big. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Formal Nights - Not what it used to be, but a LOT less on Carnival. Maybe 75% dressed and of those 75%, 80% of those changed after dinner. Just kiils some to stay looking nice all night for a change.
Waiters in Theater - Waiters walking in front of you the whole show!!! RCL limits ordering drinks up to around 5 minutes before Showtime so a waiter in the theater after the start is not common..
Big video screen in the pool area - The thing is always blaring noise. Never saw it off. Come out of Rosie’s for breakfast outside and you can’t hear the person you’re eating with it’s so loud. And who on a cruise wants to listen to an infomercial among other stupid things anyway. Great for playing movies at night with the free popcorn, but most of the rest of the time, not necessary to be on.
Swipe card safes - RCL’s key codes are a lot easier if there is more than one person that needs to get into it when needed
Very few new desert choices (usually 3) every night.
No perks on Carnival. Even after only 1 RCL cruise (and joining the crown and Anchor Club), each person in the cabin gets a coupon book. $5 internet credit , $5 match play casino coupon, drink discounts, picture discounts, etc
The most dreary hallways I’ve ever seen on a ship. No pictures in the hallways, not one and mighty ugly prints in the stairways. Admittedly RCL’s are so hot either IMO. On RCL (and other lines) ships, the halls are full of pictures and art. Also huge sculptures in the atriums
Will we go again on Carnival? Sure, most likely, but not because of cost. It’s not really cheaper in the end with the more expensive drinks and the reduced prices RCL has if you are a good shopper. It would most likely be because of itinerary and or convenience at the time we want to cruise.
We had a great time on this cruise, but when we saw the RCL Freedom of the Seas in St Thomas, we wanted to be there. The ship offers so much more than the Valor. You’ve heard it before, I don’t need to go on.
RCL frequent cruisers get perks that no other cruiseline can approach.
Hope you found my review helpful