Pros: Lots of free activities and shows on board, the food and service was top rate
Cons: Easy to over spend using their charge card, all drinks and sodas cost $$
I just got back from my first cruise in over 25 years, (I went with my family when I was 10) and I truly enjoyed the experience. I?m not sure if all cruise lines are alike, but Carnival sure tries to make sure everyone has an enjoyable trip at sea.
My wife and I took the 4-day Western Caribbean cruise out of Miami. The boat was scheduled to leave the port of Miami at 4:00 pm and arrive at Key West the next morning, but the Seas were rough that day, so they made the first day a travel at sea day instead. This was better anyway, because it gave us more opportunity to explore the boat without having to disembark the boat the next morning.
The schedule was now reset and we would travel to Cozmel, Mexico on the third day and then back to Key West for the last day. We won?t could the real last day, which consists of waking up, eating breakfast and waiting around about 2-3 hours before customs will let you leave the ship.
Since this was only a short cruise, we were only in each port approximately 6-8 hours each. We were in Cozmel for the afternoon sun to go the beach, shopping, ruin touring or snorkeling. (we went shopping and to the beach).
In Key West, we docked at 2:00, so we were there for a great Key West Sunset. We also walked all of Duval street to the Southernmost point in the US with shopping and eating at Jimmy Buffet?s Margaretville for good measure. Many other cruise members took the 90 minute Conch Tour Train (trolley) around the island.
The Ecstasy was one of Carnival?s sister ships. There are 4 or 5 ships with identical dimensions. They are all decorated differently, but hold approximately the same amount of passengers. The Ecstasy has a crew of 920 and could hold over 2,000 passengers.
The Ship was put into service in 1991 and had some wear and tear, but for the most part, they staff was constantly keeping the ship in tip top shape. We saw them doing touch up painting during our time in one of the ports.
There were two main formal dining rooms aboard the ship. The Winsong and the Winstar (yes it was confusing to us too) This was the first time that they tried 4 different seating?s for dinner. 5:45, 6:30, 8:00 and 8:45pm. Before the cruise, we had to choose either early or late seating and we got stuck with the earliest at 5:45. (I would have preferred the 6:30, but we managed.)
The food in the dinning rooms was top notch. It was like dinning in a 5 star restaurant on land. We received great service from our waiter and assistance waiters. They were prompt, friendly and took care of all our requests. They also didn?t try to rush us through dinner. Still when we were ready for the next course, it was always ready waiting for us.
The portions weren?t large, but with an appetizer, salad, main course and desert. Most people were generally full after the meals. Still if you wanted more of any item, just ask.
You were required to tip your waiting staffing at the end of the trip. I had no problem giving the waiter and assistant waiters they just due, but the head waiter and maitre d' were also looking for hand outs. The last night when we got back late from Key West, I asked if we could still be seated for dinner. When they didn?t seat us (they didn?t get tipped either)
Generally, you sit with the same passengers ever evening for dinner. Even though it was a mixed bag of passengers, we still had fun.
On the Lido deck (top) they served an informal buffet almost all day. The breakfast buffet was great and we can?t forget the 24-hour pizza bar and the mid-night themed buffets. (never made one)
The ship has a Gym, Spa and a running track. My wife and I received a couple?s massage, which we both enjoyed. (Although, they try to sell you their products afterwards) We also spent time in the Hot tubs, but never made it to the gym (0h well, got to shed that extra 10 pounds after I get off the ship)
On the main decks of the ship were two pools. Mostly for the kids, but a few adults also ventured down the large waterslide. Alongside the pools were also two outdoor hot tubs too.
The ship had two main show rooms. The Blue Saaifire lounge was the main room where all the show were. They had two Las Vegas style shows while we were on board. Equipped with both showgirls and two great singers.
At the other end of the ship they had another lounge that had a large capacity for seating. This lounge usually had dancing with Big Band and Jazz. Around midnight they had a comedian who was quite funny.
Between the two show rooms along the Promenade deck, there was 5 or 6 other nightclub (bars) to choose from. They all had different themes. There was a disco, a piano bar and a karaoke bar too. At the very center was the Crystal Palace Casino. (We spent a lot of time there?.and we actually made some money)
For the kids, they had Camp Carnival. They had lots of activities during the day to keep them busy. At night they had movies and other social activities for them. There was also a teen room, which included computer terminals. There was also a video game room near the casino.
The Room (Service):
We stayed in one of the smaller rooms on the Upper level deck. After speaking to many other people who have been on cruises, it didn?t really seem worth the extra money just to have a port hole or more. With so many activities on the ship, you?re never really in your room.
Even the small room was more than adequate. Each room had a color TV with selected satellite channels and HBO too.
The room stewards did an excellent job at keeping our room clean. Our luggage was already in our room when we boarded and they cleaned the room and made the beds at least twice a day. If you took an afternoon nap, your bed was made and room cleaned when you returned from dinner. They also made characters out of the old towels. (They made a swan one night). At night the sheets where turned down and a chocolate mint on the pillow. (This was better service than some hotels that I have stayed in.)
The bottom line on the price is this. The cost your pre-pay for the trip is hardly the final cost. When you board the boat they present you with a Sign-and-Sail card. This is like a charge card while you are on the boat. All the expenses then get totaled and charged to your credit card when you leave.
Every time you order a drink you have to provide your card. They also always include a 15 percent gratuity, so you don?t have to worry about tipping your waiters and bartenders. If you drink a lot, it can add up quickly. Also, they charge for soda too. (But you do get juices and coffee free during your meals)
Other items that could get charged to your card are the Spa and Island excursions like tours. My wife also bought a lot at the duty free shop on board. But, all the shows on board are free.
We made out all right and only had about 200 more dollars charged to our card, but some people had over 500. (so watch what you spend).
Conclusion:The weather aside, we had a really fun time on the ship. I don?t see how anyone could have a terrible time on a ship like this. (Unless you get seasick)