Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Carnival Cruise: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

In our previous two posts we summarized the pros and cons of cruising and commented on cruise life. Today, we finish our cruise series with a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of our Carnival Cruise trip.

The trip was mostly good. The best of the good was the service we got from the ship's crew, most of whom appear well-trained, courteous and helpful. Our waiters in the main dining hall were friendly, efficient and fun, including doing some napkin tricks to entertain the kids. For dinners, we had two tables--one with adults and one with the kids. At one point, the Curmudgeon offered to cut his younger son's pizza, only to be told, "no dad, Paul [their waiter] will do it."

Comedian Alan Ball, who came aboard and did three shows, including a late night R-rated version, was excellent. Singer Marcus Anthony, who did a medley of mostly Mo-town hits, was also quite good. The rest of the shows were so-so.

The excursions at Cozumel (swimming with dolphins), Belize (reef-bottom fishing) and Honduras (kayaking/snorkeling) were all good. The bus tour of Grand Cayman was not so good.

The crew also did a good job getting everyone on and off the ship with a minimum of delay and fuss, while keeping us all on schedule. We came to appreciate this when we happily by-passed a long line in Grand Cayman--at least an hour long--of passengers awaiting the opportunity to board a different cruise ship. Then, in Honduras, we encountered quite a few very unhappy passengers of a Holland America ship who were standing in two-hour line to re-board their ship, while we had no wait at all.

The regulars at the poker table were good. The casino's cut from the table was bad.

The photographs taken around the ship each day were good. The cost for purchasing them was not so good.

The breakfast buffet was pretty good--we liked having grits every day, there was little wait for omelettes, and the coffee was strong. The pancakes, however, were cold and rubbery.

The lunch buffet was ok. The sandwich selections were pretty lame, but the burgers and hot dogs were good, apart from the long line. What seemed like a lot of variety at the beginning of the trip turned out to be pretty monotonous at the end--some variation in the buffets would have been nice.

The dinners were fine, with plenty of selections. Portions were a bit small--thankfully--but if you really didn't get enough they'd gladly bring you a second round. The chocolate melting cake dessert was divine, maybe too good.

Our dinner in the aptly named "Golden Fleece"--the steakhouse at the top of the ship--was quite good. Don't go there early in the cruise, or you may dislike the quality of the regular dinners after being fleeced.

Some other things on the "bad" side. The ship offered a couple of "free" lectures from the spa/health club staff, which turned out to be infomercials for some questionable "de-toxification" treatments that, of course, cost a lot of money. Also, the tacky "entertainment" at the end of each dinner was unnecessary.

So what was ugly? Two things: first, for some reason, even though all meals are included, you had to pay extra for standard soft-drinks. We understand paying for alcoholic drinks, but not for sodas. To make it worse, Carnival offered a soda-card option, where for about $40 you could purchase an unlimited soda card for the week. But the card was in the name of an individual passenger, so if you wanted soda for a family of four for the week, it would cost you $160. That's RIDICULOUS and a complete rip-off.

If you buy one of the cards for a child, then you're going to want to force the child to drink as much soda as possible to justify the purchase. On the other hand, they didn't have a family option, where you might buy a set amount of sodas that anyone could use. We don't know what other cruise lines do, but if another included soda as a regular "free" option in the meals, that alone would be enough to switch us from Carnival. (And if they all do what Carnival does, then they're all a rip-off.)

The other ugly aspect was the basketball court on the ship. Granted, this is a limited complaint, but with two active boys who are avid hoopsters, it was quite important to us. The ship had a small court on the top deck, with one hoop. No net. For some unfathomable reason, the ship rented the only two basketballs to a couple of older kids, so that when they weren't around, there was no basketball. There's no logic at all for doing that, other than limiting play on the basketball court.

While we were in Grand Cayman, we noted that the ship anchored next to us--we believe it was from the Royal Caribbean line--had a larger basketball court, with two hoops and nets. Call us petty, but next time we'll be on one of their cruises.


MACMAN said...

Good review of your time on Carnival. I have never taken a cruise but it lets you know there are a few buyers beware situations. At least you got to swim with the dolphins in Cozumel, that must have been a blast. Nice Blog.
God Bless,

Anonymous said...

first off, yeah, im calling you petty on that basketball court comment.
second, that soda card.. its not really as big of a deal as you make it sound. I was ON that ship too..seriously. chill. Its not supposed to be free.

Anonymous said...

Actually, your commentary shows how difficult it is for a cruise line like carnival to keep everyone happy. You may be the only family in the universe that would book a cruise based upon the availability of a basketball court. Your standards, so not dissin' you, but it shows the kind of attention to all details Carnival needs to apply to try to please everyone.

Appreciate your comments.