Our vacation was a blast; we had a group of 13 people in three families, ages 11 to 76. For my family this was our fourth cruise, three on Carnival and one on Royal Caribbean.
Up front, this boat vibrates. We have been on the Carnival Ecstasy, and the Royal Caribbean Majesty Of The Seas, and nothing shakes and vibrates like it. The crew all had different responses when questioned and they looked at me like I was offending them when I asked.
We set our expectations for the Carnival Celebration about a grade B and we were neither surprised nor disappointed. 90% the things were great, 10% the things were disappointing. First, in comparison to the rest of the Carnival fleet and other cruise lines this is an old boat. It was built in the late 80's and no matter how much Carnival refurbishes and retrofits; they cannot enlarge the stairways, the elevators or the dining rooms. They are all small.
The cabins were adequate in size for a small family, (ours was 3) and we were impressed at the cleanliness, and promptness of the steward. He was not the friendliest guy however. The entertainment was nicely done, and except for one show where Carnival lost its mind on what is considered family oriented, the shows were well done. The shore excursions were presented to us immediately upon boarding, and I would strongly suggest that all cruisers do some web base research on what you want to do. The lines at the excursion desk are long, and being prepared made it a breeze for my group. The food was excellent overall in the main dining room, the staff was friendly and with few exceptions the service times met expectations.
Day One: Arrive early, arrive early, and arrive early. Got the picture? We drove down from Houston, arriving at the dock prior to noon. The lines for luggage drop-off check in and shore excursions were short. By 1:15 pm we were standing in our cabin, luggage in hand. We went to the Wheelhouse Cafe on the Lido deck and the food was excellent for a buffet line. The wait times were less than 10 min. from line to table. The rest of the afternoon we spent exploring the ship, and the handy Deck Plan pocket maps Carnival provides are a valuable tool, get a spare or two. The pools are small, but the temperature for this cruse was a little cool on the Fun Days At Sea, so the numbers actually swimming were few.
The evening dinner was great, we had a waiter from China, and he managed several tables well, with only a couple of missed orders. The balance of the first day we fed the slot machines, (a wasted effort, they were paying off zero) and attending the Welcome Aboard Show at 10:30pm in the Astoria Lounge. Here is a valuable tip for this lounge, you can enter from two levels, view the stage from both. Small groups might like the theater styled chairs in the balcony versus the larger cocktail styled booths on the first floor. No bad seats exist here, it is tastefully decorated, and the sound system is good and the shows started right on time. We finished the day scarfing the ribs at the Western Buffet in the Wheelhouse, and they were one of many meals that contributed to all of us gaining weight.
Day Two: Our first Fun Day At Sea, or spend, drink, gamble and eat. Carnival has adopted an industry standard with the Sign and Sail Card, and you can lose sight of how much you spend. If you want to drink more than a couple of drinks you might consider pre-paying for a drink booklet, some in our group did and they saved money. The food was excellent at breakfast at the Wheelhouse, and I'd suggest skipping the powdered eggs and opting for a made to order omelet. One note about the Wheelhouse, pizza, ice cream and frozen low fat yogurt are served 24 hours a day, and late nights with a slice of pizza or two were fun with our entire group. We played Bingo, cards, and board games and just sat and relaxed. It was a beautiful day. We attended the evening show in the Astoria Lounge, and this is where Carnival's staff left their brains at home. The costumes were very skimpy, the songs featured women dancers "wanting to be spanked" and the men's costumes left little for the imagination. While I did not mind the show, the groups of parents that placed their kids in Camp Carnival might have had second thoughts had they known that their little ones would be on the front row of the side balcony. This is a really genius move for the Phi Beta Kappa's at Carnival. No excuse can be made here.
Day Three: Cozumel is a nice port. All of us except the seniors booked the Passion Island Tour. The short bus, and then boat ride to the island took us to paradise. We found a shaded spot, 11 chairs and loungers and the water and waves were awesome. Lunch and drinks were provided, and the Coronas were cold, the food was fresh and plentiful. This was the best bargain for the trip. The bus dropped us off downtown on the way back, and I'd not recommend doing this. I'd go back to the ship, shower and then walk off the boat. The shops near the dock are all new, and the prices were just as competitive. One note about the shopping, the liquor on the boat was as inexpensive as the ports, and the cigars at the ports were no bargain. All Mexican shops lie to you about Cuban cigars, none can be brought back. The senior couple (my parents) went on the submarine tour, it was expensive, but the walking requirements were little and they saw the ocean views at over 100 ft down. We came back to the port area after dinner and just enjoyed the people watching, and the views of the Celebration and Carnivals new ship the Elation that was docked alongside. All in our group pooped out about 11:00 this evening.
Day Four: Calica. Carnival can tell you about this port and brag; but trust me it is gravel pit. The gangway must go over the gravel hopper and the dust is a little bit overwhelming. This is done to save Carnival money at your cost and mine. If you do not have a scheduled shore excursion stay in bed and sleep. You cannot walk to anywhere from this port. We booked an excursion to Xcaret; billed as an ecological park this is a huge place. The swimming, sunning, snorkeling and dolphin encounter tour is not to be missed. I took four teenagers on the dolphin swim, and while expensive it was a memory of a lifetime. The video and still photos is a tremendous souvenir. We missed the butterfly exhibits and fellow passengers as beautiful described the chapel and them. One note here, scavenge the fruit and munchies from the ship, the food here is outrageous. We went casual to dinner this evening, and Carnival did not enforce the No Shorts policy for evening meals. One note, over 75% of the passengers drove to the ship. Texans have a reputation for going comfortable, and this cruise was no exception. I didn't see any welding hats in the dining room, but I did see them poolside. I wore khaki shorts to dinner two of the five nights and no one complained except my wife. After dinner we enjoyed the Guest Talent Show, and the crowd was large. As I mentioned above make sure to stake out a table early. Prior to the talent show was the 30 Years of Fun Game Show. We loved this, it gave us a chance to heckle some from our own party, and it was hilarious. After a stop at the Wheelhouse for a drink, two slices of pizza and a frozen yogurt chaser, we dropped into bed about midnight. We did view the Midnight Gala Buffet, but we were too sleepy to make it, as they didn't serve food until 12:30pm.
Day Five: Our second Fun Day At Sea. This was a disappointment not to blame on Carnival. Rainy weather and moderate seas prevented any deck activities, so we enjoyed the Not So Newlywed Game and Bingo. The slot machines were no better, and twenty dollars later I walked out. The food for all the meals today was excellent, and the staff was overwhelmed at the numbers that elected to dine at the Wheelhouse.
Debarkation: Smoothest of any cruise to date. We got up early, cleared US Immigration and walked off the vessel to the US Customs, claimed our luggage and loaded them in the car for the drive home. We were on the freeway before 9:45am. Nicely done Carnival.
Finally, if you can afford to fly for your cruise, fly to Florida. If you want to drive, then the Celebration is a good bargain for the money. We got discounted fares, and got a discounted cruise ship. The ports were not comparable to Nassau, and the private island stops the other cruise lines offer on Miami based cruises are well worth the effort to fly.
However, if you want a bargain cruise vacation, set your sights to a slightly lower level of expectation and you will not be disappointed. Hence, the overall grade of B for this ship, the ports and amenities.