NEW ORLEANS After having Delta cancel flight from Philadelphia due to snow we hustled to Baltimore to catch another flight with Southwest. The flight crew was great and humored us the entire flight. This helped from the earlier frustration. Arrived New Orleans @ 6: PM. Great place for homeport. Arrived one day early to enjoy town. Stayed at Holiday Inn - Superdome because of cruise special. Room was $99. Plus free shuttle to cruise pier. They also provided shuttle into town. Took limo from airport as cost was better ($75.) than getting two cabs for the six of us ($13. ea.). Ate at Margaritaville and took in Bourbon Street. Many football fans were in town from Tampa this weekend. Everybody was friendly, especially Rick at the Hotel who wore his Saints jacket and teased all the visiting fans.
EMBARKATION Arrived at pier about 12:00 noon. Went through all the registration, pictures, etc. in good time (about 50 min.). Arrived on ship, ate and actually had time to go back ashore to River walk mall to do some last minute shopping. Since it was a bit cool outside and nothing was happening yet on board this time was well spent.
BON VOYAGE I have always enjoyed leaving port. I have to say that it was a bit disappointing as the 6 pm departure conflicted with our 5:45 early seating. I thought that this evening's dinner should have been delayed about an hour. Nonetheless we procrastinated on deck for about 25 minutes before going to dinner so we can get the feel of Bon Voyage! It was dark already and New Orleans looked good at night.
FOOD We had early seating in Monet dining room. Food was good and much to be expected as this was our fourth cruise on Carnival. We tried most everything usually ordering two appetizers and two entrees. Dessert was not up to usual standards as we saw no baked Alaska, cherries jubilee, or any other flaming goodies. I thing that there was a problem with someone getting burned on a past cruise ship and since that they got rid of the liability. (The waiters no longer carry flaming items on there head while doing the dance of the night). We ate at sit-down breakfast a couple times but did not make the sit down lunch opting for the Lido buffet. We us to like the soups at lunch but did not see anything on the lunch menu to warrant breaking up the Lido deck fun. Midnight buffet was the smallest we have ever seen on a cruise ship. Although they talked it up as magnificent, we found it lacking and not worthy of pictures or the wait to eat. What ever happened to the chocolate covered strawberries and mousse? We saw a lot of breads, salads, and an ice sculpture that looked recycled from previous weeks buffet. We don't expect a grand buffet every night but when they have just one they should make it worth staying awake for. This one was also at the Lido whereas past cruises it was in the interior dining room.
SERVICE Dinner staff was adequate. Our waiter (Petr), a nine year employee was usually a bit confused and his tables were always the last to get served. We were often the last few tables occupied during first seating. They really make you uncomfortable when cleaning up around you when they are getting ready for second seating. First the music comes on, then warnings from the Maitre'd that there's just 20 min. to go, and finally he sends an army to wait on you so you finish. I only ordered wine once at dinner. On this ship waiter serves it. He left me holding the wine list for 25 minutes while taking the dinner order from all his tables. Once ordered he never kept our glasses full. I did not think that he deserved gratuity for this so I deducted some bucks from his prepaid gratuity folio. Server did not remember to get the children drinks and the usual attention they give the kids was missing. We don't look for fancy service when traveling with kids but it is nice when they get attention from the staff. We did not see the Maitr'd all week as I don't think he left his post (computer). This was unusual as we have always received table visits on past cruises. Tips for the Maitr'd were not automatically deducted from your folio but recommended. We opted not to tip and only hoped that he would visit us on the last night of cruise. I usually speak up when asked how everything is. He didn't visit so "no harm, no foul" and to each his own.
Room steward was terrific and always available. Rooms were kept neat and requests were made promptly.
Bar staff and waiters were attentive. We especially liked the Lido aft pool area where kids did not overrun the hot tub and the waiters were able to give you more attention. With the retractable roof open the chlorine boiling in the hot tub does not burn your nose.
ROOMS We had two rooms on Veranda deck inside forward. We had purchased two interior cabins on the TBD list. We were upgraded from 4A to 4E which only meant that the rooms are on a higher deck. Room was small just the same. The Veranda deck was one deck below Lido which meant that we were close to the action. The room was not equipped with a radio and TV channels were limited, especially for sports. We had more selection on Royal Caribbean as well as more movies. Drawer and closet space seemed more limited than other ships in Carnivals fleet.
ENTERTAINMENT Broadway shows were good. The signature show "Formidable" was a bit of a yawn and not as good as "Point and Click" which we thought was entertaining and original. The illusionist Diva show was terrific and probably the most entertaining of all shows as it also included the dancers. The juggler and Motown singer were so-so fill-ins. Corey's bird show was a nice break from the usual stuff but his magic could be better.
CRUISE STAFF Corey Schmidt was great and seemed at home with his audience. This is our second cruise with Corey and he does not seem pretentious and has some fresh material. He is probably the best in Carnival's fleet. His assistant Stewart was good at game shows but came off rude and uncaring when approached with a problem we were experiencing.
ACTIVITIES YEA! Carnival finally put a basketball court and volleyball court on a ship. The only problem is that they don't have any staff to organize teams, games, etc. You had to go from the 12th deck to the 3rd deck, stand in line at the purser's desk, leave a 20 dollar deposit and then you can get a ball to play. Then you have to stand in line again to return it. STUPID! We suggested to cruise staff (Stewart) to have the towel person do it near the pool just below the courts. Stewart could not grasp why we were so confounded with their procedure and did little caring. On Royal Caribbean they staffed the game area and had organized teams and tournaments. Even Holland America has a staff and gets you involved in sports. It seems that Carnival promotes "couch potato syndrome" as their cruise staff hosts bingo, game show trivia, etc... There is enough of that to do already with lounges galore.
SHIP Ship was clean and beautiful. The French theme was alright. Halls were usually cluttered in public areas with photographers and tables selling jewelry and such. It was very smoky in hall at casino area as they do not partition the room from the hall. While ship was cruising we felt weird vibrations. Our friends were on Riviera deck and experience a lot of vibration near the rear of ship. I thought that there may have been a balance problem in the azipods or something as the ship shuttered at regular intervals. The water was smooth but the ship had weird vibrations. In the Monet dining room (also at rear of ship) it was noticeable. Our room on Veranda was fine and vibration much less noticed.
PORTS OF CALL
Montego Bay Poor choice to visit. Read many bad reviews and listened. We did Jamaica beach break excursion ($35.). We were bused to a beach club which normally costs $6. for entrance. We were given a drink voucher and found out it was only good for soft drink. Ordered a rum & coke for $6. and bartender measured shot of rum. I have not seen a measured shot on any other island. We played beach volleyball until d-jay broke us up to run some games. We would have rathered played volleyball as games were slow in developing and not well organized. Very little to do as water sports all cost money. Rest rooms were poorly equipped upon arrival and not well maintained. When bussed back to ship the tour guide stopped the bus at a small shopping center and would not leave for 30 minutes. All the shops were extremely pricey and we did not like being sequestered. We complained to the purser and were refunded 25% of excursion and given complementary drink on-board ship.
Grand Cayman We booked a stingray city tour on-line before leaving with Native Way Water sports. We were mat at pier and bussed to yacht club to take a 25 passenger boat to the sandbar. The crew was outstanding. They provided plenty of squid and made sure that each one of us had ample opportunity to encounter the rays. They picked them up for you and educated us. We also stopped at coral gardens where we snorkeled. Again the crew jumped in and pointed out a moray eel and octopus for us. They served soft drinks on board and were helpful in all ways. They reserved us space and responded to e-mails in good time. They did not require prepayment. ($25. paid during trip). Cruise ship charged $54. for similar trip with "Ferry" of about 100 people.
Cozemel We took taxi ($10.) to Chukanauub Beach where we snorkeled and scuba dived. This state operated beach is reasonable and well equipped. Beach service is good and prices very reasonable. $10. entrance fee, about $7. for snorkel, mask and vest. $50. for scuba gear. Food and drinks modest. No water sports.
We left to go jet-skiing at Mr. Sancho's beach club. This was located a bit farther down the road at San Francisco beach. Entrance was free but chairs, umbrella's, etc. all cost money. We did not care as jet ski was $50. for a half hour and drinks were reasonable. Beach was nice. Food and shops were also good. We would probably visit here again.
DEBARKATION We had early flight (10:45 am) from New Orleans. We got tags for early debarkation. We were worried that ship would arrive in port late as it did the week before and we would have problems. This was not the case and we left ship about 8:40 am. Baggage was sorted to a dedicated section for early birds and we got through customs with ease. We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.