by Lee Usry
November 20, 2004
Different ship, same story?
I chose this title carefully based on cruising this same route on the Celebration exactly two years earlier from the port of Galveston.
The Ecstasy replaced the Celebration on the 4 and 5-day sailings from Galveston in October. With a newer, larger ship you would think Carnival would have upgraded the service, food and attention to detail to match the newer vessel, but unfortunately it hasn't happened yet.
Our family of three sailed the 5-day agenda with port calls in Cozumel and Calica (Mexican for gravel pit). What follows are our opinions on the ship, the agenda and ports and our impressions of what Carnival is clearly targeting for cruisers aboard the Ecstasy.
Built in 91 and with accommodations for slightly more than 2000 passengers the ship is one of Carnival's slab sided Fantasy-class vessels with few balcony staterooms. She has aged well for a ship this old with nice deck space, ample size cabins and graceful styling when viewed from the ports of call.
The staterooms all benefited from a change in linens during a recent clean up and it is obvious that some public areas got a fresh coat of paint. The bad news is that whoever painted had little if any knowledge of what masking tape was for. Every single light fixture on the Lido deck had paint streaks on the glass. My teenager did a better job painting her closet. Also, paint runs and drips were evident along the wooden deck areas as well.
The pool area had streaked tile, obvious rust around the perimeter steel band at the main pool and more rust and tarnish on the polished rails and grab handles. The signature Carnival pool slide looked almost black with weathered paint and mildew.
The aft areas of the ship smelled like wastewater, with the smell more obvious in the Society Bar and the entertainment areas.
The Promenade Deck has the Blue Sapphire Lounge where the evening events were held. Almost all the seats had some obstruction from stainless covered support poles and the balcony seats were too low to the ground to not have obstructed view caused by the people in front of you.
Also on this deck is the Internet access area and Fossil Watch Shop. Carnival forgot to adequately light this area at night, so with black keyboards and slow high-speed access the value for dollar spent here is poor.
Carnival also needs to train more than one person to staff the Fossil shop. On both the days at sea the shop closed for 90 minutes while the attendant went to lunch. He posted a sign in the door each day with his time to reopen for business. Hello Carnival? Are you listening? Use one of the small army of deck attendants that pester you to purchase the daily-overpriced drink special to staff this shop for lunch. Label it cross training and use it all over the ship.
The Lido Deck is well laid out, and except for the pool area described above is clean and well staffed. The Panorama Bar and Grill served food for what seemed twenty-four hours a day. The food was fresh, but bland and not labeled at the actual tray. Some dishes were not recognizable from one of the food groups, so we avoided much of the fare here. We did enjoy the pizza and ice cream, but did get frustrated at the daily shortage and breakdown of the fat free yogurt side of the machine. The "closed for repairs" sign was laminated and looked like it was used daily on more than this cruise.
Breakfast was the best meal served here, and the omelets were excellent. The balance of the meals on this deck was best described as good hamburgers and fast food fare. Some of the outdoor tables on this deck are over the water and right on the rail, and this offered a great view.
The Atlantic Deck features both dining rooms and the shopping areas, and also looks to have benefited from a recent overhaul. The dining areas were clean, neat and well staffed. The bad news is the service on this cruise was slow. We missed the Carnival Returning Cruisers Party due to dinner exceeding ninety minutes in length. Our waiter tried twice to serve us the "today's special dessert" instead of showing the menu. We corrected him both times. Also, since sodas are extra, and must come from the cocktail waiter we saw this person one night in the five we were aboard. We felt like the additional purchase of a "Coke Card" was a waste of money if this were one of the places it was accepted.
The shopping areas were small, well stocked and offered no real bargains on jewelry or watches. The local Sam's Wholesale Club has more competitive prices, even with the additional sales tax charges. Liquor and tobacco products seemed to be the best selling items here.
Our cabin was on the Empress Deck, and I'd strongly recommend a reservation on this level. With slow elevators, and many stairs to climb this deck made the trek to the activities and dinner easy to manage. The cabin was adequate in size, clean and well stocked. The room safe requires a key, is small and located in the closet. Royal Caribbean offers a safe large enough for a camera or two, is accessible with the room key and is much easier to access. This seems like a simple fix. Carnival depends on the aging system of plastic keys, while the industry cruise ship and hotel standard is to use credit card size readers for access.
We paid the money for an outside cabin, and the view was best described as looking out a shower door covered in soap scum. We felt this was a waste of money as long as Carnival cuts corners on cleaning.
One note, the temperature varied considerably, and the thermostat consisted of a knob on the vent that only attempted to regulate airflow. It did little to change the temperature. We took a small fan that made the room much more comfortable, as we use a ceiling fan at home. I would bet in the summer sailing months the room temperature would be warmer than most would expect.
One 110v plug is in the cabin, and a simple 1250-watt hair dryer tripped the breaker. I called the pursers desk twice and was placed on hold for a total of 28 minutes. The assistant purser told me "guests in line at the counter had preferred access to their services", and I threatened to walk my wet, towel covered 46-year-old body to the atrium and join in the line. The breaker took almost 30 minutes to be reset.
Ports and Agenda:
The shops at the Carnival pier are newer than downtown, and offer the same merchandise. Cozumel shopping is not the best bargain for most merchandise of value.
Calica was the second port, and in 2002 we identified the port as a gravel pit. Carnival has upgraded this port, so now it is a gravel pit with a tacky flea market.
Xcaret was very beautiful, but requires much walking to see most of the sights. Don't miss the elevated open-air chapel at the top of the hill. The views are majestic.
Good and Bad:
Bad news travels fast, and with the grade B levels of maintenance and service people that return for second and third cruises aboard this ship will dwindle in number.
So, with all that said, we had a great time. My family works hard and plays hard, and this was our 6th cruise, the 4th on Carnival. We will not sail on one of Carnivals second tier vessels again until we read and hear better reviews. It has been said "you get what you pay for" and this ship, agenda and level of service clearly exemplifies exactly that.