by Todd Karfs
February 12, 2005
This is my trip report for my recent Carnival Ecstasy cruise out of Galveston.
Background: This was my third cruise, the first being on "the Big Red Boat" with my then 10-year-old daughter on the now defunct Premier Cruise lines (She is 18 now). The second was in 2003 on the Celebration out of Galveston.
Embarkation: Went fairly smooth. I drove to the pier from Dallas, exactly 5 hours, used E-Z Cruise parking which I reserved on-line ($30 for 5-days). E-Z Cruise also transports your luggage with you which is nice since some lots require you to drop your luggage off at the pier first. Got to the pier at 2 p.m. went through embarktation and was on the ship in less than 35 minutes.
Ship: The ship is over 10 years old and showed some signs of wear, but overall I was quite satisfied with the condition and the crew is constantly cleaning. It was nicer than the Celebration even though the Celebration had just gone through an overhaul when I was on it.
Food: I ate breakfast and lunch each day at the buffet on the Lido deck. Breakfast was pretty much the same each day, but always good and plenty of variety. Lunch changed everyday and was very good, the only things I did not like was some of the items that I usually wouldn't eat anyway. One hint, if you're a dessert fiend like me you may want to get your dessert the same time you get the rest of the meal, otherwise they sometimes ran out of things. I usually ate around noon.
I always ate in the main dining room for dinner, and I felt the food was great and the service was excellent and has improved since my cruise in 2003. My favorite was the seafood Newburg on the last night. The lobster was also good. Remember, you can order whatever you want and on lobster night I also ordered prime rib for my own version of surf-n-turf.
Cruise Director: The cruise director was Larry Gustafon or something like that, anyway, he was excellent. He's been with Carnival for over 14 years and definantly has a passion for cruising. He was funny, approachable, and very talented. On one night of the cruise he was the featured entertainer in the lounge and sang songs ranging from Dean Martin and Andy Williams to Creed and Dave Matthews Band. In fact, Larry is from Vegas and also has a lounge act he plays at some of the casinos there when he takes a break from cruisin'.
Speaking of shows, the 2 Vegas shows were very good, with lots of variety and costume changes. Carnival has definantly improved in this area since 2003.
Cozumel: We rented a Jeep from Executive right off the pier, it was $40 for the day, $8 insurance, and my card was charged $53 total (I already checked after I got home). We went to the East side of the island, the beaches are beautiful there even though you can't really swim there, too rough. The negative is they don't clean them like they should, I saw a lot of trash stuck in the rocks and such.
For the swim beach we went to Mr. Sanchos beach club on the west side of the island. Free to get in and we ordered 2 margaritas and chicken nachos from the lunch counter. They have several shops in front and we found this to be the best bargain hunting and the people were very friendly and not as pushy as in-town. My cruise was in Cozumel on Monday which is the slowest day for Cozumel, only 3 ships in port then compared to 12 in port on Saturday, so that may be another reason for the bargains. The beach area was very nice but the water was pretty cool (what do you expect in February!).
Playa: Did the Tulum ruins/Xel-Ha tour. I was disappointed in Tulum. I was there 5 years ago and it was wonderful, we went on a Sunday and it was not commercialized at all and I did not see any buses. This time, it has all kinds of construction up front including a shopping mall area and there were over 50 buses in the parking lot, it just wasn't the same. BUT, if you haven't been before it's still worth the trip, it's amazing how intelligent the Mayans were.
Xel-Ha was nice, clean and refreshing, but we only had 2 hours there and I would have preferred more time. There was a couple at our table that went to Xcaret and raved about it, which I felt was a very good recommendation since the couple complained about almost everything else on the cruise. Xcaret is only a 5-minute taxi ride from the pier at Calica and you can walk up and get your tickets.
Overall: I love cruising with Carnival, it's a very affordable vacation and I love being pampered. Both cruises have exceeded my expectations. I think most people who complain about Carnival are looking for the proverbial "Champaign on a beer budget" type cruise, I on the other hand look for the best value for my vacation dollar and Carnival is it. I could afford a "nicer" cruise on another line with possibly better food, but I also know I will pay for those luxuries and I am content with what I receive with Carnival.
Another thing, Carnival now has 5 other cruise lines under it's corporate umbrella and I think that helps Carnival improve because if something works on one line, they probably adapt it to the others.