by Hank Fontaine2 Western Caribbean2 December 2, 2006
New Orleans Pier:
The atrium was pretty, not as big as the newer ships, but still very nice. They have 2 glass elevators in it as well as 2 curving marble staircases. The center of the atrium is filled with a circular bar with a small stage behind it. The stage had an excellent pianist playing upon arrival and the music added an air of class and relaxation. Throughout the voyage you could find some form of classical music here.
The public areas of the ship were decorated (mostly) in a Roman/Greek style. I say mostly because it looks like the ship was a Vegas style at one time. There are some leftover Vegas elements that clash with the Greek/Roman decorations. It's nothing too bad though.
Our room on the empress deck was nice. Typical of most carnival rooms on their 10+ year old ships. It was very clean, spacious (for a cruise), and very functional. Our cabin steward was excellent and the room was always fresh.
Our cruise was fairly full so the ship seemed pretty busy from 8 A.M. to 1 A.M. but it never seemed crowded. The pools (there are 3 including the children's) were surprisingly empty much of the time and the waterslide line was only 5 kids long or so. This is partly due to the weather; it was warm but very cloudy and a few showers. The hot tubs (also 3) got more use but you would still see them empty or mostly empty at times. The putt-putt course was also line free much of the time. There is also a topless deck on the ship which is well marked, gated, and not visible from other areas of the ship.
The ship had 3 or 4 back decks where you could watch the wake. The bottom most is almost one of those secret areas of the ship. No elevator goes there so many people didn't know about it or couldn't get to it. The area is very small but romantic and private. They had 3 benches to sit on and an area that would fit 2 deck chairs. We had it to ourselves most of the time and really enjoyed watching the sea from there.
The ship also had several viewing decks at the front of the ship. These were generally busier, but at times you would find yourself alone. Sadly we didn't see any dolphins or flying fish this trip.
Another notable item. The seas were very rough and the winds high during this voyage. As such the ship moved quite a bit. Be sure and take your medication if you are susceptible to seasickness. The lido deck, while open, is well protected from the wind. You can eat and swim out here is all but the windiest conditions.
We were in the Celebration dining room at the 8:30 seating. I must say that this was the best experience we have had on a cruise. It wasn't the best because of the food though; it was our waitress and her team. They were unbelievably good. For those interested her name was Denitsa and she was from Bulgaria. She was great at making conversation, never left you feeling hurried, had a great smile, and predicted your needs like she was psychic. When she met you in other areas of the ship she remembered your name and went out of her way to talk to you. The amazing thing was none of it seemed forced or fake. She really seemed happy to be there. On the morning of debarkation she even went out of her way to serve us at breakfast.The food was very similar to other carnival ships. That is to say it's very nice and should satisfy most. The dish that let me down was the Beef Wellington. I had been impressed with this on past carnival voyages but found this one lacking. My wife had seafood most nights and found it all to her liking. The duck was my favorite, the texture was excellent and it was perfectly cooked. The appetizers were superb every night, the squid and satay were real standouts. Salads were mediocre, lots of iceberg lettuce and not enough leafy greens. Desserts were mostly excellent as well and the ones I didn't care for weren't due to a lack of quality but rather a matter of personal preference. I highly recommend you have the after dinner cheeses as well, some are excellent European brands. The breakfast menu in the dining room was the same every day but they had a wide selection. The Eggs Benedict seemed to be a favorite. Food was good at breakfast as well. The lunch menu in the dining room was different each day and offered excellent choices. The food was better than average and the service as good as always.
An interesting note: More people seemed to dress up on this voyage. Carnival ships often seem ultra-casual but not on this voyage. On the formal night I didn't see many people without suits or at least ties. Even on the casual nights people tried to look their best with most gentlemen wearing long sleeved button up shirts.
The ships variety shows were VERY entertaining; we even had a special holiday show since our cruise was close to Christmas. They chose great songs and the production values were high. The dancers were all skilled and did their jobs well, in a few more months they should be perfect. The singers were good lounge singers as well. The entire staff did an excellent job of involving the audience and energizing people. We left all of the shows in a good mood and fully entertained. The last show "Nightclub Express" was the best I have seen on a Carnival ship. It had a great mixture of energetic music that covered most time periods.
The cruise director, Big Tex, was good to very good. After having Steve Cassel (on another carnival ship) and his excellent assistant cruise directors, I find its tough to rate any other cruise director as great. The assistant cruise director (ACD) on this ship was awful. His name was Noonan and he really seemed to have lost patience/enthusiasm with the whole cruise director job. I know you deal with a lot of people, many drunken idiots, but as ACD you need have patience and be able to fake enthusiasm. I couldn't be one because I don't have the patience either.
Costa Maya Mexico
My advice here is to avoid a cruise that stops here or do a shore excursion that takes you away from the port. If you are the type that enjoys walking around, getting good deals, seeing new things or exploring a town you will be disappointed. It's like a sanitized Disney version of Mexico. Some people are scared of Mexico though and I guess this would be a good port for them. You can take a taxi or rent a golf cart and drive to some of the small settlements surrounding the port but you do have to drive. We chose to visit Chacchoben, it's a Mayan site and was quite excellent. They have two fairly large Mayan pyramids and one slightly smaller one which have been excavated as well as numerous walls and smaller structures. You can also see there is much more still covered by vegetation and trees. It's a 40 minute drive from town and at the site they have a refreshment stall, limited shopping, and good home made ice cream. (The man advertises it as "Better Then Haagen Daz") The trip is highly recommended for those interested in archaeology or history.
As of right now Costa Maya is the worst port I have ever been to. I have no doubt it will improve in the future but if you can avoid it do so. The only plus would be visiting some of the local Mayan ruins.
We rented a jeep here from "Executive Rental Car" for $41 a day. All the major car rental places have offices at the tendering pier and you can get your vehicle right there. I highly recommend renting a jeep. They are fun vehicles to see the island in. The top goes up and down in seconds with very little effort which is nice for those unexpected tropical showers. They also all have four wheel drive in case you go anywhere sandy. It's better than scooters if there are two of you because you have shelter form the rain can easily talk to each other. People complain about the drivers but if you have ever traveled to other countries you realize Mexican drivers actually rate quit high. Those that have never left the states may think the drivers are scary but their system is easy to figure out and traffic, except for downtown, is fairly light.
We spent the day driving around every backstreet of the town. We stopped and bought a whole chicken for $5 from a guy was roasting them over an open fire 6 blocks back from the main road. Then we went to the grocery store and bought drinks and napkins. We took all this to a deserted waterfront area and had a picnic. The chicken was superb, it was rubbed in spices and it was slow roasted to perfection. We spent the rest of the day driving around the island stopping at beaches and the few Mayan ruins on the island. I think we put the top of the jeep up and down about 10 times because we had light rain showers all day but it didn't dampen our fun. Shopping, as most will tell you, is good to excellent here. It's not as cheap as the mainland but still very affordable by U.S. standards. I suggest you hit the streets a couple blocks back from the main roads as you can find some really good deals there. If you are driving around the island try and stop at some of the lonely stores beside the road. They will often be cheaper than the stores in town but they will have a more limited selection.
Getting back to the Ship was also very easy. We only had to wait about 5 minutes to get on the tender boat and perhaps another 5-10 minutes for it to fill all the way up for us to leave. The sea was getting very rough by the time we returned to the ship and the tendering boat was being moved about quite a bit. It may bother those with a sensitive belly.