July 5, 2003
This is my review of the Holiday, July 5, 2003, our first Carnival cruise. First of all, I would like to comment that after booking this cruise at the end of June, I read a lot of negative reviews on this ship. Since I had not been on a cruise in 19 years (first one was on my honeymoon on a different line), and had a wonderful time then, I was very concerned about this one. However, none of these concerns came to pass!
I booked the cruise directly with Carnival at the end of June with Mike Lorenzo, our CC, who was excellent. We booked on the Riveria deck with two inside cabins, guaranteed. Our tickets arrived on time in the mail with all necessary information, about two weeks before sailing.
We drove 13 hours to the port (stayed the night before at the Courtyard by Marriott in Covington, LA, just 40 miles from the port). We came in during a blinding rainstorm, but thankfully, it stopped raining by the time we arrived at the parking lot at 10:30 a.m.. Hubby dropped us all of (four of us plus luggage) near the entrance of the terminal and he parked the van. Traffic was very light (I guess this is due to Conquest being at Gulfport). We showed our tickets and birth certificates to the porter who then looked up our names on the official cabin list since we didn't have a room assignment ahead of time. We were so excited to find out we were upgraded to the Main deck with two ocean view rooms fairly close together!
We then proceeded inside the terminal to finish the rest of the paperwork which took about 5-10 minutes. They were very thorough in checking birth certificates, picture ID's etc. We had to go through a few checkpoints before finally boarding. We were sent to a holding area which we only had to wait about 10 minutes before getting on the ship. We also went through X-ray, and had our papers checked several times before actually boarding. I don't remember all the details of this as this was so new to me, and we were a bit flustered at not knowing what to expect. I will say that I was impressed as to how organized the whole process was.
We found our cabins which were very clean, and very nice. We left our carried on luggage in the rooms, and had lunch on the Lido deck. It was delicious. We had cheeseburgers, pizza, tea, fruit, salad, etc. It took about an hour for the first of our luggage to be delivered. My piece was the last one, and I will say I was worried at first when it didn't come with the rest of ours. I had visions of it being lost, but that was unfounded. Whew! Now, I could relax. We had made it!
The first night we didn't go to the formal dining room because we weren't quite dressed for it. It had been a long day, and we just didn't feel like getting all dressed up. Found out later that was ok for the first night as everyone is in the same boat (pardon the pun)! We had the early seating (5:45) and were placed with a wonderful family who also has three children close to our children's ages. We spent time with them after dinner going to shows, and the late buffets. One night, our kids all took off together without us, so it gave us some adult time. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers, so hopefully, we can cruise again together, or just visit.
I thought most of the food was excellent (except for the scrambled eggs, sausage, and bacon on the Lido deck for breakfast). I am not a picky eater, and enjoy eating food I don't have to cook. This is my vacation! I tried the quail, chateaubriand, beef Wellington, a pork and fish dish. The meat was ordered medium well, and was cooked to perfection. Had appetizers and salad every night which were excellent. I can't remember every dish I had, but I will say that each one looked like something off the Food Channel. The presentation was wonderful. Our waiters, Oliver and Allwyn were wonderful. They even brought a birthday cake for my son whose birthday wasn't until August, and sang! My son is almost 17, so he was a little embarrassed. I hope to post the pics.if he lets me, lol. This was a very nice gesture since we didn't expect it. My older kids were very willing to try new foods in the dining room. The midnight buffets were fun, and especially the gala buffet. I took a tour of the galley, and it was fun to see how the food was prepared. I found it amazing how easy they made it look.
We aren't into gambling, so we didn't use the casinos. We attended the Shout show which was excellent. The other show we attended was the talent show. It was very enjoyable. My Cruisemate friend I met online before the cruise was one of the singers. She was excellent! My husband and I loved the band in the Doc Holiday Lounge (Music Power, I believe). They are a group from the Philippines that play older rock songs. It wasn't very crowded, so I felt sorry for them. I also shopped quite a bit on board in the gift shop for souveniers, and loved the Gold by the Inch jewelry. The prices were very reasonable.
Regarding the ports, we were excited to learn that we had more time in Cozumel since they changed the itinerary. We bought the tickets to Playa Sol, a beach resort about 10 minutes by cab from the port. For five people, the cost was approximately $142 (through Carnival). It was a beautiful beach with open bar, and good nachos. My older kids rented a jet ski for 15 minutes (first time), and ended up "crashing." My son overturned it. No one was hurt, but they didn't try it again. We spent about 5 hours there. After dinner on the ship, we returned to Cozumel to shop. We didn't feel comfortable because it was getting dark. We did a little shopping, but only spent around 1 ½ hours downtown. I did get a great deal on a 14k gold charm...the shop owner wasn't about to let me leave without buying something. I was a pretty hard bargainer!
At Playa del Carmen, we just found a spot on the free beach, and relaxed. My kids would rather do that than take sightseeing tours. Playa's beach was absolutely gorgeous. I liked it better than Playa Sol in Cozumel. We just bought some bottled drinks from the restaurant nearby (Mr. Sanchos, I believe). What we did not like about Mexico was how pushy the shop owners were. Very pushy. You could not walk down the street without them begging you to come into their stores. One of them even told my husband that his store would rip us off for less! This was more of a problem in Playa del Carmen, but the shop owners were pushy at the Playa Sol beach resort in Cozumel. You had to pass through a small street before getting to the beach area. We also noticed in one drugstore in Playa del Carmen that many items on the shelves were very old. There were packs of gum from 1983! Also, they had very moldy Philadelphia cream cheese from their shelves with expiration dates in March. You definitely have to look at the labels even on the packaged items.
Regarding Camp Carnival, I attended the initial meeting and signed up my 15 and 10 year olds (girl and boy). My 15 year old would not go, and my 10 year old went only a couple of times, spending only about an hour there. He met a friend he spent almost the whole trip with, and had a blast! I think he ate pizza and ice cream for most of his meals. I do feel that Camp Carnival is a great asset, as with approximately 470 kids onboard, they did a great job of keeping them busy.
I also had the opportunity to meet my Cruisemate buddy I met online only a couple of weeks before cruising. We spent some time chatting, and had a blast! I really enjoyed meeting her.
The ship was pretty stable for most of the time as far as rocking. There were times when you could feel the sway, but it wasn't too bad. The worst night was in the dining room (we had the very last table in the Seven Seas Dining Room). The captain had decided to speed up a bit due to tropical storm Claudette. This was the only time on board that any of us felt a bit "seasick." We had wonderful weather, so I'm sure that helped keep the ship from doing a lot more rocking.
Disembarkment was a relatively painless procedure. The stairwells were pretty crowded, but we still got off the ship reasonably fast, and we were in our car by 9:30 a.m. We spent about five hours touring New Orleans before heading home. We took the trolley around the Garden District, ate at McDonalds (wow, back to reality), and tried Café DuMonde's café au lait and powdered donuts. Delicious! Drove straight through to home arriving at 3:00 a.m.
The only negatives:
Although we had a very nice cabin steward, Benjamin, who did a great job of keeping the rooms neat and clean, made great towel animals, etc., he did forget to deliver one of our Carnival Capers (which lists the ships activities for the day). That resulted in us missing the Captain's cocktail hour. Also, he forgot to deliver our beach towels on the second port day (Playa del Carmen), and we couldn't find him to get more. We didn't know that free drinks are only located on the Lido deck (water, juice, lemonade, etc). They will charge by the bottle in the dining room, except for ice tea and coffee. The taxi drivers will try and charge more for fare than the ship advertises. Be prepared to bargain for everything in Mexico. We didn't get seasick while on board, but we all experienced a lot of dizziness and headaches for two-three days after arriving home. All is fine now. We didn't gain any weight, but I think it was because we took the stairs and not the elevators.
In summary, we had a great time! Yes, the Holiday is "older and smaller" than the mega cruise ships, but it didn't stop us from enjoying every minute. It was the best vacation we ever had as a family. The crew worked very hard to make sure everyone had a good time. The ship was clean, the cabins were spacious, clean, and the bedding was comfortable. The cruise director, Risa, was excellent, very funny, and down-to-earth. We met great people, and just forgot about real life for awhile. Another poster here told me once..cruising is a state of mind. This is very true! I feel we received an excellent bargain for our dollar. Yes, I would like to try a newer ship sometime, but I would not hesitate to take my family back on the Holiday again when it leaves from Jacksonville (in 2004).