by Willie Miller
December 20, 2003
My family and I sailed the MS Holiday on 12/20/2003 out of New Orleans on a 5 day cruise. I am age 45 and am self employed owner of an insurance agency.(Progressive) My Darling Wife(Kelli) is 41. Darling Daughters are aged 13 and 8. My name is Willie. I had booked the cruise as a surprise 20 year anniversary gift for DW. We had never cruised before. But we have done Disneyworld quite a bit, and were considering a Disney Cruise. I thought this would make a good first cruise. It was not too expensive (I thought!) We were going during the Christmas holidays, so we paid $500 per person for two cabins on Empress Deck with ocean views. Darsh Makin at Carnival had given us an upgrade from a lower deck after some negotiations. We had cabins E-42 and E-46. After I booked the cruise, I began looking for websites that had reviews, such as Cruise Critic. That is when I began reading about the MS Holiday. I took both good and bad reviews in stride. I knew she was an older ship that had had a few problems. But was not going to let her history cloud my judgement! After all, we are a Disney family, and you have to have a lot of patience and roll with the flow often at DW! We drove from our hometown of Lumberton, Texas to New Orleans on Friday, and stayed with my wifes aunt in N.O.
We were up early and after a great breakfast at "Pat's Place" we arrived at the Julia Terminal with no problems. Very easy to find. A porter helped us unload our checked bags, and I tipped him 10 bucks for 8 bags. He said to go back down to the port lot and it would be a snap when we disembarked. I went to the port lot to find that Holiday pax could not park there this month, we would have to park at the Fulton garage a couple of blocks away. I drove around the Riverwalk three times and did not see it. (Tiny sign) Went back to the guy at the port a lot and offered him 20 bucks extra to let me park there. He said that the lot was reserved for pax of Grandeur of the Seas only and would be locked up for 7 days. He then gave me a little map that showed where the lot was. Found the lot and had to go up 7 levels in my Suburban holding my breath that it would not scrape the roof! Caught the shuttle bus back to the port to find DW and DD's are a nervous wreck. I had been gone for 45 minutes. They had waited in line and when they got to the front, had to go sit down because I was not there yet. Back in line again. The FUNPASS that I did online was on NO help checking in. Had to redo same info. Computer problems were causing everything to be done manually by the clerks. ARRGHH. After check in, back to chairs to wait some more. At noon, a lady announced that it would be at least another hour before boarding. I had figured we would be able to board early, since she had been drydocked and no pax to disembark. We took our carry ons and went over to the Riverwalk Mall for lunch. Came back at 1:00 and went through a mad scramble of people trying to all board at the same time. Very disorganized!
At 1:30, after 3 hours, we were finally onboard in a little commons area where the pursers desk and shore tour info desk are. The fountain there did not have water in it. I should have taken that as a sign of things to come! Put some money on Sign and Sail, ordered a shore excursion, and headed to the room. It was what I expected after looking at photos online. Plenty of room under the bunks to store suitcases. Bathroom was fine. New carpet. New bedding. Very comfortable. Nice window to look out. The water pressure was just a dribble certain times of the day, however. My girls were next door. Went to check out the ship and get that Foo Foo drink. Funship Special for me! Yessir! We are a sailing NOW! The drinks were pretty strong. GOOD! Got a drink card for DD8 and met back up with DD13 and DW. Toured the ship and liked what we saw! New carpet everywhere. Very classy designs. Lots of wood. Roomy stairways were never a problem. Elevators ran fine.
We were supposed to sail at 4:00PM and the muster drill took place at 4:15. No problem-O!
At 6:00, we went to the rooms and luggage was outside doors. Went to dinner and met our waiter, Made. He was Phillipino, I think. Not too friendly, but that was fine with me. As long as he got my food out hot, and kept my tea glass full. We had a table of 4 for our selves and were kind of disappointed. We had wondered whom we would meet at our dinner table. It was kind of a letdown to not have tablemates. I have no idea what the stuff was we ate most nights. I did discover that the portions were REALLY SMALL! Being from Texas where everything is bigger, that was unusual for me! But hey, I just began ordering two of everything I wanted. However, mostly my food arrived lukewarm and my tea glass often was empty. They brought plenty of water, though! That sucker was never even half full. I had to ask for lemon for the tea every night, and it usually took awhile for it to arrive. Too out of the ordinary, I guess. Asst waiter was Milen, from some Soviet country, and he really tried. I had heard that the waiters would remember what you prefer and try to just bring your tea, etc, but ours did not. Nor did they learn our names, etc. The first night the Four Winds was pretty full, but after that, it was pretty empty. Being so empty, I would have figured that the meal would progress a little faster, but it took quite a while each night to eat. Like 1 hour to an hour and a half. Lots of waiting between courses. Also, the rolls were pretty hard. I just figured that with 1500 people to feed. then at the midnight buffet we got great fresh rolls! Hey!! Why were they so stale at formal dinner? I still don't know. DD8 went to Camp Carnival and was not too happy that the main event was preparing for the Holiday Show on last night of cruise. She is not too big on being onstage dancing. Being in a ballgame of any sort would be fine with her. But not dancing. DD13 tried to find the Camp Carnival for teens, but it had been moved from the posted location, and when she tracked them down, she got there late. She missed the ship tour. She is very shy, and DW and myself were excited that she was really going to participate. Oh well, she would meet them tomorrow, and make some friends.
At 9:15 that night we finally pulled out and left New Orleans. Rumor was some software problems with navigation systems. We sailed down the Mississippi River without incident and sometime during the night were in the Gulf of Mexico heading for Calica, Mexico.
DAY 2-Sea day. Sunrise was spectacular! Very red skies! Breakfast in the Four Winds took forever! After breakfast we went by the Wharf grill, and saw the same exact foods on buffet that we waited forever for! "Made" must have been coming up here and preparing them himself! That was the only breakfast we took in the Four Winds. Too slow! DD8 went to Camp Carnival for a while, then checked herself out. On the line where you write why you are checking out, she put down"too boring". DD13 went to meet up with the Camp for teens. She said it was OK. In the evening, she went back for the scavenger hunt only to find that she was theonly teen remaining. The rest had decided that the camp was too crappy to participate in. She had not yet made any real friends, and was kind of down about it. She went back again to the next function, just in case some teens may show. But there was no more Camp Carnival for teens after the first day.
The main pool was filled up with water, causing excitement for the girls, but then it was drained. We later found out it had drained into the casino, dining room, and Doc Holidays! Plumbing problems would cause the pools to not be opened the entire sailing. Also, the casino would be closed most of the trip, as would Doc Holidays.
We had to take lunch in the Seven Seas Dining room, and we were fortunate to sit with a nice family from Alabama. The Boone family of four. We were hoping they might be on the same shore tours as us, but no such luck. Lunch was OK, nothing special.
Spent a pretty boring day at sea. The shopping and excursion talks were just sales pitches to make Carnival more money. The obviously have kickback deals with the "recommended" shops. And Carnival will screw it's pax on the shore excursions, as we found out later.
At about dark, Captain Donato decided to make up for the lost time from leaving NO so late. He pulled in the stabilizers, and sped up to about 21 knots. The ship took to rolling and heaving quite a bit, and the first pax began to upchuck in the hallways. The Captains gala in the Americana lounge was nice. Except that the free drinks were all served at room temperature. Yuck. My friend from England says that they drink beer over there at room temp, but even he prefers it cold.
The dinner was a small piece of steak and lobster, which was OK. Tried to get the cocktail waitress' attention three times, and she ignored me to my face! What's up with this? Finally I went to the restroom, and passed by a guy at the dining room entrance in a navy looking outfit. He must have been the Maitre D. I asked if he could get the cocktail waitress to take our order, and he began tearing up everyone's ass. It really wasn't as big a deal as he made it out to be. Before I was back from the RR, our drinks were at the table.
The shows in the Americana Lounge were OK. Decent performers doing Vegas type stuff singing and dancing. Went to bed, and only rolled out once from the rocking of the ship. She also had a very big "shake". You would bounce if you stood still. I was very glad that I, DW, DD13 had applied the Scopalamine patches before we left NO. DD8 was on constant bonine and wrist bands. During the night, I looked out the window to see the MS Celebrity beside us. She was on her way from Galveston to the same itinerary as us. The two ships sailed side by side to Mexico thru the nite. I loved having a window to look out of.
Day 3 - Calica, Mexico. I think Calica means A#$hole of Mexico" in Spanish. There is nothing here but a rock quarry. It looks like the Calica Rock co. dug out a deep berth for ships, and Carnival is using it to save money instead of tendering to Playa Carmen. But we were excited to be I Mexico for our first time ever! Even here. After breakfast at Wharf, I went ashore by myself for the Scuba Discovery. A bus was waiting in the rock quarry and we went 10 minutes down the road. I actually saw an iguana run across the road in front of the bus like a squirrel back home!
The diving/snorkel was to be at Pamuul. A town of about 45 people. It was at a beautiful little cove. The dive instructor was an American guy that looked like Santa Claus. He came up and asked me where I was from. I said "Beaumont, Texas." He replied" No kidding! Me too! I used to own Aquaventures Dive shop on Calder ave." I told him that I had been in his shop and spoke to him many years ago. He said that about 10 years ago he came to Pamuul, and never went back. Now it was his retirement job. They have a website at www.scubamex.com His name is John Everett. This dive is for beginners that may not be certified, as you only go about 20-25 feet deep. It was terrific. The water in the cove was not as clear as the reefs we were to see on day 4 at Cozumel, but the fish we fed were huge! I really enjoyed this excursion. Cost-$89.00 PP. Would have been much cheaper had I booked it direct.
Caught the bus back to the ship just in time to meet with DW, and DD's for the Playa Beach Break Excursion. Another bus took us about 15 minutes to a private beach with a restaurant and open bar. We spent the afternoon on the beach. Drinks were included, but it was nearly impossible to get a drink from the one swamped bartender. There was a group that stayed at the bar all afternoon doing tequila shots and dancing on the bar. Since I could not get the barkeepers attention, I found a waiter and gave him 20 bucks tip to bring me some drinks at the beach. I didn't see him again till right before we were leaving, and he tried to give me 8 drinks at once. Huh? We paid $12 PP for some crappy Mexican buffet. The beach and water were beautiful, though. Tried to snorkel($12 PP rental) , but the waves were too strong on the shallow reef, and it was a waste of time. At 4:30 we boarded the bus to go back to the ship, and the "Tequila Dancers" were boarding very loudly and drunkenly. One blonde that I had seen far too much of on the bar sloshed her drink on DW as she passed on the bus aisle. Ok, OK, everyone likes to have a good time. No problem-O. Then her husband boarded and picked up the PA system microphone and began using some vulgar language. BIG PROBLEM!. I quickly stood up from my seat in the rear and said "HEY! HEY! THAT IS ENOUGH! THERE ARE KIDS ON THIS BUS AND YOU WILL SHUT YOUR FILTHY MOUTH RIGHT NOW!" He put the microphone down and began stumbling toward the back of the bus. Great, now I am going to have to dunk a drunk. I took off my watch and handed it to DW. I am a pretty large guy at 6'3 and 260 lbs, and that usually deters most sober guys. Blondie then sobered up real fast and guided him to a seat, where he passed out. She was very apologetic and said he is not normally like that. She said he is a teacher at an elementary school. Sheesh. When she was carrying him to the ship, he fell and skinned the heck out of his leg. I never saw him again, so he probably was hung over in his cabin for days. I actually felt sorry for the fool. The bus driver had called the Policia, and they were there very quickly to make sure everything was cool. No problem-O!
We dressed and paid $10 for a cab ride to Playa Carmen. Now you have not had a thrill ride til you ride in a Mexican cab at 130 KMH ! We walked around Playa Carmen and I was really surprised at how nice it is being fixed up. I know this was the tourist section, but they are doing some good things with the town to make it a tourist destination. Some very nice stores and shops. Some nice places to eat. We ate at an out door place(Marys?) and the food was great. Some strolling guitarists came by and serenaded us with some nice Mexican songs. I was prepared to not like Mexico, but I was really liking this touristy Playa Del Carmen! We shopped at a very upscale sporting goods store among others. Then caught a hell-bent cab ride to the ship. One unsettling thing on the return cab ride was when he pulled the cab over to a government building of some sort. It was really dark and I was not prepared for this. He said that he must get permission from the "border agent" or something. I was expecting a shakedown of some sort. But a uniformed man walked out to the car from the darkness, and the cabbie said"Calica" . He waved us on. It was sort of surreal.
At 9:00 PM sharp, the ship sailed away from Calica. I heard that 28 pax did not get back on in time. I guess we sailed around during the night, because Cozumel was not very far away.
Note- I do not recommend the Playa Beach Break- NOT a good deal!
DAY 4 Cozumel, Mexico- Up early to usual soggy eggs and long lines at Wharf Grill. We left the ship at 8:00 to go shopping. We had a scheduled tour on the Catamaran Snorkel with Fury Catamarans. We paid $55 PP thru Carnival for 3 /12 hours. I later found if you book direct with Fury, it is $39 PP for 5 hours! Carnival just HAS to get to you on everything. Anyway, as we were walking down the pier, we saw the Fury Catamarans boarding for the 8:00 AM tour. I asked if we could change to this tour, and they said, "sure. "
This was the highlight of the trip for DW, DD's as they got to snorkel in about 15 feet of crystal clear water and see some amazing fish. The guys from Fury were very helpful and went in the water with tortillas to attract the fish. The photographer took lots of pictures for us to purchase at the end of the tour. They came out great. After about 45 minutes of snorkeling, we went to a beautiful beach where we layed around, had margaritas. We had our own snorkel gear, so we went out to a reef near shore. There we found some great conch shells, a live starfish, and some small stingrays. Too soon it was time to board the cat and head for the ship. Jimmy Buffet music, plenty of margaritas, line dancing with the crew for the 30 minute ride and we were back to the dock. It was the best part of our cruise.
After they made us get off the catamaran,(ha ha) we went back on the Holiday, changed clothes and headed for Cozumel and some lunch. Ate at the Los Pameras and it was OK. Most of the food was really kind of bland compared to what I am used to. We shopped in Cozumel, and before you know it was time to re board. The ship was leaving at 4:00. that was kind of a bummer because we had a full day at Calica, and only til 4:00 PM at Cozumel.
At dinner, we ordered a bottle of white zinfandel, and the asst waiter, Milen said that we had complimentary bottle of wine from the Maitre 'D. I assumed that it was from hassle that we had on night two with the cocktail waitress. They brought a bottle of some sort of white wine. I didn't really like it too much, but DW liked it fine. When the MD came by the table I thanked him for the wine and he said that he hoped our dinner was going better tonight. When I got home, I found out from a fellow Cruise Critic, (Llanning) that her son that works on the ship had sent the wine to us when she told him it was our anniversary. The blasted MD let us think that HE had sent us the wine! Did he really think we would not find out?
After dinner we went to the Americana Lounge because the Capers said there was a show or something, but when we got there, it was just about empty. Then they began a Knobby knees contest and needed 8 men. Well there was only 8 men in the place, so I had to go on stage. I am happy to say that my knees were the least knobby, so I did not win. But it was pretty hokey. I don't think it would have been much fun to watch, and wasn't the least bit funny. The "entertainers" or hosts or what ever they are, really need some work. I had read that the cruise director was really funny, and something about a "he-ha-ha." But I never heard him say anything like that, and as a matter of fact, I never heard him say anything funny the entire week. There was some other guy that sounded American that did bingo and told a few of the lamest jokes. This guy was mid-fifties, blond hair, and had the most gravelly sounding voice you ever heard. He sounded like he has smoked 3 packs a day for 30 years type of voice that made you want to scream. Also, he acted pretty feminine for a guy!
Anyway, back to dinner. I forgot to tell you that on night 2 the waiters had sung O Sole Mio (MS?), and it was really great. Then, on night 4 they danced to some Latin sounding Rickey Martin type song, and that was pretty entertaining. Made really cut up and had fun, but it was painful to watch poor Milen try to dance. On night 5, the waiters sang their on version of Leaving on a Jet Plane. It was something like "Leaving on a Funship" and it was kinda funny.
DAY 5 Sea Day- I had planned on sleeping late this day, but I woke up at 8;00 AM when the ship went silent. I mean completely silent. No ventilation, no engines, nothing. The ship was coasting, then slowed down to a stop. DW said that a few minutes before, she had heard a very loud bang, and she was afraid we had hit something. After a little while the engines started up again, and we made a hard turn that leaned the ship to one side. I guess we were getting back on course. I was just glad that this had not happened while we were in the Mississippi River! We could have run aground, or worse, hit a dock, or the Riverwalk! The last sea day the weather was beginning to turn cold again, and the hot tubs and pools were not open, anyway. The entertainment for the day was pretty crappy. The big event was a meeting telling you how to get off the ship. This was a really boring day, and I was REALLY ready to be off this boat. I spent most of the day on and aft deck, reading. DW tried to join me, but it was too windy and cold for her to stay long.
Disembarkation was pretty disorganized. If you wanted to leave early, you were told to go to Americana at 8:00 with all of your luggage. Since this was Christmas day, and we were going to family about an hour away, we chose this. We were there 20 minutes early. It got pretty crowded, and all of the aisles were jam packed. At 8:20 people that were out in the halls were allowed to disembark first, then the people that were IN the Americana were the out. So the earlier you arrive, the LATER you get to disembark. If you do this, stand in the hall with your suitcases on the shore side of the ship, and you will be first off. Outside the ship, there was a stairway and escalator that was not working. So you have to carry all of your bags down 3 flights of stairs. Then you have about 100 yards to the pickup area. DW was soaked with sweat by the time we got there. Where the hell were all of the guys hustling tips now? THIS IS WHERE THEY ARE NEEDED! As far as customs goes, if you have your form filled out, you just hand it to them and walk by. If you are carrying a white Carnival bag with liquor in your hand, you will be stopped and checked. Dave will tell you to not put the liquor in your bags, but I am telling you that mine was in my bags, and I was not stopped. Everyone that had a Carnival bag was being checked.
I caught a shuttle over to the car garage, and was back in about 40 minutes to pickup DW and DD's. We were really happy to be the heck off of the Holiday!
A lot of people love this ship. Cotton and MS Queen have had some great times on her. I can only speak for our 5 day trip. The ship itself was both good and bad. It was not dark and dreary, as I had read. It was really very clean. She was plenty roomy enough. Most of the crew were helpful and friendly. It has lots and lots of bars and lounges. So it does have good things about it. However, I was with my family, and this is not a family ship. The pools were not open even one time the entire trip. The hot tubs were not open til the last night, when only one was only warm. That itself was a catastrophe for DD8. The plumbing problems caused some flooding in the casino, and that really did not affect us too much, except for the first sea day, I would have liked to throw away a few coins. By day 3 there was a distinct smell of sewage in the hallways around the areas that had flooded. It was unsettling. I had read about this from other Cruise Critics, so I don't think it was from the flooding. But just to have water problems INSIDE a ship is scary enough. That should not happen. The food on the ship was OK. But the chefs are trying to be something it is not. It is not a 5 star eatery. DD13 never really found anything she really liked. She may have liked the midnight buffet, but she was always too sleepy to get out of bed at midnight. I have heard that you can order just a steak each night, but our waiter never offered any advice on this. My food was plentifull when I ordered two at a time, but nothing you could say was the "best you ever had". The Camp Carnival was the biggest letdown. It is just babysitting. I am involved in a lot of youth activities and we have stayed at resorts that really have fun things for kids. Carnival only wants to get the kids away from the parents so the parents can party. For instance they have a late night thing that DD8 really wanted to attend. It was from 10:00 PM til 3:00AM, and costs $25 extra. My DD8 is usually asleep long before 10:00 PM. The only reason to have this is for parents to stay out late and party. This is babysitting. That is fine, but I really would rather MY KIDS have fun events, rather than just be babysat. So we mostly did things with the girls ourselves.
My bottom line on this ship is this. If you are bringing your kids, and want them to have fun also, book another ship, or pay the money for a better ship. If all you want to do is party hardy, and you don't really care about the pools and hot tubs and kids stuff. This is the cruise for you. It is reasonably priced for that.
And if you do have some major problems, as we did, Carnival will not give a crap. My phone call to guest relations resulted in an offer of 10% off my next Carnival cruise, and 4 coupons for shore excursions. I told Gloria at Carnival that I had spent $2000 on the cruise itself, $2000 on sign and sail, including shore excursions, and another $1000 cash. That is $5,000. It will take A LOT more than 10% and some limited shore excursions to get me on another "FUN SHIP".
P.S. As I finished typing this DW just booked us on the Disney Magic for a seven day cruise this Thanksgiving. We really tried to enjoy our Carnival cruise, but I just no longer trust the integrity of the company. This review represents MY OPINIONS.