Carnival Reviews - Cruise Ship reviews by Cruisemates Readers
Carnival Cruise Lines

Holiday
by harry@harrymartin.com
Mexico

Like its namesake Madonna song, Carnival's Holiday ship is just what the doctor ordered when you need a quick - and reasonable - getaway. Recently, we took the 4-night excursion out of Los Angeles, sailing to Catalina Island and Ensenada, and I can say wholeheartedly that I got all my money's worth from the trip.

This was my second cruise - my first being on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas on its 7-day Mexican Riviera itinerary. Consequently, I found it difficult to not do some straight-across comparisons between the two mid-range lines. In the most simplistic terms, everything Royal Caribbean excelled at, Carnival fell short. However, areas where RCCL could stand some improvement, Carnival netted kudos.

CHECK-IN AND EMBARKATION
Royal Caribbean can take some lessons from Carnival with regard to a smooth check-in. There were plenty of helpful porters available, and our bags were whisked away within 5 minutes of arriving. Within 45 minutes of coming to port, our "Sail and Spend" card was activated, our cabin assigned, and we were smiling for the ship's photographer. The entire check-in was easily navigated and relatively painless.

THE SHIP
The Holiday is one of Carnival's oldest ships - built in the mid-'80s and refurbished in the mid-'90s. Therefore, it does not carry some amenities of the newer classes of ships. For example, and probably the most noticeable, was the lack of a central, high-rising atrium area. I missed this feature the most when trying to become accustomed to the ship layout, because there was not one large point of reference when trying to find your way to another public room of the ship.

Another awkward aspect of the deck plan were the dual restaurants, with the galley situated between both. In addition to these, to reach a couple different areas of the ship, it was necessary to go up one level, cross over, and then head down one flight again. Needless to say, I worked off many a meal doing this routine.

The public areas of the Holiday are attractive in a Las Vegas, glitzy sort of way. Colors are bright, neon is very visible, and touches of whimsy are everywhere. The decor was infectious in bringing about an air of "let's just have fun."

The disco, Reflections, was quite upscale in appearance, but we found ourselves drawn most to Doc Holiday's - a very large county and western lounge. Not being a fan of country music, I found it odd that we were gravitated here, but the in-house band was probably the best on the ship. Non-smokers will also appreciate the "no-smoking" policy.

The other lounges on board - Rick's Cafe, the Tahiti Lounge and the Bus Stop bar - were pleasant enough in their decor; however, the entertainment proved less, well, entertaining. Primarily, this was due to several, very non-talented singing passengers. But another sailing might be different. We were just (un)lucky enough to have the Tone Deaf Choir on board. Surely, they appreciated the size - and loudness - of the casino quite a great size for an older ship. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, so I assume the results were satisfactory.

The Americana Lounge theater provided a pleasant venue for the shows, with its comfy seats and banquet-style couches. Several support poles in the theater did prove problematic for sightlines at times, but overall, it was comfortable. In fact, we saw every show and even the late-night adult comedy acts. All shows - comedians, magician, and production numbers - were all quite enjoyable.

The Pursor's Desk was hard to find at times - oddly enough, when it was on the same deck as our cabin. But, again, the lack of a central atrium area made it difficult to get one's bearings. The Carnegie Library was a pleasant-enough room, but for some reason, the books were available for check-out at very limited times - usually one-hour timeframes -- which made it difficult to grab some reading fare for the voyage.

Finally, the two restaurants offered a pleasant venue for dining. We were lucky enough to have a window table, which provided pretty views of the ocean and passing sections of land and islands. Both restaurants - the Seven Seas and the Four Winds - offered sections of elevated seating and a clubby-style atmosphere. But I must say that I missed the two-story dining room of the newer Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas.

All in all, the Holiday's public rooms provided plenty of distractions for its passengers.

CABINS
I have to say this is where Carnival exceeded - at least in size - those offered by Royal Caribbean. We booked a guarantee of the cheapest room on Carnival (1A), a bunk-bed style cabin, but were upgraded upon check-in to a normal inside cabin, with a studio couch layout (two twin beds with an end table in the center Cabin M144). One could convert it to a normal bed for two, but my platonic traveling compadre and I preferred the additional floor space with the studio couch setup. At 185 square feet, it proved very comfortable for two people, albeit not luxurious (think Ramada Inn). The fixtures and built-ins were not up to the standard of the newer Royal Caribbean Rhapsody ship, but accommodated all our clothes and accessories with ease. Furthermore, the shower on board the Holiday was much larger than that of the newer RCCL ship - which was much-appreciated by my 6-4 height and 185-pound frame.

The one mishap we encountered on board was a gurgling and bubbling drain in the bathroom floor, which resulted in 2 inches of water across the floor of the head one night. The plumber (who came within 5 minutes) said this was due to the ship listing, and it did subside and never re-occurred during the remainder of the trip (though it did make for fun conversation at dinner).

In retrospect, I had been spoiled on Royal Caribbean with a balcony room, but was surprised on this shorter Carnival voyage how the lack of a balcony - or even a window - was not sorely missed. I think because of the nearly port-a-day itinerary with this trip meant we spent much less time in the room.

All in all, the extra size of the Carnival ship cabins was most welcome, and the basket of shampoo, razors, lotion and even breath mints in the bath was a pleasant surprise.

POOLS AND SPA ETC.
The Carnival Holiday pool - like much of the line - features a water slide, which was much-appreciated by one of our tablemates. I, however, was surprised to learn the pool was not heated to the 84 degrees I was accustomed to from the Rhapsody trip, so never ventured in. I must say I also longed for the lavish indoor pool of the Rhapsody, but, again, due to the shorter timeframe of the trip, it was not sorely missed.

The gym featured all the normal torture equipment and appeared fair in size. Again, the length of the trip precluded me from using any of the exercise or sauna features.

SERVICE
This was the clearest point of differentiation between Royal Caribbean and Carnival, for where RCCL excelled, the Holiday fell short, and vice-versa.

I must start with room service - it was fantastic! Everything we requested was served within 15 minutes (and usually much shorter than that) - a bone of contention I had with RCCL. Plus, the menu - albeit limited - was much more appetizing, i.e., BLTs smothered with bacon, roast beef and brie sandwiches, and tasty desserts.

Sadly, though, our particular cabin steward was less than accommodating. Obviously, individual experiences will vary, but we asked ours for additional pillows and blankets within 10 minutes of entering our cabin, and were told, "There were pillows and blankets in the room." After one day at sea, he got the hint when we left him a note, pointing out that we asked two times for these items.

The same can be said about our particular dining room waiter, who was quick to point out that getting iced tea or a cocktail was someone else's job, rather than assuring us that he would let them know. His demeanor was cold and added nothing to the otherwise enjoyment we reveled in during dinner. Our assistant waiter, Gede, however was always willing to go the extra mile, and, netted a much larger than standard tip for his efforts. Our tablemates seconded this gesture.

Our meals on Royal Caribbean seemed much less hurried, more accommodating, and we enjoyed more interaction with the staff than on the Carnival trip. However, the standard of food on both was nearly equal - and, I must say, our waiter was fantastic about bringing me second helpings of what I liked on the Holiday.

THIS AND THAT
Along with the difference in service was the way in which the cruise director on the Holiday seemed determined to make our cruise enjoyable. On RCCL, the cruise director was low-key and almost to the point of being fake in his limited examples of exuberance. But Carnival's Mark Price, as cruise director of the Holiday, was always a breath of fresh air at each show or activity diversion. His enthusiasm was infectious, and he genuinely seemed to enjoy joking with the crowd at the shows. I missed him when he was not there to introduce a show - and that's a big compliment for a cruise director.

Another small point - the ship's staff seemed quite determined to keep everything shipshape. I was surprised to see brass polishers during normal "business" hours, but it was an effective impression made for the cleanliness of the ship.

The Wharf Grille (the casual meal venue on board) fell far less of that experienced on the Rhapsody, which was not stupendous. I only experienced Carnival's informal restaurant at breakfast, but was met with a decidedly limited selection and a tendency toward blandness. The 24-hour Pizzeria, on the other hand, served up tasty fare in short order.

Because the Holiday is moving to the Caribbean in May 2001 -- to be replaced by the Ecstasy -- I touched very little on the shore excursions, but we enjoyed Catalina and touring the Casino (not booked through the ship) and the wine country tour in Ensenada (booked through the ship). Both ports were enjoyable layovers on our cruising excursion.

IN CONCLUSION
I would take this excursion again in a heartbeat! The value and level of satisfaction cannot be beat. I'm very sure this trip is often taken by those who have never cruised before, and I'm sure they find it fulfilling. In fact, our tablemates at dinner, Mike and Cherie from Dallas, used this as a test run for future cruises. And, from our experience, and theirs, I think we are sure to sail the seas again!