December 31, 2007
I based my expectations for the Holiday cruise on a previous Carnival cruise aboard the Fantasy. I was aware that the ship was smaller, older, and not quite as glamorous. My pre-cruise research left me with the impression that what the Holiday lacked in glamour and size, it made up for in attitude, intimacy and activities. I have attempted to highlight positive and negative elements of the trip, but unfortunately, I believe we must have experienced a 'when it rains it pours' kind of situation. I have noted, however, that other reviews express similar concerns for this ship. As in any situation, isolated events are easy enough to dismiss, but an accumulation of events tend to turn into a snowball, where every mishap starts to glare at you. Again, I have tried to separate events and treat them separately, but it is still part of our perception of the vacation as a whole.
Our family of eight traveled from Northwest Arkansas on December 30, 2007 to Mobile, AL. We stayed at the Radisson Admiral Semmes Hotel. The Holiday was late arriving in port 12/31/07 due to fog. The hotel began shuttling guests to the terminal shortly after 1 p.m. Baggage handlers at the terminal were a little disorganized and rushed (understandably), but were very friendly and upbeat. Check-in went smoothly and again the staff was friendly and enthusiastic.
Upon boarding the ship we were told our rooms would be ready in about 15 minutes, so we went to the Lido deck to wait. The atmosphere here was a little different. The staff seemed rushed and tense (again, understandable). During the ride to the terminal, the driver (who was a hotel manager; because of the rush caused by the delay, the hotel shuttled some people in private vehicles) mentioned that the ship staff would typically have a few hours ashore, but in this case would not. We then learned that our rooms would not be ready for another 30-45 minutes. I saw guests looking at the day's Carnival Capers (a listing of the evening's events and activities), so I tried several times to get one. Unfortunately, the staff either did not know where to get one or said they were in the rooms already. Free champagne was offered to guests while we waited for rooms. There was no announcement when rooms were ready. We went to our rooms when word-of-mouth by other guests reached us. Guests were given a $15 credit to their sign and sail account as a concession for the delay and subsequent rush, although I was not aware of this until several days later when it was mentioned by another guest.
The rest of the evening was fairly uneventful. We did not go to the dining room for our (reserved for 6:15) dinner because we did not have time to dress and needed to attend the required safety drill. We set sail during the drill. We then spent most of the evening on the Lido deck. I noticed service was not at the same level as our previous cruise. Early in the evening the public bathrooms were in serious need of cleaning and maintenance. The ladies' bathroom was in disarray, had clogged stalls and the soap dispenser had been knocked off, resulting in a puddle of liquid soap covering the counter and dripping onto the floor. At midnight this had not changed. Apparently the men's restroom smelled so strongly of urine that men were joking about taking deep breaths before going in.
Around 10:30 p.m. waiters began selling bottles of champagne to celebrate the New Year, New York time. A large video screen rolled to display Times Square and the countdown. Some guests were confused as to why we were celebrating on Eastern Standard Time, since we were on Central Time. One waiter answered that it was because that was the official time recognized for the New Year. Guest joined in the New York City countdown, but it was awkward, since we were an hour behind. Some guests thought that that was it; that was our New Year's celebration. I later concluded it was a way to sell bottles of champagne, since free champagne was later offered as we approached midnight Central Time. Fortunately, we did celebrate (again) Central Time, and it was an enjoyable, festive mood.
The next day I noticed that the onboard television was not airing the video that is typically taken from the moment guests begin boarding. On the previous cruise, video was taken as guests wandered around the ship and participated in activities. Video of the ship's shows and talks was also aired shortly after it was taken. Such a practice is a nice touch as it gets you involved in the activity on the ship and helps create a more intimate atmosphere. Unfortunately, the Holiday did not show guest videos (at least that I saw, and I checked regularly) until the morning we returned, at which time they aired video taken New Year's Eve, 5 days earlier. Regarding onboard TV, on Friday they were still airing a talk made on Monday about shopping and activities in Cozumel (which we did not get to visit).
By this time we, and most other guests, noticed that the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff was definitely lacking. Most staff did not smile or acknowledge you. Answers to questions were short and tense. Later in the day we asked about changing the music on the lido deck (the same early Beatles CD had played continuously for hours). We were told they only had five CDs to choose from. Finding this hard to believe, I finally asked two security officers who or where I would go to ask about the music. They told me they didn't get involved. I told them I wasn't asking them to get involved, I was just asking for instructions on where to go. They said they would see what they could do. Eventually I went to the purser's desk and offered some of our own blues CDs. At that time they did change the music.
Problems with the plumbing system became apparent this day. The main deck (where part of our family was) had a sewage smell that remained the rest of the cruise. Wet spots in the hallways were continually appearing where plumbing was backing up. On the third day the upper deck (where we were) started to smell, but this was addressed fairly quickly and was not noted again. Several public restrooms on the ship were closed due to plumbing problems.
Formal night (second night) was nice, but again the staff seemed tense and stand-offish. Because it was an early setting, we were rushed through desert so they could get ready for the second setting. The food was adequate, but not exceptional. Beverage service was slow. Of the three nights we ate in the dining room, photographs were taken upon leaving the dining room on two nights. Generally, photos are taken with a costumed character at each dinner setting, hopefully before dinner, when dress (and makeup) is still "fresh." One thing I missed on this cruise was the appearance of the matri'd at our dinner table. Last cruise the matri'd made a brief appearance to each table to greet guests.
I noticed this also regarding the captain. I only heard the captain address guests via the intercom on the last night of the cruise and never saw him among guests. Though in fairness, he may have spoke before the last night -- the intercom system is impossible to hear unless you are in a hallway. It does not feed into private rooms or most public rooms. It does feed onto the open decks, but the music is not turned down, so announcements are drowned out. The problem with the intercom system, however, was apparent on the last cruise also. Seas were rough this night, making sleep very difficult. Vibration and continuous banging noise in the cabin made it even worse. The evening show was cancelled due to ship movement.
The third day was to be Cozumel day, but the port was closed to small vessels. The Holiday was to tender guests to shore, so we had to remain onboard. Other ships were in the port, presumably debarking directly to cruise piers. Unfortunately, we spent the day cruising up and down the coastline. The port cancellation was no fault of Carnival (unless it was decided that the larger ships with more guests would be the ones to use the cruise piers), but it certainly put a damper on an already strained mood. The Holiday could have adjusted activities to try to improve this situation, but guests were pretty much left to themselves and a few activities such as bingo and classes. A $25 credit per guest was applied to our sign and sail account. The Lido deck cycled the same early Beatles CD again for hours until several people once again complained. A live DJ and maybe some poolside games (like they would later do), would have gone a long way in improving the group mood. As it was, staff seemed even more irritated and unfriendly than before. I've since learned that the cruise just before us was unable to port in Cozumel also, so the staff would now have been stuck on the ship for over a week. Such tension was more than apparent at this point. All eight members of our family experienced several not-so-pleasant exchanges with staff members, some of which are actually rude. I eventually started to make notes about the exchanges (which I won't include here).
During the first turnaround the ship made while cruising the coast, the entire contents of the pool flooded the starboard side of the deck. Guests against the far wall were literally knee-deep in water.
Later that evening I had an issue I felt should be addressed at that time. Our waiter had reverted back to charging us full price for Carnival drinks (refills were $2 less). He said we had to turn in our souvenir cup to get the refill price. He had been serving us refill prices for two days, and we did not always have our souvenir cup with us. Where he had been pleasant before, it seemed as if he suddenly changed on us. Considering the unpleasant encounters we had all experienced that day, I felt I should speak to someone. I went to the purser's desk and voiced my concern. He told me that the refill policy was the rule, and that I should appreciate the fact that I had been allowed a leniency that other passengers had not. My primary complaint was the attitude of the staff, but I believe this was lost on him. I left the desk feeling my concerns were dismissed. A plate of chocolate covered strawberries was sent to my room the following day. This is apparently a standard response to complaints.
That night around 11 p.m. my son found an 8-year-old lost child in the hallway. We finally connected to the right people, and we were told security would arrive shortly. After 30 minutes, one security officer arrived. A few minutes later another arrived. Fortunately, the boy knew the full names of his family and we found the parents' cabin. (The boy was sharing a cabin with his older brother and got locked out when he left to find his mother). Sleep was again difficult primarily because of cabin noise.
The following day was Calcia. Announcements the night before indicated that upon arrival, port authorities would board the ship and clear us to debark. Unfortunately, there was never an announcement after arrival. It was only when we saw other guests going ashore from our stateroom window that we proceeded. We visited Xcaret and it was wonderful. Oddly enough, Holiday no longer offers online purchase of this excursion prior to sailing. We asked about this and were told it can only be purchased onboard. Fearing a sell-out, we purchased these tickets independently. When we boarded the ship, I noticed there was no literature, mention or promotion of, or even a purchase option for Xcaret. I asked if the park was operating and I was told that Holiday did not offer this excursion. Since I didn't ask if they offered it, I asked my question again and was told that if I wanted to do that excursion, I could take a cab and would be on my own. I thought it strange that Holiday would choose not to provide any information or even mention such an incredible, world-renowned park, especially since it is a stone's throw from the ship.
This evening was again fairly uneventful. The main pool was closed and there were no waiters on the Lido deck this evening, at least while we were there (about 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.). We decided to go in the hot tub. The port side hot tub had been closed for nearly all of the trip, so the starboard tub was often very full. There seemed to be room, so we went to the upper deck. The water, however, was cloudy and discolored, in serious need of changing.
Our last day at sea we did a few of the activities. Music on the Lido deck was finally what you might expect for a Caribbean cruise, more upbeat and varied. Oddly enough, spirits seemed to be a little brighter, maybe because the staff would finally set foot on land. We ate in the dining room and stopped for a drink before going in. The live music was, well, nearly painful, and service was again slow. Dinner was pleasant, though the food had room for improvement. We caught the adult comedy show, and I must say that was the highlight of the trip. The comedian was awesome. Unfortunately, during the entire show we never once saw a waiter. Sleep this night was most difficult due to movement and cabin noise/vibration. I managed about 1.5 hours at best.
In summary, we were disappointed in the vacation. Some things were in no way the fault of Carnival. There was no sunshine for the entire five days, it was cold and windy, fog prevented a timely departure and seas prevented our visit to Cozumel. Other things, however, were under Carnival's control. Since the prior cruise had not docked in Cozumel, it seems reasonable that the crew would be aware of the possibility that this cruise might experience the same, especially given their knowledge of weather and sea conditions. An alternate schedule for the day would have likely lifted spirits of both staff and guests instead of creating even more tension. I firmly believe that many of the "complaints" would have been overlooked had the staff had a positive and friendly attitude. Unfortunately, this seemed to set the mood for the entire voyage. I must say, however, the housekeeping staff and our room steward were both pleasant and enjoyable. We actually had more fun interacting with them than anyone else on the ship.
As I stated earlier, it seems unlikely that our experience reflects the standard aboard this ship, both in the past and currently. There seem to be some issues, however, that should be addressed. A crew can certainly suffer from low morale from time to time. This may be such a period. I will continue to cruise Carnival, but I will likely avoid this ship until I see evidence that some of these issues have been resolved. Again, many reviews reflect highly on this ship, and reviewers often don't understand how a negative review can even be written. It is worth noting, however, that on Carnival's site, the review for the cruise preceding this one mentions nearly identical concerns. I sincerely hope management listens and takes steps to correct these perceptions.