Harwich To New York
September 5, 2002
This was our tenth cruise, but our first on Carnival (we have previously traveled on Cunard, Saga, Crystal and P&O). The length of this cruise was 15 nights, visiting Le Havre, Cobh (Ireland), Greenock (Scotland), Reykjavik (Iceland) and St. John's (Newfoundland) before reaching New York.
We booked a hire car from London (where we live) and arrived at the port by noon. Embarkation was smooth and painless, and we were soon on the ship, where we were greeted most courteously and shown to our cabin. We arrived early purposely, as we had heard that this was the best policy. I do not remember anyone grumbling about their arrival, so I assume things went well for most passengers.
Our cabin was on Empress deck (No.6245), and we found it most satisfactory. The storage space was quite adequate even though we had three suitcases, which fit under the beds after we unpacked them. The cabin was 185 sq. ft. plus a balcony. Compared to anything other than Crystal, I thought it was really most comfortable. The TV was much larger than others we have had in the cabin.
Our bathroom was not huge but had a good shower and adequate storage for toiletries. The facilities included the usual soaps, etc., with shampoo and shower gel dispensers in the shower enclosure. I particularly liked the magnifying mirror... so good for applying makeup! There was the usual mini-bar. I have to say that the sound insulation, A/C and lighting were highly adequate, and we heard absolutely no noise from other cabins.
The ship was much larger than any we had cruised on before, and we were pleased with the number of elevators for passengers. They were so glitzy, too--especially ones that went up and down the nine-story atrium!
I want to make one comment on the decor of this ship. I asked many passengers what they thought of it, and bearing in mind that most of us were over 40, the majority thought it was totally over the top and in what I consider bad taste. Ancient Egypt/Greece seemed to be the theme, and wherever you looked were Greek urns. Yes, dear reader, the door handles in public areas and the spindles on the staircases were all gray plastic Greek urns. The overall impression was quite dark. I mention this as I felt that the millions spent could have created a much more tasteful environment.
The main dining room had two levels and we were second sitting. We had asked for a table for 8-10 and were disappointed to be placed at a table for four. Even worse, two ladies who appeared as our table mates asked where we were from, and having heard we were English, told us that they were also from U.K. and did not want to sit with any people from home. We understood they really wanted to meet people from other countries, but the way they behaved was rude. They left the table immediately to see the Maitre d' and we never saw them again! We also spoke with the Maitre d' after the first meal and ended up in most congenial company with two other couples, one from Australia and the other from Texas.
Only breakfast was free sitting, but even then the waiters wanted you to sit where they considered it convenient, and after one experience of particularly slow service we preferred to eat breakfast in the self-service restaurant on the ninth deck.
The food was most satisfactory. Lobster, shrimp and steak were absolutely first class--equal to that on QE2. Desserts were scrumptious, and the amount of weight gained is testament to the quality of the food. We ate at the alternate restaurant, The Golden Fleece, and while the food and service were excellent the portions served were quite overwhelming (as they were many of the meals served). It seems that American meal sizes are overly large and it was daunting to be served two to three lobster tails!
Dress was casual, elegantly casual or formal. There were four formal nights, when more than half the men were in dinner jackets/tuxedos and the women were elegantly dressed. I was pleasantly surprised by the dress standards, having been warned by one correspondent that we would be lucky if many men turned their baseball caps the right way around for dinner!
The waiters/waitresses were from all over the world. Ours were from Estonia, Hungary and South Africa. None were American. The service was prompt and friendly. Each night the staff would sing and dance under the direction of Kenny, the Maitre d', who also sang and serenaded us nightly. This may appeal to some people, but we agreed with our table mates that we could have done without this practice. The wine prices we considered exorbitant, much higher than on other ships.
The ship had excellent facilities--lots of hot spas, swimming pools (which were rather small), and a simply wonderful gym. You had to pay for Pilates classes, and as the prices for beauty treatments were rather high I avoided them. All the staffers were helpful and friendly. We simply cannot report any bad experiences. We played the slots, watched others losing money at blackjack, etc., and went to most of the shows.
The Follies theater was three levels high and the seating was very comfortable. The venue was very large. The shows were varied and enjoyable. But I have to mention the person who made all aspects of this cruise so enjoyable--the cruise director John Heald. He was the best cruise director I have ever known...witty, funny and always making sure passengers had the best time possible. I am proud to say he is English, and I reckon he is one of Carnival's greatest assets. If you meet him you will agree.
There is no cinema on board and films are watched in your cabin. Frankly, I think they should have included a cinema and cut down on one or two of the 14 bars...but then, bars make money and cinemas do not.
I could have wished for a large, quiet lounge in which to read. The seating seemed to run along walkways on the first, second and third floors as well as an area called the Enchanted Forest, all highly decorated and on both sides of the ship--rather narrow spaces looking out onto the water. The library was very poor given that there were more than 2,000 passengers. John Heald acknowledged this in a question-and-answer session, and said Carnival would look into this. As the Internet facilities were in the library, there was nowhere just to sit. The library hours were most limited. Maybe Carnival's passengers are not normally the reading public!
My husband played bridge daily and I saw many others playing card games. There was also Trivia and Bingo. I would have liked more guest speakers/lecturers. I did not see any.
The ports of call were well liked by the passengers, and many have asked for Carnival to start sailing in Europe. We were given the impression that Carnival has this under consideration and may start doing transatlantic crossings in 2004.
This brings me to the weather and sea conditions. Many of us were nervous about crossing the North Atlantic in September in a cruise ship built for calmer seas. Well, the ship just behaved wonderfully and most of the time it was calm. Even when it was rather rough near Iceland we were totally impressed by the stability of the vessel and would not have any qualms about crossing the Atlantic in this ship.
We paid gratuities on our shipboard bill and were assured by our staff that they did get the monies paid. I always feel a bit uncomfortable about this practice, but as the cost was not low we went along with it. I do think that it was rather tacky to ask the passengers to pay the Maitre d' for his services, as no other salaried member of staff gets tips...just an observation.
After some of the negative comments I had heard on different cruise boards, I can only say that we enjoyed the cruise. We will not be going on any short Caribbean cruises, but if Carnival decides to sail in Europe again, we will be happy to travel with them. It was great value for money--the cabins, food, service and entertainment were all highly satisfactory.
One of the most memorable parts of the cruise was meeting so many friendly people. American cruisers are prepared to chat and we loved meeting so many great People..Thank you all.
Our disembarkation was also smooth though we had to wait over an hour for a cab to take us to our hotel in New York. And what a wonderful place that is...but that's another story.
Any comments or questions would be appreciated.