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Cruising with Carnival

December 6, 2016

My wife and I recently returned from our first cruise to the western Caribbean and I figured that I would write a review of the experience for other people that are contemplating taking a cruise for vacation.

The Good

  1. We were able to see parts of 4 different countries including Grand Cayman, Honduras, Belize and Mexico.
  2. We traveled with family and had lots of fun moments including relaxing on the beach, playing with nieces and nephews, zip-lining through the jungle, and snorkeling.
  3. The casino was open almost every day so I could always gamble if I got bored.
  4. The comedy club was well worth attending as the comedians were generally funny and put on good shows.
  5. Bars were plentiful aboard the ship so I was never a few steps away from a drink.
  6. Most of the ports we stopped in were reasonably priced and afforded cheap souvenirs. There were also plenty of tax and duty free stores on shore as well as multiple stores on the boat.
  7. There was always food available 24/7 including all day pizza and ice cream stations as well as room service. Our ship also had several other restaurants including a burger place, a burrito bar, buffets and a traditional dinner all open during various hours.
  8. Service was generally pretty good. I would say that I never had to wait too long for a drink and the crew were all very helpful with whatever needs that I had or at least pleasant if they couldn’t assist me directly.
  9. Every night had some type of activity going on, whether it be bingo, karaoke, dance numbers or watching a movie on the big screen while lounging by the pool.
  10. Childcare was available almost every night until 1 AM so parents could have some time to themselves.
  11. When first boarding the boat, Carnival forces you to use their “Sail and Sign” card which can be either loaded with cash or linked to a credit card. This card is then used everywhere on the boat for buying drinks, gambling at the casino, or buying items at the on-board stores. It also doubles as your room key and functions as your passport when exiting and reentering the ship from the different ports. This makes it very convenient as you rarely have to have cash or ID except when leaving the boat. Every time the card is used, it also shows a picture of the customer as an extra security measure.

The Bad

  1. Based solely on my idea of a relaxing vacation, everything on a cruise revolves around a schedule and for me, this was not relaxing. I had fun, but I didn’t really relax. You have a scheduled dining time if you want to eat in the dining rooms. Every port has specific time that you can leave the ship and a time when you must return to the boat. I found it necessary to wear a watch at all times so that I would not be late for dinner or a show or getting back aboard the boat.
  2. Everything has its price aboard a cruise ship and I found it rather expensive. For example, a bottle of Dos Equis cost $6.04 per bottle without an extra tip if you wanted quicker service. I could have gotten the “Cheers” program which offered up to 15 drinks per day per person for around $50 but Carnival requires that both adults in a guestroom buy the package. Since my wife rarely drinks, I couldn’t justify spending $100 a day solely on alcohol.
  3. You are literally trapped at sea with around 3000 other passengers upon a boat. Imagine taking your average Walmart clientele and then choosing to live with them in a floating hotel for 7 days. While it afforded some very entertaining people-watching, it also showed the darker, ruder, and generally discourteous attitudes of humanity.
  4. The elevators were almost always slow and crowded- if they happened to deign themselves to stop at your floor at all. And unless you think I’m just being a lazy American, the cruise ship has at least 10 floors and that is an awful lot of stairs when you are hopping between floors constantly throughout the day.
  5. There was literally nowhere on the boat that you could go for privacy except your own bathroom- and even then, you might get a knock on your door from housekeeping. I am a person that enjoys quiet, alone time and it was slightly unnerving to never really be afforded personal time away from other guests or staff.
  6. Seasickness. You have to remember that you are in a ship on the ocean and you will feel the occasional movement of the boat upon the waves. While I found the rocking actually kind of comforting, other people in our party found it nauseating.
  7. Photographers. No matter where you went on the ship or on shore, you were constantly bombarded with photographers seeking to immortalize your vacation in a photograph. I normally wouldn’t have a problem with this except that the photographs themselves were outrageously expensive. Getting a digital copy on CD was even more expensive, bordering on extortion.
  8. No free WiFi connection. Sure, for a small fee you could use the ship’s WiFi but from what I was told, it is no faster than your old school dial-up modem. It is definitely a drawback that you’re on a ship going to amazing destinations and having great times only to realize that you need to dock at Miami before you can share your adventures with friends and family.

The Interesting

  1. On our last day before disembarking, we had to stop after spotting a raft with refugees from Cuba. Apparently, the law of the sea is that the first boat that sights a vessel in distress must stop and wait until the Coast Guard arrives. This particular raft was carrying 17 men and we waited a good 2 hours before the Coast Guard arrived. It made for an interesting time as the guests took pictures and such but I imagine it sucked for the refugees as under current U.S. law, refugees from Cuba that don’t actually set foot on American soil are automatically returned to Cuba. I can’t imagine the kind of situation a person must be in to think that boarding a raft and setting off into the wide ocean seems like a good idea, but I guess I don’t really know their situation.
  2. The staff. On our boat, the Carnival Glory, had crew members from over 60 countries. While the vast majority of them seemed to be from either Indonesia, the Philippines, or India, there were also sizable contingents from Eastern Europe including Moldova, Ukraine, and Romania. I often found myself more interested in their lives upon the ocean than I did the excursions that we booked. We could have booked a tour of the crew quarters for $95 a pop, but instead we opted for asking the crew about their lives whenever they seemed open to conversation.
  3. The ship decor was eclectic to say the least. Themes ranged from Egyptian gods in the casino to the African masks in the comedy club to an entire bar called the Ivory Room that was decorated in what I can only hope was fake elephant tusks. It was also strange that the ship had been decorated for Christmas on top of the existing decor so that a dog-headed statue of Anubis was crowned with a pine wreath in the casino. This made for a very bizarre decor mashup indeed.
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