Wish I knew why the system is stuck on the incorrect number of my overnight cruises instead of 14, which is accurate. First started cruising as a kid with my parents aboard the Calypso Liner to the Bahamas in the mid-1960s. Later, lived for a summer aboard the old "Italia," formerly the "Kungsholm II" when she was a floating hotel in Freeport. Cruised aboard the "Bahama Star," then the "Emerald Seas," Disney's first "Big Red Boat" ("Oceanic") and Royal Caribbean's "Song of America" in the 70s and 80s. Another Bahamas cruise on Carnival "Fascination" in 2004, followed by "Destiny" (now "Sunshine") in 2012. Checked out Royal Caribbean's "Liberty of the Seas" and Norwegian "Sky" in 2013, followed by cruises aboard Carnival "Victory" and Norwegian "Pearl" in 2014. Cruised aboard Carnival "Elation" out of New Orleans in August 2015. Went to see the "Big Ditch" (Panama Canal) aboard Norwegian Pearl Halloween 2016. Squeezed into a tiny cabin aboard Norwegian "Sky" booze cruise again January 2017. Revisited Carnival Victory to the Bahamas Feb. 27, 2017. Main interests: Sea, Sun, Food, Drink, Photography, Video, Culture, Technology, Art, Architecture, Design.
Cruise Lines: Norwegian Cruise Line
In Between "Poor" and "Good" Lies this Cruise
This was the worst and the best of cruising on Carnival. First, PLEASE believe me that I always go into every situation hoping for the best but...somehow, some way or someone turns my attitude sour. From the beginning when I got that robocall announcing the delay in embarking, I got that ol' bad feeling...
On this cruise, the entertainment and the food were disappointing. The crew and staff were outstanding. Every bartender and waiter who took my sail-and sell-card remembered my name. Every steward who helped me, even those who merely answered a question, remembered my name. Adi, my cabin steward, was first class. Wesner, my dining room waiter, remembered my name and my drink. All of this adds up to a high "Jack Factor" score, named after my buddy Jack who only sails on Carnival because he loves being addressed personally on cruises. Personally, I don't care what you call me as long as you bring me my drink immediately. The first night's show was cheesy, with dancing that resembled cheerleaders imitating modern dance. The set was minimal, with a muslim backdrop with painted portholes suspended between poles representing a ship's hull. Laughable. The singers were tolerable--in this show the guy was more talented than the girl. "Matey," the Cruise Director, was along to "entertain" with his "magic" and his "personality" as emcee. The best of all was the band. More entertainment criticism to follow.
The food was in general--from my memory of previous Carnival cruises--downhill. There was less of everything--from choices on menus and buffets--to quality of ingredients. The pizza was below average (for me, it was inedible), the burgers were abominable and the eggs (and salmon) Benedict were abhorrent. I expect poached egg, not hard-boiled. I do NOT expect Hollandaise sauce to be a solid, with a crust, that lets knives bounce atop. Then, the worst disappointment was Chef's Table which I was SO looking forward. They repeated the same damned menu I had aboard Carnival Elation in 2015! They couldn't come up with some innovations? Why shouldn't they update the cuisine? Why is there NOTHING fresh, including CANNED mangoes and canned magicians? Highlight: galley tour. Lowlight: I can't believe that the ONE night that MDR serves Escargot Bourguignonne, my favorite, was Chef's Table night.
As far my cabin, it was fine, except the location noted below. Clean, fresh decor is delightful with the fake louvers on the door, the photo wall graphics and the blue stripes on the duvet. Best: those new flat-screen HD TVs are wonderful for checking your own videos.
The reasons I bought this cruise were threefold: 1. So cheap they threw in a fourth night for free. 2. It was SO cheap they charged the single supplement and it was STILL under my budget. 3. Two years before I started collecting ship models I was aboard Victory. I managed to find (or buy aboard) one from every ship I've traveled aboard--except Victory. The only one to get a model of that ship--is go aboard. That $30.00 model wound up costing me $533.00 excluding drinks.
Maybe I Forgot...
Second time on this ship for only two main reasons. After my first cruise on NCL three years ago, I started collecting ship models, neglecting to obtain one of the Sky. After my voyage to Panama Canal on NCL Pearl last October/November, I was left with only one more night to move to the next tier on their loyalty program. My goals: going Silver and getting a model. My goal was to avoid unnecessarily expenses despite temptations brought on by the constant buzz thanks to their open bar. Brought my buddy Steve because he was desperately in need of a change of scene. He came along three years ago and we wanted to see if this ship has gone into the toilet. My ex-wife originally volunteered to come but her work interfered. Here's what we noticed: the smoke in the casino had...disappeared. There were fellow drinkers a-plenty but none seemed particularly smashed. Just a few ones, the young stuff learning how. No one was belligerent, some drunks spontaneously broke out into a song at inappropriate circumstances (Such as myself.) Bar service was faultless, friendly and relatively prompt considering the demand, and good mixes used for Bloody Marys and Mojitos were delicious. Pours were standard jiggers. Both shows at the Stardust were about expected, songs and dances served with cheese. The duo performing mostly acoustic guitar ballads and required bar songs ("Margaritaville") were adequate for setting a mood. Food abounded, and the quality was hit and miss as expected. The beef was pretty good, at least it showed up as ordered. The prime beef was tasty but full of fat and sinewy waste. Same with the 18 oz. steak, that lost a good 5 oz. in trimmed fat and sinew. The crab and fish "cake" was inedible. Tasteless, like mashed potatoes. The dal and the Indian lentil dish at the buffet were exceptional. Good, inventive salads there including a Mexican bean. I refrain from eating gray meat, so I can't testify to the burgers and meatloaf. I also stay from frozen fish, so that eliminated most of the seafood dishes. The smoked salmon was delicious. As usual the chocolate desserts were superb, particularly that Mexican brownie--dense and rich. The peach melba was an unexpected treat. The coconut cheesecake married two of my favorite things. On Great Stirrup Cay the salads were delicious and cold, and the chicken was hot, not spicy. Re: hamburgers. Not this time. Saving my burger craving for Guy Fieri's aboard Carnival. The beaches and newly-planted palms frame views of the sea. Unexpected: a hidden picnic area in the mangroves, surrounding a well. Safe place to smoke without bothering anyone. Cabin was barely adequate for two adults--I had originally planned to go solo which would have been perfect. Tiny beyond belief, 121 sq. ft. Stand up STRAIGHT shower. No problem with a/c, electrical or plumbing. Bed was fine, pillows puffy. Excellent steward with some impossible-to-pronounce Thai name. Kept my ice bucket filled and my towels replaced. Did our exercise walk in Nassau--uphill and downhill--on our way to the Watling Distillery. Fantastic! Loved that place to drink and smile at the softness of the scented tropical air. Visited an old graveyard to get in touch some forebears with my name. On the way back to the ship we stopped to buy fresh conch salad from a boatman tied up along Woodes Rodgers Walk. Excellent! Sweet as sugarcane and hot as blazing as the sunset. An altogether wonderful day. (Dis)Embarkation is a snap, organized and getting through the line takes about 10 minutes. The tenders shuttle folks between the ship and the dock at Great Stirrup every few minutes. I love it, to me it's like they throw in a free boat ride. Look forward to another one of my dumbass videos.
Great solo cruising, great trolling, bad fishing.
Kevin Nino, the sales rep from NCL, assured me when I booked this cruise that no passport was necessary. Trusting him and his training, I plunked my money down and started planning shore excursions--two weeks before departure. As I started my online Check-In, the system stopped me at the "Travel Documents" stage--no passport. I got the sales rep on the phone--admitted he sold me the cruise using incorrect information. I cancelled, and got a full refund. The next day I showed up at the US Passport office and paid extra for expedited service. DAYUM! It was ready the next day! I got NCL back on the phone and re-booked it--with a cabin upgrade! My stewardess Campana Ritzel took excellent care of me. I really liked my inside cabin--90210--sort "man cave" with all my fishing gear and camera stuff all around. Yep. I brought a telescoping fishing rod and small tackle box. Fishing is a great way to meet folks and relieve boredom. Set goal: fish somewhere at every port-of-call. Caught a permit in Puerto Limon and catfish in Old Belize River. My days and nights were spent walking around the ship, checking out the prices for men's watches, looking at the people in the casino, leisurely lunches and for-fee dinners, looking at the people around the pool, just missing the towel folding demonstrations, shooting tons of video and stills, meeting some new cruise friends for dinner every other night, others for night drinks and deep conversation. Yeah, I checked out the library and the Card Room, where the REAL action was happening. Forget those "players" and their Texas Hold Em games in the casino compared to the stakes I saw at some of the Card Room games. No pit boss. Another goal: to avoid putting the "one pound per day" rule into effect. I managed to lose six pounds in 12 days. I ate my fill of beef--at the Moderno Churrascaria, Cagney's Steakhouse and Le Bistro, not to mention the decent prime rib and steaks in the Summer Palace MDR. The lamb was also delicious. The seafood I tried--at Lotus Garden and Summer Palace was insipid and poorly presented--the shrimp and the cod. In fact, the shrimp ceviche was so flavorless it was more like shrimp cocktail. I could NOT believe the Hot and Sour Soup--lacked anything hot and no citrus tang. Ugh! On the other hand, the Indian dishes at the Garden Buffet were uniformly excellent, including the butter chicken, biryani rice and tandoori chicken salad. Yet, the asparagus with Hollandaise sauce was a completely disaster, all congealed and solid. Everything with chocolate was delicious!
The usual culinary hits and misses were expected and delivered. The service was impeccable in every way, to the credit of the restaurant manager. Ronnie Cruz, our waiter, was very funny and quick-witted, made us smile through every course of every meal. Shore Excursions were very well-handled for the most part. Despite poor weather in two ports (Roatan and Belize City) nobody fell overboard getting on and off the tender. The highlights for me was the Pura Video Chocolate Tour and Chacchoben--most impressive Mayan ruin. The excursion around Gatun and onto Colon was FANTASTIC! Got some amazing monkey photos and actually saw my ship passing through Gatun Lock! Awesome! Loved Cartagena, and Puerto Limon.
Another impressive Carnival performance
This ship and New Orleans have some similarities. Both are old. Both show signs of their age. Both know how to party. Both can rip off the unwary. Both can deliver a memorable culinary experience.
Our vacation in New Orleans included this short cruise because my daughter wanted to go on a ship with a water slide. No other cruise line sails out of New Orleans this time of year. Our hotel, which she chose, doesn’t have a pool. Elation fit our budget and schedule perfectly and delivered a memorable experience. Our cabin was exceptional, a corner in the very transom of the ship with a view overlooking the wake. Some vibration but it didn’t bother us at all. The storage locker forces you to step over the bed to get to the porthole. My kid loved to curl up in the recess and close the curtain. Cabin service was superb and although the grout in the shower floor was darkly stained I personally witnessed some guy scrubbing it with some noxious liquid and wire brush so I know it was clean. The antique CRT television was so bad the letters and graphics on the screen were hard to read but we weren’t there much to watch it. The cabins are pinkish and look dated but are comfortable and functional with ample storage. As others said, bring a power strip—serious outlet shortage in these cabins and we brought several devices that needed charging.
Having been on Fascination, a sister, and other Carnival ships, I knew about Joe Farcus and his concepts of interior design and architecture so seeing life-size robots with gears for a heart, fanciful depictions of Renaissance Verona and splashy use of neon and LED lighting were no surprise. This ship uses wood-tone laminate to keep public areas looking warm, particularly in the atrium. My favorite was the Mark Twain Library, with gorgeous model paddle-wheelers and sumptuous seating for reading, games or computing. One thing Carnival’s interiors do well—force you out of your usual visual mindset and get you to forget you’re on a ship.
There is plenty of open deck space and a sufficient stock of lounge chairs to keep everyone happily sunning. The Serenity Deck, aft, is adults-only and provides a nice respite from the noise and hubbub around the main pool. You will not, however, be able to escape the boorish ignoramus who is unaware of lounge-chair protocol no matter where you go so be prepared.
Sailaway deck party was the usual to be found on most ships, what made this unusual for us was the difference sailing out of this port when our only previous experience was sailing out of South Florida. We COULD NOT BELIEVE how long it took to reach the open water of the Gulf of Mexico. This was almost like two cruises in one: a Mississippi River cruise coupled with an ocean cruise to Cozumel. We had fun ship-spotting and checking out the oil rigs.
Entertainment on board seemed to please that crowd. Although I didn’t particularly enjoy either comedian (walked out, actually) and the stage show was cheap and cheesy (recorded music, no set changes, basic choreography) I was most impressed by the magician who performed for us both at dinner in the MDR and at Chef’s Table. The card trick involving his tie was a jaw-dropper as well as the hand-rubbing floral fragrance trick. Karaoke is divided between “family” and “adult.” We sang at both. Everything else you expect from hairy-chests and belly-flops and muffin-tops and bingo and champagne art auctions are there in abundance.
My kid was so busy with the instant BFFs she made at Circle C (the “camp” for 12-14 year-olds) I only saw her at dinner and occasionally when I walked through the buffet restaurant to get to the Serenity Deck. No one (except maybe Disney) takes care of kids better than Carnival. I recommend the Bottomless Bubbles or you’ll get nickel-and-dimed to death on drinks. At the end of the cruise I asked her how she liked the waterslide. She had such a great time she only used it once.
Dining in the MDR was fine. I always said Carnival’s food was glorified cafeteria, salty to sell drinks but served with style to overcome shortcomings in quality. I have to admit they’ve upped their game. It’s a pleasure to eat my words. The escargot was deliciously unchanged, meats were served at the right temperature and doneness (rare to medium-rare for me), and the lobster tails were small (expected), tender, moist, not at all stringy. Chocolate desserts were flavorful and rich as always, better than Royal Caribbean’s by a mile. The Baked Alaska was a bit of a disappointment, a slab sliced onto a plate. Breakfast in the morning was a highlight—I’m an Eggs Benedict addict. Smoked salmon was uniformly good, the bagels adequate. Plentiful fruit and cheese available. I honestly can’t say anything about the Lido Deck buffet restaurant because I didn’t try it, nor did I sample the Deli, Mongolian Wok or pizza. You know they’re there. I know they’re there. Big lines. Not for me. I’m convinced that’s where most people who get sick on ships pick up the bug—waiting in line to get food.
Big splurge was for the Chef’s Table. This was the experience that made me realize how hard Carnival is willing to work for my buck. A seven-course meal with unlimited champagne, drinks, a private reception, a galley tour, a private banquet in the ship’s most beautiful public room, free group 8
X 10 photo by ship's photographer, a custom menu of dishes prepared in ways no one else aboard will ever see or taste, entertainment between courses provided by the ship’s magician, a team of professionals led by the Executive Chef preparing, saucing, finishing and garnishing the courses in front of your eyes. Dishes ranged from “Crab Stack with Corn Custard, Polenta Cracker Tangerine and Passion Caviar” to “Wagyu Bone Marrow Souffle with Scallion and Garlic Panisse and a Gremolata Crisp.” The sea bass dish had “Lobster Foam.” Seriously.
I can honestly say this little cruise aboard this now-little ship was about as good as it gets on this line. The harder Carnival tries to keep me, the better they do at it.