Ever since I experienced my first Mediterranean cruise I fell in love with cruising. It is such an effortless and convenient way to travel. Lodging, meals and entertainment are provided so all you have to do is pack you sense of adventure and set sail! Something to bear in mind when booking your first cruise is that not all companies provide equally enjoyable experience. Names like Princess Cruise, Royal Caribbean or Holland America take pride in providing meticulous and luxury service aboard their ships. Then there are more budget-friendly options like Carnival Cruise. All of us in the family have traveled exclusively with Royal Caribbean in the past. However, their Caribbean itineraries were not quite what we were looking for this time. They tend to offer more time on board than ashore each port of call. Now, this is understandable too because Royal Caribbean owns the two biggest ships Oasis Of The Seas and Allure Of The Seas, both packed with endless entertainment options aboard, so some people might not be interested to disembark at all. Like I said though, our goal this time was to see as much of the Eastern part of the Caribbean as possible, plus try to look for a more low-cost option. Carnival seemed to satisfy our preliminary needs perfectly and I am glad to share my experience cruising on board Carnival Conquest with you all.
WHAT TO EXPECT ON A CRUISE
Meals. Breakfast and lunch buffets, plus seated formal dinners are provided daily. In addition, you have snack bars (pizza, ice-cream, etc.) throughout the ship to have something to munch on in-between meals.
Various entertainment: in-door and open pools, casino, house-band concerts, games, shows, clubs and bars, sports bar, spa and gym. Vibe. Mostly the vibe on the ship is lively and casual. Passengers represent all group ages. On a few occasions we had formal nights and dressed up for the occasion. Ladies, make sure you pack a few fancy dresses and some heels. Gentlemen, a suit or a tux is encouraged. HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISE
Ports of Call. As I mentioned above, we opted to book Carnival’s cruise primarily because of its great itinerary. We had 4 full days at sea and hit four beautiful Caribbean islands – St.Maarten, St. Kitts, San Juan, Grand Turk. You can follow the corresponding links to read all about vibrant Old San Juan, its colorful colonial architecture and best places to savor scrumptious local cuisine… Or about St. Maarten, a tiny island with European flair… Or our unforgettable scuba adventure in St. Kitts…And last, but not least, gawk at spectacular beachfront of Grand Turk. The itinerary provided a good rest/activity ratio and gave us an opportunity to relax on the ship as well as visit some beautiful places along the way. In general, when booking a cruise I highly recommend that you pay attention to how long the ship will be docked at each port of call. The longer you are at your destination, more time you have to venture out, explore and enjoy the sights. In this respect, we certainly had ample time at each island. Service. Opinions often differ on this, but I greatly appreciate all service staff. Everyone was very friendly and did their best to meet our needs. Staff seemed well-trained and we were particularly impressed by our wait-stuff at dining hall.
Chef’s Table. If you enjoy gourmet dining then you must book this culinary extravaganza. For an extra fee of $75 per person you get 4 hours of private seated dinner and will indulge in 11-course tasting menu. You also get a unique tour of the galley and get to meet the Chef of the ship! Read my full recap in my separate blog post.
Food. Menu changes every night. I personally was very fond of the Rare Finds section on the dinner menu. Every night you could order an exotic course like escargot, frog legs or alligator meat. In addition, there was a special section in the menu with dishes featuring ingredients native to the island you visited that day. I think this is a great way to spruce up an otherwise typical menu.
Guy’s Burgers offered during lunch were also a messy and not-so-light yet really tasty afternoon meal option! For those who love to sleep in, no worries, one of the dining halls offers special brunch menu on a daily basis.
Dessert. All of us were smitten by Warm Chocolate Melting Cake which is Carnival’s signature dessert offered on all ships. I cannot rave enough about it. During our Chef’s Table, we got a private tutorial from the Pastry Chef on how to make it with a complimentary recipe! Cocktails. Carnival sure has great mixologists and we enjoyed our daily 5 p.m. drinks at the atrium or casino bars. Spacious Rooms and Comfortable Beds. Big plus on this one, even the inside cabins were quite roomy, provided plenty of storage room and the beds were big and very comfortable!
Ambiance. Even though the ship has been recently renovated, the retro-style décor certainly looked outdated and ambiance lacked glamour and pizzazz. Furthermore, I am not a picky person in any way, but things like dusty shelves in the cabin or dirty windows are something that automatically attracts your attention. Unfortunately, Carnival definitely has to step up its ship maintenance game. Entertainment. This was probably the biggest disappointment. When you have four days at sea and roughly 3000 passengers onboard it is imperative to put adequate resources in quality entertainment. There was palpable lack of interesting things to do onboard. Nightly shows were not exciting. The choices of places to hang out are mainly limited to pool (which is TINY and packed, sunbeds were hard to find!), small casino, gym, spa. We were not at all thrilled by performers (particularly, “magician”) or a few singers. There was a big screen by the poolside where you could watch a movie under the stars each night, which was fantastic! Only, there were couple of nights when they played the same movie. Really?
Food. Except the things I listed above, I cannot rave about anything we tasted. As my father-in-law noted one night, nothing really blew our socks off. There was limited selection during breakfast and lunch buffets. Everything tasted bland and boring and the comments after each meal were limited to “It was ok”. I was impressed that the waiters remembered and greeted us by name every night. What I wasn’t impressed with was how long it took for food to be served. We had early seating (6:00 PM) and never left dining room earlier than 7:45 PM.
Overall, I think Carnival might be a great choice for those who are cruising for the first time and/or are conscientious about their budget.
Which is you favorite cruise company? Have you ever cruised with Carnival? Which ship? What were your impressions? Do share your stories in the comments!