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Bill & Jan

Age: 50

Occupation:Graphic Designer/Editor

Number of Cruises: 10

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Legend

Sailing Date: January 30th, 2005

Itinerary: Panama, Costa Rica, Belize


This was our 10th cruise, our first with Carnival. We had read a real mixed bag of reviews, so we approached it with open minds. We are laid-back cruisers, and don't let worn carpets or a nasty purser ruin our vacation. Our last 5 cruises have been with Princess and Celebrity, so we were kind of using them as our benchmark.

We picked this sailing for the itinerary. Because we have limited time, we chose the shortest trip you can get to see the Panama Canal. Also were Costa Rica, Belize, and four lovely at-sea days.

EMBARKATION:
We arrived about 11:35 a.m. to a crowd, they didn't open the doors until 12 noon, and we were dropping off our bags in our unfinished cabin about 12:50. It was pretty unorganized, but we had read just that, so we were expecting it. The security lines (only 2) were the main bottleneck.

THE SHIP
As we entered the atrium, we were pretty overwhelmed by the decor. On the Grand and the Constellation the decor was pretty understated. Not here! You get used to it after a few days, but we heard the word "whorehouse" used many times in different people's descriptions.

We had an aft-facing cabin, 6262. It was well laid out, the shower was big enough, all in all pretty good. One small thing: take some hangers with you. We're glad we did. We had 2 hanging closets but only about 12 hangers. Did the bungee cord thing to hold the balcony door open at night, and had the pleasant sights and sounds of the wake to lull us to sleep.

The layout of the ship was okay but they could have used a few more signs showing foreword and aft. We saw more than a few people going the wrong way, getting all the way to the back of the ship, and turning around. The elevators we plentiful and fast - very high marks here. At 88,000 tons we thought that the Legend was a good size. Big enough, with a bit less walking, compared to the Grand and Constellation.

STAFF
Almost without exception the staff were great. Smiling and friendly. The CD, Chris Jefferson, was good... very professional and the first one we've had that didn't annoy me. The 2 bartenders in the Odyssey Lounge, Laura and Andrea, were charming! The casino bartender, Muriel, was unbelievable. I'm sure she is the highest revenue producer on the ship. I'd swear she had 8 hands. Always with a smile.

FOOD
Here's an area we were concerned about, and were pleasantly surprised.

The buffet area was a little spread out, so it was best to take a walk and look first, plan your strategy, then grab a tray and go for it. The food was hot, with a pretty good selection. Sometimes, if you walked around too much, it could get a little cold by the time you sat down. Get the cold stuff like salad and drinks first, and the hot stuff last.

The serving stations included pizza area, burger bar, salad bar, deli, carver, desserts and the 2 best - the Asian and the Taste of the Nations. The Asian had sushi on the 4 sea-days, and a selection of noodles, rice, various entrees, spring rolls, and soup daily. All pretty good. The taste of the Nations had a different theme every day, such as Italian, French, Mexican, Caribbean, American, and our favorite, the Indian. We eat a lot of Indian food at home, and this was on-par. Quite a pleasant surprise. Disappointing was the fruit selection... no exotics like papaya or mango, and the melon wasn't very ripe. The 24-hour ice cream was a nice touch. All in all, the buffet was as good or better than Princess or Celebrity, because of the many choices.

We had a late seating table for 2. The dining room is a bit noisy. Our waiter Orlando and assistant Nu-Made were quite capable. I thought the menu had more depth than Princess or Celebrity. For instance, they had lamb every night, as well as a pasta, chicken, fish, beef, pork and veggie. The shrimp appetizers were a little disappointing as was the bread (Princess bread rules!), but the escargots were quite nice. My wife is a pasta lover and was a bit disappointed. Soups, hot and cold, were very good. Dessert was a little weak. A note about the coffee...it was drinkable. Better than any other boat I've been on. It seemed to be the same wherever you got it (room service, buffet, dining room, etc.). Surpassing our expectations, the presentation of the food was better than Princess or Celebrity, nicely plated with creative garnishes, squirt bottle stuff and confetti.

We ate one night in the Golden Fleece Supper Club, for a fee, and it's very much steakhouse style. It was okay, but the staff seemed like they were reading off a script. Next time I think we'll pass. We're not that into huge cuts of meat.

The Legends Cafe is the coffee joint, with a lot of choices and some very decadent pastries and sundaes, all at reasonable prices.

BARS AND CASINO
We enjoyed pre-dinner drinks at the Odyssey Lounge. Very good service. The casino bar was great, and the aft pool bar was understaffed.

They could have done better with a drink menu. At the aft pool bar, they only had one copy of it, with "Bar Copy" written on it. It didn't have any descriptions or ingredients listed. What's in a Goombay Smash, anyway?

The casino was large, and the slots were not too bad. They got my stake, but it took all week. One night I pulled over 1000 quarters out of a machine, and got a handful of large pay-outs over the week. The tables were well attended. The casino was the late night place to be. They had live music most nights by a keyboard singer guy that played almost anything, including Pink Floyd! I had a scary moment watching a woman who was at least 75 singing along with "The Wall"!

A note about smoking: with the exception of the casino, they seemed to do a good job segregating the smokers and the non-s. No smoking around food. If you wanted to smoke, you had several bar choices, and if you wanted smoke-free you had several choices. On deck, port side was non-smoking. Fair enough.

The last night of the cruise was the Super Bowl and they had it on the in-room TVs and brought TVs into all the bars so everybody could watch.

MUSIC

The live music was pretty good, but the recorded stuff was pretty awful. I brought an iPod and speakers for the room. I recommend bringing your own.

HOT TUBS
One of the things we like about Princess is the 24-hour hot tubs. Not on the Legend. They have one that stays open until midnight, but it was always full.

ITINERARY/SHORE EXCURSIONS
Two sea-days, Colon, Panama, then Limon, Costa Rica, another sea-day, Belize and the final day at sea. Sometimes they reverse the itinerary. Due to tight port schedules and the nature of the ports we booked 3 shore excursions from Carnival. They were pricey. We were the only cruise ship in port at all 3 stops. I've never seen that before.

PANAMA:
We took the "Panama Canal Tour". Warning: You go at 7:00 a.m. That's pretty darn early for a vacation day! You get on a bus at the pier and drive about an hour to the Pacific side. Here you board a boat and go through Miraflores locks and the Pedro Miguel locks. You go under the new bridge then through the Galliard Cut and then offload at Gamboa. Back on the bus and a stop at the big damn, then a scenic ride back to the boat. Limited shopping at pier. Definitely a travel milestone I can now check off my list.

If you are going to visit the Panama Canal, we highly recommend reading the book "The Path Between The Seas" by David McCullough. It's a big one (800 pages) but it will help you understand the scope of this achievement.

COSTA RICA:
Again, another 7:00 a.m. roll call. Painful. We took the Rainforest Arial Tramway tour. You get in a comfortable air conditioned motor coach with an informative guide on the microphone and take about a 2 hour ride to the tramway site. You get to see the mountains and volcanoes along the way with commentary. It's a private reserve with trails and a visitor's center. Each tram car has 7 seats, for 3 couples and a guide on each car. It lasts about an hour, and on the way out you travel about 75 feet from the jungle floor, and on the way back you go over the jungle canopy, about 150' up. Very cool. Unfortunately, we saw a lot of flora, but not much fauna. On the way back to the ship, the bus driver pulled over several times to point out sloths on the trees, and to buy finger bananas to pass around to the passengers. Neat experience, glad we did it.

BELIZE

In Belize you have a pretty long tender ride (4-5 miles?) due to the shallow waters and the barrier reef. Because of the itinerary, there wasn't much opportunity for beach days. We chose the "Thriller Powerboat Ride" to Caye Calker. Caye Calker is a barrier island about 30 miles northeast of Belize City. The good thing was, they pick you up right from the ship, and you don't have to bother with the tenders. It's an offshore racing powerboat, catamaran style, refitted to carry about 48 people. You go about 40 knots, so it takes about 45-50 minutes to get there. It's a cool ride through and past dozens of out islands, reefs and stuff.

It's a real hip little island, about 1 mile by 5 miles, with no cars, sand streets, many little restaurants serving Belize cuisine, local beers (Belikan and Lighthouse) and rum drinks with the local over-proof. You get about 3 and half hours here. You can rent a golf-cart and explore, take a dive tour to the reef (about a mile out), rent kayaks or Hobie Cats or just chill on the beach and have some drinks. It was overcast that day, and we were a little bummed, but that night we realized we got a ton of sun because we didn't use any UV protection.

When the ship sails out of Belize, make sure you watch from your balcony or on deck. You sail through an amazing group of islands, and the captain really has to do some fancy driving, zigzagging around them.

PAX
I think this is the biggest difference between Carnival and Princess/Celebrity. During embarkation, it seemed like all the people in line were very old. We joked about it must be a grandmother's convention. Something about the Panama itinerary seems to bring out the seniors. Once on board, we found out there was a group of about 610 pax from a homebuilders group aboard. I've got to think that group brought the age curve down a decade or two. They were a fun loving bunch on vacation, having a good time. On our sailing there were not a lot of kids or teens, due to the fact that school was in session. No problems there. NOTE: The early dinner seating had almost all seniors, while the late seating had an average age about 25 years younger. Think about this when you pick your dining preference.

Now, this is an observation, not a judgment... This ship had a lot more "regular Joes" than you find on Princess or Celebrity. Beer instead of wine. Rum & Coke instead of Martinis. It was the first time I have seen people drinking beer from a bottle in the dining room. Carnival definitely fits the classification of "mass market" cruising. I think Princess/Celebrity pax think in their minds they are on a cruise a cut above Carnival. And they tend to be a bit more stuffy.

CONCLUSION:
Thinking about it, all three lines offer a very similar product, depending on what floats your boat. Despite my minor nit-picks, we had a great cruise, did what we enjoy doing, and have no complaints worth mentioning. Would we go Carnival again? I can't see why not. I think now we are itinerary driven cruisers, so we'll see what's offered in the future.

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