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lDennis and Sharon

Age: 52

Occupation:IT Manager

Number of Cruises: 6

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Legend

Sailing Date: February 21st, 2006

Itinerary: Panama Canal

Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Legend Cruise Review
Panama Canal

Dennis and Sharon

Party consisted of myself, wife, 9 and 13 year old daughters.

Previous cruises include NCI Norway, Carnival Imagination (both adults only) and last 3 years with daughters on Carnival Spirit twice, and Royal Caribbean Splendor of the Seas. This was the 4th cruise we booked through vacationstogo.com, and have had nothing but positive results with them. Originally was going to pass on getting trip insurance, but after the storm a few weeks before where several NE airports were shut down for up to 3 days, discretion became the better part of valor. I used insuremytrip.com which compares costs and features from multiple insurance providers. One of the big advantages is coverage of emergency medical evacuations which I read can run to tens of thousands of dollars and may not be covered by HMOs when outside the U.S. Worth looking into and not that expensive.

We flew from Rochester, NY to Fort Lauderdale on AirTran the day before. The flight was full - somewhat surprising on a Monday - but one of the few non-stops available from Rochester.

We had reservations at the Ramada Cruise Port which included a free shuttle. You have to get your luggage - long wait - before they will dispatch the van. It didn't take too long to arrive but made a couple of other stops which resulted in everyone sitting shoulder to shoulder to the hotel. The Ramada was a two-story hotel with no elevators which was a challenge with the amount of luggage we had. We had dinner at the bar that night and the buffet breakfast the next day. It was obvious they were severely under-staffed and the service suffered accordingly. The pool was nice and we took advantage of that. Weather was sunny and in the 80s. We decided to forego the free 1:00 shuttle to the cruise port - which looked like it was again going to be packed - and instead paid for a taxi around noon for $14 plus tip. Next trip I'll just look for the best hotel option and plan on taking taxis.

Embarkation:
As we arrived a bit early, there were short lines at the cruise port, but we did have to wait a short while to board and then get to our cabin. As we had done the online pre-registration it was pretty painless. Both Fort Lauderdale and Tampa are much less hectic than Miami.

Lifeboat Drill - Typical operation. While I recognize they have to do something along these lines, I've always had significant doubts that in a real emergency passengers will docilely line up shoulder to shoulder and wait in neat lines by their assigned life boats. A necessary evil I guess.

Previous Legend reviews I had read frequently mentioned the prevalence of "Urns" in the décor theme. But even after having read these, I never noticed them until I overheard someone pointing them out from an atrium elevator. Of course, according to my wife, my fashion-sense gene has been in deep remission my whole life. To be honest, the décor in any cruise ship I've been on recently simply reinforces the stereotype of those individuals involved in the interior decorating industry. NTTAWWT.

I would have to agree with those that mentioned that the hallway carpeting on the cabin decks could use some refreshing, but other than that the ship appeared to be well maintained with the usual amount of constant cleaning - typically in the off hours.

From some discussions with the crew and my own observations, the ship appeared to be only about 80% booked. Most of the passengers appeared to be on the older side: 40s - 60s , with not that many children on board. Somewhat surprising as most of the time was over February recess. I'd guess it was a result of it being an 8-night cruise and the port locations - which were not the typical beach and party destinations. Most of the passengers seemed to be experienced cruisers.

The 3 pools and hot tubs (one adult) were only crowded periodically. More important in my mind for Carnival to refresh over the hallway carpets are the chaise lounges. On every other one the mechanism to raise the back falls apart, although they can usually be re-assembled; this has been a problem with each of the three Carnival cruises we have taken. Even when they work, they don't lie anywhere near flat and several were discolored and/or studded with gum residue. On the plus side, we never had difficulty finding a few available, and chair hogs seemed less prevalent than usual. Clothes pins and those little black binder clips came in handy to keep towels in place.

We had been on 2 cruises previously on the Spirit which is a sister ship to the Legend. I must say we had never felt the rocking we did on the Legend. It was particularly pronounced in the front of the ship. The waves did get a bit rough, but not exceedingly so. The discomfort wasn't extreme, more of a mild queasiness that a Dramamine tab would relieve. It was definitely more noticeable at night and may have been partially a result of the speed needed to maintain the itinerary.

Our room was right off the atrium elevators just aft of mid-ship which put us in easy distance of most attractions. There was never a problem with elevator availability.

The water slide was a major disappointment. On the Spirit, the speed was fast and somewhat exhilarating even though it was a short ride. On the Legend it was a very slow descent, to the point where I stopped dead a few times if in a sitting position. Reading some message boards since returning, it sounds like there were some issues with slides on some other Spirit Class ships that have a slightly different design. I can only surmise that in our litigatious society, Carnival's Legal department decreed that the others be slowed to the point of irrelevance to avoid potential injuries. Sad times.

The library, located in the same space as the internet café, was only open a couple of hours per day, so I never utilized it. I bought several books from a local used bookstore before we left, and acquired a few new ones at the airport shops. I managed to complete 6 books on the flights and on the ship, which those with children will recognize as a gauge on how relaxing the trip was. As usual for those books I didn't think I'd read again, I would just leave them out in a common areas with a note that they were free to a good home. They all seemed to disappear pretty quickly.

Room:
Carnival does a good job with the space available. We were able to find enough storage space for all of us (four large suitcases, a suit carrier, and 4 carry-ons). All the empty suitcases fit under the bed.

My wife and I could definitely feel the crease where the 2 beds had been pushed together but otherwise the mattresses were ok and there were enough pillows.
Our two daughters took turns on the fold-out couch and the third bed that pulled down from the ceiling.

We did find a pair of kid's underwear on the balcony, the second time in the last few years we have found an "intimate" item in the room from the previous residents. However as we did come aboard early, and knowing the limited time available to the staff between one cruise and the next, we didn't make an issue of it. The room steward was very personable and helpful without being intrusive.

The bathroom had ample rimmed shelf space and the water pressure was strong.
Definitely recommend the balcony room. We used the rope we brought along to keep the spring-loaded French door open at times - just had to be careful when opening the door into the hallway as the air flowing through the room would be quite strong and scatter any loose papers. I liked having a light on the balcony as I would sometimes use it to read late at night without disturbing anyone in the room and the balcony was quite private.

The ice bucket that comes with the room is pretty small and as I drink a lot of ice water, I asked our room steward to bring another one. He brought a plastic one which was standard size, would refill both, but usually not until after the other maintenance activities were done.
We had one problem with the card-operated in-room safe when I went to lock it and didn't hold the door closed. The locking tongue then protruded with the door open and wouldn't retract. We had to have a technician come to the room to fix it. The wait was pretty short. He emphasized the recommendation on the safe to use a credit card, not the sail and sign room card. I'm not sure why, as it just requires you to carry two cards around instead of one, and chances are if you lose one you'll probably lose both. So in my mind it just increases your loss exposure as opposed to decreasing it.

Later in the week we had a problem where none of our cards would unlock the cabin door. We went to the purser's desk and got new cards that still didn't work. Back to the purser's desk, who paged a technician to meet us at the room. He couldn't get the door open either and had to page another technician who came and replaced the lock. By this point we had missed the early seating dinner as we had not been able to change out of our bathing suits. We called the purser after getting into the room and they were not helpful at all. They said we would have to see the headwaiter at the late seating and "try" to get a table, this on a sailing only about 80% full. When I suggested they maybe comp us at the premium restaurant as it was not our fault the lock malfunctioned, they responded as if I had asked to sleep with the captain's wife. Needless to say we were not happy and let them know it. At that point we were just hungry - especially our daughters - and aggravated - especially me, so just ate at the Lido buffet. The next day the purser's desk delivered a complimentary bottle of champagne to our room which did partially mollify us. But our experience does seem to mirror others I have read about that point to the Purser personnel being the least helpful and friendly of the ship staff.

I didn't like that the tips are pre-billed and that you now have to go to the purser's desk and adjust them there instead of just getting a form ahead of time. There's enough to deal with on the last couple of days without having to wait in line at the desk.

Food:
Most days, my wife and I only had breakfast and dinner. Our daughters did indulge in a few lunches also, usually burger based which looked to be pretty good. There did seem to be a good variety of buffet offerings for lunch.

I usually went to the buffet breakfast with one daughter while my wife and other daughter would had the continental room service. The buffet breakfast was just so-so in my opinion. The entrees tended to be a bit on the greasy side, although there were plenty of healthful options such as fruit and cereal as well. Did not try the dining room breakfast. The room service, while limited to continental offerings, was ok and pretty timely. Note that this is about the only service where there is not an automatic gratuity provided so you need to tip the delivery person directly if desired.

Other than two nights we ate in the dining room; we missed the "door problem" night and skipped one of the two formal nights (two too many in my minority opinion). The food was good overall. The portions were on the usual small side, but that was fine as I usually try to combine 2 entrees into a surf and turf offering. The quality of the fish offerings seemed to be more consistent than that of the beef ones. One thing I missed from Royal Caribbean was the option to have the two entrees on one plate with just one set of sides. Everything was certainly acceptable. The servers were friendly, but seemed somewhat inexperienced. Refills of the water glasses, and offers of ground pepper or grated cheese on the salads were intermittent.

The two buffet dinners we ate in the Lido were nothing special. I was disappointed in the limited selection. The pizza - available 24 hours - was good with a number of different types available. The kids also enjoyed the 24 hr availability of ice cream and frozen yogurt.
There are also "ala carte" offerings of Ben and Jerry's ice cream, pastries and specialty coffees, available for a price. Didn't try any of these.

We purchased soda cards for the kids. They weren't a huge bargain, but definitely saved some money.

Sea Days:
Sea day 1 - Wed. out of FLL - Very nice, sunny and warm
Sea day 2 - Thurs some rain in the AM, then nice sun
Sea day 3 Sun. and Sea day 4 Tues. - Mix of sun and clouds, passing sprinkles.

As noted above, we were always able to find chaise lounges, at least away from the pools. We had given permission for our 9-year old to sign herself in and out of the kid's camp so both daughters had that ability. They both also made friends even though as I mentioned the number of kids on board seemed to be relatively small. In addition to the camp itself, which runs 9AM to 10PM except meal time breaks, there were numerous other activities - scavenger hunts, talent contests, disco nights, etc. - that they both got involved in. Carnival's program for kids is great, and one of the main reasons we pick this option for vacations. We also took advantage of the babysitting service offered until 3AM. I believe it was $6/hr for one child, and $10/hr for two. Hard to beat that.

Ports/Excursions:
General: We usually like to go off on our own and find beaches we can snorkel from. My research indicated these were not easy locations to do that from, particularly considering the relatively short times in port. On the plus side, we usually got back to the ship in time to be able to relax on board for a little while and not have to rush off to dinner. I also prefer to avoid tendering whenever possible, which we were able to do on 2 of the 3 ports.

My personal guidelines on hiring your own driver to take you around, which we did at two of these stops as well as on other cruises:

If the location is at all questionable in terms of safety, ask the driver for ID and call your own or some one else's voice mail and leave the name. Or at least pretend to do so.
See the vehicle first, try to determine the air conditioning capability. Particularly as this was rain forest territory, you don't want to be crammed into a car with no a/c and have to roll the windows up. Trust me.

In addition to the negotiated rate, ask if a tip is expected, and if the rate depends on whether you take part in any of the activities at planned stops, such as canal cruises, ziplining, etc. It's pretty obvious the drivers get a kickback from some of these places and bake that into their negotiated fees. Also ask if "donations" are expected at any of the planned stops. I always negotiate from the initial offer, but find it difficult to drive too hard of a bargain just knowing what the living conditions can be in some of these countries.

Having said all that, this is usually a very cost-effective option, and most guides/drivers will provide a wealth of information on local practices, culture, etc. and will be very flexible.

Colon, Panama (7AM - 5PM)
Ship docked at the cruise port. Rained early morning, after which we went ashore and hired a driver with an interpreter with a nice van.. Most of the ship excursions in Panama are expensive. I didn't think seeing the canal operations would be that interesting (have seen the lock operations on local canals as well as on the St. Lawrence Seaway). However, after the driver took us to the Gatun lock on the Panama canal, I must say I was very impressed. Particularly when you consider that almost all of the original design dates back to a hundred years ago, and is still utilized today, it's a tremendous engineering and human effort. Well worth the visit. Also stopped at a small private zoo with local animals which was nothing special, and then did some general sightseeing in town. Spent some time in the shopping area within the port as well at the one just outside. Inside the port, there was a shop on the upper level with $4 tee-shirts. Obviously not the highest quality, but not a bad deal for some cheap souvenirs and/or gifts for kids' friends.

There was a grocery store just outside the gate from the port (to the right I believe) that had a wide selection of items at reasonable prices. Liquor prices both inside and outside the port area were very reasonable.

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica (7-3)
Again, the morning was a bit rainy, so we had a leisurely breakfast and then went out to the port area. There is a kind of flea market area just off the ship, with souvenirs, local offerings etc. We then out of the gated area and talked to a number of drivers before selecting one - mostly on gut feel. He had a small 4-door car with a/c. We took a short drive through the city and immediate area outside, than stopped for a short time at Playa Bonita Beach. This is a small scenic beach, popular with the locals that has a refreshment/ bar stand. The surf was extremely rough, and it seemed to be mostly surfers in the water. Appeared to be a nice spot to spend a half day, particularly if the surf were just a little calmer.

Stopped at the Tortuguero Canal to check it out. Looked like it would be an interesting boat trip, but as we had limited time, decided against trying it.

Next stop was a private zoo, dedicated to rehabilitating injured and orphaned animals, usually brought in by forest rangers. We were guided by the son of the woman that runs the place. He had just returned home after getting a medical degree in the U.S. He did a great job, and we spent a lot of time here. We had the opportunity to feed and/or hold a number of birds, monkeys, etc. Our daughters greatly enjoyed holding one of the baby monkeys. It was obvious these people cared deeply about their animals, and whenever possible, tried to get them to the point where they could be released back to the wild. We were also provided with a variety of fruit from the trees on their property and it was delicious. Our guide picked small bananas right off the tree, and they were the sweetest we had ever tasted. They also brought out a platter of mango, pineapple, and other fruits that were delicious. We tried some coconut meat and milk also but didn't care for it.

After getting back to the port area, we did some shopping in the general area. We did get approached by some very young kids who were begging for money, and were very hard to resist, and we didn't for the most part.

Our overall impression of Costa Rica was very positive. A beautiful country, friendly people and lots to do and see. Would definitely like to come back at some point and spend more time there.

Belize (7-4)
We had been to Belize on our last cruise, and knew that the ship had to anchor quite a ways from shore, and that those on ship excursions received priority on the morning tenders. So between the long tender rides to shore and the limited time in port, I overcame my usual resistance to booking an excursion through the ship, and had signed up online for the 3 1/2 hour Goff's Caye Snorkeling excursion. Departure times of 7:30 and 11:30 were offered and we had chosen the later one figuring it would be less crowded (and more importantly, allow us to sleep in!). I was up early enough to take a ride onto shore just to look around. It was a bit rainy - again  - and even an little on the cool side. After a short time in the immediate port area, I returned to the ship. The seas were a little rough both ways. As we were re-boarding, there was an announcement that due to the waves, anyone who had booked a snorkeling excursion had the option of canceling and receiving a full refund. We waited a bit to see if things improved any, and when they hadn't I went to the purser's desk and turned our tickets in. My wife and I may have thought about trying it if we had been on our own, but really didn't want to spend 3 hours listening to our kids whine if it was really that bad. Shortly afterward, they announced all the water excursions were canceled anyway. We were extremely disappointed as this would have been our only beach and snorkeling time, and I had brought my own equipment along, including fins. Oh well, can't control Mother Nature.

We all went on shore together for some souvenir shopping. We stayed within the immediate port area as it can be pretty grim outside of it, and the vendors, guides etc. can be pretty aggressive. On the tender back to the ship, a few of us decided to sit in the open back row, even though the crew warned us we'd get sprayed. Did we ever! I was absolutely soaked. But it seemed like it would be the only excitement of the day, and both my daughters found it rather amusing.

Entertainment:
Sorry I cannot provide a lot of information here, as our entertainment of choice was the casino just about every night. Their was a good variety of table games including: standard Blackjack, several "novelty" blackjack variations, e.g. face-up, Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride, 3 Card Poker, Craps and Roulette. There was also two Texas Hold'em tables with usually at least one game going on. I stuck to Blackjack, never had trouble finding a seat, and the stakes were usually $5, which is becoming pretty rare in land-based casinos. I broke even for the week and put in quite a few hours. The dealers were as a rule friendly and helpful. The layout seemed to work, and there was one-man-band entertainment each night. The one musician was quite good, playing Elvis and other early Rock standards, and usually got the crowd into it which doesn't happen too often when people are gambling. My wife generally played the slots and thought there was a good variety and availability, but the payouts weren't very good, at least for her. Bar service was good.

Didn't attend any shows or presentations, except for the debarkation talk. My daughters attended a couple of the song and dance style shows and enjoyed them. (Did I mention how nice it is that the kids can go off on their own? Did I mention that?) Didn't overhear any strong comments plus or minus on other shows.

I found the cruise director kind of annoying just based on his announcements. Of course many of them are pitches to spend more money.

Debarkation:
Against all advice, we had booked a flight leaving at 10:50 the day of return, as all the other options got us back home very late at night. Those of you with kids will recognize that is not a fun time with children who have been up since early morning. There are not generally a lot of options into or out of Rochester. As the early flight was also non-stop, we decided to take a chance and if need be, pay the change fee for a later flight. As it was a weekday, we figured we'd be able to find a later flight if needed.

We therefore used the self-assist option to get off the ship. This involves carrying all your own luggage off the ship and through customs, beginning at 7:30 AM. We had not tried this option before, which I believe is a relatively new one, and the reason I attended the debarkation briefing. The cruise director had recommended waiting about 15 minutes after it started for the crowds to die down and you would "walk right off the ship". WRONG. The line was still incredible long, probably 3/4 of the length of the ship. It took forever just to find the end of the line. We could just barely manage the amount of luggage we had, especially on the stairs etc. I would definitely not recommend this option unless it's absolutely needed. The line moved through customs pretty well considering the number of people. We grabbed a porter as soon as we were through, and he took us right to a cab. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. The flight was full but uneventful.

Summary:
Overall had a good time, liked the ship and Carnival is a great option for those with children. (Did I mention how nice it is that the kids can go off on their own? Did I mention that?) Service mostly was great, and food good. Weather could have been a little drier, and the itinerary is not the usual beach oriented one. Would have liked more time in port, but the extra sea day on the 8 night cruise is nice. Speed up the Slide!

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