Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Legend
Sailing Date: October 23rd, 2006
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
Carnival Cruise Lines
Carnival Legend Cruise Review
My wife and I just returned from an
8-night cruise to the Southern Caribbean aboard Carnival Legend. Overall, it was
one of our favorite vacations. We chose it based on the price (discounted during
hurricane season), the itinerary (mainly St. Maarten), the departure port (Ft
Lauderdale), and the length. It was our second cruise together, the first being
a 5-day Western Caribbean on Carnival’s Holiday in 2003.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale on Southwest the day before and spent the night at the Comfort Suites Airport and Cruise Port. We chose it because the price was reasonable, it offered free breakfast, and it ran a free shuttle both to/from the airport AND to/from the cruise port. We started off on the wrong foot by boarding the wrong shuttle. Comfort INN Airport/Cruise Port also has a shuttle (subcontracted like the Comfort Suites shuttle), and the trailer it carries for luggage said “cruiseport” on the side. We didn’t realize the mistake until we were on our way and the driver asked us which hotel we were going to. The hotel itself was pretty good. We enjoyed breakfast and the room except for a persistent wet spot under the A/C unit. Another gotcha – the cruise shuttle only had 14 seats, so you have to sign up early to get the time you want.
If you’re flying in, I do recommend arriving a day early in case you have flight problems. We had breakfast one morning with a couple from Toronto whose flight got canceled and missed the boat. They spent one night in Miami and another in St. Maarten, finally getting on board the ship when we came there on Day 4.
Apparently the Legend came into port late that morning for an unknown reason, so our experience might not be typical. We hoped to embark early, but Carnival wouldn’t allow any shuttles until 12:00 or later. We got there to the port around 1:15, thinking we’d surely sail away later. A porter took our bags. Once we got in line, the whole process took maybe an hour or less. Mercifully, they let us skip the embarkation photo that we had to endure on our last cruise. The line moved quickly, and we were on the Legend by 2:15 or 2:30.
We loved the ship. Built in 2002, she looks almost new and is in great shape inside and out. As a Carnival ship, the décor is definitely not subtle, but most of it is classy-gaudy rather than obnoxious-gaudy. The crew does a great job of keeping her clean. Most of the cabins are on decks 4-8. The main dining room, theater, piano bar, and shopping are on decks 2 and 3. Buffet dining, the pools, and the gym/spa are on deck 9. It might be easier to have all the non-stateroom decks grouped together, but the ship much easier to navigate than the Holiday. On this trip the ship did rock, sometimes barely and sometimes noticeably, but never enough to make us sick.
Most of the crew members were very nice. Our waiters in the dining room were great, very friendly and happy. Our cabin steward was very nice, although his English was limited so it was hard to communicate with him. Some of the folks in the Lido deck restaurant weren’t as friendly as I remembered them being on the Holiday. I don’t know if they were just having bad days or if they don’t like working there in general.
The only black mark I would give any of the crew must go to the photo staff. They spared us at the cruise terminal but made up for it for the rest of the cruise. They take pictures at almost every dinner in the main dining room and on the gangway at every port. It seems like such a waste because they print all these pictures hoping you’ll buy them. Only a small percentage actually get bought, so the price you pay for 1 picture must cover Carnival’s cost for all those wasted pictures. An 8x10 is $20. Yes, we bought one from the first formal night, but next time we probably won’t buy any. The photographers themselves are fairly nice, but the whole program is annoying, and I blame Carnival’s management.
The crowd was mostly middle-age and retired folks, so my wife and I (30 and 28, respectively) were among the youngest ones aboard. The vast majority were Americans, several from Florida plus some from the Northeast, Missouri, Texas, Colorado, and California. A few Canucks came with us as well, but I don’t remember meeting anyone from another other countries. Since this was an October sailing, we hardly saw any kids.
We splurged on a balcony stateroom for the first time. If you can afford it, I highly recommend the balcony room. We spent more time in the room on this cruise simply because we loved being there. I spent hours reading on the balcony and watching the ocean and islands pass by. Each balcony had two chairs and a table/footrest. We had a lovely breakfast out there as we pulled into Martinique. The balcony is even better when cruising with your spouse, if you catch my drift.
Except for the suites, I believe all the rooms on Carnival Legend are the same size, so you’re mainly paying for the deck and the view. The rooms are beautiful, surprisingly elegant compared to the gaudiness of the public areas. We had plenty of storage space in all the cabinets and drawers. The bed was very comfortable, and with the gentle rocking of the ship it was always easy to fall asleep. The bathrooms are small, but the mirror has two sets of shelves for storage. In the shower they give you shampoo and body wash in case you forgot or don’t like your own. We also enjoyed the bathrobes and pool/beach towels they provided.
I must also mention some fun technology they added to the TVs. Channel 14 is a moving map of the area that shows the ship’s position, nearby islands, path taken, current speed, and current wind. It cycles through several different zoom levels to provide various levels of details. They also added a way to purchase shore excursions and check your current Sail & Sign balance through the TV. Another option showed you the lunch and dinner menus, but they were generally incorrect.
A word about laundry – we never found or even actively looked for the laundry facilities, but they are available. If you’re like us and don’t feel like babysitting a washing machine on vacation, they run some specials on port days. The first two days, they would wash, dry, and fold 1 bag of laundry for $12. On the third day, the price goes up to $15. I correctly suspected they might raise the price later in the cruise, but I rolled the dice and lost. We forked over the $15 on the Martinique day and got every piece back in good condition. The laundry bag is about the size of a large paper grocery bag, and there’s a 1-bag limit.
There are three main dining options: the Lido deck buffet, the main dining room, and the Supper Club. We split our meals between the first two and refused to try the supper club on principle – one of the points of a cruise is for all the food to be included, not $30/person extra. The food was good overall. Standouts included grilled salmon, baked Alaska, roast duck, and Grand Marnier cheesecake in the main dining room and the 24-hour pizza on Lido deck. The coffee was also very good. There’s a sushi stand near the piano bar. We tried it once or twice and enjoyed it. We would have gone more often, but I think it was only open a few hours each night, and it felt far away from the other dining options. Breakfast was pretty much the same each day. On the early port days we ordered continental breakfast in our rooms to save time using a card they provide in the room. No matter what time we requested breakfast, they seemed to arrive 10-15 minutes early, so be prepared! Fortunately we liked our tablemates as well, a nice couple about our age from the Sarasota area.
The one event we did try in the supper club was an afternoon wine tasting/food pairing class ($15/person). We tried five wines, three white and two red, with a few different foods and seasonings. I love wine and enjoyed discovering how different foods and even different seasonings can affect the experience.
I was impressed at the fitness equipment in the gym, which was much more extensive than the Holiday offered. We actually worked out on many of the sea days. The equipment was modern and in good shape, similar to many of the machines at our gym back home. My wife did cardio and some weights. I lifted weights and jogged on the jogging track on the Sports Deck. I loved the feeling of running at the top of a ship with nothing but ocean as far as I can see. Working out made us feel a little less guilty about all the great food we were eating. =)
My wife and I attended a fun couple’s massage class on the Barbados day. For $61, we got to spend an hour learning from the massage therapists on 5 basic Swedish massage techniques and practicing them on each other with supervision. We were the only two in the class, so we went to one of the treatment rooms and used a real table.
My wife got the ionothermie treatment, which is supposed to tighten up skin and eliminate cellulite. She really enjoyed it and learned some things. In general, all the spa treatments are more expensive that they are in the States. They do run specials and hand out coupons that bring the prices closer to normal, and they have “value” pricing on port days that knock 10-15% off the regular price.
We went to a couple of shows, the welcome aboard show and the passenger karaoke show. The first was pretty good. The second had a couple of good singers and several bad ones, but that’s certainly not Carnival’s fault! Our room was next to the passenger who sang Frank Sinatra’s “I Did It My Way”, so I heard him out on the balcony practicing from time to time. Since our cruise was right before Halloween, they had a costume contest late Saturday night followed by a screening of Friday the 13th. Bingo was very popular, and we played a couple of times. Todd, one of our tablemates at dinner, won $600 playing bingo. We skipped many of the activities because either 1) we were too tired and wanted to rest, 2) they were repeats from our last cruise, such as the galley tour and ice carving, or 3) we preferred to do something else, such as read on the balcony or watch the end of the World Series. We gambled and lost $1 in the casino, which was very smoky. One night we relaxed in the piano bar (not crowded, good pianist, OK singer) and Satchmo’s Lounge. We thought Satchmo’s would be a jazz club, but instead it was 4 cute and very talented Asian musicians playing party music, so we danced a bit there. Medusa’s Lair, the dance club, doesn’t open for adults until 11:00, which disappointed us. Some of the music was pretty good, but heavy on the techno side, and it’s hard to get past the freaky Medusa heads and snakes that cover the walls. Brent and Jen, the cruise directors, were great fun and worked hard to make all events enjoyable.
Saint Maarten/Saint Martin
This was our favorite port of the three. I wouldn’t mind going back for a long visit. We split our visit into two parts and wished we’d had more time there. First, we shared a cab ($6/person or so plus tip with a big group) to Orient Beach on the French side. It was one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, with powdery sand, turquoise water, and lush vegetation all around. The northern and middle parts have some topless bathing but are generally more clothed than the southern end. The south end is next to a nudist resort called Club Orient, and the beach itself is clothing-optional. I’ve wanted to visit a nude beach for some time but had trouble finding one. We arrived early and had our pick of the chairs. I stripped down completely, but my more modest wife kept her bikini on. Either way is fine there. We did the normal things people do on the beach – reading, sun tanning, swimming, walking the beach. I just happened to be naked, and it was fantastic. Officially, it costs $18 US to rent two chairs and an umbrella. But the guy wouldn’t let me pay up front, and when we had to go, I couldn’t find anyone who would take my money. Oh well!
We left the beach around 11:30 and took another cab to Maho Beach, a prime aircraft-spotting point near Princess Juliana Airport on the Dutch side. I’m an airplane buff, so I’d been looking forward to this for some time. The cab ride took a while and was more expensive ($30) since it was just the two of us. We hit some traffic and construction (much of the southwestern side is under construction) on the way, and I was VERY glad we didn’t rent a car. We had lunch at the Sunset Beach Bar, which is right beside the beach and the end of the runway. They broadcast the control tower’s radio so everyone can hear the tower talk to arriving and departing planes. We saw an American Airlines 757 arrive from Miami and a Delta 757 arrive from Atlanta. The runway is so close to the beach that the aircraft pass only a few stories above it seconds before they touch down. Sometimes daredevils defy the warning signs by standing along the fence behind departing aircraft and getting blown backward by the jet blast. I took some good pictures. Unfortunately it rained on and off while we were there, but it cleared up while the big guys were landing.
There’s a nice shopping area right at the dock, but we didn’t do much shopping because we spent all our money on the balcony. =)
Curiously, Carnival didn’t offer excursions to either of these locations. They had some beach excursions, but none to Orient Beach. I understand that Maho Beach might be a limited-interest trip, but I did meet other Carnival people there.
This was our least favorite port. We might have liked it better if we’d done an excursion and stayed out of Bridgetown. We arrived at noon and took a cab to the middle of Bridgetown, the capital. It’s a very crowded, busy city that made me nervous. Seeking some authentic local flavor, the best we could do was a KFC-style chicken joint called Big John’s. To cross a street, you just wait for cars to slow down and then start walking to make them stop for you. It made me nervous. After lunch a cabbie on the sidewalk started talking to us, and we cautiously asked him for a ride to the Malibu Rum factory. We offered to take us on a tour of the whole island for $75, but we declined. Instead we arranged for him to come back to the Malibu factory at a set time to take us back to the ship. The Malibu tour was fun. For $10 US each, we toured the factory, tried several different rums, got a free drink, and hang out on their beach. It rained that afternoon, so the beach wasn’t helpful, but it might have been nice in sunny weather. Some guys on the beach rent jet skis, but we didn’t try them. Our cabbie never returned, but another one had room in his cab. The ship was docked until 10:00 PM, but most of the passengers were back on by dark, partly due to the rain and partly because some people didn’t feel safe there after dark.
Instead of going out on our own, we booked the longest excursion available on this island, the St Pierre Island Tour ($57 for 4.5 hours, not bad). Martinique is by far the most beautiful of the islands, but you have to get outside Fort-de-France to see the beauty. Our tour took us by bus first to an old church on a hill that overlooks the city and the ocean. Then we wound through the mountainous rain forest for about an hour, enjoying the incredibly green landscape. The road is narrow and winding, so you might want some Dramamine beforehand. Then we stopped at the Depaz Rum Distillery, which sits in the middle of a huge sugar cane farm and is so beautiful that you could mistake it for a golf course or resort. Then we stopped in St. Pierre, the city that Mt Pele destroyed in a 1902 eruption. A museum there (mostly in French) displays pictures and artifacts from the area before and after the tragedy. The beaches near Mt Pele are black sand. Martinique is another island I’d like to visit again. If you go out on your own, be aware that everyone speaks French. Some speak English as well, but it’s not as widespread as it is in St Martin.
Our debarkation experience is atypical because we added on the Everglades tour with airport transfer. We met at 7:45 in the Firebird lounge and waited for over an hour. Apparently Customs was upset that day because despite numerous instructions, some passengers were not bringing the proper declaration forms and identification. This trip was the Legend’s first from Ft Lauderdale after a stretch running out of NY, so the whole process probably wasn’t as smooth this time as it will be later. Generally, you have two debarkation options: normal and self-assist. The self-assist folks carry their own luggage off and get to leave early. The others start leaving around 9:30. Your luggage shows up in the cruise terminal arranged by color tag. Once we got to leave the Firebird Lounge, the rest was quick and easy.
Ft Lauderdale Everglades Tour
We took a bus to Everglades Holiday Park, about 30 minutes from the cruise terminal. Our guide told us about the area and then dropped us off at the park for a couple of hours. We took an airboat ride through the Everglades, seeing several alligators, including a baby one. Once again it rained for a time, which is unpleasant on an airboat, but it stopped soon enough. After the ride, we saw a show/talk by an alligator “wrestler” who was missing two fingers on his left hand. He really knew a lot about them and obviously liked and respected them. We grabbed a snack from the convenience store/gift shop afterward. The park has several beautiful peacocks, dozens of smaller birds, and two resident cats that beg at the picnic tables. The tipping situation was a little weird. We paid for the tour through Carnival, but the tour guide, boat captain, and alligator wrestler all wanted tips and presumably don’t tip-share. After an 8-day cruise, you start getting tired of people asking for tips, especially when you brought large bills. We got back to the airport around 1:00, maybe a little later.
We’re both really glad we took this cruise. We intentionally didn’t overload ourselves with activities, excursions, etc, choosing instead to spend much of our time reading and relaxing. As a result, we didn’t need a “vacation from the vacation”, like we have after some trips. We thoroughly enjoyed our room, many of our port activities, and just spending time together.
Sure, there are a few things I wish Carnival would change. I’d like to spend more time in St Maarten and less in Barbados, especially after dark. They ought to open the disco earlier and quit pushing the photos so hard. I’d love to see the entire ship be non-smoking like the Paradise. And the spa still seems overpriced. But the bottom line is that we had a wonderful time, made even better by the good deal we got on the room since we cruised during hurricane season. We definitely plan to cruise again and will definitely consider Carnival when we do.