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Dave

Age: 52

Occupation:IT

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Ecstasy

Sailing Date: 2013-11-9

Itinerary: Exotic Western Caribbean

This was our third cruise, and Carnival did not disappoint! We pick Carnival because of all of the fun activities, and even though there were a lot of seniors on this cruise due to the time of year (probably 50-75% seniors), the activities were non-stop. Trivia, dancing, mixology contests, hairy chest, ice sculpture demo, comedy shows, Vegas-style shows, movies on the big screen, 2 pools, at least 6 whirlpools, water slides, mini-golf, fitness, and live music everywhere! The fun never stops on board, and there is even more to do when you are in port. We feel a Carnival cruise is the best value for our money - compare it to a week in a resort hotel, and you'll see what I mean. We stayed in a resort hotel in St. Pete Beach last year, and 2 nights there was more expensive than a 3-night cruise to the Bahamas. On the Dream, we had fantastic service, fair to excellent food (depending on where we ate), and not enough time to take part in all of the fun.

The food in the main dining room was fantastic. On our first cruise we ate mostly in the buffet or the small specialty places, but since then we discovered how good the food is in the dining room. Chateaubriand, prime rib, lobster, duck, mahi mahi, steak, ribs, and on and on. The desserts are fantastic also - baked Alaska, various gourmet pies and cakes, and of course their signature warm chocolate melting cake. Breakfast in the dining room was good, but the portions were very small. Dining room scores a 5 out of 5 for food quality. The service was fantastic - the wait staff consisted of three people and they all were very friendly, knew our names from the first time they learned them, and always took time to chat. Thanks to them, our dining experience was perfect.

Breakfast at the buffet was really good, although the omelet line tended to be a little bit of a wait. Also, the scrambled eggs on the buffet line were made from reconstituted eggs - not horrible, but if you preferred real eggs you had to go through the omelet line.

Lunch in the buffet was pretty good also, I assume the same for dinner (we ate in the dining room every night). We wanted to try the Pasta Bar, but it was a long wait and we were hungry. The burrito bar was just OK - Chipotle style burritos, but very bland. The Mongolian Wok was a very long wait and the food was not very good. They only had 3 styles of sauce to choose from. The very worst part of the buffet experience was the coffee - it was worse than horrible. The only saving grace was the coffee bar on deck 5 - it was an extra expense, but the coffee drinks there were very good.

Finally, the Chocolate experience was a major disappointment. I can't say much, other than the selections were just fair. I wanted to try the barbecue on the Lanai, but it got rained out.

The stateroom was very good. We had a balcony room on Deck 9 forward, so it was pretty quiet. The stewards kept the cabin cleaned up any time we left, and they always had the bed turned down in the evening, along with a towel creation and chocolates. They also had ice waiting for us in the ice bucket without even asking, so that was really cool. Also, this was the first time we've had a mini fridge in the cabin - nice touch.

The bathroom seems small but it is just fine if you don't try to get two people in there using the sink. The toilet seat is uncomfortable, so you do your business and get out quick. There is no vent fan in there either, so smells and steamy air are trapped. But it's like that on most cruise ships, so you can't really knock them for that.

The flat panel TV is pretty good, but if you are judging a cruise by what's on TV then maybe you should have stayed at home. My sons stayed in an interior cabin, and apart from the fact they had no window or balcony, their cabin experience was virtually identical to ours (for half the price). Again, if you are spending a lot of time in your cabin instead of out and about having fun, maybe you should have stayed home. The lockers are ample for a week's worth of clothes, and our suitcases fit under the bed and out of the way.

The only drawback I have ever had with the cabin is the lack of electrical outlets. There are two - one in the bathroom that only has power when the bathroom light is on, and one on the counter where a woman would sit and do hair or makeup. Always bring a power strip. Ours was wrongly confiscated from inside our suitcase during embarkation, even though their website says they are allowed. Bring one - you will need it for phones, cameras, laptop/tablet, etc.

We had a lot of fun onboard, especially the days spent at sea. Bring a highlighter and make note of which activities sound fun - they are all listed in the daily bulletin the steward leaves in your cabin. The big production numbers in the main theater are well done and very entertaining, and the comedians in the smaller lounges are a lot of fun. They had family rated and adult rated comedy shows. There was live music at various locations around the ship, and it was all pretty good. My recommendation is to forget about what you think you like or don't like, and just try it all! You're on vacation to have fun, so don't spoil it by being overly critical.

The pools are a little too small and the whirlpools tend to be sausage stew. The Serenity area is a nice escape from kids. The water slides were fun, even for me, a grown man.

My advice - always get off the ship in port and see something you've never seen before!

If you are traveling to Mexico or Belize, you should go see some Mayan ruins. Xunantunich is probably the best, but it takes all day. We had booked that excursion originally, but July-December is the rainy season and our excursion got rained out due to the 3 solid weeks of rain they got before our cruise. No worries - we booked a different trip to Altun Ha and had a great day. The excursion included a power boat ride down the river Wallace, where we saw crocodiles, iguanas, manatees, and howler monkeys. On the downside, Belize is a very poor country, so there really isn't much to do there unless you take an excursion. And the tender boat ride takes 15-20 minutes!

Cozumel is one of our favorite stops in the Caribbean, and this time we rode an Atlantis submarine. Don't miss it! The view out the portholes is amazing. We saw lots of different fish, a sea turtle, a shark, a ray, loads of coral, and the edge of the ridge on which the island sits - a 5,000 foot drop into deep blue darkness!

Isla Roatan is a beautiful island, so you must get out and see some of it. We chose a canopy zip-line tour the day before we arrived in port, and it was a good choice. A little pricey, but we had a blast. After that the tour folks took us to Tabyana beach, one of the most beautiful spots on the west end of the island. The snorkeling there was fabulous. Also, the police keep most of the locals hawking stuff away, so that helps. Think of Roatan as similar to Jamaica in beauty and variety of things to do, without all of the poor people demanding handouts.

Costa Maya was our last port, and I would have rather come back a day early. It's a tiny port with almost nothing there except shops and a couple of chain bar/restaurants. More than 1 cruise ship at a time will overwhelm their capacity, and the vendors are really pushy. We did the dolphin swim excursion and it was really fun, so if you are stopping here I would recommend that.

Overall, we had another fantastic vacation. I had to come home and take a week to rest up!

A few notes:

- The embarkation process was smooth and pretty speedy. From the time we arrived at the terminal to the time we were on the ship, it was less than 2 hours.

- Debarkation at the end of the cruise was pretty efficient, also. We had a leisurely breakfast, made sure we were out of our cabin by 8:30, and were off the ship by 9:45. And we had a high debarkation number.

- The transfer shuttle to/from Orlando airport was a good choice. It's $70 each round trip, but it takes you curb to curb.

- Carnival seems to be making a strong effort to make everyone feel like part of a family. Cabin stewards and dining room staff always greeted us by name, other stewards and staff members always engaged us and asked about the day's plans, or whether there was anything we needed. And every single crew member had a smile on his or her face.

- The ship was clean and well maintained. It helped that it's one of their newest ships, but when you have 3500+ passengers a week things have a tendency to break. I did not encounter a single broken or inoperative thing on the cruise.

I will highly recommend a Carnival cruise to anyone!

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