Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Ecstasy
Sailing Date: April 26th, 2004
I am a first-time cruiser and my experience with my girlfriend on the Carnival Ecstacy 4-day fun trip out of Long Beach to Catalina Island and Ensenada was wonderful!!! After reading some of the earlier reviews on this website and others, I was expecting the worst and in fact had somewhat regretted my decision to purchase this particular cruise before I did my “research”. I felt like it would have been better to book the similar cruise with Royal Caribbean as many reviewers had recommended instead. Many of the reviews I had read were negative and made it seem that this would be a terrible experience, but I found that a lot of these reviews were very much exaggerated. Anyways, I paid $189/person for an inside/outside guarantee and it worked out that I was upgraded a couple categories to the Upper Deck/Inside cabin. Also, as a first-time cruiser, I have NOT had experiences on other more luxurious, newer cruise lines, so for you experienced cruisers… take this review from my perspective.
Embarkation: Driving to Long Beach terminal was no problem. I had a friend drop me off, so did not end up paying $10/day. The process once you got into line was rather unorganized and VERY UNFRIENDLY. Some of the people working the line and taking your bags are NOT FRIENDLY and ONLY WANT YOUR TIP of $1/bag. But remember that these people ARE NOT employed by Carnival. Anyhow, if you already have a cabin assigned to you and you got a colored tag for your bags in the mail (and they are now attached to your bag), you can simply find a porter to take your bags and be sure to tip them or else they will be upset/rude. If you don’t have an assigned cabin (guarantee inside/outside cabin), you need to stand in line for the porter to determine where they have placed you. Again, tip the person helping you with your bags. If you just have carry on luggage, then you can skip this whole process and simply go to check-in. The check-in process was simple and did not take too long (10 minutes). Be sure to have your FunPass already completed on-line before you arrive and be sure you have all the necessary documentation. You are then led to a place where you take some pictures (that you can purchase later) and take an escalator ride upstairs where you take another picture for your Sail and Sign card. After that, you board the ship!!! Other than the my bad experience with the porter, the rest of the Carnival staff from here on out were extremely friendly and helpful.
Inside Cabin: Once you board the ship, there was someone there to help us direct us to our cabin. Although you may initially get lost on the ship, the layout is easy to learn in a day or two, keep the handy little booklet/map with you and you’ll have little problems. My cabin was toward the front of the ship (Cabin U-44) on the Upper Deck (after Carnival upgraded us from the guarantee inside/outside cabin that only had bunk beds). Our room key worked fine and when we opened the door, we were pleasantly surprised. The room provided enough space, carpets were clean, ample closet/hangers, clean bathroom/toilet/shower, toiletries, ice bucket (that my room steward kept filled), some soda/water bottles on the table (be careful if you open these, they will charge you hefty prices) , the air-conditioner is on the ceiling which you can adjust, and they have plenty of light switches everywhere including reading lights by your bed, and only 1 plug-outlet (bring an adaptor for more outlets if you need it). Your cabin steward can provide you with a hair-dryer and there is supposedly an iron available in the laundry room (I did not use this). You are NOT allowed to bring an iron for fire safety reasons. The bathroom had a nice shower stall with hand-held shower, water pressure was good, hot/cold water worked perfectly. One thing that was quite scary was the toilet flush… it is VERY LOUD, like the toilets on airplanes where the toilet uses vacuum power to flush the toilet. Nice mirror with space behind it for your items. Plenty of towels that my room steward changed everyday. My room had two double beds that were already put together to form one large bed. The beds were very soft/comfortable and the pillows/bedding was adequate. There is a phone and TV that plays some local channels as well as 2 or 3 different movies a day that run continuously (nice to watch during your down-time). As you can see, I really liked my cabin and did not notice the foul smells and carpet stains either in my room or the hallway that other reviewers described. I thought my room was rather quiet and did not notice the “paper thin walls” that were described in earlier reviews. Perhaps it was that my neighbors were quiet. Also, I didn’t hear that much ship noise in my cabin, but then again, my cabin was not located near the elevator/stairs. I only heard the ship make noise during the times it was arriving at port (anchor dropping?). I liked my inside cabin since it could be pitch dark when I slept. Once inside my cabin, we read through the Carnival Capers, the daily brochure that lists all the activities/shows/meal times/special offers/etc. to plan our day. Since we arrived at the port around 12:30pm, we were onboard by 1:15pm and decided to head upstairs to the Lido deck/Panorama Grill to have the buffet lunch. (Note: there is a mandatory life-boat emergency drill around 4:30PM that you must participate in.. this was over in about 30 minutes). It seemed well-organized and basically you knew that if the ship was gonna go down, people would NOT be as calm as during the drill.
Food: Our first meal was on the Lido deck/Panorama Grill. A buffet style lunch with burgers/hot dogs/pasta/salads/fruits/dessert. We hit the salad bar and got some assorted fruits. The quality of the salad/fruits was exceptional, they were very fresh/tasty. The grilled burger was good also and the desserts were good. We finished off with the ice-cream bar (yummy!). We usually had our breakfast/lunch in the Panorama Grill since we could wear anything and could sit out anywhere we wanted to. Eating your meal out on the deck overlooking the ocean was beautiful.
Our first dinner in the formal dining room (Windstar dining room) was fabulous. There is 5-6 choices of appetizers, main entrees, and desserts. You could order as many as you want. We usually ordered 1-2 appetizers, 1 salad, and 1-2 main entrees, and 1-2 desserts. They don’t bring out 2 main dishes at the same time. Soda/bottled water are expensive, unless you purchase a soda card for $18-24 for unlimited soda. Otherwise, juices, coffee, iced tea, and non-bottled water during your meals are free. Almost all of the dishes I had were great. I tried the lobster tail that was delicious, steaks that were tender, and chicken dishes that were moist and not dried out. Again, the salads/fruits are very fresh/tasty.
I would recommend ALWAYS eating dinner in the formal dining room. We ate all of o our dinners in the formal dining room and always left very satisfied. We usually had breakfast/lunch in the Lido-deck cause it was more casual and you can sit anywhere. Having breakfast/lunch in the formal dining room is also wonderful because the quality of the food/service was better than on the Lido deck (we ate breakfast there only a couple times). Breakfast food was traditional fare, but I liked the grilled-to-order omelletes on the Lido deck. The formal dining room had eggs benedict and more choices.
I did not have any trouble with the food being cold as some reviewers have previously described. Perhaps all the comments that Carnival has received are finally being addressed. I thought the quality and freshness of the food was great and I always looked forward to dinner time.
I did try the 24 hour pizza bar once and found the pizza to be rather dried and not very good, so I did not have another slice, but I saw plenty of people lining up for it at other times.
During your formal dinner, you will sit at an assigned table. I had the Windstar room, late seating (8:30PM). I found that the 8:30pm time gave me time to take a nice nap after our shore excursions and had enough time to get ready. However, I often found that we ate a little something around 6:00pm on the Lido deck to hold us over until dinner time. We were very lucky to have very nice/funny people at our table. Our table had 10 guests. Most of us were 1st time cruisers. By the time the cruise was over, we were taking lots of group pictures, exchanging e-mails to send each other our group pictures. I felt like our table was one of the most talkative/friendly tables. On a couple of nights, the dining staff got together and sang songs and danced as well, it was fun time. There were also lots of anniversaries, honeymooners, birthdays, and other special occasions that were being celebrated with special cakes that they brought out with candles lit and songs to match.
The midnight gala buffet was also better than described in earlier reviews. They presented the food beautifully and also had a nice ice carving.
Service: I cannot say enough how great the Carnival staff were. Our head waiter/assistant waiter were fabulous. The really took care of us at the dinner table. They were very friendly. My cabin steward was also fabulous. It seemed that everytime we left our room and came back, it was cleaned, bed was made, new towels, trash thrown away, and we were left nice little chocolates on our pillows, and even had funny towel animals made. Tatyana, our cabin steward, was very friendly/talkative. She made it a point to make herself available should we need anything. Service on the lido-deck was also exceptional. They were quick to clean off tables once guests finished their meals. Bar staff were always walking around to see if you would like anything to drink (alcohol, soda, water all cost extra of course unless you purchase a soda card for sodas only). You basically do not have to lift a finger during this cruise. I did not have the experience of the Carnival crew being rude or felt pressured into giving tips as described in earlier reviews.
The 24 hour complimentary room service was also good. They do not have hot foods available, but their assortment of sandwiches, salads, desserts will definitely satisfy your hunger between meal times or a late night snack. The food arrived withing 5-15 minutes and obviously it is nice to tip the person bringing you your food. Also, you can also order a continental breakfast (fruits, pastries, toast, cereals, juice/coffee) before you go to bed and hang it on your door outside. You pick what you want, approximate time you want it delivered, and they will deliver it to you the following morning. It was nice to wake up to some coffee and pastry.
Ship:Okay, so this ship isn’t brand spanking new, but you knew that it went into service in 1991. Yeah, the décor is outdated, lots of neon, colorful carpets, and what basically looks like you’re in a very old Vegas casino…. But who cares?! You’re on a cruise!!! Away from home, work, kids, etc. All you can eat without having to clean anything. I don’t know why lots of people are griping about this, but what are you expecting for $200-400??? I thought the main atrium (6 or 7 decks high) was nice in a soothing blue neon. Other than that, I didn’t mind the décor too much. One thing that I did notice was the crew members constantly cleaning and maintaining the ship all day long. They were constantly cleaning windows, outside decks, etc. If you’re expecting some ultra-luxurious furnishings made of the finest imported wood, then you’re gonna be extremely disappointed. However, I went in with a good attitude, and was happy that everything worked fine… even the elevators were operational, though slow at times during peak times when lots of people were heading to meals/shows, etc. Besides, you should use the elevators for some form of exercise at the very least. Overall, I thought the ship was well-maintained for its age and the crew worked hard to keep it that way. Other areas of the ship: They have a nice full casino, enough bars/clubs, piano lounge. The Lido deck where they have the pool/Jacuzzi was a nice to place to get some sun. There are plenty of beach chairs and tables around. I did not notice heavy smoke filled areas outside and if there was, I simply moved to a smoke-free area. There is also a basketball rim, shuffleboard area, 3 ping-pong tables, the central pool is a little small, but it does have a water slide that operates at certain times. There are 2-3 jacuzzis that are open till midnight.
Activities/Shows:The evening shows were not dazzling, but acceptable. There are a couple Vegas-type productions that are ok, and a couple of comedians that are worth going to see. There also plenty of activities occurring throughout the day including bingo, various contests, hairy chest contest, newlywed game, Survivor game, karaoke contest, free throw contest, ping pong contest, and numerous others I can’t remember right now. Basically, you will have plenty to do and choose from. If you want to pack your day with activities/shows, you can. If you just wanna relax, you can just lie out in the sun and let the day go by. Also, although I do not have kids, I was told that Carnival has an EXCELLENT KIDS PROGRAM called Camp Carnival. Seems like the kids were well taken care of (meaning the adults could enjoy their cruise). Shore excursions: Catalina Island was beautiful. You have to take a little ship from the Ecstacy to get to the island. The line to get onto the little “tender” took about 15-30 minutes, and the ride over to the island was about 5-10 minutes. You can book shore excursions on your first night prior to arriving in Catalina/Ensenada. However, it is well-known that you can usually make your own excursion for much, much less than what Carnival charges you. We did not sign up for any of the Catalina island excursions. We basically walked around the town and shopped a little bit. We also rented a golf-cart ($30/hour for a 4-seater) and they give you a map which basically takes one hour to complete. This was definitely worth it… you get spectacular views from the top of the Catalina hills.. and its fun to drive around. If you can get together 4 or 6 people, you can split the cost and its very inexpensive. Once you get on the pier, you will find places that offer Kayak rentals, semi-submersible tours, glass –bottom boat tours, Inside tours, etc. Basically, you can find all the tours and activities on or near the pier for much cheaper than Carnival. Also, if you do go snorkeling, you do NOT need to sign up with Carnival. The Lover’s cove is not that far away, and if you bring your own mask/snorkel, you can rent the wet suit/fins there for a few dollars. I also knew a couple that went parasailing and they had a great time. You have to get back to the ship by 4:30PM, and the last tender leaves the pier for the Ecstasy at 4:15PM. Overall, we had a lovely day on Catalina Island shopping, walking around, having snacks/drinks, playing miniature golf, driving around in the golf cart. Ensenada is basically a slightly cleaner version of Tijuana. Ecstacy docks right at the pier, so you do not have to take a tender. You also have much longer time to spend the day, you have to back on board by 9:30PM. Although we were told that you could also find much better deals for tours off the ship, we decided to play it safe and just book the La Bufadora (blow-hole) Adventure tour through Carnival ($29/person). Our bus tour guide was really funny and informative. We first went to the Civic Center and had a nice little tour and photo taking. We then went for a 30-40 minute drive along the coast to La Bufadora. Once you get off, you have to walk down a road to the cliff and the road is lined with lots of stores selling all kinds of merchandise. People will come up to you to try to sell you things and offer free samples of churros, but don’t get intimidated. Also, little kids may also come up to you trying to sell you Chiclets gum or other stuff, but you can simply say no thank you or you can help them out if you’d like to. The blow hole itself was cool to see. The water basically funnels into a narrow space and you hear a loud rumbling as the water can shoot up into the air 50-100 feet… It’s quite a sight and nice to take pictures there as the ocean view/cliff is beautiful. You only have about 1 ½ hour to look around before getting back on the bus. You then are taken back to the main shopping area of Ensenada (a few blocks away from the Ecstasy, maybe 10-15 minute walk) to go shopping. There are lots of stores here selling the same stuff as in La Bufadora. Whatever price they offer you, I basically asked for half, and usually got it. We walked around, and felt safe. We also stopped by Papas and Beer and had a good time. There are a few popular bars here where you can stop by to relax and have very large margaritas. Other people went on the horseback riding tour and said it was wonderful.
People/Dress:For the most part, the passengers were friendly and everybody got along just fine. There were families, couples, singles, kids, etc. I think everyone is just happy to be on a cruise and people were helping each other out. As for dress, do NOT stress out about this. I basically wore shorts/t-shirt/polo shirt/flip-flops during the day, and some nicer pants/khakis with a dress shirt/collared shirt, or sweater during the evening. As for the one FORMAL NIGHT you have during dinner in the formal dining room, I wore a suit/tie… but saw other people wear more casual attire. Basically, don’t wear shorts/t-shirts in the formal dining room.
Tips/Gratuities:Carnival automatically charges you $10/day per guest for gratuities. This tip covers your cabin steward and dining staff. Tipping your room service is recommended. You can adjust your tips at the end of your cruise upward/downward based on the level of service you received. You can also tip the Maitre’d at your discretion the final night as well.
Debarkation:see below. We basically got off with little problem since we only had carry-on luggage and could leave with the second group called “Self-Assist”. The first group off is the early airline flights group. Otherwise, you have wait for your color to be called according to where your cabin is located. Obviously, the lower deck you are, the later you will depart. If you’re in no rush, you can have breakfast in the formal dining, and just lay out on the deck and enjoy your last minutes on-board. For us, it was a pretty smooth process, but took a little longer than expected. It wasn’t a huge nightmare though.
Some travel tips/advice:I brought 6 bottles of water in my luggage and 4 bottles of soda (since I did not purchase a soda card) and found this to be more than adequate. You can keep your bottles cold in your ice bucket. Although I am not a drinker, I knew several people who brought alcohol on board as well. Pack as light as you can. If you can manage to bring just carry-on luggage, you do not have to check in any baggage, and you can simply proceed to check in. Also during debarkation, you can be one of the first to leave with the “Self-Assist” group during 7:45-8:00AM (although we ended finally getting off and through customs by 9:45AM) and not have to wait for your color to be called because you do not have to pick up your luggage in the baggage claim area. We ordered room service to pack a few sandwiches for our shore excursions. Bring some ziplock bags to store your sandwiches and other goodies. For example, if your meal time is at 8:00PM, you can arrive around 8:05 PM and not have to wait in a long line. Go to the shows a little earlier, about 15-20 minutes early to grab good seats. We sat on the second level and always had nice views. Pace yourselves… you don’t have to DO EVERYTHING… pick and choose what you like.. and be sure to have time to just relax and not DO ANYTHING. There are plenty of photo opportunities on board that Carnival sponsors, and these pics are expensive. An 8x10 costs $20, and you can only get reprints/wallet sizes from the 8x10s. The 5x7, and 4x6 are $7-9 if I remember correctly. If you want to really save money, buy only the ones you like, and bring your own digital camera and take pictures of the pictures you don’t want!!! Doesn’t come out that great, but hey, you didn’t want these pictures anyways. I was told that in the early morning… around 7 to 8AM, you can see hundreds of dolphins swimming and jumping alongside the ship while it is sailing. I did not see this personally, but thought you would like to see this if you can have an ocean view, or make it out on the deck/veranda.
Summary:I thought this was a wonderful cruise for the price. We paid a total of $425 for the cruise for the both of us, plus an additional $80 in gratuities. We do not drink alcohol, so our tab was zero. I thought the ship was in decent shape given its age, and by far, the service on board was EXCEPTIONAL. Crew were very friendly and not aggressive about getting tips. The food in the formal dining room was really good, and the buffet food was ok. The cabin was in good condition and the room was clean. The hallways were pretty clean and did not have foul smelling odors anywhere lingering in the ship… except maybe in the elevator if someone should pass some gas. Catalina Island is much nicer to explore than Ensenada. Plenty of activities and acceptable shows and good comedians on board. Always something to do if you want. Great casino! Bars/clubs were popular. So what are you waiting for????!!!!! I would definitely cruise with Carnival again and would recommend this cruise to you and don’t be misled too much with some negative reviews. I think these people basically are really picky and expect a luxurious experience, and would not be completely satisfied no matter what. So if you have an open mind and are intent on making the best of things, you will have a great time. Hope you enjoy the cruise and find your experience as wonderful as mine.