Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Ecstasy
Sailing Date: 2005
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
This was our 4th cruise with Carnival, and our third time on the Ecstasy. The one other cruise we took was on the Carnival Fascination, which is identical to the Ecstasy. We can therefore draw no comparisons to competing cruise lines.
My wife likes the cruise vacations in part because my cell phone won't function at sea, thereby ensuring that my work won’t intrude on our vacation.
We are landlocked at our home in Minnesota, and must fly to virtually any vacation destination, as a result Galveston did not present a cost advantage. Most of the other guests on this cruise drove to the ship. We had considered a few of the cruises out of the northeast (New York, Boston, etc) however reading the reviews we saw a lot of complaints of rough seas while sailing along the eastern seaboard.
The following is our cruise log:
Saturday 5/21/05 – Arrived at the Houston-Bush airport and got on the shuttle bus to Galveston. During the one-hour trip the bus stalled on a bridge but the driver got it re-started in about 5 minutes. Our reserved cabin was a category-12, which qualified us for the “Skippers Club”, allowing us to bypass the check in lines. Due to a wedding, the Carnival shore staff was insufficient to handle the quantity of “Skippers Club” members, and I’m not sure that we saved much time. Once on board we stopped by our cabin and then got lunch at the Lido deck buffet. We strolled around the ship until the life-boat drill and noticed many changes (read improvements) since sailing on the ship last August, out of Long Beach, CA. The ship sails past oilrigs; take binoculars if you want a good view. We had some of the delicious pizza late in the afternoon, and then attended the late seating for dinner. The maitre’d did a poor job matching us with the other table guests. They apparently felt the same way, as one of two other couples didn’t return again over the remainder of the cruise. Our waiter, Alex, was the best we have ever had anywhere, including past cruises. We attended the show, which was the same one from last year. They have a new “country” show on another night but we didn’t go to it.
Sunday 5/22/05 – Day at sea. Had a good breakfast at the buffet. The omelet needed improvement. To avoid the crowds on deck we laid out on the topless deck, which is usually more sedate. The topless deck usually draws the occasional peepers, but it was out of control this time. Some people even had cameras, which is supposed to be strictly prohibited. Carnival needs to police this better. While on deck we had some drinks, including the “bucket of beer”, which is about the best bang-for-the-buck you will find for alcohol on these cruises. The mixed drinks are pretty weak and will quickly add up on your sail-and-sign account. We hit the lunch buffet and found improvements in the menu over our previous cruises. We spent a few hours in the casino and then had more pizza. They have added a deli next to the pizzeria but don’t expect much. Subway is far better. Formal night dinner was nice. Carnival has relaxed its formal dress enforcement somewhat over time. I don’t necessarily blame the cruise line for this though, as it seems to be more of a societal shift towards casual. FYI, tux rental runs about $100 on the ship.
Monday 5/23/05 – Arrived at Cozumel. Had the breakfast buffet. Both breakfast and lunch dining is available in one of the main dining rooms. We have tried that on previous cruises and have found that we prefer the buffet. We have been to Cozumel before and like to go on the catamaran-snorkel-beach excursion. It is a good deal but don’t expect to see anything special while snorkeling. There is food available once you reach the beach if you’re brave. We usually carry along a few bagels from the breakfast buffet to tide us over until we get back to the ship, where the food is free and safe. On the catamaran they have free beer and margaritas. There seems to be no limit and many people return inebriated. There is an alternate excursion, which is purely a drinking/party cruise without the trappings. We did some shopping at the dock shops and then returned to the ship to clean up and have a late lunch. If you intend to do a lot of shopping be sure to attend the lecture on it, or catch the re-run on your TV. We attended the late dining and had one of the best meals of our cruise. Our tablemates didn’t show up, which is pretty typical for the day at Cozumel. The ship sails late and many people choose to eat while ashore.
Tuesday 5/24/05 – The ship sailed overnight and arrived at Calica early. We haven’t been there before and were under-whelmed. I thought Ensenada was a dive but this place was just a concrete factory. We had noticed that the outside windows on the ship were unusually dirty, and I wonder if this is why. We had a very light breakfast and boarded a bus for our excursion. We chose the kayak-snorkel adventure, adventure being the operative word. The bus goes from a dirt parking lot, to another dirt parking lot a couple miles away. There you get on some old trucks and ride down a jungle path to the beach, with foliage hitting you the entire way. They put you on kayaks and then you proceed to paddle, parade-style, down the beach and back, about a mile round trip. Good exercise if you’re up to it. They then hand out snorkel gear and point you toward the reef, about 100 yards off the beach. There are only two guys in kayaks minding the large group as you attempt to navigate out to the reef and back without getting into trouble. The coral reef is actually the best I have ever seen first hand. At this point everyone thought we were going back to the ship, however the tour operator had different plans for us, taking us to a “sink hole” and then to a beach buffet (eat at your own risk as they have no electricity or running water here. The same goes for the beer as they pour it over ice from an unlabeled jug). The guide attempted to distract us with constant lecturing about the location, much of which was highlighted by false “facts”, and attempted to sell horseback and 4-wheeler rides. At a certain point we had gone way over the 5 hours advertised, and people started complaining. It was only after the complaining gave way to yelling that they finally, reluctantly, took us back to the ship. Despite the beautiful location, we recommend you avoid this excursion. If you go ashore at all consider taking insect repellant. Once back onboard we hit the buffet. The ship was late departing Calica as some people were quite late returningg. Not too surprising if other excursions were run in a fashion similar to what we experienced. Diner was good once again and the waiters had us in tears with the amusing dance they performed.
Wednesday 5/25/05 – Day at sea. Not a lot to do except eat. We had enough sun already and chose to remain inside most of the day. We attended the “Newlywed, not-so-newlywed” game, which we recommend highly. A lot of people were playing bingo and someone scored a free cruise. We also spent a few hours in the casino. From our balcony we could see flying fish running from the ships wake. Diner was good again.
Thursday 5/26/05 – Docked early at Galveston. We chose to take advantage of the “self assist” debarkation, which allows you to be among the first off the ship, however you must carry off all of your own luggage. We had let Carnival set up our airline reservations, as well as a two-day stay in Galveston following our cruise. The only complaint I have to direct at Carnival regarding our stay in Galveston relates to the rental car. Prior to the cruise, we called Carnival for clarification on how to pick up and return the rental car. We were told to take a shuttle back to the airport in Houston (a one-hour trip), pick up our rental car, and then drive it back to Galveston (another one-hour trip). We discovered by accident that this was not how it worked. The rental car was actually at the cruise terminal in Galveston. Furthermore, a Carnival employee at the terminal misdirected us to take a shuttle to a parking lot to get our rental car, failing to mention that we needed to go to the rental kiosk first. That particular employee was a bit rude to us when we returned sans rental car.
They put us in the “Hotel Galvez”, which is a recently renovated turn-of-the-century hotel. The hotel was nice enough but the room was a bit small. The hotel had a nice pool area with a swim-up bar. The Long Island ice teas were very powerful. The food at the restaurant was fine. I would probably choose the Hilton if I could do it over, as it is closer to points of interest. Galveston has some attractions, such as “Moody Gardens”, but don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. Galveston is not a pretty town, and there are vast impoverished neighborhoods within it. Some of the seafood restaurants are fantastic. Tourist maps are available at all the souvenir shops.