Few companies have undergone as much scrutiny as Carnival Cruise Lines over the last 2 years. I need not really provide the reasons as they’ve been beaten into our heads through news segments. Has it been fair? Hard to say. When you’re as big as Carnival Corp, you’re going to be under the big spotlight.
That said, I still like sailing on a Carnival ship. I have many reasons and opinions that keep me on their boats. With all the things I can give them credit for, they’re not without their faults or disappointments. I’ll get into those as well. Okay, let’s get rolling.
Price. I’ve priced out many cruises in the last 2 years and Carnival has always been the most affordable. It can also be said that because of all the different ports they sail from, it can be affordable to travel to/from a cruise vacation. One of the questions I’m always asked is “Do you notice a drop in quality with the lower price?” To some extent, there are some things that are probably nicer on other lines. The core things like food, entertainment, and hotel services are all still good though and sometimes great. Royal Caribbean International has nicer fittings and decor on their ships. Norwegian Cruise Line has better entertainment. Carnival sees this and has started to address a few of their shortcomings. The Carnival Breeze being a good example along with Carnival’s refurb’d Sunshine. Both have been a little toned down in decor, but have added dining venues and outside activity areas. Are they up to par with RCI or NCL? Getting there, but when it comes to the price you pay. Well worth it.
Staff. I have never come across friendlier staff than on my Carnival cruises. Everyone was always friendly and engaging. I’d often find myself having good conversation and joking with them more than with other passengers. Not everyone is perfect though, like a cabin steward who, though nice, kept forgetting my name. He was still an improvement over the cabin steward I had on RCI’s Independence of the Seas. It’s not that they were bad, but they were not very interested in being personable. Carnival stewards, guest services, spa, bar, and dining staff were just more personable on Carnival. You get the feeling they’re just a little more down to earth. I tried really hard at one point to get myself invited to a crew party because I thought the crew and staff would be great to hang out with. As much as the spa specialist said she would’ve liked me to go, she declined, and told me of how much trouble they get in if guests find their way into such get-togethers. I would not want to put anyone in such a position, so I dropped it. Moving on, we have cruise directors. I had Karl Bird as my first cruise director on the Carnival Liberty in February 2012. He was terrific. Upbeat, out-going, he seemed just about everywhere. Josh Waitzman of the Carnival Glory was good as well (though not quite as great as Karl, a tough act to follow). Joff Eaton of RCI’s Independence of the Seas was good, at first. The man had a huge ship to manage activities on and could hardly be everywhere. It was a comment about other cruise lines staff/passengers that made me lose respect for him though. During the farewell show he said something along the lines of lower class people sailing on other lines. It might have been a joke in poor taste, but you could get the feeling he really meant it. I’m certain not all RCI directors are like that, but it makes you think of how the other lines look at each other in more than a business sense. I never heard anyone from Carnival speak that way about employees or guests on another line, and I don’t think I will.
Comfort. In short the bedding Carnival uses is the best I’ve experienced in the cruise and hotel vacations I’ve had. All of them. You can even buy the sheets, comforters, and pillows online. Google “Carnival Comfort Collection.” The collection isn’t the cheapest, but I might be tempted at some point. Carnival cabins are slightly larger and come with robes (RCI you have to pay for robes or sail them more frequently to get them as a “loyalty perk”). I can’t wait to be gently rocked to sleep under the comfort collection covers this December.
Cups. Yes, cups. They have some of the coolest souvenir cups and glasses you can find on any vacation. Disco balls, blow fish, parrots, tiki gods, coconut monkeys, and a cup with a lid in the shape of the iconic Carnival “funship funnel.” If you like bringing crap back home from your trip, you’re in luck.
Disappointments. Losing ports. Carnival has dropped Europe for 2014 (maybe 2015 too), Bermuda for 2014 and 2015, and just recently Tortola indefinitely. Key West and Belize have been on/off. Grand Cayman has been removed from some ships itineraries. Each one has different reasons, but one kind of has wonder if they could be handled differently. If there are not enough guests to fill the larger ships in the European cruises, why not send one of the smaller Fantasy Class ships? No open berths for ships in Bermuda or Tortola for 2014/2015? How about tendering to those ports? Perhaps there are political or economic reasons, who knows. As somebody who loves to island hop, its tough when islands I want to visit start disappearing from itineraries. I’m going to question and reason in my head. If I want to sail to Bermuda or Tortola, it will probably be via NCL. Baltimore and Norfolk are also being dropped as home ports (Norfolk this November, Baltimore November 2014). It’s a big bummer as they’re the ones closest to me. I’m now looking at the additional cost of airfare if I desire to cruise Carnival after November 2014. RCI will still sail from Baltimore through 2015. In all fairness Carnival has stated that they would like to return to these home and destination ports in the future. I hope they do, but I don’t think I’ll be able to wait for a long period of time for them to iron things out.
All things said, If I’m looking to cruise it’ll likely be a ship with the “funship funnel.” If the islands I desire to go to aren’t available. I will simply have to choose a line who can make it happen. I’ll miss that funnel though. I wish Karl Bird a happy retirement.