Sunday, September 4, 2011

Carnival Ecstasy Review

Carnival Ecstasy Review
August 29 -September 3, 2011

Just the Facts:
Ship: Carnival Ecstasy
ptain: Roberto Tine
Cruise Director: Steve Cassel
Ports: Galveston-Progreso-Cozumel-Galveston

This is a ‘tweener cruise booked as a get away from the excessive heat in central Texas. It is my twenty-fifth Carnival cruise, forth time on the Ecstasy, and first time to sail as a Carnival Milestone. We booked it a week prior to sailing.

Monday / Embarkation / Day 1
I had some ranch chores very early so we did not get away as early as usual for the drive to Galveston, but we were on the road about 7:30am and arrived at EZ Cruise parking about 12:20.
Our timing must have been good as there was no waiting and Jason the shuttle driver was arriving with a bus just as we unloaded. Same for the Pier. We were after the early rush and before the majority of arrivals so security and the lines were reasonable. They have opened part of the new terminal area preparing for the arrival of the new Carnival Magic in November. It should go smooth for them when they arrive. They do have a VIP security line, but the VIP check in area was very busy. We actually got our cards and checked in at the regular counter, it was faster. This will have to be addressed before the arrival of the Magic, as they will have more VIP's especially on early sailings. I was disappointed that I didn’t have the Milestone card, but that was soon corrected on board at guest services. We dropped our bags in the cabin and went to the buffet for lunch. DW and I had a nice salad. I had a nice Chicken and Vegetable bowl from the Mongolian Grill and roast beef from the Carving Station. Something new: the Carving Station & Rotisserie are now located outdoors on Lido deck between the Mongolian Grill and the usual Burger Grill. After lunch one bag was delivered to the cabin, always a concern when it’s only one. I went down to the Lobby Bar and met my new friend for the week Johnny Mendoza the bartender. Time for another Funship Special before ‘boat drill.’ Muster drill began about 3:45 and was completed before sail away. The pool was much busier than usual for a sail away from Galveston, but it is very hot so people took advantage. We listened to the two person Reggae Band for a while on Lido deck and they put out a lot of very good music for two people. The second bag arrived at the cabin so no worries about ‘naughty’ room or lost bags. They have two welcome shows as they used to do in the past. I like this much better than the one Welcome Show as it was usually so late I didn’t go. This show started at 7:00 pm and featured the Singers & Dancers, the two comedians from the Comedy Club, and Cruise Director Steve Cassell. All were very good and I enjoyed the show. Late dinner is at 8:15 in the Wind Song dining room. We have a 4-top banquette table, but we will be changing this. Dinner was just OK. They are using the NEW ‘Didja’ menus. I missed my usual tomatillo soup, sweet & sour shrimp, and Creme Brulee for the first night. I did have the Escargot, Fruit, the Pork Steak (a large grilled chop), and the Black Forrest Gateau for dessert. The escargot and dessert were very good. We were both tired after a long day so retired to the cabin after dinner. A long but FUN first day.

Tuesday / Fun day at Sea / Day 2
Great sleeping with the inside cabin, just enough movement to rock one to sleep. I was off to the Win
d Star dining room for breakfast about 8:30 am. I’ve had the same breakfast on the first morning of all my CCL cruises although this one will need to be altered: no more sectioned grapefruit & oranges. I did order: Melon and Eggs Benedict with side of bacon, and hash browns. The eggs were over cooked (all the way through), but were good. They were perfect on my last Ecstasy cruise. DW always does a room service or buffet breakfast on a cruise. Neither of us are much for sun, we get all of that we want at home, so indoor activities for the day. I walked around the ship this morning and when DW joined me we got a shaded table outside lido deck. Since lunch just opened I got another bowl from the Mongolian Grill and DW another good salad. The Key Lime Pie for dessert was very good. After lunch I had a nice two hour nap. This is
one of the advantages to an inside cabin. We did bring a small fan with us and it helps draw air from the ship air conditioning unit, this helped keep our cabin very nice and cool just what we were looking for on this cruise. This is the Captain’s night or elegant night and soon some petit fours were delivered to the cabin which served as a reminder to prepare for the evenings activities. We went to the Society Bar to try the Martini Samplers. We sampled the Pomegranate martini, the Mangotini, the Berry martini, and the Melon martini. We liked the Pomegranate the best and ordered a proper one to take to the Punchliner Comedy Show. The comedian was Dean Gaines and it was a very funny show. We only had time for one show as it was now time for late dinner. The Matre’D arranged for us to have a new two top table in a better location, table 370, in the Wind Song dining room. Elegant night dinner still has the lobster, but I ordered: the Stuffed White Mushrooms, the new Alligator bites, the Prime Rib, a Fruit Plate, and the Bitter&Blanc for dessert. The prime rib was very good. The mushrooms were not really white mushrooms and I was a bit disappointed with them, the alligator was very similar to conch fritters. The highlight of the day was the production show, Xtreme County, after dinner in the Blue Sapphire showroom. It featured the Carnival dancers and singers and Steve Cassell on the fiddle. Matt & Chassey the feature singers were very good. It was a fantastic show and is not to be missed. After the show a stroll on the Promenade deck before retiring. This was a great sea day on the Ecstasy.

Wednesday / Progreso, Mexico / Day 3
We were docked on time at 7:00 am. at the longest pier (~5 miles) in the world. I went to the
dining room about 8:00 and again ordered the Eggs Benedict. I wanted to see if I could get it cooked properly and it was. We took our time and left the ship about 10:00 am and rode the complementary shuttle into town. They have a new drop off point about a block+ beyond the municipal building. We went to a shop we like in order to get a Mayan bag as a gift. We then went to our usual Progreso hangout: Le Saint Bonet. We spent a few hours enjoying the breeze and gulf view, a few Bohemia beers, some Margaritas, and talking to the vendors. I did get a 30 minute+ massage ($10 + tip) in the old bar area of the restaurant. We then had a roadie margarita and took a taxi ($10) back to the pier. The Ecstacy sails early (3:00 pm) but they do keep the buffet open a bit later for the arrivals back to the ship. I had a beef and vegetable bowl from the Mongolian grill. The past guest party was held in the Blue Sapphire lounge at 5:00 pm and the h’orderves were actually good. Later in the cabin they delivered a Platinum h’orderve plate and they were also very good. They do a great job with them on the Ecstasy. For dinner this evening I had the Fried Shrimp with Plum Sauce, Chicken Noodle Soup, the Jerk Pork, and Tiramisu for desert. The shrimp used to be one of my favorites, but these were over cooked and all batter and no shrimp (remember the ‘where’s the beef’ commercial), the soup had no flavor. The Jerk Pork was better and the Tiramisu was good. Our waiter has yet to come to our table, but the service from Lauren the assistant has been excellent. The talent show was tonight, but we did some people watching on the Promenade deck before retiring.

Thursday / Cozumel, Mexico / Day 4

We arrived on time at 8:00am at the Puerta Maya pier. The weather is cloudy with light rain. Our original plans were to spend the day at a beach resort, but with the weather we decided to just take our time and go into San Miguel. I had a MDR breakfast this morning, fried eggs, toast, and ham. I ordered eggs over medium and they came back hard, but the replacement eggs were very good. Second time the eggs were not to order, I may as well be eating on the Lido buffet. We left the ship about 9:30 and took a taxi ($7) to downtown San Miguel. We visited with our friend
Nelly at her Mayan Pearl store and Martin my barber. I spent and hour at the internet store while DW shopped in the area. About 11:30 we went over to Wet Wendy’s Margarita House & Restaurant. I really like what the owners Chad & Clara have done with the improvements. They already had the most unique drinks in town, but the restaurant is fully operational and getting good reviews. I had the blackened chicken quesadillas and they were great. Our specialty drinks were also wonderful, I’d love to visit at night when we do a land based visit to Cozumel. We returned to the ship about 3:00 pm and DW had some pool time while I had some cabin time. I did arrange to get a Carnival Future Cruise certificate this afternoon. Always a good idea to have a few of these on hand before booking a last minute cruise. The Captain made a formal announcement about the potential hurricane developing in the gulf. It looks as though we will be able to stay west of it on the return, but we will have higher than usual seas. The Ecstasy show band played in Chinatown, a wonderful public venue space, and it was Variety Night with various shows and games throughout the ship. Dinner was one of the better ones this cruise, I had the Thai Chicken appetizer, and two entrees: the Seafood Variety entree and the Chateaubriand. The seafood was the better of the two. For dessert I had the souffle and a fruit platter. We did some shopping and visited the Piano Bar this evening before retiring.

Friday / Fun day at Sea / Day 5
The one morning I have a date for breakfast is the one morning I slept in. The extra rocking was wonderful and I slept very well. I was able to meet my friend just a bit late and had a good breakfast in the MDR. Again had to make a second request on the eggs. After breakfast the Captain made another announcement about our changing course to avoid the tropical depression, a bit rougher seas, but we will avoid the worse of the storm and should arrive in Galveston on time tomorrow morning. It will be rainy for most of the day. The popular Newlywed & Marriage Show is this morning in the Blue Sapphire lounge and they have moved the lido deck activities to the Promenade deck so there is a lot to do on this final sea day. I used my entry to the slot tournament, but didn’t make the finals. I also played some Texas Hold ‘Em poker. You now use your S&S card and do not need a second PokerPro card. You still have to cash out the card separately though as it is not applied to your S&S account. I did win a little. We had a late lunch in the Panorama (lido) buffet. The salads are always good. There was Tea Time in the piano Bar in the afternoon and the Captain made another late announcement that the TD is now TS (tropical storm) Lee and that we will not make Galveston on time as we can not maintain normal speed in the northerly winds. The ‘Farewell’ party with complementary drinks was held at 5:00 pm in the China Town lounge. This is not publicized at all so be sure to watch for it listed (in small print) in your FunTimes. We ate dinner in the Panorama on Lido deck this evening as we wanted to see more shows. It was very good, I had Baked Ham from the carving station, Penne Pasta with shrimp, Chicken Parmesan, Crab Cake, and a selection of desserts. The ham was wonderful and had a honey mustard condiment, perhaps the best meat of the cruise. On previous Ecstasy cruises they had the 2nd production show on day four, but they have it on day five the same night as the Punchliner Comedy Shows. It really makes it hard to see the best shows. We went to the first ‘family’ show of comedian Mike Lucas and he was great. We then went to the production show Dream Voyage in the Blue Sapphire showroom. It was very good, but my favorite was Xtreme Country. The liquor purchased in Progreso was delivered to the cabin this evening so it was time to pack. Because we would be arriving late in Galveston we knew there would be confusion with the debarkation so we decided not to do self debark and use general debarkation. We had our bags out by 11:00 pm and we where able to see the end of one comedy show and then the midnight show of Mike Lukas. He was great.

Saturday / Debarkation
Due to the Tropical Storm we arrived in Galveston almost two hours later than the Ecstasy usually arrives. I had time for my final MDR breakfast and we stayed in the cabin as long as possible. About 10:00 we went to China Town on Promenade deck the designated meet location for Platinum guests. We were called about 11:00 to debark and we got through US Customs and walked to the EZ Cruise parking lot. We were away before noon and arrived home about 5:30 pm.

The Ecstasy is an older ship. She seemed in great shape. She does show her age is some areas, but is very clean and nice. I like the layout. There are a lot of “hump” locations on the upper decks which make watching the sea or views very nice. Also the ceiling above the atrium is skylights and only the Fantasy has the same, on all other Carnival ships it’s not direct light. I like it. That’s all the sun I want to see during the day. There is a lot of neon but it is not dated at all more of a retro feel and it is impressive in the evening. The neon also changes colors throughout the voyage. A very different look. No smoking areas have expanded and now include the Piano Bar and all of the lobby area. The new mini-golf area is very nice. When she leaves Galveston after the next cruise she will have a two week dry dock before it goes to her new home port: New Orleans. Not sure what they will do as the public rooms all look good. I assume some deep cleaning and maintenance.

We booked late on an interior guarantee deal. We received a 4C, cabin U229 located aft so I was happy with that. The cabin steward is excellent. One of the better we’ve had. The cabin was always clean and ice chest filled. The cabin was a quad, but didn't have the drop down from ceiling bunks. They were built into the large heavy wooden head/side boards of the units. A great change is you can now use your sail & sign card as your cabin key, The Ecstasy was one of the last of the Carnival ships that you had to use a separate key card. There are no refrigerators in the interiors. (OK by me I never use them) As mentioned the fan improves the air circulation.

I’m sure that most were pleased with the food on the cruise, but personally I was very disappointed. There were some good dishes, but overall the quality was below the standards I had associated with this ship. I reread some of my previous Ecstasy reviews to confirm and the quality was just not the same. I also do not care for the new Didja menus because of fewer choices. My waiter never introduced himself other than trying to challenge me on the second day with my table location. We had a lot of Canadian college kids in our area and they were having a very good time. We found it somewhat entertaining, but it was disturbing to some guests.

I think CD Steve Cassell is a perfect fit for this ship. I liked him and his style. The Captain was informative with his announcements especially when we got the bad weather on the return. As mentioned the Cabin team was very good. My waiter was non existent, but serving his own purgatory with the college kids. The Ecstasy had won the Crystal Eagle award in the past, but I predict they never will again. I know a lot of experienced crew bailed when the new home port was announced.

There is really a lot to do on the ship with bingo, casino, trivia games, & very good and varied entertainment. This is a very good starter ship for cruise newbies and the Carnival Ecstasy used to be one of my favorite Carnival ships, but no longer. Perhaps I have outgrown her, but I don’t see myself ever sailing on her again. I am so happy that the Carnival Triumph and the NEW Carnival Magic are coming to Galveston.