I love small ships. I am also not much of a partier, preferring white-gloved service and wine tastings to loud discos and hairy chest contests. So, I was somewhat apprehensive about traveling on the Carnival Destiny, one of Carnival Cruise Line's "Fun Ships" and the first passenger liner to exceed 100,000 gross tons.
But, we would be traveling to Halifax, one of my favorite cities. Plus, we would have two glorious days at sea. Besides, what kind of cruise enthusiast would I be if I ignored the new, large ships, especially the one that started it all? The voyage was a gift from my parents, who celebrated their 40th anniversary by taking the entire family on a cruise. Our group numbered nine - my parents, my husband and me and our 6-year old son, and my sister and her husband and their two sons, 3½ and 23 months. It was the first cruise for my sister and her family, and the rest of us had cruised numerous times before, although this would be our first on Carnival Cruise Line.
We opted to make our own travel arrangements to New York, taking the Delta Shuttle into LaGuardia Airport's Marine Air Terminal. We got a taxi immediately, and the ride to the pier took 45 minutes. But, New York was hosting Operation Sail, so there was more traffic than usual, according to our driver. The metered taxi fare came to $30, plus tip. For anyone flying into Kennedy Airport, note that there is currently a flat rate of $25, not including tip. We had planned to carry our bags on ourselves, but upon reaching the pier, a porter immediately took them from the trunk, and was taken aback when I asked for all of them back.
We proceeded into the terminal, which wasn't particularly crowded. Although it was not quite 1:00pm, we were able to check in and board the ship. There were at least two dozen personnel handling check-in, so the entire procedure was quick and efficient.
We entered the ship on a deck consisting solely of passenger cabins. A crew member pointed us in the direction of our cabin, and we carried our bags down the long hallway and opened the door using the card key given to us at the check-in counter. While it was not a horrible experience, I would have preferred to be greeted in the seven-story atrium and escorted to our cabin.
After quickly unpacking the few bags we brought for the four-night journey, we headed to the Sun & Sea Restaurant for the traditional Welcome Aboard buffet lunch. The highlight for us was snagging a table that overlooked the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy and the tall ships that had come to New York for OpSail 2000. We sat there for at least an hour, and no one tried to get us to leave.
At 5:15, the Carnival Destiny pulled away from the pier. The trip down the Hudson River was unbelievable as we glided by the immense structures of the borough of Manhattan. OK, I'm a native New Yorker, so maybe I found this more exciting than most. But, the Statue of Liberty is not to be missed. The decks were crowded, but people were generally very nice about moving temporarily to allow us to take photos of the passing scenery.
At 101,353 GRT, the Carnival Destiny was first in the class of gigaliners. She is 893 feet in length, not nearly as long as the Norway, but still quite substantial. Passenger capacity is 2,642 double-occupancy, but totaled well over 3,000 on our trip due to the roughly 700 children on board.
Some Thoughts On Public Rooms
Our cabin was a standard outside stateroom located amidships on Deck 2. It was exactly as pictured in the Carnival brochure, down to the red and orange color combination. It was quite spacious, with two single beds that could be pushed together, two nightstands, a desk, two chairs, and a twin-size convertible sofa bed. (Note: Not all cabins have a sofa bed -- check the floor plan.) Three closets provided ample storage space, and there was a separate storage unit for the life vests. The bathroom was roomy, featuring a large mirrored wall chest and a shower that was about three-quarters the length of a standard tub. A gift basket was a nice surprise and included shampoo, body wash, razors, Tylenol, and hard candies. Two extra-large bathrobes were provided, and I enjoyed mine so much that I purchased a new one ($40) to take home with me. Our cabin steward, Zen, kept the room in terrific shape.
I took a peek at a standard inside cabin on Deck 2. Again, it was identical to the photo in the brochure and was very similar to our outside stateroom, only without the sofa. This particular cabin had two foldout upper berths (again, check the floor plan!), and the family of four who lived here said they had plenty of space.
Dinners in the main dining room were just short of outstanding. The food was wonderfully prepared and presented. Service was mixed, but improved as time went on. Portions were not huge by American standards, but they were certainly sufficient and Carnival was very generous about seconds. On one occasion, my mom was trying to decide between two entrées, and our waiter overheard her and brought both! The menu was divided into four courses - appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert. Soups were listed under appetizers, but I was always able to order both, and the waiter brought them out separately. Standouts from the dinner menu included cucumber roll, shrimp cocktail, game consommé, chilled zucchini soup, chateaubriand, and Grand Marnier soufflé. A children's menu (pizza, chicken nuggets, fries, etc.) was available, but was not offered automatically.
The Universe Dining Room had a poor layout, and our table in a far corner made us feel too isolated. But, our table for ten was against one of the windows, and it was beautiful to watch my 3-year old nephew as he looked onto the water from his window seat.
Dining room breakfasts were open seating, although it was requested that we stick to our assigned dining room. Dining room lunches were served at assigned tables, and offered an extensive menu. There were also breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets in the Sun & Sea Restaurant, but the lines were excessively long. Some of the food was notable, including the Caesar salads from the buffet and the duck dumplings from the Chinese station. Midnight buffets were fairly standard, and the lines were very long during the first half hour. We went to the gala buffet at about 12:45 and had only a ten-minute wait.
A most welcome surprise was the omission of what we refer to as the "comment card pitch" on the last night of the cruise. We have been on cruises in which the waiters beg us for perfect scores on the comment cards, explaining, sometimes in great detail, the perks they receive for high marks. We find this to be condescending, unprofessional, and tasteless. So, high marks to Carnival for not encouraging this type of behavior!
Onboard entertainment ran the gamut from corny to excellent. Keep in mind that we have been thoroughly spoiled by the live shows on Norwegian Cruise Line. We skipped the magician, who my parents later said was very good, but saw the two major musical productions. The first was "Nightclub Express," and we laughed throughout, although it was probably not the intention of the producers for it to be a comedy. Songs were introduced by a "talking couch" that was as annoying as the "paper clip" icon that sometimes appears in my word processing program. Unfortunately, I couldn't click it away. There was no order to the musical numbers - "YMCA" was followed by a 40s ballad which was then followed by nine leisure-suit-clad Elvises dancing to "Stayin' Alive." We reluctantly attended the next production, "Formidable," and were glad we did. It was among the best shows we've seen on a cruise ship. The special effects were not up to NCL standards, but that would be hard to match, in our opinion. The dancing was terrific, and the Paris sets were beautiful. And, to our delight, there was no talking couch.
Live musical performances were also held along Destiny Way and in the lounges. But, the volume was extremely loud, and even the piano bar was too noisy to hold a conversation. We did not attend the newlywed game, passenger talent show, or latenight comedy shows, but heard mixed reviews from other passengers.
Daytime offerings were pretty slim compared with other cruises we have enjoyed. There were few group activities and no chances to earn "dollars" redeemable for ship merchandise.
The children's program was disappointing. Activities were broken down by age (2-5, 6-8, 9-12, 15-17) and kids over 5 could not go into the kids' room to just play, outside of a few hours designated for that purpose. Children under 2 could not enjoy the room with parental supervision, as we had done several times on other cruise lines when our son was younger. My nephew, just one month shy of his second birthday, had to spend most of the cruise strapped into his stroller for lack of space to run around. Parents were also banned from the playroom. In retrospect, it was understandable with so many kids on board, but it would have been nice to have had some alternatives offered. But, the counselors were wonderful, and knew my son's name when we dropped him off the second day. I found that pretty impressive, considering that there were 700 children on board.
Being a veteran of many cruises, we did not go to the captain's Welcome Aboard party. My parents, sister, and brother-in-law said it was nice, although the captain neither greeted passengers nor posed for photographs.
Two afternoon teas were offered in the Onyx Lounge, and I attended both. Waiters came around with tea boxes, hot water, and light snacks while a trio consisting of a violin, piano, and flute performed classical music. This was more my speed, and I wished there were more activities like this.
Other daytime activities included golf putting, dance classes, beauty seminars, and bingo.
Port of Call
Our four-night cruise featured just one port of call, Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Five-night cruises add St. John, New Brunswick.) The ship docked next to Pier 21, a National Historic Site that served as a gateway to immigrants from the 1920s through the 1970s. This "Ellis Island of Eastern Canada" now houses an immigration museum, visitor center, and several shops and pushcart vendors. A local band welcomed us with the sound of bagpipes.
Having been to Halifax previously, we decided to visit two points of interest we had missed earlier. Our first stop was the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, an easy fifteen-minute walk from the pier along the waterfront. We enjoyed fabulous exhibits on classic cruise ships and the PBS series "Theodore the Tugboat," which was inspired by the Halifax waterfront. But, the most moving exhibit recounted the story of the 1917 Halifax explosion and its aftermath. Over 1,700 people were killed and thousands injured after the collision of two ships in Halifax harbor, one of which was carrying TNT, gun cotton, and other explosives. Artifacts included a pocket watch that had stopped at the exact time of the explosion.
After enjoying a lunch of fish, chips and steamed mussels at a local pub, we walked to the Citadel. Now a National Historic Site, it was built in 1856 to protect Halifax in the event of a war with the United States. The star-shaped structure was the fourth fort to occupy this hilltop site since Halifax's founding in 1749. Warning - it doesn't look very far on the map, but you must ascend a steep hill followed by several staircases.
Carnival offered various shore excursions for those preferring organized group tours. Among the selections were a Halifax walking tour, horseback riding, a black history tour, and tours to scenic Peggy's Cove (with options for a salmon bake or lobster boil).
As the Carnival Destiny pulled out of the Halifax harbor, we were again serenaded by bagpipes. It was a beautiful way to depart this charming city.
For a ship of its size, debarking from the ship was fairly easy. Passengers who were carrying all of their bags off the ship were allowed to wait in their cabins and leave the ship first. We were among this group and were off the ship by 9:00. However, leaving the pier was a completely different story. We had a 50-minute wait for a taxi. Fortunately, numbers were given out at the taxi stand, but it would have been nice to have had advance warning. Carnival had required all passengers to fill out a form indicating the method of transportation to be used to leave the pier, and I naïvely thought that they would use this information to notify the NY Taxi and Limousine Commission. OK, we realize that we arrived at 9:00 on a Monday morning, but one of our earlier cruises returned us to Boston on a weekday morning and there were taxis everywhere. Fortunately, we managed to get to the airport nearly 2 hours before our flight, and were able to take an earlier shuttle home. But, had I known about the wait, I would have preferred to stay on the ship and linger over another cup of tea for an hour than to stand on a crowded taxi platform with a bored 6-year old.
I have found that the best way to judge a cruise is to examine my answers to three questions:
Photos courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines & Andy Newman.
Lisa lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Neil, and their young son. They have been on twelve cruises since 1990 (four on Norwegian, three on Premier/Dolphin, two on Royal Caribbean, and one each on Celebrity, Carnival, and the former Majesty Cruise Line). They may be reached for questions or comments at email@example.com
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