In the world of cruise ships, Ecstasy is proving to be a golden oldie. I loved my five-day trip and would sail the very comfortable Ecstasy again in a heart beat. It boasts many of the amenities standard on 21st-century vessels such as flat-screen televisions and Internet cafe, but with more than a touch of Carnival's original classic neon and glitz. Ecstasy is a Fantasy-class sister to Fantasy, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Elation, Paradise and Sensation, and cost $315 million when it debuted in 1991. Ecstasy underwent a major refurbishment in fall 2009, and offers four- and five-night cruises from Port Canaveral.
The refurbishment featured the addition of a new wireless Internet cafe, an expanded Youth Program facility, a resort-style pool, Carnival WaterWorks water slides, and the adult-only Serenity sun deck. Efforts also entailed changing and thoroughly cleaning carpets throughout the ship. Pictures on the wall are new, there are the aforementioned flat-screen televisions in all cabins, the new Carnival Comfort bedding has been installed in all cabins, and public rooms have been updated and brightened.
Among other changes? A mini-golf course was created. Rolls Royce is a new coffee shop offering a variety of designer coffees and milkshakes priced between $2.50 and $4 each. There's also a late afternoon sushi bar and a new photo gallery that winds around the Atrium.
This well-maintained vessel is ideal for families, multigenerational groups, honeymooners and singles, providing that proverbial something for everyone, including fine entertainment, comfortable accommodations and excellent food. The cruise line has set out to attract "age is a state of mind" travelers across the spectrum who are looking for a more spirited vacation experience. Because of its four- and five-day schedule, Ecstasy attracts a large number of families and kids of all ages.
And yet at the same time, veteran travelers who remember the earlier days of contemporary cruise travel, won't be disappointed. The "newlywed game," name that tune contests, ice carving and bingo are still part of the frivolities. An extended camp program for kids between the ages of 3 and 17, art auctions, wine seminars, spa classes attractive to the fit, and late-night entertainment appeal to all demographics.
The Ecstasy features a New York City theme that runs throughout the public rooms. If you seek a lively, active cruise with plenty of nightlife, this ship is for you. This vessel appeals to the young-at-heart of all ages who like a more spirited than subdued holiday. You will find terrific Las Vegas-style entertainment, a selection of theme bars and lounges, and some of the largest standard cabins in the cruise industry. Despite the large number of passengers, there is no sense of being crowded onboard.
Once upon a time, the dining experience wasn't Carnival's high point, but that was then. In the now, the line's ships offer exciting dining options and truly good food. Service has been considerably refined and is outstanding.
Wind Star and Wind Song are the two main dining rooms. Menu items include a wondrous raspberry mousse with chocolate cake; a free-range chicken specialty with creamed foie gras sauce served with grilled zucchini, glazed mushrooms and a basmati rice pilaf; and more. An appetizer that got rave reviews on Ecstasy was the smoked duck and caramelized oranges with onion and oven-dried tomato confit.
Menus also offer spa alternatives, lower calorie items with calories and fat grams listed. (How about grilled baby veggies with tangy soy vinaigrette at 121 calories and only 2 grams of fat?)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available at the Panorama Bar & Grill, a buffet eatery where a 24-hour pizzeria, 24-hour yogurt and ice cream station, and deli sandwich bar are also located. Breakfast on the Lido Deck includes a made-to-order eggs/omelet station, fresh breads, Danish pastry and muffins, many items for lunch plus a salad bar, and at dinner, some of the offerings from the main dining rooms.
A children's menu featuring those ubiquitous chicken fingers, small pizzas and pasta is always available.
Service in the dining rooms -- and the Panorama Bar & Grill -- is consistently good. Attentive waiters fill glasses, offer more (oh so good) bread and make that extra effort to ensure guests enjoy the meal.
The two dining rooms accommodate 650 passengers. The two seatings are at 6 and 8:15 p.m.
All dining venues are nonsmoking.
For an exclusive dining event for just 12 guests, book the Chef's Table through the ship's information desk. For $75, diners can attend a multicourse dinner, hosted by one Carnival's master chefs. The evening begins with a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley, led by the chef, and concludes with a sumptuous dinner in a nontraditional dining venue, such as the galley or the library.
Room service -- with a limited menu -- is available 24 hours. Salads and sandwiches are pretty much all that's offered for lunch and dinner, and a continental breakfast of cold cereal and/or breads is delivered promptly with the toast still warm.
Late night offerings include the ever-popular midnight buffets -- yes, Carnival still offers them -- and that 24-hour pizzeria. A sushi bar on Promenade Deck is in operation before dinner.
City Lights Boulevard is the name of Ecstasy's promenade on Deck 9. The Photography Gallery -- a repository for all those pictures taken during the cruise from embarkation to farewell dinner -- encircles the Grand Atrium, between the casino and Blue Sapphire Lounge.
One deck below, on Deck 8, is the Explorer's Library (open two hours a day) and Neon, a popular piano bar. An electronic games arcade is also located on Deck 8.
The ship's most active areas dot the Boulevard, which runs from the Blue Sapphire Lounge through the Grand Atrium, and down to the Society Bar and the larger Starlight Lounge near the aft end of the ship.
The Lobby -- where guests enter and gaze up the seven-story Atrium in awe -- is home to the U-shaped bar that also serves coffee. Between the shore excursion desk and the ship's front desk, it is a busy hive of activity when the ship is not in port.
Internet service is available in a great location, 24 hours a day on Promenade Deck, across from the Rolls Royce patisserie. Packages are available for about $29 an hour.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Carnival Ecstasy's 12,000-square-foot Spa Carnival, a combination spa, beauty salon and fitness center, is run by Steiner, the Britain-based company with a near-monopoly on big-ship spas. The spa features the obligatory massages, facials and salon services.
The ship's modest-sized gym has seaview treadmills, bikes and elliptical trainers, as well as weight machines and a variety of free weights. The multiple fitness classes offered are either free (aerobics, sunrise stretch) or for-fee (yoga, Pilates at $12 per person). Men and women get their own sauna and steam room, which are located in their respective locker rooms.
During the September 2009 dry dock, Carnival Ecstasy's top deck areas were transformed. The ship now has just one pool, located midship. During sunny sea days, the lido pool is a beehive of entertainment, hosting pool deck Olympics, ice carving demonstrations and plenty of live music (from calypso to classic rock covers). The ship's other area for water-based fun is the aft-situated Carnival WaterWorks, which includes a four-story tall, 300-foot-long corkscrew waterslide; an 82-foot-long triple-lane waterslide (great for racing); and a spray park, complete with various sculptures spewing water. (Note: The water park replaced what was formerly the ship's second pool.) Onboard water parks are hot right now, and Disney Dream (debuting in 2011) and Norwegian Epic are certainly in the running for best at-sea waterslides, but even so, Carnival's Fantasy-class ships won't disappoint.
The adults-only Serenity Deck, also added during the dry dock, is a teak deck space located on the ship's stern (out of earshot from the more boisterous WaterWorks). The space includes two hot tubs and a decent number of loungers with thick, blue padding -- so comfortable that you're likely to doze off as you stare out at the ship's wake. The Serenity Deck offers both sunny and shady spots, with yellow umbrellas and a thatched-roof overhang providing cover from the Caribbean sun. The Serenity Deck also hosts more low-key, adults only evening entertainment featuring a solo guitarist and drink theme (mojitos or margaritas, for instance).
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
Carnival entertainment is varied, ranging from classical music to X-rated comedy, and includes some of the most outstanding stage productions -- real Las Vegas-style revues -- on the seven seas.
Stripes Dance Club is a wild and crazy place. Chinatown also features music. Rolls Royce -- and yes, there is a real Rolls on display -- is a patisserie and coffee house, and the Crystal Palace Casino is often the hottest spot on the ship.
The Blue Sapphire Lounge, a two-tiered showroom, features a lot of glitter, a lot of blue, some wonderfully comfortable seats, but also those darned poles that ruin sight-lines on the Fantasy-Class ships. It is a shame, because many of the shows produced in this room are about the best in the business. It is an elegant show room -- in a 90's sort of way.
Crystal Palace Casino is a full-service casino with slots and table games and weekly slot and blackjack tournaments. Table games include blackjack and Caribbean Stud Poker, three card poker, roulette and craps. Slots are state-of-the-art.
Neon offers sing-alongs and karaoke.
The Camp Carnival program is one of the best in cruising, offering activities for children broken down by ages 2 to 5, 6 to 8, 9 to 11, 12 to 14, and 15 to 17.
Carnival Ecstasy's dedicated space for the 2 - 11's, complete with video game consoles, arts and crafts supplies, and various toys, is on Verandah Deck. The 2 - 11's are further broken down in three groups, each with its own age-appropriate activity list. Toddlers (2 - 5) might enjoy story time or finger painting. Juniors (6 - 8) can participate in jewelry making or bingo. Options for Intermediates (9 - 11) include scavenger hunts and pool parties.
Camp Carnival activities are included in the cruise fare up until 10 p.m. for the 2 - 11's. A babysitting service is available from 10 p.m. - 3 a.m. at a cost of $6 per hour for the first child and $4 per hour for each additional sibling. The occasional "Curfew Extended Parties" for kids are held within Camp Carnival from 10 p.m. - midnight (babysitting fees still apply).
Circle C, located off the atrium on Deck 8 (Atlantic), is the spot for the "tween" 12 - 14 set. A major focus here is on video games and movies, with Nintendo Wii consoles and a decent selection of games on offer. Other tween activities include dance parties (hosted at one of the ship's dance clubs before the adults take over), sand art making, build your own pizza, group mini-golf, T-shirt decorating and waterslide races. The 12 - 14 set (as well as the older teens) can come and go as they please.
The 15- to 17-year olds can make use of Club 02, located up a deck from the tweens on Deck 9 (Promenade). Like Circle C, Club O2 has Nintendo Wii's for video gaming and big-screen TV's for movie watching. Club 02 also has its own dance floor and "mocktail bar" with various Coke products. Other teen offerings include pool parties, mock casino night, Rockband Karaoke and a selection of board games.
Next to Club 02 is a small 24-hour video game arcade featuring the typical mix of car racing and first-person shooter games (killing big bucks or criminals); games are $1.25 per play. Parents take note: Each child's sail and sign card comes with a set spending limit of $20 per day; this can be raised or lowered to any amount at the parents' discretion.
Expect to find people from many walks of life traveling in groups, a couple of in-their-own-world honeymooners, some first-time cruisers and a lot of repeat passengers. Because of this broad sweep of passengers, ages skew all over the board. Most appear to be in the 40 to 60 age group.
This is a casual ship so shorts, T-shirts and sandals seem to be the uniform of the day, everyday. Long pants are appropriate at dinner. Formal nights on Ecstasy don't seem to require a tux. A suit or sport jacket and slacks are the option most men choose, while women dress up a bit more. You can dine in swimwear at the Lido or around the pool. Wear a cover-up.
Standard Oceanview cabins are 190 square ft. and inside cabins are 185 square ft. Most the ship's cabins feature twin beds, combined into an extremely comfortable king-size bed. Carnival's Comfort Bed is a new sleep system that is on a par with those in five-star hotels.
Cabins offer good lighting for reading in bed. New flat-screen television sets are wall-mounted. Oceanview cabins and higher feature bathrobes, but don't expect hair dyers, so pack your own. Only top-priced cabins have a verandah. Amenities include wall-installed, in-shower bath gel and shampoo, plus a basket of sample-size goodies, including Crest toothpaste, Tylenol, Tums, razors, etc.
Triples and quads accommodate the needs of three or four people traveling together. These cabins go quickly -- especially over school holiday periods -- so book early. Interestingly, all of Carnival's Fantasy-class ships have cabins that can accommodate five -- very unusual in the industry. It goes without saying that this can be quite appealing to families.
Twenty cabins have been designed for physically challenged guests.
Closet and drawer space is standard. A safe, which guests can program individually, is located in each cabin.
Suites on the ship were redone during the refurbishment program.
Launderettes are situated throughout the ship.
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