In August 2017, I ventured aboard Carnival Ecstasy for the first time 22 years. Way back in 1995, I went on my first cruise aboard Carnival Ecstasy. At the time, she was a new ship and was considered to be a pretty big ship. Fast forward to 2017, Carnival Ecstasy is much older and much smaller than most cruise ships sailing today. How did this affect my experience onboard this ship for the second time? Let’s find out!
The Journey to Carnival Ecstasy
This cruise was unique for me. I have flown to Florida for each of the cruises I’ve taken the past few years. This was the first cruise I drove to, and what a drive it was! The drive from my home to Carnival Ecstasy’s home port of Charleston, South Carolina was 11 hours! 11 hours with me, myself, and I. I admit, it wasn’t so bad. Jamming out to my music, the drive went by fairly quickly. Luckily I avoided traffic throughout most of my journey, so I always felt like I was making progress during my drive.
Charleston, South Carolina
I stayed overnight in Charleston the night before the cruise. This gave me some breathing room in case anything went wrong on the drive down to the port. (I always fly down the day before a cruise too.) During my one night in Charleston I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on Savannah Highway. When I was there (August 2017), they were just finishing up renovations to the building. Everything looked new and fresh. The rooms were updated, the public areas looked great. You can expect to find a lot of USB ports in your room; and they’re everywhere too so it’s very convenient. On your bed, take notice of the pillows labeled “soft” and “firm”. Not bad for a budget hotel!
My one-night stay ran me $139 plus tax, and this came with breakfast, free transfers to and from the ship, and free parking for the duration of the cruise. A great deal, in my opinion! The breakfast was above average for a budget hotel. It included the usual suspects: cereals, bagels, oatmeal, coffee, tea, juices, etc. Also included with the breakfast were some hot treats you may not normally find at a free hotel breakfast: bacon, sausage, pre-cooked cheese omelets, and warm cinnamon buns which were pretty good! The transfers were prompt and the driver was nice. Parking was fine. I parked under a lamp post to be on the safe side though. Overall, if you’re looking for a one-night pre-cruise stay in Charleston, I would definitely recommend the Holiday Inn Express on Savannah Highway.
How Does Carnival Ecstasy Hold Up Nowadays?
As I mentioned, I was on this ship 22 years ago. She’s an oldie for sure! Being a smaller cruise ship, Carnival Ecstasy doesn’t have all the bells and whistles the new behemoths have. If you need ropes courses, rock climbing walls, and a dozen different restaurants to choose from, look elsewhere. Carnival Ecstasy is not for you. But if you just need a cruise, any cruise, (like me) and you’re looking to have fun, Carnival Ecstasy does the job!
Food and Entertainment Options
In terms of entertainment, she features many of Carnival Cruise Line’s old standbys, like water slides (for kids and kids-at-heart), pools, a comedy club, a plethora of bars, a gym & spa, kids clubs, show lounge, casino, mini golf, and more. Trivia is held daily, multiple times a day, on a variety of topics. There are poolside contests, stage shows, comedy shows, and so many more entertainment options onboard.
While she may not have the variety of restaurants many newer cruise ships have, Carnival Ecstasy has quite a few options for a smaller ship. In addition to the usual main dining room and buffet, you can also grab a burger at Guy’s Burger Joint, burritos and tacos at the Blue Iguana Cantina, pizza is available nearly 24/7, and there is a deli as well. For dessert, you will find soft serve ice cream and frozen yogurt machines in the buffet area, available 24/7. And the best part? All of these food options are included with your cruise fare!
Despite her small size, Carnival Ecstasy holds up pretty well to the larger cruise ships out there today. In my post about large vs. small cruise ships, I go into more detail about certain ways that I actually preferred the smaller Carnival Ecstasy over her larger counterparts.
The Ports of Call
Princess Cays was our first port of call this cruise. A private island owned by Carnival Corporation and Princess Cruises (hence the name), this port reminded me of my favorite beach, Half Moon Cay. The main attraction here is the beach. The beach offers a wonderful view the cruise ship anchored at sea, and there are some rocky outcroppings you can swim out to. From what I heard, the snorkeling at the rocks was pretty good! This beach was very nice, but it just didn’t beat the sand at Half Moon Cay. However, I would definitely come back to Princess Cays again for the beach and its view!
There is a small shopping area at the port, and there is also a lunch pavilion right nearby where a buffet lunch is served for beach-goers. Just like at Half Moon Cay, there are plenty of private cabanas for rent right on the beach. You reserve the cabanas as a shore excursion, so book early because the cabanas sell out quickly! Cabanas can be found on the main beach and also further down the beaten path in an adults-only beach area called the Sanctuary.
Our second port of call on this cruise was Freeport, Bahamas. I have been to this port a couple times now, and I have come to the conclusion that for me personally this is a throwaway port. If you just want to walk around the port area, there’s not much going on. No beach, no city streets, just a smallish shopping area with a couple eateries. I enjoy walking around the shopping area for a little bit, but there’s only so much shopping one guy can do! If you want to do something at this port, even just a beach, you’ll need to book an excursion.
My usual pastime at Freeport is watching the cargo ships coming in and out of port nearby and watching the containers get loaded on and off the ships. Freeport is a busy port for freight, so there’s never a shortage of cargo ships at this port.
My favorite thing about this port is the chance to see a cruise ship in drydock (when ships are taken out of the water and refurbished). Several cruise lines send ships here to be cleaned up for weeks at a time. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of one of these ships. I was the lucky guy a couple years ago when I saw Carnival Valor in drydock.
I snapped the photo to the right while I was in Freeport in 2016 on my Carnival Sunshine cruise. To date, this is one of my favorite cruise ship photos. As a guy who is fascinated with cruise ships, it was awesome to see a ship out of water and being painted, surrounded by cranes, with lifeboats taken down.
Carnival Ecstasy provided a nice change of pace from the larger cruise ships I have been sailing on the past few years. Despite her small size, she managed to entertain and safely took us to a couple nice ports of call. Charleston was a great home port that I will definitely take into consideration again in the future. Speaking of ports, I can’t wait to return to Princess Cays one day!
Have you ever sailed on Carnival Ecstasy? Have you been to Princess Cays or Freeport, or sailed out of Charleston? Share your thoughts in the comments!