Note: I am currently sailing a 5-day Mexican cruise aboard Carnival’s oldest ship — Carnival Ecstasy, a trip that cost only $14 per day in cruise fare. Each day I cover the experience, giving you an inside peek at what it’s like to sail this trip.
You can view other days here:
- (Live Blog Day 2) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: Neon, Gambling, and The Beatles
- (Live Blog Day 3) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: My Own Beach in Cozumel?!
- (Live Blog Day 4) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: An Amazing Excursion… That Cost More than the Cruise
- (Live Blog Day 5) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: Last Day. Would I Do It Again?!
When it comes to vacations, it’s well known that cruising offers one of the best values you can find. You get a room, meals, entertainment, and transportation to exotic ports of call… all for usually less than a fraction of what you’d spend on a normal vacation.
That’s not to say every cruise is inexpensive, but if you’re wanting to have a good time for not a lot of money, then it’s hard to beat.
But then there are deals that are so laughably absurd that they sound too good to be true. I’m talking about a cruise for not just less than a traditional vacation, but less than the cost of a plane ticket. A cruise where it actually costs less to get to the port than it does to sail away.
That’s what I recently found from Carnival.
Carnival is well known for being a budget cruise line. It’s not unusual to find cruise fare starting at a couple of hundred bucks. But a couple of months ago I saw a deal even I had never seen priced that low.
It was a trip aboard Carnival for a five-day cruise, with the fare starting at just $70 per person. That comes out to just $14 a day.
Sailing From Mobile on a 31-Year-Old Ship
Needless to say, with the cruise fare so low, I jumped at the deal.
Now, you likely know the headline price of a cruise is just a fraction of what you’ll pay in total. First, cruise fare is priced per person. So right off the bat, the fare doubled to $140 — despite taking this trip solo. And then, you have to add in port fees and taxes — another $92.
Even so, all together to sail for five days, I paid $232, or just $46 per day.
As you might expect, this cheap trip isn’t aboard Carnival’s biggest and newest ship. In fact, it’s sailing aboard Carnival Ecstasy from Mobile, Alabama.
Ecstasy first started sailing in 1991, or more than 30 years ago. Its first sailing was when George Bush was President… no not that one… his father. It first sailed more than three years before Friends premiered. And Beanie Babies — the quintessential ’90s fad — had even been invented yet.
In fact, Carnival has already announced that the ship will be retired in October. So the ship I’m sailing right now won’t even be in the fleet in a few weeks.
This cruise departs Mobile, followed by a day at sea before visiting Cozumel, then Progreso. The trip has another day at sea before returning to Alabama.
Arriving at the Terminal
I’ll admit, paying so little for a cruise on a ship that’s more than three decades old… there was some trepidation. So what’s it like so far? Let’s just say, it’s not what I expected.
First, to get to Mobile I hopped a quick flight to Alabama, arriving just before noon. Arriving, it’s obvious that things move a little slower down here. The airport seemed to double in size when just our small commuter jet arrived.
I booked shuttle transportation through Carnival, and finding my ride wasn’t hard — there was literally one person at arrivals and she was holding a small sign for Carnival passengers. It’s a far cry from flying into Miami!
From there, I headed out to the shuttle and was the only person waiting. I talked up the driver, who was a super-friendly Mobile native who shared stories about his travels (including seeing Tina Turner, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Sly and the Family Stone in concert back in 1971) while we waited on other passengers.
And waited… and waited. All told, I ended up waiting an hour for the next plane to arrive. At least I had some good company with the driver to pass the time. Finally, two other passengers loaded up in the small shuttle, and then the three of us and the driver headed to the port.
I will have to say that check-in at a cruise terminal is normally not much to write about. Sure, some terminals like newbuilds in Miami are beautiful, but it’s normally check your documents, take a picture, get on the ship.
It was largely the same in Mobile, except I was blown away by how friendly all the staff seemed to be. Every person seemed approachable, patient, and friendly as hundreds of people made their way to get onboard. It’s something that definitely stuck out to me.
After check-in, it was time to see exactly what I got myself into as I boarded Ecstasy.
First Impressions of the Oldest Carnival Ship
Now, I’ve been on lots of cruise ships across all sorts of cruise lines. I will say that immediately stepping aboard, I realized I have never been on a ship like this one.
My expectation? With such an old ship and the fact that it is about to leave the fleet, I figured it would be shabby and run-down. That’s not the case.
Don’t get me wrong, it does show plenty of age. The wood decks need a lot of work. There’s wear and tear in the cabin. But I’m actually amazed that it can look like this after three decades at sea. (I will say that some other passengers I talked to weren’t as impressed.) I think it does help that the ship looks like it recently got a fresh coat of paint.
What’s really catching my attention so far, however, is that the ship feels like a time capsule, and I’m all for it.
Normally when a ship is refurbished, that means tearing out many places and starting over. Here, it seems like it meant refurbishing what existed. There is a definite 1990s style to the ship.
That means lots of bright colors and lots of mirrored surfaces. And while things like the cabin hallways are wider, in general things feel more cramped than on a newer ship.
Having the ship be in such a dated ’90s style — but still looking kept up — makes it unique. Instead of having a bunch of trendy muted browns and grays you see with contemporary style on ships, Ecstasy stands out. It’s a step back in time in many ways. Do I want every ship to look like this? No way, but it’s fun to experience before it goes away.
But one other thing I’m noticing is that as you would expect, there’s not near the amount of amenities and activities as with a modern ship. For instance, there’s one specialty restaurant on the ship — and it’s quick-serve sushi (don’t worry, there is a Guy’s Burger Joint!). Pool deck activities include the pool, a small waterpark for kids, and a mini-golf course. That’s it.
So while there are things to do, it’s nowhere near what you’d expect from a newer ship.
Spending My First Day on Board (Including a Nighttime Surprise)
Today I simply got to know the ship by exploring. A quick lunch of tacos at BlueIguana after boarding held me over for the sail away party, which was as lively as you’d expect on any Carnival cruise. With a little less space, the pool deck seemed extra packed.
If there’s one place that’s caught my eye so far on Ecstasy, it’s the Neon Piano Bar. I’ve never seen this on any other Carnival ship that I’ve sailed. It’s a piano bar (which is common) but decorated with massive neon signs that take up the walls of the entire place. It looks to be a fantastic place to have a good time.
Dinner was in the main dining room where I had a decent plate of chicken parmesan (not the best, not the worst) followed by some fantastic tiramisu.
The evening then turned into something special, unexpectedly.
First, after dinner, I simply took in the ship on that first day at sea when everything is buzzing. I walked through the packed casino. I had a mojito in the Chinatown Lounge (a hangout that’s themed like 1940s Chinatown, complete with paper lanterns and a dragon across the ceiling) while watching karaoke. I sat in on some bingo.
But to finish off the evening, I simply took a walk out around the pool deck of the ship, drink in hand. I always like heading out here at night because it’s so different than during the day. At night, it’s largely empty, quiet, and calm.
Anyone that’s cruised knows that despite being at sea, the light pollution of the ship makes it hard to see many stars. But on Ecstasy, there is a spot that’s forward on the ship that has almost no light at all. The only illumination comes from the mini-golf course that’s also behind a wall.
The result? A spot where the ship gets dark… and the sky lights up.
While by the pool, I could see only a few of the brightest stars. Here, I could see the glow of the Milky Way across the night sky, thousands of stars, and even spotted a satellite crossing overhead.
That view alone definitely gave me my $14 worth today.
- On our way out of Mobile, we passed by what looked like a military shipyard. Docked there was the the U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Comfort — which sailed to New York during the start of the Covid pandemic to render aid. Very cool to see.
- One interesting thing about Ecstasy is that the deck levels aren’t referred to by numbers all the time. Instead, they have names like Riviera Deck, Atlantic Deck, Empress Deck, etc. Even the floors listed above the elevator show “3 R M U E A P” instead of “3 4 5 6 7 8 9”. It honestly doesn’t make sense to not use numbers!
Tomorrow the ship is at sea.