We are first time cruisers...a single mom with two teenage boys (15 and 18). The reason we booked this cruise was value. For an inside room it was less than $900.00.
We had a fairly smooth departure from Miami. Be sure to take a taxi ($24.00) instead of the cruise line transportation ($18 per person). They let us off out front and it was fairly smooth transition to the ship (just like going to the airport). We did not check our bags and your room will not be available until 1:30 so unless you want to cart them around you might be better off checking them. Lunch was served. The lines were long and seats were scarce.
Our room was a closet without windows. We didn't care because we only slept there. Actually we kinda liked the fact that it was so dark. Take a watch though because as soon as you leave port you are on "ship time" (your cell phone will show the time as 4 hours ahead). Also take a hair dryer if you use one. Although they said it was in the room on the brochure, this was not true and I had to call three times and wait 2 hours to get one.
Meals were fine. I am an early riser and there was plenty of food either upstairs or in the dining room. Gourmet coffee (you pay, regular coffee and juice was available. Line began to get long around 9ish. My boys slept late almost every day. We ate lunch at the buffet. They had a burger line which we didn't go to but we enjoyed the Mongolian Wok and the boys liked the pizza. We learned to arrive at the dining room for dinner early or there would be a wait. You get almost the same food at the buffet served upstairs. Service in the dining room was fine.
We do not drink soda. I drank wine (10.00 for the good stuff) and gratuity is right there on your stub. I think the drinks are around the same price if you went to a restaurant to eat.
My teenagers had a blast. There were tons of people their age on the ship and there are special "camps" for under 17 year olds. The Adult Comedy Show was good (the G-rated was lame). The shows were okay too. My kids enjoyed the karaoke. The pool was a joke...very, very small and the slide was there but it didn't even slide into a pool. Hot tubs? Well I wasn't real sure how sanitary they were so I stayed away. I went to the Serenity area (over 21) and the chairs were better there than anywhere on the ship. Lines get long for towels at times. Chairs during the peak hours are scarce. The DJ's were fun but the music seemed to be on a constant repeat. I now know all the words for about 6 songs.
Carnival will try to take your photo for everything. Every embarkation, disembarkation, dinner etc. there was a camera in your face. We just told them no or walked around the camera. No one was pushy.The stops were Key West, where we walked around for around an hour and got back on board. It was early in the morning so a lot of the stores were just opening up. If you were a party person who wanted to hit the bars, most of them weren't even open. The next stop was Cozumel. I had signed us up for a kayak and snorkeling trip to Chankanaab Park. First they walk you through a store (this is the only way off the pier) and you meet up with your tour guide. Not a lot of fish to be seen but my boys enjoyed it and they liked to kayak. I'm not sure it was worth what I paid but the park was beautiful. However I will get on my grandstand to say that they have dolphins here to swim and interact with people and these dolphin are kept in very small compounds.
Getting off the ship was fine. Again, we did not have checked bags so we sailed through customs.
I believe you get what you pay for and I did get what I paid for. My boys can eat, eat, eat and that's what they did. This cruise was a lot less than the cost of a hotel room and meals for us. The boys had tons of fun with people their age. We all got sun and rest (for Mom).