Booked the cruise online just a couple months before sailing. Traveled with my husband as well as my parents. This was the first cruise for all of us, and was selected based on ports of call and price. We arrived in San Juan Saturday evening and stayed at Hotel Casablanca in Old San Juan. Awesome location - we walked to the ship the next day. Hotel is nothing fancy (although the lobby is decorated really cool). There is no elevator, the "continental breakfast" is toast and Raisin Bran (my husband loved the coffee though), and my parents had issues with their shower. But for one night, it worked just fine (we're not picky). And like I said, it was great to stay close to the ship. Sunday morning, we tossed all our luggage in the hotel "holding office" and headed to Castillo San Felipe del Morro. Very cool fort - the views were awesome, and my family enjoyed learning about the history. We returned to the hotel, grabbed our luggage and headed to the ship around 1-2pm. (FYI, rolling your luggage down hills on cobblestone streets may not be the most fun for some people, so you may prefer to take a cab).
Embarkation was easy (new experience for us, but pretty easy to follow). We each bought a bottle of wine at CVS (near the ship) and had no problem taking it on board in our carry-on. Our rooms were ready right away, so we stopped by, dropped of our carry-ons and headed to lunch at the Mediterranean (buffet). Overall, the buffet was ok. For me, the food wasn't "WOW", but everyone always had plenty of choices, and I wasn't really expecting "WOW" anyway. The lines were never very long for us either. After lunch, we headed back to our rooms. Our luggage still hadn't arrived, so we put on our swimsuits and headed up to the Serenity adults only area (some friends had recommended this). Really nice area with lots of comfy beds, hammocks, etc. No pool though - just hot tubs. Our luggage arrived before dinner, so we settled in. We had an interior room on Deck 1 and really had no major complaints about it. It was plenty big, and the bed was pretty comfortable. Overall, it was very clean and our room steward, Juste (who was always so friendly!) did a great job! The bathroom is not real attractive and the shower tiles were a little gross, but it was totally fine for us. We did bring an alarm clock (no clock in the room), I brought my own shampoo/soap/etc. (because I prefer that), but there was shampoo and conditioner in the shower already. I actually brought one of those over-the-door shoe hangers to stash all of my toiletries, etc. and it worked really well to keep things off the counters (although probably not necessary). I was surprised that there was a desk/vanity area next to the bed with mirrors, outlets, and a bench to do hair/make-up etc. That was nice. Toward the end of the trip, we were starting to miss seeing the light of day from our stateroom, but for the price, I would get an interior room again for sure.
I realized when we got our Sign & Sail cards, that I had booked our reservations separately and we had, therefore, been seated at separate tables for dinner at the early dining time (we had been waitlisted for anytime dining, but preferred to eat later rather than earlier). We spoke with the Maitre'd the first day, and he ended up getting us a table together for the late dining time. We were very grateful for this accommodation. It worked out great for us to have late dining. We got back on the ship each day around 5pm and had time to nap, shower, get ready, etc. then go to dinner. Only downside: we missed the sunsets and didn't see many of the shows. The food in the dining room was pretty good overall (always plenty of choices!). I enjoyed a lot of the appetizers (ordered 2 on most nights!) We really enjoyed the lobster night (our waiter Reynaldo, brought us 3 extra plates of it without even asking! ha!). Ray, his partner Nesa, and Oleg (the bar server) were all great! We were greeted and served right away after sitting down each night, and it was hilarious watching them dance and sing!
The shows we did see were great. Felipe, the cruise director, was a great host! Really funny! We saw one of the comedians too - he was pretty good. We were a bit disappointed with the piano bar. I had heard that it was so much fun and THE place to hang out, but that was not the case. The piano player was not very good, and he was playing the same song (Elton John) every time we walked by. We spent most of our time on the Promenade deck - in the casino area (had fun playing blackjack!). This is where they have sushi from 5-8pm. That was a nice feature. I'm by no means a sushi expert, but it was pretty good and there was no extra charge for it. There was also usually some form of live entertainment in this area. Didn't like the smoking, but can't have everything I guess.
I was pleasantly surprised that so many people dressed up on the "dress up nights". I had heard that people don't really wear formalwear on this cruise, but there were plenty of people that were dressed like they were going to a wedding. I wished I had brought nicer dresses. Other than that, I wore a lot of sun dresses or nice tops w/ skirts or capris. My dad and husband wore dress shirts with khakis or khaki shorts.
-we did have some trouble finding a place to sit on the "sea day", but ultimately found a big bed in the adult Serenity area
-muster drill was a bit disorganized and took about 1/2 hour
-my husband and my dad thoroughly enjoyed the 24 hour pizza by the aft pool
-I enjoyed the chocolate covered strawberries at the Coral Sea Cafe (although the carrot cake was disappointing)
-we were concerned about getting sea sick. No one did (although we enjoyed fewer alcoholic beverages than we probably would have because we didn't want to push it). The weather wasn't perfect (we could feel the ship rocking pretty much all the time) but it was tolerable. Had trouble sleeping on the last night though, because of the rocking/noise.
-there were sooo many different types of people on the ship that we had no trouble fitting in. Lots of kids (spring break), but they were usually kept busy with the kids activities
We did self disembark to ensure that we made it to our flight at 11:50am. This went so smoothly it was a joke. We were off the ship by 7:30 and to the airport by 8:15 (twiddling our thumbs). We took a cab (it was like $30 for the 4 of us and our luggage). Probably could have done the regular disembark (we were assigned zone 3 because of our early flight departure time), but it was nice for us to be able to keep our luggage in our sight the whole time (I'm kind of weird about handing over my luggage! ha!).
We would cruise with Carnival again. For us, the itinerary is what makes our decision (the ship/cruise line comes in second). Would like to try another cruise line just for comparison, but would have no reservations booking with Carnival again!