Preliminarily, this was my second cruise (the first being a Caribbean one on Royal Caribbean). However, I have travelled extensively throughout Europe on business and I am a seasoned traveller. The decision to book on Carnival was not my own, but I was part of a group of about 12 persons which included my partner. I exclude from this review any commentary about ports or Carnival organized excursions (we organized all of of our own, at significantly reduced prices). I'll also say that I am in my mid-to-late 20's: I'm not being an old crabby person when I complain about a lack of formality, quiet spaces, children, etc. I've got my fair share of patience and I am not wealthy.
This was the Breeze's second sailing, Barcelona->Barcelona with ports in Marseilles, Pisa, Rome, Venice, Dubrovinik, Palma de Mallorca, et al. It was a 12 night cruise with 8 ports (I believe). We set sail on 6/12; you can look it up.
On the whole, I would characterize the experience as "mediocre." Many parts of the ship left me feeling underwhelmed, but the nice ports and time spent off ship contributed to a generally positive feeling. Were there more sea days or was I on a less engaging itinerary, I believe this review would be far more negative. I apologize for my rather disjoint comments, but a bulleted list is the most convenient way for me to discuss the experience:
* I really enjoyed the Piano '88 bar and pianist Ron Pass. This is how most of my evenings were spent. A young guy, he lacked the smoky gruff I've become accustomed to in piano men, but he could do a dead-on Elton John. He was a bit repetitive night after night, but I understand that tips dictate his play list. This venue attracted its fair share of nightly regulars.
* I'd heard rumours of Carnival as the "discount cruise line" and moreso than the staff and experience it was the other clientÃ¨le who reinforced this notion for me. Dining room dress code was generally ignored (nor was it enforced) and there was a general lack of decorum elsewhere. Being American, some portion of this could be attributed to European customs (European passengers were 1/3+ of our ship; the Russian contingent was also significant). While I respect their different beliefs, the occasional lack of decorum for queueing and personal space was a bit off putting.
* Our group took formal dining every evening. Props to our server Tomaz and his attentiveness and patience with special requests. I wouldn't call the food "excellent", but it was generally "good", and there were some very nice presentations and a nice variety of selections (including an "every day" menu featuring some staples). I would encourage people to avoid the "comfort items", which seemed to have an over-emphasis on portion size and fried food. The tiramisu was absolutely delicious. Order meat one degree more rare than what you'd actually like to get.
* Main auditorium entertainment was underwhelming both in selection and execution. My favorite was "The Brits", a show featuring Beatles tunes and others from the same era. There is something to be said for that fact that half of this show was projected on a giant screen (and not sung live) -- and it was still the best. The "Divas" show was also said to be respectable; with the magic act and talent show well below par.
* Children. Children. Children. They are everywhere. They are loud. When sea days roll around (or the various "Camp Carnival" events let out for the night) they were everywhere. There is an adults only pool area (impossible to find a seat on sea days). Besides that, nowhere was exempt from the noise. Though the library bar is quite a nice space, it was full of kids playing games. I could find nowhere to get work done outside my cabin. With two of us trying to work, this meant one of us got the cabin desk and the other had to sit in the bed -- which wasn't very conducive to productivity. A simple adults only area could go a long ways in improving this.
* I attended about ~3 comedy shows. On my particular cruise there seemed to be an over-emphasis on British comedians. Their slang and style seemed to go over the head of many in the audience. Some American comedians came on board later into our cruise, but I cannot offer comment on their performances.
* The "Punchliner Comedy Brunch" offered on sea days in the main dining room was a pretty nice meal and alternative to Lido deck breakfast. However, the comedy component was nothing to be impressed with (a 5 minute advertisement occurring once hourly). Actually, try to avoid it, as the servers tend to step aside while the performance is under way.
* Regarding lido deck dining: We were usually in a hurry to get off the ship at port (and I am not the best early riser). Breakfast lines were pretty large, but going to the Blue Iguana Cantina (mexican station) was a nice opportunity to *quickly* get a wrapped breakfast burrito that could be taken off ship. It had far shorter lines than the standard breakfast offerings and was pretty delicious.
* We disembarked around 8AM for most ports and were back on board ~3-4PM. Having eaten breakfast, we didn't really take lunch in ports. Starving back on board, dining options were extremely limited around this time. It was either do Guy's Burgers (grease-fest) or wait in line for the limited deli options (cooked on demand).
* Late night dining was also a disappointment. The pizza joint was open 24 hours and was quite good. Unfortunately, lines were long as they seemed to insist on cooking pizzas to order. The itinerary did mention "late night snacks from midnight-2AM". To the best of my searching, this did not exist on the first half of our cruise. When it did show up on the second half, it consisted of (1) hot dogs, (2) buffalo chicken sandwiches, and (3) potato chips -- EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Just call 24 hour room service and throw them a Euro or 2; they have more healthy, fresh, and prompt offerings. More often, I fixed a plate when lido dinner opened @ 5:30 or 6:00 (prior to my 8:15 late formal dining) and threw it in the cabin mini-fridge and ate it when my midnight or 1AM cravings rolled around.
* Internet service was "decent". Satellite internet obviously comes with challenges and is inevitably frustrating. I did pricing per the minute (no pre-bought package) @ $0.75 minute, and was generally able to complete an email check in ~3 minutes time. In the more mundane ports, I found a cafe, had a drink, and drained the bandwidth out of their free wifi connections.
* Our ability to bring alcohol onboard was absolutely unrestricted. We disembarked with a large amount in a disguised fashion, and when that ran out, we brought it on in water bottles. Never a single question or inspection. Maybe it was just super hot and they were encouraging hydration, maybe it was European attitudes, I don't know; YMMV. Good luck. P.S. If you're American, don't buy booze and check it across the pond. We were able to buy completely respectable 750ml vodka (Smirnoff quality) at 3.33EURO in a Barcelona supermarket which we used to fill disguised bottles (and got over 3 gallons on board).
* Though crowded on sea days, I quite enjoyed the pools. Shaded seating areas existed (able to put your feet in the water), very shallow pool areas in which to lounge and read, and in-pool seating were a nice touch. Lounge chairs suffered from the usual limited availability and rude "towel-down" reservation system. This was even worse in the adults-only area which featured nice couches, hammocks, and covered round seating (should you be able to get one).
* Umbrella tables and the more relaxed (but pool-less) 5th deck attitude was a whole lot better than that up top. I gave the Sky Course (rope course), slides, and etc. a try -- but they weren't as important to me as if, say, I was travelling with children. Lines didn't seem too extreme for these offerings.
* My experience with crew was almost universally positive. Granted, this was the ship's second sailing and they probably still had their "A team" on board. Our cabin steward was a bit too "hands on" (endlessly knocking when we were showering to talk to us). He also created some of the most abstract and nondescript towel animals I've ever seen..
* During lido lunch dining there is a free "pasta bar" upstairs at Cucina de Capito (which at dinner becomes a premium restaurant). Few people seem to know this and it comes highly recommended. I also heard "C side BBQ", open only sea days, was quite good, but didn't want to brave the lines.
* Given the price point, I found our interior cabin quite spacious and well appointed (robes!). We were at the extreme stern of the ship and we did have some mild temperature issues. Our AC was at full blast, but our room never really got cold. Granted, it was a 100 degree heat wave almost every day in Europe, but the bow of the ship didn't seem to suffer in the same way (where some of our party were staying). In fact, many of the cabin hallways had external blowers in place at night, though I was unable to conclude if this was to dry carpet cleaning or help with air circulation. We never really suffered, but after a 100 degree day in port, it wasn't the pleasant shock we desired, either. You must also have your ship-card in the slot for the A.C, to operate -- though any standard-sized card will work.
* Embarkation, disembarkation, and port calls were all quite reasonable and prompt. Announcements seemed to indicate a bit of trouble with some of the Carnival-sponsored shuttles, but we didn't take any of those. There was a general strike in Venice, but this was outside Carnival's control and they seemed to do a quite respectable job in trying to circumnavigate the matter.
* A special shout out to "The Taylor's" who amazingly managed not to arrive back on board on time for 3 CONSECUTIVE DAYS (but always made departure). I am sure they got quite a lecture from the staff.
* We didn't really participate in too many of the minor on-ship activities. We did give trivia a whirl twice and were unimpressed. First, the hosts had no idea what they were doing (they couldn't pronounce some things correctly during "culinary trivia"). Second, it seems Carnival doesn't mix up the questions much. Some 14 year-old pr*ck aced virtually every question because he had been on a prior cruise with the exact same questions (and still got a trophy!).
* Why the paid locations such as the "Red Frog Pub" and "Bonsai Sushi" exist is beyond me. I noticed more staff were using these empty locations than paying customers. Surely, this space could be utilized in a more engaging way. (Poolside bars were doing fine business, though). Same with the 4D theatre.
* Lemonade, iced tea, water, and coffee are the free beverage offerings. This is fine. However, is is too much to ask to have an ice machine at every beverage station? There is also some disconnect. A large number of juices are free at formal breakfast and via room service; but you will be charged when you try to order them at a bar.
Sorry for tending to place an emphasis on the negative aspects here -- but that is my nature (and Carnival promotional materials will happily tell you everything they are doing right). The southern Med. ports were awesome and spending 2/3 of my non-sleeping time in port, I was quite satisfied with my vacation. If a similar cruise line had the same itinerary at a similar price point, though, I'd certainly give it a try before doing Carnival again. Again, the negativity seemed to stem more from fellow cruisers than the physical ship or its staff.