We took the 4 day Carnival cruise to Key West and Cozumel on July 16, 2012. We chose Carnival, quite simply, because of the value. We have cruised with them twice, and with young children, we feel like this is the best bang for your buck. We have looked at other cruise lines (obviously Disney among others)and will probably take one in the future....but Carnival doesn't disappoint...if you have realistic expectations. I have read reviews from others bashing this cruise line, and they usually are experienced cruisers who have sailed with other cruise lines. Then, they compare and complain, but forget the old adage, "you get what you pay for". They want Disney or Royal Caribbean quality at Carnival prices. It's like going from Macy's to Walmart. There's nothing wrong with Walmart...but it ain't Macy's. If you understand you are taking what I call a "value cruise", you will be fine.
Embarkation: We sailed from Miami this year and found it easier and much less hectic than Port Canaveral was last year. We arrived around 10:45 and had no wait in line, either at security or check in. We sat in the waiting area and were on the boat before noon. Having cruised the year before, we knew to go to the Lido deck for lunch...we were actually planning on skipping it, but with no lines, we decided to feed our kids before heading to the splash pool.
The kids loved the miniwater slides and we had a few drinks as the ship sailed before heading to our room.
Room: we went for an ocean view this time because there were limited balcony options...we had one last time. Didn't miss it much. The rooms are small, but I'm told they are on most lines. It was clean...and kept clean. Our room steward made a towel animal for each child each night and called us by name on our first day.
Crew: Most smiled and greeted you. I've read that they are not overly friendly, but I think that has a lot to do with the language barrier. They seemed to be working all the time.
the Camp Carnival staff are great. My wife and I are both teahcers and are skeptical of leaving our kids with others at times, but the staff is friendly and helpful. Our 5 year old loves camp carnival. The children are separated into appropriate age groups and I never saw less than two staff in the 2-5 year old room. Our 3 year old doesn't like to be away from us and only went for a half hour on the first day...but they knew his name and asked him daily if he would like to stay. When we would see the CC staff around the ship they would speak to our kids, calling them by name.
Food: Is it four star cuisine? No. Are there more than enough options for you to find something you want to eat? God yes. Again, it's a value cruise. The food in the main dining room is good. Not spectacular or great, but good enough. You have several options each night ranging from healthy to comfort foods. None of the meals knocked me off of my chair, but I didn't find any to be awful. The Lido restaurant is almost always open and you can wait in line for the cafeteria style food (which we almost never did)or get things like deli sandwhiches (good) or pizza (ok..but available all day). We had fresh omlettes every day for breakfast. It's almost embarassing, because if you don't like what you put on your plate, you leave it and get something else. The drinks may seem pricey to some, but if you go out at all, you know that they are not that overpriced...by the way, you are on vacation..what do you expect, a $2 beer?
We only saw one show...a comedy show in the family time slot at 8. A.J. Jamal, I believe was his name, was hilarious...would have loved to go back for the late show..but not an option with kids.
The pool is small and crowded, but we knew that going in, and chose the ship because of the water works for the kids...never have gone near the pool on either cruise. This seems like an area that Carnival should upgrade, if possible,on a smaller ship like this one.
The crowd ranges from young families to old families to young couples. I never saw groups 20 somethings or teenagers roaming drunk around the ship. I did see a drunk or two, but no more than you would expect at a ball game, concert or town festival where alcohol is served....some people just can't help themselves.
Excurusions: they are what you make of them. 7:30 was a bit early to get to Key West and it was a short stay..we took a trolley tour and were able to get on and off when we wanted to. In Cozumel, did a beach day..which the kids loved and had time to shop after.
Debarkation: had a full breakfast service in the Lido restaruant around 8:30, and waited to be called around 9:30... got bags, through customs, and directly onto our airport transfer (that we booked through Carnival this time..and I would recommend)