Who we are: We are a group of moms and kids ranging in age from 20 months - 65 years, staying in cabins from insides to suites. There were 17 in our group. We have all cruised many times before, for me personally, this was a first cruise with Carnival and I was apprehensive about trying them. The week we sailed was a busy school vacation week with many children on board, which we like.
Embarkation: What can I say, the worst I've ever experienced. Chaotic, crowded, and extremely LONG! We arrived to the terminal at 11:20 am, and didn't get to our cabin until 12:50, so it took an hour and a half. Needless to say I was not in a mood to put on a happy face for the photographers who were further holding up the endless line by taking embarkation photos before people boarded. I would hope that Carnival would rethink this in an effort to speed things up, but I doubt it as it is one of many revenue generating ploys we would encounter onboard.
Cabin: I shared an outside cabin on deck one with my 2 sons. The cabin was the most spacious standard outside I've ever seen, very roomy, nicely decorated with very comfortable beds. They also had a nice little basket of amenities waiting in the bathroom. Our cabin stewards were excellent, they were very unobtrusive and quickly took care of anything we needed. I spent a lot of time on my friend's balcony, she had a suite, and it was nice to get away from the crowds on the upper decks. We ordered snacks from room service several times in lieu of lunch and had them with the wine we brought from home. I also packed a corkscrew.
My sister had the crib for my nephew waiting in her cabin, and they had already emptied and opened her refrigerator so she could store milk and juice. They do this whenever an infant occupies a room, it's very thoughtful to have this done without asking.
I think the cabins and cabin service where one of the nicest I've experienced, with the exception of the Disney Magic's which are outstanding.
Public Areas: This needs improvement, although I don't know how on this densely populated of a ship. The dEcor was a little too Las Vegas tacky for my taste, but the real problem was the lack of quiet seating areas. There was no place to go to escape the crowds and noise, unless you had a large private balcony. This isn't a ship for anyone looking to relax, it's a fun ship, particularly if your idea of fun is loud music, crowds and lots of drinking....live and learn.
We did manage to find deck space on the Sun deck where we weren't packed like sardines and that had some shade, that was our saving grace. Also, the blaring music was more subdued there. I actually saw people come out of the Spa area to the Lido pool area and cover their ears, that's how loud it was. You literally couldn't carry on a conversation without shouting. Carnival really needs to lower the volume. I called the purser's desk to ask why it was so loud and was told "because people like it". I told them no one asked me if I liked it, nor did they ask any of the 17 members of our group, none of whom appreciated it. Did they ask you?
Dining: The food was better than I expected. The Red Sail had great Deli sandwiches, excellent fresh fruit, and some really tasty fish-n-chips. One of the better buffets I've had, probably because of all the choices. I never ate the actual buffet food, because the options I mentioned were so good. Also, the deli is always open.
Breakfast in the buffet was good, I had an omelet made every day. The coffee was lousy though, and I didn't have any the whole week. Juice was available all day, which is nice.
Breakfast in the dining room was disappointing and not worth the wait. On other cruises we like to eat breakfast in the dining room because they typically had things like banana pancakes, strawberry French toast, Belgian waffles, etc. that you couldn't find in the buffet. On Carnival there wasn't anything in the dining room you couldn't get in the buffet, not even decent strawberry jam (they only serve strawberry jelly). It takes forever, so in my opinion, it's not worth the wait. They even serve the same "fake eggs" that the buffet does. Don't waste your time.
We had dinner in the Platinum room at a great corner table. Our waiter, Michael, was wonderful, it's too bad they paired him with an inept assistant. I can't even recall her name as we saw so little of her. We tipped him extra.
I found many things I liked, the prime rib, lobster, filet mignon and penne with eggplant (which could be ordered as an appetizer), rolls and all the fish were great. I can't complain about the food, it was good, and I consider myself to be pretty picky.
Entertainment: This is another area that could use improvement. There were only two production shows the entire week. I can't think of any other cruise that I've been on with so few. They were good, but there wasn't much in the way of entertainment the rest of the week. One night we had a good singer, and I heard the late-night comedian was great, but not everyone can stay awake until midnight. Ironically, my kids could stay up for the R-rated show, but we adults could not.
Carnival, why not have an earlier comedy show? Four nights of the cruise there was absolutely NO entertainment before midnight in the Amber Palace, unless you count Butch teaching passengers how to dance as entertainment. I call it a cheap way to fill time. You can do better, beef up the entertainment and hold it earlier for the early diners who don't want to gamble and drink until midnight. Even the disco didn't open until 11:00 or 12:00 am. Again, everyone in our group had the same complaint. We can't be the only non-night owls out there.
Kids: The older children had a ball, and never used the kids programs. My 12 year-old had his 2 best friends with him on this cruise, they played cards, swam, used the slide, saw the shows, watched movies, played ping-pong, etc. My 15 year old ran into a bunkmate from his camp and I barely saw him the rest of the week, except for dinners.
This trip was most disappointing for my little nephews. The kiddie pool was closed the entire week so they were unable to swim, something that would have happily occupied them for hours. We kept asking when it would be open, and got responses ranging from "Oh, it's closed?", to "Maybe there aren't enough kids onboard for them to open it". Huh, it's spring break, the place was crawling with kids. Turns out it was closed for maintenance yet we never once saw anyone so much as look at it. We were parked near it on deck 12 all week and no one cared enough to look into it. We found out it had been closed the previous week, so I can't understand why, if a part was needed, the part was unable to be brought onboard in Port Canaveral. I get the impression it just wasn't a priority, meanwhile, the small kids (who pay full fare) were unable to swim the entire week. This is a cruise with 4 sea days mind you, and really impacted their trip.
My 4 year old nephew went to the kids club several times, but didn't love it. I can't really say how it compared to other lines, maybe he was too young or maybe it wasn't as good, but when my children were younger, I couldn't get them away from the kids clubs on Disney and RCCL.
Disembarkation: Again, the worst I've ever encountered. In fairness, this was also the largest cruise ship I've been on, but it was very disorganized. We self-disembarked, but the minute we got near the disembarkation deck, there was a bottleneck and a very, very long line. I recommend you either self-disembark and be the first ones off (we apparently waited too long), or sit it out and be one of the last ones off. Otherwise, you will stand in line and wait. And wait. And wait.....
Conclusion: I've learned that Carnival probably isn't my first choice of a cruise line. It's a little too loud (both visually and auditory), too crowded, not enough light, open spaces and attracted a different crowd than what I'm used to...the food was good, the service was good, but I think I'm more of a Celebrity/HAL/Princess style of cruiser. Would I cruise them again? Possibly, if it was a price I couldn't refuse on a Spirit class ship, but I have to say I give the edge to other lines.