This was our second Carnival cruise and I think with Carnival, or any vacation, your expectations set the tone for the cruise. My wife and I are mid-30's and we took our 9 year old daughter. I don't think comparing Carnival to a more expensive cruise line is accurate -- they serve different target markets. If you spend the entire time looking for things to complain about -- food isn't 5-star gourmet, lines, having to abide by rules -- you'll have a miserable time. However, if you come on board looking to get decent meals and anticipating some hang-ups, you'll likely be satisfied.
We stayed at Harbor House and I strongly recommend doing so if you are driving down the night before. You can leave your car there during the cruise for an additional fee or take it to a shuttle parking lot for no additional cost. It was worth it to us to have the car within walking distance so we paid the extra money.
We left the hotel at 11am, dropped our bags at a porter, and were eating on the Lido deck at 11:30. Based on our past experience, we wanted to have the first day be pretty much sitting on the Lido deck so we boarded with swimsuits on and minimal baggage. Most people are wondering the ship, scoping everything out, so you can usually find a good set of chairs and start your vacation. Our daughter found a friend within an hour and spent the rest of the time going on the waterslide and pools.
FOOD: We had early dining in the Paris room. The staff, or at least the maitre d, seemed to be great compared to our one encounter with the London room. My only issue with Paris dining is that the dining room is at the back of the ship, on top of the engines. If you are in the complete back of the dining room it can be uncomfortable to have the constant vibration and motion. It's amazing what moving forward will do for eliminating most of the motion/vibration.
We ate breakfast and lunch in the Paris most days. On our last cruise we ate breakfast and lunch on the Lido or at one of the specialty places. The breakfast and lunch seems to be a little better in the dining room compared to the Lido. The only "specialty" place we ate at was the pizza place. There is usually a line there, but nothing too bad.
ROOM: We had a balcony room on the 7th floor (7225) near the front. Having a balcony was great for us because we both enjoy sitting out there listening to the waves at night. Some things that could be a pain are hearing conversations/music and people smoking on the balconies. It wasn't a big deal for us and I can't recommend the balcony enough if you enjoy that kind of thing. The ship's motion was minimal up there and there was no noise from the engines.
KIDS/ CAMP: We allowed our daughter to be able to sign herself in and out, which was her first experience with that kind of freedom. She responded well and spent her time in the Camp and then attending the random things held for kids throughout the day/night. Parents of smaller children get some kind of communication device for staff to contact the parents if needed. Overall kids seemed to behave well and ours didn't seem bored in the least.
PORT: In Cozumel (our only port) we went to Nachi Cocom, which is not sponsored by Carnival. It was a 10-15 minute taxi ride ($15+ tip) and well worth it. I'll post a separate review on TripAdvisor. It's not a loud spring-break type of beach, just a laid back all-inclusive place. On the way back, we split a van with other cruisers which dropped our price.
OVERALL: I think we got exactly what we were hoping for. Our daughter had a great time, we had a great time, and it's a perfect getaway out of Galveston. If you ever want a quiet, sun tanning location, head to the front of the 6/7th deck. My best advice is to expect some headaches, but learn to ignore them.