My DH and I cruised on the July 25th sailing. We drove to Charleston the day before and spent the night at the Sleep Inn on Savannah Highway. We booked a "sleep and cruise" rate which was $99 and included complimentary continental breakfast. The best part was that it allowed us to park our car there for the duration of our cruise. The Sleep Inn uses Downtown Charleston Limo to shuttle passengers to and from the port. The cost is $10pp/roundtrip. You pay up front and they give you a card with the number of people in your party written on the back. When you get off the ship at the end of your cruise, you just walk to the taxi area and the shuttle will be there waiting for you. It was a very smooth and easy process.
We took the 11:00 a.m shuttle from the hotel and arrived at the port at approximately 11:15. The hotel shuttle stopped by the luggage porters who took our suitcases. We then walked over to the queue for port shuttle to take us to the ship. After about a 10 minute wait, we were on our way to the ship. The drive from where the hotel shuttle dropped us off to the ship was about 2 minutes.
We are Platinum so we were checked in and walking onto the ship within about 10 minutes. We were some of the very first people to board the ship. When we arrived at the Lido Buffet, there were only a handfull of people in there.
Our cabin was an oceanview, category 6D on the Empress Deck. (The Empress Deck is where you embark on the first day and disembark on the last day of the cruise. deck 3 is wehre you get on and off the shop while in the ports of call.) We found the cabin to be very spacious and clean. We had the standard 3 closets with a safe, dresser with 4 or 5 drawers, bathroom, king size bed and a picture window. The bathroom in our cabin looked like it had recently been re-done. It was very clean - no signs of mold, rust, bad caulking, etc.
We had Your Time Dining and generally went to the dining room between 6-6:30 each day. We found the food in the dining room to be very good. Our service was extremely slow on a couple of nights, but were happy with the wait staff on the first night, so we requested (and received) the same table every night. We ate breakfast each day on the Lido deck and the food there is standard buffet fare and was generally cold. The bacon police were NOT out so that was a nice change. We really liked the layout of the Lido buffet. There were separate stations for the salad bar and desserts. There was a separate line for the "theme" food of the day. The was a bar and a separate counter for the deli and pizza in the rear of the Lido Buffet. Near the main Lido pool were the Mongolian Wok and the Grill. We never experienced a long wait at the Wok but the grill line was ALWAYS long.
As far as shows go, we saw The Nightclub Express show and, of course, we would not miss Ticket To Ride, which I believe may be the best show I've ever seen on any cruise ship. We really enjoy that show. We also went to the comedy club. The comedians on our cruise were The Cowboy Comedian and Akeem. We only saw Akeen and he was hilarious. There were always LONG lines to enter the Forum Lounge for the comedy shows. After each show, they completely cleared the lounge and then the new group went in for the next show. They had added rows of straight-back chairs to the regular chairs in the lounge. Since the comedy shows are so popular Carnival really needs to figure out a venue for the shows that can seat MANY more people because they were turning people away from some of the shows.
Because we have been to the Bahamas many times, we didn't really plan any excursions. In Nassau, we went to the new straw market. We stayed about 5 minutes because the constant pestering of the vendors was extremely annoying. They ALL - and I mean ALL - sell the EXACT same stuff T-shirts, bags, magnets, straw bags with cartoon characters, cover-ups, etc. - basically JUNK. We were told that the new Governor has tried to put a stop to the people selling the knock off handbags and watches by imposing hefty fines to those selling and buying them. However, we heard from other passengers that the people selling the handbags have taken on the approach used in NYC's China Town where they take you into an alley and show you a laminated page of the handbags they have for sale. Also in Nassau, we took a taxi to Atlantis. We made our donation to the casino, walked through the shops and the yacht club and then took a taxi back to Nassau. We walked through the shops there, ate lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and then got back on the ship.
In Freeport, we took a taxi to Port Lucaya Marketplace. We went to the guard stand behind the Grand Lucayan Hotel on Retail Street and paid $10 for a wristband which allowed to use their beach chairs and pool chairs and pool. We had a very nice time there. They had great security there and there was not a lot of vendors walking up and down the beach pestering you to purchase their jewelry, etc. They also had free ice cold lemonade out at the beach. We walked through the shops at the marketplace and then took the taxi back to the ship. The taxi was $10 pp/roundrip. Again, we paid at the beginning and were given cards to return at the taxi stand when we were ready to go back.
Debarkation was extremely easy. We used self-assist, priority debarkation. We met in Cleopatra's Lounge on Deck 8 and were escorted by staff members via elevator to deck 7 where we were off the ship by 6:35 a.m.
We really enjoyed our cruise. We especially liked the ship. We had no complaints whatsoever. We've already booked the same cabin for next year in May!