This was our 1st cruise and we decided to do it as a family. My wife and I were in a bad car wreck in October and it has kept her from SCUBA diving so we decided to do a cruise, which gave us an opportunity to see the islands and snorkel a bit. I had read every review posted on here trying to get a sense of what to expect and it left me quite nervouse. We have been to all-inclusive resorts in the past and I was nervous that there wouldn't be much to do and the food wouldn't be very good. I would say I was skeptical and yet optomistic at the start of the trip.
Embarkation was easy. We live in the Tampa area and so we drove to the port. There were 6 of us on the trip, my wife and I, the kids (3 & 5) and my in-laws who decided to go with us. I highly recommend you park at a satellite lot like Premier parking. It cost $29 for the week after an online discount. It's a secured lot with a pretty quick shuttle. It's not much to look at but Carnival wanted $150 to park in their garage for the week. I'd rather do anything with $120 than pay for parking that I don't need. Getting into the Carnival building was a breeze and we were through all the checkpoints and in our zone within 30mins. We went early and arrived at the port around 10:30. I highly recommend this. We were on the boat by 11:30 and eating lunch and swimming by 12:30. No issues at all getting a table or anything but it gets crowded so arrive early!
The room: We loved the balcony and felt it was safe for the kids to be out there when we were outside with them. The railings are high and there is no risk of them falling out. Just don't let them climb on the chairs or table. The room was clean and with the elevated bunk, we all had ample sleeping space. Storage can be an issue but be creative and bring hangers. We never felt crowded in the room. The bathroom was neat and organized but the TV was terrible. My issue is that I brought a multi-outlet strip only for it to trip the circuit and never work. That meant we had to switch between charging the phone, camera and laptop constantly. It worked though. Complaints with the room were primarily the matress was terrible and killed my back and there was a lot of noise from above all night long. We were right under the Lido deck and the noise never ended. If you are a light sleeper like me you will have a lot of trouble. Move 1 floor down and it probably went away.
The food: It was exactly how people described it on every review. It was just okay in the Unicorn cafe. Kids didn't mind it, lunch always tasted fine when it was sandwiches, burgers, etc. and breakfast and dinner were just college cafeteria food. Fruit was somewhat annoying in that it was melon all the time but you could find bananas, pears, oranges, and apples if you looked in the right places. Truffles restaurant was a lot of fun. We had a blast with our waiter Kristian and the kids loved him. Very attentive, very friendly, and very busy. Food was better and if you get something you don't like, tell them! They will get you something else. Fruit cocktail in the dining room was WAY better than in the buffet.
Pools were nice, even being small and the waterslide was fun. Having a 5yr old boy makes all the toys fun including the miniature golf course. Our daughter turned 4 on the boat and everyone said happy birthday to her and gave a special celebration at dinner which was fun. We didn't have issues with getting a chair at any time because we only need 1 chair for the 4 of us. If you need 4 chairs for 4 people, good luck. Towels are nice onboard and easy to get. Bring them to all your excursions.
The kids did Camp Carnival the first day out to sea just to see what it was like. They spend 3hrs there and had fun but didn't want to do it again. Our kids are used to school and being away from us but this was a family trip which meant as much time together as possible and so we didn't use it again. Very organized and friendly though with a lot to do for our age children.
The comedy shows were family friendly and really, reall good. The two men that came on midweek were awesome. Even the kids laughed a ton. The formal nights were a blast. Everyone takes pictures everywhere but there is no pressure to buy any of them. You may even find yourselves on closed-circuit TV throughout the week if you get involved. We didn't stay up late since we have litte kids and the excursions were tiring.
The casino seemed like all the other casinos, smokey and filled with losers. I don't gamble but play $10 in slots and won $10 so take it for what it is. The shows seemed to be pretty decent but we didn't sit through any of them.
The duty free stores were always a hot bed of excitement. If you do your homework you can get some really good deals. I got a Citizen watch for cheaper than I would of paid at Macy's, even with coupons, etc. Liquor was really cheap.
The gym was small but usuable and the I enjoyed running the boat on deck 10 some mornings. It was peaceful but wet so be careful.
I got sick the last day at sea with a GI bug so I'm not sure I'd rate the hygiene of the food service as the highest but I could of gotten it from anywhere, eating on the islands, the boat, who knows where.
Disembarkation was fast. We did the zone thing so we ate breakfast, waited for our zone to be called and left. No issues if you're not in a rush.
I would definitely cruise again but prefer resorts on one island. All inclusives are better but I see the attraction. I'd like to try a bigger ship and as the kids get older, these trips will only get more fun. My only complaint was the idea that if you don't prepay gratuities they still take it out of you at the bill at the end of the trip. We didn't know that and ended up double tipping everyone. That pissed me off but realized they won't fool me again. That was ridiculous. Hope you all have a great trip! See my port reviews for detailed account of fun but hectic days on the excursions