I was a bit nervous to travel after seeing so many negative reviews about mostly the same issues, but left on the August 11th cruise with an open mind. Here is what I found.
Embarkation was quick and painless. I arrived at 1030 am, and never waited in a single line. I waited in the lobby area after checking in until my zone was called, but there were no lines beyond that. Great job with getting that many passengers on board in an efficient manner.
Sea days were fun. They had a large amount of activities to do, and there was always something to do to entertain yourself. As for the crowds, they were not as bad as I expected. I ate at the Pasta bar when I got on board (and were the first passengers in there), and enjoyed the pools. Yes, many people save seats, but I still never had trouble finding a seat somewhere. That said, we usually only required one chair to put our stuff on. You will have trouble finding multiple chairs right around the pools unless you go up to deck 11 or 12.
The comedy shows were excellent. Jeff the Fun Dude has some good moments, but I can see why many think he isn't funny. The other comedians were great. The Fun Force was fantastic...the rest of the shows seem like they could be skipped.
The food was not bad. I wouldn't say great, but it was always warm and fresh. The Gathering buffet does have people in swimsuits which was gross, I do wish Carnival would enforce a shirt/shoes policy in there. The Lanai BBQ, Pasta Bar, and Burrito Bar were all well worth a stop. The main dining room was good, but the choices seem to get worse as the days went by.
The service was great as always. Everyone smiles at you, and our MDR server greeted us by name every day. Our steward had our room fixed up each day without being intrusive. That said, some of the staff look overworked. By the end of the cruise, the Camp Carnival staff and the Crimson Dining room staff looked tired and stressed. I felt bad for them, as it was fairly obvious that they were overloaded.
Camp Carnival was great for our 6 and 2 year old. They enjoyed the activites and the staff work hard to make the kids enjoy things. I see they struggle with the older kids not being obedient, but the staff try hard to keep things organized.
The pools were fun. I never thought of them as that crowded, although I did see a fairly long line for the waterslides on the last sea day. The staff do try to enforce rules in the water park, so it is more enjoyable.
The room was massive by cruise ship standards. We did an "obstructed view" room and were pleasantly surprised that our obstruction was nothing more than the deck railing outside. Standing or sitting up on the bed still gave you a good view of the ocean outside. It also had us next to "the secret deck" up front. 2 decks of space in the front of the ship where there is almost never anyone there (I think I saw 6-8 people there all week). I do wish I brough a power strip though, as the one outlet is not sufficient.
As for the ports...the Bahamas is not all that great. It is very touristy, and they try to treat the visitors like a revolving door...get in and get out. Coupled with the very short time we had there, it is not all that great. We did do the dolpin encounter at Atlantis however, and that experience was fantastic. Dealing with the rest of Nassau, not so great.
St Thomas was great...we went to Coki beach and had a good time. I do wish we went somewhere less touristy, as it gets crowded with Carnival towels and passengers quick.
St Maarten was a dream. We went to a family friendly beach populated with almost only locals. It wasn't crowded and had a nice beach restaurant there. The water was great, and the kids had a fun time. The locals are very nice and treat you well. The taxis mostly work with flat rates so you don't have to worry about negotiating as much.
Debarkation was just as smooth. We did self-assist and walked right off with our luggage without ever waiting in a line. We watched other passengers waiting for them to get the luggage rolled off, and I was happy with our choice of self assist. We passed Customs before the rest and had no line there either. Overall, A+ on debarkation...and I strongly recommend the self-assist option.
Overall, the cruise was great. Sure, there were hiccups and crowds at times, but once you learn the layout and when most people head out to the buffets, adjust your own schedule accordingly and you'll be fine.