This was my 4th overall cruise, 3rd on Carnival. Went with my wife as part of a larger group of friends and family. We're locals so there was no air travel or hotel stays involved.
We LOVE cruising out of Tampa. It's close, drop off is a breeze (although the valet attendants have become quite pushy), and self-park is easy. Security screening, check-in and boarding took all of 15 minutes!
Last year we sailed around the same date on Paradise's sister ship - Inspiration - and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. As such, we expected the same on Paradise but the experience was far from the same. Once on ship, we had some drinks but the friendly staff we had on Inspiration were nowhere to be found on Paradise. The first bartender in the atrium lobby never smiled and barely spoke (let alone understood) English. We had to point to the draft we wanted! This became a recurring theme throughout the cruise. Bartenders were generally not friendly, slow to serve, and even lazy appearing (preferring guests who ordered beer rather than mixed drinks!) This was the worst at the Casino bar on the Promenade deck.
The ship itself was well maintained but did seem to have a smell of sewage, especially on decks 7 and 8. The decor is somewhat dark (darker than Inspiration for sure) and the hallways on our floor (Deck 6 - Upper) were very dark. The room itself was well maintained and our steward was very quick to clean and replenish supplies. However, I never met him once! Usually our cabin steward on previous cruises was very friendly and called us by name and would make a point of introducing him or herself. Not on Paradise.
The food in the dining room was very good the first 2 nights but then the menu choices became bland and the food quality seemed to decline as well (additionally, they did not seem to know what "medium-rare" meant.) The wait staff was atrocious. Again, very little English; unable to explain menu items beyond answering "yes"; very rushed; and rarely available for requests. Breakfast dining was even worse - so bad, the seating hostess even warned us one day! Put it this way: the head waiter came around and had introduced himself 3 times before we had gotten coffee! Then it was 25 minutes between our order being placed and our food arriving. The buffet dining was the worst yet. The food was barely edible. I will admit, though, the sandwich bar (they call it "The Deli") did serve up some great sandwiches. Should have stuck with it the whole time! Room service was very slow to answer the phone but delivery was surprisingly quick. They never got the orders entirely correct (ordered wheat bread BLTs and got white - EVERY NIGHT!) but the food was good.
We did not see any production shows. We spent most of our time on the pool deck. Seemed to be plenty of chairs. Drink staff was sparse and drink prices have gone up a dollar each since our last cruise a year ago.
The one form of entertainment we did take in was ONE of the comedians. I emphasize ONE because apparently on Carnival Paradise they make everyone leave the comedy club AFTER EACH SHOW! So, if you plan correctly and arrive early enough to get a good seat to enjoy the acts, think again. After a pretty good comedian we were literally ordered to leave the club. We were told in order to see the next act (just 20 minutes later) we had to leave through one side of the club, then re-enter through the other side and find new seats! Hearing that, we simply went back to our room and never went back.
Disembarkment was slowest I have ever experienced. Ship seemed to arrive late into port to begin with and then the sheer number of people trying leave carrying their luggage meant that even with priority disembarking we didn't leave the ship till nearly 10AM!
Overall, we had a fun time simply because of the company we were with. If this had happened with just the 2 of us, I'd probably give this cruise 1 star at most. In the end, I will make it a point to avoid Paradise. Would still probably sail Carnival, but if next time is this bad of an experience, we will start trying other cruise lines.