I took my two teenagers (19 & 17) on a quick Thanksgiving break, and ended up on the Carnival Paradise because of cost and location. I've been on cruises with Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, both 5 star ships, so wasn't expecting much. Needless to say it at times exceeded my expectations, other times it didn't.
Embarkation was easy and fast; we had been upgraded to an Owner's Suite, so had the VIP status. Checked in about 1:15. Having never cruised out of Tampa things were a little complicated on parking, etc., but since we have moved to the area next time it won't be. Because of orthopedic issues I did Valet parking, definitely worth the price. Check In was a breeze and we were on the ship in less than 20 minutes with the VIP status. That being said there were no lines anywhere excepted to get our picture taking. Even without VIP we would have probably been done in 30 minutes.
The cruise wasn't full, but either way it didn't seem to crowded. Out room was nice; the room was ready when we got on the ship. Guest Services wasn't either very busy or not at all. Never had more than 2 people working so debarkation day they only had 2 people working, so it took almost an hour to get your account settled.
Overall it was an OK trip, my daughter who was 17 enjoyed it but wished more of the teens went to the O2 club. Food at the buffet was so/so. Was not that good so rarely ate there. Usually was cold, hard or not that tasty. Kids mainly at the grill which was OK. We had seating in the Destiny dining room. Never had a bad meal there and service was great. Even with sharing with 2 tables of 10 people and then 2 booths of 6 I never had bad service. The staff always remembered our tastes, and since my kids are HF Autistic they ate the same every meal, they always had their meal waiting for them.
Housekeeping was good, bartenders good. Had an issue with all the smoking. Not very good ventilation so could always tell when my neighbor was smoking on his balcony (even when indoors). Also smoke poured out of the casino so that you couldn't get off the elevators without smelling and walking through it.
Ship itself seemed clean; although there was at least 1 elevator out on each bank. At times had to wait 10-15 minutes for one. Spa was good, but expensive (but loved the massage and body seaweed wrap).
We did a taxi tour in Grand Cayman, picked it up on deck. Tour guide was great and was on $20 (as compared to $50 on ship). On Cozumel we did a ship tour since it was the first time on the island, had a good tour guide, got a great history of the Mayan history and the island. Definitely found that you don't do shopping at the port, you need to go out a little more to get the best deals.
Overall, even though the trip wasn't bad, I wouldn't do the ship again unless I got another real good price. We were spoiled by our first cruise with Celebrity and the service there. Since the Paradise is the only ship permanently in my home port I will probably end up on the ship again, but expectations will continue to be low.