We (myself and my girlfriend, in our early 30s) and my parents (in their 60s) decided to book this cruise for Thanksgiving week since we all had vacation time and wanted to spend the week together. We chose this cruise mainly based on the ports and the timing (Sat-Sat) that worked out for all of us. My parents are Platinum on Carnival and this was my first cruise on Carnival and second overall.
We all flew in the night before and stayed at the Embassy Suites by MIA, which is a typical Embassy Suites, not much to be said. We ordered a van cab for the four of us to get to the cruise terminal, which ran about $35 with surcharges, tolls, and tip.
We got there about 10:30, and since my parents are Platinum, we were able to get all of the luggage tagged with the orange FTTF and VIP stickers. We went inside and checked in the VIP desk which is downstairs from the main check-in area. Waited in the VIP area until they called us for boarding about 11:30. We were able to get right on board and not only were the rooms ready, but the bags were already sitting outside waiting for us.
The muster drill was the usual chaos, then we went up to the Serenity deck for sail away, which wash't too crowded and had great views.
The Taste Bar on the Promenade has small sampling plates from the different venues from 5:30-8:30 a few days during the cruise, and it was always great to get a little snack before dinner. I wish it was open every night, or they brought back the sushi bar (which is replaced) on the rest of the days.
We had a table for the four of us in the Silver dining room for the late dinner, which ended up being a booth next to 2 large tables (a 50th anniversary and a wedding) which tended to be very loud during dinner. We did the MDR for dinner all but one night, which we went to the steakhouse (more on that in a bit). The MDR dinners were very hit or miss... some dishes were awesome and others were barely edible. I like to order several dishes to try them all, and they seemed to be thrown off by this, as sometimes I'd get a stack of dishes in front of me all at once and other times I'd get one at a time with long waits between them (even though they were sitting on the console waiting to be delivered). The desserts were kind of a let-down... I'm a huge chocoholic, and since they had the warm chocolate melting cake every night (which varied from runny to perfectly cooked, depending on the day), there wasn't much else on the dessert menu that appealed to me.
Because it was Thanksgiving week, they switched some of the menus around so that the one with turkey on it would be on Thursday, but the TV never reflected these changes, which caused some surprises.
On sea days, instead of MDR breakfast or lunch, they have a Punchliner comedy brunch in the Golden dining room. This was, by far, the worst food we had the entire time, and the comics weren't that great either.
On the Lido deck, the burgers were a hit with everyone, and the burritos and tacos from the Blue Iguana were great as well. We also liked the fish and chips and fritters from upstairs. Even the pizza was pretty good... I was expecting the worst, but apparently they changed it up recently and it's much better now.
On the first sea day, we went to the dining room for the tea service, which was pretty nice. They have a decent selection of pastries and cakes, a few finger sandwiches, and of course, tea. I had planned to ask my girlfriend to marry me at the first formal night dinner, but since we had a booth in a high-traffic area, I decided to do it during tea time. She accepted and we got some nice pictures against the water from the back of the dining room.
On Sunday, we went to the sports bar to watch some football. They advertised in the Fun TImes they would have certain games available, but they weren't able to get them, which nearly caused a riot among some die-hard fans. We just sat there and drank our Thirsty Frogs and had a good time anyway. It gets very crowded during popular games, so go early if you want a seat. The sports bar is really a highlight of this ship... we kept going back there even during off-peak times to have some drinks and chat with the bartenders.
We were a little hesitant based on the $35/person cover charge, but we tried the steakhouse one night and were very impressed with the food and service. The only thing that wasn't great was the cheesecake, which was light and airy and not dense and creamy like it should be.
The normal cruise director (Karl) was on vacation, so our CD was Jacques. He was all right, but nothing special, and there wasn't a whole lot of entertainment on the schedule. We found out some of this was due to performers being on vacation, but there also wasn't a whole lot of trivia, games, or other mid-day activities. We did go to Scattergories and trivia when it was available, and Ken, who led those was one of the highlights of the staff. He did his best to make sure everyone (especially the families with kids) got a "fabulous gold plastic ship" at some point during the cruise.
I've covered the ports in separate reviews. The only thing to note here is that the tendering process is a little annoying. You have to go to the Promenade and get a tender sticker and then wait until your group is called, which can easily take an hour or more if it's a long tender like in Belize. Luckily, since my parents had Platinum cards, we could skip this process and just board the first available tender.
I know Carnival attracts a different crowd than Royal Caribbean, and being Thanksgiving week there were tons of families, but I just couldn't get over how rude some of the guests were. They would yell and scream at the staff, constantly cut in lines, leave dirty dishes and half-eaten food all over the place, and run around like they owned the ship. Of course, we also met lots of nice people, especially in the hot tubs, and almost all of the children we encountered were very well behaved.
Overall, we had a great time... for the price that we paid, we got a great relaxing vacation and got to see some interesting places. I'd probably go back on Carnival if it were another one of their 2.0 ships and the price/destinations was right.