PRE-CRUISE: La Quinta Inn in Cocoa Beach - on a 1 to 5 scale, I'd give it a 3 1/2. Nothing to complain about, but nothing remarkably awesome, either.
Embarkation: VERY smooth - Carnival has clearly worked on making this better/faster/more efficient. From the time we walked into the terminal until the time we were in the ship's atrium - maybe 20 minutes, 25 minutes max.
The ship: Overall, very good. Didn't see anything in a state of disrepair (of course, this ship was recently dry-docked for an overhaul)....
The cabin (8244): Our first balcony room, after 4 previous cruises...the balcony was nice...but I'm a little iffy as to whether or not it is worth the extra money or not. Unfortunately, with the newer ships, getting a window room is becoming more and more difficult, as almost all rooms are balcony rooms. The room itself was what we expected - except we forgot about how few electrical receptacles there are. If you have more than one phone charger (or anything else you want to plug in), take an extension cord with you. As far as the location of the room - it was far enough from the elevators and stairs (about three rooms away) to not have a lot of noise from those areas, but close enough to them that we weren't in the middle of nowhere. In relation to the rest of the ship, deck 8 is a good middle ground between the lido deck (10) and deck 5 (shops/casino).
The room steward: Buenmar....very nice and friendly. We didn't make any extraordinary requests, but what we requests we did have, he fulfilled quickly.
Cruise Director: Brittany Boyd - we hear she was a stand-in for the normal Dream Cruise Director, who was at a conference or something. She was pretty. She was bubbly. She was informative.....waaaaay too informative. It seemed she was on the ship's intercom almost incessantly, basically doing commercials for the spa, the casino, and anything or anyplace else on the ship that has a high profit margin. I don't know if it was her trained diction or what, but it just seemed to me that this cruise had more "commercials" than any of our previous cruises. Again, she was very nice - but geez, enough is enough! I wasn't the only one to feel this way.
Activities Director: Ryan (from Great Britain): a bit cocky, but okay.
Dining Room (Crimson, early dining): Head waiter (I Ketut), team waiter (I Wayan), assistant (Agus): GREAT group of waiters, one of the highlights of the cruise, ship-wise. THE FOOD: Very good, as usual. The chocolate melting cake was available for dessert every night. I recommend the Chateaubriand (sp?) as an entree...
Excursions: At NASSAU, we did the Sail&Snorkel offered by the ship....it was good. Not spectacular (crew of SweetyPie was average at best), but good. The snorkeling (above a reef) was very good....saw a lot of beautifully-colored fish - take an underwater disposable camera!
ST. THOMAS - SONNY LISTON Tours - Did the tour with shopping and then a trip up to MountainTop. SONNY IS GREAT....a little crazy, but great. Riding with him is a little like taking a cab ride in Jamaica - but he knows what he's doing. Dropped us off at Sapphire Beach after MountainTop, and came back to get us at 5PM - trouble was, everything (all vendors, etc) at Sapphire Beach closes at 4PM.....so we ended up being there totally alone from about 4:30PM until he picked us up. Kinda...eerie? Keep that in mind if you plan to go to Sapphire Beach. The beach itself was very good.
ST. MAARTEN....took a cab to Orient Beach ($6 per person, each way)....awesome beach....a "European" beach, so be prepared for that....two of our party went parasailing (2 for $100) through one of the water sports vendors on the beach...they're thorughly enjoyed it....we stayed there for about three hours, then took a cab back to the shopping district on the Dutch side (ten minute, safe walk to the ship)...
EXTRAS: We went to the Chef's Art Steakhouse on the ship, on Friday night ($35 per person, plus tip). The steaks, lobster, and all the food was really, really good. Much more quiet than the regular dining room. If you've never tried one of the 'premium' restaurants, you should, at least once (this was our first time). The desserts were enormous - seriously, the cheesecake portion was obscene - but no one complained! :-) The only drawback - seemed like we were sitting on top of the engine room (vibration, mechanical hum).
DEBARKATION: Even quicker than embarkation....from the gangway to our shuttle (Cocoa Beach Shuttle to Orlando International - good experience), it couldn't have been more than 15 minutes, and that includes taking the time to find nine checked bags!
OVERALL: A very good experience, and a cruise I would do again. and again. and again. I wish I was still there!
OH, ONE LAST THING: Getting off the ship at St. Thomas was a fiasco - took us OVER 45 minutes to disembark, due to everyone storming the elevators and stairs forward.