I have been on at least 10 cruises on various ships / companies. I'll try to make this as simple as possible. I'll reference Carnival the most because the previous 4 cruises were Carnival.
--Kids Camp. My 3 and 5 year old loved it and couldn't wait to go every day.
--Bamboo specialty. Very good and the highlight of the trip food-wise!
--Kids food area was a nice treat for them. By the way, great cheese sticks at dinner time!
--Happy hours in spinnaker was a nice surprise. Most days had 2 for 1 for at least an hour
-----Our Cabin attendant had a TON of cabins. I noticed he had at least 15. We were in a mini suite so he had a combo of mini suites, suites, and inside rooms. This is way too many to provide service of any level. There were many days we didn't get a cabin make over. We actually thought the "towel animal" was just a carnival thing until half way through when we finally got one... the only one of the cruise. The cabin was dusty, carpets not really clean, and we had a hard time even getting towels. He didn't convert the sofa to a bed during the day so we just did it ourselves. Oh... and I tipped him 20 bucks the first day so I can't imagine how bad it could have been.
-----The Buffet staff was ok although we found it odd they were taking breaks and eating along side guests. In the Venetian we had one good service night, the rest were just bad. In Aqua the service was all mediocre at best.
-----The food was not great. Compared to Carnival, the buffet was better but the main dining rooms and specialty dining were not even close.
-----Moderno (Brazilian style steakhouse). TERRIBLE, stay away! Very hard to get food, they push the salad bar (does anyone want the salad bar at a Brazilian style steakhouse????) The filet, when I finally managed to get some, tasted like it had gone bad. The best item was sirloin which we got one small piece of. It took so long for food to come out I never saw many of the items on the menu and never saw the same thing more than once except chicken and lamb.
-----Room Service food. The selection stinks. Carnival always has pretty good selection and this seemed like a joke. The $5 anytime pizza is obviously just another way to squeeze more money out of customers.
-----The 24 dining is a pain in the butt. I don't want to sit down in the middle of the night to get a quickie snack after the kids got out of kids camp, etc. It seemed like a great idea until you try it. I'd rather the simple 24 hour pizza / ice cream bar that Carnival offers.
-----Besides the room being dusty, there were many things wrong with it. The balcony door on ours was super sticky/heavy, 4 doors down my in-laws was fine so I know it's not a ship thing. There was one light that would flicker, light out in the tub/shower. There actually is a light in the closet if you can find the switch. Only one American power outlet in the room.
-----The ship overall was in fine condition. No real piano bar kinda stinks! Cigar bar A/C didn't work. The kids pool is very nice and fun, but not enough room back there to watch the kids so it felt cramped for the adults.
-----The weather wasn't bad but holy rocking moly. I was fine, as were the kids, but my wife felt sick a couple of days (she has never been sea sick before this!). People were losing it in the bathrooms. It's like they are saving money by not running the stabilization and the route is dead set for the shortest Vs. a better ride.
All in all, The service charge is excessive for the level of service. The only thing my kids really got for the charges I paid for them was cleanup in the kids area at the buffet and kids camp. We received hardly anything for the money.
The cruise is definitely centered around up-charging. The funny thing about this is we spent FAR less than we normally do. Probably about 1/3rd the amount. Even the schedule is centered around making sure you spend the most. The cheapest port for shopping is Cozumel and it was the last stop. The other stops are obviously well regulated by the cruise ships because there is no liquor stores, etc. and the prices were the same as the inflated prices in the ship store.