Our cruising experience is with Royal Caribbean, which we always enjoyed. We chose Carnival for a few reasons:
-- Timing of this cruise worked well with my daughter's college break
-- Carnival has the reputation of being a "party" boat, which I thought would suit the aforementioned 20 year old
-- Jacksonville is a convenient port for us.
As they say, the best laid plans..... My daughter came down with mono days before departure. (Thank goodness for travel insurance.) Since she decided to stay at her house in school, my husband and I chose to go on the cruise without her.
We should have stayed home.
Within minutes of boarding, I knew this cruise wasn't for me. The buffet lunch was reminiscent of cafeteria food. (It never got better.) Our room was adequate, but the counters were sticky and there was mold in the shower. I saw multiple staff members cough, sneeze .... then handle food without washing up. There were Purel stations by the buffet, but apparently they were pretty much there for show. I rarely saw anyone sanitize their hands, and no staff member there to enforce use. (They were vigilant about this on the Royal Caribbean cruises we went on!)
While I don't expect anyone to wear their best clothes on a cruise, a good percentage of Carnival's customers looked, well -- inappropriate: a shirtless guy at the buffet, a husband and wife wearing bathrobes to lunch, ripped shorts, dirty looking tee-shirts..... C'mon.
On the plus side:
-- Anytime dining is a great feature. We were always accommodated soon upon arrival, and the tables were close enough together to enable conversation with other passengers.
--Boris, the Croatian waiter, is excellent. Ask for his table if you can.
--The singers and dancers were great. A talented group of entertainers in well-choreographed shows. (The comedians however, were awful. An adult show can be risque without being lewd. These guys went for the shock value of filth. I'm not a prude, and I don't know any adult who found them funny.)
-- It was easy to board and disembark at the Jacksonville port.
In summation, I didn't hate Carnival enough to say "I'll never use them again." I just hope with time and schedule parameters, I don't have to. And about them being a "party" boat? Certainly didn't see it with this crowd.