Generally, it seemed to me that most people were very happy with their cruise but based on reviews, unhappy people are more likely to post. We went on the Xmas cruise from Dec. 22nd and off on Dec. 30th. This was a busy cruise with over 1600 children (under 18) and 4600 guests so much more than average. I would guess that they did not hire any extra staff for the extra people and that would be the cause of the few issues we had with the cruise.
Embarkation: couldn't be easier. We were told not to show up before 1:00 pm so we didn't. Most who complained that I heard showed up early and had to wait either for their room or to get on board. We showed up at 12:55pm, walked right on very easily and our room was ready at 1:30 pm. Some were not ready so if a person chose to go in before it was ready, then they shouldn't complain if they are missing items.
Room: cove balcony which we loved. We find them quieter and more private than the higher levels, plus we like being close to the ocean to see the waves and get some ocean spray on days that are a little rougher at sea. We were between life boats so we had sun for part of the day - less than a higher balcony but some sun. It was easy to get to the dining room and much of the activity is between decks 3 to 5 we found. Lots of storage space for the 3 of us. A recurring theme is that we felt the staff were over worked and had some trouble keeping up but we just had to ask if we needed something and it came on a timely basis, ie, towels. Maybe not quite as attentive as some other cruises but nothing to complain about - the staff knew us by name.
Children - this impacted a few of the services, I think. Overall the kids were well behaved, didn't cause us any trouble and just added to the energy on the ship. I think it's obvious that adding a thousand extra people would add work for the crew and that's what we noticed. It was tougher for them to keep up overall though I wouldn't say it was because of kids since I saw a lot more whiny adults than kids. Drunk adults were a bigger nuisance than the kids of all ages.
Entertainment - not as many shows as on previous cruises - 3 shows and one novelty act (juggler/comedian). We went to all and enjoyed them all but would have gone to more. We liked the old singing/dancing shows so i would have liked to have seen a couple of those thrown in. Lots of comedians and show times though the family ones were crowded (due to Christmas obviously). I would like to have seen graduated shows, ie, family, then maybe pg13 and then adult. I would go to the PG 13 but not the adult. We loved the entertainment, but really would have liked one or two more. Maybe we're spoiled...
We like the daily trivia and games they have around the ship so we do those as well. Some people get carried away with this and overly competitive. I felt sorry for the staff person more than once.
Big screen movies - always fun. Just don't go expecting popcorn because it took us over an hour as they were making 6 containers at a time. Ridiculous and avoidable. A small thing,but to the kids who were looking forward to it, it was disappointing to spend half the movie waiting in line. We didn't complain about not being able to dock at Grand Turk because that's not avoidable but this was a simple thing to fix.
Deck parties. Personal choice. We did one cruise that had a competition between colors and that got everyone involved. This one was all dancing and drinking or so it seemed to me. If I knew how to do the line dances, I would have maybe participated more but the times for the lessons didn't work for us. Obviously, though, many people like this as it was very busy. No biggie - good time for a quiet walk around the ship or a movie in your own room.
Kids groups/clubs. Some people do seem to just dump the kids into the camps and clubs and some kids really enjoy them. That works for some kids but not all. If it works for your kid, good for them. Use it. My daughter preferred to hang out with us and that was great for us.
Dining. So, I'm not fussy. I didn't have any complaints but particularly liked Guy's burgers, La Cucina ( went twice) the pizza and then the dining room for breakfast and the evening dining. My hubby, though, said that he felt the buffets were lacking especially the breakfast buffet. He found it cold and just okay. Everything else he really liked though. Evening dining was very good in our opinions, except that if you wanted a beverage other than alcohol, it either didn't happen or took a long time. We just started getting one ahead and bringing it in with us. Lots of variety, healthy options if you wanted them and lots of grease if you wanted that. Desserts were a highlight all over the place. I believe Carnival does an effective job at keeping prices down by having good food and then offering options for a fee if you want a better quality (like the steakhouse, italian place, sushi) or you can always eat at port some days. I don't care enough about food to pay for a more expensive cruise so this works for me. If you are a real "foodie" then you might prefer a different/smaller ship that caters more to individuals. Carnival is about family, affordability and fun.
Staff - worked their butts off from what we saw. Overworked with so many people but still smiling and doing their best. The energy these people must have amazes me. I saw the same people over and over in so many different places working what seemed to be horrible hours. We left some extra tips as did others at our table. Well deserved.
Ports - Awesome! Loved Aruba and Curacao and will post reviews of those on trip advisor. Didn't get off on La Romana but it looked nice and I saw port staff helping drunk passengers get back on board safely with all belongings. We like to stay on board one port and have no lines. Did the ropes course, suntanned, thrill theatre, ping pong, trivia....all with no lines. Grand Turk - too windy to dock. Handled very well by the staff, all fees were refunded and we just went back to sleep. Woke up to a new fun times with added activities. Cruise director and staff are awesome!!! Kudos to them. No point complaining as no one can control the weather.
Debarkation. Walked right off and got our luggage within minutes. There was a brief pause at one point when customs couldn't keep up so people just stayed on board a little longer. Well announced and not a big delay.
We rented a car both before and after the cruise and stayed in Fort Lauderdale so we used the free shuttles offered by the rental companies to get to/from the actual port. Just make sure you confirm your rental registration and have the info - phone numbers, confirmation numbers to speed up the process. Some people didn't and that seemed to cause problems for them. A GPS is also worth its weight in gold for getting around Miami and area. We drove into Miami from Fort lauderdale twice and back so 4 trips. The time ranged from about 35 minutes to over about 75 minutes so allow for that.
Ship - beautiful! I found it clean, fairly easy to navigate and could always find quiet areas if you wanted them especially at night. Deck chair hogs are alive and well and CArnival is working on that. I think an announcement that you do not own a chair would be helpful. There would be lots of space if people used what they needed instead of leaving towels all day. The number of people who felt entitled to do this surprised me as it's incredibly self absorbed. My suggestion: if someone leaves their towel on a chair long enough to be tagged and then removed, they likely do this all the time and they likely have been gone a lot longer than the 40 minutes. Keep the towel and they can pay for it when they disembark or pay to get a new one. These are the same people who don't tip, who complain about everything and without whom the cruise would be more fun.
I would go again tomorrow if I could - we loved it.