Everytime we get off a Carnival Cruise--we say that we will never go on another Carnival ship--what happens is that someone else books on Carnival--invites us along and then we find uourselves on another Carnival cruise. This is precisely what happened for this cruise--so our expectations were low going in. Embarkation was efficient and being a repeat cruiser puts you in a shorter line. Our cabin was surprisingly large with a nice couch seating area--we had paid for a guaranteed outside room and were pleasantly surprised by the relatively spacious room.
The food was for the most part "blah". Breakfast and lunch was genererally only available on the Lido buffet--and there wasn't too much variation--none that I could see for breakfast whatsoever-same Danish, same fruit, same oatmeal, long lines for the omelets, etc. Lunch was generally the Burger bar--greasy wonderful tasting burgers that were fried with huge globs of butter on top of the ground meat--along with fantastically greasy seasoned french fries. The other specialty stations available at lunch--Mongolian wok, deli sandwhiches, and pizza were generally associated with lines too long to be reasonable. Dinner in the main dining room was typical Carvinal--some food good, some not so good--but generally pretty boring. We had dinner one evening in the Diamond steakhouse and were expecting the wow experience that one generally finds in cruise ship pay-extra steakhouses--but weren't too impressed and don't recommend this option.
Really enjoyed doing New Year's Eve on the ship--Carnival has the reputation of being a party ship and they lived up to this reputation. As far as entertainment on the ship--there was always someplace to sit and listen to music, singing--no matter if it was the afternoon or after midnight--there was always someplace to dance and to party.
The ship itself felt very crowded--never a free chair anywhere on the deck around the pool despite the signs stating that you couldn't "save" chairs. (And of course there were the stacks of unused chairs tied together, so you couldn't grab yourself a chair and set it out on some of the upper decks that also had no empty chairs available.) We had difficulty finding empty tables to sit down and eat for the buffet, had long waits for elevators, etc. Two of our stops were tenders: Grand Cayman and Belize--the tenders took forever to get on if you weren't on a Carnival excursion--very poorly organized.
Loved the casino--they had a Caribbean Stud poker table (which is hard to find these days) and had reasonable low limits on the table games--$6.00 for Blackjack.
My main complaint about Carnival is always feeling like they are trying to sell me something and that everything is "cheap". Even some of the entertainment listed in their ship schedule is actually just a sales pitch--teeth whitening, buying art, etc. And if you do happen to "win" something (one in our party won a booty dance contest)--the prizes are so cheap that there are unusable. Was not surprised when the 20-somethings in our group dumped the tequila they had won down the drain stating that it was rot-gut. The free champagne passed out before 12 midnight on New Years was undrinkable.
Despite the above complaints--the ship was clean, felt safe, had courteous enthusiastic crew members and we had a great time.
The itinerary was fantastic and enjoyed going on mostly non-Carnival shore excursions.