This was a Christmas family cruise, 3 generations, we had 2 balcony rooms with some first time cruisers. Due to a booking error the rooms were on opposite sides of the ship. Embarkation was fine, as to be expected. Food was too be expected. The cruise wasn't packed, so lines were not too bad. I spent a lot of time reading reviews prior to the cruise, so I had reasonable expectations. Balcony rooms are worth it.
Camp Carnival was great for the under 9 year old crowd. My niece preferred Camp Carnival to Cabo San Lucas and swimming with Dolphins (booked outside of Carnival). The age 9-11 group needs some serious rethought. My 11 year year old son is a really easy going kid tried and very hard to have fun, but, was bored. Most kids in that age group, from the other parents we spoke with, said the same thing. They wouldn't let us bump him up to the 12 year old group, even though he was almost 12 and already in middle school/junior high. Needless to say, he didn't spend a lot of time at Camp Carnival.
The adults all did the Cheers program. It is well worth it. It pays for itself, mimosas in the morning, a few beers here and there, etc. Even a couple of fun nights can easily cost more if you are a drinker. There were some pretty shocked people the last day of the cruise when their Sign N' Sail bills came in. Drinks at dinner, i.e. wine cost extra. They charge per person by the glass to pour. All the adults at various times during the cruise ended up getting the free drink card for the casino. We brought wine on the cruise and never drank it due to the Cheers program. Be courteous to your servers as they don't get the standard gratuity for drinks with the Cheers program. You may want to have some singles handy for good waiters/waitresses. I am not sure why Carnival nickels and dimes their staff, but, they do. The staff do get gratuity for the Casino free drink card, so even ordering the free bottled water if you are not drinking in the casino helps them out.
The pools were small, but, it is a ship. The crew, even on request, refused to enforce the rule about people holding lounge chairs for themselves and others by leaving a towel on them. Not fun to have to stand to watch your kids swim, while adults who have lounge chairs say they are going to shower and get lunch and refuse to move their items so others can have a seat. My college aged daughter and her friend watched the pool one day out of curiosity and found people who sent a family member out when the pool opened to place towels and sunscreen on poolside chairs and they didn't come back to the pool until 4pm. They didn't even swim. Just picked up their stuff and left. There were many lounge chairs "held" for hours without anyone using them. I can understand how the staff feel they have to make people happy and are afraid to confront the situation. Obviously, people who lack the courtesy to share lounge chairs must be difficult to deal with and teaching social etiquette does not happen in one day by a crew worker.
The European, Indian, and some South American crew members were upbeat, friendly, and happy. The crew members from developing countries, such as the Philippines, parts of China appeared very distressed and unhappy. I am not sure if this was due to disparities in pay, homesickness, or what. We had two different stewards for our cabins. My cabin was cleaned 4 of 7 days (we were not in the cabin all day for 7 days) and we only got 3 towel animals. The other room was serviced more frequently. Our steward was very unhappy, maybe it was Christmas away from family? We were not unreasonable or acting like celebrities as some do on cruises. That was disappointing.
BIG ISSUE: When we packed to leave the ship, our prescription medications were missing. In my room, a recently refilled bottle (the week before leaving) of Xanax was missing 35 tablets out of it. In the other room, an entire bottle of 50 tablets of Xanax and a new RX bottle of Testosterone were missing. Both people who need the medication have a travel bottle (carry with you) and the actual stock medications. The stock medications were missing. These were prescribed medications in RX bottles from the USA, not obtained in Mexico. Our thyroid medications and other medications were untouched. When we asked for help, the response was it most likely ended up in another suitcase as there were 7 in our party. The searching continued until we were forced to leave the ship so they could turn the rooms around. Anyway, just know your stewards go through your stuff, including suitcases. If items turn up missing, there is no recourse. Either carry your medications with you or use the safe. For those of us with anxiety, the idea of trying to get into a safe during a panic attack for medications is horrible. Merry Christmas to whomever got the medication, I am sure the street value is more then your wages.
Overall for the price of the cruise, then the thousands of dollars spent on the ship, it is not worth it. I enjoyed it, but, would rather spend the money for a flight and hotel room and stay somewhere in Mexico for a week. The convenience of not having to think about meals or cook is great, but, I am not sure if I would do it again. Mainly, because I feel that some workers on the ship are exploited by Carnival due to there country of origin (developing countries) and it is unethical. Obviously, if workers need to steal things from passengers, the issue is in the corporate structure, pay scales, and overall morale workers feel.