We flew from Cleveland to New Orleans and stayed the evening before the cruise at a nearby hotel. We had never been on Carnival Cruise Line before and had high expectations after wonderful cruises on both Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. It was our first cruise with the kids (ages 7, 4, and 2) but figured we couldn't go wrong with "the fun ships" and thought the value was too good to pass up.
The embarkation process was quick and smooth and the ship was small, but beautiful. Everything was clean and smelled nice. Our oceanview room was small, but we expected that. Our room steward was great and very responsive when we needed anything, but that is where the positives about the cruise end.
The rest of the staff were polite and professional but had an overall tired demeanor. Dinner in the main dining room took WAY longer than it should have every night even though we specifically reserved the late dining time to avoid the waiting of the choose your own time dining.
The food everywhere on the ship looked great but tasted horrible! For the kids, the pizza tasted like cheap frozen pizzas, the burgers like cheap frozen burgers, and the chicken nuggets were like... you guessed it, cheap frozen nuggets. For the adults, the omelets were overly salty, the pastas were gluey, the meats were either undercooked or tough and overdone and these are just a few examples. The desserts were beautiful and looked like they tasted amazing, but the textures were all wrong. Cakes were grainy and frostings were rubbery. If you could get past the textures they had very little flavor as well.
We had planned on this being a family vacation and were not going to utilize Camp Carnival except during dinner in the MDR (we sat down to dinner with the kids earlier in the evening) and one excursion and it's a good thing we didn't because the kids were less than enthused about the kid's rooms. During registration, as we toured the small rooms, my mother in law asked the staff member if she liked working for Carnival. She hesitated for awhile, saying, "ehhhh..." then seemed to realize she was talking to a customer and said, "well, I do love the kids." When we went for the Beary Cuddly event, the staff member handed us the box and didn't tell us what to do (not that it was hard to figure out) and sort of shrugged when I asked her about the star in the box. I had to read the instructions to find out that it was a wishing star and the kids are supposed to make a wish when they build the bear and put the star inside.
Besides Camp Carnival, there was nothing for kids to do. The mini golf on the front of the ship was too windy to actually play; although my husband and I made the most of it, the kids just got frustrated. The pools were alright, but the water slide took up most of the "big" pool and none of my kids were tall enough to use it, so much of our pool time was spent in the tiny baby pool on the back deck. We spent the rest of the time in our cabins playing Mad Libs which we had brought for the plane ride.
The production shows just felt lifeless, but the cruise director (Willie) made the crowd-involved shows fun. It was obvious that the crew is tired of doing the same shows and enjoyed the freedom of improv much more.
By far the best parts of the cruise were the shore excursions. We have no complaints about them. In Progreso, we did the Dzibilichutan Ruins tour with swimming at the cenote and it was great! Highly recommended! The whole family enjoyed it!
In Cozumel, we did Everybody Loves Rays with just our 7 year old and as other reviews have stated, it's no Grand Caymen ray experience, but it was fun. We decided to not wait on the beach for the shuttle and took a taxi back to the ship to pick up the 4 and 2 year old to take them out on port. We ended up at Margaritaville a short walk from the port, free margaritas (and shots if you're into that!) plus swimming and snorkeling in the waterpark off the back deck for free. The best part of Margaritaville was the food! I could finally eat something and enjoy it!
All in all, we expected great food and lots of activities for the kids and we got neither which resulted in a disappointing vacation. We would have been better off going directly to Mexico.