Background - I have been on three cruises on the Norwegian Dawn, so, this is my only point of reference. This was my first cruise on Carnival and my first cruise with my kids. Our ages - 5, 8, 9, 23, 33, 35, and 68.
Overall- No major complaints. Let's call a spade a spade - its 8 days on a cruise. We had fun because we were on vacation. You eat. You sleep. You hang out.
Getting on the ship was a breeze. Getting off took about 35-40 minutes from the time we got on the line to the time we passes through immigration. No complaints.
Room- We prefer to have an inside cabin, as the darkness helps us sleep. The room was a bit dated, but more than functional. The bathroom layout was especially "roomy" for such a small space. We had three rooms. The kids kept changing rooms and we never felt cramped. The room stewards are exceptionally helpful. Good toiletries in the room, including breath right strips! The kids loved the towel creations - a nice, cute touch that makes you smile.
Camp Carnival - In all honesty, the camp sucks, big time! On most days, they are only open from 10-245, and again from 6 on. They do not serve snacks or lunch on sea days. So, you drop your kid off at 10, pick them up for lunch at 12 - or have them starve - drop them off again at 1245, only to pick them up again at 245. If there are a lot of kids on board, as was the case this week, it can take 15 minutes to drop off and pick up your kids. Barely allowed enough time to use the gym and shower! On port days, you can drop the kids off at 7. We left the kids on the ship in Freeport. They served lunch, but no snacks, so, if you actually drop your kids off at 7, they will not eat until 12! That is just cruel! Most of the "activities" in the camp were described as "free play", especially for the younger kids, and there was no shortage of "movie time". After a few days, I let my 9 year old roam the ship with his new friends.
Entertainment - The night shows were enjoyable, but they were significantly lower quality than on the Dawn. Great dancers, fun themes, but that's about it. On the Dawn, the shown included acrobatics, ropes/high-wire, etc. The shows were very crowded and you had to come about an hour early to get a decent seat. People had plenty of time to sit and wait because there wasn't anything else to do! Unless, of course, you like seminars and Bingo! I found myself saying "I'm bored" more than once! Not much to do to keep busy.Not even eat!
Which brings me to - FOOD -
The food in the dining room was very good. One side of the menu stays the same and one side changes daily. 5 of us are vegetarians and the other two eat meat. I was told the pork chops and several chicken dishes were good, but the red meat is not. I cannot tell you personally. We thoroughly enjoyed most of the vegetarian dishes - the Indian and the salmon on the left side of the menu are always good! Oddly enough,according to our server, ALL of the soups were made with chicken or beef stock, so us vegetarians could not eat any of them. The desserts mostly sounded and looked better than they tasted. Some faves - apple pie, the diet cakes (!), and the phyllo cigars. We all found the cheese cakes and mousse type desserts to be gross. The "melting cake" is good. Once. Not every night. The servers and staff are AMAZING!!!. There were a million children and large families, many with special food requests, and they never missed a beat!! Kudos to Yordan, Aries and Javier! They were especially caring to our children!
Buffet food - Initially, with wide eyes, the buffet looks great! After day 1, its done! The food was less than average. The breakfast items were cooked in the kitchen and served from warming trays. The pancakes-waffles-french toast ended up crunchy under the lights. They also alternate between two menus - things like pancakes and cin buns were not served daily. The fruit was either soggy or hard and they only served melons, apples, bananas or canned fruit! No berries. (It will become mundane by day 8!) I am used to Freestyle dining and did not like Carnival dining at all. The buffet was closed from 3-6 and again at 930. It was like being in school - you have to eat at designated times, unless you don't eat! I like having a cup of coffee at about 430/5pm and had to remember to grab something at breakfast to eat with my coffee. They have pizza and ice cream 24 hours. Odd choices, if you ask me. I thought they should have more of a snack-fruit-cake type station open round the clock. All 7 of us thought the pizza was AWFUL, even the kids! The kids choices were lacking as well. We are lucky that tour kids eat "real food" - they mostly ate salmon, salad and mac n cheese. The fries at the pool are AMAZING and we ate plenty of these!
Pool /Gym - pools are not heated. Kids crowded the hot tubs, even the one in the gym! Perhaps the kids should have somewhere to be during the day.....like CAMP!!! Gym had a lot of equipment. Low ceilings. Closes at 10, which I find to be early. Why cant the gym be opened 24 hours? Overall, good gym.
Ships Decor - I found the decor of the ship to be very odd, not at all cohesive, and, at times, inappropriate. I didn't think I would care about the decor, as most cruise ships look cheesy, but it was nauseating after a while. The ceilings in the common areas are very low, as are the ceilings in the theater and dining room. The ship also seemed very dark. There was a life size picture of what appeared to be a nude 10-11 year old girl on the doors to the main dining room. I am not a prude, but the picture was disturbing. I heard several other people say they too were disturbed by that particular picture.
Ports of call -
Port Canaveral - we rented a car and drove to Kennedy Space Center. Overall, enjoyable.
In Nassau - take one of the "cab -taxi-bus" tours that chase you down in the ship terminal. The drivers will group about 12 people together. Negotiate them down from the $25 a person. Our driver spent two hours giving us an island tour and then drove us to the beautiful, public beach on Atlantis (the hotel owns about 80% of the beach).
Freeport - do an actual tour or stay on the ship. Not much to do on your own and it was quite cold in January. The Island is pretty bleak. My mom (68) did the bike tour through the ship and loved it. It sells out fast. Several other people enjoyed the Wyndham excursion.
Overall, we had a pleasant vacation. Nothing bad happened. We were all a bit bored at times and found the food to be mundane. I think I will spend the extra money next time and go Norwegian. Good luck and have fun!