We booked our cruise on the Nov 9, '05 sailing of Carnival Legend. I should preface this by saying that we were newlyweds on our honeymoon, and this was the first cruise we had ever been on, so we were probably in better spirits than other cruise veterans.
The embarkment process was very tedious - there was a mass of people when we arrived, some waiting to get on, some from the previous cruise who were waiting for their luggage, and some not knowing what the heck they were waiting for. I heard that part of the problem was that recent hurricanes damaged some of the facilities they use to disembark the previous cruisers so we were all jumbled together. It seemed very disorganized, with Carnival employees and Port Security getting into shouting matches, whistles blowing, horns being honked, and general mayhem. Having never cruised before we weren't sure what to expect, but in talking to other passengers waiting to board it sounded like our experience was not normal and Carnival doesn't have the best reputation in this arena.
Just in brief:
Ship - it was pretty awe-inspiring, huge and glitzy and reminded me of a Vegas casino. It was a little gaudy, but impressive nonetheless. Everything was well taken care of, although I did notice a few areas where the carpet could use replacing, mainly in the hallways outside the cabins. Other than that it was always clean and sparkling. I was a little surprised how small the pools were, pretty much the size of kiddie pools. We never tried swimming during peak hours since it was so crowded.
Cabin - we booked a balcony room on the 8th level, and were very happy with our room. It was bigger than I expected, and had all the amenities we needed. I loved having a balcony and would recommend spending the extra money in a heartbeat, I think it made our cruise so much better being able to wake up and see the ocean, and have breakfast on the balcony each morning.
Food - we were actually really impressed with the food, I would say the buffets were a few notches above a good Vegas buffet. We were always very happy with our dinners in the dining hall, I'm amazed how they can serve so many meals and still prepare them so well, and manage to decorate them like an upscale restaurant. I wasn't that impressed with our servers at dinner - I'd heard so much about how servers will usually learn your name and try to remember what you liked and didn't, and we didn't get that from our servers, and often times it seemed like we were putting them out by asking for simple things. Our tablemates mentioned that this wasn't normal, that they had received better service on other cruises - at one point they asked for ice tea as well as water and the waitress actually rolled her eyes! I think part of that was a cultural/language difference, and we took it with some humor.
Entertainment - we went to a few shows and saw a comedian or two. They weren't bad, but I wasn't bowled over. We saw one show that was a tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra, that was probably my favorite one. There are a lot of activities to do on the ship, but a lot of them seemed kind of cheesy, like Fear Factor and the Newlywed Game. I would have liked to see more hands on stuff as well, maybe a cooking class or making something crafty inspired by our ports of call. I think they could also add some more shopping options as well - having so many days at sea you can get a little antsy, and I for one ended up in the gift stores more than once. :)
Ports - our experience was a little odd as our itinerary was changed a few times - once when an ill passenger had to be let off at St. Thomas, and again when a tropical depression started. We were able to go to St. Maarten as planned, but instead of going to Barbados and Martinique we went to St. Kitts and Nassau. We were not impressed with St. Kitts at all, it was pretty dirty and poverty stricken and we were solicited a lot by people selling things/wanting to braid our hair, plus the weather was still bad from the tropical depression. We went shopping for a few hours and ended up going back to the ship. I loved Nassau however, it was beautiful and we got to see the Atlantis resort which I loved!
Excursions - we ended up only going on one excursion through Carnival. It was the Divi Bay Beach resort excursion on St. Martin. It seemed silly to pay to go hang out at a beach but I'm very happy we booked this - Divi Bay is beautiful and we felt very comfortable and safe at the resort, not having to worry about finding restrooms or that our belongings might not be safe. And they served us a BBQ lunch and drinks and had a great host who played Caribbean music and kept us entertained.
All in all we were happy with our first cruise experience. There were several things that went wrong, but we kept a positive outlook and had a good time regardless. I definitely think cruising is a great value and look forward to our next cruise!