We were on the November 26th Eastern Cruise.
Embarkation was fine. The lines moved a decent pace, but there were too many lines. There was one to go through metal detectors and x-ray machines for bags which is a necessity these days. Then, rather than giving you your keys when you checking in, you had to check in in one line, and then get into another line to get the keys. Then you got into a 4th line to have your picture taken by security for debarkation/embarkation procedures during ports of call (normal stuff) and then a 5th one to have the photographer take a picture of you boarding the ship with cheesy backgrounds. There was no way to bypass the photographers...you just had to stand and wait for your turn to either have a picture taken or keep walking. They were very friendly and smiley while boarding so you at least felt welcome.
Unfortunately, that is where the smiles stopped. I found that the majority of the staff on board were rude and cranky. The odd staff member smiled and were helpful, but most couldn't be bothered to say hello and be friendly. Our Steward, head and assistant waiter and bar waitress were extremely friendly and saved the cruise lines their reputation. If it had not been for them, we probably would have had a miserable cruise.
The spa people push product on you the whole time, so if you get a treatment, start off by telling them to can the sales pitch, otherwise expect a horrible time while getting that mani/pedicure treatment. They even went so far to insult my wife by saying she had black rings around her eyes and that she needed to buy their special cream and get some special treatment for a 100 bucks to clean that up. Needless to say, we left no tip and demanded a refund (we got a partial refund) when her nail polish began to chip off the next day.
The food really was nothing to be proud of on Carnival's part. The buffet was tasteless most of the time, and most of the food in the dinning room was hit and miss. The meats/prime rib had way too much fat on them. The seafood was ok at best. Their soups and salads were good. The bread was very fresh and always warm. I was really disappointed in their attitude of "feed you and get you out the door as fast as possible" theory. I also don't like only being provided with one fork and knife for a 4 course meal. Their dinning room is very laid back, and not appropriate for a "classy" dinning experience that you come to expect on a cruise at night.
The gala buffet was the worst I had ever seen on a cruise. There is more in my pantry than there was during the gala buffet. They had one ice sculpture, some cakes, cold cuts, sushi, salad and a few other items. There were no sculptures made out of chocolate or bread like every other cruise I have taken. Quite disappointing. Thankfully I found a way to bypass the line to see the buffet and didn't waste a half hour in line to see it.
The pastries and cakes on this cruise were horrible. You can get a better cake out of a Betty Crocker mix than on this cruise. If you went to the 24 hour sweets counter and asked for a piece of cake, they charged you between $2 and $5. I thought that food was supposed to be included in the price of the cruise. This was a rip off. At least the Sushi was free...not that I would pay for it given the average quality of sushi offered.
If you like soda, they serve you cans or bottles of soda...not fountain garbage like most places so that is s huge plus. Their bars are well stocked and they can make just about anything you want. There are a few bars thought that apparently do not have soda, so don't expect a Rum and Coke or Vodka Tonic everywhere you go.
What was good about the cruise was the ship itself. It was a nice ship to be on and had some fun lounges and piano bars to sit in and pass the time after the sun set with friends. Unfortunately, the music was way too loud in a few lounges including the lobby to have conversation without shouting. The color theme was not too in your face like older Carnival ships. The pools and hot tubs were nice. The water was cool in the pool and luke warm in the Jacuzzi's so you could enjoy bubbles under the sun without melting away due to hot water and a hot sun. Those who want 100 degree hot tubs will be disappointed though. There are 2 adult only Jacuzzi's at the back, but no adult only pools.
The water slide is a fun addition to the cruise that I used a few times. The live music around the main pool is too loud for most people, and the CD music that they play has about 20 songs that repeat over and over again so if you spend a few hours around the pool when there is no live music, you hear the same songs a few times every day. The deck however is clean, the chairs are comfortable and plentiful. We had a full house and I always found some pool chairs at all times of the day. Please note however that there were not to many kids on this sailing and therefore a full house means no empty staterooms, just not full staterooms.
The shows were good and the information provided to us everyday in the "Carnival Capers" newspaper was great. The internet was a rip off, so don't expect to email home every day unless you plan to spend some major cash to do it. Wait until you get to shore and use internet cafes on the islands. That probably explains why the internet room is hidden away in a corner behind a bar where no one can find it.
Overall, we had fun on the cruise due to our steward and waiters. They took good care of us even thought no one else really tried. We met a few great people and made our own fun. Had neither of these occurred, I suspect that the cruise would not have been very good. You get what you pay for with Carnival...low price, low quality. If you want great service and a great experience, This is not the cruise for you. If you are looking for an inexpensive cruise and you don't care about high end dinning and service, than you will be happy with the experience provided by Carnival. Personally, I will not sail with Carnival again. not because they are bad, but because my expectation for service is higher than they strive to provide.