Background Information: Family of three, mom & dad in mid-forties, son 11 years old. We've cruised 4 times before, once on Norwegian and 3 times on Carnival (the two most recent cruises were on the Paradise, while it was still smoke-free, and that would still be our ship of choice if it were still smoke-free...)
Travel To Port of Embarkation: We live in central Florida and stopped at Disney World to ride on Expedition Everest a couple of times. We pulled out of the park at about 11 a.m. and headed down the Beachline. Everything went great until we hit a huge traffic jam about 11:50 at about 8 miles from the port. Not knowing the cause or extent, we got off at the next exit and took a detour (which was also crowded due to others, including Disney cruise buses taking that route). We finally got there about an hour after we planned and were onboard the ship by 1:30.
Stateroom: We had booked a balcony guarantee (our first balcony). The room we received was 8343. Unless you enjoy the sound of thunder, avoid this room at all costs. It was directly below the Lido deck tables, and every time someone pulled out or pushed in a chair, it sounded like thunder. This really bothered us the first night, but after that the motion of the cruise ship lulled us to sleep (plus we had a white noise machine that we used liberally). Other than that, it was a good room, really convenient to stairs and elevators (no problem with noise from them), and large, as we expect from Carnival.
Ship Info: This cruise really skewed toward older demographics, as I guess May is not a normal time for families to vacation. (We homeschool and have just finished our year). There were about 30 kids in the 9-11 age range, more younger (preschool) kids, a fair amount of honeymooners, and multitudes of retirees.
Dining: I really thought it was good. Desserts were probably the weak point, as others have mentioned, but really, I have no complaints. Our waitstaff were Subi and Marin, and Marin drew cartoons for the kids every night. We tried room service the first morning and it was prompt, but our son loves bacon, so we did the Red Sail all the rest of the mornings to get the hot food. For lunch, we tried just about everything: dining room, room service, fish n chips, grill, pizza, deli, and Red sail buffet. Of all those, our favorites were the fish n chips, grill, pizza (our son lived on it), and deli. I wasn't wild about the dining room lunch menu, and don't especially like how they seat you (we were initially seated at a table for 8 with a family of 6-- it felt awkward and we asked to be moved; we were moved to a table for two). For dinner, we ate in the dining room every night. We had a table for nine, which was 3 families with 1 child each-- our son, a 9 year old girl, and a 6 year old boy. We got along great and enjoyed visiting with everyone each night. The dining room food was fantastic. I especially enjoyed the chilled fruit soups, anything with shrimp, the beef wellington, the Indian dinner, and the filet mignon-- oh, and my lobster was wonderful also. My favorite dessert was the tiramisu, and I knew to order 2 of it! I also loved the Creme brulee.
Activities: We either participated in or watched many of the activities. Cruise director Mark Price was very good. Of his staff, Erin and Kelly were very likeable, but this guy Doogie has to go. He needs to find a real job somewhere. Typical Carnival activities, but they pretty much kept us busy, which we like.
Children's Clubs: if we had any disappointment on this ship, it was with Camp Carnival. On our past two cruises, our son has loved Camp Carnival and begged to go there. Now, I know he's older (11) and getting into those hard-to-please teenage years, but I don't think it's all his fault that he didn't like Camp Carnival this time. I heard from other parents (and experienced firsthand) some real rudeness from the counselors, and when they weren't rude, they were pretty much indifferent. Because the cruise wasn't overrun with kids of this age group, it seemed like many of the activities were cancelled because only a few kids showed up. In my opinion, if they show up, they should have something to do-- go to plan B if necessary. So my son spent less and less time with Camp Carnival, although the activities they had planned looked like they should have been fun.
Service: All around, it was exemplary, absolutely no complaints. Waitstaff, room stewards, everyone around the ship (except Camp Carnival) was pleasant, friendly, and eager to please.
Entertainment: We saw the welcome show, the singer Marcus Anthony, Rock down Broadway, and the two comedians (forget their names). Welcome show was good, we enjoyed that comedian. Marcus Anthony we almost skipped, because I'm not wild about Motown, but we went and were really pleasantly surprised at how good his show was. Rock down Broadway was good. The two comedians were also good, especially the first one (he did magic tricks). We also saw the Carnival Legends show-- I'm sure it varies each week according to who tries out. I think this should be an afternoon show, not a main evening headliner (seems a little cheap to me). Our Garth Brooks and Madonna were especially good, we thought. We didn't do much else (lounges, etc.), though we did wander into the piano bar-- Ronnie was really nice, but did seem to have difficulties getting the crowd involved...
Shore Excursions: In Nassau we did the walking tour on our own (from the ports of call board-- highly recommended). In St. Thomas we took the St. John Island tour and stopped at Trunk Bay. This was one of our best shore excursions ever! Trunk bay was beautiful, the views were stunning, can't say enough about St. Johns. In St. Marten we did the Golden Eagle catamaran (both of the above were Carnival excursions that we prepurchased). I was a little disappointed in the Golden Eagle excursion, but that was probably because I was so queasy that I spent the whole time trying not to vomit. Not really their fault...
Disembarkation: Other than that momentary panic of everyone on your deck trying to get on the elevators at the same time, it was easy. We did self-disembark, and were off the ship before 9, home before 11 a.m.
Summary: We loved the non-smoking Paradise and our friends who we cruised with on her, and of course we missed that. We didn't find the smoke to be too bad, staying on "our side" of the ship and not doing too many late night things in lounges. I'd say for lack of problems, beauty of the ship, good service, etc., this was our best cruise to date.