Wow! Were we impressed!
My wife and I have cruised about 18 times. This was our first cruise aboard a Carnival ship. We had always been told that Carnival was for people that had never cruised. Therefore, we thought Carnival was "beneath us". You could call us "Carnival Snobs". However, I am here to tell you that I am a Carnival convert. This was one of our best cruises ever. The food was fantastic at or above anything we've had on Celebrity or Holland America. Much better than Princess and Royal Caribbean cruises we've taken. And, about the level of the specialty restaurants that we love aboard the NCL freestyle vessels.
First, embarkation was a breeze. We live in Sarasota, about an hour drive to Tampa. We pulled up to the ship, handed the car keys to the valet ($10 more than self park and worth every penny). The valet tests your battery and air tire pressure before you return to ensure you can drive home!
We were on board about 1 hour and 15 minutes after leaving home!
The ship is beautiful. Many people in our reviews complain about the dining room decor. While it is not the prettiest dining room ever, I thought it was quite nice. The pink/purple lights that look like grapes look like they have been toned down with a dark glazing process and are subtly lit.
The food was great. We ate at Nick and Noras (specialty restaurant) for dinner twice. The food was fantastic! I can not say enough about the quality of the meat and the service. I had the 24 oz Porterhouse and my wife the surf and turf. Everything was quite gourmet from the presentation to the ingredients. While Nick and Noras was phenomenal, the main dining room was excellent as well. There was always something I liked! The presentation was excellent as well. I had read elsewhere that the deserts weren't very good.) I disagree. I loved the deserts. They had some very interesting icecreams paired with the deserts. I love trying new things. There was a Thyme icecream and a peppercorn icecream. They were surprisingly refreshing and paired nicely with their items.
The entertainment was good, but not memorable. I enjoyed the Ticket to Ride show. The audience participation was fun at the end. My daughter loved the shows (she's 2.5).
Most importantly for us, Camp Carnival was great! My daughter each night (except for the first and last nights as they were closed) ate with the camp carnival staff and other children. My daughter said each night, "I want to eat with my friends!" Very cute coming from a 2 year-old. Therefore, my wife and I dined alone for 5 nights in a row! This hasn't happened since my daughter was born! This really made the vacation great.
The room was nice. The balcony was nice. Normal cruise cabin. Large enough for the bed and my daughters pack and play. The free things in the bathroom (toothpaste and razors) were fun.
Leaving the ship was easy. Not very organized, but we were off within 10 minutes of the general announcement. Of note, there were two lines to get out. 95% of people were in the forward line and 5% of people were in the aft line. So approach from the aft side of the ship to leave. This will require using the aft elevators.
In all, we had a great time! We are now Carnival fans! Anyone with a family, look into this cruise. If you have a 2-5 year old you will have a great time dining alone. You'll feel like newlyweds again.