Background: A first time cruiser. I was looking for a relaxing vacation away from DC. Being the idiot I am, I went alone (big mistake, more on that later).
Embarkation: I was told at the airport to go to a podium to check in for my transfer. I was greeted by two old ladies who upon looking only at the first page of lists tell me that I didn't pay for my transfer. After showing them my receipt, they look through the other pages and finally see my name. Oh... I see....
Otherwise, getting on the ship was fine. I've seen shorter lines at Logan take 2 hours longer. Another bad part is being harassed to get my picture taken. I will not pay $10+ for a picture I can take myself
Cabin: Decent for the price. I made the mistake of getting an inside cabin. I certainly like knowing whether it's day or night without having to look at my watch (they don't supply alarm clocks). The cabins are always kept clean and orderly. The TV has all the standard networks, so I didn't miss the season premiere of CSI. Most of the channels however are advertisements to by the cruise DVD.
Activities: Appeals to the lowest common denominator. Hairy Chest contest, eating contests, knobby knee contests, and some woman telling you how to shop. I went to a seminar by a "golf pro" The golf pro turned out to be some college kid who apparently needs about 6+ years to graduate, even though his major is, I'm not kidding, golf. The kid had no enthusiasm whatsoever. I've taken private lessons for many sports and almost all of my instructors at least do a good job of pretending to like to teach. This kid spent most of the seminar bragging about getting lessons from Tiger Woods and couldn't even segue very well.
Dining: Surprising quality. I expected nothing better than college cafeteria food, but instead got 4 star quality meals. Some will complain that the portions were too small but they were fine for me. Our waiters were very accommodating and would bring other meals if what we ordered wasn't to our satisfaction.
The matire d' at lunch time, on the other hand, seemed shock that someone would dine alone and always had an annoyed look on her face when I said that it was just me.
I ate at the Red Sail during days I didn't feel like eating at the main dining hall or when I needed something quick. The food was ok. The pizza was undercooked, the chicken tikka did not look like chicken tikka. The lines were long, seating was at a premium, and the smell of dishwashing was prevalent.
The low light of the whole dining experience is the dancing waiters. The one Chinese waiter who would make noises as if he was a monkey and the Jamaican waiter who shouted OPA! really got on my nerves.
Service: Your wait and cabin staff are attentive as they, like any employee worth their paycheck would, know that their livelihood comes from tips. Mine always greeted me when I walked by her.
Excursions: If you are someone who is not comfortable driving around a big island he/she has never been before, these are the only way to really enjoy the ports of calls. We were fortunate that the weather was excellent as there was a good chance we would run into one hurricane. Therefore, any excursion near a beach or a body of water was well worth the high price. Shopping is vastly overrated, especially if you don't want to drop a grand on bling.
Entertainment: Again, appeals to the lowest common denominator. Simon Cowell often compares American Idol rejects to cruise ship entertainers and you see why. I've seen better at high school productions. The sad part is that many feel that these acts are high quality.
Overall: Stay away from Carnival. Pay more for a cruise line that won't insult your intelligence