(This will be a long review, sorry) We went on this cruise with another couple, booked through a travel agent in his home town. We originally booked the lowest level balcony, but Carnival offered an upgrade sale that we took advantage of to get closer to their suite on Deck 9. It's nice up there by the bridge.
We stayed 3 nights in San Juan prior to the cruise, and really enjoyed our time there. On Sunday afternoon, we headed to the port about 3PM to embark. The lines moved quickly and we were on the ship within 30 minutes of arrival.
We found our cabin (9207) easily - standard balcony cabin, but one thing Carnival has done well is to create space with lots of storage and a comfortable room. Cabin steward Denik did a great job, and even got me a longer extension cord for my CPAP machine (the one I brought did not have a long enough cord). His service was professional and unobtrusive.
We chose the 6:00 seating in the Lincoln Dining Room - at first we were not too impressed with the dinner offerings, but the food seemed to get better as the week went on. None of the dining room meals were a 'knockout', but the food was tasty and prepared as ordered. Service was friendly and we didn't feel rushed while dining. The one thing I would change is the nightly "Showtime", where the wait staff sing along with some kind of recorded music and do a cheesy dance at every meal. It interrupted the flow of our dessert and coffee and we didn't really enjoy it. We at in Rosie's buffet a time or two, fish and chips were awful, other stuff was just OK. Breakfast in the Dining Room was our choice almost every day.
We chose Scarlett's on Wednesday evening (based on a recommendation from someone in the dining room) and enjoyed it very much. Comparable to a Morton's or Fleming's steakhouse, the food was excellent and service was top notch. My wife had attended a chef's cooking demonstration earlier that day where he prepared a killer mac-and-cheese dish, which they prepared for us on a special order. It was wonderful. Too much food, of course, but well done.
Entertainment: Saw one show, very energetic dancing and singing, standard cruise ship stuff. Lounge entertainers were average or below average. Tried to avoid the noisy Lido Deck with the large screen TV screaming loudly and incessantly all day and all night. Why oh why do they do this? Liked the "Serenity Deck" and rear pool for relaxation.
In St. Thomas, we made our regular stop at Duffy's Love Shack in Red Hook (the best little parking lot bar in the Caribbean). We booked an island tour with a driver called "Angel" in town, who promised us a tour and then he would drop us off at Duffy's, return to pick us up and get us back to the ship in time for our 4:30 boarding time. Well, the tour was OK, and Angel was friendly, the only problem is that he did not return at 3:30 to get us as promised. More than a little anxious, we waited until 4:00 and got our own cab back. We had not paid Angel, so he lost $100 on that deal.
I can highly recommend two tours that we booked on our own: In Barbados, we chose the Silver Moon sail and snorkel trip...small boats with a limited number of passengers, drinks and lunch included, great friendly crew and 2 stops to snorkel with turtles and on the reef. This was our second trip with them, and we were not disappointed. Back to the ship in plenty of time to enjoy the afternoon sun on the balcony.
The next day in St. Lucia, we had booked an island tour with Cosol Tours, had a great driver (ask for "Fat Man" Bernard), it was a great value for about 2/3 of the ship's tour cost, and includes drinks at several stops, a small breakfast buffet, and warm bread and cheese at the end of the tour. Another great value.
St. Lucia has lots of poverty, and at every stop, someone had their hand out to sell something or ask for money just for talking with you. My favorite was when we ran into a man they call "The King" at one of the stops, he was friendly, talked to us, helped with changing shoes at the beach stop, and tried to sell a necklace or twelve. I always feel a little sorry for these guys, but about 20 minutes later, we saw him driving a very nice new shiny Toyota van (he waved!), maybe the necklace business is pretty good after all?
St. Kitts we didn't do much, there is a small museum there that tells the history of the island, and the usual souvenir shops.
St. Maarten, we waked down the beach boardwalk then out to the Sunset Beach bar to watch the planes. Last time we were there, it wasn't much, but has really been built up and is a major destination. Good food, $3.00 short beers.
Debarkation was the usual fuster-cluck. All passengers exit forward, using six elevators, by zone. Travelling from floor to floor takes a lot of time because the lifts are all full. When we finally squeezed into one, we had a most unpleasant experience with another guest who was determined to squeeze his large suitcase, wife, and his large body into the elevator. He dropped the bag on my friend's foot, did not apologize, and was generally an a***ole about the whole thing. Then, he only rode down one floor!
Everyone knows that when you leave the ship, you are no longer a 'guest', but just another tourist. Customs consisted of only 3 people (sequester?), with long long lines and it took a while to get through, even though we were one of the last groups off the ship. Cab to the airport (don't forget the USDA inspection) and then home safely.
This was our last cruise with Carnival, I guess we've outgrown the constant sales pressure and hawking of photos, art auctions, drinks, special jewelry sales, shore tours, spa treatments, average food, etc. Or maybe we just don't like the clientele and noise. Is it my imagination, or are people so wrapped up in themselves that they can't say "pardon me" when they want to pass you? Just wondering.......