We did the 9-day on the recently refurbished Carnival Sunshine. We were planning to be in northern France for a couple of weeks anyway, so I convinced my wife to spend the extra time to cruise. My wife had never cruised before and was not sure about this, but we both had a great time. We picked this one primarily for the Italy-intensive itinerary and we were not disappointed.
We got into Barcelona the day before on the Elipsos train from Paris and stayed at the Park Hotel, which was a great choice. It's close to the old city and train station and to the port. Less than 15 Euros for the taxi to the ship. We spent the day exploring everything below Plaza Catalunya down to the port, including the Ramblas.
On the morning of departure, we had reservations at the Picasso Museum for 10 a.m. (yes, you can do that). That was a great start to the day. We got back to the hotel a little before noon and took a short taxi ride to the port. Embarkation wasn't too bad and we were in our room on the ship in less than an hour.
We loved the ship and we loved the ports. At the time of booking, you could upgrade from the cheapest inside room to any inside room for no additional cost. Our consultant recommended mid-ship to minimize noise and rocking. We ended up on Deck 7 just behind the atrium and that was nice. We were close to Deck 9 and the dining room (Deck 4). We didn't have much trouble with noise at night except for the occasional late returning teenagers or kids who like to run the long hallway. The room was spacious but strangely didn't have any tables except for the desk, so it was kind of awkward every time room service came. They had to balance the trays on the desk.
We are not party people, and the ship was perfect for us. We did the late seating for dinner and were paired with a lovely couple. It turns out we had a lot in common and never lacked for things to talk about. The food on the Lido deck was also good and many days we stopped up there for an appetizer before dinner. Unfortunately, you can only get a fish taco during lunch, and we were really not on the ship much at lunch time. On our one Day at Sea, they had a special comedy brunch in the main dining room. It was really just an expanded breakfast menu and nothing particularly special.
We really enjoyed the Epic Rock show. The new theater is spectacular and the technical system is spot on. The sound system is great and the special effects are stunning. We also went back to the Latin Dance show, but were less impressed.
We hit all of the Family Friendly Punchliner shows. This was hit and miss. The hits were very entertaining, but the misses were pretty bad. Lots of fart jokes and racial stereotypes.
I found Carnival's excursions to be really over-priced (probably in great part due to the fact that they have to set prices months in advance in dollars, but pay local companies in Euros). Given the prices, there was only one we wanted to do (Beach Day in Messina) but it sold out before we got around to signing up, so we missed it.
I have traveled enough to feel comfortable doing my own thing in the ports, and we did a lot of that. For example, in Livorno, while everyone flocked into Florence or Pisa (despite the fact that it was Monday and the museums were closed) we figured out how to get to the Cinque Terre and were absolutely stunned all day by how wonderful that was.
In summary, the ship is nicely done and exciting. The food was above average if not generally excellent, and the ports were spectacular. I have no complaints about the ship or the staff, just the occasional rude passenger (which is bound to happen in any crowd of 3,000 or more people).
My wife is now a convert to cruising. She had a great time and would like to go again (soon).