This was our 7th cruise on Carnival, our third trip to Alaska and our first trip to Alaska with Carnival.
Embarkation - We arrived at the terminal around 1:30. The whole embarkation process ran very smoothly. Yes, there were lines, but everything moved with a nice efficiency. It took us about 45 minutes total to get on board, which isn't bad since it seemed like there was a large volume of people all trying to get on at the same time.
The ship was in great shape! We though it was laid out in a way that was easy to navigate. It never felt like we had to walk a million miles to get anywhere but I never felt like there was no where to go either. Just right. The layout was different than most of the other Carnival cruises we had taken. The Atrium and main areas (Casino, clubs, library, etc) were on decks 2 and 3 rather than 4 and 5. I liked it that way. Deck 2 was the Promenade deck where you could walk outside and it was covered. It's also the muster station area for the whole ship so there were no chairs to sit on out here, which was a bit of a disappointment as that is a favorite spot to hang out for us.
We had inside cabins on deck 7. My husband and I had one room and our daughters (ages 11 and 14) had a room right next door. Loved that the cabins were turned "sideways". Usually they are long and narrow. When you walked in there were the closets on the left and then that gave way to a long vanity with two sets of drawers and the fridge. The room opened up to the right of the entry way and the bed was on the right wall with night stands on each side and the door to the bathroom was not in the entry hall, but rather across from the bed. Made the room feel very spacious. With only one row of interior cabins on this deck there was no external noise other than people in the hallway. It was awesome. We found it easy to get to the mid-ship and front elevators from our rooms, which made navigating the ship fairly easy.
We had Any Time dining. Most nights when we ate in the dining room, the 4 of us ate together. We did share a table by the aft windows on the first night with another couple which was nice. Service in the dining room was okay. Some nights it was smooth and other nights it seemed to take absolutely forever to get each course. Carnival has definitely cut back on the quality of their food and the serving sizes. We found it hard most nights to find anything we really wanted to eat in the dining room. The were a few good dishes, but overall it was pretty blah. My husband and I ate in the Lido buffet together two nights and were just as happy with our choices, plus it took half the time to eat and we could look out the windows.
The buffet was set up nicely. We liked the different stations spread across the eating area and while it was crowded we were always able to find a table. The variety of foods made it easy for us each to get what we wanted for ourselves, but if our kids had been younger and would have needed assistance it would have been tiresome to have to go from one end to the other. The layout did keep lines to a minimum which was nice. Carnival changed their pizza and our family agrees that it's delicious and way better than it was before. It takes about 5 min for them to make you your own fresh pizza. We ate a lot of pizza on this trip. The ice cream machines were out by the inside pool area and were hard to find on day one, but it kept the kids from eating ice cream non-stop so I guess that wasn't a bad thing. We did like that they a fair amount of drink stations so it was easy to pop in from outside to get a cup of hot cocoa or lemonade. There were signs asking you to not reuse your glass which seemed wasteful but I guess it keeps people from getting sick.
Around the ship - The first sea day there were no chairs out on Deck 10 to sit and look out at the scenery. I was disappointed. We were able to sit out on Serenity, which is where my husband and I spent a lot of time. However, to sit together as a family outside was nearly impossible. That ended on day 2 when they started to put out deck chairs on Deck 10 for people to use. The annoying thing is that this is the deck people were using to jog (even though the very short jogging path was on deck 11). So there were people jogging and and out of people trying to catch a glimpse of a whale or a glacier. I wish they would have had a family area similar to Serenity for us to sit with our kids. We enjoyed the large round loungers with a cover and would have loved to snuggle up as a family together. Instead we had to use it when the girls were otherwise occupied. Loved that they had blankets on Serenity to use to keep you warm. I wish they would had them at the towel hut for use in other areas of the ship. We ended up snagging one to tote around with us.
We also enjoyed the Casino minus the smoke. In the Atrium was a game table area where there were puzzles and games to work on which was fun. There were pool tables you could rent for $5 for an hour in the Casino near the sports bar, and they got a lot of use. We tried the mini golf on Deck 11 and appreciated that the clubs and balls were right up there to use and didn't need to be checked out on deck 9. We saw some brave guys use the water slide on the back of the ship when we left Ketchikan. Other than then it was hardly used and awkwardly located away from the other pools. Speaking of pools - the inside pool was full of kids (especially the hot tub). Lots of adults enjoyed the hot tub on the Serenity deck so it wasn't a huge issue. Some people even used the outside pool on deck 9. Loved that the inside pool was open until 1 am, even though we never did go use it.
Entertainment - If you are going on an Alaskan cruise to be entertained in to the wee hours of the morning then you are sadly mistaken. As with all the other Alaskan cruises we've taken, entertainment (shows) were done by 11 pm most nights. Clubs and bars with music were still open. Lots of people were complaining, however, there was far more to do on Carnival than there was on Princess when we sailed to Alaska two years ago. We enjoyed the Beatles show, the Game Show Game, the Blues Brother's shows, and the comedy shows. Everything was pretty well timed. We had nights where we would go to dinner, then family comedy, then a show in the main lounge, and then back down for Adult Comedy. The band on board was very good and we enjoyed listing to them.
Camp Carnival - We chose this cruise because it offered our kids activities we couldn't find for their ages on other cruise lines. Our oldest (14) was in Circle C and our youngest (11) went Camp Carnival. By the end of the cruise we hardly ever saw our kids because they had made friends and were hanging out. Camp Carnival seemed to offer a nice variety of activities, some our daughter liked and some she didn't. We let her check herself out and she would often come find us and ask to swim with her new friends or to go play games. Our oldest felt that Circle C was pretty boring. It was really more suited to kids going in to Middle School versus those going in to High School and used to hanging out with older kids. However, she made some good friends and had a great time. Circle C really only offers limited things for them to do. She was hoping it would be more structured and would have things that would be fun for the whole group versus just video games and dance parties. Overall though both kids were entertained and had a fabulous time.
Wildlife viewing - the Naturalist on board really didn't offer much to us. We saw more wildlife on our own from the ship. If you spend time outside it's pretty easy to see whales and porpoise. In Tracy's Arm we saw seals and if you have binoculars you can scan the trees for bald eagles. The only thing we didn't see was a bear on the shore line - but that's okay, we saw one when we were in Skagway.
The crew was nice a few crew members really stood out to us as being extremely helpful and friendly. I think they were just as good as any other crew we have sailed with. The cruise Director and his staff were fun and entertaining.
Debarkation went even faster than embarkation. We went Self Assist with 5 pieces of luggage plus 2 carry on's each because we wanted to hit the road to Mt. Rainier as early as possible. We basically walked right through customs and were in our rental car van within 10 minutes (or less) from leaving the ship.
Overall the only thing lacking was the food and not having enough comfortable places to sit and admire the scenery. I prefer not to sit at a dining table on Lido to watch through the glass to see the world go by, I like being able to move around the ship. We'd take this cruise again in a heartbeat. It was worth every penny!