We flew into Orlando airport and picked up a one way rental from Dollar at the terminal. It was $48 total for 24 hours, including $19 one way fee and taxes, plus $6 fillup upon return for a fullsize that was upgraded to a minivan for free. We had signed up for the free Express rental card, so we just walked over to the parking terminal and saw our name on a board which shows what parking spot your car is in. Jump in and drive off easy! They provide a free shuttle to the cruise ship from the Port Canaveral location, so you can't beat the price for transport of 3 people from Orlando airport to the Port Canaveral cruise terminal. We also do this same thing when sailing from Tampa.
We drove 40 minutes to Port Canaveral for our overnight stay in the Wakulla Suites on the main drag A1A, about 2 miles from the terminal. It was 2 blocks from the Ron Jon store and near CVS, Walgreens, Publix, and lots of "outlet" beach shops. This 2 bedroom suite with full kitchen came free from our travel agent. It is a very dated place but was clean. Good luck finding a parking space. The free wi-fi didn't work that night, and calling the main desk did nothing to get it fixed, but was working the next morning. Also our Sprint phones got NO signal for voice or data while in the room. The property has its own entry to the beach and has a nice courtyard with grills spread around. And did it make us hungry with so many people using them.
We went to a cruise critic meet and greet at Fishlips restaurant across from the terminal. Really good food. Four other families showed up for a total of about 15 people...very nice dinner. My son found a friend to hang out with for the whole cruise. We stopped at a Walmart on Merritt Island that was about 2 miles away to pick up some stuff. We left the hotel around 11am the next morning and stopped at a beach shop and CVS for more stuff. The Dollar rental place was halfway to the terminal also on A1A. We returned the car and waited about 15 minutes for the free shuttle to the terminal. And here we met the first of many long lines. Every shuttle from rental agencies, hotels, private shuttles, park and rides, and taxis have to wait in line to unload people. We waited 45 min to get to the unload spot. Porters took the bags and we walked across the street into the terminal.
There was a line to get into the terminal, then a line to get into the security line, then a line to get a sign and sail card, then a line to get a green background picture, then a line to show sign and sail plus ID, then a line to board the ship. Fortunately, the lines moved quickly and there were lots of chairs if you cared to sit during most of the waits. It took maybe 45 minutes to get onto the ship, and would probably be quicker had we arrived earlier. The forward elevators were totally mobbed as they are the first thing you reach on the ship. We walked past those and past the mid elevators that were closed to move baggage. The rear elevators were totally empty. We arrived at our balcony rooms on the 9th floor around 2:30. There was another cruise critic meet and greet scheduled onboard at 2:00 that we missed. We went up to the 10th floor (Lido) to eat. The buffet and all the specialty restaurants were open. I went with Tandoor, wife went Mongolian Wok, son went deli, daughter went salad from the buffet. We went to muster stations after eating. Ours was in the Circle C lounge for a briefing from the overhead speakers with crew members demonstrating the lifejackets, much like how they do on planes now. We headed for the room and noted that Disney Fantasy also in port was conducting the more typical "everyone stand outside on deck with life jackets on" muster. All of our bags were waiting outside the room. The first naptime struck right about then, even before the ship had moved. The 9th floor was nice for just walking up the steps to the Lido, but there was quite a bit of noise early in the mornings from carts rolling on the hard floors above, chairs scraping across the floor, people running. We had a portable fan running for white noise and the noise wasn't enough to wake us, but it was noticeable. The room had ample storage under the bed for our 2 large luggage, and 2 hanging closets and 1 shelf closet, plus a 4 drawer dresser for clothing. Plenty of storage. There was a mini fridge mostly filled that could be locked. We carried on 3 12-packs of Mt. Dew and a case of water. We kept about 6 bottles in the fridge, but it doesn't keep stuff much above room temp. It may have been not working properly, but it would definitely not keep milk cold enough. The ice canister was filled twice a day and more could be requested if needed. There is only a single 120v american power outlet in the far corner of the room. Our previous cruises had us prepared with a power strip plus 2 25-foot extension cords to run across the floor to the night tables on both sides of the king bed for our fan and chargers for cell phones/iPads which we used for alarm clocks at night. There is a 220v European outlet also on that wall if you care. There was a hair dryer in one of the drawers and a stool under the counter in front of a mirror to sit at for makeup or using a computer. There was also a vinyl couch next to the bed, which faced the lcd tv, that was convertible to a fullsize bed.
The food was consistently good. The best food came from the specialty restaurants (Tandoor station, burrito bar, Mongolian wok, 5th floor open air BBQ, pasta bar) but they are only open from noon to 2:30 or 3:30 each day. The deli and grill is 11am-11pm. Pizza is 24 hours. We usually ate dinner in the dining room and service was excellent (thanks Antonio and Luis). Everyone should try the Punchliner brunch in the dining room 9:30am-1pm at least once. The food was very good and the offerings were totally unique to anything else you could get (mostly Mexican based breakfast food, ie., huevos rancheros). I will note that the 4 of us (me, wife, son (16 year old), daughter (12 year old)) were sat at dinner with 3 other families: a grandmother and granddaughter (Olivia 12 year old), a mother and daughter (Mia 17 year old), and mother and daughter (Sara 12 year old). Sara and mom were upset at being separated from the rest of their family. The hostess said they couldn't do anything about it on the first night but would fix it next day. Olivia was allergic to gluten and dairy. They had fresh gluten free bread ready for her and came to the table each night with the next day's menu for her to pick out breakfast and dinner for the next day. She could pick what everyone else was having but prepared differently. So she could get frog legs fried without the breading and sorbet instead of sherbet, etc. She seemed happy with the selection. My daughter ordered room service a few times and said it was good but slow to arrive.
The highlight of the cruise was...sleeping. We took 2 naps most days and slept long nights. I usually only sleep 5 hours per day so this was annoying how my body was acting. The beds are comfortable, but most previous Carnival cruisers will already know that. The room steward interrupted our sleep a few times the first day but soon knew our late wake up and dining schedule and would slip in to clean the rooms twice per day while we were out. We did have an issue with the kid's room bathroom. The sink and shower drained slowly enough that both would overflow onto the floor with even light use. We told the steward and a maintenance man showed up 5 minutes later and fixed it. We saw it was a problem with multiple rooms on our floor and the blockage seemed to be moving along from room to room.
The kids enjoyed Circle C for the 12-14 year olds, and Club O2 for the 15-17. The first night was horribly crowded with a waiting line extending down the hall like a popular nightclub in Miami Beach. Much of the problem was from kids whose parents had not registered them. The kids were given forms to go find a parent to fill out and sign. There is a place on Carnival's site in the online checkin to do this beforehand, but many parents seemed to have missed it. One thing we learned was the kid programs tend to schedule their main events between 8-8:30pm. We had picked late dining at 8:15pm which caused a problem. We let the kids miss a few dinners with us to attend events. Families with kids in these programs should consider early dinner seating at 6:30pm or my time dining.
We didn't go to any shows or events. Between sleeping and eating, my wife spent most of her time on the balcony reading. There was a chair, a small table, and a lounger out there. I was in the casino playing roulette. First night, I went to the cashier and asked if the player's club had any amenities from previous cruises. They gave me $75 in fun chips and some chocolate covered strawberries appeared in the room that night...sneaky room steward. After a few hours of roulette, the pit boss asked if I wanted anything to drink. I don't drink so just got an orange juice. They offered free drinks sometimes over the first 2 days, then gave me an On Us free drink card on the 3rd day. On the last day they sent a bottle of white wine to our table in the dining room. There was also a letter in our room inbox on the last night with an offer for a premier cruise. We had actually already bookrf one of the offerings so our travel agent changed the booking code which lowered the price by $237 plus added free early embark/disembark plus $500 cruise cash. The table rating system they have now seems to be much better at tracking play than what was used last year.
For the ports: Nassau we just walked through the "straw market" and bought a few trinkets, then walked down the main drag looking for a few specific liquors in some of the alley shops. In San Juan, we woke up long enough to cross the street to the CVS for some stuff, then back onboard. St. Thomas we had a sightseeing tour with Sunny Liston tours. He offers a bit of island history, funny remarks, crazy island driving, and loud fun singing. He drops some people off for shopping or at choice of beach (Magen, Sapphire, Coki) and then sightseeing from Mountaintop to stops at every point on the island. There was a very good youth steel pan band in middle of the shopping strip. We listened until a brief downpour drove us inside. The local vendors are so much nicer and laid back than most other islands, but don't offer nearly as low prices. Finally Grand Turk we walked down the beach for about 10 minutes past the big Margaritaville to find Jack's Shack. It has beach stuff for rent for low prices, great food, and a much quieter private beach. The jerk chicken and fresh conch were especially good, although I fed much of the conch to the 3 dogs that hang out on the beach. It was my first conch and even though it tasted great, I kept thinking about what I was eating and started tossing more and more to the dogs.
On the last night, the bags had to be in the hall between 8pm-11pm. We were zone 31 of 35. Rooms have to be empty by 8:30am. So 8:30am we went to the dining room for breakfast, then to the Encore theater for an hour until our zone was called. Actually we waited until all the zones were called and then Jaime, the cruise director, came and told us that if were trying to be the last ones off the ship, we were successful. There was no line to exit the ship, but there was still a big line for customs. Our bags were very easy to spot amongst all the empty tables in the warehouse (they don't have the airport-style baggage claims like other cruise ports). The porters charge $6 or so to take you and your bags to the much shorter and faster moving porter line through customs. But we just waited in the regular line for about 30 minutes to get through customs. Then it was back across the street to wait 30 minutes for an empty Dollar shuttle. We caught the 4th one since we were at the very end of the line. All the rental agencies and hotels seemed to send plenty of shuttles during that time for pickups. We drove the Camry, $58 total plus $8 gas, back to Orlando and stayed at a condo for the night. We dropped the car off in the parking garage and flew out of Orlando airport the next morning.
Hopefully all that detail helps a bit with your cruise.