We chose this cruise because the port was only 1.5 hours from our home, and the price was right. We knew that the experience with Carnival would not be as good as Royal Caribbean, but the price for 7 people made the decision. Overall, the experience was better than we expected, especially the service from the Carnival staff on the ship.
We had 3 cabins for 7 people. I traveled with my husband, 3 children (ages 2, 2, 17) and in-laws. We were lucky to get a Faster to the Fun (F2F) pass for all three of our cabins ($50 per cabin), and it was well worth the money. I heavily debated spending the money, but I didn't want to wait in embarkation/debarkation lines with my toddlers and knew I would regret it if I didn't just pay the money. I called to find out what time I could arrive with F2F passes, and they said 11 a.m. When we arrived at the terminal at that time, we were able to go to the F2F line, which is basically the same as the VIP line! We got through security and registration in no time and were guided to the F2F waiting area past the many people waiting in line. Now, if the ship didn't arrive in port a little late that day, we would have boarded right away, but we did have to wait one hour. We boarded the ship at the same time as the handicapped assisted travelers and were able to go straight to our cabins to drop off our carry-ons as F2F cabins are ready right away. Our checked luggage was also already at our doors.
We were satisfied with our interior cabins. Bobby, our room steward, was wonderful. He remembered our names and was always happy to help, especially with a sandy mess after a beach day. We liked being in the aft section of the ship because it was near the restaurants and pools, but if I had it to do over again, I would choose the middle of the ship because Camp Carnival is on Deck 5 at the front of the ship as are all of the shows and casino. I did like that we were on Deck 7 and no lower because we went to Deck 9 (buffet, pools) often.
We bought small backpacks for our toddlers and filled them with new items (potato heads, sticker books, kid watches, glow sticks, etc.) to keep them busy during the cruise. What a life-saver! They liked Camp Carnival the first two days and ran inside without looking back, but by the third day, they didn't want to go again and pitched huge fits. (We left them for 2.5 hours the first day and 1.5 hours the second day.) I noticed other kids doing this too by mid-week. It can be quite difficult to take 2-year-old twins on a cruise. You are together a lot; they can't run around, and they need this play time to burn energy on those sea days. What worked for us was to tell the toddlers that we would only be gone a little bit and then we would take them to the pool to swim; we asked them not to cry because it made us sad. They were much better after that, and we only left them for one hour a day just to catch our breath and talk and then promptly picked them up. Parents need that little bit of time to keep from going nutty, especially if you have more than one little one. We could stand outside and watch them on the TV monitor and make sure all was well before taking a walk. We were given a Camp Carnival phone that worked throughout the ship, and our other family members could call us on it too. For swimming, I noticed that the best item was the puddle jumper devices that were less bulky but kept children from going under.
If you are traveling with someone who has difficulty walking distances, consider renting a "travel" scooter (Standard cabin doors are 22".) or wheel chair. Be sure to contact the Carnival Special Assistance desk prior to travel to fill out a form and mark those needing or who may need assistance. This designation could provide them with a wheel chair at ports to embark or debark. Very helpful and valuable.
I must warn you that the quality of the food was very disappointing. It was sometimes cold and always unseasoned and bland across the board. Many dishes were just second rate. For instance, the hamburger tasted like a school cafeteria soy burger. It's obvious that Carnival is cutting corners on quality, and the food is a reason not to return. I did not have this experience on Royal Caribbean, but I knew I pay a lot more to go with Royal Caribbean. My husband was very disappointed when he was told twice that the 24-hour pizza station was closed. He said it was one of the only things worth eating and would affect whether he signed up for another cruise with Carnival.
You have two main choices for getting food. On deck 9 is the serve-yourself-buffet (Mermaids), and you can walk around gathering whatever you want and find a table. It's open most of the time, and you can always get something to eat or drink. We weren't crazy about that option as it is difficult with small children. The better option is to go to deck 2 or 3 to the main dining room to have your meals. You will order from the menu and be waited on. Breakfast opens later at 8:30 a.m., but the food is much better than the food at the buffet. For dinner, you would need to pre-register (when you purchase your cruise) for early or late seating. We all loved our dinner dining room server Houston. He went above and beyond to make sure we enjoyed ourselves. He made sure our toddlers were taken care of and made them napkin animals; he was patient with my picky father-in-law, he was constantly professional and fun, and he made us laugh. The servers danced for us each night, and my children LOVED watching them. They were very entertaining!
This ship is very clean, and the staff is so friendly. We were impressed with both. It was a little cool sailing out of Baltimore at this time of the year. Take a jacket and expect the pool water on the ship to be cold as well. Once we reached Florida, it was quite comfortable and warm.