This was actually my first cruise. My Wife is an experienced cruiser and has been on several cruises in her younger years. She has tried for a few years now to get me to go on a cruise with her and we found ourselves taking advantage of a very discounted price to the Western Caribbean for a week. I was stoked to book our excursions and found a few that were right up our alley. We booked the Amazing Race scavenger hunt in Cozumel, the Altun Ha Mayan ruins excursion in Belize, Catamaran Snorkel dive in Roatan and the Beach Snorkel excursion in Grand Cayman. The costs of our excursions were actually more than the cost of the cruise for the two of us.
The ship itself is massive. It's over 300 yards long from bow to stern so we did quite a bit of walking for the entire cruise. Orienting yourself to the ship and exploring what it has to offer was best suited to our first day at sea out of Miami. We were able to easily adjust our 8pm dining option to the 6pm golden dining room with no issues and the majority of the cruise was smooth sailing from port to port. Our last day of cruising back to Miami, the ship encountered a storm front and we had to sail through ten to twelve foot swells. The ship stabilizers were easily able to handle most of the wave action although they did have to net the pools to prevent overspill and there was a "code bright star" called on the serenity deck for a woman that fell in high wind and injured her foot.
The good: Carnival caters to families and a younger crowd. Expect age ranges from children to adults with the average ages being in their 30's to 40's.. They have traditional as well as open dining options. An itinerary with a tear off info/time sheet is handily delivered to your cabin each day, as well as your excursion tickets. Their staff is international and constantly within reach.
The bad: The food is terrible and monotonous even though the dining staff was excellent and friendly. They tended to re-purpose a lot of meals as ingredients in subsequent dishes. According to my Wife, the staff isn't as prompt and seemed to run fast and loose. Examples: Wrong luggage delivered to our room, high roller VIP tags and ID's for another couple were mistakenly delivered to our room (we aren't players club gamblers), the cruise directors didn't start their shows on time (or in one case, a 9:30 am trivia contest, at all.. nobody showed to conduct it), restaurants seemed to open five minutes or so late, drink prices varied for the same drinks in each bar all over the ship, etc. Another annoyance I have is that they only had two vocalists for the evening shows, both of which were merely average singers. It became tedious to hear the same couple sing all of the songs in every show. More variety with performers that can both sing and dance would have been better.
The best: The breakout restaurants are the best. While we didn't splurge on the Diamonds steakhouse or the chef's table, we did often hit the Mongolian stir fry and the Guy Fieri hamburger joint. At 2,000 calories per burger, they didn't disappoint on flavor.