The easiest way to breakdown our experience is to tell you the Great, Not-the-Same-but-Understandable, and the Bad. Then some Suggestions.
GREAT: You just cannot beat the value of this Carnival Cruise, whether booking it directly or via a online discounter. The Embarkation at the terminal in Jacksonville is very easy. Convenient parking or shuttle delivery area and baggage drop. All staff in the parking lot (with baggage golf cart shuttle service too!) and in the terminal is very very pleasant including the TSA officers. The ship is kept in great shape and service staff is mostly outgoing. Our room was always kept in excellent order by our cabin attendant. Our dining room service (6pm seating) on our first night was excellent, but we made the switch (without complication) to a table of two for the remainder of the cruise, after encountering the Duck Dynasty stars at our table...LOL. Drink service was omnipresent, and quality was very good. Entertainment (Comedy and the MoTown Review) were EXCELLENT! Food in the dining room sometimes was very good but it was worth checking out the Coconut Grill (self-service) on the Lido first just to make sure you are getting the best of the day. The Pool Grill on the Lido was ALWAYS EXCELLENT, and featured outstanding omelets to order each morning including the morning of disembarkation. Burgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers, etc. were always available. I did not try the Mongolian Stir Fry station on the Lido pool area but it was very popular. The Scotch Eggs were off the hook! The 24-hour Pizza (and salads/sandwiches) station in the aft of the Coconut Grill is incredible. My favorite is the De Chevre Pizza (white pizza with garlic and mushrooms). ALWAYS lots of delicious desserts and endless fruits available in the Coconut Grill. You will always find some Roast Beef or Prime Rib being carved here too. I smoke cigars, so I was thrilled that there was still the option of using an area on the Lido, or the stateroom balcony. The peace of the Serenity Club (over 21 deck on aft Promenade) was my favorite place to relax. It also has 2 hot tubs, cushiony lounge chairs and nice towels. A few times kids came down and staff did nothing about it, but they weren't a problem to me and they were isolated instances. The Spa services (massage) and Fitness Area (equipment with bow view, and the saunas) should not be missed!
NOT-THE-SAME-BUT-UNDERSTANDABLE: We took our first cruise with Carnival in 1985, and paid LESS in 2013! So some changes are a let down, but completely understandable in today's value-appeal economy. No more lox and accompaniments or carved meats for your Caesar in the Coconut. No more live bands on the Lido, but plenty of activities and music going on. The Dining Room (Sensation) does not offer anything in steak but the "flat iron" these days, so don't expect a Sirloin. The "lobster night" is good, but no longer are you getting a nice big cold water tail, but instead 4 very plump shrimp and a 3/4 oz warm-water tail.
BAD: On the aft of the Lido deck is an outside eating area that seems to be off limits to staff clearing the dang tables, which I did myself on three occasions. Kids were throwing French fries to the seagulls in one instance and has people scrambling on the Serenity Club deck (below) and crapping on the lounge chairs. I brought this to the attention of the Serenity Club towel attendant, the person that was "supposed" to be bussing the aft Lido eating area and on of the bartenders on the aft Lido. No action taken.....I'm sure someone had to understand my English. That was disturbing. The ONLY thing on the cruise that really S****D, was the coffee. The espresso in the dining room was very good, but the java that was self-serve was awful. I actually picked up instant coffee in a store in Freeport to add hot water for my morning coffee, and I suggest that if you really like decent coffee, you bring some with you. We made "Gold" level on this cruise, so we got 2 drink tickets valued up to $9 for use in the dining room for breakfast or lunch. On the Lido Bar they featured a Large Premium hooch Bloody Mary for $7.50, so I ordered the same that day for lunch in the Sensation Dining Room, and received a small (juice glass size!) Bloody. I was told "that is what you get for the ticket". REALLY? Oh Thanks! I'm a big time Gold Level. Our servers in the Dining Room for the rest of the cruise were slooooooow and disorganized but friendly. We figured out that if we arrived a little late for dinner, that they would take our order separately, instead of waiting for the other tables of 6/8 to come out of the kitchen.
SUGGESTIONS: Arrive at the port as early as possible (1100am) and with your swim stuff! The bars, pools and hot tubs are open and you can give yourself a full day of fun on board, well before sailing. The lines are shorter, your bags arrive to you stateroom are 1230pm, and you get make arrangements for Shore Excursions, Drink Packages, etc. with little waiting. The Endless Bubbles Unlimited Soda Package with the purchase of the insulated Carnival cup for me was great ($26 with grat. added). They have a $50 a day Drink Package (booze) for up to 15 drinks a day, that is good but everyone in your cabin must purchase it .....no sharing. When in Freeport, go to the Lucaya Marketplace by the ship and try Bateman's Coconut Daquiris ($6 for a 16 oz. and you get a 10 oz. too FREE! Strong too!). In Freeport, either stay on the ship or book an Excursion!!!! The ship is miles from town and Carnival has good trips. I did the Dolphin Swim (pricy at $195 for just me but there are much cheaper options). In Nassau, DON'T book an excursion! Take a cab to Atlantis Resort ($4 per person each way). Cut through the Casino to their beach, see live sharks and rays by the scallop shaped bar/restaurant and use the bathrooms for free! If you want to use their pools and the awesome waterpark it's $125 a day. Facing the Ocean.....if you go to the right of the Atlantis, on the other side of the RUI Hotel is the Public Beach (very short walk....easiest is on the Atlantis entry road but you can walk the beach too). The Public Beach has a $20 All-You-Can-Drink (Beer & Rum Drinks!) ALL DAY! There are Chairs and Umbrellas for rent too (don't know how much). The beach is Free.