Cruised as part of a group of 101 guys. Not new to cruising, Carnival, or the ports visited. Overall a great time, but no major accolades for the ship or Carnival here.
Stayed at the DoubleTree SeaWorld in Orlando for pre and post nights. A nice value, clean rooms, decent restaurant, well-maintained grounds, convenient location, 40 mins to the port by charter bus the morning of the cruise.
Embarkation was the fast and organized. If it took 20 minutes, I'd be surprised. Arrived at 1:30ish, no line at all. (The photo people insisted that the green-screen photo that they use for their facial recognition software to buy photos onboard was mandatory... I'm curious if that's really the case.)
Cabins were ready when we boarded. Cabin steward (Michael) was great. Attentive and courteous. Towel animals every-night has become kind of routine, but still strangely brings a smile to the face of these two grown men. We were never without ice. Nice touches: he arranged our books and CPAP machine hoses on our pillows each night. Aww.
Overall, service was excellent.
That said, the constant barrage of sales pitches and gimmicks that Carnival employs have finally soured us from taking a cruise with them again soon. Finding information in the patters is impossible without sifting through worthless ads and 'sales-that-aren't-really-sales'. Cruise Director Announcements weren't *that* intrusive (2 long ones and 1 or 2 short ones each day), but added no value to our cruise experience. We felt like we spent a lot of time saying "no, thank you" to salespeople and dodging photographers. We got to the point where we preferred to avoid contact with crew entirely so as to not have to turn down a sales pitch. (Note: Carnival corporate's failure here, not the eager-to-please crew.)
The ship's public areas were the standard flashy/gaudy decorations found on Carnival... no surprises there, but I find myself wondering who loves mirrors, glass, and flashing lights everywhere they look. The creepy masks in the Burgundy Lounge were odd at the very least. The layout of public areas just didn't seem right somehow: lots of empty/underutilized spaces and many overcrowded ones.
Food: merely 'ok'; noticeably poorer in quality than our last Carnival cruise (Carnival Pride 2009). Brunch in the dining room was not good. The buffet overall was underwhelming in quality with the exception of the Tandoor and Deli sections outdoors Aft; those two were serving up fresh, hot, tasty food. Afternoon Tea on sea days was great. Clarence in the Crimson dining room during tea was fantastic: chatty but not intrusive, courteous but playful. Tea was a nice relaxing alternate activity from the hustle-and-bustle of the rest of the ship.
We went to the main dining room most nights, and things were better there, but nothing to write home about. The fish dishes tended to be the most flavorful and imaginative (though strangely, not the fish dish listed on the menu as a contest-winner). A duck and orange appetizer was memorable. The chateaubriand exceeded our expectations (we were amused and braced for the worst though). The nightly Indian veggies were also consistently well-prepared. The melting chocolate cake was always the best dessert on the menu (and our table/group tried them all...)... but that's a bit disappointing if you're looking for quality AND variety.
The bar service was slow to bring our first glass of wine in the main dining room at dinner each night; then after receiving 1 glass of wine, the bar server was a bit of a pest offering more wine 3 times nightly, then offering shots (?!) each night at dessert time.
The thing is... we know they can do better. They have in the past. Table-mates RAVED about the Chef's table experience. They clearly have people on board who are passionate about food but are being stifled somehow--I would guess by budget restraints and cost-cutting. It's a shame.
Last dining note: I can't believe Carnival still believes in humiliating their dining room servers making them sing and dance several nights during the cruise. Flashing the lights and blaring music destroys the somewhat classy ambiance the serving staff manages to create each night. This embarrassing practice is a RELIC in the cruise industry at the very best. If Carnival wants to entertain their guests at dinner, they should employ legitimate artists to do so.
Medical Center: first time I've needed to visit one on a ship. Thank goodness it's there. Thank goodness they were well-stocked with fast-acting antibiotics. $220 and one day later, and I was back to my vacation. Also grateful for the free movies on the in-room TV during recovery and a room-service menu I ate my way through in bed. And tissues. Steward Michael kept me well stocked in tissues while my sinuses drained. (ewww) Great crew down there. May you never need them.
Entertainment: we stuck to the aft-pool during the afternoons; the midship pool was crazy loud with contests and the jumbo-tron screen, etc. In the evenings, Karaoke was fun and busy--sadly relegated some nights to a lounge too small for the enthusiastic crowd. We didn't attend any of the shows in the Encore theatre... they're just not for us. But I did see they're still running the same tired "Carnival Legends" show on the last night of the cruise. The night club, "Caliente", was fun in the late night, though *extremely* smokey with very little ventilation. One of the DJ's was great and really knew his crowd. The other DJ was awful and had an empty dance-floor until the other DJ came to rescue him.
Most nights, our group stayed out drinking and dancing until the club shut down before running up to the lido deck to have the best pizza I've ever tasted.
Now that I think about it... maybe the pizza just SEEMED amazing because it was 3am, under the stars, somewhere in the middle of the caribbean, with 100 friends drunk on the rushing warm air and a whole-lotta rum.
And that's the thing, isn't it... the rest of the "meh" stuff about any cruise fades away and the memories forged with friends dancing "the wobble" and frolicking in hot tubs during torrential downpours become indelible.
So really... the ship is fine. It'll do. Go eat pizza at 3am with your friends and have a great time.