My husband and I are in our late 40s and we drove to Port Canaveral from our home in NC. This was our first cruise and we chose this one because we felt it was the "Wal-Mart" of cruises ~ cheap with low expectations. Having heard so many stories (good and bad), we thought there might be chance that we would take the "24 hour guarantee" but luckily we didn't. It didn't take long for us to realize that we were unfair to Carnival by calling this a "wal-mart" cruise. We had a great time and will go again next year!
We chose mid-Dec. to cruise to avoid the expensive holiday rates and the k-12 kids which worked out great; I can count on one hand how many children we saw. Unfortunately, we didn't consider the college crowd! All the colleges were out that week and the ship was full of students blowing off Fall semester steam. We didn't mind, they were funny and thoroughly enjoyed all the Lido deck parties. :)
We had a room on deck 11 which we quickly figured out was the best place to be on this ship. Considering the ship only had 12 decks, we saw how cram packed the lower decks were. Even though we were on the same deck as the Lido (party) deck, our room was amazingly sound proof. On our balcony we could hear the music loud and clear but inside the cabin it was dead silence ~ we didn't even hear the guests in the rooms on either side of ours.
The buffet food was just ok, and the dining room served most of the same foods only slightly better prepared. We had the "anytime dining" and had excellent, friendly service every time. We avoided most of the buffet for lunch (the chicken tenders and fries were good) but the pizza was horrendous; the deli was fantastic and our preferred lunch area. My advice: eat breakfast and dinner in the dining room, then head to the buffet for your ice cream (it seems to be a cruise ritual to get an ice cream cone every chance you can get ~ we followed this rule very closely!)
In Freeport we took a Nature Tour of the Lucayan National Park which included: kayaking in the Lucayan park mangroves (awesome!), lunch in a covered pavilion on the beach (basic sandwich supplied), fed the raccoons our bread crusts (awesome!), spent 2 hours on a pristine beach with almost no one else, short walk through the park with guide narrating (and raccoons following), fed fish, then back to the ship. Our guide was fantastic and we would totally do this tour again. At port, we ate fried conch; which was good; a little chewy but tasty.
In Nassau, we [unfortunately] bought into the "amazing shopping experience" hype and spent too much only silly Tanzanite jewelry. (Don't buy the "hurry before it's all gone" bull they feed you). But we got some good deals on t-shirts at Del Sol with the $25 coupon book (good for all shops in the Carribean/Bahamas, so keep it for your next cruise!) After shopping we had lunch at a local Asian restaurant and it was great. Then we headed to Tortuga's where my husband got a bottle of rum and enjoyed the rest of his day! In the afternoon, we took the Sea & See tour which was a little lame, but at least we got to see the town of Nassau without having to navigate our selves and we got a great boat ride down the inlet to see the over-priced movie stars' homes.
Day at sea: Things to do: play the trivia games, play bingo, see the shows, enjoy the silly antics at the Lido pool, get to the comedy shows early for a seat, drink and be merry. Avoid: the casino, the art auction (total BS), towel animal theater, the Adults-only Serenity pool, and any expectation of getting a lounge chair on the Lido deck.
At Little Stirrup Cay/Key (a.k.a. Coco Cay) we rented a tiki umbrella for the day on the quiet side of the island. For $49 buck (for 2), you get 2 giant bottles of water, a bottle of champagne, chips n' salsa, and 2 chaise lounges. It was so far from all the "party" spots and you can walk out 300 yards to see the stingrays with the water only rising to your knees. It was the most relaxing and peaceful day of our trip.
We are totally spoiled having stayed in a junior suite (the only "mistake" we made as first time cruisers) but to be honest, we would not have been content in a smaller room even if it had a window because unless you have your own balcony, you have no where to go to get away from it all. I like crowds, but sometimes I just want some private, peaceful moments to myself. Our room was very spacious but we got a great deal on it.
Tips: Go in mid-December when the ships are not full so lines are scrambling to fill them up with extreme discounts; wait until 2 weeks prior to sailing for the best prices, then pay for a balcony room, get upgraded to a junior suite 2 nights prior to sailing. No joke ~ we paid $500 each for a junior suite cabin on the Verandah deck (6 months earlier, the same cabin was $1,200 each!). AND, because we had a jr. suite, we had VIP embarkation, which meant we sailed passed all the lines and boarded the ship within 10 minutes of stepping into the building. Even though they are more expensive, it's best to book your shore excursions through the cruise line ~ no matter what happens on your excursion, that ship will not leave without you if you book through them! Unless you can drink at least 6 cocktails or 9 beers per day every day, do not waste your money on the $49/day/pp booze card (they cap you at 15 drinks so it's not exactly "unlimited"). Buy booze on the ship on the last day after 7pm that way you still get the discount and you can take it with you ~ which means you can start drinking it immediately (don't believe the BS that they will "run out"). Buy anything from the ship gift store on the last night of the cruise ~ steep discounts in there! (A hoodie on day 1 was $69 but on day 5 was $29). Want to get off the ship quickly on the last day? Go with the first group regardless of your "number" (they don't check) but make sure you have your room key, picture ID, passport, and declaration form IN YOUR HAND or you'll be taken off the line.
We learned a lot on our first cruise and I hope our experience helps you!