My husband, 2 kids (7 & 5) and I went our first cruise this past week. Also, this was our first time out of the country. We sailed to Half Moon Cay, St. Thomas, San Juan, and Grand Turks.
Let me start by saying, I have no other experience to compare to. My husband and I finally (after 7 yrs) got to spend some time doing things we wanted to do. From the start I felt comfortable with my kids going to their camp. They were occupied and we were still close by. The kids made many friends and the staff was amazing with them.
I planned out the whole trip before we left and wound up changing a lot once I was on the ship. I planned for our kids to go to every port with us. The kids weren't interested at all until we hit Grand Turks. We took them to the beach which they loved. Carnival was very gracious when I had to return my kids tickets for some of our excursions. My husband and I got to enjoy them ourselves while our kids were at camp.
Our favorite things on the trip: all you can eat food (my husband and I found a great way to eat healthy), the Carnival Staff, the excursions, and the on-ship entertainment. The weather was great and we missed the storm that's developing in the Caribbean.
Things I didn't like: the deals at the ports are not what they want you to believe (if your looking for jewelry, do your homework before you go) (remember their retail price is exaggerated a lot), the little trinkets (key chains, shot glasses, shirts are all made in China), I bought my daughter an island looking doll and it fell apart within hours. She was sad and I couldn't get her a new one (waste of money). Please be very aware.
Also, Elegant Night: I was so unhappy with the way we were treated by the Maître D. It was our first cruise and we didn't know to bring elegant clothes. A friend that we met on the ship said they wont say anything about my husband not wearing pants. Well he did and I tried to explain it was our first cruise and we didn't know. He gave me some crap about how the other guest might be offended. So I offered to ask EVERYONE in the restaurant if they were offended that we didn't know to bring Elegant clothes. Let's just say we got to sit at a table and had our dinner. For such an Elegant dinner, the food wasn't. I had filet mignon and it was half fatty (there is supposed to be NO FAT in that piece of meat)
With all the good and bad, I will defiantly go on anther Carnival Cruise. What a great time.