Throughout the entire cruise, the only people who we had any complaints about concerning service were the gentlemen in the Victorianna Lounge. They rarely smiled and would almost avoid eye contact so they didn't have to get drinks, but they got better over the length of the cruise and started asking if you wanted anything toward the end. Everyone else we ran into that was employed by Carnival was fantastic! We learned that the staff was from 63 different countries and spoke many different languages to be able to assist anyone who may not speak perfect English. Our dining room staff was, well there are no words to explain how wonderful they were. It's really nice to have the same server for 2 weeks as they learn how you like your food and which wine you're more likely to enjoy and what coffee you like with which dessert. Many times after the first couple days we didn't have to ask for things such as coffee or tell them which bread we liked, they just got it for us with a smile and asked us about our day.
The cruise director for our sailing was John Heald. He is a funny guy which made our cruise enjoyable as well. The only complaint I have about him is that my DH and I did all the ports on our own with the exception of one and he didn't always give correct information about what the conditions were like in the visiting country. He gave a worst case scenario just to sell you on an excursion. Perhaps that is how all CD's work, but I didn't appreciate that. We did like John's morning show though and the times he provided entertainment.
Food aboard the ship was excellent. There were more choices than I had expected. The sushi was wonderful although sometimes there was a wait as it was a popular stop before dinner. Options in the dining room were different every night. There was a night or two that I didn't care for what they were serving, but on those nights steak was an excellent choice. The room service menu was simple and you can't use your fountain card with them. We ordered breakfast every morning and it was mostly in the time frame we specified. There was one morning they were 45 mins. late, but we were late arriving into port, so that turned out just fine. When we would order during the day sometimes our food would take 10 mins. and sometimes it would take an hour, so it was inconsistent. The buffet was ok, not great and they always served the rest of the dessert from breakfast the night before. (Thought that was interesting.)
Entertainment on the ship was lacking. They have three great revue shows that weren't so great. The first was about New Orleans and they said over and over again that it was kid friendly, but there would be some 'bra-like' tops on the ladies. My DH and I went and the ladies did wear those tops, but more than that, had my kids been there I would not have been happy. Much of the content was not something I would like to explain to my young children and they would have been asking as the message was crystal clear. However, if my kids had been with us I would have thought twice about taking them to a show about New Orleans, so I guess that's a different matter altogether. The second revue show was a tribute to the Beatles and that was a very good show. The third show was called Jump Jive and Wail and again, that was very good, my personal favorite. The other nights my DH was so tired he didn't want to go see the entertainment so we didn't go, but they had a few musicians and a comedian and I heard very good things about them all. One night the entertainment got stuck in New York b/c of weather so they showed a movie. That was a big hit, so a few days later they canceled the entertainment to show another movie. Our show times started out at 8:30 and 10:45 - the first show for the early seating the later show for the late seating. Then halfway through the cruise, they switched the times. The late sitting would now have entertainment before dinner at 7 and the early sitting entertainment was still at 8:30.
As for who was aboard this ship I was surprised. I thought there would be a lot of older people and my DH and I were going to be considered very young and stick out like a sore thumb. This was not true. About half the ship was an older crowd (50+), true, but the other half was made up of younger (>49) people. We found there were quite a few people on their honeymoon and others celebrating their wedding anniversaries of anywhere from 15 years and fewer. There were a number of kids on board of all ages, which was nice to see! Also, most of the ship were US citizens, but there were a number of Canadians, Brits, and Australians as well. I don't think the ship was completely full as there were a few tables around us that were empty and all the dining tables in our corner only had one couple so we didn't share a table with anyone.
With there being almost 3000 people on the ship, crowding wasn't too much an issue except in the Victorianna. If you want a good seat get there a few minutes early, but other than that, lines moved quickly if there was one at all.
My DH and I did go to the Sun King Supper Club restaurant on board one evening. There was a $30 per person fee. The dining room is ok, they dim the lights to hide some of the cheaper looking decorations on the walls. We were seated at a window seat overlooking the deck. As it was late and chilly no one was on the deck except the people cleaning the deck. As soon as we sat down they started waving to us. No offense, but during my nice dinner, I would prefer a view other than someone swabbing a deck. My DH and I have never eaten at a 5* restaurant, so many of the things they do were strange, I guess. They treated us very well, but we're just not used to the formalities. The food came out looking very pretty on our plate and tasted very good. I ordered the filet mignon and the next night in the Posh dining saw that filet mignon was on the menu. My husband ordered it and it was the same meal. The only difference is that in the Sun King they put a few more decorations on the plate. We did order wine as they have a wine specialist and it was very good, as he is good at his job. When you pay, you have to pay for drinks on a separate check than your head fee. Thought that was odd. It was a good one time experience and we're glad we went.
Entertainment on our sea days was very good. Our only problem was that we couldn't choose what to do since there's so much that goes on! They have lots of trivia games and bingo and mini golf. Different things every day.
As for the ship's decoration, it was different. On the elevators and doors they have this swirl pattern that is just a cheap overlay meaning it peels off. Doesn't look good. Our favorite room was the Habana bar, and they came very close to decorating it superbly, but it's just a bit off. However, it's nice that they have a cigar room, so we can overlook the decor here. the dining rooms are nicely decorated, the lights in the lobby are a bit much. I didn't like the Freedom buffet with sconces of Lady Liberty's head. I like the idea behind it, but the execution of it wasn't good. The Victorianna is nice.
The shops on board have a different special every night and most of them are worth going to. The had a $10 night where they had clutches for evening wear, men's and women's watches, pashminas, necklace and earring sets, hair clips, and many other items for $10 each.
There are two formal nights on the 12 day sailing. The first formal night many people were dressed in dressier clothing and looked very nice. There were a few men in tuxes, most in a nice suit, only a few that had on a tie with no jacket. Ladies mostly wore knee length gown or formal pants, but there were a number in long dresses as well. The second formal night looked like everyone was going to church. There were still a few men in tuxes, but very few, many wore suits again, but a number also wore a tie with no jacket. Ladies wore a knee length dress or dressy pants again, and a smaller number were in longer dresses.
Everywhere you went there were photographers. Everywhere. We took a number of pictures, but mostly just walked on by. However, they take the photographers on shore excursions and everything. I don't think they were selling too many of the pictures they took either. The price was 21.99 for an 8x10, 7.99 for a 5x7, 5.00 to add four wallets, and they had some packages as well. But to buy a smaller photograph you have to buy the 8x10 first. That was disappointing to me and if they had a lower price on the 8x10 I think they would have sold more pictures. However, the ones we did take were very good.
The one shore excursion we took was in Ephesus. We went to the House of the Virgin Mary and Ancient Ephesus. Our tour guide was a nice lady that spoke wonderful English. She knew her stuff, but, she didn't walk us around the HOVM, just let us go and told us when to be back. Our group wasn't back on time which left most of us sitting for a half hour on the bus waiting for them. When we arrived in Ephesus, our guide would tell us about some things and then turn and walk quickly to the next area she wanted to talk about. She didn't take questions. We made it back to the ship on time, though. There was one honeymooning couple that took a taxi that broke down and didn't make it back before we sailed. They caught up with us in Istanbul. I think for Ephesus it's well worth hiring a private guide as there's so much to see and you'll want to maximize your time here.
Our starboard side balcony was a great room to have. Much of the time we had favorable views, however, the port side shared in that and had some great views as well. The only time I had to go up to see anything was when we went by the volcanic island of Stromboli.
All in all, we are very glad we took this cruise for our first. There were a few areas for improvement for Carnival, but the overall experience was simply wonderful.