Background: Husband and myself are both in our mid 30's and my parents are YOUNG 60's. We also brought our 8-month-old son with us.
Embarkation: We live in South Florida and drove to the port and arrived around 11 am. There was a traffic jam that took about 10 minutes to get through and then we drove up to the porter who was terribly lazy. We took all of our bags out of the car and put them on the ground where he promptly requested a tip and then threw our bags into the large bin. My father self-parked the car while we waited in the terminal for him.
TSA scanned our bags and confiscated a pint of scotch and a pint of rum from my parents, who didn't really care, but I gave them the "I told you to pack it in your luggage" lecture and they agreed they should've. They allowed us to carry on two bottles of wine each but no hard alcohol. We smuggled a bottle of Kettle One vodka, a box of wine, and 4 more bottles of nice wine in our suitcases and we received it all. ALSO, I checked two (2) cases of water with the porter which I clearly marked "THIS WATER IS BEING USED FOR BABY FORMULA" and we received them at our cabin with no problems.
Back to embarkation.... We were then herded through a LONG line like cattle to the desk where they took our documents. NOTE: the elevator was broken so we had to carry our son up the escalator with all the baby accompaniments. All in all I would say that embarkation took an hour all together. It was slightly disorganized and I definitely felt like an animal being herded. In order for us to receive a cheaper rate our PVP put me in a cabin with my dad and my hubby and son in an adjoining cabin with my mom. We were told by the PVP to go the purser's desk immediately to change the cabins and make the requisite changes with our sign and sails. The purser who was helping us was obviously new and had absolutely NO IDEA what she was doing. We had two adjoining rooms and all that needed to be done was in the computer my mom and I needed to switch rooms. This simple process took 1 hour for the purser to complete she would try and try in the computer and then disappear for a few minutes and come back. We stood there so long that my hubby went to the bar, got us cocktails and we stood at the purser's desk and drank our drinks. It was clear she didn't know what she was doing. I am not exaggerating. Finally my mom got so pissed at standing there that she raised her voice and a supervisor immediately came over and did the switch in 2 minutes, which really angered us because we had just wasted an hour standing at the purser's.
I found the ship dEcor to be over the top and very gaudy. I am sure that other people think it was beautiful. The pink dining rooms were so ugly. It felt like a bad Disney princess cartoon. I wish Carnival would do an elegant ship. Simple elegance is so much nicer.
Our cabins would be ready at 1:30 so we went to the Lido for some lunch. Here is where you get a feel of just how many people are on this ship. It was VERY crowded and people were vying for tables. I knew about Fish and Chips so we went there and found it to be empty!
Cabins: Riviera 1396 and 1400. We had two adjoining ocean view cabins on Riviera deck and they were very nice. Our beds were pushed together to make a king. THOSE BEDS! THEY WERE FABULOUSLY COMFORTABLE! The sheets were so soft! We asked our steward to remove the vanity stool, the chair and the table so we could accommodate my son's things (travel crib and exersaucer). This worked out great and we never felt too crowded. We would put the crib and exersaucer on the couch when not using them and had plenty of room. We asked our steward to empty our fridge and for extra ice and when he did so, we tipped him generously and told him "if you take care of us, we will gladly take care of you at the end of the cruise." And he most certainly took care of us during the cruise. His name was Steve and he was terrific! He was always accessible and went out of his way to say hello to us and especially our son. Our entire luggage arrived by 3:00, except my suitcase. I waited until 8:00 and it still had not arrived. This is when I started panicking so Steve suggested I go to the lobby and look for it. I found it sitting in the Ivanhoe Theatre. Don't ask my why, but it was just sitting there. Honestly, I didn't care why, I was just so happy to have my bag!
Dining: We had the late seating (8:30) in the Lincoln Dining room. We would put or son to sleep in his stroller and then go have dinner. On the first night we asked the Maitre'd, Hassan to forewarn us when the singing would begin so we could remove our son and not wake him up. Each night either Hassan or his assistant Lauradonna would come to our table and tell us that Showtime would be starting soon. They both were lovely people and our son adored Lauradonna (his first girlfriend!) Our server was named Fransisco and he was very nice and accommodating. Everyone in my family is big foodies and we have all eaten in some of the finest restaurants in the world. I have to say, that we were all very pleasantly surprised by the quality and flavor of the food. Yes, it is hotel food, but if you consider the amount of people being fed and the manner in which it was being served, we all felt the food was fantastic. My father is a vegetarian and every night the chefs would send out a smorgasbord of vegetarian food especially for him (Indian, Mexican)! He loved it! On the other hand, the bar waitress was really really bad. Upon sitting she would rush over and take our order but then we would not receive our drink until our entrEe arrived. She would disappear and we wouldn't see her for at least 30 minutes! We stopped ordering from her and just drank our wine, which we brought with us. By the way, we brought at least one bottle every night and were NEVER charged a corkage fee. We appreciated this and reflected it in our extra tip we gave Fransisco at the end of the week.
My husband and I ate at Scarlett's one night and the food was most definitely on par with Capital Grille or Ruth's Chris. We ordered the Caviar and paid the surcharge. It was sevruga and it could have been better. Regardless, it was a lovely dining experience.
One afternoon when it was raining we ate lunch in the dining room and it was delicious! Breakfast we had on Lido deck and it was your standard buffet fare; Cereals, eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, grits, fruits, etc. It was nothing special, but not bad either. Lunch on Lido was all right, again, nothing special but not bad. It was here we discovered our son loves hot dogs....
Nassau: It was actually quite cool and rainy when we arrived! We got off the ship around 10:30 and walked Bay Street browsing the shops and then went into the straw market. It is VERY claustrophobic and seeing knock off after knock off was a turnoff so we left. My parents took our son back to the ship at about noon. It was a short port day and we had to be back to the ship by 1:30 so with an hour and half to kill we thought we would try to get a taxi tour around. We offered $25 to a couple of drivers and they scoffed at us. I guess they aren't hard up for money because they were quite rude. I felt that was more than reasonable for a drive around for an hour. 2 different locals offering us cocaine and marijuana approached us! We cut our losses and decided to go back to the ship and relax!
St. Thomas: Everyone on the ship had to go through immigration in St. Thomas. The lines moved very quickly for immigration. My birth cert is in my maiden name and I was asked for my marriage license to my surprise, and thankfully I brought it with me. Here comes the bad part. After immigration there was some type of problem with getting the passengers off the ship. A line formed the length of both sides of Riviera deck to get passengers off the ship and didn't move for a half an hour. It was very poor organizing on the part of Carnival and everyone around us seemed very annoyed and aggravated. We finally got off the ship and were hawked for taxi service immediately. Note: you will not find a car taxi around. All taxis are open-air pick up trucks, which they will fill up entirely before leaving. We walked out of the port to get a taxi to Red Hook ($7pp) so we could take the ferry to St. John. The ferry was $5 pp and we experienced the same taxi nonsense in St. John. Trunk Bay was quite beautiful but getting there was a SCHLEP. Unless you plan to stay for a few days, it isn't worth the time it took to get there. We took the 3:45 ferry directly to Charlotte Amalie on our return and it was much smaller, newer and nicer. We walked Front Street and browsed in the shops and then walked back to the ship, which was about a mile or so away.
St. Martin: By far our favorite port. My parents took our son for the day so my hubby and I had a whole day to ourselves. Hubby wanted to find some Cuban cigars so we took a cab to Marigot. It was a nice air-conditioned mini van and our driver pointed out the sights. We asked him what beach we should go to afterwards and he suggested Divi (more on that later). We made our purchase in Marigot and decided to have lunch there. We ate at a cute French restaurant with wonderful food right on the main street. We asked our waitress for a beach suggestion and she said to go to L'Hoste Hotel on Orient Beach. We took a cab to Divi and found the sand scorching and the water rough. So we decided to go to L'Hoste instead. WE LOVED ORIENT BAY. The French side is so much prettier than the Dutch. We walked straight through the casual hotel right onto the beach and parked ourselves on two lounge chairs. The sea was gorgeous. There were people all over the beach at different beach clubs but it was very quiet where we were. We enjoyed a lovely drink at the beach bar and then made our way back to the ship. That was a wonderful day.
Sea Days: Chair Hogs were out in full force during the sea days. We found a place on the side of deck 10 where it wasn't as crowded. We brought a blow up pool for our son and filled it up in the outdoor shower. He enjoyed splashing around in it. On the last sea day we sat at the aft pool on Lido. After we saw two other children in swimmy diapers in the pool we plopped our son in with us. Nobody complained or said a word. They all fawned over him. If you don't make a big deal about it, people will leave you alone and let your kids swim in the pool.
All in all we enjoyed ourselves. Would I cruise Carnival again? Probably. I think for the price, they offer a good product. If you are a world traveler and expect silver service then this isn't the cruise line for you. It is a great deal for the price. There are a lot of grown-ups acting like drunken teenagers but if you try you can find a quiet place to enjoy yourselves.