My wife and I were traveling with my 18 year old son and we picked Carnival because of its reputation as a party ship. It turned out to be a wise choice since we rarely saw our son during the 8 day trip. He made a lot of friends. I wouldn't suggest Carnival if you don't have children and are a couple just looking for relaxation.
This is my second cruise. Last year we went on Celebrity's "Zenith" and enjoyed it immensely. It wasn't as much of a party ship but my son, on that trip, had brought a friend along and the two of them stayed in a separate room.
We live in Staten Island so we drove to the pier and parked on the roof. It's a little pricey ($180) but worth the convenience. Make a note of which pier you park on since the ship on its return went to a different pier. We had to walk about a block to get the car on the way back.
We got to the pier around 12 noon and waited about an hour to get on board. Rooms are not ready until 1:30pm, so we went and had lunch. "The New York Deli" is one of the food stations and it was excellent. I had a pastrami sandwich on rye and it was just as good if not better than any New York deli. In fact, this food station was one of my son's favorites.
Our room was at the aft of the ship with an extended balcony. There was a separate bed for my son and the room was a good size. The bathroom was roomy enough but the construction of the shower was poor causing the bathroom floor to get wet very easily.
The food was excellent and there was plenty of it. We had table 169 for the early dinner and this was a convenient table right by the Maitre 'D who was very friendly and hospitable. Our waiter was Oliver and the assistant was Ronileo and both were very good. We didn't see the need to go to Nick and Nora's for the extra money because we were totally satisfied with the regular menus. Some dishes I recommend are the crab cakes as appetizer and the entrees I enjoyed were the prime rib, center cut pork chop and beef Wellington. The portions of the appetizers and the salads were on the frugal side but the entrees were hearty enough. I'm not much into desserts but my wife loved them and they had a cheese assortment which I enjoyed.
We had breakfasts on the Lido deck and there was plenty of bacon, ham, sausages etc. I had my eggs cooked over light at the omelet station. There are juices available all the time. Apple, fruit punch and lemonade so we did not buy the unlimited Coke package.
Since our son was always off somewhere, my wife and I liked the aft adult deck on deck 9. The main pool area was too loud for us with the music and the beer-guzzling crowd. You do need to have someone in your group go up there early in the morning and save some lounge chairs because they go fast.
Rooms all need to be made up by 12 noon so that created a little problem for my son who was coming in at 2:00am on average.
As far as excursions, we didn't take any. The only thing you really have time for is to go to the outlet shops. If you have teens in your group, when you get off the ship, people from Senor Frogs are handing out coupons for free shots. Senor Frogs does not check ID's, so kids as young as 16 were going there and getting served. It's also a hang out for pick pockets so beware. We know of one teenager who had his IPhone stolen out of his pocket.
Everyone goes to Magens Bay or Coki beach. We found a great beach called Morning Star where the Marriott Hotel is. For Magens, the taxis charge $8 per person and $4 per person admission to the beach. The cab fare to Morning Star is $6 per person and no admission cost. It was a great beach with a great bar and good facilities since it's on the grounds of the hotel.
As for shopping, I would recommend Azzura Jewelers. Ask for Glenn Price, the manager or Una. Glenn "discounts" the list price and then gives you another "manager's discount".
I should also point out that the prices in the shops on the ship are very good also.
Basically Tortola is a 3rd world country. We took a tour in an open air truck that charged $20 per person. It goes up a winding road up to 1,500 feet. So if you get car sick or don't like heights, this isn't for you. Along the way, the guide points out things of interest like the local gas station, the elementary school, the hospital, etc. When you go up the mountain, most of the homes have roosters running around. About halfway up the mountain, there's a lone woman on the side of the road selling souvenirs. She has very nice T-shirts for $5 each - it's a good bargain.
If you don't want to do the tour, take a taxi to Cane beach. Very nice beach with vendors and you can get food and drinks on the beach.
I only spent about 15-20 minutes in the shows. Generally, they were good, not great. I like piano bars so I spent every night at "Sam's". I did notice some negative reviews about Buster Freeze. First of all, he's billed as having an "English attitude", so you have to know that before going in. I would describe him as a cross between Simon Cowal(?) and Elton John. He may not be for everyone, but if you like piano bars, I think he's definitely worth it.
Very Important point. If you can, take your luggage off yourself instead of having the ship do it. They have a "Self-assist" policy where you are the first ones off the ship if you take your own luggage. This will save you about an hour and a half. We didn't get off the ship until about 11:00am. Clearing Customs was easy; an agent just collected our cards as we walked through. We never had to show our passports for the entire trip.
It was a great vacation; Carnival did everything possible to provide an environment for people to enjoy themselves. My 18 year old son had an absolutely fabulous time. I heard stories about people booking another cruise because they enjoyed it so much.