We live in Maryland. We left on Friday, stayed at a hotel in New Jersey, and drove to the pier on Saturday morning. We arrived around 11:45, dropped the luggage off with the porters, and parked on the pier rooftop. We were at the line around 11:55. They kept us off to the side while they were allowing the early arrivals in. It didn't take long for our line to be called, go through security, and stand in line by deck. For some reason, our line (deck 8) was the longest, and the slowest to move. The other lines had about 20 or 30 people at a time, and moved pretty quickly. Ours had about 150 people and was very, very slow. We waited for a long time, and finally checked in. We boarded the ship around 1:15. I think that the system can be improved, especially if the person supervising the lines sees that one line is getting too long. The cabins were not ready until 1:30, so we ate at the Lido's Mediterranean Cafe (the buffet line), and then went to our cabin.
Our cabin steward was Andres. He introduced himself to us and did a fantastic job overall. The cabin was always clean and tidy, and he kept our cooler full with ice for the water bottles. He helped us whenever we had a request, and kept our cabin well supplied with towel animals. The cabin was spacious enough for the two of us. We had plenty of closet space, and the bathroom was spacious too.
Sailing out of New York was fantastic. We went first to the Spa and Sky decks, but these were pretty full. Then we decided to go to deck 7 in front of the ship. Thanks to all who mentioned the "secret" doors. They were easy to find and not secret at all. The front decks were not full at all, and we could see ahead without having to crank our necks and look over other people. We could also see the pilot through the bridge windows, looking at the course and making adjustments from time to time.
We had dinner at the Atlantic Dining Room. Our head waiter was Parta, and his assistant was Glenn. They did a good job, but not fantastic. They were attentive and efficient. We enjoyed the singing and the dancing in the dining room. It made dinner more memorable. We were seated at a table with three very nice couples. We looked forward to dinner and never missed one.
The food in the dining room was generally good, with a few great items and a few items that need improvement. Most of the time beef was overcooked and stiff unless you ordered it rare. One night we ordered the filet mignon, and it was hard and tasteless. We both sent it back and asked for the fish instead. Parta brought it quickly. The formal night we both ordered the lobster, and it was very good. Parta brought everyone a second lobster. My wife's second one didn't taste good, but at that time we were already satisfied, so she ate half of mine. The desserts were also very good, especially the melting chocolate cake. I tried some more adventurous desserts, but my wife stuck to the melting chocolate cake and was not disappointed. One night the waiter brought my wife a birthday chocolate cake, courtesy of our travel agent. That was fantastic. We shared with our tablemates, and all of us together only ate half of it. The waiter took it back to the kitchen and brought it out again another night. Our tablemates made all the difference. We enjoyed each other's company for dinner and had a lot of fun. I would rate the dining room food 7 out of 10, the lobster being a good 9, and the filet mignon a 4. The company was a 10.
The Lido buffets were a whole different experience. There are 4 buffet lines, two in the Mediterranean Buffet, and two on the open deck. In addition to that, there is pizza and burgers on the Siren's area at the back, and deli and Chinese on the sides. The buffet food was generally bland and cafeteria-style. There was nothing memorable there. We tried breakfast and lunch and were disappointed. The lines were not long at all, and one could probably get in and out of the buffet line in a few minutes. I had a Reuben from the deli once and it was OK but not fantastic. We had Chinese once and it was good. The burgers were very good, and the pizza passable. The only good thing I can say about the buffet is that we never had to wait for a table. We could always find one. Service wasn't good either. Once, I got my napkin and cutlery; my spoon was dirty, so I went back and got another set. This one was missing the spoon altogether.
The number and variety of activities was good. The only exception was dancing music. The disco was pretty much dead most of the time, and we couldn't find any music that we liked to dance to. Maybe we were there at the wrong time. The shows were good. The dancing was well performed. The female lead was fantastic: a great dancer and a fabulous singer. She has a very powerful voice. I don't know how much longer she will be doing cruise work. Some scout will find her eventually, and take her to Broadway or London. We watched the comedian's first show, and he got us laughing very hard. He was very funny and very entertaining. We saw the magician's show, and he was also very good. Not too many tricks, and the flow of the show seemed to be a little broken up. We didn't think that he put down the lady that he called from the audience or the young boy as another reviewer said. His tricks were good. Malcom Burn (not Burns!) is a very good cruise director. He kept most people informed and entertained. His "woo hoo" is pretty infectious. I was screaming "woo hoo" and having a good time.
The ports of call were interesting. We didn't do any of the tours. Saint John receives the ship in great style: a singer in the morning, and they give out roses and pins to the passengers getting off the ship. As the ship sails away in the afternoon, a piper played on dock. The city is relatively small, and there isn't much to see. We just walked around and enjoyed the historic part of town and the market. Halifax is much bigger. It was pretty foggy most of our time there, so we didn't get to see much of the city. We walked around the waterfront and met with relatives, then went to lunch at Salty on the waterfront with them. The chocolates at Sugah are excellent. Later we went to their house for the afternoon, so we can't say much about the city.
The first day at sea was bright and warm. The weather was very good and appropriate for a day at sea. We attended some of the activities and had fun. The second day at sea was very windy, so the higher decks were not comfortable at all. We watched the Caribbean band a little, and attended the art auctions.
The ship's decor is overwhelming at first, but with time we got used to it. It is more Las Vegas style than others. Some public areas are very heavily decorated, and sometimes used for functions that don't match de decor. The cabins are tastefully done in more muted tones.
I saved the worst for last. Debarkation seemed to go fairly well for other cruisers, but we were in the foreigners group. The ship was divided into some 30 numbered groups, and called in order. Foreigners were to report to the Adriatic Lounge at 8:00 AM so we could gather our documents and disembark, going through US Immigration. This took very long and was pretty much a nightmare. Others have reported on this earlier, and it was as bad as they said. The ship probably has around 3000 passengers. So each numbered group should have about 100 passengers. The foreigners group probably had around 500 passengers. We waited in the lounge for about 45 minutes. The projection TV was on CNN, and it was quite loud. When one of the passengers complained that she couldn't hear the announcements over the PA system because of the TV, the crew member replied that since we were all foreigners, we wouldn't understand English anyway. She could have replied that the cruise director was just calling the numbered groups, and that wouldn't make a difference for us because our group would disembark separately. Simply rude and unnecessary. When they finally let us out of the room, we had to stand in one of the cabin hallways in a very long line that moved very slowly. We got to the ship door and checked out with our S+S cards. Then we stood in another line to get our documents back. Then we stood in the immigration line that seemed to take forever. We were in the Adriatic Lounge at 8:00 and only got our suitcases around 11:00 AM. Three hours is just too long. My suggestion is that Carnival divide the foreigners group into more than one group, and call them to the Adriatic Lounge at different times. This way we could have stayed on the upper decks or in our cabin waiting, instead of standing in lines. It could and should be done better.
We booked this cruise for a few reasons: it was close, so no flights; we needed a vacation; and the price was right. We usually go to a bed and breakfast in August to celebrate our anniversary, and this year we decided to spend a little more and go on a cruise. We enjoyed the cruise immensely, and would recommend this one to anyone who is not a total snob. If you go in knowing what you will get, you will not be disappointed in the whole, as we weren't. We saw some things that need improvement, but we had fun.