We flew into Ft. Lauderdale the night before and stayed at the Springhill Marriott Suites. It was mostly cruisers. They have a free shuttle from the airport. Nice hotel, right off I95, excellent breakfast included and rooms had mini kitchens. Lots of stores across the street for last minute purchases. Arrived at ship about 12:00 and embarkation was crowded. Checking in went quick but we had to wait about 40 minutes to board. Carnival passes out boarding numbers and called passengers in groups of about 50 by number after checking in.
From reading other reviews I was expecting the ship decor to be distasteful, but was pleasantly surprised - it was definitely the usual Carnival Mardi Gras theme, but I thought most of the rooms were really beautiful. The art on Carnival doesn't compare to Royal Caribbean's newer ships, but as my DH says, who cruises for the art?
Cruising is all about the food, and Carnival does a great job. The pizza available 24-7 is great; the buffet has a terrific grill - best reuben sandwich ever; a Thai stir fry station and daily foods from different cultures - Indian, Mexican, etc. They had a sushi station in the Promenade. The frozen yogurt and ice cream machines were always available and very good. We ate lunch in the dining room on sea days and enjoyed sitting at the window tables, and also meeting other families. The dinners were great; the lobster was the biggest and best I have ever had on a cruise and the filet mignon was really good too. Appetizers were interesting and varied and the soups were wonderful.
Service was good; our room was cleaned twice daily and the wait staff were friendly and helpful. I don't like having tips automatically added to my room bill everyday, and automatically added to every drink order. A tip is not tip if its part of your bill - its just an added cost.
We used the spa for nails and a massage; it was overpriced, but we enjoyed it very much. I also used the gym treadmills - nice with TV on each one but if you don't bring your own earphones, you are out of luck - they don't rent them or sell them. I also took a yoga class which was enjoyable.
We went to Paradise Beach in Cozumel - nice place with beach bar, free chairs and umbrellas, and good service but the beach was rocky and mucky in places. My kids wouldn't get in the water because of that. In Cayman Islands we took a coral reef and stingray tour. The coral reef was very interesting and the stingrays were on a sand bar out in the ocean; they were big and swam all around you - a little unnerving for some of us, but fascinating. In Jamaica we went to the Sunset Jamaica Grande Hotel, an all inclusive resort right on the bay of Ocho Rios. It was a really beautiful hotel with huge pools and waterslide. Food was pretty bad though - made you really appreciate the ship food.
The shows were typical - a comedian one night was pretty good; the Beatles show was great; the Karaoke room in the International lounge was really fun - it didn't matter if the singer was bad because the whole room sang along on most songs.Very funny and talented people on the ship. The disco was fun - but doesn't get going until very late.
The biggest disappointment was the casino; the slots were very tight and the payouts very low - not worth the bet in my opinion. Despite being over 3000 people on board, there was rarely anyone playing them - and for good reason.
The stateroom was nice - comfortable bed and luxurious bedding. Flat screen TV, and they even showed American Idol! There were also free movies and recent movies you could pay for on your stateroom TV.
My favorite entertainment was the concerts they showed late in the afternoon on the big screen out by the pool; the Bee Gees, Chicago/Earth Wind and Fire; U2 and Tina Turner. They should do more of that or show some afternoon movies by the pool.
Great trip - can't wait to cruise again.