My 5th Cruise, wife's first. We are 41/32
Precruise - We stayed at the Radisson Resort at the Port. Very convenient, although the shuttle service was spotty. The person with the clipboard sent a large group together that had not booked their times, and that threw everything off by as much as an hour. The drivers were visibly angry with him. Outstanding breakfast that morning at the Omelette Station in Cocoa Beach.
Embarkation - Carnival really has this down to a science. When you approach the enormous ropes of lines, you get the feeling you are in for an hour's wait. Not so, we were through it, and on board in less than 15 minutes. We arrived on ship at 1 pm and our rooms were available.
The Ship - I was surprised at how subdued (for Carnival) the decor was. There was plenty of glitz, though without the miles of neon tubing. The showroom was quite elegant, and the dining rooms were on the mellow side as well. Most of the flash could be seen in the numerous nightclub venues. Our cruise was completely sold out, and yet many times throughout the week it was quite easy to find a quiet spot.
Days at Sea - Despite what I had read, I never found it difficult to get a deck chair. You may not get one in the front row directly in front of the pool, but there are so many levels to the lido area, it is quite easy to find a sunny spot. Entertainment ranged from typical Hairy Chest Contest etc, to indoor games of Scattergories, and scavenger hunts. We both did quite well in the casino, and if you are a hold-em player, there is an autodealer table that you shouldn't be afraid of...easy pickings! There is of course bingo, art auction, everything you might expect. Mark the cruise director is a talented guy, and kept things light and fun
Entertainment - We saw the Broadway Production show and were quite impressed with the two lead singers. The band was outstanding as well. We are karaoke fans, and it happens every night except the last night, when there is a passenger show called Legends, with cruisers backed up by the big band and the Carnival dancers. Mark the cruise director did an outstanding show as a comedy hypnotist. I've seen this type of show before, but his was especially good. There was an occasional steel drum on deck, but he wasn't particularly dynamic.
The Food - We eat out at some nice restaurants, but we had reasonable expectations about the food and service. Quite honestly it was really bad, and easily the worst since I've been cruising. Lido breakfast consisted of exactly the same thing for 7 days. Toast, and pancakes were brought out cold to begin with, and scrambled eggs were egg chunks floating in egg soup. The omelette station was fine, but do it first and then get everything else, or it will be ice cold by the time you get to your table. The one day we opted for the dining room, the service was so bad that we never returned. We ordered, coffee was delivered, food came, and the waiter NEVER came back, even though he had forgotten half of our order. The dining room never really shined at dinner, and even the formal night food was well below average. My wife ordered the same drink night after night with her dinner, and on most nights it arrived near the end of the entree. I wonder if the auto tip feature now used "for your convenience" is contributing to the slack dining room. We didn't just get a bad waiter, many many people commented throughout the week at how poor the food was. The grand buffet was only decent, and well below other ships. The night they served lobster was quite good, although the tails were small, they were sweet, and second one is on the way if you like.
As bad as it was, the alternate restaurant was spectacular. Splurge the $30 a head and go for it. Literally a seven course meal, although we had to slow them down a little despite the warnings that dinner could take 2 1/2 - 3 hours. They were FLYING through service, and we were getting full. They complied, and we both enjoyed perfectly cooked surf and turf, after amuse bouche, appetizers, soup, salad, and then later dessert, followed by a chef's chocolate special. Top of the line presentation. I would seriously consider adding the $360 fee to eat there all week if I sail Carnival again...It'll add a star or two to the trip.
Cozumel - We did the beach break day. We had decent enough weather, although the surf killed any snorkeling right off the beach. Carlos and Charlies for a $15 dollar margarita (It was Cinco de Mayo after all)
Belize - Let me be clear: Either book an excursion or stay on the boat. We were wiped out by this time, and did some trinket shopping and thats about it. I bought some Belizean coffee that kept me awake for 16 hours...don't drink it at night.
Roatan - 36 miles of island, exactly one winding road, and no speed limits. We did Gumbelina Park, which you really cant do on your own, so nook it through the ship. Well worth it. We played with monkeys, crossed a rope bridge, heard about pirates, and had colorful birds on our shoulder. The rest of the time you get to play on their beach, which is spectacular. Perfect sand, and literally no one there except those that booked the excursion with you. Snorkeling right off the beach, and quality beverages. By far our favorite trip
Freeport - If you are a savvy barterer, there are deals to be had, although they seem to be getting more rare. Some of the jewelry shops were no cheaper than in the states. We did well shopping for precious stones at Port Lucaya, and we certainly enjoyed having breakfast off the ship. If you like Bailey's, try the Rum Cream either in your coffee or straight up, great stuff.
Carnival is probably what you expect. We had more fun than we thought we would, and worse food then our low expectations. If you have kids you'll have a blast, although Disney cruises out at the same time, and they'll probably lose their mind when you drive past that ship. I for one...happy to let Disney take the kids.