Background Information: This is my fifth cruise overall and my second on a Carnival ship. I (31) am traveling with a friend (34), my sister (39) and her friend (48), my mom (72) and dad (71). We bought the cruise within two weeks of the departure date, as we decided last minute to take a vacation together. I was able to book two rooms on an online cruise company's website, but couldn't book the third room (because their system was not working properly). My experience dealing with the agents from this online company was so terrible that I would never book with an agent again. If I need to book with anyone, I would go direct with a PVP from the cruise line.
We live in NYC, so no need to stay in a hotel prior to the cruise. We live very close to the pier, so it was only a short taxi ride and we were ready to begin our vacation. We arrived at the pier around 12:30, after dropping off our luggage, we stood on the line for about half an hour before getting the keys to our three cabins. The embarkation process wasn't too bad. After eating lunch on lido deck, it was time for the lifeboat drill. Well, if there was really an emergency, I am not sure we can all survive, because it was so chaotic and crowded, you really didn't get a chance to learn how to make it out alive with the life vest and equipment on the ship. We were all packed in a small area, with people basically next to each other, and they just briefly talked about how the life vest should be worn (without checking to make sure you understand and that you actually follow their instructions), and then they tell you it's over. It's probably better to stay in the stateroom and watch the TV for demonstration.
Stateroom: The inside stateroom is a decent size and have sufficient closet space. The only thing I found lacking is a refrigerator. We brought a few sodas to drink while on the ship, but without a refrigerator, they were basically useless. The bed was very comfortable, but the shower was a little too weak.
Dining: The buffet was pretty standard, it was nice to have an Asian counter, a place for deli sandwiches, a special place for "food of the world", a pizza station, and a grill. But overall, the food lacks variety, and when you really want to get something to eat, they are all closed (except for ice-cream and pizza). If they can provide food during odd times, I think that would have been perfect. We ordered room services twice, and had to wait over an hour on both occasions. The sandwiches that they brought were actually quite good, but the wait was a bit too excessive. Either too many people are ordering at the same time, or not enough people are working for that department. The food in the main dining room was better, but they could have been even better. The only dish that stood out was the lobster with jumbo shrimps. Mine was pretty good, but the lobster that my mother got was not fresh. We did have a great waiter and assistant waitress, but the desert (chocolate melting cake) on the last night of the cruise was as hard as a rock.
Activities: You will find the same activities as on most cruises, ranging from hairy chest competition to the wedding game, from bingo to trivia. There were not as many dancing classes/activities as other cruise lines (like Princess and NCL).
Shore Excursions: Our only stop is Saint John in NB, Canada. By the time we got off the ship (around 9:30AM), they have run out of roses for the ladies and pins for the gents. Not that we really care for those items, but why advertise that as being a custom for visiting their city if they don't intend on giving one to everyone?
You should try to book something for this port, as there was not much to do without booking anything. We wanted to ride the reversing falls, but booking via Carnival would cost us $99 per person. Thanks to fellow cruise critics, we found the website and booked directly with the company. It only cost us $40 per person. Finding a taxi to go back to the pier was a bit difficult, we had to wait a while before one finally came (even though they have called in to request one for us). We also walked around Market Square, City Market, and the Brunswick Square shopping centre. They had a free shuttle that takes you to Market Square from the docking area.
Entertainment: The two production shows were pretty good, the last one called Vrooom was fantastic. It was much better than all the other shows I have seen thus far. The first comedy show was quite boring, the second one was better and made us laugh.
Disembarkation: This is the first time we chose self-debarkation, and it was actually not bad. We didn't have to worry about finish packing our luggage before the dinner on the last night of the cruise, and didn't have to wait for them to call our zone number. They did call us by the decks (during self-debarkation) though. We were still having breakfast when the process started, so by the time we were ready, it was time to go. After we got off the ship, it was a little confusing as to where to go if we don't have to pick up our luggage. The taxi stand is located across the street from the pier, so we had to cross 12th Avenue to find a taxi. Luckily, there were a few taxis waiting for us already.
Summary: Overall, it was good to be on vacation. A four night cruise is a bit too short, you don't really get to relax and it's already time to go back to work. I am not happy that we didn't get early seating, and as a result, we couldn't do much after we have finished eating dinner and watched the shows. Our ship did get a helicopter visit due to a passenger not feeling well, hopefully that passenger got the medical help and was okay after he/she got to the hospital. This incidence did not affect the arrival time at all, which I wouldn't have minded. I don't mind cruising with Carnival again, but would have preferred Princess and NCL because they offer anytime dining.
If you are still reading my review, here's a little advice: I would recommend that you try to swim on the first day you get on the ship. While it is very hot in New York, the weather up in Saint John is very different. The first sea day we tried to go into the swimming pool and it was already too cool to swim, so we only went to the hot tub. While in Saint John, you can wear a t-shirt, but bring a jacket with you because the temperature can swing a bit in the same day. It was very foggy on the two sea days, so the best time to swim or try the water slide is on the embarkation day.