I flew to Miami, stopping in Atlanta, and took a shuttle to the port. The porters are not employees of Carnival (nor airline personnel for that matter) and I recommend packing fragile things well--it is best to assume the luggage will be thrown and dropped when you pack. Happily, I had no damage myself.
Embarking took some time, but not that much. There was very little standing in line if you have a preprinted fun pass--I walked right by a medium-long line of people who didn't have that. I received my Sail and Sign card, which is the shipboard credit card as well as the room key. I recommend learning your room number--it is easy to forget to do that in all the excitement, and several people I met did. I actually got one digit off and had to try two doors to find mine. Luckily, if you buy something, the receipt will have your room number printed on it.
After that, it was one week-long blur of fun and relaxation--lots of Jacuzzi time, karaoke, food and drink temptations, and various parties and shows and contests. The best thing was the people. Not just the staff, who went out of their way to please the guests, but the other cruisers were open and friendly; nearly everybody I came across wanted to meet new people so they were very approachable. I recommend that if you are traveling with others, to get away from the group and meet people. I met several who were with groups and mostly stayed with their groups. I met several friends who are still friends after the cruise.
The only shore excursions that caught my interest were Discover SCUBA in St. Thomas, and the Kon Tiki party boat, also in St. Thomas. I recommend both. I recommend Senor Frogs, a block from the pier in San Juan, for a good partying place.
I do have to tell this story of my experience in St. Maarten. I took a cab to Orient Beach, but while in the cab, I realized I forgot to stop at an ATM, so I didn't have return fare. I told the driver this and half-expected the driver to not want to pick me up later. She did come back and drive me first to an ATM, where I realized I didn't have my ATM card on me, and then to the ship so I could get my card and some cash to pay her, better late than never and with an extra tip.
She then took me to Everything's Cool Beach Bar, a short drive away in Phillipsburg, and left me there. As I was walking down the beach (since my group hadn't arrived yet), I realized I had left my bag in the taxi. It had the $22.00 Carnival towel in it, as well as other stuff. I had decided I had lost it, and took heart that the total value was less than $100.00.
It started raining (not for very long) so I walked back to the bar. I found my cab driver was there with my bag waiting for me! That was a pleasant surprise. I gave her a large tip.
It was a long line to get off the ship, and I was sad to leave such a nice vacation, a great ship, and such wonderful people behind. Truly, on the last day a depression of sorts sets in--the dream is over and it is time to return to real life. I took heart that I would maintain contact with several people I'd met, and that I would do this again in a year.
Reality was doubly emphasized by the plane trip home--I arrived late because of thunderstorm delays, and my luggage arrived a day later than me. But my mood picked up when I began bragging to friends about the cruise!