THE UPSIDE: Ship was exceptionally clean pretty much everywhere, although tables on the Lido deck frequently were unwiped before they were used again. Overall, not a big deal. Staff was courteous and helpful, but no one called me by name on this ship, which has not been my experience on other lines. We enjoyed our dining room servers and our room steward was very accommodating of our needs. Being surprised with a new towel animal friend on your bed was a delightful way to end the day.
The main pool and sitting area with the retractable awning was excellent and one of the best features of the design of the ship. Gave people a nice place to sit out in the evening and the morning that wasn't cold or windy. Loved watching movies on the big screen at night, but wished they had much more current offerings and lighter variety . . . who wants to see "Saving Private Ryan" when you're trying to relax on vacation? Also enjoyed the saltwater pool on this deck that was much preferable to the usual chlorine.
The outside room we had on the 1st floor midship was quiet and spacious and was easy enough to get to the other areas of the ship. Bed was a little too hard for us, but many people commented it was the best they had ever slept on while on a cruise ship. Plenty of storage space for all of our stuff.
They had not added the Friends of Dorothy meetings (for LGBT cruisers) to the activities schedule, but did so after I requested it. (And the cruise director sent me a bottle of champagne!)
My partner and I both had massages from the spa, they were okay, but definitely not standout - not practitioners I would go see again at home, but fine for the reduced price we paid for them ($1/minute) on a port day. My experience has been that it is pretty rare to find anyone who does great deep tissue work on a cruise ship, but if you don't get a lot of massage, their people are probably fine.
The equipment in their fitness room was really nice and the staff was helpful if you had questions. On the elliptical machine I used you could control your ipod or watch your own personal tv if you brought your own headphones.
Shows and entertainment were okay, even a little better than what I have come to expect from a cruise ship. Nothing outstanding, but at least they were entertaining for a captive audience (though not something good enough that I would pay money to see it at home, and certainly not deserving of the standing ovations they generally received).
THE DOWNSIDE: Apart from the Lido deck awning, and our room itself, the layout and design of the ship is the worst I have ever been on. Many reviews have mentioned about the hideous dEcor in the public spaces, so I will just say I will definitely agree on that note. The other thing is that for whatever reason they put one of the dining rooms in the middle of the ship and so one frequently got stuck at dead ends that you would have to go up or down a floor or two to walk around. The unintuitive layout was definitely annoying, but in terms of the big picture, it's not as though either of these ruined our trip or anything.
Food was okay not great. Enjoyed lunch much more than dinner. A few highlights included the option of Indian food and Mongolian barbeque at lunch, Caesar salad in the dining room for dinner was great - this was the only lettuce on the whole ship that tasted somewhat okay. Food in the dining room was about what I was expecting, looked much more beautiful than it tasted, but then again, I couldn't even begin to fathom what it takes to feed 3,000 people in only 2 seatings. Not that this is an excuse, and there were a few standout courses here or there, but by in large, they don't serve excellent food on this ship. I would give it about a fair rating. It wasn't bad by any means (I have had far worse on NCL), but it definitely wasn't great either. Meat was frequently overcooked and my biggest issue was really with the taste of the vegetables. They tasted about as fresh as cardboard and probably had the equivalent nutrients to boot. Clearly they were not purchased from sources along the route, but were shipped for the cheapest price from some far away place (and it showed in how they tasted). Alternative dinner options were awfully slim, but at least they had some.
Singing and dancing at dinner by the waiters was disruptive, not relaxing or entertaining every night in the dining room. If it happened only once or twice, this would have been okay, but for us, the singing and loud music always seemed to start in the middle of our meal, during which time, all the servers were busy "entertaining" instead of doing their job. One of several reasons enough for us to pick another line in the future if the itinerary and price are the same. If you just want a quiet relaxing dinner, this isn't the cruise line for you.
Be warned that moderate to severe engine vibrations can be felt in the rear portion of the Golden Pearl restaurant at the aft of the ship (the forward part of the restaurant is better). I'm not usually someone who has any level of seasickness, and for some reason this even had me not feeling right. Fortunately, when we realized this on the first night, they were able to move us to the Black Pearl for dinner that was so much better. I will give Carnival props for making the switch completely painless, they even had someone walk us to the other dining room. While I will say I haven't actually been in the aft staterooms, based on the amount of vibration that could still be felt on level 3 in the Golden Pearl dining room, my instinct would be to highly suggest that you avoid getting a stateroom on levels 1-2 in the aft of the ship - at least I would expect that the vibrations wouldn't be what I would wish for on my vacation. (We had good luck with our stateroom midship on level 1.)
For a so-called "fun ship," the variety of activities, particularly at sea, were sorely lacking. This was also one of the big reasons why I would look at other lines before sailing Carnival again. They did the usual trivia, art auctions, bingo, etc, but didn't really offer any alternative or enrichment classes/lectures that are certainly appropriate for a European itinerary and offered by other lines. No port talks/history lessons (apart from those trying to sell you their shore excursions), language lessons (they certainly have enough people on the ship to teach these), or other special interest talks, or craft activities to keep things interesting on the days at sea. If you take this boat and have days at sea, make sure you plan accordingly.
The daily capers itinerary was also really weak. There wasn't any port info with maps or anything as we had experienced elsewhere. The language tips were either completely lacking or pretty weak. Apparently Carnival doesn't really care to help you out if you want to enjoy the ports on your own instead of buying their overpriced tours. Be forewarned to arrive with your own info/guidebook/itineraries in mind for the ports you are visiting if you aren't going to take Carnival's tours.
OVERALL EVALUATION: Truth be told, the ship doesn't make for a great vacation, YOU DO. Personally, I would choose this boat for price and itinerary only, not for the amenities, service, or food on the ship. To us, the ports are more important than the ship itself, and this trip was not any different. Cruising is one of the most relaxing and affordable ways to travel in Europe in our opinion.
As far as this ship goes, if you're not traveling on a super sunny itinerary, the covered Lido deck and pool area are a big plus and gives a nice place to be which have the feeling of being outside but away from wind and rain. I imagine this would be especially nice if you can only afford an inside room. The other best features were the spaciousness of the rooms and the overall cleanliness of everything. You probably won't be overwhelmed by the quality of the food or entertainment, but for us, we come to Europe to see Europe . . . and the rest, well, the rest made for a perfectly acceptable vacation.