Embarking was very painless. We arrived at 10:30 went right through without any lines. We were pooled into a waiting area, for 1/2 hour until the ship was ready, but walked right on. We had lunch on Lido deck and went right to our room on Panorama. This was the perfect location with kids. We had a small room with the 2 pull down bunks for our kids (age 6 and age 9). It was close to the pool (and ice cream machine for my son), just 2 floors up to the Camp Carnival) and right by the elevators. We went to the casino to get the free bungees. These were perfect for the kids to carry around their ship and sale card. We bought one soda card which we shared. Wait to buy it until you are at sea to avoid the taxes.
Room: We saved money on our room and weren't disappointed. The bathroom had plenty of shelves and storage so it didn't seem cramped. Even with four people and luggage we had plenty of drawer space and closet space that we weren't cramped. The room steward really did a great job. She was attentive and left the kids special treats each night (e.g. smiley face cookies)besides the fun towel creations. We requested the premium towels (which were softer)and she kept our cooler iced all week.
Food: We weren't expecting great food, and it was mediocre. My kids are pretty adventurous eaters, so they liked being able to order off the main menu and have so many choices each night. They quickly learned 2 desserts was a great way to go. They also liked getting the entree pasta as their main dish. I was not impressed by the pizza as others. We did however love Paul's Deli. We brought ziplocks on board. The night before our shore excursions, I packed up sandwiches for the kids to eat, so we didn't have to worry about them eating something that would make them sick. Then we grabbed fruit and yogurt in the morning. We ate in the Monet dining room. The dancing was cheesy, but the the kids liked getting up and dancing with the waiter. Our waiter was awesome. She remembered our kids' preferences, cutting my son's steak for him. One night when we had really rough seas (Ike was hitting) my daughter was a little sea sick. I asked if I could have some soup to take back with me to her. She made up a tray with soup, fruit, and bread and personally carried it back to the cabin for my daughter. She was very attentive, and my kids looked forward to seeing her each night.
Camp Carnival: My kids enjoyed going to Camp Carnival. However, I was not impressed. They shut down every afternoon around lunch for several hours which made it difficult for my husband and I to do activities. My son was in the 6-8. They spent alot of time playing video games (which he enjoyed), but I didn't really see them interact with the kids much. The children were well supervised, but I had hoped they would engage them more rather than just babysitting. For the 9-11 group, they did some kind of an "unsupervised scavenger hunt" each day where the kids went off in teams to find things on the ship. This made me a bit nervous, but the kids really enjoyed it. The family Karaoke and talent show were a big hit with my kids, but not well attended. Obviously, some people have cruised before because they brought costumes and their own music for the talent show. We didn't do any many of the evening events as our kids go to bed around 8.
Excursions: I had read so many negative things about Jamaica that we decided to hang out at Sunset Beach. The taxi took us right there for a per person fee. The children enjoyed playing at the beach, swimming in the pools, floating on the lazy river, and going down the water slides. The buffet lunch was really bad. (We were glad that we had those sandwiches!) as even my adventurous eaters didn't see alot there they liked. We weren't able to tender in the Caymans because of the big waves from Ike. We had intended to go to Stingray City with an excursion from Captain that we had booked on our own. Since we didn't dock, we weren't charged. We went to Cozumel next. We booked the stingray tour through Carnival since we didn't get to do it in the Caymans. It was pricey and not as large as we had liked. They rushed us a bit and the time we were in the water was less than was advertised. The kids still loved it, and I would do this again. We actually spent two days in Cozumel due to Ike, but unfortunately we spent the second day at the Starbucks (which has free internet with a coffee purchase) trying to find out how our house and our friends faired as Ike had hit Galveston/Houston the night before.
General Kid tips: The cruise is for the most part family friendly. My kids were disturbed by the smoke, especially by the casino. It was very strong. Some of the activities on the Lido deck had lots of overtones which made my daughter a bit uncomfortable (e.g. the Hairy Man contest). They also encountered lots of drunk people. (a good lesson that people are not as cute or funny as they think when they are drunk). On multiple nights, there were announcements for missing people. They woke the kids up and upset them. Each day there is a water wars. Both of my kids liked this. It is basically a supervised water balloon fight. They also liked the tea at Alfred's bar in the afternoon. It was a nice afternoon break, with some good desserts.
A note about Carnival: I can't tell you how disappointed we were with the way that Carnival handled the hurricane. They kept us an extra day in Cozumel as we waited out the storm. They told us they were heading back, but they didn't know where we would dock. They had a meeting at sunday at noon, but after everyone was there said they still didn't know. Then finally at 5, they told us we were going into New Orleans. However, they told us that we could stay on board and use the ship as a hotel or we could arrange for our own transportation home. We asked if we could have free internet to arrange our transportation. They would not. They gave everyone 1 free call home, but you could not get a line out from your room. We tried for 2 hours. We finally had to stand in a line at the purser's desk for 2 hours to call my sister who found us one of the last rental cars available. It would have been so easy for Carnival to have rented some Coach buses to return us to where we left. Instead we had to pay $200 for a one way car rental home. They were very unsympathetic and uncaring to the hundreds of people on board who were going to return to destroyed homes. We had asked before we left for the cruise (when it didn't look like it was heading toward Houston) for a refund, but they refused. I realize that there is no way to predict something like this, but you can communicate regularly with people and at least return them to where you started!