I wanted to post some thoughts on our recent experience on Carnival Spirit and the Mexican Riviera (this is my first review, so please set expectations appropriately). We went with Carnival for family and Camp Carnival, and we were not disappointed. If you have small kids who like to play with other small kids, they will love Camp Carnival.
Overall, I was pleased with most aspects of the trip, and especially impressed with the Camp Carnival Programs and staff, which made my 3 yr old son incredibly happy and busy the whole cruise. This was the reason we chose carnival and they really came through on this aspect, which was critical for us and will bring us back to carnival in the future. While there were the big lines occasionally (Lido for buffet, Camp carnival pick-up and drop off, some key events and giveaways, I never really felt crowded or on a ship with 2k other people.
So, on with some details:
Embarkation: By doing our paperwork on line, I think we stood in line for 10 - 15 minutes before getting our Sail and sign cards, and moving to the next holding area before our zone was called in another 15 minutes. All told, we were in the terminal no more than 45 minutes from taxi drop off to walking on the ship. Great experience and we have been through much worse.
Public Rooms: All were clean and in good shape. We made it through most of the ship and different areas, but hung out mainly on the upper decks (9 and 10) where pools, stage, activities, etc. were. Occasionally saw slight wear and tear, but that was usually identified quickly by crew and fixed immediately.
Cabin: We had a balcony room and significantly over packed, but even with twice as much clothes as we actually used, we had plenty of storage. Would have been nice to get the minibar removed for more storage, but not a major issue. They converted the Sofa to our son's bed and pushed the 2 twins together into a King for my wife and I, which was fine (if not a little firmer than we are used to).
The balcony was nice and we used it occasionally (especially a few times when the AC didn't seem to work properly and we would prop the cabin door slightly ajar and then prop open the balcony door and get a great breeze through the cabin to cool things down). Wish they would have had rails for my son's bed, but we adjusted to his trying to fall out of the bed by tucking the open side of the bed covers tightly in and then just letting get under the covers from the bulkhead side opening, which solved some concerns there. We also had the little cabin coffee table moved our onto the balcony o provide more walking room. Bathrooms were fine and shower was even roomy (and I'm a big guy 6'4" and 300+ lbs).
Cabin Steward was great (and we had a couple accidents that he took care of immediately) and my son loved the towel animals. It was the only way for us to get him out of Camp Carnival some nights was to tell him about the new critter waiting on him.
Fitness and recreation: Never used the fitness area, but it looked nice when we toured it, however the minigolf course was a big hit with my son and we used it pretty much every day or so. Pools were nice and clean and cold and Salty. Hot pools were enjoyable especially after the dip in the big pools. But they were always busy, so getting in was sometimes slow. We used the main pools and never even used the aft pool. Also we tried out the Kiddies Pool on deck 11 one day, but my 3 year old was far too big for it. It would be great for 0 - 2 years olds and has a nice canopy cover for it.
Enrichment: Probably the area I thought was most lacking on this ship. Other than some old games (Charades, pictionary, etc.) organized by cruise staff, nothing really to do mid-40s adults. If you were not sitting up on the deck baking, or down on deck two ding a bingo game, or trivia contest, etc. You were somewhat bored for periods of time. I certainly think they had the space to host lectures on skills and interests (digital photography, computers, finance, etc.). Heck, even model building projects for fathers and kids (yes, I'm biased, it could just as well be moms and kids). A couple of Wine and meal pairing classes for a surcharge, but that's it.
Rates: Room rates were acceptable and we missed getting our fuel charge back as OBC by 3 days, but it really began to irk me how much efforts was being put into taking more money from you in every possible manner. From outrageous table rake at the one electronic poker table, to the unbelievable number of photos being taken (both the evening and every port call) but also 2 or 3 rounds through camp carnival and with Santa. All available for purchase at incredibly high mark up. But they are a business, so making money is there business and keeping our money as consumers is ours.
Dining: Given we were with our 3 yr old, we didn't eat in the main dining room much (3 times I think). And we were placed completely up in the corner and had no one else at our table, so no incentive to show up and visit. The food quality was not bad; lido deck buffets were usually good and lines not too long. Sandwiches and pizza were always available and good. One problem was the Sundae bar, which was hardly ever open and we could never figure out time and schedule (since its not posted anywhere) its only open from 3 - 5 pm on sea days and its on the fantail next to the fantail bar. a # of times we came there and they were just closing up or not yet opened. Annoying, but not showstoppers as the ice cream machines were open 24 hrs, and my son was happy, but the sundae bar offers real ice cream (hand scooped) of much better quality. So it should be taken advantage of. Room service was quick, we never did breakfast, but a couple late evening drink needs were filled quickly.
Entertainment: We never went to any shows, but we heard the band/orchestra in various other locations and they were pretty good. I heard several other passengers commenting on how bad the shows were and my only experience was the Christmas wrap up show and the dancers and singers were in fact not that great, so we were not unhappy about missing the shows).
Service: Was usually good and my 3 yr old has a smile that all crew members wanted to enjoy and so they came by the table pretty often. Dining room service lacked some (we have traveled a number of times on celebrity ships and their dining rooms are fantastic). Room steward was great as mentioned earlier and a tremendous help in our emergencies (one the last night at midnight). Had a couple spa treatments, I can highly recommend the hot shave for the men, even though there is some pushing of products, the barber who does them is great and certainly was an enjoyable 50 minutes (apparently I fell asleep and snored too!!).
Shore Excursions: We did not book anything through the ship and made our plans by using the boards here and meeting others on the cruise. We only got off the ship 1 day at Z/I and grabbed a cab to playa la ropa and the restaurant la perla. Rented chairs, sat under umbrella while my son played in the sand and surf and I fended off the local entrepreneurs with all varieties of merchandise coming by. Annoying, but not too bad. Having food and drinks delivered to me was very nice.
With our son, we knew we could not sign up for any of the serious excursions, so the one above was fine. Its worth it to note that you can leave the kids in camp carnival if you want to do excursions, and while we were not initially comfortable with this concept, by the end of the cruise, we would have done this no problem. Acapulco wasn't worth getting off the ship because of crowds, vendors and beggars and in Manzanillo; we docked at an industrial terminal, nothing within walking distance. Many people talked about Z/I being the best place for a beach day if you have little ones.
Value: We got a good vacation and break for my wife and I and my son had more fun in a week than he would have in three months at home, so all in all, well worth the money and we will do it again. However, we will not go back to Mexico, nothing we saw was worth the price to come down.
I recommend the Carnival Spirit as a great family cruise for all ages as long as don't expect intellectual stimulation, enjoy simple fun and games and time with the kids (and away from the kids).