Well what can I say, I guess you get what you pay for. In this case, paying the extra $150 for Royal Caribbean or Holland would be well spent. As soon as we walked on the ship (built in 2001), we were greeted by 1980's decor. The chairs in the buffet area, Rosie's Restaurant, are LIME green. The Lido deck decor could be described best as a New Jersey diner. We were really excited to eat the food, because the past cruises we had been on with Royal Caribbean and Holland had excellent food. Unfortunately Carnival's food disappointed us to say the least. On the positive side, it is served hot, but that is about the only good thing I can say. The quality is like Denny's, nothing is terrible, but nothing is great either.
Our state room was very clean and roomy. We had an oceanview, cabin 1221. We thought it was wonderful until the morning of our first port, when we realized that our room was directly over the opening in the boat used to dock and tender. It would wake us up before 7:00 am with a loud motor and crew's voices getting the boat ready. Also, the color and decor of the room was a dreadful combination of burnt orange and teal green. Our room attendant was very attentive and made sure all of our questions were answered.
As for the set up of the boat, it is very confusing. On previous cruises, it took about one day to orient to the boat. however, this ship is like a maze. You will have a very difficult time finding the Internet Cafe, Sports Bar, and even accessing the proper floor of the dining room. There is almost no way to avoid coming into contact smoke on most of the boat. The cigar lounge is a monstrosity that takes up the entire width of the boat, so that you have to walk through it in order to access the dining rooms. It easily seats 100+ people, but we never saw more than 10 people in it. Also, the bar was very often not staffed. Also worth noting, the One Small Step Disco, Piano Bar, Lindy Hop, and Casino all allow smoking. I am not sensitive to smoke and it bothered me. You will definitely need a shower after spending the night out.
The dining room was lit by pink fluorescent lights. Again, the decor was tacky and best described as a dressed up Denny's. What we found to be most upsetting was that food on the menu was mislabeled, or misrepresented. I was excited to see "Tiger Shrimp cocktail" as an appetizer. However, when it arrived it was classic pre-frozen, medium cocktail shrimp. The same happened with Filet Mignon, which was actually pot roast and lobster that was actually langostino (a smaller lobster-cousin, that is often falsely advertised as lobster). I found this to be upsetting. If Carnival wishes to serve classic cocktail shrimp, that is fine, but don't try to pretend it is Tiger Shrimp. I was amazed that there were only a few other people who noticed this.
The general attitude of the staff, other than our room attendant, was as apathetic. Maybe they realize that they get paid the same regardless of the service they provide. We found the photographers to be very energetic and engaging, but the bar tenders and wait staff seemed totally uninterested in providing a high quality of service. Honestly, they all seemed to be overworked. When the cruise director announced the number of guests and staff, we realized that it was about 4 guests to every one staff. I think this is where the stem of the entire problem begins. Carnival is trying to make more out of less, and it is not working.
We had a wonderful vacation, but none of it was due to Carnival. We booked private tours at the ports before we left (which was cheaper than booking excursions through Carnival). They made the trip awesome. And, we really laughed a lot at the terrible decorations and constant 80's music. We wouldn't let the poor service put a damper on our time, so we made the best of it.
One thing I know for sure, this will be my last cruise on the "Fun" ship.
The tender process is very slow with Carnival, so make sure to include plenty of extra time if you need to be on the island early. We did not book an excursion with Carnival because in my past experiences they have been overpriced and cheesy. Instead, we walked around the shopping area for a while and then found Island Tours offering the same thing Carnival did, but at $20 a person. We went to the Turtle Farm, which is a definite must-see. It was great! You get to hold turtles and the any kid would love it. Then we went to the Tortuga Rum and Rumcake factory. That was good, but you only need about 15 minutes there. They give free rum samples, which are about 1/4 of a shot, but are still nice. The rumcake is excellent. From there we went to the tourist trap Hell. It is basically a bunch of rocks with a wooden devil sticking out of it. As with the rum factory, you don't need to spend more than 15 minutes there, but it's kindof cool to see. Finally we went to the beach, which was great! It was beautiful and the ocean was warm. Anyone will enjoy it.
The best advice is to not book an excursion through your ship. Walk past the throngs of people attempting to get you to go on their excursion as soon as you get off the boat. Island Tour guides are everywhere. Agree to pay $20 per person and you will be all set. The Turtle Farm is an extra $10, and well worth it. Including tip your excursion will be about $40 total, per person.