Embarkation: We flew down from NC and stayed with some friends in Tampa. They dropped us off at the port and the embarkation process was fast and painless. Note: YOU NEED YOUR PASSPORT!! Even if the website says it's not neccessary for "closed-loop" cruises, you still need it to verify your citizenship when you leave the ship at the end of the week.
Cabin: We selected an interior room on Deck 7. This is the best deck b/c you aren't far from the pools and action on the Lido deck, but you have one floor above you to serve as a buffer for all the noise up there. Our room was more spacious than we expected--plenty of room for your clothes, shoes, etc. We didn't mind not having a window b/c our room was pitch black when we slept, which is great if you want to sleep in a little. Our room steward, Antonio, was fabulous. So kind and thorough--we didn't want for anything. I loved the towel animals every night.
Entertainment: It's okay. Some of the shows are cheesy. My favorite singing and dancing show was the Big Easy show on Friday night. Otherwise, my husband and I both preferred the comedy and the hypnotist. There were always games, seminars, contests happening all over the boat. You could keep yourself busy every minute of the day, which is nice on days at sea. But, we had just as much fun relaxing by the pool, having drinks and using the waterslide. (Get to the pool by 10am if you want a decent spot.)
Cleanliness: I have to mention this because I was so impressed with it. That ship was so clean. Every time I turned around there was a crew member cleaning, hosing something off, restocking. They crew works so hard on this ship and probably don't receive half the recognition they should. Well done!
Food: My husband and I nicknamed the buffet on the Lido Deck "the Trough," because that's what it was. So many people piling their plates with food they'll never eat or shouldn't be eating. We only ate there for lunch on the day that we boarded the ship because nothing else was open, and it was so loud, crowded and repulsive to watch people shoveling enormous amounts of food down their throats, that we decided to take all our meals in the Truffles dining room for the rest of the cruise. So glad we did! The food was better and I LOVED the portion size. As a personal trainer, I know that most Americans eat about triple the portions that they should and that is why obesity is such a problem. In the Truffles dining room, they give you APPROPRIATE portion sizes, which is fine because you're probably eating more frequently on the cruise than you do at home anyway, and you can order seconds if you're still hungry. Most of the time, the portions were just fine for me and my husband. Most of the meals were delicious--there were only a couple of things we ate that were okay. Our server, Iwayan, was a sweetheart, and I loved Shhhhhowtime--watching all the staff sing and dance. If you have the extra cash, you MUST MUST MUST eat in the Supper Club, the Golden Fleece, one night. The service is absolutely superb; it's quiet and romantic; and the food is out of this world. Easily one of the top ten meals I've ever had.
Gym/Spa: Gym was decent for a cruise ship, although it was hard to get the weights you want when a lot of people are in there working out. I only went to the spa to get my hair done because all the treatments were so overpriced. Here's a tip--if you can wait until the end of the cruise, they start marking stuff down big time and you can probably get a spa treatment for a better deal.
Crew: Like I said, this crew is so hard working that I cannot give them enough praise. What they do is even more amazing when you talk to them and find out that most of them stay on the boat for 7-9 straight months withouth seeing their families. Most of them don't even have time to leave the ship on port days because they have to be back to clean your room, serve you drinks or bring you dinner. And then you leave the ship and they have to put a smile on their faces and do it all over again for a shipful of new passengers. Incredible!
Drinks: Awesome! I thought maybe the bartenders would skimp on the alcohol, but every drink I had was loaded. The signature cocktails and drinks of the day were fun because at home I pretty much only drink wine or beer--it was nice to taste some fruity, tropical drinks. The best deal on drinks was on the last full day of the cruise--there was a margarita special where you could get flavored margaritas for $3.95!! And they use real, pureed fruit--no syrups!! I found out about the special a little too late so I only got one, too bad. And as much as people were drinking, I was pleasantly surprised that I only saw one drunk person on the entire cruise. It was nice to see people enjoying themselves withouth acting like idiots.
Debarkation: It went a lot faster than we thought it would. They get you through pretty quickly and just glance at your customs form. No big deal.
Overall, we had an awesome time. We're both tired of seeing food and were ready to sleep in our own bed again, but we'll definitely cruise again at some point. Carnival was better than I thought it would be. One more thing, if you don't have kids and you don't really want to be around kids, go in September when school has begun. We saw kids on the ship but they didn't bother us and I think the crew has a lot of great programs to entertain them.