So the answer to my burning question - Has Carnival improved since we last sailed? Marginally. Problem is having experienced most of the the other major lines (excluding the super-luxury ones), the bar has been raised, so a marginal increase isn't all that bad. My general impressions:
Embarkation - one of the highlights. Flew in same day. Smooth, well organized and on board within a half hour from time of arrival (shortly after noon). Had a car service pick us up at LGA as it just seemed easier but grabbing a taxi would have been just as good and half the cost (at least). Would have been better if they had folks to help guide you to where you needed to go (not the rooms as they weren't ready, something we found out after going up to the Veranda deck to find the hallways closed).
Room - lots of storage, a little worn, but no real complaints. Balcony was average size with two chairs and a small table. No mini-fridge (disappointed as we like to cool down More
our diet cokes). Bathroom was functional. Interesting they provided a disposable razor and toothpaste single use samples. Room steward was friendly and very efficient.
The Food: Biggest disappointment as we had heard Carnival had upped the ante on food quality. Buffet for breakfast and lunch unfortunately lived up to what a lot of post indicated - poor. I'd actually rate them as the worst we've ever encountered and on that alone most likely will not return to Carnival. Dinner on the other hand was better than expected. Chocolate Melting Cake? Fabulous (wish the buffet food was half as tasty). The fish dishes (lunch or dinner) were almost inedible. Meat dishes at dinner were done very well. Pizza was ok as were the hamburgers (liked the mushrooms) and dogs with kraut.
Gym: well appointed and came in handy to keep some of the pounds off (yes, although the food wasn't up to par, didn't stop me from eating).
Dining Room Service: Waiters (Ketut and Imade) were two of the better ones we've had in the past 5 to 6 years. They made an effort to learn our names and use them. We asked for a large table (forces us to talk to others as we're on the shy side) and got a table for 10 (late seating, Paris dining room). We got to sit in a different seat each dinner as we were the only ones at the table.
South Beach Wait Staff - poor. All do it yourself. Not quick to clean off tables.
Entertainment - better than expected. Comics were very good, surprisingly the dance troupe were good and the routine different than the normal 50/60's review or Broadway review, magician and hypnotist were snoozers (my opinion, wife like the magician more than I).
Cruise Director: Jorge - funny man and not your average or stereotypical CD.
Shops: nothing special, though they did sell candy by the ounce/pound.
No specialty restaurants which is ok as I have a hard time spending add't money for dinner on a cruise.
Ice-cream: multiple places to get the free stuff (you can buy 'premium' if you want. Not bad.
Deck Activities: standard Carnival stuff.
Debarkation: did the self-assist (our first time, typically we do assisted (luggage taken off for you). No problems and off within 10 minutes of our deck being called. Less
ample size, lots of storage, firm bed and pillows, nice duvet, quiet. Lots of hangers and a safe (use your room key card to open/close). Balcony was average size with two chairs (well used) and small table. Opens to the outside which is good (not a sliding door). Upper balconies don't look down at you so you have your privacy. Robes provided as well as beach towels. Toiletries were on the skimpy side (read - cheap). Shampoo and liquid soap dispenser in showers. Good shower pressure (hint: flush the toilet expect to get scalded). Couldn't hear the announcements in the room. Hard to control temperature (hint: airflow is controlled on the overhead vent by a little lever but you can't control hot or cold).
First time to Boston. Loved the North End. Took taxi to Quincy Market and walked part of the Freedom Trail. Lots happening in this city and only wished we had more time. Definitely one to go back to. Taxi back to the ship. You can catch a shuttle to the market for $5 per person but I heard it was not well organized, waited for full loads and if you have more than 2 people, a taxi is cheaper. While the port was great, huge problem with reboarding. Took us about 45 minutes standing in line, some a lot longer. With a predominately older crowd on board, some of the passengers were hurting standing in line for that amount of time. Had only one line open, one scanner and one x-ray machine. You'd think Carnival would have figured out how to do this better. Other negative, arrived late to port, had to wait about an hour add't so they could get the folks who paid for excursions off first. Not too pleased but overall still a great port.
Ship is met by drummer/piper. Nice touch. Little more to see and do than St. John's. Didn't do Peggy's Cove or venture any place we couldn't walk to. Took Fred (free bus that you can catch right outside the pier (21)) to the Citadel (small entry charge). History buffs can spend a hour or two here. Time it to see the firing of the noon gun (they're one hour ahead of us). Bag-pipers add a little bit of atmosphere and great pictures/movies. Skip the 'round church' which is a little bit of a walk from the Citadel. Wasn't open when we got there and not much along the way to see. Meandered around the streets. Not a lot of shops, more restaurants (pubs) than anything. Some nice churches. Friendly pan-handlers (I really mean it. They very polite, much more than what we have here at home). Harbourwalk is worth spending some time (we started at the historic properties and walked back to the ship). Ice cream at COWS (big scoop). Best shopping it at the pier itself. Lots of variety and prices are ok.
Easy to get around (we walked). Has some interesting local craft shops. You can skip the L.L.Bean outlet (mostly returned goods, limited selection). Can easily do the downtown area in 3 to 4 hours. Lunch at Gilbert's Chowder House - great lobster rolls ($14 bucks for lunch) and fish and chips (Haddock). Chowder was also well worth a visit.
Aw Canada, what can you say? Again, an easy downtown to walk (as with Portland it is hilly). Not a lot of shopping that we could find. Also lacking in restaurants (at least that we could find). I'd skip the pedway from the dock to the market and walk (if you can) so as not to miss out on some of the street fronting stores. The mall was not worth it. Nice park at the top of the hill (you'll need to rest after walking uphill) and some nice churches.