About me: I am a single, experienced cruiser who has been on all of the mass market major cruise lines in North America over the past 8 years, and have also cruised on Cunard, Oceania, Windstar, Crystal which is my standard of reference for superb service and great intellectual activities, and Fred Olsen Lines in the UK which is my standard of reference for a cruise line never to go on if you eat food. I have a Masters Degree and would be considered a bit "high browed" by many. I live in Florida and work in the internet industry.
I have been on over 25 cruises over the past 8 years (my first cruise was on the QE2, I was the last passenger ship to arrive in New York before September 11, 2001.
I have never sailed Carnival due to its reputation as a cruise line which had tons of screaming and uncontrollable kids and teens, poor food and service, and lots of drunk people who wanted a "funship" experience. I was proven wrong on this cruise. The service, food, and ships cleanliness make it top of the line for mass market cruise lines. The teens and children seemed polite, as were most of the passengers. In fact, almost everyone was polite except for this obnoxious woman at my mostly singles table who did not great my or some other of the table denizens when she arrived for dinner. (It is imperative to at least say good evening if you arrive at a table and other guests are seated).
Incredibly, the food was only a cut below Crystal Cruises. The prices of the cruise on offer were incredibly inexpensive, especially if you are a native Floridian. The service was great. My inside cabin was large and livable, I am over six foot and actually found the bathroom quite comfortable.My cabin was clean, but my "comfort bed" actually gave me a backache during the cruise.
I signed up for a last minute Western Caribbean Cruise that came out to be $459.00 with taxes and fees for a native Floridan single inside for 7 days. That is incredibly inexpensive. I have been all over the Caribbean before, the ports of Cozumel, Ochos Rios Jamaica, and Grand Cayman were familiar and fine for stretching ones legs off the ship. The only ports in the Caribbean I really want to visit are Cartegena Colombia and Havana Cuba which I look forward to opening one day to Americans.
Now, for the price, the cruise was outstanding. Anyone who wants a "fun experience" under the age of 60 will love this cruise. There are team activities for adults, disco lessons, other fun things. The ship's entertainment is probably fun to watch if you are drunk.
However, if you want to read something don't expect a large library- bring your own books (I asked for Science Fiction at the open-two-hours-a-day mini library on the ship, I was told that they did not have any. They seemed to have about 200 books for the entire ship). If you want to see a movie outside of your cabin, and don't enjoy heat and humidity, forget it- the main theater is outdoors on deck nine. If you enjoy playing trivia, the only varieties on board were "name the tv tune" or something like this. In short, check your brain out when you enter on board. It is not called for on this cruise.
The ship is also poorly laid out. You cannot get across most decks without running into a closed dining room. I cannot figure out why Carnival did this -- surely there was a better way of laying out the decks for those of us who enjoy walking around indoors without having to hop on steps.
The food is superb. I had one of the most tender racks of lambs ever on this ship. I never bothered to eat at Harry's Supper Club since the food was so good. I was simply blown away by the New York Deli, Pizza, Mongolia Stir Fry, and just about everything else. Room service is wonderful, I loved the Rueben sandwich and cheesecake. Carnival is a notch below Crystal at about 20% of the cruise price. Simply the best, whether at the dining room or the upstairs Lido buffet. Great service too.
I also found the decor of the ship far below those of the other cruise lines, but who cares at these prices?
Embarkation was effortless, as was departure. Carnival has this down right. They are the standard for other cruise lines to follow.
In short a great cruise at a great prices, with incredible food. But bring your own books to read, and don't expect anything other then a a summer camp for adults.