A little background: this was my 2nd cruise (1st was Carnival Legend, June 2009), DH's 1st ever, we're Gen-X'ers with 2 teens, both of whom stayed with family while we went on a romantic vacation of our own. Our itinerary was Cozumel, Honduras, Belize & Costa Maya, Mexico.
This is a little long, because I too had read a LOT of bad reviews and wanted to address some of what I read.
Embarkation: In a word, awful. It was about 28 degrees with cold rain in Port Canaveral when we arrived and the terminal is exposed to the elements, unlike the Tampa one. While I know it's normally 50-90 degrees perhaps, this unusual weather anomaly is one they should prepare for. I saw people shivering and getting ill with the over hour long wait out of doors just to get inside, as they had assumed Capri pants and hoodies would be sufficient. Fortunately we were flying from VA, so we dressed appropriately for the 18 degree temps & snow we were leaving.
The cons first: 1.) Smell. Yes, you smell something bad around the 1st & 2nd floors, and it was way more than just once. I counted 4 different times. It never came into the cabin or dining areas and my guess is it is related to the water reclamation system (i.e. sewer) on the ship. It smells like it does. It is NOT enough to ruin your cruise and honestly, if that is, Carnival simply isn't for you....try the Yachts of Seaborne and plan your fares accordingly.
2.) Cabin service. My room steward was not the least bit enthusiastic and sadly, I really wanted him to be. I am not the cruiser who thinks her towel animals must be different every day (we did get a repeat), or that even demands her ice be kept filled for Honduran Pepsi (it wasn't), but *attitude* is everything. The attitude was simply resignation and this was after TWO cash tips To Insure Proper Service. I left nothing after the 2nd day and yet the steward asked me to rate him "exceeds" when the comment card was brought to me. Wow. That was awkward, esp. since he admitted he had 2 prior poor comments. Um, if you did, then wouldn't you think you should be Johnny-On-The-Spot then to fix the situation and go above & beyond? Well that didn't happen.
3.) Dessert/after hours food on Lido. Hard to get. Pizza was disappointing and hubby confirmed the coffee is still just as awful as ever. I'd almost rather gnaw my arm off than join in that experience.
Ferry boat, an UltraMar, to Cozumel was the roughest ride ever. Don't go if you get easily seasick.
Last but not least, Carnival has GOT to stop pimping "Diamonds International." Disclaimer: I actually bought a ring from them last cruise, it was a great deal and appraised higher than I paid for it, but its OBNOXIOUS how much they yak on about it.
The pros: Tons! Wait staff....amazing! I got a repeat with my waiter I'd had on the Legend one breakfast seating and he remembered me first! I turned around after hearing my name to see my beloved Hashbron! My DD loved him. To remember me after thousands of passengers and many months was shocking. I remembered his name also and we took photos. Our regular dining staff was Yosef and Agung and they are 110% the Spirit of Carnival! I can't say enough great about them, and the food in the formal dining hall. We were called by name by the 2nd day; my pineapple juice came without asking every morning and cappuccino every dinner. Any doubts I had about the service issues I had overall about the crew vanished with these 3. Every single other person was helpful and yes, the staff is mostly younger and very attractive, male and female.
Cruise Director...I loved Todd personally. He's low key but a quick wit and wasn't obnoxiously waking me up every morning with stupid stuff. Our tablemates I don't think were as wild about him, but not everyone can be John Heald! I gave him 5 stars.
Recommend the Tulum excursion in Cozumel and Xunanatich in Belize. Book with Carnival, they will leave non-Carnival folks behind if they don't keep up. 2 were left at the ferry which was held up for us on an authorized excursion and the couple had to rent a private speedboat ferry to get to us, which they did wait for I will admit. Shop in Costa Maya, good bargains, just pay no more than 40% of what they open with.
Cabin...we were in a Category 1A! Yes, my DH and I. I'm that cheap. However it was a TERRIFIC room! It wound up being behind the elevator and almost completely square, not long & narrow. When the bunk was folded up into the wall, it was very generous. The beds were comfy (I of course was on the top) and I was pleased to see full size razors and toothpaste given to us! A huge improvement. Also the safes are now 4-digit pass coded and no longer opened with your room card, which was nice. No elevator noise but more motion in the back of course.
Great deals in the gift shop actually....some 2 for $20 Dream shirts and I saw people buying alcohol at 20-60% off US prices without duty/taxes, so you can get bargains if you look.
Fun Hubs...wonderful idea, tons of available, large screen Dells with padded chairs and a cafe-style environment. Free access to any Carnival schedule and other cruisers who register on the Funville. Also they do now a "US Today" handout that keeps you up with daily events back home so you don't come back utterly unaware of what's going on in the world, similar to a small newspaper.
Our tablemates (SteelerMoose & the Mrs) were so much fun and I defer to his review which I am sure is forthcoming. Anyone who fears assigned seating, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised...we were! Entertainment was top notch, both the comedians and the shows; they matched the level I have seen in Las Vegas.
Finally, the ship is utterly beautiful. Take the time to appreciate her details, such as the shell-shaped ceiling at Wasabi encrusted in mother-of-pearl tiles with corresponding abalone tiled counters, the cherry cabinets at the Library, the 3 air-hockey tables at the Warehouse game studio, the Italian hand rolled glass beads assembled by the hundreds in the lights outside the coffee & ice cream bar on Dream Street. The Captain has a lot to be proud of...much care went into the ship and we cannot wait to sail her again!