This was my first cruise and my wife's 3rd (all with Carnival) as well as our honeymoon. We sailed 2/27 on the 8-day eastern Caribbean tour. Having read the forums for the past year, I was a little worried because of some of the negative reviews but I must say that overall my expectations were exceeded. Of course there were positives and negatives and I don't have a baseline to compare them to but here is my humble opinion.
We booked an interior cabin well in advance with the Early Saver and got upgraded to Deck 8 aft. Flew in to FLL the day of on Delta-wouldn't recommend flying in day of and will not do it again in the future. We got up at 4:30am for a 6:00am flight and were cutting it close due to heavy lines. Not a big fan of Delta but they were cheaper booked 6 months in advance. We also booked a late evening flight out on return and this was a mistake- did the Everglades tour and still got to FLL about 12:30. Either it was Delta or FLL that had a ridiculous policy that you could not check your bags prior to 2 hours to departure. Needles to say, the front part of the terminal looked like a refugee camp. The lesson here is bite the bullet; spend what's necessary to get better flight times so that you are not stressed getting to the ship or getting home.
We took a cab from FLL to the terminal. It was only $15 and a five minute ride. So, I don't recommend purchasing the Carnival airport transfers. Embarkation was smooth in that the lines moved quickly. We were in Zone 14 for boarding and they had already called our zone as we were finishing up check-in. We were on board by 12:30 and dealing with the bedlam of the lido buffet. Granted, these were the only really bad lines at the lido buffet during the cruise but breakfast lines/crowds were unpleasant (we had breakfast in the Posh 5 out of 8 days and preferred it).
The ship was clean and overall the staff was friendly. The crew was constantly cleaning and/or polishing something. We did have a minor issue with our stateroom linen upon arrival but a stop by Guest Services got this fixed quickly and correctly. The dEcor was not as hideous as has been described but there were some things that had me scratching my head (like the red python skin wallpaper in the Posh). I guess it all works but it was not an issue for me.
The food overall vastly exceeded my expectations. We had late seating in the Posh upper. Our waitresses, BB and Nancy were fantastic. I only had one entrEe that I did not like. I recommend the braised beef ribs, the baby back ribs, the Red Snapper, and the Grouper. All the soups I tried were excellent. The desserts were varied but I liked the Melting cake the best (it was just like warm fudge brownie mix-YUM!). Don't waste your time with the "Spa" healthy entrees or desserts-they were dry and tasteless. Food on the lido buffet was very good and there was decent variety. The pizza was fair but the hamburgers were great. I did not enjoy the Tandoor Grille as it was inedibly spicy. The Fish 'N Chips was good and I never had to wait in line. Their Bouillabaisse was good but a little watery. Just a warning-if you like piping hot fried fish you might be disappointed because they keep the fish in warming bins and fill orders as needed. The desserts on the lido buffet were average however. The chocolate chip cookies tasted like hard Chips Ahoy out of the bag and the cheesecake was very light tasting and not creamy at all (same for cheesecake in the main dining room).
The sea days were relaxing but we did have some rough seas. Yes, people do hog and "reserve" deck chairs but with a little patience you can find them on sea days. If you like seclusion, try Deck 10 aft, port side (as the starboard side is technically the smoking side).
The ports were enjoyable; we liked St. Thomas and Tortola the most. The highlight of the cruise was the excursion we booked in St. Thomas-"New Horizons Charters" (http://newhorizons.daysails.com/). You can do a 6 hour tour on a sailboat with 2 snorkeling stops, a hot lunch, and open bar throughout the trip for $60 per person. These guys were awesome and professional and it's a much better value than the snorkeling excursions through Carnival.
Be wary of the Spa on board. We booked a couple's massage and the price was well over double what you would pay for it at Zen Massage or Massage Envy. The couples massage room is right off the spa lobby so we heard footsteps, rolly carts, vacuuming, talking, banging, and other distractions during or massage so be forewarned. They also try to hock pricey lotions, etc.
The entertainment was mediocre and we took advantage of what we thought we would like. We would like to have had more options though- it seemed like they catered to the very young and the very old. Repeat Carnival cruisers and those that have cruised other lines had varying opinions. We caught the "Jump, Jive, and Wail" and "The Big Easy" shows-felt the "Jump, Jive, and Wail" was better. The karaoke was dominated by one family who kept going time after time and night after night, so we left after about 30 minutes each time. We would have liked less bars and lounges that allowed smoking. We wanted to go to Scott's Piano Bar but it was always smoky. We went to the casino only once when the people weren't smoking like chimneys.
Some of the negatives: Felipe the cruise director (annoying and scatterbrained-you can tell that English is not his native tongue), being nickled and dimed by some things that should be free but are offered "for a nominal fee", and the lecture on the comment cards at the end of the cruise. Felipe had the audacity to advise us that we can not put anything other than 'Exceeded Expectations' on our comment cards -oh really? We filled ours out and were as honest and fair as possible.
Again, overall I loved the cruise and am now addicted. We purchased the "Future Cruise Certificate" while on board so we will definitely be back with Carnival again. I learned to keep an open mind and the cruise is what you make of it. Your happiness is mainly dependent upon you.