Embarkation - The smoothest of any cruise I have ever taken. The staff at the New Orleans VIP area was commendably professional and highly efficient in their jobs. The process was pleasant, speedy, and we truly felt like VIPs. They had our Sign & Sail cards ready, checked our passports, and greeted us by name. Once checked in, we were whisked to the front of the line and boarded in front of the rest of the passengers. Kudos to Robert and all the folks!
Food - With only one exception of the tough filet mignon one night, we found the quality and flavor of the food on this ship to be exceptional. Both the formal dining and the buffet exceeded our expectations time and again. A nod to the New York Deli, as we loved every sandwich we ate from there. Many reviews previously complained about the lines at the buffet but we did not find them overly long at all.
Service - The crew on this ship are obviously highly trained in customer service. A large portion of my job manages customer service and even I was impressed in each area of the ship. The cabin steward was impeccable in his tasks. The restaurant wait staff performed their duties perfectly from wine presentation to routine food service etiquette. The bar staff always addressed us by name once learning it and were wonderfully delightful in their service. The staff attending to the Carnival Concierge desk was exceptional in attending to our needs each and every time. Fabio, Martin, and the rest of the staff should be highly commended for their commitment to ensuring we were taken care of in a pleasant and speedy manner.
Live Entertainment - Another area that was exceedingly wonderful (with one volume exception noted below in the 'The Bad' section). Lance the comedian was hysterical, the Vegas-style shows were exciting and well produced, and the crew-lead events (hairy chest, at-sea contests, etc.) were professionally conducted. Note that this applies only to the 'live' entertainment, as I will detail my disappointments with other entertainment below. Cruise Director Jen was pleasant and high-energy as also was Assistant Cruise Director Chicken and the rest of their staff at each event. We had expected Jorge to be our CD, but they were an adequate replacement for my favorite Cruise Director. Chicken clearly possesses the skills and abilities to be a full fledged Cruise Director and Carnival should seriously consider this.
The Ship - Overall the ship was in great condition. I had previously read reviews complaining about worn carpets but could not personally find any examples. One remark I will make, however, was the presence of rust marks on the walls of the pool near the Lido bar. With as much detail taken to keep the rest of the ship in a high state of repair, one would think that de-rusting a public swimming area highly visible to all passengers would be a priority. Another high note - unlike many ships, the elevators of this ship are fast and almost always available.
Back-to-Back Transitioning - This was the most flawless debarkation/embarkation process imaginable. Carnival delivered a letter to my stateroom explaining the back-to-back process and I reported to the Concierge desk promptly at 10:00am as instructed. I was greeted by Fabio who swiftly whisked me past all of the disembarking passengers, through customs, through the wonderful VIP check-in, and (when the ship was ready) back onboard (I was the first passenger onboard for my 2nd cruise). Kudos to Fabio and the process, as it was truly rewarding and will cause me to book back-to-back even more in the future.
Karaoke Host Ashley - This is young man needs attention by the Carnival entertainment management. Ashley should not be in that position for a number of reasons; Firstly, his demeanor while hosting the show was often abrupt and even caused one young passenger great embarrassment and tears for his public scolding of her song selection. Secondly, he is difficult to understand on the microphone. I understand that Carnival hires a number of nationalities but when your sole job is to speak to and announce people you should be able to do it clearly and concisely. Many times he would need to re-announce names because people could not understand him. Additionally, Ashley would repeatedly sing along with singers when not invited to do so. Many passengers visibly became upset about this and Ashley needs to understand that he is there to host the show and not to star in it. I understand if he wants or needs to sing his own song to fill the rotation, or even sing along to help get a singer back on track or to boost their confidence, but I am referring to the times he just simply felt like 'joining in'. One last comment is that Ashley also needs to learn more about sound balancing between the voices of the singer and the music. Some singers were far too loud while others were at a whisper.
DJ Erica - The Hollywood Dance Club is one of the most attended lounges onboard at night. A DJs most important job is to keep people on the dance floor and enjoying the music. On formal night when the club was full of passengers (and crew, due to them being in their dress uniforms) she seemed to play the music the crew was liked and requested and continuously ignored requests for popular songs from passengers (at many points the crew were the only people on the dance floor, although the club was heavily populated). I forgave this action for that night - only to experience it night after night during both cruises. Additionally, her song transitions (beat-mixing, etc.) were amateurish at best, and non-existent at worse. Carnival has spent a large amount of money on professional equipment to ensure its DJs can provide the highest quality of entertainment so why they have given this job to this amateur is baffling. On a side note - you know it is bad when a passenger has to convince the piano player in the Big easy to use the PA system to hook up an iPhone to get danceable music. I happened upon this impromptu dance party at around 2am and they said "Because that DJ sucks".
Calypso Band Sound Level - All of the hosted events and video productions on the Lido deck that used the sound system next to the large Jumbotron were at a perfect volume level. I will go further to mention that I have no aversion to loud music; in fact I listen to music rather loudly at home. Having said that, the Calypso band that played on the Lido deck was painfully loud each time they played. I am not saying they were 'a little' too loud, I mean painfully loud. The Cruise Director and staff should maintain the sound level of that band, as it continually caused passengers to move to other areas of the ship. This was discussed in various groups of passengers a number of times.
Cleanliness of Common-area Restrooms - I understand that some restrooms are more heavily used than others and that some passengers can be rude in their use of these facilities but habitually throughout the ship I found that these areas were both unsightly and unsanitary on multiple occasions throughout both cruises. Attention should be paid to these areas more often by the housekeeping staff.
Ship Re-boarding in Ports - There should be a separate line (or policy for priority queuing) for Carnival Platinum members. Yes, I understand this sounds nit-picky, but that was the only time that I really could have used the VIP status as an advantage to be away from the hordes of drunken passengers ganged into line when returning to the ship. Carnival provides priority tender boarding for VIPs in ports with tenders and should try to do the same in direct-dock ports.
Under-aged Drinking - I know it is difficult to police, but on both cruises I witnessed blatantly drunk teenagers in abundance. My first cruise happened to be during spring break for Arkansas so it was more rampant then, but it really became a nuisance onboard during both cruises.
We did enjoy our cruises overall. I simply wanted to bring to light some of the outliers (both positive and negative) of our experience.