San Juan - Check-in: Our information from Carnival said to arrive at 2:30 for check in, but we took a cab from the hotel to the port around 1:00pm. There were all sorts of port workers trying to get your bags from you from the moment that you step out of the taxi to when you get in the building. We had one large bag that was too big to carry on, so we put it on the conveyor belt to check and then a port worker standing next to the belt demanded a tip. Upstairs is the check in area and duty free shop. The check in line was long and we waited about 20-25 minutes to check in. After you check in, there is a duty free shop where lots of passengers were stocking up on liquor to take aboard the ship. Then there is the security line, which we had to wait about 5 minutes in. Once we were on board, the chaos and lines ended. We had a room on the 11th floor Spa deck, which was great because our room was available to put our carry on bags in, while everyone else was dragging their luggage around the ship for a few more hours until the other rooms opened around 2:30-3pm. Once we dropped our things off and had lunch on the Lido deck, we went back off the ship to wander around San Juan. It was Easter, but there were people everywhere. The forts were open, but about half of the shops were closed in the Old San Juan area. When we came back to the ship around 4-4:30pm the check in line was very long and we had to wait about 10-15 minutes in the security line to get back on the ship.
Room: We had a balcony room, which was great because you have a huge window and every morning you get to either wake up to looking out over a new dock or arriving at a new dock. We were worried that being on the 11th floor Spa deck with Camp Carnival next door that we might hear the kids all of the time, but we didn't. We heard the kids once in the middle of the afternoon-other than that it was silent. I would stay on the 11th floor again because there aren't many rooms on that deck, it was super quiet all of the time - no noise from people running up and down the hallways like we have noticed on other cruises when we have stayed on other decks. Our room was noticeably larger than when we previous had an ocean view room and an inside room on Carnival on other cruises. Our room steward did a great job, but we never met the person. We always had a towel animal, with the exception of the first night and the ice bucket was filled every afternoon. Everything was kept neat and tidy.
Food: If you've cruised with Carnival before, expect the same thing in terms of food. We've been on two other Carnival cruises and it has been the exact same food each time. If you are going on a cruise to have great food, then stay away from Carnival. At best the food is a step up from college dorm food. Now granted they are trying to serve thousands of people, it still lacks in quality and flavor. The Lido deck has several food choices. In the very back (which is rarely busy), there is a grill with hot dogs, burgers, chicken fingers, fries, and salads (this is the same food as the grill near the pool mid-ship, but without the wait). Also in the back of the ship is the pizza. In the middle is the large buffet with higher quality food and lots of choices. There was always a carving station for lunch and dinner and a dessert buffet area. For dinner, at least two of the main entrees from dining room menu will be on this buffet. On each side of the buffet there are two other dining options or really I should say windows where you can order a sandwich on one side or Asian food on the other. We dined in the Pacific dining room at the most inappropriate dining table ever. It was a table for two. On one side of the table was a big shiny pole (aka a stripper pole) and the other was part of the offensive dining room dEcor (mermaids is the theme), which was the top half of a mermaid, of course not clothed, which was coming out of the wall. We had people from other tables stop by our table several nights to make fun of our particular table and its location between the pole and mermaid. Our waitress was great. The food in the dining room isn't amazing, but is a huge step up compared to the buffet food on the Lido deck. Lido Deck Atmosphere: The other cruisers were well behaved. I was worried after reading reviews on this website, but people were not cutting in front of you in buffet lines or anything like that. It was a mix of people in terms of ages, families, and races. There were always plenty of chairs to lay out on the decks. I think this had to do with there not being a "fun day at sea" so every afternoon there were bound to be people off the ship sight seeing, so it was never crowded. But about 4pm when everyone has to start coming back to the ship the buffet lines on the Lido deck were crazy. There is a huge TV on the Lido deck, where they showed news in the morning, the final basketball game for the NCAA tournament, movies at night and other shows throughout the day.
Entertainment: Karl with a K, the cruise director was ok. He wasn't as bad as I was expecting after reading review on here. He thinks he is amazing, which is probably the most annoying part. You can tell that he uses the same jokes week to week. He loves to hear himself talk and also loves to be the center of attention, which is probably good for the job that he is in. The "Fun Force" crew is great - these are the people that run the activities around the ship day to day. The magician didn't make it on the ship when he was supposed to, so the fun force and Karl threw together their own show which was decent, but not children friendly. The next night the magician was there and the show was absolutely horrible. The first trick was a card trick and totally went wrong after that he completely lost the audience for the couple other tricks that he had that he dragged out for an hour. The show the first night was really not appropriate for children in terms of the dress of the performers and the actual performance.
Ports: We were docked at most of the ports by 8am each day. Excursions booked through Carnival were always well labeled and easy to find. At St. Thomas, we took a "taxi" (really more of a modified truck) that had about 10 other people in around the island for sight seeing, we paid $20 each and was well worth the money and I'm sure was way better than anything we could have booked from Carnival. In Dominica, we booked the hike to Middleham falls through Carnival. It said that the hike would be strenuous, and it was. It was way more strenuous and took way longer than we were expecting. There are no bathrooms once you begin the hike and no place to change once you reach the waterfall. You can swim under the waterfall, but the water is about 60 degrees and then you'll have to hike back in your wet clothes, however it is warm, so you will dry eventually. In Barbados we booked an island tour through Carnival. We were in a small van/bus thing with about 15 people, our driver/guide was great and we enjoyed the tour. In St. Lucia, we booked a tour through Cosol. There were about 80 of us from the ship that were lined up to get off the minute the boat docked to meet Cosol. The tour was everything that we excepted and was a good value for the amount of things that we saw as well as the unlimited drinks. (The only downside was having to pay $1 every time you had to go to the bathroom.) In St. Kitts, we booked an island tour through Carnival and was a horrible value. We had a driver/guide who didn't tell us very much about the island and we didn't get to see as much of the island as we were expecting. There were lots taxi/tour people at the dock, so I would recommend paying them for a tour of St. Kitts and not Carnival. In terms of shopping, the most shopping is available in St. Kitts and St. Thomas. . In St. Maarten, we booked an island tour through Carnival. We were on a bus of 40 people and the tour literally drove us around the entire island. It was a good tour.
Debarkation was quick. They ask that you put the tags on your luggage and leave it outside you room the night before to make debarkation easier, but we didn't. The only reason that they ask you to do this is so they don't have thousands of people trying to cram on elevators with luggage in the morning. We just kept ours in our room and then walked off the ship with it in the morning. We got in a taxi right away and were off to the airport. Make sure that you go through the USDA line before going to the ticketing counter - it would be easy to miss this. The airport wasn't very busy in the morning, but by noon was crazy and packed full of people with few places to sit. Overall, this cruise is a great value and a great way to see a lot of islands in a short amount of time.