Before going on this cruise, I read through almost every review I could find about the ship itself, as well as the ports of call, and the embarkation city. After reading quite a bit, I was definitely worried. From what I could tell, most seasoned cruisers were not very impressed with the ship, and since we would be on it for two nights going, and two nights coming back, this had me a bit concerned.
For first timers like us (my girlfriend and I), and people who had some basis of comparison (her parents were cruising with us as a retirement gift from her mom) I think I have now a fair basis with which to write a review.
I'll start with the first thing we were introduced to. As soon as we walked off the gangway we entered into the atrium, which is very very impressive, albiet a little small (though for a floating city what am I to expect). Inside the atrium there was a large bar and two seating areas (more on that later). From there we went up to Horatios Restaurant which is the buffet dining room. It is very large, and relatively well laid out, though the lines for the buffet can get excessively long at times. There was a good selection of American, Mexican and Chinese foods, as well as a large desert bar. The food at first I was not impressed with, however I was told that for cruise lines, it's pretty good.
Neither of us are big drinkers at all, so we both found a bar and picked up the drink pass, which gave us unlimited soda for the entire trip. It was $48, but after the gratuities and taxes it came up to $59, still not bad considering each drink is $2.50, we made our money back on it.
From the upstairs restaurant, we went to find out staterooms. We were in rooms 7299 and 7301. Both of these rooms are behind the elevators, and as such, they are both larger than an average stateroom in terms of width. The room we were in, 7299, was huge. It had a king size bed, large couch, bar/makeup area and coffee table, as well as tons of closet space. Our stateroom steward was named Adiputra and he was one of the nicest and most helpful people that I have ever met. We don't ask for much, as we're not fussy people, but anything we needed, he was right there for us. I can't say enough about his service, and really, the overall service on this ship was fantastic.
We were set up for dining on the upper level of the Baccus dining room for the early seating (6:00 pm). Again, the food at first I wasn't too impressed with, but I then learned to understand that for cruise food, this was very good. Our server was named Earl and he had an assistant working with him, Daniel. As with our room steward, Earl and Daniel were beyond helpful and nice, as well as engaging to talk to. The food selections are pretty impressive (we later learned that the kitchen makes up to 9900 meals a day), and we could get anything from lobster to steak to fish. All cooked very well and in attractive servings.
Overall on this ship, the dining experience was fantastic. The food was always good and well prepared.
The look of the ship is beautiful and while the design takes some getting used to, it's definitely not plain. The casino is large, as well as the Phantom Theater at the front of the ship. The onboard entertainment was exactly what I expected it would be, not of the highest quality, but decent enough to pass.
There is a lot to do on this ship, and if you leave from New York, you're going to need it. The two days at sea each way is too much, and while there are things on board to keep you occupied, it's kind of a feeling of being trapped and that you can't escape.
Overall on this trip, there are a couple things that I was not crazy about at all. The biggest two are something that Carnival can control, and something they cannot. The first is the smoking. It seems that you can smoke in any lounge on board, despite there being signs saying that you can't. For example, in the casino, there are signs everywhere asking people to not smoke, and yet almost everyone in there has a cigarette in their hand. The sports bar was very nice inside, but again, tough to sit in there and not get sick to your stomach from the smoke. The club (Dr. Frankensteins Lab) was again smoke friendly, as well as the piano bar. If you are a smoker, then great, this ship is for you, but if you're not, it's very difficult to go anywhere at night and be able to breathe.
The second issue is something that Carnival can't really control, and that's that when it gets wavy on the water, the boat rocks all over the place. It's bad enough that the crew knows it's going to happen and they put out sick bags next to all the elevators. We were rocking so much at night once that I was worried I would fall out of bed. Again, I understand that it's something that Carnival can't control, but wow do you feel in on this ship.
The last thing to say is that everything on this ship is geared towards you spending money. There are port shopping seminars that explain how to buy jewelery (my girlfriend loved those), and it is quite clear that the cruise line, as well as the ships "shopping advisor" are getting a cut back from certain stores that they "recommend" (read: get paid by). Not a major complaint, because you can get away from it, but it gets a little annoying after a while.
Overall, it was a good cruise, however the only way that I can recommend it is if you live in New York or are within a decent drive and are deathly afraid of flying. The two days at sea is too much, and the smoke gets to you. However, the service staff are exceptional, and the food is quite good.