Embarkation: The drawback of going on such a large ship is the long lines. Our first of many lines began at the Port of Miami. We waited in line for more than hour and a half to go through the whole check-in process. We arrived around 12:30pm and the lines were already pretty long.
Rooms: We had two rooms on deck 6 aft. Our parents had a balcony cabin, and my sister and I shared an inside cabin directly across from them. This is a great option to save money if you have a family of 4 or more. The balcony cabin was spacious with two twin beds turned into a king, a couch and a great view everyday. The inside room was nice as well, however when the ship had a lot of rocking, a lot of creaking and shaking could be heard in the cabin. There were a few bars on deck 5 aft right below our room so a few nights we did hear people singing karaoke after midnight. Bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper, like me. The bathroom was small and water often leaked out, as the shower curtain couldn't contain all the water. Be prepared to keep towels on the floor when taking a shower.
Room Service: The service provided for our rooms were great. Our head room steward always greeted us in the hallway and worked hard to keep our rooms clean twice a day. We would joke around that we would step out to grab a drink for a few minutes and come back to see our beds made and fresh new towels. The towel animals were nice too!
Food and service: For the amount of food that has to be made for the thousands of people on board, the quality was very good overall. Our first meal after arriving on the ship was on deck 9 in the buffet. The food was cold and we were worried how the rest of the food would be, but it turned out to be better as the cruise went on. The food in the Golden Dining room was good and it was fun to try something new every night. The meat was tough sometimes, but the seafood was pretty fresh overall. Sit down breakfast in the dining room was a good alternative to the buffet breakfast on deck 9 and you can avoid waiting in a long line. The deserts were the best part for me overall, especially the chocolate melting cake and the cheesecake at the buffet! The 24 hour pizza and ice cream were nice snacks and the sitting areas were always cleaned right away by the prompt staff. Our head waiter and assistant waiters were great in the dining room. They were very friendly and my parents became good friends with the headwaiter from India. One night we had to leave early to catch an NBA playoff basketball game and he made sure we got our food and drinks quickly, and even arranged a big specially prepared Indian meal from the chef one night. This was the highlight of our dining, and it was very nice of him to go out of his way for us. Late seating is the best option to go with, especially for days when you are in port so you don't have to rush back to the ship. You have time to grab a snack at the buffet before dinner, if needed, and it allows time for taking photos and grabbing a drink before dinner.
Entertainment and Activities: There was always something to do all the time on this cruise. Whether it was a comedy show, an art auction, shopping, gambling or just relaxing and having a drink, it was possible. The sports bar was fun to watch playoff games, but small and our only bad service on the cruise came here with a very rude bartender. The pools were very small on this ship, and on sea days they were very crowded. It was very hard to find an open seat on the top deck on sea days as well, so start looking early in the morning on these days. The nightly Las Vegas style entertainment was fun, but became redundant after a few days. The Welcome Aboard and Magic show were the best shows overall. After a long day in port, I found myself falling asleep in a few of the shows, even through the loud music and dancing, but many people enjoyed the entertainment every night.
Tender and Ports: Getting off the ship was the worst part of the whole cruise. This started with our first day when we had to take a tender to Half Moon Cay. This process was very disorganized and we were very disappointed in Carnival. We got in line around 1030am and waited for more than an hour just to get our number called to get onto the small boat that could only hold 250 people. With a cruise carrying 2,500+ passengers, you would think they would have more than 3 tenders running. By the time we got on the island and found a place on the beach it was after 1230pm. We had to be back on the boat by 4 and we waited about an hour in the hot sun to get another tender to go back to the ship. We barely had time to do anything but take a quick dip and the beach was very crowded. This was a bad experience and I suggest getting up very early if you are in a port that requires a tender. Getting off the ship to the other ports required a long wait as well and was a huge headache. For St. Thomas we waited close to an hour in the crowded stairwell just to go down three levels. The process was disorganized and no compassion was shown from the employees. Disembarkation was more organized as we were assigned a number and a scheduled time to leave, but for days at port be prepared to wait a long time to get off the ship. Half Moon Cay was a very nice private island, from what we saw. The beach is clean but very crowded. The BBQ lunch was very tasty. St. Thomas was our favorite port. You can take great photos coming into port and leaving port at night. We shopped for a few hours and then took an island tour for $20 per person for 2 hours around the whole island with stops at Sapphire beach and great photo spots. San Juan was rushed due to the early arrival at 7am and leaving by 3pm. We did a Carnival excursion to the rain-forest which was a lot of fun and had enough time to do shopping in Old San Juan. The excursion was pretty pricey. Grand Turk was very disappointing and was a wasted stop, in my opinion. It was chaos after arriving on the island, with not much to do here except hang out at Margarita-ville all day or go snorkeling on an expensive excursion. We rented a car for $60 for the whole day which was a much better bargain compared to the $30 dollars for a 2 hour tour of a boring island. We got lost around the island as there aren't many road signs and it seems to be poorly maintained, but Governor's beach close to the ship was relaxing and not crowded at all.
Other: The elevators in the Fwd part of the ship were often crowded, but the elevators near our room in the Aft barely had any wait. Get to know some of the staff on the cruise. We met a nice bartender near the casino and photographers in the lobby and they remembered us through the whole cruise. It's interesting to learn about life on a ship and their lives back home. All in all, the ship was very clean and the staff made sure to keep it that way. The atmosphere was very nice and they did a nice job refurbishing the ship a few months ago with the colors. There were many people smoking around the ship which could be a drawback, if you don't like smoking. The ship had a good mix of people with many younger to older folks. The cruise director said there were over 700 kids on board, but we barely saw any. With so many things to do, it is up to you to make your vacation worth it.
This was a nice ship and was definitely worth the price we paid for a 7 night vacation.