This was our second cruise having taken RC first on a cruise of Alaska. This prompted a number of comparisons most of which were not favorable to Carnival. To be fair, we thought the cruise was good - just not great. It could also be that we're just not Carnival-type people.
Parking at EZ Cruise and the shuttle to the ship were excellent. You can save a few dollars by paying online for the parking. Even though they tell you to show up at 12:30, we got there at 11:30 and there was already quite a line. Given that, the line moved consistently and we were on board by 12:30. We brought a bottle of wine in our carry on and were not hassled about it. Others who tried to bring on more than one bottle per person were not so lucky and had their excess bottles stored until their return.
We tried most of the dining venues available. After waiting in the buffet line for breakfast for a few mornings, we went for the seating in the Monet dining room. This proved to be a much better choice as the food was prepared to order and it was a less chaotic atmosphere. The buffet lines moved slowly and we thought the action stations on RC were much more functional. All the folks we were seated with were pleasant conversationalists. For lunch, we mostly did the buffet line on the Lido deck and found the food to be okay. We tried the fish and chips and found them to be wanting. They use tilapia but it is too soft to hold up to the fryer and picks up the taste of the oil. Cod would be a much better choice. The grill offered burgers, hot dogs and chicken tenders all of which were okay. The Mongolian wok seemed to offer the best lunch or mid-afternoon meal as it was made to order. The dinner highlight was the Point Steakhouse. Everything was made to perfection. The corkage fee for our wine was $14 which seemed a bargain as their markup appears to be 3.75X retail. Again the main ding room was clearly a better choice than the buffet even though they mostly had the same food choices. Our assigned dining companions never showed up so we ate along each evening. The afternoon tea was most pleasant and had a number of good choices for tea, finger sandwiches, and desserts. For the most part, we found their desserts to be uninspired. The best dessert on the ship was a piece of carrot cake we bought at the coffee bar for $2.25. It was as good as any carrot cake we've even had and was clearly large enough to feed at least two people.
The ship layout takes some getting used to. The Renior dining room is in the middle of the ship which means that you often have to go up and around to get from one part of the ship to another. You also need to know where you are in the ship as you need to take certain elevators to make it up to some decks. We had a balcony room that was slight bigger than we had on RC. One problem we had was that a partition on our balcony came loose 3 different times. Because of the high winds, we kept hearing the partition banging during the night and into the morning. Our shower drain clogged up once and caused a mess but this was taken care of. The magnetic stripe reader on the safe is very sensitive and you need to make sure that there are no fingerprints imparted to your credit card to ensure that the safe will read your card.
Carnival offers most of the usual cruise activities. I won the sports trivia contest and we greatly enjoyed the art auction and associated showings. While they had a putting green and offered golf lessons on deck, the golf simulator on RC was much more enjoyable. Contest premiums were some dumb Carnival medals while we got nice tee shirts on RC. Carnival did provide a number of live music choices and we especially liked Claude in the piano bar and Groovey Tunes with Keith. The production shows were mostly good but the magician needs some improvement.
One of the best things Carnival has going for them is their mostly excellent staff. We found them to be friendly, courteous, enthusiastic and helpful at all times. Our room steward, Marianne was excellent and we couldn't have asked for better service. Our only minor quibble was that the people at customer service seemed clueless about some questions we asked and indeed gave us some incorrect information.
In Jamaica, we did the highlights and shopping tour that was uninspired. Some people who went to a beach said that they were guarded by soldiers with automatic weapons which may be a reflection of the current state of affairs in Jamaica. At Grand Cayman, we did the island tour the highlight of which is the visit to the turtle farm and where you get to hold a turtle if you want. There's plenty of upscale shopping in the downtown area. The people here are friendly, well educated and courteous. They take pride in themselves and their country and the police don't even carry guns - a Carribean Mayberry! Cozumel is probably a great stop for scuba, snorkeling or seeing Mayan ruins. Other than that, it just seemed like a giant tourist trap. The one good thing is that the taxis to and from town are well organized and relatively inexpensive.
We did self assist disembarkation and thought that this went relatively smoothly. We'll probably be looking at a different cruise line for next time but Carnival is probably not a bad choice for younger people or those who want to spend a little bit less.