First time cruiser.
Prior to our vacation, I have read good things to expect, and many negative things about Carnival. Let me just say I was overwhelmingly impressed! From the very first day, I could tell it was good.
Our embarkation was quick. No real hassle, just went through expected process and was onboard in less than an hour.
We had a balcony room, and I was amazed at how much space we had. I was expecting the worst: something like a mini dorm room. There was plenty of space for my DW and 2 boys. They had a bunk bed, and we had a nice size bed. Lots of drawer space, and closet space for hanging clothes. Bathroom was good size too (keep in mind it is a cruise ship, so don't expect huge). Nice shower, toilet, and sink area. Our steward always kept us supplied with fresh towels and supplies. I think my biggest complaint about the room was that the shower dispensor for body wash/shampoo wasn't labelled...seriously, we were very happy.
The food was also a pleasant surprise. We had the best waiter onboard, Armando. So friendly and helpful. To us, he was almost the face of Carnival every day, and is the reason we will cruise again with them. Obviously, as other reviewers have said, the food can be hit or miss. When it is a miss...it isn't bad, it is just average. When it is a hit...watch out. I experienced food onboard, particularly desserts, that could easily compete with top notch restaurants in New York City. As for the Lido deck buffet, don't expect greatness...but you won't be disappointed.
We were disappointed in Camp Carnival. Both kids were not thrilled with what they got to do...we have a 7 year old and 9 year old. You would think it would be easy to go to one location and drop them off for some Mom and Dad time...but being in different age groups, we had to go to different locations on the ship to drop them off (and pick them up). Not as simple and easy as desired, and this part of the cruise could use improvement.
One other complaint: soda card. Why is it so difficult? During evening dining, we were rarely approached for drink requests, let alone for refills/more. I admit it, I am a soda junkie, and if I buy the card, I want to use it. I think the cruise line just needs to realize that it would be easier to put fountain dispensors out for people to use, and charge $X more. My sister and I constantly got attitude from bartenders when requesting soda. It was if getting that was 10X harder than a normal drink.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. We loved cruising. We loved opening the blinds every morning and seeing a breathtaking new port to explore. Great food, rooms, and price. I want to add that whenever I saw a Carnival employee (besides the bar staff), no matter what they were doing, they always made an effort to say hello, and wish you a good day. Something that I don't think I could do...especially with all of the hard work they do. Thumbs up!
Our two families had a great time. Don't be wary of Carnival because of the few bad reviews. Keep in mind you are on a ship with 3000 people. If there happens to be a 5 minute line for breakfast (which there really never was)...RELAX. How long do you have to wait in your hometown for a meal out?