We have cruised Royal Caribbean 4 times prior to this cruise and have been very happy. We booked with Carnival this time because we were doing a double cruise wedding for our twin daughters and the Wedding packages were much better on Carnival. We had over 70 people attend the weddings and more than 40 of them sailed with us. I will say that we were not disappointed with the Weddings. The people that coordinated the wedding did a great job and the entire wedding experience was very good.
We had the entire wedding party arrive a couple days early and we all stayed at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66. This is a great hotel that is 5 minutes from the port. If you are looking for a hotel in Ft. Lauderdale prior to your cruise, I recommend the Hyatt.
We had priority boarding because of the wedding but the ship did a fantastic job with embarkation and debarkation. This by far the easiest debarkation we have experienced.
Although we were happy with the wedding and the overall experience was OK, I would say we were disappointed with the cruise compared to what we have experienced with Royal Caribbean. The first thing we noticed was that in general, the staff was not as friendly and outgoing as we have experienced. In fact there were more than a few that seemed bothered by the fact they had to do their job. Our 6 year old participated in camp carnival and a few of the counselors seemed to be in the wrong profession. They just flat out didn't seem to want to be there. We typically cannot get our child to leave the camp on RC, but he routinely wanted to leave Camp Carnival. Our 2 year old niece was uncomfortable going into the camp and the counselors made little to no attempt to comfort her.
The service in the main dining room was also disappointing. We had multiple tables for our large party and almost all of them had less than average service. They seemed under staffed and overwhelmed and had a difficult time even keeping water glasses full. The menu was good with a wide variety, but the quality was also less than average. If you order the fried shrimp appetizer, I hope you like Captain D's. I will however agree with others that say the Chocolate Melting Cake is very good! The food at the buffet was typical. Extremely long lines and average food. The Sun King Steak House was great! If we didn't have so much family with us, we would have eaten there every night.
In terms of the ship itself, we found it difficult to navigate. It is laid out poorly. The pools are ridiculously small and as is the case with most cruises, there are not enough chairs. The kids camp is directly above the spa so during our great massage, we listened to kids jumping up and down. Our balcony room was nice and a little bigger than on RC. One of our guests had a room on deck 6, above the casino bar and they had to listen to the live music being played directly below them every night until 1:00 am or so. They didn't get much sleep. The gym was also smaller than on RC and would get very crowded quickly.
As far as ports of call, Key West is Key West. Great if you've never been there. Grand Cayman was fine. We went to the beach on our own. Taxi cost us $10 each round trip. I don't recommend getting the excursion with the ship that includes travel, chairs, umbrella, and free drink. We had friends do this and it was more expensive than what we did, plus the lawn chairs were crammed together so close it was comical. At Ochos Rios, we did the Dunn River Falls climbing and the tubing down the river. One of the best excursions I have ever done. Climbing the falls was great. It is challenging and does require water shoes. We did this through Phil Lafayette Tours and were very pleased.
I will say that it is a younger crowd on Carnival and that was a positive thing for some of our younger guests that attended the wedding. Although this review sounds mostly negative, we did enjoy the cruise. However, based on our experiences we would likely never cruise Carnival again. The overall quality is just not as good as RC.