We booked this cruise as a last minute, pre-back to school trip. Traveled with DH and DD (10) and Sister in law, Brother in Law and their two kids (son 7 and daughter 1). This was our 4th cruise, first on Carnival (others on Disney & Norwegian).
Overall, for what we paid, the cruise was a good value. The food was actually much better than I thought it would be. Not quite as good as what we had on Disney or NCL, but it was above average & there was a good variety. That said, we only ate at the buffet on embarkation day. DH disliked that there was not an upscale/upcharge restaurant on the ship as a choice.
We booked an inside stateroom and for the three of us, it was tight, but manageable. That said, we will go back to booking ocean view rooms like we always have before. A little extra space makes a big difference. They had a pull out cot (like a trundle bed) for our daughter, which left no floorspace in the room whatsoever. I would have preferred a pull down bunk for her. Our stateroom host was fantastic & made better towel animals than on any cruise we've been on.
Our stateroom required maintenance three times during the cruise, including a 3am visit from an electrician to rewire a light connected to the ships emergency system that was flashing off and on for an hour. That was completely unacceptable. The poor handling of that situation was the least pleasant part of the trip.
We had absolutely perfect weather, once we left port and on our sea days the pool decks were very crowded. This is a large ship, but there were a lot of times it felt crowded. The lobby bar was wonderful. One of our favorite spaces on the ship. As other reviews have stated, where smoking is allowed it is overpowering. The internet cafe is next to one of the smoking lounges and it smelled terrible.
The coke cards were a good value and they had lots of choices (caffiene free diet coke, sprite zero, club soda etc), but it always took a long time to get service. The bar waitstaff seemed quite busy all the time.
DD attended the late night party (10pm-3:30am) at Camp Carnival and had a great time. They went all around the ship and then walked the kids back to the room, so you didn't have to go pick them up, which was nice. My nephew also participated in Camp Carnival activities and really enjoyed them.
We only saw one show, the "Big Easy" tribute to NO show and it was good. We also attended the adults only late night comedy show and it was hilarious. That is a must do! I understand why Carnival is putting the comedy clubs in fleet wide. We laughed so hard.
Duty free prices for liquor on the ship were good for everything but tequila, which was about 30% cheaper in Mexico while we were in port. The ships duty free shop did tell us that we needed to be honest, declare all the liquor we bought and that they likely would not make us pay duty. We had no problems coming thru customs with 11 bottles and didn't pay duty (and we did declare all of it).
Embarkation and debarkation were handled well and they moved the masses of people as quickly as possible.
Traveling with 1yr old neice, Carnival has room for improvement. Highchairs were only available in the main dining rooms, but not at the buffet. The "kiddie" pool was away from everything else and babysitting for kids under two years old isn't available until after 10pm. It may be that Carnival would prefer you leave kids under two at home. We managed, but it was never easy.
Is it fair to compare to Disney and NCL? Really completely different experiences, overall clientele and price points, so no. Disney is of course much more family oriented, shows & deck parties (including fireworks off the ship) were MUCH more elaborate, but we paid for those amenities. On our NCL cruise we had a suite with concierge service & ate in the upcharge restaurant every night for dinner, so again we paid for a more luxurious experience.
Would we cruise Carnival again? Yes and we'll enjoy it with better knowledge of what to expect.