We flew into Orlando from Houston with my boyfriend, 75 year old mother, and three kids (ages 7, 12, and 16). No problems meeting up with the Carnival rep to transport us to Port Canaveral, and embarkation was a breeze. It was pouring down rain, but big deal, I knew we would be sailing out of it.
The ship is beautiful...Carnival has definitely toned down their decor. We had 3 cabins for 6 people, two balconies and one inside cabin on deck 9. Cabins are the same as on any other Carnival cruise with the exception of a flat screen television. I was impressed that our cabin steward came to personally introduce himself and let us know when he would be coming into our cabin....never had that happen before. Even more impressive, he knew all our names the second time we saw him.
Anyway, the first day was crazy....always is and we knew what to expect. So from here, I will try to stick to the points of concern I have seen in other reviews.
Dining room: Not as fancy as on past Carnival ships and our service the first couple of nights was very slow. Our server was very, very sweet, but regardless, after giving her two chances, we requested another table. The service at the new table was better, but not what I remember on past cruises. Further, we all agreed that there has been a decline in the food. No big deal for us, we aren't big eaters. I also think it's a shame that there isn't as much emphasis on entertainment as there used to be...a couple of nights where our waiters kind of danced around, but that was it.
Other food places: There were so many food places to choose from, it was almost a shame to waste a meal in the dining room. Pasta bar (my boyfriend loved it, I never made it there), a sushi bar, "The Gathering", pizzaria, and the Lido deck food. Really, there is so much food, it's kind of sickening, but I realize alot of people like that.
Swimming pools: Everyone is complaining about only two pools. I didn't see this as a problem. Early in the day, they were not crowded. And I personally was much more content to be in the ships jacuzzis, which are every where!!! There are 4 jacuzzis actually outside, overlooking the water on the Promenade deck. They were never crowded at all!!! Several times, my kids and myself had them all to ourselves! And only once did I find the water to be "hot". It was actually very comfortable, like a luke warm bath. We loved them.
Waterworks: Again, I hear complaints of crowding and I just didn't see it. When there was a line, it went fast. And the slides were fun! Not just for kids, but adults too!
Serenity, the adults only retreat: Ok, this was my favorite part of the ship. All I can say is AWESOME, AWESOME, AWESOME. Comfy chairs, two adults only jacuzzi's that you could actually take your drinks into, hammocks, private bar, nice towels, never crowded. You can even order lunch from the bartender to be brought up to you. Yes it is right next to the Waterworks, but I cannot imagine how anyone could have been "disturbed" by this. I think of all the time we spent up there, I heard maybe one kid scream going down a slide, that was it. And for parents, it is an awesome location because you can relax while being near your kids.
Camp Carnival: I was disappointed in the counselors on this ship. My daughter only wanted to go twice and complained that they were too "strict". A far cry from back 12 years ago when my oldest daughter would have LIVED at Camp Carnival.
Deck activities: I loved all the rock music being played on the deck. Concerts were shown on the big screen which I thought was cool, and I enjoyed the laser show. And they still had a band sometimes up on deck playing reggae and such. A couple of evenings, they had movie night with top movies being shown on the big screen. We totally enjoyed this. We watched Avatar stretched out on a deck chair, eating free pizza and popcorn.
Cloud 9 Spa: Had a back and foot massage and it was so fabulous, I started hallucinating. Wonderful! I did this on the last day when they were offering "deals".
Shows/entertainment: We only went to take my mom and they were much better than on past cruises. We caught the adults only comedy act in the Burgundy lounge and I enjoyed that. But go early, it's hard to find a seat to the shows.
Crowding: After the first day, I just didn't see it. It was no different than any other Carnival cruise I have been on. Lines weren't that bad, if there was one. Getting on and off the ship was no problem. I can't imagine what is up with all the people complaining that this ship is too crowded. Geez, rent a private boat if you want privacy.
The "famous" smell I kept reading about: Ok, we had an ungodly odor the first day right outside of our cabin. We called maintenance about it, and it was apparently taken care of. Never smelled anything bad again.
COMPLAINTS: We paid a decent amount of money to be on the 9th deck with a balcony. But since the Lido deck was right above, we heard non-stop banging and sliding of chairs until 4 in the morning. VERY VERY UPSETTING AND ANNOYING. I had to plug my ears and take a sleeping pill every night to sleep. That is a problem and my biggest complaint.
Another thing is the photo places EVERYWHERE!!! All over the Promenade, photographers and backgrounds set up. It's really getting ridiculous. I liked 20 years ago when they took one photo when you were getting on board, and that was it.
Let's see....well, the arcade was ridiculous. 1.50 to play one game? My kids didn't get to spend too much time there. And I miss the days when your sourvenir glass was actually glass instead of cheap plastic with an umbrella sticking in it. But with the current economy, I can overlook this.
OVERALL: We had a great time. We know what to expect on a Carnival cruise and were not disappointed (other than our loud cabin). If people don't want to be around kids or want to go "first class", Carnival probably isn't the line for you. This was my tenth cruise, and I think I am ready to give Royal Caribbean a try. But for the value and to have fun, you just can't beat a Carnival cruise. Oh, and I shouldn't forget. This was one of the nicest crews I have ever had and service was always fantastic.