I had heard somebody refer to Carnival as the "Wal Mart Of The Seas", saying it wouldn't match up to RC or Disney or any of the other cruise lines. Then again, I like Wal Mart, and shop there fro time to time. I boarded thinking, "Ok, I'm paying a bit less than I have on other lines, so I should probably adjust my expectations a bit, but I'm still on vacation."
BOARDING: I was a bit surprised in the boarding area in Galveston that, with as long as the line was, that there were only 6 people checking people in at the long counter. Now, we arrived early, about 1130, and they said boarding started at 1230. Fair enough. After getting through the lowest person in the history of security screenings, we joined the queue to check in. There were folks frmo all walks of life, dressed in the "come as you are" theme of the day. A few shirts and ties, a few tropical type shirts (like mine), a few people in t shirts, tank tops, spandex, you name it. Several people hadn't showered. Boarding was efficient, however, and we were on the Lido Deck getting lunch in no time. Note: The first line you come to is always the longest, but there are several buffets open, just keep walking.
CABIN: Luggage wasn't delivered until after dinner, but I had a day pack, and we were able to drop things off in our cabin by 130. Good day to go to the pool, s everybody is exploring the ship. No ship features are open yet. The cabin was bigger than I would have though, but not huge. PLenty of room, sensible storage space, and a good use of space. Room under the bed, phone and TV mounted on the walls instead of taking up counter space. Only 1 electrical outlet, so bring a power strip. Don't plan on blow drying your hair in the bathroom, either, as that outlet is only for razors and will not support anything else.
FOOD: As much as I heard folks complain about the food on these boards, I had no issue with it. It's not haute cuisine, and you're only going to get so much out of a buffet. There were plenty of options at all hours (love running upstairs for a piece of pizza or some fries for a midnight snack). Dinners were good enough, and you could order mutliple things from any course ,so decisions were much easier. The staff was polite, and the "show" was alright and fun, although it became a bit tedious after the first night, and it was hard to understand what Freddy, the matire d, was saying because of how fast he was speaking. Nobody on the ship went hungry, but if you want 5 star cuisine, pay more for your cruise and take Disney or Cunard or Royal.
THINGS TO DO: The casino was always busy, and smoky, but that's what I expect to find in a casino. Being a blackjack player, I didn't care much for the BJ games that were there, because they had weird variations and odds, and I'm a bit of a purist. The dealers were friendly and helpful. The activities were pretty typical: bingo, dance contests, towel creatures, and a pretty heavy focus oon things that will make Carnival more money: Liquor sales, art auctions, etc. Hey, it's their cruise line and you don't have to go to that stuff.
POOL: Kind of small, and get there by 10 if you want a lounge chair. Waiters plentiful in offering you the $9 (with tip) frilly drink. Waterslide at the back is pretty wesome, but it is in the kids area, although there weren't many kids. And fewer waiters, but it is right above the cafe with the ice cream machine.
NICKLE AND DIME: Carnival is the least expensive in terms of fares, usually, but there is a LOT of potential to add things on, from charging you for sodas and (of course alcohol, to charging you for lost towels, sodas and bottled water conveniently left in your room, etc, internet access, etc. if you mind your charges, and read everything, you won't have too many surprises at check out. Remember, though, that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and if you don't leave it where you found it, yo will probably end up paying for it. A lot.
OVERALL: It was a reasonable value for what we pad, and we had a good time. There was certainly ability for me to do what I wanted in terms of activities, food, etc. I didn't expect to be waited on hand and foot, and I wasn't but I got help when and where I needed it. We paid more for a Disney Cruise earlier this year, and the food was better on Disney, the ship was sparklier and "felt brand new". you get what you pay for. The Carnival Ecstasy was fine, and I have no problem recommending it to others who are "in the same boat", and expect only a fun, relaxing vacation with few worries.