This was my fourth cruise; I have cruised on HAL once and RCCL twice previously. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by Carnival - I was expecting a much "lower class" type of vacation, but this was quite nice.
This vacation was celebrating my 30th birthday on 10/10/10 and my mother's 50th birthday on 10/11/10. My sister (25) and adopted daughter (19) went along, for a girls only vacation.
We flew into FLL LATE on Friday night, and stayed at La Quinta Inns FLL. A perfectly good deal at $80 total, including free shuttle from FLL to the hotel, and free continental breakfast in the morning. Nothing fancy, but certainly a decent place to sleep and shower pre-cruise. Within walking distance of a few stores for picking up champagne/wine.
SAS Transportation picked us up at the hotel at 11am, they were prompt and courteous, no issues there.
We flew through the lines, easy peasy. Had no problems at all, very quick. Went to the Lido deck for a snack. Got to our room at about 1pm and it was ready to go.
Balcony 8C 8249, we had a guarantee, and we were very happy with this cabin assignment and its location (near the forward elevators). Our room stewards were very nice and kept our room very clean. We were surprised at how much storage space there was, and didn't feel very cramped, even with four adult women in the cabin. We were sure to tip the stewards extra.
Ate in the dining room every night, Your Time Dining, had no issues getting the same table each night. Our waiter, Mario, and his assistants Roberto and Pavel, were all fantastic!! We loved them. Konstantyn, the Maitre D in the Golden, was great, we loved the nightly entertainment he and his waitstaff provided (my sister had a crush on him! haha). The food itself I generally found to be fairly bland, though a few items were delicious (lobster bisque, for one, and bitter and blanc for another). We really enjoyed the experience there and tipped extra. The Lido dining, however, was another story. Other than the burrito bar, we found little that we liked for lunch. Breakfast was a joke - a very poor selection, not at all to our liking. I personally loved the pizza - and I am a pizza snob, so that says something! Also, the fro yo was very very good as well. Loved their lemonade, too. LOVED the sushi bar, I wish it was open longer than three hours a day though!!
I had bad luck in this arena. Several times, I went to an event listed in Fun Times, only to find out it had been cancelled or moved or the time had changed. We liked the option of going to the comedy shows, as did many others - every single showtime was packed!! Only did a couple of the main theater shows. Didn't care for the juggler guy at all. Would have preferred more trivia type offerings, and less expensive BINGO offerings. For the price of the cards ($20), "jackpots" of between $100-200 are insulting. That's a big moneymaker for them, they should be less greedy with the prizes.
I had good luck on the (penny, nickel, 2c) slots, ended up winning around $50 after subtracting the amount I'd spent in the casino on the boat. I heard of many other people talking about their casino wins. I only wish the winnings could have been applied to my Sign and Sail card, rather than paid in cash. Oh well.
I had $200 onboard credit from my booking (with a travel agent) that Carnival flat out REFUSED to put on my account. I was very unhappy with them because I spent time every day for the last four days of the trip waiting in line at the customer service desk, and did NOT appreciate being jerked around!! Thankfully my TA is going to cut me a check. But still, this was a dark spot on an otherwise pleasant cruise.
Overall, the decorations and layout were very nice. One notable negative was the smoke! AND, I am a (courteous) smoker, so when it even bothers me, that is saying something. The Piano Man bar was GORGEOUS, but we did not spend any time in there because of the overwhelming smoke bothering all of us. There were a few other locations that had this issue as well. Fellow passengers all looked nice, there were very few "slobs" that Carnival has the reputation for. Just about everyone I saw was dressed to the nines on the Formal Nights.
We had a later flight out of FLL (2:15pm) so we had a later debarkation time, worked out perfectly, very easy through customs. Had a problem with SAS Transportation this time, however. I called when we'd cleared customs, as the e-mail confirmation stated, only to be berated by Steve himself (I believe it was him, maybe a staffer?) and be accused of not having a reservation. Funny, because I had the e-mail confirmation printout in my hand when I called. Anyway, he arranged for another company to bring us to FLL for the same price. It worked out okay but I didn't appreciate being called a liar, for HIS mistake. Flight home on JetBlue was great.
Would I cruise on Carnival again? Yes. The entertainment options are more varied on CCL than on HAL, for sure, though the food is nowhere near as good as HAL or RCCL, in my experience. In fact I am thinking of booking our next cruise on the Carnival Pride for February 2012.