Living locally, it was wonderful to have a friend drop us off at the pier, and not have to worry about our luggage beyond leaving it with a porter. We arrived at 11:00, and the ship started boarding at 11:30 by zones based on arrival time or platinum status. We were able to board by noon, and, since the ship had been sailing empty from New York, were able to proceed directly to our room.
The ship was nicely appointed and the decor a lot less 'in your face' than most Carnival ships. We enjoyed the stadium-style forward pool area, where there were some comfy chairs as well as chaise lounges to relax in while watching a movie or listening to music. In fact, there was a wealth of live music throughout the ship (piano player every night in the atrium, Caribbean/Latino music near the casino, etc.) which was really enjoyable. There was also an 'adults only' Serenity area with hammocks, wicker couches, etc., located forward of the pool area that I'm sure would be a great escape for adults on cruises with lots of children. We stayed on Deck 8 Aft, just below the Lido Deck, and would definitely not stay on that deck in the future. Between the sound of scraping chairs in the middle of the night, and the extreme vibration of the engines when pulling in/out of port, we'll happily go back to our Deck 7 room.
Service: Just okay. Our room steward did an excellent job of keeping our room in great shape, but we just didn't see him as often as we'd seen our steward on previous cruises. Although we enjoyed the comedians in the Comedy Club (Ebony Cabaret), it was important to get a seat 30 minutes before the show if you had more than two in your party. Also, drink service in the Comedy Club was spotty at best, and you were fortunate to get your drink within 15 minutes of ordering.
Dining Room: Service and food good, not great. Although we were seated near the entrance to the galley, our soups frequently arrived lukewarm. Thankfully, I'm a big fan of the chilled fruit soups and these did not disappoint. Additionally, Carnival made a few more converts to their signature Chocolate Melting Cake.
Emerald Room Steakhouse: Steaks were huge and delicious, but the other courses were, for the most part, just okay. Additionally, service was poor to downright rude...when asked if one of the diners could get just half of a gargantuan-sized piece of cheesecake, she was told "no, we don't do that." Requests for additional plates, extra salt and pepper (we received one salt and pepper dispenser for our table of eight) were granted grudgingly. Based on this one experience, we would not spend the $30 pp again to eat in the Steakhouse.
Bars: With over 22 bars on board, we were expecting lots of action throughout the ship. However, on many nights, the karaoke bar and others were completely empty....including no bartenders or waitstaff. Actually, several nights some of the bars shut down well before midnight, even though there were people in them, the karaoke bar included.
Nassau: Since our cruise overnighted in Nassau, we had pre-booked two room s at the Comfort Suites adjacent to Atlantis. This hotel allows guests to use the Atlantis facilities, including the waterpark and the Dig. Cost per person came out to $89 pp for two days use of Atlantis, well under both Atlantis day pass prices, and Carnival excursion prices. We utilized the ferry to Paradise Island ($3 pp each way) on our first day but, after finding out the time (about 25 minutes each way) and distance from Atlantis (a brisk 10-minute walk) , opted to take a taxi the following day for $4 pp each direction. We didn't even get off the ship in Freeport as it appeared very industrial and not at all tropical or inviting.
Debarkation: A hot mess. We were in Zone 18 (out of about 28) for debarkation and, although the ship was docked by 7:30, were not called for debarkation until approximately 11:45 pm. I heard a rumor that this delay was caused by Customs, but it definitely put a damper on the end of the cruise, and could be one of the reasons other cruise lines have pulled out of Norfolk.