INTRO: The scheduled itinerary was 2 sea days, St Maarten, St Lucia, St Kitts and then 2 sea days. Reality was 2 sea days, St Maarten and then Hurricane Tomas. Carnival did a great job of keeping us from most of the storm and still getting us two great ports of call (Grand Turk, Nassau). Not everybody was satisfied but you have to put safety first and can't mess with Mother Nature.
BACKGROUND: My wife and I are both 50+ and now cruise at least twice a year. We're Princess Platinum and Carnival Gold but hope to try other cruise lines in the future. We're easy to please, use a AAA travel agent and always book a balcony cabin BUT we're always on the lookout for the best deal. We tend to book an aft cabin on a deck or two below Lido and the casual buffet eateries. That way we're close to the food but always use the stairs so we do get some exercise. We paid "Past Guest" rate for this cruise but I checked the Carnival web site for price changes multi times for weeks before departure and found two price drops. We paid $50 p/p less than the original so it pays to re-check prices.
ARRIVAL: We arrived in FLL the day of the cruise. We normally come in a day ahead but due to budget constraints we had to push our luck a bit. The cab from airport to pier was $20 including tip. We arrived a bit before noon and the process seemed orderly (NOTE: make sure you have all your paperwork ready (ID, boarding passes etc) to make things easier. You can fill out your CDC health form while in line so have a pen ready. We were on the Lido deck ready to eat by 12:45 (after dropping off our carry on bags in the cabin). Room was ready by 1:15 and by 3:00 our "big" bags were delivered. Pretty smooth - in my opinion.
THE CABIN: We were on Panorama deck aft (one deck below Lido) with an "extended" balcony. The room had a Queen bed and a convertible sofa. Because of the sofa, the closets are perpendicular to the cabin door and if you weren't careful, you could clobber the open closet door with the cabin door. Took a little getting used to but it was OK. The balcony was slightly bigger than the normal balcony but not by much. Still, it was nice to have a bit more room for the chairs and table. I wouldn't pay extra for the extended balcony but it was a free upgrade so that was great. And since this was the Panorama deck, there were no people above us to look down. Sometimes/rarely some noise floated down from the Lido but it wasn't much distraction and there was hardly any noisy foot traffic down the corridor. Bed was comfortable and I brought my own pillow so I was sleeping well. The TV is not a flat panel but no big deal - we were able to watch ABC, NBC, CBS (from Denver) along with some cable and paid movie channels so there were enough choices. Bathroom was adequate as was the shower so no complaints there.
THE FOOD: We had early dining and went to the dining room 6 evenings including the two formal nights. Our waiters/servers (Mr. Igusti and Mr. Maman) were very good and there was enough time to make the meal feel enjoyable and not rushed. The offerings were many and we especially enjoyed the lobster tails and prawns on the first formal night and the prime rib on the second formal night. Some reviewers didn't like the food but we thought (except for the rare not so warm item) it was very good. I'm not a chocolate eater, but I did enjoy the chocolate melting cake. There are so-o-o-o many places to eat and so much to eat that it would be hard to go hungry unless you're very picky. The sandwiches from the Deli were very good - it was open 11:30 AM to 11:00 PM so you can "pig out" most of the day. The Asian section was a great alternative as were the Pizza and burger areas - just be sure to find out when these are open since it might just be 4-5 hours a day. We never used room service or the specialty restaurant so I can't comment on them. If you can't get fat and happy on this ship, pay more money and try Cunard Lines.
PORTS OF CALL/SHORE EXCURSIONS: Unluckily for us, the catamaran/snorkeling shore excursion for St Maarten was cancelled because too few people signed up for it. We took the water taxi from the pier to the city and walked on several of the streets doing window shopping before heading back to the ship. Next day things got complicated - the high winds of Hurricane Tomas prevented us from visiting St Lucia and St Kitts so we missed out on our shore excursions there. Carnival was able to substitute Grand Turk and Nassau and we did take the "Reef and Rays" shore exc. in Grand Turk. If you haven't experienced Stingray City in Grand Cayman, "Reef and Rays" is a good substitute as you can play with the rays and snorkel at a shallow reef. In Nassau there is plenty to do but we opted to walk in the shopping area and buy souvenirs. Just an observation - it seems that souvenir places (like t-shirts etc) are higher priced close to the pier and cheaper as you go further into town.
OTHER SERVICES/MISC: The ship may have thousands of people but it's big enough that we never felt crowded. Just don't wait until "rush hour" to eat or go to the shows.
It was easy to get from "here to there" and hardly had any contact with cigarette smoke except for Deck 2 in the area of the casino.
We didn't use the Spa although I used the gym in the late mornings, afternoons and early evenings so I had no issues with finding an open machine.
Internet Cafe is on deck 3 in the Raven Library. There aren't a lot of terminals but I never had to wait for access.
We bought only one photo (embarkation) and ignored most photographers who tried to snap our pix.
The Passengers' Service desk was helpful and I detected no "attitude" from the people there. There were some really outrageous/dumb requests from passengers and the staff kept their cool.
We did attend two shows in the Phantom Theatre (Generations and Ticket To Ride) and one comedy show at Mad Hatter's Ball - we enjoyed all of them. Didn't go to any of the clubs - not enough time it seems but we listened to music and saw some acts in the areas around the Atrium which was a nice touch.
Our room steward (Mr. Dwi Yudi) was very pleasant and helpful and spoke English well enough so there were no communication issues.
DEPARTURE: We had a flight before noon so by 8:45 we were out the door, down the gangway, thru customs and on our way to FLL airport. No muss, no fuss.
OVERALL: Yeah, the ship is showing some wear and tear but it's well kept and clean. Maybe we're too easy going to notice the picky-picky stuff but weather aside, it was a GREAT time and a GREAT value. Carnival may be cutting back a bit but times are tough for everybody, cruise lines included. We're happy so we'll be back on Carnival in February '11. .