I went on this cruise with my family, ranging in age from 2 to 77, during Christmas week 2010. This was my first cruise so some of comments may apply to the cruising experience in general rather than this particular cruise. We chose this cruise because the original itinerary had us stopping at a different island every day, but Carnival changed the itinerary after we booked (without informing us), deleting the stop in Dominica (which was the island we were most looking forward to visiting) and adding a sea day (which we were trying to avoid).
I have given this cruise an overall mediocre rating, and do not intend to take a similar cruise again. However, this is truly a cruise that is optimized to give best value to the masses, and my values may not be shared by the majority of readers. The young kids (2 & 4 years) in our group enjoyed the cruise, and their parents found it to be a hassle-free way to travel, but all the adults in our group had more sophisticated interests and tastes and found the experience to be banal. The problem may have been that I didn't fit into the targeted demographic for this cruise.
Let me start with the good. We were quite satisfied with the cabins (we all had balconies on upper decks). We were concerned that a regular-sized cabin would be too small for my brother's family with two kids, but their bunk system worked quite well. The room was clean, had lots of storage space, effective air conditioning, and the bathroom shower had good water pressure and hot water. I didn't use the balcony at all because I'm the restless sort that likes to walk around the ship, but others in our group liked to sit out on the balcony and read. Another thing that worked well was the ease at which we could enter and leave the ship at port. I had heard horror stories about long lines that can develop when thousands of passengers want to go ashore, but we never had to wait. The final good thing I'll say is that the entire operation was run very efficiently and professionally. The service staff assigned to your cabin area and your dinner table was very friendly and went out of their way to make the trip an enjoyable one.
Now for the negatives. Far too many of the activities and resources (crew and space on the ship) are dedicated to selling products to passengers. The business case for this cruise ship may be to sell passengers an inexpensive cabin and then make profit by selling them extras. Passengers are subjected to a non-stop barrage of sales promotions for wide range of goods and services, from tours, to gambling, to art auctions, to shopping, to spa treatments, to photographs (more on this later). An annoyingly exuberant guy with an Australian accent frequently came on the ship's PA system (even at 10 pm) hawking these products (he's lucky that I didn't encounter him in a dark corridor). There were many crew members wandering around the ship photographing passengers and they had stations throughout the ship where passengers could pose for pictures with corny backdrops and clothing. There was a large space on a lower deck where they post the hundreds of pictures for people to buy. Why anyone would buy any of these cruise ships goods and services is beyond me, but like I said, I'm probably not the targeted demographic for this cruise.
My travel partner was charged about $200 for the very slow satellite-based Internet service on the ship, and who knows what we will be charged for cellular roaming fees when we get our next bill. My advice is to turn off your cellular devices because they will automatically roam on to the shipboard network when out of port (which is all backhauled via satellite communication).
At least the food was free, and it was available in unlimited quantities 24 hours a day. However, I found the food to be of mediocre quality but adequate for my tastes (I'm not by any means a food connoisseur). The only free drinks that they offered were water, iced tea and lemonade, and in the morning OJ (all of which were frequently watery because concentrate was not refilled with sufficient frequency). The free dinking water was so heavily chlorinated that it was like drinking from a swimming pool (this was unacceptable). I stuck with the free water during the trip (because I'm cheap) but others in our group paid for the bottled water. They also charged for all other drinks (soda, beer, wine, liquor). I noticed savvy passengers buying cases of bottled water before departure at the cruise ship terminal in San Juan, which is probably a good way to save some money.
Perhaps my biggest dislike about this cruise was that there was no information provided on the islands we visited, their geography, history, culture, etc. The only information we were provided was on the various tours we could purchase and a pathetic shopping map for the cruise ship terminal area. The crew knew nothing about the islands, and worst of all the passengers didn't seem to care about where we were, and I believe that many of them never even bothered to walk off the ship (too busy eating, sleeping, shopping, etc.). The passengers seemed to lack any kind of intellectual curiosity about where we were or how we got there (via the amazing technology and functioning of a modern cruise ship). Unfortunately the physical state of many adult passengers and their progeny (obese) seemed to match their intellectual state (ok, maybe they weren't looking for a real travel experience, just a break from the routine of daily life). We didn't take any of the cruise ship tours, we instead hired a taxi or private tour to see the islands. We were usually driven around the island for site seeing, often stopping at a old fort or two, and then ending the day at a beach for some swimming/snorkeling. You can usually get the same tour as offered by the cruise ship for half the cost by leaving the terminal area (where everything is expensive) and hiring a private tour. It just takes a little initiative.
As for night-time entertainment, there were only two shows worth seeing during the week-long cruise, one was a mediocre juggling act and the other was a very professional rock and roll dance/music show. The rest was garbage, but I was usually asleep by 9 PM so I could get up early to see the arrival into port and docking. A cruise ship of this size is like a giant bubble that almost completely isolates passengers from their environment (especially those in the interior cabins). One scarcely feels or hears the waves and wind (the music/video/TV noise onboard ship is deafening on the pool deck), or can breath the ocean air (everything is air conditioned). Like fish in a fishbowl, most passengers stay inside the bubble, and have little initiative or curiosity to move outside, and for the few that do, there are only brief stops at port to experience the islands. The bubble is comfortable, safe and familiar because it offers the same things (TV, shopping, eating, etc.) that most people could do it home, and passengers can mix with the same people as at home.
I think that I most enjoyed morning and evening walks/jogs on the virtually deserted upper deck (which has a tenth mile loop track) as the ship arrived and departed from port. This deck is 10 stories above the ocean and one can look out over the beautiful Caribbean, feel the warm moist air blow in your face, and contemplate the world outside the bubble and the magnificent engineering marvel under your feet that got you there, and the economic prosperity that allows people of even modest means to take a Caribbean cruise (which used to be only accessible to the most wealthy).