I called this the best cruise ever, mainly because of our location on the ship. We were originally booked for a Riviera deck 2-bath outside, but 1 week before departure, I called Carnival and was able to get an upgrade to a Lido deck balcony for only $200 more total. It was absolutely the best location for us and we loved it! We were with a group of 13 adult friends, most of whom have been on many Carnival cruises previously. The cruise was a busy one, with 4 ports, but since my main interest is snorkeling, it was a great itinerary. We left behind 1' of snow, so the weather was a tremendous break from the cold - smooth sailing all the way!
Steward: Ariel from the Phillipines, and he was fabulous! He introduced himself the 1st day, and was very friendly. Room was always clean & tidy, and I enjoy the use of the bathrobes.
Food: buffets - a little crowded, but timing is everything. You're on vacation - who says you have to eat at 8, 12, and 6? I'm diabetic & should eat on schedule, but a little flexibility is key. We didn't try the pasta bar as we can get good Italian at home or the Mongolian wok (same reason), but the tandoori grill, burrito bar, sushi, and pizza were all great! Lots of choices, and mostly the food was good and tasty. Enjoyed the chocolate bar on Friday.
Waiter: Jaime - also from the Phillipines. Our group was on the top floor of the aft dining room (late dining), and he was absolutely the best waiter we've ever had. He was an excellent singer as well, and serenaded the entire dining room one night. He provided professional service, and our meals were prompt, hot, & tasty. No complaints. The Maitre'd came around and talked with us. My experience with all the staff was positive.
Shows: were ok, the productions were well done, but I think the 2 singers were overworked or their voices tired. Comedy shows ok. The venues were all great - not quite as outrageously decorated as other Carnival ships.
Public spaces: loved the 5th floor panorama deck, which allowed you to walk completely around the ship when you weren't blocked access by the filming crew(more on that below). The serenity deck had several nice features including 2 hammocks and cushy clamshell seats for 2, when the seat hogs allowed it. The water slides were totally awesome! I enjoyed the sauna & hot tubs - didn't really experience any crowding. The bands playing around the ship were pretty good. It would be nice if the would offer feature-length films on the big screen in the evening as an alternative to the live shows. They were only scheduled a couple of nights at inconvenient times.
Debarkation: fastest ever - they really push you off the ship quickly.
Film Crew: This was just not acceptable. We saved and paid for a nice week of vacation for which we worked very hard, and it was VERY frustrating to have our access to the ship blocked at times. The serenity deck on either side of deck 15 is a lovely option for quiet adult enjoyment, but seating is fairly limited. I couldn't believe we didn't have access to one side (starboard) all day when they were filming ("Alvin and the Chipmunks - Chipwrecked). We were also blocked from walking the 12th floor track as well as the promenade track. We had to wait to board back on the ship in Cozumel, and my husband was yelled at for trying to take a picture. Good for Carnival - the film will provide great exposure & they were probably paid a lot, but the passengers were just screwed. We had no notification that this was going to take place, so we had no option to book another week.
Embarkation: we arrived about 12:30 and the line was VERY long and slow
Room: Both in the room (and worst of all - in the hallways), the noise level was awful! Our neighbors were very friendly, but EXTREMELY loud, and at all hours! Please remember if you're in a large group, it doesn't mean you own the ship and can yell, scream, and laugh as loud as you want. There must be less insulation between the walls on this ship, because I don't remember hearing so much noise on previous cruises. I am glad to say that the balcony doors no longer slam shut - what a pleasant relief - however we did hear neighbor's cabin doors slamming. Never smelled anything bad.
Other passengers: OK, these are the "fun cruises", so the passengers on Carnival in our past experience tend to be a more rowdy, drunken lot. Actually, most of the passengers we observed on this cruise seemed to be a bit more affluent and civilized. Maybe it was the large number of Canadians (most polite people on the planet) eh, or the economy? However....Seat hogs - in spite of the claim by Carnival that vacated seats would have the contents removed, it was impossible to obtain a decent seat near the pools or on the serenity deck unless it was near dark or cool & windy on deck. If we hadn't had a nice balcony on which to sit, it would have been very disappointing. Some hogs had their stuff on deck recliners, as well as the clamshell seats, taking up double the space! I almost think they should go to a numbering system, and when you leave, you're done - come back and wait your turn again.
Pointers: This a beautiful, newer ship with lots of amenities, but if you want a less crowded experience, I suggest a Destiny Class ship like the Miracle? My favorite is still the Conquest - LOVE the Sur Mer seafood bar. I brought along the suggested hanging shoe racks for the closet & bath, and they really were handy. If you plan on spending most of your time in the water, just bring swimsuits and dressier clothing for dinner. I hardly wore any casual clothes at all. A power strip, extension cord, hair dryer, and bungee cords are useful, as well as a small cooler. Be sure to bring baggies for your food, though, as Carnival won't package it for you. Be discreet about taking food off the ship - we saw lots of fruit confiscated from passengers going ashore. I don't know if we'll ever have another massage on the beach because of what happened to my husband - we're not sure what bit him or where it happened, but he ended up going to the doctor the Mon. after we got home, and he was prescribed prednisone (nasty stuff) and permethrin (for SCABIES & other bugs). The doctor didn't know what caused it. He didn't think it was bed bugs or scabies - probably sand fleas) He had 2 massages each on Roatan & Costa Maya. The itching has stopped, and it looks like he won't be scarred, but be aware! We don't know how clean the beds, bed coverings, massage oil, or massage operators were on the beach. I'm pretty sure it wasn't from our stateroom. Luckily, I didn't get bitten, but I spent most of my time in the water.