Intro: Br-r-r-r-r-r-r-r! We left upstate New York State with its umpteen feet of snow and 20-30 degree temps and arrived in New Orleans with its blistering upper 30 degree temps and cold wind. It's winter so we didn't expect tropical temps but this was The Big Chill. The scheduled itinerary was 1 sea day, Key West, Freeport, Nassau and then 2 sea days. The ports of call were very enjoyable and actually warm (70's in Keys West, 80's in Nassau).
Background: We're always on the lookout for the best deal so we booked an aft balcony cabin a deck 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 and I checked the Carnival web site for price changes multi times for weeks before departure but never found any price drops or upgrades.
Arrival: We arrived in New Orleans the day before the cruise. We stayed at the Comfort Suites and the shuttle from airport to the hotel was free as was the shuttle back to the airport the day of the cruise so we could meet the Carnival shuttle to the pier ($23 each). We arrived at the pier a bit before noon and the process seemed mostly 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 1:00 (after dropping off our carry on bags in the cabin). By 3:00 our "big" bags were delivered. Relatively smooth - in my opinion.
The cabin: We were on Verandah deck aft (one deck below Lido) with a regular 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. Plenty of storage space was nice BUT there was no refrigerator! The steward said that ships built before 2000 didn't have refrigerators and only people with medical needs had portable ones. Since this was the Verandah deck, there were no people above us to look down. Occasionally noise floated down from the Lido and thru the room ceiling so if you are bothered by noise, book a different deck. For us, 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 Florida) 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 2nd floor and went to the dining room 6 evenings including one formal night. The Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday and there were surprisingly a lot of people in the dining room. Our waiters/servers (Ms. Anna and Mr. Josicko) 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 sea night (Super Bowl Sunday) and the prime rib on the 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 multiple times....YUMMY. 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 11:00 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 2-3 hours a day. We never used room service so I can't comment on it. There are no specialty restaurants but you can order premium steaks (or lobster tail & surf + turf) in the regular dining room for an extra $18. If you can't get fat and happy on this ship, pay more money and try Cunard Lines.
Ports of Call/Shore excursions: Key West - Catamaran Sail and Snorkel. It was a catamaran from Fury Watersports and we sailed out to a snorkel spot (air temp was high 70's but quite cold water so you may want to rent the optional wet suit). It was a mid grade snorkel spot - good for novices but kinda ho-hum for more advanced snorkelers. The trip back to port was a "booze cruise" but no one got drunk. It was enjoyable and the crew was professional but fun - just go when it's warm. Rating = 4.5 out of 5.
Freeport: - Island Drive, shopping and lunch. A bus or shuttle van takes you around the island and the driver points out landmarks and you get a chance to shop and/or go to the beach in Lucaya. It's an ok excursion and you don't have to walk much so that's a good thing. We were supposed to have lunch but they put us on the bus for NO lunch. At the end of the excursion I asked the driver about no lunch and he suggested we talk to the rep from the excursion company. We did exactly that and the Carnival cruise rep also told us we'd probably get some kind of refund. In actuality, we got a full refund so thanks Carnival! Rating = 3 out of 5.
Nassau: Blue Lagoon and lunch. We took a catamaran out to the Blue Lagoon water park/resort. You can rent optional sea scooters and/or water toys, swim/play in the lagoon on the inflatable rafts etc or just hang out on the beach on in a hammock. We spent the afternoon mostly swinging in hammocks so that was fun for us. There are changing rooms and bathrooms so it's not desolate. If you want to save a few bucks, skip the lunch and bring your own snacks. Rating = 4.5 out of 5.
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 the area of the casino and the occasional inconsiderate person on the Lido deck.
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. The machines/equipment were top notch.
Internet Cafe is on deck 4 in the Oxford Cigar Bar. Cough, cough...why would they ever put the internet cafe in a cigar bar? It was pretty bad. There aren't a lot of terminals but I never had to wait for access.
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 one show in the Rome Theater (The Big Easy) - we enjoyed it although it did get warm with all the people in there. Didn't go to any of the clubs - not enough time it seems but we listened to music in the Atrium which was a nice touch.
Our room steward (Mr. DD) was very pleasant and helpful and spoke English well so there were no communication issues.
Departure: We had a flight before 1:00 PM noon so by 10:00 we were out the door, down the gangway, thru customs and on our way to the 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.