This was the first cruise for my children (8,9,11) and the 2nd for my wife and I. We had very good weather, and great vacation, and a mostly good experience. I will detail the good & bad below.
Departure: Excellent. We flew into New Orleans the morning of our cruise, were met at the gate by an agent, and taken by bus to the cruise terminal (30 minute wait, 20 minute ride). Once there, the line was no where near what I expected, and we were on board having lunch within 45 minutes.
Stateroom: We had a balcony stateroom on deck 6, with our children directly across the hall in an interior stateroom with bunk beds set up for 3. Our room was a good size (larger than I expected) with a very comfortable balcony. We were able to prop the door to the balcony open in the evenings and sleep to the sound and smell of the water. Neither my wife nor myself have slept better in years. The room was cleaned twice a day, and while not as much was done as on my first cruise (14 years ago) where they would clean out your souvenir glasses, hang up your shirt if you accidentally left it out, etc, it was still kept very clean.
Ship: The ship is beautiful, but very poorly laid out. There was no direct route anywhere. Luckily, our room was situated directly above our dining room, and below the pool, so we found direct routes to where we needed to go, but going anywhere new was an exercise in frustration. The ship showed signs of rust on its side and on our balcony, but was mostly in good condition. Some of the seats in the buffet (South Beach Club) were torn and needed recovering.
Dining: We had traditional, early dining (6PM) since we thought it would be a good experience for the kids to have waiters, etc that knew their names and 'pampered' them. Our serving staff was excellent, in some cases making paper animals for the kids from the children's menu. The food was decent, though not exceptional, and definitely not as good as 14 years ago. Also, the quantities were very small. My wife was still hungry after ordering a second appetizer and her entree. As for myself, I needed to order 2 meals just to equal what I would normally eat at a chain restaurant (i.e. Chili's) and the reaction from the waitstaff seemed like it was abnormal to order this much. If portions were increased to a normal amount, I wouldn't feel like I was putting them out. Desserts were good, but also very small (i.e. cherries jubilee was 8 cherries!)
Clubs & Activities: There was plenty going on at all times on the ship, though for the most part my wife and I chose to relax, which was also possible out on the main deck. One big negative was the first morning, at 10AM when we were laying in our lounge chairs on deck, the main screen over the pool was showing a 1/2 hour infomercial on a herbal supplement for prostate problems. With graphic descriptions of the medical procedure for curing it. Not what I want to be thinking about on the first day of our trip. The music was Madonna's greatest hits along with a bit of REM, and the occasional break for the ship's island music band to play Hot, Hot, Hot. The screen showed the same scenes of fish swimming and people scuba diving for 80% of the time. Most of the movies they showed were during our dinner hours, or while we were on shore. The children's club seemed very good, but my kids only wanted to spend a few hours there per day, preferring so sit out on deck or swim.
Debarkation: We used the assisted, leisurely method where the stewards have your luggage waiting in the terminal. Very organized and quick debarkation (though too early!).
Complaints: I really only have three main complaints.
1. Food & Drink. As stated before, main dining room food was not exceptional (I may have expected too much) and portions are minuscule. The drink prices are nuts ($6.50 for a bud lite?). If you go on this ship, avoid the beer and drink Martini's at the wine bar or long island iced teas!
2. Tipping. Carnival automatically deducts tips from your sail & sign account per person on the first day aboard. I understand that this may be easier for some people, but I would much rather tip personally based on actual service at the end of the cruise. We asked for the tips to be taken off the sail and sign account on the 3 different times, and kept getting told to wait until the next day. It was not until 10PM on the 2nd full day of the cruise that they allowed us to remove the charges. In the end I actually tipped more - in most cases - that they would have taken off, but it was at my discretion. Charging tips to your account should be an option that you request, not one that is forced on you.
3. Hot Tubs & pools. They were cold. Both pools were exceptionally cold salt water. The main hot tubs (mid deck) were the temperature of a typical hotel pool, and cooler than the air in most cases. After a day, I found the forward hot tub was warmer (more like bath water). The only truly hot tubs were on the rear of the ship. It was not possible to watch movies from the hot tubs at night because they were too cold and they close too early. Also, the water slide that features so prominently in advertisements was closed 2 out of the 3 days at sea, and when open was very slow. 2 of my 3 children got stuck halfway and had to push themselves down. The 3rd child just avoided it!
Overall it was a good family cruise, though I will look at other options for our next one (which I hope is not 14 years from now!)