Our demographics: Mid thirties, no kids and fairly well traveled. Cruised with two other couples in same situation. Have cruised in that past about 7 other times. Passenger feedback on our cruise was anything from "vacation of a lifetime" to "worst experience of our lives." Take the feedback for what it's worth as your expectations will have a lot to do with whether or not you enjoy yourself.
As most have mentioned in prior reviews, the embarkation process leaves much to be desired. There is however, a good reason to arrive early as they have an "early arrival check in counter" set up inside the Queen Mary building. As it gets closer to actual embarkation time, they move this staff to the Carnival terminal. If you do not check in early, you will have to wait in a separate line to go through the check in process inside. Arrive by noon and plan to wait on line for about 90 minutes, assuming there are no delays with the prior sailing's disembarkation. All three of the couples traveling had all luggage in front of our state rooms by the time we arrived. Carnival needs to take some lessons from other cruise lines on this process.
Cabins are typical size for outside with balcony. Layout was well done and they managed to make great use of space for storage. Balcony door swings instead of slides so the prior suggestion to bring a bungee cord was a lifesaver. It will be nearly impossible to leave your door open without one. Bathroom was also well laid out and the shower was one of the larger we have experienced in this class of service. The water pressure and shower head were by far the best we have ever experienced on the seas. Promotional basket of toiletries was a nice touch.
Book spa and gourmet room as soon as you get on board. (Don't even unpack.) By 3:30 the gourmet room could not accommodate our party of 6 and minimal spa treatments were left for the week.
We found much of the decor and color schemes to be overdone in the cabins and the public areas. While we may not have been overwhelmed by it, it had little impact on our trip.
Main dining room decor lacked elegance but the food and service were quite good. Decent wine list but no sommelier so be prepared to know what you want. Wine decanters were nowhere to be found but our servers did bring us very nice red wine glasses from the gourmet room and poured in those for the duration. I would highly recommend taking advantage of their liberal corkage fee of $10 and bring some of your own bottles. Espresso drinks were complimentary in the main dining room -- they are typically $4+ on other cruise lines.
Buffet was average and on par with most ships. I was surprised to see that the staff did not serve you from the the buffet lines, especially considering the issues Carnival has had with bacteria in the last 18 months. The serving tongs and spoons were often found with the handle laying inside the food tray, which could not be less sanitary. The deli and 24 hour pizza shop were great choices within the buffet itself.
Nightlife: 13 bars on board so there is no shortage of places to get a drink if you are there to party. Most have some form of live entertainment during the peak hours. The disco was the primary late night spot with the casino coming in a close 2nd.
Ports: My opinion is that once you have been to Ensenada, you have been to the rest of these stops. This is not an itinerary for great sightseeing as much as it is a party and/or week long getaway. Book tours early if you so desire as we heard from those traveling with us that they too filled up fast.
Spa: Very disappointing. $175 for a 75 minute treatment is about as high as you will see at the best spas in the US. This spa does not warrant these prices but they know they have you if you want a treatment. Treatment rooms are near public areas and are very noisy. Waiting area is a few rattan chairs in a hallway. If you choose to use the locker rooms, you will find basic steam and sauna facilities, lockers and showers. There is no place to relax before or after your treatments(men's steam was broken all week). Skip the scalp massage they pitch on the 1st day. Even for $20 it is a joke.
Several of our sea days were cold but it was still tough to find a chair near the main pool areas. I imagine this only gets worse as the weather gets better. Pools were very small for the number of passengers on board. Public restrooms were consistently disgusting. I am far from a clean freak but by day 2 I found myself walking back to the cabin for restroom facilities (no paper towel or cloth towels to dry your hands).
Gym/Fitness area was OK. Saw some great reviews from previous sailings but not sure what they are accustomed to. I have seen much better and larger facilities on smaller ships. If you plan to workout while you are away, it will no doubt get the job done.
Lots of comments on the "sales pitches" while on board. Expect it -- they count on people getting caught up in the excitement of travel and impulse buying decisions -- that is how they make money. A simple no thank you will suffice but there is no need to let it ruin your trip. I did not find them to be any more sales oriented than any other cruise I have done.
Disembarkation was about the same as embarkation. They put everyone in a common area and you sit and wait for your "color" to be called. Once you are called, you wait in line to get off of the ship and then in line again to clear immigration. We were one of the last few colors called and it took us about 3 hours from the time we left our stateroom until the time we reached our car. Again, other cruise lines have superior processes from which Carnival could borrow some ideas.
Overall value was sub par but I am sure we paid a premium for a New Year's Eve sailing. I think Carnival is great for catering to middle class families. You can have a great time on this ship if you set your expectations right but our three couples were unanimous. If this is one of the best that Carnival has on the seas, future sailings will be with the competition.