Day Before our cruise, stayed at the Radisson Resort at the Port. Accommodations were okay. We had a suite which was fine but our sleep number bed was broken. The shuttle to the port was easy enough. We used a Town Car through Mears to get from Airport to Hotel. Phil was our driver, we highly recommend this service. Phil arranged to pick us up after our cruise at well. He was wonderful and you should ask for him specifically. And, it was also less expensive for us to use his services than the shuttle bus. Save $20-30 and sit in a quiet, comfortable sedan instead of a loud bus!
Embarkation: Arrived at the port around 11am. On board within 45 minutes from drop off. Overall pretty effortless. Once on board we ate lunch at the Gathering, Deck 10 Lido deck. It was very crowded up there. There are a couple sections to this, go all the way to the back which is less crowded. This is also where the pasta bar is located. We never tried it, it is only open during lunch hours.
Our stateroom: Nice. Our cabin steward was never to be found our entire trip. Unlike our Disney trip, our cabin steward was there right away to introduce himself. No complaints though. Whoever he/she was, knew our schedule and our room was kept up nicely. We had a balcony stateroom which was nice. Our biggest complaints were, smoking and noise. Our neighbors smoked on their veranda's. We're nonsmokers so we didn't appreciate the cloud of cigarette smoke every time we went out. Second, the noise. Our room was across from the stewards equipment room. They seemed to like to go in there at around 4am to get vacuums and such out. And they weren't exactly quiet in doing so. The other part of the noise came from kids running rampant and overly loud neighbors who came back every evening around 2:30am, pretty loaded. It also seemed that everyone loved to slam their stateroom doors.
Dining: We ate in the Crimson dining room at table 139. Rollondo from Panama, Oscar from Peru and Samuel from India served us. They were wonderful! Konstantyn (Constantine) was our Maitre D'. He too was wonderful. He loves crooner music and will serenade you most evenings. The food was so so. Pretty bland actually. The portions were plentiful but we compared it to Ol Country Buffet. Disney's food was much better. Their portions were smaller but the quality makes up for that. If our servers weren't as wonderful as they were, we would have skipped the dining room altogether. We were surprised by the number of cruisers who did not dress for dinner each night. Even on formal night we saw tank tops come in, however they were asked to leave immediately.
The buffet at the Gathering and the grill foods were so-so. Nothing special.
Ports: Getting off the ship was a breeze. We highly recommend excursions. Cozumel has enough to do at the port but most of the others do not. Especially Belize. Tendering can take 1/2 to a full hour so allow for that when planning. Costa Maya has a pool to use but it's at Senor Frogs so keep that in mind if your kids are really young.
Fellow cruisers. Carnival has always carried the reputation as a floating frat house, party barge, etc. We had heard that they are trying to be more family friendly. We really tried to give them a fair chance. However, they didn't pull through. The "F-inheimer" was used all over the ship. There was a lot of drinking. Twice the pool was closed due to someone vomiting in it. Food is left all over! We stepped over plates getting on the elevators, tripped over glasses going up stairs, saw vomit all over the front of the ship.. You get the point. One day while walking to our room, we had two foreign gentlemen express their Anti-American sentiments to me and my child. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and they saw us and said something I cannot repeat. Carnival will be hearing about this soon, not that there is anything that could be done.
Camp Carnival: Kids hated it. They do not offer much for the 8-10 year old group.
Pools,slides: Reserving deck chairs was never an issue. They will take your stuff if it's left for longer than 30 minutes. We never had any issues with finding a spot. Port days were nicer. The pool was busiest around 2pm till 6pm. Evenings were usually not bad. Sea days, get there early because it becomes crowded with the party-goers. Buckets of beer and people will fill the pool fast. Also, slides and mini golf close at 6pm so get them in during the afternoon if that's what you want to do.
Debarkation: AWFUL. We were out of our room by 7am, ate breakfast at the gathering and were supposed to be off by 8:40am. We were off after 10am. Our driver said he has never seen the Port in such chaos. Not sure what happened but we would say to get express debarkation.
Some people like the party crowd. If that's you then this is your ship. If you are traveling with children and looking at what ship to take, try the DISNEY Dream. You may pay more at first but the rest of your cruise will not cost nearly as much as Carnivals (they nickel and dime you for everything!!) and you will have a much better, family orientated time.