We are experienced cruisers on other lines, but decided to try Carnival because of their reputation for fun. On our last cruise, the entire ship closed down after 10pm and we enjoy late night entertainment. Carnival definitely knows how to do fun. The sail-away from San Juan at 10pm was lively and festive. The Fun Squad and Matt (CD) were great at motivating the crowd during events. There were lots of opportunities even late at night, and our shipmates were enthusiastic. Dancing at the disco, singing karaoke, enjoying the comedy club -- we had a ball! Obviously this is Carnival's strength.
However, our cruise was plagued with an aggravating lack of organization and quality service. Coming aboard, staff members wearing "Please ask" t-shirts could not answer simple questions about where to go or what was available. (Apparently band members and dancers double as customer service reps during embarkation but are not very informative.) The lines for the buffet are outrageously long at every meal -- unless you want hot dogs/hamburgers or pizza, you have to stand in line and nothing is arranged for convenience. Condiments are haphazardly placed, sour cream/salsa comes before the cheese & chips for nachos, and you have to stand in a separate long line if you want an omelette. The food gets cold before you even sit down to eat, and don't even think about going back for seconds -- the line is too long. The upper level of the buffet has generous seating, but no drink stations, so you have to go back downstairs for refills. If you prefer not to stand in line, you can get up early and eat in the dining room for breakfast, but they stop serving at 9:30am. We ordered room service, but breakfast options are very limited. We had late dinner seating, and our waiter was exceptionally friendly and entertaining. The food was slow in coming, though, and the mini-shows put on by waitstaff added to the length of the meal. It was hard to get to a 10:15 or 10:30 show. The overall food quality was only fair to good.
Our room was very nice, with a larger bathroom than on some ships. Our balcony chairs needed some cleaning. The ship overall is not maintained well. There was mildew on the bathroom grout, a metal piece pulled loose on a cabinet that could easily cut your foot, light bulbs not working, and a distinct smell of garbage as you entered the buffet area. Tables were sticky and not wiped down after each use, and unlike other cruises we saw a distinct lack of attention to hand hygiene in the buffet area.
We appreciated the staff keeping us updated about the tropical storm and while we missed our day in St. Maarten, we enjoyed an additional sea day in a sunnier place. A complimentary phone call home to apprise family of our change in itinerary was very much appreciated.
The fitness area/gym is nicely appointed with well-maintained equipment. The spa staff seemed disorganized, making a 15-minute polish change last 1 hr, and incorrectly charged to the wrong card. The spa and bar staff were not as pushy as we have seen on other cruises, which was refreshing. But the quality of service we received from our cabin steward and dining services was not up to the standard set on other cruise lines.
In general, we had a fun time, largely of our own making and helped by the Cruise Director and his excellent staff. We were aggravated at almost every meal, but made the best of it we could. We were reassured by other travelers that this cruise was not typical of their experiences on Carnival. If we took another Carnival cruise, we would go on a larger, newer vessel.