I'll start with the booking process - we were booking very last minute, under 7 days pre-cruise. As first time cruisers we really wanted a cruise under 7 days just to ensure we would like it. Destiny was sold out, then became available again the next day, so I booked one of the last few balconies. The following day Carnival called and offered a reasonably priced upgrade to an Ocean Suite on the Empress deck 7, I bit and bought it. That brings us to the embarkation process:
We arrived in Miami around 1100 am the day of the cruise, took a cab ride from the Airport $24 flat rate for both of us. Upon our arrival at the cruise terminal a nice porter helped tag our bags and advised that he would be scanning them, so I tipped him $10 to ensure my Rum Runners made it on safely (which they did!). At this point it was just just after noon and we breezed through the security screening with no issue. The scanner guy did stare at the image of my partner's bag for some time even after we walked away, but never did anything else. When we were asked for the boarding passes we were taken to the VIP lounge, a nice area with sofas where you can wait for personal check-in. This process took all of 15 minutes. If I had to do over again, I would've used the self check kiosks as they were much faster at this time of day, but alas I wanted to experience the full VIP treatment. We were advised our room wasn't available until 1:30 PM so we boarded, got our photo taken and made our way to Deck 9 (Lido) for the lunch buffet.
The food was plentiful, but rather isolated in availability. The buffets were all on deck 9 Lido deck, this creates heavy lines and crowds at peak times. However, we ate early and often so lines were never an issue. The dining rooms were on deck 3 and went to deck 4 as well. Here the food seemed to get better each night. Our server team was great, and the Maitre D Roland was hilarity! The chocolate melting cake is to die for! It took a few days for us to get greedy and start ordering more than one dinner and more than one dessert, but never a second glance when we did. Overall, I would rate the food as "not bad" - this was my response whenever I was asked how something was... so that's how I will rate the food. Nothing great, but nothing bad. Oh and the 24 hour Pizza is not bad either!
The cabin was as described by the carnival rep, larger than a regular balcony, but nothing too extravagant. We had a fridge and mini bar. The flat screen TV is a joke given that they put standard def programming in 4:3 aspect ratio. The suite had a nice vanity area and loads of drawer and closet space. I spent too much time reading cruise reviews and packing recommendations and severely over-packed, these reviewers must've been on 10+ day cruises, because I had clothes to go back to back on the ship. Our steward was only seen one time, but his presence was very well known as he cleaned our room 2x a day and left us plenty of ice and clean linens, and those fun little towel animals. I didn't give him any extra tip, solely because I never personally met him, my partner met him on the first night and that was it.
Overall the Destiny is showing her age, mainly in the extremely 80's motif (that is a Carnival staple I've heard), oddly the ship was built in 1996. The elevators are painfully slow so the stairs are a must! The ship is immaculate, the carpets are cleaned daily, and there was even a housekeeping staffer using a toothbrush on the carpet in the hallway at one point. I've looked at the newer Conquest ships and they are much more modern looking than the Destiny, however she is due to be dry docked very soon according to several reports. The only area that could've used more attention was Lido deck and spa deck outdoor areas. Cigarette butts were always hanging around on the ground, but usually tucked in the corners (I'm nitpicking now). I did note that towards the end of the cruise on day 4 and 5 the public restrooms and the areas near them began to have a bit of a "public bathroom" smell. Deck 6 seemed to have a strong musty scent when I would pass by, not sure about the rooms there.
The service was exceptional, I did feel bad for guys working the pizzeria, they seemed to be hot and tired all the time, but never got snippy with the drunk passengers demanding a custom pizza at midnight.
Noonan the cruise director and his entertainment staff are quite the fun team! Noonan is witty and kind of a smart a** at times, which is quite funny. Shorty the asst. cruise director is very fun and they are all very approachable. The shows were very well produced, I didn't find them too corny either. The first Vegas Style show "Voila Paris" was postponed a few days due to technical difficulties with the set. The male lead singer (name escapes me) was previously on Broadway and in Vegas, he stepped in and did a Motown style show and it was quite nice. "Voila Paris" was also very nice, once they got things working. We had a little bit of chop the night the show premiered, I could barely stay in my seat because we were rocking so much, yet the girls were running around stage in heels and up and down the steps with ease! Never went to a Comedy show, the lines to get in were out of control, I think they should've put the comedians in the Palladium lounge instead of the Criterion lounge. The Superstar Live Karaoke was very well produced, a live band and backup singers help drown out the bad singers, but there were several good singers as well.
I had a charge on my sign & sail that was not me, but that was handled with a quick trip to guest services, the charge was off the next morning. Getting to dinner in the universe dining room (aft) is a bit fun. You can't get there from the front of the ship, you have to go up to 5, proceed all the way aft and go down to 3. You could go down to 2 and up to 3, either way you can't get there from 3!!
My partner and I attended the first Friends of Dorothy meet and greet @ the cheers bar on the promenade -â€" deck 5 aft. This occurred on nights 3, 4, & 5. We were the only ones that showed on any of the nights. Christina the bartender was fantastic; she was great to talk to and gave us all sorts of fun insight into cruise ship life.
Debarkation: Given that we were in an Ocean Suite we were offered VIP debarkation -â€" this was seriously the icing on the cake. We woke up at 6am to the ship docking in Miami. We skipped breakfast and proceeded to the Galaxy dining room where we waited for about 30 minutes. At that time the ship cleared customs and we were called to depart the ship in zone 2. CBP was a breeze, almost a joke. They looked at my passport and declarations card and sent me on my way. We were at the airport (via taxi) by 8 am, and on a 9am flight home. We were home and unpacked by 2pm!
Overall: This was a great first experience for a cruise, the Destiny could use some updates to her public spaces, but is very clean for her age. The crew is exceptional, and made the experience very worth while! I would recommend the upgrade to a suite if it's in your budget, but I have nothing to compare it to given my first cruise.