Where to begin. Took this trip with family and some friends. We booked a night in the Maison St Charles hotel in downtown New Orleans. Not a 5 star hotel by any means, but they do store your car for you while on the cruise for only $5 a night. They also take you in a limo to the ship, but the limo was on its last legs and too many people were signed up, meaning we waited over an hour after our show time before we even got in the limo. Then another 40 minutes to the ship, mostly waiting in traffic. But once we got to the port, things went smoothly....
Carnival has the check in process down pretty well. Ran into one snag, though, we had requested a 6:15 p.m. dining time but were given a 5:45 time due to our cabin number (dining rooms are assigned by cabin). But the person checking us in didn't know this, so we didn't discover the reason until after we boarded.
Days at sea were wonderful. The Spa/gym is the best we've seen, and the staff there was very friendly. We worked out almost daily, so a functional gym was important to us. All the equipment was state of the art and none of it was broken!
We also took advantage of many of the Spa amenities, such as pedicures, facials, etc. They were all very good, but the staff is constantly pushing their high priced products on you, so politely decline and tell them you already have nice products!
Our cabin steward was very friendly, but he didn't prepare the room very well the first night (we found candy wrappers and cigarette butts). After that he did a good job of keeping the room clean and turning up the bed at night (he didn't do it the first night). He also made fantastic looking animals out of towels every night!
We ate in the Monet dining room at night, and usually had room service or went to the Lido deck for the buffet for the other meals. Although the service was good, we found the food, especially in the Monet, to be average at best. The desserts were consistently not very good, but the main courses normally were OK. The deli food, however, was always excellent, and we recommend you hit it at least 1-2 times during your trip. Ditto for the pizza parlor.
We did some shopping on the ship, but found out prices/selections at the ports were usually better, especially for jewelry. Save your money for the ports, particularly Cozumel, where the jewelry prices seemed to be the best.
The shows on the ship were OK, but be forewarned that the "Las Vegas" style shows are NOT appropriate for children. They don't go topless or anything, but the sexual innuendo will offend some people and it wasn't something we would want to expose our kids to.
We had heard a lot of bad things about Jamaica, so we opted to go to the Sunset Beach Resort, which is about a mile from the ship dock (and a $5 per couple taxi ride, and they don't give you a price break if you share with a another couple, so take 2 cabs!). You pay a very reasonable $20 to use the resort all day long, and this price includes all the food (burgers, chicken, fries, etc.) and drinks you can consume (although we found the alcoholic drinks to be pretty watered down).
Grand Cayman was great. Before the cruise we opted to get away from the crowds and booked (over the internet) a tour with Geddes Hislop though Silver Thatch Excursions (google it to find the web site). Geddes was great. He charged about 1/3 what other "independent" tour operators charged and showed us the entire island except 7 Mile Beach (which we weren't interested in seeing). He specializes in ecological tours and will teach you a lot about the flora, fauna and history of the island. And don't forget to ask him to tell you about the island's gene pool! Anyway, you will love this guy, who is down to earth and interested in you, not your money.
Cozumel had the best shopping of the trip. Took a cab downtown and bought my wife a nice diamond/Tanzanite ring for less than 50% retail. Be careful of the vendors outside the dock, though. We were in one T-shirt shop and a seashell fell off the shelf when I just touched it (with my shirt), immediately the shop keeper came over and demanded I pay for it (which we did, as he had already started to dial his cell phone to call the police). Needless to say, I didn't buy anything (else) from that shop!
Breakfast the last morning (Sunday) in the Monet was interesting. Seemed like the normal dining room staff was off, as we were served by people we had never seen before. Decided after about 5 minutes of bumbling service that they must have been in training, as their main goal was to get us served and out of there as quickly as possible. Also their demeanor wasn't the greatest, cracking jokes they thought were funny, but we didn't. As I said, interesting.
Debarkation in New Orleans was pretty smooth. We were among the last off, and most of the luggage was picked up by the time we got to it. Highly recommend you engage a porter to take your luggage, as he will get a taxi for you, bypassing all the people standing in line on their own!
Overall we enjoyed the cruise, but since we like to cruise out of New Orleans, will try another line (perhaps NCL) next time to see if they are better or worse than Carnival.