I've done several cruises on other lines, and even worked on cruise ships in the past. This was my first time on Carnival.
The overwhelming feeling I got from the experience, the thing that overshadows most everything else I experienced, is the impression that from dusk to dawn, I was being constantly solicited to spend more money. Whatever fun I was having at any given time was often interrupted by sales pitches and frenzied people trying to pawn everything from drinks to over-priced pictures to crappy artwork. After the cruise was over, I was mentally exhausted from having to run this gauntlet of never-ending salesmen. It really put a damper on the experience.
High points: The crew.. the ones that weren't trying to sell me stuff, were friendly and extremely accommodating and helpful. I felt that everyone from my steward to the waiter at dinner would do whatever they could to help me. The food in the dining room was generally good - though a few things were hit-and-miss, like one night we were served "fish jerky" that was supposed to be "broiled Mahi-Mahi". The ship was clean and well-maintained and despite my cabin being deep in the bowels of the ship and without a window, it was comfortable. The comedian, Chris Wiles was really good. The "Behind the Fun" tour was cool, although the captain of the boat was about as jolly as Mel from the TV show "Alice." The tour of the galley, entertainment, crew and even laundry areas of the ship produced much more animated presentations from the section leaders.
Low points: Ok, here we go..
* I booked a shore excursion - the main reason for going was to scuba dive in Cozumel, which was cancelled the night before the dive because there were not enough people who signed up on the trip, totally screwing my shore excursion plans.
* To add further insult to injury, not a single person on the boat, at guest services, or shore excursions was willing to recommend a reputable local dive operator that I could deal directly with in lieu of the Carnival trip being cancelled. I felt they outright lied to me in claiming they had no knowledge of any alternative way to dive. As a result, I had to spend a ton of time (and money using their ridiculously expensive satellite internet) trying to research local dive operators.
* My friend had her trip cancelled too, but was not told until she actually showed up for the excursion and was then told to wait to see if it was going to happen (we later found out Carnival had knowledge the night before there would be problems but didn't notify anybody). We both ended up having to desperately re-schedule other activities and felt pressure from more salespeople to pay more and go elsewhere.
* WiFi was horrible or non-existent, even though I could see a WiFi router 20 feet from my room, I could not reliably connect unless I took my laptop up two decks to the internet cafe. $0.75/minute for access is robbery IMO.
* Regarding the shows... oh my god were they lame... where do I begin? Let me preface this by saying I think the entertainment cast was really talented and capable - I don't fault the players as much as I fault whoever created those shows and the horrible lip-synching format that made it look like a bad Milli-Vanilli video. There were some live musicians actually playing along with pre-recorded tracks of someone else playing the same instrument - one way or the other please! Some shows were better than others, but the "WIN!" show seemed like a collection of disparate scenes that had been scientifically-calculated to appeal to some standard demographic of ship guests (i.e. 27% like country music so 27% of the show will involve country tunes, 22% are sports fans, so let's do a sports-themed series of bits, then throw in vegas, car racing, and then some middle eastern theme so we can use cool-looking paper streamers and ninjas? WHAT?) And in between all this really bad game show skits? None of it made any sense. The cast was good, but whoever designed the show should be forced to watch it over and over until their head explodes, which should take approximately 3 viewings.
* Mutsy, the other comedy guy told actual jokes only about half the time and the other half just pandered to the audience with various uncreative platitudes kissing the asses of every socially-acceptable meme he could come up with from teachers to cops to Saints fans and Christians. Excuse me, how about making us laugh instead of droning on about how teachers, cops, soldiers, firemen and everyone else you can think of are the greatest people ever to walk the planet? And I don't give a rat's ass that you're proud you say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays". Save that crap for your show at the Branson Travelodge, which should be happening some time next month.
* As far as music, what has happened to live music on cruise ships? Granted, I used to play in a band on a cruise ship and we actually played music.. it wasn't horrid half-bands playing to sequenced clips or MIDI scripts. After the first four hours of these two Jamaican guys murdering every Bob Marley song they could think of by making it sound like disco in double time I was ready to hang myself with a guitar string -- a 2-person band that's steel drums and a guy on keyboards? How much money do you need to save?
* The guy on acoustic guitar who played around the ship in various places just seemed to be perpetually pissed off and annoyed that people weren't throwing their bras up at him every time he regurgitated the world's worst version of, "The Wind Cries Mary" which he seemed to play every 45 minutes. At one point when he was playing in the atrium bar, he got up, started playing some random bit on piano, then slammed the cover over the keyboard in some kind of childish rage, then he jumped back on his guitar and started playing "Blackbird" where in the middle of the song, he started playing 3x louder and glaring over at the Guest Services people. I later learned that they had complained he was too loud and his response was to become even more obnoxious, much to the horror of those of us watching. I requested Bob Dylan's, "Like A Rolling Stone" in a desperate attempt to find something he might know after he gave me a look of disapproval for requesting anything by "Radiohead", whereupon he proceeded to forget half the song and repeat the second verse ad nauseum. I understand these cruises can completely suck the soul out of any self-respecting artist that comes on board and survives more than a few trips, but this shell of a man wasn't doing himself or the guests any favors with his performances.
* The same can be said for the piano bar guy, who, while friendly and capable on his instrument, shared the same horrible disease his acoustic guitar counterpart had of singing in what felt like a different key than what he was playing instrumentally - or shoehorning his pseudo-monotone voice into every song he knew. The piano bar guy took it step further by improvising rhythmically and lyrically with the songs thus ensuring that nobody could actually "sing along" with the "sing along" shows because he had a tendency to re-interpret all the choruses to suit his ego. It was bad. Sorry dude. I wanted to like you but, I have to be honest.
* The pictures.. oh my god, the never-ending army of photographers and their continual hawking of overpriced inkjet printings.. I'm sorry that just grated on me. I guess after a few cruises you can block it out or even embrace it but I found it invasive.
* The gallery.. if I have to listen to some "curator" wax poetically about some corporate artist as if he's a person of integrity I'm going to scream. I had one guy lie to me about how some Israeli guy invented lenticular art in the 60s... that's interesting considering I'd seen lenticulars from the 30s. I understand the demographic of the typical cruise guest may think Thomas Kinkaid is some kind of awesome artist, but even some of the people on staff admitted they had no respect for that trash they were selling -- that's only after they wondered why I would show up at the events after I said I can't stand the "painter of light" overt exploitation of christians for his own financial gain, they admitted they weren't hot on the dude either but a job is a jobe. I felt sorry as they went through the motions of this "fine art auction" pretending those pieces of "art" were actually going to sell anywhere near where they wanted. They should just rename the art auction as some kind of performance show where people strut around with bad paintings, moving them from one end of the ship to another.
I really don't mean to completely bash everything on the ship. I had some fun nights too. But I was much more entertaining by the "anti-entertainment" of how Carnival has corportized everything from photography to music and art and sucked out any real organic meaning to it all. That being said, I might do it again, just for the experience...