I can honestly say that this was one of, if not THE, best cruise that we have taken in about 20 years of cruising. For us, this cruise brought us many firsts, including our first out of LA/Long Beach, our first along the Mexican Riviera, first through the Panama Canal, and first 14-day sailing. We have cruised The Carnival Paradise several times when it sailed out of Miami into the Caribbean and have always enjoyed this class of ship.
As expected, we were amongst the minority on this sailing, that is to say that we are not yet retired and still "work-to-cruise". I can also say that we made some great friends on this sailing and hope to cruise with them again in the future (both through CCritic and people that we met on the ship).
While the Carnival Paradise is an older ship and will be going into dry dock in early 2012, everything worked as expected, hot water was hot, cold air was cold, and everything was clean and neat for a ship of her age.
What I would really like to point out are the officers, crew, and staff, of the ship. They were in one word amazing. From the officers to the maintenance workers, they all had smiles and seemed sincerely glad that we (and even they) were on the sailing. Maybe it was the change from 3 and 5 days party cruises to the 14-day canal transit or maybe it was that Carnival is going to great lengths to put customer service into everything that they say and do. I suspect that it might be a little of both. It did not matter if the crew members were assigned to our MDR table, our stateroom, or if we saw them daily, they all truly seemed to enjoy what they were doing and it showed in how they talked with us in the halls, on the lido, the bars, or anywhere.
The Paradise is using the new Carnival MDR menus and the food was always hot and exactly as ordered; I like my beef rare (almost moo-ing) and that was never a problem. We had 6 (three couples) of us at a table for 8 and the wait staff were attentive and friendly throughout the sailing. One night we did the Chef's Table (as this ship has no private restaurant/steak house/etc) which I would highly recommend anyone who would like a fantastic 4-hour meal and discussion with the ship's head chef and several members of his staff, it was well worth the cost. The food in the lido was as expected and the lines were never a real problem for us, even during the busiest times of the day. Then again, we seldom let lines or such bother us when we cruise.
On entertainment - we are very limited here given our enjoyment. We did the comedy club once or twice and it was great both nights. The selected comics were on target with their bits and the audience that they had that night. I can not say anything about the shows since this is just not something that we tend to watch. We are Piano Bar Flies and on this cruise - we closed the place down most nights - although often we and one or two other couples were the only ones there. I think that part of the issue here was the age of the cruisers, most nights by 12mid, the ship would be very quiet everywhere including the PB. We had a great time with the piano player who is a local from Florida and who we hope to see again - or a ship, in a band, or walking the beach in sandals.
I know that there is much more that I should be writing and am sure that my wife would add a lot as well. If anyone has specific questions, they can find me on the cruise line boards and I'll be glad to offer more.