First, I've heard negative reviews about Carnival, that the crowd is "too young" the food is mediocre, etc. I did not have great expectations for this trip.
The food, with the exception of some overcooked linguine at our first dinner, the food was quite good. The Emerald Steakhouse was well worth the $30 upcharge. It was so fabulous we dined there twice. The waitstaff at the Emerald was good, but the sommelier, a dark haired young woman whose name I can't recall was WONDERFUL.
Get the surf and turf, it's delicious, beautifully presented and perfectly prepared. My husband raved about the cheese plate he had for dessert. Cheese cake was just OK. Caesar salads are done table side. Lovely!
In the main dining room we were not able to dine with the rest of our group and were able to eat as a family of 8 (six adults 2 kids) only on Christmas night. We had to wait and beg and cajole to do even that. Most nights my husband and I ate with our 5 year old and the other 4 adults ate in a completely different dining room. Food was very good and the wine packages are a good value.
Hobsi was our room steward and he was the best steward we've had in four cruises. We almost never saw him and the room was spotless. Just what you want in a room steward! We had a balcony room with a queen bed and both pullouts in use and while it was snug, it was fine. I wish we'd had a bathtub, which I've had on Princess in a balcony room and on Holland America in a balcony room. This was also the tiniest little balcony. Barely room for the four of us.
In the Fun Shop our daughter met Candylee on the first day and Candylee remembered us and asked about our daughter each time we saw her. She was also extremely knowledgeable about spirits and generally a pleasure to talk with.
Onboard. The sushi bar was just OK, nice that the option was available. The lines for Mongolian Wok were CRAZY and we didn't try it. The deli was quite good, fresh sandwiches made to order. Ditto the pizza bar behind Red Sail. While Red Sail was often busy, I thought it was well laid out and we never felt crowded. Our son loved the chocolate buffet.
Christmas morning there was alcohol spiked egg nog available and it was delicious (and complimentary!) I did not attend any of the shows except for the Christmas day show that our 5 year old participated in, but the other members of our group raved about the high quality entertainment. From the dancers to the comedians and illusionists, they were very pleased.
The dislikes. Josh, the tour director. It seemed like our relaxing mornings and evenings were shattered by his long winded (2-3 minutes) sales pitch for bingo, shopping and shows. By the third day we were thoroughly sick of his voice, sorry Josh, you made a good Santa, but every time you got on the PA our group couldn't wait for you to shut up. Also, when you're traveling with small children, having noisy, long winded PA announcements at 9:30 or later wake them up. : /
Speaking of unpleasant noise, the music on the pool deck was deafening. When the movies were shown in the evening it was quieter than the blaring, blasting headache inducing music on deck during the day.
The kid's programs were good. Our daughter enjoyed the crafts and play area. My biggest frustration with the kids programs is that they close from 1-2 and again from 5-6, which makes it impossible to get any relaxation or complete any activities in the afternoon. Once you've had lunch there is only 90 minutes left before they can go back, which isn't enough time to swim then freshen up afterward. When we picked up our daughter at 5p she always wanted a snack and the only food available at that time was pizza, burgers and hot dogs which she doesn't care for, a small salad bar would have been nice and a lighter option. Camp Carnival did serve dinner to the kids at 6p each evening and then back to Under the Rainbow for more activities which was very nice.
Embarkation was OK, very crowded, lots and lots of standing around.
Disembarking was a challenge, particularly for older members of our group, they were expected to take their luggage through the Amber Palace Theatre, navigate between the seats and exit the other side. Why? It's a mystery! Aside from that it was quite simple to exit the ship.