We flew into Tampa 2 days early and were booked into the Holiday Inn Rocky Point. We felt this was a good choice as they had shuttle service not only to the port but would pick you up at the airport as well as take you anywhere within a four mile radius of the Hotel. The rooms were very nice and exceptionally clean plus the Hotel offered a great morning breakfast. The only downside was that the only restaurant close was the Bahama Breeze and it is a very popular spot, so you had better have reservations. We found the food there to be excellent.
Embarkation-- Could not have went better. We arrived at about noon and as this was the first time we were considered VIP's, the whole process took less than 20 minutes. Once aboard we met up with the other two couples we booked this cruise with.
The Good: The ship was in great shape and the crew was constantly working on it,painting,cleaning and making sure it was top notch. The crew was uniformly courteous and friendly. Quick with a smile and a greeting. We were booked into an obstructed balcony room. While this is sold as a suite it is really nothing more than a balcony room, however the balcony is very small. I have read a lot of comments on these boards regarding these rooms and I must say that we found this room more than adequate for our needs. The extra space was great and the balcony, while small was sufficient for what we used it for. The view is partially blocked but it was not a great hindrance to seeing what you desired.
Our room steward was lights out. He was always pleasant, kept the ice bucket full, and met any other needs we had. The room was always spotless and he even loaned us a bottle opener for a bottle of wine. Great crew.
The Bad: We had early seating for dinner and a table for 10 (5 couples) including the two couples we we sailing with. The first night we were seated and it took over an hour before we got any food and then it was cold. The next night 4 of the five couples went to the buffet. The Maitre d came around and asked what the trouble was and the remaining couple told him. He said the problem was that of the 2100 or so passengers aboard, about 1900 of them opted to eat early. While the anytime diners can eat at 5:30 the early seating doesn't eat until 6:00. My question would be that if they knew that, why not put some extra help in early dinning room. He suggested that we come at 5:30 for dinner. So we started that and never had any further problems, in fact after that the service and food was great. While not five star cuisine it was more than adequate. I must say though that having been on two previous Carnival cruises as well as sailing on two other lines, the quality of the food and selections have diminished in my opinion. It is also apparent that they have reduced the staff and while the ones serving you are terrific they are over worked. The buffet basically had the same food as the dinning room but the addition of the sandwich station, pizza station and poolside grill made it a good choice for lunch. All three stations had great food. The downside to the buffet besides the crowding was the decor. The room looks like a large bunch of purple worms with their ends covered with orange and overlaid with a black webbing. Our group referred to this area as "The Colonoscopy Room".
Whomever their designer was for this is indeed a sick individual.
The Ugly: Every single disembarkation we had on this trip, whether it was for an excursion or for the final disembarkation was a total scr%@#ed up mess. Never once did we get off on time. In Costa Rica we were over three hours late to our excursion and in hindsight should have just cancelled it as many others did. The excuse was the tides and not being able to match the boarding ramps to the dock. The Paradise had been in there two days previous, maybe they might
have learned something from them, or failing that went to the nearest hardware store and bought a tide book for less than a dollar.
In Cabo we were the first ship on anchor, followed by Disney and another ship, both of which started disembarking passengers shortly after anchoring. We were still messing around an hour and a half later. I noticed the other ships were disembarking pax's on the lee side of their ships while we were trying to get people off on the Oceanside which made it rougher. simple little thing.
The disembarkation at long beach was a complete joke with many passengers missing their flights.( I know of at least four personally). There was a complete lack of coordination and it was apparent that one hand did not know what the other was doing. Unfortunate as it was this led to a lot of discord amongst the passengers. The differing announcements--go to the Paris lounge--no--go to the lido deck and have lunch--no--go back to the Paris lounge really showed to all a failure of those responsible for running this disembarkation. There surely is a better way of doing this.
Final Analysis: Hey, it was a cruise! We enjoyed seeing the sights we got to see-- the Panama Canal, Cartagena, Costa Rica. We enjoyed the great warm weather and being pampered, if only somewhat. I have heard it many times that a cruise is what you make and I have to say that is the truth. Sure, there were problems but we still had a good time. Would I do it again? My wife says not on Carnival but I have not closed that door yet.