My mother kindly took our family (me, my husband, 8year old, 13 year old) on a Western Carribean cruise on Dec 17th. Since this was my first cruise, I extensively did my research and took a lot of advice from the boards.
Here's what I learned:
1. Yes, the boards were right. Breakfast on the Liberty was repetitive - that being said, the same 30 or so items (with several other hot items being swapped in) were available each day. Come to my house sometimes - we have the same 4 or 5 things every day! I never got a chance to try everything.
2. Coffee was much better than I thought. I am a Starbucks fanatic. I brought a hot water immersion appliace and some Starbucks VIA (instant). Didn't need it. Now, not as good as Starbucks, but not quite the swill that I was led to believe.
3. Bring liquid detergent! What they sell in the laundry room is powdered and for some reason (probably to do with the mineral content of the water), it doesn't "melt" very well. I happened to bring liquid and was very glad. Also, several of the dryers seemed to be out of order (but without signs) - a minor annoyance.
4. We had 4 stops in 4 days (Cozumel, Belize, Honduras and Grand Cayman). Cozumel and Grand Cayman were awesome. Looking back, I think I would have done EITHER Belize or Honduras, but not both. It was a little difficult and less than relaxing having to hound everyone to be ready by 8am each morning. It would have been nice to hang around the ship on either of those days.
5. The boards are right - don't take the cruiseline excursions with very few exceptions. One of those exceptions is Honduras. At every other port, we met our independent tour guide right outside of the cruiseship terminal buildings - very easy. In Honduras, you need to walk up a hill, then down another big hill, probably about 1/2 mile from the main buildings. Once passed the secuirty gate, you are mobbed by people trying to get into your car. Someone was trying to tell my kids to get into their van! I have been all over the world and travel very well independently. This was incredibly overwhelming to be in this situation, especially since the tour guide that I had hired and PRE-PAID was not there. We ended up driving around with some other random guide who knew the man we were looking for. It mostly worked out in the end. All in all, in hindsight, Isla Roatan Honduras would have been better seen with one of the cruiseship excursions.
6. The "over the door clear shoe organizer" was a lifesaver - just handy to see all your stuff - ipods, chargers, camera etc in one place although I found Carnival's rooms were very large and we didn't even use all of the closet space.
7. Bring your own cheap towels from the 99 cent store. Those Carnival ones are nice, but I don't trust my kids not to lose them. The other thing is that they're REALLY thick. We took 3 excursions where we needed to bring towels and trust me, 5 of those things would have taken up a backpack EACH. We fit all 5 of the cheapie towels into one big beach bag.
8. BOOZE - there are endless threads about booze. I pre-ordered a bottle from Bon Voyage for about $40 for a bottle of bourbon. We also brought along the allowed amount of wine (1 btl per adult). Coming back from our first stop, Cozumel, everyone had brought a bottle from Duty Free and everyone was taking them to their rooms! I heard about 1 person whose alchohol was confiscated until the end of the trip but I personally saw about 100 people bringing alchohol back from Duty Free on the various stops.
9. The balcony room was worth it. Sitting out there was great (the smokers next door were less than great but it wasn't too bad). Having that extra space was priceless. If you can afford it, it really was worth it.
10. I dutifully brought the power strip to plug in all of our various electronics but never used it.
11. By far and away the best thing we brought was Ziplocks, water bottles and an insulated lunch box. On excursion days, we would fill up one of the baggies with ice, pack some snacks from the Lido deck (pastries, cold cuts etc), fill up our water bottles and that would get us through until we got back to the ship and coud have a late lunch. I honestly think we saved about $150 - $200 in lunches just by doing that!
12. The food in the dining room was not great - service was very nice but tt is NOT fine dining. I didn't have to cook it and I didn't have to clean it up, so I thought it was fine! If super-high end dining is high on your list of "must have's", then this is not for you.