My wife and I cruised out of Miami for a 6 night cruise, stopping in Key West, Grand Cayman and Jamaica. We took our two oldest children (9 and 7). We booked the cruise through priceline.com.
Prior to leaving, Carnival sent several emails noting we were required to pay all gratuities prior to sailing. It seems that the gratuities were extremely high, especially considering we had all 4 of us in a single room, but to not even have an option to tip on the boat was frustrating.
Our cruise last year with Royal Caribbean gave us the option to tip at the end, and, as I expected, service in general was much better on RC. All cruise employees seemed to understand that they were truly working for the tips they received, as opposed to this cruise, where they had essentially already been paid and service was not nearly as good. The honest truth is that it probably costs the employees $ to require gratuities up front. We tipped much more than the recommended amount to our dining room staff on RC.
Camp Carnival, the kids area, seemed to be run very well. There was a wide variety of activities, and the schedule was very flexible with dropping off and picking up the kids as we wanted. The kids typically spent about 2 hours in the afternoons there, and they had a great time.
We booked 2 excursions through priceline as well. The exact same excursions were offered through Carnival. I'm honestly not sure how those setting prices for the excursions sleep at night! Carnival's prices were about double what we paid. Probably the most glaring "wallet rape" was the trolley in Key West. We got off the boat and went the the office for one of the trolley companies and paid $38.00 for the 4 of us for the day ($19 per adult, kids were free). Carnival was charging $35 or $39 (can't remember exactly) PER ADULT and $25 PER KID!!! Could not believe it!
The room itself wasn't bad. It was slightly larger than the inside stateroom we had on RC, and the bathroom was much larger. Bed was comfy, and couch and pullman beds worked well for the kids.
The room had a door between us and room next to us. The "neighbors" in there were ridiculously loud, beating their kids, swearing at the kids and each other, and letting their baby scream for hours at a time at all hours of the day and night. We called the desk probably a dozen times, and were continually told there was nothing they could do "because you booked with a priceline agent." Seriously?!?! Most of the abuse and baby screaming stopped after we began banging on the shared door at 4 am one morning after the baby had been allowed the cry for about an hour and a half. We spoke with the couple on the other side of our neighbors, and they had also complained to the front desk, and were also told that there was nothing that could be done because they had used a travel agent to book. Made for a long week, and to rub salt in the wound we had 5 or 6 calls from different Carnival employees apologizing for the "room issue" we were having, but that they were going to do nothing.
In general the shows were pretty good. The comedians and magicians were fantastic. One show was completely inappropriate for children of any age,but was only given a "pg-13" rating in the daily planner info. (Our 9 yr old said, "I could see everything but the cracks and the holes.")
We will definitely not be cruising with Carnival again. My wife went with her sisters a few months prior to this one on a different Carnival ship, and had a terrible time. This one did little to change her opinion. When we stopped in Grand Cayman, RC Navigator of the Sea (the RC boat we were on before) was there, and we just stood on the top deck of Valor looking at it, wishing were were there.
We will continue to tell anyone who will listen AVIOD CARNIVAL!!!