My wife and I (mid 30s) recently took the 8 day Southern Caribbean Cruise (3/1/12 - 3/9/12) on the Carnival Miracle. Kind of a second honeymoon. Though we travel together often, (as I enjoy her company, which I find best for the marriage) neither of us have been on a cruise in our lives.
Carnival did the big picture things really well for us. Food, in particular, seems to be the area most of concern for review seekers and writers. I found it pleasantly surprising in all terms of variety, availability, and quality. We are not really picky people, though. I have extensive experience in the food service industry, so my expectations are usually tempered. I was quickly impressed. My wife was occasionally disappointed in the temperature of the food itself (she was right), but being primarily buffet (even the Bacchus room is a fancy buffet service), there's very little you can do about that. They weren't using real eggs or butter, the hallmark symbols of some serious food coming your way. But, as far as needing to feed thousands of people every eight hours, I was seriously amazed at the amount of quality and variety they were able to offer day after day. For instance, my favorite dish all week (we ate all over ports and paid additional for a night at the Miracle steakhouse, Nick & Noras) was an appetizer at the Bacchus; Smoked Duck with Pomegranate reduction over Thai Rice Noodles. It blew my mind.
Another thing Carnival does well is people. Our steward, Fernandy, knew our names without us even introducing ourselves and called us by them every time he saw us. He was quick to answer questions, even ones not related to his specific job. We absolutely qualified the level of service we got as "borderline creepy". It seems we would go to breakfast and come back to the room to prepare for the pool or an excursion and the bed would be made, the bathroom like it did when we first opened the door. We went to breakfast at all hours, too. Like I said, kind of creepy. Servers at the Bacchus were pleasant and attentive, almost offended when you didnt eat. We had occasional general quasiness from the boat, not nausea or anything. Just some nights, you didnt feel like eating an entire half rack of ribs. I did mention the situation to the waiter when he asked, and he was quick to bring fruit and sherbet to the table, which really helped.
During an elegant night at the Bacchus, I was asked to remove my hat by the maitre d', which I planned to do at the table. I had some sunburn issues, and didnt want gross anyone out with my peeling at their dinner. It was a nice hat and matched my sportcoat, button down shirt and slacks I wore, but I took it off because she asked. Moments later she sat a guy with a Larry the Cable Guy t-shirt directly next to me, and I was a little offended. Not that he was allowed in, or anything, just that her standards had dissolved so quickly. Someones pride shouldnt be valued or expendable based on the amount of disappointment you are going to hear about, is my point. Have an Elegant night or don't. Have a bathrobe night, you gave one to everyone. Let us wear that to dinner.
There were some issues with accents and asking someone in uniform a question and getting an answer to an unrelated, more common, question would happen occasionally. But mostly they were about food or directions on the boat and not about what will get you arrested or involved hundreds of dollars, so good casting on Carnivals part. Not coincidentally, the sales people spoke GREAT ENGLISH. Try not to be surprised at just how well the jewelry salespeople speak English. Overall, everyone was great. Smiles and hellos, knowledgeable, friendly, understanding, understandable. So noticeable was the pleasantness, it was like seeing Bigfoot ride a Unicorn while eating a bowl of mac n cheese when the late night pizza guy openly sighed at us for asking if he had something other than pepperoni at 3am. Again, though, if you asked an engineer who happened to stop at the urinal next to you what time your boat to Sanoa Island was going to stop to pet giant starfish next Tuesday, I'd give you even money he'd know the answer.
The room itself was half awesome and half a problem. My review might not help you since it seemed we got a jack of all trades kind of room. Giant bathroom for a handicapped person, but the bed was like two fancy cots put together. The pillows were probably real nice if you sleep on your back, but I sleep on my side and literally felt kind of choked trying to use it. Usually when four pillows are in a hotel bed, 2 are soft and 2 are firm, but these were all basketball shaped marshmallows. We saw an advertisement on the TV that the towels, and bathrobes were for sale and we were considering it. But then the mattresses and bedding were for sale too and we both burst out laughing. The TV itself also was like someone had the turned the brightness all the way down and there was no way to fix that. Not that we watched much TV, but some people might like to not miss shows or feel at home for a night. But the balcony is where we spent most of our time in our room, because what we got was exactly what we wanted there.
I have three situations I'm counting as disappointments. Negative events we came across on more than one occasion.
One of their casino games is rigged. That a serious charge, and I'd feel strange accusing them of it if I didnt have proof. After paying $60 over three days into the "Casino Vault" machine trying to win an iPad, I noticed strange coincidences. So I used the ships satellite internet (at outrageous cost) to download the owners manual. They changed the name of the machine (actually Sega's "Key Master" which I found out only by suspecting they'd have one in arcade to scam kids, which they did.) They market the game as a skill game, but it's not exactly. You can only win after the payoff lines have been "unlocked", or you miss the skill shot by the default amount set by the casino manager. The way to unlock the payoff line, is to put more credits into the machine than the item is worth (set by the casino manager). I have the owners manual available to any interested parties, please feel free to contact me if you'd like a copy. I stuck to table games until even that felt dirty.
At the Serenity deck, people would save cabana seats empty for hours. We went to watch the sunrise at 5:30am and found one woman had gaffled sunrise corner by herself for people that didnt show up until 8. We would have been gone by then to have breakfast and start our day. One woman said she complained to an attendant and the attendant told her that he would go claim one for them, but then she would have felt uncomfortable being neighbors with an asshole for the next couple hours. I can understand that. There should be someone there supervising independently of complaints or a waiting system.
They really put the screws to our wallets. Coffee was free, but cappuccinos were $4. Ice cream was free, but milkshakes were $6. Sea queasuiness was free, but Dramamine was $8. One game of Bingo was $30 and they must have paid back around 33% of the winnings with some simple head counting and math. On the last day at sea, they were selling $30 watches for $20 and you'd think they were selling gazelles to lions. People were buying dozens for Christmas presents, like they were savvy. Why not have these deals throughout the cruise and not cause a scene? Because they may not buy a higher priced watch earlier instead, of course. Why do you have to walk through the casino and shops to get to the free entertainment? HAHAHAHAHA It just seemed at every opportunity available, there was a price tag attached.
Though, we took those small bummers in stride. Overall, the money was worth the experience and we will cruise again. Might try another company, but I'd still recommend Carnival to family, friends, and you, who read my novel. Thanks for your time. Good Luck on your adventures.