Background....this was my husband and my 9th cruise and first on Carnival and my daughters 5th cruise and first on Carnival. We have cruised mostly with NCL but have also sailed Princess and Royal Caribbean. This cruise was booked last minute for March Break because we wanted to get away from the northern cold and snow!
Drive to the Port......we drove from southwestern Ontario Canada. The first night we stopped in Charlotte, NC and stayed at the Home 2 by Hilton right off the 26. We would definitely stay there again. In the morning we drove the additional 3 hours to the port. As has been stated before, Charleston is certainly an interesting port to drive and park at. Althought it took a good 30-40 minutes to get the car parked it wasn't the end of the world although I would rather drive and park at the port of Baltimore or Brooklyn any day instead because of the ease of the process.
Ship......This is our first experience with Carnival. We have avoided it due to the reputation of being "party ships". Since it was Spring Break we expected lots of college kids so we came prepared. First off, we did purchase Faster to the Fun. It is worth every penny. Within 20 minutes of being on the ship our luggage was at our room (inside on Rivera deck). We were unpacked and off to check out the ship. At first glance I thought it was dark in the elevator areas but overall the layout and ship were just fine. This is an older ship but has been refurbished quite nicely. We had no issues with the ship condition overall.