I'll begin by telling you that this was our first cruise ever, and our first vacation without our kids (now 19 and 17) since we were married. We had such a great time that I decided to wait a few weeks to write review to see if i could be more objective. I booked with Carnival about six weeks before the sailing and got a two porthole cabin on the Riviera deck (R26) for $309 each.
We made our own flight arrangements and flew into Houston Hobby arriving at about 10:30 am on departure day. Carnival didn't do transfers from Hobby, but they did refer me to Galveston Limo that charger $60 round trip each. Carnival did have a greater in the baggage area at Hobby that was very friendly and let us know what to expect when we got to the port. She told us that we were probably going to be too early to board, but that we could check our luggage and she gave us a map of the port area and told us about some great things to see before embarkation.
We arrived at the port at around 11:30 am and checked our own baggage. One thing i learned from the boards and reviews I had read was that the guys in the colorful shirts expect $1 per bag, so we carried or own the 15 feet to check-in. I understand that these folks are just trying to make a living, but they swarmed like vultures as soon as they saw a bag and didn't like to take no for an answer. We were excited to find that we could already board the Ecstasy, but couldn't go to our cabin until 1:30 pm. The embarkation process was easy and pain free. All of the staff were friendly and the pictures were fun. By noon we were aboard and enjoying a great buffet lunch and a "drink of the day" on the lido deck.