We just returned from a 5 night Western Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Ecstasy. This cruise marks my 5th, and I had good and bad things I noticed.
First, the good: The entertainment staff was EXCELLENT. This was far and away the best group of musicians we've seen. There is a variety guitar player named Jerry. He is a small, older Asian man, and when you watch him, you don't expect anything like what you hear out of him. He can do just about anything. Frank, the piano bar player, was amazing. He did a lot of stuff, most of it "in character." His Ray Charles was impressive. Our stateroom steward, Augustino, was easily the best we've had. This was the first cruise I've ever felt the need to tip above the recommended amount for any staff member. The port staff in New Orleans was phenomenal. I could not have asked for nicer people doing the difficult job of check in.
Now, for the not so good: This ship needs more pools. When it went through it's last drydock remodel, it lost two pools. One was on the deck with the new Waterworks, and the other is now the Serenity deck. The result is that there is only one small pool for the entire ship. Now, in fairness, we enjoyed both the waterslides and the Serenity deck, but I would gladly trade either one for another pool. The only existing pool was always crowded, with people (kids & adults) splashing water into my drinks. There also seemed to be numerous elevators out of service, leading to long wait times and ride times on the elevators. The other major problem seemed to be the design and implementation of the Lido deck buffet. There were 8 unique food lines, which sounds great, except that for lunch (when most people eat the buffet, I would say), most of the lines are only open for 2 hours. I don't ever remember on any of my other cruises that the Lido buffet is closed in the middle of the day. The pizza and deli lines were ALWAYS slow, and the Mongolian buffet ALWAYS had 20-25 people in line. On our last sea day, all of the lines were so long, we decided it would be quicker to change clothes and eat in the dining room.
Overall, we really enjoyed this trip. I liked the Ecstasy, in spite of what I see as some flaws in the current configuration. One tip, if you aren't too particular about your cabin, and you book early, try the PT (porthole) class of cabins. These cost what an interior cabin costs, but you still get two portholes.
Nice cabin. It's a bit of a walk from the elevator/stairway, which also means there is less traffic outside. The portholes are small, but it's nice to see outside without paying for it.
We just took a taxi to the downtown shopping area. It seemed like there were better deals than at the port. If you have 1-4 people going in the cab, it should cost only $7 total. Make sure to confirm the price BEFORE you leave. We ran into some people who got charged $7 per person. If you go to Carlos & Charlie's for lunch, they have a special for 300 pesos ($25) with a large nacho plate and a bucket of 6 beers.
This port was interesting. The pier is 5 miles long. When you get off the ship, you will be inserted into the traditional duty free shopping areas. When you leave this area, there is a free Autoprogreso shuttle that goes into the town. On the 10-15 minute ride, the guide will tell you a little around the area, and then try to sell you their excursions. We had already booked the trip to Dzibilchaltun. You can book this excursion on Autoprogreso's site for $29 per person. Carnival charges $59 per person, for essentially the same trip. Once you get off the shuttle, there is a little flea market to walk around through. There were some nice bargains to be had here. This excursion was about a 30 minute bus ride, and well worth the money.