I'll start by saying that it's been 7 years since our last cruise on Carnival, and that one wasn't anything spectacular. We chose Carnival this time around based on the itinerary, and comments from friends who've recently cruised Carnival. I wasn't sure what to expect, but we came away very happy. Carnival has come a long way since we sailed on the Imagination. This time around, we wanted a longer cruise with plenty of sea days. The Freedom's 8-night Western Caribbean itinerary was perfect.
Starting with the ship: The decorum really wasn't that much different than any RCI or NCL ship we've sailed. Some cheesy stuff, some nice stuff, all in all a nice ship. Our room, 1053 (Panorama deck) was very nice for an interior (and handled all 3 of us just fine). We wanted to try something higher up, and were very glad we did. The Panorama deck was perfect, as there's little foot traffic up there since there aren't many rooms. Getting out to deck was fast, we never did hear any noise coming from Lido even though we were so close to the doors, and you also have easy access to the "secret deck" on the front of the ship (great place to hang out during departure from ports watching the people who are late running back to the ship :-) ). We'll be looking to stay on the upper decks from now on.
The staff: I've never been one to care how good or bad the CD is. It's my vacation, and it's going to be as fun as I make it. This time around, I began to understand other people's claims about how a good cruise director can absolutely make a vacation. We had Brad Calabrese, and he was outstanding. He's got the perfect personality for the job, and was always making people laugh. We couldn't say enough good stuff about him and his staff. The dining room staff was very good as well. Ashwin's team did a great job every night for us in the Posh DR. Our cabin steward did an excellent job on the room as well, although we only actually saw him 2 or 3 times. Most of the staff on the ship were quite friendly, save for a dealer or two who seemed like they'd rather be somewhere other than the casino.