So, this cruise was our fourth cruise (third for the boys), but first on a cruiseline other than Royal Caribbean. We were a little leery of booking on Carnival because of its reputation as a party cruiseline, but we did it anyway. The price was right! We had also never been on a cruise and stayed in a stateroom that didn't have a balcony. Lastly, we had always had an assigned dining time and we chose YourChoice Dining this go around. So lots of new experiences to compare to our previous ones.
Carnival vs RCI
Overall, I think we preferred RCI over Carnival; however, there wasn't anything wrong with Carnival. And we would cruise Carnival again. We just thought the RCI ships (at least the ones we've been on) were a little nicer, the food was a little better, and there were more activities that we were interested in. The service was great on both cruiselines. The rooms were fine on both. I can't really compare apples to apples since we didn't have a veranda stateroom on this Carnival cruise.
Balcony vs No Balcony
I didn't mind not having a balcony. At all. We are rarely in the room. Hubby missed it though. He does sit out there at night after everyone goes to bed, and when everyone is getting ready for dinner. I would book a stateroom with no balcony again without hesitation. I don't know that I'd want one with no window, however. I think I have to draw the line there.
Assigned Dining vs YourChoice Dining
This is a hard one. We talked about it at dinner the last night of the cruise. And we all decided that the pros and cons were kind of equal. With assigned dining, you go to dinner at the same time every night and you develop a rapor with your wait staff. Really the only downside to this is that if you're not ready at your assigned time, you might feel rushed to get ready. Or if you have a late seating and you're hungry earlier, you either have to go to the casual buffet or wait until your assigned time.
With the YourChoice, the benefit was that we were able to eat whenever we wanted to, between 5:45 and 9:30, depending on what we had done that day. And we did... we went to the dining room as early as 5:45 and as late as 8:45 on the four nights we ate in the dining room. I'm not sure how it works on other cruise lines, but on Carnival, the YourChoice diners were seated on one side of the dining room. If all of those tables were full, people were given pagers that would alert you when a table was ready. Kind of like at a restaurant (except these worked all over the ship, other than in your stateroom). The two nights we ate later, there was no line and we didn't need a pager.
Within that area of set-aside tables, the same waiters worked the same group of tables each night. So, in theory, I think we could've requested a specific waiter (knowing that it could affect our wait time). We didn't do that because we didn't think of it until the last night when we were talking about it. We really liked out waiter the first night. We LOVED our waiter the second night. Didn't like the waiter much the third night (but liked the assistant waiter). We got the same waiter the last night as the third night, but he was much more on the ball, so we didn't mind him that last night. :)
We would not be adverse to doing the YourChoice Dining again in the future.
The evening shows were good on this cruise, but we found that there wasn't much going on during the day that we were interested in. I don't really remember if that was the case on the other cruises we went on to be honest. I feel like we were busier on the others, but I could be remembering wrong. There wasn't a ton for the kids to do since neither was interested in going to his respective kids club. They played ping pong a lot. They played mini golf. J-Mav did the water slide once. But I feel like there was more to entertain them on the RCI ship. Again, I could be remembering wrong.
It had been seven years since our last cruise. This was a very different experience as the boys are 17 and almost 12 (as opposed to just 10 and almost 5). They were old enough to go off on their own on the ship, and on the at-sea days, we didn't see much of them. We told them when to be back at the stateroom to get ready for dinner, and then they went off and we went to find some sun. They checked in every so often, but only because they happened to be walking by and see us. They didn't even always stay together. And that was fine. It was the best of both worlds... a family vacation but time alone, too. While I go through periods of nostalgia for when the boys were younger, at times like that, it's nice that they're old enough to be independent. :)