Parking: Purchase your parking prior to arrival. I would recommend that you not pay for the most expensive parking lot since you'll be riding the same shuttle bus once you've parked your car and when you return. You should definitely drop off your bags with family members or companions at the terminal before you park. This will allow those traveling with you to check the luggage before you return to the terminal.
Embarkation: Relatively efficient with little wait time. If you have all of your papers completed then you should have no problems. Don't be one of the people who hold up the line for the rest of us because you've failed to complete your documents or misplaced your documents. At the very least step aside and let the rest of us who are prepared move forward.
Disembarkation: I would highly recommend that you carry your own luggage off of the ship. You can also proceed to the check-out terminal before they call your deck. While this is not encouraged you will be rewarded with a much quicker disembarking experience. Once again, fill out your customs papers and all of your forms prior to getting in line. The rest of us do not want to wait for you to complete your paperwork while we wait in line.
Cabins: If you are traveling with more than one other person (and sharing a room) or if you have not booked a suite then plan on being crowded. While it's true that you will spend little time in the room there are times that the walls begin to close in during those moments when all members of your family are occupying the room. As for privacy and bathroom space, plan on checking those conveniences at the dock. Hey! Consider it a time to bond with your family or friends in very close quarters. While the four person cabins on the Riviera deck (and most other decks) are small you'll have all that you really need in terms of sleeping space, shower/restroom facilities, television, limited closet space, etc. You'll also be well supplied with towels, toiletries, and other basic amenities throughout the days and nights on the ship.
Warning: If you're traveling with teenage boys definitely bring some Febreze to cut the odor of the dirty clothes that will be fermenting under your beds. This in itself is reason enough to spring for the extra $200-$300 for two cabins.
Food: The breakfast and lunch fare is typical buffet quality. You'll not go hungry but you'll also not rave about the taste. The dinner fare in the main dining room is appetizing and the varieties of dishes are ample. Once again, if you're accustomed to dining out you'll not be overly impressed but you'll generally not be disappointed either. In reality if you want to fill your days and nights eating then you have no reason to go hungry with the amount of food served and the 24 hour pizza, sandwich, and room service provided. I do highly recommend several visits to the sushi bar where you'll find a nice assortment of fresh complimentary sushi dishes.
Warning: You'll pay quite a hefty tab at the end of the cruise if you decide to drink alcohol and soda throughout your trip. Unfortunately cruise ships, unlike all-inclusive resorts (which I definitely prefer) do not offer travelers the bounty of free drinks in unlimited supply.
Entertainment: I would rate the quality of entertainment equal to shows that are featured at off-strip Las Vegas hotels/casinos and in the smaller on-strip Las Vegas hotel/casino venues. Expect B rate entertainers who are either attempting to catch a break for the big time or are on the decline from their days when they enjoyed 15 minutes of fame. There are plenty of activities to occupy your time on the ship if you enjoy game show type group events. Casino games and bingo are also popular activities for those who are in need of parting with their money.
Public Spaces: The ship offers plenty of noisy public spaces where you can mix and mingle with your fellow cruise tourists. You'll not be disappointed if you enjoy the buzz of crowds, the occasional over-crowding in stairways, the sounds of various states of adult drunkenness, teenage poolside shrieking, and children begging for just one more piece of cake. I did find wonderful sanctuary in the library (very quiet and relaxing), the nicely equipped gym/sauna, and running track.
Excursions: Unless you simply want to pay to be chaperoned I would strongly recommend that you book your own excursion tours at Progresso and Cozumel. For example, if you are interested in Mayan ruins you can catch a taxi to any of the archeological sites and pay the entrance fee for 1/3 of the price you'll pay the cruise excursion operators. Also, taxi drivers are plentiful to take you to any of the beach, shopping, and cultural venues that you want to visit at a fraction of the price. It will be your responsibility to bargain a bit and watch your time so you'll return to the ship on time. However, if you own a watch and enjoy interacting with the local entrepreneurs then you should not have a problem making your own arrangements. I highly recommend Paradise Beach (Cozumel) for a fun and inexpensive day and any of the Mayan ruins for a bit of historical enrichment. As for shopping, you'll probably find as many good deals on the cruise ship (e.g., jewelry, alcohol, etc) that are tax/duty free as you will in the highly homogenized shopping districts of Progresso and Cozumel.
Staff: Friendly, hard working, and willing to please. These people really do need your tips. One exception, the Pizza Nazi really needs to take a couple of days off...he's quite grumpy. Then again, if I had to answer the same question a thousand times a day (yes...we have Pepperoni)I'd be grumpy as well.
Overall Opinion: I prefer an all-inclusive resort or a "do-it-yourself" vacation which allows for more freedom, more choices, more privacy, and quite frankly less homogenized one-size-fits-all experiences. However, if you prefer to be herded and guided from one feeding/event to the other then the Carnival Ecstasy does a fine job of meeting your cruise loving needs.