We're fairly new to cruising but have fallen in love with this concept of traveling...this was our 3rd cruise in one year. We've sailed on Princess and NCL previously and quite honestly, I wasn't expecting too much since I associated Carnival with the quick, inexpensive runs to the Bahamas. However, at the end of this cruise, we liked the line so much that we even signed up for the Carnival Vacation Club cruise plan!
HOTEL: Came in a day early and stayed at the Coast Long Beach hotel across the bay from embarkation. Nice rooms and restaurant/bar. You could see the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose home from the pier. Free shuttle service provided to take you into town and also to the Queen Mary so this saved cab fare.
EMBARKATION: Very long wait in line on a very warm day at Long Beach-Queen Mary. We did Early Check-In but that process was still over 1-1/2 hours. Maybe you'd be better off doing a late check-in to avoid the crowds. Nice embarkation pictures taken with a quaint Mexican scene behind you.
STATEROOM: This was our 1st balcony cabin, and we're spoiled now! Cabin itself was spacious and comfortable, large lav but always ask for an 'egg crate' since the beds are hard (as most ship's are). The extra padding can make the whole difference in a good night's sleep. Small sized balcony but had frosted panels between staterooms so you had privacy from the people next door to you. One plastic chair/table plus a plastic reclining chair so you could sun yourself. For some reason, we had a good bottle of champagne waiting for us on the balcony...all we can figure out is that it might have been bcz we booked that type of accommodation rather than window or inside cabin. In any event, it was a great touch and we toasted each other and the upcoming cruise. Our cabin steward did an ok job. We ended up writing notes to him if something was needed since he wasn't nearly as visible as the steward on Princess.
SHIP INFO: Renaissance decor; reds and golds, marble-topped tables, candelabras, heavy drapery, wall paintings of clouds, cherubs and a few 'nature' reclining ladies that some passengers with children took offense too. Glass elevator in center with nice selection of shops around it; large duty-free store. Alcohol prices were reasonable and ship did offer the 'all you can drink' soda package but iced tea, coffee and juices were always available for free.
FOOD: Every meal, tidbit, snack, beverage and dessert was excellent. Buffets can be dismal but the presentation, selection and freshness of this one was exceptional. Silly thing but the red grapes were so shiny and perfect, you couldn't resist them, and the Deli Counter made delicious hot-or-cold fresh sandwiches of your choice (I had piled-high turkey on marble rye every lunch). Main Dining Room offered a varied menu each night with diet selections also. Lobster tail, filet mignon and baked Alaska were served in the main dining rooms on special nights and you could ask for seconds.
DINING SEATING: Assigned seating for early/late dining. We had a table for 4 with nice dining partners but there are singles, eights and tens available too. As I understand it, if your table partners "don't work out," you can request a change of seating. Early dining can prevent you from staying onshore as long as you'd like but you could miss the 8 PM show with late dining. Our waiters, Tony and Neil, were the best ... they felt like friends within a few days. They remembered our food preferences right from the start and made meal suggestions since they knew the kitchen well. Every night the wait staff sang or danced in the aisles; we even had a conga line with paxs and staff dancing around the tables and dining floor.
The large breakfast buffet had an impressive selection but avoid the scrambled eggs at all cost unless you like the taste of synthetic eggs. Tasty omelets and fried eggs were also offered, along with casseroles, meats, fruits, yogurt, hot/cold cereals and sweets.
ACTIVITIES: The Art Auctions on this trip were a bust...auctioneer was definitely pushing the Thomas Kincaid pieces and it became annoying to the audience. Lots of expensive Bingo games - a minimum $20 card and only 3-4 games were played for the card. We only saw two evening shows and they were average to good. Since the weather didn't cooperate, there wasn't much action in the pool area but hardy souls made use of the hot tubs. Plenty of dancing under the stars on deck ...fun!
SHORE EXCURSIONS: Even though the ports/of/call are real close to each other, they were diverse enough to make shore excursions worth their while. In Pto.Vallarta, took the Tequila Factory bus tour; lots of Tequila sampling and also visited old Ixtapa for a glimance into Mexican rural life. Did you know there are four towns in Mexico named Ixtapa? Our driver then gave us a couple extra hours on the house and showed us the pretty ethnic 'downtown' area. In Mazatlan, our bus tour visited the rocky shoreline loaded with many statues dedicated to the sea; we got some stunning digitals of those statues. Then a long but easy walking tour through the historic district with a stop at a historic bakery for sweets, a street fiesta (along with a cool bottle of Dos Equis) and a stop at a well-known artisan shop. The bus tour in Cabo was so-so but our tour guide made helped with his knowledge and enthusiasm. The best part of the tour was a open-air glass-blowing factory; then the stunning grounds of a Cabo restaurant we stopped at by the shore. Believe it or not, the final stop was at a hugh Mall! Even the driver thought this stop should be eliminated since a Mall is no treat for visitors. Of course, you're hounded everywhere you stop with vendors but I guess that's one of the Mexican way's of doing business. Shop your prices, though...even in the same area. If you like haggling, you're IN.
ALL IN ALL, this was a good cruise for us. You'll enjoy the Mexican Riviera...beautiful scenery, friendly people and the Mexicans really love their country - you get that feeling everywhere.