First cruise for me and the wife. First of all (and I knew this up front), anyone who thinks the intial price you pay for a cruise is "all inclusive" is living in a fool's paradise. If you realize this up front, you will be ok. If not, you will be like some of the people I saw on this cruise that complain and moan about every aspect of having to "pay" for anything, like the guy at the lobby bar who complained to the bartender about having to pay $6.95 for a shot of Makers Mark, or the old man who had a free drink certificate that could only be redeemed in the dining room complaining to the bartender at the Lido Deck because he couldn't use it there. The intitial price you pay gets you in the door...if you like to drink cocktails, shop, spend money on shore excursions, etc., you will pay. And it will probably be at least $1000 more. So do your research and stop complaining. It's still a decent value. Here are my impressions.
Embarkation - LOL at all the people complaining about delays. Yeah, if you arrive at the cruise terminal at 9:15 AM like some of the people I saw that were staying at the Hotel Maya like I was in Long Beach decide to do then you will wait. Is being first in line at the free buffet that important to you? We took the shuttle to the cruise terminal from the Maya, arrived at 12:20, dropped off the bags, and were on the ship by 1:00 PM. We basically never stopped moving going through check in, customs, picture for the Sail and Sign, etc. The ship doesn't sail until 5 PM for heaven's sake. Sleep in, eat brunch at the hotel, take a walk, then go to the ship. The food will still be there when you arrive. By the way, The Maya in Long Beach is a fantastic place to stay. Loved it...had a great night in Fuego (the bar/restaurant at the hotel) the night before the cruise.
The Ship - Big. So big that we never felt crowded even with 3000+ on board. Immaculately clean with friendly people (who must put up with some very difficult people on board) who make you feel welcome at every turn.
Food - Again, when you try to feed 3000+ people 3 sqaures per day, you can't expect perfection but I was pleasantly surprised. I travel extensively for work and have a lot of experience with "hotel" type cuisine, and I found the food that Carnival serves to be exceptional. We ate breakfast either through room service or the buffet which offers your standard fare of eggs, the typical pork breakfast meats, pastries, etc. All of it very good. We had anytime dining in the Black Pearl, requested a table for two by the window every night, and rarely had to wait more than 5 minutes. We generally ate at about 8:30 PM, and the food qaulilty and service were excellent. Lots of choices and the portions were plenty. And if you are a bulk loader who generally favors buffets so that you can load up on food, you can always order more than one entree, appetizer, or desert in the dining room. As much as you want and nobody will judge you, I promise.
Ports - Well, no matter how the cruise industry has tried to sell it, Mexico does not have a "Riviera". It is a poor third world country and the ports of Cabo and Puerto Vallarta reflect just that. They are basically dirty places filled with poor people trying to eek out a meager living by praying off the gringos who visit on the big ship once a week. It's not their fault, but that's just the way it is. Puerto is better than Cabo, but that's not saying much. Like one guy told me in one of the local Puerto restaurants, and I swear this is true..."Puerto Vallarta only has one cartel running the city and I'm good with that because that keeps the violence to a minimum". Hilarios. All I can say about ports of call is why do you think that the Mexican Cruises are among the cheapest you can find? Ahem.
Stateroom - Balcony, Empress Deck. Nice view, cabin was not large but Carnival does a nice job of providing plenty of closet space and shelves. We never felt cramped. Shower had great hot water and pressure, bed was comfortable. Slept good which is rare for me, so I'm A-OK with a standard balcony stateroom. I submitted to the wife that we could go cheaper if we went again with just an inside stateroom and she shot me right down lol.
Entertainment - Liked the comedians, only went to the adult shows. The main showroom entertainment is beyond lame...I made it through half of the Mexican Mariachi show before walking out, and peered in a few times during the production shows. These type of things cater to the geezer crowd (and the wife and I are 50+) so I'm talking old schoolers in their '70's and beyond. The cruise lines will probably make better use of the space on the ships when this demographic no longer is purchasing cruise tickets and those of us who grew up listening to rock and roll instead of swing are no longer buying cruise tickets. Lots of bars on the ship but funny thing...not all of them have bar tenders or are open all of the time which I found odd. Sports bar was fun when there was American sports on TV but wasn't much when the Mexican ESPN feed would only show soccer. Best bar is the lobby bar...great place to sit and drink before dinner. Decent music playing there with a guitarist and a duo who sing decent cover tunes that don't make you cringe.
Overall - Had a great time with no complaints about Carnival. We will cruise again, but not likely to Mexico due to the ugliness of the ports. Not Carnival's fault about that since the country doesn't have much to offer.