I was extremely excited to cruise with a group of friends to Ensenada. School was out for the semester and we needed to get out of dodge! We were looking for relaxation and fun and Carnival delivered for the most part.
I've cruised Royal Caribbean twice before - once on a very comparable cruise to the Bahamas on the Majesty of the Seas (about the same size as the Inspiration). I was looking forward to giving Carnival a try - I'd heard good things from previous cruisers and was looking for an experience of my own.
Boarding was great. We showed up at the port and headed to early check-in aboard the Queen Mary (pretty cool, actually). It took us a whopping three minutes to get checked in, so we got our boarding zone number (2) and headed off to tour the Queen Mary for a bit. Our zone was called just after eleven and we headed aboard - ready to start our vacation!
When we walked into the atrium, I have to say the 1980's Vegas style didn't bug me like I thought it would. It was a little corny, but it was fun, and that's what we were there for.
The cabin was a decent size and, like the rest of the ship, was very clean (if not a tiny bit outdated...the reading lamps were a little weird). It was a good size considering we had four guys sharing the interior room, and we had no problem unpacking all of our stuff for the four days (had we been girls...it probably wouldn't have been as easy).
The food throughout the cruise was edible, but not very appetizing. While on Royal Caribbean there were always a number of choices that popped off the menu and stood out at the buffet, our whole group found ourselves asking just what we could stand that night. Definitely not how the menu on a cruise should be. The food itself was mostly poor, with a few exceptions (I'm looking at you, Chocolate Melting Cake...Yum!). Every beef dish seemed to have the exact same from-a-mix gravy. Each "different" bread was made with the same dough and had no variety. The mashed potatoes were more like paste than the fluff they should be. The desserts were okay and were usually the best part of the meal. I think you probably get the point. Edible...not great.
The service was decent throughout the ship. I only met our steward once, but he seemed nice and always had our cabin clean and made-up. I had the "bottomless bubbles" package, and every time I went to a bar to get a Coke, the bartenders seemed very unhappy that they weren't serving a "paying" customer. Our dining room staff was ok. Ni, our waitress, had all of our names memorized by the end of the first night, but that was about the best of her service. The rest of the service was consistently slow; we were almost always the last out of the dining room, and not by choice.
The cruise/entertainment staff was just fair as well. Our cruise director was very personable, but the activities were just...meh... You know you have a problem when the most exciting "Fun Ship" activity to a bunch of college kids was trivia (we did get a Ship on a Stick, though). The "parties" were fairly lame - even the midnight deck party/buffet that I was looking forward to most. The entertainment in the theater was very mediocre. The dancers were fantastic, but Carnival really needed more than two production singers in the show...they were always drowned out by the band, and they weren't great at all the genres they were supposed to sing. The one highlight was the kids from Camp Carnival singing in a special Christmas Show - way fun, and way Christmasy!
Overall, our cruise was relaxing, and we made our own fun when the ship didn't have great things going on (which was most of the time). In fact, I think that's what most people did. I saw a lot of families playing card games, reading or just talking around the ship. Serenity deck was amazing - a great place to hot tub and read while overlooking the wake. My hot stone massage was great (except for the usual sales pitch afterward...but that's a given on a mass market cruise). Ensenada and La Bufadora were awesome (gotta love street fish tacos), but Catalina was canceled due to weather (not a problem - that's what we get for cruising in December).
I may give Carnival one more shot on a newer, larger ship with a better itinerary. Maybe that will make a difference. But I never have to go on a Fantasy Class ship again...