After an interesting email the Friday before our Sunday departure that began with "Betcha can't wait for your cruise Sunday...", only to then be told we would not be leaving Sunday....well, suffice to say that my fiancee who had arranged this trip was just short of devastated at this news. Being new to cruising, I was more or less "meh, don't really care" but when you think of the planning that goes into any vacation, it was a slap to the face to be greeted with this news.
We're from Northern California, so our travel arrangements were pretty simple...can't imagine the distress caused by this news for those flying into Long Beach from other parts of the country. That could not have been fun.
So we spent Sunday the 13th, our original departure date, at Disneyland.
Upon Monday's arrival at Long Beach at about 11:30 a.m., we felt as though we were back at Disneyland in the middle of summer waiting for the Indiana Jones ride....talk about a freaking long, and I mean LONG, line waiting for check in. Wow.
We knew that another ship was also scheduled to be in port today and didn't know until we got to the baggage drop off area whether we would be departing from our planned location next to the Queen Mary or need to head over to San Pedro...thankfully, no move was needed and it appeared that Carnival had buses set up for those that did need to make their way to the other embarkation location, so at least something was going right.
I've seen other comments in reviews about this particular aspect of this trip's departure describing it as a "cluster"....it wasn't really that, it was just a lot of people dealing with a short staff. Yes, Carnival should have anticipated this better since they likely knew middle of the previous week that we were all facing this issue. Half the staff dealing with a still nearly-full boat does not a quick check-in process make.
We had toyed with the idea of arriving later on, since the window for our check in was until 3:00...and in retrospect, that's exactly what we should have done. Oh, well, live and learn and at least it was a nice, sunny day. Inclement weather of any sort would have changed all our perspectives on this without a doubt.
Once inside the below-zero temps of the dome, the process was still slow but well organized...
After we were presented with the first of approximately 569 Carnival photo opportunities, we made our way up the escalator and onto the ship, finally. from the time we arrived at the port until we set foot on the boat was approximately 2 1/2 hours.
Another warning we had read about was the decor---lots of pink, lots of Vegas-style cheesy lights...and honestly, all that was there but was not as bad as I had expected. Having nothing to compare it to with regards to other ships might have something to do with this, and perhaps being forewarned and expecting the worst...well, it wasn't great but it also wasn't as bad as it was made out to be in my opinion.
We were in a lower interior stateroom, so we took a chance to see if it was ready, and in fact it was, with all but one piece of our luggage already at our door. We met our cabin steward Nataria---she was a gem, and made our stay as enjoyable as she could.
The rooms aren't spacious but they do have lots of storage, both in room and in the bathroom. The shower was small, but the water pressure was more than ample...ours was prone to flooding the first few showers and it took a couple visits from the maintenance staff before that was made right. Our final piece of luggage arrived at our room at about 7 p.m., not long after the safety briefing.
Touring the ship, we decided to cover as much as possible so we had a plan for what we more or less wanted to do and how to get where we wanted to go. Yes, the layout is a bit funky and there are a few decks where you can traverse fore-to-aft and most you cannot, but once you had that figured out it wasn't bad. Confusing at times still, but not bad. Now, if we were a bit less fit and carrying around a few excess pounds, our opinions of this aspect of the ship might change...but overall, making one's way around this ship is not that difficult if you are at least endowed with a bit of memory.
We had chosen the "your time dining" feature and were assigned to the Black Pearl. Our first night, we ended up in Maximo's section there and requested his section each night after that. We have heard some say that they would only do assigned dining so that they could be paired with the same wait staff each night...but guess what, if you like your staff in the MDR for the "any time" deal, you can request their section each time. It might require a bit of a wait (our longest was about 25 minutes one night) but in our minds, it was worth it.
For the sake of expediency and so as not to turn this into a novel, I'll summarize the rest of our thoughts in a variety of categories, in no particular order:
Food: Not bad. Not overly spectacular, but not bad. Uneven at the buffets. MDR was pretty solid---my fiancee fell in love with the shrimp cocktails, so Maximo made sure she had plenty each and every night...fish dishes were pretty good, and the desserts were amazing. Warm chocolate melting cake...awesome. Cappuccino pie the last evening was pretty damn good too. 24-hour pizza was good also, burrito bar was decent and that's about all we explored there. Did room service breakfast snacks before our workouts, and that was delivered usually in the middle of the 30-minute window we requested.
Gym/spa: Excellent cardio equipment, a bit light (pun intended) on the weight layout. Very solid for a floating environment, though. Did one spin class ($12, something you would think would be included but so be it) and the instructor, Jason, was pretty good. It was interesting to watch the battle between he and the spa staff during our 5:30 pm class as the a/c was inoperative in the spin room...so he opened up the front and back doors to let a little air flow in. Well, the spa staff didn't appreciate that as the music was not allowing them to think, apparently, so they would come back and close the door closest to the spa area. After about 3 back-and-forths with this, Jason just gave up and we went on with the class.
Entertainment: Can't really speak to much of this as we didn't go to any of the shows, save for the "Love" show featuring guest couples on the last sea day, and that was pretty funny. The "Spectacular Spectacular" theater was very nice and well laid out. We also caught the tail end of the "hairy chest" competition, as well as the ice-carving demo (all of this taking place on the Lido deck), and that was pretty entertaining. We spent some time (and money) in the casino, and save for the occasional whiff of smoke, enjoyed that as well.
Stateroom: Described a bit above already, so not much more to add...we were unfortunate enough to be across the hall from a family with kids who liked to make their presence known no matter the time, except of course for early in the morning. Luck of the draw. Turns out also that we were right below the Black Pearl Restaurant, and one evening when we were particularly tired and in bed early we heard the commotion at the 9:15 or so rendition of "Gangnam Style" by the staff, but other than that it was pretty quiet. Just a handful of channels on the TV, but that was okay...we didn't need to watch much. The information with regards to the ship's layout, excursions and finally disembarking was appreciated and easily accessible on a variety of channels. Oh, and our remote worked just fine---had heard others say that you needed to be super close to the television for theirs to work. Ours was just fine.
Staff/customer service: With a handful of exceptions, above average to outstanding. We've talked about our wait staff and cabin steward already, and most everyone else at the bars, buffets, spa/gym, etc. were friendly and helpful. Occasionally we ran into that rare staff member who acted as though we were a royal pain (including one helping us with the tendering process in Cabo--complete smart ass, though I usually do, and did in this instance, respond in just as smart ass a manner as I was given...we smiled and made up before we hit the tender, however, so all ended up well) but overall we give Carnival a thumbs up. They have to deal with a variety of people and attitudes, and being in the customer service business myself I know how quickly dealing with the public can truly drain you after a bit.
Miscellaneous: as mentioned in other reviews, do bring an extension cord with you. Also, tip we saw on YouTube prior to leaving, bring some of those large, oversize paper clips to attach to the bottom of your shower curtain so it will basically remain in place while you shower. We opted for the 5-bottle mid-range wine package ($133 plus gratuity for that) as opposed to the $42.75 per person per day all-you-can drink deal, and I think that worked out in our favor. Haven't done the math just yet---I'm not much of a drinker, except for a glass or two with dinner. My fiancee likes to have a few glasses during the latter part of the afternoon and then at dinner and we're not hard-alcohol or mixed-drink imbibers, so this seemed as though the wiser way to go as opposed to laying out nearly $500 for alcohol with the beverage package (since each person over 21 in your party had to buy the deal for the entire duration of the cruise)...
Cabo San Lucas: Since we were on an abbreviated itinerary, instead of visiting Puerto Vallarta and then Cabo, we were left with a day-and-a-half in Cabo, arriving at roughly 9 am on Wednesday (with the boat having to pick up anchor at 6 and cruise around international waters until the next morning, arriving again at 7 am Thursday morning). We had booked the Los Arcos and Lover's Beach snorkel excursion, and that went off without a hitch. The weather didn't cooperate fully, as the record-setting California cold snap had made its way south as well, so the day was maybe 70 degrees and mostly cloudy, which made for less than ideal snorkeling conditions. No matter, we still had a great time but given other options in the future we will likely take advantage of something else...the waters were not that clear, and a bit on the chilly side (it was January, after all) but the staff and crew taking us out and about were top notch and also made an attempt to take us out to see a whale, as we had spotted at least one migrating while making our way into port that morning.
The tendering process, save for the one snide staff member on ship, was effortless and smooth both days and both directions.
Disembarkation: not as tedious or time-consuming as the embarkation process, but still a bit of a wait in the lobby once our "zone" (or in this case, a group of 8 zones) was called. Again, first instinct was to wait it out a bit since we were in no hurry to catch a plane or anything like that, and again in retrospect that would have been the way to go. Other than that, it was a smooth process. Seeing the folks already waiting to board for their 15-day Hawaii cruise was a bit off-putting, but such is life when your own trip is over, lol....
Overall, I would give this trip 4 stars of 5 if you're asking me to do so, and that has as much to do with the circumstances and handling of the shortening of our vacation onboard as anything else. We are already looking forward to booking another trip this direction, though it will be on the Miracle and not the Splendor.