My wife and I were looking for a brief weekend away, and had not been on a carnival cruise in over a year. We had a weekend off, and were able to get a reasonable deal on a 3 night cruise to Ensenada on Carnival, a cruise line we have had a love-hate relationship with. Our best and worst cruises have been with Carnival, but our most recent cruise made us believers once again.
We have cruised on this particular ship three times before, as well as on the Paradise, one of her sister ships with the same deckplan and layout. Our 4 night cruise on Carnival in 2011 was very substandard, but this cruise was one of our favorites, and even compared to our cruises on Celebrity and Princess!
Embarkation was a breeze. We have learned through experience to show up early, be one of the first on the ship, and drop out stuff off in our room even if it is not prepared for occupancy yet. It is nice having the ship to ourselves, and literally no lines for check-in. Others recommend coming later - I understand, but like having the extra time to settle in before the life boat drill.
We got an inside room this time; we usually spend extra for a balcony room but there really are none on this particular ship. I was able to get a substancial discount on an interior room, which is not a big deal on a 3 night cruise.on a 3 night cruise is not a big deal. We simply were not in our rooms that much to make a difference. Our room steward was exceptional! He took time ro ask us when we wanted our room prepared for the night, and picked up every time we we out of our room for a couple of hours. Room service is a good deal on Carnival; a decent 24 hour menu, all inclusive with the cruise but with an extra gratuity expected. The room was very clean and comfortable.
Food was comparable with our previous Carnival cruises, and nearly on par with Princess and Celebrity. I would have to give an edge to the other cruise lines in the cuisine factor, but really the difference is not great. The only thing I would like to see is a decent midnight buffet, which used to be a centerpiece of Carnival ships and is done well on other cruise lines.
Entertainment was so-so, and I really wish Carnival would do something to update their rather dated "Shout" show on these short cruises. My first Carnival cruise was nearly 10 years ago, and it is the same show! I also miss the chamber music in the Atrium Lounge, which has had the baby grand piano removed and replaced with a DJ electronic music console. I understand the changing cruise passenger demographic, but it was kind of classy entering the ship on the Atrium level with classical music playing. The techno dance stuff... not as classy.
The biggest difference from our previous Carnival fantasy-class ship cruises was in noticed in the dining room. We prefer the "your time dining" option, which means you show up at any time between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. We have found this to be a good choice, as you have different dining companions each night and it is easier to get a table for 2 if desired. We throughly enjoyed our head waitress, and requested her on the second night of our cruise. We were told we would have to wait 30 or so minutes, which was reasonable since we could have been seated immediately with another waiter. We were given a pager, sat in the bar and enjoyed a glass of wine, and when our pager went off returned to the dining room and were seated immediately and enjoyed a great meal with tremendous service. Later that night, when we returned to our room we found a tray of chocolates with a note apologizing we had to wait for a table. Excellent customer service!
Customer service was noticed in other ways. I spent a few hours playing poker (profitably, I might add! :) and was pleasantly surprised when the casino manager came over every couple of hours offering a free drink to players. My wife was also offered free drinks from time to time, which is a service I have never experienced on any other cruise line. Longer cruises offer free drinks after a certain number of points are accrued, but this is hard to achieve on a 3 or 4 night cruise. Offering an occasional drink to players was a nice and unexpected perk (especially considering the cost of drinks on a cruise!)
I highly suggest signing up the the Chef's Table, an optional dining option on Carnival cruises. This is a 7 course meal prepared by the ship's head chef, served in an exclusive area to 12 guests. It costs $75 per person, but includes unlimited wine and is a real treat. We have done the Chef's Table on two previous cruises, and make a point to sign up whenever we cruise on Carnival.
Overall, Carnival has the 3 and 4 night cruise market down, and does it well. Carnival is a more relaxed cruise line, perfect for first-time cruisers, and those looking for a more relaxed atmosphere. I give the cruise line 4 stars for the 3 and 4 night cruises!