We were an extended family of 10 on our first cruise. Grandparents, and two couples (brother and sister) with our spouses and kids. We had a teenager, then a 8 year old and two 7 years olds. Everyone had a wonderful time.
We went up the night before and stayed at the Seaport Marina Hotel and used their Park and Cruise feature. This hotel was a bit run down but a good value. We paid $89 for our rooms which included parking for one week. The breakfast there was very inexpensive and quite good. My spouse and my brother dropped us off at the Queen Mary and the porters took the luggage for us. They took the cars back to the hotel and took a taxi back to meet us. This cost an extra $20 for them to share a taxi. The downside to this is that it took a while. We then went to the Queen Mary and used the early check in feature which I highly recommend. We did have to wait in line for a while, and boarded the ship at 12:30. We proceeded directly to our rooms, 5216, 5214, and 5212. The rooms were on the upper deck. They were clean and ready for us. We were very pleased with the bedding since there were nice comfy duvet covers that obviously were fresh and cleaned for you. They did not have an bedspread that someone else had used. Later in the evening, they take down the upper bunk and my older son (8 years old) really liked it. My 17 year old nephew liked it also.
A buffet was ready at the Mermaid's Grille on the Lido deck. We are are a family that cooks a lot from scratch and we were impressed with the food and the variety. Everything was fresh and well prepared. The pizza got a thumbs up from the pickiest teenager.
We had the early dinner time (5:45), and it really worked out well for our family. We ate in the dining room every night until the last night where my husband and I ate at David's.
For breakfast on port days we used room service so we could be ready early to get off the ship. This was probably the most convenient thing of the whole cruise. Every morning the coffee came when we asked for it, and it was hot and served with cream. The only downside is that the coffee cups are plastic. Buy a mug in the gift shop and use that if plastic bothers you a lot. My kids had their breakfast on the balcony and really enjoyed the selection of cereals and breakfast breads. Two other mornings we had breakfast in the Normandie Dining Room and this was very enjoyable also. They seat you next to the window so you can look out at the ocean. If your whole group goes to breakfast together, you will get a table to yourselves as it is open seating in the morning and breakfast. If not they will seat you with others at a table.
Our service at the Normandie was very good, and the food was excellent. None of us was disappointed with the food. If you could not make up your mind on an entree, you could order two. The portions were just right so that you did not get too full to enjoy the meal through dessert. We love exotic and gourmet desserts and we loved the different selections that were offered. They were not your everyday desserts. The meal lasted around one hour to one and one half hours including your coffee and dessert. You did not feel rushed and it really gives you a chance to relax.
Now for the shore excursions. We booked two van tours on the internet before we went. Everyone agreed that this was the best decision that we made for the shore excursions. We did not book a van for Cabo San Lucas since it is a smaller city and easier to get around. We all speak Spanish and felt safe making our own arrangements. As soon as we got off the ship and passed the carnival dock, there were vendors that would take you for a reasonable price. We paid $5.00 each for a water taxi to Lover's Beach to go snorkeling. Beware of this: When you arrive at Lover's Beach, there is no gangway or dock. You have to time it and jump off the water taxi at the right time. My mother who is older could not do this. I confess that I could not do it either. So the women stayed on the boat, and the guys, including my 8 year old and 7 year old, were able to jump into the surf and run up to the beach. My husband happened to jump on a rock and hurt his foot. He developed a large bruise and was limping for the next several days. Also, there were no facilities or water whatsoever on this beach. Go prepared with water, and be in your swimming suits and know whether you are willing to jump off of the boat. The water taxi men were very kind and took us to Playa Escondida which was a lovely small city beach and left us there for one hour and then came back for us. The same water taxi also went back to Lover's Beach and picked up the guys.
In Mazatlan, the Drive and Guide Van Tour man (Pedro Juarez) was waiting for us at the dock. These guides have a government license and insurance. Since it happened to be raining, this was a real relief. The cost for the van was $180, and this included an ice chest of drinks. The van comfortably seated the 10 of us and was air conditioned. The guide wore a microphone and he took us for a very informative city tour, and then over to places that we specifically asked to see. It stopped raining and we were able to go to the Mercado and to eat at the restaurant Panama. This is a fantastic place to go and have lunch. It is local, the food is excellent, (since we are Mexican we should know), and the prices very reasonable. This is a bakery also and the desserts were fabulous. We could not have been happier with the lunch we had there. The restaurant was packed with locals and tourists alike. It has an upstairs and it quite large. This restaurant is located one block from the Mercado. We must say the guide was a bit "miffed" with us since he wanted to take us to a restaurant with Mariachi's and drinks, but we know that they often take you where they will get a favor.
For the afternoon, he took us to a hotel at the beach. The hotel had a sign that said "Welcome Disney Cruise Passengers". We were treated so well at this hotel. My kids used the pool, it was right on the beach. Our guide went in like he owned the place and instructed the waiter to get us our own table and chairs in the shade. I would like to point out that we paid nothing when we got to this hotel. We only were told that we could buy drinks or something to eat if we wanted. No one bothered us. Actually, only one of us even bothered to order a drink. We had all had a soda in the van and were not thirsty. It was also nice that we could leave all our purchases and beach bags with stuff in the van. The guide would lock the van and not leave it watching our stuff. Overall, this van guide tour is so much more economical. You do not get lost, do not waste any time, and the guide smoothes things over for you. In turn, he does take you to his recommended shops to buy something. We did not mind since he took us to nice places and the prices were reasonable. The guide got us back to the ship in plenty of time. We tipped him $25 and felt that we really got our money's worth. The least expensive excursion through the ship was $31 per person. This would have cost our group of ten $310 and we would not have gotten half the things done that we did.
The next day we were in Puerto Vallarta. We had booked a van tour for this day also. As soon as we got off the ship, there was a hospitality desk with a sign with our name on it. They immediately paged our driver Tony Sanchez. This tour was $200 plus $15 for the ice chest of drinks. This van was actually nicer, it was very large and seated 14 so we were very comfortable and able to stretch out. Our guide was knowledgeable and had a good sense of humor. His English was excellent. You get so much more out of your day when you have one of these guides. We went to the local part of Puerto Vallarta and had other parts also. Our tour was extensive and very well explained. He took us also to see Liz Taylor's house and Richard Burton's house. He was very flexible since he has toured everyone from tour ship tourists to multi millionaire yacht ship owners. He also took us for a jungle tour. Our children are small and we did not want to do the canopy tour, but this jungle tour was really quite enough for us. We had lunch at Las Margaritas. This restaurant was rated okay by us, but we probably would eat someplace different.
We got both the tour guides through links on the Hansen's Hideaway Carnival Pride website. If you have a large group we really highly recommend renting the van. We tipped him $25 also.
Back on the Pride, we spent the next day at sea on the Lido deck lounging by the pool and listening to the live music. This was so relaxing. On the last at sea day, we took our children to participate in the Treasure hunt at the Fun Club. They really enjoyed this. This was also our night to go out to eat at David's. My parents watched our children, and we had a an outstanding romantic dinner. The service was superb, the food fabulous, the lounge singers played well in an understated way. This was by far the best meal of the cruise, and one of the best meals we have had in any restaurant, ever. We have dined in big cities all over the world, and David's rated up there with the best. I recommend not eating lunch so you can enjoy everything they have to offer. The presentation was beautiful. Since we dined there on the last day of the cruise, it was a real culmination to top off our vacation. We also were offered some extras. I don't know if it was because it was our last night of the cruise, or if they offer extra's every night. Dining here is well worth the extra $30 person. We met a couple that had dined there 5 nights of the cruise. We probably would have dined there at least twice if we had discovered it earlier. We made our reservation as soon as we got on board the ship from hour room. We called it in, and the day of our reservation, they sent us a confirmation card. So there is no need to get in line the restaurant to make your reservation.
Other recommendations would be to not miss the show "A Wonderful World". This was very well done and was appropriate for all ages. I would not recommend taking your children to "Vroom". Some of the costumes were a bit R rated for our kids. I met other parent who agreed.
Overall this cruise really exceeded our expectations. I know there are a lot of comments about the decor, but after the first day, you don't even notice it anymore.
They also did a very good job at taking your photos. We took several family pictures. Make sure you take as many as you can to pick the best ones. You are not obligated to buy any.