Cruised with a group of 10 (6 adults and 4 children, ages 4, 7, 7, & 9)on August 14-21.
We arrived at the port at 12:30 and the line for embarkation was already snaking around the pier. Parking was a cinch as the structure seemed to be large enough to accommodate both the passengers embarking and disembarking. There were several Carnival employees directing traffic and a few hard to see signs which designated where to stand based on whether or not you had managed to complete the pre-boarding at the Queen Mary, were in a suite or part of a wedding party, and finally those like my family who had every intention of getting there early but ended up standing in line by the lady selling sunglasses for 10 bucks.
All in all, the process was fairly easy. Carnival should invest in the bigger signs or the temporary lines (ala Disneyland) which would make the scene a little less chaotic. There were a lot of people milling around - getting off the boat or waiting to get on.
Once inside the dome, we were able to get our sign and sail card in quick order, stood and smiled for our three pictures (1)Mexican patio scene, (2) for sign and sail identification and (3) the pose with the boat in the background as you prepare to walk the walk. All in all we were on the boat by 2:00 pm.
The ship is an impressive sight, both on the outside and inside. The atrium is a sight to see. I wasn't sure what to expect from my children regarding the "art". There is a lot of it. Everywhere you turn you have a representation of a classic masterpiece. In truth, my kids didn't react, just a comment or two about the statue of David (and you know which part they talked about) and the portraits of the nude ladies (and again you know that they talked about). After a day, they no longer mentioned it and the paintings became background pieces.
Our cabin had a balcony which made the living space a little bigger. My sister and I had both requested a cabin with the standard twin/queen bed, the convertible couch plus the pull down berth to accommodate the family of four we both had (cabin 5219 and 5217). The rooms were "cozy" to say the least. My steward was great. I felt sorry for him because when we're on vacation we become slobs. But each night, the room was "cleaned" and we got our beds turned down with our towel animal displayed. The kids loved the animals, even thought we're still debating exactly what that third animal was. I almost bought the book (Carnival's Towel Animal how to book).
My sister and I managed to do all of the necessary chores before 2:45 (spa reservations and the Dolphin Excursion reservations for my nephew) and then we headed on up to the Mermaid's grill for lunch.
The food on board ran from so-so to exceptional. For some reason, our travel agent did not indicate that we were a group and for the first night, the 10 of us were separated. By night two, the maitre d' had managed to reseat us to a table of ten. I had no complaints regarding our wait staff (Goran and Sanja) but we did notice that Goran didn't like to sing). My children loved the fact that they (7 & 9) could order off of the adult menu. I'm raising a couple of carnivores because each night they had the steak - no sauces - just medium steaks. We ate dinner every night in the dining room and only managed one lunch. The menu was a little on the same ole same ole variety. My husband commented that it was the same menu with different sauces. Admittedly, my palate isn't as refined as some, so I enjoyed my meals. My sister wasn't overly impressed with the food but appreciated the fact that they would cater to your every culinary wish. Only she could be happy about getting a side dish of broccoli every night. Who does that? The deserts were good to "omigod". Try the flourless chocolate cake served with ice cream. Heaven! and worth the second helping and the time in the gym.
The Mermaid's Grill was our breakfast/lunch venue for the majority of the trip. The couple we were with were frequent visitors to the midnight buffet. According to them, they had the best fries and chili con carne they've ever had. The pizza's not too bad either.
My 7 year old daughter "discovered" room service. I had showed her the menu and told her that it was ok to order. Now, in hindsight, I should have told her to make the order worthwhile to the wait staff. My sister finally "caught" her ordering 2 slices of white toast with butter and jelly (grape please). No tip...just a smile and thanks from a 7 year old princess.
The gym was a godsend to my sister and my husband who liked to feel as if they weren't indulging. I went once and the facility was clean, with a great selection of apparatuses (ellipticals, treadmills, stationary bikes, weights) and all with a 180 degree view of the ocean.
The spa treatments were as always, PRICEY. Each day the Carnival Capers would highlight a spa special which gave you a small sampling of some of their services with a modest discount. My husband managed to have two deep tissue massages, my sister and her husband had the couples massage, while I managed to get both a pedicure and manicure labelled "exotic". While the price for most of the treatments are pricey, the staff at the spa are professional and the area clean. Again, your satisfaction depended on who you got, my husband (for the first massage)and sister/bil weren't too impressed with their massage therapists. The massages weren't too effective. But my husband swears he's still aching from the second.
The itinerary was recently changed (I'm pretty sure it was to accommodate the Disney cruise) so that we visited Cabo San Lucas first, followed by Mazatlan and ending with Puerto Vallarta. I actually liked that change so that the end of the cruise is two relaxing days at sea.
You know, you can scour these board looking for something to do in Cabo and in general there's not much out there. My husband is fluent in Spanish (thank goodness) and managed to get a water taxi for the 10 of us to see "los Arcos". The trip was a blast, at least for me. My sister was green because of the choppy sea. The group decided not to go to Melia but chose to explore the downtown area for shopping and lunch. We had only a 15 minute wait for lunch at Cabo Wabo - pretty good for a party of 10. I was pleasantly surprised by the food...the best steak burrito I've ever had. Then it was off to buy the requisite t-shirts and souvenirs. In truth, it was hot and muggy, and the kids were starting to wilt. So back to the boat we went. At the pier, we did see an amazing sight. The sport fishing boats had returned and on display were today's catch. A fisherman managed to reel in a 345# marlin. It was huge and it was a great photo op.
In Mazatlan, we had made reservations to ride with Randi. This was the only port which we shared with the Disney ship. They arrived earlier and as such were "out on the range" with Randi when the Pride rolled into port. My group of 8 was a little tardy, because my bil couldn't get out of the bathroom (he was a little green) and she almost left us. Late or not we ended up sitting at Victors for almost an hour waiting for the Disney group to come in. Victors was in a beautiful setting but it was a longish wait...but a wait worthwhile. Once on the horses we forgot about the grousing and the wait. We had a blast. Thankfully we were on the beach with a breeze because when you think about it we were out there at high noon. The trip was marred by one mishap as one of the men in the group was thrown. The guide that was with us told my husband that he had three things going against him 1) he was a little on the big side, 2) the horse was tired and 3) he was a little rough on the horse. I guess the bits in the horses mouth hurt and the poor thing didn't react well to one of his commands (he stopped abruptly pulling on the bit) and threw him. The "dad" was a nice guy. We saw him a lot around the Pride and he told us that he wasn't laying blame but that he had broken his arm. Ouch! Since we didn't start the activities until later in the morning and returned around 3:00, we didn't spend much time in Mazatlan proper. The group had decided to go back to the ship, take showers and relax by the pool until we left port.
In Puerto Vallarta, we did the canopy tour with Los Veranos. We only had a group of 6 as my sister and her family weren't interested. Fools. This was the highlight of our trip! My daughter and son are tall for their age but are both skinny. They can eat but not a pound, life isn't fair, but I digress. On the first couple of lines, my son managed to lose steam and stopped short of the finish. The guides had to "go get the ninos". By zip line #8, named "the Black Diamond", the guides had decided that they needed to help them with the longer lines. The Black Diamond is the highest and longest zip line (200 feet high and a 1/4 mile long) over the river. They didn't want them stuck in the middle. It is a sight to see your children shove off over a river gorge with just a harness, pulley and a smiling guide. By the time we had zipped the Black Diamond, the kids were gone. They weren't waiting around for the old folks. In fact, I swear that they crossed over me on a zip line a couple of times. Hello...wait for mommy please. I had to ask the guides to stop the kids and they were none too happy. It's an exhilarating experience doing this activity. Pure adrenalin. They recently added 2 lines so now they've expanded to 15 total. Well worth the money and the effort. You just have to remember that there is a time difference in Puerto Vallarta. The DVD is a little pricey but you have to get it or no one will believe you.
We spent the rest of the day actually exploring this city. Of all of the port cities, this represents my mental picture of Old World Mexico (at least near the Canopy Tour area) and the malecon/church. I just mentally blocked out the Hooters in the background.
The two days at sea were restful. My husband again discovered his love of poker. He grumble about bad beats but still went back for more. I managed to get in the finals of the slot tourney but finished second to last. It's the experience right. The ability to use the sign and sail card for everything is both a blessing and a curse. Everything is too easy to buy. My sister fell in love with the art auctions. She recently bought a vacation home and had been pricing the art pieces in the wholesale market. Well she won her auctions and actually even won a piece of art worth $500.
There are opportunities galore to take pictures: casual, studio, getting off the boat, pirates, show girls and formal. Carnival's not shy about snapping your picture but you have to know that they aren't cheap either. You must purchase the displayed photo before you can order reprints. An 8X10 for 19.99. The profit margin on the photos are incredible. I'm still guilty of buying too many pictures.
The only gripe or problem I had with the cruise was with the "teen scene". On this particular cruise, there was a group of unsupervised teens who apparently had a bet amongst the boys as to which one could kiss the most girls. Keep in mind that the boys were 14-17 years in age and we heard from fathers in the cruise that they had to watch their 11 and 12 year old daughters because these boys were "hitting" on them. One of the boys sported hickeys all over his neck and was the center of a "fight" between a girl's father (who apparently told the boy to keep away from his daughter or he'd throw him overboard) and the "hickey" boy's family who didn't take kindly to the threat against their out of control son. This set of teens were actually the only blight on the cruise. On some of my later nights, I'd find them in the atrium bar horsing around at 3:30 am.
Now all in all, my family and the couple we cruised with had a great time. My sister's family, specifically my sister and bil, probably will not be repeat cruisers. They found that it just wasn't them. They were sick/nauseous for part of the cruise and realized they like land-based vacations. My nephews are begging to be allowed to come with us on our next cruise. I keep telling them to pencil in July 2007 and we'll visit the pyramids in Mexico. Their eyes light up - we just have to convince their mom and dad.