On Saturday, one day pre-cruise, we flew to LAX on Southwest airlines direct with only one stop in Baltimore. We arrived a half hour early at 11:15 Pacific time. We had reserved Prime Time shuttle and after getting a luggage cart and shuttling the bags to the center island, boarded our van within five minutes. However, as many have written, Prime Time or Super Shuttle do not leave the airport or port without a full van and all of those passengers are not going to the same place. After 3 stops; El Segundo, Redondo Beach and the aquarium in Long Beach, we finally were at the Coast Hotel at the Long Beach pier area by 1:30 p.m.
Pre-cruise Hotel: We booked the Park, Stay and Sail package at the Coast Hotel even though we did not have a car. I wanted to stay there, so did not want to chance bidding. Our package rate of $145 including taxes was for the King (all rooms are non-smoking), 8 nights parking and port shuttle both ways, buffet breakfast which was $9.95 plus tax regularly and all taxes. Our room was on the 4th floor in building 3 with a very similar view on the garden area. This hotel was perfect except for noise from folks getting off the open area elevator but that only lasted for a few moments. The Passport Free shuttle bus into Long Beach including transfers to Shoreline Village and the Aquarium area was great. The Parker Lighthouse was excellent for an early evening dinner for these East Coast travelers. Long Beach has really blossomed into a seaport destination over the last 20 years since we had been there. Since this Saturday was the turn back the clock evening, we had a 4 hour time difference to adjust to!
Embarkation: We had signed up for the 10:40 a.m. shuttle and boarded the van by 10:30. Once at the Parking Garage at the pier, I held my arm up high and made eye contact with an available porter within minutes, who gladly took our luggage. We met a couple of first time cruisers, who we invited to tag along for check-in. We proceeded into the Queen Mary for our pre-boarding and were given Zone 1 tickets. Then the wait began! Unknown to all waiting passengers, we later found out that the CDC did an inspection of the ship. People were still disembarking this ship after 1 p.m. No one even the wedding parties started to board until 1:30 p.m. It was the longest and slowest embarkation that we have ever experienced. Even for the pre-checked in passengers, there was only one security screening area. I saw folks who had not pre-checked in who got on board before us, after checking in at the terminal. Carnival does need to reassess there embarkation process at Long Beach.
Cabin: We had booked Cat. 8E, Cabin 6232, with the extra long balcony. We dropped off our carry-on bags and proceeded to the Mermaids buffet for a wonderful lunch. Three pieces out of 4 of our luggage arrived about 3 p.m. and we started to unpack just before the 4 p.m. Life Boat drill. When the 4th piece arrived, we had an opportunity to meet our cabin steward Pitash, who fulfilled our every request. Our daughter & family had sent a bottle of champagne for our Anniversary Celebration. When we called to thank them, she also informed us that they had ordered the Anniversary decoration package but the room was not decorated. A Carnival representative called right after sail away and explained that the "decoration package" was not on board and had not arrived before sailing. Our daughters account would be credited for the purchase. Our travel agent also sent a Bottle of wine which would be served at dinner.
Ship: Since we had sailed on the Pride during her inaugural in 2002, we did not need to check out the public areas and photograph each room. There were very little changes except for the Carnival Vacation Club utilizing one of the Card rooms. We were invited to join the Vacation Club but I declined to attend the presentation.
Dining: We had requested late seating and a large table. Our table #346 was on the upper deck 3 of the Normandie Restaurant. We were seated in a booth with a nice couple from the New York City area. We were both in cabins on the Empress deck and in a similar age category which was very nice. Our servers Nicholas and Zhilde were rather quiet but attended to our needs graciously. We had pre-ordered two bottles of wine during our embarkation luncheon, which were both ready for pouring when we arrived at our table.
Ports: Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Cabo San Lucas
Tours: We only booked two tours; one was independent on Mazatlan with Randi's Happy Horses ($45 each) and the other booked on the ship (the tour company will not book cruisers independently but will book hotel guests) on the Rhythms of the Night adventure ($89 each) at Las Caletas at Puerto Vallarta. We also managed a late afternoon local tour at Mazatlan on a Pulmonia. I bartered for $20 for a one hour tour. That was long enough and we really got to see everything in the old and new Vallarta. We did not make any stops accept for photos, although our driver offered. At Cabo san Lucas, we took a Glass Bottom boat tour again independently for $12 each out to Los Archos and the sea lion area. Again 45 minutes was long enough and we got to see both the Sea of Cortez side and the Pacific side of this natural wonder. Seas were a little ruff and looking into the glass bottom couldn't be done for long without getting queasy! The temperatures and sun were hot in Mexico. We both decided to skip the beach stops. DH said after we were back on ship, he wished we had done the Zip Line tour in Puerto Vallarta.
Sea Days: Monday & Tuesday and Saturday
Both Monday and Saturday were rather cool out on deck. By late Monday, you could sit on the balcony and out by the pool as the sunshine was bright. Friday it was extremely windy, cloudy and impossible to sit or even walk out on deck. Many doorways were closed to passengers due to the heavy wind velocity. I used the Jacuzzi in the spa late Monday afternoon and the steam and sauna rooms. This really helped with the Sinus congestion that I had gotten just the day before our vacation.
As our first day at sea was Halloween, they switched the first formal night to Tuesday evening. Carnival decorated throughout the ship and held a great Halloween costume contest and parade for both children and adults. Surprisingly to me, there were a lot of great adult costumes. The Captain and the Pirate, the Pillsbury Dough Boy and his baker wife, and two Wilma and Fred Flintstone couples, plus Dracula and his Bride topped the list of great couple costumes.
Overall View: As usual, Carnival photographers were everywhere and there were numerous opportunities for Formal photos. Surprisingly, the embarkation photo back drop was very nice but the picture was produced in 8x10 format at $19.95 each. Most of the other photos were in 5X7 @ $6.95 each which was standard.
Everyone always wants to know about the “dress code” experience. I found this cruise to be the most casual of our 16 cruises. Jeans, t-shirts and sneakers were prevalent throughout the week both daytime and in the dining room in the evening even on Formal night. Men were seen without a sport jacket in the dining room. One man wore black jeans and a black blazer with black shirt and bolo tie which looked fine. I did see a couple who came to the Normandie for breakfast in their Carnival bathrobes turned away! Both the first night and last night were termed “casual” dress with the other 3 nights “Smart Casual”.
We made good use of our extended balcony this cruise and enjoyed the Sunset Garden for reading during the cooler times. Barry at the Ivory Piano Bar is very entertaining and gets a great crowd, however it does get smoky in there as well as in the Raphael Lounge (outside the Normandie) and Players Lounge (casino). Shows including the Pride Idol were fine. We skipped Vroom as we had seen it on previous Carnival cruises.
Disembarkation: As we had 12:40 p.m. flights from LAX, we got early disembarkation tags and had to be in the Taj Mahal theater by 7:45 a.m. Noonan started the process of embarkation from the main level of the theater when we were told to sit in the balcony level. He started about 8:15 with LAX flights at 10, 11, 12 etc. However, then the line just stopped outside the theater with no direction. Finally the line started moving through the Venito shopping arcade and they let 25 people off the ship at once. I had packed my Sign & Sail card in my checked luggage accidentally, so had to clear disembarkation with security which only took a minute. We found our luggage after clearing customs and awaited a porter for about 5 minutes.
Again, Prime Time shuttle had been reserved, but with a little confusion at the island, we managed to get on-board. However as we left the garage, we found we were going to Long Beach airport first! There were six passengers who had gotten off early plus a couple who were going to Burbank after we got off at LAX. They recommend a two hour pre-flight arrival which we made with extra time to spare.
The cruise was fine and the ports, although the majority of areas seemed were very poor, were an experience that I am pleased to have had an opportunity to see.