I have taken this cruise on the 3 night version twice without my kids over the past 10 years. This was the first time taking the 4 night and we took our teenagers with us (ages 15 & 17).
On Monday when we arrived at the terminal the authorities told us we MUST give the porters our luggage (which was under the size limits). When we handed the luggage over to the porter he asked for a tip instead of waiting for us to hand one over on our own. We walked up to the terminal with several families that took luggage alot bigger than ours and talked to the authorities about it at another door. They said these were people who did not want to cooperate and they didn't want to argue with them. At this point we had paid the porter, our luggage was gone and we didn't know when it would arrive at our room (it arrived around 4pm).
We also noticed our dinner time was made for 8:30 and I had requested 5:45 with the travel agent. I talked to the dining room staff and they said nothing could be done. This set the trip off badly.
On Tuesday we were warned by the crew to get off the boat for Catalina early as the lines get extremely long to take the water taxi across to the island. We got on the water taxi by 8:00 without waiting in line. Several people we talked to later waited up to an hour waiting in line at 9:30am. We took the Glass Bottom Boat Tour in Catalina and rented a golf cart to tour the island ourselves. This was fun, but except for shopping there wasn't alot to do. My 15yr old was bored and went back to the boat at 11:30 to swim in the pool instead. The rest of us went back at 1pm. The last water taxi back to the boat left at 4pm and the Paradise set sail at 4:30 (about 8 hours in Catalina, but this is enough time since it's so small).
Tuesday is also formal night on the 4 day cruise. We decided to eat in the dining room and this was a mistake. The lobster was too small, people were ordering another entree, the prime rib was either too rare or cooked well and the baked potatoes were as hard as rocks. The rest of the cruise we ate in the Paris restaurant (buffet, etc) because we could come and go as we pleased and the food was better than the dining room.
Wednesday we went to Ensenada and took the La Bufadora Adventure tour. I had been there before but wanted the kids to see it. I knew what to expect and the vendors are still as pushy as ever. Two things to point out... our tour guide recommended the churros and fish tacos at La Bufadora market and these are the best vendors you will find on your trip. If possible, do not eat in the city... grab a fish taco and/or churro here. The margaritas were recommended at a place right next to the parking lot, but the strawberry margaritas were disgusting... just a warning.
The city of Ensenada has been cleaned up alot over the past few years. It's not the same downtown feeling as before except for the pushy street vendors. We tried to eat outside at Los Amigos and every 2 minutes someone was selling something to you and would not leave (hair braiding, chicklets, mariachis, silver, etc). Again the best thing to do, eat at La Bufadora in the market and go back to the city to drink to your heart's content (Papas and Beer is a good spot to hang out with others from the boat).
Thursday, day at sea. At the past couple of trips I've taken with Carnival they have taken us over near Santa Barbara and we sailed around. This time (because gas is so high??) we anchored in the middle of nowhere all day. I enjoyed watching the dolphins jump near the boat before and we just sat out there all day. My husband and I played poker, played in a slot tournament and attended an art auction. This wasn't what I intended to do all day. I enjoyed sitting outside reading a book while the boat sailed before.
Friday, announcement was made at 7am that we could disembark if we were taking our own luggage off by ourselves. We were in the car at 7:30. This is highly recommended because in prior cruises you would get off until 10-11 if you had the handle your luggage instead.
Notes: Club O2 for the 15-17 yr olds is a joke. I saw no supervision and my kids went for 10 minutes and were turned off. Kids sitting around in the poker room, in the lobbies, in the stairwells, with no parents. Thursday there was teen dance where I saw kids under 18 dancing like drunken adults, again without supervision.
Gambling - we played slots several times and the machines always jammed and then the staff took 5-10 minutes to refill or fix. There was only one poker table most of the time and it was packed; they needed to open another one at times and didn't.
Midnight Buffets are a joke. The past two cruises there was ice sculptures and wonderful food in the dining room - it was impressive. All I saw this time was Mexican food in the buffet area on Wednesday and hamburgers and hot dogs on Thursday night. Art Auctions - if you haven't attended one ever go to this one. We attended for something to do and were pleasantly surprised. All 4 of us enjoyed this event and we bought one piece.
Overall, I believe Carnival is charging more than before and they are cutting corners (especially with the midnight buffets and the fun day at sea). I'm not totally unhappy because I went with the kids and it was more laid back, I'm just disappointed that they aren't giving you what they've done in the past and it's gone down hill. I probably will not cruise with them again because of this.
My friends have all cruised Carnival before on this cruise and just got back from sailing with Royal Caribbean this time and loved it (although without their kids). I was looking for a cruise line to take my teens on and have them go off on their own once in a while.... I was with them the entire time because Carnival did not supply those activities.