We (just SO and I went) had a great time on our cruise to the Mexican Riviera which took in the ports of Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas. It was a seven day cruise and we were in a balcony cabin. The ship was the Carnival Pride which was built in 2002 and can hold 2014 passengers. It's decorated in the Renaissance era. This was our first cruise so we really didn't have anything to compare it to so that was probably a good thing!
We thought the ship was kept very clean and our room functioned very well. Plenty of space for our clothes and we stuck the luggage under the bed. We were so glad that we got a balcony! We were so glad that we got a balcony! We are people that like to stay in our room to read and relax on vacation, so the balcony came in handy! The only drawback with the person next door smoked! When we were on the balcony at the same time of course-- you could smell it! We had hoped since they were behind us that the smoke would blow back but it didn't. We decided to get over it quickly as we didn't want it to ruin our vacation. We thought the beds were comfortable as I guess Carnival has changed their bedding so they can sell it! LOL Our steward came twice a day and she was friendly and functional. The towel animals were cute but SO thought they were stupid -maybe it is a guy thing! She kept us in ice as we tipped her first thing when we met and said that we wanted ice every day. She was pretty good about doing that. In my research I heard they charge for water and (of course) alcohol. We brought water and smuggled in some flasks and cranberry juice. We are not cheap but hey we were on vacation and drinks add up! (I had heard stories where peoples' debt at the end was more than what the price of the cruise cost!) Anyway, it worked out well as the bottle of water in the room was $3.50 each (big liter bottle), drinks were $3.50/$6.50. We saved a ton of money as we drink a lot of water (not to mention those drinks in the cabin getting ready for dinner.) I think our tab at the end was only a little less than $500 and that included the $140 for the tips they tacked on.
As far as food goes, we thought the dinner in the main dining room was very good. It was cooked right and presented well. We liked our waiter a lot and he really worked hard. We tipped him extra at the end. We felt the dinner food was on par with a nice restaurant. We go to fine restaurants in CA a lot so were a bit worried (based on reviews), but every dinner meal was great. Now, the rest of the food was below average. The buffet area where you can go during the day was just average. The breakfast in the mornings in the dining room were just averaged too. We did eat in the dining room for lunch a few days and thought it was quite good. We didn't try the special dining restaurant where you pay $30 each to get 5 star meals. Originally, we were going to try it, but felt the dinner food was on par with what we were accustomed, so we decided against it.
The entertainment was pretty good. We had late dinner seating so often we were tired when our show rolled around at 10:30! We made it to 3 and thought they were good. I don't know if they were on par with Las Vegas, but good nevertheless. We never made it to the midnight comedians, or the ice buffet! We could kick ourselves for being such wimps and not staying up for this! We heard both were excellent! We did lay by the pools a few days and definitely explored the ship from top to bottom! It was wild as we never felt like the ship was crowded. The only time it ever seemed crowded was on formal night around the picture taking spots. There were tons of families but you never really saw them.
We didn't do the excursions, well, SO did the power snorkeling. He loved it and felt like James Bond. In Puerto Vallarta, I had read where there was a hotel near where the ship docks that did couple massages for $75 for two 75 minutes! Krystal Hotel was very close and we were directed to the massage building and booked a massage! It was great and we are glad we did that! I love massages. After that we used their pools. We had a great time at this hotel. It made the day very relaxing. From there we went back to the ship, showered, and decided to walk to PV shopping! BIG MISTAKE! We were told it was about half hour It was an hour and half but we decided to keep walking (and not cave to taking a taxi). We love to walk but it was so HOT and HUMID! We felt like we were on a death march! LOL When we got to the shopping area we spied a Hard Rock Cafe and knew they would have air conditioning! We popped in and had a cerveza and water. From there we walked around to see the sights and found a tourist information building. We wanted to eat in PV that night (PV was our longest stop 8 AM to 10 PM). They directed us to a tasty restaurant called Pipi's which we felt was pretty westernized (It was all westerners in it!). We had a great meal but I swear the food was more than what you pay in CA for Mexican food! That owner must be rich as you know they pay their workers nothing! At last back to the ship we took a TAXI! We liked PV and really liked the longer time in port.
Next day was Mazatlan! We were here from 9 AM to 6PM. We didn't schedule anything as we wanted to explore Mazatlan. We got sucked into a time share talk but it turned out fun as our dinner mates were there too. We then toured the city with them for two hours and headed back to the ship.
Last port was Cabo San Lucas and SO went power snorkeling. We were only there from 7:00 to 4:00 PM and this stop had to be tendered. Cabo was more westernized which made it cleaner and more modern. It also had dryer heat which I am use to. I went shopping but didn't buy anything. I mostly sat in an outdoor cafe and people watched. I also had fish tacos which were great with the two for one cervezas they brought me!
As far as Carnival goes we didn't see it as this wild party place ship. We never saw anyone wild and crazy. I think the down side of Carnival is that it is pretty laid back if you are looking for a more formal environment. We were really worried that we would not be dressy enough (since I have in my mind the cruising of yester years). We were really surprised that the dress code was very relaxed during dinner. We dressed as to what was recommended and we felt over dressed on some occasions! Baggy jeans and oversized tee shirts are not what I call formal wear! LOL Also, since we talked to many people that cruised on other lines, we got a clear impression that Carnival is on the lower end of cruise lines. They clearly liked lines like RCCL or Princess better. They basically said those cruise lines were classier in so many words. I sense they are correct. We want to try RCCL or Princess next. Carnival isn't Motel 6 (like my dental assistant joked), but it isn't the Ritz either! I would say the staff was just average with the exception of our waiter. Most were just doing their job. However, I think you'll have a great time with your family! I can see where the more the merrier is the way to go with cruising!