The bad: I figure not everyone will read this entire review, so first, here are most of the bad notes I made. Sales pitches: Everything people say about crewmembers trying to sell everything from alcohol to spa packages to bingo to souvenirs is all true. If you know this coming in, and if you know to expect it, it's not that bad. Fact is, the base cost to cruise on Carnival today is half of what it was 10 years ago. The way I see it, the only ways they can stay in business (or turn a hefty profit) is to have more balcony cabins, and to rely on people to spend more and more money once they get onboard. Crewmembers will push to sell you stuff all week. It's okay to say no. However, it's not tough to spend close to a $1000 for two people once on the ship. I now know why people laugh at getting a $200 onboard credit when being extremely inconvenienced some cruises it isn't much. Budgeting beforehand works wonders. Just know that before you even step onboard, $70 will be charged per person for the week for tips to your steward and waiters. Tours are anywhere from $30-$200 a person. Drinks usually start at $4, average $5.95 (souvenir plastic glasses $6.75), and the good stuff like Patron will be $11.75 after the automatic 15% tip. Some fitness classes cost $10, the coffee bar charges a few bucks for coffee, wine tasting is $10, and David's Supper Club is $30 a person not including tips or drinks. There's more, and it all adds up. Know before you go and plan ahead, that's all. I especially got a kick out of winning one of several spa raffles that was good for 30% off of a spa treatment. I think it's the first time I won a raffle that in the end cost me money. It was an easy way to give my girlfriend a spa treatment: a 25 minute massage and facial. She liked it, but I don't know if it was worth $80 or so (over $100 regularly). I also found it ridiculous that her masseur tried to sell her over $300 worth of facial products. Also mind you she's still in her younger 20's! Crewmembers found smoking and drinking: I still can't understand how crewmembers can go into public bars every night with their gold name badges on and drink. The last night I saw them with drinks that you can't get as a passenger. You could, but they serve them in 8 ounce glasses, not the 16 ounce glasses that these crewmembers had. It was very frustrating. I keep hearing about how wild the crew bars are. Why aren't they there? And drinking in plain view of guests? Most people would be terminated immediately from their jobs. Apparently that's not the case with Carnival. I don't mind crewmembers smoking, but are they fooling anyone by going in the corner of any public bar? No. They are still seen and smelled. It just looks bad. There must be areas for crewmembers to go to drink and smoke. I just don't think the public areas should be one of them! Other random bad thoughts: Crew meetings in lounges. I shouldn't have to accidentally see a meeting taking place in the Starry Nights lounge one afternoon with a powerpoint slide describing how to deal with numerous waste removal procedures onboard. If these ships today don't have facilities behind the scenes to hold conferences for crewmembers, they should. The waterslide at the aft of the ship was open, but not long enough for me to try it, unfortunately. Usually open the first couple days at sea for a few hours, then maybe for a couple hours while in port. Other people like me will complain that you have to purchase an 8x10 picture for $20 before you can have it sized smaller for a smaller cost. None of the pictures seemed worth the high cost to buy, but you might like yours. Just expect the bill to run high awfully quickly. We had the late dinner seating because it worked well for me last time. I didn't like it this time because it seemed like all the live music would start just as we were going to dinner. If you went to the main show after dinner, it wouldn't be over till after 11pm, and the live music would be ending for the most part. The early sitting would work well - dinner, a show, and then live music. I've read that some cruises are bumpy when sailing and people getting seasick. This could definitely happen after leaving Los Cabos for a 40 hour sail back to Long Beach at maximum normal cruising speed. Dramamine seemed to work well for people I talked to who took it.
The Coast Hotel: We flew in the night before and really liked this hotel. An excellent choice for all. I got a pretty good deal as it was actually cheaper than the Queen Mary. I haven't heard many good things about staying at the Queen Mary but plenty about The Coast. It was easy to get downtown and to the Queen Mary on embarkation day via the Passport bus which picks up right in front of the hotel every 10-15 minutes from about 5:30am-midnite everyday, and it's free.
Embarkation: From what I read here, early embarkation starts at 8-9am. We got to the Queen Mary at 8:45am and hotel security said it didn't start till 9:30am. We sat on a bench till 9:30am and had difficulty finding where early check-in took place exactly. After walking around the big dome area with all our bags, we finally saw a Carnival representative and he showed us where to go. It's in the Queen Mary, port side, aft section. From there, it could not be easier. We were 2nd in line and got our sail and sign cards within 10 minutes of finding the check-in desk. I noticed more signage a week later when leaving the cruise ship around 9am and figured if I was embarking the day I was disembarking, I would have found the early check-in area with no problems. After check-in, we walked to the area near the parking garage to check-in our bags then headed over to see the Queen Mary. Turns out it's half-price ($10 instead of $20) to tour the ship if you have Carnival docs. We spent a good hour or so exploring on our own before hopping on the Passport bus back to the hotel to pick up a backpack and a couple garment bags. Very convenient bus. We were back at the Queen Mary and stood in line to board, ZONE 1. We were at the end of the line by 11:45am and like magic, 5 minutes later the doors to the dome opened and the VIP's entered, followed by ZONE 1. I think more people know about early check-in, as close to half the people outside were standing in this line. The most difficult part about the rest of the boarding process was that there was only ONE single-file security lane for everyone in ZONE 1. It must have taken an hour to get on board. Not bad, except had there been a few more security lanes, it could have easily only taken 10-15 minutes.The ship: Beautifully appointed. I was even impressed by how the main atrium had an old Renaissance feel to it and that it reminded me of what one of the classy lounges I had just seen on the Queen Mary might have looked like in its heyday. Gone are the days of going overboard with neon lights. This ship has class with more marble and wood (or marble-like and wood-like) decor.
Stateroom: A notch above older Carnival ships when it comes to practicality and usability. I was frustrated though when I got into this interior cabin and it smelled like someone just got done smoking. I immediately found Nestor, the steward, and he was in there scrubbing down walls before I could even tell him that he could wait until we were gone at dinner. He was a tremendous service to have all week. It's too bad people find a way to smoke in their cabin. After a few days, the smoke smell came back, and Nestor was pleased to scrub again. He was so good at getting into the cabin to general cleaning that once he came in well before dinner instead of when I was at dinner. I had to start leaving the sign on the door at all times to either state clean cabin or do not disturb. It worked.
Dining: Everyone loves to bash the buffets. I'll do the same here, except I know what to expect at a buffet. The food is usually mediocre and it gets cold by the time you sit down. It doesn't matter if it's Old Country Buffet or the best buffet in Las Vegas (Bellagio, atleast most expensive). It happens. If you keep your expectations low about the buffet, it's great. I love how they have gone Vegas with the setup. There are numerous stations and the lines are short if there's a line at all. The tropical colored plastic cups for the water and free fruit punch is a welcome change from the boring translucent brown cups similar to what you would find at a hospital cafe. The pizza isn't bad, and the made-to-order calzones are excellent if you have a few minutes. The made-to-order sushi that was available every evening was decadent and usually didn't have a line. The ice cream is good, the designated times for make-your-own sundaes on days at sea are awesome, but there just never seemed to be ice cream cones out when I wanted one. It's nice that if you prefer to eat in the dining room, it's open for breakfast and dinner everyday, and lunch during days at sea. The breakfast options have changed slightly for the better. The pancakes are actually great! (Just try the banana pancakes very unique.) It's also the first time I remember French toast on the menu, or atleast them serving good French toast. Lunch in the dining room still presents some of Carnival's best dishes a variety of creative pasta and meat dishes, and desserts. Dinner is the same on every Carnival cruise I've experienced. It's good to very good. This week I noticed that the meat was more cooked-to-order than in previous cruises. No complaints about dinner except that the waiter would have our orders backwards a couple times and we would have to trade plates. He was good, but I don't think he'll be getting that promotion right away that he kept mentioning. I was ecstatic to see that the Gala Buffet was brought back indoors into the main dining room instead of where it was the last couple times - outdoors on the lido deck. I thought it was cheap and a lot smaller outdoors. Now Carnival has gone back to its roots and they put out a great spread once again in the dining room. It's great, even if I don't care to eat any of it, other than the desserts. We got room service for breakfast a couple times, but beware, no one arrived to pick up our order for breakfast on disembarkation day (I put the order on the door well before 5am) and we had to go up to the buffet. David's Supper Club: Since this is the first ship I've been with this opportunity, I had to try it. The first place I went to after boarding was up to the Supper Club to make a reservation. I thought Tuesday night would be the best as it's early in the week, it's a day at sea, and it's a non-formal evening. Monday and Friday are the formal nights. Turns out, Tuesday night was the first night to fill up completely. There were plenty of openings on the other nights, especially later in the week. You can expect dinner to last for 2 ½-3 hours, mostly due to the delay between courses. It was eventful to be waited on by 5 people for 2 hours and 56 minutes. Chef Postal even came out toward the end to say hello. By far he's the most hard-working chef on board, and he's not even the executive chef. He could be seen anywhere on board all week wherever there was food. He also co-hosted the wine tasting opportunity during the first day at sea. The music was inviting, consisting of a male keyboardist and a female singer. I can't remember hearing anyone sounding that good while trying to sound so soft in volume quite a talent. The food was excellent and always prepared ever so artistically. I heard from other guests that they liked the sushi starter, the ribeye steak for the main, and the chocolate trifecta for dessert. Overall, the entire experience was worth the $80 or so dollars after a gratuity and a glass of wine. A similar experience at a normal restaurant downtown anywhere on land would have probably cost $200 or more.
Activities: It amazes me that people say they get bored. Even if I had nothing to do, I would do what I never do and go read a book. Just the fact that I could be reading a book with the sights and sounds of an ocean going by it would put me miles and miles away from boredom. I take in as much as I can on a cruise and only wish I could be in two places at once. I love doing the outdoor thing, lounging around in a swimsuit in the sun listening to the reggae band, but I love all the indoor activities too wine tasting, newlywed games, and napkin folding to name a few. Carnival simply can't go toe to toe with Royal Caribbean with onboard golfing, mountain climbing, basketball, ice skating and the like, but there's still plenty to find throughout the days. One new surprise was the 11pm showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show in the Butterflies lounge later in the week. It was somewhat interactive and a lot less intimidating than the Halloween showings at midnight where I'm from. Another delight was an informal talk with the Cruise Director and the most popular social host, future CD on the Paradise, Karl with a K. It turned out that no one was at the coffee lounge when it officially started, so I got a personal Q & A session with them for over 20 minutes.Entertainment: Overall, decent. I just think that the older I get, the quality seems to get worse. The comedians are less funny, the musicians less musical, and the variety shows and what not are less mesmerizing. The cruise director was Jeff Bronson. Not the best, but the best happens to be his most favorite cruise director in the world (senior CD, John Heald). I'm just glad he wasn't annoying. The best surprise was the Christmas show that was put on at the end of the week which also included kids that were onboard. I've heard lots of complaints how Carnival doesn't do anything special for the holidays. Not this year. The 45 minute show had live Christmas music with the dancers performing again. The ship was also decked out in Christmas attire throughout. A very nice touch. The even had a nightly lighting of the Menorah in the main atrium! I know a lot of people complain about the entertainment onboard, how Vegas shows are so much better. Again, I keep my expectations low. The shows in Vegas are presented in multi-multi-million dollar theatres that are specifically tailored for each specific show. This is a moving vessel! There is only so much you can do with a show on a ship and with performers who are stuck on it for six months at a time. I was still entertained most of the week by how much the performers can do based on the facilities they have. It was interesting to see how much better the Broadway-type shows were compared to the shows on Carnival's older ships. It's not Vegas, but it's still fun. The dancers are tremendous. Just try a dance class during a day at sea when the ship is really rocking and you'll appreciate what the dancers have to put up with all week. They learn a lot in the couple weeks they have to learn a show, and then they have several for the whole week. The singers are just slightly better than awful. That's just the way things go on these ships. This week's singers weren't any better or worse than the singers on any other cruise I've been on. JeRome was a fairly competent comedic and would do well enough to nearly win a stand-up comedy reality show should he decide to do one. To be fair, he supposedly will have a performance on HBO. There was a ventriloquist/comedic and he had most of the theatre in a mild uproar. The live music onboard was slightly disappointing overall. The main orchestra seemed to be missing a few players, but they weren't. They just didn't have a trumpet player or any small woodwind players. It's difficult to sound like an orchestra with only 6 musicians. There never seemed to be jazz music where and when jazz music was to be playing. The piano player's efforts in the piano bar were more appealing than his actual talent. The solo keyboardist in the casino and guitarist in the main atrium were somewhat unexciting. Not everyone can be a Chaz the One Man Band (one of very few highlights on a Carnival Destiny cruise if he's still there). The DJ played a lot of international rap and dance music in the disco which was never booming with patrons. Those musicians playing classical music before and during dinner were pleasing to the ears. We especially liked The Breeze, playing most nights in the Butterflies lounge. They played everything from country to rock, from big band era to Korean folk song (the keyboardist wanted to celebrate her mother's birthday), and then played a lot of pop music in between. And they were good! All they had was a keyboardist, a drummer, a bass, and a lead guitar. Their rendition of It's 5 o'clock Somewhere is hilarious when the drummer and guitarist talk back and forth about what they're going to do when they knock off work. The reggae band was strong, but their breaks were too long, and I still miss the days of cruise reggae bands with real steel drums. They also did not perform on the last day, a day at sea. Kind of sad.
Shore excursions: We did too much in Puerto Vallarta. If you take two tours, you won't really have time in between or after to buy anything with Puerto Vallarta on it. The first tour was a 4x4 tropical safari. We got to travel through some of P.V. as well as numerous other villages on the outskirts of the main city. We were driven through the forest and got to do a little hiking. Lunch was served outdoors, buffet-style at a small resort on a beach with an open bar. Very picturesque and serene. Note there was no swimming, due to the high surf. The drive back was fun with the tour guide opening up a couple bottles of tequila, Pacifico beer and Squirt soda. When we got back to the ship, we found the start to the Rhythms of the Night tour. The tender that took us to the place gave us a beautiful ride on the water right during sunset. We arrived to where the dinner and show took place and it looked like it was right out of an episode of Survivor with all these flames out and about everywhere. Dinner was another buffet, but the best one I had all week. Our table was no more than 10 feet from the shoreline. Into the outdoor amphitheater we went to witness some authentic Mexican culture. Lots of music and dance. The tender was waiting with another open bar to take you back to the ship. I went with the comments all the good people on CruiseCritic made when it came to Mazatlan. We did a Copula tour with Mazatlan Frank. It even ended up being a private tour since no one else had booked the tour a pleasant surprise compared to what could have happened it being cancelled. I was amazed at how similar the tour was to what Carnival offered, except we were a group of 3, instead of a group of 3 busloads. Our tour guide Alfredo always seemed to know his way with the locals, and every part of our tour couldn't have been more personalized. All for the same cost of what the ship offered. I couldn't recommend any tour of the week more than a tour with Mazatlan Frank. It's the only time I've gone on my own to book a tour, and this was the perfect hit. I heard the best snorkeling on this side of Mexico is at Los Cabos. However, it's a sad comparison to just about anywhere in the Caribbean. Next time I'll certainly do anything other than snorkeling. What I saw in the water was similar to that of the Caribbean, only a lot less fish, and almost no coral life whatsoever. Our Chileno Bay snorkeling tour in Los Cabos was cancelled due to there not being enough people to sign up, probably because it was supposed to meet at 7:30am. We switched to the Sea of Cortez snorkel tour at 10:30am. Everything was as advertised, except I don't think they used an actual catamaran. It was more of just an ordinary tender. Carnival spends more time in Cabo than in the past, 7am-2:30pm, but it still isn't quite long enough. However, there's not much else they can do without sacrificing something else with the itinerary.
Gymnasium/spa: A definite upgrade from older Carnival ships. Usually open from 8am-8pm, with the gymnasium opening at 6am. There is a full set of free weights, and the weight machines don't use air for resistance; there are actual sets of weights. There was never a short supply of cardio machines. There was always room in the spa. I liked that this ship had 2 levels of jogging tracks. One normal track on the sports deck which was about 11 times around for one mile. The other one is down one deck to the sun deck, and it's only 3 ½ times around for one mile, except the surface is either wood or plastic on metal. I didn't try any of the premium fitness classes going for $10 a session like spinning or Pilates. There were numerous free health conferences. I recommend the one on detox. Josef was very informative about why Americans are so heavy. Turns out it has a lot more to do with just poor nutrition and exercise.
If you read this entire review, you're crazier than I am. Don't hesitate to email me with specific questions or comments. Who doesn't love talking about cruises? I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org. Take care!