This cruise was just my husband and myself, both 31. Our 2 year old daughter stayed home this time. She won’t be sailing again until she’s potty trained. She stayed home with Grandma. This was our 6th cruise, 3rd with Carnival, and 3rd this year! We didn’t plan to take 3 cruises this year, but we found the opportunity to book 2 last minute cruises this year, and this was one of them.
We moved to San Diego (I also grew up in this area) in September 2013 and have never cruised out of the West Coast. We previously lived in Florida and are much more accustomed to warmer cruise weather. We weren’t sure what to think about a Baja cruise or cruising in ‘colder’ weather. But, we are up for cruising wherever and whenever we can!
Travel to Embarkation Port:
We drove up the morning of the cruise. We live about 1.5 hours south of the Port of Long Beach. Less without traffic, but I knew that we could count on running into traffic in Orange County. There is a toll road you can avoid a lot of the traffic with, but we are cheap and made use of the carpool lane on 405 instead. We didn’t have any issues with that decision. Can’t say the same for the other lanes on 405, so Thank You carpool lane! Our real backup in traffic came on I-710. It’s the only ‘good way’ in and out of the port area and it is packed with semi trucks. One of the lanes was partially blocked, so that slowed down our normally 3 minute drive, by at least 15 minutes. So, if you are driving yourself, it is a good idea to leave a good cushion of time on your arrival. Depending on the length of your drive or length of the cruise, it may be a good idea to come in the day before and find a hotel with a park and cruise deal.
Hotel Info: None.
Despite the traffic, we still arrived early. We gave our checked luggage to the Porters before driving into the parking structure. Parking at the port was a breeze and we were easily able to get a spot on the lower level. We were there well before 11:30am, so early check-in was aboard the Queen Mary (a neat feature of cruising CCL from Long Beach). There was a Santa’s village of sorts setup outside, so it was a little confusing on where to go, yet there really was just one direction to walk. Soon you see the entrance to the Queen Mary, walk aboard, and follow the signs to a room with a special check-in desk. There was no wait and it was a quick process. We got boarding zone 2! The lowest of any cruise we’ve sailed. I was excited about that until we walked back toward the cruise terminal entrance and realized they wouldn’t let us in the building until 11:30. Oops! It was a bit chilly and windy, at least it wasn’t rainy and cold. Boarding started close to 11:30 and our zone was called fairly quickly. There was a short wait for security, then the boarding photo and a quick walk upstairs to board the ship. Woohoo!
My first impression of the ship itself was that the décor was a lot tamer than I thought it would be. I was expecting a Vegas/neon theme with loud over the top decorations at every turn. I was pleasantly surprised to see otherwise. There were some cartoonish touches, but they were few and far enough that it wasn’t overwhelming. The theming on board was quite tame and tasteful. There was a small amount of Christmas decoration and the ‘neon’ lights that are so typical of a Carnival Cruise ship were red and green (maybe just for the holidays?) and there was a mail box for Santa in the lobby. I especially enjoyed the gingerbread village next to the specialty coffee café.
This is a Fantasy class ship, so it is small, and our last cruise was on the Carnival Dream, 6 months ago, which is quite large. It was interesting to be able to directly compare smallest to largest in a fleet. The layout of this ship took some getting used to. The public areas are deck 8+ and also in the central Atrium area of deck 7. Even the entrances to the main theater were on the higher decks. This confused me EVERY time we tried to go there. All the other ships I’ve been on, the theater is on very low decks!! This is not a fault of this ship class; it was just hard to adjust my brain, apparently.
The large entertainment venues on the ship were nice. We enjoyed the Aft lounge for each of the comedy shows and were able to remain in the lounge between acts. It was also easy for us to find seats in both the lounge and the main theater.
For the first time ever, we went in the library of a ship! Not that exciting, but it was interesting. I found out there are puzzles and games in there! We really only went in because our first port was cancelled and re-visited the next morning. So while we waited for them to print a new schedule, we hid out in the library to do the crossword and Sudoku..lol. It was a nice quite room, soundproof glass I think, and comfortable chairs. It was also more inviting than other libraries I’ve seen on ships. The door was often propped open, as if to let us know it’s OK to come in. We visited a couple of times and there were always other people there with us.
It was cold, well, Southern California/Florida cold, ok! We had no interest in pools, slides, or even hot tubs. Though, the hot tubs were probably very nice, the thought of getting out of one into the cold night did not appeal to us. So, I can’t comment directly on those.
We had Your Time Dining and only had to wait once for dinner, that was the first night. After that everyone must have gotten into cruise mode and ate different times. The wait was less than 10 minutes.
This cruise may have proven my theory that MDR food is generally better on smaller ships. We’ve only done larger ships on Carnival, so far, and the theory holds true on this line. The MDR food/experience was bad-OK on the Dream. On the Inspiration it was OK-very good, most of the time. There were a few misses, but in some cases I think I should read between the lines a little better. For example, there was an onion soup one night. It was not called ‘French Onion Soup’, so I shouldn’t have expected it to taste as good as the ‘french’ variety. There was also something called a pork steak. I do not often order something called a pork steak, I like pork a lot, just never had it as a ‘steak’. It was a THICK slice of pork loin and while it tasted fine, it’s just not how I eat pork. Everything else I had was good to very good. I even tried chili rellanos for the first time and thought it was great. Now I need to go try the real thing at local a Mexican restaurant.
In the buffet we tried the grill (standard fare), Mongolian wok (yummy), deli (great. Wish I went more), pizza (not very good, but we knew this), and the main buffet line (good/OK) at lunch. Overall our food experience on this cruise was a good one. Not the best, but quite good vs our expectations.
Our room steward was quiet, but efficient. We didn’t see him often, so perhaps he was kept very busy. We didn’t have any special requests for him and our room was almost always made up by the time we returned each day.
The MDR staff was very good, quick and friendly. We did anytime dining, so 3 of the 4 nights were a different dining team. Despite that we had good service each night. Our apps and dinners always came out before the ‘dinner show’ started each night, which was nice. I still don’t get the twirling napkin thing, and never will. Just not into it! I want to eat my food at dinner.
We encountered the shore excursion staff a few times. Once to book an excursion, this was very quick and easy. The second time was on the pier in a port of call, he kindly pointed us in the direction of our tour guide, who had put his sign down for a moment.
We attended one of the productions shows: Studio VIP. I should have known from the name that it was a retro themed 70’s thing. We were born in the 80’s and the music of the 70s is not that thrilling for us. At least we recognized the songs they played, otherwise we may have left. It was a well done show and the performers were very good, just not something we needed to watch. We skipped the other production show because it conflicted with dinner and the comedians. A big complaint of ours was the show we did see started LATE and had the most annoying sound track on a loop. It couldn’t have been longer than 40 seconds. It was of sirens, car alarms, and traffic. How soothing! I almost left because I was going insane listening to it for 10+ minutes.
One of the comedians on our sailing was good, a little washed up and out of touch, but still pretty funny. The other comedian was the funniest thing we’ve seen in a long time! If you get a chance to watch Willie Barcena, do it! He is hilarious and all his comedy is based on life experiences.. not one liners. The comedy always started on time, so that was nice.
We didn’t pay much attention to the music acts. We like music, but we like it more when it’s the original artist singing it… ya know? Oh, we did catch 10 minutes of Karaoke… that was pretty painful. Anyway. We only had to get a pager for the MDR 1 time. It just so happened to be at the same time that the solo vocal guy playing guitar was in the Atrium lobby downstairs. We tried very hard not to listen, but that became impossible when we realized 1) all the songs in his set were female artists, nothing wrong with that necessarily, but 2) it was the WORST version of Katy Perry’s California Gurls we’ve ever heard!!! That’s even counting the version we heard at Superstar LIVE (karaoke) on our last cruise. That’s bad people.
We are not pool party people, we don’t play Bingo, and I only go to the casino if I am exceptionally bored. We do like to attend classes/seminars, trivia games, game shows.
We attended the art seminar, which was fun we got to collect another art print. We also guessed the price of the artwork each time we could. It’s fun, even though we know very little about modern artwork or what it’s worth. The art auctions were held in a night club that was a bit oddly shaped. There were a lot of people at the first auction, between them and all the artwork, it was very hard to move around. The auctioneer, Jaco (from South Africa) was very nice but his accent made it a little hard to understand what was going on.
The trivia games were outside the casino, in an awkward spot. The stage faced the casino, and the seating was down along the side of the ship. I think it works better when you can all face the host and interact more. At the end of the cruise, I didn’t even know her name! Maybe she never introduced herself. Most of the time her events started late.
My husband tried to go to an ‘up close magic’ demonstration, but apparently it was so close we couldn’t see it or someone totally forgot it was on the schedule!
For fun, and lack of other things to do.. we went to the towel folding class, it was the same animals (dog and elephant) we’ve done before on a cruise. That was back in 2006, so it was a nice refresher. They had us sit on the stage which made it a lot easier to roll the towels.
My husband was against going to the game shows because on our last cruise they were really not good at all. But, there wasn’t much better to do, so on the night of all the game shows, we attended them all in the main theater. I’m so glad we did. I’m not sure if it was the contestants, the hosts, or a mixture of both, but the games were much better on this cruise! I think a big part is because a few of the entertainment staff on this ship were a lot of fun and not overly obnoxious or boring. We even caught the end of BINGO one night and it wasn’t that bad, and we’ve seen bad.
We visited the spa and gym twice. First was for the tour, which was completely lacking in any kind of demonstrations or instructions on what the spa does. We were led around and told which rooms did which and we got a quick peek inside. It was a completely un-inspiring tour. We entered the raffle and returned that evening to try and win some spa credits. The gym looked nice and had new equipment, but when I unpacked I realized I forgot that I had wanted to wear my running shoes onboard so I had no workout shoes. OOPS!! Instead I did Yoga via an app on my iPad in my room.
The only other recreation we found time for was the mini-golf. It was a decent course and only 9 holes. On a cruise, 9 is enough. When there are a lot of people playing, as in our case, it took long enough with all the waiting that was done. The course was in mostly good shape. There were a few areas that needed repair or the hole needed to be a little deeper to keep the ball from popping back out. While playing golf we got a look at the running track. It was nice and wide in the area we were, which leaves plenty of room for walkers on one side and runners on the other.
While walking around we also saw shuffleboard, ping pong, ‘cornhole’ boards, and the water park. It was warm in the sun on our sea day, but that water was SO COLD. But, we did see kids playing around on the slides that day… kids will do anything to go swimming.
Our daughter didn’t sail this time, so I can’t really comment on the clubs. It also seemed like there weren’t a lot of kids on this cruise. That, however, is in comparison to our last cruise, which was during summer break, and the 2 before that were both Disney. The kids on board this ship were well behaved and not so noticeable, but we also have our own 2 year old.. so we are able to tune out some of the mayhem kids create. ;)
Rates on this side of the US are a little higher. I have learned this is partially due to fuel regulations in California and the trend of West Coasters not spending as much on board. Even with higher rates it’s still cheaper to do a 4 night cruise than to stay 4 nights at a nice hotel and pay for food, entertainment, etc.
What we enjoyed most was the prices of the shore excursions we wanted to do. They were very reasonable so we booked through the ship! Something we don’t normally do.
Our cabin was R93. It was oceanview on deck 4 (Riviera). We’ve sailed in all types of cabins and we actually like interiors. But having a window again was nice. I have a horrible tendency to wake up early, so it is nice to look out and see if I can get up and take some pictures. On the flip side, having lights from the ship come in around the curtain and make me think I actually slept in until sunrise was not so pleasant!!
For 2 adults, this stateroom was a perfect size. It was a standard layout with the closets facing the bathroom, which does cause some traffic, and will require a bit of patience. I have sailed in a sideways stateroom, on a different CCL ship, and while there was more room to move around, I felt it lacked in storage space. Not so in this stateroom. There were 2 closets with hangers and a third with deep shelves. The desk area was large and had 4 shallow but wide drawers for extra storage. This is a Fantasy class ship, so there was no hair dryer, so I packed my own. The layout of the bathrooms is very nice, but lacks storage space. We make up for it by using a hanging bag with all our supplies. The shower is big compared to some others I’ve had and the toilet area isn’t crowded. Plenty of room in there for 1 person to move around. The bed was moderately comfortable; I didn’t wake up sore so that is a plus! The joint of the 2 twin beds wasn’t terribly noticeable. The window was a good size and had salt spray on the outside, but we were on deck 4, practically sea level ;). The entertainment on the TV was somewhat lacking, but there was so much going on that we didn’t spend much time in our room at all.
We opted to skip breakfast and do the self-assist debarkation with the hopes that we could avoid some traffic by leaving as early as we could. When we woke up we were in Long Beach, but there was no word from Carnival on when debarkation could start. The paper we got the night before said something silly like it wouldn’t start until 9am, which I know couldn’t be true because they usually want everyone outta there by that time. So, we got ourselves ready to go and I kept watch out the window for signs of people walking off the boat. I was packing up the last things when my husband decided to take a shower.. even though we would be home in 2 hours. So I unpacked the bathroom supplies and proceeded to forget to repack them!! I contacted CCL about this but have not heard a peep in return. Everything was cheap and replaceable. The bag was nice but I can easily replace that too.
Our Cruise Director was pretty good. I had read he ‘looks like a computer nerd’. OK… that is true. But he is also funny and quick with his replies. He didn’t make the cruise any less enjoyable and he didn’t stand out as completely amazing. Pretty average.
There was a general occurrence of things starting late which could possibly make you late for other activities, that was annoying.
I like to call this itinerary the Bahamas of the west coast ïŠ. So if you are familiar with that kind of cruise, it’s quite similar, imo. Bahamas are probably a little better, the water is warmer and more inviting for water sports.
This cruise was a pretty good value. Carnival is always a low price compared to others, the prices are a little higher on the west coast. The Ports of Call are OK to good. You don’t expect AMAZING ports when you take a 4 night cruise.
Having not visited Catalina before, and being that it was December and the water is too frigid for our warm bodies, I decided the best thing to do would be to explore the little town of Avalon. We had a few choices: golf cart, trolley, bike, or walking.
I kept reading about how walkable the town is and we are young enough, so I decided to go that route. If we had our toddler in tow, we might have opted for another option.
Since we had little idea what was around and google maps can only tell you so much about a place, I decided we would sign up for the walking tour with a Catalina Naturalist. I’m so glad we did! It wasn’t too expensive and Michael was so nice and so informative. He even ran a little over our tour time, but that was fine with us. He checked first to make sure no one had a second tour to catch. He led us around town and we got a history of the island and he pointed out the points of interest.
After the tour we were able to walk around ‘front street’. We found Catalina Island Brew House, a coffee shop that also serves beer! They have 8 taps with local Southern California craft beer. A great find for us local San Diegans. We spent quite a bit of time there. They had great selections from Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. We shopped a little in the shops on ‘front street’ and got back on the ship for a much needed nap.
In Ensenada we got up and ready and squeezed in a quick breakfast at the MDR because we had a 9am Winery tour! It’s never too early to start, on vacation, right? We had a knowledgeable guide, Rigo (aka Curly). He gave us a brief tour on our way out of town. The drive to the winery area, Guadalupe, is not bad. It is similar to areas in Central/East San Diego County, so it almost looked like we were home! The first stop is L.A. Cetto, a LARGE commercialized winery. They gave us A LOT of samples… not small and not all good, but what do you expect, really? They are just trying to get you to drink and buy ;). They also served bread, olives, and dipping oil. They also asked for tips, which is interesting, because we were also told they all work on salary! The second stop was a little mom and pop place, Dona Lupe. Mama still works every day, at their little shop. It was homey and welcoming vs large and commercialized (L.A. Cetto). Their wine was not fantastic, but they had some interesting dessert wines, so we picked up a bottle as a gift. They served bread with hot sauces that they sell on premises and a thin pizza. In their shop they had another man selling delicious dips! All in all this tour was a good value @ $40pp. We had a good time and met some nice people. We had aspirations of exploring Ensenada afterward, but when we returned to the ship we ate and took a nap instead. ïŠ We will be back again.