My husband and I have just returned from the March 8th sailing with port calls in Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas. This was our 10th cruise, and 6th on Carnival. By way of background, we are mid 40's with no kids. Vacations for us mean sleeping late, drinking, eating, relaxing by the pool, gambling and enjoying the music and comedy shows. We have enjoyed Carnival cruises in the past because they generally draw a younger crowd with more nightlife, and we know what to expect for what is usually a very fair price. This cruise far exceeded our expectations!
Embarkation: This was a breeze. We live about 4 hours away, so we drove down and arrived around 2pm. We parked in the structure and used the curbside porter service for our checked bags. Went through security, checked in and were on board within 30 minutes. Note that they will take your picture for the sail & sign security, and that you have to remove your hat for that photo (not a very attractive photo for me since I had been wearing my baseball cap for the past 5 hours). Also, if you wear a hat into port, you will need to remove it for security purposes when returning to the ship, but at least they are taking a photo.
Our cabin was ready, so we dropped off our carry on baggage and headed for the back pool bar. Drink in hand it was time to explore the ship. Enjoyed some sail away music on the Lido deck and headed to our cabin to unpack.
Cabins: We were mid ship on the Verandah deck, cabin 7224. This was a great location, just past the Atrium elevators. There was no noise at all, and yet we were just steps to the elevators and it was an easy walk going forward or aft. Our cabin had a regular balcony with two chairs and a small table. Inside furnishings were the normal; desk, sofa, coffee table, two hanging closets and one set of shelves, plus 3 small drawers and bedside cupboards. More than enough storage for the two of us. The bed was very comfortable and was made up with a light down comforter and four pillows.
Dining: We had the My Time Dining and enjoyed it very much. Being night owls, we would wait for the general late dining line to clear, and would then request our table for two. Arnell was our waiter the first night,and we asked for him each night after. There was never a wait for a table. Although we ate in the same vicinity each night, we always had a different table, which was kind of fun. Since we weren't sure if we would always be able to be seated in his section, we tipped each night. We adjusted the automatic gratuities at Guest services so that the dining room tips were at our discretion, and the remainder of tipping (buffet and cabin steward) were added automatically. The first night we ordered a bottle of wine, and Arnell stored what we did not drink, and brought it to our table the next night. We repeated this throughout the cruise. Here is where we were pleasantly surprised: the food was much improved from our prior Carnival Cruises. Each night, we continued to be impressed. The first night we went for the comfort food option of Pot Roast - yum! Other favorites included lamb shank, pasta carbonara, white fish (can't remember what kind), pork medallions, chauteaubriand, and the bacon mac & cheese. We also tried the alligator fritters, escargot and frog legs, and they were all good. We tried a different soup or salad each night and a few deserts. On the "everyday" menu we tried the flat iron steak and the fried chicken, and were impressed by both. On our last cruise we ate at Nick & Norah's, and simply went to the buffet one night because we just weren't enjoying the MDR food. On this cruise we never made it to the steakhouse because we enjoying the MDR food so much!
Horatio's & Lido Deck: The buffets were good with a different choice each day, as well as the Deli, Salad Bar, and Chopstix. The grill on the Lido deck always had burgers, dogs, chicken tenders and salad, and we were again surprised any an improvement to the quality of the burgers - very tasty!
Pizza: We usually his this as a late night snack, and it should not be missed! Thin crust, cooked to order, and far better than most any thin crust gourmet pizza at home.
Public areas: The serenity pool area is great, but finding an empty lounger, much less one of the cool cabanas was difficult. The main pool areas were nice enough with music if you enjoy that, and a fair number of children. The sun deck was a little quieter and was not too windy, except on the return trip from Mexico.
Entertainment: We were also very impressed in this area! George Lopez's Punchliner Comedy Club is a great addition. We attended two of the adult comedy shows and could not stop laughing. These shows are usually late night, and I cannot stress enough that they are for adults only, and are not appropriate for the easily offended. We also enjoyed great music in the Atrium and Casino stages. It was fun to be just wandering from one area to another and happen upon one of the entertainment venues. Especially good was Dylan Holton, and another gal who sang Country tunes. Both drew great crowds who demanded encores. We even made it to Doc Frankenstein's dance club a few times. The music wasn't from our era, but we still enjoyed it and enjoyed watching the younger crowd having a good time.
Ports: We had two days in Puerto Vallarta, and one day in Cabo. The first day in Puerto Vallarta we took one of the group taxi vans to old town. The cost was $3 per person and they drop you on the Malecon. We had great tacos at Taco Republic and drinks on the beach at the Sea Monkey and Burro's Beach Bar. We came back for dinner in the evening, and made a few stops including Senor Frogs, where they were having a foam party. We are much too old for this, but we got a kick out of having a few beers and watching the spring breakers get a little crazy. We were there overnight, so the next day we just shopped in the flea market and had some drinks at the little bar in the port area. They had music and the returning passengers were having drinks and dancing so it was very festive. In Cabo we didn't leave the ship until about 11, so no need to wait for a tender assignment. We took a water taxi to Medano Beach and had some food and beers at the office. Then we went downtown and walked around the Marina area, ending the day with some beers at one of the marina bars. We left at 2:30 (last tender at 2:45) and waited in line for nearly 30 minutes, along with everyone else. This was okay since it was not very hot and we were chatting with the people in line.
Overall we had a great time. Really good food, great service from the staff and the entertainers, fun times in the bars and the casino, and so much to do that we didn't get to it all. Great job Carnival; we will be back!