Family of five Spring Break cruise.
First the constructive criticisms (I copied these from the Carnival survey I just filled out):
1)Most disappointed with quality and variety of food. We are not foodies by any stretch of the imagination. But by the end of this short 4 night trip, we were ready to have some real food. Felt like we were stuck in an old folks home, forced to eat their bland daily meals. Uggh. Based on the food quality and variety, I would have a hard time imagining ourselves on a longer Carnival cruise based on the food quality and variety alone. And we are a young family, our 8 year old has already cruised with us 3 times (twice on Carnival).
2) Felt like the value of the cruise was great, especially because the five of us (two adults and three kids under the age of 8) could all be in one cabin. Yes it was ridiculously cramped, but we knew that ahead of time. The two items I would pay more money for, that would have enhanced the cruise for us was A) Quality & Variety of food and B) balcony cabin.
3) It would be nice if Carnival offered some additional ports north of LA. Make the obligatory stop in Ensenada and then go to Santa Barbara, or a 7 day to San Francisco and return back to LA. Use a ship that has balcony cabins, we would jump on this!
4) A small item, we also wished that there were some earlier 'adult' venues open. Even though our kids were in Camp Carnival, we did not want them up past 10pm. Us parents would drop the kids at Camp Carnival for dinner, then we would eat dinner ourselves, and the entertainment venues that were open between dinner time and the 10pm close of Camp Carnival, were 'family friendly' and/or non-existent.
5) Camp Carnival - our 4 year old was very bored because he was stuck -as he put it - with the babies. The activities in his age bracket were geared for the smallest 2 year olds. There should be an option to bridge this 'older kids' in an age bracket with the next age bracket up, especially when his siblings were in the next age bracket - and having more fun - because they were not playing 'baby games'.
We had long avoided the 'fantasy' class of ships because balcony cabins are practically non existent. I also feared that the short cruises out of LA were 'booze cruises'. We put our fears to test with this spring break cruise, which was sold out. I never felt like we were on a 'booze cruise'. Yes folks were drinking, some - as to be expected - excessively, but it never was a problem. I also feared long lines everywhere, and if planned correctly, this was not an issue either. Our cabin, an ocean view on deck 4 (R36) was fine. Yes - I wished and would have paid for a balcony, but it was not possible. The only issue with R36 is on a tender day, the tender line wraps down the hallway and there will be a line of people wight outside the cabin door for the heavy tender time - which was late morning. If you are not in your cabin during this time, you would never know about this 'issue'. Otherwise cabin was very quiet, our room steward was outstanding and the cabin was close to the forward elevator stack that went to Deck 11.
Embarkation at 2:30 pm was very easy and self-assist debarkation blew my mind on how easy it was. We were supposed to self-assist disembark at 9:30am, the cruise director, at 8:30am made an announcement that all self-assits could disembark. We literally, walked from our cabin to the elevator with our bags, took the mid-ships elevator (no line) from Deck 4 to Deck 7, and followed the crew members directions, and walked off the ship - again no line! There were three people in front of us in the Customs line. Super easy! Until we got out to the parking garage and the car's tire was flat - but that just out bad luck (on our last cruise the cars battery was dead).
We did not book any excursions through Carnival. We tendered to Catalina and rented a 6 person golf cart for a 1 hour $60 self-guided tour of the island. We highly recommend this self-guided tour. You will go up on a bluff that overlooks the ocean, the bay and where the cruise ship is anchored. Great pictures!
In Ensenada, the ship is docked at a pier, so no tendering, We walked off the ship and there are buses at the pier that will offer tours to the blow hole. We chose the 'blow hole and beach horse back riding "package"'. It was $35 a person for the bus ride, 1 hr beach horse ride, and trip to the blow hole with two hours at the blow hole (lunch and junk shopping). Our two youngest kids (4 and 6) were free. So we thought this was a pretty good deal and did it. It is a bout a 30 minute semi-narrated bus trip to the horses, We actually rode in the surf. The blow hole was kind of cool. You will walk through a 1/4 mile worth of souvenir and food stands between where the bus drops you off and the blow hole. It looked like the best place to eat is the open air restaurant behind where all the buses park. If you walk into the tourist trap between the buses and the blow hole, you will miss out on the best place to eat - which gets ridiculously busy as the day grows.
Regarding Ensenada, my wife was not overly impressed. The horse back riding in the surf was fun. But Ensenada reminds me that Mexico is still a third world country. Lots of potential, natural beauty marked with abject poverty.
One of the coolest parts of our Ensenada trip was leaving the port. The Princess cruise ship, Princess Star was tied up perpendicular to the Imagination, We left prior to the Star, and as we left, we motored very close to the Star, so close, you could read the passengers t-shirts on the deck of the Star. You could have tossed a football back and forth, if you wanted. Passengers between the ships were talking to each other. It was amazing to see the two huge ships that close to one another (the Star looked like an amazing ship, full of balcony cabins!). Make sure you are up on deck if the Star is in Port and the Imagination leaves first.
Know what to expect on your cruise and enjoy the fact that you are on vacation!