This was our 10th sailing on Carnival –overall we had a nice & relaxing cruise, and were very fortunate with calm seas and sunny & perfect weather: Upper 70s in Long Beach and Avalon, low 80s in Ensenada. Here is a review of our experience, but keep in mind that every cruise is different so your results will vary. We’ll be glad to answer any questions…
EMBARKATION –and ALCOHOL: My wife & I drove up from South OC and arrived Long Beach Cruise Terminal at 12:30pm, parked in the enclosed parking structure next to the Cruise Terminal “Dome”, dropped off luggage with the porter. We purchased “Faster To The Fun” (FTTF) right after we booked our cruise –see more info on this below, so luggage tags were marked “F2F” for quick delivery to our stateroom. With the FTTF logo on our Boarding Pass, we got to use the far-right priority entrance at the dome, then priority screening. We brought two 750ml bottles of wine from home in our carryon bags, which is allowed by Carnival. Our water bottles, both loose as well as those in a plastic shrink-wrap 8-pack, were randomly pulled out and shaken then examined for leaks & foaming –ours passed inspection..! Then proceeded to priority check in –got pix for our Sail & Sign (S&S) cards, passed thru security check & photo, then onboard by 1:00pm. Went to our stateroom U230 –no FTTF luggage yet (you’ll find out why) so went to the Mardis Gras dining room to meet the Maître d' and check our table assignment, then to the Spa to find out about the special deals. The Inspiration overall appeared to be in good shape and well maintained, and there’s no mistaking you’re on Carnival with that infamous “entertainment architecture”.
Back to the stateroom –our luggage arrived, but the gallon Ziploc bag that I had filled with white wine then sealed in multiple Ziplocs was confiscated (NOTE: Someone in a recent CC post reported that the security officer said the nozzles on Run Runners are detected by luggage scanners, so my exercise proved they are also checking for liquids in anything).
Hit the Mongolian Wok for lunch since the line would never be that short during the cruise –highly recommended. Hung out on the Serenity Deck till the Safety Briefing, which was first announced at 4:30pm, said was in progress at 4:40pm but didn’t formally begin until 5:00pm. TIP: Bring a jacket or sweater to the Safety Briefing, since part of the time you’ll be outside at your lifeboat station. We were assigned to Muster Station “E”, which is the Candlelight Aft Lounge. 10min briefing in the lounge (FYI: you can bring food & drinks to the lounge, but cannot take to the lifeboats), then we were escorted out to our lifeboat station and waited there another 10min until the all clear signal. Went back to our stateroom and met our Cabin Steward for the first time –gave him $20 (these folks deserve it!) and we always had a fresh bucket of ice after cleaning our stateroom twice a day. Our ship set sail at about 6:00pm –Sail Away Party!
“Cruise the Vineyards” WINE PACKAGE: Carnival advised that only the 3-bottle wine package is available on this shorter cruise, but we were allowed to order 1pkg for each of us, so had 6 bottles. Ordered these ahead of time a few weeks before the cruise –FYI: the price is the same and 15% gratuity is added whether you order ahead of time or on the ship. Tax was not added when we preordered, but since drinks ordered onboard had gratuity PLUS 8% sales tax added (except at sea after the casino was open and while in Mexico), my guess is that sales tax will be added if you order the wine package when you arrive onboard at embarkation. We figured the package saved us about $5 per bottle –not the up to 25% as advertised, but for 6btls it saved us $30 –and since we prepaid, this didn’t add to our onboard Sail & Sign account. We also preordered a bottle of Chardonnay, and requested delivery to our stateroom for the first day. It was in our stateroom when we arrived, but warm –without a bucket of ice, wine glasses or corkscrew. So we went to the nearest bar and exchanged it for a cold bottle, then had room service bring us a bucket of ice, wine glasses –and a free souvenir Carnival corkscrew. We also had paperwork when we arrived in our stateroom confirming our 2ea 3-bottle wine packages, and then received a phone call that we could choose our wines each night at the MDR; otherwise we could make our selections and have them all delivered to our stateroom right then, or faster to just go down to the Special Occasions Desk on Promenade Deck 9 and pick them up ourselves –we did this.
STATEROOM U230: Aft Oceanview (6C) stateroom at the very back center of the ship, we found motion & engine noise were minimal, noting that seas were relatively calm on this trip and the captain was good about approaching ports very slowly with minimal stern thrust required. The only odd sounds were from the high-speed rope winches used to tie the ship at Ensenada –but these only lasted a few minutes. And it’s very convenient to the Serenity Deck and Lido Buffet. The bed was comfortable, and the shower was decent-sized with plenty of water pressure. The air conditioning is very efficient, controlled by airflow that you can vary from none to full blast. TIP: There were two warm comforters in plastic bags at the bottom of the closet to bundle in if it got too cold.
If you’re a geek like me and bring your GPS, please note that my Garmin nuvi was able to get a satellite fix while sitting on the windowsill in this stateroom –just set it for “Off Road” mode. I saved the location of the Cruise Terminal before we embarked, so besides knowing our current location, direction & speed, I could also find out how far we were from home port at any time.
Directly across the hall from this stateroom is a large “Crew-only” door. We accidentally discovered that this leads to a stairwell, because as we were leaving our stateroom for the Safety Briefing, a crewmember opened that door and led us up those stairs –a convenient shortcut to our Muster Station “E”, the Candlelight Aft Lounge!
TIP: There's only one (1) grounded 3-prong 110VAC/60Hz electrical outlet (and one 220VAC/50Hz outlet) in most staterooms, so we always bring a multiple outlet strip and extension cords, as well as a fan to help mask ship noises (also earplugs) –and cool the room after a steamy shower!
FOOD: Please note that we are experienced cruisers with realistic expectations here, and that each cruise is different –as are your own tastes & preferences. Here is our feedback…
LIDO BUFFET: Had breakfast here once… Steam table with scrambled eggs, breakfast meats and potatoes, breads, fruit, etc –it was OK.
OMELET BAR: Had this once –it was good. Cooked to order with your choice of meat, veggies & cheese, prepared with eggs or egg whites (not sure if they offer egg substitute). TIP: Be ready to tell the chef everything you want at once, as I first asked for all the veggies and BAM! –that omelet moved down the line for another chef to cook it while I was asking for ham, so before I could stop him he started a second omelet with just ham.
MONGOLIAN WOK: This is very good and I always go for it if the line isn’t too long, as the line moves slowly. Fill your bowl with a nice selection of veggies and wheat or rice noodles, then chef woks it for you along with your choice of beef, chicken, and/or shrimp (mussels & clams were also offered while in Ensenada and on Sea Day) and sauces: Black Bean (mild), Thai BBQ (sweet & spicy medium), Szechuan (spicy hot). HOT TIP: Grab one of the large white oval plates from the buffet (they no longer have rectangular trays) BEFORE getting in line, as they aren’t provided at this station.
DELI: Great built-to-order sandwiches, but closes at 11pm so grab two –then you’ll have one on hand for the late evening if you get the munchies.
FRUIT & SALAD BAR: Decent selection.
PIZZA: Cooked fresh & hot and available 24/7. I’m not sure if Carnival changed the pizza dough recipe or lowered the oven temp, but the crust just isn’t as good as it used to be :-(
THE TASTE BAR: We enjoyed this –always a different selection of two tapas, and never a line (this used to be a sushi bar which often had long lines). On Promenade Deck 9, near the Casino.
MAIN DINING ROOM (MDR): We always choose Assigned Dining, Late (8:15pm). We were seated in the Carnivale Aft Dining Room –convenient to our stateroom. The dinners overall were fine every night EXCEPT on the last day at sea –MDR was surprisingly empty, and we found out why. I had the Penne Mariscos –mussels & fish were cooked until they gave up, the red (“lobster cream”?) pasta sauce tasted like Campbell’s/Chef Boyardee. My wife had Salmon –again, way overcooked. She also asked for steamed veggies, which were not on the menu –imagine a frozen bag of mixed veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans), served way over-steamed & watery.
The “American Table” is the new dinner theme in the MDR, with a new menu divided into Appetizers, Small Plates to Share, Entrées du Jour, Grill Selections w/choice of sauces, Sides, and Desserts. Service was good but a tad slow. Based on our experience during this cruise we prefer the old dinner theme, but assuming Carnival is still working out the kinks in this new dinner program it should improve with time:
The Good: Lobster Tail with large Shrimp (got 2 plates of this!), BBQ Pork Spareribs, Whipped Yukon Gold Potatoes, Sautéed Green Beans w/Bacon, Calamari (good temp & coating, although a bit salty to me; “zesty tomato sauce” was good, but I thought the “lemon aioli” seemed odd –like plain mayo), Vegetable Spring Rolls (surprisingly good & piping hot), Flat Bread, Seared Tuna, Duck Potstickers (pre-dunked in too much “Orange Duck Glaze” –would have been better on the side), Caesar Salad (just a hint of anchovy paste), Cheese Plate, Ceviche, Tomato/Mozzarella, Ratatouille.
The Not So Good: Flat Iron steak w/Bearnaise sauce –I asked for rare and it was close to that near the center, but tough and not so good towards the outside. Seared Striped Bass, and Seared Tilapia (overcooked), Shrimp Cocktail (imagine a bag of store-brand frozen shrimp, simply thawed and placed on a plate with cocktail sauce), Island Crab Cake (fishy, could have been mistaken for a salmon cake –which was on the menu a different night but did not try), Charred Romaine Heart (charred way earlier in the day on a grill, then refrigerated while soaking in Green Goddess dressing –so arrived cold & soggy), Escargot Bourguignonne (I like escargot and hoped these would be good, but arrived lukewarm and tasted just OK), Greek Salad (soggy).
We celebrated our anniversary on Cruise Elegant Night (2nd night, Catalina) –received a small piece of Coconut Lime Cake with a candle and a round of wait staff singing “Happy Anniversary to You”.
Corkage: There’s normally a $10 corkage fee in the MDR for wine not purchased thru Carnival, but we were not charged this on the 2 nights when we brought our own bottle of wine to dinner (from home).
Sea Day Brunch: We enjoyed this –I had the Roasted Tomato Soup then Filet Mignon & Eggs, my wife had a Bagel with Lox. FYI: You now have to pay for espresso/cappuccino in the MDR.
FASTER TO THE FUN (“FTTF”, aka F2F): This is listed on the Carnival website as one of the Shore Excursions for the port of embarkation (in this case, Los Angeles). For this cruise, FTTP includes Priority boarding, luggage delivered quickly to the stateroom, no wait to hop on a tender to Catalina whenever you want, special phone number & separate counter at Guest Services, priority debarkation. We thought all this was worth the $49.95 (total per stateroom –not per person). TIP: Don’t wait to order this –as with any shore excursion, quantities are limited.
EXERCISE: We didn’t use the gym this time, but we did check it out and the exercise equipment looked almost new. I wore my Fitbit (google it) throughout the cruise, and with all of the walking (on ship & in port), dancing, and using the stairs most of the time, I logged a daily average of 22000 steps, 10½ miles, 86 flights of stairs, and 4000 calories burned –however, I did not monitor my caloric intake haha ;-)
CUSTOMER SERVICE: Everyone at Carnival, both at the cruise terminal and on board, was pleasant & professional.
INTERNET: A recent Cruise Critic log noted that you can purchase a Verizon data package and use that instead of paying for the Carnival internet package. Since I have an old no-contract Verizon 3G USB Modem that I rarely use, I contacted Verizon who told me there IS Verizon service on Carnival cruises and that I could use my USB Modem onboard, and that Carnival would charge me for voice calls –but NO CHARGE FOR DATA-ONLY ACCESS. Cool! So I purchased a prepaid 7-day 300MB national data plan applicable for my device (plans vary by device) for $30, and activated it the day before departure. FYI: My Verizon USB Modem did NOT work at sea with Carnival’s WiFi –unless I would have also purchased a Carnival Internet Plan (around $65 for an hour of access time at S-L-O-W internet speeds) which I could have accessed via my notebook’s built-in WiFi so need for Verizon. The ONLY time my Verizon USB Modem worked was when I had land-based 3G access in port at Long Beach and Catalina –not at sea, and not in port at Ensenada.
CATALINA: We pre-reserved a 4-person gas-powered golf cart at $80 and got 3hrs for the price of 2hrs, with a pickup time at 10:00am thru catalinaislandgolfcart.com. For FTTF tendering, we went to Guest Services at 09:15am and an officer escorted us immediately to the front of the line for the next tender. The boat ride is only 10mins, so we had 30mins to walk around Avalon before picking up our golf cart (~3 blocks to the south as you step off the Green Pier where we tendered). Please note that you must pay a $40 cash deposit (there’s a US Bank ATM nearby), which is refunded when you return the cart. They provide a map & directions for a scenic 1hr drive that begins by driving south along the water, then turn right at the Edison power plant and up the hill to the Wrigley Mansion (Inn on Mt Ada), back down into Avalon then up past the golf course to the Wrigley Memorial Garden ($7pp), then around and up the hill past the Catalina Zipline, down past the Bell Tower and Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel, and around past the Casino to the Descanso Beach Club. We then drove around Avalon to enjoy all of the Had lunch at Luau Larry’s at the beach next to the Green Pier. I had the Seared Ahi Sandwich –nice brick of blackened ahi tuna seared very rare, and my wife had the Ahi Poke –served on white rice, all excellent. Headed back to the ship around 3:00pm; no wait for a tender.
ENSENADA: We’ve been here many times, so slept in, had a nice buffet breakfast, then headed into town around 11:30am. We always visit Fausto Polanco Hacienda Furniture faustopolanco.com.mx , a brown 2-story building that was originally a hotel at the very south end of Ave Adolfo López Mateos (“the tourist street”). We then headed back up that street and hit a couple of shops along the way, then over 2 blocks to the marina and checked out the excitement at the Mercado de Mariscos seafood market. We walked over to see the boats in the marina then strolled the nice walk along the water back to our ship. That evening after dinner we hit the Mexican Fiesta in the pool area on Lido Deck 10 –lots of fun dancing.
ENTERTAINMENT: The DJ Sail Away Party on Lido Deck 10 got us into vacation mode. We didn’t go to any of the shows this time –too busy doing other things! Dancing at the Rock N Roll Dance Club was great but sometimes didn’t start until later in the evening. Didn’t matter to us if no one was dancing –we just got out there and tipped the DJ to play a favorite. We’re pretty lame dancers, but just having fun is contagious and soon the dance floor filled up. Get this party started! We hit one of the early “family” comedian acts –very funny. We always go to the Piano Bar –one night it was great, and the other night it was weird & surreal –almost somber. The difference? The audience –so go, find some new friends and make the fun happen! And don’t miss the Mexican Fiesta after Ensenada.
CASINO: The table dealers were all friendly and more than happy to take our money haha, but we both actually won at slots! FYI: The slots no longer accept coins, only bills –and of course S&S cards. TIP: If you put cash in a slot machine and later want to cash out, the ONLY WAY is to load the cash balance onto your S&S account. So FIRST be sure to stick your S&S card into the machine BEFORE putting any cash in, and verify that it can read your S&S card. If it displays a card read error, go to Guest Services and have them issue a new card to you. Both of our original S&S cards had read errors for some reason, but our replacements worked fine in the slots.
SERENITY DECK: Very nice, only adults 21+ allowed, and a Carnival crew member was always present to enforce the age requirement. Never crowded except on our Sea Day.
DEBARKATION: We chose to use self-assist and keep our luggage with us, rather than putting them out for baggage handling the night before. We woke up at 6:00am already docked in Long Beach, so we packed up and for self-assist with FTTF we were advised to meet in the Paris Main Lounge at 7:15am. As soon as the ship was cleared for debarkation at 7:30am, we were immediately escorted down one flight of stairs (carrying our luggage) and pretty much the first off the ship –so no wait to clear customs and head home. Parking was $68 total ($17/day X 4 days).
And now for something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Carnival offers plenty of activities throughout the day & evening BUT, should you find yourself with some free time and would like to go exploring, then do check out…
SECRET DECKS: The two "Secret Decks" are located at the very front of the ship and are accessed through a door located on either side of the ship all the way forward: The Secret Deck on Deck 8 is accessed by walking forward past either side of the stage in the Paris Main Lounge, and the Secret Deck on Deck 11 by walking forward to the end of either stateroom hall. You will not find a sign on the access doors explaining where they lead. There will be two doors to go through in order to access these areas. Always close the first door before opening the second, because the ocean breeze combined with the ship movement will funnel wind through the doorway at a high rate of speed. The access doors to the "Secret Decks" may be locked at night and at times of high winds. If the doors are locked just try again at another time. It can be very windy & cool on these decks while the ship is cruising, for this reason some of the best times to experience the "Secret Decks" are while docked.
SECRET PENTHOUSE SUITES: There are two “secret” penthouse suites located on either side of Deck 12 Aft, on the opposite side from the Spa next to the Fire Stations on either side. The black entrance doors have polished brass nameplates labeled “PRIVATE 1” and “PRIVATE 2”. They’re not listed on the deck plan and purportedly you can’t book them direct, but instead via an upsell call to pay for the privilege. Each suite is big. When you enter there is a fridge & bar area and a door to the balcony, then a small table with three chairs and a TV, then further in are sofa sleepers that convert to beds in the evening. Across from them is a built-in desk area, and a door to the bedroom. Big king bed. Dresser area under a big flat screen TV. Big bathroom. Double sinks. Vanity. Tons of towels. Big walk-in closet. Bathroom with toilet and huge tub. HOWEVER… the suite is dated. Purportedly it was renovated a few years ago, yet still has that 80’s feel –which is before the ship was even built! The sinks are pink. The tub is pink! Dark black marbled tile floor to ceiling. The living room is bare. The furniture was just placed in the room with no other decorating. There are blinds on the windows. Dated! On the plus side: Lots of space. The drapes & blinds do block out a lot of light. The balcony is really big. You do have a life boat just outside and below the balcony, where birds like to hang out when in port. The fridge is very cold. The bed is comfy. Water pressure is good. So overall great staterooms –if you can snag one!
HIDDEN DALEKS: For Doctor Who fans, watch out for the “hidden” Daleks along the Promenade Deck 9.