We read many reviews on CC prior to booking our trip and found them useful and in turn, hope ours may answer some questions future cruisers may have.
About us: I'm 28 and my girlfriend is 25. This is a first cruise for both.
For first time cruisers, CCL delivers on its "fun ship" theme. The mix of the passenger and crew reflects how diversity brings richness. We found the crew helpful and accommodating and did not feel we were imposing when seeking services. From beginning to end we were greeted with smiles and thank yous. That is a credit to CCL. We entered our trip with tempered expectations and cannot say we were disappointed, notwithstanding the comments below.
Prior to booking, we read many review comparing Carnival to Walmart as catering to the masses. Even if true we thought we got what we paid for. Based upon my personal experience, the service we received while on board was much better and more prompt than when were at our regular hotel in Vegas, the Rio.
Coming and Going:
Embarkation: As recommended by many, we filled out papers on-line and proceeded to early check in. The process was for the most part disorganized and we were guided not by any literature received from Carnival, but our review of CC. Once we completed the early-check in process, we waited in line. We were on the ship in about 2.5 hours from first arriving in Long Beach. We were vacationing so the wait didn't bother us. But it was particularly troubling that the wait was onerous regardless, it's just a matter of how long do you want to wait. If you don't want to wait in long lines and don't care about starting your vacation a little later, getting to port at 2-3 p.m. isn't necessarily a bad idea.
Debarkation: Also CCL's other low point. My gf and I chose the self-assist, which means we would carry our own luggage off the ship and after the early-flight folks were allowed to leave (and after that, the "regular" check outs would take place.) In any event, I can only speak to the self-assist process. We were repeatedly told by public address announcements (and at the disembarkation talk the day before) that the self-assisters would be allowed to disembark after the self assist folks did so and would be told which decks would be allowed to exit. We waited from 8:45 am to about 10:30 without guidance other than the proverbial we'll get back to you. Patient wearing thin, we went ahead and got in line to get off the ship, as did other self-assisters. We got off the boat without hearing the announcement. Also, a great number of those who were not "self-assists" also got off the boat the same time we did. The process was long, disorganized, and an unfortunate beginning and end to our trip.
Having said that, both of us enjoyed our trip a great deal. The dining service was excellent. Nigel our head waiter was outstanding. Don't be afraid to ask for double or triple servings of the foods. If you want to take the food back to the cabin, you can also let them know. We recommend the Chocolate Melted Cake, Tiramisu, Wonton soup, and of course, the lobster.
I do agree with other posters that if there's a dress code, enforce it, if not, don't have one. It's unfortunate to see many who go out of their way to dress up on formal nights sitting in proximity with those wearing t-shirts and jeans. The end result is that it's not really formal night at all. Either you're over dressed or under dressed. Do away with formal night or enforce the dress code. Nevertheless, that's something I don't necessarily fault CCL with.
Angelo, our cabin steward was the absentee, but sensational help. We always had ice, towels, and other requests were promptly met. The choices for room service were limited, but the food always came when we expected it and the food orders filled accurately, with minor omissions. As a result of the service, we tipped pretty much when ever we asked for additional services, on top of the Amex recommended tipping included on our final billing.
In Puerto Vallarta, we did the Canopy Tours with El Eden (sp?). Los Veranos tours were sold out and we relied upon the recommendation of locals and it worked out fine. We paid $65/per person which was $64/per person cheaper than through the CCL sponsored canopy tour, and still had a great time. El Eden sells itself as the location where the "Predator" movie was shot. The location was scenic and there is a pool and restaurant for you to eat and swim after doing the 12 lines. On a personal note, my gf and I thought the restaurant had the best salsa we had ever eaten. After going back to town we did some site seeing and light shopping.
Our next port of call was Mazatlan where we booked Randi's horses based upon recommendations on CC. Two things here and these items are not necessarily Randi's fault. When we got to Victors, the restaurant, we waited in excess of an hour just sitting in the restaurant trying not to buy something from the locals while the horses returned from the prior tour. The meal at the end was fine, but I don't think everyone knew they were going to end up eating lunch at Victors after the fact. No one forces you to eat lunch at Victors, but that's the drill. You can eat, or sit and wait for another 1.5 hours while the group ate. We would still have booked the tour, but the guests would be better served if they had more information. The ride itself was as advertised. It was scenic, safe, and a lot of fun, especially if you've never been on a horse like me.
Cabo was beach day for us. We went to Lover's Beach, ate, and shopped. It was a light day considering the short time in port. Others on the trip agreed that Cabo is the most beautiful of the three ports and the one where we all would've liked more time in.
Having no other basis for comparison, we nevertheless rate our initial experience with CCL and this particular cruise a B+. Low marks for the embarkation and debarkation process, high marks for quality service. We would cruise with Carnival again, but will see what else is out there. If we can be of assistance, please do not hesitate to send us a note.