Booked the 4 night cruise on the Carnival Paradise, traveling to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico, from Long Beach. This was a birthday gift for my friend who is turning 50 this year. I've been on over 10 cruises and he's been on one previously. The lines I've cruised on include Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Norwegian. Of all the lines my two favorites have been Celebrity and Norwegian. I sailed on Carnival once prior to this trip on the 7 night Mexico itinerary and enjoyed the travel but not the ship for many reasons. I was a bit hesitant to go on Carnival again after that first experience, but the price and dates worked for us so we took a chance on the Paradise. I'm happy to say that I'm glad we did because this was one of the best cruises I've been on. It surprises me to say that but it's true. It was a two hour drive to the terminal for us, and we parked our car in the convenient covered lot located on site. Easy access to the terminal and porters were available in the parking garage to assist with luggage. Arrived at 1:30 p.m., and on the ship 20 minutes later. Doesn't get better than that. Excellent staff at embarkation. Complete you "Fun Pass" on Carnival's website before you go. It will help with embarkation. Our outside cabin was on the Main deck facing the rear, or in ship lingo, aft. Large room and very comfortable for two people to share. I liked how the beds were configured with one against the back wall and one on the side wall. For two friends traveling together this gave a sense of personal space. The beds can easily be put together for couples if desired. Bathroom was excellent in design and comfortably sized. Almost a full size shower, all tile. No bumping elbows on the wall in this shower. Excellent storage space with large mirrored medicine cabinet above the sink. Tons of hooks for hanging towels and clothes. It could have been a little cleaner as I'm a fussy person about cleaning, but it was OK. Closet and drawer space was plentiful. Beds were very comfortable, probably some of the best I've experienced on a ship. Nice bedside lamps for reading in bed, too. TV programming was very good with several satellite USA stations broadcast. The overall condition of the ship impressed me. Very clean and looked like new. Much nicer than I was expecting.
The food was one of the highlights. Carnival has really done an excellent job in this area. Almost everything I ate was terrific, or at least good. Dining room food was wonderful as was the service. The buffet food was even tasty which I don't expect from buffets. The pizza was truly the best I've had on a ship, hands down. Made to order and about 8 different selections including my favorite which was a goat cheese and wild mushroom. I think I had a piece at least once a day every day onboard. And the pizza stand is open 24 hours so it's a great spot to grab a late night snack. We didn't see any of the shows onboard. I'm not into that type of thing. Played Bingo once which was OK. I did attend the art auction and bought a small piece. I've bought many times from Park West auctions on cruises but I have to say this was one of the most irritating experiences I've had with them. I had an appointment to settle my account with Park West at 10:15 p.m. on the last night. I arrived at 10:10 p.m. only to be told it would just be a few minutes. At 10:45 p.m., after chatting with one of the auctioneers for about a half hour to kill the waiting time, I began to get really annoyed and was still being told it would be just a minute. So this process in total took close to an hour and my actual time to do business was about 5 minutes. The auctioneers were way too aggressive for me, and the lead auctioneer was extremely arrogant and annoying. The auction itself was way too long, over 3 hours. I think I'll probably skip future auctions onboard.
The cruise staff overall onboard were well trained and courteous. A few exceptions here and there, particularly with those who didn't speak English well, or at all. Several times I received very odd responses to my simple questions or just dazed looks. My main complaint with this ship is the directional markings, or lack of. Decks maps were almost nonexistent unless you searched diligently for them. I usually have no problem maneuvering around ships but this one stumped me all the time. At a minimum Carnival should provide a small map of the ship's decks in each cabin. Moreover, the markings at the elevator banks needs major improvement. It was almost impossible to determine which floor you were on. They did use some very odd markings on the carpeting to designate the first letter of each deck name, but that doesn't do any good if you have no clue which deck you need by name. Just number the decks and call it a day. I heard this comment almost every time I was on the elevators from other guests.
The casino was fun and the slots were fair in payouts. I won and lost, but at least it wasn't just losing constantly. If I had stopped when I should I would have been ahead, but isn't that usually the case with any casino? I consider it part of the entertainment and if I come out ahead then even better.
Ports were great. Catalina Island is absolutely charming. Very peaceful and relaxing just to stroll around the town, walking along the marina. I recommend a nice walk over to the famous Casino, not a gambling casino, just for the views. Ensenada, Mexico, is much nicer than when I was there over 10 years ago. If you stick to the main parts of town where the shuttles from the ship will drop you off it's safe and relatively clean. The shuttle driver tried to hard sell a bus trip to see the infamous blow hole and to visit the vendors, but we weren't interested. From what I heard from people who did go on that trip it was not a good trip and the shopping was dismal. We enjoyed lunch in town, and did a lot of shopping and just walking around.
The last day of the cruise is a sea day, and the captain basically took us out into the middle of the Pacific and shut the engines down. I liked that as we had very calm seas and it truly was a floating resort that day. We were very lucky in that the weather was outstanding every day. I was expecting it to still be cold at sea, but it wasn't. We were able to enjoy the pools except when some dunce vomited in the main pool and it had to be shut down. Here's a tip if you like to avoid the crowded main pool area. At the rear, or aft, of the ship above the buffet restaurant one floor up is a large sunning deck area with two hot tubs and one small wading pool to get wet. This area is not used much and we were always able to use the hot tubs with maybe only one or two other people. I used the men's spa facilities for the steam and sauna rooms. Very nice facilities kept clean by the polite attendant. I especially enjoyed the mood lighting that changes in the sauna. Very relaxing. Locker keys available for no charge at the spa reception desk.
Disembarkation was the pits. We decided to carry off our luggage as did about 1,000 other people. Usually doing this allows you to get off the ship first and quickly. Not this time. The lines were horrendous. We rose that morning, showered and packed, then left our luggage in the cabin while we went to have breakfast. We picked up our luggage in the cabin at about 9:00 a.m. It was 10:45 before we stepped off the ship after waiting forever for the line to even move. Not good at all, but fortunately we didn't have to catch a flight home. I felt sorry for those who did because that would have been a stressful way to end a pleasant vacation cruise.
Overall, bottom line, I liked this cruise and would definitely recommend it. You can't beat what you receive for the price. First time cruisers might find more to complain about not knowing what to expect, but for myself, having paid much more for much worse, this cruise was a wonderful surprise. I think I would avoid this cruise during the summer as I believe the ship gets overrun with kids. Go during normal school year times if you prefer "kid-less" cruises like me. There were kids onboard, but not many. Passenger mix was very good and ran the gamut from young to old. It seemed like everyone was enjoying themselves from what I heard. I certainly did and so did my friend. Would do it again in a second. Happy cruising!