My husband and I decided to celebrate his graduation by taking a cruise with friends to Mexico. We had traveled on a Disney cruise in the Caribbean in 2006 and decided we really enjoyed cruising but wanted to take a longer one (Disney was 3 days). We chose Carnival because they were the last ones cruising to Mexico in May.
The embarkation process was very unorganized. We arrived on Alaska Airlines around 9 a.m., with the first shuttle supposedly leaving at about 11. We spent some time in the international terminal waiting and came back around 10:30. There were no representatives with signs pointing us in the right direction, and when we saw a Carnival shuttle outside we went up to it only to be told to go back inside and wait in a long line that had already formed. Once we got to Long Beach, people were walking around and some had decided to form a line. We asked a Carnival representative if we should wait in line and he directed us to one. By the time embarkation was to start, two lines had formed and the other line (which formed after ours) was let through first. The process inside the building went just fine after we got in.
The inside of the ship is very flashy. Having been on the Disney cruise first, we were hoping to find a more adult atmosphere (minus characters on the walls and Disney music playing in the halls). There was art all over the walls, and quite a bit of nudity. While I appreciate art and history (and am in my 20's with all my friends on vacation), it was just a little much for me. We got an oceanview balcony on deck 6 which was great to have (no noise above or around). Though the rooms are a little smaller than Disney's, there is a lot of closet storage space. I would highly suggest bringing a shoe rack for the back of one of the doors as it can easily hold all your sunglasses, tickets, flip flops, etc. The only thing lacking in the room is a bathtub, which I found were in the suites if you wanted to spring for one of those. Our balcony had a table and chairs and always had a great view of the port or dolphins swimming by.
We chose the late sitting for dinner which was excellent. There were less kids around and we could take our time. There were a lot of interesting choices for food, which was fun to try, but overall the food on Disney was way better. All the cuts of meat I had were fairly fatty and the buffets were poor. The best parts of the buffet were the pizza and ice cream which is constant every day. I didn't have many drinks, but most I had were pretty good- especially in the early afternoon as they are cheaper than at night. As for soft drinks, you do have to pay for them unless you purchase a drink card at $44 per person or pay for each one individually. I would go for drinking water unless you drink a lot of soda and are willing to pay the price.
While we liked our wait staff and room steward, but we were not impressed by the rest of the customer service on the ship (info desk). The entertainment was also lacking. Unless you are a huge gambler, there is not much to do on your days at sea. We basically sunbathed, hit the gym, and watched TV. The shows in the theatre were really bad. There was an "Around the World" show where they sang Michael Jackson's Free Willy song for Africa and "One Night in Bangkok" for Thailand. The other was a decades music show with dancing Beetles puppets. The only shows I would suggest seeing are the comedy shows.
In Puerto Vallarta, we went with a canopy tour through Tours de Los Veranos (http://www.canopytours-vallarta.com/info/index.htm). It was great! The staff was super helpful and very entertaining. The facilities at the end of the tour included a little water area to swim in with rock slides. We could have spent all day there, as we did not enjoy the actual town much. I would suggest doing a tour here rather than hitting the beach as the water did not look so great.
In Mazatlan, we spent the day at the beach outside the Los Flores hotel. It was very relaxing, minus the vendors walking around selling things. If you want to do water sports, this is the place as there are many companies on the beach willing to give a good deal. We did boogie boards and regret not doing the jet skis. The hotel let us use their facilities as well, so it was a great spot.
Cabo was the shortest day of the trip and we took the cruise's 4-wheeler tour. The staff was great but we did not get enough free time, but were instead lead in a line through the desert. The water in Cabo looked great, so if you want to relax and do water sports, this place looked great as well.
It is true when they say you can't do much on your last days at sea. The ship is going so fast that it is pretty cold, windy and rocky. Overall we had a good experience, but we will not sail on Carnival again. Disney far surpassed them in service and overall quality.