We are a group of 18 from Reno who traveled on the March 8 cruise from LA to Mexico. Our group of 6 families consisted of 12 adults (25-45) and 6 children (2-13).
EMBARKATION - FAIR
We arrived at the pier at approximately 10:30 a.m. to be advised that check-in would begin at approximately 11:45 a.m. Shortly before check-in was to begin, we were advised the ship would be undergoing a semi-annual inspection and that we would not be permitted to board until after that was completed.
The cruise terminal is filthy and has virtually no services. A lunch "truck" and a few vending machines in what really resembles a bus terminal. We cruised Carnival from Long Beach last year and their embarkation area was filled with quality vendors and more closely resembled a decent hotel lobby rather than a bus terminal.
We made the best of it by checking in then proceeding to the trolly just outside the parking area for a ride into downtown San Pedro. We grabbed lunch at the San Pedro Brewing Company then headed back to the ship about 2:00 or so.
Upon returning to the terminal from lunch, we were able to walk on board the ship immediately.
ALCOHOL - INSIDER TIP
They are absolutely serious about x-raying your bag for alcohol. After embarkation there was a room full of baggage containing alcohol that was stored in the card room on Deck 12. Passengers were required to visit the room and remove alcohol (or pay corkage on wine) prior to being able to claim their baggage. A virgin margarita is about $7, a double Grey Goose is about $13. A single Boddington's will run you $7.50 and the drink of the day is over $10 with tip. Our sign and sail account was more than the entire cruise!!!!!!
FOOD - MOSTLY GOOD TO VERY GOOD
We dined in the main dining room (Versailles), Aqua, Blue Lagoon, Cagney's ($20 surcharge), Teppanyaki ($20 surcharge) and Endless Summer (reservations required - no surcharge) and all were very good to excellent, with the exception of Blue Lagoon which was poor. While I did not personally ever eat at the Market Place Buffet, others in our group who did said it was awful. We also visited the poolside eateries and used room service as well, both of which were fine.
The service in the main dining room and Aqua was a bit on the slow side, but we were on vacation. On our fist visit to Teppanyaki, the waited began the service by telling us we had 1.5 hours to be out of there as they had another party. A bit offputting but the meal was excellent and the kids loved the show.
We enjoyed the Cooking Light features and almost all the entrees and sides were well flavored.
Overall the food was very good, although I think it was a very slight step below Carnival.
Trying to get reservations for 18 is difficult at best. We were successful only twice. When breaking into smaller groups of 8 or less, we were able to get reservations almost everywhere we wanted, although rarely at a time we requested.
KIDS PROGRAM - EXCELLENT
The two youngest kids in our group visited regularly (ages 2 and 5) and they truly enjoyed Planet Kids. They kept the kids very busy with movies, face painting, plays, and many other activities. They took them to lunch in the main dining room and even to the big production shows.
FITNESS CENTER - EXCELLENT
Visited the fitness center only twice but found it to be excellent. The equipment is top notch and the views were perfect. Never had trouble getting a machine (most of the folks at the Chocolate Buffet should have paid a visit to the fitness center but that is a complete story in itself). The place was well equipped, well maintained and clean.
STATEROOM - FAIR
We booked the highest category inside stateroom (II) and found it to be much smaller and with less storage than on Carnival. The bathroom was extremely tiny and there was absolutely no room to even sit, other than the bed. The room itself was looking a bit worn with dated linens and carpeting. We were also on the 11th floor and the noise was tremendous. I am not sure if the kitchen or laundry was right behind our room but is was very, very loud.
EMPLOYEES - VERY GOOD
Our stateroom steward was excellent, visiting immediately upon our arrival, arranging the bedding to our liking, removing mini bar items from the refrigerator and keeping the room in top shape. We also encountered bartenders, waiters, waitresses, front desk personnel and entertainers who were all very kind and polite.
When using the freestyle method of cruising, you don't get to know the staff like you would if you had a set meal time / location but the service did not falter as a result. Some see it as less personal but it was still very good.
ENTERTAINMENT - GOOD TO VERY GOOD
We watched a couple of the big production shows with the Jean Ann Ryan company and they were just fine, especially the Chinese Acrobats. We also took in the woman who sang outside Le Bistro and Sean Burns in the Red Lion, both of whom were excellent. We really got to know Sean and enjoyed his talent, willingness to have a beer (or 10) and his humor, especially when dealing with the cruise director's staff! We took in the magician (terrible) a DJ (good) and the comedian (awful). Overall we were satisfied. IF you catch Sean Burns, be sure to tell him hello from the folks in Reno. We also listed to the calypso band at the pool daily and while there was a bit of repetition, they were very good. We enjoyed their music.
ACAPULCO - VERY GOOD
We took the Yacht Fun in the Sun Tour with Fish R Us and had a very nice time. They were prompt and efficient, even organizing a trip for our group on their regularly scheduled maintenance day. We visited the cliff divers, looked at some beautiful homes, went swimming and snorkeling and drank about 1,000 beers. The crew was excellent and I highly recommend them, with one exception.
On the date we traveled, we went to a small bay to swim and there was a terrible gas / oil spill covering the entire area. We swam etc, but upon exiting the water found out clothing to be ruined. I am not sure if this was an isolated incident or if the cove is always polluted.
In any event it was a nice trip, worth the price and the crew worked hard.
IXTAPA - EXCELLENT
We didn't book and excursion but walked off the pier and visited several bars along the beach for some drinks and lunch. Very inexpensive and a beautiful seaport.
PUERTO VILLARTA - EXCELLENT
We took the Maligante (sp?) Pirate Ship from the pier on a 6 or 7 hour trip to a private beach for beach activities. The trip included open bar, breakfast, lunch, water sports and several pirate shows. Our personal pirate was LaLo and he was excellent. He worked hard and we all enjoyed ourselves.
CABO - EXCELLENT
We took in CABO from the boat but still enjoyed the beauty of the port. Many visited the usual stops like Cabo Wabo and in fact two of our group had to carry a guy who was passed out on the pier to the final tender so he didn't miss the boat. Keith was his name...........
CRUISE DIRECTORS STAFF - FAIR
We saw the cruise director only once on the entire trip which is very unusual based on my past experience. It wasn't really the party / fun atmosphere I have seen on Carnival. They tried the usual stuff at the pool but the gal who was running it was pretty lame. Every time she mentioned the name of the boat, she identified it as the Norwegian Dawn instead of the Star. I assume the cruise director on the Dawn canned her and the Star is her new home.
OVERALL - GOOD / VERY GOOD
It was a good trip and we enjoyed ourselves.