We decided to do a cruise for our 10 year anniversary and chose this one based on itinerary, cost (got a GREAT rate with husband's military discount!) and the fact that we live in Arizona and could drive to the port. This was our third cruise and the first on Carnival. Our other two were on RCL, so only had them to compare with.
EMBARKATION - We arrived the day before and stayed at the Quality Inn. They provided free shuttle service to the port and we were able to keep our car parked in their lot for free for the week. We arrived at the terminal around 10:15am and proceeded to the Queen Mary for early check-in. We timed that perfectly, as there was no line at all and we checked in and received a "Zone 1" tag. We walked around the Queen Mary for about 10 minutes and noticed as we walked by again that the line was now very long! They did tell us that boarding would begin at approximately 1:00. We did some walking around by the vendors that were set up around there, then proceeded to go find a spot to sit for the remaining wait. Around 12:15, they announced for those in Zone 1 to line up. We stood in this line until about 1:00. Once we started moving, it didn't take that long to get through. We were on the ship and eating lunch by 1:15. Compared to our other cruises, the embarkation was kind of a mess with EXTREMELY limited seating and forced to stand in a line for 45+ minutes. Not sure how many "Zones" they actually have, but did hear someone say they were in Zone 8 and there were a LOT of people in each zone. So if you get a higher zone number, expect a very lengthy wait/standing time!
SHIP - We thought the ship was BEAUTIFUL! All the public areas seemed to be very clean (and remained that way for entire length of cruise). Was fun to explore and determine the layout.
CABIN - Were very impressed with the cabin. Compared to RCL, the cabin size was much bigger. We had a balcony room and had been upgraded to an "extended balcony". Not sure how this compared to a regular size balcony, but was perfect for the 2 of us. We really enjoyed starting and ending each day sitting out there.
DINING - Food was ok throughout. Buffet/Mermaid Grill was about what you'd expect. Enjoyed the 24 hour pizza and loved the burgers out by the pool deck. Dinner in dining room was fine too. Nothing exceptional but definitely good. Although we each had a steak the first night and was not very good at all. Very dry and tough. Neither of us ordered steak again and everything else was fine. As others have said, the warm chocolate melting cake is to die for! Our waiter (Hector) was lacking in personality and I think we maybe got one smile out of him the whole week. For dining food & service, RCL wins that one.
PORTS - Loved all three ports as they each had a different vibe to them. Puerto Vallarta was the only one where we did an actual excursion. We decided on the excursion to Yelapa. We booked this through Johann and Sandra and paid $42 per person compared to the $87 per person that Carnival was asking! In Mazatlan, we just took a water taxi ($2pp round trip) to Stone Island. We loved it there! Not a lot of people and very relaxing day sitting in lounge chairs at one of the restaurants drinking Pina Coladas! In Cabo, we took a water taxi to Medono beach. Lots of fun bar/restaurants along the beach here and the prettiest blue water of all the ports!
DISEMBARKATION - One word sums this up...DISASTER! We did the "Self-Assist" disembarking and you were supposed to wait until they called your floor but apparently we were the only ones that did this. We were on the 7th floor and they called floors 8 and 1 first and we noticed half of our floor heading down at that time. When you got to the floor they directed you to, there were no Carnival employees or signs telling anyone where to go and lines were snaking around from every direction.
Overall, we had a GREAT time on this cruise and loved this ship. We are ready to book this same itinerary as there is just not enough time at the ports to do everything you want so would like to go back again and do something different at each. By the time we take this same cruise again, it will most likely be on the Splendor. If this is to be a larger ship yet, then I shudder to imagine what it will be like upon embarkation at that port. They definitely need to improve upon that IMMEDIATELY as the Splendor is supposed to be sailing from there by mid 2009. Overall, we couldn't have asked for a better vacation. Today is October 8th and we just got back on the 5th. Wish we were still there...sigh!