On the day of embarkation, we used Carnival transfers from LAX and met at the airport. The greeters were visible and very helpful in guiding us to the bus. After stopping at each terminal at LAX, we then proceeded to the Long Beach port. You have to identify your bags and then give them to a porter. After giving the bags to the porter, we met our other three couples and waited in line to get through security. One thing is quite obvious...the Long Beach terminal is not equipped to handle 2000 passengers. The lines wound and wound outside just to get to security. Once inside, the lines were so long, people were placed in a holding area to wait to get into another line. San Pedro has many, many more clerks that are able to handle embarkation than Long Beach. Communication is sorely lacking as well. We were told at one point that we would no longer need passports and then a few hundred feet later, we needed to show them again. Security is also quite questionable. We packed a few gag items for our friends (fuzzy handcuffs) in carry on luggage that were confiscated by security, but the set in checked luggage somehow made it on to the ship. Before flaming, we checked carnival.com and nowhere on the site were handcuffs mentioned. If they were dangerous or weapons, then fine, but the inconsistency of security staff was troubling. From the time we started waiting in line until getting photographed for Sail and sign cards was 1 hour and 45 minutes...WAY TOO LONG!!! Furthmore, the ship set sail while the muster drill was still taking place. Part of the cruise experience is being up on deck while the ship pulls away from the dock. Is waiting a half hour really going to affect arrival in Puerto Vallarta??
I found the ship to be well decorated and elegant. I loved the art pieces and didn't get all excited about seeing "boobies." Having been on the Freedom and Imagination, it was refreshing to see decor that was not inspired by a bad acid trip. I liked the setup with most of the cabins on upper floors and the common areas and theater on the lower levels. I found this ship fairly easy to navigate. Our room was a balcony cabin and fairly roomy. Soap, shower gel, and shampoo were always availability. Bedding was comfortable and there was plenty of closet space. The cabin steward did his job well and we saw him occasionally. No complaints there.
Food service was good in the dining room. Our head server had a slight language barrier, but she tried very hard to be friendly and did her job well. The assistant was adequate, although he forgot to bring me hot tea for the last half of the week when I had hot tea the first half. Yes, I could have asked, but I've grown accustomed (spoiled) by servers knowing what I want. Bar service was also adequate, although for the first half of the cruise, the bar server ignored me. Quality was above average with many options available each night. I have grown to enjoy Carnival food. As for Lido service, I liked how the stations were divided up by cuisine. The pizzeria and deli also had above average food. I purchased the soda card and since I drink lots of diet coke, I find it to be a good value (approx $48 for the week including gratuity). Drinks are very pricey, with a bottle of beer starting at $5. All bar items have 15% gratuity automatically filled in. I never had any trouble getting my drink filled. I only wish that Carnival would eliminate the card and have a sticker on the S&S card.
Entertainment on the ship was above average. The comedians and entertainers were average except for a ventriloquist who was quite entertaining and fan friendly, staying after the show for photos and conversation (and not hawking his latest DVD). One of the comedians, Jerome, was entertaining until I heard him use material that he stole from another popular comedian. The production shows were entertaining, although the speakers were set way too loud. I liked Vroom and it has the most special effects at sea (IMHO). The male singer was not very good, but I found the female singer have a nice voice and range. He brought her down. Activities around the ship were plentiful and accessible. The cruise director's staff do a good job. However, the CD does not. A morning show is played daily, but it was pre-recorded and sometimes not accurate. Furthermore, it is bad marketing when he samples the drink of the day and cringes! He also has a very hokey style. Because of the change in itinerary, he was very unprepared and there were numerous errors in the Capers.
Ports of call had to be modified thanks to Hurricane Norbert. We skipped Mazatlan with the modification of Thursday in Cabo, Friday Sea Day, and Saturday in Ensenada. I question why Ensenada and why not Catalina? There were plenty of excursions offered. In Puerto Vallarta, we did the Sea Lion experience. It was very entertaining and we had a guide that put on quite a show and very helpful. Most evening activities were cut off because a storm rolled through. Streets were flooded and in one spot the flooding was so bad that a cab was stuck and was actually floating! In Cabo, we were going to do the helmet trek, but the harbor master was not allowing any boats to leave the harbor because of the hurricane (still about 250 miles away). We just walked about town and did some shopping. In Ensenada, some tours were offered (good job by excursion desk to get this in place) and we did the wine country tour. I never imagined that grapes could grow in Mexico, but they did. Evidently, this area has ideal growing conditions. We went to two wineries and this took about 4.5 hours.
Debarkation was a very slow process because there were only two Customs and Border agents doing immigration and they were questioning everyone thoroughly. This made the process very very slow and we were off the ship around 11:30am. It is a rather tight terminal for pick ups, cabs, and bus traffic. We caught a cab to the Long Beach Airport to rent a car as we were staying an extra day.
Overall, I think this cruise would turn off a first time cruiser with the rough seas, SLOW embarkation, and change of itinerary. If you are a veteran cruiser, you understand that ports can change, especially in hurricane season. This cruise is more of a boozing cruise. On almost all tours, the opportunity to drink and drink heavily is available. As with all cruises, it's what you make of it.