The following has more info than anyone in their right mind cares to know in one setting. But in case I missed something or you need more details, feel free to contact me at the email address, Harryfat@Yahoo.com, with a subject description, Carnival cruise review and I will get back to you.
What is a cruise review? I know there are thousands of reviews on this and other sites and I often wonder what really qualifies someone to write a cruise review considering it's nothing more than our version of the vacation which will be different from family to family. Unless we write professionally as a trade, not sure if anyone casual vacationer is qualified to write a cruise review. It's more a vacationer's tale/opinion to be more precious. Having said that, I will take a stab at a "cruise/vacation review".
For all my prior cruises, I always do tons of research on what others have written and I will try to recount the details that I found to be important when I read the various reviews. For the most part, you really don't care what I think of the ship's dEcor. You can care less if I think something should be blue instead of red. But what you might find helpful is the cost to get to a beach or the lines I encountered at various events. So to that extent, I will try to keep the focus of this report to more facts than opinions, but obviously I will still have some biased views in there as after all, it was MY vacation. So I should at least be able to sound off.
Vacationer's Summary - If you don't want to look at all the gory details below and just want to know if it's worth your time/money to go on this cruise, I would say yes, with some caveat. Yes, it's a good vacation for the family, especially at holiday time. But also keep in mind that during the holiday time, the ship is more than 100% capacity with tons of kids running around. If you don't like crowds/kids, don't sail on a Carnival ship in holiday time.
This set of ports is nothing special compared to the other set of Mexican Riviera ports. Yes, you can argue that Acapulco has more to offer and Zihuatanejo is the quintessential sleepy Mexican village that is better than the PV/Mazatlan/Cabo set of ports, but it's like arguing if oranges tastes better than apples. So if you are just trying to decide between just the 2 sets of ports, I won't the have the ports be the final deciding factor on taking this cruise.
Carnival's main slogan is the "fun ship" and they deliver what is promised. This means it's not the "elegant hoity toity" ship. It's what they think it's considered fun for the main street America audience. To be on a Carnival ship, you have to go on with a certain frame of mind. You won't find the quiet dinner meal at the formal dining room as almost mighty, they will have some sort of dance/event going on. You need to be open to the idea of a fun on the Lido deck is having grown ups with 20 rubber chickens between their thighs doing the Chicken Olympics competition with hundreds of people cheering them on. So just be in the right frame of mind on what this cruise is about and you are all good.
Having said that, also keep in mind that fun ship also does not mean "we will cater to your every whim" ship. Service is not Carnival's strong point and it shows in many areas such as not providing as ship map upon embarkation so the people can navigate the ship. We got our map from the ship board tour at 3 PM on day 1, but for the next day or so, I had various people approach me as I was looking on the map and asking me where I got this fold out map. They could have easily handed one of these to everyone as they board. But instead you either have to attend the ship tour/find it on Lido deck on top of the water dispenser or stand in line at the pursuer's desk to get one.
So just be sure you know what you are getting yourself into and you will have a fun cruise, as they promised.
Background - me, middle age dad of 2 boys (ages 7 and 5) along with my wife on the December 14 sailing. This is my 9th cruise, 4th with Carnival, started cruising since 1995. Been to Alaska/Mexico and Caribbean with various lines such as HAL/Princess/RCL/Celebrity. The most recent cruise was December 2007 with Holland America's Westerdam, so for the most part, I will compare this cruise with the Westerdam. Yes, I know it's not a fair comparison as even though both Carnival and Hal are owned by the same parent company (along with Princess and Costa and others) and they offer different things, I will try to compare and contrast what differences I can see and let the readers decide what is the right cruise for them. I am a CPA by trade, so I will throw in more numbers and costs than other reviews as I can relate to numbers more than arts.
Why this cruise? - Various reasons. Originally we were planning to make it to Disneyworld in FL for our 10 year anniversary, but back in the summer of 2008, when fuel prices were off the charts, the cost to fly family of 4 across the country (we live in San Francisco bay area) just does not make sense. So it was decided we would stay in the west coast and do a cruise instead. Since we had already been to the ports from the basic 7 days Mexico Riviera cruise, it makes sense to try the 8 day itinerary offered by Carnival. And not having to fly across the country is also a nice bonus.
Demographics - This being the pre holiday cruise, there were lots of kids on board, including my 2 boys ages of 5 and 7. Overall, they said there were 2,550 people on board for a ship with official double berth capacity of 2,124. This makes it 120% of capacity - achieved by people like us using the upper bunks. So by all accounts, it was a full ship. So if you travel on non holiday seasons, chances you will encounter a less full ship than ours, but with kids in school, most of the parents can only travel at these short window of opportunity that coincides with the school holidays. Goes without saying if you don't like kids and/or crowds, don't take a Carnival cruise during the holiday seasons.
Perhaps more than any other Carnival ships, this ships draw the most diverse social economic groups than Carnival ships. Why? Because if you want to see these sets of ports (Acapulco/Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa/Manzanillo) within a set 8 days period sailing round trip, this is the ONLY game in town. All the other cruise lines either does the 7 day run that goes to PV/Mazatlan/Cabo or does a 10 day+ cruise that sails out of SF periodically (Princess) or sails to Acapulco as part of the Panama canal itinerary.
So what does this mean? It means regardless of your social standings and preference for active/party/tranquil ships, you have no choice but to sail on the Spirit. Whereas if you were on the 7 day sailing to the other Mexican ports, during December, you can have your pick of NCL/Princess/Carnival/HAL/RCL. This means it more or less will stratify the social economic group/personal preferences of the cruisers. This is my convoluted way of saying if you prefer free style sailing, you could opt for NCL or if you want more personal service, you opt for HAL with the 7 day sailings, so everyone can be with their preferred group. However, with the 8 day Carnival Spirit sailing being the only option available, you have all the groups and preferences all thrown in and you get a much more diverse crowd that might have sailed with other ships than with the pure 7 days Carnival sailings.
7 days versus 8 days - this is probably the biggest decision making point in whether or not to do this itinerary versus the other 7 day Mexican Riviera cruise. Since I have done both, I can say that if you compare the two, they are somewhat similar. One can make the argument that the 8 day itinerary gives you more unique ports and with the Spirit being the only ship in port most of the time, the shops are not overwhelmed with other ships passengers. For my money, if I had to pick which one to sail on, I would opt for the 8 day cruise just because Zihuatanejo is a hidden gem that is not offered in the other more commercialized ports. But keep in mind that the 8 day itinerary has you being on the ship 4 and half days, so you must like the offerings Carnival has available on board or else you will be going stir crazy.
Shareholder/Previous cruise bias - In the era of full disclosure post the Enron debacle, I want to say that that I am a Carnival shareholder and I have a financial incentive for the company to succeed and since 4 of my previous cruises have been with Carnival, I enjoy what they have to offer. But that's not to say I will hold back on my criticisms of the company on areas that is lacking. By the way, as a shareholder, one can get $100 ship board credit on all 7 day sailings within the carnival family of companies (Carnival/Princess/HAL/Costa/Cunard).
There were some reviews that described Carnival is the Wal-Mart of cruises. I won't go there as that association has the elitist connotation and as well as social economic overtone that I don't want to get into. What I will compare Carnival with is another giant store - Home Depot. To me, Carnival is like Home Depot. Big, somewhat personal confusing for the first timers. Whereas other smaller ship/cruise lines are more like your local hardware store that you can get more personal attention.
With Carnival, you won't find anyone that will carry your tray for you to your seat on the Lido deck like on HAL. With Carnival, you have to get your own water/ice tea at lunch in the funky neon color plastic cups. With HAL, the water/juices/ice teas are pre dispensed during the crowded hours and placed in cold storage so you can just grab and go and not stand in line. But if you are the more do it yourself type, you don't want that type of service anyway. So hence my analogy of Carnival to Home Depot.
Ship - There have been many reviews written about the Spirit class ship so I really don't have much to add other than to point out from what I read, it's built on the same design as the corporate sibling's HAL's Vista ships (like the Westerdam we were on last year). Of course, the interior designs are all different based on each company's specific appeal to their target market audience, but for the most part, if you have sailed on the Vista ships previously, you are familiar with the basic designs of the ship.
I believe the ship is due for dry dock work in few months but for the most part, held up well for a ship that is 7 years old. Obviously it's not as nice as the brand spanking new ships, but I will never be the tile troll reviewer that will knock a ship because of a missing tile here or some stains on carpets there. If you let those things bother you on a vacation, then you need not read this info as this is not for you.
Cabins - We were on deck 1, category 6A, ocean view cabin 1175. With 2 active young boys, there is always an ever lingering fear that my boys would lean next to balcony rail and then they will fall overboard, so we won't book any balcony cabins until they are much older. I know the ratio of balcony cabins versus insides/overview cabins are more than 1 to 1 and almost all profession reviews take prides in stating certain ships have X% of balcony cabins as if the higher the number, the better. For some of us with young kids on the ship, more balcony rooms are not necessarily better.
I like the location of the cabin, close to the mid ship elevators and above the water level so I can see out the window regularly to see the size of the waves the ship is sailing through. Being on the higher decks looking out, the waves are more removed and you don't get a sense that you are on a moving ship until you get closer to the water level. And for someone like me that is sensitive to motion sickness, being close to the water level and midnight is what the doctor ordered, literally.
Food - This is probably the most subjective part of any trip report as no one has the same set of taste buds and what's great food for one person is garbage disposal material for another person. In general I am not a picky eater - I eat fast food as well as what many westerners think as exotic food. Not anywhere in the league of Andrew Zimmer of Bizarre Food fame from the Travel Channel of eating bugs and animal genitals, but having grown up in Asia, I have had my share of unusual food. And for me, the best thing about meal on a cruise is to try something new that I would never try on the land restaurant. The best time to try anything new is on the cruise to sample something that you would never order while back home.
So if a cruise line has something new/unusual, I give it a higher mark as I want to sample as many different types of new cuisine as possible. But the harsh reality is that the ship food has become so middle of the road as it wants to appease to the mass market, it's not always possible to find many new things to try. On this cruise, I found that the more unusual food came at the lunch buffet and not from the formal dinner menu which has your typical fish/fowl/red meat nightly on the menu. That's not to say it's bad food, but just not something that challenges my taste palate daily.
The breakfast in general is just a cholesterol bomb with the typical eggs/bacons/sausage fare with some cold/hot cereal alternatives - does the defibrillator come with the 1 pound of bacon? The only variety they had was on alternate days they have either French toast or pancakes. Whereas on other cruises, they would have a more elaborate buffet types of foods such as salmon or on HAL they would have strawberry waffles. Other than the omelets stations, there was nothing really unique about Carnival's breakfast. I know there is a cost consideration here in keeping the breakfast at lower price (remember we paid LESS to be on a Carnival ship than others, so there's the value proposition as well), but if they charge on average $3 per person per day, or $21 on a typical cruise, that would amount to over $50K on our cruise and they can buy some decent variety of food for breakfast in addition to what is being offered.
As stated above, lunch on the Lido deck was pretty good. They always have the nation of the day at one station and I like the Caribbean and Indian days. Maybe I just like my food with a punch. The typical burgers/ham sandwich/pizzas does nothing for me. Part of it maybe is that I eat these during the work week, so when I go on a cruise, I want something different.
At the formal dinner, Carnival is as good as any other cruises line I have sailed on, with exception of Celebrity cruise, which caters to the foodies. But for a mass main street crowd, Carnival has as good as dinner meal as anyone else. Give me a blind fold test, I won't be able to say this food was any better or worst than the other cruises cuisine we have eaten. Again, just personal opinion on food. Hard to be objective on this topic.
Another harsh reality of modern day cruising is that given the price everyone pays (very low for the most part compared to land vacations) and the passenger size of the modern ships (typically 2,000 plus people), it's unrealistic to expect cruise meals to be the best you ever had in your life. Don't expect some fancy French chef to personally slave over your meal amongst the 2,000 plus people on the ship. One can argue that you will get a better meal on the alternative restaurants on board the ships, but the concept of paying twice for the same meal does not make sense to a bean counter like myself. Now if they give me a credit for the price I had already paid for the alternative restaurant to buy something else on board, then I would be more receptive to the alternative restaurant(s).
I am happy that Carnival is sticking with the traditional seating plan as I would hate to do anytime dining. I can have that anytime dining at home or any other land based restaurant. But on a cruise, for 7 nights, I will have a special table reserved with my name on it and the waiter knows what I like (hot tea after dinner). Nowhere else on a land based vacation will you get that's so I would never do a free style or anytime meal plan if there are alternatives to the traditional dining preference available.
Dining Steward - We had Vernon from India as our waiter. Big jolly guy with a fun personality. I can see him working at Chevy's or any of the more hip style restaurants. Comes by nightly with his food recommendation of the night and for the most part, I concur with his food taste. Probably the best waiter from all my cruises.
Cabin Steward - Before I really criticize my cabin steward, I want to say they have an ugly job of trying to keep all the cabins clean and making it presentable. Whenever we leave the room for dinner, it looked like a disaster area with kids stuff all over the bed and towels in the bathroom after our shower, but when we come back every night, the cabins are spiffy clean. So my hats off to the people in this area.
That being said, I have to say our cabin steward is probably the least competent in my cruising history. Not that he does a bad job in leaving the room in a mess,. But somehow he can't count up to 4. Since we have 4 people in the cabin, he somehow only leaves us 3 wash clothes every time he makes up the room. I either have to somehow catch him in the hallway to ask for more or just make do with the 3 we have. You would think after day two of me asking him regular that he knows we need more than 3 wash clothes for 4 people, but he never got that down.
One day he even forgot to fold up the upper bunk bed for the day, so we have that hanging overhead. Not a big deal as the kids enjoy going up and down the ladder, but just little signs like this make makes him less than tops on cabin steward in my book.
Camp Carnival - My 2 boys had a blast at the camp. They didn't go to the camp on the port days as they were with us on all excursions - didn't take them thousands of miles away form home to leave them at camp - not the point of a family vacation. Whatever time they were at the camp during the sea days, they thoroughly enjoyed it. By attending camp the last day, you get a free t-shirt to color, so be sure to check the kids' daily activity schedule for that.
This being the ships' holiday cruise, they had a special show with the kids from the camp with the ship's singers and dancers as well as crew members and Santa made a visit at the end. You can be cynical and said that was a little too sappy, but for the hundreds of people in the audience with their kids on up on the stage, it certainly was a memorable event and I applaud Carnival for doing this. They didn't have that on our December cruise on HAL last year.
Entertainment - Other than food, another highly subjective manner is entertainment as one person's idea of great music/comedy is unbearable noise/highly offensive manner to another person. For my set of entertainment, the Carnival dancers were decent. Carnival has bigger production venue than HAL with more singers and dancers and more elaborate costumes/props on their big production nights. The comedians are always racy and politically incorrect on all ships I have sailed on, as it's hard to compare humor from person to person.
Spa/Excursions - No idea. Didn't go. Same for ship based excursions. Did our own tours to save money. So you need to read other reviews if you want insights on that.
Next cruise? I know I haven't even started with the details of this cruise and I am already talking about my next cruise. That goes to show you that I am addicted to cruises. Shortly after disembarking the ship, one gets the withdrawal symptom of a post cruise let down. Part of the reason why I wrote this is to relief myself of this symptom. After having cruised in the warm weather in the past 2 cruises, we are now looking to do cold weather scenery and return to Alaska in 2009 to cool off during the dog days of the summer. Makes sense, right? Cruise Caribbean/Mexico in December to thaw out and cruise Alaska in August to cool off.
Would I go back on another Mexican Riviera cruise - Sure I would. Besides just being on the cruise itself, the added benefit of sailing from a west coast port is wonderful. But I will wait to do this same 8 day itinerary in few more years after they switch the Spirit with a different ship. Nothing against the Spirit per se, just that for me if I was to sail on the exact same itinerary, I would not want to go on the same ship again since there are enough choices to pick from. So next time we go back to Mexico Riviera, maybe December 2010, we are looking to do the 7 day itinerary with the RCCL's Mariner of the Seas or even later on for the 10 day HAL itinerary that goes to the more exotic inner parts of Cabo and see the Copper Canyons.
That more or less covers everything. Now onto the nitty/gritty details.
Day 0 - Saturday, December 13, 2008.
Woke up before 6 AM to start getting ready for the airport and last minute packing. Amazing how a vacation that is months in the planning stage always ends up with last minute scramble to get things done. By time we finally left the house, it was around 9:30. Slightly behind the targeted time of 9 AM, but given it's the weekend, the traffic to the airport should be manageable.
By time we got to SFO, it was around 10:30 for the 11:50 flight. For some reason, Virgin America's check in area resides within the "International Terminal" of SFO. Somewhat odd as the name of the airline more or less tells you it's a domestic carrier. Whatever. Haven't been to the International Terminal since they built it few years ago. Looks very nice. The check in line was non exist. They had 3 workers at the check in and noone was in line. The gal was standing outside by the line asking if we are in Virgin America and just took us right up to the counter. Fastest check in of my life. Was expecting the hordes of people a la Southwest or United. Very happy start on the vacation.
First time ever on VA. Pretty impressive for the most part. The personal entertainment is their big draw and for the most part, it works well. But having to charge people $2 per headset seems pretty cheesy as they could have easily added that to the base price of the flight. My headphones for the IPOD was in my luggage up in the bins, so it wasn't as convenient to grab it as I didn't think I needed the IPOD with the on board entertainment. If they insist on charging extra for the headsets that Jet blue gives to you for free, they should at least advertise it on their web site that there's extra charge for it.
Another nickel and dime about VA was that you have to pay for the bag of peanuts or snacks. Only thing they give you is the soda. Come on, get real, people. How much can a bag of pretzels/nuts cost?
Now for the good part, there's a variety of things you can do with their personal entrainment. More than you can do in a short flight like the one we were on. You can watch the 25+ channels of Dish network connection TV like CNN or ESPN Saturday football game. Or with the keyboard/remote control on the side, you can have chat room with anyone in the plane. Did that with my kids for a bit. Fun thing to do if you have big group that is spread out all over the plane.
Like the real-time flight info on Google map so was able to follow the flight path of the plane. After leaving SFO, I thought the plane would hug the coast line all the way to SD. But was surprised to see that we were pretty inland around the San Luis Obispo area where we were in between 101 and the 5. We went back to the coast line as we got outside of the LA area and once we got near SD, we had to head east ward toward La Mesa as I guess all incoming planes must approach from the East side. So it's as if we made a big backwards letter C in order to land.
Arrived at SD tarmac about 75 minutes after we left SFO. Somewhat cloudy sky but saw some sun as we were taxing. By time we got to the baggage claim, our luggage were already making its rounds, literally. Another first in terms of speed on getting the luggage as most of the times when you get off the plane you try to figure out which carousel you luggage MIGHT be in and then wait for it to move. Nope. This thing was ready for us by time we got there.
Made the call to Hampton In with the cell. Got a good tip from cruise critic last year's cruise in that you preprogram the hotel's phone number into your cell phone so that you don't need to fumble for the number to call once you land. Got picked up about 15 minutes later. On the way to the hotel, which is a quick 10 minute drive, tried another Rachel Ray trick - ask the locals where to eat for dinner. The driver recommended an Italian restaurant few blocks from the hotel in Little Italy, Filipi's. I asked for good affordable food that will accommodate families/kids. Can't go to some snooty restaurants where they give you ugly evil stares if your kids make too much noise.
After checking in, ate a quick lunch next to the hotel and then it started to rain. Dang. Was going to go to the water front to watch the Carnival Elation cast off, but guess not. So went back to the hotel and rested until almost 5 when the rain stopped and we walked over to the water front. By then the Elation has already left, the Holland America's Oosterdam is still around and since we took her sister ship, Westerdam, at the Caribbean last year, it was good to see the same family again. After some walking around the water front, it was dark and just too chilly with the wind, so we went to a nearby Rite Aids and bought some water to take on the ship and bought couple post cards and went back to the hotel once more to thaw out until 7 PM when we went off to dinner to Filipi's.
It was 3 blocks away at the Little Italy section and when we got to the restaurant, it was like WOW, the line was out the door, literally. The restaurant is embedded inside the deli, so the line started inside area. There were probably 35 people ahead of us. Since we weren't really hungry and not really knowing other restaurants in the area, we decided to wait it out in the cold. And the line moves fairly quickly given the size as it turns out the restaurant is pretty big inside, just doesn't look big from the outside. By time we sat down, we waited perhaps 35 to 45 minutes. Not as bad compared to waiting in line at Disneyland for a ride.
The place won some sort of award for the best pizza in 2007 and has been around since 1950. So we ordered a large pizza to share as well as spaghetti with meatball and ravioli and some garlic bread. Overall, it was pretty decent food for its price, which is probably why the place has such long line as you figure it must be good. Pizza is a very subjective thing and I am definitely not an expert at it, given I am Asian and from CA, it's like some white dude trying judge what is the best Chinese food from his limited experience. But having been to Italy, it's certainly not the authentic pizza you'd see in Italy. More catered to the American tourist taste. It's the thick crust type, smothered (or drowned is the better word) in cheese. Definitely the cheesiest pizza I have ever had. They must have dropped close to a pound of cheese as it was like a snow capped pizza when it arrived. The spaghetti and meatball was better in my opinion. Would get that next time we are in town. But the wife really liked the pizza, so guess you have to try it yourself.
After that, we stopped off at 7/11 on the way back to the hotel to get some Haagen Daaz ice cream to eat in the hotel. And after showering and eating the ice cream, it was time to call it a day.Day 1 - Sunday, December 14, 2008.
Woke up before 6 and started writing the daily blog. I will always be writing it one day after the event as some of the details are still fresh in my head. After everyone else woke up, we went downstairs for the free breakfast. From the lobby area, we saw that our ship has already arrived - a good sign as if it's not there yet, it would mean delay in boarding as it would have to unload its passengers before we can get on. After breakfast, we decided to head back to the waterfront once more to see the area in daylight. It's interesting to have enough time to see the ship before the cruise as most of the time, we all just jump on board ASAP and not really just a chance to see some of the details.
Waterfront in SD is very quiet on a Sunday morning. With exception of few street vendors and the various passenger activities, there isn't much going on. We saw people started taking their luggage onto the check in area at 10 AM. Why? They don't board you until 11 something, so what is the rush?
After 11 AM, we walked back to the hotel to get ready for the 11:30 shuttle to take us to the terminal. Another thing the shuttle driver gave us a good tip on was to sign up for the later shuttle as it's less crowded (we were the only ones on for our time slot) and the shuttles are allowed to drive all the way inside the security gate for drop off to the porter. Better than hauling the luggage across the street on your own.
The first impression of the SD terminal certainly isn't impressive. Unlike the various other terminals in FL and Long Beach, the SD terminal is just a converted dock side terminal for cruises. It's decent as far as cleanliness goes, but compared to the first class amenities of FL, it's not even close. First line was just to see if we have the passports to match the funship pass info. Second line was security x-ray screening similar to airport where you take out cameras/cell/laptop. Third line is to check in at the counters to get the room key. Per my count, there were 13 regular check in counters, 1 for special cases, 2 for VIP. The wait for that is around 10 minutes. Getting the room cards were easy, just giving them the same AMEX card I had registered online and they hand us the keys.
Then we have to sit down at the various metal benches and wait for our "zone number" to be called. We were zone 5. And they were only calling VIP and zones 1 and 2 at around 12:15 time frame. After a 20 minute wait where the kids ate the snacks we had packed in the back pack, they called our number to get into another line to have the oligarchy on ship picture taken. Then they did the security pictures to embed the web cam pictures onto the system so they can pull up the pictures every time we get on/off the ship. Finally up a flight of stairs to walk the gang plank to finally get on deck 2 at the lobby entrance. Whew!
As the rooms were not ready yet (official time for that is 1:30), everyone was told to go the Lido deck for lunch. When we got there, it was a zoo. With many passengers on board already, finding a place to sit in the buffer area was a challenge of itself. And with the various buffets areas broken into sections (i.e. the ice cream machine is all the way in the back outside b the fantail bar), it is confusing for first timers o the ship. And true to Carnival's designs, the themes added many columns and made things more confusing. I much rather have the HAL's Westerdam's clean outlook of everything in the middle and you just walk around to it.
We all have our pet peeves and one biggest one is people taking their luggage with them on board the ship. I don't mean the small carry ons that everyone has, I mean their entire luggage with the mother of all luggage in tow as they navigate the narrow pathways of buffet area. Why don't they just drop off their luggage at the curb side porter? Since everyone and their cousin was at the buffet area, having the extra luggage there just makes things worst. Carnival should make it a policy of restricting carry ons like they do on planes or at the minimum have people drop them off at their rooms before they go to lunch. I read one line that said people can drop off their personal belongings in the cabins, but not stay there. Carnival should emphasize that upon boarding.
Anyway, onward and forwards. After lunch, it was time to go to the cabin and stretch out. Went down to deck 1, found 1175 with ocean view and that would be our room the next 8 days. For $120 more, we could have upgraded to a balcony room. But with little kids, just didn't feel secure that they won't climb over the railings. First impression of the cabin was it was narrow door to walk in, maybe just perception but seems like other ships doors were wider. By the end of the cruise, it seems big enough.
At 2:45, went to the Pharaoh's lounge for the start of the ship tour. Maybe it's carnival attracting more first timers as the tour was munch bigger than the Westerdam's tour, so they need to get more help to get acquainted with the ship. I'd say there were over 100 of us on the tour. After the tour, back to the cabin to get ready for muster drill. No luggage yet. Hmm, this is the slowest we have ever gotten our luggage in the 8 previous cruises. Oh, well, whatever. Time for the muster drill and then cast off. The sun was out, but still somewhat cool as we cast off. Walked around took various pictures and then back to the Lido cafe for hot chocolate to thaw out and grabbed some fries to much on as we drank. Then back to the cabin and didn't see any luggage on the hallway as we approach the cabin, not good. Visions of having to go to purser's desk to tell them they lost our baggage flashed in my mind as we approach the door. But when we opened the door, we fund all 5 luggage were waiting for us inside the cabin. Guess the cabin steward must have put them in for us. Whew!
Unpacked and then walked around the ship to get acquainted with the various locations and stopped off at the Sushi shack for their sushi plate of the night (they open from 5 to 8:30 daily). The sushi was whatever, what I really wanted was the ginger that comes with it as with the ship sailing away from the protective shelter, I can start to feel the movement of the ship, so having some ginger in my stomach couldn't hurt.
Then went to the lounge to listen to an orientation meeting for Camp Carnival and register the kids for camps and obtain a beeper - since Sean is only 5 years old, everyone in that age group receives a pager in case something happens to them while they are in camp and we needed to be notified.
Visited the shops with hundreds of people as they were giving away free alcohol at the shops to attract the people to go in and shop. After that, time for the Empire dining room to meet Vernon, our waiter. The dude was probably the most lively dining room steward I ever had. Very hip/cool type of personality, different from the other more reserved type of waiters - I would expect to see him at any local Chevy's. He would have a recommendation every night on what's good on the menu. Many times I followed his advice and it turned out well. He joked with the boys and called Sean "Pizza boy" as he only wanted to order a cheese pizza while the rest of ordered from the adult menu. I had the New York Steak, which was ok. The wife had the BBQ baby back ribs which she said was excellent. By the end of the dinner, the boys were getting cranky from sitting there so long for a dinner (there version of sit down dinner is 15 minutes tops), the waiter quickly ordered a banana split for both kids on his own without us even asking for it and it kept them happy. After that, we went up to deck 5 to check out the camp carnival to get the boys acquainted with the various counselors and the playground area. Little more walking around the ship and then off to bed. The ship was zipping along at a fast pace of 22 knots in order to arrive at the first destination of Acapulco.
Day 2 - Monday, December 15, 2008.
First day at sea. Woke up, ate breakfast. Wasn't impressed with the Carnival selection of breakfast at the buffet, but then again I knew this was coming, so just shrug it off as whatever. Then we dropped off the kids at camp carnival a little before 10 AM to attend the Meet and Greet function from cruise critic. Hah. Wrong. The wait for the camp is like waiting for Disneyland ride. What? Guess some parents didn't attend the orientation last night for the campers and only register now and they slowed down the lines tremendously. That just penalized the people who register the night before. They should have an extra counselor to walk up and down the line to ask people if they have pre register and then take non register people off to the side to sign up. Another lack of forethought on Carnival's part.
Attended the meet and greet and met few people that we would see the rest of the cruise as well as on some shore excursions. Since we are only traveling as 4 of us, it was good to meet up with other people.
After the meeting, we headed for the port talk at 11 and then picked up the kids to go back to the cabin to do their homework. Yes, they brought along the homework form school while they are on vacation. Keeps them busy and out of our hair while they are doing it and both boys are like me in that they have a daily journal book to track their daily activities. When the journal writing was done, we went upstairs to look at the pictures that have been taken so far and off to lunch.
Had thought of doing some afternoon swimming by the pool, but the outside temperate was a little too cold me. After we left SD, which was around mid to high 50's with the stiff ocean breeze from the previous day's storm, the weather warmed up to the low 70 range. Maybe for small kids or people from the snow are, this is warm weather, but I will pass for now on swimming. Went back to the cabin to do some reading and just relaxed around the ship until dinner time.
Attended the captains welcome party to the extent we met him, shook his hand, had our picture taken. Didn't stay for the free alcohol as the wife was more interested in standing in line with other people for the formal night pictures. One thing Carnival does well is their photography session, have many props and backgrounds. More than any other cruise lines I have ever been on. I think they had 7 stations you can stand in line for to get your formal pics taken. After that was done, off to the formal night dinner.
One thing about the boys wearing ties and suits, they drew many admiring comments and looks from the passengers on how cute they looked.
For dinner, we had the lobster and shrimp. Aaron had the Salmon and Sean once again ordered another pizza. Then I ordered an extra main dish of duck to be shared by everyone. Then typical of Carnival, they had the announcement over the PA system to welcome everyone to dinner and the waiters performed the typical Italian song each holding a bic lighter. For dessert, I had the cherries jubilee and the wife and Aaron both had the chocolate warming cake - which is available nightly - basically a hot chocolate cake in a white round ceramic cup of 4 inch diameter and vanilla ice cream on he side. The cake is very good/most as it's not 100% cooked and the creamy batter taste goes well with the cool ice cream.
Basically a lazy day around the ship. Didn't do a lot of things, just relaxed as that's part of being on vacation. Set the watch ahead one hour before going to sleep as we headed toward Mountain Time.
Day 3 - Tuesday, December 16, 2008.
Woke up to the feel of ocean waves. Not a big side rolling motion where you feel like tossing cookies or anything, but if you pick a water spot on the window, and align it with the horizon, you will notice that water mark be above and below the horizon for an inch or so every 20 seconds. That tells me we have some up and down movements on the ship, but not bad enough to make anyone nauseous. But glad I have the sea band.
Had the typical carnival cholesterol bomb breakfast and then walked around to drop off the boys at camp carnival. Spent some time looking at the tons of pictures from the previous formal night and then went to the port talk. Unlike the other shopping places like St. Thomas, this itinerary is not made for shopping. So the presentation was over pretty quickly. After bumming around the various decks, we went back to the cabins so the kids can do their daily homework and had lunch.
By then, the weather had become warm enough for this set of old bones to feel good to get into the water slide. On average we were picking up 10 to 12 degrees per day as we headed south, so it was probably around 80 degrees when we started playing at the water slide area. The water slide is fun in of itself, but since it sit on top of deck 11 and then you have to climb couple sets of stairs to get to it, you are looking at being 150 or so feet above water level looking down with the ship sailing at 22 knots and the wind blowing. Provides a different perspective. The kids really enjoyed the water slides and then we stretched out in the sun for a little bit before decided to go back to the cabin since our skin isn't used to this much sun. Didn't want a sunburn this early on the vacation.
Went back to the cabin to shower off and then took a quick nap as we were all tired from playing in the water. Afterwards, we took the kids to the lido deck for dinner. And of course, I ate some myself as my version of starter dinner. Then at 7 PM, went to the "repeater's party"- carnival version of rewarding past guests with free food and drinks. This event was by invitation only for past passengers. The invitation was delivered to the cabin the night before by the cabin steward along with a pin for all 4 of us since we all sailed before. There were approx. few hundred people in the audience. I had 2 blue margaritas and the wife had 1 of the blue margaritas and some yellow drink. The boys each had 2 of the pink non alcohol drinks - I think it was punch. The band was playing and then they had one game to play on stage and final presentation by the captain and the video from CEO of the company. We were asked to cheer for the various Carnival ships were on as they went down the history of the fleet in the company. I gave big loud cheers for my ships, Holiday/Jubilee/Paradise and now Spirit.
After the party, the kids went it camp carnival so the wife and I can have amore leisurely quiet dinner. But we were so full from the pre dinner with the boys and then the food from the party that by time we got to dinner, we were 60% full. Had the French Onion soup and the ribs. Very tender meat. No bone on the ribs as it was stripped off for us. Nice recommendation again by the waiter.
After dinner, went to pick up the boys to take more pictures at the photo area as they had set up more props to take pictures. Carnival sure knows how to make money in their ways. We took few pictures and as I was just video taping the boys getting onto the props, the nazi carnival photo workers got on my case for taking videos. After that, time to call it a night.
Day 4 - Wednesday, December 17, 2008.
Woke up and had breakfast, dropped off the kids at camp carnival at 10 so they can do the rehearsal for the big holiday event. Then we did more photo selection as the wife can't decide from the near 100 pictures taken up to this point on which ones to buy and which ones are used for the holiday Christmas cards. After that, we picked up the boys to go on top deck to see the Spirit sailed into Acapulco bay. Took the obligatory pictures and videos on top deck before heading back to the cabin to get ready for Acapulco. With the heat and the sure, we were applying on sun tan lotion like I would oil the turkey. After the all clear signal was given at 12 noon, we soon got off the ship and walked inside the cruise terminal. It's a collection of dozen or so shops. Then you walk through the security gates to be met by dozens of cab drivers/tour operators.
We already had a tour booked with Intersol at 3 PM, so we knew we had some time to kill. The plan was to just walk to the fort area across the way and then have lunch before the tour. But all reviews of the aggressive cab drivers are true. These guys won't take no for an answer. Maybe the fact that I have wife and 2 little one sin tow, they figure me to be an easy target as needing a guided tour. Even when I tell them I already have a tour booked, they try to sell me their own tour as better. In the 150 yards of walk between the security gate and the edge of the walk way to the fort, I was hounded by at last 12 cab drivers that walked with me as I try to say no to them every step of the way. Don't want to be rude, but it's hard not to get frustrated in the heat and the persistence of these guys.
By time we got to the cross walk to get to the fort of the fort, we encountered the next riddle - why did the Chinese family run across the road? Answer: To avoid being run over by the traffic as there are no lights or stop signs. You just stand at the corner and wait for someone nice enough to stop and you hope their other motorists stop as well as it's a 3 lane road on either side. SO you stand on the edge and wait for 1 car to stop and you hope the 2 cars next to him stops along side, then you run like hell to get to the middle and repeat the same process. Loads of fun.
Walked up the steep path to get to the fort area to see the view of the ship from above. Walked around the area, but it was just too hot for the boys after a little while and we headed back. Repeating the chicken cross the road Olympics as mentioned previously before stopping by to look at various stalls at the flea market tents set up outside the security gate area. Bargained to get 4 Acapulco baseball caps for $5 each so we can wear it the rest of the vacation. Cool. Back to the cabin to cool off in the air conditioned place before heading up o deck to have lunch. It was nice and peaceful upstairs. The most tranquil lunch we had since being on board as majority of the people are off the ship by then.
At 2:50, we headed downstairs to meet up with Lisa and her family to join the Intersol tour that we booked online. Even at 3 PM, there were still some taxi cab drivers trying to drum up business and until the Intersol guy came over with the sign, then did we were finally left alone. The 10 of us first went inside one van to get ready to go, then somehow they told us to move to another van. Once we got into that van, the row of seats was wet and then we were told to go back to the original van. OK, musical chair in the 90 degree temperature (much hotter in the van) isn't my idea of a great tour start. Then they picked up 2 additional passengers, which turn out to be Ron and his wife as Intersol screwed up and had them on the wrong tour earlier in the day and this was their make up tour. Not a promising start.
Anyway, finally got going and we headed east past the beach area. Acapulco reminds me of Waikiki beach in Oahu, but about 5X as big/crowded/congested. It has all the big hotels on the beach as well as the big name stores like Hard Rock/Planet Hollywood/Hooters and Wal-Mart/Office Depot and so on as we drove along the beach, stopping at every stop light it seems. Before stopping at some convenience store where the tour guy runs inside to get all of us each a bottle of water (part of the tour pricing). And then headed off to the top of the hills at senior frogs area to take some pictures and then off to the top with the cross church to walk around there for awhile before headed off to a shopping store where thy gave us free soda and margaritas - guess even the prisoners needs to be fed. Somewhat cheesy of Intersol to do that as they advertise no flee market, but then takes us to a store to be held captive audience for 30 minutes. Bought few obligatory t-shirts and off we went to see the cliff divers.
As typical of Acapulco, you must walk a gauntlet of street hawkers to get to the event. But did sis some nice pottery art work for $10, but way too big to lug that thing home after the cruise. Oh, well. By time we got situated for the dive, it was full of people. So even thought we got a clear view of the divers as they climbed up the rocks, we didn't get to see them jumping into the water as the people in front of us blocked the view. Think there were 8 divers overall and was over quickly as each one of them dove into the water. Then walking the gauntlet once more to get back to the van to take us to the ship. But not before another group of kids walking up to us trying to sell us gums and begging for money. Very sad situation.
Went back to the cabin, took quick shower to wash off the heat/sweat from out all day and then off to dinner. Had lamb. Then after dinner went to the Mexican folklore performance at 10 before going to bed. Long day full of activities. The ship didn't sail until around 1 AM and from our window, I saw some stragglers coming back to the ship around midnight. Bet they will be tired the next day.
Day 5 - Thursday, December 18, 2008.
Ship sailed into the mouth of the Zihuatanejo bay and dropped anchor as that is our one tender port. Zihuatanejo is much needed relieve after a busy hectic Acapulco. More laid back village atmosphere. Ixtapa - the twin city - is few miles away, but that is more for the tourists with the fancy resorts like Club Med and shopping malls of high fashion clothes. Zihuatanejo has the local shops selling the local crafts.
Had to get a ship tender number (22) at the lounge and waited for about 10 minutes before our number was called as we didn't get up early enough for the earlier numbers. Oh, well. It seems even hotter at Zihuatanejo than at Acapulco. It was 90 degrees in December. Yikes. The tender ride was 10+ minutes and when we got off the pier, there was the typical line of taxi drivers trying to sell us every tour they want, but I knew what I wanted - just a quick cab ride to Playa La Ropa. Walked around for few minutes looking at the shops and then got a driver willing to go there and off we went to Paty's restaurant. The cab ride was $5, but if you are good at negotiating, you can get it down to $3 as that was the price we paid in coming back. Very nice place by the beach with thatch shaped shades. Reasonable prices for food and drinks. As long as you order something from the menu, you can sit there for hours enjoying the day at the beach. The prices are in Mexican pesos, so it's a bit of sticker shock when you see a can of soda at 10, but when you divide it back to USD, it's not an big amount for a beach front place. Beer is 20 pesos. Burgers run you around 55 pesos that come with fries.
The beach itself is quiet as it caters more to locals than the tourists who flock to the Ixtapa side. As the ship anchors off at the middle of the bay, think horse shoe clock direction and the ship is at 12 o'clock on the top, we are more at the 6 o'clock area and the entire beach spans between 3 and 9 o'clock. There were some street hawkers that came by to sell their stuff, but they are very low keyed compared to the Acapulco crowd.
After few hours at the beach, it was time to head back to the ship and as we were cleaning up to get ready to go, the owner, Paty's came over to talk to us. Not sure why she picked us amongst the various patrons there, maybe of the two boys. At any rate, she was a very nice lady and even thought there were some language varies, she speaks only Spanish and French and we spoke English/Chinese, we got some message across and with help of the translation of one of the waiters, she told us she is very happy that people come to visit her restaurant. It told her that I read about her place from cruise critic message board and I will go back to report what a nice place her establishment is and would highly recommend it.
After we took a taxi back to the pier, it was a short ride to the ship. The tide has started to change and the tender was pretty rocky as it tried to hook up with the ship, so it provided some rocky conditions as everyone was trying to sturdy themselves. Then off to shower off all the sand and dirt from our bodies before heading up to Lido deck for a late lunch before 3. After lunch, headed back to the dock side to walk around the shops. Didn't see anything that fancied us as we had been on various other Mexican ports. After some walking around, decided to head back to the ship around 4:30.
After getting back, the wife and kids took a nap while I walked around the ship sampling the sushi from the shack and checked out the stores. Went back to wake them up for dinner and then went to the Big Band music performance before going to bed.Day 6 - Friday, December 19, 2008.
Ship docked at Manzanillo at 7 AM and as advertised, it's docked at the hard hat area of container shipping area. If you like container ships/cargo, this is your port. There are hundreds/thousands of rectangular ship containers all around the dock area, stacked up like Lego toys, except each one of them weights tons. You are not allowed to walk around the area as everyone who works there are in hard hats and in the proper safety equipment. So you either must take a cab to go wherever you want to go or take a Carnival provided bus shuttle to the downtown area for $4/pp round trip. At least no bargaining necessary. Set price.
After breakfast, we headed down to the gangway and yes, it's hot. There was a guy inside the white tent selling tours if anyone was interested. He can get a taxi cab to take you to the various sights of the town if anyone was interested, we were not. We just wanted to walk around town to buy few souvenirs since this was the last stop. So we piled onto the air conditioned bus and waited for it to be loaded with other cruise ship passengers before heading into town on a 15 minute ride. There were some vendors at the water front area and we bought few things there and then walked around the downtown area, which was a mixture of tourist shops as well as local shops as you venture further away from the waterfront. Part of the landscape/buildings reminds me of Ensenada downtown, except with 10X more people and activities - some guy was selling fresh green coconuts from the back of his truck - he will crack it open in front of you and pour the juice into a plastic bag and the scrape out the coconut meat for you, can't get any fresher than that . Got some Sprite for the kids after walking around for awhile since it was very warm (mid to upper 80's). At around 2, we decided to head back to the ship. The cruise director had said at the port talks early in the cruise that this was one port people should take a tour and I would concur as downtown is nothing to write home about. Next time in town, I would spend more time talking to the dude in the white tent to see what types of excursions he can arrange up for me.
After getting back to the ship, time to eat lunch at the Lido deck. Afterwards, walked on the top deck to take pictures of the harbor area. If you look away from the container port area, the rest of the harbor doesn't look too bad. Then went to deck 11 to play a round of miniature golf before heading back to the cabin to rest and shower to get ready for ship sailing away and off to dinner and Stopped off at the photographer's to take some more pics (they are out there almost every night trying to drum up business and I am sure they know us by now as how many Asian families have boys that looks like twins that comes by nightly?). After the pics, went to the evening show with signing and the comedian. The dude is hilarious, but he is definitely not politically correct in his humor. After the show at 11 PM, time for bed. The towel animal for the night was bulldog.
Day 7 - Saturday, December 20, 2008.
Have you ever taken a regular 7 day cruise and at the end of that cruise, wished you have 1 extra day to do whatever it is you wanted to do? Well, that's the beauty of the 8 day cruise. Gives you an extra day to do whatever it is you wanted to do compared to the regular 7 days cruise. After waking up, went to the typical breakfast at the Lido deck and then all of went to the Pharaoh's palace to learn how to make the towel animals we see nightly in the cabin. Everyone was asked to bring in 2 medium and 1 large size towel from the cabin so we all can follow along. It was an interesting session and my 5 year old really got into it and afterwards he wanted to buy a towel book so he can do it at home. After dropping off the towels and the book back in the cabin, the boys wanted to play more miniature golf, so we headed up to deck 11.
However, the wind really was kicking it up by then. The captain had said it was a 20 MPH headwind as we are now traveling northbound. My college physics has long since failed me, but if I am good at it, then I would know how to calculate the actual force of the wind is if it's 20 MPH and we are heading into it going 19 knots. Whatever the net number is, it was too strong to play as the ball was being blown every which way. So we turned in our golf balls for ping pong balls one deck below. I know you are wondering if we can't play golf ball in the wind, how do we play ping pong balls? Well, the ping pong tables are situated such that it's somewhat sheltered from the wind. The key word is "somewhat" as it was still a very challenging situation trying to hit a ping pong bal in the swirling wind, but it provided some comical moments we all look foolish trying to hit a ping pong ball that was floating around like a butterfly.
Sailed past the cabo region around lunch time. I wonder if it would have been possible to have made a part stop at Cabo is they had made some changes to the itinerary? For example, instead of leaving Manzanillo at 6 PM, we leave at 4 and then instead of going 19 knots, we zip up at 21 knots, would we have made it to Cabo at mid morning for a 5 hour stop before going back to SD? I suppose it could be done, but wouldn't think Carnival would want to cut it too close and also infringe on their other Mexican Riviera run by the Pride.
After playing ping pong, we went to lunch and the kids wanted to go back to camp carnival to play and the wife and I walked around the ship taking pictures of the various parts we haven't gotten to up to that point and of course, some obligatory stops at the photo and gift shops. Then back to the cabin for some rest before getting ready for the second formal evening and the show afterwards before retiring a little before midnight. Got the one hour back that we lost as we now are sailing back to Pacific Time zone.
Day 8 - Sunday, December 21, 2008.
This is the equivalent of a soccer dad/mom day as we had to run from event to event all day. After breakfast, the kids went to Camp Carnival to have their pictures taken with Funship Freddy with the wife while I attended the disembarkation talk. Yes, it's my 9th cruise, but I still feel like I should attend this in case they change their policy one way or another. In theory, I don't need to as some people just get off the ship whenever they felt like it on the disembarkation day, but I try to only by the rules to the extend possible. Yes, they have the same jokes by the cruise director on what to do on the last day - I think all graduated from the same school for cruise directors so they have the same jokes, regardless of which cruise lines they work for.
Afterwards, we met up back at the cabin and then the wife attended the adults arts and craft session while I took the boys up to deck 11 once more to see if we can squeeze in one more round of miniature golf. Nope. Too windy. And as we are nearer SD, we lost another 10+ degrees from the day before and it's noticeable as fewer people are by the poolside today.
For lunch, they had the special chocolate buffet where you pick whatever you wanted and they drip the hot melted chocolate on them. Very good. After that, we headed off to the kitchen tour. Typical of Carnival versus Holland America, where Carnival just tells you what was what, Holland America gives you a 4 page print out with all the details involving the kitchen. So if you really care to know about things, you have the info at your finger tips. As far as kitchen tour goes, it wasn't much to write home about. They showed us very little compared to the HAL cruise. Oh, well, at least I saw what I wanted for dinner that night - crab cakes and ribs. They look good as the cooks in the back were preparing them. Actually, come to think of it, we never knew who was the executive chef on the ship whereas on the other ship, they were all very prominent. On this ship and on the tour, we only heard from the maître de.
After the tour, back to cabin to get the camera/video cam for the 5 PM kids holiday production with the ship's dancers. This was where the kids rehearsed a Christmas song and dance production in conjunction with the ships dancers and singes to provide the family a photo/video op for the holidays. At least that was the plan on paper. In reality, it's more like organized chaos. But as parents, we don't care. We just wanted to see our little ones up on stage singing holiday songs with the ship's singer's people and then have Santa come by at the end for more photos. Hey, it's free, compared to having to pay at the mall. One of the few times the Carnival photographers were not there to elicit more money from us.
After the show, we went back to the cabin to rest as it was a hectic day running around the ship trying to attend various events. We then started to pack for home as we had to have the luggage outside between 9 to midnight. Then everyone showered and we took the boys up to the Lido deck for their early dinner as they wanted to go back to camp carnival for one last time. I had the usual pre dinner appetizer as I ate alongside them - if you call a slice of prime ribs and baby back ribs appetizer. After we dropped them off at the camp, the wife and I walked around the shops to buy the last minute gifts before heading off to the formal dining room. She had the raw tuna for appetizers, I stuck with the crab cakes I saw during the kitchen tour. She opted for the ribs for main course and since I loaded up on enough meat earlier on Lido deck, I chose the fish as my main course. For dessert, she had something that resembles a mud pie while I had the classic soufflé with vanilla cream. Said goodbye to Vernon the dining room steward for the last time and as tradition on all our cruises, we always take pictures with the steward on our last night.
After dinner, went to pick up the boys and back to the cabin to finalize packing so we can get rid of the luggage that has been all over the cabin. Had some thoughts of going to the show, but was just too tired from running around all day. Enough fun for the cruise as the next day will be an early morning.
Day 9 - Monday, December 22, 2008.
The ship docked in the wee hours in SD. Not sure when, but when I woke up after 7, we were already all secured. One look outside the window, saw the gray skies and people walking around in heavy jackets. Toto, I don't think we are in Acapulco anymore. Welcome back to December CA weather. I saw people started to stream off the ship before 8 AM and I haven't even eaten my breakfast yet. Guess some people have early flights or they are just in a hurry to get off the ship. As our flight wasn't until after 2 PM, I wasn't in any rush.
Went up to the Lido deck for one last breakfast. Since many people have either left the ship or already eaten breakfast, it wasn't as crowded as I had feared. The Carnival Elation and HAL's Oosterdam happens to be back on town on the same day. That makes for a very congested port (more below). But for view, it was nice to see the Elation off the window as we ate. Since we were on her sister ship, Paradise back in 2005, there's some facility to that ship as well as the Oosterdam as mentioned previously.
After breakfast, back to the cabin for the carry on luggage and went to decks 2 and 3 to take few more pictures of the areas that we think we might have missed(only chance to have pictures of the kids in the casino) and then just chill out at the lounges as the various numbers are being called. By 10:15, they have called all the numbers and basically said, you bums, get off the ship already. So we made our way down, by then, the line was pretty short of maybe 50 people ahead of us and walked into the tent like structure to get our luggage. Not sure if this is what SD pier is like normally as since we have 3 ships docked and we are the furthest ship away from the terminal, we might have gotten the worst luggage tent, but by then the rain had started and it wasn't much fun walking out of the tent into an open area in the pouring rain to stand in line waiting for taxis. Since there were 3 ships in port, I am sure the taxi drivers are in short supply shuttling everyone around town and the line to get a taxi was pretty long.
However, there were some shuttle drivers out there trying to drum up business with signs that said $5/pp to airport. I had read online that the typical cab ride should be less than $10 to the airport, but with the pouring rain and luggage in tow, I care not about saving money, so opted for the shuttle instead. No time to save the few bucks. After a short ride to the airport, we got to Virgin America's counter only to see that they have no one working there yet as we got there more than 3 hours before the flight. So we just sat by the food court and rested and checked the email and voicemail with the rest of the world as we know it behind during our time away. After that, dropped off the luggage, the kids had McDonalds and the wife and I ate Mexico food for lunch. Back to the reality of where food now has costs associated with it.
As we headed up to the plane, some Virgin America worker saw my 2 boys walking up and asked if they had head phones for the plane and then gave each of them a new set. Nice touch so now they can have sound that goes with the videos they are watching. After a 1.5 hour flight back to SF, we landed in bay area before 4 PM and made it home thereafter.
So if somehow you made it all the way through this rambling monologue, I should either congratulate/thank you for you patience to read all my gibberish or I would suggest you need a cruise vacation more than me. Not sure which.
As I said in the beginning, it's impossible for one person to give a review on a cruise vacation as there are so many things going on and depending on what your preferences are, chances are what is important to me is meaningless to you. But if you are looking for a pleasant family vacation, there is no better choice than a cruise since it has enough variety to please multi generations.