This is my first review and second ever cruise. So here goes:
Carnival Pride, set out from Long Beach, Los Angeles in late January 2009, right around the Chinese New Year.
CABIN At first we grouched about being on deck 7, assuming more spacious accommodations on deck 8, but realized we didn't have to deal with the band music and lawn chairs moved about every day on Lido deck. It was spacious, had a balcony, but only one outlet for all our electronics and oddly, the bathroom smelled faintly like sewage the entire trip. Horrid. Note that others wrote, the staff seemed burned out, and so it was. The balcony was not well swept, and we had to request soap/shower liquid although the bins were clearly empty. The phone direct call lines hardly worked, and the on board television entertainment system was clunky to navigate. So the biggest gripe was the sewage/pee smell, at least through Mazatlan. Yikes.
DINING Generally the meals in Normandie were quite good. Not super spectacular, but considering how many meals are served in a limited space, and it's quite impressive. The wait staff however was ... not quite right in the head. Perhaps they saw how much wine we had at the table and decided to go with slower service, but it was SUPER SLOW. I asked for the service to be accelerated. It was and then degenerated. Our server simply didn't care, I think. The rolls were not fully baked (kitchen issue), he refused to cork the bottles on the table unless specifically told to do so, he repeatedly "forgot" tea and coffee or would bring some for one or two persons, and neglect the remainder of the table. Often, we'd be one of the last tables to be served, so that all the lights would go on as they tried to shuffle us out, only two minutes after bringing us dessert. Ug. We noted this to the organizer but it barely made a difference.
The buffet was always kinda so so, as mass food always is. I did it for breakfast and lunch, and always kinda regretted it. LOVED the grill that served burgers and fries (but only during high traffic hours), and the grill that serves hot/cold sandwiches. We really liked stopping in on the sushi station in the late afternoons for an appetizer since we had late seating; unfortunately, he started mixing too much vinegar with the rice and it got a bit sticky at the end. Finally, we missed the midnight buffet repeatedly but was told it was stopped? Probably due to budgetary cutbacks in light of the economic situation. No big deal. Kinda sorry we missed the chocolate fountain extravaganza at the end.
Full disclosure we stayed away from soft drinks generally and stuck with lemonade with iced tea, and treated ourselves to the occasional Americano or espresso. Don't think free coffee had much caffeine in it, really.
ENTERTAINMENT I quite liked the dancers, musicians, singers, pianists and entertainers on board. Wish we had spent more time with the piano guys. Our group had brought a band on board, but they were only so-so in comparison, although the Butterfly Lounge had an excellent setup circular stage, dance floor and stadium seating for quite a few, bar in the back.
PORTS OF CALL Chico's Paradise is an outdoorsy Disneyland. Great when the weather permits, with zip lines and hikes, iguanas and great view. But it takes 45 minutes to get there, and you miss all of the great old Puerto Vallarta, which is mostly cobblestone streets, low key art houses, bars and shops, and great cheap local fare. In contrast, we ended up in new PV along the beach strip where most of the beat up bars and restaurants are, and charge full fare of the endless stream of tourists. Definitely visit old PV, Roberto's for serious salsa on Fri and/or Sat nights, and the little roads. Wish we had more time there!
Mazatlan, in contrast, is much rougher, with incomplete and decaying properties all along an incredibly endless coastline. The taxi's all get commission to take tourists to some garishly decorated place called Costa Marinara, right on the beach. Maybe the food is OK, but you'll have to deal with the Mariachi band for long stretches, and the dark interior. For our part, we just didn't want to get sick, and felt less adventurous. So we settled on, you guessed it, the Shrimp Factory. SO SO SUPER overpriced, but the food was good. Esp loved the guacamole, which is served in separate parts mashed guac, limes, tomato salsa, and hot sauce, so you can adjust the flavor to your liking. Sweeeeeeet. Be prepared for lots of noise, everything sports a noise. The taxis, the restaurants, bars, the roaming circus animals (tigers, lions, camels, buffalo and giraffe) with crazy meringue blasted out of the front vehicle. Totally nuts.
BTW, I tried bargaining for jewelry in Mazatlan but the vendors didn't seem amenable. Not sure if it's bec/ other tourists largely paid full fare, or bec/ their own rents were quite high. All I know is, a lot of the stuff might have been made in China, and the prices there are rock bottom. So they didn't give a whole lot, and I ended up with nothing, and so did they. Go figure.
Cabo San Lucas is nearest the US and oozes money. We didn't find the water to be nearly as clear or beautiful as the Caribbean and opted OUT of all beach and water sports. So we only got off the ship for lunch, at Los Deseos based on one reviewer's pics. Turns out they had great guac, steak tacos, and Pacifico. Totally would go back. Problem is that after disembarking you walk through the marina area and the "zone" with restaurants and bars (including Hooters) all the way to the beach. It's quite nice, but about 45 minutes and you have to withstand the gauntlet of entrepreneurial sales persons. Never quite made it to the beach, but loved Los Deseos.
OVERALL I still think cruises as a form of vacation is a little odd. Seems extremely passive, but it is nice to be waited on and served! Hence, I place a premium on service. But this is a family cruise, so perhaps there is a bit of dulling on the edges. I am lucky to have gone on the trip. Be careful of all the extra charges to your sail and sign card gratuity is automatic; drinks via wait staff is all charged; wine and all alcohol is charged; any liquor not retail is held until you disembark at the end of the week; and the crazy prices on the photos they sell.
Hope you enjoy your cruise.