We (my mom, sister, daughter (age 5) son (age 2) and I) sailed on the Carnival Paradise May 18th - 22nd . We booked this trip 1 week before due to the drastically reduced price and thus only visited Catalina Island and anchored off of Ensanada for 4 hours (to meet the Jone's Act). This was my 14th cruise (2nd on Carnival) my daughter's 4th and my son's 1st. We had a wonderful time and it was a great trip, complete with beautiful sunny weather and the ocean cooperated with very calm seas.
Embarkation: We drove over to Long Beach from Gilbert, Arizona the day of sailing and parked in the LB Port parking terminal. I appreciated that it was covered parking and the parking spaces easily accommodated my SUV. The cost was $15 a day. We checked our luggage with the porters (located on level one of the parking structure) and then stood in a really unorganized line for over an hour. We arrived around 2pm and did not get on the ship until close to 4. Apparently customs decided to do a full inspection on the off coming passengers and it held up getting us on. Why they did an inspection when they only sailed to Catalina is beyond me. We stood outside in an unorganized line and then proceeded to be shuffled over to another line just outside the terminal doors, then another line through security, a line to check - in, a line to take your picture (unavoidable), a line to get on the gangway, a line to scan your Seapass (I can't for the life of me remember what Carnival calls this?) and then we were on. Yip-eee.
Ship overview: The ship was decorated in very loud colors and the green eggs and flower inlays in the lobby/atrium were ugly. The hallways to the rooms were really dark, we were on the blue side. However I do not cruise to be offended by a ship's decorations so it was fine. Just different than any other ship I have been on. Goofy golfing was fun, the adult area had nice padded loungers but was always packed, the gym was small but had nice equipment (at least it looked nice I was lazy this trip), there was lots of loungers around all the pool areas and Camp Carnival was set up great for the 2-5 aged group. The cruise director Filipe was a hyper little thing and would make announcements in the hallways at 10:45 at night and always ended his spiel with "WOO-HOO". Luckily my kids were so worn out these late night (for families) announcements never woke them up.
Room: We had an inside room M71 and it was laid out very well. I had lots of room my all my stuff and we never felt cramped even though there was 3 of us sleeping in the room. The 2 beds were against the wall and my son's bed was on a small cot just a couple of inches off the floor. I love insides rooms for 1 thing only - it is pitch black and makes for a great night's sleep. Our stateroom attendant was wonderful and always made sure to say hi to us and give my kids a high-5. The bathroom also had plenty of room although I hated the friendly shower curtain - those should be banned. The only bad thing about our room was there is a sizable space at the bottom of the door that lets light and noise into the room. I rolled up a towel and put it here at night to help block the light. This cruise we were cursed with LOUD neighbors across the hall that thought it fun to keep their doors open and yell down the hall all day and night. Too bad I forgot earplugs because we could even hear them when both my door and their doors were closed.
Entertainment/pools: I had the kids so we did not attend any shows. The live music on the ship was good as long as you are not a music snob. The jazz band was a favorite of my kids - they loved to hop and dance around to their songs. The kids pool was really just a small Jacuzzi and was really lame! It appears that they moved the kids pool and made the old one the adult area. I am not sure if Carnival is planning something else more elaborate kids pool or not because there is a lot of room on deck 12. For right now it is just a small circle tub that is heated. The larger pool next to it was freezing in the wind so we only swam after we got back from Catalina in the kids bathtub - I mean pool. On the last sea day all of the pools looked like they needed a good scrub down - they were a nasty dirty green color.
Food: The food was only OK however being in cruise mode we did not starve and managed to get in our 10 square meals a day. Nah - in truth this was the first cruise I managed not to come home with an extra chin which is good. The lobster on elegant night was wonderful, some of the best I have had on a cruise and the warm chocolate melting cake was divine! Most of the food was just really bland and did not have a lot of flavor - just my cruising parties opinion. The pizza on the lido deck had really good crust and my kids loved the soft serve ice cream. Our waiters in the main dining room were fantastic , we loved them. We never ordered room service - the menu was very limited to a few salads and sandwiches. The deli on lido was always busy and I had a good turkey Panini there. The Mongolian grill looked fantastic but I was not thrilled with the sauces they cook it in - just not my taste. The wait staff in the lido was lazy - poor things were worn out and they would only clear the tables when their supervisor walked in to check on them. Dirty dishes were piled up on the tables and would sit there for quite a while. This only created a problem during breakfast when the Lido was packed with people trying to find a clean table to sit at.
Camp Carnival: My kids were both in the 2-5 aged group and my 5 year old LOVED it, every time I went to get her she begged to stay longer. My 2 year old went the first night and was happy to go in and then after 15 minutes my phone (they provided me) rang with him screaming in the background. I quickly went to go get him and he was completely traumatized and refused to go near it the rest of the trip. That was a bit of a bummer but he was my little shadow the rest of the trip and behaved like a gem for me praise the toddler heavens . The activities were numerous and changed almost every 30 minutes. The counselors were great and very nice and enthusiastically greeted each child - they knew my daughter's name by the second day and would act so excited to see her. This made it so much easier to leave her there, knowing she was having fun and being supervised by nice professionals. I would drop her off for 2 hours in the morning and for an hour or 2 in the afternoon, depending on what activities seemed of interest to her. There were not too many kids on our cruise so the kid center never had more than 10 kids there at any time. They were also very good to allow the kids to color or play with toys if they did not want to participate in the schedule activity.
Debarkation: Another crazy unorganized line... of course. We chose to do self assist disembarkation and there was not formal line and everyone was merging and cutting the line. However it only took about 45 minutes to get off the boat and through customs. There they just counted that I had 3 passports for the 3 of us, didn't even open them, and then sent us on our merry way. I filled out the custom form and handed it to the Carnival workers as we left the terminal. It seemed appropriate since we never left the US - very quick and painless minus the line to get off.
I would definitely do a Carnival cruise again if the price was right and good thing it usually is. It helps that Carnival is now our only choice for a quick 3 -4 night getaway on the West Coast. The most appealing thing for me about Carnival is that my 2 year old can go to the kids center - we will have to try it again in a few months, next time with my hubby and the kids.