A BIT ABOUT US:
This was our first cruise. We originally were scheduled for the June 12th sailing but due to the swine flu itinerary, we rescheduled to July 12th. My DH and I are 36 & 40, respectively, and have 3 children~ 8, 7, and 4. We chose this cruise itinerary because we live less than 10 minutes from Long Beach and the price of airfare for 5 people is pretty high these days! My DH actually dared me to find a vacation for under 5-grand and I did! I am a stay-at-home college educated mom and he is an attorney. We are non-smokers and enjoy staying at fine service establishments like JW Marriott & Ritz-Carlton. I chose Carnival over Royal Caribbean because I thought my children would enjoy the water slide/Splash Park better at their stage in life rather than ice skating & rock climbing. I also had read the food on Carnival was exceptional. It helped that CCL was about $1000 less than RCCL for two balcony rooms & the Splendor is a newer ship. I was a bit nervous about Carnival because I had read some reviews that claimed there were drunks running around, wild children, loud cabin neighbors, a smoking smell all over, and terrible food/service. My DH hates waiting in long lines so the amount of people a ship can hold made me a bit anxious. All my fears were soon abated!
My In-laws (late 50's-early 60's) traveled with us and it was their 2nd Carnival cruise. They enjoyed their first cruise with Carnival. They are both managers with the companies, Marriott and Boeing.
Got dropped off at the port at 11:45 and was handed a Zone 3 card. The Long Beach porters were very nice and took our many bags with a smile. It helped that my husband tipped them pretty handsomely as we wanted our bags to make it on the ship! Sat in a shaded area and people-watched until our number was called. On boat by 1PM and directed to the Lido buffet area. Very smooth embarkation. Ship was overwhelming at first. I was a bit surprised at how small the lobby was compared to online pictures but over time my feelings about it changed. We ate at the burrito bar & rotisserie. The Lido area was a bit crowded and soon people were filling up the pools. Photographers were out & about. Muster drill started on time at 4:45 and ended well before sail-away. We watched the sail-away from our balcony and it was great!!!
The ship was gorgeous. The pink dEcor did not bother us at all. In fact it blended very well. I loved the artwork of marine life in the stairwells and the classic murals in the hallways next to cabins. I did think the promenade and lobby were too small, dark, and cramped compared to online photos but I later thought otherwise. Navigating through the ship was a bit unwieldy at first but being close to the aft elevators gave us an edge and we finally got it down by the end of the week. Every day and everywhere people were cleaning. In port, people were painting the sides and cleaning the outside windows. The ship was constantly being made "ship-shape". I noticed that the carpets all over the ship, even in the Lido, were very clean. Purell sanitizers were in every corner near food stations. For 3000+ people, the ship never felt overly crowded to me.
ROOM & STEWARD:
We got adjoining balcony cabins on the Verandah deck aft, # 8421 & 8417. We were starboard next to the elevators. Great location! I was worried about noise but we only heard small amounts of it late at night above us as the Lido floors were being cleaned. Our rooms were nice & large. The steward had all our beds ready, a queen in ours and three twins in the other room. Our In-Laws were down the hall from us in Rm # 8391. We had the balcony partition opened and loved the larger balcony. I was worried about my kids & the balcony until I saw that it was pretty high. I locked their cabin door leading to the balcony as they were only allowed on it with an adult and with two feet on the ground. Worked well. I will always get a balcony in the future. Sipping coffee in the morning watching the ocean is so pleasurable & relaxing. We also used the balcony to speed-dry our swimwear. Our steward's name was Arman and he was wonderful! Knew our names, greeted us every day & night, gave our children robes & cookies, and we always had towel animals & chocolates. He really cleaned well and was pleasant. The beds were extremely cozy & soft. We brought our own pillows with us but slept easily on the great linens. Shower was warm and had lots of pressure. I never was able to figure out how to NOT make a wet mess of the entire bathroom floor though! We really used the power strip & over-the-door shoe hanger! Having two rooms instead of a suite was superb for us. Two of us could take showers and the kids could sleep without our TV bothering them.
FOOD & DINING:
The food was A+!!!! My DH & I enjoy food but we don't stuff ourselves just for the sake of it or because it is "free". I was shocked at seeing many fellow dining room patrons eat a large plate of Lido food just an hour before they ate at dinner! We really enjoyed the dining room experience every night. We were in the Black Pearl and I do recommend it over the Golden Pearl. It was smaller, more intimate, and there wasn't any noise or vibration due to the location. We were seated next to the window at a table, #105, for 8. There were 7 of us in our group. Deddy & Antha were our waiters and they were fantastic. Greeted us by name and knew our likes/dislikes by the end of the week. They even helped my son cut his steak! We never had a bad meal. The lobster & prime rib were the greatest! The Caesar & Greek salads were must-haves and all the soups were perfect! We enjoyed the shrimp cocktails and the crab cakes. They even had fried oysters that were too good! My kids ate and tried new things each evening from the adult menu such as escargot & lobster bisque, and we always had the chocolate melting cake! I enjoyed the singing & dancing and was one of the few that got up and joined in! "J'ai Ho" was my favorite. The Lido buffet served typical buffet fare and was good. Sushi was O.K. but it never served raw fish that I experienced. We dined in the Golden Pearl for breakfast and enjoyed the eggs benedict. Coffee in the DR's and from room service was great, no problem there. We enjoyed fruit, muffins, coffee, & juice every morning in our room. They always appreciated a tip. The Rotisserie & Tandoori Grill was great too! Burgers at the Grill were decent and the pizza tasted like Chuck-E-Cheese pizza...pretty addicting. We did not have the time to try the Deli or Mongolian Grill. Mongolian Grill & the two omelet stations always had a long line and I was never patient enough to wait..especially when there were so many other food choices. We treated ourselves to the ice cream/frozen yogurt in the Lido many times a day! I also loved my Drinks of the Day and the Pina Colada's were fantastic! I took my daughters to Tea Time in the Golden Pearl one Sea Day and it was OK. The waiters wore white gloves and the tea appetizers were nice. We sat across from an elderly grumpy couple that kept comparing the cruise to Best Western. We left soon after. I don't like hearing any negativity and we were enjoying the cruise. I won't let others ruin my fun. My DH & I ate at the Pinnacle one night and it was delicious and very rich. I honestly would say that it was comparable to the DR food since it all tasted fantastic! My DH got the huge porterhouse and I dined on the Surf & Turf. We also had the lobster bisque, Caesar salad, crab cake, escargots, and chocolate tarts. Delicious! I was disappointed in the Pinnacle's atmosphere though. There was no music and we could hear the Lido dinner buffet being served below. Carnival should take one of their lobby musicians and place them there for dinners. It would greatly enhance the experience. I also found there wasn't much to drink in the Lido area. My children don't drink soda very much so they didn't need a card. The lemonade was too sugary and the cups for drinks were rather small. I was always thirsty and running to refill my ice tea.
We barely made a dent in our Capers! There was just too much to do!!! They always had a piano player or singers in the lobby. The Lido was really fun to people-watch and for trivia games/karaoke/hairy man contest! Silly things but FUN! The kids were always in the pool on the Lido or near the water slide. We all greatly enjoyed the waterslide! Splash Park was a hit with the kids as well. Unfortunately on the last Sea Day it was too windy and the pools were cold and the water features were closed. On all the other days the pools were warm. The pool water is saltwater and can sting when it hits the eyes. Splash Park is fresh water. The adult pool in the aft of the ship was packed with people though it looked relaxing. My kids did not participate in Camp Carnival. It is their vacation too and they preferred to spend it with us. We played with them in the pools, jacuzzis, and my DH took them to play ping pong & miniature golf. I did take the girls to the Bear Stuffing Workshop held in Camp Carnival. It is basically Build-a-Bear (for a fee) and we had to stuff them ourselves but it was a great souvenir. We saw a few live shows. Fiesta Latina was pretty cheesy and the kids fell asleep on that one. They loved the juggler/comedian called Edge and VROOOM was over-the-top for a cruise show. We all sang and danced along. My DH and I tried the Piano Bar a bit after the Pinnacle one night. It was not busy yet but was neat how the piano rotates slowly around for all to see. We danced with the kids in the Red Carpet Dance Club and also liked the Moroccan Lounge for the Captain's Party. Free wine/champagne was handed out. We never stayed out past 10PM with the kids. We got up early every morning so with that and the combination of being in the sun all day, we were pretty tuckered out. The smoke smell was only noticeable in the club areas & casino part of the ship. Never noticed it anywhere else. One can always find a quiet spot on the ship if need be. Even on the Lido deck, you can find a table near the windows to watch marine wildlife. We saw a pod of dolphins, a whale spouting, and rays jumping out of the water!
CLOUD 9 SPA:
We booked a Couple's Massage for the second Sea Day. We left for our appointment with plenty of time to enjoy the amenities of the spa. That didn't happen. We signed in and were told to go to a waiting room and fill out papers. I wrote on the papers that I didn't want to be up sold a bunch of spa products (it worked). We were then called right into our massage with no shower, no robes, and no tour. The massage room was large with a shower and jacuzzi. We were not invited to use the jacuzzi afterwards. The massage was great but they never told us we could use the thallasotherapy pool or saunas..disappointing. We use spas frequently when we travel and we are used to being given a tour, given a robe/locker/slippers/drink, and invited to rinse off in the showers and use the facilities. For a $300 massage, it would have been nice for them to show us around the spa and invite us to use the amenities.
My DH had work to do while on this cruise so he bought 200 minutes for $100.00. He brought a laptop and worked from our room. It worked out well enough. The actual Internet Cafe was depressing because it was dark, hidden, and small.
I never noticed a "deal" in purchasing pictures on the last day. The prices were always the same. With that said, do NOT wait to get your pictures! They take the first ones down and place them in boxes. It became a crowded madhouse trying to locate one's pictures from piles & boxes. The pictures are quite expensive, $7.99 - 22.99, however I found some that I just couldn't live without! There are people all over the ship every night and day willing to take portraits. No charge unless you buy the actual photos.
Besides being extremely happy with cruising, we were shocked with how much we liked Mexico! Puerto Vallarta & Mazatlan were our favorites as we felt Cabo San Lucas was a mini-Newport Beach with more water sports. Being a So Cal native, that wasn't our cup of tea but it was still beautiful. Tendering was easy and so was getting on & off the ship at each port. It was great getting off the ship to explore and then feeling as if we were coming back "home" when boarding the ship again. Being our first cruise and in a foreign country, we wanted to be safe and choose the excursions through Carnival. However there was not much to choose from with children ages 4-8ys. So the things we really wanted to do: horseback riding, zip-lining, & snorkeling, were out if we chose to explore together which we did. I picked beach resort offerings and while I loved PV & Mazatlan, I should have chosen the dolphin swim tour for Cabo. Next time! Read more about the ports in my Mexican Riviera Ports reviews.
OUR TYPICAL SEA DAY:
We would wake around 6:30 and have room service deliver coffee/juice/muffins. We would eat our breakfast "snack" on the balcony while getting ready for the pool. We would meet my In-laws for a proper breakfast, if still hungry, at the Golden Pearl or the Lido buffet. By 9:30-ish, we would grab pool chairs and hang out. I would get my DoD (or a refill) and relax while the kids would swim in the Lido pool. My In-laws would sit in the chairs while my DH & I took the kids to Splash Park and the water slide for the rest of the day. We always got a bite at the Lido, or other nearby food station. Around 3:30 PM, we would retire to our rooms to relax, shower, and change for dinner. We had dinner in the Black Pearl at 6PM. After dinner we would catch a show in the Spectacular, dance at the Red Carpet Disco, or just walk the ship and people-watch. We would easily fall asleep by 9:30-10PM every night.
The last day was unfortunately very windy and cold so the water slide and Splash Park were closed. The Lido pool was so cold that no one would brave it. My poor kids would dip their feet in every few minutes just hoping it would heat up but it never did. I would recommend that Carnival actually use their retractable roof for days like that. It would keep everyone warm and they would actually sell more drinks! Ping Pong and golf were too difficult to do with the high winds. We just kept jumping in and out of the jacuzzis all day.
Everyone states how awful this part of the cruise is so I was mentally prepared. It was sad seeing our Luggage Mat on the bed the night before and the debarkation luggage tags. I didn't want to pack or leave the ship ever! We had 6 bags between the 5 of us and chose to self-disembark. We got up very early around 5:45 AM due to the very slow cruising speed and watched the whole docking process. We had our bags all packed and ready to go. We ate an early breakfast in the Golden Pearl and then grabbed our bags. When we were getting our bags, I noticed that our steward had already started to clean the rooms! They had stripped the beds and taken the shower curtains off to clean them. We waited in the hallway talking with other guests while waiting for our deck number to be called. It was announced at around 8:40 AM and the only problem we encountered was the long line of people waiting for elevators. Take the stairs if you are able! We were off the ship in less than an hour, picked up, and in our house by 10:30 AM. It was a pretty painless procedure and not a nightmare by any means.
- Guest Services and the Casino did not give out free lanyards. I had to purchase one in the gift shop for $4.50.
- Guest Services handed out a free Carnival deck of cards when asked.
- It is very easy to check your onboard account from the TV set. You can also order excursions that way.
- Elegant Nights are Monday & Friday. The VROOOM show is on Friday.
- Know that many fun shows/events start at 10-10:30 PM. With younger children these can be hard to stay up for but try and make an effort. We regret not seeing many of the late shows as others claimed they were so fun. There is always a next time!
- Never saw any intoxicated people or unruly kids running around. Smoking smell was only in bars & casino, not bothersome at all.
- The safe is operable by a code, not by magnetized cards.
Wow. We are hooked. There is nothing like unpacking once and being taken to different places without the stress of airports, taxis, and bulky luggage. With kids, it was a relaxing, entertaining, and delicious way to vacation! The week we got back home (after they pulled me and my FIL kicking and screaming off the gangway!) we booked a vacation on the Dream for next July! I wish I could do another cruise right away! I was pleased with Carnival! No, it is not fancy, or stuffy, or quiet. But it is FUN. I didn't expect anything more! If people want a white-gloved secluded cruise, go a different line and don't complain about Carnival. They keep you happy, well fed, and entertained. I was also taken aback by the grumpy complainers I would run into (and run quickly away from!). If people don't have anything good to say, they should keep it to themselves and not ruin someone else's time. Nothing is perfect, but you can make it enjoyable. If you treat the service people with respect, they will bend over backwards for you. They won't dress you or wipe your mouth after that 4th appetizer, but they will smile when handing it to you. I wouldn't expect anything more and neither should anyone else. We make our own fun. It was a great vacation and now I can officially call myself a Cruiser!!!
& lush!!! We chose to book an excursion through Carnival. La
Jolla De Mismaloya resort tour. Since we had little kids that couldn't
do a lot we thought a beach/pool/resort setting would be ideal. It
was. The air-conditioned bus picked us up at the pier and took us on a
guided tour around the city towards the resort. A nice informative
45-minute ride. Saw the old town, beaches, living places, all the
construction..very good tour. The resort was gorgeous!! The beach was
small and quaint. The ocean water was very warm. We could sign out
snorkel equipment, boogie boards, and kayaks. There were vendors
around but they didn't bother us too much. The pools at the resort
were lovely and we had drinks at the swim-up bar. All the drinks you
want. The buffet at the restaurant was true Mexican fare and it was
amazing!!! My kids loved the children's pool with the fast water slide
and we really had an enjoyable day. Would love to visit
again! Weather was warm, humid, and tolerable. Got to see a bright green iguana in the bushes on the resort!!
weather was HOT & HUMID. The city is a port town but cruising into
port was pretty. It is a very nice city and I was surprised. The
open-aired taxi drivers were nice though they spoke very little
English. We met early for our tour, Shopping, Beach, & Lunch, in
the Spectacular Spectacular and then were placed in taxis. We drove
quite a ways around the town/beach to a Mexican Show that showcased the
Paplanta Flyers. Too hot to enjoy. Then we raced through the Golden
Zone (my kids were crumpling in the heat) as we just wanted to hit the
resort and beach. Not sure why it is called Golden Zone as it is a
small street with vendors. Playa Mazatlan was a nice hotel with a
great patio facing the beach. Vendors were everywhere! The buffet was
splendid and the beer was satisfying. My kids rented boogie boards and
I went parasailing! $35 to parasail, a deal and it was amazing!!!!
The ocean water was nice and warm. The taxi driver drove us though
the more touristy and upscale parts of town on the way back to the pier and it was beautiful. Would visit there again!
CABO SAN LUCAS:
people prefer Cabo over the other ports but we disagree. We are from
Los Angeles and it is too similar to Newport Beach and Santa Monica.
We like the more foreign cities that have less tourism, less American
businesses, and less spoken English. The locals in Cabo weren't as
friendly and everything was a bit too upscale for our liking. The area
of Land's End was gorgeous. Just seeing the ship in the bay was a
beautiful sight. We tendered very easily and chose the Exclusive Beach
Resort. I should have picked the Cabo Dolphins tour but my girls said
they were too scared at first. The vans took us from the port to a
very modern and fancy hotel called Casa Dorada on Mendano Beach. It
was a bit too fancy to feel completely comfortable. We had access to
the private beach area and pools. The ocean water was cold and the
waves were too rough to swim in. The weather was hot and dry (much
like So Cal). We ate a buffet lunch and it was decent.
was not quite authentic Mexican fare.. French fries and
American-inspired. The highlight of the day was my DH & son
renting a Seadoo. My FIL rented one too. They were able to go around
the cruise ship and down to the tip of Land's End. Great fun for them!
Tendering back to the ship was easy and fast though it was a large
line. Bring a huge hat or foldable umbrella to escape the heat.
Notice the ocean when leaving Cabo. We saw many shiny silver rays
jump out of the water over and over. Very neat to see!!