First, a little background: My wife and I are in our late 20's/30's, and this was my 7th cruise - 6th with Carnival and 3rd as an adult, and it was my wife's 3rd. We typically have done the east coast, Caribbean cruises, but decided to head out west and try one since I had some air miles to use up.
GETTING THERE: We flew into LAX the night before departure and rented a car from Budget. Only Budget and Avis are open on Sundays in Long Beach. We went with the rental for two reasons, one, so I could drive my wife around a bit (first time for her in LA), and two, it was only $60 for the one-way to Long Beach. I figured it would cost not too much less than that for shuttles and such over two days. We stayed at a Hampton Inn in Hermosa Beach, because I had a free stay to use. Otherwise we may have gone down into Long Beach, but we ended up having a nice night and morning there. We dropped the car off in downtown Long Beach, and they called a taxi for us, which came quickly. It cost about $9+tip for him to take us down to the ship.
EMBARKATION We slept in and slowly made our way to the terminal, finally getting there about 1:15. The line inside the dome was long, but moved quickly. It ended up being good timing, because we walked onto the ship, went right to our room, and it was ready. All in all, I thought everything went pretty smooth. We also had our bags delivered earlier than we ever have, too. After the good ol' lifeboat drill, we rushed back up on deck to watch us leave Long Beach.
CABIN We have booked ocean views and balcony cabins before, but never an inside. We decided to be budget-conscious and book an inside cabin, but we picked the top level, a 4G, #7201. It was at the extreme bow of the ship, under the bridge. Our travel agent didn't really tell us at first that this was really an oceanview - it had a window - it was just considered "obstructed" because of the railing out front. We found out after we booked, so we were curious. Turns out you could see pretty well out of the window as long as you were standing up. We think the room was a little smaller than it would have been if it was in a "normal" place on the side hallways, but we had plenty of room to store our luggage and clothes. The deck out front was like our own little balcony, since probably only 6 people went out there all week (but they can see in your room). The only drawback to this cabin was walking the entire length of the ship to get to the Lido buffet, the aft pool, and our dinner table (we were the furthest table in the aft of the ship). All in all, it was a good value for the cabin.
THE SHIP Definitely enjoyed the ship. Was it pink? Yes. Would I have noticed if I didn't read so many reviews about it? Probably not - it wasn't that bad to us. I never felt crowded on the ship, even with that many people on board. Finding a chair on deck was never a problem, and we liked the fact you could sit up on the sides of the upper decks in the shade or the sun. The deck chairs were better quality than other Carnival ships we've been on. The adults-only serenity area was a nice idea, but they put the mini-golf course above it, so it wasn't always perfectly quiet. We enjoyed most of the lounges, especially El Morocco in the aft. The Lido area was nice, they even closed the roof once or twice when there was a threat of bad weather, so you could still hang out up there. The only negative was the Carnival habit of having two dining rooms, and not being able to walk the entire length of the ship because the one dining room blocked the path. Otherwise, we loved the Splendor.
THE FOOD We are not real picky when it comes to food. I don't think I was wowed by the food at any dinner, but I didn't have any complaints either. The Lido buffet for breakfast and lunch had plenty of variation to choose from, you could find almost anything you were in the mood for. We did eat in the Pinnacle steakhouse one night, because we did it on the Legend a few years ago and enjoyed the experience. At this one, the food was once again excellent, and plenty of it. However, the service was lacking a bit compared to what we saw on the Legend. Nothing bad, it just wasn't spectacular like you would expect for the extra charge.
THE STAFF This was probably the best overall staff I can remember on a Carnival ship. Everyone was very friendly - you always come across someone rude or having a bad week, but we didn't here. Every cabin steward in our hallway said hello and most asked how our day was going. Our steward, "Bong", always had a smile on her face. We had one issue, with the sink stopper, and I guess we called when she was off duty, because the person I talked to never sent anyone to fix it. When we called again and caught her on duty, it was fixed immediately. Our wait staff in the Gold Pearl dining room was solid - friendly and good-humored, but our waiter didn't always seem that enthused and sometimes seemed like he disappeared for great lengths of time. Overall though, no major complaints. The Captain was good; support staff was excellent - never seen so much cleaning being done at all hours on a ship. Entertainment staff was decent, but not memorable - cruise director Goose was pretty good, he grew on us, but he did seem to have a little attitude on one of the last days, but it could have just been his sarcastic sense of humor.
ENTERTAINMENT We don't gamble a lot, so we can't comment on the Casino. We didn't really do the piano bar, so can't comment on him either. The "roving bands" that are always around were pretty good - one duo that sang a lot of light contemporary, one more rock-based, and another Latin-themed band. We peeked in the sports bar every now and then to see what was on, and it was always Tennis, which is fine, but there was definitely more going on in the sports world, and all but two of the screens had Tennis on - I didn't get that. Everything else was standard Carnival: bingo, game shows, ping-pong, karaoke, etc. Enough to keep you occupied if you didn't want to just sit out on deck, which is what we usually did. The late night shows were decent - the first night was standard Carnival intro stuff and a comedian, who was OK; the Puerto Vallarta night they brought on a local mariachi band to perform, which I thought was a nice local touch even though we didn't get to see them; the last night is the Legends show with the karaoke winners, which I guess every ship does. The shows with the singers and dancers were good, though I wasn't wowed by the singers, and the big show on Friday had a lot of effort put into it. The one late-night rock & roll show on the Lido with the dancers was different and a cool idea. They also had big-screen movies at night out by the pool, but we didn't watch any. There was always something to do for everybody's tastes, and we always seem to have a good time on Carnival.
THE PORTS This was our first time at any of these stops, as we are usually on the Caribbean side. Also, I read a lot of debates over using Pesos vs. Dollars, and I can say we had a much easier time using pesos. That's what pretty much everything was billed or quoted in, and the people that used dollars (especially for cabs), seemed to have to do a lot more negotiating to get the price to be reasonable. That's just my opinion.
Puerto Vallarta: The longest stop, morning to night. We didn't know what to do here, so we chose to book an excursion through an independent tour operator that advertises on here, which we have never done before. We booked the Los Veranos canopy tour, and ended up having a great time. I won't go into too much detail, but we took a yellow taxi over to the meeting spot at a local disco, got picked up by the open-air truck, drove about 45 minutes to the site, and then did the excursion. I am not too fond of heights, and I had no trouble doing the zip lines once we got going. Afterwards, there was a nice area to buy a lunch and drinks if you desired, before being driven back - and they even dropped us off right at the Carnival gate. One of our dinner-mates did the Carnival-based canopy tour, and they paid a bit more and I don't think they had as good a time as we did. We went back on the ship for a bit and changed, and then around 6:00 or so we came back off and walked across the parking lot and onto the beach, and just sat in some chairs for a while. The beach vendors are annoying, but there is not much you can do about them. It was a nice long day, with plenty of time to accomplish whatever you wanted to do.
Mazatlan: The port itself did not look like anything great, very industrial. But we chose to do a Carnival-based beach excursion to Stone Island, so we never really set foot on the mainland or downtown. The tour itself ended up being very good, and a great value. The tour operators and guides were fantastic and did a very good job. We got on a small double-decker boat to go across the channel to Stone Island, but they gave us a little tour on the way. Then we were driven on these open-air tractors to the beach/restaurant area. It was not the prettiest beach in the world, but it was a nice little area. We were given the option to do a short horseback riding tour, which was not mentioned in the original description, so this was a nice bonus. My wife had never ridden a horse before, so we didn't want to pay for the big excursions, so having this little 20-minute ride for her was cool. After that, we were given the included lunch, which wasn't bad, and then sat on the beach the rest of the afternoon. Beach vendors were around, but they tried to keep them roped-off from our area. The biggest adventure of the day came on the way back. Keep in mind this whole time was open bar. One 40-something couple was taking too long coming back to the tractors to go as we all sat there waiting, and another 40-something couple started calling the woman some vulgar names as she got on (the man sat in another location for some reason). This continued, and once we got back to the little tender boat and all got on, then two men found each other and started fighting. What was a shame, is that innocent people including women, children, and the woman tour guide ended up getting caught up in all of it. The words continued as we all approached the Splendor to board, and people starting calling for security, who didn't seem to really know what to do. We saw security talking to the one couple, but we don't think anything ever happened to them, since we saw both couples the next day, beers in hand. It really put a damper on what was otherwise a good little excursion and a nice day.
Cabo San Lucas: This was probably the most ridiculous stop of the cruise. I don't mean that we didn't have a good time, but the schedule says 7-3, but by the time they get the tenders rolling, you eat breakfast, catch one and get to the marina, it's like 9-something. The last tender back is 2:00, and most people like to give a little cushion, so call it 1:30. You only have a few hours to really accomplish anything, and the line to get back on the tenders was 1000-people deep it seemed. We didn't have any plans, so we just got off and walked around the marina area, stopped in the mall for a bit, and eventually made our way to the other side and the beach area (it's a long walk - you can take a water taxi if you want to go straight there). We then chilled at one of the beach bars/restaurants for a bit before making the trek back to the marina. It really wasn't a bad day, it just felt a little rushed.
DISEMBARKATION This was mixed for us. We had to catch a flight, and chose not to do the self-assist and carry our bags off. We woke up and ate some breakfast and then hung around in our cabin until they started general debarkation. We were in the second group called, and were off the ship in no time - barely a line and no real feeling of crowds in the stairwells and such. Probably the easiest debarkation I can remember. Once off the ship, things got worse. The area to pick up your bags was packed, with a huge line to get through customs in a very narrow area. We then used Carnival's transfer service to get to LAX, which seemed very unorganized. There were no signs or agents pointing the way to the transfer area, and then once on the bus, we sat there for probably 40 minutes before leaving. We had plenty of time, but if anyone was in a hurry, they would have been in trouble.
RANDOM They still did the full-fledged Captains party and also the Past-Cruisers get-together with complimentary drinks. Then they had another, smaller, loyalty/future cruise reception later in the week. Someone said there were 500 children on board, but to us it seemed like the average age on this cruise was more middle-age and up. Besides the fight, we saw a generally quiet, calm cruise. We won a bingo game for the first time ever, and we only played once, so that was a nice subtraction from the bar bill! Overall, we had a great time, again, on a Carnival cruise. We've yet to have any major negative experiences, and Carnival has suited us, and we think we got a good value on this one. We thought this may be our last cruise for a while, but we always have such a good time we may just be thinking about our next one (but leaving from a port a little closer to us!)