For our one-year anniversary, my husband and I decided to take a cruise because we both love boat rides and were looking for an all-inclusive, stress-free trip. This was my second cruise (my first being over a decade ago) and this was his first, so needless to say, we are not very experienced cruisers. We embarked at Long Beach, CA for the 4-night Catalina/Ensenada, Mexico cruise on the Carnival Paradise.
Embarkation was similar to that of boarding a plane with all the lines you are required to stand in: check-in, security...oh, but there are a couple of differences, PHOTO lines! We have read several other reviews before the trip, so we went in with the expectation of potential long embarkation timeframes of up to 2 ½ hours. So, with that expectation, we were grateful for our 1-hour embarkation process. We definitely have to say the process was quite smooth and organized.
Once onboard on the Main Deck, we immediately were hit with an unpleasant odor. It smelled like a restroom facility. The thought of getting used to that smell for an extended amount of time was not something we were looking forward to, but we were pleasantly surprised that our lower-level location (Riviera Deck) did not have any noticeable unpleasant smell. So, we were happy about that. We are both sensitive to smell, so you can imagine our relief to escape that rancid smell for the trip.
We found our stateroom and were quite satisfied with the accommodations: spacious room and bathroom, great ocean view, great clean bedding, and lots of floor space and closet space for our luggage. We recommend for this particular 4-night cruise that you not only get an ocean view stateroom, but that you also get a stateroom located on the even-numbered side of the ship. We noticed that at all of the ports of call (including while in Long Beach) we had a great view of the land and not just the ocean. That was a definite plus (especially traveling as a couple who may actually want a little time in the room). ? The only negative thing we noticed in our room was that the bathroom shower drain system is not all that great and a pool of water collects outside of the shower each time it's used. I have seen this mentioned in other reviews, so I hope Carnival finally takes note of that. Other than that, the room was great.
After checking out our room we explored the ship a bit and grabbed some food in the cafeteria. We recommend eating as soon as possible to avoid the growing food lines after embarkation because everyone seemed to have the same idea once onboard. The food was great, lots options: entre line, deli line, pizza line, etc. The ship is in good shape, however a bit dated; my husband said it reminded him of the Harrah's Hotel in Las Vegas. If you are new to cruising, like us, you will probably think it's pretty nice as you have no posh newer ships to compare it too.
Dinner every evening in the assigned dining room was EXCELLENT! Our waiter was most attentive with a great personality. All the waiters and dining room staff appeared to be foreign, so that made things interesting and fun. Most nights they also entertained the room with a dance. We were seated with another couple, but as we later found out, the amenities of the ship (Casino) kept them busy, so we only saw them the first night. They were nice, but it was great getting our own table for most of the evenings. The food was actually GOURMET and sooo DELICIOUS! We had fun anticipating what the menu offered as it changed each night. Our first night onboard was our anniversary, so they sang for us and put a candle on our dessert. Sweet. ? We recommend ordering room service for at least one breakfast, it's great and included! Food is available at your whim 24-hours a day! This was probably one of our favorite cruise features. You may end up eating a 4th meal late at night, just because you can. ;-)
The 2nd night onboard was the Elegant Evening, where everyone dresses up. We dressed up every evening for dinner, but this particular night, we stepped it up just a notch. It was nice to see mostly everyone in their finest. Before and after dinner there are several photo backdrops and photographers beckoning for you to get your picture taken. We took pictures at nearly every station and by the 3rd night we had 30 or more pictures to choose from. At $22/picture, there was no way we were purchasing all of them, so we finally narrowed down our choices and bought a few. We HIGHLY recommend you wait until at least the 3rd or even last night before you make your photo purchases because every day there are plenty of opportunities to take pictures and they aren't cheap, so you may want to wait to buy until you can choose from all of your photos at once.
The entertainment was great the first night on the outside deck for the 4thof July celebration. We leisurely checked out the other entertainment onboard and found most of it to be entertaining. There's always something going on, so it was nice popping in here and there as we pleased.
Catalina was our favorite port-of-call by far. We rented a tandem bike and rode all over Avalon. We made our own fun without trying out the excursions, we wish they gave you more time at this port. Being a bit cautious in Ensenada, we didn't venture out too far other than walking into town for bargain shopping. My previous cruise I went on the La Bufadora excursion and we didn't feel it was worth the money for us this time. After about an hour or so, we had enough and returned to the ship to miniature golf and eat. If we could choose, we would rather the time at Catalina be extended in place of Ensenada's all-day docking. Our day at sea was nice to just lounge around.
Debarkation was smooth and easy. We did the Self-Assist option which panned out to be even quicker than we expected. We were out of the ship in less than 20 minutes.
Overall, to conclude a lengthy review (we had to do this as we were so benefited from others' reviews), if you are looking for a reasonably-priced vacation that affords you the privilege of unlimited eating at any time of day or night (one of those meals being a gourmet meal each day), free entertainment, and lots of free-time to enjoy your spouse or travel companions, then the 4-night Catalina/Ensenada Carnival Paradise cruise may be perfect for you!