We drove to Long Beach to board the Carnival Splendor on its July 31 sailing to the Mexican Riviera. We drove up from San Diego on Saturday and got a great Cruise and Park package at the Hilton Long Beach and Executive Meeting Center. The room and 7 days of parking (in an underground structure) cost us $137. The hotel was very accommodating to cruise passengers. The morning of departure, the hotel shuttle left the area around 9am and wouldn't return to the hotel until around 11:30. We, of course, wanted to leave for the ship during that time. So the hotel gave us taxi vouchers (there were 14 in our party) so we could go whenever we wanted. It was a 10-minute taxi ride to the cruise terminal and we arrived around 11. There was no line at this time to check in.
We got Zone 4 boarding, which was still in the shaded area close to the dome, and waited until about 12:30 to board. Boarding was simple and we were in the Lido Buffet for lunch by 1. It was busy, so we went upstairs to the Rotisserie where it was quiet and un-crowded.
After touring the ship we were able to get into our rooms at 2:30. Our room was 6450, an aft wrap. A great room with a fabulous deck! Part of our group was in 6448 (a 'regular' balcony room but it's sideways so the balcony is twice as long as normal) and the vestibule between our two rooms was quite handy. We opened the balcony partition between the two rooms and had a huge deck on the back corner of the ship. These two rooms were great, but the next balcony room over and the interior rooms across the hall did get noise from the lounge below us. On the Karaoke nights, the thump of the music was quite loud. But on four of the nights there were comedy shows, so the noise wasn't too bad.
Sail-away was great on our deck with umbrella drinks in hand. We had late dining at 8:15 in the Gold Pearl. They managed to get our party of 14 at one table at a table in the upper dining room, center, at the back window. The food, in general, was good but not great. We were quite disappointed in the lobster on the first formal night. The always-available Mahi Mahi shouldn't ever be available. Otherwise, we enjoyed the food, and Warm Chocolate Melting Cake always made a happy appearance at our table. I liked the cold soups, and mine usually came with some beautiful garnish that the soup was poured around in front of me, making me the envy of the table.
We were on a completely full sailing, so crowds were everywhere. We spent a lot of time in our room and on our deck so they didn't bother us much. Our first at-sea day was for rest and relaxation, so we didn't attend many of the ship's activities. I managed a yoga class, which we signed up for before sailing or there wouldn't have been any room. We spent time by the Liner Lido Pool (adults only), which wasn't too crowded early on. Lunch was at the Lido Buffet, with the Mongolian Grill being the favorite if you had plenty of time to wait in line. Otherwise, we liked the Deli and Tandoori Grill outside at the back of the Lido deck.
The first day in Cabo was great. We went down to get tender tickets when they were first offered at 8:30 and could get them for the whole group. The ship was anchored about 9:30. We were Group 9, and were on land in Cabo by about 10:30. We had no set plans, so half of our group went to the Glass Factory ($6 per person by taxi with the taxi waiting for them) and the rest of us rented Jet Skis on Medano Beach, $60 for an hour. We booked from one of the vendors along the pier (Israel Flores at B20) and he set us up with a ride over to Medano and the Jet Skis. When we got over to Medano Beach, our price was better than what we could have gotten if we'd waited to book there. We'd agreed to meet our party at the Mango Deck, so after Jet Skiing and the Glass Factory, we had a few drinks while the kids swam at the beach. Then we walked back towards the tender pier, with a stroll through the mall for some air-conditioned relief, and a stop at Gordo Lele's taco shop for fabulous tacos. We went to Israel to have him book a snorkel tour for the following day, which he lined up for us.
The 2nd Cabo day, we had a snorkel tour set up at 11 (local time) to go to Santa Maria on the Sirena ($30 per person including a carne asada lunch and open bar). The Splendor arrived in port on time, along with another cruise ship. But the other cruise ship left at about 10am, canceling its day in Cabo, because of the swells coming in. There were no lines for the tenders this morning, so we were quickly able to get to shore. We boarded our catamaran, which we were promised would return by 2:30 so we could get back to the ship for the last tender at 3 and we would be sailing at 4. (2:30 was Cabo time, which was 1:30 ship time. 3 o'clock was ship time also, so we had an hour of padding in there. Mexican time is a little looser than we're used to.) There was a long stop by the arch for pictures, where we realized the seas were quite rough. Then we headed towards Santa Maria Bay. The sea was so rough, that the normally 30 minute cruise to Santa Maria turned into a 1½ hour cruise to Chileno Bay, which was the only place the seas were 'calm enough' to snorkel. Our boat being fairly small (25 passengers) we were the last to arrive at Chileno. It was crowded with boats, and the visibility was 5' or less. We realized that if we cruised back on the catamaran, we would likely miss the Splendor. We talked with the captain of our boat, and they agreed to let us swim to shore at Chileno and have someone pick us up in a van to drive us back to Cabo. We arrived back at the tender pier in time to have a celebratory beer, then board the tender to the ship. As it turned out, there was a medical emergency on the ship and someone needed to be evacuated, so we didn't sail until 5.
We had a reservation for 11 people in the Pinnacle Steak House for this night that had been made months before. The seas were rough, but we dressed and went up to the steak house, knowing we wouldn't be able to fully enjoy the meal. When we got up there, the seas were so rough we had a hard time walking across the restaurant to our table. We sat and realized the meal would be wasted on us. The hostess was extremely accommodating and offered us the table for the next night when we would be docked in Puerto Vallarta and it would be calmer. Some of our party went to the dining room to eat, where few passengers--and few crew members--were able to make it through dinner. We headed back to our cabins for a long, bumpy night. Shortly after this, seasick bags appeared in all the elevators and at all the landings. They were a little late in their appearance. The carpets were all shampooed the next day while we were in Puerto Vallarta.
Arriving in the protected harbor of Puerto Vallarta, and docking by dry land was a wonderful thing. This was easily the worst night on a cruise we'd ever had. Talking to crew members on board, it was the roughest that the Splendor had seen in most of their memories. I've heard since that there were 35-foot swells in the area. For a cruise ship to move as much as it did, I believe it!
In Puerto Vallarta we had pre-booked a zip-line tour through Los Veranos. We'd booked a 1:00 tour, because when we were booking there was much discussion about what time the Splendor actually arrived in port. For the record, we stayed on California time through Cabo San Lucas, which put us one hour behind local time. Then we turned our clocks ahead one hour between Cabo and PV. In PV we were still one hour behind local time (Central). We had time for a leisurely breakfast, then caught a taxi at the port to the Los Veranos office in downtown PV. The taxi in the port cost us $5 per person. It took about 20 minutes to get there. I'd heard that a taxi outside of the port would be cheaper, but we had 10 people and went for simplicity. We arrived at the tour office in plenty of time, checked in and then went for a walk to the beach for a little shopping until our bus came to pick us up.
Our bus picked us up at the tour office. We had an open-air bus. I'd been told their transportation was air conditioned, so I got some ribbing for not picking up on the 'irony' of internet posts. (It turns out they do have a/c buses, but because it had rained that morning and it would remain cloudy all day, the open air bus was used—and we really enjoyed it!) It was about a half-hour ride to the zip-line site. Check in and orientation was well organized, but we had a very large group (40) so it took a while. The zip lining was fabulous, though. There were 14 lines, starting from mild to spanning high over a river gorge. There was some hiking between the lines and we were thankful that the sun wasn't out. The guides were great, and made it a fun adventure. When we finished, there was pressure to buy videos ($40) and photos ($10). They also wanted a tip. Otherwise it was a great adventure. Their restaurant by the river was good, and the swimming in the river with the rock slides was great. But we didn't have enough time to enjoy it. There was a loud rumble of thunder and the skies opened up. We were provided with rain ponchos for the ride.
The bus took us back to the office. I had asked if the bus could take us back to the Collage Disco, which is one of their pick-up spots that is close to the cruise terminal. In the office they said if the driver had time, he would. The driver announced on the way to the office that he would drop us at the cruise ship (since about half the people were from the ship). They work for tips, and he earned ours. We re-boarded the ship to drop our stuff off, then came back off to do a little shopping. There is a good-sized flea market right outside the cruise terminal where we were able to get some gifts to bring back. We also had cheap beer and local food.
That night was our re-scheduled dinner in the Pinnacle Steak House. It did not disappoint. Service was great, as was the food, and there was a lot of it. There was a definite difference between the lobster here and in the dining room. The wine list is much better than on the rest of the ship. We had originally thought we'd make use of our wine package here, but there were too many good choices that weren't part of the package. Make sure you leave plenty of room for dessert.
We had two more sea days heading back to Long Beach. One of the highlights of the day was The Game of Love in the afternoon. It all depends on the couples who play, but we had some good ones. It was our second formal night, so we dressed early and headed up for photos. On our final sea day we took the dance class, learned to fold towel animals, played Scattergories, and did a little gambling. There was a chocolate buffet at noon that quickly had monumental lines. There wasn't much deck time, as the combined ship speed and wind made being outside too blustery. The skies were mostly cloudy, so the Lido pool had the roof closed. This was where our aft wrap was great. There was always a place on our deck that you could get out of the wind and be in the sun, if there was any sun to be had.
Debarkation was smooth. They'd like you out of your cabin by 8:30 so they can start cleaning for the next round. We were able take a peek at the cabin we turned down during an upsell call (the largest suite on the ship for only $1,010 more per person! How quickly can you say no thank you?). We were in Group 19 and we were called for debarkation at 9:30. There were plenty of taxis waiting. It was a $10 ride back to the Hilton for our drivers to pick up our cars, then they returned to the port to pick up the rest of us and the mountain of luggage. We were driving home by 10:45.