I come from a family of long time cruise enthusiasts. They had invited me to accompany them on trips before, but I always turned them down. Now, I'm kicking myself!
Let me tell you first off that I traveled with my mother, my brother and sister-in-law and my two nieces. I was a first time cruiser and didn't really know what to expect so I kept an open mind about everything. These are just a few of my impressions. Please excuse the length of this post.
GETTING THERE: Unless you live in southern California, make plans to spend the night before the cruise in one of Long Beach or San Pedro's fine hotel/motels. It'll cut down on the stress of getting down to the port terminal.
EMBARKATION: Take the advice of all those who have cruised before -- check in early at the Queen Mary. We got there shortly before noon and standing in line was a drag. Luckily for us, the line seemed to move quickly and we were able to get through security, pick up our sail and sign card, take our id photo and make our way on board and to the cabin in a little less than an hour.
CABIN/ROOM: A beautiful room with balcony on the starboard side. What a pleasant surprise! A nice roomy cabin with three closets (two for hanging and one closet with shelving), several drawers in a vanity and small storage inside the nightstands. You also get some nice amenities (free soaps, samples, etc.). There's a hair dryer, color TV with network access (the affiliates are all New York City) and a couch that converts to a bed. Our twin beds were a bit on the narrow side, but still plenty comfortable. Our room stewards were just finishing up when we got there, so we dropped off our bags and went exploring.
THE SHIP: The Pride is a gloriously beautiful vessel with paintings, architecture and reproductions running the gamut from the Renaissance to the Greek Revival to Art Nouveau. The crew works hard to keep the ship immaculate and it shows.
THE CREW: A friendlier bunch of folks you will never meet. Everyone was nice and very helpful. There was no such thing as a stupid question and all you had to do was ask. Response was quick with any requests we had, and everyone was very kind.
THE FOOD: We had the early 5:45 p.m. seating for dinner, and attended every night with the exception of our day in Puerto Vallarta. The selection of dishes was quite nice and the portions were generous. My one quibble -- beef was served either medium rare or medium well. This was minor as these folks were churning out a thousand meals at a sitting. Our wait staff, Lin and Luis, were quick, efficient and very accommodating when it came to two little girls who just wanted to eat chicken nuggets and fries.
The rest of the time we spent at the Mermaid Grille. Breakfast is the usual -- bacon, eggs, hash browns, etc., but you can get omelets and specialty items made as well. For lunch and dinner there's a grill for burgers, hot dogs and chicken breasts. A salad station and prime rib. The 24 hour pizza is fabulous and the dessert bar is not to be missed. I'm surprised they didn't have to roll me off the ship in a U-Haul at the end of the cruise.
SHIP BOARD ACTIVITIES: Lots of fun activities. Volleyball, bingo, pool games, trivia challenges, etc. Check out the waterslide and the hot tub. I like to gamble, but avoided the casino on this trip. Remember, you're in international waters where there's no set "win" rate as in Vegas. Instead, I put my money on a sure thing -- the duty free "Fun Shops" onboard. If you're into art there are some affordable items at the art auction.
Cruise Director Greg Kneale is simply the best. Funny, friendly, funny, knowledgeable and funny. Don't miss the Bedtime Story and the Newlywed Game. You'll roar with laughter as this clown prince of Carnival does his thing.
SPA/GYM: Fully appointed gym with all the machines you could possibly want or need. Several workout classes such as kickboxing, aerobics, etc. Tends to be a little busy in the early a.m.
The spa treatments are what you'd expect. Keep an eye out for deals and spa packages during the week.
ENTERTAINMENT/SHOWS: The shows at the Taj Mahal Lounge were very professional with Vegas style staging, choreography and costumes. The various comedians were good. The Reggae/Calypso band Motion was terrific. Patricia was great on the piano, and the Eric Slaughter Trio played some very cool jazz.
PUERTO VALLARTA: We docked at about 7 a.m. I stepped out onto the balcony and saw -- a WAL-MART!!! It's just across the street from the ship but keep in mind, unlike the tourist shops they DO NOT accept dollars. So, if you need to pick up something there. load up on some pesos.
We hired a driver for the day. He gave us the big tour, long with stops at the beaches, shops, roadside souvenir stands, Los Arcos (snorkeling) and some of the beautiful homes up in the hills. Checked out the old "Night of the Iguana" movie set. Highlight? We asked him for a recommendation for lunch and he took us about 30 or so miles back into the jungle to a place called Chico's Paradise. A large open air restaurant surrounded by jungle and waterfalls. Delicious food, glorious views and you can dive or swim in the water or sunbathe on the smooth rocks below. Very reasonable prices for lunch.
MAZATLAN: Hired a pulmonia (open air taxi) and toured the city. Played on the beach and took a dip in the Pacific, then had lunch at El Papagayo. Did a lot of shopping and sightseeing in the hills. Want some ideas for fun things to do off the beaten path? I highly recommend www.maztravel.com, a website run by an American couple now living in town. P.S. Everybody and his brother will try to sell you on a time share tour as you get off the shuttle by the terminal. Avoid these people like a patch of poison ivy. Your time is valuable -- why spend it getting the hard sell?
CABO SAN LUCAS: The more "Americanized" port of call. Huge souvenir market with plenty of restaurants and shops all around. Wasn't overly impressed with Cabo Wabo, but it wasn't bad.
Before you even get on the boat at Long Beach, have about $30-$50 in ones and fives. Just about everyone accepts dollars at the various ports of call, and you'll want to use this money to haggle or bargain with the souvenir vendors or tip your waiters on shore.
DEBARKATION: YIKES!!! Okay, you already know going in that this is going to be a nightmarish merry-go-round of mayhem. That's what everyone says, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Make sure you have plenty of identification on your bags. PLEASE take my advice and DO NOT book your flights before 2 p.m. Luckily, they changed my tags and I was allowed to leave early and made it to the airport in plenty of time.
All in all a FABULOUS cruise. It exceeded my expectations. I was very impressed with the people and the many activities available to passengers. I'd book a Carnival cruise again in a hot minute. As a matter of fact, we're in the process of deciding where to go next.