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Three Generations in Paradise
About the Virtual Cruise
Three Generations in Paradise When Cruise Critic's Jana Jones set sail to Mexico aboard Carnival's Paradise last week with her mom and her nephew, she couldn't help but have some concerns. Would a short mid-summer cruise mean hundreds of screaming children or inebriated college students? Would her mother find a corner of "quiet elegance" aboard a Fun Ship? Would Jana's enthusiastic endorsement of Paradise live up to the hype or fall flat? Just back from her "three generations in Paradise" trip, she reports on the experience, warts and all.
Day 1: Queen Mary and Embarkation
Day 2: Catalina Island and Formal Night
Day 3: Ensenada
Day 4: Fun Day at Sea and Contemplation of Short Cruises
Related Links
Carnival Paradise ship review
Carnival Paradise Member reviews
Mexican Riviera Cruises
Carnival Messages
Day 1: Monday, Queen Mary and Embarkation
Queen Mary and EmbarkationWhen my mom decided to take my nephew on a cruise this summer on a grandma-grandson bonding excursion, she turned to me for planning help. Not the Caribbean or Bermuda during hurricane season, she said. Not Alaska. She wanted "tropical." Definitely not Europe, too far. Hawaii didn't interest her. "How about a nice Mexican Riviera cruise, one that goes to Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta," she asked me, "so we can leave from here?"

"Here" is Southern California. My mom lives in Los Angeles; my nephew Jesse lives in Washington, D.C. He's an elementary school teacher, who comes home to stay with his parents in San Diego for much of the summer. A cruise from "here" seemed ideal.

I had to tell my mother that the ships that sail the Mexican Riviera route were all in Alaska over the summer. The only option was to take a short cruise, one that went to Catalina Island and Ensenada (four day), or just Ensenada (three day). As it turned out, with their busy schedules, a shorter trip worked perfectly, and they were soon booked on a four day "Baja" cruise on Carnival's Paradise.

I'm a big fan of Carnival Cruise Lines, but still, I had taken a risk when I recommended Paradise to my mom. She enjoys quiet elegance, and I truly worried that a "Fun Ship," with Joseph Farcus's (Carnival's interior architect and designer) whimsical design, and the atmosphere typical on a shorter voyage (more about that later) would be too trying for her. Indeed, when we discussed it, her first comment was "too big, too many people." With limited options, though, and after my enthusiastic endorsement, she finally seemed pleased with the choice. Jesse did too.

My nephew is 26 years old, bright, funny, charming and athletic. My mother will be 80 on her next birthday; a renowned painter and print maker, she is spry, active, witty and beautiful. I knew that they were bound to have a fabulous time together when it suddenly occurred to me that I, too, had those four days available. I asked if I could tag along, got the OK, and booked myself as a solo into an oceanview cabin on the same level as theirs.

Carnival's Paradise leaves from Long Beach, just about six miles south of San Pedro, the main port for the Los Angeles area. The terminal was built by Carnival Corporation and is adjacent to the venerable Queen Mary, owned by the city of Long Beach, now both a hotel and museum. There's a little "village" of shops between the two. Compared to leaving from the San Pedro terminal, with nothing but a parking lot surrounded by miles and miles of container cargo and colossus-sized cranes, the port in Long Beach is civilized and "cruiser friendly."

Also civilized and cruiser-friendly is the homeporting option, which allowed us to leave from a port close to home without boarding aircraft and struggling through multiple baggage and security lines before getting to our ship. Jesse and I drove from San Diego to Los Angeles (about two hours) and spent the night at my mom's house. And when the three of us left in the morning for our cruise, we were at the Long Beach port within 45 minutes.

"Homeporting" began in early 2002, providing convenient getaways for people averse to flying after the events of September 11, 2001, and has continued to be one of the most innovative developments the cruise industry has accomplished. One major cruise line's CEO said in 2002, that the goal was to allow anyone in the United States to be within a day's drive of a cruise ship terminal. His comments were prescient; now both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico are dotted with cruise terminals and departure points. My mother's decision to leave from "here" was a good one; we were relaxed and comfortable when we got to the terminal, and although we were quite early, we were surprised to see how many other people had arrived early too.

Our goal, though, wasn't to stand in line in the sun awaiting the opening of the port building, a translucent geodesic dome, its distinctive architecture visible from the main road. We were going to take a walk through Queen Mary(which first sailed in 1936), to enjoy a bit of history before we boarded our thoroughly modern Paradise (built in 1998).

There was a time, not so long ago, that to me an old ship was just an old ship. I had no interest in learning about or examining the history of seagoing vessels. I was (am) a cruise vacationer, and what mattered to me is how comfortable I would be on my next voyage. My eyes were opened, though, because of the passion of three friends of mine: Durant Imboden, a Europe travel writer, Peter Knego, a noted maritime historian, and Cruise Critic's Douglas Newman (Host Doug), a maritime enthusiast with an encyclopedic knowledge of ships of the past. These three individuals got me interested in the evolution of ship design, in the "hardware" that comprises an oceangoing vessel, and in the differences between modern cruise travel and the ships that had been used primarily as transportation.

Queen Mary was one of those ships, with elegant quarters for the upper classes and sardine-can like accommodation for "steerage" passengers, who had to endure pretty lousy amenities and service just to make the trip between the United States and Great Britain. The ship is at permanent anchor at the pier in Long Beach, a black-painted vessel with three slanted orange-yellow stacks and a long, low-and-lean profile. It looks like something concocted for a movie set, especially when a modern cruise liner is in port and the two ships are compared side by side.

A thorough tour of the ship and its museum takes a full day (and costs around $29), but we just wanted to get a peek inside. This ship sailed when my mother was a teenager, carrying the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor between England and "the Colonies"; it was built during the height of the Art Deco movement, and my newfound interest in ship history had me completely excited about at least looking into the passenger quarters.

We were lucky enough to find an open room, one now used as a hotel room. It was very large; the biggest surprise for us was that it was called a "standard" room for hotel guests. When the ship sailed, though, this definitely would have been one of the upper-class accommodations, maybe not the top level, but certainly not "steerage." The wide corridors are lined with luscious woods imported by Cunard at the time, some of which are now extinct. My mother spoke lovingly about her first cruise experience, on the defunct Regency Line's Regent Sea, which sank near the coast of South Africa in 2001 en route to Alang, India, where it was to be broken and sold for scrap. (Regency Line, which ceased operations in the mid-1990's, is not to be confused with Regent Seven Sea Cruises).

My mother loved all of the rich woods on the Regent Sea ("everything was gleaming teak," she says, "no formica"). She brings this up on every cruise we have enjoyed together, and I have to explain the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) protocols to her. By 2010, every passenger ship has to comply; for fire-safety reasons, the use of woods is limited to approximately 10 percent of a ship's furnishings, which means lots of very thin veneer and lots of faux-wood composite materials.

After our brief meander through the Queen Mary, we headed to the Carnival dome for check-in. We were surprised to see that the line had grown, and that nothing seemed to be moving at all. We later discovered that the U.S. Coast Guard had done a surprise inspection of the ship, which held up the boarding process for over an hour. But despite the cranky grumblings of many waiting passengers, I was very impressed with the way Carnival's shore personnel handled the situation. Everyone was considerate, understanding of the disappointment the early arrivals were feeling. Their job was made more difficult too, but every employee with whom we came into contact was personable and friendly, patiently explaining what had happened, and doing their best to move things along as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Jesse had recently had surgery to repair a shredded tendon in his left leg. His cast was off, but he was still in a small brace. I walk with a cane. Without our asking, one of the shore personnel pulled us out of line and put us through Special Services, designed for physically challenged guests, which sped up our boarding process and eliminated a lot of standing in the sun. By the time we were "processed"and seated in a small waiting area, the rest of the boarding passenger line was moving along quite quickly.

I had been on Paradise when it first came to the West Coast, in the fall of 2004. I was able to describe the ship to my mother when she was in the decision-making process. But I had also, quite recently, sailed on Fantasy, the first of Carnival's eight Fantasy-class ships (Paradise is the last). Both Fantasy and Paradise had recently undergone upgrading and refurbishment; Fantasy's staterooms had received a complete makeover, with new, elegant soft goods and furnishings with a contemporary look. I assumed that the same would be true for Paradise's staterooms, and had told my mother how lovely and luxurious they would be.

As we boarded, though, and made our way to our respective cabins, I got a sinking feeling. All of the open cabin doors indicated that the older salmon-colored formica and pink, orange and magenta drapes and upholstery were very much in evidence. The only concession to the "new" Carnival look was the white ribbon-cut duvet on the beds. "Uh oh," I thought, "this might be too much of a 'Fun Ship' look for her." But I needn't have worried, since she was delighted with the size of her room and the fact that the twin beds were perpendicular to each other rather than the hospital-looking side-by-side configuration typical of twin-bedded cabins.

I had also described Carnival's dining options. "Excellent," I had assured her. Real coffee, real cream, real butter, fresh vegetables and salads, fine cuts of meat, the freshest of fish and the best pizza afloat. Plus, I had told her and Jesse, they have a deli counter for sandwiches and a complimentary sushi bar, open during the evenings on the Promenade deck. This last had Jesse bouncing with excitement and was one of the things he most anticipated on his cruise -- he loves sushi. And, I had told them, there is one dish that is typically served on the first night of every Carnival cruise, a mixed New Zealand lamb plate with Mediterranean vegetables, and I couldn't wait to order it.

After lunch in the Paris Cafe, Paradise's Lido Deck cafeteria, we made a quick tour of some of the places I thought my mom and Jesse would most enjoy ... the Lido Deck pool, the aft pool on Verandah Deck for a less noisy experience, the atrium, with its classical music in the afternoons, and the gym and workout room for Jesse. And then, because I was conscious of the fact that I was "horning in" on their bonding vacation, we went our separate ways and agreed to meet after the muster drill for sailaway.

When we planned the trip, we had decided on late dinner, and took the 8 p.m. option in the Destiny dining room, the one at the aft of the ship. Since we had been assigned a table in the noisy and visible center of the room, I asked the maitre d' if there was a possibility of moving to the side, less in the center of things. The ship was full, all assignments were completed, and it didn't look possible, but he did find three seats for us at a nicely situated table.

The other guests at this large table were a Japanese family; three of them living in the United States, three on vacation from Japan. The empty chairs were the result of a terrible mix up, causing three additional family members to be left behind as Paradise set sail. The grandmother, who had been visiting from Japan, had a one-year visa, but when she arrived in the U.S., the immigration officer had stamped her passport for only six months, which she had not noticed. The six month stamp had just expired, and since she had no idea that there would be a problem, she didn't bring her actual visa with her when she left for Paradise. Because of this, she was denied boarding, and because she speaks no English, two other family members stayed behind as well. Thus, three empty seats.

Sure enough, my favorite lamb dish was on the menu, and even though Carnival has partnered with the famous chef Georges Blanc to design menu specialties, all three of us ordered the lamb instead of the turbot creation, that night's Georges Blanc specialty. The dish, which includes a thick chop and a braised shank, was as good as it ever was, and I was delighted that my mom and Jesse gave it their seal of approval. I was starting to relax. My mom and the Fun Ship looked like they might get along after all.

  Day 2: Catalina Island and Formal Night

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