We drove the 400 miles to Long Beach the day before our cruise. I couldn't bring myself to "throw caution to the wind and try to get a deal on Priceline" so I reserved a room at the Holiday Inn on ... Read More
We drove the 400 miles to Long Beach the day before our cruise. I couldn't bring myself to "throw caution to the wind and try to get a deal on Priceline" so I reserved a room at the Holiday Inn on Atlantic. When I called, they offered a package that included "two king beds, free shuttle to and from the boat, and parking in their underground garage during the cruise."
I called back the week before and confirmed our reservation and was told again that our room had two king beds.
Then... we arrived and things got interesting fast.
After seven hours in the car with my Darling Bride, Debora, and our two daughters, Amelia (6-yrs) and Natalie (3-yrs), I was ready to unload and begin our vacation. But, when I was checking in, the Desk Person told me that they were out of King beds. "But, I was told twice that's what I was getting" "We only have a couple of King rooms, they are assigned on an 'as available' basis." After a couple of moments of having her confirm that yes my reservation specifically said "2-king beds" and trying to explain that I never "asked" for them but was instead "told" multiple times, I asked to speak to a Manager.
Now the real fun began. Turns out that EVERY manager was in a meeting and that there was NO way to reach them and that she had no idea where they were (they don't have their meetings in their own hotel) and she had no idea when somebody would be back. Meanwhile, she had no authority to do anything except put us in a room.
Our first room had two twin beds. That was not going to work. I'm 6'4" tall. I haven't fit in a twin bed (even alone) since 7th Grade. The second room had one king bed. We had all the extra furniture removed and two roll-away beds brought in. Between the beds and the luggage, there wasn't an square-inch of floor visible.
While Deb tried to figure out what we absolutely needed from our suitcases, I kept calling down to see if a Manager had returned.
After an hour or so, we headed out to dinner. When we got back, we were told that a Manager had returned, left us a message in our room, and then headed out to get their own dinner. No, they had no idea when they would be back, but probably within another 30 minutes. We went back to our room to discover that there was no message. Over the next hour and a half, we bathed our kids and got them ready for bed. I kept calling every half-hour or so only to finally be told that they didn't actually know when (or even IF) the Manager was coming back but they were leaving lots of notes for them. At 10:00, I finally gave up for the night.
The next day, stopped at the front desk on the way to breakfast. There still wasn't a Manager, but the Director of Sales was there. She said she was the "Acting Manager" today. I introduced myself and said "I'm the guy in 401 that you've seen all the notes about." Poor Andrea, she looked shocked and admitted that the previous staff had not left any notes. I told her the whole sad story and she asked me "what would you like us to do?"
They have a Hospitality Pledge in the room that says that if you have a problem you should alert the Management... if they can't correct it then that portion of the stay is free. I asked her to honor the pledge and give the me room free for last night. She said "no problem" and started tapping away at the computer. At one point, she said she was having a little problem with the system and asked one of the desk guys to come over and enter a discount on my bill. When he asked her how much and she said 100%, he said "we don't give a 100% discount." She gave him a look that CLEARLY reminded him that one does not tell the Director of Sales what she can and can not give. So, from all this trouble, we got a free hotel stay (we were only there the one night before the cruise), free shuttle and free parking.
One last word on the shuttle. I have now learned to ask HOW BIG the shuttle is. They were using a 7-person minivan. Not a good idea since that turns out to be one family at a time. We waited a good hour until it was our turn.
Day 1 -- Long Beach ----------------------
We arrived at the Carnival terminal at noon. The "regular" line reached back towards the Queen Mary for an impressive distance. Luckily, we had reserved a suite so we got to use the special Skipper's Club line.
At 12:45 they opened the doors to let us in. Unfortunately, they tried to put all us Skippers in one small room with only one reception desk. Right away we saw that this wasn't going to work; there wasn't enough room to form a line so we sort of bunched up in the cramped space and the very first person at the desk couldn't seem to get their paperwork in order. The rest of us slipped back out, zipped through the security check, and went to the regular check in desks. Fast and efficient service and we were off to get a picture taken and board the ship. We were at the door of cabin U75 by 1:30.
What a room! We had a balcony suite. It included a walk-in closet, bathroom with a tub/shower, a KING bed, a big vanity, TV, VCR (I don't get this, were we expected to bring videos?), mini-fridge, two chairs, two little tables, and a sectional-style sofa that pulled out into a queen bed. The door to the balcony had a hook so we could latch it open. Out there were two chairs a table and a lounge. This was one POSH cabin. We always had plenty of room for the four of us to be in it together.
Deb unpacked our clothes; eight drawers and a walk-in closet with three bars and a bunch of shelves made it easy. And all the empty bags went under the king bed. We also liked the ability to close the closet (it had a sliding door and a light inside).
Next stop was the Sapphire Grill on the Lido deck to get some lunch. We also visited the Camp Carnival rooms. Nat and Amelia liked them right away. They were two big rooms at the back of the boat and were loaded with toys, games, and computers. Then we went back to the cabin to try and nap Natalie. Getting comfortable was no problem. There were three airconditioning vents so we could control the temperature with no problems. Also, the curtains were heavy enough to block all the sunlight from the big windows. Nat was tired, but too excited. It took us a good hour to get her down. After that, we realized that there was no way she was going to nap when her sister was around.
We got up and read through all the extra information in our cabin while the girls explored the room. We explained the rules for the balcony: nobody stands on a chair, nobody goes out without first asking an adult, and Natalie (the 3yr-old) is NEVER allowed out there alone. Otherwise, the design of the balcony railing was perfectly safe and we didn't feel nervous having them out there at all and they loved the thrill of being out there.
We got dressed and headed to our 6:15 dinner seating. Right off we changed tables. The family at our first one was nice, but they only had teen-age daughters and we were hoping for one with kids closer to our's ages. The Maitre'D found us a new table right away. It had three other kids and was perfect. Dinner the first night included lobster. Natalie ordered off the kid's menu each night, but Amelia was a "big kid" and used the adult menu (though she wasn't above stealing some of Nat's chicken nuggets). The lobster was a bit salty. I had the game hen and it was perfect.
After dinner they had the Camp Carnival orientation. They introduced the counselors, had us fill out paperwork about each kid and then gave us pagers so they could reach us. They also explained that it was no problem to leave kids in Camp while we were in port; we just had to let them know that we would be off the boat. After the orientation, we followed the staff up to an ice-cream party. By the end of the evening, both kids were eager to try Camp the next day.
We went back to our cabin and crashed.
Day 2 -- Catalina --------------------
We are bad about getting up early while on vacation. We didn't wake up until after 9:00. We hurried to get ready and caught the tail-end of the breakfast buffet.
We grabbed our "going ashore" stuff and headed down the stairs by 10:30. The line looked long for the tenders but we were off the ship by 11:00.
It was a cool and overcast day. The girls needed sweaters most of the afternoon. We walked over to Island Rentals (under Holly Hill House) to see about getting a 4-person golf cart. These looked great since all four seats faced forward and they offered free booster-seats (Nat needed one). Just when we got to the line they announced that they had rented their last available cart and directed everyone to their nearest competitors. Everyone scattered. Luckily, while we were deciding which way to go someone returned one, so we got it.
They gave us a map and we drove off. We stopped a couple of times along the way to enjoy the view or to look at interesting plants by the side of the road. We also took the detour up to the Botanical Gardens and walked all the way up to the Wrigley Memorial. The girls loved all the different plants and the great view.
We returned the cart just before the 2-hour mark and walked around downtown Avalon looking for souvenirs and food. We ate at Luau Larry's in a sort of "cave room" that they had built by enclosing a table inside a fake tree. The kids loved it, the service was great, and the food was excellent.
As we headed back to the tender dock, we ran into our dinner-tablemates. Their kids had been swimming all afternoon and playing on the little beach right by the dock.
We walked right on to the tender at 3:00 and were back in our room by 3:20. Natalie climbed into bed for a nap and Amelia and I went to explore the ship.
We had a very nice carrot cake ($2) from the Rolls Royce bakery, ate some pizza, played on the kids' play structure near the kids' pool, and went up to the track deck where we watched a very short volleyball game; on the second hit, the guy tried too hard, the ball went up high enough for the wind to catch it and push it over the side of the ship. It was fun to stand at the railing and watch it slowly float away.
By then it was getting late. Amelia and I went back to our cabin to wake her sister and mother and to get dressed for formal night in the dinning room. My girls all looked great. Normally I would have worn my tux (yes I own one) but we had so many things going on just before leaving that we had to pack in a huge hurry and ended up just throwing anything we could think of in the suitcases. By the time I reached for the tux I already had too much stuff and didn't want to deal with figuring out what to remove so I tossed in a nice shirt and figured that would have to be acceptable enough.
Dinner was very good again. The other kids at the table were so tired from their day in Catalina that they all fell asleep in their chairs.
After dinner, we took the girls up to Camp Carnival. Deb and I were a bit confused about what to do now that we were without children. First stop was the casino where we lost $10 of our $20 into the slot machines. Then we wandered into the theater just in time for the start of their stage show "Hey, Mambo!" I had a couple of problems with this show. First, most of the songs were sung in Spanish (totally understandable given the theme, but it made it hard for me to "stay engaged"). Second, the male singer was the "whitest" blonde guy I've seen and he looked silly prancing around in huge puffy sleeves while doing some Cuban numbers. Finally, (and this is nobody's fault), I had to look through a curve in the plexiglass railing. Try this experiment at home, take a clear glass of water and hold it up in front of you at arm's length. Now watch somebody walk by while you position the top rim so it's right at their neck. If you do it right, their head will come off and appear to float in the air a couple of feet in front of their body. Now imagine watching a whole stage full of dancers like this. Otherwise, the show was fun and there was a breathtakingly beautiful ballet segment.
Afterwards, we went to "rescue" our kids. Turns out they didn't really want to see us. Natalie had made a butterfly and Amelia had done a project where they made "turtles" and raced them. As we signed them out, they both asked when the could come back again.
Our cabin steward had left two happy-face cookies for the girls and an elephant towel-animal on their bed.
While we were waiting for the girls to fall asleep, Deb took a nice long bath and I discovered that our closet was big enough for me to sit on the floor, close the door, turn on the light, and read without bothering anybody.
That evening the waves got to Amelia; she woke up in the middle of the night and was ill in the bathroom. I kept her on a low-dose of Dramamine the rest of the trip and she was fine.
Day 3 -- Ensenada -----------------------
Once again, we slept late and caught the end of breakfast on the Lido Deck.
We got back to our stateroom just as they were finishing cleaning it up. We grabbed our stuff and got out of their way. Just as we were leaving the girls thanked them for the towel animal.
We got off the boat and decided to walk the short distance to the shopping district instead of taking the shuttle bus. We did splurge and take a 30-minute carriage ride once we got there. Deb and I sat in back and both girls got to sit up front with the driver; they loved it.
We spent a couple of hours shopping. Nothing major, mostly trinkets for the girls. We started to get hungry and I was fed up with how pushy the street-vendors were so we made our way back to the boat.
A quick lunch and it was nap time for Natalie again.
Amelia wanted to get to Camp Carnival since they were doing cake decorating. I went up on deck and read for an hour before going back for Amelia. She and I sat by the pool for a while sharing some deserts and talking.
When we got back to the cabin, Natalie was very upset that Amelia got to go to Camp Carnival and she didn't. She made us promise that she could go after dinner. I swear, I've never seen my girls eat so quickly. They didn't even want desert. So we took them back and then used the time to do laundry and enjoy our suite.
Later, we got the girls, gave them a bath, put them in pajamas and took them back for the slumber party that started at 10:00 and went until 2:00am. Deb and I had a couple of drinks and then watched the, very funny, "adult" comedy show at midnight.
When we picked up the girls, Amelia was sound asleep snuggled up in blankets and a pillows they provided but Natalie was still playing and having the time of her life. In our cabin, we found another towel-animal; it was some kind of sea-creature that looked like a cross between a shark and a lobster. The kids loved it because they had used the big beach towels and it covered the king-sized bed.
Day 4 -- Day at Sea ----------------------
It was finally time for the boat to start heading home. We all noticed the difference in the ship's motion right away; the North-ward trip results in more motion. But it was still not bad.
This morning we didn't even try to get to breakfast. It was almost 11:00 when we woke up so we ordered room service. They came in no time at all.
The girls enjoyed the balcony and watched an aircraft carrier for a while.
Then (more food) we headed up for lunch.
Afterwards, the girls played in the kids' pool for a couple of hours. We ran into our table-mates there, chatted for a while, and just enjoyed the clear hot day.
Amelia went to Camp Carnival again and learned all about animal camouflage while I napped Natalie.
Deb went to the spa for a massage and some other stuff. She said it would have been nice except for the fact that the massage room in on the top deck and right in the front of the ship. There was too much motion there for her to really relax.
We got Amelia back for a little and then both girls went to Camp Carnival for the "end of cruise" activities; they had a dinner for the kids, then they gave them Carnival t-shirts to color, and had a party. They even did face painting on the older kids. Amelia got a great cat-face put on. When we went to pick them up, they were bursting with stuff to show us and tell us.
Our great steward finished up the week with yet another towel-animal. We had a monkey hanging from our VCR that evening.
We ordered a late-snack from room service while the kids soaked in the tub and we packed our bags and put them out for pick-up.
Day 5 -- Long Beach and Post-cruise -----------------------------------------
The early breakfast on the last morning nearly caught us. Deb didn't even try to make it. The girls and I got there as they were taking the food away. We still grabbed enough and made a plate to take back for Deb.
Our color (green) was called at 9:30 as we were eating. We wandered back to the room and collected Deb and the rest of our luggage.
It took us almost no time to get off the boat, clear Customs, and get our bags. We ended up spending more time waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel to get our car.
Somebody took our Sorceror Mickey ball off our car while we were enjoying our cruise. This gave me the "excuse" I needed to take the family to Downtown Disney for lunch and a little shopping.
We walked right in to the Rainforest Cafe at noon. They thought they were being nice by putting us right under the Gorilla, but Natalie FREAKED and we asked for a table as far away from creatures as possible. We had a great time and spent a bit of money in the shop afterward.
Then we started walking towards World of Disney. We kept getting sucked in to a lot of cool shops. My beloved even found a great spider hat for her Halloween costume and some cool clothes for our "just us" trip to Couples, Negril in Jamaica in December.
We finally made it to World of Disney and picked-up some antenna balls (love the pirate one) and even splurged on the big Cinderella Castle.
Here's where the Disney "Magic" really showed up. As we were heading back to the car, we stopped at the restrooms. It was so nice to walk in and see a clean facility fully stocked with soap and paper towels. I finished first since both kids insisted they wanted to go in "with Momma." As I sat on the planter benches, I watched some doofus get up from another one and leave a cup behind. No more than 30 seconds later a cast member came by, picked it up, dropped it in one of the EIGHT trash cans I could see from where I was sitting, and even looked inside the can to see if it was getting full. Pristine order was restored.
We ended the day by checking into the Radisson Hotel at Knott's Berry Farm (where we would go the next day) and spending the evening visiting with my good friend Val, who I've known since the first day of Kindergarten, and her wonderful family.
So to sum it all up:
1. Suites are cool 2. Balconies are a "must have" from now on 3. Camp Carnival gets 4 thumbs-up (two from each kid) 4. The Holiday Inn, Long Beach needs some Manager retraining and a bigger shuttle 5. Deb has the "cruise bug" and hopes the Pride of Aloha turns out well because she want to do a Hawaiian cruise next year. Read Less