I just returned yesterday from a three night cruise to the Baja on Carnival Paradise.
First, to put this in perspective, I am certainly not a Carnival fan.
I choose my cruises based on itinerary, timing and other factors.
Therefore, I have cruised on 7 different cruise lines over the years.
I am cruising four times in 2011 on four different cruise lines.
This was my fourth cruise with Carnival.
I will try to be as evenhanded as possible. I will tell you both good and bad and may compare some things to other lines on which I've cruised.
Also, please note that I cruised on the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas last month and there is no possible way that the Carnival Paradise compares with that ship in any way, shape or form.
A fair warning that some of what I have to say may really upset some Carnival aficionados, but, again, I will be as honest and objective as possible. I know it will result in some bruised feelings, but, I really do have to call it as I see it. If it offends some of you, so be it. Hopefully, it will help others.
Embarkation: We arrived at the pier around 3:15 in the afternoon and the embarkation went fairly smoothly--line was only moderate in length and we were on the ship in less than half an hour.
Dining arrangements: We typically prefer early seating dining (This ship has two seatings--6:00 pm and 8:15 pm--also some passengers are allowed anytime dining). We booked a little late in the game (we were a party of four), so we were confirmed for 8:15 and told the 6:00 seating was full. When we got to the ship, we went directly to the Maitre d' and he told us that the 6:00 was full but he'd put us on the wait list for 6:00 (of course, the computer already had us on a wait list, but he apparently had no information as to that). We had dinner that night at our assigned 8:15 table. The following night, we again went to the dining room for the 8:15 seating--and 6 new people showed up, making 14 of us at a table for ten! The Maitre d' came over to sort it out and told us that we had been reassigned to the 6:00 seating! It would have been nice, of course, if someone would have informed us! Any of us--by any means--We were two couples in two different cabins. Neither of us got a note sent to the room or a phone call or any other type of message. Being too late to do much else that night, we remained at that table--and moved to the 6:00 seating for the final night only. Interestingly, when we got there, our new tablemates told us that there had been 6 empty seats at their table the first two nights and that the next table over had no one sitting there the entire cruise!
Food: One of the high points for us was that the food was consistently pretty good. Selections were varied, presentation was nice, always some good choices on the menu. I think Carnival has improved significantly in this department over the years.
Service: This is an area where Carnival falls way short of other cruise lines. It is not the waiters themselves--they are hardworking, eager to please. It is more of a case of insufficient personnel working too hard, too fast to properly cover their assignments--classic understaffing. If one only cruised Carnival--or was accustomed to the typical service in typical chain restaurants on land, the service may seem excellent and the deficiencies go unnoticed--BUT--among the things we noticed were that:
**Whereas it is customary to take the orders from the ladies at the table first and to take orders from everyone from behind them, over the shoulder, on this cruise AT BOTH dinner tables as well as breakfast and lunch, the waiters generally just went around the table regardless of gender and sometimes took orders from across the table (I'll get to one of the reasons why later).
**The courses were often brought out in seemingly random order and not well timed--often, though four of us all ordered, say, soup and an appetizer, soup may be brought to one person while the other three had nothing, then two of us got appetizers followed by a second person getting soup, and so on.
**several times they just messed up the order. One night, I ordered a crab cake appetizer and never got it. Another time, I ordered sugar-free ice cream (I always made this clear, as I am diabetic) and received ice cream with sugar (yes, it's easy for me to tell the difference)--another time, at breakfast, they made the same mistake with my pancake syrup!
**I always order Iced Tea. On most cruise lines, they will bring you a separate glass with iced tea. On Carnival, they apparently make you decide between iced tea and water. Despite my requesting iced tea, they filled my glass with water and, when I told the waiter I had wanted iced tea, rather than taking away the water glass and emptying it--or bringing me a new glass for iced tea, she merely filled small wine glass with tea.
There were more faux pas, these were just the ones that came directly to mind.
You may not think any of these are all that bad, but when you take them all in totality, the overall impression of service is not good.
A lot of the service problems I can attribute to the understaffing.
Other problems stem from this--general overcrowding.
The dining room is far too densely packed. There are a great number of places where no one, and, of course, no waiter, can move between tables. This really impacts the service--not only is it densely packed, but ceilings are low--which affects the acoustics and makes table conversation harder.
The tables along the windows on either side of the dining room are, basically, cut off from any access whatsoever--the second row of tables are all booths (apparently placed to maximize the number of guests, but also causing service problems to those tables)--and there is NO break anywhere between the booths. The only way to enter or exit this are is THROUGH the waiters' stations at either end--and, most of the time, the waiters are there coordinating trays of food.
On all of the cruises I've been on, seven different lines 20+ different cruise ships, Carnival alone seems to have these crowded dining room issues.
Entertainment: Best to split this into two parts, comedians and main shows.
**There were two comedians onboard, Paul Lyons and JeRome. Both worked quite a bit, each doing a small bit in the opening night, then alternating shows, two or three each in the Queen Mary Lounge on subsequent nights--a family friendly show early, then adult shows later in the evening. Both were pretty funny though some in our party though Paul Lyons a bit crude. The only negative here was the amount of time each took to plug their own books or CDs which they were selling after the show--not that I haven't seen this on other lines, just that it could have been done more subtly.
Main Shows: In this department, Carnival grades out at a rather weak "D-minus". Perhaps it relates to my just getting off the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas with its spectacular entertainment, but I tried to ignore that and just compare it to other ships on other line--and, by any measure, there was just no justification for finding much redeeming here.
We attended three shows in the main showroom in three nights.
Night number One was the "Welcome Aboard" show. It started off with the band doing a number, "I'm a Believer" accompanied by a singer named "Kelsey". Bad Karaoke at best. If this were American Idol, she would not have made it past the audition round--and she wasn't helped by poor sound engineering with the band drowning out parts--or, maybe that was a plus. Then each of the comedians did a few minutes, just a bit or two, but, obviously saving their best material for their individual shows--based on this show, we almost did not bother seeing their other shows. Then the show ended with the cruise director, Jeff Branson, pulling people out of the audience and doing little interview bits with all of them--boring and worthless. I guess you risk that pulling in arbitrary cruisers--but, really, shouldn't Carnival be able to pull together a show that is something more than "amateur hour"?
Night Two was a production show--"Eight More Seconds". The show was all singers and dancers doing a collection of very uninspired Country Music numbers, a couple of which were even recognizable. Now, to be honest, I am NOT a big Country Music fan. I listen to it occasionally, know some of the more popular songs and am familiar with an artist or two, so I am not completely ignorant--but, you've got to consider your audience--and I am probably not atypical of the audience here--remember, this is not a ship sailing from Galveston, Texas. This is a ship cruising out of Long Beach, California--and 90% of the crowd is from California and the West Coast--and though, yes, they do play Country just about everywhere nowadays, that certainly would not be the first choice in music among most Californians. The comments we heard throughout the ship were a resounding "HUH?!?".
Now, had the show been more inspired or more spectacular in terms of vocals or dance, they may have pulled it off--but, it was neither.
Night Three, yet another production show--we all figured we'd survived Country Night, hopefully there'd be a change in theme. Well the show started off with some "oldies"--and then, uh-oh, MORE COUNTRY!!! Did they think we hadn't had enough? About 25-30% of this second production show was more obscure country music. Then, they got into a Beach Boys medley, followed by some Motown. I guess they were trying to please everybody--they failed miserably.
First, note that there were only TWO vocalists, one male, one female--the shows had very little variety, very little production value. It's almost as if a high school glee club NOT AS GOOD AS THE ONES ON "GLEE" all decided, "hey, let's put on a show".
Comparing this with shows on other ships--well--the competition puts on shows with four lead singers, with a variety of supporting acts like aerialists and acrobats, jugglers, magic and more.
This was so far below par that it was inexcusable. Even the dancers were so often out of step as to be laughable.
The Showroom: This had to be absolutely the worst showroom we have been in on any ship. The best thing going for it was that the rows were very wide--perhaps to insure that the bar waiters could make it through. The bad part was that the seating on the lower level was abysmal—almost like sitting on benches. Deep seats with short backs that provided little back support and zero neck or head support. The seats in the balcony, or most of them, were more comfortable, with higher backs. The problem was that the view was obscured from most of them--the two largest obstructions were the lighting/technical booths, one left, one right, and equipment, that rose up above the sight lines from the seats and blocked the stage from the majority of the balcony--add in the railings and badly placed structural poles and there was little chance of seeing more than 50% of the stage from any balcony seat. Other parts of the seating, both lower and upper levels, were circular, lounge-type seating which does not suit a showroom well--many of the seats were oriented perpendicular (or worse) to the stage and cause some to be looking sideways into the back of the head of the person sitting next to them.
Activities: We really expected something billed as a "Fun Ship" to have a pretty good slate of activities throughout the day—especially on a "Fun Day at Sea". We were extremely disappointed to find this wasn't the case at all. With the weather being rather chilly and rainy, most of the passengers were driven indoors and there was just little on the schedule to keep anyone entertained. We tried going to a couple of the Trivia events—and I am a BIG TIME trivia person—but the trivia games were poorly run and largely unsatisfying. One, for example, was a cruise staff member setting out 20 numbered photos on a table and letting everyone go up and try to identify them, then reading off the answers--not really like the group activity one finds on most ships. I walked out on Bean Bag Toss and "Towel Folding"—and those were among the few activities that weren't thinly disguised sales promotions.
On the last day, in the late afternoon, they had a local high school kid's operation from Nipomo, California (Central Coast area) onboard and turned over the showroom to them to put on a show. These kids tried hard but were sabotaged by the poor sound equipment. Oh, yeah, that and the fact that maybe only 3 or 4 of them really had much talent. The kind of show that mostly would be viewed only by the parents of the kids performing. Of course, since there was so little to do on this ship, they performed to a packed house.
The Ship: Clearly, the Paradise is getting old—and maintenance does not appear to be a priority. One of the aft elevators (near our cabin) seemed to be not working and out of service the entire cruise (though it kept opening as if it were usable, only to close and not move, leaving passengers frustrated. We were surprised at how many lights were out (including a good number in the ceiling of the show room) and no one seemed to consider replacing them. I laughed when the poor assistant Cruise Director came out to host a Pictionary-type game (again, poorly organized and a waste of time) and the "white board" he was given looked like it had been through a few wars. We are not talking about a dent or a ding that might have happened last week, we're talking about pieces pulled off and sharp metal fragments, etc. Can someone at least spring for some new equipment?
The ship, for my tastes, is WAY TOO CROWDED. Over 2,600 passengers on this sailing—on a 70,000 gross ton ship. That's less than a 26.9 gross ton to passenger ratio. Our recent Allure of the Seas cruise had 6,000 passengers on a 225,000 gross ton ship—that is a 37.5 ratio. We've cruised on the Celebrity M-Class ships with a 46.7 ratio. The crowding doesn't mean much to some folks, I guess. It does to me.
Also, the walkways in and around the ship are NARROW and often far too crowded.
The cabin: I will give them some credit here--our cabin bathroom was decent-sized and the shower ample. They are also generous in providing free sample sized items—razor, mini-foil-toothpaste, some lotion, breath-right nose strips and shampoo. The storage and closet space was ample as well (not that it's needed on a 3 night cruise). The cabin, however, had no sofa. Also, the safe is an old version, not really well thought out—it requires a credit card magnetic strip to open and close—which means that you need to leave OUT the one item you really want to protect in a safe—YOUR CREDIT CARD! The dEcor, of course, was dated.
Ensenada: I won't say much here. Three of the four of us decided to skip Ensenada entirely. It was cold and rainy and we'd all been there often enough before. I walked into town and purchased my obligatory bottle of Kahlua and bottle of Anejo Tequila. Upon return, I was forced to check it in and pick it back up the last morning—the pick up process was quick and easy.
Disembarkation: This should have been a whole lot easier. It took us around forty five minutes to get off the ship. A line to leave the ship, followed by a line to pass through passport control, followed by yet a third line just to hand in our customs form. Each line seemed to back up and not move for an indeterminable time. And we didn't even check luggage! And I AM comparing this to Allure of the Seas where 6,000 passengers disembarked (as opposed to 2,600 here) and we DID check luggage and we were off the ship in about 10-15 minutes! I don't know if this is Carnival's fault—or the port of Long Beach/US Customs—but it was bad.
Overall: It is what it is. It's a cheap weekend cruise. You get what you pay for. They do feed you. And they entertain you, albeit as flawed as it is. And, you can find something to do. They do "nickel and dime" you—like $55 per person for a ship tour. And constant urgings to play Bingo, buy watches, gold chains and other merchandise. And attend any of a number of "Fee" activities. And, for anyone who thinks they do all of the same on every other line, NO, they don't. Not to the extent and amount they do here. But, again, it is a cheap cruise. They have to make their money somewhere. So, they do the nickel and diming. And they cut corners all over the place. Staffing. No paper towels in the public men's rooms. $18.95 to go off the menu in the dining room (and not just for lobster). Drinks of the Day at a higher price than on Celebrity or Oceania. Deferred maintenance.
OTOH, it certainly satisfies the needs of a large portion of the clientele. Lots of young people on board, drinking and partying well into the night. Loads of noise and activity. Food. Shows. Dancing. If you don't mind the crowds and just want to get away, it works. Read Less