Some tips from our recent Carnival Miracle cruise to the Mexican Riviera
1) There are not many cheap and decent places to eat, in and around the harbor front in Long Beach. We yelped a hole in the wall chinese takeout place (Wa Wa) and ... Read More
Some tips from our recent Carnival Miracle cruise to the Mexican Riviera
1) There are not many cheap and decent places to eat, in and around the harbor front in Long Beach. We yelped a hole in the wall chinese takeout place (Wa Wa) and it was fine and cheap ($8 per person).
2) A lot of people on the forum seem to stay at Maya and get a very good rate. We used the discount code found on this forum, and the description was Carnival crew only. The front desk did ask for ID and since we didn't have it, we couldn't get the $125 rate. The front desk gave us the best rate they could $287 and comped us the 8 day parking (saves on $152 from parking at the terminal).
Hotel Maya was a great hotel and with great views across from the Harbor. It's a 5 minute walk to the Queen Mary. Nice pool, hot tub and well manicured grounds. It was disappointing not to get the $125 rate but the place was sold out and the front desk were willing to do the best they could.
3) Our designated time to board was 1:30. We got there at 12:00 and got through check in by 12:20. Wait in the shade, as it gets so hot. Ensure check in documents, passports and luggage tags are handy. A few people had to leave the check in line as something was amiss. I don't know if they were able to travel.
4) We brought $500 worth of pesos in advance (1 USD = 15.3 pesos from Wells Fargo) and it was so worth it, as we felt we got the best rate for excursions, taxis and other goods. One operator suggested they negotiate more favorably in pesos in Puerto Vallarta rather than Cabo. But I never felt that was the case. Some just gave me a 1:1 rate i.e they just multiplied 15.3 to the US rate and gave me a rate in pesos. I just walked away when that happened. There are so many vendors. Always negotiate. It was easy. I think they expect it too.
I wrote down a bunch of prices from 100 to 1000 pesos and the equivalent in US so I had a handy reference in my wallet so I could myself what everything cost. I saw a lot of others take out their phone and use the calculator there, but the reference was much quicker and easier to use.
5) We saw a lot of people with electric fans. We brought some $2 spray bottles from Home Depot instead, and once on board, filled it with ice and cold water. Instant cheap spray which we could use all day.
6) Carnival doesn't allow you to bring bottled water on board. We brought a few reusable bottles from home and refilled them every time we ate breakfast on the Lido deck. But we also paid for two dozen water bottles that Carnival delivered to our room the first day. We asked the porter to remove all the minibar items to fit them in. The Lido deck restaurant has water stations in a number of places. I didn't like the water they had there and it tends to be warm. But there isn't much of a choice of free cold beverage other than lemonade. That got tiring after a few days. The fridge we had wouldn't stay cold, so we had to swap it out. Just ask the porter if there's any problem with the room. They are more than happy to help.
7) Our cabin was just the standard size. But with the added balcony, it made the room that much bigger, and we could spread out and have some quiet time. We made a conscious effort to keep the room somewhat tidy, so we could find what we needed quickly. We left copies of the Fun times, card keys, phones and sunglasses always in the same place. It just made leaving the room that much quicker everyday
8) Our cabin had only one main outlet. We brought an extension cord and it was very useful to use that to recharge laptops, ipads and phones overnight. We also used a small brick battery charger to quickly charge our ipads, but we didn't use it that much.
I also brought a laptop and memory card reader so I could transfer all the videos and photos I took that day, crop and clean up any photos and have a fresh card for the following day. It wasn't a chore to clean up the pictures. I just did it out on the deck and we had some great memories after the trip was over.
Carnival has lots of photographers taking pictures at every opportunity - dinner, walking around the popular decks, upon exiting the boat, and on the excursions themselves. The prices were expensive. So save your money, bring a decent camera and a selfies stick and do it yourself. The pictures will be a lot more personal and timely.
I brought my DSLR and a few nice lenses. The only lens which I really used was the 24-70. All the longer lenses were not really used. I used a shoulder bag to carry it along with my phone, wallet, Carnival cards and water bottles and it leaves your hands free if you want to video anything on the way with a selfie stick. It wasn't cumbersome and I felt safe everywhere I went.
9) If there's a number of you travelling and staying in multiple cabins, it's useful to leave a pad of paper stuck outside your door. I saw a number of people do that. It lets others know where you are and where you can meet up, if you're not around.
10) The cabin porter left a copy of the Ships Fun Times brochure after dinner. We always picked up an extra copy or two on Lido deck (by the coffee bar) or in the Main dining room. There's a perforated strip that provides a useful summary of all the activities by time and location. Having that with us really helped us plan the days activities.
11) We did laundry once on the trip. It cost $6 to wash and dry and we were able to get change from guest services. They also provide a wash and sold service for $15 if you prefer. We brought some kitchen garbage bags with us and some washing powder The bags were useful to enable us to carry laundry and also to keep wet clothes or sandals away from other items on beach days. We did bring some spare beach towels with us, but in hindsight it was a waste since the ship's towels were perfectly fine for beach use. They even replaced the towels after a day at the beach when we returned to the ship.
12) We played mini golf and table tennis a bunch of times on Lido deck 9. You can pick up the balls at the Towel station on the pool deck since they're not always stocked by the golf course. The gym which initially we found hard to find (all the way at the end and through the mens and womens salon) gets busy in the morning. The treadmills especially get taken first.
13) We ate in the Main Dining room every day for dinner. We dressed up, but there are plenty of people who were quite casual i.e sports shirts with shorts and sandals. No one bothered them. The food in the Main dining is nicer but I wouldn't say that anything really wowed me at dinner. But it was better than the buffet on Lido deck. At various times they had prime rib, lobster, shrimp and steak. They also serve ice cold water. That was welcome since it was so hot and humid every day. The water at the buffet on Lido deck was never cold and it didn't taste very good.
We had lunch on Lido deck most days unless we had an excursion. The pizza was very good and always a safe option. They use Caputo 00 flour (which I use at home to make Margheritas) so it was authentic and very good. The hamburgers were always freshly grilled and that too was a good option. They had chinese every day and it was not very good at all. There was plenty of choice but the quality was poor and the lines were always the longest. I noticed a few times that the same food they had at the Main dining room the previous night was served at the Chinese station, the following day. I'm picky when it comes to chinese food. I tried it once and once was enough. The flavor was just not there. The salad bar was good and so was the hot Deli, particularly the hand carved turkey and the wraps. But the line here can be long as well, since they only have one grill per Deli station
14) Brunch in the Main Dining room was much better than breakfast on Lido deck. There is a much better selection of breakfast food including the usual bacon and eggs and freshly made omelettes. But in addition they do have pancakes, french toast, different kinds of sausage, huevos rancheros. They provide a whole plateful of nice little pastries. Since it's brunch they have a number of lunch time entrees including pork chops and steak and eggs. The steak is actually filet mignon. It was probably the steak from Nick and Nora's that they couldn't sell from the previous night. If you eat there, there's an upcharge of $35 per person or $20 in the Main Dining room. Instead, just have brunch here, save the money and eat better quality steak for free. The coffee for one thing is also much better. Lido deck breakfast felt a bit same and a bit rushed. Brunch felt more relaxing and the service was great. Coffee and drinks are always refilled and the food came hot and fresh quickly. Brunch is casual (unlike at dinner) and runs from 8:30am to 1:00 pm from the second through to the sixth day. If you can, I would eat here for breakfast every day. But try it at least once and early in your trip. You can always go back to Lido deck if you like. But we never did.
The other thing to note, is that Lido deck can get pretty busy at lunch. On the sixth day, they had a chocolate party. At one of the stations, you good choose from a variety of fruit and have it dipped in chocolate. They also had a lot of decorative chocolate cakes. The lines were huge and tables were at a premium.
15) Coffee was bad on Lido Deck, but I brought my Aeropress with me and some ground beans. Hot water I was able to get from Lido Deck. We had a balcony so being able to enjoy fresh coffee in the morning on deck was well worth it and very relaxing. The extra room we had with the balcony was also money well spent. It just made the cabin seem that much bigger.
16) We checked the weather forecast for the days we were in Cabo and Puerto Vallarta and it was supposed to be raining with thunderstorms every day. In reality, the weather was fabulous. If anything it was too hot and humid. But I never saw rain. The jackets we brought with us were never used but we did bring some floppy hats. If we hadn't the heat and humidity would have been too much.
17) We stopped at Cabo for 2 days and we never booked any tours in advance. There are plenty of operators vying for business once you get to the Marina. Tender tickets were available the day before but it was easy to get a boat. We got off at 10 am. The following day, no tender tickets were necessary.
18) We deliberated over whether to purchase the Faster to the Fun ticket ($50) i.e to get prioritized boarding and first access to the tenders. But we never did in the end and I'm glad we never paid for it, since boarding was fast (20 min) and we got a tender boat easily after lining up for a tender ticket. I don't think FTTF is worth the money at all. Only Cabo is a tender port and tickets weren't even necessary on the second day. And it's wasted on Puerto Vallarta since the boat docks right on the pier.
19) We negotiated a water taxi tour of the Arch, Lovers Beach, Divorce Beach, seal watch and other rock formations and then to Medano Beach. The operators were asking for $10 US per person. We got it down to 100 pesos each roundtrip (about $6 pp). There's also a $1 group departure fee that you pay the gate operator. That tour, which takes about 45 minutes is well worth the money. You visit a number of places. You're out on the water and the driver drops you off anywhere on Medano Beach. Just note that you're in a water taxi and you'll get out into ankle deep water, so don't wear any nice shoes. We had our water shoes on and once on the beach we were able to kick back and relax and head to the ocean.
We asked to be dropped off at Tobascos Beach Resort restaurant. This was a good choice and it's much quieter here, you don't get hassled as much by beach vendors and the sand and water here is really nice. Another plus, is that the food and drinks are priced in pesos and seem to be a cheaper than the main drag i.e 95 pesos for 3 tacos, 30 pesos for smoothies, 60 pesos for 2 cocktails. There are bathrooms here and all the tables are in shade or have umbrellas attached.
Beach vendors were asking for $10 to rent umbrellas and $15 to rent loungers. We didn't bother since we just hung around the restaurant and bought a few drinks once in a while. It was so casual, lazy and laid back. It was a really good choice and we would definitely go back there. You're right on the sand. Absolutely one of the best days we had. Cheap and very relaxing. The servers really took good care of us and didn't mind us hanging onto the table once we ate our food. Another plus is the location. It's away from the main strip of bars, restaurants and hotels on Medano Beach. I didn't see many people come this way so the tables were always available and the beach is not very crowded at all, unlike the main Medano strip. So perhaps that was another reason why the servers didn't rush us out. Service was relaxed and I had a nice conversation with a few of the staff when they weren't busy. It's very laid back and they understand you're there to relax and have a good time. Wonderful place to stop by and very family friendly.
20) We never spent much time in the shops or restaurants in the Marina in Cabo. They seemed over priced. We also never used the costly wifi on the ship. They have a pay as you go service for 75c minute. There are also various prepaid plans i.e 45 min for $29 (64c/min), 120 min for $59 (49c min), 240 min for $89 (37c min) or 480 min for $159 (38c min)
We didn't want to pay for wifi on the boat. We found good free wifi inside an information desk building (next to La Taverna GastroBar) in the Marina. There are lots of seating and restrooms here with cooling fans and it was free to use. The place is next to the strip of places where all the operators have their business. We waited inside, cooled off and checked our email. Much more pleasant and free.
21) Some negotiated prices for excursions were Parasailing for two people at $70 US. Ziplining was about $80 US. A two hour tour of the city was 900 pesos for 4 people (about $15 each. Originally he asked for $25). We did the tour in the end and to be honest it was worth it. They provide some ice cold water and there are stops at a church, restaurant, bottle factory and some time for shopping. We usually avoid city tours and prefer to do our own thing, but it was so hot and humid outside that I didn't think they would last the morning. Overall it was a good choice, but I wouldn't do it again. It is useful though to get your bearings and see where you would like to go next time you're back. So do it once and let someone else do the driving
On the driving front, just know that the drivers here are a little crazy. They're constantly weaving in and out of traffic and they're rushing the turns and cutting others off. It happened everywhere we went in Cabo and Puerto Vallarta. I'm glad I didn't drive here. Even with a GPS, I think it might be difficult to find your way around. Some of the roads are very narrow and cars are often illegally parked and paid parking often looked full and difficult to find.
22) In Cabo, I yelped a few local restaurants in advance and decided on Taco Guss. At the end of the tour, we asked the driver to drop us off there for lunch. This place came highly recommended on yelp and I can see why. Great local food and very cheap. 20 pesos for tacos ($1.20) and there's a family style make your own fajitas called Parrilladas with a whole bunch of grilled meats for 180 pesos ($12) for two. In reality it was enough food for four. The Al Pastor was fabulous. You can see them carving it from the spit out front. It was fresh and delicious. That place was was well worth a stop and about 10 min walk back to the Marina.
If you want to find this place and many of the other yelp recommended ones, just exit the back of the Marina (where all of the tour operators have their premises). You'll come to a car park and walk to the right onto Marina Blvd. The road goes straight and also curves to the right. If you go straight, you'll find Lazaro Cardenas and that's where Taco Guss and other local eateries are. It's a 10 minute walk from the Marina. These are hole in the wall places, and often they're not air conditioned and the menu is priced in pesos. But the food is a lot better and cheaper than the places you'll find in the Marina. Well worth it and we'd definitely go back there again.
There are plenty of other recommended local places around here and we felt perfectly safe walking around. There are lots of souvenir places and pharmacies close by. Plenty of street signs but no street numbers that I was aware of. So if you're looking specifically for a place, ask around. People were really friendly and happy to help. But write addresses and other important stuff down, especially if you're reliant on your phone and if you're not able to get internet access it can be frustrating. We saved maps for offline use in advance before the trip and it made getting around and finding places in Mexico that we wanted to visit that much easier.
23) There is no tender for Puerto Vallarta. The ship docks so it's much easier to get on and off the boat. There's a tent just outside the main gangway where people could wait for all the Carnival excursions in the shade.
24) Before you walk outside the gate, there is a round white building, where you can get some money changed and also purchase wifi access. I couldn't find any free wifi and even in the Malecon near Starbucks and McDonalds, there was no free wifi. Everything was fee based
25) There are white taxis and motor coaches just outside the gates of the marina. A few people I know took taxis to the Malecon and it cost between $6 and $10. However if you take a left outside the marina (near to the gas station), you can pick up a yellow taxi and negotiate a fare. The cab drivers asked for around 80 pesos. After negotiation it cost us 50 pesos (about $3) to head into old town and the Malecon. Bring pesos, it's much easier and negotiation always seem to be expected. I think Carnival does a paid excursion into town, but I think this is something that you can easily do yourself and it's cheap and on your own time.
26) We did the Caletas island getaway. It was our only Carnival purchased excursion of our trip and it was definitely worth it. They take you on a 45 minute Catamaran ride to an exclusive resort. It was just for our use. There were no vendors hassling us and the beach and water was fabulous. It was much better than the Malecon.
All the alcoholic drinks on board were free. The hosts (Vallarta adventures) were great. The water activities i.e kayaking, snorkelling and paddle boating were all free. So was the kids adventure park (ziplining, mule ride, rope bridge stuff). There were other paid activities such as a speedboat ride to the the sea lion enclosure ($69 for 2 people) and the scuba diving. Lunch is provided and was suprisingly good. It was a better lunch than the stuff they had on Lido deck.
The only negative is that you don't really have too much time to enjoy the beach and water sports, particularly if you do any of the other activities. It felt a bit rushed and left the resort at 3:15. We arrived around 11. So make sure you really want to do any of the optional activities. To be honest we had more fun just doing the kayaking and paddle boating and relaxing in the hammocks and enjoying the free drinks. But the kids did enjoy the sea lion visit and it wasn't that expensive.
The hosts made the trip on the way back very entertaining. Lots of loud party music. The drinks were flowing and they kept us very entertained. Also the views heading to Caletas are spectacular on the water. There are a number of private seafront homes on the hills which are beautiful.
I can see why this excursion in particular in popular. Beforehand I thought why not just go to the Malecon and do a cheap beach day out there, but it doesn't compare. This place was much nicer
27) Regarding the Malecon and old town. The main strip is pedestrian friendly. Lots of picture taking opportunities and sculptures around. There are lots of cheap places to eat. There are lots of food truck type places along the side streets with tacos going between 10 and 15 pesos (less than a $1). I saw a lot of locals line up at these places. They were very popular.
The Malecon is great for people watching, but I'm glad we didn't spend a beach day there or spent much time there at all. We were ready to go back after an hour or two. There's no rush to do the Malecon. We came back from a day out at Caletas round 6 pm and dropped our stuff back on board the ship, took a shower and headed back out. There was plenty of time to do everything we wanted as we had to be back by 8:30 pm
28) On the way back, there are lots of taxis close to the main Malecon strip and up various side streets. Before negotiation it was about $8 or 120 pesos. We took a ride back for 80 pesos (about $5). We asked the driver to stop at Walmart instead of the Marina since we wanted to buy some cheap souvenirs
29) Walmart is about a 15 minute walk along a busy highway to the left of the Marina. We did it on the way back in a taxi since we didn't want to carry any purchases with us, while we walked around the Malecon. Again having pesos was very useful. We bought a ton of cheap souvenirs. I thought the mugs for 50 pesos ($3) was good value and made a cheap and useful gift. It'a Super Walmart and the locals shop here, so everything is quite cheap. But just be careful of the traffic on the highway heading back to the Marina. It flows quickly and you may have to make a dash across to the other side
30) On sea days, the Lido deck (where the pools are) can get very busy. People aren't supposed to save deck chairs but they do. One very nice area, is the Serenity bar area in the front of the ship on Lido deck, where they have these cool multi person loungers which are covered from all sides except for the opening. They were taken on a daily basis very quickly. But if you grab one, it makes for a very relaxing morning or afternoon.
31) We went to a few comedy shows after the early dinner (7:45 pm and 8:45 pm) at the front of Deck 1. They were quite good and family friendly. If you sit in the chairs in front, you may be part of the show. Try and get there at least 20 min before it's due to start or it'll be standing room only. The X Rated shows at 10:45 and 11:45 were also quite good. Not as popular since there are no kids around, but plenty of seating
32) We also enjoyed the Red Frog Pub on Deck 2. It's family friendly. There's a foosball table, shuffleboard, dart board and board games that you can use. They also have live music. But the place is not that big and there aren't that many tables to sit at. They sometimes have casual shuffeboard tournaments here. It's low key and fun, even if you don't drink. Plus there's a taster station just outside where you can sample small plates from the steakhouse for free.
33) We also sat down to Hasbros game show event (Phantom theater on Deck 2 forward). The compere picks two teams of players and they take part in a large Connect 4 game using basketballs on stage and also a Simon matching game. There's also some trivia with Scattergories and trivial pursuit. It's more fun to take part, but they only choose 4-5 per team. I think the secret to getting picked is to catch the compere's eye and do something crazy i.e handstand, funny move or something out of the ordinary. Sit closer to the aisles and be nearer the front or middle. No one was picked in the back
34) We tried bingo a few times (Phantom Theater on Deck 2 Forward). 30 min before it starts, you can buy the bingo cards. It was $40 for 3 sets of 9 cards and $30 for 3 sets of 6 cards. Essentially you have 9 or 6 chances to win in each game of 3. They charge $2 for a big red bingo marker, or you can use a pencil, or just bring a marker and use that instead. Prizes ranged from $100 to $300, with a big prize at the end of around $2500. We were one away from the big prize. If you've played in a prior session, and want to play again, pick up a white card and fill it in and get an assistant's attention. It saves you from having to wait in line again and you get a free purple card to use in the final game.
35) For disembarkation, you have the option of leaving your luggage out the night before and they'll be delivered by Carnival at the terminal the following morning or you can do it yourself. We did it ourselves and it was much faster. They have set times by which certain decks may head to the gangway on deck 3. Our deck was scheduled for 8:30-8:45 and it was called before then. We were at the parking garage at 8:45 and on the shuttle back to Hotel Maya before 9 am. I mentioned earlier that it wasn't worth the money for FTTF, and there was certainly no benefit for us in disembarkation.
36) We ended up spending very little on the cruise. We bought it through Priceline.com. They were the cheapest and had the most selection of cabins. Another plus was the 5% money back from discover and the $150 hotel coupon that could be used on priceline express hotels. We picked the Hyatt Place hotel close to LAX airport for a one day post trip stay. It was a nice place to stay. Free wifi, parking, breakfast, small pool and hot tub and large clean rooms with Directv. Close to the freeway and about 2 miles from Costco for gas and lots of ethnic restaurants. It was a really good choice. Read Less