We took the Carnival Paradise cruise from Long Beach -> Catalina Island -> Ensenada -> Long Beach. Our party consisted of two adults (high-20s and mid-30s) and one 3-YO toddler. We stayed on the Empress deck (7th deck) in cabin E168. We drove from the San Francisco bay area to Long Beach on the same day of the embarkation. We started our journey at 5:30a and arrived at LB at around 2:30p, going the usual speed on I-5 with adequate restroom breaks along the way. By that time we didn't have to deal with the rush at check-in. The whole process was pretty simple: we arrived to the drop-off location in the parking structure, dropped off our luggage and passengers, and I proceeded to park the car in the same parking structure. Upon meeting up with my party, we went to the desk right at the passenger drop-off location and confirmed our reservation. We filled in the luggage tag, fastened it to our luggage and passed it on to the porter. We then proceeded to the main check-in area (the big white dome structure) with only our carry-on. We went through the usual security check and then proceeded to the check-in counter, similar to what you would expect at the airport. It was during this time that we provided the check-in staff with the credit card we used during the reservation and in return, we received our Sign & Sail cards, one for each passenger. After that, we proceeded to the gangway and onto the ship. Upon entering the ship, we were at the Empress deck and this was where someone took our picture and linked it to our card.
Since our cabin was on the Empress deck, we didn't have to take the elevator and just proceeded directly to our cabin, E168. One side of the ship is for odd-numbered cabins and the other side for even-numbered cabin. As we approached our cabin, we immediately smelled the odor from the kitchen. You would be familiar with this odor if you ever worked in a kitchen or dined in a badly ventilated restaurant. The space in our Ocean-view room was adequate; we got a queen-size bed and an optional flip-out twin-size bed that would hang out from the wall. We didn't bother with the twin-size bed since that would make the cabin feels a lot smaller. There were the usual restroom amenities: shampoo and body-wash in dispensers attached to the wall inside the shower, sample-size toothpaste packs, a few packs of chewing gums, a man and woman shaver (but without the needed shaving cream), and a few packets of Pepcid AC. Outside the restroom, there were enough hangars in the closet, a few drawers under the small desk, and a safe for your valuables. There were six cans of soda and a bottle of 1-liter Crystal Geyser water. The price for the soda was $1.95 and the bottle water was for $3.95 (all in U.S. Dollar of course). We didn't stay around to wait for our luggage and left soon after we looked through the room. We went around checking out other spots on the ship.
As it turned out, being on the Empress deck, and in cabin E168 in particular, was quite convenient. For one, it was close to the back of the ship (aft) which was where most of the restaurants were, particularly the Paris restaurant where you would go to have breakfasts, buffet-style lunches and dinners. And if you're assigned to eat at the Destiny dining room, you would just be one deck below that and you can simply walk the few steps to the dining room, bypassing the need to use the crowded elevators.
Adequate space, especially with the queen-size bed pushed all the way to the window. You can sometime feel the slamming of the door from other cabins. Can be noisy during the morning.