Review of the Carnival Panorama
This will be a review of our most recent cruise, which took place sailing from Long Beach, CA on Carnival Panorama. We left February 29, 2020 for a 7-day sailing to the Mexican Riviera, including stops in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta.
As an avid Carnival cruiser, and even though I am approaching the 50-cruise milestone with Carnival Cruise Lines, I must admit to still experiencing awe-invoking giddiness akin to a teenage girl walking into her first prom when I first board their ships, stepping into their vast atriums from the gangway that first day. Which is something, since I am a 68-year old male of the species. So imagine my surprise that day as we traversed the gangway, and an outdoor deck, when stepping into the ship we were pointed down multiple corridors and finally greeted with – the casino? Not the sweeping heights of the grand atrium, staring upward into a skylight seemingly miles above, but rather the almost claustrophobically low ceiling of everyone’s favorite “den of iniquity” with enough flashing colored lights to send any epileptic to a massive seizure. Don’t get me wrong, the color schemes and general design of the ship are pleasing to the eye, but there just is no “wow” in this huge cow.
Moving to the elevator banks, we encountered a number of VERY confused people crowding around our necessary mode of transport to our floor. While we became accustomed at work to elevators that are called specifically by selecting the floor to which you wish to access, few others knew how to access this feature. Add to that the fact that they ignored the notes that said you have to make an entry once for each member of your party, you begin to understand why a car arrives with room for one or two, when a party of ten is waiting to board. Being a rather understanding chap, I gave forgiveness where due, and assumed it would get better later in the cruise. Spoiler alert – it did not. If anything, it got worse, with people literally diving for the open elevator without allowing those getting off to do so. Guess some people just got no couth.
When at last we arrived at our balcony stateroom, we were pleased to find new and improved color schemes mirroring ocean vistas, and cleanly designed furnishings which effectively made great use of the room’s tight spaces. The efficiencies did result in less cabinet space in the room than in previous ships, but it was adequate for our needs, even with 3 adult occupants. And the 42” TV with on-demand movies (some free and some $4.99) was great!
The couch had been made up for our 3rd person’s benefit, and though she did try it the first night, she found it to be entirely too firm for the adult spine. We asked our room steward, Kadek, for a foam pad, and he promptly came in and put an actual mattress on top of the couch and adjusted the bedcovers for a custom fit. Our roomie slept better than any of us after that.
By the way, Kadek found out that our guest had a birthday during the cruise, and made it a point to do a “birthday cake” towel decoration for her, in addition to scribbling a personal “Happy Birthday” greeting to her over the entire stateroom mirror. What a great experience. Carnival should be very proud of Kadek on deck 7 (have to be specific, we were told by the housekeeping manager that there were 7 room stewards named Kadek onboard.
Dining was typical Carnival American Table menu, and while we found the Main Dining Room to be sleek, modern and inviting, we did seem to gravitate toward the Lido restaurant, finding nothing on the menu that turned our crank enough to draw us into the MDR. When we did eat in the Dining Room, we found service to be top-notch, but because of the layout, it seemed difficult to accommodate sharing tables, which we prefer. We did not avail ourselves of any of the upscale restaurants onboard, simply because, well, Guy’s Burgers. The best burger on land or sea. Need I say more? The lines for Guy’s, Pizza and Deli were very long – but worth it. The Deli does a Cubano Mixto that even rivals my own! And even if you don’t get a sandwich, squirt some Truffle Aioli into a container and dip some fries for a marvelous late evening snack.
Carnival Panorama was our first experience with Liquid Lounge, so named because of the fluid nature of the seating. So far, the jury is still out. Why? Because my wife absolutely LOVED this theater, and I absolutely DESPISED the set up. While she felt the seating was more comfortable than on other Carnival ships with set bench-style seating, I hated the closeness of being jammed into entirely too narrow seats, with no room to walk in front of them (had to stand when anyone passed) and no tables to place drinks, etc. I saw entirely too many dishes and drinks spilled while passengers attempted to balance them in their hands while doing What-Ever else. So, as I say – the jury is still out.
With that, let’s talk about something that means a lot to me – it may not to you, but I’m writing this. Let’s talk KARAOKE! Specifically, Carnival Karaoke. Onboard is practically the only place I sing, and the relationships you build each night become stronger as the cruise continues, eventually becoming like a family microcosm in and of itself by the last night. Carnival Panorama’s Entertainment Director ensured that there was Karaoke practically every night, staffed by Fun Squad personnel who truly enjoy spinning songs. In most cases, it was held in the Havana Bar, a venue which is entirely too small for the crowds that Karaoke draws. Add to that the very limited seating, and the proliferation of hi-top tables (umm, can you say CRUISERS?) and you have a recipe for an uncomfortable and potentially volatile seating situation. On one occasion, Karaoke was held in the same lounge that Punchliner Comedy normally is – that wasn’t bad. But on another occasion, it was held in Ocean Plaza – absolutely perfect. It had a great mix of readily available seating with real tables! More table space means more drinks, which adds up to more courage and more karaoke singers! With all that, I have to say, I had a marvelous time singing and listening to Karaoke.
Emma Pack (formerly Nixon) was an amazing cruise director, an absolute joy to be around. She was energetic, funny, and genuine. Her leadership skills were evident, and would certainly come in handy at the end of the cruise – but more about that later. And BONUS; Cruise Director Matt Mitcham was onboard with her to prepare for an April handoff during which Emma was to be on her honeymoon. Two Cruise Directors for the price of one!
All of the Fun Squad staff were, well, FUN! As always, they were everywhere. One great surprise was when we ran into Nadia (bwa-ha-ha), a Fun Squad member from our 2017 Hawaii cruise – and she remembered me BY NAME after 3 years! Huge hugs all around just like the long-lost friends we were. That’s just the way it is on the Fun Ships – their staff, who are our cruise family, keep us coming back! Even as far up as the Captain of the vessel (“Don’t call me Captain – my name is Carlo!”), entertainers, housekeeping, bar staff, and dining area staff all love their jobs, and we love them all.
After a fun-filled day at sea, our first stop was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We have visited “Cabo” probably 20 times over the past years, but this was special, as we got to see the sites through the eyes of a first-time cruiser traveling with us. We booked the Cabo San Lucas Deluxe Private Highlights Sightseeing Excursion through Shore Excursioneer, a local company that had served us well in the past. We boarded a small glass-bottomed boat and headed out to see Los Arcos (the Arch), also known as Land’s End. Considered the lowest point on the Baja Peninsula, the arch is dramatically stark and beautiful at the same time, a true testament to the consistent and pervasive action of ocean waves against the land, carving a hole through the side of a mountain that met the sea. Some even describe it as if an animal is leaning over, blowing bubbles while it drinks from the water. During the winter months, it is considered the most favorable location for whale watching, due to the naturally created “whale super highway,” a very deep, safe trench just offshore where whales come from Alaska to birth and breed. There they leap and frolic to their heart’s content, much to the delight of onlookers.
Back on land, we boarded an air-conditioned van for a drive to San Jose del Cabo, hometown of our excellent guide, Pedro, for some sightseeing and shopping. We stopped at The Glass Factory for a glass-blowing demonstration, marveling at how molten globs of glass were shaped into colorful, recognizable items, such as a turtle wearing a sombrero and drinking from a bottle of tequila. Whimsical, yet still beautiful. Afterward, we visited downtown San Jose del Cabo, were we walked the main square of this much less touristy section of Cabo, and entered Parroquia San Jose, a church that factors into every facet of everyday life of the city.
Back aboard our van, we headed for lunch at Mariscos El Toro Guero, Sucursal Centro where we dined on some of the finest local cuisine. Heavily influenced by the available seafood of the area, their Seafood Empanadas and Tacos Gobernador with their smoked marlin filling were a taste delight. On the way out, we took time to do selfies with the 15-foot tall cannabis tree in the parking lot. Leaving the restaurant, bellies full and minds properly food-fogged, we made one final stop by a food truck by the sea to sample one last treat – Cocos Frios, or cold coconut. The ice-cold green coconut is cracked open, the water inside reserved, then the meat is scraped up and fresh lime juice and hot sauce is added. It has a texture like a ceviche (lime-cured fresh fish) but without any actual meat. Alternately salty, citrusy and juicy, it had become a cold, tasty favorite after our last trip, and of course something not readily available in the states.
The next day, we awoke in Mazatlán, Mexico. While this is largely a commercial port, there is certainly plenty to do. In the past, we have walked to the ferry over to “Stone Island,” which is actually a peninsula with miles of secluded beach for the sun-worshipers. This trip, we had booked another Shore Excursioneers tour, Mazatlán, Discovering the Old and New City. Since we arrived early, Mama had time for a 15-minute massage that left her extremely loose as a goose. Boarding our bus, we drove along the Malecon, a typical feature of Mexican seaside towns similar to a well-developed boardwalk, replete with statuary, tiled walkways and amazing people-watching, as well as their version of cliff divers, who dove from amazing heights into the shallow seas, to everyone’s delight. We stopped by Catedral Basilica de la Immaculada Concepcion, a beautiful local church, and then headed to Margaritas Restaurant Bar & Grill, where we enjoyed a huge platter of shrimp of every type, and some free (and some not-so free) margaritas. Strolling mariachis serenaded us, and the lead singer goaded Mama into singing – an impossibility without margaritas – as he leaned into her and sang “Aye, yai yai yai” to which she suddenly burst out singing, “I am the Frito bandito!” I thought he was going to fall over and die laughing. He truly could not catch his breath!
Awaking the next morning, we were excited to get ashore in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, as we had booked Carnival’s Tequila Show, Margarita Madness, Tasting and Tacos excursion. With our guide, Angel, we headed out on an air-conditioned bus for a tour of the city and then down to Vallarta’s recently improved and beautiful Malecon. Shopping at a noted jewelry store for fire opals preceded a visit to Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, known locally as La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. Topped by a wrought iron crown hoisted by angels, it is in daily use, and the 98-year old structure is considered one of the city’s most endearing landmarks. The beauty of these old churches defies description, and they are much-loved and carefully preserved. Before moving on to Viva Tequila, the site of our tequila tasting and folkloric show, we stopped of at Mango’s Beach Club Restaurant for lunch, where a sumptuous repast was laid before us buffet style. Of all the local items we indulged in, papas con rajas, or potatoes with strips of roasted poblano peppers, was my favorite. So much so, in fact, that upon arriving home, I diligently recreated this delightful menu item SUCCESSFULLY for dinner!
From there, it was on to the tequila tasting at Viva Tequila, where we discovered very quickly that the best tasting, highest quality tequila has an equally high price! The folkloric show that followed, with dancing senoritas in colorful flowing dresses and their male partners in black outfits punctuated in shiny, silver conchos, cavorting across a huge stage, accompanied by excellent mariachi bandmembers and featuring the reata (rope) lasso artistry of the Mexican charro. Such an amazing show alone was well worth the price of the tour.
After two full sea days taking in the ocean breezes and sun, our last night onboard, as always, was bitter-sweet. We knew that we would miss our new friends, and even knowing we had an early call to disembark, we still tried to make the night last into the wee hours. At Oh-Dark-Thirty, the alarm sounded, we awoke, and dragged ourselves to breakfast and then to the meeting point for Diamond and Platinum cruisers. There, we waited – and waited – and waited! Little by little, we got announcements that the ship had not yet been cleared by Customs and Port Authority. We found that a lady had been medically disembarked with questionable symptoms, and we would not be able to leave until a Coronavirus (covid-19) test had been administered. Problem was, there were no tests at that time available in California, and the CDC would have to fly in a test. After 4 hours, we were informed that it would be a while before results would be back in, so they encouraged us to avail ourselves of the ship’s facilities as restaurants and other venues reopened, including our rooms. Later that evening, the testing revealed that the lady was negative for Covid-19, but that because of the late hour, they decided to just keep us overnight. Entertainment was scheduled in all venues, including comedians providing extra shows in Punchliner! Our luggage was returned from holding so that we could secure clean clothing and toiletries for the evening, and then it was taken down again to await our departure. The next morning, we got back up and did it all over again, leaving the ship within a short time. We were on our way after an extra free fun-filled day onboard the Carnival Panorama.
I would like to recognize the leadership provided by the Captain and his crew, and in particular Cruise Director Emma Pack. Throughout the quarantine ordeal, her unfailing energy and helpfulness, not to mention her positive personality, kept almost everyone in good spirits. Or was it the bars (get it? Spirits)? Either way, we had one more fun day added to enjoy the ship. The logistics of getting people