I've cruised many times before, but it had been many years since the last one, so I figured this was an excellent one to try. I was a Carnival fan, it had a great price on this cruise out of a port I could drive to, and I love the Mexican Riviera. Oh, and it left on my birthday - match made in heaven.
Embarkation went smooth. Parking was easy, although there were employees helping direct people to their cars while we were heading to get on, so I think some were confused and sent us the wrong direction once, thinking we were leaving the cruise.....but I ignored that and found out where to go on my own. Once in the main building though, it was a breeze, and fast too. I was traveling FTTF, so I got to sit in the rear section, right outside of the diamond guest lounge. Getting onboard was also easy, and we were on the ship in no time.
Here's the big turning point. So with FTTF, you're supposed to have access to your room as soon as you board. Your room key/sign&sail card should be ready. Ours was not. Everyone around us had keys in their door....we did not. So, I decided to not let it bother me much because maybe they just didn't get to it yet but almost were. Went to have food. An hour and a half later, came back to check, and there is still no key. So there went perk #1 from FTTF. I had to go wait in the guest services line next, and that is never a pleasure on that first day. Oh, and no separate line for FTTF guests either (perk #2 gone), so I stood in line as like #13 or so. Well, I told them the room didn't have a key when I got on (they said it should have been....but saying that doesn't make it so it was, not sure why they told me that it was supposed to be since I kinda knew it was), then asked if we waited longer. I said I already waited an hour and a half, checked, and there was no key. So she said she would just print them there and ignore the keys that show up later because they are now inactive. Btw, those keys never actually showed up.
So we get into the stateroom, 8308, balcony. So I had ordered two beach towels to be in there for us, and also my partner had ordered the birthday package (decorations, a cake, and a towel), and also another order had been made for me that I didn't know about, another cake. The only things in the room were the decorations and 1 towel, one of the ones I ordered. So missing were 2 towels (one from my order, one from the birthday package), and a cake (and actually 2 cakes, which I didn't find out until later). Oh, and the sink was broken, and the room was kinda/sorta dirty from old stains and even some warping/chipping on the ceiling and wall from water damage. I'll upload photos if there's an option for that.
Anyways, had to go back to guest services and wait in an even longer line now. Told them I was missing a towel and a cake. They checked, and asked what was in the room. They told me, "Oh, you're actually missing 2 towels and 2 cakes." I had no idea where this second cake was from, but said ok, and they said they would have them in my stateroom very soon, sometime in the next couple hours. Cool. Later, both towels appeared finally, but only 1 cake. I found out later from a family member that my sister had ordered me a surprise cake for my stateroom, so that's where the second cake cake from. It didn't ever show up that night. So the next day, I had to go back in line again, and tell them that I was still missing a cake. This time, it showed up sometime later in the day. But that was a huge mess that took two days to fix, all for my birthday items, and the last thing anyone wants to do on vacation is wait in guest services lines for over an hour or two total during their first two vacation days.
The staff for the most part looked kind of miserable. It's definitely not the friendliest crew, which really surprised me, because my last cruise back in 2011 was amazing with Carnival, and I remembered nothing but really nice, pleasant people. It's a big reason why I loved Carnival so much. But the poor coffee lady crew member looked like her life was hell everyday. She wasn't the only one though - and in interaction, the majority were polite, but we made the joke about how everyone was dead behind the eyes.
I chose this ship too because of its decor. It's known to be tacky, but I like that sort of Vegas-y tackiness. But this was a bit more than I had anticipated. It didn't look very good, all mismatched together (the buffet light fixtures look like kids playroom lights to me), etc. It just didn't feel very extravagant or elegant, like all the other ships I had ever been on. It just felt sort of budget. Except the theater - the theater was beautiful, one of the best. Amenities around were fine, but the daybeds up on deck 10 could have used a better wash - it was weirdly sticky on many of them, with that sort of dark stain color on them that seems like old dirt that's just baked on now. The serenity chairs were great though. The ship was clean though, even though you could see damage made over time in things like the walls and even the ceiling (in the Gold Pearl, big black streaks here and there). But otherwise, it was clean. People left things in all sorts of terrible places, but it was never there for long.
Entertainment was just....not for me. I felt like it either aimed too low or two high, but completely missed me (I'm 35). There were the shows, which were designed to at least appeal to individual age groups, but they just weren't very good. The music was fine....it was more the singers that did really poorly. Many times it was as if they gave a person a song that just didn't suit there voice, so they either sounded strained or they just didn't sound right. Some didn't even know the words to some songs, so they just mumbled that part to get through it. Really disappointing, because Carnival always had amazing shows in the past. =( Karaoke and the comedy club would have been great if I could always fit in there. Those venues do not provide enough space for what their used for. I absolutely love karaoke, but three separate times I couldn't fit in the room with every single chair being taken and people just standing around. It was already a small room, so it felt claustrophobic, and I just would opt to not go. Comedy club had the same issue - it was in a big lounge (the prettiest lounge too, El Mojito), but comedy was so popular that there would be only awkward standing room left there too, and so I'd opt to just not go when that was the case. And I wasn't late to these events - I'd be 15 early to comedy, or right on time for karaoke. Also, a big issue was that I felt like the teen center wasn't doing a good job. Not because I had a teen there or anything, but because none of the teens would be in it. They would be wandering everywhere in giant groups, screaming, running around, pulling out chairs into walkways, and just being disrespectful. But if they dislike the teen activities so much that they just don't go, that means they need to do something else to keep their attention....because when they have nothing better to do, they just go and bother others. The other activities, like trivia or learning to dance, etc., would also be taken over by kids. Early family karaoke would always drive people away because kids would start lining up to sing, so you basically had to politely clap for one kid singing taylor swift after the next. Then repeat. Then repeat. Then repeat. So just stopped going to those. I will say one great thing about entertainment though - our cruise director was JJ, it was her first cruise as a director. She was awesome. Which was great, because that's the voice you constantly hear. But she was fantastic, and when everything else was disappointing, she at least could get a smile from me, and every event she led was at least entertaining from her end.
I'll talk about dining last because....that's the biggest gripe. =\
The ports were great - standard fare Mexican Riviera. =) Cabo isn't the prettiest and the port is a little confusing (do you take the water taxi or not?), but contained enough to not be too scary. Mazatlan has become beautiful - I loved it there. But you DO need to take a taxi from port to the Golden Zone OR old Mazatlan. Too far to walk. Ohm, and no one tells you that even though it's super fast getting off the ship there, you're forced to wait in a line right outside the ship to hop onto a trolley to take you to the port entrance. They won't allow you to walk there through the cargo, so it isn't quick at all, and a little confusing on where to line up for it. People will cut you off and write it off as "oops, we were confused", if they even acknowledge that they cut, that is. And Puerto Vallarta is always wonderful, but you also need to take a taxi into the best area, such as Zona Romantica, unless all you want is to go to Wal-Mart. You can walk there. Oh, and it was safe, but I was offered drugs in all three ports. =) Literally, all three. Maybe it was the tattoos or because I looked like I partied or something, but yeah....it's out there. So watch your teens, I wouldn't really let them wander just by themselves into town.
Ok, food and service for....food. I'll start with the easiest - the buffet wasn't too good. But I don't really think buffet food anywhere is very good - I live in Vegas and I've had a million buffets, so that isn't Carnival's fault. But it is pretty limited - not many items to choose from that change daily. But then you can always just supplement with the BBQ place, Tandoor, the deli, etc. And while I read everywhere that the BBQ and Tandoor were super delicious, I really didn't find them all that great. =\ The pizza was horrible - like, beyond horrible. It took forever to make, then when you get it the middle would be chewy and doughy (super thin crust, so really awkward that part not being cooked), and the outside edges would be burnt. The toppings would also just slide off fast - they didn't want to be on that pizza either. It really, really bad. Carnival Liberty had excellent pizza, so I don't know what happened. ;_; Ok, I WOULD know what the steakhouse was like, but they screwed me over bigtime. I booked my reservation there back in February. On the day of my res, I happened to walk by and check out the menu. A lady approached me and asked if I had a reservation, I said yes, and she said let's just verify. She went ot verify, and told me I did not have a reservation. I said there's absolutely no way, because I have a printout stating I had it (it was in the room though, so couldn't show it yet). She then searched for my name and said yes, I had made a reservation, but my stateroom isn't right, but she said she called me and verified it on the phone with me and even told me how to dress, etc. I told her no one called me. So, she said she must have called my old stateroom and someone there who she thought was me verified. *So here's what happened. A day before the cruise, Carnival called me up and offered an upgrade to a balcony if I paid more. I agreed, and he said everything would just transfer over and it was all good. So now I started wondering if those people in my old room also received a bunch of towels and two cakes, and decided not to say anything. Well, they also seemed to have hijacked my reservation. Even though it was under my name. She said because they verified on the phone, she has to give them my reservation (which makes no sense, because when they come up but don't have my name, what then?). So she told me unfortunately she had nothing for me. I. was. pissed. Here I was, with proof I booked it, it was even still in my name, but because it had a different room number and she verified with....whoever in that room, they would get that reservation. So I was about to turn away, when she said it was ok, she can "accomodate me", but next time I need to tell her that I changed my room the first day because "no one talks to them about those things". First off, she just blamed ME for losing my reservation because I opted to pay more for a better room? And I was assured by the Carnival rep on the phone that everything would transfer. If someone had even told me to stop by the steakhouse to mention this, I would have. But now I'm supposed to magically know that they don't talk to them about that, and that they also don't honor reservations under peoples' names, but by their room numbers, and they also don't need to verify who is speaking to them on the phone. So I accepted her "accomodation" (with her chastise), then canceled it a couple hours later because I was so pissed about being treated that way. Which upset me more than anything, since I had been dreaming of the day I would get to eat there even before I booked the cruise (I've loved all the other steakhouses on other ships).
And finally, the dining room. So unfortunately, I did not get a break here either. Our waiters were kind enough. But every meal took just about 2 hours to complete, and we were only at a table for 2, and the waiter only had 4 tables (two really big, two 2-tops). And we'd get there early every single day. The big tables mostly arrived really late (20-40 minutes late). They would rarely bring us a menu until at least one of the big tables arrived. If they did, they wouldn't even take our order until those big tables had their menus....even when they came late. They didn't even have water refills for us one night, and other nights it would take a good 30-40 minutes before more water came. Once we got a menu, it's be 20-30 minutes before they came back to take the order, then 20-03 minutes before we got the food, then 20-30 before they cleared those dishes, then 20-30 before we got entrees, then 20-30 before they took those dishes, then 20-30 before we got a dessert menu, etc. It was amazingly slow - like I get better service at a local IHOP. Honestly, it felt like we were discriminated against because we were a gay couple (and not a loud, brightly dressed, flamboyant couple either, we're pretty chill and polite). I was SUPER kind every single night, never complained, but we always got the worst service (with a smile though, which at that point felt condescending). They would ALWAYS bring out the meals for the big groups first, then we would be last. Even when we're the first to arrive in the section....we were always last to be served or helped. It wasn't cool at all to watch the groups next to us in the next waiter's section have such excellent service, and ours was miserable. They'd all be done eating their desserts before we got entrees usually. The food itself wasn't special at all either. Dry bread or overcooked chicken, muddy tasting meals (like the jambalaya) that all bled into the same one-note flavors. Although the escargot was a standout. That was pretty good. Dessert wasn't even good....plus they didn't even give me a dessert menu one night, and that night was one I specifically requested one so we could make it to karaoke earlier to get a seat. That night I got no dessert, and karaoke was packed by the time I was able to leave (waited long enough to give him a chance to bring it....nope, never) so I didn't get to do it that night. Oh, and service was better at breakfast and brunch in there, but marginally so. Those also didn't always clear plates super fast, and one time I had ordered a dessert and the server just...never returned after dropping off my entree. I sat there for 30 minutes with the empty plates in front of me and he just never came to clean it up or bring the dessert. It sounds like I was mean or something, but I was honest to god extremely nice and pleasant and smiley with every single employee on the ship. I used to serve and know how rough it can be, so I always go out of my way to be extremely nice, so in no way did I deserve the service I got. That's why I went this far out of my way to write this - it was so shockingly bad that I just can't keep my mouth shut about it. I'm sorry everyone, especially if you're a Carnival fan. I was. But I'm never going to electively cruise with them again. Not after this terrible experience. It was the crappiest cruise I've ever had, and it made my birthday just plain suck. So I'm bummed I have to say this, but this was it for me. It scared me away from carnival, and even has me wary at cruising in general now. Read Less