Southern California is a great place to live, but sometimes you just have to get out of town. With my busy lifestyle a week or more would cause me to miss too much of my oversaturated and hurried existence. How about a compromise... A 5 day cruise on the Carnival Paradise cruise ship departing out of Long Beach stopping at Catalina Island and Ensenada Mexico. At first I thought that climbing onto a Carnival Fun ship with 2000 other passengers wouldn't provide much relief from crowded Los Angeles, but I was wrong.
After the porters helped us with the luggage, we entered the large cruise terminal in Long Beach which was once the home of the Spruce Goose. Now, it's a well run terminal for checking in of Carnival Cruise Line passengers. The process was smooth; took about 40 minutes from curb to ship.
As returning Carnival cruisers, our room key/charge card was gold in color. First time cruisers key cards are blue. I wasn't aware of any special perks or attention from having the 'gold card'. I did notice a special check in area for Platinum Guests, Carnival Concierge Club and Carnival Vacation Club members. Cabin U78 was a pleasant surprise-roomy with plenty of storage for an inside $169 cabin. The bathroom had a basket full of amenities which were promotional items from Proctor and Gamble and BIC. For example, we had five flavors of tooth paste, 2 packets of razors and shampoo/conditioner. What was missing was body lotion. And that's what I needed the most, bring your own lotion. I didn't even miss not having a window. We were never in the cabin very much.
Ports of call on this 4 day Carnival cruise included Catalina Island on Tuesday and Ensenada, Mexico on Wednesday, Thursday would be a day at sea. Before the ship departed we attended the Ports of Call presentation in the main show room and found it to be valuable. The cruise director explained the excursions and a shopping specialist gave a short presentation. We had already reviewed all the excursions before the trip on the web site so the presentation just reinforced what we already knew. The cruise director does not allow time for questions and directs everyone to the excursion desk. And, if you miss the presentation, it's replayed on the cabin TV. My questions were answered at the excursion desk --I was looking for an air-conditioned motor coach tour in Ensenada.
Tuesday we arrived at Catalina Island and Avalon Harbor. We decided to stay onboard the Paradise and enjoy the sun and fun on this Carnival "fun ship" Cruise Ship. As a Southern California girl Catalina Island was no big deal, I was married at the Inn At Mt Ada overlooking the harbor and know the island well. We found a nice spot at the front of the Paradise near the putt-putt golf course, got comfortable in a lounge chair and let the day slip away as we watched tender boats ferry passengers back and forth.
On Wednesday the Paradise docked in Ensenada Mexico. Off we went first thing in the morning, we easily found our bus and our tour director, a lovely woman with perfect English and Spanish. She grew up in Ensenada and was eager to share her knowledge with us. We toured a historic building call the Civic Center and had time to shop in the courtyard too. I found a purse I liked and after getting a price from the vendor, I asked our tour director what would be a fair price. She said $20. I went back to the vendor to offer $20, half of what she was asking for and she would only come down to $30 so I bought it for $30. Later that day, I perused the shopping area at the ships port and found the exact same purse for $20. I then realized that I should have trusted our lovely Carnival Cruise tour director and realized that the prices at the port were good deals. Rather than haggling with the tourists, the vendors at the port offered % off discounts, a more Americanized way of shopping.
Usually, ships offer only two dinning room time options, early and late seating. We learned of Carnivals 'Your Time Dining' on the web site before and selected it. We decided to eat later, but to avoid the crowds of the second seating, we went to dinner about half an hour before their assigned time. Never having to wait more than a few minutes for a table for two was a pleasant surprise. On one occasion, we were given a beeper. The library, next door to the Elation dining room, with its Cunard memorabilia, kept us occupied for the 15 minute wait.
Of all the dining room meal selections, my favorites are the soups. I enjoyed many unique ones like strawberry soup and chilled avocado. A tip for the first time cruiser is that you can order anything on the menu, two steaks, two deserts, they will bring it. One meal we asked for an extra entrÃ©eâ"of lobster! It was wonderful!
The dining room served breakfast every morning and we only made it to one service. The only lunch options were buffets or the 24 hour pizza bar. It was disappointing to learn that we could not dine in the dining room for lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday, which left us with the two buffets on the ship to choose from. I found the buffets to be messy; dirty tables and sticky serving utensils. There was a deli area where the chef made sandwiches to order which was a great alternative. And, we enjoyed the pizza; when it was hot out of the oven. I was looking forward to the "free" sushi from 5 pm to 8 pm every night but was disappointed. At about 7:30 pm the self-serve wasabi and ginger looked messy so I was turned off and didn't bother trying the sushi.
Air conditioning was prevalent in all public spaces on the Paradise. I could have used a heavier sweater during the evening show room events. During the first 3 days of the cruise, we were surprised to see that the public spaces were so void of people. I kept wondering, where is everybody? The disco was sparse at 10 pm and the casino was moderately full. As the cruise continued, I learned that the karaoke in the Queen Mary lounge was a popular after dinner/show destination. The entertainment in the show room definitely met expectations. The Carnival Paradise Singers and Dancers performed two major productions, Extreme Country and Shout. And we were entertained by two comedians that keep me laughing out loud. The comedians offered "R" rated shows in the lounges later on each night.
Burning some calories in the gym is good decision on a cruise and the work out area met expectations. The cardio equipment overlooks the ocean and there was an area to stretch and lift light weights. We signed up for a Pilates class for an extra $10. The class was not full, in fact, we had just two people. It's was like having a private class with a trainer. You have to walk through the men's and women's spa to get to the gym. The spa offered some excellent deals as the cruise went on. For example, on day 3 at the port of Ensenada from 8 am to 12 noon, one can get a full body massage, boosting facial, soothing scalp, foot and ankle massage and eye collagen treatment, 75 minutes for $109. That seemed like a good deal-however, I'm not sure how many cruisers were booking spa appointments because the staff was very aggressive pushing services at the pool by handing out flyers. It became a bit of a pain.
I loved the slide on the ship. It is the "fun ship" after all. For the first three days, there was no line - just climb the stairs and take the plunge. This was the social area of the ship with music playing and cocktails being served. For a quiet, peaceful alternative, we found some private lounge chairs with a forward view. There were about 12 lounges in a shared area with the putt putt golf and joggers track. The other option in the adult pool which I found crowded, although they had cushions on the lounges.
I spent most of the Thursday "at sea" day at the main pool. Here and playing in the ping pong tournament, eating ice cream, playing video poker, and then dancing the night away after a little karaoke.
After 4 nights on the Carnival Paradise Fun Ship, I was refreshed and absolutely had a great time. There were many first time cruisers on the ship. I met a nice gal on the Ensenada excursion --traveling alone, who was a first time cruiser. She was getting her feet wet for her next cruise, Alaska. By testing out this inexpensive 4 night cruise, she could make a decision on whether or not to book a more expensive longer cruise. We kept running in to her on the ship and she reported that she had a good time and was impressed by most of the offerings on the ship. She was ready to book Alaska, but would travel with a friend to reduce the costs. A single pays the same a double.