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Kathryn

Age: 44

Occupation:Real Estate

Number of Cruises: 11

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Pride

Sailing Date: 11-16-2008

Itinerary: Mexican Riviera

I would like to share some of the amazing experiences we had on this cruise, some very pleasant surprises as well as some warnings and a few things I would do differently next time.

First off, a warning about the dangers of Cabo San Lucas "Lovers Beach." Be careful if you decide to snorkel here & read more about this later.

This was our 11th cruise. We have cruised Carnival before (Caribbean) as well as Princess (Transatlantic) NCL (Hawaii, Canada), Holland America (Alaska), Royal Caribbean (Mexico). I think this was our favorite ship. Perhaps this was because this was the first time we had a balcony and we were so well centrally located that the ship seemed particularly convenient in comparison to other cruises. We never had to wait at all for elevators and the ship seemed very well designed for circulation and layout.

That said, as non-smokers, it would have been wonderful if cabins were sorted with smokers & non-smokers in mind. For example, put all the non smokers on port side of ship & smokers on starboard or vice versa. Or at least group them somewhat. The people in the next balcony were outside smoking quite a bit & this made us go inside and not enjoy it as much as we could have.


Embarkation
We like to carry our own luggage on board & have it as soon as we arrive. We pack somewhat light & we use luggage with wheels and so this worked fine. We were able to park in the terminal parking lot and leave our vehicle there for the week which was super convenient. After parking and getting into a long line, I noticed many people with beverages, even saw an ice chest. I didn't think to bring water or soda & this seemed like a smart idea for those who don't mind carrying it, as bottled water & soda do cost $ on the ship. I did bring 2 bottles of wine which they found as I went through security but once they examined they allowed me to take. I don't know if guard was just being nice to me...
One thing about the line to board ship is that you are standing outside for a while & it was pretty hot. I had sunscreen with me & started applying it while waiting in line. It was probably only 30 minutes or so total but it was uncomfortable and a little shade would have been nice.

Cabin
We found our cabin right away & started unpacking as soon as we arrived. The cabin was probably the largest we've ever had. 3 closets, sofa, table, king size bed & of course the balcony! This was a huge plus that we enjoyed throughout the cruise even more than we knew we would. Since we have cruised many times, the privacy of our own balcony was a huge plus. For first time cruisers it's ok to be inside or have a window. But the balcony really added a whole different level to our enjoyment.

Things I will bring next time:
1. Binoculars - for watching the sea life from the balcony, especially whales and dolphins, I did see dolphins several times. I also saw a sea turtle! Swimming right next to the ship. I saw fish & flying fish as well. Binoculars would have been handy.

2. Extension cord or adapter. 1 plug in the room for 2 cell phones, a camera & laptop that all needed recharging constantly was a bit of a musical chairs. We managed but another outlet or 2 would have helped.

3. Stronger bug repellant. I had some but it didn't help. My arms especially are spotted & I'm scratching like crazy. They didn't care for my husband at all but they took lots of my blood!

Food
The food was wonderful and even better than I remember from prior Carnival cruises. I don't really like buffets and I think next time I will try to eat every meal in the dining room instead of the buffet. It's always tempting when you see all you can eat, but the quality and freshness is better at the sit down dining room and of course, the wait staff are fantastic. I did not miss any of the dinners even when I was still full from lunch. The soups were the best I've ever had. Exquisite creations. I also fell in love with the chocolate melting cake served with fresh vanilla ice cream (high quality) and a double expresso. There is nothing the could have improved this combination. I would pay good money to have this again. It was remarkable & unforgettable. Probably better than any dessert I've ever eaten anywhere in the world in my life & I've eaten in many places!


Ports
The ports were a pleasant surprise. Living in California all my life, and having visited Mexico numerous times, I wasn't really going on this trip for the ports. I was going mainly to be on cruise, be pampered, have some rest, that sort of thing.

Puerto Vallarta
This was a complete surprise. I had no idea how tropical & lush it is. The northern parts of Mexico I have spent the most time in are desert like. So seeing banana trees, palms, ferns and lots of lush greenery was a pleasant surprise. There were also some wonderful excursions that turned out to be once in a life time experiences. Now, I'm not a big fan of cruise ship shore excursions. They tend to overcharge for the same things you can books off the ship much cheaper. There are sometimes exceptions to this which I will discuss under "Cabo San Lucas" but back to Puerto Vallarta. We got off the ship with no particular plans but did have some ideas of things to do. We left the federal zone and past the people desperate to sell us tours that crowd the gangway when you disembark. We also avoid the ships photographers always as we have no interest at this point of purchasing the photos and we've learned how to say no thank you. We found a tourist office just outside the federal zone and booked tickets for the dolphin swim and a sunset horseback ride. We paid for the horseback ride cash ($60 per person, I think) and used amex for the dolphin swin (130? per person). We took a local ATM bus outside the wal-mart. (oh, by the way, there is a wal-mart, home depot, costco,
outback, chilis, several starbucks, dominos, pizza hut, etc here - it's Americanized and English spoken easily) It cost 24 pesos total (under $3 us) and took us to the Vallarta Adventures park in Nuevo Vallarta. It was about 30 minutes ride with some stops along the way.

Dolphin Swim
I was worried we'd miss our swim which was scheduled for 12 noon. We were supposed to be there by 11:20 & arrived at perhaps 5 minutes to noon. No problem. We were shown an area to leave our belongings. I'd asked several times about lockers and was assured they would provide them. And they did....they just didn't lock. They had keys, but the keys did not come out! I would have gladly paid a couple bucks for the opportunity to actually LOCK our belongings (camera, cell phones, cash, credit cards, etc). Well, no luck, you just leave your stuff & pray. And it was fine. But I do wish they offered a secure option.

They give you life jackets and we were in a group of 6 people to 1 dolphin & trainer. You jump in with the dolphin and you get to hand out with her and touch her. She was so friendly just kept swimming between us & rolling onto her back so we could stroke her tummy - just amazing. We got to learn all about their anatomy, see her belly button, ears, blowhole, etc. all while petting her and touching her, even her teeth. We got to do a belly swim and these creatures are so fast and strong...then they did some tricks for us while we were in the water with them and again, their power & strength are just amazing. We've been to those shows where you watch dolphins perform while sitting in the bleachers and it's just nothing like having them zoom past you only a few feet away. We also got a dolphin kiss and hug, as well as feeding a fish to her. They really are amazing creatures and getting to touch and swim with the dolphins will be something I remember for the rest of my life. It was a true joy.

After we got out of the pool we got a "fishy kiss" from a sea lion. You actually feel their whiskers on your face! When the sea lion was done (it thought it was done about 3 times before we got there) it would come down from it's perch and start walking away. To have something that large and magnificent walk right by you, it's just awe inspiring. There things to do happen in the states. It's probably dangerous, but then again, we are so sheltered that perhaps it made it that much more exciting to be so close to these animals.

There was an area with beautiful parrots, some were talking and I got to feed one of the birds just before leaving.

We reviewed the photos taken by the park's photographer while you are swimming with the dolphin. The photos were excellent quality! Unfortunately, they are very expensive. $25 for 1 photo or $99 for a CD of several. They were great photos, & I understand they make some of their $ that way, but $25 for 1 photo was just too much for me to justify and I wasn't going to spend $99 either. I might have spent $10, but the memory that will live inside of me is priceless. I will never forget the majesty and friendliness of that dolphin.


Horseback ride
The tourist office booked a sunset ride at a place called Ranch El Charro, run by an American woman named Pamela.
http://www.ranchoelcharro.com/
We got a receipt and "directions" to meet at a restaurant where she would pick us up. We left the water park, went to a bus stop & boarded another ATM bus back towards Puerto Vallarta, passing the wal-mart and going a bit further. We got off at furniture store and found a tax to take us to the designated restaurant. Sure enough, Pamela was there waiting for us, and took us to her ranch. It wasn't that far but was a long drive as the roads are dirt and rustic (bumpy).

We arrived at the ranch and were given horses and a guide. It turns out we got our own private tour!! My husband has only ridden a horse one time years ago & I have ridden but not in years. We took a trail that let back & forth through a river. My shoes even got a little wet! It was great. I could not believe the amount of butterflies around me. It was almost like disneyland or a movie set. Some sort of fantasy that all these different sorts of butterflies were flying & floating by, various colors and sizes. There were tropical birds of bright yellow. We saw an orange & black iguana sunning itself above the river. We saw a flock of wild bright green parrots moving from tree top to tree top, hummingbirds, other birds, beautiful flowers, lush greenery and jungle. It was a special, a magical journey.

My horse was probably the most responsive horse I've even been on. A click of the tongue and he was ready to trot. I even said "giddyup" in a sentence and he must have learned English because he got going! What a pleasure to be on a horse that responds.

At sunset we ascended a mountain and reached a summit where the entire city sprawled out beneath us. It was magnificent. After descending the mountain we stopped at a little restaurant. We had several ice cold Coronas with plate of limes. We ordered nachos & garlic shrimps & they were delicious. We sat right next to the river and watched the beauty of the forest. We were nearly the only ones there and again treated like it was our private sanctuary. After our dinner we mounted our horses again & headed back to the ranch. Truly a magical journey. Pamela took us back to the ship and we retreated to our cabin's balcony to watch our fellow passengers come back to the ship while we discuss the unforgettable day we had just experienced.


Mazatlan
This is a commercial port so when we arrived here a small tram took us pass the container ships unloading their cargo to a cruise ship terminal where we were offered (accosted) by local taxi drivers & tour operators. We just wanted to get past the throng but once outside the port we were pretty much alone & with nothing to do. We made our way to downtown to see the Cathedral there, then walked to the beach/cliffs where the cliff divers jump. We watched one dive into the rocks below and somehow survive! We tipped him for the show then found a taxi (pulmanaria) that offered to take us the Golden Zone for $6. This turned out to be a great deal for us as it was about a 40 minute drive with traffic from a parade. We walked around the Golden Zone, bought a few items from the vendors, walked on the beach and then took a cab back to the ship ($8). By this time the parade was over and we made it back with time to spare. At this point we stayed in the terminal area drinking $3 margaritas and shopping some more. We took our margaritas back on board and sipped them from our balcony while watching the last of the trams unload our fellow guests before leaving Mazatlan,


Cabo San Lucas
This was a really pretty port. Not tropical like Puerto Vallarta, but amazing rock formations jutting out of the water. There is no big commercial port, you are tendered to the marina instead. Once again we did not plan any cruise ship excursions as they are much more expensive that those you can get onshore. We spent $20 each on a glass bottom boat tour & snorkel combo. Friends on the ship spent about $80 for a similar tour but theirs was different and if I had to do over again, this is one case where I would spend the 160 vs the 40. She did get some small jelly fish stings but didn't seem to be in much pain. I think I should have done that tour instead. Let me explain. The boat took us to lovers beach, the rock formations, the sea lion colony and around to divorce beach (the pacific side of lovers beach). The glass bottom is pretty cool & we did lots of fish through the glass. I know that snorkeling is much more fun that glass bottom boats so I was looking forward to getting in the water instead. This is pretty much where the fun ended. The guy at the helm tells us in Spanish to stay on the Cortez side & not go on the Pacific side. He puts the boat up almost on the beach & you have to jump out. Luckily I had changed into a swim suit before boarding the boat because there is no where on this beach to change. My shorts got a bit wet getting out of the boat but no big deal. We found some shade near the rocks and put our stuff down. At this point we realized we don't have anyway to secure our stuff (no lockers) so we drop the purse, money belt with several hundred bucks cash, the cell phones, credit cards etc along with our clothes on the beach. We did find another passenger and asked her to watch our stuff for us & nothing went wrong but still - someone could make a good living here charging a few bucks for a secure area / lockers that they hold on to your stuff.

So we go down to the beach with just our mask and flippers and I started to go into the water to wash out the mask. The waves were really rough and I was kindof enjoying it. Then I noticed I was getting pulled towards some rocks and thought I'd better get back to the beach because my gear wasn't on. I couldn't get back. I was starting to panic and some people were nearby, I started calling for help but no one could hear me. I've been swimming all my life and live near the beach so I was forcing myself to calm down but it was really unnerving. I finally was swept on shore, adrenalin pumping and caught my breath. I then noticed I had no snorkel, it must have not been well attached to my mask. I looked around to see if anyone had life vests (for rent) and there were virtually none to be found. Again, someone might be able to make $ here offering life vests for stupid tourists like me who didn't know better & were now stuck on a beach for 2 hours with no life vest. By the way, this was the Cortez side (not the Pacific) so this was the "safe" water. I've snorkeled many many times and don't generally use a vest. But then, I often snorkel off of a docked boat, so there is no surf to contend with. These waves were very rough and strong. A few minutes later I watched the same spot I had trouble with woman was pummeled by the waves and knocked her into the rocks were she cut her hand and was quite bloody. The paramedics took at least 10 minutes to arrive by boat. I shudder to think if I or someone else needed CPR. Next time I won't go into unfamiliar water without at least a life jacket and perhaps a lifeguard on duty. I decided not to tempt fate by going back in the water. I spent the next hour keeping an eye on my husband and other swimmers to see if anyone else needed help.
The boat was supposed to come back for us at noon but I didn't see it until about 12 minutes after, then it just got close to the beach & left. The next time I saw it, I was determined not to let it get away. I hustled back to the beach with all the gear an waved him in. Meanwhile there are boats coming and going while some people are in the same spot swimming (hello people!) there is no order, all is random and wild west. The driver of our boat had a hard time because of the waves, One person made it on but the surf swept the boat back out. The next try I was able to get the gear on board but not myself. Meanwhile a wave crashed on me and wet my fanny pack (the camera!!) and phones were inside!! There was no graceful way to do this. A small child being carried by his mother was terrified & crying hysterically in this ordeal. People on another boat got caught in a line while the boat was swept back out to see dragging someone on the sand while people screamed. It was just crazy. Of course, you don't notice those folks screaming because you're fighting this boat & trying to figure out how to "jump" back on it and at the same time not get hit by it as the wave picks it up and shoves it back towards the water. A local man was offering to help (for a tip) and told me to give him my purse and use his knee the next time the boat was beached. We timed it & I made it back on board & tipped him. I have since googled Cabo & drown and it seems that cruise passengers have died here this way... I will never do that again.

We made it back to the Marina area and walked around a bit haggling with vendors for shopping opportunities. We found a row of tequila tastings and this is where I had the most fun. We tested & sampled many different tequilas and spend the last of our pesos here as well as many of our US dollars. Got back on the tender pretty wasted with our bags of tequila. We went through security back on the ship and once again we were allowed on with our booty which we took straight to our room. As it happens, we never did open any of that tequila, but it was nice to have in case we wanted to.


Spa & Gym
We used the gym a few times and it was one of the larger gyms I've seen. The cardio equipment was placed strategically next to windows facing the front of the ship which makes those 20 minutes go quickly. Unfortunaltey, there are curtains that are sometimes left down or only part way up. So only by crouching down can you see out the window. I asked 3 different staff members to help raise the curtain until I started messing with it myself which worried them enough to find the button & get the curtain up the other 1/3 of window so I could watch the beautiful shoreline while I worked out. 3 of the (6?) elliptical machines I used were "broken" or badly calibrated. For instance the left side had a long range of motion while the right had very little, so you get a bit of a lopsided workout.

We also had massages via the art auction ($69) that were really nice! Of course, they try to sell you product at the end but I don't buy the stuff but I tip well and I know that's part of the deal, they make their $ that way.

Internet
Because we have business matters that require at least daily attention, we purchased 100 minutes for 59.00 and brought 1 laptop on board. All emails that required more than one or 2 word answers were copied into a text document & composed offline. I'd then log back in to send the answers, keeping close watch on how many minutes I used each day. I had a lot of trouble logging in. Sometimes I'd have to try 10 time or more as well as rebooting, logging out and trying again. I'd call reception, get put on hold, then ask for internet help & get put on hold again. Often by this time, I'd managed to log in. I'm not sure why it was so difficult, although the help desk told me it may be due to the steel walls in the ship interfering with the wireless connection strength. When I complained about all this trouble, the help desk person credited my account for 20 additional minutes. I hate having to pay so much for internet usage but this is simply a necessity for me.

Entertainment
We did not attend all of the shows, but we did enjoy several of the music & dancing shows. The choreography, costumes, & sets were spectacular. Very entertaining and well done. I highly recommend getting to any of the shows with the ships dancers no matter how drunk you are :-)

Disembarkation
Again, we took our own luggage, which provides a lot of freedom. We could basically ignore the announcements all morning long, enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the dining room and then head out on our own time. A small line had formed on a gangway, the whole process probably took 10 minutes until we were back at our car.


This was a great cruise, a great ship, and a lot of memorable experiences. Would absolutely do it again & will cruise Carnival again!


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