Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Ecstasy
Sailing Date: May 10th, 2002
Itinerary: Baja Mexico
EMBARKATIONEmbarkation at the L.A. port was painless. We felt a bit like cattle as we were lined up and moved around, but the process was fast and we were on the ship in no time.
MOVEMENT/NOISEWe could feel the rocking of the ship more than expected but I rather liked it, especially at night while lying in bed. It felt like being gently rocked to sleep. My husband didn’t like it as much, but after leaving the ship, my husband felt fine while I had vertigo for 5 whole days! As for noise, we were both bothered by the constant humming from the machinery, which you can really notice at night in your cabin. It’s about the same as the noise on an airplane.
I highly recommend getting a room with a window--the sunlight and view improved upon the tiny space. The room is quite small but very efficiently designed. I actually didn’t mind the small size, though it bothered my husband. The bathroom is also very small and pretty difficult to use comfortably. Our first night, we couldn’t find our porter to push our beds together so we did it ourselves, though it was kind of weird sleeping in separately made-up beds side by side. The sheets were stiff and almost paper-like in quality. The next day, however, the porter did make up our beds with much softer king-size sheets, which was a big improvement.
We found the décor of this ship to be tacky and bright, but everything was quite clean and not at all shabby. The main social areas of the ship reminded us of a mid-tier Vegas hotel/casino…perhaps Bally’s or the Flamingo. We liked sitting at the City Lights bar for a drink, and we had a good time every night in the casino (winning a little money in blackjack always improves your mood). One unexpected thing was having to pay for drinks while gambling. You’d think you could get a free Diet Coke while plunking down $10 a hand on blackjack! The most attractive room on the ship is the library, which is nicely decorated and has a decent variety of books you can borrow.
I was disappointed with the shopping on board. They only sell a few dreadful Carnival logo items, some cheesy jewelry and a lot of duty-free Costco-size bottles of liquor and cartons of cigarettes. I considered taking up smoking just to take advantage of the bargain. There is also a very limited supply of sundries, books and magazines. The shopping was improved in Ensenada, but more on that soon.
After hearing so many people rave about the food on cruises, we hoped to be impressed. Unfortunately this was not the case. The food was okay but nothing special. The dining room definitely provides the best food and experience, so we were baffled by all the people lining up for the “alternate dining” buffet as the food always looked pretty bad (like what you’d see at a Hometown Buffet maybe). We really enjoyed the level of service in the dining room, and we were lucky enough to be seated with two other couples that were fun to talk to. The choices on the menu were interesting and ambitious, but the quality never went above what you might find at an average wedding reception. If I had to compare the food to restaurants, I might pick Sizzler or Olive Garden to give you an idea of quality. We did try the pizza one night and it was not as good as Pizza Hut or Sbarro’s, but better than frozen pizza. We ordered the Continental breakfast delivered to our room one morning, and that was about the quality you’d get from a free breakfast at a Holiday Inn.
Ordering in the Dining Room: The portions are quite small compared to restaurants, so don’t be shy about ordering a lot of food. For dinner I would order soup, salad, entrée and two desserts, and I am not a big eater. The men often ordered two entrees and several side dishes. I did enjoy the desserts, though they never rose above the level of cafeteria desserts.
Dining Room Tip: Show up for meals 10-15 minutes after your seating time begins. If your seating time is 8 p.m. and you show up right at 8, you will be faced with a mob of anxious people who think if they don’t get into the dining room immediately, the kitchen will run out of food. You’ll also have to endure the dining room staff shouting instructions at the angry mob. It is decidedly inelegant! After our first night, we consistently arrived at 8:15 pm, were able to order immediately, and had a much nicer experience.
Paying for Drinks: They charge for all alcoholic drinks, fruit smoothies and soft drinks (including club soda). My husband bought an unlimited soda card for $15. What’s weird is the inconsistency in service on sodas. At one place they would give him a large glass full of soda, but at another they would only give him a tiny glass. Sometimes they gave him the whole 20-oz. bottle, sometimes they refused. Sometimes they let me get a soda as well, sometimes they charged us for it. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent policy on this.
This cruise stopped at only one port, Ensenada. It is nicer than Tijuana and we enjoyed our time there. The tours you can purchase through Carnival don’t seem to be a good deal. We paid $2 each to take a shuttle downtown, though you can walk it in about 10-15 minutes if you prefer. From there, we paid $13 each to take a tour to the blowhole and the flea market. It takes about 30 minutes to get there, but the blowhole was definitely worth seeing and more impressive than expected. You get a beautiful view of the coastline here and some nice photo opportunities. The flea market is pretty trashy, complete with annoying vendors and begging children. I bought a silver toe ring for $9 and my husband bought a couple of Cuban cigars, but soon regretted it. The tour included a buffet lunch that was basically inedible. They took us to the top floor of a restaurant, lined us up and offered us potato salad, macaroni salad, rice and one fish taco apiece. We decided to find lunch elsewhere and started exploring downtown on our own.
Downtown offers some pretty nice restaurants and shopping. We poked our heads into Papas and Beer, but it was too loud for us. Instead we ended up at Puebla, which had delicious beef and mushroom fajitas. The shopping downtown was MUCH better than the flea market. My husband found Cuban cigars stored in very nice humidors and selling at lower prices than the flea market. I bought a cool handmade card for a friend.
I had a manicure in the ship’s salon, which was a mixed experience. The atmosphere was peaceful and pleasant. There was a woman near me having an aromatherapy head and shoulder massage that looked heavenly. My manicure was a little strange—it cost $36 (plus tip) and took over an hour, but the end result wasn’t that great. They do push the products quite a bit, but they stopped pestering me when I gave them a firm “no.”
Most people dressed up for the formal night, and my husband and I felt just right in our outfits (he wore a suit and tie and I wore a long, sleeveless, navy blue dress). The captain’s cocktail party wasn’t worth attending They hold it in the theatre, so people were sitting in rows of chairs sipping cocktails and watching the few brave people who decided to get up on the stage and dance. It didn’t seem fun at all, so we left quickly. After that, we ate dinner in the dining room, the highlight of which was baked Alaska at the end of the meal. After dinner we spent the rest of the evening in the casino.
The ship photographers will take your picture many, many times, especially in the evenings. They set up backdrops of the ocean, the ship, glorious staircases, etc for you to pose in front of. They’re very cheesy. We posed for quite a few and I wanted to buy some for my photo album and to mail to people. But then we discovered that they make you buy the 8x10 for $22 before they let you buy the 5x7s or wallet sizes. This made me a little mad so I didn’t buy any, which I kind of regret now. Though it IS a huge rip-off.
We only attended one show: the “Mambo” show. It was pretty ambitious, with a lot of different acts and many costume changes. The quality of the talent wasn’t outstanding, but we enjoyed it.
THE BEST PART OF THE WHOLE WEEKEND
Our favorite thing by far was the time we spent lying out on the deck during the long day at sea. We had no trouble finding lounge chairs, and we really enjoyed lying in the sun, listening to the live band and taking advantage of the drink service.
First of all, you do NOT have to attend the debarkation talk. There will be a flyer delivered to your cabin that tells you everything you need to know. Debarkation on Monday morning was the worst part of the trip. They told us that they would start calling groups at 7 a.m. for immigration checks, so we made sure to be up and dressed by then. The immigration checks went on for hours, and after we ate breakfast in the dining room, there was nothing to do but sit around and wait. Having a good book at this time is crucial. We didn’t leave the ship until 1 p.m., so it was a really long, boring morning.
TO SUM IT UP
We were able to take this cruise for nearly free by using travel points from our Visa. But if we had paid full price, I would have been even more disappointed. I would not take this cruise again or recommend it to most people. If you haven’t traveled much, or if you are young and taking the trip with a bunch of friends, you’ll probably have more fun than we did. But I would really recommend a weekend at a nice hotel in Vegas, San Diego or Santa Barbara instead. I would consider trying another cruise someday, but only if it’s a week long and on a nicer cruise line.