Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Paradise
Sailing Date: December 24th, 2004
Itinerary: 3-night Baja Mexico
The Christmas cruise was fully booked. There seemed to be an incredible number of (usually crying) babies and toddlers, and quite a few grade-school age kids, but very few teenagers. Since this was a holiday cruise, big families were the order of the day. I didn’t see any of the rowdy partying that Carnival has a reputation for.
Carnival calls themselves “fun ships” rather than “elegant ships” for a reason. The cruise had a Saturday-at-the-mall feeling. With some 2,000 passengers on board, the ship was *crowded*. Everywhere you went there was a line, especially if food was involved. The photo gallery was a zoo, particularly after the “formal night” pictures were posted. The elevators were frequently packed, especially at peak times such as after dinner.
Getting on the ship was a breeze, even with heightened security procedures. We stayed on the Queen Mary the night before, something I highly recommend. There is a special early boarding for Queen Mary passengers, and it was very worth it. Our luggage appeared at our stateroom door very quickly, within a couple of hours. Not bad at all.
There are two seatings in each of the two dining rooms. We were assigned to the early seating (6:15 p.m.) in the Elation dining room. Although this allowed us to finish dinner and have plenty of time in the evening for activities and shows, the early seating was something of a zoo. It seemed like every large table had at least one child under the age of 5, screaming and crying incessantly. The waiters did an admirable job of threading their way through all the (cruise-line provided) high chairs!
Our three-night cruise had one formal night dinner and two casual dinners. Attire on the formal night varied from dress shirts to tuxedos for the men; from casual slacks to formal gowns for the women. Most people were somewhere in the middle, wearing what I’d call “going out to a nice dinner” clothing.
The menu choices were varied each night. Each dinner had several choices for an appetizer, a salad course with a couple of choices, several different entrees, and desserts. Generally, the food was good but not great. You won’t hear any “foodies” raving about Carnival food, in my opinion. On the other hand, there weren’t any real complaints, either. I had fish the first night, which was merely okay, so I went with beef the other two nights, which was quite good. The prime rib was especially tasty.
The table service was very efficient but not all that friendly. The waiters work their behinds off, carrying *huge* fully-loaded trays, so I can’t fault them. They simply didn’t have time to socialize.
The bakery aboard ship did a great job. Each night warmed rolls were served before dinner. The sun-dried tomato bread was especially yummy and had us asking for seconds.
One thing to remember is that the portions are fairly small. If you are a big eater don’t hesitate to ask the waiter for a second entrée (or any other item, for that matter). Some of the men in our group did this regularly and found that the second potion came very quickly. The lobster tails, though tasty, were especially small, and even the women ordered a second one.
Each night the waiting staff put on a brief “show,” consisting of singing along and dancing to a recorded song. It was silly but cute.
The formal night menu didn’t list any dessert, so some of us were hoping for flaming baked Alaska. Unfortunately, the Alaska wasn’t flaming and wasn’t really baked – it had a gooey meringue more like whipped cream. I guess they get points for trying, but I would have loved the traditional show of dimmed lights and waiters parading with flaming desserts!
The Paris Cafe on the Lido deck is an alternative for those who prefer not to eat in the dining room. The food there is ordinary cafeteria-type fare. The pizza counter there is open 24-hours a day, and serves about six or seven different types of pizza. The only thing on the ship I thought was inedible was the Caesar salad, served all the time at the pizza café and occasionally in the main dining room. It had the gooiest, most tasteless dressing I’ve ever had on a Caesar. However, the pizza was quite good. I especially like the Gorgonzola and wild mushroom pizza. If they don’t have the one you want on display, be sure to ask for it. Fresh pizza takes only 7 minutes, and is worth the wait.
There is a midnight buffet also but we never bothered. Eating at midnight just isn’t my thing! However, I did notice that the line formed early for the buffet, so if you want it, be sure to get there early.
There is a sushi stand, but it is open very limited hours, from 5:30 pm to 8 pm, right when we were in the dining room, which is very inconvenient. Even though I love sushi, I never made it because of the inconvenient time.
The Ile de France Cafe, location on Carnival Boulevard, is Carnival’s answer to Starbuck’s, with Starbuck’s-like prices. They also have goodies like chocolate dipped strawberries for an extra charge.
Room service is good, with continental breakfasts and cold items for the rest of the day. If you want breakfast room service, be sure to put out the door hanger before you retire. Note that a cash tip for the room service waiter is pretty much expected.
The public rooms are named after famous ships of the past (or present, in the case of the Elation and Destiny dining rooms). I was surprised that there wasn’t more of a retro look, consistent with the theme. The ambience of the ship is strictly glitz and glitter, with blinking light bulbs and LED marquees over the doors. I’d have preferred a “quieter” look.
The six-deck high atrium is pretty, with Italian floral blown-glass panels. There were Christmas garlands everywhere, which were pretty but didn’t really go with the existing décor. There are large, lighted replicas of enameled Faberge eggs on pillars. I thought they were kind of strange, and the turquoise eggs didn’t seem to go with anything else.
One of the most under-utilized spots on board is the Blue Riband Library, filled with memorabilia from ocean liners of the past. The book selection is minimal and the glass cases remained locked throughout our cruise. There were seldom more than a couple of people in the library at a time. Our favorite location was the Paradise Bar, located in the atrium. A classical trio plays in the evenings, and it’s a good spot to people watch.
The ship's Internet center is located in the atrium, adjacent to the Paradise Bar. We seldom saw more than a couple of people using the computers. I thought that the prices were rather high.
We had nine people in four cabins in our group. We chose the lowest deck, the Riviera, because all the cabins are essentially the same. The only real disadvantage to being so low in the ship is the elevators. They’re very quick if you’re lucky enough to get a “nonstop” (going from deck 4 to deck 10 takes only a couple of seconds if there are no other stops). It could be impossible to get an elevator at a peak time, however, so we ended up hiking down 6 or 7 flights more than once.
The colors in the cabins are hideous: pink, orange, and coral. However, the cabins are spacious, with plenty of storage. The outside cabins have a nice picture window. My only real complaint about the cabins is the BEDS ARE AWFUL. Really, really awful. Each mattress resembles a hammock – the sides are a good inch higher than the middle. I don’t know if they were thin mattresses to begin with or if they’re simply worn from night after night of use, but the mattresses seemed to be about one inch thick. I found myself scooting down to the bottom of the mattress and letting my feet hang out over the footboard, trying to find a thicker spot.
Each room has a TV, but the programming is minimal and pretty much a waste of time. One corner of the cabin has a built-in box that is used for extra blankets and the life jackets. When the beds are configured as a queen, the person on the inside has no access except to climb over the outer bed.
The bathroom is roomy, with a nice shower. The sink has no counter space but a nice cabinet above with lots of storage space. The toilet sounds like a jet airplane taking off. There was a bowl of “goodies” on the sink (toothpaste, dental floss, razors, shampoo). The towels have seen their share of wear but were plentiful and frequently replaced.
Cabin lighting is terrible. Basically you have your choice of harsh overhead lighting, inconveniently placed reading lights, or a corner light consisting of a fluorescent bulb behind a plastic panel. Not exactly great ambience.
The production shows in the main theater, Normandie Lounge, were great fun and professionally presented. The Normandie is two levels. Many seats have restricted visibility because of support pillars. Be sure to get there very early to get the best seats. Remember that there is a bingo game before the show, so that means you need to get there right after dinner.
After-hours one can find music of one sort or another in each of the 10 lounges and bars on Paradise. There's a full casino with slots and 12 tables, all of which were going strong during the day at sea and in the evenings. The comedy show is presented twice: The earlier one is G-rated for families; the midnight show is definitely adults-only fare.
Fitness & Recreation
There is a fully equipped gym on board which no one in my group used. Hey, we were on vacation!
The spa and beauty salon appear to be big business on the ship. Before the ship even sailed we were accosted by lovely ladies asking us if we wanted spa treatments. The prices were fairly high. For example, $40 for a “spa manicure,” when I’m used to paying $20 at home.
There are a couple of pools, which were only being used by kids despite the “no kids in the hot tubs” rule. The December weather was too cold for most adults!
There's a jogging track on Deck 12, basketball hoop, golf cage, shuffleboard and Ping-Pong tables. Several classes and group workouts are offered during the day in the gym; Pilates and yoga are offered for a small extra fee.
Our kids are aged 15 to 17 to I can’t speak to Camp Carnival. There didn’t seem to be much of anything going on for our kids’ age group.
Carnival tried very hard to sell shore excursions but we didn’t buy any. There is a shuttle to town for $2 per person (only $1 for the return trip). The town of Ensenada is a real dump, in my opinion, and I won’t be going back. The stores all have pretty much the same stuff, and there isn’t much else to do besides shopping. There isn’t as much street begging (“Chiclets? Chiclets, lady?”) as in the past, but there are tons of street vendors.
Now that Paradise is the only Carnival ship plying the waters off Baja, they have relaxed the formerly strict “No Smoking” policy. Smoking is allowed in designated areas only. One of our group is a frequent smoker and a couple of others smoked occasionally. I never noticed anyone smoking in inappropriate areas. In my opinion, the changeover from “non-smoking” to “restricted smoking” is a non-issue.
Keep your Carnival-supplied luggage tags on your bags. Debarkation is by luggage-tag color. We were unfortunately in the very last group to be called, so we didn’t get off the ship until 11 a.m. It’s a shame there isn’t something to do while waiting to debark.
Customs went smoothly, although slowly. Be sure to have your customs form completely filled out before you get off the ship.
I have mixed feelings. The cruise was a good value. However, for my next cruise I think I’ll choose something more upscale.