April 22, 2002
Pre-Cruise: We left Las Vegas for LA the day before the cruise and stayed at the Hilton Port of LA/San Pedro under the Park and Cruise Program. Had joined the Hilton Honors Club online (free) and was automatically upgraded to a balcony room. Champagne and full American breakfast included. Room was quite comfortable. The Hilton watched our car for the cruise duration and shuttled us back and forth to the pier as part of the Park and Cruise. All in all.worth every penny.
Embarkation: Arrived at the pier at 11:00 and was onboard by 12:30. Carnival is just initiating the Skippers Club in LA, so personnel were unsure of the routine for CAT 11 & 12 Suite passengers. Basically, we got VIP check-in and boarded among the first cruisers. Curbside porters take baggage leaving you with carry-on for the X-ray machines. Security is tight with everyone getting checked closely. The embarkation personnel were very friendly and upbeat. Had to show birth certificates and photo ID along with cruise docs. Pier is undergoing construction so it's pretty basic, but lots of seating available. This is the place where you get your "Sign and Sail" cards (one for each person including children). Just have all your paperwork from the cruise docs completed and check-in is quick and hassle free. There are lines, though, so be patient. Overall: Efficient process considering the amount of people checking on board.
Boarding: As we boarded the Ecstasy, we inserted our Sign and Sail card into a slot and a photo was recorded for the security camera. This is used each time you embark and disembark the ship at ports to assure the correct person is matched with the card. We entered the ship at the atrium level and were immediately struck by the bright colors and festive decor. Ship personnel directed us to the correct elevators for our suite, as there are lots of elevators, stairways and hallways to get lost in! We were impressed by how clean and well maintained the ship looked. Overall: Exciting, smooth introduction to the Ecstasy.
Cabin Suite: Suite U102 - Upper deck. As first-time cruisers we were unsure what to expect, but were pleasantly surprised. Walk-in closet with hangers provided, shelves to stack shoes, etc. and a full length mirror. Bathroom with shelves for toiletries, glass shower doors and whirlpool tub. Lots of towels. Two twin beds (a bit firm) with a nightstand in between. Large vanity area with 8 dresser drawers. This is where the only plug in the room is located, so bring a power strip! TV, VCR, refrigerator (not very cold) and bar is attached. Sitting area with pull-out sofa bed (double) sectional, coffee table, two side chairs and a large window. Door to balcony is heavy, bring a bungee cord to hold it open if you want. Balcony has two chairs and one lounge chair and worth the price of the suite by itself. We had seen postings from other cruisers about the "worn out look" of the furnishings and occasionally about unpleasant odors, however we found the furnishings quite satisfactory and no odors anywhere on the ship (except the wonderful smells from the galley). Complaints about the suite: fridge could be colder, bars in the sofa bed might bother a light sleeper. Overall: Great! Our cabin steward, Anne Marie, was attentive and accommodating. And the balcony was "wonderful"!
Food: We ate dinners in the Wind Star Dining Room with a wonderful wait-staff. The menu changes every night so you never get tired of the same food. Everything from Steak to Lamb to Chicken to Fish to Lobster to Pasta dishes. Our waiter, Regino, made us feel quite special each meal and made sure no one left hungry. You can get two or three of anything. We had purchased a Soda Card ($18) and had unlimited soft drinks for the entire cruise. With soda at $2.50 a glass it was worth it. We alternated breakfast at the dining room or the Lido deck where it was buffet style. The Lido deck breakfast was faster on mornings we had to be ashore for tours. There was also a buffet-style for lunch with a grill for burgers etc. This is also where the midnight buffet and the 24hr Pizza were located. You certainly won't go hungry on the Ecstasy! Complaint: Ice cream bar needs more topping choices. Overall: Variety of food outstanding - availability of food outstanding - buffet typical for that style - dining room meals while not 5 star were certainly a strong 4 star.
Tours: Try and decide on your tours before you get on the ship as they fill up very quickly. The secret is to put your carry-on in your cabin and immediately go up to the shoretour desk and fill out the tour request and drop it in the box. You can do this even before they open. This way you are almost assured the tours you want.
Catalina Island: Beautiful island. Be sure and rent one of the golf carts. We got a special.. 3hrs for $60 for a four person cart. You can go all over the place in them, although they give you a map with a scenic route to follow. We signed up for the "Inside Adventure Tour" which takes you to the top of the island where you visit an airport. Along the way you get to see the buffalo roaming free and the tour guide is funny and a resource of facts about Catalina and its famous residents. Hint: This tour, on a bus, takes you on a very windy, narrow road with hairpin turns.definitely not for those afraid of heights. I found it too much for my level of comfort. My daughter took the Eco Tour which takes you around the island on a power raft with the intention of seeing dolphins and sea life face-to-face. It is a bit rough at high speeds, but highly recommended. The shopping is wonderful in Catalina and there are many places for lunch or drinks. You have to be ferried from the ship to the pier, but it goes quickly and you can get some great shots of the Ecstasy. Complaint: Not enough time on the Island. Overall: Enjoyable day!
Ensenada: Welcome to Mexico! As we disembarked we were greeted by a Mariachi band and some native "savages" for a great photo opportunity. It was also raining a bit, which put a damper on the day. At the foot of the ship is a grouping of merchants selling everything from liquor to Mexican art. Hint: Check the prices in town before you buy here, plus the prices seem to get lower here by the end of the day when you are getting back on board the ship. We took the "Scenic Gold Coast Tour" with a great tour guide, Juan. Great tour and a lot more comfortable with regard to heights (the road is fine). It takes you on a private tour of the Casino and two resorts. Free drinks (the Margarita is authentic!) and lots of scenery and history. My daughter went horseback riding and advises that the experience is great with horses for all levels of riders. The shopping is all you expect. Great bargains and remember to try and talk down the prices. I never paid more than half the tagged price! Warning: Don't be upset by all the little children begging with paper cups and homemade necklaces. Its just tourist trapping according to our tour guide. A polite "no thank you" and they will leave you alone. Bring good shoes and a sense of adventure and you will bargain shop successfully. Overall: Great shopping, great tours and great food. Don't forget to visit Papa's & Beers! Bring lots of film, the scenery is wonderful.
Ecstasy Entertainment: The entertainment was varied and there always seemed to be something to do. Galley Tours, Bingo, Horse Races, Contests, Poolside dance lessons, Art Auctions and more during the day. Casino, Shows, Dancing, great music and comedy into the night. Our Cruise Director, Matt, was funny and accessible. Overall: If you wanted to be entertained, something was happening all the time. That's why its called the "Fun Ship" I guess. However, if you wanted to sit alone by the pool or in the lounge, no one bothered you at all.
Miscellaneous: The gift shops were not too expensive and seemed to be well stocked. The stabilizers must have been working quite well as movement was at a minimum the whole cruise. Everyday they posted the photos taken the day before by the photography staff. It was great fun trying to find yourself among the masses of pix. No pressure at all to buy any. Check the Capers (ships newspaper) delivered to your cabin each evening for the info about the next day's activities. It is probably the most informative directive on the ship. Room service is a real treat. We placed an order for 6:30 am coffee each night at bedtime and really enjoyed the coffee on the balcony each sunrise.
Debarkation: There is a brief information session the night before the end of your cruise given by the Cruise Director. If you follow the instructions, Debarkation procedures go quickly with immigration and customs. All the luggage is put outside your cabin by midnight the last evening and is picked up by the porters and miraculously appears at the pier when you leave the ship. The morning of debarkation, everything is done in order by color-coded groups. We got our color called, papers filled out and stamped about 8:00 a.m. and then went on to breakfast. At 9:30 our color group was relaxing in a lounge awaiting the word to disembark. Unfortunately, a few reluctant cruisers failed to get immigration and customs paperwork done and held the ship up until 11:30. But eventually we left and met our luggage and Hilton shuttle driver.
Summary: We had a marvelous experience. I really believe cruising is a state of mind as well as a change of scenery. We expected to have a wonderful time, and did. We expected there to be some lines, and there were. What we did not expect was the wonderful service, sincerely friendly staff and moments of pure "fun". Carnival is not for those cruisers looking for quiet, elegant, stately sailing. Carnival delivers on its "Fun Ship" advertisement. Our little group ranges in age from 30 to 57 and each found their own experience to be quite memorable. Would be cruise again on Carnival or specifically on the Ecstasy? Lets just say the Carnival brochures are back out on the coffee table and we are back on the bulletin boards researching!
E-mail me with any specific questions.