March 14, 2008
First, a little background. My husband and I took this 3 day cruise to Baja for my 30th birthday. This was our first cruise and I was 23 weeks pregnant at the time. We decided to take a little "starter" cruise to see if we would enjoy the whole "cruise experience" before we book a week or longer more expensive cruise. Price was definitely an issue for this cruise. We did this on a "bare bones budget".
We had requested the 6:15 pm sitting for dinner but were assigned to the 8:30 sitting. When we checked the daily itinerary that would have meant that we would have missed all the shows and games we were interested in, so we went to the maitre d' as instructed to see if we could get it changed. This was our first task at trying to find something on the ship. Needless to say we got very lost and ended up going in through the back door of the restaurant. But once we found him the maitre d' was very kind and helpful. He changed our time to 5:45 pm with no trouble. Remember the maitre d' is one of the few people that are not included when you purchase the prepaid gratuities, so he really appreciates a few dollars.
The food on the ship was wonderful. The 24 hour pizza and ice cream were just what the doctor ordered. The lunch buffet was beautifully done and delicious. We were able to sample everything. The selections in the dining room were very impressive. I ordered as many appetizers and entrees as I desired without feeling strange and when I didn't like the dressing on the Caesar salad I was brought soup instead right away. We ate breakfast in both the dining room and the buffet and enjoyed it immensely. I liked the atmosphere of the dining room but liked the freedom of having the buffet open until 11 am for breakfast. My husband and I do not drink so we had the juice and tea that was complimentary with meals. However by the end of the first day I discovered that I needed to purchase the soda card so I could receive beverages at the bars throughout the ship and from the waiters during the shows. While tea, coffee, juice, and milk are always available at the buffet on the lido deck, and you are perfectly welcome to take your beverage with you wherever you go, it was not very convenient when sitting in a show at the front end of the ship to walk all the way to the back to grab a drink. So I purchased the soda card and had a great time ordering from every bar I passed and at every show or game we went to. Gratuity is already added to the purchase price of the card and the serving staff are included in the prepaid gratuities so I did not feel pressured at all to tip any additional amount with each drink I ordered.
One more tidbit of advice, go ahead and complete the room service breakfast order sheet you will find in your stateroom. Even if you are planning to eat breakfast in the dining room it's great to have some fresh fruit, coffee, and a bagel delivered to your door when you first wake up. Since you will want a drink before you leave your room and the mini-bar sodas are $4 apiece you can save yourself some unnecessary expense by ordering breakfast. Plus you will be hungry again by the time you get through the shower, get dressed and are ready to head to the dining room for a waffle. The portion sizes are kept small, which I appreciated since I was able to sample and graze constantly without stuffing myself.
There was plenty to do on the ship without spending any additional money. Lots of window shopping, games, karaoke, shows, not to mention the pool and Jacuzzi. We had a great time playing miniature golf on the top of the ship, and sitting in the Jacuzzi under the stars. Since we weren't interested in the "adult" comedy show, we would take advantage of the Jacuzzi at 10 pm when no one else was out there. We had a lot of wind and bit of rain on one of the days so we never went in the pool, not warm enough. We stayed away from the lido deck during the peak hours when many a drunken college age man could be found doing "body shots" off a scantily clad woman. (I thought this was a family cruise?) But really it wasn't that bad, everyone on the cruise was very nice. The staff was exceptional. Not a grumpy expression the whole time.
The shows were excellent. I have no idea how those girls can dance like that in high heels on a moving ship, but they do a great job! I would recommend sitting on the lower level if you are a person who likes "getting into the action." The people in the balcony tend to be "fuddy duddies." We skipped playing bingo at $10 a card and decided to spend our $10 in the casino. We got an hour's worth of fun at the slot machines and video poker for our money, so I think it was worth it. The TV in the stateroom has a channel that will show you exactly how to play all of the casino games so you don't have to feel like an idiot when you head down there for the first time.
We were only in our stateroom for sleeping (wink wink) so I wouldn't have spent the extra money to upgrade to an ocean view or a veranda, it would have been wasted on us. There were always things to do on the ship, and when we arrived in Ensenada it was time to explore. We were a little nervous because we hadn't planned any shore excursions, and instead we decided to go it alone. I'm very glad we did. The tourist area consists of about 3 square blocks. You would not want to venture any further. Once off the ship there was a small shopping area right in port and busses that took you into downtown and back for $3 a person. The entire drive they try to sell you on taking their bus tour to the blowhole for $25 a person, but they do it in an entertaining way so it's still fun. We decided to stay in the downtown shopping area and pick up some souvenirs for the kids. We had a great time walking through all the shops and finding just the right trinket for each person on our list. A bit of advice, never buy from the people on the street. No matter what kind of deal you think you are getting you will find it cheaper at a shop a few doors down. Trust me on this. Also, don't buy Chiclets for $1. Those kids are being exploited and giving them money only perpetuates the problem.
After a couple of hours we had finished exploring every store within the 3 blocks and were ready to head back to the ship for lunch. We took the bus ride back, had a wonderful lunch at the buffet and were ready to head to a game of "Battle of the Sexes" when my husband broke his belt. This meant it was time for more shopping. Off the ship we went. We decided not to take the bus this time since we knew where we were going and we now knew that the walk was only 5-10 minutes. Shopping for something specific that you need is much different than just looking for souvenirs. But we were again pleasantly surprised by how nice people were. We would walk into a shop and ask if they had belts, if they didn't they would gladly tell us exactly where we could get one with a genuine smile. We ended up getting a very nice belt for $15, the lady even changed the buckle to fit my husband's taste. We were pleased.
If at all possible make your flight late enough that you don't have to rush and can enjoy the last moments of your cruise.
There is absolutely nothing negative I can say about our experience. It was truly a God-given vacation and I am very grateful for it. We did have a day of rocky seas, but as long as I kept up on my motion-sickness pills I had no problem. I will definitely cruise again, and probably on Carnival. They did a great job at a great price and had awesome service.