Carnival Cruise Line remains one of the least expensive, family-friendly cruise lines, but before you embark, there are just a few things you should know first. We recently sailed on the Carnival Splendor on a 7 Day Mexican Riviera sailing out of the Port of Long Beach, California.
We stayed at the Hotel Maya just minutes from the port which provided a comfortable lodging option on the waterfront where we could see our ship less than a mile away.
We enjoyed the pool and took a water taxi from the hotel to explore the surrounding dining and shopping areas.
In the evening we also roasted s’mores on the beach at sunset overlooking the water.
In the morning before boarding the Carnival Splendor, the breakfast at Hotel Maya was an excellent buffet of American and Mexican options to start our upcoming adventure.
Like much of Mexico, Mazatlan and Cabos San Lucas have recently become extremely dangerous and unsafe, and we were warned by numerous Carnival staff as well as by locals. Carnival no longer stays at ports in the Mexican Riviera well into the evenings like they used to, rather for safety, they leave port in the afternoon or early evenings, so time in these Mexican ports is quite shortened.
However, Carnival does offer the opportunity of providing safe, vetted, contracted shore-excursions within contained environments for cruisers to have a fun, hassle-free experience. Sadly, gone are the days of venturing off safely in Mexico to explore on one’s own while at port.
In Cabo San Lucas, we enjoyed the Camel & Mexican Outback Adventure and Lunch shore excursion which included camel riding on the beach, an excellent authentic lunch made with homemade Chicken mole, fresh tortillas and tequila tasting.
Dolphin riding, ATV riding, zip-lining and cavern diving, as well as resorts are some other options for safe shore excursions in either Cabo or Mazatlan.
Puerto Vallerta, a decades long favorite of ours, is perhaps one of the only last ports safe enough to venture alone into shops and points of interest near the ship, and has fabulous shore excursions such as Las Caletas, the beautiful private island once owned by a famous film producer, where we enjoyed cold beverages, wild animals, paddle-boarding, snorkeling, and high quality native food.
We had visited this oasis before in years past and many improvements have made this little haven even better. The resort also includes very affordable massages and exotic evening shows.
Half the fun was just getting there or returning from the lovely island as our boat hosts provided excellent hospitality, talented singing, dancing and mariachi performances.
Despite asking several of the staff at the purser’s desk (now guest services), we couldn’t get many good suggestions for where to go or what shore excursions to go to at our ports. Typically, we had to ask the locals where the safest and best destinations were. It may be prudent to do some of your own research before cruising.
During our days at sea, we spent most of our time at the relaxing adult pool and the 21+ Serenity Deck, where you can relax with a book after having a spa treatment or massage at the Cloud 9 Spa.
The Lido deck still holds many of the same events, such as Ice Carving, Hairy Chest Contest, Music Trivia, and Dive-In Movies, which guests can watch from the pool on the big screen with complimentary fresh popcorn. The Lido deck buffet remains good quality with decent food and ethnic choices ranging from Mediterranean to Italian and Indian.
We spent most of our evening dining at the Black Pearl restaurant, where we enjoyed Ox Tongue, Alligator, Escargot, and Lamb. Most of the desserts were mediocre, such as melting chocolate cake and cheesecake but the Baked Alaska was still a favorite. The wait staff is as cordial and polite as they used to be and they do sing and dance for the patrons during a couple of the dinners.
The cruise line still offers two formal nights (or cruise elegant), but it’s not how it used to be even just a few years ago, as many guests have fallen away from dressing up and the stated dress code is no longer enforced. There were a lot of backwards baseball hats, ripped jeans, gym clothes, shorts, and logo tees mixed in with nice suits and very few evening gowns.
The Broadway style Spectacular shows remain good in quality. Carnival has continued to keep some of their same live games and shows such as Love & Marriage and Bingo. The Punchliner provides both PG-13 comedy shows as well as R-rated shows with a number of different comedians.
The staterooms are still the same as they used to be and remain comfortable with beds and bunk beds. Many little extras have gone away as they no longer leave chocolates on your pillows as they used to and many of the once free, complimentary room service items we used to enjoy now come with extra cost, but they do still leave towel animals in your room.
During our days at sea, we also enjoyed the Red Carpet 18+ night club, as well as Karaoke in the Cool Lounge, both of which are located next to the Piano Bar, where we sat often to enjoy our piano-man playing requests before heading off to what was next on the list.
Formerly Camp Carnival (now Camp Ocean) remains much like how it used to be, as well as O2, the teen club on the ship.
Carnival has included a bottomless drinking card for the daily price of $52, which covers fifteen alcoholic drinks per day. There’s a similar soda deal and a children’s option as well.
If you’re looking for WiFi on the ship, our best recommendation is don’t pay the money for a connection that you may or may not get to use. It was spotty at best. We encourage you to enjoy what’s going on aboard the ship instead, as Carnival remains the leader in family cruising carrying more than 800,000 kids a year, and has now completed the fleet wide roll out of the marine-themed play areas for children ages 2 to 11 that are now featured on all 26 of the line’s ships, Camp Ocean.
The colorful ocean-inspired facilities are designed to provide children with a variety of fun and engaging ocean-inspired experiences, with 400 activities that range from educational games such as Marine Life Trivia and Ocean Bingo to crafts such as Fork Print Puffer Fish and Shark Art and active games like Crab Soccer.
Camp Ocean caters to young cruisers with light blue and white underwater colored spaces and friendly, experienced staff who oversee activities for kids in three age groups – “Penguins (2-5), “Sting Rays” (6-8) and “Sharks” (9-11). Common areas such as a fun play area called Party Reef and Creative Cove, a breakout room for arts and crafts activities, are available on several select ships.
Carnival Fun Ships also offer facilities and activities for kids in the 12- to 14-year-old set through its Circle “C” program and for 15- to 17-year-olds with Club O2.
An exclusive partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises called Seuss At Sea as well as family-friendly comedy shows at the Punchliner Comedy Club, Build-A-Bear Workshop at Sea, Towel Animal Theater featuring the line’s signature towel animals, and Lip Sync Battle Carnival based on the hit Paramount Network TV show are just a few of the array of kid-friendly options tailored especially for young cruisers.
Kids of all ages were clearly having fun and one young cruiser on our ship, Sidney, age 6 from the San Diego area put it simply: “Camp Ocean was fantastic; my favorite part was dancing!”
While there have been many changes in recent years, and some are disappointing, such as a lower quality of food, lack of the once famous midnight buffet, changes in room service and amenities, and a much more casual dining experience, Carnival still offers a great cruising choice for cruisers looking for a more casual and lower end cruise product.
If you’re looking for an informal and budget-friendly family cruise option, Carnival Cruise Line should be your first choice and remains a wonderful option for family-friendly cruising whether it’s a small family vacation, family reunion, or multi-generational travel that has you planning your next cruise. Carnival continues to lead the seas in serving families and kids.