Who: Rich and Kathy
When: January 28-31, 2011
Where: Long Beach to Ensenda, Mexico Round Trip
Why: Angels Fan Cruise
Ship: Carnival Paradise
Because the cruise was in January and we’d be risking snow on the two passes between Las Vegas and L.A., we decided to fly instead of driving the usual four-hour drive to Disneyland plus an hour to the port. Also, this was the first time we’d cruise from this port since living in Las Vegas and we weren’t sure how we’d feel about driving there beforehand.
A few days before the cruise, my back went out and the massage didn’t quite heal it in time. So, the extra walking from the airport parking lot to the terminal, dragging luggage part-way, etc. wasn’t a good choice after all. Next time, we’ll more than likely cruise a different time of year and drive in the night before, stay overnight, and fit in a little extra SoCal fun.
We booked Carnival’s transfer just to not have to worry about how we’d get from LAX to the Port. This proved to be annoying cuz the bus took forever to get there. There was some mix-up and we had to wait for another bus. The transfer back to the airport went a lot smoother.
Because we were booked in a suite, we had prior check-in, which was so convenient. The check-in desk was right next to the bus drop-off and the special boarding area. Everybody else had more of a hike to check-in. Plus, it was great boarding the ship before everybody else. We chatted with some other Angels fans while waiting until noon to board.
They took a couple of photos on the way in, which turned out hideous – lol – mostly because we were standing there with our carry-ons and sweatshirts.
As we mentioned in the other post, we were quite surprised by Carnival, as experienced on the Paradise. The atrium wasn’t gaudy as we’d expected and the service was really good, if not some of the best we’ve had on a cruise.
Upon boarding, we headed for the buffet to get some lunch and the Carnival staff was very helpful in pointing us in the right direction. Today was Italian day and we found several items that were tasty, different pastas, fish (although a bit salty), and some yummy cookies.
We then toured the ship – noted a cozy little sitting area above the aft pool – will spend some time there – and checked out the dining room. Because we were on a group cruise, we were assigned late seating so that we could sit with the team. Ha! We tried changing to the flexible dining but travel agent insisted we wanted to be with the other Angels fans.
We hung out by the pool until our cabin was ready. Unfortunately, we were a bit hounded for drinks while sitting there – not enough people onboard yet – lol! We were saving our drink for the sailaway and the Angels Cocktail party.
By this time, we were allowed to enter our cabin, we met our fabulous room stewardess – the best we’ve ever had and our first female, and sat out on the tiny balcony and took pictures of Long Beach, which was beautiful today (if you overlook the smog in the background). Then it was time for the dreaded lifeboat drill. We’ve sailed on all of the mass market cruise lines and, so far, Princess does this best. It wasn’t bad on Carnival. Most assignments were in lounges, but we were assigned to the pool deck. The good news was that we could stay put while the others later had to make it to their actual muster stations.
We had feared a three-day party boat atmosphere on this Carnival cruise but the closest thing we saw to anybody drinking too much was the guy in front of us – he looked three sheets to the wind and we thought for sure he’d pass out any minute. We felt sorry for his wife and the couple they were traveling with. Not a pretty sight, for sure.
Soon we were on our own again and we headed back to our cabin to wait for Sailaway, one of our favorite times onboard the ship. But sailaway was a bit delayed. In fact, we were going to have to choose between having our Sailaway champagne in our balcony or attending the Angels Cocktail party. We chose the Sailaway – this is our favorite part about cruising – we weren’t going to miss that!
By this time, the sun was setting and we’d been on board all day long – we were ready to roll!
We were so exhausted after getting up at 5:30 am and traveling that we ordered room service and went to bed early. The next day, we would go to the Maitre’D to request changing our official late seating dining assignment to the flexible one because we learned a long time ago that we really don’t like to eat that late (8:30) and sit with strangers for hours at a time – lol! We love to interact with our fellow passengers, but in a more relaxed, casual way.
Room service was efficient and there was rather an extensive menu, but we didn’t always get what we ordered. But we were too tired to care. I think we got something simple like a sandwich and dessert. And then we allowed the motion of the ocean to rock us to sleep. Zzzzzzz…
We got up early and made our way down to the buffet for breakfast by about seven a.m. There was a variety of tasty foods and we found our way back to our favorite little half-booth/table. When we returned to our cabin at about eight a.m., Rich called the dining room to request a dining assignment change from late night seating to “your time” or whatever they call it. The woman who answered the phone was quite helpful – volunteered to send a message to the Maitre’D and told us she’d let us know later that day.
Then we waited in our cabin for some kind of announcement that we were free to leave the ship for Ensenada – that’s the way it’s worked on all of our previous cruises. Finally, it was getting close to nine o’clock and our tour was scheduled to leave at nine. We made our way down to the shore excursion desk and she informed us our tour had already left? What? We didn’t even know we’d cleared customs. But she called the tour guide and the bus was still there so we were told to hurry and we made it. Whew! The photographers were a bit upset when we blew them off – no time for pictures – sorry!
The first time I’d been to Ensenada, I took the La Bufadora/winery tour and was quite impressed. Well, all of these years later, I didn’t know what to expect in Ensenada and while that winery is no longer in operation, the wine region has exploded in the inland area.
It was a gorgeous day in Ensenada – sunny and in the 70s. First, we rode the bus up into the hills to get to the first winery we would tour, stopped off at a picture taking spot overlooking a bull ring/vineyards.
And then went on to the winery where we were given a tour of the barrels. We noted that some of the barrels were from Pennsylvania.
We’ve been to several wine countries – Napa, Sonoma, Oregon, Washington, etc. and when we were here, we felt like we could be in Napa or even Italy – the Mediterranean climate was so similar. Wine in Mexico? Not your first thought when you think of Mexico. We sampled several wines in the tasting room and the owner was a fabulously, feisty woman – lol! We had a great time!! BTW, there were several Angels fans on the tour – one lady, posed with her Rally Monkey in several locations for some sort of content and she told us how she had bought some property south of Ensenada for retirement.
The next stop was at a very small winery, compared to this large one. There we enjoyed sampling different wines on a patio overlooking the vineyards and they gave us some amazing pizza to go with our wine. Fabulous wine and pizza in Mexico? Who knew? We also picked up some jalapeno jam (awesome) and some kind of brittle.
After our three- or four-hour wine tour, the bus dropped us off near the ship, although you could get off in town and shuttle back later. We stopped in at the shop near the dock and picked up a t-shirt for Rich and a beautiful cross. The tour guide was wonderful and we were so happy they’d waited for us – would not have wanted to miss this tour. We almost didn’t go after the problems in Mexico in Tijuana and Mazatlan, but we felt totally safe in Ensenada and we were glad we made the tour.
The first winery had given us two bottles of wine to take home, but the Carnival wine police made us turn them over to be picked up after the cruise. Before returning to our cabin for a nice, long nap, we stopped off at the Pizzeria and had a slice of the most amazing Greek pizza ever. This is what I remembered from my first cruise – the pizza is awesome!
When we arrived in our cabin, we found a note from the Maitre’D waiting for us, acknowledging that he had honored our request to change our dining assignment.
We must have had a very long nap because neither of us remember what we did after – except go to dinner. What to do post-nap and pre-dinner has always puzzled us on a cruise, but I think we’ve gotten very good at taking long naps so it didn’t seem to be as big of a problem – lol!
Oh, it was formal night so we did get a bit dressed up – it is Carnival, though, so Rich wore a tie and dress shirt – no jacket – and I wore a pair of nice pants with a flashy red jacket I’d picked up for the cruise.
We made our way down to the Elation dining room where the anytime dining is located on the port side of the ship, while the middle of the dining room and starboard side is still traditional dining. We were greeted warmly and a hostess led us to a table. What makes anytime dining work better on Carnival than on any other ship we’ve tried is that the tables can easily be made up into different sizes but they’re all located near one another so the waiter can take your order and a couple of surrounding tables at the same time. In the past, we’ve felt ignored at our table for two while the waiter busied himself with the larger tables. Here, that didn’t happen. Well done!
We were greeted by our servers as Rich and Christine – lol! Somehow, that’s how he heard my name and he called me that for the rest of the cruise. I gladly answered to Christine – it was kinda fun. Rich ordered the tasty Bass, with a nice, crispy skin, unusual for a cruise. I had the surf and turf – the lobster was very good. We each had a glass of Pouilly Fuisse. And when the lights went low and the waiters began singing Amore, we were impressed. We were dreading a big clapping, singing, loud waiter atmosphere that we imagined would be Carnival. For dessert, we had some yummy butter pecan ice cream.
We stopped off at the Rotterdam Bar right above the Destiny dining room and outside the Comedy Club. We found a private spot on a small couch where Rich had a cigar and MacCallan Scotch and I had a Ketel One vodka martini. The waiter was awesome, and he would remember our drinks the next night. It never really feels like a cruise until you’ve found that one, special bar, and we’d found ours. We were sorry we’d missed one night of it already since we only had 3 nights.
A group of guys were playing some kind of drinking game where they’d drink a shot, stand up and say something like “We’re all the same” and then sit down again. We saw them the next night, too, and had no idea what kind of game they were playing, but they were having fun and weren’t obnoxious at all. One table seemed popular with the crew, stopping in for a cigarette break and it was the best people-watching fun.
Rich had taken off his tie by then, but when we walked by the photographers, we decided we’d pose, since we were all dressed up. Rich put his tie back on, and the photographer was just amazing – he knew exactly how to pose us. Neither of us are good at this naturally, and it takes some expertise to get a good picture out of us. They turned out so well, we bought a couple of them the next day, although it was a bit challenging to decide which ones to get since one of us would be happy with the way we looked but the other one wouldn’t be – lol!
When we arrived in our cabin, we got into our jammies, and so impressed with the cheesecake from the room service from the night before, we indulged in a slice before bed. We got hooked on this kind of bedtime treat when we were staying at the Disneyland Hotel with the E-Ticket Club. 🙂
Today’s report will be more of a mind dump, rather than written in any particular order. For one thing, Ensenada is just seventy miles from the border, and we spent the entire day out to sea – doing practically nothing – lol! The 4-night cruise stops in Catalina and they could easily do this in 3 days, but how would they make all of that money in the casino? Talk about a captive audience – lol!
We had hoped the spend some time out by the adult pool in the aft but the weather cooled a bit and clouded over, making it too cold for that. We had breakfast in the buffet again, lunch in the dining room (service wasn’t so good – not enough servers for the lunch crowd but the “American” lunch in the buffet looked awful), dinner was in the dining room where our server greeted me with a big, “Christine!” They also asked if we wanted a glass of Pouilly Fuisse, remembering last night’s wine. Nope, I rarely drink the same thing twice in a row. Instead, we ordered a glass of Pinot with Rich’s Salmon and my Shrimp Curry. For dessert, we had baked alaska and it was the best we’d ever had.
In the morning, we finally attended an Angels’ event – the chat with members of the team (apparently, nobody had made it to dinner so we were glad we hadn’t sacrificed ourselves for that – lol), autograph signings, Q&A, etc. It was a lot of fun to get the inside scoop on the team.
We also spent some time sorting through the photos and finally decided on one with the two of us on formal night and one fabulous picture of Rich – one of the best I’ve ever seen of him – so having that was a must!
We napped, read, relaxed, walked around the ship and packed for our early getaway. Because we were in a suite, we’d have early departure – even earlier if we only had carry-on luggage.
That evening we also danced to a wonderful retro band near the casino and spent more time in our favorite lounge – the Rotterdam Bar – and saw those same people with their drinking game – lol! Our server was so amazing – he not only remembered my drink from the night before but we knew the code for our cabin. How does he do it? We were sorry this was our last night in this lounge – it was simply the best experience – and on Carnival, no less.
The funny thing that happened at dinner every night was when the magician stopped by the tables to do a few tricks to hopefully entice you to attend his show. Well, we really don’t like magicians so we kinda laughed and joked around with him, so then he thought we were his biggest fans. So every time he saw us, he’d stop by and engage us in his tricks. That’ll teach us – lol!
When we finally retired to our cabin, we ordered that wonderful cheesecake for our last bed-time snack – oh we were going to miss this. The next morning we waited for our priority disembarkation in the library and I noticed this one guy I thought I once knew from the SF Bay Area – only I couldn’t quite place him. I think he may have been an elder from a church I used to attend. He stared at me, I stared at him and it will forever remain a mystery. Don’t think he was somebody I really wanted to talk to again anyway. But it seems that every time we’re in SoCal, we meet up with people we once knew in the SF Bay Area.
We decided against retrieving the two bottles of wine that Carnival confiscated – we didn’t want the hassle of carrying those back on the plane. The shuttle back to LAX was far more efficient than before and before we knew it, we were flying home (in the air for about half an hour) and back home in Las Vegas. It had been a surprisingly fun cruise and one of our best!
Our cruise on the Carnival Paradise was my tenth cruise – we had booked so many #10 cruises and then canceled them for one reason or another – I began to wonder if we’d ever cruise again. We thought that when we lived in Florida we’d cruise all the time because it was so easy to get to a cruise port. True, but we were so caught up with the local beaches and Disney World that we didn’t feel we needed to cruise.
We also don’t cruise for some of the reasons others do cruise: for example, group dinners, food, shows. For one thing, we tend to socialize with people on a casual, one-on-one basis – not at a table for ten night after night. Oh boy, that drove us crazy and one reason we almost gave up cruising entirely. We also don’t cruise for food – gourmet or otherwise. We live in Las Vegas and have traveled to Hawaii and other fabulous spots that have a lot better food than found on a cruise ship. And the shipboard entertainment is never going to be as good as what we have here in Las Vegas. So why do we cruise?
We love to be at sea – especially after living the in the desert for three years. We also enjoy a self-contained environment where you can eat, drink, have a little fun and then wander back to your cabin without getting in a car and driving home or back to a hotel.
My first cruise was on Carnival (before I met Rich) and I loved it, but Rich was always a little – no, make that a lot – lol – reluctant to cruise Carnival. His first cruise was on Celebrity – supposedly the best of the mainstream lines (turned out to be our worst cruise) – and we’d tried the others – Holland America, Princess, NCL, and I’d also sailed RCI. But he never wanted to step foot on a Carnival ship. But when he heard about the 3-day Angels Fan Cruise to Ensenada, he changed his mind. How bad can a Carnival ship be for 3 nights, he thought. And at least the Angels would be onboard – surely, they could make up for a bad cruise.
The big surprise? Carnival is now his new favorite cruise line. Why? Well, they did several things better than anybody else:
- “Your Choice” dining (service didn’t suffer like on other cruises where we’d tried this)
- Cabin service (had the best service ever by a friendly and efficient stewardess)
- Photographer (for the first time, we found a ship photographer who knew how to pose us to get the best photo possible)
- Aft adult pool – we love an aft pool on a ship
- Bar service – maybe we could put it all under “service.” Carnival knows its customers – there’s a reason why they’re the most popular cruise line and it’s not just because of the price. The servers remembered our names, what we liked to drink, and our Sail & Sign card number.
What fell short for us:
- The food was hit and miss – some was very good, some not so good. But just as I remembered from my first Carnival cruise, the pizza is some of the best I’ve ever had.
- No wraparound promenade deck – a must for us.
- The bed may tie with NCL for being rather hard.
- The weather in January – we get a bit claustrophobic when it’s not quite warm enough to enjoy the outside space as much as we would like – kids underfoot more during the day, etc. – some ships handle this better than others.
We found this 3-day cruise to be full of fun, lively people but not the drunk crowd we’d heard about or you might expect from a short cruise out of L.A. Okay, so there was that one older guy during the lifeboat drill – he must have been drinking since he boarded the ship cuz he looked like he was about to pass out – lol!
But whatever cruise line we sail, one thing is still true – we love the shipboard life and the interaction of people onboard the ship – our way. It’s no wonder my first published novel Real Women Wear Red is set onboard a cruise ship that happens to be cruising the Caribbean – it’s not about the Caribbean – it’s about the characters onboard a ship.