We're just back from our first Carnival cruise, on the Paradise 3-nighter from Long Beach to Ensenada. Because we had always enjoyed our sailings on RCI’s Monarch of the Seas (I had 25 cruises on her before RCI abandoned the 3/4 night market in LA), we never seriously contemplated trying the same itinerary on Paradise. But once Monarch departed for Port Canaveral, it was Paradise or no weekend cruise, so we gave it a go. We had a small but mighty group of Monarch Refugees – 4 of us were trying Carnival for the first time, and the 5th had sailed and enjoyed Paradise before.
The executive summary: Because I was such a huge fan of Monarch, I was a little apprehensive about how this cruise would go. We liked it, quite a lot in fact. Although we still prefer Monarch or another RCI ship (how about a Vision class, please?), we are going to book another few cruises on Paradise and plan to enjoy them thoroughly. Also, after 25 cruises on Monarch we were part of the furniture, and it would have been unreasonable to expect the same level of warmth and camaraderie on Paradise. But we were encouraged by our initial visit, and are hoping to improve on a very promising beginning.
Now on to the review, which has some comparisons between the two ships as well:Embarkation
: A piece of cake. We had VIP status because we were in a Category 11 suite, but at 12:30 the regular line was very short. We were checked in and on the ship, bypassing both boarding photo stops, in about 10 minutes. Although the cabins were not ready until 1:30, we were able to drop our bags, have a bite to eat, and then go explore the ship. Winner: none; RCI has similarly expedited service for VIPs in San Pedro.Décor
: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In this beholder’s eye, the ship is ugly, really quite hideously decorated. The atrium is dark, even on the sunny day we had in Ensenada. Instead of the “wow” I always feel when entering the atrium of an RCI ship, I felt, “oh, my.” But, just as many homely women and men make wonderful companions, Paradise was able to overcome her visual shortcomings. I just wish they had more comfortable seats in the public areas – there were no backs or footrests on the barstools (I managed not to fall off, anyway) and few chairs that you could just sink into. Winner: RCICabin
: Our Category 11 suite on Verandah deck was a bit smaller than a JS on Monarch, and the layout was a bit awkward. I loved the bedding, which is the new cruise ship standard duvet (with a top sheet) and what appeared to be real feather pillows. The décor wasn’t too over the top, apart from a lavender ceiling. The OV cabin we saw, in contrast, had a lot of bright red. The bathroom had a large shower, with fabulous water pressure. No tub. The vanity contained a small fridge (only in suites, I think), TV (regular screen) and an assortment of wine, martini and cocktail glasses. Because Carnival has a most civilized policy of allowing passengers to bring wine onboard, we made good use of the wine glasses. We did not have a hairdryer, nor did our friends in another Cat 11; but our cabin steward did procure one for me. The balcony was very narrow, but we stacked the two chairs and little table at one end so that 5 of us could squeeze out there for sailaway. Winner: RCICabin Service
: Niko and her assistant, whom we never met, did a great job keeping our cabin clean. Because we hosted a sailaway party from Ensenada that made her have to do more work, we added some cash to the automatic gratuity. Winner: RCI. In spite of Niko’s excellent work, our experience on RCI has been even better.Dining Room
: Our group was assigned a table for 8 near the window in the Elation dining room (late seating). When we arrived for dinner, it was fully occupied by 8 other people. Apparently the Maitre d’ had decided to evict us without the courtesy of letting us know. We were then led to a giant table for 10 that had three people, one of whom was a small child. I wasn’t looking forward to behaving myself, as I feel compelled to do around kids, so we rejected that table and spent some time waiting for a new one. All’s well that ends well, as we ended up a table for just the 5 of us with Eduardo and Niko as our waiter and assistant waiter. They were fabulous, serving everything as we were ready, and not forcing one person to wait for everybody else to finish eating before getting the next course. The maitre d’ came along to apologize for the confusion at the end of the meal, and that was all we saw of him. They do all the silly dancing waiter stuff that RCI does. Winner: Carnival for prompt and efficient service.
The food was mostly excellent. A couple of items were cooked a little past done (pork chop and chicken), but the flavors made up for the slight toughness. Paradise serves lobster on the 3-nighters, and it was reasonably good. The warm melting chocolate cake beats the pants off RCI’s warm chocolate cake. Winner: Carnival Buffet
: the Paris Restaurant had terrific buffet food, if that isn't an oxymoron to you. It was crowded at peak times, and the layout wasn’t very efficient, but we managed just fine without spilling anything. The buffet had a hot dog/hamburger stand (always a long line) custom Mongolian BBQ, custom omelets (and they used Pam spray instead of half a cup of oil to cook them), a sandwich bar with a panini press, 24 hour pizza and ice cream, in addition to the usual assortment of buffet items. Sadly, they use the RCI pizza model instead of Princess’s. There’s also a sushi bar on the Carnival Boulevard (sushi is complimentary and, while not exotic, was a good light snack in between full meal). If only the people in front of us hadn’t used their fingers to snack on the pickled ginger tray. There's also a coffee house with pastries that cost extra. We didn't patronize it, but the pastries looked awfully good. Winner: Carnival except for uncouth passengers.Bar service and drinks
: Carnival has a more extensive list of wines by the glass, quite reasonably priced (sorry, I didn't get a picture of the wine list). We did not order any bottles, since we brought our own and were happy enough with the by the glass offerings. We were not charged corkage on the bottle we brought to the dining room. The other bar prices seemed lower than RCI by a bit, but the one martini I had was also half the size of what I get on RCI. So that could be a wash. I know my friends won’t believe me, but we didn’t spend much time in the bars. The United States Bar (they’re all named after other ships) was the home for some great music, so we spent more time there than any other location. But it was LOUD, and the dancing was dicey because the dance floor was the hallway. We managed not to knock anybody over, though. Winner: I'm not sure, LOL. I didn't have enough drinks for a valid comparison.Entertainment
. I never thought I would miss Fast Forward, the production show that played on Monarch until 2007 or so, but I did. I thought the two production shows were ghastly and bad, respectively. The band was terrific, but drowned out the singers. The singers were good (what I heard in them), but there were far too many taped background vocals and the lip syncing by the dancers was unconvincing, to say the least. And the dancers were really amateurish, although I think the choreography may have had something to do with it. Two of the men looked as if they were Cruise Director staff filling in for the real ones. And the sight lines in the Normandie theater are horrid.
Carnival has a lot of live music – at the pool bar all afternoon, in the various lounges all night. At one point, there was a lone (LOUD) guitarist/singer in Leonardo and a band right outside, plus there was a DJ going in the over the top jungle-themed bar, Rex. If you sat in just the wrong spot, you heard both of them. Winner: tie (RCI wins for productions and sheer talent; Carnival for the quantity of live music).Activities
: The Capers offered a lot of activities similar to RCI’s – trivia, hairy chest, slot tournaments, karaoke, etc. We didn’t do any of that, so I can’t compare. We did spend some time on the adult-only Serenity deck, all the way aft with a spectacular wake view. And we saw something there that we never see on an RCI ship – an employee enforcing the no children and no smoking rules. The loud adults were probably more disruptive than the little darlings would have been, but it was still nice to see that the Paradise crew was into enforcing the rules.Fellow Passengers
: They were a bit younger than on Monarch, but we saw the same party/reunion/birthday groups, young party animals and overall high spirits that we’ve seen on Monarch. I don’t find the Paradise crowd to be any of the pejorative adjectives I’ve seen thrown around on Cruise Critic. What a shock (kidding).Miscellany
: One thing consistent on the cruise was that almost nothing seemed to happen at the scheduled time. Muster drill was 15 minutes late, the doors to the dining room never opened on time and neither show started when they was supposed to (the bingo guy held up one). It was only a big deal at dinner time because of the crowding that ensued while waiting. The Captain threw a very nice, sparsely attended, party on formal night, with great dancing music from the Paradise orchestra. The slots in the casino are coin-free – if you actually win some money, it goes on to your Seapass. You can then cash out at the window or leave it on your account to pay your other winnings. You can also leave your card in to accumulate points, which I forgot to do. I did come out $15 ahead, though, big gambler that I am. Everybody gets a nice bathrobe, but it would have been nice not to see them being worn for lunch in the buffet. Just my own personal icky-do.Ensenada
: Although I am very unhappy about Monarch’s departure from the West Coast, Ensenada is economically devastated by it (the current climate for travel isn’t helping either, to be fair). We went into town for our usual massages, and were the only clients in there. El Pueblo, our favorite restaurant had 3 table occupied. Mango Mango, a formerly lively bar with loud music and throbbing windows to match, was just another place to drink. Even the famed Papas & Beer wasn’t very active. Several long-time businesses were shuttered, and Avenida Lopez Mateo was easy to walk. Several locals told us that overall business is down close to 70% - I think that a lot of the in-town spenders must have been on Monarch. It was sad to see, and I hope that Carnival adding another short-run ship out of San Diego will help a bit, at least. Winner for support of local economy: RCI.Debarkation
: It was windy and raining, but the Captain earned his pay by getting us into port without banging the ship against the pier. We had priority debarkation that I wasn’t going to take advantage of, but when Don got up I found that I couldn’t sleep anymore. I’m glad that happened – we didn’t start until 7:45 instead of 7:00 because immigration didn’t clear the ship. Once we did start, however, we were escorted out ahead of everybody else, went straight out without reporting to immigration (it’s the new way for US passengers on round trip cruises to debark) and out to the car. The Long Beach facility requires a walk down an exposed walkway, so I looked like a wet Roseanne Roseanadanna by the time I was in the terminal.
People without priority had queued up in the lobby, with several staffers directing them to the line. Then the CD came on and announced that they couldn’t stay there and they were shooed away. I’m sure they had some complaints about the process. Winner (for us): RCI because you don’t get wet walking on and off the ship.
So, we still miss our Monarch, but Paradise did a great job of filling that little hole in our hearts. She’s a little too loud, but I’ve been accused of the same thing, so I think we’ll get along just fine.