Baja Cruise with Carnival
Our cruise took us from Long Beach to Santa Catalina Island in California to Ensenada in Mexico and back.
Carnival offers 3- and 4-day trips to Ensenada, but we picked the 4 days because of the stop at Catalina.
The boarding process was boring and lengthy – but easier than airports. You still must go through a long line for passports and customs and you have to go through metal detectors. But once you are done with this part, you can relax and enjoy your trip.
The best thing about cruising is that it is all-inclusive. Once you step foot on the boat you don’t have to worry about anything. Room, food, soft drinks and entertainment are all included.
Our ship for this cruise was the Paradise which was built in 1998 and started service in 2004. It was my first cruise, so I was in owe of its size and beauty. Carnival now has more modern ships that service this itinerary like the “Imagination” and the “Inspiration”. Paradise now serves the Caribbean sailings.
Paradise could hold around 2000 passengers spread out among more than 1000 cabins. Some are Grand or Junior suites, but the majority are regular (small) size with the distinction of interior or ocean view. We picked the ocean view but were disappointed with a tiny circular window that barely has a view.
We really enjoyed our time on this ship. We spent time exploring the ship, going to comedy shows, dance clubs and a major theatrical production. The kids loved the club designed for young children. We all enjoyed the food choices and quality.
Our time off the ship was also great. We spent several hours on Catalina Island (CA) and went on an excursion to La Bufadora (Ensenada, MX). More about shore excursions later.
All meals are included with your cruise fees in the main dining rooms, but if you like a change of pace, you can dine at one of the restaurants like “Sushi at Sea” or “Chef’s Table”.
Breakfast and lunch are usually severed buffet-style while dinner can be at a buffet or at a table-service dining room. There are 2 main dining rooms, the Destiney and Elation.
If you choose the Elation for your dinner, you can show up any time between 5:45 and 9:30 PM. But expect to wait for your table during busy times.
At the Destiney room, you must pick a dining time for your party for the whole cruise. You can go at 6 or 8:15 PM. Once you set your time, you always have to dine at that time or go to one of the buffets. And you will always eat with the same table mates.
We picked the fixed time – at 6 PM – because we had our 2 young children with us. The food was very good and the whole experience was very enjoyable. At some point during dinner, the servers break into song and dance. Very funny and entertaining. The desserts were excellent too.
We did get bored with the food choices and decided to hit the buffet instead on one of the nights.
We did not try the Elation, but I understand that the food is basically the same.
You can also have breakfast at one of the dining rooms. It is mostly buffet style, just like the other breakfast and lunch areas on the ship.
The attire for both dining halls is causal, except for Elegant Night, when everyone dresses in their finest evening attire.
Breakfast and Lunch
For a buffet style breakfast or lunch head to Paris Restaurant (on Deck 10). This place has indoor and outdoor seating. We really enjoyed our meals outside with great views of the ship and the ocean.
The buffet is divided into sections like “Salad Bar”, “Off the Grill” and “Carnival Deli”.
For more variety, you can go to “Guy's Burger Joint” or “BlueIgunana Cantina” – both on Deck 10 too.
Yes, you can order your breakfast and select lunch items straight to your room for free. You can plan ahead by placing your order on the door at night, select your preferred time and receive your meal within 30 minutes of your specified time.
Additional dining options
When you get tired of the same dining places every day you can patronize one of the for-fee restaurants like "Chef's Table" (various locations), Sushi at Sea (Deck 9) and "Cafe lle de France" (Deck 9).
Most of us will end up in an interior or ocean view cabin with a total of 185 ft space. The main difference is that the ocean view cabin has a small porthole. The rooms are cramped with up to 4 bunk beds, a small TV, dresser/vanity – but no mini fridge.
The worst thing about the room is the tiny bathroom. We were stunned when we saw the closet-sized room they called a bathroom.
The beds were ok with the top bunks foldable when not in use. We didn’t really mind the size of the cabin because we hardly spent any time there. It was only used for sleeping after a long day of fun.
For a more luxurious stay, you can pick the Grand or Junior suites.
The Grand suite has up 445 ft of space with a large balcony, larger bathrooms with soak-in bathtubs and separate living and sleeping rooms.
The junior suite is about half the size of the Grand, a smaller bathroom and balcony. Both suites cabins have mini refrigerators.
Fun and Entertainment
Once you board and settle in your stateroom, you don’t need to leave the ship to have lots of fun. The onboard activities cater to all ages and tastes. You can go dancing, watch a theatrical production, swim, dance, enjoy a comedy show or gamble at the casino.
If you still want to leave the ship, there are plenty of shore excursions you can sign up for – for a fee. You can even leave your kids at the kid’s club during your excursion.
Start your day
You can start your morning with exercise classes, yoga and stretching. Or you can take an educational class like Spanish lessons.
Carnival also offers a Q&A session to answer questions about the ship and the itinerary.
Later in the day
Weather permitting you can enjoy a swim with the kids or have more wet fun at the small water park.
Are you into golf? There is actually a nine-hole golf course on board that should keep you busy for a while.
After all those activities you need to unwind. Grab one of the reclining deck chairs, sit, relax and sip a drink or two. And if you want to get away from all the noise, go relax with your partner at the Serenity Adult-Only Retreat.
The main entertainment at night is the theater show. This is a big production with song and dance in a nice theater with stadium seating. The seats have trays so you can enjoy food and drink while watching.
At the Queen Mary Lounge, you can enjoy comedy shows. Check the schedule because one of those shows is adults-only.
You can always spend your money at the casino and hope to win big.
Our kids were 5 and 6 at the time of the cruise, so they spent a lot of time at the Kid’s Club. The club had 3 age groups (2 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 11). This allowed the staff to cater their attention and activities for each group. My kids loved the club and did not want to leave when we picked them up.
Although I did not experience it myself, I did notice teenagers roaming the ship in groups and having great fun. It turned out that Paradise had special activities for 12 to 14’s and for 15 to 17s. This includes their own dance clubs and group games.
Catalina Island, California
There is no cruise ship port at the island, so we had to disembark from a side door onto speedboats. Once we landed on the island, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll on the main promenade and visited the unique shops. Read more about Catalina here.
While in Catalina you can join other great excursions. On different visits, we tried the Zipline Adventure, Kayak Expedition, Taste of Catalina Food Tour and East End Adventure by Hummer. We especially enjoyed the Hummer tour.
We felt guilty for leaving the kids on the ship and bought them souvenirs. When we got back, we noticed that they didn’t even miss us.
We found our tour bus and went on a 1-hour ride to explore La Bofadora (the Blower).
The bus parks a distance away from the cliffs and you have to walk through many vendors selling all kinds of trinkets, street tacos and sweets.
Once you reach the cliffs, you are treated with a spectacular view of the ocean and the geysers erupting between the rocks. For the adventurous, you can also take a Kayak tour to La Bofadora.
Back in town, we went on a walk to explore the shops and restaurants. Before we boarded the ship, we stopped the large souvenir shop and bought a few things. I bough s sombrero that looked very nice on me, but never wore it again back in the States.
While in Ensenada you can take a variety of executions like Wine Country ATV Adventure, A Taste of Mexico or Baja Off Road Buggy Adventure.
The Taste of Mexico tour is especially interesting. You start by having a taste of authentic food at several restaurants in the center of Ensenada. You then participate in a Mexican Cuisine cooking lesson.
The trip back
On the way back to Long Beach, we enjoy another day at sea, eating our way through the different buffets, enjoying some dancing and some comedy shows – and relaxing on the deck chairs or watching the sunset.
The kids spent more time at the club face painting, working on some art projects and playing group games.
This was a wonderful experience for the whole family and we look forward to a longer cruise somewhere more exotic.