January 2016 - Carnival Imagination to Mexico
The best part of the cruise was Catalina Island. It's like landing on a tropical mountain range with a lovely little town nestled at the base the mountains, right on the water. The cruise ship allowed us to head over early, about 8:00 which was before most of the shops were open. While we waited, we grabbed a doughnut and coffee at Original Jack's Avalon Bakeshop. They serve a full breakfast next door (if you don't eat on the boat) and at the Pancake Cottage (intersection of Pebbly Beach RD and Crescent Ave). We spent a few hours just roaming around the streets and around the old casino (not a gambling place). The town is only a mile square so you can easily get around just by walking. Many people rented golf carts to drive up the inclines for a good view. Cars are limited on the island and gas was over $6 a gallon.
Not having been to Catalina, I would have been perfectly content with this, but was lucky enough to know a local who met us for a tour of the interior of the island. I would absolutely recommend doing this. The landscape was stunning with views of the rolling mountain side and the ocean. We drove to the airport for lunch with breath-taking views the entire way. (You have to have a special license to drive on the roads in the interior, so no golf carts allowed.) It seemed like we were on safari in a remote mountain location. The roads are mostly just dirt so the ride is bumpy and slow with no guard rails, but that just adds to the adventure. Later, we drove through Middle Ranch to Shark Harbor, which is completely quiet, no other people there since it's so difficult to get to. On the way back, a heard of wild buffalo ran along side the car, so close I could have touched them. It was an amazing experience and worth the entire trip.
Ensenada was not quite so spectacular. Again, we got there early, but the town doesn't really start to move until 9-10 am. The ship docks at the port, likely on Cruiseport Village Rd), and if you're not taking a bus tour, most people to walk to the shopping district on Av Adolfo Lopez Mateos/Primera St. You can walk there by taking a left onto the main road, Highway1/Lazaro Cardenas/Carr Transpenisular. The shopping district isn't far, but very very touristy with small children and adults trying to sell you things. I recommend going to Ensenada for the street food. We had the best fish tacos ($1) and ceviche ever at a tiny, one-woman shop called La Jaiba, right across from Barchelona Pizza on Av Ruiz.
I think people go to Ensenda to drink. There were guys in front of every bar trying to convince people to come drink in there bar, starting at 10 am. I heard someone say, "Two beers, two shots, two margaritas for $8." Barchelona was offering all-you-can-drink for $20. The touristy spot is Papas and Beer, but I was more interested in Hassong's next door, the supposed bar that made the first margarita. For $2.80, we tried a great one, served in a small glass tumbler. It was equal parts tequila, triple sec, and lime juice. I loved it. Hassong's opens a little later, noon on the day we were there. It's more of a locals place then the crowded Papas and Beer and it's in an old building which makes it seem more interesting to me.
The cruise ship itself is older with that tacky late 80's/early 90's casino feel that I was expecting. Our cabin was adequate and Juan the steward was super friendly. The food leaves a lot to be desired; it seemed to be hit-or-miss. Some dishes were great, others, nothing special. We loved our server in the Pride dining room, Conrad.
Musical entertainment was mostly lousy in the big lounge, but the comedians were pretty good and the After School Special band was good too.
The mini-golf course is the saddest I've ever seen--no frills. You'll just have to look at the ocean for aesthetics. But it was a nice option for some early morning put-put practice. There is also a sauna, spa, fitness center, and a track if you're looking for a body-centric way to spend your day at sea.
It was a January cruise so I didn't use the pool/water slides do to the chill in the air.
If you're looking for a way to get there from the airport, you can take public transportation to downtown Long Beach for a couple bucks. Once there, Long Beach has a free bus system called Passport for the downtown area that takes you to the Queen Mary, right next to Carnival. We ended up taking Uber Pool back to LAX for just $17. Uber is not allowed to pick you up from LAX, although they can drop you off there. (One way to get around this is to take a free shuttle to a car rental place and Uber can pick you up from there.)
Overall, the ship wasn't great, but I was glad to get away very cheaply for a few days, and my interior tour of Catalina was worth the whole trip!