July 2014 - Carnival Imagination to Mexico
My mom really wanted to go on a cruise because her coworkers always talk about their adventures on the high sea. My travelling companions were my younger brothers (ages 19 and 20) and my parents (ages 50+). We booked our tickets/rooms 30 days prior to the travel date. We had no idea what to expect.
Some people choose to get on the ship early, but we wanted to spend some time with our relatives in Long Beach for a bit, and considering the boat doesn't leave until 5:30 (check-in by 4:30pm), we didn't get to the port until after 3pm, thinking there would be plenty of time. Our relative dropped us off at the port in the parking garage. Groups of people scattered about: some were lined up, others just standing there. Unsure of what to do, I went up to the makeshift front desk to ask for guidance. The nice man behind the table told me that this area was for luggage delivery to the staterooms and that if we wanted to carry our own stuff, we didn't have to be there. He also gave me my room info there. We then walked across the street to THE DOME.
Check-in at THE DOME
We went through security, which is exactly like the airport. Must show passport, go through metal detector, put stuff through x-ray belt. Only exception is that you can bring cases of bottled water on board. After security, we went to check-in. Very long line by the time we got there, which was now around 3:30 pm. We got to the front of the line and the lady checked us in, took our pictures, gave us our Sign-and-Sail cards. Even though I had already pre-registered and pre-checked-in everyone online weeks before, we still had to go through this process that took more than 20 minutes. By the time we got on the ship, it was almost 4pm.
I ordered the cheapest rooms I could possibly get (one interior cost us $179 per person, one oceanview $200), which I didn't think was too cheap to begin with, but we did get a 2 category upgrade. My parents got the oceanview, we kids got the interior room without the view. Both our rooms were on the Upper Deck. And oh man. These rooms are tiny. When we walked into our interior room, there were two beds, with a mattress leaning against the wall. Also, if you open the closet doors and bathroom door at the same time you can potentially get stuck in the hallway. It's really small. The oceanview was about the same size, but with two beds.
You'll always find someone from the housekeeping department in the hallways. Everybody is so friendly and efficient. They're also very attuned to small details. For example, I take the small washcloth into the shower with me to wash my face. After which, I leave the wet facecloth hanging on the handrail in the shower. The first night, housekeeping placed everything back on the towel rack. But after I did it again the second night, they left me a clean, dry washcloth on the shower handrail. Little things like that always make me smile. They're like little elves that clean your room and leave little mints and towel animals on your bed :)
We tried the dine-at-your-time at the Pride Dining Room at around 6pm the first night. Boy, was the food disappointing. The decor looked pretty nice, decent ambiance. Our waiter was hurried because he just had so many tables to take care of. But the food. The food was disgusting. Everything on the menu is included as part of your trip with the exception of some specials and beverages. For appetizers, we got alligator fritters (pretty delicious but only 4 pieces), fried calamari (yum! but only 4 pieces). For entrees, I ordered the apple pork chops and gazpacho, my dad got the lobster (1.5 lb for $20), my brother got grilled chicken breast, my other brother got the short ribs with a french onion soup, and my mom just got a bunch of broccoli with lo mein noodles. Everything LOOKED pretty good. However, our soups were overly salty, so much so that we couldn't finish them. My pork chop was so dry and tough, when I was sawing through it, it almost fell off my plate. The short ribs were literally fall-off-the-bone but to the point of mush. The chicken breast was extremely dry and bland. The lobster was ok, but rather small. Overall, we weren't terribly happy with the food. However, the dessert was amazing. We got a strawberry dessert, tiramisu, and a chocolate lava cake, all very tasty. After the first night, we didn't go back.
For the rest of the trip, we ended up at the buffet, which was rather hit-and-miss but at least the food was more flavorful than the "fancy" stuff. If you go during off hours, there are barely any lines. The first day we got some lunch at the grill. Just plain greasy American stuff. I love hot dogs and fries, what can I say. Skip the Mongolian Wok -- my brothers waited 30 mins for a bowl of dry, tasteless chow mein-like noodles. Their Pizza Bar serves some good pizza. Overall not much variety.
I must say, the food is actually really good. We ordered some stuff after Mexico and on Sea Day. They make a really good grilled cheese sandwich. Plus everything is included in your trip, might as well take advantage of it. They're very fast with delivery as well.
Lots of dancing and karaoke going on at night. There's a casino if you want to try your luck. My brothers and I went to two comedy shows, one PG, the other not. The two comedians were so-so with humor and for 18+ only show, they pretty much resorted to sex jokes.
This was my first time below the border, but I'm glad I came here on the cruise. Ensenada is pretty much a tourist town. Everything is in US dollars. Things are more expensive than I expected. I'm so glad we didn't pay for the Carnival excursions. If you buy the Bufadora (blowhole) excursion on the ship, it costs $30/person. You can buy the same trip in Mexico for half the price. Even then, it wasn't really worth it. It costs $2 to get from the port to downtown. We purchased the Bufadora/flea market package for $15 a person. Our tour guide Cinthia is super nice and helpful. It's a 40 minute shuttle ride up to this location and I must say, $15 is still kind of a rip off. La Bufadora is rather unimpressive (maybe we went during lowtide or something). All we saw was a bunch of mist. I overhead another tourist saying, this has less impact than a Waterworld ride. We spent 15 minutes at the blowhole area, then heading to the flea market, which is a basically just a small street with vendors trying to sell you junk. We barely bought anything because nothing was too special, but the things we did want to buy were not cheap. Granted these were only starting points for negotiations, but I was like, dang!! I can get these things in Chinatown for better quality and price. But overall, it wasn't a terrible experience.
Overall, it was a good first-time cruise experience. I don't think I'll go again anytime soon, but I'm glad we did it. Even if the food wasn't all that great. But do note that there are lots of fees you have to consider, including gratuity. And it's so easy to spend money on the ship with the Sign-and-Sail card, so just be wary of your own spending. Also, don't forget to bring seasickness aids.