Want to go on a vacation to a tropical destination but don’t want to go through the stress of planning? A Carnival cruise definitely eases the planning process by streamlining your options into excursion packages for you.
I had never been on a cruise before, so I didn’t know much of what to expect. Friends had told me about the endless food options for every meal and the free room service. Food vacations are my favorite vacations!
We went for a 5-day cruise on the Carnival Inspiration ship to Catalina Island (Avalon, California)/Baja California (Ensenada, Mexico). I decided on a sea level room with a window to ease any anxiety I may have about being stuck on a boat in open water… sometimes I think too much. The safety protocols on the first day (called a muster drill) were very thorough and put me at ease!
I found the boat to be a little cold, so I would advise wearing a light outer layer on your first day. The excitement of getting on the boat may not leave you much time to change after dropping your luggage off at the room.
The Most Valuable Things I Packed for the Cruise:
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- A refillable water bottle (make sure to fill it up every morning and before going out for the evening… coming back parched with those tempting water bottles for purchase is avoidable if you plan!) This one is really cute.
- This surge protector (There is one outlet in the room and one in the bathroom, so you can decide if this purchase is worth it for you based on how many electronics you need!)
- Tervis Tumbler with some travel Coffeemate creamer and Starbucks Via instant coffee pouches – I didn’t want to risk having bad coffee every morning and these Starbucks pouches are pretty tasty. I ordered hot water through room service every morning and had my free coffee!
- Sunscreen. Because excursions.
What’s On the Boat
Every boat has different restaurants, I would advise trying them all! Downloading the Carnival Cruise app before boarding the ship was really helpful as I was able to have a map & schedule of the day handy at all times. Sometimes you don’t want to walk around with a piece of paper in hand all day, but most people will carry their phones with them.
On the first day, make sure to read the schedule for any raffles (free spa vouchers!!), drink specials or shows. I highly recommend participating in a boat tour or the excursion seminar to know a little more about your options on the trip. Seeing a comedy show – or even bingo is a must do. The best show on our cruise was on the last night called the game of love featuring 3 couples married for different lengths of time each getting asked relationship questions. Let’s just say the answers that came out were unexpected and hilarious. Definitely not appropriate for children.
If you are traveling with friends and you were unable to get the same dining times, try to see the Maitre D’ to get a dine any time schedule. This was convenient for our group and we only had a wait time for the formal dining night.
The Blue Iguana restaurant had good breakfast burritos and great tacos. I tried one of each, and the fish was really good. Sitting on the lido deck for breakfast is extremely relaxing as its before most kids are out. Bring your sweater as it might be windy!
Ok, enough about the boat. Let’s talk excursions!
We decided not to plan our excursions until getting on the cruise because we were unsure of the weather. Before the cruise, I would at least look at the available excursions for the destinations and have a list in mind of ones you would be interested in/the prices. This way you have somewhat of an idea of appropriate clothing to pack for activities you might do.
Then book the excursions on the Carnival cruise ship when you have a more accurate weather prediction. Example – you can kayak in both Catalina and Ensenada. Catalina is sometimes rainy and we went in the last week of February so we weren’t sure how the weather would be.
Booking excursions through your Carnival cruise ship is extremely convenient – however, you may be able to save some money if you are willing to do the planning ahead of time. Our Kayak Tour in Avalon was fun! It may have been cheaper to just rent kayaks on our own and not be tied down to the tour schedule. This all depends on your comfort level of the activities you would like to do and how much pre-planning time you have.
Side-note…. I did not prepare to get so wet while kayaking. I would HIGHLY suggest bringing a change of clothes in a small backpack with you. The Descanso Beach Club gives small buckets to place your belongings in. They also provide water shoes (great!) and waterproof pants/shirts if you need them over your clothes. I did not wear these and I WAS SOAKED. When pushing off the shore in my kayak, a wave conveniently came and got me wet from head to toe. This was the beginning of my day so it was a little uncomfortable to go to a restaurant and go hiking afterward wearing soaking wet & sandy clothes!
After we went kayaking we stopped in a coffee shop and asked the barista for suggestions on places to hike. Hiking is free and there were such beautiful views! I highly suggest asking a local on how to get to the one-hour hiking trail. This is not an official term and is a little hard to find. Its tucked away behind a golf course – we ended up walking up the streets to the end of the trail and hiking down towards the coastline to come out by the golf course to get better views. The streets here are very steep – if you cannot walk long you should rent a golf cart! The one-hour hike was a nice scenic trail that was very wide. There were some inclines that were a little more strenuous for the average cruise-goer that has been feasting on buffets and relaxing. I did see young children doing the hike though, so I decided if they could do it, so could I! We saw many goat hoof prints, possibly some buffalo hoofprints… but no actual buffalo. Darn!
On to Mexico! Woohoo! It was definitely warmer in Mexico. Sadly, we didn’t get to a beach. After seeing the high prices of the excursions in Catalina, we decided to save some money and just wing it when we got to Ensenada. This turned out to be a great idea.
We took a bus for 2$ (bring cash) that took us downtown and back to the boat at the end of the day. The area that the bus dropped us off at in downtown had other buses and tourist companies that offered similar excursions as the Carnival cruise, but at way lower prices. We took a small bus (NOT air-conditioned) with a nice tour guide for 15$ to La Bufadora. It was great! The tour guide said we could vote as a group on how long we wanted to spend at La Bufadora and the shops nearby.
We also got free passes to use the bathrooms of the restaurants in the area- which apparently you have to pay for. La Bufadora was neat and I am glad I went. The shops lining the streets nearby are your typical Mexico street shops selling various tourist souvenirs and food. We bought very large Piña Coladas that were delicious! Bartering in Mexico is encouraged – even when it comes to how many shots/types of alcohol to put in your Piña Colada! Tequila tasting is available in restaurants as well. Churro samples are handed out – try one, they are great. Get some street tacos if you can! After this, the bus offered to A) drop us off at the boat, or B) drop us off downtown. We opted for downtown.
Next comes the highlight of our trip. One of the excursions available through the cruise was a vineyard tour. This is probably a fun one, however, we stumbled upon a small wine tasting shop. It was called Vino De La Region. The shop owner was awesome and was very passionate about wine. He chatted with us about the different wines, and we found out his father was the owner of a large vineyard and produced many of the wines in his shop! It was a great personal experience as the day was coming to a close.
We were on the street closest to the shoreline, so we decided to walk back to the boat. This led us to the discovery of a seafood tostada street cart and a popsicle stand (AKA Paletas). Oh, my goodness both of these were amazing. The tostada came with the freshest seafood prepared right in front of you. After this, we walked back to the boat with smiles on our faces.
Looking back, there were some things I would do differently and some I have fond memories of. Overall, it is a vacation so make sure you have fun and don’t be too disappointed if everything doesn’t turn out perfectly how you envisioned. Focus on the good and just be in the moment and relax!
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