Our First Cruise in 2 Years – What We Loved and Hated

We recently returned from a 7 day Mexican Riviera Cruise on the Carnival Panorama. This was my 35 cruise and Erika’s 15th cruise.

Because we learned that the babysitting option, Carnival’s Night Owl’s program was still closed because of the pandemic we decided to bring our babysitter and got her an inside cabin close to our balcony cabin. That was a great idea and really worked out well.

If you didn’t already know we have three children, two boys ages seven and five and one girl who is 6 months old. In hindsight if we weren’t able to do a cruise with our babysitter I think we would have waited until the babysitting programs reopened. The interesting thing about Carnivals website is that it does show that the babysitting program is available. I finally found out that the babysitting program would not be available after messaging several staff members via social media.

Without the babysitter the evening life for us would have been pretty limited. The production shows would have been manageable if we sat on the isle and needed to make a quick exit. Having kids below 2 or 3 is a bit of a challenge to cruise with because when babysitting options are available most cruise lines require that the child be potty-trained and 2 or 3 years of age or older.

And with our boys who are 7 and 5 they are still too young to be left on their own. The point of this is that babysitting is a HUGE benefit and I hope the cruise lines open these programs again because that is one of the main reasons we choose a cruise over a land vacation.

Ok, so let’s get back to our cruise and my initial thoughts.

The capacity, after speaking with several staff members I think the capacity of the ship was about 3,700 passengers. For the Panorama this was a very manageable number. The ship was busy but it never felt like it was difficult to move around or do something we wanted to do. We have had other cruises where the shows filled up quickly or the specially dining was sold out with very few options available.

We did specialty dining 4 nights, 2 at the steakhouse, 1 at the teppanyaki, and Erika and I did the chefs table for our anniversary. It was our first time at the Chef’s table which was very good. Also the specialty restaurants were well worth the additional expense. The steak house on Carnival continues to be my favorite specialty dining option offered. It was very good. Although the “Art at your Table” desert option wasn’t the same as our last experience a couple of years ago. The presentation seemed a little rushed.

The MDR – The Main Dining Room was a bit disappointing. The staff was great but the overall quality was well below previous standards. The staff seemed a little overwhelmed when it was busy but that they were great and doing their best. The magician was very good. He also made an appearance at the Chef’s table and had some very great and entertaining tricks up his sleeve.

One thing to keep in mind we did 7 all-inclusive resort land vacations over the pandemic. Primarily Mexico because it was one of the few places we could travel to. Many of these hotels were dealing with staffing issues also. The MDR on the cruise was still better than most of the dining options we experienced at various all-inclusive specialty dining options. There were two options that were very good in case you want to watch our videos from those vacations. The first was our stay at the Hard Rock Hotel in Playa Del Carmen and the other was the Marival Distinct Luxury Residences in Nuevo Vallarta. Both of these hotels offered excellent dining options.

In the end we enjoyed our meals in the MDR and the staff was very good but the overall quality has been much better in the past.

The Bars – the bar staff was also very good and friendly but it was clear they were also understaffed. Alchemy Bar is a place we hang out often and spent a few evenings there. The drinks were great and the staff was also very good. Overall the bar was what we expected but wait times could have been much better in the casino, around the pool and lounges. That is on Carnival corporate. Hopefully it continues to improve now that we are seeing passenger capacity increase. It’s obvious that the ships are really ramping up promotions to increase capacity but slow to increase staff.

Cabin Steward – Our cabin steward was great, it was his first week back after the pandemic so he was happy to be working again, he was very nice. I gave him $40 on day one when we met and $20 again the last full sea day and he was really on top of things. Extra towels were never an issue when we requested it and he found us a baby crib for Emma right away which was great. It caused the cabin to be a bit tighter than normal but the crib was the best sleeping option for Emma being 6 months old.Shows & Entertainment – The main production shows were just so-so, although the last night of the cruise the show was Celestial Strings. We missed it but all of our friends we met in the group said it was by far the best show of the cruise. I wish we would have gone to this show but we ran out of time with so much happening the last night.

The Comedy – Comedy was very good, a lot more shows than before the pandemic which is great since we really enjoy the comedy. 

Aiden & Ethan having fun at the water park.

The Piano Bar – Robbie was very good. I am pretty sure we have sailed with him in the past. He was great and that was a fun spot to hang out.

Kids Activities – All the staff with the kids camps and activities were fantastic. The Sky Zone staff for the indoor trampoline was fantastic. We reserved this for Aiden and Ethan and it was one of their favorite activities on the ship.

The Sky Ride was as expected. The kids were not tall enough but I went around once and have done this on the Breeze a few times.

The staff for the elevated rope course were also great and the waterslides and water park staff was very good. The waterpark and slides are always a favorite for the boys and a place we spend a few hours at on sea days.

The Captain – he didn’t exist. For all I know we could have had one of the officer’s piloting the ship.

On Sea Days there was no update from the bridge. In all of my cruises, about 35, I don’t ever recall not hearing some sort of update from the bridge even if it was from one of the officer’s. I thought that was odd. He also never attended the Platinum or Diamond gatherings. None of the officer’s attended. The highest ranking officer I saw the entire cruise was the Hotel Director and he is not technically an officer.

I sure hope it’s because of covid and out of an abundance of caution. But if you are not making any personal appearances you would expect a few updates from the bridge.

I love to shoot the breeze with the captain or chief engineer. I wasn’t expecting to do this on this cruise because of Covid restrictions but thought we might see him from a distance on stage.

Excursions – I actually have a detailed post about all the excursions and what we typically do on this Mexican Riviera Cruise. Please visit that post for all that information which will be very helpful for anyone thinking about taking a cruise through these ports. What to do in Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta.

Be sure to follow us on our YouTube channel at Alex & Erika because we will post our videos from this recent cruise over there soon and we post a lot more content on YouTube. We just started posting detailed writeups like this on our website.

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