People that live within driving distance of Southern California should be pretty excited about Carnival's decision to base their newest ship at the port of Long Beach. Up until now, when a cruise line got a new ship they have usually based it in Florida... and California has gotten the old hand-me-downs. Sometimes a good ship would come to the west coast to do Alaska cruises in the summer, and California would see it for a few cruises in the Spring and Fall. But finally, Carnival recognized the potential benefits of having a new state-of-the-art cruise ship in California year-round, and now we have Carnival Panorama doing Mexican Riviera cruises out of Southern California every Saturday for the entire year.
Carnival Panorama arrived in California in December of 2019 after a very long journey from the shipyard in Italy. Just the wrong size to fit through the Panama Canal, even the new, wider expansion, Carnival Panorama had to go all the way around the tip of South America to get over her to the Pacific Ocean. We happened to be in Cabo San Lucas on a different cruise ship on the very day that Carnival Panorama arrived in Cabo on her journey from the shipyard to her new home in California... and that's when I snapped the photo above. Notice that there aren't any passengers visible in that photo above. She hadn't carried a single passenger yet at that point, only crew! Our actual cruise on Carnival Panorama was a month later, in January 2020.
The ship's iconic red funnel, whose design was based on a whale tail, is one of the most recognizable features of a Carnival Cruise Line ship. Did you know it is actually just a clever way to spruce up the ship's smokestacks? If you look carefully at the photo, you can see some exhaust coming out the right side. Notice that the smoke isn't black. That's because the Carnival Panorama is one of the most advanced cruise ships in the world and is fitted with an exhaust scrubber system to drastically reduce the amount of emissions in to the air.
Another iconic feature of this class of Carnival ship is the dramatic vortex art piece in the atrium. A still photo doesn't really do it justice, as the patterns on the vortex are constantly moving.
Permanently docked right next to Carnival's cruise terminal in Long Beach is the classic ocean liner, RMS Queen Mary. If you have some extra time before or after a cruise on Carnival Panorama, just show your cruise boarding pass or ship card and you'll be allowed to walk around and explore RMS Queen Mary for free. It's a hotel now, so some cruise passengers stay there for a night or two before their cruise.
Carnival recently spent millions of dollars to improve their cruise terminal at Long Beach in anticipation of the arrival of Carnival Panorama. It's a really nice facility now, and much better able to handle the large numbers of passengers that come through it than it used to be. The boarding process was very smooth and easy for us. This was a real relief after a traumatic embarkation on a cruise about a month earlier at the port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. Carnival has exclusive use of the facilities at their passenger terminal in Long Beach, so all the other cruise lines that cruise in and out of Southern California use either the port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, or the port of San Diego. The facility in San Pedro, which is used by cruise lines such as Norwegian and Princess, is completely out of date and does a horrible job of handling a lot of passengers all at once. A month earlier, boarding Norwegian Joy, we saw lines that some passengers were stuck in for almost two hours! Thankfully, Carnival's Long Beach terminal is state-of-the-art, and we had an easy time getting aboard Carnival Panorama. The only problem was that we simply arrived too early. Because we live just a few hundred miles north, we drove to Long Beach... and I left way too early, just in case we ran in to any traffic problems, which on a Saturday morning we did not. So we got to Long Beach and parked our car at 10 AM, which was much too soon. Boarding didn't actually begin until close to 11:30 AM. We're platinum in Carnival's loyalty program, and they have a nice lounge at the terminal for Platinum-level guests, so we spent a lot of time just waiting there for boarding to begin. Let that be a lesson to you!
Once onboard, we dropped our carry-on luggage at our stateroom and then made our way to Guy's Burger Joint for one of those delicious Guy Fieri burgers that Carnival cruise line is famous for!
"The Ringer" from Guy's Burger Joint
There's an onion ring on top of the burger, and a special barbecue sauce, which gives it a unique flavor. The French Fries have some unique seasonings applied, including the tiniest bit of cayenne pepper. People who have never cruised with Carnival seem baffled by why people like me make such a big deal about Guy's Burger Joint... but those who have cruised with Carnival understand. Guy Fieri is some kind of culinary genius. He can take something as simple as the common burger & fries, something served in hundreds of thousands of restaurants around the world, and make the flavors pop in a way that no one else does. It's a very memorable burger, and it's not unusual for Carnival passengers to eat them almost every day of the cruise. They grill up thousands of them every day.
After Carnival rolled out Guy's Burger Joint to every ship in their fleet, and got hugely positive feedback from their passengers, they decided to try to collaborate with Guy Fieri once again and a concept was born for a barbecue joint and brewhouse. It's known as the Pig & Anchor. Kellyn and I loved it during our cruises on Carnival Vista and Carnival Horizon, and it was one of the things we were really looking forward to on Carnival Panorama. It did not disappoint!
There are two completely different menus at the Pig & Anchor, depending on whether you visit for lunch or for dinner. Lunch is served buffet style, and at no additional chage. Here's a sampling of meats that Kellyn and I shared for lunch one day at the Pig & Anchor's outdoor buffet...
I actually prefer the Pig & Anchor for dinner, because the dinner menu is a little better, and especially because they offer better side dishes at dinner. Here's a look at something that Kellyn and I shared for dinner at the Pig & Anchor one night...
"The Whole Smoker" (and a side of fries) from the Pig & Anchor.
They have a very nice bar at the Pig & Anchor, and they even brew several craft beers at a brewery right there aboard the ship. If you'd like a super-casual meal, rather than sitting in the restaurant you are welcome to sit at the bar and order food there. I make a meal out of ordering the $4 "Trash Can Nachos" from the appetizer menu.
As you probably know, I'm really more of a videographer than a photographer these days. So, if you have a half hour to kill, please enjoy the video I made about the Carnival Panorama:
To start the video playing, click the triangle in the middle of the video screen
To make the video fill the screen (recommended) click the little symbol in the lower right corner of the video player
As I mentioned in the video, an important aspect of our stay aboard Carnival Panorama was that we stayed in a suite in a private area of the ship known as the Havana area. There are Havana staterooms on several decks of the ship, but we really like the ones on deck five because they are adjacent to the private Havana pool area, and they feature a unique patio design, which you can see in the next few photos.
Kellyn loved the swing on our patio
When the ship was docked in Long Beach, our patio had a view of RMS Queen Mary
Using this pathway, it's quick and easy to get from our patio to the Havana pool area
This was our third time in a Havana stateroom on one of Carnival's Vista-class ships. It's unlikely we'll ever go back to any of Carnival's older ships now that we have been spoiled by the amenities of the Havana area on the Vista Class! I love spending time at the Havana pool and sundeck area, which you can see in these next few photos...
I usually bring a little pool thermometer with me on vacation so that I can see for myself what the temperatures are in the pools and hot tubs. In the Havana area of Carnival Panorama, they kept the pool at a very comfortable 85 degrees and the hot tubs were 103 degrees. During the first two days of our Mexican Riviera cruise, and the last two days, when the ship was still fairly far north and air temperatures were a little cool, I enjoyed those nice warm hot tubs. Once our ship got down to Mexico, and the air temperatures warmed up quite a bit, the pool was a comfortable place to relax and stay cool.
Here's a look at the Havana pool area as seen from one of the upper decks of the ship...
The Havana pool area is for the exclusive use of passengers booked in Havana staterooms. Therefore, most of Carnival Panorama's passengers do not have access to this area. Notice that in all these photos, the Havana pool area is very un-crowded, as opposed to the kind of scenes you would typically see elsewhere on the ship...
About the only time you would ever find one of Carnival Panorama's regular pools to be un-crowded would be if you went very early in the morning, when the weather hadn't warmed up yet...
When the ship is approaching one of ports of calls, a great place to enjoy the views is from this somewhat hidden viewing area at the front of deck 5. I bet most passengers never even discover it. Take the forward elevators to deck five, use the doors near the theater entrance to go outside to the Lanai area, and then walk all the way to the very front of the ship to find this viewing area:
From that viewing area, if you look down you will see a crew break area that has a crew-only hot tub. It doesn't get used that much by the crew members during the daytime hours, because most crew stay pretty busy during the day. If you go out here late at night, you'll often see crew members taking a smoking deck down below, or hanging out together in the hot tub. Sometimes, if they've had a drink or two and are talking loudly, you might even overhear an interesting conversation!
It can get very windy up at that viewing area at the front of the ship, and sometimes when the ship is in motion it gets so windy up there that they actually rope it off to keep passengers out of that area.
One of the things that Carnival does better than all the other cruise lines is stand-up comedy. During a 7-day cruise, there will usually be four different comedians performing stand-up comedy on the ship. Kellyn and I enjoy all the laughs on a Carnival cruise!
Another thing we like about cruising with Carnival is that they usually have good musical entertainment aboard. Some cruise lines try to save money by skimping on the budget for musicians. They hire a cheap Filipino cover band, or they just hire a few individual solo performers. But on many of our Carnival cruises we have seen large bands with American vocalists, and we've enjoyed them a lot. The band on Carnival Panorama was good, and we went to see them several times...
The last five or six Carnival ships have all had a very goofy design for the musical entertainment space known as "Ocean Plaza". It's really an awkward place for a musical act to perform, with a busy walkway just to the left of the stage. It's very distracting to see a constant flow of passengers walking by when you are watching the band perform in the Ocean Plaza. I've seen the deck plans for the next generation of Carnival ships and thankfully they have come up with a better design for those!
On just about every cruise I go on, I get recognized by people that know me from my cruise ship videos on YouTube. I always enjoy it when people come up and say hello and tell me that they've seen my videos. I refer to this as a "fan encounter", for lack of any better term. In the last year or two, as my YouTube videos have gotten more well known, this has happened about five times per cruise, on average. During my Panama Canal cruise on Norwegian Bliss, I set what I thought would be an unbreakable record for earliest fan encounter when I got recognized in the check-in line before the cruise... in other words, before I had even boarded the ship. But I managed to beat that on this cruise by getting recognized before even getting to the check-in line. I got recognized in the parking garage! (That's got to be an unbeatable personal record now.) This was a really awkward experience, though, because of something that happened to Kellyn during this particular fan encounter.
Kellyn and I were in the process of taking our luggage from our car and delivering it to the porters that accept the luggage and get it on to the ship. So each of us was rolling our luggage and also were loaded down with our carry-on items, too. There were people everywhere, and it was a bit of a chaotic scene. I was leading the way to the porters, and Kellyn was following maybe six feet behind me. My "fan" was a young man in his early 20s and he not only recognized me, but he recognized Kellyn from my videos, too. He wanted to stop us and say hello, but since I was leading out in front, I was actually too far away for him to get my attention. He was very close to Kellyn, though, so he walked up to her and exclaimed "Kellyn!" and at the same time grabbed her arm. I'm sure he meant no offense in grabbing Kellyn's arm, but she was already a bit flustered from the rush of moving all the luggage and keeping up with me... and when that guy grabbed her arm, it caused her to trip over her own luggage! She ended up tripping over her suitcase and falling on top of it.
Luckily, she was only lightly bruised in the fall... but it was a heck of a start to her cruise!
Here are a couple of nice sunsets I photographed during our cruise...
The highlight of our cruise on Carnival Panorama occurred when the ship visited Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My sister and her husband spend several weeks in Puerto Vallarta every January, to escape the winter weather where they live. They have a time share in Puerto Vallarta that they stay in every January. Since our cruise took us to Puerto Vallarta when they would already be there, we met up with them and spent the day together. They have a local driver and tour guide that they have worked with for many years. His name is Archivaldo Uribe Macedo, or "Archie". He's a real nice guy and speaks excellent English. Archie drove us all over to the little village of Sayulita, a little place outside of Puerto Vallarta that is starting to become a popular place for tourists. (It's the area where they film the TV show "Bachelor In Paradise".) In the next photo, you can see Archie pointing out a feature of interest to my sister as we walked down a dirt road in Sayulita that goes through a cemetery...
After spending a few hours in Sayulita, Archie dropped us all back off at my sister's timeshare in Puerto Vallarta. I've heard my sister and her husband raving about this spot for years, but this was my first opportunity to actually see it. From the 25th floor of the building, the patio of their timeshare has some pretty amazing views of Puerto Vallarta and the Pacific Ocean!
I was really impressed with their timeshare in Puerto Vallarta! Perhaps an opportunity will occur in the coming years where we'll be able to spend more than just a day with them here. Later this year, I'll be retiring from my "real job" and moving to Washington state to be closer to my sister and her side of the family. I suspect that the best days I'll spend with my sister and her husband are still to come.
Caribbean cruises and Mexican Riviera cruises are very different. It's not unusual to have 7 perfect weather days during a Caribbean cruise, but on a Mexican Riviera cruise it's quite common for the first day or two and the last day or two to be cloudy and cool. Also, there are LOTS of ports that cruise ships can visit in the Caribbean, so different cruise ships do all sorts of different itineraries when they sail out of Florida. But in the Mexican Riviera there are really only four ports that a 7-day cruise from Southern California can reach: Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Ensenada is not a very exciting place, so just about every 7-day Mexican Riviera cruise goes to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. During our cruise, Royal Princess was doing the exact same itinerary in the same order as we were, so we saw her every day of our cruise. In Mazatlan, while I was relaxing in the Havana pool at the back of Carnival Panorama, I snapped this photo of Royal Princess docked right behind us...
It was ironic to see Royal
Princess, because she's the ship I'll be on for my very next cruise!
Kellyn and I will be leading a group cruise in Alaska this July, on Royal
About a month before our Mexican Riviera cruise on Carnival Panorama, we did a Mexican Riviera cruise on Norwegian Joy. Internet access on Norwegian Joy was particularly slow, so I was curious to see how it would be on Carnival Panorama. Download speeds were much better, but upload speeds and latency were still a problem.
If having top-quality Internet access is important to you when you're on a cruise, the leaders in this area are currently Royal Caribbean and Princess.
I'm sure that someday, perhaps when Elon Musk's network of satellites is fully operational, we'll shake our head and laugh at the Internet speeds on cruise ships back in 2020.
Carnival Panorama versus Norwegian Joy
We had a really good cruise in our Havana Suite on Carnival Panorama, but the truth is that for about the same amount of money we had an even better cruise in The Haven on Norwegian Joy about a month earlier.
We had tricked ourselves in to thinking that we were getting a better bargain on Carnival Panorama. The booking price for our Havana Suite was about $500 less than what we had paid for a Courtyard Penthouse Suite in The Haven on Norwegian Joy. But by the time the cruise was over, we had spent $600 onboard Carnival Panorama for alcoholic beverages and specialty dining, and we had no onboard spending in The Haven on Norwegian Joy because drinks and specialty dining were all included.
But clearly, if someone was looking to save a little money, Carnival Panorama would be a sensible choice. Rather than booking a Havana Suite, you could book a much less-expensive Havana Cabana... as long as you were willing to give up the larger shower, double sinks, and slightly larger living room of the Havana Suite. Other than those things, a Havana Cabana provides all the same benefits we had, at a much lower price point... and that is a good deal.
But if you do like to drink alcoholic beverages while on a cruise, Norwegian Joy might be a very attractive choice for you. Norwegian almost always offers you a choice of promotional offers when you book your cruise, and one of the offers you can choose from is to take the "premium beverage package" at a cost of just $20 per day. To buy this on Carnival would cost about $62 per day, and both people in the cabin have to buy it... so that's double the price. So, for people that like to drink alcohol on a cruise, the beverage package only ends up costing $280 per couple for a 7-day cruise on Norwegian versus $868 per couple for a 7-day cruise on Carnival.
Room For Improvement
There was a lot I liked about our cruise on Carnival Panorama, and I can definitely recommend this ship to others... especially to older people who want a quiet, un-crowded cruise experience. The Havana area on Carnival is the least expensive way I've found to get that quiet, un-crowded experience on a cruise ship.
But there's always room for improvement! Here are three simple changes that I think Carnival ought to make on Carnival Panorama:
Turn the music off at the Havana pool and sun deck area. Nobody booked a Havana cabin because they are looking for a Cuban experience with Cuban music. They all booked a stateroom in the Havana area so they would be able to have a peaceful, un-crowded experience at the Havana pool and sun deck area. The Cuban music is annoying, and takes away from what should be a serene vibe in this area. Leave the Cuban music on inside, at the Havana bar, but turn it off outside at the pool.
Put cushions on the loungers in the Havana pool area. These are premium staterooms that people have paid extra for. It's crazy that the passengers using the free Serenity Retreat have cushions on their loungers and the passengers who have paid a premium to be in a Havana stateroom has to sit on a bare lounger with no cushion by the Havana pool.
Offer corn tortillas in addition to the flour tortillas you use at the Blue Iguana Cantina. People that have to eat gluten-free can't eat flour tortillas.
Need A Travel Agent?
Booking a cruise can be confusing, especially if you haven't been on many cruises before. There are lots of first-time cruiser mistakes that a travel agent can keep you from making.
If you're interested in booking a cruise with any cruise line... please feel free to use the services of my travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher. She's extremely pleasant to deal with, easy to talk to since she lives in the United States and speaks without any kind of an accent, and quite experienced and knowledgeable about different types of cruising. Caitlin is the owner of Ambren Travel. Visit her web site, check out the Ambren Travel Facebook page, or contact her using the information below.
Here are links to a couple of pdf files that I think you would find useful:
Carnival Panorama Deck Plans Suggestion: Print on 11x17" paper
All 7 Carnival Panorama Daily Newsletters (known as the "Fun Times")
Carnival Panorama Entertainment Schedule
Carnival Panorama Room Service Menu
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
If you've enjoyed this page, you would probably also enjoy reading my web pages about:
December 2019 cruise in The Haven on Norwegian Joy
May 2019 Carnival Horizon cruise
April 2019 Norwegian Breakaway cruise
January 2019 Caribbean cruise on the Viking Sea
December 2018 country music cruise on the Norwegian Getaway
May 2018 Panama Canal cruise on the Norwegian Bliss
January 2018 cruise on MSC Seaside in a suite with a private Jacuzzi
September 2017 Carnival Vista cruise in a Havana Suite
October 2017 Norwegian Sky cruise in the owner's suite
The $1600 per night owners suite: January 2017 Norwegian Pearl
An Un-crowded Small Ship Experience: Viking Star
One Of The Best Waterslides At Sea: Liberty Of The Seas
Quite Possibly The Best Cruise Ship In The World: Anthem Of The Seas
January 2017 Allure Of The Seas
One of the best cruise ships we've ever experienced: The Norwegian Escape
2015 Carnival Breeze back-to-back cruises
Back-to-back cruises on Independence Of The Seas
World's largest cruise ship: Allure Of The Seas
2015 Carnival Freedom repositioning cruise
Our first VIP cruise in The Haven: The Norwegian Getaway
Our June 2014 Alaska cruisetour with Princess
Our first cruise with Princess! January 2014 Sapphire Princess
2014 back-to-back eastern/western Caribbean cruises on the Carnival Glory
The completely refurbished Carnival Sunshine
One of Carnival's best ships, the Carnival Breeze
A sister ship to the Breeze, the Carnival Magic
Our 2013 cruise on the Carnival Conquest
One of the oldest ships in the fleet, the Carnival Inspiration
Our first Caribbean cruise: the Carnival Glory
Our many cruises on the Carnival Spirit
Our February 2010 cruise on the Carnival Splendor
Our January 2008 cruise on the Carnival Elation
Our April 2008 cruise on the Norwegian Star
Our first cruise! 1996 on Carnival Cruise Line's MS Holiday
Click here to see the complete chronology of all the cruises we've ever taken.
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