Having just come off a 7 day Mexican Riviera cruise in a suite aboard the Norwegian Star, I wasn't expecting much from our 4 day cruise to Catalina Island and Ensenada in an ocean view cabin on one of the oldest ships in the Carnival fleet. I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed the cruise.
We spent the night at the Residence Inn downtown which is about a mile to the cruise terminal. There is a free bus which stops at the hotel and it took us into downtown Long Beach and we walked over to Enterprise Rental car on Ocean and the following day we returned the car and they dropped us off at the cruise terminal. Residence Inn doesn't provide a shuttle bus to the cruise terminal. The free bus doesn't stop at the Residence inn on the way back. Take the bus all the way to the Queen Mary stop (end of line) and catch the next bus (or the same bus a few minutes later) heading back towards Long Beach. I recommend staying the night on the Queen Mary as it is right next door to the Carnival cruise ship terminal.
My wife was extremely bothered by the outdated decor (especially the atrium) but I didn't mind one bit. The food, even in the buffet, was very good and met all of my expectations (except for the sea day brunch). The meal choices were excellent except for one night when the selections for dinner was poor. The Christmas dinner printed on a special menu was very nice but I absolutely HATE the sea day brunch because you have to use the same menu for breakfast and lunch and select from the lousy offerings. I tend to wake up early and have an early breakfast and lunch at noon so having the same menu for both breakfast and lunch is boring. One of the best things about the ship is the fantastic water pressure-it was the best shower I've had in years due to the low flow showerheads found in most homes.
Embarkation was managed quite nicely by Carnival at Long Beach. We were aboard with a minimum of fuss and delay and even received our bags within a hour. Disembarkation took a bit longer but still nicely managed. The line for American citizens went much faster than the line for non U.S. citizens so I was happy about that.
As far as entertainment goes, I don't know how Carnival managed to find the worst comedian in the world-whoever hired him needs to be fired. The other comedian was very funny and made up for the worst comedian in the world.
Catalina and Ensenada are excellent ports. Catalina is clean and safe and it was a pleasure to be able to buy a copy of the New York Times and the L.A. Times after having spent a week at sea on my cruise the week before. Getting simple Chinese food at Mr. Mings was a good antidote to the rich, cruiseship cuisine. We travelled overnight and arrived in Ensenada the following morning.
Ensenada is walkable and easily managed in one day. I recommend getting off the ship as early as possible and walking along Lopez Mateo before all of the hawkers wake up (the hawkers are bad in this town especially close to Hussong's cantina and Papas and Beer) Going to the fish market is a fascinating experience to see what kind of seafood is caught locally. Going to Mexican supermarkets simply to browse and buy drinks is also an interesting experience. I met one Mexican guy at the supermarket who had lived in L.A. for 27 years before he was deported and he told me about how hard it was to make a living in Mexico where the average daily wage is $8/day when he made that much money per hour back in the United States. We left Ensenada that night and went about 1 mph back to Long Beach and spent an entire day at sea before arriving the following morning. We caught a Carnival sponsored bus back to LAX for $30/person.
Since this is an older Carnival vessel, the cabins tend to be smaller than the cabins on newer Carnival ships. I was on the main deck and the water pressure was fantastic!!!!!! How wonderful to escape the low flow showers found in most homes in the U.S.