Top 10 Things We Liked/Didn’t Like About the New Carnival Panorama

I say new because the Panorama was christened in Long Beach in December 2019 and only cruised with passengers for 3 months until the whole cruising industry shut down. She began cruising again in August of 2021 and we set sail on her in November, still in her inaugural year.

We were excited to try a new Carnival ship with serene, more elegant decor after mostly experiencing the tacky Joe Farcus ships. Our favorite Carnival ship class is the Spirit Class (a fan favorite), so we were hoping the Panorama would just be a bigger version of that. Here’s what we liked/didn’t like after sailing the Panorama.

What We Liked

  1. Embarkation – was pretty speedy (but not as fast as “Faster to the Fun” [FTTF], which is how we embarked pre-Covid.) It took us app. 40 minutes from car to cabin, which isn’t bad at all).
  2. Tides Bar – this is the aft pool bar that makes a stunning impression as soon as you get off the elevators on deck 10. Views of the aft pool and the wake of the ship.
  3. Ocean Plaza Bar – awesome rock band when we were there, great seating both inside and outside.
  4. Our cabin location in the aft – up 3 to the Marketplace (buffet – love the salad bar) and Tides Bar, aft pool and down 2 to the Ocean Plaza Bar, restaurants, bars, entertainment, etc.
  5. Guy’s Burgers – still awesome and the fries haven’t changed (unlike rumors we’ve heard about the Mardi Gras).
  6. Muster drill – I think this is true on every ship on every cruise line now. A huge improvement over the old way. Still, hundreds of people has to be nagged at to check in before we could sail away.
  7. The elevators – there’s been a lot of talk about how terrible they are because nobody knows to enter the number of passengers when you punch in your desk. Truth is, the number of passenger doesn’t matter at all, and once you punch in your deck, you know exactly which elevator is coming for you.
  8. The main dining room – quite lovely and one night we had incredible service, complete with staff entertainment. That’s what Carnival is all about and what we love about them.
  9. Carnival App – handy to check in to the dining room, see menus (like the dining room menu), but would be nice to be able to pick up the old “Fun Times” to see activities at a glance. More cost-saving measures resulting in not having enough servers, stewards, etc. Not fun!
  10. Disembarkation – incredible! The best ever! We were called first and all we did at Customs was have our passport scanned as we walked through.

What We Didn’t Like

  1. Ship Layout – just didn’t have a nice flow like the Spirit Class.
  2. Service – one really prominent reason we’ve sailed Carnival is that their service has been pretty awesome. Maybe it’s just the Covid restart, but we think some things are just how Carnival is doing business now. Cabin steward comes only once a day so that ice you requested has melted by evening when you really need it. No wine sommeliers or any kind of bar service in the dining room other than what you request from your waiter. Seaday brunch (a longtime favorite of ours) has changed the menu and removed my favorite cappuccino muffin and the service is hurried, unfriendly, and full of mistakes. The “fun” is gone so it’s impossible to “Choose Fun.”
  3. Midship pool – only one tiny pool with lounge chairs taking up where the second pool used to be, making the pool area quite removed from the bar area.
  4. Pig & Anchor – absolutely horrible. Simply couldn’t eat the food. And some items listed on the menu were not available, such as cole slaw, collard greens, and some beer selections.
  5. Alchemy Bar – location felt like a hallway so we didn’t ever stop in for a drink and it’s one of our favorite bars on other Carnival ships.
  6. Cabin – seemed narrow. People have complained about the cabin size on the new Mardi Gras but we think it’s the same size as the Panorama (which is smaller than older ships), just the bed is in the middle of the cabin, making the room seem smaller. We think we might prefer the cabin layout of the Mardi Gras. Bathroom is smaller in both classes of ship.
  7. Main showroom – the chairs down in front of the stage make it look like a conference room, not a showroom.
  8. Promenade deck – closed off. One of our favorite places to get some fresh air is the promenade deck. And being able to walk it is a great way to get some exercise, talk, and think. These are rare today so we study the deck plans carefully. So to have it blocked off was totally unacceptable.
  9. The two small atriums – neither had an inviting vibe and the shops were tiny with very little merchandise.
  10. Passengers – how you connect with other passengers can be hit/miss (we met some lovely people on our PV excursion, for example), but Princess is probably a better fit for us.

 

“She’s Not That Good” Goes Cruising…

We postponed our trip to WDW but caught a great deal on a cruise out of Long Beach. Trip report coming but I’m kicking it off with a post on “Screamie Birds Studios.”

Screamie Birds Studios

I just returned from 7 nights on the Carnival Panorama still in her inaugural year that was cut short due to, well, you all know. She’s a beautiful ship, the cruise fare was a bargain, and no flights were required. Besides all that, I was hoping that freshly back from a cruise experience, I’d be overflowing with ideas on how to finish She’s Not That Good. I think I’ll have to wait?. Why? Too much reality interferes with my imagination – lol!

What I will say is that my favorite part about cruising, besides being at sea, is being able to casually drop in and listen to a live band. Our favorite this cruise? The House Rock Band that played in the Ocean Plaza Bar, the best kept secret onboard the Panorama. We grabbed a couple glasses of wine and sat outside where we could take off our masks…

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First Trip to #Disneyland with #MagicKey, Day 2, Part 1

The beauty of the Magic Key is that we can go to the parks for just a few hours one night and then a couple more the next day and not feel like we need to go all commando to get our money’s worth. We knew, for example, that after travel day and last night at DCA, we’d want to sleep in and go to the beach this morning. So that’s exactly what we did.

We headed for Newport Beach, which was quiet on a week day, sat in our beach chairs for a couple of hours and then over to Mutt Lynch’s for lunch. It was an absolutely perfect day! Took me back to my childhood, at least the beach part – not Mutt’s – lol!

At Mutt’s I had a Margarita and Carne Asada tacos, Rich a Mai Tai and Carnitas Tacos.

Such a fun atmosphere, tasty food, yummy cocktails, music and freedom! Orange County does not require masks indoors for the vaccinnated the way Las Vegas does, which is quite a turnaround from last year when all of California was so shut down. Not a fan of wearing masks to stores and church.

Anyhoo… it was a wonderful way to spend the morning! Back to our hotel room for a rest… and ponder if/when/how we’d go to Disneyland park for the evening without parking in that parking garage and hoofing it 2 miles round trip.

 

First Trip to #Disneyland with #MagicKey, Day 1

As a side note to yesterday’s drama, one of the recommendations the Disney Food Blog had made regarding getting in touch with WDW when call volume was high was not only email and text but social media. Yeah, right, I thought.

But I was ready to try anything so I went over to the Twitter account and sent WDW a private message and when I woke up this morning, there was a response. I was really surprised, but, thankfully, the chat had worked just last evening.

Anyway, on to our first trip to Disneyland with the Magic Key. The biggest question, when you’re not staying onsite, is how to get to Disneyland. The garage parking trams are not running yet and we’re not the only ones who are not a fan of that situation. Check out Adam the Woo’s Why I Regret Buying the Disneyland Magic Key video.

I don’t mind that too much – we used to walk it instead of taking the tram anyway. However, with the last trip in mind when my shins started cramping, I realize I need to use as much transportation as I can get. Note to self: use the boats getting to/from Epcot at upcoming WDW trip.

The biggest problem with the garage scenario is the confusing and ridiculous way they route you. So after driving the 4 hours, we checked into our hotel, unpacked, rested, and then drove over to the Disneyland parking garage, which requires making a u-turn – access is so unclear from the direction of our hotel or most hotels. It’s designed for exiting from I-5.

We parked the car, walked to the escalator, arrived at the bottom of the garage and headed toward the CM sitting there. He redirected us back into the garage to loop around and go into the second garage to go through security and then back to where he was sitting before even embarking on this mile-long walk. That’s two miles round trip not counting the miles you rack up inside the park.

Our usual hotel no longer has a bus stop (most hotels use the ART (Anaheim Resort Transportation) service, so we would have to either walk to a neighboring hotel, use Uber, or park in the parking garage for $25 (only the top-tier pass has full paid parking included – the second tier has parking at half price. We’re the third tier with no parking included).

We called the neighboring hotels for information but the ART app seemed confusing. We looked into Uber but it would cost $25 each way during the times we would need it. So off to the parking garage we went.

It wasn’t too bad once we were past the security maze, but I had to keep reminding myself not to walk too fast. We veered off when we reached Downtown Disney because we were headed for DCA and the former AlFresco Lounge (now specifically reserved for Magic Key holders). We hated being locked out of there when we didn’t have an AP! That alone would make the Magic Key worth it – lol!

But first, we were craving that “Ocean Beach” Sundae at Ghirardelli that we’d had at “A Touch of Disney” last April. Besides, it was hot out. The sundae was just as amazing as we’d remembered. Yum!!

Then we walked over to the Dia de los Muertos section of DCA, looking for their Halloween offerings. We were especially interested in the steak taco plate, which we shared. We enjoyed the entertainment while we ate.

Then it was getting close to our Magic Key Terrace ressie. We were a bit early but we decided to show up to see if we could be seated early. We had to wait for 5 minutes or so and then were seated.

It was so awesome sitting with other Magic Key Holders up on the Terrace. For cocktails, I had the “Stinger” and Rich had a gin flight, which I also tasted.

“The Stinger”

Dulce Vida Pineapple-Jalapeño Tequila, Cointreau and House-made Orange-Habañero Simple Syrup

“The Ultra Flight”

Trio of Gin-based Cocktails featuring flavors of Orange, Pine and Sea

Rich preferred the Pine and the Orange, while I liked the Sea the best.

We also ordered the Charcuterie board, rather reluctantly for me, but I absolutely loved it!

Bountiful Valley Charcuterie

Chef’s selection of Cheeses and Meats

By this time, we were pretty tired after the drive, so we walked around the park and darted into the GC to sit a bit in the lobby, admiring the Halloween decorations and treats.

Earlier in the evening, we thought I might have to wait for Rich at the GC while he hiked back to the parking garage but after the cocktail fortification and some relaxation in the GC, I was up for walking back with him. We actually enjoyed the walk back, taking our time, soaking up the nighttime atmosphere.

However, we would have to come up with a different plan for tomorrow.

25th Wedding Anniversary at the Grand Californian, Day 2, Part 2 (#Napa Rose #Disneyland Resort)

After lunch, we went back to the room to rest and maybe the pool before returning to Disneyland for the evening. But that’s when extreme pain in my shins began, cramping my legs. Rich went down to the Craftsman Counter Service and brought back 2 large bottles of PowerAde while I was busy downing all the water I could.

We napped but realize that there was no way I could walk back to Disneyland. So we quickly checked dining reservations and found an opening at Napa Rose. We’d had such an amazing “Vintner’s Table” experience there in June that we couldn’t imagine topping, so we hadn’t planned on Napa Rose for the anniversary. But under the circumstances, it was the best way to celebrate the evening.

We started off, as we often do, at Hearthstone Lounge to have a little sip while waiting for our reservation at Napa Rose.

Rich ordered the Conundrum White and I ordered the La Marca Prosecco (both quite fitting for a celebration).

Then we headed over to Napa Rose a bit early to see if we could be seated. Unfortunately that meant we got our least favorite server. She pooh-poohed our anniversary and then proceeded to talk about herself. From now on, we would make sure we never got her again.

This time we just ordered off the menu. That night they were offered the Chicken Galatine with a slightly different preparation, so Kathy ordered that.

Appetizers:

Rich: Salad with Anchovies
Kathy: Scallop and Shrimp

Entrees:

Rich: Oak-roasted Swordfish in a Light Mussel Broth
Kathy: Chicken Galantine

It was all very good, but we weren’t really that hungry so we skipped dessert. On our way back to our room, we stopped in at the gift shop and got some cookies for the room for relaxation and time together.

It was a pretty low-key evening, but we were happy with it. It seems to be our wedding/anniversary tradition that something physical must ail me – my back went out on our Maui honeymoon, and I broke my toe on our 20th anniversary cruise to Mexico. And then we both arrived home with pneumonia. So shin splints seem rather minor in comparison.

We checked out the next morning after somewhat repeating breakfast from the previous day (this time we each got a chocolate croissant), and said good-bye to Disneyland, the Grand Californian, and my beloved Orange County, and drove back to Las Vegas.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Don’t go commando in the Disney parks. Must take it slowly.
  2. Good to have Magic Key – even if we never get our “money’s worth.” We’re much better at dropping in on the parks either morning or evening – not both.

25th Wedding Anniversary at the Grand Californian, Day 2, Part 1 (#Disneyland Resort)

We had a one-day, one park ticket left over from a July trip that didn’t happen so we made reservations for Disneyland. We’d recently been to DCA in April for the “Touch of Disney” event and hadn’t been to Disneyland Park since Rich’s birthday in August of 2019.

We enjoyed our coffee and pastry from the quick service restaurant at the GC in our room, took a selfie or two (lol!), and headed out to the park. We walked Main Street, took a few pics/video and then veered off through Adventureland for Pirates of the Caribbean. It felt so good to be back after a 2-year absence.

We’ve been drooling over our memories of our first and last Ronto Wrap back in 2019, and we wondered if we’d like the breakfast version. As it turns out, we loved it even more than the original version.

Then we saw a standby line forming in front of Oga’s Cantina so we put in our name and after a short wait, we were escorted to the bar in front of DJ Rex – yes!!

Rich ordered his favorite Jet Juice and this time I thought I’d try the Fuzzy Tauntaun. Whoa! When the ladies next to us asked for a straw, I said I’d need one of those and the drink went down better without getting too much of the numbing fuzzy foam.

We were sipping, laughing, dancing and really enjoying ourselves, dressed in our “Anniversary” tshirts when Rich asked for the bill and we were told that the 4 ladies at the end of the bar had bought our drinks.

We couldn’t believe it. We raised our glasses, blew some kisses, they smiled, and then they left. What an awesome way to kick off our anniversary! Yes, the CMs can enhance your Disney experience, but the fellow guests are truly special!

We’ll share the video of that here (in case you missed the sticky post):

After that fortification, we got in line at “Big Thunder,” and, oh my goodness, was it the Fuzzy Tauntaun or am I just getting too old to be thrown around like that, but that may have been my last BTMR. Gasp!

Then we thought we’d try for one more ride – Peter Pan. The sign said 20 minutes and that didn’t seem too long so we got in line. But it ended up being closer to 40-45 minutes. It was crowded and I kept putting on/taking off my mask. So that when we got to the front of the line, I forgot about it being off and the CM told me to put it on – lol!

The fun part about the line was exchanging “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Anniversary” with the guests celebrating something in line. Those little kids are soooo adorable!

After Peter Pan, we were hungry, so we stopped in to put in a mobile order but it was going to be 40 minutes, it was hot, the table we were sitting at was dirty, and families were too close by. So I checked the Disneyland App and noticed the Craftsman Bar & Grill had an opening back at our hotel, so we took off. That was enough for the morning, and we had plans to return later that day.

More on lunch and change of plans in the next post. Here are a couple pics from our morning at the resort including my new selfie trend (note: Rich is behind me – lol! A challenge for Rich and I to do selfies when standing side-by-side because of the height difference).

Photos in the park in separate post.

Previously… Napa Rose Finally Reopens (Review)

By Rich

We had been away from Napa Rose for too long. When the doors were finally open again in early June, we made reservations and found our way back to one of our favorite restaurants.

We arrived with the glasses of wine we had been sipping in the Hearthstone Lounge, Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Malbec. We were seated without delay in a beautiful, private section of the dining room overlooking the outdoor fire pit. This room is usually reserved for private parties. We were the only ones there.

Our server, Brett, was fantastic. We had never been served by him before, but he and Michael are our two favorites now.

Since we had such a private dining area, we felt it was only appropriate that we dine with The Vintner’s Table, a four-course meal that changes every week, expertly designed by the incredible Andrew Sutton.

Brett explained the menu choices and agreed to bring our new wine order with our second course.

The only odd thing about Napa Rose now is that they do not offer bread service of any kind, free or paid. Seems like an odd way to save money and effort, and it detracts from the overall experience, but not a big deal. In fact, in subsequent visits, I don’t think we missed it.

FIRST
Beef Carpaccio
Artichoke, Pecorino Cheese and Truffle Aioli

SECOND
“Pot Pie”
Rocky Chicken Fricassee and Summer Vegetables

THIRD
Beef Pot Roast
Slowly Braised Beef and Zinfandel Blackberry Essence

DESSERTS
Sea Salt Affogato
Salted Caramel Semifreddo and Dark Chocolate Espresso Sauce

Baked Artisan Cheese
Fennel-Red Pepper Marmalade

WINE
Tinto de Toro, Numanthia, Termes
Toro DO, Spain

As always, the food was delightful. The beef carpaccio melted in our mouths. The “pot pie” was a lighter take on the classic, with plenty of deep flavors. The beef pot roast was a bit heavy following everything else, but just as rich and savory as you would expect. When it came to dessert, we couldn’t decide, so we had both. The cheese was a nice balance to the sweet, but the affogato was definitely the star. You can’t do wrong with salted caramel and dark chocolate especially in the hands of the Napa Rose artisans.

Brett was perfect throughout, helping us when we needed him, chatting a little for some nice interaction, and leaving us to eat our delicious meal when appropriate.

It was so comforting to be back at Napa Rose. It was like coming home to eat here again with the fabulous food of Andrew Sutton, the private, comfortable atmosphere, and the top-notch service.

It was our first time back in a long time, but it wasn’t the last time we ate there. More Napa Rose stories to come as we relive the culinary joy of Napa Rose through photos (starting with Kathy’s pre-dinner selfie, pre-dinner wine at Hearthstone Lounge, the beautiful lobby, and finally, the Vintner’s Table dinner).

Duke’s Huntington Beach Review

By Rich

It was wonderful to be back at Duke’s Huntington Beach. We’ve eaten here many times, but this was the first time we’d been here for dinner. And, therefore, the first time we’d heard live music there. At least, that we can remember.

We valeted the car and arrived on time for our 6:15 PM reservation. We were immediately seated at a table for two not far from the windows and the beautiful view of Huntington Beach.

MENU

DRINKS

Rich & Kathy:
DUKE’S MAI TAI
signature cocktail made with aloha, fresh hawaiian juices with two types of rum

APPETIZERS

Kathy:
CAESAR
romaine, parmesan, lemon-anchovy dressing, garlic focaccia crumble

Rich:
WEDGE
iceberg, blue cheese, balsamic tomatoes, duroc bacon, candied walnuts

ENTREES

Kathy:
CRISPY COCONUT SHRIMP
lilikoi chili water, pickled cucumbers

Rich:
SAUTÉED MACNUT & HERB CRUSTED HALIBUT
parmesan & panko dusted, lemon caper butter, seasonal vegetables, herbed jasmine farro rice

Duke’s may be known for its wonderful location on Huntington Beach at the Pier, but the food is outstanding too — and the food this night was especially terrific.

Wedge salad is my favorite, and with the tomatoes, bacon, and walnuts, it was incredible. The flavors all worked together so marvelously. Kathy enjoyed one of her favorites, a Caesar, especially with the lemon-anchovy flavors to enhance it.

Now, about the halibut. Wow! I’ve never had a more delicious halibut dish, and very few better fish dishes anywhere. The cheese, panko, nut, and lemon flavors made for a luscious, heart-warming entree that made me savor every bite. It was so good, I had to choose against the incredible-sounding halibut dish the next night at Napa Rose.

Kathy’s coconut shrimp is always one of her favorites, and this did not disappoint — juicy, crispy shrimp! It was listed as an appetizer, but it served very well as an entree.

With no room for dessert, we left the restaurant completely satisfied and strolled the length of Huntington Beach Pier, stopping along the way in a shop to buy a rash guard for Kathy and a light, pullover sweatshirt for me. We needed them because it was a little windy and chilly on the Pier, but the walk was lovely at dusk with the waves crashing below us.

Another magnificent visit to Duke’s and Huntington Beach.

Previously… June SoCal Trip: Duke’s, Knott’s 100 Years, and Napa Rose

As soon as we heard Napa Rose had reopened in June, we scheduled a trip to SoCal. Duke’s in Huntington Beach was also open for indoor dining, so we made a reservation there, too. We also tried out a new (to us) hotel in Huntington Beach, enjoyed some time on the Huntington Beach Pier, and stopped in at the Knott’s Berry Farm Marketplace to pick up some 100 Year Celebration merch.

Rich will write up both dining reports, but I’ll share a few pics (starting with a selfie at the hotel – lol), and a video at the bottom. (Update: Duke’s Huntington Beach Review here.)