This was our 16th cruise. I want to preface this review by admitting we are not big Carnival fans. We've sailed mostly on RCL, NCL, Celebrity, and Princess. We sailed once before on Carnival, on the Carnival Magic to the Mediterranean in 2011. We enjoyed that cruise, mostly because the ship was brand new and the great destinations, but were quite pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food in the main dining room, unfortunately offset by disappointment with the ship itself, and the very poor quality of the shows in the theater. However, we are California residents, and when Carnival decided to sail the brand new Panorama out of Long Beach, we decided it was so convenient to sail from Southern California we thought it would be fun to book a trip to the Mexican Riviera, which we hadn't visited in over a decade.
Embarkation went very smoothly; it was only 25 minutes from arrival at the Cruise Terminal in Long Beach to entering our cabin (balcony cabin 8231). The Panorama is an unspectacular ship in appearance; it was very clean, but it doesn't have any features that stand out except for the three story, funnel-shaped digital displays in the atrium and bar on level 3. Those were really interesting and fun to watch, as the displays change continually.
Let me summarize what we thought were the highs and lows of the Panorama.
Excellent service. This was a pleasant surprise; of all of the cruises we have been on, my wife and I agree that the Panorama had without a doubt the most pleasant crew we've EVER experienced. Every crew member we encountered smiled without exception, was pleasant to speak with, and was as helpful as we could have asked for. Carnival stressed that the Panorama was the line's flagship, and it was readily apparent in the level of service we experienced.
Dining. We thought the food in the main dining room was of very good, on par with our last Carnival cruise in 2011, about as good as NCL, and better than RCL. Where the Panorama's food really excelled was at the specialty dining spots; Guy's Burger Joint, Guy's Smokehouse BBQ, and Blue Iguana Cantina. The burgers at Guy's were by far THE BEST BURGERS ON ANY SHIP I'VE EVER CRUISED ON! No other ship's burgers are even close! I ate NINE on our seven day cruise! Tasty, juicy, thick, freshly-made beef patties (they gladly made my burgers doubles), crispy on the edges, excellent condiments, these are without a doubt as good as the most of burgers at the upscale burger restaurants in the Bay Area. Likewise, the Blue Iguana's tacos were incredible; my wife and I agree they were superior to the tacos in virtually all of the Mexican restaurants in our area. The meats were nicely seasoned, properly cooked, tender and tasty, and the condiment bar was very well stocked, and had an excellent selection of salsas and sauces. Another experience we greatly enjoyed was the Chef's Table; for a very reasonable $95 we enjoyed a three hour experience which included touring the kitchen, food preparation, wine and champagne, and a creative,12 course, delightfully presented meal. We thought it was definitely money well spent.
Entertainment. There were four shows performed in the main theater by the Panorama's production crew, and we enjoyed all of these. There were also multiple comedians every evening, and we saw several of these, and most were very good.
Cruise Director. Emma, the Cruise Director, a former English school teacher was, without a doubt, the BEST CRUISE DIRECTOR EVER! Her energy, her sense of humor, her enthusiasm, were outstanding. Normally, when we cruise, the Cruise Director is a non-entity to us; we know they exist, but don't care about them at all. Every time I heard Emma's voice; at the shows, in the Atrium, poolside, or over the PA system, she made me smile. Without a doubt, she was an incredible asset to the Panorama.
Value. Our balcony cabin was an incredible bargain, and the package that the Panorama offered for the price was excellent.
The buffet was mediocre. The Lido Marketplace was surprisingly small for a ship with 4000 passengers, and the variety and selection were disappointing, compared to other cruise ships we've sailed on previously, while the quality of the food was about average. The one outstanding feature of the buffet was a cake bar; every day with the lunch buffet there was a separate offering of six to eight layer cakes, with almost all offerings changing on a daily basis. This became one of the highlights of our day! The cakes were almost uniformly good; moist, flavorful, great butter creams, and lots of variety. My wife and I sampled four or five different cakes every day, and they were very good (and my wife is a great baker in her own right). Even now, a week after our cruise, we talk about the cake bar!
The Panorama. What can I say about the ship's physical features; it's public rooms were very pretty pedestrian. Artwork throughout the ship was pretty blah. Our balcony cabin was just okay, a bit smaller than average. The theater was small, and most of the seats on the main floor were just ordinary padded chairs, with no arms. Even the pools were smaller than average. The new Sky Ride was very underwhelming, almost boring. The outdoor screen for movies was impressive, being brilliant and sharp, and easily seen, even in bright daylight
Overall, we thought our cruise on the Panorama was a really good value, and we had a very relaxing cruise to some very pleasant destinations (we think Cabo San Lucas has beaches as beautiful as any in North America). Terrific service, very good food, lots of entertainment; a really pleasant cruise..