Carnival Cruise Live Blog (Day 1): First Impressions Sailing Radiance From Long Beach

For my first time, I’m sailing from Long Beach aboard Carnival Radiance. While I’ve sailed ships up and down the Carnival fleet, I’ve never sailed this particular ship, from this port, or this itinerary. That’s why I’m sharing each day with you so you can follow along and get an idea of what it’s like…

You can read other days here:

Carnival Radiance docked at the Long Beach cruise port
For this cruise, I’m sailing Carnival Radiance, which homeports in Long Beach. Arriving to the port, you can get a great view of the ship and port from the parking garage across from the terminal.

Let’s face it, cruise deals are getting harder and harder to come by. It seems like any cruise is a minimum of $1,000 a person, even if it’s only a few days long. That’s why when I was looking around for deals and found a 4-day Carnival cruise for only $700 all in, I had to jump at it. It’s not the cheapest cruise I’ve ever sailed (that goes to a cruise that cost about $250 all in), but these days, it’s a great value.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s a ship I’ve never sailed… from a port I’ve never sailed… and to a place I’ve never sailed. In other words, not only was it affordable, but this cruise looks to offer a lot that’s new to me.

The deal I found was aboard Carnival Radiance, sailing from Long Beach to Catalina, Ensenada, and a day at sea at the end of the trip. Is this the sort of “bucket list” cruise like a two-week long trip that goes through the Panama Canal? Of course not. But it’s also the approachable type of cruise that so many of us actually do sail. So I wanted to give people an idea of what they can expect.

That’s why while it was still dark outside, I headed to the airport from my home in Texas out to Los Angeles and caught a Lyft ride (my first ride ever in a Tesla!) over to the Port of Long Beach.

One thing that I noticed different right off the bat was that the boarding options for the trip were the earliest I’ve ever seen. The earliest window started at 10 a.m.! Normally boarding doesn’t start until around noon. So I arrived at 10:30, and there was already a decent crowd.

Domed Long Beach terminal
The Long Beach terminal is definitely unique. It’s a massive dome that’s cavernous inside. There’s no other spot like it that you’ll sail from in the country.

For those that don’t know, the Port of Long Beach is the most unique terminal you’ll sail from. It’s a massive dome (Carnival says it used to be home to Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose before being a movie set). While people were able to arrive as early as 10 a.m., actual boarding of the ship didn’t start until 11 a.m. But a quick walk by the drug-sniffing dogs (new to me!) and a few minutes sitting in the terminal, and it was time to board Radiance for the first time. (Note: About 10 minutes after being in the terminal, the dogs alerted to a passenger, so they aren’t for show.)

I feel I have a unique look at the ship because the last Carnival ship I boarded was Jubilee during the naming ceremony. In other words, back-to-back I’m getting to compare Radiance to the absolute newest ship in the fleet.

Gangway to the cruise ship
The walk from the terminal to the ship might be the most exciting two minutes of your entire vacation. The anticipation of what’s coming is just huge, no matter which ship you sail.

Carnival Radiance was built in 1997 and then refurbished in 2021. So you get a mix of the features of an older ship (smaller size, more easy to navigate) with the updated features like more restaurants and a complete facelift around the ship.

While I was a little worried about the ship feeling dated given when it was built, that’s not the case at all. It does show some age in spots, but in general it feels like a relatively new ship, just nowhere near as massive. There are a total of 13 passenger decks, but only about 10 can really be considered full decks. For instance, the area with mini-golf around the funnel is considered a deck despite having very little space.

If you’re someone that doesn’t like the mega ships, this might be a great fit for you. One thing that helps Radiance look good is the unreal California weather. There’s not a cloud in the sky. There’s a gentle breeze, and it’s about 72 degrees. Maybe not the best weather for swimming, but otherwise it’s picture perfect.

Sunny deck on a cruise ship
The pool deck of Carnival Radiance looking, well, radiant. Lots for kids to do, but plenty of spaces to just lay out and get some sun as well.

As I always do on my first day of a cruise, I spend a lot of time just getting my bearings around the ship. After a quick check-in at the muster station, I just took a walking tour to figure out where everything is and scope out any spots that I want to be sure to visit. The only issue is that since the cabins weren’t ready until 1:30, I had to do it with my suitcase in tow for two-and-a-half hours.

Having sailed on the newest, latest, and greatest on Carnival and other lines, I do have to be honest. There’s nothing jaw-dropping on Radiance. But everything seems consistently solid. There are a decent amount of places to eat. There’s lots of space on the pool deck both forward and aft. There are plenty of venues around the ship to enjoy and things to do. If you’re someone that’s overwhelmed by the newest ships — and their price tags — then Radiance may be one that you love. There’s no roller coaster, but not everyone wants that sort of experience.

Not being from California, I don’t think I realized just how amazing the weather can be until today. Warm, but not hot with tons of sunshine.

With the gorgeous weather, I did what everyone on the ship seemed to want to do — be outside. After exploring and getting a bite to eat (ok, a couple of bites to eat), I hit the Serenity adults-only area to relax and get some sun.

It was actually a little tricky because given the temperature, it feels amazing in the sun. But if the wind blew or you are in the shade, it’s downright cold. It took a couple of spots, but I finally found a perfect lounger in the sun but also protected from the breeze.

Carnival sail away party
Think people are excited for this cruise? The sail away party was packed and had big energy.

Later in the day it was the sail away party from Long Beach, and I think every passenger on the ship was topside for it. People are dancing, music is playing, kids are going down the waterslide, adults are having drinks. It’s that atmosphere that’s everything you want in a cruise and the perfect start as Long Beach grew smaller in the distance.

For dinner, I hit the main dining room. Anyone that knows me knows that I find the dining room on any cruise hit or miss. Some dishes are great, some are not so good.

I had the Szechuan Shrimp dish and, of course, the melting chocolate cake. I will say that when the shrimp arrived, I wasn’t impressed at first. The shrimp were tiny and there was a ton of purple onion (and I like purple onion). However, the flavor was good. Of course, the melting chocolate cake is never a wrong choice.

My Szechuan Shrimp in the dining room seemed like it could have been bigger but had good flavor.

The show this evening wasn’t until nearly 10 p.m., and still being on Texas time (and waking up around 5 a.m. there to fly to California), I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the show. Instead, I just hopped from spot to spot around the ship, which was buzzing.

Karaoke in the RedFrog Pub is a sneaky good time. I don’t hear it mentioned much, but it always draws a crowd and everyone seeming to be having fun. Sure, they aren’t pros but the passengers put their hearts into it.

Elsewhere, the casino was absolutely buzzing, and the duo playing music in the main atrium really set the mood with some fun tunes while still being chilled out.

On Day 2, the ship ports in Catalina.

Interesting Observations

Spotted this tiny (this is very zoomed in) duck in the theater while I was out getting my bearings around the ship.
  • There’s something to be said about how cruising attracts everyone. There’s always a diverse crowd on a cruise, but this trip might take the cake. Everyone is represented — young, old, couples, friends, white, black, Asian, Hispanic… the list goes on. It’s pretty cool that all these people from all these different backgrounds all come together because they share a common love of cruising.
  • This is my first cruise with Gold status on Carnival, and I got my first pin. It’s funny how I know it’s a cheap pin made in China that costs only a few cents to make, but for some reason, I am proud of it!
  • Folks, remember that you’re on the ship with thousands of other people. Try to be considerate. To the guy that was playing mini-golf with no shoes on and kept running the ball around his toes… only to then toss the ball back in the bin when he was done… that’s not cool.

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