Just got back from a short cruise - Long Beach > Catalina > Ensenada > Long Beach. It was my friend's first cruise so she got a taste of a good "beginner" cruise ship.
I would rate Carnival Paradise below the Norwegian. The staff were friendly enough, but only just - barely saw our room porter. The food could have been better, but there were enough choices to satisfy. It is a confusing ship with lots of decks midway between others and no way to know where you were if you took the stairs (which we always did) - you had to get off the stairs, walk over to the elevators and look at the deck plan to see where you were! There were 2 large gift shops and a library that took us 2 days to discover.
Embarkation was the only hassle. We were there 5 hours before departure (5:30 departure and 12:30-3:30 was the recommended boarding time). It was jammed with people - better to come later (or earlier than suggested) I guess. It took 20 min. to grab a porter and get the bags checked. Watch them take your bag away as bags were over-stacked and falling off, and the porter didn't stop to pick them up. One couple still hadn't found their bags (2) by the second day.
The paparazzi - honestly, does anyone really like a camera shoved in their face every 30 minutes?! They were at every meal (right as we finished eating - sans lipstick) with partially eaten food everywhere. Not a picture-perfect moment. I guess at $12 per 5x7 photo, they are making a killing.
Disembarkation went smoothly. Most of the people dragging their own bags behind them, got off first (which took an hour). We got off half an hour later (last group onboard) and had no crowds at all.
The room has ONE outlet. There is another outlet in the bathroom, but it says "shavers only". No hair dryer, so bring your own and plan to dry your hair in front of the room mirror. We took turns charging cameras and phones. The beds were very comfy, with warm down comforters.
I was impressed with the laundry rooms - I guess it's nice if you're traveling with a lot of kids or only want to take 2 or 3 changes of clothes. $3 to wash, $3 to dry, $1.25 for soap and softener, big sink, 2 irons and ironing boards (free to use).
Stay in your room to read if you like it quiet - music blasts all over the ship and we had a hard time finding a place quiet enough to read. The "Serenity Deck" is the adults-only deck with 2 hot tubs, chairs and lounges- located under the Lido buffet. It ISN'T serene, though, as music is blasting there as well. If you exit the rear of the buffet area to the outside seating area, it is the quietest part of the ship. Or take ear plugs.
I was leary of getting on the tender that takes you into Catalina - it is only 1/4 mile but I get seasick easily. Turned out to be a breeze - no problem at all. Lots of people in town and it's easy to do in 2 to 3 hours. It's about a mile or more into the shops of Ensenada, so it's easier to take the constant shuttles from the ship. It's $3 round trip and they all go to the same place. Riding into town, they tell you a bit about the city and offer a couple of tours. We took the one to La Bufadora (The Blowhole) as it was half the price of booking on the ship. We had a great guide - Jaimie - and he chatted the whole way to the destination (35 minutes). La Bufadora is one of 3 blowholes in the world and was quite spectacular. Afterwards, we "ran the gauntlet" through the shops - no other way to put it... they make telemarketers and time share salesmen look pathetic! Had some really good soft tacos with hand made corn tortillas, though. Bought some kahlua (it's only $1 more to purchase it onboard, though) and pure vanilla (my one "gotta buy" item).
Pics posted here: http://maddysmaidenvoyage.shutterfly.com/