My wife and two children (ages 3 and 6) just returned from the 12/28/03 New Year's sailing and we had the best cruise ever. We traveled with my wife's sister's family of four and with my in-laws. This was our 5th cruise - 1st time with children (second on Carnival, 2 w/Princess, and 1 w/NCL) and all of us were extremely satisfied with our Paradise cruise experience.
We checked into the Sheraton Biscayne Bay at around 4:30 p.m. (free booking with Starwood credit card points). Had a fun dinner at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company located at the Bay Market - a must if you have never eaten at Bubbas. Unfortunately, Carnival never showed up to perform the pre-check in at 9:00 a.m. in our hotel lobby. So we had breakfast in the Sheraton then we took a cab ($12) to the port at 10:30 a.m. - we were physically on the ship at 12:25 p.m. We didn't have to wait in line for anything! Carnival started letting the first group of passengers on board the ship around noon.
Many times during our 100% occupied cruise, I found myself saying, "where iseverybody?". The ship was so big that there was plenty of room for all passengers to enjoy their vacation without seeing large groups of people. We found the staff and crew to be very friendly and most of them greeted you and smiled as you pass them in the corridors. Rommel and his assistant (table #261) treated us like royalty every day in the dining room. The food was just as good or even better than on any ship that we sailed on. Carnival didn't even charge extra for cappuccino or double expresso at dinner. Buffet food really didn't impress us, however the following delicious alternative dining options did: 24/7 unlimited frozen yogurt/ice cream machines and 24/7 pizzeria.
As a native New Yorker, I have been exposed to B'way shows. I thought the shows on the Carnival Triumph (January 2001) were much better than the ones we experienced on the Paradise. However, my children and nephews really enjoyed them and the magic shows and comedians were very entertaining for all. Our room steward was very visible and always knew exactly when to tidy up our cabin, which he did several times a day. Everything was done to perfection, including creative towel animal creations with our personal items (sunglasses, swim goggles, hats, etc.). We booked a Category 6A guarantee and did not receive any upgrades, but had a great ocean view room (M225) with one upper and three lower beds. We thought the room was very spacious for a family of four and the bathroom/shower was equally sufficient as well. As for the rest of the ship, it was always glittering and sparkling clean. The décor was much more traditional than compared to the "Las-Vegas" décor of the Carnival Triumph, which is loaded up with neon lights everywhere. The only neon lights we found on the Paradise were in the Rex Disco.
We did all the island excursions on our own, as this was our third return to the Western itinerary. We were not too impressed with Belize or Isla Roatan, but enjoyed the ship's beautiful amenities instead. In Grand Cayman we took a cab to the "new and improved" Turtle Farm, had lunch at the neighboring Conch Restaurant, sampled free rum cake at the neighboring Tortuga Rum Store, then took a swim along 7-mile beach at a friend's condo. In Cozumel, our ship was fortunate to dock at the "newly constructed" pier in town, right where all of the shopping and partying is located. We were permitted to get off the ship around 12:30 p.m. We brought our swim and snorkel gear and took a cab to Chucknaab National Park for about 4 hours - if you love to snorkel in waters filled with beautiful fish & coral and lay on the beach, this is the place to go. The cab was only $10 each way for four persons and the park admission was only $10 per adult (children under 6 are free).
Being non-smokers, we found the smoke free environment absolutely marvelous. The water slide was incredible and was open from 10am-5pm. As usual, not enough of lounge chairs at pool areas. No Problem Mon - just got up at 7:00 a.m. to reserve lounge chairs like all the other cruise ships that we were on. Camp Carnival was professionally run and the free beepers provided worked out great.
Additionally, Paradise is the only ship in the world that is currently totally smoke free. However, I did confirm with the cruise director that Paradise will only operate as a smoke free ship through September 20, 2004 - they claim that the Paradise operates in the red by over $5,000,000. I was also informed that the majority of the U.S. and European population does smoke and that the majorities of smokers drink more and gamble more than non-smokers. Thus, smokers are bound to spend more money while on board. I find this very disturbing and would encourage you to contact Carnival, and let Mr. Dickinson, Carnival's President, know that you disapprove of this. I would think that Carnival executives would look to charge a little more for their non-smoking passengers - maybe then they would eventually show a profit. I know that I, along with thousand of you non-smokers out there would pay more for a non-smoking ship.
Overall -- we highly recommend the Carnival Paradise- especially to you wonderful non-smokers out there. And at those prices, you can't beat the value that you get compared to other cruise lines. Way to go Carnival! Keep up the good work!
Inaugural Voyage: It was November 25th 1998 - passengers were welcomed on Carnival Cruise Line's newest ship, the 'Paradise. This was the maiden voyage for the 70,000 ton ship which boasted the 12,000 square foot Nautica Spa with its luxury atmosphere in the locker and steam-room area. This was a special day - as would be December 12th 2003 while Carol, my wife, and I were aboard the fun and luxurious liner this past Christmas season.
These were common headlines in the Cruise Industry in 1998 - "AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY PRAISES CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES' LAUNCH OF WORLD'S FIRST SMOKE-FREE CRUISE SHIP" On November 19, 1998 The American Cancer Society Celebrates 'Great American Smokeout' with 'A Day on Paradise' CBS News anchor Paula Zahn Christens Paradise at Society's Black-Tie Gala ... a new era was beginning, read the news and press releases.
On December 12th 2003, I was interviewing the Paradise Hotel manager, Mr. Keith Bunton, when a wire service announcement came across his computer. He shared the world-wide announcement with me. "Carnival's Paradise will be redeployed to the West Coast as a smoking ship", said Bunton. Bob Dickinson, Carnival President worded the explanation quietlyand briefly. "The Sept 20th, 2004 cruise of the Paradise will be the last cruise the Paradise will offer as a non-smoking vessel."
One has to wonder what went wrong with this seemingly savvy and right policy for only one ship - a one of a kind ship in the world.
Somber Mood: The policy had been in place for six years - any person who smoked on board Paradise was disembarked at the closest port. This was adhered to, and was also the policy for the crew. On Dec. 12th, 2003 when this non-smoking crew found out the news, they felt as though a family tie had been broken ... this news quickly spread among the over 2000 clients on-board. How did this happen? How did the world's only one hundred percent smoke free ship policy falter? It seemed impossible.
Some industry insiders speculate that non-smokers (78 percent of Americans)just do not spend adequately on gambling and alcohol to make this unique non-smoking cruise atmosphere viable. As an enthusiast and supporter of this single world-wide ship policy environment, I was taken quite off-guard - because, I was interviewing Mr. Bunton and asking how the smoking policy was going after six years afloat. He stopped starkly and said "I am not being rude ... listen to this," and he read the notice to me from his computer. It was a bubble-burst to the mood in his office.
Ship: Paradise was the last in the Carnival Fantasy Class ship, which was most successful to that point in Carnival history. The Paradise, features a luxurious interior decor and a fine art collection in the style that is legendary of historic ocean liners. She seems to add an exclamation point to the success of the Fantasy-class series by re-creating the romance and entertainment of a classic sea-voyage ambience in a contemporary atmosphere.
Paradise was built at Finland's Kvaerner Masa-Ship-Yards. Careful attention was given to hire and use only non-smoking workers on the pride-filled project. Paradise was to give an alternative to those who wanted to venture into casinos and piano bars aboard ships without taking in unwanted smoke. Her crew was especially hand-picked and became like a family of ardent non-smoking people from 34 countries with a goal - Keep Paradise pure and clear of air!. On December 12th 2003 ... that mission went, up in smoke.
Preference: Thus far this review - I sound perhaps lamenting? Paradise is in fact a loss to those of us that saw a ray of sunlight in a concept for the 78 percent of us who do not smoke, but in reality Paradise is 1/28 of the ships we have sailed aboard, and they all offer checks and balances to keep the clean-air-peace among clients. For example; there is no smoking in show lounges on most ships, no smoking in dining areas on most...and common areas about the ships of today are well ventilated. It is not a huge issue.
Additionally, smokers today (at least 75 percent I estimate) are more courteous than smokers even five years ago. I have found though that on mixed smoking vessels that I do avoid casinos, and piano bars, which is a shame because we love a soda, low light, and the peaceful ambience of jazz. But, I am willing to give these two activities a bypass in return for the tremendous value and variety of things to do on today's cruise ships - from small personal cruise lines, river lines, to the mega-monsters that prowl the seas - cruising is an unmistakably perfect 'all-in-one-vacation.' You unpack just once and enjoy a variety of places along the way, along with fine food and entertainment.
Itinerary Selection: Paradise alternates routes out of Miami until its end to the no-smoking policy and redeployment in California. We chose the eastern route since we have done a western route five times. The Paradise eastern route gives you three full days of glorious sun and sea time ... and three port stops; St. Thomas, Nassau Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic.
We enjoyed our route selection very much! We chose to do non-scheduled activities on all three stops using local cabs and splitting fares with new friends. But in St. Thomas it is a per-person ride fare to various points - like our favorite, Sapphire beach - lovely water, and views of St. John's and the British Virgin Islands!
Overview: I feel Carnival should have kept the Paradise as its shinning one example of smoke free venue, or plan to designate another ship to replace her in that concept. This would be a glowing banner for the cruise line and supporters that touted her inaugural gala along with world health organizations - My opinion - the concept should be kept alive!
As for a ship review? Paradise is a very slick and well-maintained youthful six year old in a growing industry that goes one-up on everything every day. Paradise is still futuristic enough to keep clients satisfied with her charm and overall amenities. Cabins are well appointed with ample space. In fact luckily we were placed in a forward cabin, outside, and our room steward told us "You will have no children in the front area of the ship...the cabins are slightly smaller and there are no three or four person cabins. This is a tip I had not thought of in the past ... forward is a good thing if you do not want to share other's children!
The food, and entertainment were quite nice, and the design of Paradise is one that works well for 2000 plus patrons. You can find a quiet place to relax, or join in activities all about the huge, but personally attended vessel. This was a sure-fire-four-star ship.
I suggest - always fly into your embarkation city the day before your cruise. Our December cruise had bad weather in the Mid-west and East coast. You may imagine that this is irrelevant to your plans - but it is not. Your plane is likely arriving from one of those city areas, so you will be late and things get bogged down. With a city like Miami ... why wouldn't you want to savor her magnificence for at least one day and evening? Ask your travel agent about on-going specials for your cruise vacationing. Happy sailing!
This was the fifth time that my wife and I have been on this ship. We have previously sailed on Inspiration, and Celebration.
We have continually picked this ship due to the enforced No Smoking policy. We have found that with my wifes Astham that this is one of the greatest ideas on any ship bar none.
This was the second week of a back to back cruise we did on this boat this year.
The ship is very nicely done, and is overall in very good shape. We greatly enjoy the Classical music in the atrium most nights. Our Cabin steward, (R136), was fantastic. We have had cabins on Riviera all of the other times except once on Verandah. I would have to say that I have never had any complaints with the cabin service. The room is always cleaned up as if by magic when I am gone. My wife and I have joked that we think they hide in the closet, because not only is it done by the time we get back from lunch, but on a couple of occassions, we forgot something in our room afterleaving within 5 minutes, and our steward was already cleaning up the room.
The cabin is a good enough size, and is comfortable, even for two weeks. Typically in these cabins, they have two twin beds that are pushed together. In the past, it has been exactly that, two beds, sheeted individually next to each other. This time, we were pleasantly surprised to find that they had just started a few weeks previous to have a spacer put between the beds to cover the gap, and had King sheets so you could snuggle up next to each other under the same set of sheets. Kudos to Carnival on this one.
One nice thing I have seen change is that they have now added shower wash and shampoo in dispensers in the showers, and these were kept full.
We did have a few days that we did sleep in late, and as a result the cabin was not cleaned until that evening. Our room steward did tell us that it was standard practice that after a certain time, they do not clean the rooms. I don't remember what time it was, but I can completely understand this since these people work their butts off, and need to have a break on occassion.
We had our meals in the Elation Dining room the first week, and Destiny the second. The first week, our wait staff was fantastic. I think they were mind readers, because no sooner did I think I wanted something, and he would be there with it. Iced Tea glasses were never empty, and I like Hot Tea, and after the first night, I had hot tea just as I was getting my desert, just as I like it. Unfortunatly, I do have to say that the wait staff the second week was not as attentive. The service was OK, but was not stellar like we had the previous week. We have always found the food to be well prepared, and the staff always happy to bring anything more that we may want. Additionally, we did have the early seating, our table mates, and us many times were one of the last tables to leave. They did have another seating after us, and we never once, in either dinning room, felt rushed that we should go, but rather, they just worked on the tables around us, and were always very pleasant.
Cruise director Jeff Brooonson was great, as was "Karl with a K". This week was the last week for Karl to be on this ship, and he was going to another ship. He was one of the social hosts, but I felt he was every bit if not more qualified as some Cruise Directors to be one himself. One day on the elevator, he was there, and I told him so. As it happened, his boss was on the elevator, and his boss commented to him that even the guests thought he should be one. It was my understanding that he was unsure of his ability. I hope he does become a CD, if he does, he will be great.
Being on a back to back cruise, you get to know some of the crew a little better. I had all of the shop people, as well as the CD, and social hosts calling my wife and I by first name. I also talked with "Smack" (Lighting) on one occasion, and being that I have been involved with theater, he showed me around back stage, and all of the equipment they use. Very impressive. He told me that each show, of which there are two per week, costs $1 Million to build up for use, and that is why they keep them for several years.
Speaking of the shows, The two main shows were very good. Additionally we very much enjoyed the other comics and such.
The weather was a bit rough, and we did have some showers along the way. The boat does have stabilizers, and they do a very good job of keeping the ride smooth.
Ports: Belize: I took a plane ride up to one of the islands, and spent my day on a VERY secluded beach reading a book. It was a wonderful way to get away from it all. I did not see anyone else from the boat there, and even enjoyed the small plane ride there and back. It cost about $50.00, but to me was worth every penny.
Isla Roatan: We went to the beach here, Tabbyana Beach Excursion. The ride there will make you very thankful of what you have. The people that live here, live in very spartan conditions. Everyone that I dealt with on the tour, and at the beach in the way of locals were very friendly, and honest. I truly enjoyed this stop.
Grand Caymen: We have been here several times before. As a result, we went ashore, and booked a trip for the stingrays in port. It is considerably less money, and is exactly the same thing. If you are a first time cruiser, I would recommend dealing with the shore tours on the ship, since you may not be familiar with the ports.
Cozumel: I went to Playa Del Sol, while my wife did some Snorkeling. We have been here a few times before, and it has seen perhaps the largest change in any port. In the past, the cab drivers were rude, driving cars that looked like they would break down a couple of blocks down the road, and would try to rip you off, and would harass you to take their cab. This past time, however, this has changed. Many times I had a cabbie ask nicely if I needed a cab, and when I said no, that was it. They did not hassle you, Period. Additionally, I did rent a car, Avis, but did talk to other people that took cabs, and they said that they were clean, and polite, and did get the correct change back. One additional item I did notice. Mexico has always been a place that you do not eat the local food or drink the local water, and in the past, Carnival has had bottled water available to buy for that reason, and has warned their guests. This year, however, they did not warn, and I spoke with many people who did eat and drink locally, and did not have a problem. (I didn't do it, but then I am extra cautious). I am not sure, but from all of the changes I saw in the local economy, I can only guess there are now secure water sources available.
Nassau: We went to the Atlantis to look around. It is a pretty place, but I found that 30 to 40 minutes was enough time to look around. I did go with my wife to the straw market, her favorite place, and left before she did. I don't much enjoy the markets.
I did however use the Nautica Spa when I got back on, and as I was leaving the locker room, I did have the opportunity to meet Bob Dickinson (President of Carnival). He was onboard doing some inspections. As I have mentioned before the ship is in very good shape, but there are some small details that need attention. I mentioned this to him, and he mentioned that is why he was on board the ship. I did notice the rest of the week, every staff member was working like crazy. Additionally, Paradise is the only ship that is totally smoke free like I said. My wife and I have long wondered why they have not built another smoke free ship, and I asked Mr. Dickinson this. He stated that while the majority of the US population does not smoke, that they have a difficult time getting Travel Agents to push this. I noticed that Carnivals web site states that it will be smoke free thru September 20, 2004. I can only assume that they are going to allow smoking after that time. I find this terrible, and I would encourage you to contact Carnival, and let Mr. Dickinson know that you disaprove of this.
La Romana: While we were here we did the Catamaran Tour. This was several hours and went out to a private island with lunch. This was a fantastic tour, and I spent my time going out laying on a net at the front of the Catamaran just a foot or so over the water. This was truly heaven. On the way back, and a significant amount of Rum punch, there were some people mooning, and flashing their chests at the other boats. They were responsible enough to not flash the one boat that had the young children on it though.
St. Thomas: We took this time in St. Thomas to try and go to St. John. We ended up over there, and it started to rain. We were about half way thru the trip when it started, so unfortunately we did not get to spent much time in the ocean since there was lightning as well. They did not refund any money for this, but I didn't expect them to since we were already there, and when you take a cruise in October, you get used to the fact that you might get some rain.
I found the people at the Pursers Desk, especially Tom, and Tiberu (sorry about the spelling) to be fantastic people that were friendly, helpful, and remember most peoples names on sight. Additionally, I saw many other crew members, even before Mr. Dickinson's visit all over the place making sure the ship was kept up in very good shape.
I would very strongly recommend this ship to a Non-Smoker since the clean air is wonderful. If you do smoke, this is not the ship for you since they take the policy VERY seriously.
Debarkation: This is the part that everyone hates, because after being on the boat for a week, you don't want to leave. In times past, you had to wait in public areas for you luggage to be called, but now you can wait in your cabin. If you do a Back to Back cruise like my wife and I did, you will still be required to get off the boat after the first week, and go back thru the line. This is due to Customs, but the second time thru will get you back on the boat around 10:30 since the personnel in the terminal will take you basically in hand, and get you back on before the general boarding. When we did this there were about 8 passengers onboard from 10:30 to 12:00. You feel like you own the boat.
An additional comment about Carnival's tipping. You will see many people write that they do not like this. In years past, you had to put the money in an envelope (Cash) at the end of the cruise and give it to your wait staff, and room steward. I think the idea of adding it to your account is a good idea. Our first week one couple at our table did have the full amount removed the first night, and I talked with them about their perception of the service, and never once did they feel that they received poorer service due to the tips not being on their account. The staff does not know ahead of time if you have changed it, or taken it off. The advice I give in this situation is true in life, if the service you are receiving is not up to what you expect, then address it immediately, this is the only fair way to handle it. If the person that you are talking to about a service need is not met, then go up the chain. I do truly believe that Carnival does care about the service they give. I have seen enough examples of it to believe that they do mean it. You may see in other posting that some people did not like this or that, if they did not mention it to anyone ever, then that is their fault, and they have no one to blame but themselves. I have had concerns, minor ones, but upon mentioning them, they have ALWAYS been addressed and resolved.
If you have any questions or would like to talk to a fellow Paradise cruiser, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
My husband and I are in our early 30's, my parents in there late 50's also traveled on the Paradise. We did the Eastern Caribbean. We did tire of the repeated security check while traveling. My father has a pace maker, and was frisked and searched at every security checkpoint. The two things we learned from this trip is that we should have used our small carry on with rollers rather then our kit bag, even a backpack would have been much better! Both Montreal and Miami airports are huge and it gets tiring lugging a kit bag! Miami charges $3.00 to use the carts and there are many areas you cant use them in. Also use bright colored tape or ribbon on your luggage so you can pick it out of the other 500 pieces of plain black baggage!
We stayed at Sheraton Biscay Bay and were able to pre-register with Carnival in the lobby Sunday morning, which saved us from the long line at the port and we went straight upstairs to wait to be called through security and boarding. There was a United Way fundraiser going on sowe were able to purchase bottled water and pop at a reasonable price and have it delivered directly to our stateroom! It was a great deal, half of the price of the pop card and the case lasted the whole cruise. (We are not huge pop drinkers) And the on board water tastes like big city water.chlorinated, so if you are used to well water buy your bottled water!
I had memorized the deck layouts long before we boarded but it took my husband 4 or 5 days to figure his way around the ship, the trickiest thing if finding the Destiny Dining room if you are in a forward room. It is Aft directly behind the Elation Dining room but as the kitchen is between them you cannot get through on the same level and must access it either from the deck above or below. We had a great room on Empress Deck the main floor right off the atrium where you enter and exit the boat in Miami. It is also where you find the photo gallery. The pictures are very overpriced. $20. for the 8X10 and you cant have copies made of smaller sizes unless you first buy the large one. The travel log is exactly as you see it 100 times in your room, what you see is what you get. I thought the copy you purchased would be a bit longer.it's not. Our room was quite far forward and I think we felt the sea swells more then in some other cabin, as well as we had a fair bit of noise when the ship maneuvered into ports. But it did not bother us too much. We did have more motion then I expected, despite the stabilizers they boast of. My parents took something for motion sickness a couple of times. I didn't use any, but have felt like I'm on a boat for several days after leaving the ship. (At least we didn't hit any hurricanes so it could have been worse!)
We took advantage of all the onboard trivia games and activities. We even won a couple of the coveted "ship on a stick(s)" Some games they pick the people who are the most energetic and jump up and down and screamed (or even get up on tables). For others they are looking for the people who looked like they least want to be there! For some you had to submit your name and then be drawn. It is good to check what the physical activity level is before volunteering, as my husband bruised his chest muscles throwing himself over a pool divider in the pool games. For most games you volunteered for the gift was 24 caret plastic ship on a stick trophy. For games when you were dragged out of the audience you often received Champaign, or even spa treatments if you won. No prizes were given of for group events like Win Lose or Draw but they were great fun.
We also enjoyed the karaoke and piano bar a lot! Roberta played in the American Bar most nights and was fabulous, able to change keys to best suit the singers and sang loud enough to drown out those who don't know they can't sing. soft enough to let the ones who could shine! Bring lots of dollar bill with you when you go, she never asks for any but she sure deserves them!
The food was all beautifully prepared, and I tried a number of things I had never had before. Our server Rulsan from Estonia was excellent and put up with all our torment, with a smile. The quality of the food was very good, but not outstanding. The best cappuccino and deserts were the ones you had to pay for at the Ills De France Café. They were wonderful. Much better then the free ones in the dinning rooms.
Ports of Call
Nassau, Bahamas: When you get off at this port you are bombarded by merchants selling their services and wares. Some are very persistent! I was so glad we choose to do the ship's excursion to the blue lagoon! It is a scenic 45-minute boat ride to the Blue Lagoon Island where we snorkeled with stingrays. What a marvelous adventure. It was high tide so you were quite high above them for safely observing them. You did sort of feel like a "herd" going into the water, and had to be careful not to get kicked or hit while floating along. But I loved it when we were given the opportunity to feed them and rub their soft underbellies! After most of the crowd had started to go some of us were even able to hold them right up along our chests, hands under their flowing wings. The guide even dove down and brought up sea amenities and other creatures for us to touch and hold. Awesome! Then we just relaxed in paradise! NO pushy merchants or panhandlers allowed on this private island. There are stands for services and gifts, but they are not allowed to approach you! We found a private area with a hammock between the coconut trees and relaxed for the afternoon. We also watched some dolphins here and swam in the lagoon. My parents chose a different route. They made their way past all the sales people on the pier and found the local bus run. For $1.00 each they road the entire route, and saw how the local people lived and worked. Saw the touristy areas and the shanties, and absorbed the local culture. It is also worth taking the ferry or taxi to Atlantis where you can walk through the common areas and aquarium. We did not have time to see it but others who did enjoyed it very much.
La Romano, Dominican Republic: I expected to Dock at a private pier at Casa De Campo in a remote area. So I was greatly surprised to pull into port at a bustling little city. While the pier is quite a walk to get in and out of it is by no mean remote. I found the excursions to be very overpriced here. My Husband and I had the good fortune to be seated next to a couple of ladies at breakfast that morning that spoke fluent Spanish. We had a nice conversation with them and bumped into them again in the area where the taxis come in. My husband and I had agreed to spend the day with my parents and go out on our own. Our new Spanish friends had found out that the best fares were for groups of 6 so we all decided to go together. This worked out wonderfully. We agreed on a two-hour tour with a driver for $30.00 US for all 6 of us. (just $5.00 each-sure beats the ships rates!) We spent an hour getting a feel for the history and culture of La Romano, a city that has had electricity for less then a decade, and experiences regular outages. So they mainly use kerosene for cooking. There is almost no refrigeration, so food is bought daily at markets. We shopped at a wonderful market with pottery, jewelry, leather good, art, and woodcarvings. Our new Spanish friends were great help in haggling over prices. Our next stop was Altos Des Chevron. It was a beautiful Spanish styled villa with an amazing view of the Chevron River far below, and more little shops, and eateries. Our driver was kind enough to take us around the villa tell us some history, and our friends translated it for us, saving us from other entrepreneurs eager to charge us for the same service. Then back to the ship. We had been practicing our Spanish with the girls and our driver. We ended up spending an extra ½ hours on tour and our driver Michel did not want to accept any thing for it, as he had enjoyed our English/Spanish lessons. But we gave him an extra $10.00 for all his help. (Someone was left behind at this port, as the ship waited 30 minutes and then had to set sail, I later learned she had managed to get a flight back to Miami and was safe. P.S. the local time is one hour behind ship time here)
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands: As this is the port I was most looking forward to I ended up being the most disappointed. Okay so maybe I was just having a bad day. It all started when room service messed up and we didn't get breakfast before the customs clearance. We got a very grumpy customs officer who seemed to hassle us for no reason. Room service had come to our cabin while we were going through customs and so we ended up grabbing a bite at the Paris Restaurant, and then shopping for souvenirs at the straw market. Just about the time we needed to head back for our ship booked excursion it started to pour rain! We got drenched. I can laugh at that. We got dried off and prepared for our sail and snorkel trip, pleased to see the sun breaking thought the clouds and the showers subsiding. That is when they announced it was cancelled. By the time I got to the excursion desk it was sunny again, and although they fully refunded our money, they refused to go ahead with the excursion, and there was nothing available to replace it with. So we went to the Paris restaurant to decide what to do next. We got our lunch, and I was in the desert line when the person ahead of me got the last piece of chocolate cake.no more was being served..When I'm having a bad day you at least need to give me my Chocolate!!! We did decide to go up the tram to the top of paradise point. It is $15 per person for a round trip, but you can get it for $13 if you get the passes at the shops in the market. Still I felt it was overpriced for the 3 minute ride each way. It is a beautiful vista, but humidity was worse at the higher altitude, and so some of our pictures appear a bit misty. There is a stand with exotic birds where you can have your picture taken. The best deal is if you buy two of her fancy frames for $20. She will take 5 pictures of you holding the birds using your own camera. We got most of our liquor/t-shirt/costume jewelry, and souvenirs haggling in the straw market, and found some good deals. The ships recommended stores are over rated, and expensive. The jewelry is so overpriced that even with 50% off sales I'm sure I could get just as good prices at home in Canada.
I heard later for a dollar you could catch a bus to Corki beach, a phenomenal place to sunbath and unwind.
Overall we had a wonderful vacation! I thought I would come home refreshed but we never stopped. We stayed up for the shows and buffets, and singing at the piano bars, and then I was up early to work out. I would definitely do it all again.
We sailed on Carnival Paradise, departing Miami on September 28 on a seven-day Eastern Caribbean itinerary stopping at Nassau, St. Thomas, and La Romana/Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic.
We are a couple, married 24 years, and both over 40 years old. This was our fifth cruise (four on Carnival and the other on Royal Caribbean), and our third on Carnival Paradise.
We flew to Miami via American Airlines on Saturday, September 27. We had purchased a room at the Hyatt Regency on Hotwire several weeks earlier. After we checked in and freshened up, we went to Bayside Marketplace and strolled through the shops until it was time to meet the new friends we found on the online cruise BBs. We met up with our group of 12 at Bubba Gump's for a lovely meal with drinks. It was fun meeting all those people we communicated with online! We had a great time. Then a few of us moved on to the Wet Willie's in Coconut Grove, where we continued getting to know one another over very strong drinks!
The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast at the Hyatt, we headed over tothe Carnival terminal in a taxi, arriving about 10:30. We were surprised that the traffic jam we usually experience was nonexistent - our taxi driver drove us right up to the terminal with no honking and no delay. The explanation for this appears at the end of my review, so stay tuned!
The luggage handlers immediately assisted us in discovering our cabin number, since we had booked a 6A guarantee. We were pleased to find we had been upgraded to U59, a 6C ocean-view room, near the elevators! A quick tip to the luggage handlers assured that our bags would arrive at our cabin that evening. Again, we noticed that no one was leaving the ship, grabbing taxis or buses - strange!
We entered the terminal at 11 a.m., immediately made our way through check-in, and went upstairs to get our Sail 'n Sign card, just to wait for a while. We were pleased to note we got the 8:00 late seating, but we were surprised because we were assigned to the aft Dining room but had a forward cabin -- unusual in our experience.
As we waited to board the ship, Carnival employees were selling raffle tickets, hot dogs, and drinks to raise money for the United Way. They allowed us to board the ship around noon, but they actually organized the boarding by rows of seats. This was the first time we saw this process used, but there was no pushing or shoving, and everyone was aboard the ship within a few minutes.
We quickly found our cabin, dropped off our stuff, and headed to the Paris restaurant for our first drink and pizza. The Paris bar now has those Playmaker machines where you can play trivia games, like you see in landside bars.
We toured the ship to see what else was new, and to reacquaint ourselves with our favorite haunts, then headed to the Lido Deck to lie in the sun. We stayed there for about an hour, until they announced the muster drill. We gathered our life vests and headed to our muster station in the Normandie Lounge. Lots of people were in this large area (where all the shows are), and they made us put our life vests fully on before we sat in the theatre-style seats, which proved more uncomfortable that I remembered. We then moved to various lifeboat stations. Unfortunately, just as the end of the muster drill was announced, the ship started to head out of port. We had to fight the crowds to get back to our cabins, discard our life vests, and head to the outside deck for Sailaway. As this is one of our favorite moments on the cruise, we were very disappointed - surely the Captain could have waited another 15 minutes to let us all get settled after the muster drill.
We met up with our online cruise BB friends again at the aft Verandah deck. Pictures were taken, drinks were purchased, and we were officially headed to sea! At 5:30, the sushi bar opened, and we headed downstairs so Roger could enjoy Paradise sushi again. We stayed there until it was time to dress for dinner, then headed to the Destiny dining room for our 8 p.m. seating.
We were pleased to see we had a table for eight by a window. Our waiter from our last Paradise cruise, Aquino, noticed us and stopped by to greet us. We had two other couples at our table: Steve and Jane, and Willie and Christy, and the other two seats were vacant. We couldn't have asked for four more pleasant people! Steve and Jane told us that they were changing to early seating the next day, but we hit it off so well that first night that we pleasantly crossed paths together all week. Willie had a birthday later in the week, and Steve and Jane joined us that evening again to celebrate! So, for the rest of the week, our table for eight only seated four!
Clifford was our waiter and his assistant was Manuel. We had problems getting the right food served to each of us in a timely manner, and didn't always get everything else we needed in a timely manner, such as steak knives or jelly. Manuel would help us as quickly as we caught his eye, so he became our favorite! We bought a bottle of wine a couple of nights at dinner, which they kept for us until the next night, but other nights I purchased an individual glass of wine from the bar waiter, Augus, whom we thoroughly enjoyed!
We noticed some changes in the food on Paradise. Steaks - previously we could only order them medium rare or medium well. This was a problem for both of us, because I prefer my steak medium and Roger prefers his rare. Now they offer to cook them at all five temperatures – a wonderful improvement. The lobster was still bad! Try a variety of the soups; they are all great! We had both a dessert and cheese most nights, and this was the most pleasant time in our meals, where we all visited casually after the rush of the meals. On sea days, we ate every meal in the dining room; on port days we ate breakfast and lunch in the Paris Restaurant, and only the evening meal in the dining room.
We loved the 8 p.m. dinner seating because it allowed us to arrive at the Normandie Lounge in time to get good seats. However, the shows hadn't changed since our last cruise, so we only went to four of them, skipping the Broadway revues and the Tia Thompson show that we had seen twice before. We went to the Welcome Aboard show, both Comedy shows, and the Guest Talent Show. All were fun, although the last comedian, J.R. McCullough, was heckled at the late show by an 11-year old boy in the front row who had been at the early show -- he kept calling out the punch lines before the comedian could say them. Security should have removed this young man! Apparently an older sibling went to get his mother after J.R. made the boy sit on his stool in the middle of the stage, while J.R. sat in the boy's theatre seat and heckled the boy. Once the mother arrived, she joined the boy in heckling the comedian. We didn't get to see the comedian's show at all – disappointing for both the audience and the performer! Adam Ace was wonderful as always, and we again enjoyed the ventriloquist.
The cruise director was Jeff Brrronsonnnnn! He was fun and full of energy, and wrapped up with the guest talent show with a great song of his own! His assistant, Brent, was always helpful, with a friendly, open personality. Karl (with a K) was the social host. This guy was a little over the top for me, but I'm sure he was popular with the younger set. We never met our room steward, but everything was perfect, and towel animals appeared every night. We couldn't ask for anything more!
Monday we called at Nassau, our third visit to this port. On our first trip, we enjoyed snorkeling with the Stingrays and had our hair braided, and on our second trip, we visited the Atlantis resort. This time we slept in and ate a leisurely breakfast in the Paris Restaurant, while others rushed off the ship for their early excursions. (Did I mention how wonderful the omelets are in the Paris Restaurant?) We then walked through the downtown shopping area. Taxi drivers and carriage drivers all asked us to ride with them. We finally agreed to a carriage ride when the driver agreed to take us to the Queen's Staircase, which we wanted to visit. It was a wonderful ride. The Queen's Staircase was amazing! But we were glad to return to the ship, because it was a hot day.
We enjoyed a nice lunch aboard the ship, then lay out in the sun for a while, had sushi, and went to dinner -- our first formal night. The Captain's cocktail party was nice, as always, and we enjoyed dancing on the Normandie stage to the music of the live Paradise band. We bought some great photos from the first formal night.
Usually we enjoy dancing after dinner in one of the lounges. This time we did not enjoy the music in either of the lounges, and we don't like piano bars! Some folks seemed to enjoy one band, the Highlights; there were always people dancing there, but it was not our cup of tea. There was a great singer at the US Bar on the Promenade deck. We enjoyed listening to him some evenings, but the Promenade is not conducive to dancing!
Tuesday was our first sea day. We love sea days -- sleeping late, then a leisurely breakfast at our late 9:30 a.m. seating in the dining room. Some days, Willie and Christy joined us for breakfast. Then we headed outdoors to enjoy the sun and deck activities. We came inside for the first art auction preview at 1 p.m. with Park West auctioneer Geoffrey. We collect Thomas Kinkade paintings, and at this auction, anyone who purchased one Thomas Kinkade could buy each additional Thomas Kinkade at $100 off the gavel price. We picked up three of those, plus one mystery piece that turned out to be a nice Ballet, and then got a free Del Signore painting -- a great auction day for us, and we can't wait to see our paintings in our home. We enjoyed martinis at the Rotterdam bar while waiting to complete payment and shipping for our art purchases - the martinis made the process painless!
Wednesday was our second port -- La Romana (Casa de Campo), Dominican Republic. There's nothing at the port except a parking lot and information center for the cruise passengers. To see or do anything you have to take a ship excursion or a taxi on your own into the area! When we were researching this port online, several people mentioned how great the Saona Beach excursion was. But just before we left, another review described a swarm of mosquitoes that left guests running for the water, some with as many as 50 bug bites. I am a mosquito magnet, so we decided not to risk that, but then had no idea what to do. On our flight into Miami, we sat by a woman named Mary who had spent two weeks at the Casa de Campo resort. She said the Altos de Chavon artist village was a must-see with great art and restaurants. She also recommended the golf courses.
Based on her recommendation, we booked the Altos de Chavon Village and Riverboat tour, and we did not regret it! We rode a bus from the pier for a tour of Casa de Campo resort (including Sammy Sosa's home) to the river, and boarded the riverboat. As soon as we pulled away from the bank, three boats sped up beside us, selling us local "souvenirs" -- caps, necklaces, etc. The lower deck had merengue music and dancing, while the upper deck was quieter and more scenic. We "paddled" (actually motored) up the river and back down, with many beautiful photos along the way. And they were pouring the Dominican rum and Pepsi freely! We re-boarded our bus and traveled up the bluff to the Altos de Chavon artist village. This was built by a prince for his lover in 1980, but in the style of a Mediterranean artist village from the 1700s. Beautiful! It overlooked the rain forest, river, and a beautiful golf course at Casa de Campo. We browsed through many lovely shops -- lots of art -- and tried the local Mamajuana (liquid Viagra for women and men -- tasted like cherry root beer), saw some neat restaurants (no time to eat with the ship excursion), and great photo ops. Then back on the tour bus to the ship! We really enjoyed this port!
Other friends who were brave enough to take the Saona Beach excursion had no problem with the mosquitoes, and said it was the best excursion they'd ever taken. Other friends took taxis into the city and shopped at Casa de Campo. Those friends suggest that someone in the group know some Spanish!
Thursday was our final port day, in St. Thomas. We love the Virgin Islands. This was our second visit to St. Thomas. On our first visit, we shopped, then took a tour with the best guide on the island, Roy, who gave us a great tour, a visit to Mountaintop View, a banana daiquiri, and two hours at Coki Beach, before returning us to the ship. This time, we took a ship's excursion to St. John's Trunk Bay to snorkel. The snorkeling trail there was amazing, with underwater signs describing what was nearby (how did they keep that stuff by the signs?). After that excursion, we took the tram up to Paradise Point, which was not nearly as cool, in our opinion, as Mountaintop View. Then we ran into town to pick up the necessary souvenirs.
Friday and Saturday were two consecutive sea days. We slept in, sunned, napped, ate, drank, danced. We made our only visit to the casino on one of these days, putting $10 in the nickel slot machines, and walked away with $16.30. Big spenders!
This was a Carnival Past Guest Reunion cruise. We got free stuff and a coupon book - worthless! The Repeaters party on Friday night was spread out across the entire Promenade deck, including every lounge, because 80 percent of the passengers were past guests. What a great party! We strolled from lounge to lounge, finding our new friends, had a few drinks and appetizers. This was our second and last formal night, and everyone looked great! Actually, everyone on the ship participated in the Repeaters' party, which was even better than the Captain's cocktail party. We found a DJ spinning Latin music in the Rex lounge, with many passengers dancing.
We discovered a new twist to disembarkation. Our cruise director, Jeff, announced that Customs now allows passengers who can carry their luggage off the ship without assistance, and who had nothing dutiable to declare, to disembark from 7:30 to 8:30 on Sunday morning. Almost 600 passengers did this. You simply keep your luggage in your room, and when the Express Disembarkation is announced, carry your luggage off, handing a Customs agent your declaration slip as you walk off the ship. Taxis and buses are available to take passengers to their next destination. If we had known this in advance, we could have flown out earlier in the day at a much lower price. Once 600 people are off with their luggage, however, it was much easier for us to find our luggage in the terminal. And because of this new express disembarkation, everyone is off the ship by 10 a.m. That is why no passengers were leaving the ship when we arrived at 11:00 at the cruise terminal at the beginning of the cruise.
I want to mention our Lido deck waiter, Regino. He took care of us on our second cruise and found us again on this cruise. He calls us by name, memorizes our Sail 'n Sign foil number so we never have to pull it out again, brings us our favorite drinks, and generally treats us like important people. Find Regino on the Lido deck, let him take care of you, and tip him generously. He's first class!
If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email. My photos from past cruises and this one can be found at http://community.webshots.com/user/judyjbest. If you enjoy our photos, please take the time to sign the online guest book, telling us who you are and where you're from! Notes like that make sharing more fun!
My wife and I returned this week from our third cruise, all with Carnival, the first being the Inspiration from New Orleans in March 2002, and then on the Paradise eastern in Oct. 2002. The new Paradise exotic western was our favorite so far, but we're eagerly anticipating the next one, probably next fall.
We flew into Miami on Saturday and spent the night at South Beach Best Western. I fell in love with Miami Beach last year, although my wife wonders why, but she lets me make the arrangements and doesn't complain. We checked out Sunday morning after 11 and took a taxi to the port, $20 including tip, and gladly tipped the baggage handler who took our luggage. Check in was an absolute breeze; the only line we waited in was 3-4 min. to get our sail and sign pictures taken, then onto the ship. We were in U95, and it was ready when we arrived. We had an oceanview cabin last time and neither of us liked it because it let too much light in in the morning, so this time we opted for an interior.
The buffetlunch was good; we were already familiar with the ship, so we relaxed while waiting for our luggage. The lifeboat drill commenced just before sailaway and we were still at lifeboat stations while the ship started down the channel, which was unfortunate in my view, but soon they let us go, so we didn't miss too much. I like to be on the port side for the "entertainment" when passing the fishing pier at South Beach, and I also watched the pilot boat pull alongside and pick up the harbor pilot.
Our cruise director was Jeff Bronson, ably assisted by Brent from Canada and Karl from England. These guys were hilarious, a great team. My wife thought Jeff was a little goofy at times but I loved all his stuff; a real riot!
The opening evening show was hilarious. Jeff got people from the audience on stage a taught them some goofy dance moves. The production shows were good, but the same ones from last year. I learned later in the cruise that the shows will stay the same for several years, interesting. It's amazing they can pull off a show of that caliber in that setting. Once again I was amazed at the quality of the live music in the show lounge; the musicians are very talented and it's hard to believe it's live music.
We did miss the magic show. I'd remembered it from last time, and our favorite show Judging Amy was on the cabin TV, season premier, so we watched it instead.
The food was fantastic, except for the filet mignon, which I noted on my comment card. All the desserts were delicious. After having one or three at dinner I'd head for the Lido deck restaurant to see what they had and have a couple more, then spend some time in the exercise room the next day to make room for more. There were four couples at our table, with two empty seats. All were delightful and made dinner a joy each evening. The service wasn't as fun as on Inspiration, but still very good, and friendly. The waiters definitely work hard.
One of the couples at our table was from central Florida and said they'd booked the cruise two days in advance, after an email advertising $200 pp, and drove to the port. Must be nice! Ours was still a good deal at less than $500 pp, and I'd had to have vacation scheduled and plane tickets in advance, of course.
The ports of Belize and Isla Roatan were very enjoyable. They don't seem to have been commercialized quite yet, as badly as Cozumel and Grand Cayman. In Belize we anchored several miles off shore and tendered in, but hang onto your hat! The tenders each had 3 or 4 big outboards and they didn't mess around getting to shore; they're fast! We took the River Wallace/Altun Ha tour which was a delight. Half the group boarded greyhound type busses and headed overland for Altun Ha, and the rest of us boarded two open boats and went around the shoreline of Belize City to the Wallace River and headed upriver on a sightseeing/wildlife tour. The guides were very knowlegeable and informative, easy to understand and friendly, and gave a very enjoyable tour, but I'm always a sucker for a boat ride. It was warm, which was fine with me but was a little uncomfortable for my wife. We didn't see any Manatees or gators, but lots of iguanas and birds, and several monkeys. The guide would spot something and signal the captain to turn around; we'd stop and have a look, then continue. After a couple hours we got off at a landing where a local lunch was offered, for $5. Soon the busses arrived and everyone traded transport, and we headed for Altun Ha over a very horrible road. The ruins were absolutely amazing, another very good tour, but it was kind of rushed. We only had 45 min. or so, then headed back to the dock on the bus. Great tour! I'd forgotten about the tipping that would be expected, and only took $30 ashore, so we didn't get any souvenirs. Next time. I heard some people bellyaching about the tips. Take a bunch of ones and fives and pass 'em out. If you're on a cruise you've got the money, and they appreciated it, and earned it in my opinion.
We moored to a pier in Isla Roatan, and we took the Tabbyana beach excursion. We rode in school buses along the waterfront and over some incredible hills to a beach resort at the end of the island. It was set up very nicely, with a Carribean band playing and refreshments and food available, gift shop, etc. One of the ship's photographers was there taking pics. The bus ride was really the highlight of this trip though. We saw a whole different standard of living down there; educational even without a lecturer along, and more than a little humbling. More tips.
At Grand Cayman we took a bus, $2.50 a head, to Hell, just to say we'd done it. We went to see the turtles last time, and figured we'd do the stingrays next time.
Cozumel we just got off to get our picture taken, walked off the pier, then got back on the ship again. We're suckers for those pictures and bought just about all of them. Shopping ain't really our thing, and we didn't care for Cozumel last time.
Four port stops was a bit much on this cruise, they could've left off the last two and I wouldn't have minded. The sea days are my favorites. I entered the hairy chest comp., and we did the Austin Powers dance class, and went to about all the fun stuff we could get to. The newlywed/not so newlywed was a riot, and they skipped the scripted part, thankfully. The past guest party was enjoyable, and Captains reception. Interestingly, we've had the same ship's master on all three cruises, captain Vito Garruccio, a very nice man, but hard to understand his English. Jeff was very visible and very approachable, always friendly. The last sea day after the Galley tour, several of the staff hosted an informal question/answer session in the show lounge and that was very nice.
The crowd on this cruise definitely was leaning toward older folks, but there was a nice range of people. The casino always seemed busy, and there were always plenty of deck chairs available. Many times the Lido deck even seemed a little slow.
The last night the staff hosted a guest talent show which was a lot of fun. I wanted to sing with the band so I did a song, and there were five others, all singing acts, and all very good. I'm afraid I was probably the worst one, but I still had a blast, and the crowd was excellent.
Debarkation was also very smooth, if depressing. They offered express departure to US citizens if you wanted to carry all your luggage off yourself, before regular debark began, and many took advantage of this opportunity. No way was I going to drag all my stuff off, as I had badly overpacked, again, and we were staying in town two more nights anyway. We hated to go, but did, now planning has begun for the next one. I'd go on Paradise again in a heartbeat, but I also want to try one of the Spirit class ships, so we may try the Legend next year. Overall it was another fantastic cruise.
My wife and I sailed on 9/7/03, our second cruise with Carnival. My wife was hesitant because she recalled our first cruise five years ago as little more than standing in long lines. Happily, this did not occur for the Paradise.
We arrived at the terminal at 12:15 PM and were eating lunch on the Lido deck 35 minutes later. Our cabin (ov, Empress deck) was ready, clean robes hung in the closet space. Our steward greeted us upon our arrival and was always cheerful whenever we spied him in the hallway.
Weather was exceptional. A rain shower in Grand Cayman required us to switch to Plan B- a brief van tour of the island.
We booked Coralbreeze in Belize for a snorkeling trip among the reefs off of Caye Caulker. It was a small, but professional operation that provided a relaxed atmosphere with only 10 passengers at a cheaper rate than the Ship's tours. At the end of the day they took us directly back to the Paradise, avoiding a wait for a tender.
Roatan was the next stop and the poorest. Once again we made our own arrangements to travel tothe West End Beaches. The clarity of water on Tabyana Beach is as fine as I have seen- equally Maui or the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
Grand Cayman was awash with tourists from 5 cruise shops. Beware of prices. All are listed in Cayman Island dollars which is 25% less than the US dollar, so when you get your bill it is charged at the US dollar.
We took a cab to Chankanaab Marine Park in Cozumel, an excellent choice. Loved the water though the sudden appearance of a large barracuda near my right shoulder surprised me.
I must mention that prior to our departure I had scoured the Internet for advice/information about all aspects of the Paradise and Ports of Call. I joined a message board of people scheduled to sail with us and learned a great deal before sailing. Best of all, we arranged to meet the group on our first day and suddenly put faces to the Website messages. We had instant friends for the rest of the week, sharing the Coralbreeze in Belize with one Canadian couple. We met again on the last day to exchange impressions and more memories. I highly recommend establishing or joining a Roll Call thread for any future cruise.
When we returned to Miami we left our cabin upon hearing our color announcement and were getting into a cab 25 minutes later. We would go again tomorrow if possible.
My Husband Chris and I took our first cruise aboard the Carnival Paradise departing from Miami on August 10th 2003. We chose this cruise because our friends were getting married onboard on embarkation day. We traveled with 3 other couples not including the bride and groom and their families. About getting married on the Paradise: The fact that we were part of a wedding proved exceptionally beneficial to us upon embarkation. We were whisked past all lines and brought to a private waiting area where we were briefed by the wedding coordinator and given all the information we needed about the wedding. We were given access to our rooms right away to freshen up which was great because other guests didn't start boarding for another 2 hours. We had about an hour before the wedding so we made our way to the Paris Restaurant to enjoy an absolutely fabulous roast turkey dinner with all the "fix'ins". Be sure to get there right away because the lines started quickly.If I had one major complaint about this cruise it would be the way they handled the wedding. I would tell anyone planning to get married on this cruise to change plans. We were told they had a "special wedding room" which one would expect was a beautifully appointed location, just perfect for the most important day in a couple's life - not so. The room was so dark that almost no pictures turned out. The wallpaper was peeling, there were paper napkins stuffed into the chandelier which I realized later were to keep it from breaking when it began vibrating when the engine started. They had tacky bright white silk floral displays on pillars as the "alter". The room was dark pink which could clash with many wedding color schemes. There were extra tables along one wall and if you can believe it, there was a huge (5' by 4') bright red medical emergency evacuation cart right behind the alter. Our friends were the 3rd wedding in the room that day and I had to ask someone to move the cart into the corner of the room so it wouldn't be the backdrop to the wedding pictures. I felt really sorry for the first two couples who will undoubtedly have visions of that in their photo memories for the rest of their lives. I was so disappointed in this wedding because after spending a week on the ship I can confirm with all certainty that this "wedding room" was the most unattractive room on the entire ship. Absolutely anywhere else would have been an improvement - even the Lido Deck would have been better. The reception afterward was held in the United States Bar. This was a nice, well-organized event. The food was great, the cake was sweet and I think the bride and the groom had a wonderful time there.
The Good, The Bad and The Great
Bad -The Muster drill was unpleasant as we had never been on a cruise before this was new to us but safety is important so we sweated through it in our wedding attire (lifejackets and formal wear do not mix well). It seemed to be very lengthy but we survived. Good - Our stateroom - seemed bigger than I thought it would be. It was well laid-out and there was a place for everything. We really liked them. Our room steward Sara was very sweet and helpful. Good - The Food in the Destiny Dining Room - some things were fabulous (The Steaks, Salmon fillet, soups, Appetizers - especially the Coconut Shrimp,). Most of the food was great.
Bad - The desserts, the cheesecake (gelatinous), the pumpkin pie (just trust me) the salads, and the lobster. Great - Breakfast in the Paris Restaurant - Alfredo the omelets guy was so terrific! He started every morning off with a smile and the best omelet's I have ever tasted in my life. I have heard other complaints about the repetitiveness of the breakfasts but I can't really think of anything else they could have had on the menu. Anything we wanted for breakfast was available. Great - Lunch - The lunch menu was fine considering that you could always have gourmet pizza or terrific room service - we took advantage of these two things a lot. Great - Formal Nights - we had a terrific time on these formal nights but were a little miffed when we went all-out glamorous while the dress code was broken by other inconsiderate guests who wore shorts to dinner. You're going on a cruise.plan to dress up! Our table as well as the tables immediately around us actually dressed formally for dinner every night but went especially fancy for the two official formal nights. Men should plan to wear golf shirts and dress pants on the "resort casual wear" nights and suits for the formal nights. Women can wear from sundresses to evening dresses on the "resort casual wear" nights but bring on the glam for the formal nights or you may find yourself feeling underdressed. Shorts, T-shirts and jeans are not appropriate for the formal dining rooms at any time. If you don't want to dress up then you can eat buffet style in the Paris Restaurant. Excursions: Things we did, Recommendations and Shopping Tips Belize - this was our first destination. We booked all of our excursions ahead of time as we were warned that the best often sell out. We booked Cave Tubing with Reggie's. This tour was absolutely fantastic. This is a physically challenging event as you need to hike through the jungle for about 45 minutes carrying an inner tube. The hike was not difficult but should not be undertaken by anyone in fragile health. The caves were so beautiful you have to see it to believe it. The pictures do not do them justice. Reggie's tour was less expensive than the ship's tour and we experienced excellent personal attention. Be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to eat an authentic Belizean meal of stewed chicken, beans and rice and pineapple soda for an additional $6US. By the time you're finished the tour you'll be starving and the food is terrific.
Belize Shopping Tip: There's not much to buy here but you have to try the Pineapple Soda, it's the only place they sell it in the whole world and it's great!! We stocked up and brought it back on the ship with us and put it in our ice bucket. It was way cheaper than the $2.50 bottles of coke in our room. Roatan - I was very, very glad we booked this excursion ahead of time as I am certain that we had a better day than anyone else. We made arrangements with Sante Wellness Center for a fantastic private day of pampering. Angela treated me to a facial and I had a massage with David. My husband and our friends both had a one-hour mud wrap and massage treatment and we were all left refreshed and revived. Angela's husband Leon is a snorkeling instructor and as their beautiful Bed and Breakfast and Spa is situated on a private island right on the reef there is ample opportunity for snorkeling between treatments. Chris and Nathan reported that the snorkeling there was the best of the entire cruise. This stop is not to be missed although you'll need to book early. Due to the short amount of time we were in Roatan (7am until 2pm) the spa was only able to accommodate 4 of us for treatments and snorkeling so our other friends had to make alternate arrangements.
Roatan Shopping Tip: If you're looking for something specific you can hire one of the kids that will follow you around the market to do your shopping for you. Tell them to find a shop that sells what you're looking for and then pay them a couple of bucks. This was the best place to find beaded jewelry of all of the other places. I picked up a terrific Lorimar necklace for $8.00 and it was more than $15.00 everywhere else. Grand Cayman - We chose to visit the famous Stingray City attraction without the crowd of 2000 other cruise guests. Instead of Stingray City Sandbar, we chose to go with a diving company called "Diver's Down" that takes no more than 20 people at a time on a private boat out to the "Original Stingray City". This area is approximately 12 feet deep and the company accommodates groups with both snorkelers and scuba divers. The instructors were informative and the Stingrays were friendly and plentiful. This would not be the best excursion for children as the water is deep and you're swimming the whole time but they provided lots of Squid for us to feed the stingrays and we had a great time. We saw approximately 20 stingrays ranging in size from 2 feet across to 8 feet across, no one was stung and we got a lot of great pictures with our disposable underwater cameras.
Grand Cayman Shopping Tip: In Grand Cayman, things like T-shirts and hats are a lot more expensive than in all of the other ports but we got an Unbelievable bargain on Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee and the best chocolate Truffles you'll ever have. 1 kg of Chocolate Truffles (approximately 2lbs) for $6.00 US. The truffles and coffee can be found in many of the shops on the main street where you exit the tender boats.
Cozumel - We had a fabulous time in Cozumel. We decided to go all-out and have an eco-adventure day with Wild Tours. We took the ATV Eco-tour and were amazed at the speed those little things would go! All of our friends decided on the double ATV's rather than the singles and I'm glad we did. These things were a little tricky and I wouldn't have been as brave if I had been at the wheel. Riding double was fairly comfortable and it allowed me to snap shots with our digital camera as we flew down the trail. We blazed through the jungle along the coast, bumped over lava rock, slid through sand and splashed through mud puddles. After about 45 minutes of our hot, sweaty but exhilarating ride we arrived at a private beach where our guides quickly fed us lunch and provided soft drinks and water. As soon as we had finished eating we were put in Sea Kayaks and paddled out to the reef where our kayaks were tied to an anchored rope and we put on our snorkeling gear and hit the reef. This was very beautiful reef, very colorful and I could have stayed there all day. Unfortunately, there was another group waiting to use our Kayaks so we only had about 20 minutes for snorkeling before we had to paddle back to shore. We rested a little while longer and then hopped back onto the ATVs for a fast ride back. Along the way we stopped at "La Palma" a Mayan Ruin originally built to honor a fertility goddess. Eventually we arrived back at the Wild Tours hut where we had a few minutes to shop at the next-door market and then hop into our cab for the 30 minute ride back into Cozumel.
Cozumel Shopping Tip: This is the place to buy t-shirts; we scored 3 for $10 at most places. You can barter like crazy with the street vendors here, basically name your price and there's a good chance you'll get it.
Final Cruise Impressions: Our Carnival Cruise was just terrific. We loved the atmosphere (FUN!), the on-board entertainment was great ("The Highlights" a band on board was really great), the food was delicious overall, the boat was SPOTLESS, and the staff was friendly and helpful. The fact that this ship was non-smoking was the main reason we chose the Paradise and it's a big enough factor for us to ensure we will probably choose it again rather than trying anything else. We were delighted with the cruise as a whole and would recommend it highly.
My husband and I just returned from our second cruise, our first on the Paradise. We chose the Eastern Caribbean itinerary as we had explored the Western route on our first cruise, on the Sensation in May of 2001. I'll do my best to rate the Paradise on its own merits, and also report on some of the changes in Carnival we noticed from 2001 to 2003. This review is pretty long, but I did my best to include all the things I wish I could have read about in my research, and included the topics I found most helpful in other reviews.
First a little bit about us - we are both 25, married 3 years. My husband Shawn is a systems analyst for a utility company, I am an academic adviser at a public university. We aren't into the party scene, we like to take our vacations to relax and explore or see new places, and to spend some quality, romantic time alone together. We enjoy reading, hiking, music, and eating out. Our one real problem with the Sensation was the terrible amounts of cigarette smoke. We found itunbearable to be in the atrium, and could not enjoy any of the sing-alongs in the bars and lounges due to it, it made even using the elevators unpleasant. So we were very excited to hear that Carnival offered an entirely smoke-free ship!
BOOKING THE TRIP: We started researching our options back in February, and found that the lowest price was available on-line at a travel agency called Cruises Only. So while we never actually met our TA, she was very good at responding to e-mails, and when we found the price had dropped (on two occasions) and gave her a call, she re-figured our bill for us. We ended up paying $499 plus tax for a category 6A, a much better price than we had paid in 2001. Five days before our sail date (8/31/03), we called Carnival for one last price-check and found they were offering our category for $495 including tax, and after a little bit of the run-around (Carnival told us to call the TA, the TA told us to call Carnival, etc.), we received $100 ship board credit! The moral of the story - be persistant! The squeaky wheel gets the grease!
PORT OF MIAMI: I have always enjoyed road-trips, my family always took at least one every summer during my childhood, so I talked Shawn into driving to Miami from Akron, Ohio. People seem to think we are loony for this, but the drive was very pleasant! We left right after work on Friday, drove all night in shifts, and arrived in Miami around 11 on Saturday, which gave us plenty of time to relax and enjoy our first visit to the city. We had bid $35 on Priceline about three weeks before for a hotel in the downtown Miami area, and the bid was accepted by the Radisson on Biscayne Blvd. What a deal! The only complaint we had about the hotel was the parking fee - it was $2 for the first hour and $1 for every additional hour, for a maximum of $10. Still, with the price of the room we didn't pay all that much! The hotel is just a few blocks north of I-195, very easy to find. Upon checking in, I asked the clerk if any of the rooms faced the port - I was not asking to be in one of those rooms, but I think English was his second language and due to a very fortunate misunderstanding, he said he would change us to a king room (instead of 2 queens) that faced the port at no additional charge! What a way to begin our vacation. We enjoyed a dip in their beautiful roof-top pool, and took a nap to catch up on our sleep. Around dinner time we got up and drove over to Miami beach to see what all the fuss was about. Since we're really not into clubbing, we soon determined it really wasn't our style, and drove north up to The Crab House, and had a very nice dinner of snow crab and coconut shrimp. The next morning we woke up and excitedly went to the window - off in the distance, you could see the Paradise had arrived! We checked out around 11 and headed to the IHOP we had seen last night, just a few blocks north, then headed down Biscayne the other way to Port Blvd. The Miami Port is very well designed. We had no idea what to expect, but upon crossing the causeway we simply followed the signs towards the Paradise in Terminal 8, went through a security checkpoint, and then continued following the signs to the baggage drop-off. From there it's just around the corner to the long-term parking. We were very happy to see it was in a garage so our car wouldn't get too hot. Keep in mind, Terminal 8 is on a cash-only basis, $10 a day all in advance.
EMBARKATION: We estimated that arriving around 12:30 would be "early," since our tickets said boarding began at 1:30. I should have paid more attention to other reviewers! Apparently 12:30 is around peak-time, so there was quite a line in the terminal, but it really did go quickly. As we approached the line a Carnival employee gave us a letter telling us they were closely monitoring the progress of Hurrican Fabian and would keep us informed of the situation. We first had to go through security with our carry-on, which consisted of two bookbags, our digital camera, and a beach bag. We had 4 bottles of water and 3 bottles of juice as well as various snacks (which I'm sure you could see through the X-ray scanner) and apparently Carnival considers that to be within their "reasonable amount" since no one batted an eye at it. After that we got into the check-in line, which was about 45 minutes long. They really keep it moving, the clerks at the desk are very efficient without being pushy or rushing you when it's your turn, but they don't dawdle. At the desk we asked the Carnival representative about the possibility of early disembarkation since we had quite a drive to get home. She said to go to the Information Desk on the ship and tell them we had an early flight and didn't have the tickets on us to receive an early disembarkation tag. She also told us that when people get off the ship has a lot to do with customs, and that this particular morning customs hadn't cleared the Paradise until nearly 10:00 so even the early people didn't get off until 10:30 or so, preparing us for that possibility. We were grateful for her frankness on this matter.
THE SHIP: As other reviewers have mentioned, we were struck by the much classier tone of the Paradise compared to the Sensation (and, I assume, other Carnival Fantasy-class ships). So I won't go into too much detail here, but the wood-tones and Faberge egg motif was very attractive. It still has the twinkly, glitzy Carnival look, but toned down a bit. The carpeting was identical to what we remembered on the Sensation, and the pinkish-orange hallways in the cabin-areas were the same also. Our room was midship on the Riviera (we prefer the lower deck as we feel the motion is not as noticeable, and walking the stairs helps you work off those midnight buffets!), and pretty much identical to our room on the Sensation, although opposite in lay-out. The one difference that we appreciated immediately was that Carnival had installed soap and shampoo dispensers in the shower, which was very convenient. Our room steward Ted refilled them every time they got low. We went around exploring the ship and found that it is of course very similar to the Sensation as they are both Fantasy-class, so it wasn't hard remembering how to get from place to place. The biggest difference of course - no smoke or smoky smell! We appreciated that right away.
DINING: Dinners: We had requested the early seating, as on our previous TA's advice we had done the late seating on our first cruise. Her point was that early diners had to rush back to the ship and didn't get to enjoy the ports. We found that we didn't spend that much time in port anyway, and when you have dinner at 8:30, you miss so many of the evening activities and have no appetite at all for the midnight buffets, so we were excited to try our new dinner time. An unintended benefit of the early seating seemed to be that dinner moved a little more quickly (or maybe that is just because there were less people than our first cruise), and the meat was always cooked as we ordered it. Shawn is a steak-man, and he was a little disappointed on the Sensation that his steak was always too well done. He orders it medium-rare, and this time around, it actually arrived medium-rare. The food just seemed a little hotter, a little fresher. Last time we had been seated at a large round table right next to the dining room entrance right in the middle of the room, so we didn't have a real ocean-view. This time we had a booth which is just one row away from the window, so we had a great view even if we weren't at a window-table. The booths seat 6, but we had only one other couple at our table, honeymooners from Virginia named Mike and Antoinette. Either the other couple never showed up, or only the four of us were assigned to that table - I think it might be the latter because it didn't appear to be a full ship. There were always plenty of open seats in lounges and around the pool, even during peak times. We found that the dynamic is definitely different when you have just one other couple at your table instead of four - but luckily we had a lot in common and got along very well. Antoinette was originally from St. Vincent and had gone to college in St. Thomas, so we were able to get a local point of view during the week! Our head waiter was Rommel from the Phillipines, and Bart from Poland was his assistant. We also had a waiter-in-training named Olga from Lithuania. Please remember if you have a waiter-in-training that they are not included in your automatic tip, so it might be nice to give them a little something. Olga worked very hard for us, and we appreciated her efforts. We soon met Svitlana, our bar waitress who was diligent in bringing me my soft-drink every night after I showed her my fountain card that first Sunday. The menu was identical to what we remembered on the Sensation - literally. I know because they had the strawberry bisque and roasted pumpkin soup on the same night - and again I couldn't choose between them, so I had both! I did my best to remember what I had ordered before and try something new each night. As a result, I tried a little bit of everything - the seafood (perch, lobster tail, red-skinned snapper), beef, lamb, and pork. I'm especially fond of Carnival's soups and had two on some nights! The only course I didn't care for was the salad. There wasn't a lot of variety and many of them had "mixed greens," which I can't stand, they're too bitter for me. So instead of salad I usually ordered a soup and some other appetizer. On the night that the dining staff sang "Happy Birthday, Anniversary, Honeymoon, etc" Rommel found out that we had celebrated our anniversary 3 weeks before and two days later gave us a cake as well, which was really sweet. One thing we did notice about dining that had changed was that instead of leaving a basket of bread at the table, they came around with the basket and served a piece of bread to each guest (more than one if you asked). I'm sure this is a cost-cutting measure, and it didn't bother me a bit - since if bread is in front of me, I tend to keep eating it, and have less room for dinner! And any time you wanted more bread you just let the staff know and they brought the basket around again. There also seemed to be more of the staff performances - I remembered the Italian song, the Macarena, Mambo #5, and God Bless America on the final night...this time around there was some song or dance every single night except the first one, and God Bless America was replaced by the Carnival rendition of "Leaving on a Jet Plane," called "Leaving Our Fun Ship." I'm pretty neutral on this aspect of the dining experience. It does make for a fun, party atmosphere on one hand, but on the other hand I feel bad for the staff, that's already knocking themselves out to wait on us hand and foot, and then must entertain us as well. Breakfasts - Breakfast had changed as well - on the Sensation, there was always an assigned breakfast time in your normal dining room for a full-menu breakfast only. This time around, on sea days breakfast was at your assigned time in your dining room; on port days, only the Elation dining room was open and it was open-seating. There was also a buffet available in the dining room. It was pretty similar to the buffet on the Lido, with a little more selection in fruit, better-looking eggs, and French toast. We never ordered from the menu, and went to a buffet each day - in the Elation on port days, and on the Lido deck on sea days. Unlike lunch and dinner, we found the food pretty comparable in quality in the formal dining room and the Lido deck. Buffets - the buffet opened at either 11:30 or midnight each night, in the Paris Restaurant most nights, but one night there was a Mexican buffet on the Lido deck. Most of the time it was fruit, leftover desserts from the formal dining room (which was nice if you couldn't decide between two desserts - there is a chance you could try your second choice later that night!), and cold cuts. One night they had a make-your-own-crepe buffet. I had never tried crepes, and thoroughly enjoyed loading one up with chocolate, almonds, and whipped cream. Friday night they had the gala buffet; first picture taking in the Elation, and then you could go right upstairs to the Paris to eat it! Honestly, I think this buffet is more eye-candy than anything, creative and amazing in presentation but not so striking flavor-wise. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but it wasn't much different than the food I'd had all week. Since we'd eaten at 6, we managed to fit the buffet in almost every night, and it was very enjoyable, sitting at one of our favorite spots on the deck (the back of the Lido deck behind the Paris), enjoying a midnight snack. Room Service - the menu was very similar to what I remembered from 2001, there may have been a few additions. We used it three times - once for an early lunch when we slept in, once for a late-night snack (just because we could), and on Friday night we put out our order card for breakfast-in-bed on Saturday. The fruit salad is good, as is the roast-beef and brie sandwich, and the chocolate cake! The service was always very prompt.
THE PORTS: Nassau, The Bahamas: We had decided very early on to take only one excursion to keep costs down, and I hadn't heard a lot of good things about Nassau so we decided to make it just a low-key day and hang out on our own, return to the ship early and get a discounted couple's massage while the ship was in port. When we first arrived at the pier on Monday there was a light rain. We ate breakfast on the Lido deck and by the time we finished the weather was clearing up. We exited the ship from Deck 3 and took the walk down the wharf to the actual city. The wharf is maybe a quarter-mile walk. There were a few people waiting at the end of it offering us tours, but were not persistent when we declined. We walked into the "welcome-building," which can be a little bit tricky. We assumed the official-looking people behind the counters were there to give us information, but apparently these are just tour operators with enough status to get an official-looking spot behind the counter! One woman offered to braid my hair when I asked her about local beaches, and the man next to her told us the only public beach was on Paradise Island and offered to ferry us there. I knew from reading reviews that this was not true, so we just decided to walk. Coming out of the welcome center, we went right down Bay Street, and walked until it dead-ended at the British colonial hotel private beach behind Senor Frog's. We made a left and then another right on Marlborough to go around the hotel, and lo and behold on the other side of this huge hotel is a little public beach! I think it is called Lighthouse Beach, as it is right across a little bay from a lighthouse. We could see the Paradise about a half-mile away. There was a vendor there who offered to rent us chairs, umbrellas, etc., and to braid my hair, but again stopped bothering us after we declined. We laid towels down on the sand and went for a quick dip in the calm, warm, crystal-clear water. It is really a tribute to this beach that I got in at all - I used to love the ocean, but after five encounters with jelly-fish in South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida, I have developed a phobia of being in water that I can't see into. This was like being in a pool it was so clear, I had no fears at all! After our swim, we laid out to dry off, reading our books. Around 11:30 we headed back the way we had come, and stopped at Conch Fritters across from the hotel to try this local delicacy. We had read on the web and in several guidebooks that this restaurant prepared it well. We split a Coke and ordered the fritters, which were delicious! Warning, for those of you who haven't tried them - don't ask what they are until you're done! : ) We walked back through all the pier-side vendors and were back on the ship by 12:30, enough time to shower and get ready for our 1:45 massage.
La Romana, Dominican Republic: This was the most confusing port to research, in my opinion, since the Paradise is one of the first ships to visit it. At first the Carnival website said the port itself was Casa del Campo, so I wondered if that meant we would be able to just hang out at the resort. I called the resort and Carnival on 3 separate occasions and no one knew. After receiving the excursion costs from Carnival, I decided to do a little research and see if I could see the same sights for a lesser cost (which you can usually do). I found several agencies that offered the same tours, but got one confusing message from one of them that Carnival forbids its guests from taking any non-Carnival excursions. This sounded fishy to me, but rather than fight it, we just decided to use our on-board credit for an excursion. The best one seemed like the Saona Beach Catamaran, which actually combined 2 other excursions - the trip to Saona and the speedboats to La Piscina Natural ("natural pool"), for $85/person. The Paradise appeared to actually dock on Casa del Campo property, but I never saw the resort, just a locked gate leading to it; my guess is to use anything on the resort you would have to take one of the excursions that used their facilities. The big difference between this port and all the others I've been to is that it doesn't dock anywhere near a city; it's pretty isolated and there aren't people crowded around waiting for you to sell you something. You get off the ship basically in a parking lot area from which the tour buses depart. Despite all the discouragement of Carnival in the pre-port talks, it is very possible to explore the island on your own. We later found out our tablemates got a cab from the parking lot to take them in to Santo Domingo. They said it was pretty easy; the one thing to look out for is that there is very little English spoken on the island (although sometimes I got the impression our tour guides understood more than they let on). We boarded a bus in the parking lot at the pier, and met our guide Jose, who has run several tours to Saona for the local resorts. He took us to a beach where vendors were waiting to sell us hats and Jose warned us we would need them to be protected from the sun. We decided to take our chances. There was a group of guides waiting for us that divided us up into canoe-like motorboats to take us out to the waiting catamaran for the sail to Saona. We started at around 9:30, and it was close to a 2-hour trip. That's when they start with the open bar. Now, we have no problem with drinking, we just rarely do it (especially at 9:30 in the morning). But rather than the nice relaxing sail we had hoped for (since this was not marketed as a 'party boat' as some others were), we got loud music blasted in our ears and some very, very drunk obnoxious people. I didn't mind the music at first, but for those of us trying to relax on the shady part at the back of the boat, it actually began to become painfully loud, and some of the songs had very explicit lyrics that I don't think I was old enough to hear, not to mention the two kids on the tour. Then, once everyone (except a few of us) had plenty to drink, the guides came around and plopped a do-rag on everyone's head.
I was actually trying to doze and the guide sat me up and tied it on, even when Shawn and I protested (in English and Spanish) that we did not want one. We gave up, not wanting to offend their "hospitality," and then five minutes later the female guide came around collecting $5 per do-rag. We gave ours back to her but wondered how many other people had worn them and returned them. It was a pretty good little trick, since some people were pretty out of it by then and just forked over the cash. The other thing that turned us off was that the guides kept pouring drinks down the throats of two attractive college girls on the trip - now mind you, no one made them drink that much, but as they got drunker and drunker the guides at first tried dancing with them very suggestively, and eventually got them to the point where they were looking down their bikini tops and grabbing their breasts, which got offensive in my opinion. If this had been guests doing this to each other, that's their own business, but it was very unprofessional for guides to be doing this to guests. When we arrived at Saona, I cheered up a little - we were boated in to a totally isolated beach where a buffet was being prepared, and a line of lounge chairs lay under a row of beautiful palms. The water was kind of murky at the beach, but for people who wanted to play in the clear water further out, the guides took them out in a boat. At first I tried to return to my nap in the shade. It was nice for about 20 minutes, and then I heard people around me yelping about mosquitoes. I figured they were farther inland since generally mosquitoes don't go near the ocean. But then I began to feel little stings and pricks, and was slapping them off of me left and right. I don't know why they suddenly showed up, I suspect they were drawn by the buffet - but then the guests became the buffet! After making a small dent in the mosquito population, I gave up and headed for the water. Amazingly, they followed! These were hard-core mosquitoes! I had to go in all the way up to my neck, and still wave them off of my face. After about ten minutes, Jose called us up to lunch, and now that was an adventure! No one had thought to bring bug spray (since this was a beach trip, not a rainforest or river or something) and they ate us alive as we got our food. I dropped my plate three times trying to get them off of me. They were also all over our food. I hurriedly got myself some rice, fresh fruit, and a piece of grilled chicken and ran back out to the ocean. There were picnic tables but it was impossible to eat there. One girl wrapped herself up in clothing from head to toe and they still hovered around her bare hands and face, so most people ended up joining me in the water. Even then you had to look out for them. And if you've never tried it, it's pretty hard to hold your plate and manage to eat while neck-deep in water, so I really didn't eat all that much.
Poor Shawn had at least 25 bites on his back and neck, and as we all began to compare bites, we found the winner from our group - this guy had close to 50 his torso! Be warned!! While this is a beautiful island, you will be eaten alive unless you bring spray, and I'm not even sure that will slow them down. We were supposed to stay at the island until 1, but there was a lot of grumbling and whining at this point, so as soon as lunch was over they let us board the speedboats for the trip to Piscina Natural. If you've never been, this is about halfway between the beach where we started and Saona. It's an area of the ocean about 200 yards off the shore that is only 3-4 feet deep and very clear! So it's very similar to a pool. I really enjoyed the speedboat trip out there, the guides would zigzag back and forth and we'd bounce in each other's wake. They really did go pretty fast, it was a lot of fun as the three boats would race. Once at the pool, we all jumped out and had some fun playing with one of the guest's Frisbees. Jose found a starfish and brought it over to let us touch. It was much spinier than I thought it would be, and the weirdest thing was, he had us touch a crack on its bottom while he held it under water. Little suction things came out to suck on your finger, which you could see when he turned it back over. That was a new experience! After about 30 minutes, several of us got back onto the speedboats. There really wasn't a lot to do there other than swim, drink, and throw Frisbee, and if you hadn't had a lot to drink, that wasn't fun for a super-long time. We had to sit in the boats until 3 since we'd left Saona early while they kept playing and drinking.
Finally everyone else boarded (one guy with quite a bit of difficulty - he fell off the ladder twice he was so wasted; I was afraid he would throw up when the boats started racing again, but instead he just passed out, while his wife hung onto his life jacket to keep him from falling out). We were back on the beach we'd started at around 3:20 where vendors waited with ice cream. Warning - the price of this ice cream varies depending on how much they see you have in your hand! We bought a cone for a buck and got back on the bus to be taken back to the Paradise. While I can't say I didn't have fun on this trip, the day was a little over-long for me, and I'm not sure it was worth $85 based on the fact that I drank only water and had a pitifully small lunch, and the mosquitoes made Saona more painful than pleasant. One of my suggestions to Carnival at the end of the week was that they should offer two prices for the excursions that include an open bar, and not assume that everyone is going to drink - why should I, who had 2 waters, be charged the same price as someone who has a dozen alcoholic beverages? Maybe they could put a hand-stamp or something on people who haven't paid for the bar, and then they can pay for any drinks they do want out-of-pocket. From this excursion I would say the best part is the speedboats and Natural Pool, which you can get for almost half the cost on the Speedboat excursion.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands: This was by far the best port on this cruise, and of our Western itinerary as well! I knew it was going to be a great day when I woke up and looked out of my window to see a beautiful hillside spotted with villas. The weather was perfect. We had a quick buffet breakfast in the Elation dining room and were off the ship by 8. I had decided way back in March to do St. Thomas on our own since this was a very reputable, safe island. We wanted to see St. John based on the stories of friends of ours who had visited it and fallen in love; but we didn't want to pay Carnival prices and go with a huge crowd. As it turned out, it's a good thing we booked with a private company, as all Carnival snorkeling excursions were cancelled due to Hurricane Fabian (hundreds of miles away) stirring up the ocean floor, making conditions murky. Several of the companies I had e-mailed turned out to be closed during that week, as this is their downtime. Two wrote me back, and based on what they offered I decided to go with Jester Sailing Adventures. We only wanted a half-day sail to make sure we'd have plenty of time to make it back to the ship, and while there was a 4-person minimum for a half-day, Captain Jim assured us that he could find the other two, so we tentatively reserved a spot. About a month before we sailed, we wrote him with our credit card and reserved the day from 9-1. He still had not found 2 others but told us if it was just the two of us it was OK. We had one little problem when he wrote us about 3 days before we left and told us he had another request for a group of 4 for a full day, and since he hadn't heard from us he reserved with them. We were pretty confused by this as he had heard from us, but it was cleared up very easily with a phone call - it turns out an e-mail virus had caused him to lose our reservation, but when we forwarded our copy of it to him he was very apologetic and eager to honor his prior agreement with us - he said if the group of four still wanted to go, we could do the full-day with them for the half-day price.
As it turned out, they backed out anyway, and so we got a half-day with just the two of us! The day was everything I had hoped for with the Saona beach excursion! Upon getting off the ship, we caught a taxi to the Renaissance Resort where the boat was waiting for us. The taxis all line up right alongside the ship, and many are open-air trucks with several rows. The driver was very informative along the trip. Once we arrived at the resort, Captain Jim brought his dinghy over to the beach to take us out to the Jester, and then he invited us to kick off our shoes and relax. He served us his very own beverage called Jester Juice - a combination of island juices (such as guava, passion, pineapple), vanilla rum, topped off with coconut cream and fresh nutmeg. I could have had these all day! It was the most refreshing drink I've ever had. Literally. The two of us relaxed on a cushion on the bow of the boat for the 1-hour sail over to St. John. Captain Jim played some relaxing, tropical tunes for us, and made the trip very pleasant and romantic for us. He put the anchor down at Honeymoon Beach and gave us snorkel equipment and encouraged us to swim one beach over to see some beautiful coral (assuring me they rarely see jellyfish in the Virgin Islands). We had a great time snorkeling, sure the conditions weren't crystal-clear but we saw a lot of neat fish and sea urchins in the 7-foot deep water. When we swam back to the boat, he had brought out floating Styrofoam mats to relax on. After a little more relaxation we climbed back aboard the Jester where we were supplied with more juice, fresh fruit and cheese, and nachos with a fabulous homemade salsa. He also had a cooler of pops and beer available, but we didn't even touch it since he kept us supplied with his special drink. The sail back to St. Thomas took a little longer, which was fine with us. The sky, water, and surrounding scenery was so beautiful we could have stayed on the boat forever. We arrived back at the Renaissance around 2, took care of payment, and the hotel got a cab to take us back to the pier. I highly recommend Jester Sailing; we hope to take a full-day trip with him the next time we are in the area. Captain Jim is very knowledgeable, accommodating, hospitable and easy-going. He promised us the best day of our trip and he really delivered!
The Spa: We did not use the Spa on the Sensation, so this was a new experience for us. One of the first things we did was take a tour of the spa (hoping to win some free treatments, but no such luck!). At first I was astounded at the cost of the official "Couples Massage" ($220), but then I asked if any of the treatments we were being told about were available to couples and assured that most of them were - this is just something they don't mention since it is significantly cheaper. After our tour we booked the Spa Teaser/Reflexology as a couple for the next day to get de-stressed for our vacation. The in-port price was $79/person. When we arrived at the spa we turned in our Sign and Sail cards to get locker keys, changed into the supplied robes and filled out lengthy medical forms, and then were re-united in the couple's massage room. The Spa-Teaser was a 25-minute Swedish massage concentrating on whichever muscles you preferred, and the Reflexology was an additional 25 minutes on your feet. The massage itself was wonderful; we had two girls from the Philippines as our therapists. I've only had five other massages and technique-wise, this one was up-to-par. It was Shawn's first massage, and despite his concerns that he would feel "girlie," he stated after the massage that we should get this done once a month! Yippee! : )
It was after the massage that our troubles with the spa began. After leaving us alone to relax in the darkened room, the girls returned and began pitching their various oils and other products to us. I had been expecting this from other reviews, and knew this was the main difference between a Carnival spa experience and a regular one. We politely declined and they brought us our bill. The bill stated that we had received the full Couple's Massage, which we had not. We took it to the front desk and the manager graciously adjusted the amount. But things went downhill from there. We both turned in our locker keys; the manager who had taken our Sign and Sail cards was on the phone, so the therapists looked for them. They gave Shawn his but couldn't find mine. When the manager finally got off the phone she got very impatient with them, wondering what they were doing. They explained that my card was missing, and she said to them very condescendingly, "Well, what are you girls going to do about this?" They became very apologetic, explaining that they had never even seen my card or taken it from her - they had charged it to Shawn's card, not mine. Disgusted, she waved them off to their next client, and assured me that I should "be calm, there is no problem." I was perfectly calm, I just wanted my card back. She told us it would be taken care of, and then she proceeded to help every single person who came to the counter while we stood there, waiting. We were there a good ten minutes and would have stood there longer as more and more people arrived had not the phone rang just then - it was another client who had been given my card by the manager by mistake when she turned in her key. Now, mistakes happen, and I don't get angry when they do; I get upset if the mistake is not handled correctly. Instead of asking for the woman's name, or sending one of her staff to the woman to get the card (since I can see why she shouldn't have to stop what she was doing to come turn it in as it was the spa's mistake), she told her to bring it to the Information desk where I could pick it up. She didn't say when to do so, and then sent us down there. Of course, after we waited in the 15-minute line down there, it had not been turned in, so they ended up issuing me a new card.
This was much more complicated than it had to be in my opinion, and I didn't appreciate her reprimanding her employees publicly for what turned out to be her mistake. But the saga continues. We checked our Sign and Sail the following day to make sure the other guest had not accidentally charged anything to our account while she had my card. We found 2 charges (from the spa), both of which had been cancelled. There was a third charge from the spa on my NEW card, for $100 the day after our massage! We went back to the spa and spoke to the same condescending manager, who told us the spa employee who had put the charge on my card was not there, and we'd have to come back and deal with it later. She kept telling us to calm down in a very fake-friendly way, when again we were perfectly calm. This time my husband would not be put off, and suggested she do what she could about it right then. After some huffing on her part (and questioning me as to whether or not I was sure I hadn't had my hair cut and colored the day before, like I would forget!) she finally found the erroneous receipt, with my name and account but another woman's signature. The spa employee had entered the account number by hand, entered one digit wrong, and it happened to be charged to me. Again, an easy mistake to make - but getting it corrected while being talked down to was very unpleasant. Despite the fact that we enjoyed our massages, I think we'll avoid the spa in the future, at least while that manager is there!
ON-BOARD ACTIVITIES/ENTERTAINMENT: One of my favorite perks of cruising is the ability to do as much or as little as you like on the ship! You can be a couch potato and hang out in your cabin all day or a party animal. We are somewhere in between, but due to the fact that I had a severe back injury during our last cruise, we spent a lot of time in the cabin as I was in too much pain to do much. So I was looking forward to exploring ship life! We attended a dance class, the Game Show, the Great Carnival Quest, the Love, Sex, and Romance Game, and our favorite from the last cruise, the Newlywed and not so Newlywed Game! All of these were a lot of fun - one complaint about the Love, Sex and Romance Game was the entire audience was strong-armed into coming up on stage to participate, when some people just wanted to observe. The pressure was really put on by the cruise director, Jeff Bronson. He was a little fake and cheesy for my taste, only got a couple of really good laughs from me during the week. I thought our director on the Sensation was genuinely funny. However, I came to appreciate Jeff a bit more when I attended the second Game Show, which was run by the assistant director Brent and the social director Karl with a K, who pretty much destroyed any organization the Game was intended to have, by playing the wrong sound clips for the question deliberately, screwing with the score, running around the stage, etc. It was much better handled by Jeff, corny as he may be. But overall, we really enjoyed all these activities. We went to several of the evening shows as well - I really enjoyed the musical production, "Dream Voyage."
The performers were really talented - I especially enjoyed their tribute to the men and women of World War II, sentimental that I am! We didn't make it to Shout, maybe next cruise. The magician on Tuesday night was decent as well, he had some really good illusions and musical accompaniment. The "zany" comedian that followed him, Adam Ace, wasn't nearly as entertaining. From what we saw he was pretty much a prop-comic, and enjoyed toilet-papering people. At that point we decided our time would be better spent in the hot tub on Lido deck! I didn't remember them being open so late, but the main ones by the pool out there were open till 11:30, and this became a favorite spot to hang out before the midnight buffet for us. The third show we saw was on the last night, a ventriloquist comedian that we are still getting mileage out of - his ostrich Hanky-Panky was hilarious, and he was followed by the sarcastic comedy of Jim Brick, who got many laughs out of us at our own expense, making fun of cruisers. They were both very funny. As far as the in-room movies goes, there was MUCH more variety than we'd had in 2001. Instead of the same 4 movies running back-to-back, they had 3 different movies each day, each on its own station playing over and over. They got around to the same movies by the fourth day, but in a different mix. There was probably a total of 8-10, and some were pretty new releases, like The Two Towers and Chicago. Definitely an improvement in this department. We really enjoyed all the live music on-board, the jazz band in the Normandie lounge, the reggae band at the pool, and the orchestra in the atrium. We also spent a little time at the sing-alongs with Roberta in the American Bar which was a lot of fun. There was a lot more karaoke than I remembered as well, at least 4 or 5 nights.
CUSTOMER SERVICE: Two thumbs down. I'm not referring to the cabin steward, or dining room staff, but in general the dealing with any problems we had. We were aware of the bad reputation of Carnival in this area, but had no problems to be fixed on our last cruise. I wish I could say that was the case this time around. Around noon on Friday we started to notice an annoying, high-pitched squeal in our room. It got louder until it was bang-your-head-on-the-wall piercing. It even drowned out the TV. We called Information and they sent down a security guard to verify the noise. Shawn went to Information while she investigated the noise and I stayed in the room. Shawn called me about ten minutes later to see what was going on, and it was still loud. Then, while we were on the phone it suddenly stopped. At that moment Information got a call from the security guard saying she had "asked someone to stop doing something," and that seemed to correct the problem. Satisfied, we let it go, until it woke us from a sound sleep at 4 in the morning. We went to Information again (at least they were open) who told us we were mistaken, the security guard had done nothing earlier to get it to stop, so the only thing they would do is offer us a new cabin. Well, the prospect of moving all our stuff to another cabin at 4 in the morning where we didn't even have a double bed was not a happy one. So we stuffed cotton in our ears and dealt with it. It was still going on at 11 the next day, so we went to Information again. The most frustrating thing was that they wouldn't even investigate it at all, and it sounded electrical which could have been dangerous. They seemed baffled that giving us a new room didn't satisfy us. I explained we didn't want to move all our stuff, tip another steward to put the beds together, etc., if there was a simple way to make it stop. They wouldn't send engineering, but told us another security guard would be down in 10 minutes. In 35, no one had showed up, so we gave up for awhile and went to the pool. On the Lido deck we saw the security guard who had helped us the night before. She said at the time we heard the noise she found several rooms being vacuumed, and once all the vacuums were off, it went away - so it was an electrical problem. Grateful to finally have an answer we went back to Information to get it fixed since, after all, it had not been happening all week and people had been vacuuming all week! They told us an engineer had investigated it, and it was an engine vibration that had somehow worked its way from the back of the ship and popped out in our room, perhaps due to the increased speed of the ship (due to a medical emergency), and that they were "working on it." I think this was a bunch of crap to shut us up, as it only got worse throughout the day, forcing us out of the cabin. We finally gave up and had the steward make up the bed in our other cabin since we had to pack up the last night anyway, and slept in the other cabin which was in the very front of the ship and right where the waves crashed into the hull, so it had its own problems. Luckily we docked early in Miami (by midnight) and things calmed down enough that we could sleep, but it was still frustrating feeling like no one would listen to you when a simple investigation could have solved the issue. Again, I just want to stress that we weren't bothered that there was a problem - they happen and there is nothing that can be done about it. However, it isn't too much to expect to be taken seriously when trying to have a problem remedied.
DISEMBARKATION: Overall, this went pretty smoothly and we did get off the ship in time to start our road-trip, although it was by accident! Following the Carnival representative's advice at embarkation, we went to Information to request an early departure due to having an early flight; they said to come back with the tickets. So that foiled that approach; we went back and talked to a different employee this time, telling the truth - that we had hotel reservations in Tennessee Sunday evening that we would like to get to by 10:30, and we were driving. We were told this did not qualify for early disembarkment; this seemed unfair that people who fly are given preferential treatment. The lady told us this was Custom's policy, not Carnival's, and that Customs would be checking for flight tickets as the early people got off. However, she assured us that after the early people got off the ship, we could get off next no matter which color was called, since they wouldn't be checking luggage tag color (although she was somewhat skeptical that we could make it to Tennessee by 10:30 pm). This was somewhat encouraging, and things worked out even better than that! After breakfast on Sunday we dragged our carry-on to the Atlantic deck and noticed other non-early people waiting on the Empress deck right next to the exit. When there were gaps in the early disembarkers, the impatient customs people waved whoever was standing nearby over to get off the ship. After seeing entire groups of people with regular tags get off, we decided to give it a try. Sure enough, we were waved over to go through security, no one asked for flight information or anything, so we were off at 9:15. The one fly in the ointment here is that when we got to the luggage warehouse, I realized I had left our video camera in the Atrium on the ship! Luckily, it was less complicated getting back on the ship than I would have thought. A warehouse employee had to accompany me, but we were able to walk right on, and thank goodness it was still laying where I had left it on the floor - close shave there. At any rate, we were on the road by 10, and to all the skeptics out there - we were at our hotel by 10:15 that night! : )
Overall, this was a fantastic vacation. The ports were great, the ship activities/entertainment was great, the massage was wonderful, and wow do I miss my dining staff and cabin steward after doing housework the last two nights! We were a little concerned about Hurrican Fabian, but Carnival did a good job keeping us up-to-date, posting location charts around the ship every six hours. There were two nights that the motion on the ship got pretty bad due to the "swells" the storm caused, but that was the worst of it. We fell in love with the idea of a smoke-free ship, and I don't see myself going on another cruise where smoking is allowed, this gave me so much more comfort and freedom to go where I pleased and do what I wanted. We would sail the Paradise again, but it would be nice if other cruiselines followed suit to offer a smoke-free environment, or if Carnival would create more of these. We would sail Carnival again; the few bad experiences we had were not enough to spoil a lovely, relaxing, romantic week - but I think we'll be a little bit wiser about what we can expect from Carnival in the future.
We started our journey to Miami through Baltimore Washington Airport early Sunday morning. We were through security without a hitch although we did have to remove our shoes. We arrived in Miami around 10 a.m., and since we booked our air through Carnival, buses were there to take us and our luggage to the dock.
On the way to the dock, we passed the Norway, which looked really sad. Then we realized that several people on our bus had originally booked the Norway. After boarding, we found out that this Paradise cruise had sold out due to passengers who already had airfare to Miami for a June 15th sailing on Norway. We were booked to capacity at 2,600. The lines at embarkation were long but flowed rather well and in no time we were in our cabin on the Upper deck forward.
We made our way to the shore tour desk and booked our excursions, then headed for the Paris Restaurant for lunch. Afterwards, we toured the ship and joined in the sail-away party fun on Lido deck. The weather looked threatening, and our second night at sea was rather rough. Myhusband had a bit of trouble with motion sickness but managed with the Scopolamine patch, lots of fresh air and by keeping something light on his stomach. We did have early dinner seating, and our meals were very good with plenty of variety.
Our first excursion was to Goff's Caye in Belize. We boarded early the Rock Beauty and our guides were very informative and fun. We had about a 20-minute speedboat ride to a very small island that had a tent with lots of souvenirs and a large pit BBQ with a chicken roast going. We were the first boatload of tourists to arrive, and this proved advantageous to snorkeling. We snorkeled in the shallow water and found the elk-horn coral to be teeming with beautiful fish. (I will include photos in the gallery.) If you're new to snorkeling, I would recommend this tour. You could also stay on the boat and snorkel in the deep water along the reef. After we spent a couple of hours of swimming and sunning, our boat tendered those who wanted to return to the ship, and took the rest to the dock at Belize City. This port is hardly ready for tourism. There is a small flea market-type area along the first couple of blocks and the locals are a bit pushy. I am sure with the improvements that are planned, before long the area will make for an interesting stop. But for now it is uncomfortable.
The second port was the small island of Roatan, Honduras. This is an untouched paradise. We toured the West Side, the more affluent area. Several U.S. enterprises on this side include housing developments with Century 21 and Prudential. The roads are very narrow and steep. The drivers are not cautious, and I worried about the children in their navy blue uniforms walking to the bilingual school. The water was clear and pretty as we walked out onto a bar over the water to be entertained by some native dancers. After this we shopped along the dirt road of the main street. The vendors do enjoy horse-trading. We then visited a butterfly farm and the Carabola Botanical Gardens for fresh fruit tasting. On the way back to the ship, our guide stopped by her house to show us her iguana. We visited the Cameo House and Yabba Ding Dings, a gift shop. The island people made us feel very welcome and safe in all areas. The pier is only about 50 yards from the main shopping area.
The next stop was Grand Cayman. Coming into port, we saw three other ships docked and expected crowds. The streets were filled with tourists and so were the shops. We had decided to take a "swim with the stingrays" excursion and were not disappointed. These marvelous creatures have been hand-fed for 20 years now and are completely comfortable with humans. As they brushed along my thighs I was amazed at the soft pillow-like feeling. This is something you should experience at least once in a lifetime. Upon returning to dock we decided to bring home the famous Tortugas Rum Cakes. The tenders were very large and we had no trouble going back to the Paradise, but the lines for the ship in port were horrendous.
Our last port was Cozumel. We docked directly across from the town square and Senor Frog's. The pier was filled with bicycle taxis and tour signs. We had decided to do the Eco Jeep Adventure. There were 10 other jeeps in our caravan as we headed out to the Punta Sur beach area. We visited a nature reserve there, with salt water crocks and an old lighthouse. We also saw a small hut built by the Mayan Indians, which was interesting in that the top of the hut contained a pyramid of conch shells each facing N, S, E, W with holes through them. Our guide explained that the wind would cause the shells to make a horn noise, alerting the tribe to inclement weather. Thus these primitives had their own hurricane alert system.
Our guide then took us on an off-road "ride of your life" through some of the roughest terrain in Cozumel. It's not for weak backs or necks, but a riot for the young at heart. We were allowed to drive the vehicles and our leader was fearless. This tour ended at a local beach, where we were taken out snorkeling and the fish food did lure in some beautiful sea life. Afterwards we had plenty of time to eat and shop, since the ship didn't sail until 11 p.m. We were in the show lounge when the last group from Carlos and Charlie's came on board, and we could hear their singing. They were a rowdy bunch, and the party continued on the Lido deck around the pool as the ship set sail for Miami.
The Paradise cabin stewards and waiters were fantastic. The photographers were a bit pushy, but that goes with the job. The shows were typical, except for the two comedians, who were really great. The days did offer plenty of options, and even with a full ship we did not feel crowded at all. The midnight buffets were very nice, and the majority of our meals were tasty. Our table mates were also new to cruising, and we enjoyed their company. All in all, it was a wonderful vacation. We did see quite a few children on board, and most of them were well behaved. I would sail again on Paradise, and would recommend her to anyone who enjoys a more personal experience in a smoke-free environment.