by Roger & Judy Best
January 24, 2004
PRE-CRUISE: This was the sixth cruise for my husband, Roger, and I. We flew to Fort Lauderdale a day early via US Airways. This was our first time on US Airways, and we were disappointed with how little room there was between seats and that we had to seat separately on both legs of our trip to Fort Lauderdale. Otherwise, the flight was uneventful and arrived safely on time.
We had booked our pre-cruise stay at the Ramada Fort Lauderdale Airport/Port Everglades free due to multiple stays at like hotels. Their website claimed a restaurant, bar, and free transportation to and from the airport and pier, so we figured this was a deal we couldn't beat. After picking up our luggage, we phoned the Ramada to ask where to catch the van, and they directed us to an area to wait nearby. We waited . and waited . and waited . almost an hour. Others waiting on other hotels had waited more than an hour. We were one of the lucky ones picked up within an hour.
Upon arrival, I was very disappointed in the appearance of this Ramada. As Roger attempted to check us in, they asked for a credit card for the stay. Roger called me over to the desk to discuss the problem, and the clerk explained to us that they had been unable to verify this as a free stay, so he simply wanted the credit card to get us checked in. He said he would continue to get it verified, but the credit card would be required. I told him that we wouldn't be staying if this wasn't free, so get it verified or we're leaving. Within fifteen minutes, they had it verified, and we were in our room. The room was fine.
We had reservations that evening at the Blue Moon Fish Company, a dinner recommendation from Chris, aka "IAmCruising", so we decided to catch a taxi over to that area and then just wonder around until time for dinner. The taxi driver asked us how we ended up at that "dump" referring to our hotel. The taxi dropped us off at the restaurant, and we strolled down Commercial Avenue.
We eventually ran into Athena's Grill by the Sea, with doors wide open, good music playing, and a bar. We asked the host at the door if we could just have a seat at the bar for a while, and he welcomed us in. We both ordered a drink, but when offered table, explained that we weren't eating there. Within just a couple of minutes, a server placed a basked of pita bread and humus dip in front of us - complimentary. This appetizer was delicious, and we stayed longer than we'd intended. We enjoyed interacting with the bartender and the various servers dashing by. They invited us back at 10:30 pm, when they had belly dancers performing with guests! This invitation sounded good to us, so we headed out at just the right time for our dinner reservations. We strongly recommend a visit to Athena's Grill by the Sea during your visit to Fort Lauderdale - the food looked great, too!
We strolled back to the Blue Moon Fish Company, where we were immediately seated at a table overlooking the Intercoastal Waterway. We had read about this on the website, and I was worried that it would be chilly eating by the water this time of year. Not a problem as they had large sheets of transparent plastic between us and the outside, a perfect solution to allowing us to enjoy the view without the chill. Everything on the menu looked great. We had a fabulous Soft Shell Crab Claw and Sushi appetizer. This appetizer was huge and delicious. Our entrees were equally delicious. The restaurant was really busy this evening, and yet our server was attentive and personable. We also strongly recommend this restaurant, but remember to make reservations before you go!
After dinner, we strolled back to Athena's and ordered drinks again at the bar, but by then travel fatigue was starting to settle in, and we were still 45 minutes from the belly dancers' performance, so we caught a cab to return to our hotel. We were really tired, but we were awakened repeatedly throughout the night by a man who seemed to be fighting with his girlfriend by cell phone in the courtyard outside our room.
DAY ONE: The next morning, we joined a crowd at the entrance of the hotel restaurant to be seated for breakfast. One server was working the entire restaurant, seating and serving guests. We strongly do not recommend this hotel or restaurant! As we visited with other guests during breakfast, we were told the van was taking two separate trips to the pier with guests, and they were loading first come, first served, without guarantee that you would get a seat on either trip. At this point, we decided to simply catch a taxi again. The taxi arrived and whisked us away before the hotel van had even loaded up for the first trip. We had good experiences with every taxi driver in Fort Lauderdale.
We arrived at the Carnival terminal by 11 a.m. Carnival representatives were milling around in the crowd outside the terminal, and one of them indicated that we should go on in the terminal. As we and several other guests attempted to enter the terminal, a Carnival representative instructed us all to go back outside until our documents had been processed by the Carnival representatives on the sidewalk. So, we all poured back outside. The Carnival representative out there said that wasn't true and went back inside to talk to the Carnival representative. Shortly, she returned, and all the Carnival representatives outside started processing our paperwork on the sidewalk. There was no order, just who could shove their paperwork in front of a rep just when she completed those of the previous guest. The "Fun Passes" had no purpose in this chaos. Once we had a green sticker on our boarding passes, we were allowed to enter.
We walked past the terminal desks where this process normally occurs, and no one was there. I'm not sure why this procedure was so different, confusing, and inefficient, compared to our other cruises, but this was our first time leaving from the Fort Lauderdale terminal. We were among the first to get our Sail 'n Sign cards and have a seat in the terminal.
At the top of the stairs we went up to the Lido deck was the Salon. Roger realized he had forgotten something in our room, so he ran back down while I lingered at the Salon, looking at their specials and contemplating making a manicure appointment. One of the salon girls approached me asking if I had ever had the Seaweed Massage, pointing to it on the specials. I said, no, noticing it was $176, and she said that their model, one of the dancers, for the spa tour today was sick and they needed a model. She offered me the massage free if I would allow people to come and go as I was given my massage. YEAH! So, by the time Roger returned, I was booked as a massage model in an hour and had a manicure booked for the next day.
We found our way to the casual restaurant and ordered pizza and drinks. What a great way to start the cruise. We had a brief time to tour the ship before I had to report to the salon. That massage was so wonderful! And, the people touring the salon were interesting. Some of the people touring were embarrassed to come in the room where she was working on me. That was funny, because I was mostly covered and nothing inappropriate was showing . after they left, the masseuse said, "Americans are so funny about this!" Another time, a group was making sarcastic remarks about the prices, which hurt her feelings. If you're touring the salon remember the workers there have feelings, too . no need to be rude! She finished my massage just in time for the muster drill, ordering me to drink one of those 44 ounce bottles of water before drinking anything else to complete the cleansing! My skin felt so smooth, and I was so relaxed.
The muster drill was fairly painless, and the ship didn't start sailing until well after we were all back on deck without our life jackets. But, it was chilly! We had planned a meet with some BB friends, but didn't connect with any of them, and quickly moved into a part of the ship that was more sheltered from the chilly wind.
We moved on to karaoke - no one was there all week; the first time we haven't enjoyed karaoke. We went to the liquor tasting at the gift stores. Then we got ready for our late dinner seating. We were seated at a table for four in the upper level, and no one joined us at our table the first night. Our servers were Davor and Margarette. They were wonderful, remembering our likes and dislikes and making excellent recommendations.
I was so relaxed from my massage and so tired from traveling the prior day and having my sleep interrupted the night before, I said I was ready to make it a night, so we missed the rest of the activities that first night.
DAY TWO: We love sea days, but the weather was still chilly, so I opted to stay inside most of the day, while Roger wondered out for some sun off and on. We rested well and woke up refreshed and opted for breakfast at the Unicorn on the Lido deck.
Late morning, we listened to the Travel and Adventure Talk by our CD, Brett Alans. We quickly realized that Brett was our CD on our very first cruise in 2000 on the Sensation, and Brent, the assistant CD, was on our most previous cruise on the Paradise - small world! We had planned to do our own thing at two of the ports, but we were undecided about Martinique. This talk helped us pick a great ship excursion in Martinique - more about that later.
We again visited the Unicorn for a light lunch before our afternoon activities. The Unicorn has four stations: Asian, Deli, American, and another that changed each day. Plus a salad bar, dessert bar, and pizza were available. The food was great there!
After lunch, Roger and I went to the Art Auction Preview before I left for my manicure appointment. I rejoined Roger for the remainder of the Art Auction and found that he had purchased a lovely piece of art by Tarkai. We're anxious for it's arrival at our home. The auctioneer was Charlie, who we had met at previous art auctions on the Paradise - small world!
Tonight was our first formal night, so we quickly got ready for the Captain's Cocktail Party at 6:45. We enjoyed the free drinks and appetizers, and we visited every photography station to have our picture snapped. We did this every night, getting some great pictures to take our memories back home.
We again returned our late dinner seating and again we were alone at a table for four. We were very disappointed, because we love getting to know people over dinner. At that point, though, we felt obligated to stay with our servers. After dinner, we went to the first of the ship's big shows - Christopher Alan Graves in Singin' with the Big Band. It was a very good show.
DAY THREE: Our second sea day - did I tell you we love sea days? The weather was getting warmer as we traveled south, and we loved it. We again ate breakfast and lunch in the Unicorn, laying out on the deck in between. The pool sections are so segmented on this ship that there are a limited number of deck chairs in that area. All of these were "reserved" early in the day. Unfortunately, there were so many people in the pools and hot tubs, we were afraid to take the reserved seats for fear they were those of people nearby. So, we were constantly relegated to deck chairs in the hinder regions of the ship. We really don't mind, but we would have liked to occasionally be near the action. The shopping talk was the morning, but we didn't consider these strong shopping ports for things we look for. We had lots of sun time, relaxing, dozing, reading books, drinking, and eating.
DAY FOUR - ST. MAARTEN: Our first port day was 7 am to 3:30 pm. We slept in a little, had a light breakfast in the unicorn, and then caught a water taxi ($5 for trips all day) into the city. With six ships in port, the city and taxi drivers were busy. We visited all the shops we were interested in and took our purchases back to the ship, and then changed clothes to head over to Orient Beach. We road the water taxi into the city again, then caught a cab there to Orient Beach. The taxi driver said, "Turn right for the nude beach, and turn left for the less-nude beach." We turned left. Orient Beach was a hub bub of activity. Lots of chairs, umbrellas, restaurants, and bars lined the beach, with music, food and drinks. Parasailing and jet skis were available for rental.
We wondered down the beach until one of the restaurants tempted us. We shared a large plate of grilled swordfish - delicious, and settled into chairs for a relaxing afternoon with rum punches and sun. We did see some nudity along this beach, but it was really no big deal . really. When we returned to the ship, and the ship started pulling away from the port, a guy was running up the pier shouting for the ship to wait. Lots of people took his picture, so I bet he can find it on the Internet somewhere. I doubt he'll ever be late for a ship again.
Upon returning to the ship, we got ready for the evening again, and once again enjoyed our dinner meal alone. Tonight was the next big show with the Carnival Legend Dancers performing Jazz Hot. It was a great show.
DAY FIVE - BARBADOS: Our second port day was Noon to 9:30 pm. Another relaxing morning to wake up slowly, have a leisurely breakfast, and sun until we were pulling into port. It was fun watching the ship dock. We shopped at the port shops, then caught a taxi for a tour of the island. Our tour guide was only so-so, but this is a beautiful island. At the conclusion of the tour, we asked him to drop us off at the Boatyard.
The Boatyard is such a happening place. We arrived after 3 in the afternoon, and the crowd was already clearing out. We were about to use their facilities to change into our beach wear. Our entrance fee got us chairs, umbrellas, and a couple of drinks. Again jet skis and parasailing was available, and there was a trampoline and rope swing for play out in the water.
We were approached by several native vendors, and I'm a sucker for those folks. Ended up buying some jewelry and a really cool small painting! The drinks were strong. We had our very first ever fried flying fish - wow, great stuff. Someone said happy hour was starting in the bar, so the crowds starting moving up to the bars. We were the last to leave the beach after we enjoyed a wonderful sunset.
Taxi drivers were wondering up and down the beach looking for fares, and we asked each of them where the best restaurant was on the beach. They all recommended Lobster Alive that was in walking distance down the beach. So, we gathered our stuff to go there. It was a small hut right on the beach, with tablecloths and candlelight, soft music and ambience.
Here's how their menu describes the "Main Event (Live from the Tank)": "Southern Caribbean lobsters are mostly big and well meated. Our prices are by weight per serving as in our suggestions below. Servings are usually one half of a split lobster. Par-boiled in seawater, to order, then finished in the shell on the barbeque with heaps of garlic butter!! Variations at your request." The small serving was $70 and the extra large serving was $100.
On our first formal night aboard the ship, I sent back the lobster again, and I intend to never eat the lobster in the dining room of a Carnival ship again. It simply is not good! The lobster served at Lobster Alive was fabulous, and I was so happy to enjoy it. Lots of cruise ship passengers were there with us, and we were all taking pictures for one another. The servers in the restaurant were delightful and personable as well. When we were ready to leave, they had a taxi driver right outside to return us to our ship. We were so tired, we went straight to bed, with wonderful dreams and memories of our day in Barbados! We missed the Talent Show this night.
DAY SIX -- MARTINIQUE: This was a short port day from 7 am to 1:30 pm. We had heard so many negatives things about trips into the city, we opted to take a ship excursion called Fun, Sun, and Sailing that didn't leave until 10:30 am. That allowed us to sleep in and again enjoy a nice breakfast, before joining our excursion. Two catamarans picked us up right next to the ship. We sailed for about 45 minutes across the water, while the catamaran's French crew entertained us and served us drinks and snacks. One of the crew posed each couple for pictures all around the catamaran. During the return trip back home, he showed us our digital pictures, with options to buy a CD of the pictures - they were really good pictures, but his prices were high. The sail across the water was very relaxing and we enjoyed the sun and the water.
We anchored in a small cove of a black sand beach. Some of the passengers, including Roger, snorkeled right off the boat up by the cliffs. The rest of us, including me, took a small skiff ashore. After about an hour, we all boarded again to head to the bat caves. We took turns visiting the bat caves in the small skiff. They were both interesting and smelly. Then we took another 45 minutes to sail back to the ship. A wonderful day in Martinique! We arrived as the ship was sounding it's horn signaling it's impending departure.
When we arrived at dinner tonight, we asked our waiters to invite another couple they were serving who were also eating alone if they'd like to join us. They did, and it was our most enjoyable dinner in the dining room all week. After dinner, we went to the show to see Hypnotist Mike Harvey, a very interesting show before bedtime.
DAY SEVEN: Our third sea day was also our second Formal Night. We enjoyed hanging out on the deck all day, with breakfast and lunch in the Unicorn nearby. Earlier in the week, we had asked our lead server, Davor, which night would be best to book the Golden Fleece Supper Club. He suggested either the night we were in St. Maarten or our second formal night, so we had booked a table in the Golden Fleece Supper Club for this night.
The food was very good, and the service was excellent. Eating at the Supper Club made me realize what I missed in the dining room. The servers are moving so fast and furious all the time trying to move every person at every table through all the courses. When we were seated in the Supper Club, we were informed that this was our table for the whole night, no hurry. There were so many good selections in each course, it was hard to select just one. I settled on the Surf and Turf, trepidatiously, but both the steak and lobster were good. It was well worth the $25 charge for the food and service we received. Unfortunately our table was behind a divider where we couldn't see the entertainers or the dance floor. So, we only wondered out to the dance floor once, even though we both love to dance. After dinner, we went to the show, Take II, starring the Carnival Legend Dancers, which again was very good.
DAY EIGHT: Our last sea day - our last leisurely breakfast and relaxing day in the sun. We went to try to "Win a Cruise" at bingo, before the Debarkation talk. There was no early disembarkation on this ship, so we had to get tags to allow us to be among the first to leave the ship, because our flight home was at 11:30 am. After lunch, we opted to relax on the deck in the sun for most of the afternoon, and one last dinner with Davor and Margarette, who were wonderful. We visited a couple of bars after dinner, but decided to go to bed early after packing our bags and placing them outside our doors.
DISEMBARKATION: We awoke early and grabbed coffee and a quick bite for breakfast before joining the early departure group. We had no problem finding our luggage, because we tied the Carnival bags from all the pictures we purchased on the handles. We caught a taxi back to the airport and only waited a short time before returning home in time to relax in our own home watching the Super Bowl. On our return US Airways flights, we were seated together all the way home - very nice.
All in all, another wonderful cruise. Our activities were much different on this cruise than on others, but still a wonderful cruise.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Golden Fleece Supper Club, David Davol playing his guitar in the Colussus, Danquale the bartender in the Sports Bar, Orient Beach in St. Maarten, Boatyard in Barbados, a meal at Lobster Alive at the Boatyard in Barbados, eat some flying fish in Barbados, Martinique ship excursion "Fun, Sun, and Sailing", the Blue Moon Fish Company and Athena's Grill by the Sea in Fort Lauderdale
THINGS NOT TO DO: Ramada Fort Lauderdale Airport/Port Everglades, US Airways
Pictures can be seen by following this link: