by Kelly Francis
I arrived on Saturday night to avoid the rush of flying, transfers to the ship, etc. and so I could begin to relax. I stayed at the Marriott near the Miami Airport. For a Marriott, I thought I had a great rate - one of their "Come Out and Play" rates of $69.
The check in area in the terminal was very colorful. There were only about 5-6 people in line but all of the Carnival reps at the counter were busy with someone. The line moved very quickly. I'd say from the time I got dropped off at the pier, I had checked in, received my Sail & Sign card and was in the waiting area to board the ship within 15-20 minutes. There was a sign posted that they would begin boarding the ship at 12:15. There were not many people in the waiting area yet but it was interesting watching everyone arrive. I was surprised at the wide age range of people taking a Carnival cruise. Carnival is obviously not just for the young anymore but the young at heart as well. There were babies, children, adults young and old. The oldest person I actually came across was a lady who said she was 82. Finally, someone noticed that they were ready to start boarding and everyone started lining up.
When we finally boarded the ship, we entered the atrium on the Empress Deck. All I had to do to get to my cabin was turn right and walk down a very long hallway. I stopped for a moment to look around the atrium and was amazed at how subtle everything was as compared to pictures of the Fantasy's atrium that I had seen in the brochures. No neon - a lot of brass, wood and stained-glass look trim within the woodwork. By 12:25, I was in my cabin.
I had lunch and breakfast in the Paris Restaurant a couple of times and this is where they also served the midnight buffet every night except for two. I'd heard that at night, if you have dinner in the Paris Restaurant that they lay out linens, etc. on the tables.
I had been assigned to the Destiny dining room and had requested Main Seating dining. This dining room was very elegant. I had been assigned to a table for 10 of which I had 8 other dining guests. This was a first cruise for two of my tablemates, girls in their early twenties I'd say. My other tablemates were seasoned cruisers and apparently frequented Carnival Cruise Line and the Paradise especially. Most of us found ourselves hanging out together throughout the cruise when on board the ship. A couple of us met up on a shore excursion in Nassau. In St. Thomas, a couple of us ran into each other shopping downtown and shared our favorite shopping places.
Our head waiter was from the Philippines and our waiter was from Honduras. The wait staff made a genuine effort to learn your likes, dislikes and preferences early in the cruise as did the bar waitress. By the second night our head waiter, knew how I liked my steak cooked and knew that I liked for him to make suggestions for me. Our other waiter learned quickly who liked coffee with their desert and what you preferred to drink with your dinner.
Food in the Destiny was about the same as going to any upscale restaurant in Atlanta. I'm always willing to try something new and tried to do so each night. I only had lunch in the Destiny dining room twice and the food was about the same. By the end of the week, I was tired of trying something new and had a good old fashioned cheeseburger and fries. In fact, I think most of us did that particular day.
Room service is advertised available 24-hours a day. This can be misleading unless I misunderstood something. The room service menu is very limited - continental breakfast items, cold cut sandwiches, chips, pretzels, salads, an assortment of cookies/brownies, coffee, milk, and tea were available. By 24-hour room service, I assumed that if you chose to have dinner in your cabin, that you would be offered the same selections as in the dining room. Granted, I never tried this but assumed this was not the case since there was a specific room service menu in your cabin. I did order room service three times - twice for breakfast and once for a mid-afternoon snack. Delivery of your order was within a pretty reasonable time - I'd say 15 minutes. Once of the times that I ordered breakfast by leaving an order form outside my cabin door the night before we arrived in Nassau. The next morning my breakfast arrived at 7:00 AM sharp - I had requested between 7 and 7:30.
After the first night on the cruise, they would serve a specialty desert each night. After they served the specialty desert, you were offered a choice of deserts from the menu.
Bingo games took place throughout the week and there were numerous activities for the guests to get involved in. There was a "Newly and Not-So-Newly Wed Game" (similar to TV's "The Newlywed Game"), "Sea Feud" (similar to TV's "Family Feud"), the "Love, Sex and Romance" quiz, the "Numbers Game", "horse races", and how can I forget the "Men's Knobby Knees" contest (I was the judge of that one). All these activities took place in the Normandie Lounge and was another great way to meet your fellow passengers.
Up on deck, there was the "Men's Hairiest Chest" contest, the frog races in the pool (we used plastic wind-up frogs that you buy in St. Thomas). There was a calypso band that played by the main pool on the Lido Deck, a country/western duet in one of the lounges (good time/place to learn some line dances), a pianist or orchestra trio would play in the atrium, sing alongs and kareoke in the American Bar, dance music in the disco - the list goes on and on.
Ports of Call and Shore Excursions
Nassau - shore excursions varied from city tours, snorkeling/beach excursions, sailing, diving, glass bottom boat tours and a dolphin "enounter". Prices ranged from $12-89. I opted for the Dolphin Encounter. The "encounter" is just as the ship's shore excursion flyer says - you are put through an educational orientation on the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, you stand on a platform in waist deep water in groups of ten and feed, kiss, hug, touch and "dance" with a dolphin and that's it. Great photo/video opportunity but that's it. Unlike the video that is shown by the shore side operator, you do not swim with the dolphin nor learn to give commands. This "swim" was apparently an option at the site but was not offered to us by the cruise line. Regarding the "Snorkel with Stingrays" excursion, if you have never done this type of thing before, try it - it's a wonderful experience. However, if you have ever been out to what is called "Stingray City" on Grand Cayman and snorkeled with the stingrays, I've been told that this excursion in Nassau would be a disappointment to you. In Nassau, there are only 3 stingrays in the water with you whereas off Grand Cayman, there are dozens. I've done this type of excursion off Grand Cayman and someone from the shore excursion desk on the ship advised me that I would be disappointed in Nassau.
San Juan - shore excursions varied from City tours, rainforest, kayak and snorkel/beach excursions. Prices ranged from $32-79. I opted for the San Juan City/Bacardi Rum Distillery Tour. I was disappointed in the city tour in that the only stop you made on the "city" portion was at the El Morro Fortress where there were some spectacular coastal views. I found the Bacardi Distillery tour very interesting - you were also given coupons for two free drinks at a bar in the pavillion. There was a gift shop at the Bacardi Distillery offering t-shirts, hats, beach towels, etc. and of course products that are made or distributed by Bacardi. Hint - the liquor prices are still cheaper in St. Thomas. After the tour, the van driver offered to drop us off in town for shopping or take us back to the ship. The ship was the first stop and I got off to go have lunch and relax for a while. I understand why they spend so long in San Juan but learned the next day that I'd rather have the extra time in St. Thomas.
St. Thomas/St. John - shore excursions varied (again) from city tours to sailing, diving and snorkel/beach excursions. There was a shopping tour offered but the cruise director actually advised against it because you don't really need it - and you don't. Shore excursion prices varied from $12 to $99. I did purchase a ticket to take the tramway up to the top of the mountain where you will find spectacular views of the Virgin Islands. The cruise director suggested that you do your shopping in the morning and beach activities in the afternoon in order to save you "shower the sand off and change time" if you did it the other way around. I seriously didn't think 2-3 hours would be enough time for me to shop around, take the tramway up the Paradise Point and look around up there, have lunch and get ready to go on a shore excursion by 1:15. I was right! My shopping excursion pretty much took all day! Havensight Mall is just across from the pier. You can take a taxi to downtown Charlotte Amalie for $3 per person and it's about a 5-10 minute cab ride. Taxicabs are VERY plentiful at the pier and downtown. I was impressed by the fact that they do not hastle you at all to take you anywhere but make sure you know that they are there if you need them and were very polite about it. On my way downtown, my taxi driver slowed down and asked some folks if they were on their way downtown and needed a ride. Once downtown, again, I got asked several times while walking around if I needed a ride back to my ship. I politely replied "no, not yet" but when I was ready to go back to the ship, I didn't have a problem at all catching a ride. Shopping in St. Thomas was a lot of fun and found some really great bargains. Liquor is most definitely a great bargain here. Liquour, linens, china, crystal are good buys. I even found some summer clothing on sale - "end of the summer" bargains. The best places I found to buy liquor were Caribana (downtown) and Dynasty (Havensight Mall). Sona International was a great place for clothing and other souveniers.
I did have a problem with my cabin neighbors. I apparently was in a cabin that was between a large family in the two cabins on either side of me. Two adults and five children (that I counted) ranging from I'd say 8 to 13 occupied the two cabins on either side of me. The parents obviously had no control over the kids whatsoever and apparently didn't care to. The kids were constantly running in the hall, pounding excessively on the doors (where was their key?), fighting in the cabin, yelling, screaming, etc. Several passengers in the area were complaining, even the stewards but I guess I was the only one voicing my complaints. I finally got a little cooperation from security but am still not happy with the way Carnival handled the situation. The day after I filed my first complaint, the purser's office did send a bottle of champagne to my cabin with their apologies (they added insult to injury when they didn't even get my name right and addressed it someone who wasn't even on the ship!). The night we left St. Thomas, they did offer to move me to another cabin after someone disembarked in St. Thomas but I had no desire to move from a mid-ship cabin to the very last cabin at the rear of the ship on my deck. I didn't think that I should be the one to change cabins and I figured it was too late in the cruise to move so I just dealt with the situation the best I could for the last two days. The day after we left St. Thomas, the chief purser did sent a letter to my cabin, again with Carnival's apologies, and have offered me a 15% discount off my next cruise. Again, I'm still not totally happy with the way that Carnival handled the situation but will not let this incident deter me from cruising with Carnival again.