by Thomas Smith
March 3, 2002
I just returned from my 1st cruise on the Carnival Paradise. I was traveling with a singles group coordinated by Discount Travel out of Marcos Island, FL (web site www.singlescruise.com). Overall, I had an excellent time and would not hesitate to chose this ship again, or any Carnival cruise for that matter.
DAY 0 (Flying to Miami)
I booked my air through Carnival (price was virtually the same) and was assigned a flight leaving Denver on Northwest Airlines at 9:15 a.m. (Denver time) with a connection in Minneapolis at 1:25 p.m. (Minneapolis time) and arrival at Miami at 5:54 (Miami time) The plane in Denver, however, developed engine trouble and was held on the ground until noon. I was going to meet my cousin in Miami for dinner, and since this was in jeopardy, I borrowed a flight attendants cell phone (I don't have one and wouldn't have packed it anyway) and called my mom to relay the message. Northwest assured us that they were working with us on our connections. How they were "working" with us is that when we got to Minneapolis, they gave us a coupon package for a free meal (up to $10.00 which I took full advantage of) an eight minute pre-paid phone card, a coupon for up to $100.00 on a future flight, and a comment card (which did get filled out). They also told us that we had to go to the ticket counter to make our own arrangements. I was lucky since I was traveling alone that they had an extra single seat on the next flight that left Minneapolis at 7:11 and was scheduled to arrive in Miami at 11:45.
Other passengers had more difficulty. One couple on our cruise booked a flight to Orlando and changed planes there to American Airlines for the final leg into Miami, and another couple booked a connection through Detroit to Miami and arrived at 3:00 a.m. I called the toll-free travel emergency number and after being on hold for about 15 minutes, I told the representative my problems and my solution and he assured me that it was no problem. (In reality it wasn't necessary, but I was hoping they would have someone at the airport to greet me when I finally arrived.) I finally arrived in Miami at midnight after being stuck next to someone who hadn't bathed since the Johnson was president (that's Andrew Johnson), and found my way to baggage claim. There was NO ONE there to assist me in finding anything, except a uniformed security guard who told me that Carnival's representatives had long since gone home and I was pretty much on my own for getting to the Wyndham Airport (at least their shuttle was still running) where I was staying. I arrived at the hotel, checked in, and found my room. I finally went to sleep at 3:00 a.m.
DAY 1 (Boarding day)
After breakfast, I checked in with the Carnival representative at the hotel at 8:00 a.m.. There were two other ships (the Spirit and Victory) also sailing that day, so the hotel was overwhelmed with Carnival passengers. I then left my bags and was told to be back at 9:30. They took all our bags, lined them up outside, and had us stand by them so we could have a security sticker placed on them. This was a huge mess, compounded by the fact a brief rainstorm came up and got some bags wet. This finished by 11:00 where we were told to go inside and wait for the busses. The busses came at noon and another mess ensued. It was completely unorganized and could have been a lot more efficient. I finally boarded a bus at 12:30 (after having to drag my bags to the bus) and left at about 12:45. We got to the Port of Miami at about 1:00. We then had to identify our bags to the porters so they could receive the correct tip amount (they told us that it was to separate Paradise passengers from Spirit passengers, but the tags already had that information on it). At this point I was pretty much resigned to the fact I would not be on board until around 3:00 p.m. I then stood in another long line to go through security (but this was quick), bypassed the main check-in line, and went up stairs to finish the process, which was mainly to get my sail-and-sign card, security photo, and the final step, the "welcome aboard" photo before boarding the ship. I looked at my watch and was amazed to find it was only 1:30 When I boarded, I was handed a deck plan (the one in the brochure is superior) and sent on my way to find my cabin, M136. The cabin was nice and spacious and had plenty of room for what I packed. I went up to purchase a fountain fun card (the wisest investment I made), eat lunch (the pizza was good, but the crust was a little raw), and also have one of the "welcome aboard" drinks. That thing was the strongest drink I ever had. After I finished that I went down to my room and discovered that my bags were delivered (this was about 3:00) and decided to unpack. It was a neat trick unpacking while falling down drunk, but I finished fairly quickly and hung out until the lifeboat drill. The drill took about half an hour, and was pretty straight forward, with a good explanation of the procedures that would be followed if something happened. They gave us a 20 minute and 5 minute warning before the drill started. The crew wears green baseball hats during the drill and they guide you along to your station. Believe it or not, they still follow the "women and children first" policy, although they wouldn't break up families. While at our lifeboat station, we saw a NCL ship leaving, (I think it was the Sun) and we waived to them. After that, our group had the disco reserved for a private cocktail party (free cruise booze). We went to dinner at the late seating and had a section of tables reserved for our group. After that, I wandered the ship some and went to the disco at about 11:00. After some dancing, I went to bed.
Day 2 (Nassau, Bahamas)
I woke up early and left the ship. I tried to find the Queen's Staircase, but ran into problems. There are virtually no sidewalks in Nassau south of Bay Street, and driving is on the left. Further, street signs are European standards (circles for regulatory signs, triangles for warning signs). I failed to find what I was looking for, so I went looking for the straw market to buy a hat. The straw market burned down last September, so they set up in some tents a couple blocks west of where it was. After that, we (I joined up with part of our group) caught a water taxi and went over to Paradise Island and the Atlantis Resort. They wanted to charge us $25 per person for the aquarium, so we passed. We wandered the hotel before heading back. The contrast between rich (Paradise Island) and poor (Nassau) is very striking. I re-boarded the ship, and we sailed at 2:00 p.m. After an hour, the seas became rough. We took some pitching and rolling for the next day and a half. This was our first formal night, so everyone got spiffed up. the photographer was everywhere taking pre-arranged photographs. Dinner was fine, and I went to the American Bar afterwards. The pianist was good, but he had a reverb mike which was very annoying.
Day 3 (at sea)
I met up with some friends, and we continued to explore the ship. One of them wanted to find the best vantage point for a picture so we went to the funnel deck (where the top-optional sunbathing is). Big mistake. They DO NOT allow cameras up there and the passengers there were ready to throw him over the side. I guess there is a big concern that someone would take pictures there and post them on the internet. Can't say it isn't justified. Also, lets just say some men have bigger breasts than some women. After lunch, I found some other friends, and we hung out in the hot tubs and tried the water slide. The slide is a great way to cool off on a hot day. We took our group photo that afternoon, but many people didn't show, especially the under 40 set. I finally started feeling the effects of the ocean (we were taking 15 degree pitches and 10 degree rolls all day) after dinner. About lunch time, white bags began appearing at strategic locations around the ship, such as near elevators, in the dining rooms, and in public bathrooms. I went to the infirmary and grabbed some sea-sickness pills and took them. They knocked me out so I went to bed early.
Day 4 (San Juan, PR)
EVERYONE must go through immigration before they will let ANYONE off the ship, except for scheduled shore tours. A couple also was let off who were suffering severe sea-sickness. Another part of our group had to go home from here due to a death in the family. Carnival was excellent in making the arrangements to go home for them. I went to El Morro, and afterwards did some snorkeling at Condado Beach. The cab ride is $10 for what was an alarming short ride, although I wouldn't walk it. I came back on board, and took a nap. Dinner was good, and I went to a show afterwards. At midnight, they did a conga line, and had some dancing on the Lido Deck stage. More on this in tomorrow's report.
Day 5 (Saint Thomas, VI)
In terms of sheer beauty, this port blew the others out of the water. I went on an island highlights tour, and afterwards went to Trunk Bay for snorkeling. The island is still suffering some of the side effects of Hurricane Marilyn from 1995, but most of the damage has been repaired. The snorkeling was great, although the water was a little cloudy from the wind of the last couple of days. I was on deck when the ship pushed back from the pier that was very interesting to watch. After dinner, some friends and I got into a seat duel in the show. A couple went to the restroom and returned to find that one of the seats had been taken by someone else who refused to yield, insisting there was no seat saving. Therefore, we squeezed in. Another couple left in the middle of the show, so I relieved the pressure by moving there (I didn't want to bother the other couple who I was sitting next to, who were innocent bystanders to this whole mess). After the show, other couples told us that we were in the right, and they were quite sympathetic to our plight. All in all, it was an ugly situation that could have been resolved a lot more amicably than it was. I had my arm twisted by several people who saw the highlights from yesterday they played on the cabin TVs into buying the day 4 video diary. They said I was the only one who did the Macarena right. I finally broke down and ordered it.
Day 6 (at sea)
This was a very relaxing day. I really didn't do much. The motion of the ship finally calmed down about 10:00 a.m. and we had smooth sailing the rest of the way home. I took a dance lesson, and it is very hard to do a line dance on a ship that is rolling like it was. I won $160 in bingo, of which the casino got $70 back. Just hung around the pool, caught the horse race, wandered the promenade, and a few trips down the slide. We watched the sun set from the Sun Deck. I was watching a game of shuffleboard while walking about, when I tripped over a light fixture they line around the deck. I was not hurt, but about four people came over right away to assist me. We had another cocktail party in the evening before dinner. Since it was formal night, everyone got dressed up for the party. We then went to the show. and wandered around for a while before turning in.
Day 7 (at sea)
This day was much like the day before, except we took time out of our afternoons to pack. It was a sad feeling to realize that your vacation is coming to an end. We had the group cocktail party (Carnival does a complementary cocktail party for all groups at the same time, but we were the only group on board). We had our final dinner and took in our last shows, and had our final dance at the disco before going to bed.
Day 8 (going home)
The ship came into Miami and we hung out until our ship cleared customs. I would like to take this time to complement my cabin steward Yunbo Lu from China, and my head waiter, Mr. Z (I think he was Italian, but don't hold me to that). Our ship cleared customs at 9:00 a.m., and all colors were called by 9:20. I found my bags, handed my customs forms to the officer present, and headed for my bus to the Miami Airport for my 2:30 p.m. flight. The busses drop you off in a rather remote area of the terminal where you can check in with your airline and not have to lug your bags across the terminal (unless....). I, however, was "randomly" selected for the "extra special" security treatment and would have to drag my bags into the terminal. I told the Northwest representative that I was selected for screening and she told me to go stand by a special room on the side for the bag x-ray machine. When I got there, they told me to go to the counter to check in first (but I didn't have to wait in line). The agent almost made me check my carry-on bag, until I told her I had a bottle of rum inside. I then left my bags and went to stand in line for security. Miami does their security by calling your flight times to go through the screeners if it is busy. This was not explained to us, and we were not provided an area to sit down. After an hour and a half, a passenger behind me became frustrated and requested to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor came down and politely explained the procedures and assured us that it wouldn't be much longer. About a minute into the conversation, four national guard troops arrived to make sure the problem didn't escalate. Normally, the troops had smiles on their faces, and their guns were pointed at the ground. When they arrived, they had their guns chest high, pointed to the side, and not a smile to be seen. (When they left, they had their smiles back, and the guns were pointed down again.) After nearly two hours, I made it through the detectors, and went to my gate. My flight was then delayed by an hour putting my connection in Memphis in doubt. I was told that the plane would be held, and to relax.
When I went to board the plane, I was given part two of the "extra special" security treatment. They searched my carry-on bag, and gave me the full wand treatment. They took my shoes off, and examined them. and wanded me head to toe (or at least neck to toe). I even had to flip my belt buckle over to show there was nothing on the other side. When I got to Memphis, we pulled into the gate at 5:02 p.m. (Memphis time) and my connection was scheduled to leave at 5:00. I was told by a gate agent that my plane was still there, but I had to hurry. I then did a mad dash through the B concourse (they had to put my flights at opposite ends of the concourse) only to find my flight hadn't started boarding yet. We finally left Memphis at 6:00 and arrived back in Denver at 7:02 (Denver time). My bags did not arrive at the carrousel for another hour (and I am lucky to have them).
Overall, I had a great time. I made some new friends, and had a lot of fun doing so. I would to this again in a heartbeat, although I might pay extra not to fly Northwest Airlines (zero for four flights were on time, and I was blatantly lied to about what they were doing for me for my missed connections was annoying).