February 23, 2003
We flew out of Milwaukee on Saturday and arrived at Fort Lauderdale's airport about 1pm on Saturday. We used Tri-County Transportation to get us from FLL to our hotel, Hyatt Regency, in Miami. It was $55 for the 4 of us for this town car ride to Miami. We won the Hyatt Regency hotel on priceline.com for $45/night. We had no problem checking in early and got wonderful rooms. We had an ocean view and could see the cruise ships from our balcony. We walked down to the Don Pan Bakery and had some of the best sandwiches I have ever had. This is a Cuban bakery and is a great place for breakfast and lunch pre-cruise. The prices are very reasonable and the food is so good. To get to the Don Pan walk out the front doors of the Hyatt and turn left. Go under the metrolink rail and it is across the street, only about 1-2 blocks. That evening we walked to Bubba Gump's for dinner and to check out the Bayside marketplace. Bubba's is good food, a little pricey but a good way to start your vacation. It took about 10 minutes to walk there.
On Sunday we got up and went over to Don Pan to get some fresh pastries for breakfast. They also have hot breakfast. Their Cuban bread makes wonderful toast. After breakfast we went back to the hotel, grabbed our cruise documents and passports and walked over to the Sheraton (about 1 block the other way, just over the bridge) and did the pre check-in with the Carnival representatives. The pre check-in took about 2 minutes; I estimate it saved us about an hour to an hour and a half in line at the port. We went on a little odyssey to try to find somewhere that sold hard liquor to take on the ship but failed. I don't think they sell hard liquor on Sunday's in Miami so be aware if you are planning finding liquor at the port area.
We took a cab to the port at about 11:30am. The cab ride was about $12.00 because there was already quite a back-up at the port of people picking others up and dropping others off. Make sure that you have your cruise documents handy because the cab driver will have to show them to the guard in order to get into the port area. We gave our luggage to the porters with an appropriate tip and went into the facility. There are signs up, after you get through the metal detectors, for those who did the pre check-in to go right up the stairs and get your sign and sail card. They started boarding the ship at about 12:30pm so don't plan to get there much earlier then we did or you will be waiting at the facility for quite a while and the chairs aren't that comfortable.
We had originally booked 4A guarantee cabins and received 6A cabins (R51 and R65). Our luggage arrived at our cabins before we set sail even though we had the wrong luggage tags (we got our final upgrade after we received our documents). The lifeboat drill was at 4pm and was one of the quicker ones we have experienced. The boat set sail on time and the fun began. Dinner the first night is resort casual because you should have your luggage before dinner time. We were at a booth for 6 in the Elation dining room at the 6:15pm seating, which was just perfect for us. Our cruise director was Shawn Bussey but this was her last cruise on the Paradise. She is being transferred to the Spirit for Alaska and Hawaii. The new cruise director for the Paradise is Troy Linton. We did the spa tour and got the couples massage the first day. The massage was okay but the ladies needed to work on their techniques as they used their elbows when they should have been using their hands. I would not do the massage again or recommend the massage on the ship.
Monday is at sea and is also the first formal night. It was just your average day at sea. Most people were figuring out the layout of the ship and getting their sea legs. We got a little sunburn on the deck and just enjoyed relaxing. There were always plenty of deck chairs available, pretty much everywhere but right next to the main pool. The rear pool area was practically empty when we made our way out there at about 11am. They now give you the Carnival beach towels in your room daily and that is your pool towel. You can also check-out a Carnival towel at the pool bar area but you have to return it by 6pm or your sign and sail card will be charged. It did really help cut down on chair saving. Since it was formal night they had quite a few different backgrounds set up that evening for pictures. We posed for them all, but only one turned out that night. The photographers are not at all pushy. The photos are some of our favorite souvenirs. The Captain's cocktail party was in the Normandine Lounge and they had plenty of waiters with drinks to keep everyone happy. The show was very good that evening. They have a 2 part "Shout" show on the Paradise.
Tuesday is Belize City. We had pre-booked cave tubing with Reggie so we didn't do any of Carnival's excursions there. Since we didn't book Carnival's excursion we had to get tender sticker numbers that morning. Instead of everyone waiting in line and pushing to get on the tenders you get a numbered sticker in the Lounge in the morning and then you wait for them to call your number and then you make your way down to deck 3 and get on the tender. I really like this new procedure for tenders and hope they continue to use it, and expand it to all the ships. Reggie was waiting at the dock with his sign and red hat as promised and lead the group (about 35 of us) to waiting vans (with a/c). There is about an hour van ride to the cave area and then another 30 minute walk to the river carrying your tube. So this is not the excursion for those who are out of shape or have any health problems as the walk is a bit strenuous. I wore water shoes but wish I would of just wore an old pair of sneakers. The path is rough and it was hard on the feet with the thin soles on those water shoes. It is all crushed rocks so sandals are not a good idea as you would be stopping every few feet to get the pebbles out. The current of the river is very weak in most places so you do have to do a fair amount of paddling to keep up with the group, you don't just float along. We had a great time cave tubing. On the ride back to the docks the vans stop at a bar/restaurant where you can get water, beer, soda and an authentic Belizean meal. We had chicken, cole slaw and beans and rice. It was very good and you are hungry after being in the water that long. The meal with a soda was $6, with beer it was $7. My hubby liked the beer and he is a beer snob so it must have been good. There is a little shopping area right at the pier with typical souvenir type stuff. We collect a magnet from each port we visit and easily found our magnet and then proceeded on to the tender back to the ship. We had a nice dinner in the dining room, saw the show and then crashed in our rooms.
Wednesday is Roatan. We chose to take the catamaran sail and snorkel excursion through Carnival since we couldn't find too much about Roatan on the web. The first look out the window to Roatan is a bit scary, lots of old school buses waiting for you and lots of taxis on the other side of a fence. We had breakfast and got off the ship and found the bus that would take us to the catamaran. We had a nice ride to the Parrot Bay Plantation where the catamaran left from. This is a beautiful facility, when we return to Roatan we will see if we can just spend the day there. The catamaran sailed us over to a protected little bay where we snorkeled. There were lots of fish and beautiful coral. It was quite windy that day so the protected bay was an ideal location, otherwise the waves would have been too much. When we re-boarded the catamaran they had a fresh water hose so you could rinse your face off (very nice perk) and you got a free rum punch. They sold Honduran beer on board for $1, again my hubbie tried both the dark and regular version and liked. Since you are not in Roatan very long (6am-2pm) the excursion takes most of the day. The bus took us back to the dock area and we did a little shopping right across the street. They have beautiful wood carvings and are very, very inexpensive. We bought a salad bowl set (big bowl, 6 individual bowl, and tongs) that was hand carved mahogany for $23. All the prices are negotiable. This was one of those times when I wished I had a car parked at the port so we could have bought more. They had hand carved and painted chests for $50 that were big enough for a child to crawl in that I would of loved to get but had no way to get it home. Since the ship sails at 2pm they have plenty of activities planned for the rest of the day. Tonight was the returning cruisers party. Once again we relaxed, stopped at the sushi bar, had dinner, saw the show and crashed in our rooms.
Thursday is in Grand Cayman. We decided to do the Reef and Wreck snorkel tour with the ship. Since it was a later leaving excursion, met at noon on the pier, we needed to get tender tickets for the same type of process that I explained in Belize. We did some shopping in Grand Cayman and got a bottle of liquor, a rum cake, and our magnet. Then we returned to the pier to meet our tour and snorkel. You first snorkel over cheeseburger reef, which is in wonderful shape. The water is too deep for people to swim down and touch/kill the coral so it is very beautiful. They sell fish food on the tour so lots of fish come to eat. Everyone gets back on the boat and you sail over to the shipwreck and snorkel over that. I had never done a wreck snorkel before and really enjoyed it. We took lots of pictures with our underwater camera. This tour was done in conjunction with the Conquest which is in port with the Paradise, so we got to meet some new people. We went right back to the ship after we returned from snorkeling because Thursday is the second formal night. Once again we did all the picture backdrops and these turned out much better. The show is a continuation of the first night's show "Shout". Right before the show was to begin the cruise director came on the intercom with an announcement that we were turning back to Grand Cayman to take an injured crew to the hospital (we had been sailing for about 3 hours at this point). A helicopter couldn't be sent to the ship because of our location any faster then we could get the person back to Grand Cayman ourselves. A crew member fell down a flight of stairs and cracked his skull along with breaking a few other things. At that point she just told us that it would affect our arrival in Cozumel but they wouldn't know exact times until morning. So we should just enjoy the night and they would update us all in the morning about the status of the next day. I think that the ship crew handled the emergency very well; you could see the concern in their eyes about their friend. So we all watched the show and enjoyed the formal night. I didn't make it to the grand gala buffet but our friends did and said it was very impressive.
Friday in Cozumel. As promised the cruise director made an announcement at about 9-10am with our status. We were scheduled to get to Cozumel about 1pm but because of the turnaround the night before we would not be arriving until 3:30pm. Many tours were cancelled, including ours, but the captain decided to stay in port until 1am. There were several people who complained to the purser about the delay and he promptly told them that the life of the crew member was the most important thing and they would not be receiving any other compensation (other then a refund for the cancelled excursions). He was much more polite then I would have been to these whiners. Friday was also the first day of Carnavale (Marti Gras Mexican style) so we had a great time staying late. Our friend's cabin was right under the entrance to the ship and they heard the Carlos and Charlies crowd come in right before the ship sailed. Since our tour was cancelled we decided just to walk around downtown. It is a $6 cab ride each way.
Saturday morning was very quite on the ship, I think a lot of people had a really good time in Mexico and were sleeping it off until late in the morning. We ate all the meals in the dining room and went to some of the scheduled events. We slowly packed all our stuff up and put the luggage out after the evening show. The liquor we bought in Grand Cayman was delivered while we were at breakfast; our cabin stewardess put it right in the cabin.
Sunday, debarkation day. We woke up far too early for a vacation day. Early seating breakfast in the dining room was 7am. We went and enjoyed our last Carnival meal. The capers said we could wait in our cabins until 9:45am so we did. We watched the news and found out that we would be returning to a very cold Wisconsin, they had frigid right over our part of the state. At 9:45am we went up to one of the lounges and waited our color to be called. It was the last color called which made it very easy to find our luggage. We purchased the bus transfers to Fort Lauderdale's airport and easily found the bus and got our luggage loaded up and settled for the ride. There was quite a line for taxi's and I think it would have been more then $60 (4 people at $15 each) to take a taxi to Fort Lauderdale. There was no line to check in at the airport at all. We just walked up to an available agent, handed our luggage over to the TSA woman in charge of the machine and went to the security check point. Once again there was no line at all at the security check point. I had no problem asking for a hand check of my film. There is a sandwich shop within the secure area. So we set down all the carry-ons and got a sandwich and waited for our flight. We were checked in and sitting eating by noon.