May 25, 2003
First, let me give you a bit of information on us, to frame the review below. I am 46 and have been on 2 Carnival cruises before - Donna is 40 and this was her first experience on a cruise ship. I'll also add that these are our observations - colored by our experiences, likes and dislikes. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I welcome people to agree, disagree or ask questions about anything in this review - my email is posted below.
We booked the May 25th sailing of the Paradise directly with Carnival - as a past guest I got a reasonable discount, but would suggest going through a travel agent or internet service like I-cruise. We didn't have the opportunity to get any cabin credits and the ship was supposedly full, so no upgrades were available. Our cabin was an outside stateroom on the Empress deck aft.
If you are arriving in Miami the day before your cruise I highly recommend taking advantage of one of the early check in desks at several of the hotels. We stayed at the Hyatt downtown (using Hyatt points for the stay) and walked 2 blocks to the Marriott Sunday morning about 10:00 to pre-register - that saved us a ton of time when we got to the port. We took a $12 taxi to the port, gave our luggage to the porters with an appropriate tip and marched right past the check in lines and up the escalators to get our Sign and Sail cards. At approx 11:30 they started herding people through the process of taking pictures at the security station (matches your pic with your sign and sail card - these machines were used whenever you got on or off the ship) and once through that process, we were directed to the escalators. Not sure how this happened because there were 30 - 50 people in front of us, but we took a 'short-cut' and were the 1st ones on the ship - what a feeling!
I won't go through a description of the ship - I read one review where one person as disappointed with all the wood and brass. I've sailed the Inspiration and my personal feeling is that I liked the Paradise more - all the neon on the Inspiration was a bit much for my taste, but that's just me. Since all Fantasy-class ships have the same layout, I knew where I was going pretty much all week - poor Donna never did quite get her bearings, but when she ventured out on her own she always managed to find her way so no problem.
The ship was clean and well cared for, the staff friendly and helpful, although we did find the photographers a bit pushy at times. We did a tour of the spa - the staff there is rated and I assume paid, on the number of treatments they sell in a week. We found the services overpriced and while we initially made an appointment for a 'couples massage' we changed out mid later in the week (after seeing our interim Sign and Sal account statement) and cancelled before the 24 hour cancellation period kicked in.. We used the gym facilities twice during the week and were alittle disappointed by the services in the gym. For those unfamiliar with the equipment (air resistance as opposed to weight machines) the person assigned to work in the gym was more interested in selling metabolism evaluations that in helping people with the machines. The treadmills were crowded both times we were there, but the wait for machines were not bad and there were enough free weights for the hard-core lifters.
We had the 8:00 late seating in the Destiny dining room - we preferred to have free time in the early evening and our head waiter and assistant waiter were good - not spectacular, but good (Louis said he was just back from a 3 month vacation and seemed to be having a bit of a hard time getting back into the swing of things). For those that like to rag on Carnival for the quality of the food, all I can say is that we did not have a bad meal in the dining room or the buffets. We're not gourmets and when you're preparing meals for 2,500 people each night, you can't expect the Russian Tea Room at every meal. The food was well prepared, nicely presented and there was a lot of it - the shrimp, scallops and beef were particularly good.
The entertainment was good - the 1st comic was a bust (Eddie Capone - the "Godfather of Comedy" should be whacked), but the other 2 comics they had were very good. Troy Litton did a good job as cruise director and the 2 social hosts (Erin and 'Karl with a K') kept things going. We hung out one evening in the Americana bar - a sing-along piano bar where even is you don't know all the words to "American Pie" you can sign along with everyone else and have fun. The disco seemed to be deserted every night. The 'Vegas-style' shows in the Normandie lounge were good and the dancers and musicians give you your moneys worth in effort, if not talent (this isn't Broadway after all). The Majestic Casino was busy most evenings, although Donna was disappointed there wasn't more action at the craps table. All-in-all we did well, taking home a smidge more money than we came to gamble with.
On this trip the Paradise stopped in Nassau on Monday, Casa de Campo on Wednesday and St. Thomas on Thursday. As far as shore excursions are concerned, we booked our own in Nassau and has a great time. We used Barefoot Sailing Cruises www.barefootsailingcruises.com and it was well worth the money (print their add from the internet and you get 10% off the $49 ½ day sail and snorkel. We called Barefoot from the dock and met the bus there at 8:30 for a 10-minute ride to the marina. Even though they directed us to the wrong sailboat, we had a good time - motoring to Athol Island. After a short lesson for those that hadn't snorkeled before, it was in the water for 45 minutes or so of great snorkeling. The Disney Wonder was in port the same day as us and after about 30 minutes of pretty much having the reef to ourselves, a large excursion boat pulled up 75 yards away and started to disgorge about 100 people into the water. We pulled anchor and set sail for the return trip around Athol island and back to the cruise ship dock. With the exception of a squall that blew through and caused us to lower the sails and motor the last few miles in, it was a great excursion - Eryn at Barefoot was very, very helpful and I'd highly recommend these folks in Nassau to anyone.
We took a ship excursion in Casa de Campo and al other reviewers may have mentioned this is the only way to go here other than staying on the ship. Casa de Campo is a resort and there is nothing to do or see there. As took the Saona Beach Catamaran excursion and it was the best one Donna and I booked all week. After a 30 minute bus ride to Bayahibe (bi-a-he-bay), they put you on boomerang boats out to an (approx) 80 foot catamaran for a 2 hour or so sail to a their own section of beach on Saona island. Each tour company has their own spot and while the beach wasn't the best (lots of rocks and some sea grass) the food was terrific and the water crystal clear and warm. The sail to Saona was great - they break out the rum and Pepsi or beer for those who prefer that and the music cranks up for those who want to dance. After lunch on the beach and some time to relax or swim we boarded 5 speedboats for the ride back to Bayahibe. The ride was great and as long as people are careful getting into and out of the boats, you'll have a fantastic time. We stopped at the 'Pricina Natural" - a sand-bar about ½ mail off shore with waist deep water to swim in - more rum was consumed here with games in the water and a good time (with or without the rum) was had by all. The 20 minute ride back to Bayahibe was great as the D.R. coastline whizzed by. I've heard this tour sometimes runs the opposite way - speedboats to Sanoa and the cat back to Bayahibe - either way we had an excellent time.
Our last stop was in St. Thomas. Since Miami was going to be our next stop, everyone on the ship had to clear immigration in St. Thomas. This was a bit of a hassle as they tell you to line up early in the morning (7:30 AM I think) and tell you that everyone has to clear customs by 10:30. We could have gone to the Promenade deck at 8:30 and completed the process in 30 seconds - instead we went early and waited in line with everyone else. We booked the St. John Champaign Sail and Snorkel through the ship and while it as nice, we were alitttle disappointed. We had been told the catamaran would go to Trunk Bay on St. John and we ended up on Honeymoon Beach. I had really wanted to see Trunk Bay, after hearing so much about the beach and snorkeling there. The crew of our boat was very nice, we sailed over and back, along with Champaign, 'pain killers' and good snacks after snorkeling on a reasonable reef and still had time to take a taxi into the shopping area of Charlotte Amalie ($3 pp each way). There are other tours offered but it's very easy to get around St. Thomas and if we had it to do over again we would have done St. Thomas / St. John on our own. We'll definitely be back in the USVI.
Our last 2 days were at sea and the weather cooperated nicely - hot and sunny with lots of opportunities for laying out. We never had a problem getting a deck chair the entire week and the bar staff was always available if / when we needed them.
We ended up purchasing a number of the pictures and bought the duty free liquor from the ship instead of St. Thomas - if you want to bring back alcohol at great prices, St. Thomas is the place to do that. We also brought a bottle of vodka onboard in our luggage - most of our dinner-mates did the same and while Carnival frowns on the practice officially, they do nothing to stop it. Next time we'll bring a few bottle of wine for dinner - one dinner companion did just that (they brought on 3 bottle actually) and was kind enough to share with us all - thank you Tom ! Carnival charges a $10 'corkage' fee for wine brought to dinner - still less expensive than buying it off their wine list.
The one bummer the whole trip was when Donna lost a very expensive Movado watch. The Carnival staff were efficient, but not much help in seeing if anyone turned it in, so if anyone finds a gold and silver ladies Movado on the Paradise, please let us know!
Debarkation was relatively painless - you can wait anywhere on the ship for your luggage tag color to be called, which is different from my earlier experiences on Carnival. We made it off the ship (3rd color called), found our luggage and got out of Customs in about 40 minutes. Porters were there to help and I'd recommend using them - they save you from standing in the long customs line and it's worth the tip. We found a shuttle van to take us to Ft. Lauderdale ($15 pp) and were on our way home with one last look over our shoulders at our home away from home for the last 7 days.
All in all it was an excellent vacation and I highly recommend Carnival and the Paradise. Any cruise is what you make of it - if you go with an attitude and give people on the boat attitude, you'll get it back. If you go, relax, participate in the actives, meet and enjoy people, smile and have fun - well that's what life is all about isn't it? Treat people like you want to be treated, enjoy the experience for all that it offers you and leave the world a better place than you found it.
If anyone would like any additional information, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll try and get some of the digital pics loaded in my yahoo briefcase later this week.