by Denise Lunday
June 15, 2003
We started our journey to Miami through Baltimore Washington Airport early Sunday morning. We were through security without a hitch although we did have to remove our shoes. We arrived in Miami around 10 a.m., and since we booked our air through Carnival, buses were there to take us and our luggage to the dock.
On the way to the dock, we passed the Norway, which looked really sad. Then we realized that several people on our bus had originally booked the Norway. After boarding, we found out that this Paradise cruise had sold out due to passengers who already had airfare to Miami for a June 15th sailing on Norway. We were booked to capacity at 2,600. The lines at embarkation were long but flowed rather well and in no time we were in our cabin on the Upper deck forward.
We made our way to the shore tour desk and booked our excursions, then headed for the Paris Restaurant for lunch. Afterwards, we toured the ship and joined in the sail-away party fun on Lido deck. The weather looked threatening, and our second night at sea was rather rough. My husband had a bit of trouble with motion sickness but managed with the Scopolamine patch, lots of fresh air and by keeping something light on his stomach. We did have early dinner seating, and our meals were very good with plenty of variety.
Our first excursion was to Goff's Caye in Belize. We boarded early the Rock Beauty and our guides were very informative and fun. We had about a 20-minute speedboat ride to a very small island that had a tent with lots of souvenirs and a large pit BBQ with a chicken roast going. We were the first boatload of tourists to arrive, and this proved advantageous to snorkeling. We snorkeled in the shallow water and found the elk-horn coral to be teeming with beautiful fish. (I will include photos in the gallery.) If you're new to snorkeling, I would recommend this tour. You could also stay on the boat and snorkel in the deep water along the reef. After we spent a couple of hours of swimming and sunning, our boat tendered those who wanted to return to the ship, and took the rest to the dock at Belize City. This port is hardly ready for tourism. There is a small flea market-type area along the first couple of blocks and the locals are a bit pushy. I am sure with the improvements that are planned, before long the area will make for an interesting stop. But for now it is uncomfortable.
The second port was the small island of Roatan, Honduras. This is an untouched paradise. We toured the West Side, the more affluent area. Several U.S. enterprises on this side include housing developments with Century 21 and Prudential. The roads are very narrow and steep. The drivers are not cautious, and I worried about the children in their navy blue uniforms walking to the bilingual school. The water was clear and pretty as we walked out onto a bar over the water to be entertained by some native dancers. After this we shopped along the dirt road of the main street. The vendors do enjoy horse-trading. We then visited a butterfly farm and the Carabola Botanical Gardens for fresh fruit tasting. On the way back to the ship, our guide stopped by her house to show us her iguana. We visited the Cameo House and Yabba Ding Dings, a gift shop. The island people made us feel very welcome and safe in all areas. The pier is only about 50 yards from the main shopping area.
The next stop was Grand Cayman. Coming into port, we saw three other ships docked and expected crowds. The streets were filled with tourists and so were the shops. We had decided to take a "swim with the stingrays" excursion and were not disappointed. These marvelous creatures have been hand-fed for 20 years now and are completely comfortable with humans. As they brushed along my thighs I was amazed at the soft pillow-like feeling. This is something you should experience at least once in a lifetime. Upon returning to dock we decided to bring home the famous Tortugas Rum Cakes. The tenders were very large and we had no trouble going back to the Paradise, but the lines for the ship in port were horrendous.
Our last port was Cozumel. We docked directly across from the town square and Senor Frog's. The pier was filled with bicycle taxis and tour signs. We had decided to do the Eco Jeep Adventure. There were 10 other jeeps in our caravan as we headed out to the Punta Sur beach area. We visited a nature reserve there, with salt water crocks and an old lighthouse. We also saw a small hut built by the Mayan Indians, which was interesting in that the top of the hut contained a pyramid of conch shells each facing N, S, E, W with holes through them. Our guide explained that the wind would cause the shells to make a horn noise, alerting the tribe to inclement weather. Thus these primitives had their own hurricane alert system.
Our guide then took us on an off-road "ride of your life" through some of the roughest terrain in Cozumel. It's not for weak backs or necks, but a riot for the young at heart. We were allowed to drive the vehicles and our leader was fearless. This tour ended at a local beach, where we were taken out snorkeling and the fish food did lure in some beautiful sea life. Afterwards we had plenty of time to eat and shop, since the ship didn't sail until 11 p.m. We were in the show lounge when the last group from Carlos and Charlie's came on board, and we could hear their singing. They were a rowdy bunch, and the party continued on the Lido deck around the pool as the ship set sail for Miami.
The Paradise cabin stewards and waiters were fantastic. The photographers were a bit pushy, but that goes with the job. The shows were typical, except for the two comedians, who were really great. The days did offer plenty of options, and even with a full ship we did not feel crowded at all. The midnight buffets were very nice, and the majority of our meals were tasty. Our table mates were also new to cruising, and we enjoyed their company. All in all, it was a wonderful vacation. We did see quite a few children on board, and most of them were well behaved. I would sail again on Paradise, and would recommend her to anyone who enjoys a more personal experience in a smoke-free environment.