by Andy Brown
September 21, 2003
My wife and I returned this week from our third cruise, all with Carnival, the first being the Inspiration from New Orleans in March 2002, and then on the Paradise eastern in Oct. 2002. The new Paradise exotic western was our favorite so far, but we're eagerly anticipating the next one, probably next fall.
We flew into Miami on Saturday and spent the night at South Beach Best Western. I fell in love with Miami Beach last year, although my wife wonders why, but she lets me make the arrangements and doesn't complain. We checked out Sunday morning after 11 and took a taxi to the port, $20 including tip, and gladly tipped the baggage handler who took our luggage. Check in was an absolute breeze; the only line we waited in was 3-4 min. to get our sail and sign pictures taken, then onto the ship. We were in U95, and it was ready when we arrived. We had an oceanview cabin last time and neither of us liked it because it let too much light in in the morning, so this time we opted for an interior.
The buffet lunch was good; we were already familiar with the ship, so we relaxed while waiting for our luggage. The lifeboat drill commenced just before sailaway and we were still at lifeboat stations while the ship started down the channel, which was unfortunate in my view, but soon they let us go, so we didn't miss too much. I like to be on the port side for the "entertainment" when passing the fishing pier at South Beach, and I also watched the pilot boat pull alongside and pick up the harbor pilot.
Our cruise director was Jeff Bronson, ably assisted by Brent from Canada and Karl from England. These guys were hilarious, a great team. My wife thought Jeff was a little goofy at times but I loved all his stuff; a real riot!
The opening evening show was hilarious. Jeff got people from the audience on stage a taught them some goofy dance moves. The production shows were good, but the same ones from last year. I learned later in the cruise that the shows will stay the same for several years, interesting. It's amazing they can pull off a show of that caliber in that setting. Once again I was amazed at the quality of the live music in the show lounge; the musicians are very talented and it's hard to believe it's live music.
We did miss the magic show. I'd remembered it from last time, and our favorite show Judging Amy was on the cabin TV, season premier, so we watched it instead.
The food was fantastic, except for the filet mignon, which I noted on my comment card. All the desserts were delicious. After having one or three at dinner I'd head for the Lido deck restaurant to see what they had and have a couple more, then spend some time in the exercise room the next day to make room for more. There were four couples at our table, with two empty seats. All were delightful and made dinner a joy each evening. The service wasn't as fun as on Inspiration, but still very good, and friendly. The waiters definitely work hard.
One of the couples at our table was from central Florida and said they'd booked the cruise two days in advance, after an email advertising $200 pp, and drove to the port. Must be nice! Ours was still a good deal at less than $500 pp, and I'd had to have vacation scheduled and plane tickets in advance, of course.
The ports of Belize and Isla Roatan were very enjoyable. They don't seem to have been commercialized quite yet, as badly as Cozumel and Grand Cayman. In Belize we anchored several miles off shore and tendered in, but hang onto your hat! The tenders each had 3 or 4 big outboards and they didn't mess around getting to shore; they're fast! We took the River Wallace/Altun Ha tour which was a delight. Half the group boarded greyhound type busses and headed overland for Altun Ha, and the rest of us boarded two open boats and went around the shoreline of Belize City to the Wallace River and headed upriver on a sightseeing/wildlife tour. The guides were very knowlegeable and informative, easy to understand and friendly, and gave a very enjoyable tour, but I'm always a sucker for a boat ride. It was warm, which was fine with me but was a little uncomfortable for my wife. We didn't see any Manatees or gators, but lots of iguanas and birds, and several monkeys. The guide would spot something and signal the captain to turn around; we'd stop and have a look, then continue. After a couple hours we got off at a landing where a local lunch was offered, for $5. Soon the busses arrived and everyone traded transport, and we headed for Altun Ha over a very horrible road. The ruins were absolutely amazing, another very good tour, but it was kind of rushed. We only had 45 min. or so, then headed back to the dock on the bus. Great tour! I'd forgotten about the tipping that would be expected, and only took $30 ashore, so we didn't get any souvenirs. Next time. I heard some people bellyaching about the tips. Take a bunch of ones and fives and pass 'em out. If you're on a cruise you've got the money, and they appreciated it, and earned it in my opinion.
We moored to a pier in Isla Roatan, and we took the Tabbyana beach excursion. We rode in school buses along the waterfront and over some incredible hills to a beach resort at the end of the island. It was set up very nicely, with a Carribean band playing and refreshments and food available, gift shop, etc. One of the ship's photographers was there taking pics. The bus ride was really the highlight of this trip though. We saw a whole different standard of living down there; educational even without a lecturer along, and more than a little humbling. More tips.
At Grand Cayman we took a bus, $2.50 a head, to Hell, just to say we'd done it. We went to see the turtles last time, and figured we'd do the stingrays next time.
Cozumel we just got off to get our picture taken, walked off the pier, then got back on the ship again. We're suckers for those pictures and bought just about all of them. Shopping ain't really our thing, and we didn't care for Cozumel last time.
Four port stops was a bit much on this cruise, they could've left off the last two and I wouldn't have minded. The sea days are my favorites. I entered the hairy chest comp., and we did the Austin Powers dance class, and went to about all the fun stuff we could get to. The newlywed/not so newlywed was a riot, and they skipped the scripted part, thankfully. The past guest party was enjoyable, and Captains reception. Interestingly, we've had the same ship's master on all three cruises, captain Vito Garruccio, a very nice man, but hard to understand his English. Jeff was very visible and very approachable, always friendly. The last sea day after the Galley tour, several of the staff hosted an informal question/answer session in the show lounge and that was very nice.
The crowd on this cruise definitely was leaning toward older folks, but there was a nice range of people. The casino always seemed busy, and there were always plenty of deck chairs available. Many times the Lido deck even seemed a little slow.
The last night the staff hosted a guest talent show which was a lot of fun. I wanted to sing with the band so I did a song, and there were five others, all singing acts, and all very good. I'm afraid I was probably the worst one, but I still had a blast, and the crowd was excellent.
Debarkation was also very smooth, if depressing. They offered express departure to US citizens if you wanted to carry all your luggage off yourself, before regular debark began, and many took advantage of this opportunity. No way was I going to drag all my stuff off, as I had badly overpacked, again, and we were staying in town two more nights anyway. We hated to go, but did, now planning has begun for the next one. I'd go on Paradise again in a heartbeat, but I also want to try one of the Spirit class ships, so we may try the Legend next year.