by Roger & Judy Best
September 28, 2003
We sailed on Carnival Paradise, departing Miami on September 28 on a seven-day Eastern Caribbean itinerary stopping at Nassau, St. Thomas, and La Romana/Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic.
We are a couple, married 24 years, and both over 40 years old. This was our fifth cruise (four on Carnival and the other on Royal Caribbean), and our third on Carnival Paradise.
We flew to Miami via American Airlines on Saturday, September 27. We had purchased a room at the Hyatt Regency on Hotwire several weeks earlier. After we checked in and freshened up, we went to Bayside Marketplace and strolled through the shops until it was time to meet the new friends we found on the online cruise BBs. We met up with our group of 12 at Bubba Gump's for a lovely meal with drinks. It was fun meeting all those people we communicated with online! We had a great time. Then a few of us moved on to the Wet Willie's in Coconut Grove, where we continued getting to know one another over very strong drinks!
The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast at the Hyatt, we headed over to the Carnival terminal in a taxi, arriving about 10:30. We were surprised that the traffic jam we usually experience was nonexistent - our taxi driver drove us right up to the terminal with no honking and no delay. The explanation for this appears at the end of my review, so stay tuned!
The luggage handlers immediately assisted us in discovering our cabin number, since we had booked a 6A guarantee. We were pleased to find we had been upgraded to U59, a 6C ocean-view room, near the elevators! A quick tip to the luggage handlers assured that our bags would arrive at our cabin that evening. Again, we noticed that no one was leaving the ship, grabbing taxis or buses - strange!
We entered the terminal at 11 a.m., immediately made our way through check-in, and went upstairs to get our Sail 'n Sign card, just to wait for a while. We were pleased to note we got the 8:00 late seating, but we were surprised because we were assigned to the aft Dining room but had a forward cabin -- unusual in our experience.
As we waited to board the ship, Carnival employees were selling raffle tickets, hot dogs, and drinks to raise money for the United Way. They allowed us to board the ship around noon, but they actually organized the boarding by rows of seats. This was the first time we saw this process used, but there was no pushing or shoving, and everyone was aboard the ship within a few minutes.
We quickly found our cabin, dropped off our stuff, and headed to the Paris restaurant for our first drink and pizza. The Paris bar now has those Playmaker machines where you can play trivia games, like you see in landside bars.
We toured the ship to see what else was new, and to reacquaint ourselves with our favorite haunts, then headed to the Lido Deck to lie in the sun. We stayed there for about an hour, until they announced the muster drill. We gathered our life vests and headed to our muster station in the Normandie Lounge. Lots of people were in this large area (where all the shows are), and they made us put our life vests fully on before we sat in the theatre-style seats, which proved more uncomfortable that I remembered. We then moved to various lifeboat stations. Unfortunately, just as the end of the muster drill was announced, the ship started to head out of port. We had to fight the crowds to get back to our cabins, discard our life vests, and head to the outside deck for Sailaway. As this is one of our favorite moments on the cruise, we were very disappointed - surely the Captain could have waited another 15 minutes to let us all get settled after the muster drill.
We met up with our online cruise BB friends again at the aft Verandah deck. Pictures were taken, drinks were purchased, and we were officially headed to sea! At 5:30, the sushi bar opened, and we headed downstairs so Roger could enjoy Paradise sushi again. We stayed there until it was time to dress for dinner, then headed to the Destiny dining room for our 8 p.m. seating.
We were pleased to see we had a table for eight by a window. Our waiter from our last Paradise cruise, Aquino, noticed us and stopped by to greet us. We had two other couples at our table: Steve and Jane, and Willie and Christy, and the other two seats were vacant. We couldn't have asked for four more pleasant people! Steve and Jane told us that they were changing to early seating the next day, but we hit it off so well that first night that we pleasantly crossed paths together all week. Willie had a birthday later in the week, and Steve and Jane joined us that evening again to celebrate! So, for the rest of the week, our table for eight only seated four!
Clifford was our waiter and his assistant was Manuel. We had problems getting the right food served to each of us in a timely manner, and didn't always get everything else we needed in a timely manner, such as steak knives or jelly. Manuel would help us as quickly as we caught his eye, so he became our favorite! We bought a bottle of wine a couple of nights at dinner, which they kept for us until the next night, but other nights I purchased an individual glass of wine from the bar waiter, Augus, whom we thoroughly enjoyed!
We noticed some changes in the food on Paradise. Steaks - previously we could only order them medium rare or medium well. This was a problem for both of us, because I prefer my steak medium and Roger prefers his rare. Now they offer to cook them at all five temperatures – a wonderful improvement. The lobster was still bad! Try a variety of the soups; they are all great! We had both a dessert and cheese most nights, and this was the most pleasant time in our meals, where we all visited casually after the rush of the meals. On sea days, we ate every meal in the dining room; on port days we ate breakfast and lunch in the Paris Restaurant, and only the evening meal in the dining room.
We loved the 8 p.m. dinner seating because it allowed us to arrive at the Normandie Lounge in time to get good seats. However, the shows hadn't changed since our last cruise, so we only went to four of them, skipping the Broadway revues and the Tia Thompson show that we had seen twice before. We went to the Welcome Aboard show, both Comedy shows, and the Guest Talent Show. All were fun, although the last comedian, J.R. McCullough, was heckled at the late show by an 11-year old boy in the front row who had been at the early show -- he kept calling out the punch lines before the comedian could say them. Security should have removed this young man! Apparently an older sibling went to get his mother after J.R. made the boy sit on his stool in the middle of the stage, while J.R. sat in the boy's theatre seat and heckled the boy. Once the mother arrived, she joined the boy in heckling the comedian. We didn't get to see the comedian's show at all – disappointing for both the audience and the performer! Adam Ace was wonderful as always, and we again enjoyed the ventriloquist.
The cruise director was Jeff Brrronsonnnnn! He was fun and full of energy, and wrapped up with the guest talent show with a great song of his own! His assistant, Brent, was always helpful, with a friendly, open personality. Karl (with a K) was the social host. This guy was a little over the top for me, but I'm sure he was popular with the younger set. We never met our room steward, but everything was perfect, and towel animals appeared every night. We couldn't ask for anything more!
Monday we called at Nassau, our third visit to this port. On our first trip, we enjoyed snorkeling with the Stingrays and had our hair braided, and on our second trip, we visited the Atlantis resort. This time we slept in and ate a leisurely breakfast in the Paris Restaurant, while others rushed off the ship for their early excursions. (Did I mention how wonderful the omelets are in the Paris Restaurant?) We then walked through the downtown shopping area. Taxi drivers and carriage drivers all asked us to ride with them. We finally agreed to a carriage ride when the driver agreed to take us to the Queen's Staircase, which we wanted to visit. It was a wonderful ride. The Queen's Staircase was amazing! But we were glad to return to the ship, because it was a hot day.
We enjoyed a nice lunch aboard the ship, then lay out in the sun for a while, had sushi, and went to dinner -- our first formal night. The Captain's cocktail party was nice, as always, and we enjoyed dancing on the Normandie stage to the music of the live Paradise band. We bought some great photos from the first formal night.
Usually we enjoy dancing after dinner in one of the lounges. This time we did not enjoy the music in either of the lounges, and we don't like piano bars! Some folks seemed to enjoy one band, the Highlights; there were always people dancing there, but it was not our cup of tea. There was a great singer at the US Bar on the Promenade deck. We enjoyed listening to him some evenings, but the Promenade is not conducive to dancing!
Tuesday was our first sea day. We love sea days -- sleeping late, then a leisurely breakfast at our late 9:30 a.m. seating in the dining room. Some days, Willie and Christy joined us for breakfast. Then we headed outdoors to enjoy the sun and deck activities. We came inside for the first art auction preview at 1 p.m. with Park West auctioneer Geoffrey. We collect Thomas Kinkade paintings, and at this auction, anyone who purchased one Thomas Kinkade could buy each additional Thomas Kinkade at $100 off the gavel price. We picked up three of those, plus one mystery piece that turned out to be a nice Ballet, and then got a free Del Signore painting -- a great auction day for us, and we can't wait to see our paintings in our home. We enjoyed martinis at the Rotterdam bar while waiting to complete payment and shipping for our art purchases - the martinis made the process painless!
Wednesday was our second port -- La Romana (Casa de Campo), Dominican Republic. There's nothing at the port except a parking lot and information center for the cruise passengers. To see or do anything you have to take a ship excursion or a taxi on your own into the area! When we were researching this port online, several people mentioned how great the Saona Beach excursion was. But just before we left, another review described a swarm of mosquitoes that left guests running for the water, some with as many as 50 bug bites. I am a mosquito magnet, so we decided not to risk that, but then had no idea what to do. On our flight into Miami, we sat by a woman named Mary who had spent two weeks at the Casa de Campo resort. She said the Altos de Chavon artist village was a must-see with great art and restaurants. She also recommended the golf courses.
Based on her recommendation, we booked the Altos de Chavon Village and Riverboat tour, and we did not regret it! We rode a bus from the pier for a tour of Casa de Campo resort (including Sammy Sosa's home) to the river, and boarded the riverboat. As soon as we pulled away from the bank, three boats sped up beside us, selling us local "souvenirs" -- caps, necklaces, etc. The lower deck had merengue music and dancing, while the upper deck was quieter and more scenic. We "paddled" (actually motored) up the river and back down, with many beautiful photos along the way. And they were pouring the Dominican rum and Pepsi freely! We re-boarded our bus and traveled up the bluff to the Altos de Chavon artist village. This was built by a prince for his lover in 1980, but in the style of a Mediterranean artist village from the 1700s. Beautiful! It overlooked the rain forest, river, and a beautiful golf course at Casa de Campo. We browsed through many lovely shops -- lots of art -- and tried the local Mamajuana (liquid Viagra for women and men -- tasted like cherry root beer), saw some neat restaurants (no time to eat with the ship excursion), and great photo ops. Then back on the tour bus to the ship! We really enjoyed this port!
Other friends who were brave enough to take the Saona Beach excursion had no problem with the mosquitoes, and said it was the best excursion they'd ever taken. Other friends took taxis into the city and shopped at Casa de Campo. Those friends suggest that someone in the group know some Spanish!
Thursday was our final port day, in St. Thomas. We love the Virgin Islands. This was our second visit to St. Thomas. On our first visit, we shopped, then took a tour with the best guide on the island, Roy, who gave us a great tour, a visit to Mountaintop View, a banana daiquiri, and two hours at Coki Beach, before returning us to the ship. This time, we took a ship's excursion to St. John's Trunk Bay to snorkel. The snorkeling trail there was amazing, with underwater signs describing what was nearby (how did they keep that stuff by the signs?). After that excursion, we took the tram up to Paradise Point, which was not nearly as cool, in our opinion, as Mountaintop View. Then we ran into town to pick up the necessary souvenirs.
Friday and Saturday were two consecutive sea days. We slept in, sunned, napped, ate, drank, danced. We made our only visit to the casino on one of these days, putting $10 in the nickel slot machines, and walked away with $16.30. Big spenders!
This was a Carnival Past Guest Reunion cruise. We got free stuff and a coupon book - worthless! The Repeaters party on Friday night was spread out across the entire Promenade deck, including every lounge, because 80 percent of the passengers were past guests. What a great party! We strolled from lounge to lounge, finding our new friends, had a few drinks and appetizers. This was our second and last formal night, and everyone looked great! Actually, everyone on the ship participated in the Repeaters' party, which was even better than the Captain's cocktail party. We found a DJ spinning Latin music in the Rex lounge, with many passengers dancing.
We discovered a new twist to disembarkation. Our cruise director, Jeff, announced that Customs now allows passengers who can carry their luggage off the ship without assistance, and who had nothing dutiable to declare, to disembark from 7:30 to 8:30 on Sunday morning. Almost 600 passengers did this. You simply keep your luggage in your room, and when the Express Disembarkation is announced, carry your luggage off, handing a Customs agent your declaration slip as you walk off the ship. Taxis and buses are available to take passengers to their next destination. If we had known this in advance, we could have flown out earlier in the day at a much lower price. Once 600 people are off with their luggage, however, it was much easier for us to find our luggage in the terminal. And because of this new express disembarkation, everyone is off the ship by 10 a.m. That is why no passengers were leaving the ship when we arrived at 11:00 at the cruise terminal at the beginning of the cruise.
I want to mention our Lido deck waiter, Regino. He took care of us on our second cruise and found us again on this cruise. He calls us by name, memorizes our Sail 'n Sign foil number so we never have to pull it out again, brings us our favorite drinks, and generally treats us like important people. Find Regino on the Lido deck, let him take care of you, and tip him generously. He's first class!
If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email. My photos from past cruises and this one can be found at http://community.webshots.com/user/judyjbest. If you enjoy our photos, please take the time to sign the online guest book, telling us who you are and where you're from! Notes like that make sharing more fun!