by John Roman
August 19, 2001
This was my and my wife?s second cruise, the first for my daughter (12). We started our day very early at 3:00 AM. Our flight out of Norfolk Virginia was at 6:00 AM and my daughter would never forgive me if we missed the flight, she actually slept with her clothes on. Our flights were on time, imagine that, and we got into Miami at around 11:30 AM after our connecting flight from Philadelphia.
We did not purchase our airfare through Carnival nor did we purchase their transfer service from the airport to the port. Once we arrived at the airport I immediately spotted some Carnival employees; they were all over the airport. I asked about the cost to get to the port and was told it was $10 per person. I questioned if this included the handling of my bags and was told that I would need to carry my own bags to the bus and then at the port I would need to once again carry my own bags to have them checked in. I found that this was not worth the price since a cab only charges $18 one way to the port. This saved me $12 right from the start even though after the cab tip it came out to $8. It is a relatively short ride to the port, about 20 minutes.
Once we arrived at the port the cab dropped us off right in front of the porters collecting the bags. No need to carry your bags but be prepared to tip, $1 per bag is reasonable. We then made our way to the entrance to our ship. Once we entered we were handed three slips, one per person. These are for immigration purposes since the Bahamas are not considered US soil. The forms need to be completed prior to checking in. We proceeded to check in and since we were early, it was around 12:15 PM we did not have any lines to wait on. At check-in you are asked for your tickets, birth certificates and credit card for all of your on ship purchases. You are then asked to go up one flight where your picture is taken once you have been given your sail & sign card. This card will be your key to board the ship, enter your room and make purchases on board. You must always carry your card especially when going ashore for your tours since you will need to put your card in a card reader when you leave the ship and when you return.
We were then directed to a lobby where we waited for about ½ hour, maybe less to board the ship. Boarding took a little long because they stop all passengers to have their picture taken as you board. This is the first experience with the photographers. At every port of call the photographers are there to take your picture as you leave the ship, this you will soon learn is what causes the long lines trying to get off the ship. Having to swipe your sign & sail card also adds to the congestion (as there are those that do not have their cards readily available in hand). Once we were on board it was easy to find our room. Since we stayed on the Empress deck we did not need to go far. Everyone boards the ship on the Empress deck the same when you depart on the last day. All ports of call debark on the 3rd level of the ship.
Once we boarded we went to our room and found it to be very comfortable. We had a porthole and plenty of closet space. I was thankful for this since my wife and daughter packed as if we were going to be away for a month. The bathroom was spacious and even had a few essentials such as razors, deodorant etc. These of course would not be enough for the whole cruise so make sure you bring your own. Also be prepared the first time you flush the commode, it is something you have never heard at home.
Since we were all very hungry our next stop was at the Paris restaurant on the Lido deck. At about 1:15 PM we were having lunch. My daughter made a path straight to the pizza, she can eat pizza all day long. I must say that just about every single review I read praised the pizza as being great, I must disagree. The pizza is probably one of the least tasteful food items you will find on the ship but the kids seem to love it. The Paris restaurant itself is comfortable but don?t expect the service you will receive in the formal dinning rooms, Destiny and Elation. The waiters are swarming all over the place but all they do is take your plates once you have finished, if you are not careful they might even take them before you finish but don?t worry there is more where that came from. There is food at the Paris everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This gives you an alternative in case you do not feel like dressing up to go to the dining rooms for dinner. Do expect to wait on line, but they move relatively quickly. This is also where the midnight buffets are served. The menus vary from day to day but I think that the Mexican buffet was the best of all. I would have liked to see more of a variety other than 24-hour pizza. Chicken wings and ribs come to mind.
Once we finished lunch we sat around for awhile and then went back to our rooms to change. Our luggage was already at our room. The ship did not leave port at 4:00 PM since we were still waiting on some passengers to arrive according to the announcement. This did not impact our schedule since we made every single port of call as scheduled. Once we set sail we had to deal with the emergency drill. It was very hot the day we left and we almost baked while we waited to complete the drill. It is nonetheless one of those things that we want to be ready for and hope we never need to use. Once this was over?guess what?it was time to eat. We had early seating 5:45 PM in the Destiny. I would have preferred 6:15 PM but we made the best of it. We arrived on time and very hot from the drill. The Destiny is a very nice dining room with all the amenities one would expect. Dress code for the formal dining rooms includes no shorts, jeans, tank tops, etc. We were very pleased as we were seated with another family from Boston who also had a daughter, Jamie 11 years old. Our two daughters got along very well and were almost inseparable from that moment on. We as well as Jamie?s parents were very pleased that the girls got along so well. We also enjoyed their company, they are a very nice family and the experience enhanced our cruise.
In addition to the great seating arrangement we had we were also very pleased with our waiter and his helper. Our waiter?s name is Gusti from Indonesia and his helper is Ferdinand from the Philippines. They both made our dining experience one to remember. They catered to our every need and desire. We ate as much as we wanted and even tried more than one entree per night. My wife is a vegetarian and does not eat dairy. Gusti made sure that she was always taken care of. She ordered a special salad and every day after that he made sure that there was one available for her if she wanted it. My daughter ordered a ginger ale the first night and every night after that there was one waiting for her. Our table guest had ordered lemonade and they also had lemonade every day after that. One word of advice, if you have children or drink a lot of soda yourself, purchase the fountain card at the start of your cruise. It cost $19.95 per child or $29.95 per adult. It covers all the soft drinks you want throughout the cruise and you can get them at just about any bar, we got ours at the Atrium bar at the Empress deck. If you don?t, expect to pay about $2.50 per soda. Dinner was great and the menu always had something new. If I have one complaint, it is that I would have liked to have seen lobster on more than one night.
After dinner there was always a show in the Normandy Lounge. If you want a good view I would suggest you head to the lounge right after dinner. We did this every night and we were able to get seats toward the front every night that were unobstructed. This meant that we were normally at the lounge at least one hour before the show started. There are a large number of seats with obstructed views so be sure to get there early. We did meet a family from Ohio by getting there early and we had a nice time thereafter talking with them.
The shows for the most part were very good. The only exception would be the comedians. Not only were they not very funny, but their material was not appropriate for the children. This is something I don?t understand. We attended the Camp Carnival orientation on the first day and they mentioned that we had about 700 children on board. If they know this why do they then condone the subject matter of the comedians. Not to mention that the same comedians have midnight shows. If they want to get very colorful this is the time?not when the room is filled with children. One of them, I won?t mention names but will say that he takes great pride in his Italian heritage, was the worst of all.
On the positive side, Tia Thompson was great. She is a very talented singer and entertainer. Everyone we spoke with really enjoyed her act. She was funny and involved the audience in a very positive manner. It?s too bad that there were not more like her. The ventriloquist was also very good as well as the two main shows. I enjoyed ?Shout? the most but both were very good.
All in all we really enjoyed the cruise and had a very good time. There are a few things I would do differently. The tours are all very much overpriced. In San Juan we did the Barcardi tour. No one ever told us that the plant was being remodeled and that we would not see everything. The price nonetheless was the regular price. Had we been given advance notice we would have probably done something else. In addition all tours are run in such a way that you are rushed at all times. When you go on vacation you do not want to be rushed. The time you get to spend at one place is normally not enough. Our Barcardi tour included a stop at ?El Morro.? This is the larger of the two old forts in San Juan. We only had 45 minutes, which is not nearly enough to see the whole thing. Next time I believe I will skip the overpriced hurried tours. If you do want to tour be advised that you can normally see and do the same things for a lot less if you are willing to go out on your own. There are plenty of locals offering tours for less money. If you team up with a few others you will be able to save some money. Just be careful where you do this. San Juan for example has free trolley service within Old San Juan. The trolley will take you around Old San Juan and it stops at El Morro, best of all it?s free.
St. Thomas and St. John are both very beautiful. I would have liked to have more time there. Trunk Bay in St. John is really worth seeing. Cab fare in St. Thomas is $3.00 per person to take you into town for shopping one way. Unless you want to see many liquor and jewelry stores, it?s not worth the trip. You can do shopping right at the pier where they have many of the same stores and you save yourself the $6.00 round trip.
Nassau was really a disappointment. Nothing to really write about. My daughter did want to swim with the stingrays. I tried to book a tour for her to swim with the stingrays and I would just go along with my wife but not swim. On the ship they told me they were sold out on this tour. I believe it was just because instead of selling three tickets at $40. Plus they were only selling one and two at a reduced price. We purchased three tickets to Blue Lagoon and once we got there I was able to buy a ticket for my daughter to swim with the stingrays for $15.00. Word of caution, this is deep water and you need to ensure your child or yourself can really swim.
Some other tips. If you plan on drinking, be prepared to pay. Drinks are not included in your fare. Beers are around $3.50 plus 15% gratuity. They add the 15% gratuity to everything. Drinks like pina colada will cost you over $5.00 once they have added the gratuity. I purchased drink coupons. They are $19.50 for four. You basically save yourself the gratuity charge. 15% savings add up if you are going to do a lot of drinking. You must purchase these before you leave on your cruise. The information can be found in the back of the book you receive with your boarding tickets. I was able to purchase beer at the port and bring it aboard. No one objected to this. You can also bring bottled water aboard if you like. A bottle of Evian water will cost you $3.75 plus of course the gratuity. You can also purchase photo coupons. The pictures will add up very quickly. If you are not disciplined you will find yourself spending a lot of money on pictures.
The crew for the most part is very willing to help. There are as always a few exceptions but you will find these to be a minority. Not having to deal with smoke filled air is also a very big plus. All in all we had fun and would probably cruise on the Paradise again. I doubt that we would ever cruise on anything other than a non-smoking ship.
I would be more than willing to answer any questions.