by L. Starks-Howard
December 29, 2001
This was my 4th cruise, 2nd for my husband and two sons ages 16 and 21, 2nd on Carnival. Also with us were my sister and brother in law and their two children, ages 8 and 3. First, there were travel arrangement issues as we had flights on the dysfunctional Sun Country Airlines, which went out of business three weeks before our trip. Our Carnival Agent, however was wonderful and quickly set up new flights for our group, at a reasonable price. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale from Minneapolis and our luggage missed a connection so we waited at the airport. Luggage came, thankfully, but we were on the last shuttle to the ship at the Port of Miami! The bus driver was lost at the pier and could not figure out how to get to the ship, and our anxiety grew. Was this a carnival employee? I don't know, but clearly he had not done this before. Alas, we found the boarding area and made it onto the ship at 4 pm. No lines! No Bon Voyage picture (which didn't really concern us), in fact no one was in the terminal at all. The lifeboat drill was occurring so we grabbed the jackets and were off to find our muster station. (Waste of time) As we found it the drill was over. We have never come so close to missing the ship! Set Sail a few minutes later and our adventure in Paradise had begun.
Back to the Cabin:
We were on Empress level 7425, rear corner. Excellent cabin. For nearly the same price as all balcony cabins, we had a balcony that stretched the entire back ½ of the ship! It was beautiful. There were a couple of plastic chairs and a table. Sitting out there felt heavenly. The room was set at an angle so it seemed bigger, although the sq ft is the same as other cabins, I think 186 sq ft. We had twins which pushed together and the cabin steward made the bed as a king size, after I requested. Bathroom was more than adequate. My sons were down the hall in 7390 with twin beds and adequate space, although I preferred the feel of the corner room. Perfect for them. Their balcony was opened to our relatives in the next door cabin, so turned out to be pretty big as well. Our cabin steward was great. TV service okay. My husband watched most of the bowl games in the cabin. Some movies, although they became repetitive by the end of the week.
Exploring the Ship:
This is a Beautiful ship, much bigger than I expected. All decorations were tasteful and the ship was very clean. One problem was midship on our floor there was a very foul odor, like backed up toilets or septic tanks. Unsure what this was but by end of the week the smell had improved and we learned to walk down the opposite hall to get to our cabin! The spa and gym were nicely appointed, larger than expected and equipment adequate with Bikes, Stairmasters, treadmills, cybex type equipment and free weights. I rode the stationary bike (no wait) while peering out to sea and listening to typical workout music over the intercom. What a way to work out! Got a massage on New Year's Day, perfect as I was feeling some leftover New Year's Eve partying. Then on to the sauna looking out to the ocean. Did I say Beautiful! Two Jacuzzis overlook the workout area. At the back of the ship was the pizzeria grill and deli, our usual hangout. Kids loved this spot. This surrounded one smaller pool. The bigger world pool with the slide was midship and crowded but not excessively so. Always seats available, although I walked more than sat. 24-hour pizza was excellent. Lines never too long. There was no time that we couldn't find food on this ship. Problem: Kids drink cards. Bartenders were rude and slow in serving soft drinks and on more than one occasion implied we were swapping out cards. We had cards for the three in our party, under 21,each at a cost of $29, so their implications were offensive. The promenade was nice and the casino always a buzz with people. Shopping was somewhat limited to Carnival fare and jewelry, perfume. The Dance club had 2 levels, jazz on the bottom disco on the top, but music in the disco was ancient until late in the wee hours, and children in the club past 11pm, on more than one occasion (under 16 were supposed to leave at 10:45) A real turn off for my husband. My younger son was happy that 16 and up were allowed in the club and he and his brother enjoyed the disco more than I, needless to say. There were other bars with multiple offerings, though. Something for everyone on this ship in terms of entertainment.
Overall, food was excellent. We had Paris late seating which worked well especially with shore excursions, no rush to prepare for dinner. Kids were okay with this also. On Lobster night my son had 2 orders. There were always seafood, beef, and chicken and other dishes (including vegetarian). One night my son had 3 shrimp cocktails! Our waiter was excellent and never questioned if you wanted more than one of anything, didn't like one and tried another or didn't like anything and required something totally different. Our group had a lot of variations! My sister ate steak every night, as she doesn't like much variety when it comes to food. My husband requested pasta when nothing appealed to him and this was fine. Bar service at our table was slow, but after one hint to the Maitre D about this, service improved immensely. We tried alternative dining but didn't like that. We wanted to experience fine dining treatment and the alternative was more cafeteria style. There was a desert bar (extra) not worth it and milk shakes (extra), but worth it, on the Promenade deck. Best deserts were at buffet lunch and midnight. Of course pizza and burgers were great. We always came back to the ship for lunch, which sort of broke up the day a bit.
Adventures in Paradise
The great thing again, something for everyone. Our sons went to the Mayan ruins and loved this. They left ship at about 7 am and ferried to the mainland and then a bus to the ruins. This was completely worth it by their report and the beach was beautiful at the foot of the ruins. They returned at about 2pm just in time to meet us back from shopping in town, had lunch and went out again to Playa del Sol Beach. Cabs are very expensive, so get ready. Our group of eight paid $50 to go from the ship to Playa Del sol and back (the driver waited for us), just 10 minutes down the road. Now on the ship they say a cab to town or the beach is about $16 per cab one way (I don't remember the exact number), that is 4 people to a cab only. More in the cab means more money or two cabs. The cab service here was the only drawback. The shopping a bit pushy after a while, but the beach was heavenly. The admission, chairs, umbrellas, drinks and water toys were all included in the excursion price of $16 per person from the ship. There were kayaks and water tubes and paddle boats (life vests) and a huge water trampoline in the water. The waiters set up your umbrellas and kept the drinks flowing. The sand a little messy with seaweed, but not excessively so, and the water was quite clear. This was a great way to spend the rest of the day. We were there until about 6 pm.
At Cayman, the highlight bus tour was nice. My husband and I went to Hell! We also went to the Tortuga outlet and got a lot of great info about the island. After the bus tour, we did a little shopping. The others did some shopping and we met up at the public beach (the seven mile beach), at about 1 pm. $3 buck taxi ride, $3 bucks to get in and nothing included but still a lot of fun. The kids made sand castles and collected shells. Our family had staked out chairs, (there was a cost for some, I think $5 but others were just sitting for the taking!) There was a subway shop with a line that required at least a 30-minute wait. The sand was clean but the initial few feet into the water very rocky, past that quite smooth. Cayman definitely had an English flavor, and shopping not that pushy craft type, more expensive jewelry, tortuga rum and alcohol and T-shirts. The boat doesn't dock in Cayman and at 3:30pm the wait to board the tender back to the ship was down the street!
At Ochos Rios we did the Highlight tour A to Shaw Botanical Gardens and to two shopping areas. Perhaps one can find all these things on their own for less money, but we went on ship excursions. The gardens were tropical, lush and beautiful; the shopping was expensive jewelry, watches, T-shirts and souvenirs. At the end you go to Dunn Rivers and this was a blast. The market, which you walk through to get out of the falls, very pushy and lots of crafts. Don't be intimidated, if you don't want something say you have no money, you get left alone quickly. My older son had been to Jamaica and opted out of the falls and excursion, instead walking to the same shopping areas where we ended up! He is adventurous and likes to find things for himself. Also, the two younger children didn't go to the falls but there were quite a few who looked to be about age 7 and up there. You really need to be at least about 3 ½ to 4 foot tall to keep your head above some areas of the water. This day was way too short and by 3:30 we were setting sail home. Boo Hoo!!
This was a beautiful, fun filled adventure into paradise and I can't wait to go again. New Year's Eve was a blast with a huge party on the ship with free Champagne, (although you could purchase your own if you wish). For Camp Carnival users, there was some disappointment for my sister and her husband. The counselors were at times rude and the timing of activities off coordination with times you would expect there to be availability. Once the counselor would not release the children to their father because their mother had been the parent who dropped them. He had to go get her to pick them up and he was extremely ticked. The children spent only short times there. However, the time they did spend was lots of fun for them usually. Debarkation was shorter than expected and since we had early flights we were supposed to have early debarkation. It seemed we exited just as everyone else did however.