February 1, 2003
This is our 3rd cruise, our second with Carnival. My husband and I are in our early 50's and enjoy Carnival's atmosphere of fun. Embarkment was a series of waiting lines. This was our first cruise since 9/11. Security was much higher than we recall. Photos are taken before you board and are "coded" to your Sail and Sign card. Each time you leave or board the ship, you insert your card into a machine and your picture comes up. Also, you pass through metal detectors and all bags are X-rayed. US Coast guard escorted in and out of Miami and it was interesting to watch how they wouldn't let any small pleasure craft come near us.
Entering the ship, you are immediately struck by its size and beauty! We had a balcony cabin (8305) and I must say it will be very hard to ever go back to anything less. The cabin had lots of storage, a very nice size bathroom and the balcony was fabulous. Based on other postings we read, I brought a bungy cord and we slept each night with the door open.it was wonderful! Our room steward, Ivana was excellent. Always smiling and eager to make our stay the best it could be. And of course, I never tire of the towel animals.
Food: The food was okay. Not terrible, but not really what I would call "fine dining." The dining room food presentations were very nice and the service was very good. The Paris dining room affords a wonderful view and there was open seating for breakfast each morning. The appetizers were excellent but the desserts were often quite stale. The only buffet we ate was one breakfast. The made to order omelet was excellent. Be prepared for long lines however. The burgers, pizzas and, Ruebens on the lido deck were all good. Room Service was excellent, fast service and good food. We often ordered breakfast and ate it on our balcony. We tipped the steward $3 each time we ordered.
Entertainment: Everything we had read about cruise director John Heald is true. He is the best we have seen. On our previous cruises we had not really attended the various events throughout the day (game show trivia, talent contests, etc) cruises but John was so funny we tried to make sure we attended everything he was involved in. He announced he is retiring after 15 yrs in June. I sure hope he stays on with Carnival in a training or recruitment capacity for other CDs. He certainly knows how to do it right! The big production numbers were good, but we had seen them on our previous cruise. Note, at the Q & A session, John said these shows are changed about every 3 yrs.
Public Areas: Let me repeat myself, this ship is beautiful! Yes, there was stained carpet in the hallways but nothing that took away from the overall beauty. We especially enjoyed the Capital bar and the Oxford Bar. The Piano Bar was fun and I must say the musicians on this ship were very, very good. The spa has a great view. I had a pedicure, that was excellent ($50) and was pleased they didn't try to sell me any products. They are very lax on enforcing rules on the lido deck (eg saving chairs and smoking only on one side of the deck etc) but they were very strict about no one under 16 yrs in the gym -including the Jacuzzis. We spent very little time near the pool this cruise. Probably because it was impossible to find an "unsaved" lounge chair and we could just go down to our own cabin and catch the rays. The ship is huge and we got our exercise by getting lost at least once or twice a day. That said, it was even fun when we got lost because we "discovered" new places each time. The casino was fun but remember it's a casino.the odds are that it will take your money. We enjoyed the Internet cafe next to the Oxford Bar. We bought 100 min for $55. Watch the Carnival Capers for extra minute deals throughout the week (use 5 min, get 5 more min free). Given the # of passengers, there was never a feeling of being packed in. The only time crowds were seen or space was limited was getting back on the ship at a port of call, waiting lines for food on the Lido deck and disembarkment. Also, given the time of year we were sailing, the # of kids on our cruise was limited and they were rarely even seen. I think between the Camp Carnival and the teen specific activities, the kids had little interest in hanging out with adults.
Shore excursions: Our first stop was San Juan. Arriving in late afternoon, it is a fairly useless stop. We took the city tour with the Juan Carlos show. Save your money! It is not worth the $49pp! The tour was useless because it is dark and you can't see much. Shopping was limited to about a ½ dozen shops that were open and the show was on par with a Holiday Inn lounge act. My advice is stay on board and take advantage of the discounts offered in the spa while in port.
Having been to St Thomas, we got up early and took a cab to Red Hook Ferry and went over to St Johns Island. From there we grabbed a cab and took a tour of the island. (I think all the cabs and ferry cost ended up being about $45pp). It is much less touristy and since ¾ of the island is a national park, it is breathtaking. The surf was very rough the day we were there so snorkeling was out. Instead we went swimming at Trunk Bay. For $3 you can rent a locker and they have free showers and changing facilities right there. Note: on the ship they really hyped buying Godiva liquor in St Thomas. We took the bait and bought 2 bottles. I checked yesterday when I went to the store and found we saved a whopping $1 per bottle by purchasing it there. Sure wasn't worth lugging those bottles all the way home for that.
St Maarten: This was our favorite. Again, we skipped the cruise ship tours and hired a cab (His charge was $50 for two of us but he was so good we gave him an extra $20 tip) and got an excellent 4 hr tour of the island. Since it was just the two of us, our driver stopped whenever and wherever we wanted. He gave us lots of information and background of his island and it was nice to have a "private tour". We especially enjoyed the French side of the island. I would definitely tour this way again.
Disembarkment: What a nightmare! First, they made announcements throughout the previous day that we were all to wait in the lounges and because of that, all lounges would be non-smoking. Smokers were told they were to smoke on the rear of the lido deck. Within 10 minutes of our arrival at the lounge near the casino, ashtrays were produced and smoking began in earnest. It made for a very unpleasant wait. It was nearly 11 am before we got off the ship. Then long lines awaited us in the terminal. Bags are placed in grouping based on your luggage tag colors. After a frantic search, we found our bags in a completely different color grouping. Terminal staff tended to be quite unfriendly and not very helpful.a big departure from a week of helpful and cheerful staff on board.
Overall: It was a wonderful trip on a magnificent ship. If you can afford to, pay the difference for a balcony and book a Triumph cruise quickly so that you can experience John Heald before he retires. (PS despite what John says about postings about him.I am not his mother!).