Eastern Caribbean Cruise March 1, 1998
We embarked on the Carnival Destiny with low expectations and were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed the cruise on the largest passenger ship afloat. The ship was nice, the food better than expected and we met some wonderful people. But be prepared for high drink prices, some rowdy passengers who smoke and drink heavily, and a constant shameless sales presentation by the cruise staff.
Mona and I originally were supposed to take Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, but our travel agent offered a great deal on a balcony cabin on the Carnival Destiny. We had never had a balcony cabin, and I had a desire to sail on a mega liner, so we decided to take a chance. Mona and I had both sailed on Carnival separately, and while we had fun, we knew Carnival was not top of the line in food and service. Our favorite is Princess on which we have sailed together three times. But we figured "what the heck, we'll give it a chance."
Boarding, which doesn't begin until 12:30PM, went smoothly. We were greeted with a notice saying filming was going to take place on the ship during our cruise. Once we were assured Richard Simmons was not involved, we boarded.
I recommend the first thing you do is check your dining room assignment which is listed on the combination room key and charge card you receive before boarding. We, like many other passengers, thought we had late seating and found we had been assigned an early table. An immediate trip to the maitre d' let us get high enough on the list to switch to late seating. But many other passengers were disappointed.
In critiquing the food and service aboard Carnival, it's important to understand Carnival is a relatively inexpensive cruise line. So while you're not getting as much as on other lines, there is very good value for your money. The food, while not the best we've ever had on cruise ships, was very good and always available. There was beef Wellington, prime rib, filet mignon, steak, and grilled veal chop. No lobster, a disappointment to some, but it's just not Carnival's style. The great thing about the Carnival Destiny is you can eat on your schedule rather than the ship's. Breakfast is served on deck until noon. You can eat lunch until 6:00PM. And you can choose between eating dinner in the dining room or in the buffet restaurant. If that's not enough, very good freshly baked pizza is available 24 hours a day. And don't forget the midnight buffet.
We sat at a table for eight and our tablemates were the most compatible we've had on any cruise. We all were professionals of similar ages and had much in common, including the fact that we all switched from the early seating assignments we weren't expecting. But we can't help thinking it was just dumb luck that we wound up with such great dinner companions.
There's a lot of diversity on the Carnival Destiny. Sometimes I felt there were more men with earrings than women, and more women with tattoos than men.
One of my strongest criticisms is the constant sales pitches for everything from drinks, to snorkeling equipment, shore excursions, art auctions, casino gambling, bingo, and lottery tickets. Carnival literally must have employees who stay up at night to think of new ways to get your money.
Sometimes the sales pitches are misleading and irresponsible. For example, soon after boarding you're told how important it is to rent snorkeling equipment from the ship. But the Eastern Caribbean itinerary has only two opportunities to snorkel. And what they don't tell you at the time is that if you take a shore excursion (which they will push on you the next day) snorkeling equipment usually is included.
The two opportunities to snorkel are in St. Croix and St. Thomas. Both have good beaches. St. Thomas has excellent shopping. The third port is San Juan, where you don't arrive until late afternoon when the stores are starting to close. Most passengers are disappointed in the San Juan stop, which seemed to me as just an opportunity to give many of the crew members a night off in port. There's no main show on board the ship that night. But, of course, you can buy a shore excursion to see a show.
If you're young and/or single, this is great cruise for you. Some cruises are packed with senior citizens, but Carnival gets a much younger crowd. In fact, there were more single men on this cruise than I've ever seen on a ship. But before you get your hopes up, the behavior of the single men reminded me of what they say about Alaskan men, "the odds are good, but the goods are odd." Mona wouldn't let me look at the single women.
Carnival is known for good entertainment, and the quality of the main shows and lounge acts was excellent. But there are only two big production shows, on the two formal nights. Otherwise, you'll have to settle for jugglers and comedians. The cruise director, Greg Kneale, is hard working and funny. Some of his bits, especially the ones involving passengers, were hysterical. One of the lounge acts, a jazz group called the Warren Commission, was excellent, with a fabulous lead singer named Suzy.
While all cabins on board ships are small, our balcony room had more than adequate space. It had plenty of closets, a desk, chair, couch and two small tables. The shower was the best I've had on any ship, large with plenty of water pressure. The toilet is placed at an awkward angle for anyone who doesn't have the shortest of legs. There is a low-powered hair dryer in the bathroom, which is the only one you're supposed to use. A sign in the cabin warns against plugging in your own hair dryer. It's hard to believe they could build the newest and largest ship afloat and not design an electrical system powerful enough to handle your hair dryer. We took our own and used it without problems. The balcony was great and I'd certainly recommend it. We had drinks while watching the sun set, and even sat outside late at night. We were lucky we didn't have any noisy neighbors or children running through the hallways, which were problems for other passengers.
Prime deck chairs around the pools go quickly. So if you want them you'll have to get there by 8:30AM. We never were up that early. But we always were able to get chairs. The later you arrive, the higher up and farther away from the center of attraction you have to go. There is a lot of saving of deck chairs, which you're not supposed to do. Towels were always available.
So were drinks, and they are expensive, $5.75 plus tip for the large size. The much smaller $2.50 size isn't worth it. If you're a big drinker, and there were plenty on board, be prepared for a whopping bar bill at the end of the cruise. Carnival ships get a lot of younger cruisers who like to party. There are passengers whose idea of having a good time on vacation is drinking from morning until night. There was some loud, rowdy and obnoxious behavior at times, but it wasn't so bad as to be a major problem.
People who like to drink a lot also tend to be heavy smokers. There was a lot of smoking on board and at times it made us uncomfortable. The dining rooms and main show lounge are non-smoking, but you can smoke anyplace else on the ship. The casino and public hallways on some decks were filled with smoke. Carnival this year is bringing out a new ship, the Paradise, which is completely smoke free, including the crew. I'd certainly sail on it, but I'm not sure the concept will be a success. I'd bet Carnival will find that the take from the bars and casino on the Paradise will be less than its other ships.
Mona and I didn't spend a lot of time in the casino or disco or health club, but they all were quite popular.
One thing that makes this Eastern Caribbean itinerary unique is the four days spent at sea. Most cruises offer a different port each day because they feel that's what passengers want. But we like time at sea. On this cruise, you spend two days getting to San Juan. You can walk into town in the evening and go bar hopping or gambling. The next morning, you're in St. Croix, where you can go to the beach or sight see, either on your own or with an excursion purchased on the ship. In the evening there's a street fair just off the pier that's worth seeing. The residents offer food, drink and entertainment.
The next day is St. Thomas, the best shopping on the trip. But there also are good beaches and great snorkeling in Trunk Bay on St. Johns, which is worth the trip. Then two more days at sea heading back to Miami.
Disembarkation was relatively smooth and organized given the fact that 3,000 people were getting off the ship. It didn't take long to get to the airport.
We would take this cruise again, and I would recommend it as long as you know what to expect. Carnival is not for everyone. You get value for your cruise dollar but give up great food and service. And the passengers tend to be younger and louder than on other lines.
Tom Giusto is a Washington DC - based producer for ABC's Good Morning America and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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