Having already cruised once in 2001 and being booked on a group cruise in January 2002, my wife and I certainly had no plans for a third cruise in such a short time. Good friends of ours had tried to entice us to join them back in the summer and we had declined. After the horror of September 11th, though, they called again and this time we wanted to get away. We were offered a fantastic price on a Category 4A (Inside) cabin from Carnival Cruise Lines.
The thoughts in this review are my wife's and mine, and are strictly our opinions. I will separate the different aspects and give a (very subjective) grade. Previous to this cruise we had never sailed on Carnival. I was one of those who have made the statement, "You'll never find me on a Carnival ship." But because our group cruise was also on a Carnival ship and we had the opportunity to spend a week with our friends, we decided to take a chance.
This was an Eastern Caribbean cruise leaving on Sunday, October 14th on Carnival's smoke-free ship, the Paradise. On Saturday, we drove from our home in central Florida and met up with our friends at their home in Port Charlotte, Florida, then drove over to Miami where we checked into the Best Western Marina Park: great hotel, fantastic room at a super price. Directly across the street is the Bayside Market Place where we had dinner at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company. I would not hesitate to recommend either the hotel or the restaurant.
Embarkation: A+ Debarkation: A
The embarkation was, without a doubt, the easiest and least painful of all our previous (nine) cruises. We arrived at the port about 11:30 and after parking the car, surrendered our luggage to the porters. We walked into the terminal and were given Bahamian immigration forms to fill out. We then proceeded through the security checkpoint where our hand-carried luggage was scanned and we then moved to the check-in desk where our documents were checked, our credit card information was checked and we were given our "sail and sign" card. We then took an escalator up to the second floor where we gave our "sail and sign" cards to an attendant who placed them in a machine, had us look into a lens in the machine and took a photo. From there we sat down to await boarding. Total elapsed time was no more than 10-15 minutes.
We were told embarkation would start about 12:30; it actually commenced a little earlier than that. We got past the obligatory welcome aboard picture, went on board, dropped off our luggage in our rooms and met at the Lido Deck buffet by 12:45. All in all it was a completely thorough, no nonsense check-in procedure that was completely painless.
Debarkation was just as painless, with one exception. The biggest plus to the debarkation process is Carnival's policy of letting passengers stay in their cabins until 10am on debarkation day. It really alleviates the hassles and congestion of gathering in public lounges. We were told at the debarkation lecture that in all probability debarkation would commence no later than 9:15; it actually started a little earlier.
The luggage tags given with our documents were color-coded. This same coding was used for debarkation and luggage identification in the terminal. My color code was the last called. We left the cabin, proceeded off the ship, picked up our luggage, went thru Customs, walked about ½ mile to the car, loaded up and were on the highway out of the cruise area by 10:15. The only reason I did not give an A+ to this evolution is that for some unexplainable reason the fastest route to the point of debarkation was blocked off. We had to head back, go up one deck, through the restaurant (after some discussion with staff) and down one deck - this while hauling our carry-on baggage (and the package of booze).
Our first surprise was to discover that our category 4A guarantee had been upgraded to a category 5A (outside with portholes). Nice touch -- thanks, Carnival. We had heard that Carnival has the largest cabins of all cruise lines, and I believe this is truly the case. Not only is there a "big room" feel to the cabin, there is plenty of closet and drawer space. After unpacking, there was plenty of room to store all our luggage. The cabin is equipped with a large desk with drawers, a television, and a safe (the last operated by a credit card or similar magnetic strip card). There are also TWO 110-volt wall outlets (as opposed to the normal ONE).
The bathroom is quite spacious, as is the shower. Two things regarding the bath:
All in all the cabin was extremely comfortable. One negative: there is no easy chair or couch/love seat, but merely a desk chair (uncomfortable) and an ottoman under the desk.
Public Rooms and Décor: A
I will not go into detail in this part of the review. There are plenty of public rooms throughout the ship. I have read some negative comments on the foyer. I found it to be quite stunning; it was nowhere as garish as pictures I have seen of other Carnival ships' foyers. Most of the bars and the casino are on the Promenade Deck, while the shops are one deck below. The main pool and slide are on Lido Deck along with the Lido restaurant. The two main dining rooms are located one deck below the Promenade Deck. The show lounge occupies two decks forward.
Dining Staff/Service: A+(see below) Food Quality: C+
While the quality of the food served in the main dining rooms is good, it is certainly nothing to write home about. We had no complaints with the food, but I would classify it as good chain restaurant-type fare. There is plenty of it, though, and a request for more was quickly fulfilled.
The food outside the main dining rooms was much the same. I was favorably impressed with the layout of the Lido restaurant; there were plenty of serving stations. Additionally, there was a double station located outside near the pool. Not only did this area serve up fresh cooked hamburgers/cheeseburgers, it also had some of the same food as was being served in the Lido. Additionally, at breakfast you could get all the same food as being served inside (except for omelets). Most people apparently did not notice this, as while there was almost always a small line inside, there was none outside.
The lido food was typical of all lidos: OK. Located in the Lido restaurant was a 24-hour Pizzeria that served pretttttty goooood Pizza. The desserts in the Lido were mediocre at best. To put all this section in perspective, I did not go hungry on the cruise and gained a couple of pounds, but I normally gain more than a couple.
I had heard that Carnival's entertainment was amongst the best out there, but I was not overly impressed. While not a big fan of the troupe shows (after you've seen one, you've seen them all), I did attend the second one presented during the week. It was called "Shout." As usual, the dancers were youthful, attractive, energetic and somewhat talented. The rest of the week's entertainment consisted mainly of comedians (there were three, including a ventriloquist). In addition to their stage shows, they all gave a late night adult show in one of the lounges. Two of these shows were so-so, the other was an absolute scream.
In addition to the comedians, there were a female vocalist/comedian and a fiddler. Both of these were good entertainers, but neither was exceptional. Most of the onboard entertainers were quite good (with the exception of the deck band, which I thought was poor). I particularly liked a classical trio that usually performed before dinner.
Cruise Staff: B+
Energetic and quite capable, the cruise staff did a fairly credible job of keeping us occupied. The cruise director, Trevor Block, was good. This was his first week back after vacation and at times it appeared to me as though he wanted to be back wherever he was the previous week. He had two assistants -- those gals were great. They seemed to be everywhere and always were doing something; they really made the cruise director look good. I only noticed the CD about the ship on one occasion and I found this rather odd. The CD also doubled as the port information guy, which meant he was busy throughout the week.
My major contribution to this area on any cruise is a $20 bill; I fulfilled that task on this cruise. It seemed to me that the casino on this ship was bigger than any I have noticed on any other cruise (but again, I do not frequent the casinos). I did notice that people seemed to hit slot jackpots more often than I normally do. (Could be that I was through the casino at just the right time?) One of our tablemates won $1800 on the blackjack table on the last night. He said that put him up about $1400 for the week, so he REALLY liked the casino.
Night Life: A+
This was the part of the Carnival package that I was most concerned about. I have always called Carnival the "Party 'til you Puke" line. While most folks seemed to enjoy themselves, I never once noticed an obnoxious, loud or boisterous drunk. The lounges and discos were all filled at night and went on past my bedtime. All in all, this was a very pleasant surprise for me on this cruise.
Camp Carnival: A++
Being in our upper 50's, we had no actual need for child management. However, what we noticed was quite amazing. On this cruise there were a lot of kids (hundreds, maybe). They ranged in age from a couple of months up to 18 years. With only a couple of exceptions, all these kids were well behaved. I lay this behavior completely at the feet of the staff of Camp Carnival. (OK, OK -- some of the kids must have good parents.) Throughout the week, wherever I saw a mass of kiddies, there were two or three staffers leading them around, playing with them, teaching them things. It was (to this old guy's eyes) a sight to behold. Whatever these young people were doing with the children, they were doing it right. If this is how all of Carnival's kids staff are, Carnival has one super product in its Camp Carnival.
We cannot say enough about the service we received while onboard Paradise. Our cabin steward was thorough, yet unobtrusive. He delighted my wife with his towel creations (she had never experienced this before). The room was quickly made up, restocked and thoroughly cleansed. Roberto was one of the two best cabin stewards we have ever had.
Our wait staff was the best we have ever had; our waiter Alberto and his assistant, Antonio, were superb. Antonio had just been promoted up from staff waiter, and he was Johnny-on-the-spot. I have no idea how long Antonio has been a headwaiter, but from his abilities, I would guess quite a while. Having never worked together before, these two were nevertheless the definition of "a team." Both were affable, energetic and willing not only to be teased, but also to tease back. They made our dining experience completely enjoyable. The other staff throughout the ship was always polite and responsive to our needs and questions.
No Smoking Policy
It doesn't need a grade -- it is great.
A Few Negatives
All the negatives I will address are corporate problems/decisions, and most probably emanate from the "bean counters" (except for the last one).
I now believe that Carnival does put out a good product. I had absolutely no expectations regarding this cruise, and I was more than pleasantly surprised. Not being facetious, I can honestly say that with the exception of the few negative comments listed above, my expectations were greatly exceeded.
Would I sail Carnival again? You betcha. And this does not include the upcoming group cruise.
PHOTOS courtesy of Andy Newman & Carnival Cruise Lines.
For lots more SeaLetter photos and information on Paradise, click HERE.
John B. Bruneel, Sr. is from Ocala, Florida and can be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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