Carnival Cruise Lines
by Hondu and Sharen Wiltshire
Paradise Inaugural Western Caribbean Cruise
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December 6, 1998
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Well, letís start with the obvious question. What was it like to spend seven days on a smoke-free ship? There was no smell of stale tobacco in the cabin. I could see Sharen while we danced in the Rex Disco. The casino, bars and lounges did not have a dense haze of smoke, and my eyes and nose did not burn when I walked into these rooms. On the open decks, I did not have to move to accommodate the smoker and I did not have to put up with the stench of cigars. Our clothes did not have that awful tobacco smell. The taste of our food was not distorted by cigarette smoke. It was certainly a non-smokers paradise.
We got our luggage and took a taxi to the pier. The cab fare was $18 plus a $3 tip. It took 15 minutes to get to the pier. [The Paradise departs from Miami.] We got in one of the two check-in lines at 1:04 P.M. and were in our cabin (U151) at 1:27 P.M. Incidentally, there were four other ships docked: Enchantment of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas, the Norwegian Wind, and the Carnival Destiny. The other ships look like shrimps in the shadow of the gigantic Carnival Destiny.
The decor of the Paradise brings back nostalgia of famous ocean liners. There are paintings and memorabilia of historic ships. The ceiling of the Blue Riband Library is painted with a map of the North Atlantic and the room is filled with exhibits from this glorious period of ocean liners crossing the Atlantic. There is the Queen Mary Lounge which is named after the British liner. The Normandie show lounge, named after the legendary French liner. In here, there is wide use of glass, copper and wood. The Rex Disco, with its jungle motif, is named after the Italian liner.
Our cabin steward did all that was expected of him in a non-obtrusive way. He has worked for Carnival since 1977. We saw him several times in the hallway and he was always talkative and very cheerful. The waiter was more of a no-nonsense type individual who got the job done. Nightly, he approached each of us after serving the main course to see how we had liked the food and if we needed anything else. The assistant waiter (busboy) was slow the first night, but things picked up from the second night. He had a sense of humor as he clowned around with one of the British gents at our table. The cocktail waiters on the pool deck and throughout the ship were always available but not pushy.
We went to two of the production shows in the Normandie Lounge. The first one was the "Dream Voyage," which was a high energy song and dance show. We liked it a lot. "Shout" was the other show and we had seen it before, so we left shortly after the beginning. This latter show is built around the 1950ís music like "Splish-Splash" and "Rock Around the Clock" and other music of the period. We did not go to the comedy acts or other shows.
In the casino, Sharen won a little on roulette and I lost a little on the slots. Even though I am not a gambler, I wanted to take advantage of the smoke-free opportunity in the casino.
Food & Dining
Here are the main courses from the menu of the Captainís Welcome Dinner (our first formal night):
Ancho Honey-Basted Fillet of Fresh Pacific Salmon
Broiled Lobster Tail with a delicate Herb Stuffing
Tamarind-Rubbed, tender roasted Prime Rib of American Beef au Jus
Grilled Brochettes of Fresh Garden Vegetables (for the vegetarian)
We ate all dinners in the Destiny Dining Room. As a seafood lover, I chose two lobster tails and the salmon from the above menu. The seafood was cooked appropriately and was both succulent and tasty. Basically, when I am on a cruise, I do not eat soups and salads at dinner. This gives me room to sample different appetizers and entrees. I enjoyed my other dinners throughout the week which included sole, halibut, Louisiana prawns, grouper, shrimp and scallops. Sharen is a meat eater and she enjoyed sirloin steak, lamb and prime rib. I had what may have been the best-ever escargot on this cruise.
Our dinner table companions (seven of us, total) were a good mix. Sharen was the youngest. There were two British gentlemen, one middle-aged and the other retired. They have sailed on Cunard, RCI, Carnival, a British ship called the Black Prince [Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines], and others. They were traveling with an American retiree and chose this particular cruise because of the smoke-free policy and the price. The conversation was lively every night. Some people complain about retirees, but I have always found their stories to be very interesting.
We ate breakfast and lunch in the Paris Dining Room on the Lido deck. We prefer this to the main dining room because the schedule is less structured. We like the fact that we can eat in the Lido dining room at times more favorable to us -- like the time we came back from Dunnís River Falls at 2 oíclock and we got a complete lunch there. Another reason is that there is a wider selection of food in the Paris Dining room. One memorable thing about breakfast was the orange juice. On the first morning, we got the standard orange juice that is made from concentrate. But then we discovered that there were two stations where you could squeeze your own fresh orange juice. Well, thatís what we did the subsequent mornings. Believe me, there is a difference.
I kept telling Sharen at different times that I was surprised I was not more tired. We were up and about at 1 A.M. most nights. On other cruises, we were almost dog tired by 10:30 P.M.. The reasons for this are (1) we had three days at sea; (2) this was not a southern Caribbean port-intensive itinerary; and (3) there was no organized fitness program like HALís "Passport to Fitness."
I exercised everyday in the gym and/or on the Olympic jogging track. I did not use the elevator, as I prefer to use the stairs to burn some of the extra calories. I attended an art auction but that was boring, especially because the bidding started at something like $300: already out of our league. We participated in a dance class. I played Ping Pong leisurely with Sharen and later with another passenger. Also, I lost in the second round of a Ping Pong tournament because my opponent had too much spin on the ball. I spent time in the Lido Jacuzzi and the steam room. One sea day, I even went back to the cabin and watched a movie, where I poured my own libation.
I wrote to the Chief Purser requesting a tour of the bridge on Monday. I was not sure that it would happen, but on Friday he notified us. On Saturday, at 11:30 A.M., he took us up and introduced us to Captain Carlo Queirolo who proceed to explain some of the instruments and equipment. The guidance hardware sits in the center of the room lengthwise. Obviously, from there it is a great view of the forward progress of the ship. We took video and pictures and looked around.
Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios
In Cozumel, we took a taxi ($4) to the city and walked around. We picked up a few souvenirs for our children. Later, we did the Fiesta Boat tour to Playa Sol Beach Club. Overall, it was good, but on the way back, I was overcome by cigarette smoke from a few passengers (there was a mix on this tour from the other ships in port: CostaRomantica, Enchantment of the Seas, Tropicale, Seabreeze, and Enchanted Capri). That was the only interruption of our smoke-free cruise. Personally, I donít care for Cozumel; to me it is for water sports (scuba and snorkeling) cruisers. When we do a similar itinerary in the future, we may just stay on the ship.
In Grand Cayman, the weather was overcast and the water was slightly choppy. (Incidentally, none of the ports had hot weather. It was warm but not hot and muggy. It may have just been that week, or maybe December is a cooler period.) Anyway, we went on the Sundancer to Stingray City. Sharen decided earlier that she wasnít going in the water with the rays. I, along with many other adventurers, had a good time on the sandbar. We did not buy anything here because we have already tried their famous rum cake and Tortuga Rum. A tasted it-done that type thing.
In Jamaica, our objective was to climb Dunnís River Falls and stock up on Worldís End Jamaican Rum Creme. We went on a tour that included Shawpark Gardens and two shopping plazas with an ultimate finish at Dunnís River Falls. However, when you are on a tour with other people, things sometimes donít go as planned. At each of the three first stops, people did not get back to the bus at the assigned time because they were shopping. As a result, when we got to Dunnís River Falls, there was not enough time to climb the falls from the bottom.
The others settled for starting midway, but Sharen and I decided to take a taxi back to the pier. We bought several bottles of the aforementioned rum creme and went aboard. I put the two boxes of liquor through the security scanner and took them to the cabin. No questions asked. Sharen had one bottle of the same which we enjoyed in the cabin, and again, security did not ask to see what was in her bag.
So while we were enjoying lunch in the Paris restaurant, the others on the tour were obviously rushing to the top of Dunnís River so they could make it back to the ship on time. However, they would have made it with no problem, because there was a sick passenger on board and the captain had to delay our departure for 45 minutes while the sick passenger and his wife were put ashore.
During that 45 minutes, many passengers were on deck to watch the sailaway. I was amazed to see about eight stragglers; they walked leisurely along the pier with an attitude that the ship had to wait for them. It never ceases to amaze me that there are human beings who do not believe in rules or schedules. You find this attitude in all walks of like, but they were lucky this time.
We were on the Upper Deck in an inside cabin. Carnivalís cabins are among the most spacious at sea. The beds were pushed together and made up with king-size sheets. This was great, since I have read reviews where couples have had to survive with annoying twin sheets even though the beds were together. The room was decorated in soft colors. The 19" TV was in a box in a corner above the foot of the bed; there was, however, no remote control. The cabin was roomy enough that we did not have to store our luggage under the bed: there was enough closet and drawer space for us. However, there is only one electrical outlet.
There was ample room in the shower and bathroom. At 6 feet tall, the shower was great. I shaved my whiskers daily and my head every two days in the shower with no problem. One thing to remember, turn on the cold water first because the hot water is super hot. This will prevent scalding.
Since we exercise daily, it becomes necessary to wash our clothes midway through a cruise. I did the wash at the self-serve launderette. The laundry room was clean and spacious. There were two washers and four dryers which cost $1.00 to use. A dispenser provided softener and detergent at 50 cents each. There was no line of passengers waiting to do their wash. In the room were also two ironing boards and two irons.
A German lady came into the room to touch up a shirt, and we got to talking about the facility. She was surprised when I told her that the only two lines that do not have self-serve laundries are Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. We agreed that those two lines donít give their passengers a "choice." They nickel and dime by saying they will do your wash for a sensible price. I wonder who needs extra paperwork at sea by having to sit down and list each piece of dirty laundry for them?
Comments & Observations
- Some say that Carnival is only for the under-30 age group. On this cruise, I guesstimated that the demographics were 40% senior citizens, 40% middle age and 20% under 35. There were seniors on the dance floor in the Rex Disco, sunning at the pool on the Lido deck and exercising on the bikes and treadmills. I noticed also that at the Captainís Welcome Aboard party and the repeatersí party, it was all seniors dancing to the Ballroom music. I am making it my New Years Resolution to learn how to dance to do ballroom music.
- The repeatersí party was standing room only as usual. An elderly gentleman was awarded a bottle of Dom Perignon because he was on his 37th cruise with Carnival.
- There was a peephole in the cabin door -- first time I ever saw one. I think it makes sense for safety reasons.
- There is a virtual reality game room next to the casino for kids. Surprisingly, the prices ($.50 or $1.00) are the same as at Putt Putt Golf and Games.
- I did a self-guided tour of Camp Carnival. Personally, I will not take my children on a cruise, because I am one of those parents who would suffer from anxiety attacks. But this information is for those parents who are comfortable when their kids are on board. There were Nintendo 64 stations, Computer World, a bank of video monitors showing a movie, Legos, box games, books, Play Doh, a play park, a Little Tykes basket ball hoop, arts and crafts station and a juice bar. One of the two bathrooms had a kiddie-size toilet bowl and sink. Twice I saw some kids with counselors during the cruise. The second time, there were 21 kids dressed as pirates and they were accompanied by four counselors as they descended the spiral staircase in the lobby.
- One day before the Grand Cayman port of call, youíre given notice in the activity papers that all laundry service and laundry rooms are required to be closed in Grand Cayman waters due to environmental laws. This is from midnight until 6pm.
- On September 16, 1998, Carnival changed its liquor policy. Now you can no longer purchase liquor at the onboard gift shops and take it back to your cabin. You are also not allowed to bring alcohol onboard. I was in the gift shop when a middle-aged man with a senior citizen woman attempted to buy a bottle. But when the salesperson told him he would not be able to take it to his room and that it would be held until the last night, they walked out. I talked to the saleslady and she told me that there have been many complaints since the policy went into effect. She also said the Carnival is doing this to increase bar sales because the profit on the bottles sold in the gift shop is very small. However, as I mentioned earlier, security at the gangway did not stop anyone from bringing their liquor packages onboard.
- A taxi is the best transportation between the airport and the pier in Miami. It is either the same cost or cheaper than using the cruise lineís bus or the SuperShuttle. Also, your schedule is not controlled by other passengers.
We were in the Queen Mary Lounge at the assigned time of 8:30 A.M. to be the first to leave because we had an early flight at 11:00 A.M.. The ship did not clear Customs until 9:15 A.M. because two non-citizens, whose names were incessantly announced over the PA, would not go to the Customs officials. Anyway, we were in the cab at 9:27 A.M. and at the American Airlines departure gate at 9:50 A.M. We then had enough time to call home and wait for the boarding announcement. It was another smooth non-stop flight back to Dallas/ft. Worth.
Once again, this was our most relaxing and romantic cruise. As we left Miami at embarkation, the wind was blowing hard and we held each other near the bow of the ship looking at the slowly darkening ocean and at the sun as it slowly ducked behind the horizon. The wind blew through Sharenís hair and over my clean shaven head. It caused our clothes to flutter noisily and all this brought back memories of Jack and Rose at the bow of the Titanic.
We thank Hondu & Sharen Wiltshire for our first Paradise full cruise review! Hondu and Sharen are regular SeaLetter readers and can be reached for questions or comment at:
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