Carnival Cruise Lines
by Kim Cornelius
My husband and I have been on twelve cruises and this was our seventh cruise on Carnival. We are in our mid-thirties and were traveling with our 3½ year old son. We booked this sailing after seeing very good rates and deciding that we would like to try the smoke-free ship. Also, we had earned enough points on our Capital One Carnival card to get a $500 reward voucher that may have burned a hole in our pocket if we did not use it right away! Overall, we really enjoyed ourselves and did like the fact there was no smoking. The places where we especially appreciated that were the piano bar and the casino.
Prior to our departure, I had read some negative reviews about the condition of the Paradise and the treatment by the crew, so I was a little concerned. But, I was pleasantly surprised that the ship was very clean and I constantly saw workers polishing, shining, steaming carpets, etc. We also found the crew of the Paradise to be very helpful and accommodating.
This was a Sunday-to-Sunday cruise departing out of Miami. We flew to Miami on Saturday and stayed overnight at the Sheraton Biscayne Bay for $40 via Priceline. It might not be as luxurious as some of the other hotels, but my husband and I joked that it was the nicest $40 hotel room we ever stayed in. We spent an enjoyable evening at the Bayside Marketplace. We liked dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. There was an interesting array of ethnic food available at the food court. Outside there were kiddie rides including a train ride that my son really enjoyed, and at the waterfront there was a live band playing.
We took advantage of the pre-check at the Sheraton in the morning. There was a small line when we went down at 8:50am. The check-in started at 9:00am and we were finished at 9:25am. As it turned out, when we got to the port there didn't seem to be much of a line, but who knew. If we had gotten stuck in traffic and arrived later, a line may have formed. We were going to have breakfast in the hotel, but when I saw that it was $11 for a waffle, we decided to peek outside to see if there was anything nearby. Across the street was a place called The Coffee Beanery. It was more a coffee house sort of place, but they had breakfast sandwiches on croissants or bagels, muffins, and pastries. We had breakfast and beverages for the three of us for $13. We got a cab around 10:45 to go to the port and encountered very little traffic. We went up to the waiting area and around 12:15, they started letting people board the ship.
We were in cabin R232, an outside cabin on the Riviera Deck. The cabin was a nice size with one of the bigger showers that we have had in a cabin. We had one of the best cabin stewards ever, Daniel, from the Dominican Republic. We had robes in the cabin but there was not a hairdryer. I was concerned about the cabin being cold, but the vent control on the ceiling allowed us to regulate the temperature in the cabin very well.
We had the main seating in the Destiny Dining Room at 5:45pm. We were seated at table 246, a 6-person booth. Our tablemates were another family of three with a 2½ year old son. They were very pleasant tablemates, the boys seemed to like seeing each other and we had an enjoyable time dining together. Our waiter was Legowo from Indonesia and his assistant was Conrado from The Philippines. Legowo was the best waiter that we have ever had; he has worked for Carnival for 20 years on many different ships -- the Paradise is his favorite. We felt very fortunate to have gotten such wonderful cabin and dining service.
We really enjoyed the food in the dining room. We ate all of our dinners there. The filet mignon was particularly good, served medium rare as requested. We also enjoyed many of the seafood selections. My favorite desserts in the dining room were the soufflés: chocolate one night and vanilla another. The formal nights were Monday and Friday. For kids old enough for Camp Carnival, there were special dinners for kids at the Paris Restaurant (informal Lido restaurant) on both formal nights. And on the first formal night there was a "Coke-tail" party as well.
There was a sushi bar on the Promenade deck, which we really enjoyed. Unfortunately, it did not open until 5:30pm. This made it tough with a 5:45pm sitting in the dining room, compounded by the fact that there was a good crowd of people waiting for it to open, so when it did, there was immediately a long line. I thought that it would have been helpful for it to open at 5:15pm for people with the 5:45pm sitting to be able to enjoy a sushi appetizer before dinner.
We ate almost all of our breakfasts and lunches in the Paris Restaurant on the Lido Deck. The breakfast was okay up there; it's the same selection every day -- scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, hash browns, cereal, flaky pastries. I enjoyed getting omelets and eggs to order. Breakfast in the dining room was slightly better, and the coffee in the dining room was significantly better. Lunch at the Paris Restaurant was a very nice variety and it changed daily. We looked forward to trying new things at lunch; there were different hot lunch offerings, including meat being carved. On the salad bar there were interesting and different cold salads each day. They made deli sandwiches to order. Each day there was a different hot bread pudding with sauce that was very good. Of course there were pizzas, burgers, and hot dogs available each day. The pizza and soft serve ice cream were available 24 hours.
Fun Ship Activities
- Josh Riffe was a wonderful Cruise Director. He made even routine things fun! We learned onboard that he was leaving for vacation after our cruise. Perhaps he is back by now. :-)
- There was a main pool with a slide on the Lido Deck. And on the aft of Promenade Deck there was a kids' pool and small jungle gym. It was usually pretty quiet back there. We needed to take our beach towels to the pool (provided by our cabin steward) or sign for one on deck using the "Sail and Sign" card. There was no charge as long as the towel was returned.
- The fitness center was located in the spa on the forward section of Deck 12. A variety of machines and free weights were available, including treadmills, steppers, and bikes. There were two hot tubs in the fitness center. Located in the locker rooms were a sauna and a eucalyptus steam room (which helped the cold I developed while on-board!).
- We enjoyed the variety of live music throughout the ship. Our favorite was the piano music in the America Bar, the piano bar onboard. We enjoyed listening to both Mark and Roberta -- Roberta had booklets for those who wanted to pick a song and sing along on the microphone. The production shows were "Dream Voyage" and "Shout." We missed "Dream Voyage," but made to "Shout," and it was very enjoyable. We also saw a comedian named Adam Ace who was very wild. His comedy was more physical than your ordinary stand-up comedian.
- The casino onboard was a nice size with a variety of machines. It never seemed to get very crowded. My husband and I learned what we could about playing craps before our trip. So we played it for the first time on the Paradise. The casino personnel we encountered were very friendly and helpful. There appeared to be good opportunities to try out new games at uncrowded tables in the casino.
- Our son enjoyed participating in activities at Camp Carnival. The orientation and family party the first night were informative and enjoyable. The schedule of activities for the week allowed him to pick the things that he wanted to participate in. Almost every night at dinner he could not wait to finish eating and go up to the Children's World. One evening they had a Family Fun Fest for parents and kids at Children's World, where they had a lot of creative activities and crafts for the kids to make including sand art, face painting, spin art, and friendship beads.
Ports of Call
We were on the western itinerary. Traveling with a 3-year old, we kept things simple and low key. Basically we went to a beach at each stop, since he loves the sand and water.
The ship docked at the Puerta Maya pier. There was a lot of construction going on, but appeared as though there will be a lovely shopping village right at the pier once the work has been completed.
We took a cab, which cost $14, to Mr. Sanchos Beach Club. There was no cover to enter and there were small shops as you walked through to the beach area. Each shop owner was telling us why it's best to come into his shop. The beach area was beautiful; white sand and beautiful blue water. The sand wasn't as powdery as I thought it would be, but instead appeared to be made up of little shells. It had a consistency of sesame seeds. My son still had fun playing in it, but wanted his water shoes on since he didn't like the feel of it. (Although he didn't mind the feel of it when he wanted to get his body buried in the sand like he saw one of our fellow passengers having done.) We got there around 10:00 or 10:30, so it was not very crowded at all, and we had our choice of a palapa (table shaded by palm leaf roof). Around lunchtime we ordered some appetizers and beers. We had the best guacamole and it was a serving bigger than I have ever seen. For the appetizers and four beers in all, it was only $20.
Dinner times on the ship were moved early to allow passengers time to go back out onto the island. Our early seating was at 5:00pm (the other was at 5:30). And the late seatings were at 7:00 and 7:30. After dinner we went to the Mini Golf (or Golfito) that I had read about on the Cruise Critic board. It was as nice as I had read; it was beautiful and lush. It was $7 each for 18 holes ($3 for a plastic putter for our son). Beers were $2 each and $1 for a bottle of water. And just as described, we were given a walkie talkie to call in for additional drinks, delivered to our hole. We all had a fun time and the mini-golf. And enjoyed meeting Scott (although Sally wasn't there.)
We went to Seven Mile Beach this day. There are public accesses in between many of the hotels along the beach. The hotels do not own the beach, but the beach chairs are only for the guests. Having a three-year-old at the beach does not allow for lounge time on the chairs anyway, so we went onto a beautiful stretch of beach near the Westin Hotel and played in the sand. To get up to the Westin, we took the bus, which is really a van; either yellow #1 or lime green #2 will take you out to Seven Mile Beach. The cost is $2.00 CI (or $2.50 US) per person. After we returned to town, we stopped at a grocery, Fort Market, where they had the 16-oz. rum cakes for $10 (they were $12 on the ship).
The Island Village Complex opened in February 2002. You can see it off to the right of the pier. It is an easy walk from the pier, but you have to walk out through the taxis inland to get to the entrance on the right. There are many shops and restaurants, including Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. We walked through a little and then stopped at Margaritaville. They have a nice pool with a cool slide. There is a little bit of beach front too, where our son spent some time playing in the sand. There was a sand volleyball court, but no one was playing. Although, we were there early - I think it got busier and a little more active later in the day. The margaritas and the mango daiquiris were delicious.
Return Worries Solved
We learned about a month before our trip that our return flight departure time had been changed to 12 noon. I was very concerned about being able to make this. I thought about calling USAirways to try to change it, but when I looked at the other flights, there really wasn't a favorable alternative. Early in the week, I inquired at the Purser's desk about debarking with the first group. He instructed me to bring my tickets to the desk. Upon doing so, he issued me luggage tags to be in the first group and told me where to be Sunday morning! I started getting antsy while waiting for the ship to be cleared that day, but at about 9:45am, someone arrived to our lounge to tell us that the ship had been cleared and we could proceed to the Empress Deck for debarkation.
We had no trouble getting a taxi and it is a short drive to the airport. After passing through security I looked at my watch and it was 11:00 am: I think a flight earlier than 12 noon could be problematic and we were fortunate that everything went smoothly and had no problem making our flight.
We had a fabulous vacation. It was a wonderful family trip for us; we got to spend time with our son and some time for just the two of us as well, while our son had a ball with the other kids. I hope there is some helpful information for any of you planning to go soon! I would be happy to address any questions.
Photos courtesy Kim Cornelius and Carnival Cruise Lines.
Kim Cornelius lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with her husband, John, and their son, Luke. They have cruised on Carnival, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean in the Caribbean and explored the Mediterranean on Orient Line's Marco Polo. Kim wrote an earlier review of the Carnival Pride (March, 2002) -- she may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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