My DW and I decided that a cruise would make a great Christmas for our boys, 14 and 9. We chose the Carnival Paradise because my wife and I really enjoyed our first Carnival Cruise and the dates and itinerary of this cruise worked best with school schedules.
We drove to Tampa from Chattanooga the day before, and stayed at a Holiday Inn Express near Raymond James Stadium, it was about 15 minutes from the port area, but full of restaurants and stores. We ran through Target for some water and Coke, as well as a few last minute purchases, had dinner, and DW and I went to bed. We wanted to make sure we could get to the port early and get our cruise started.
Unfortunately, Tampa had other plans. When we woke up, we could not see to the other wing of the hotel. I happened to pull up my Facebook, and John Heald had already let his followers know that the Paradise had not been able to enter the channel, due to the low visibility and they did not know when she would dock. About an hour later, I got a text alert from Carnival asking us not to come to the port until further notice. Although I think Carnival did their best to keep us informed, John proved to be much more reliable, and i have no idea what I would have done with out a smart phone.
I decided to use Capital parking, it was half the price of parking at the port. They had a secure lot, but the driver, who was the only employee I saw or interacted with, insisted that we needed to be parked by 1pm. We let the boys swim until we needed to check out, had lunch and worked our way down to the parking lot.
We were dropped off at the door, entrusted our bags to the porters and tried to find something to do. The workers at the port were fairly helpful, but with no ship, and the need to use the facility for debarking passengers, we had to wait outside the terminal. Some folks had been allowed to do a partial check-in, but we were too late for that, so we wandered the mall area and eventually just settled back in to line. The terminal employees were offering the option of taking a shuttle to a different terminal, checking in, receiving a sticker, and coming back with priority to enter the terminal, but they were not clear on the process and we had a fair amount of carry on baggage, so we waited.
The ship made it to the dock a little before 3, but they still had to disembark the passengers from the previous crew, so I think it was about 6 before we made it in to the terminal. I really can't say enough good things about the Tampa port workers, it must have been a pretty long day for them, and once we started up the escalator to check in, we were on the ship in no more than 15 minutes, of course we were near the front of the line too. We boarded on deck 7 and were greeted with the happy news that rooms were ready and the dining room was open.
We headed down to the Riviera Deck, and found that our room was indeed ready, dropped our bags and headed to the dining room, where our luck definitely started to change for the better. We had anytime dining and meet our new best friend Baryo. Baryo and his team took really good care of us, and we made sure to sit with them every night. We enjoyed dinner, showed the boys around the ship, got the 14 year old off to Circle C, and DW and I found the liquor tasting by happy accident. After making very sure that the Amarula and Sheridans were safe for the rest of the guests, we headed to the top of the ship, but it was cold and misty, so we headed to our room.
Our first day was a sea day, so DW and I went to breakfast, took the boys to the Lido deck to swim and enjoyed a relaxing day. Our 14 year old went to Circle C as much as he could, but our 9 year old didn't really enjoy Camp Carnival, so he hung around with us, which was fine too.That night was Cruise Elegant night, so we got dressed up, had our pictures done a few times, and went to the show. the show was country themed, which isn't our favorite but the dancers and female vocalist were pretty good and our cruise director, Steve, played the fiddle and he was amazing. We're from Tennessee, so we enjoyed Rocky Top, and the whole theater seemed to enjoy The Devil Went Down to Georgia. After the show we went to see Baryo and found that our family has a problem, the boys don't like lobster. Fortunately, Baryo found them something to eat and DW and I hid the evidence. 14 headed back to Circle C and DW and 9 took in a magic show while I went back to the room to rest up for Cozumel.
I got everyone up and ready to go, and we were off the ship pretty early. We went to Paradise beach, which has a $2 facility fee and is pay as you go in terms of food and drink, plus they have all sorts of inflatable equipment, kayaks, and snorkeling equipment that you can use for $12. Our boys had a great time. DW and I love to relax at the beach and I swam a little. The water and sand were beautiful, but it go a little crowded. We got a taxi back and DW told me to take our stuff to the ship while everyone else shopped. As I headed back I realized that I was looking at the Elation and that we had been dropped at the wrong terminal. We quickly headed to the correct terminal, got back on board, 14 went to Circle C and the rest of us got cleaned up for dinner. We managed to be in the dining room for the show and 9 had a blast dancing with Baryo and the rest of his team. We went to the Fun Force show and had a blast at the deck party.
The last day was another sea day, my favorite. I let every one sleep, wet to breakfast and towel folding class, DW and 9 hung out together and of course 14 did his own thing. We had a relaxing day, saw the show which was not too good, and all went to dinner for the last time. I know some people really dislike the singing and dancing, but I think most of the staff enjoy it and the boys had a blast. we took some photos and headed back to pack.
Sadly, we did not have any trouble getting back to the dock. We got off the boat at 10:15 and were headed home by 11.
I really think that Carnival provides a fun product. DW and I are booked on another trip already and the boys want to go again too.