We began our trip, flying down the day before the trip. Thought it would be much easier, it was. We stayed at the Days Inn Civic Center. Now mind you, I am not one that is picky where I lay my head so with that said, I had no expectations that this Days Inn would be a high quality place. The rooms were clean and a place to lay my head to go to bed. Now, there is NOTHING to do where this place is at, which if that's you're thing then its not a problem. I booked it early and got a 67.00 rate and with tax was like 79.00. They offer a free shuttle to the Port of Miami so wasn't all that bad. Use your own judgment if you stay there, if you are not picky where you sleep and don't care about the finer amenities, then stay there. Look at it this way, you're not there that long anyway and a cruise ship is on the horizon.
SUNDAY We left the Days Inn around 930(ish) in the morning and got to the port around 9:45am. We didn't know much what do to and saw people standing outside so we did, come to find out we didn't need to and we went inside, checked in. Showed all necessary documents and got our sail and sign cards and we proceeded to the waiting area where you wait to go up to the gangplank. We had about a 45 minute wait and around 1045, we were on our way up to a second holding area ( WITH CHAIRS) and got the go ahead at 11:00 to board. Took the pictures and made the entry into the ship by 11:15. The process was very organized and went very smooth. They take your picture prior to boarding the ship which identifies you when you get on and off the ship. We explored the ship and the good thing about getting there early is that you can get great photos without anyone else walking in your way. It also gives you a chance to run around and get a feel for where you're at and how to get to and fro. We went up to Rosie's and had lunch and our first drink of the day. YUMMY. Each day they serve a different variation of food for lunch so be sure you check your capers for what they're serving. As everyone has said, Fish & Chips are NOT TO BE MISSED !! Get there early before everyone else discovers where its at because when they do, there are lines. Also the Deli is great as well. Then there was the lifeboat drill and let me be quite frank and honest. Yes it was very hot, especially with those vests on. However the entire process took only 15 minutes tops. Wasn't that big of a deal and doesn't take that long. Then it was off to watch the boat sail away. I had several phone numbers from my cruise critic buddies so met some of them during sail away. We had the 5:45 dinner setting in the Washington Dining room, back of the ship and He-Man was our waiter. He was SIMPLY THE BEST. Knew what I wanted and had my eating habits down pat after the first night. Very attentive and very informative about his country. If you are lucky enough to have him as your waiter..Tell him that RYAN said hello. He pampers you and genuinely cares. Gave me a very painted narrative of how the waiters live on board. You can eat as much as you want of anything. For example on average I had 2 appetizers and 2 or 3 entrées plus desert. So if you're hungry or love something you eat, ask for more, they don't care. The welcome aboard show was a lot of fun and energetic, gives you a tease as to what is in store for you entertainment wise. Then I was off to what became my hangout while on board. The piano bar, Lindy Hop. Ron Pass is a great entertainer. He loves his socials and its amazing to watch him play and play, drink and drink and not mess up. He really has star quality and definitely one of the best memories I have of my trip. I promise you this, that if you go on there once, you will be hooked. By the end of the cruise the room was packed and no where to sit, people were standing up waiting for a seat. You'll get hooked. And if you're a night owl, stay till close which at that point Ron does adult songs that are not for the easily offended. So if you have a sense of humor and love to laugh, stick around they are hysterical.
MONDAY - Nassau, Bahamas
We booked the Blackbeards Deluxe which is a swim with the stingray excursion. It was alright. Nothing spectacular about the Bahamas to me, but again that's my opinion. They do film you swimming with them. There is another stingray excursion which allows you to actually feed them, that is Pearl Island Stingray adventure or something like that, I wish I had done that one, but again. I have never been to the Bahamas so again, I had no expectations so it wasn't a let down. I can say that I didn't care much for the Bahamas but it wasn't all that bad either. Monday was also the meet and greet for my Cruise Critic group and let me tell you I had such a wonderful group of people. To be honest, the time on the ship was that more memorable because of them. I love all of them and if you are lucky to have a group that was as energetic, loving and just down right genuine, you'll have even more fun. Monday night is the first formal night and also the Captain's Gala Dinner. They have a captain's welcome party that involves music, free drinks and finger foods. The captain introduces his crew and that is about all of that. Not very detailed. The best part is the booze if you're a drinker..LOL. They have several areas through out the ship to take your formal picture. All with various back drops so in my opinion ( and we did this) walk around either before or after dinner and decide which back drop you would like, trust me there are SEVERAL. Also this is where Carnival gets you. All formal night pictures are 8x10 and you have to buy that picture, that is if you're wanting to buy it. If you buy it they offer you a package, much like any photo studio that you can get a 5x7, wallets, etc for 9.99 or maybe a bit more. The picture comes with a cardboard type holder, however for like 4-5 bucks, you can get a photo album that is for 8x10 pictures and will protect your pictures, especially during packing. I bought both the 5x7 photo album and 8x10. I figure it will come in handy when preparing other photos of the cruise. But again, that judgment is entirely up to you. This is also the first of the big production number shows. The first one is called Nightclub Express. It is wonderful, very energetic, the singers were great and the dancers were phenomenal, amazing that they can dance to that caliber while on a moving ship. Kudos to them. If you get to the show lounge early, best to do so if you want a good seat, they show video clips of the various night clubs that they depict in this production number. Very high energy show with a lot of effects. After the show, yet again went to the piano bar and closed it down, which became mine and my mom's nightly ritual for the duration of the cruise.
Tuesday - Sea Day.
The first day at sea, which coincidentally was also my birthday was a very relaxing day. Carnival makes sure that there is plenty of things to do while at sea, but its also a good day to just relax, to lay out in the sun with a book or get a nap in. Pointer, if you lay out on the side of the ship, you get a great breeze and sun. But also poses for a problem because the sun is very intense down there ( I got sun burn and eventually sun poisoning on my ankles). So be careful be careful when out on deck, especially in the breeze. There is really no reason to be bored on sea days, unless you want to. Plenty to do or not do, the choice is ultimately yours.
Wednesday - St. Thomas
St. Thomas was great. You have to go through customs/immigration due to the fact that it is a U.S. owned island. The process isn't that long. It was VERY well organized and the line was very long, but don't fret, once it starts moving, it moves. Be sure you have your passport/birth certificate ( whichever you have), ID, and your sail and sign card and you'll breeze right through. Once YOU are cleared, you are permitted to go ashore. Carnival has their check in system at the entrance for this so that's how we figured that you're cleared so they can keep a record of it. We did not book an excursion through Carnival but did decide to go to Magen's Bay. We hailed a taxi which was $8 per person. There is a $3.00 charge to get into Magen's Bay. They do offer chairs to rent and if memory serves me correctly its $6.00 to rent the chair and a $5.00 deposit, that you get back when you return the chair. Makes no sense to me but hey, I'm not running the operation..lol We stayed on the beach for quite some time and left back for the boat around 5ish. To get back for dinner. After spending the day frying in the sun and shopping I was ready for a good meal. St. Thomas is the longest time you are in port, you leave at 8:00pm so there is never a need to feel rushed. We went up on deck to watch the boat pull away and watched the show that night which was VERY good as well. Then off to you know where The Lindy Hop to close out the night.
Thursday - St. Maarten
This is such a beautiful island and we booked a excursion with carnival, The Golden Eagle Catamaran. THE BEST EXCURSION I think. It is a bit pricey, $89.00 but that includes free drinks (soda, water or rum punch) to the remote island, then free rum punch and champagne on the way back. They pick you up at the pier, you walk a short distance up to where you will board the catamaran. Once boarded, they take you on a hour boat ride to a remote island where hardly anyone is at. They dock the boat about 10-15 feet from the shore and you can either jump off the boat and swim, walk down the ladder that they have lowered into the ocean or they have a dinghy that they will take you to the beach. You have about 90 minutes to 2 hours to swim or do whatever you want. The beach was gorgeous and they also provide you with flippers, snorkel gear, floating noodles, or even floating belts for those who don't swim well. They tell you about a area that you can swim to and get lots of pictures with fish. One of the ladies on the boat said it was great, she went over there and the fish, which are in abundance, swim all around you so it's a great photo opp. Once everyone is on board they make their way back.. If you are a sun tan fanatic like I am then lay on the net at the front of the boat, from time to time, water splashes on you from underneath which is very refreshing. That and the unlimited rum punch you can drink. I had 13. Once we got off the catamaran, we went shopping and this people is the place to buy any alcohol you want to buy. I got a bottle of absolute vodka for 7.50. On the ship its 2 for $20. Liquor is unbelievably cheap in St. Maarten so by all means if you want booze, this is your place. Then I didn't know what to do for the rest of that night. The piano bar was closed that night, his day off. My mom and I, as well as others were lost as to what to do.
Friday & Saturday - Day at Sea Very uneventful days. Plenty to do. Of course mom and I, as usual spent the last nights of the cruise in the piano bar with our new found friends. Lots of time to shop on board. I went to the disembarkation talk on Saturday. Darcy Knevial was the cruise director and she is GREAT. 10x better than what I heard people talk about Brent Allens. During the talk she didn't try to talk anyone into giving Carnival kudos if they did or didn't deserve it. She did make it a point to say that when filling out the comment cards that if someone did well to make note of it because that is how they get promotions as well if someone does bad reflect your comment on the person, not the department. Which I thought made an incredible amount of sense. If you understand the disembarking procedure then skip it, but its not bad. At least it was not when Darcy was hosting it. There were several high points. Carnival has really cleaned up their act. I cruised last on the holiday 12 years ago. They have made 100% improvements. The ship was beautiful. I didn't find any of the décor outlandish considering the ships theme is Heroes & Heroines I found it spectacular. Pictures to not give this ship its credit. My mom who thought by the pictures the ship was fairly unattractive found nothing but beauty everywhere she turned. Friday was also the last formal night and the last big production show, Far From Over - The 80's. GREAT.. The first one was better in my opinion but this was surely didn't disappoint either.
The hardest part I think of the whole trip was having to leave my newly found friends and I made quite a few. Not only my cruise critic group, but to the people who I grew to love in the piano bar and at various other places on board. It was emotional because I lucked out, not only did I get a great cruise critic group but I met real genuine people, that I ( and they) instantly bonded together. I make it a point to people who mean a lot to me, never to say goodbye, but until next time Goodbye is so final and these friendships are just beginning. Disembarkation was a breeze. We chose to set our luggage out the night before and hunt for it the next morning in the warehouse. That wasn't hard to do at all. I had a lot of luggage so carrying it off myself would have been a chore. Getting off the boat was a breeze. They call you by floor, once you hear your floor called, make the sad way down to the lobby where they stick your sail and sign in for the very last time. Then you're off the boat and making your way down toward customs. The whole process took from start to stop, maybe 20-30 minutes. Not bad at all. We found a shuttle van who charged $9.00 p/p to take to the airport. We didn't book any transfers with carnival because it is drastically cheaper to do it your way and you also don't have to wait for the bus to fill.
Here are my tips. Go to Miami the night before. Less hassle and stress. Do your research on line and find out if the hotel you stay at offers a free shuttle To the port The days inn I stayed in did, but again, read what I wrote above. IF you can get to the boat early it's a great time to explore and get great pictures. Do eat at Scarletts at least once. Its 30 p/p and well worth it. The food is great and the 2 people who sing up there are outstanding. Though I found I was pampered more in the dining room by the wait staff, the service in Scarletts was good as well. Make sure you get to the piano bar at least once, most people discover it by the end of the cruise and the room is packed by then, if you want to sit by the piano, get there early because that area fills up fast. Tell Ron, RYAN the birthday boy said HI. You will love him, personality of gold and his talent..wow. Be sure to get one of his CD's, much cheaper on the ship then through is website. Be sure you catch both of the main shows that they put on. One was Nightclub express and the other one Far from Over. Both great shows and if you want a good seat, then get there early. But unless you're behind a pole, there really isn't a bad seat in the Ivanhoe Theater. But most importantly, don't go on here having any expectations, that way your vacation wont be ruined and if you have no expectations then you can't be let down. Don't look at things through a microscope, yes there were little things that happened on board, such as someone broke a fixture in the elevator, literally, broke it in half. When I was in that same elevator a couple hours later, carnival had it replaced. Again, they have come a long way. But relax and take things with a grain of salt and have a good time. There is plenty to do on board and in port. This is YOUR vacation, enjoy it !!
I would highly recommend this boat to anyone. You wont get the service, pampering as you would on RCCL or Norwegian but that's comparing apples and oranges. This boat is great..the staff & everyone was magnificent. I am actually taking my grams on this boat in February. Booking it Tomorrow, that's how much I loved this ship.