We don't take many family vacations. Before I booked our cruise, I read these reviews and researched the port (Tampa) and destination (Cozumel) to make sure that we made the best of our time and money. While I can't say we regret the decision, the best time we had was off the ship.
Of course everyone values different aspects of vacations differently, depending on age, interests and expectations. I think Paradise would be best suited for adults who aren't picky about details like decor and entertainment quality. If you like to gamble, drink, party, relax in the adult only areas, or eat lots of food this might be the ship for you. I didn't read many reviews of the Carnival Paradise from the perspective of a family with kids who want to spend a lot of quality time together, so I thought I'd share our experience.
Here's our family's pro's and cons:
1. Quick embark at Tampa port, we were on the ship by 12:30.
2. Ping pong and mini golf were basic but fun
3. Our stateroom steward Putu did a good job and made cute towel animals the kids loved
4. Big shower
5. The towel folding class was fun
6. COZUMEL - beautiful destination, snorkeled at Chankanaab Park and had the best day of our trip!
1. Our stateroom wasn't ready for an hour after we boarded the ship. Dragging our suitcases all over the ship wasn't fun, and discovering our room in a mess from the previous occupants was not a good way to start off the cruise. They need to either delay embarkation, or offer to store luggage until staterooms are ready. We could have left our things in the hallway outside of our room, but the hall was a mess also and not secure. Frustrating.
2. Overall the ship's decor is dated and tacky, with a few exceptions in the updated spa area, library, serenity deck and public restrooms. Public areas and dining areas were kept fairly clean. Our oceanview stateroom (M226) was fairly worn out and needed a deep cleaning. The cabin was dusty, dated, with dented walls and furniture, blankets and sheets well worn and pilled badly. Our 9 year old was not happy to sleep on a toddler sized thin mattress barely above the floor, but our 12 year old was fine on the bunk bed pull down. We probably could have asked for a larger roll away, but we didn't think it would fit! There was barely enough room to walk to the bathroom with the 4 beds, and you had to climb over the beds to look out the window. Not the most comfortable or pleasant place to spend time together. Hot water was TOO hot, hard to get the shower just right. No conditioner, just shampoo and body wash. Glad we brought our own. Product samples left in the bathroom were not useful.
3. The salt water in the pools was WAY TOO COLD! The kids were SO disappointed, they barely swam. The kids pool was empty most of the time, if that tells you anything. Even the hot tubs weren't heated! This is a big deal for us, because out kids were so looking forward to swimming every day and little other family entertainment was offered. The main pool with the water slide wasn't much warmer. The music was blasting too loud, and partying adults acting rowdy made it less than ideal for families to enjoy. The hot tub under the water slide must have been heated, because kids were packing into it, while the pool wasn't crowded.
4. We had anytime dining. Waited for 20-30 min for table every night, but they gave us a beeper so that wasn't so bad. The food was okay. The dining room food was about the same quality as the buffet, but really slow service. By the end of the cruise we just went to the buffet. Most of the waiters didn't seem to enjoy the silly choreographed dances they had to do, but worked hard to remember our names. Some of the deserts were good, but overall food was not amazing... and we really aren't that picky! Not sure why the chocolate melting cake has such amazing reviews, we didn't like it. Tasted and looked like an very rich barely cooked brownie. Lines in the buffet were long at times. Food service workers were not that friendly. What is up with the tacky, ugly, fake fruit/flower/dessert arrangements? I must have been spoiled with the fresh fruit carvings on our Princess cruise, because I expected more. Kids liked the ice cream machine, and it was always busy.
5. Entertainment was limited for families. Shows with dancing/singing were corny, comedians weren't that funny and sometimes inappropriate. The comedian at the family show we went to joked about getting beaten by his parents as a child and how much he hated school. Not sure why that was supposed to be funny or appropriate for kids. We left early from both. We missed the break dancers who were the most talented because of our sea sickness. (see the next comment)
6. Seasickness hit my DD and I hard on the two at-sea nights. I was hoping the Caribbean would be a smooth ride in spring, but no such luck. It wasn't stormy, just rocky. We couldn't leave our stateroom for fear of puking. The gift shop ran out of Dramamine. I was hoping to buy the ear patches, but they didn't have those either. The $15 bracelets didn't help.
7. Kids did not join the kids' club activities, partly due to sea sickness and mostly because we wanted family time. They may have had more fun if they'd had met other kids there. There were groups of teens roaming around the ship.
Overall, we had an adventure as a family and it had some moments of joy. The amazing day we had in Cozumel made the less than amazing cruise worth the experience.
Tip - don't pay for an excursion to Chankanaab, just hop on a taxi and have more time and freedom. We were the first one there and had the whole beach and amazing snorkeling area to ourselves in the morning.