We cruised the Victory out of Miami on April 26. We left Middle Tennessee with frost on the ground and arrived to 78 degrees and sunshine in Miami. This made cruise number 8&9 on Carnival for us. One more in December and we will reach #10 to earn Platinum status before they change the system for the loyalty program. We arrived at 10:30 AM in Miami. At the airport baggage claim area, we noticed a Carnival check-in station. I thought this was just for those who had transfers to the port through Carnival, but I went over there to ask them where the ship was docked in port so we could tell our cabbie if needed. The Carnival rep was very helpful. He said this was a check-in station here so we could get processed quicker at the terminal. Sure enough, we handed him our documents, and they were able to take our security pictures there and print off our sail-and-sign cards. They gave us a placard to give to a representative at the terminal to show that we were already checked in. We took a taxi to the port. (Much quicker than waiting for the Carnival transfer. If you get a transfer from Carnival, they make you wait until the bus is full and then they take the whole group to the cruise terminal.) Cab fare is standard. $24.00 per regular taxi. NOT per person like Carnival transfers are. The taxi vans could carry more people and I think they cost a little more but would still be more economical for a family or if you have another couple wanting to share a cab fare. Cab dropped us off directly in front of the terminal. We had already printed off our luggage tags online, and put them on our bags, (Bring a midget stapler) so the porter took our bags, and we walked right inside the terminal, handed the greeter our placard from the airport check-in and just flashed our sail and sign card thereby bypassing all the lines to check in. We were able to board very quickly. Lido was ready for us to eat lunch. Our cabins were ready by 1:00 and we got our bags very quickly this time.
Our first port was Key West. You can tell it is an American Port. We docked at 8:00, and none of the shops were open right outside the port. In most caribbean ports we have ever travelled, the shops open as soon as the first cruise passenger steps off the ship and close up when the cruise ships leave. We walked around and found a kiosk for the Conch Train. We were able to buy 2 tickets to the train and added on Truman's Little White House and Hemingway's house. The worker was very helpful. She said that would be about all we would have time for. She was right. If you are allergic, don't go to Hemingway's house. He had lots of cats and their descendants roam the property at will. My regret is that we didn't eat on Key West. I would like to have had authentic conch fritters and key lime pie.
Our second port was Cozumel. We have been to Cozumel several time. Our favorite trip was for a ride on the twister jet boat to Passion Isle. The sand is fine and they have beach chairs, floats and water toys. But the excursion is pricey. We decided to take a taxi to Paradise beach. The taxi ride was $14.00 one way. We walked onto the beach and claimed two beach chairs with an umbrella. A worker came around and collected $2.00 per person for the use of the chairs and gave us a wrist band. The flyer about Paradise Beach Resort said there was $2.00 per person for beach chairs and there was a required minimum purchase of $10.00 per person for food or drinks. We never saw anything posted at the resort about a minimum food purchase, but we did order some drinks from the bar. There were waiters coming around who would take your order and bring it to your beach chair, but I just got it myself. Needed to at least get some exercise, right? They also had three computer stations set up at the bar. Internet access was complimentary but they had signs posted to limit your time to 15 minutes. I never used it, but I saw someone check their facebook while I was ordering my drinks.
The night before debarkation, we received instructions about how to handle our situation with back to back. We had booked the same room, so we were able to leave our room as it was. We had to fill out our customs form and clear customs.
We booked the South Beach Experience through Carnival, so after we cleared customs, we boarded the bus for the tour. Basically, they told us the history of South beach, explained some of the architectural details, and then dropped us off and told us a pick up time. We walked the beach and then explored Ocean Avenue. We ate at one of the Cafe's with outdoor seating that line the street there. This is the place to see and be seen, however, most people aren't out of bed until 1:00 or so, from partying all night, so the cafe's offer some really great breakfast and lunch specials until around 1:00. It seemed appropriate to order a Cuban sandwich. Excellent!
Reboarding was no problem at the cruise terminal. We arrived about 2:00. They had given us a back to back card to identify us to the terminal staff. They took us to the VIP check-in area and we got a preview about how travelling VIP will be in the future. Got our new sail and sign cards and right back on the ship.
Nassau was the first stop. We have been to Nassau before. Enjoyed a tour with a cab(van) on our own the first time we were there. The Cabbie took us to all the stops the ship excursion would do, but we only had a fraction of the cost involved. This time, we decided to venture out on foot on our own. We found the National Tourism building and got a map. Then went on foot the the Museum of art. I really enjoy art, so this was a real treat to see the local famous artists' work. It was only $5.00 per person to tour. The we went to the Graycliff Hotel very close by.
The chocolate factory was small but offered tours for $10.00 each. It was interesting and we got a piece of excellent chocolate at the conclusion of the tour. you can climb some stairs to an open patio and get good pictures from the hotel. They also had a restroom which was clean and nice. The straw market was packed with locals selling your basic t-shirts, crafts, etc. My husband was on the lookout for a polo shirt from the Bahamas. The best price was actually in a store rather than the straw market. People were trying to maneuver with strollers. I recommend you avoid the straw market if you need to use a stroller.
Next stop was Half Moon Cay. The private beach was clean, the water was clear and beautiful. There were two ships in the harbor. (Everyone had to tender to get there) Within the first hour, all the clam shell covers were rented. I am glad we got there early. The clamshells are already set up toward the back of the beach and come with two beach chairs. Rental was $19.99. Chairs on the beach without a clamshell had no charge, but with two ships there, all were claimed and people started laying their towels on the sand. The sun is great, but access to shade is nice. If you like the party scene, get chairs near the entrance. They have the organized games and dancing and play the music pretty loud there. If you like a calmer atmosphere, walk on down the beach a ways. All the usual beach rentals were available.
Grand Turk was our final stop. If you are a tourist type, it doesn't take long to see all of Grand Turk. Previously, we took a cab to show us around the island and walked around a little bit. This time we just headed to the beach. When you exit the pier, you go through a shop that gets very crowded and is a terrible bottleneck. Then all the usual port shopping is there. If you walk through the shops, and go to the left, you will find beach access. If you want a clamshell, I recommend you work quickly. The water was clear, but there wasn't a large area roped off for swimming. There were signs posted warning people when you would be leaving the pier terminal property at the beach. I never did venture forward, but the beach continued and you could probably find some local beach clubs. We made the mistake of leaving the pier to the beach entrance on the right. It appeared that fewer people went that direction and there were more chairs. There were lots of palm trees, so shade could be found. The problem was that this side of the beach is very rocky. You need water shoes and good balance to get out in the water there. After about 20 feet, the rock surface becomes very smooth, but getting there takes a little care.
On the last port day, we expected to be part of the chef's table. Unfortunately, there were not enough to sign up to do it, so it was cancelled. The chef was very gracious. He must have asked to be alerted as to when we came to dinner, because he came out to our table in the anytime dining room and apologized. He told us that there were so many sign up for the 4 day cruise the week before that they had it on two different nights, and it was unusual to not have the required minimum number (Only 6 signed up.) He offered us a private tour of his kitchen and offered to fix a special dinner for us - whatever our favorite type of food we wanted - on the next night. What a special treat! Chef Vivek told us to go to dinner and look at the menu and tell the waiter we didn't want anything we saw and ask him to tell the chef to fix us something different. We did. The waiter was a little flustered to say the least. Then we explained what happened and he went to check with the hostess. The chef had left a note to tell them he was taking care of us from appetizers to dessert. And he did! The food was wonderful and the presentation was beautiful. When we returned to our cabin later that night, he had sent a plate of chocolate dipped strawberries and assorted cookies with a hand written note expressing that he had hoped we enjoyed our dinner and the last night of our cruise. He definitely went out of his way to make sure we enjoyed ourselves.
Disembarkation was easy too. They asked people to be out of the cabins by 8:30 and go to one of the public areas until their tag numbers were called. We arrived well before 8:00 AM. Our flight was not until 2:00. Our luggage tags were #9. They called for #9 by around 9:00. They served breakfast in the dining room until 8:30 and in Lido until 9:30. We decided to stay onboard in Lido. They called the last of the tags by 10:00. We waited a few more minutes. No one was rushing us to get off the ship. We found our luggage on the carousel easily. This was so much better than the terminals that don't have luggage carousels. It was nice not to have to walk down rows and rows of bags looking for ours. Customs security was efficient but thorough. Our agent was asking people lots of questions. We found the short line waiting for a taxi. Taxis were plentiful. Great trip. Smooth sailing all the way.