There are a lot of pretty bad reviews about Carnival and the Paradise, especially when comparing to other companies/boats. You Get What You Pay For. This cruise was as cheap as you can find and there is a reason for that; non-premium company, older boat, etc. For what my wife and I paid (under $1100 including tax and tip for two people, 5 nights, window room) it was a VERY good value. I never wanted to cruise, but frankly the price was too good to pass up. Note - we got an even better deal because of all the bad PR from the recent Carnival problems...apparently they weren't getting a lot of bookings.
The room/cabin was acceptable. It was clean and there was enough space. It wasn't "nice" at all, but it did the job. For those people saying it was akin to a cheap hotel, I have to wonder if you've ever stayed in cheap hotels. It was NOTHING like a cheap hotel...it was more like a Motel 6 (budget, not cheap).
The public rooms were better than I expected; they were pretty nice. Again, nothing to write home about, but they were better-than-adequate. You could almost always find tables/chairs except for the peak times of use.
The fitness room could have been bigger. There is a lot of room in the spa area, and they easily could have given several hundred more feet to the fitness room. Of course I tried to work out at 8AM which is prime-time...but still. The machines that I used were in good working order. (Again, this was a YMCA gym - not a Yourcityhere Athletic Club or JCC).
The recreation - this is hard to judge since different people like different things. My wife and I didn't go to much; we hit all the trivias (we're from St. Louis), and those were a lot of fun. We won twice and tied once! Advice: The shopping-advice shows are a WASTE of TIME unless you plan on spending several hundred dollars on big-ticket items.
The service was okay, but much of the staff was frustrating to deal with. MANY of the employees speak heavily-accented AND limited English, and this was the major complaint I heard from fellow passengers (kind of ironic since most of the cruisers were from Texas and Georgia). This is especially true for the lower-level staff, to the point where they will avoid discussion, pretend not to hear you or give you, or give a canned/memorized response to a question.
Food - Biggest Disappointment. If you like Hometown Buffet or Sizzler, then you will be fine. Let's be honest...Carnival tends to cater toward a non-premium crowd, and I saw many guests chowing down on hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, and fries. Presentation/appearnce of food was awesome; Carnival does a great job making lame food look appealing. Mongolian grill was terrible- they used WAY too much water during preparation it killed the flavor! SERIOUSLY!!! We ate sit-down every night. This was a second/third-rate meal. Wait staff did a good job, but 2/3 of the food was just plain BLAND AND BORING. There were some appetizing items. KEY ADVICE: Order a couple different appetizers or entrees. My wife and I would usually order a third meal between the two of us, and that really helped. Formal nite was a joke - I felt overdressed in a sports jacket and tie. The dinner "entertainment" (the staff singing goofy songs/dancing) was painful. The songs and dances picked out were fine, but the staff didn't really participate (maybe because they were foreign and didn't feel very comfortable?). It was awkward. The speakers were blown out and sounded terrible, and hearing someone sing out of them just made it worse. Also, I suggest you get the 3 bottles of wine for $60-dinner-deal. A little pricy, but it was nice to have. You get access to your purchased three bottles every night at dinner; they store the half-drunken bottles for you.
The crowd. Carnival is the biggest cruise company in the world, and this is an older boat, so don't expect to find The Joneses. There were families, but the crowd was often a lil' raunchy (for lack of a better word) as this was mostly a working/middle class group of cruisers. A little more upscale at dinner, but not much. When we went (June 1st), it was 85% Texas and Georgia. Many people would classify this as a working-white-trash cruise. It didn't bother me at all, in fact I found most of the cruisers REMARKABLY friendly and awesome to hang out with. Personally I prefer this crowd more than the New York/New England tourists, coming from my many experiences working at/and visiting, Disney World. And don't get mad that I feel this way; it is a truth that people tend to be friendlier when coming from rural areas or small (surrounded by rural) cities.
Ports - Advice: You can save a LOT of money by forgoing the Carnival excursions, doing a bit of online research, and booking independent. Yeah (in theory) you may get left behind, but if you own a watch and aren't stupid and you'll be fine. Tons of cruisers do it, especially experienced ones.
Grand Cayman - Advice: Use the Grand Cayman bus system. It "circles" the island, so just tell the driver where you are going when you get on. SUPER CHEAP and easy! Drivers are really friendly, and will often set up a pick-up time from wherever you are. FYI they are vans, not busses. Just ask the policemen when you get off the boat, they are very helpful. Hell is a waste of time. The rum factory is just a store, and another waste of time. The Royal Palms is an AWESOME beach bar/restaurant. That is where the ship dancers go, so you know it is good. You can rent a chair and umbrella for a couple bucks, they have beach showers and changing rooms, food isn't that expensive, and they have tropical drinks served in coconuts. Caybrew is also a great beer.
Cozumel - It is much for fun to take a taxi into town and skip the shops by the dock. Check out cozumelmycozumel.com. GREAT website!!! Cozumel is not mainland-Mexico, so please don't feel like it is dangerous. The island makes 95% of their money on tourists, so it is very safe. FYI The shops by the pier get a kickback from the cruise ships, and you can't haggle prices. Advice: If it is a mom/pop store in town, HAGGLE!!! We bought a king-size blanket (not a striped Mexi-blanket, but a decent one) for $25 (he asked $85..which was a joke, but I had to walk out of the store to get my $25 offer). Get $1.00 Modelos at the corner store and drink them as you shop. We ate at La Choza - half locals and half cruisers. We saw the ship dancers here as well, so you know it is good. Get a michelada and the guacamole.
Other - Sneaking alcohol onto to the boat shouldn't be a problem. Use rumrunners (google it) and hide them in luggage in your shoes. I carried a small rumrunner around with me on the boat (in a pocket) and just refilled in bathroom...it wasn't an issue. Also, you don't have to sneak the trip's supply when you first get on. Buy more and sneak it on at ports with rumrunners in your pockets or burried in a bag surrounded by stuff (not towels). Just don't wear cargo shorts with a ton of zippers on them that set off the metal detector like I did...although, the security agent felt my pocket, and (had to have) felt my full rummrunner, and didn't care. They did want to see laptop charger in my backpack, which tells me they care more about weapons/bombs/drugs.
- Carnival is selling cruises almost at-cost, and make their money on extras like gambling (much worse odds than your local casino for a lot of games), alcohol (HUGE mark up), all the spa stuff, the stores, and excursions.
- Do your shopping in Cozumel and not Grand Cayman. MUCH cheaper.
Would I do this again?? For the price I paid, ohmygosh yes...maybe even a couple hundred bucks more. But it is a VALUE cruise, so expect that.
I know this was a painfully long review, but I did a lot of internet research before and really appreciated detailed reviews, and I wanted to share for like-minded people.