Here is my review of our trip on the Jan 4th sailing of the Carnival Paradise.
I traveled with a group of coworkers/friends that sailed on the S/S Norway together in January 2003.
Pre-trip travel: We flew Southwest from Buffalo to Ft. Lauderdale. We had a quick stop in Baltimore, but did not need to change planes. The first half of the flight was full, and we could not sit together, even though we arrived quite early. The no assigned seats policy sucks if you have any more than two people traveling together. There are so many people who can preboard and then save seats for each other than we would need to arrive two hours early in order to sit as a group. Lucky for us, staying on the same plane allowed us to move around and sit together for the second leg.
We rented a mini-van from Dollar, which was waaaaaay cheaper than taking cabs everywhere. Because we arrived around 8:30PM, there was no line to pick up the car and we only had to wait about 10-15 min for the shuttle, which wasn't bad at all.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn - Plantation. It was a serviceable hotel, worth what we paid through Hotwire. They did not ask for a credit card because the rooms were prepaid, which was nice. I hate having to give my card when I know I won't make phone calls, order room service, or movies.
We drove to the Miami airport to drop off the car and get their shuttle to the Port of Miami. We waited about 20 min here and were lucky to get on the shuttle. They were not running frequently and with the amount of luggage folks had, only three parties (6 people, 4 people, and 5 people) got on that shuttle. The ride was quick, and within a few minutes were approaching the terminal.
Embarkation: It was about 11:30 when we arrived and the lines were non-existent. Once going through the lines and picking up our sail and sign cards, we waited a short while before boarding began. We were asked to not go to our rooms until 12:30, so we went directly to lunch.
We were supposed to have a bottle of champagne and chocolate in our room as a thank you for a problem we had on our last cruise (never informed a shore excursion was cancelled and wasted a lot of time), but it was not there. I spoke with someone from the info desk, but the week came and went and we never saw anything. I will be writing to Carnival again about it. It was free, and I'm not trying to have my hand out, but if you promise a guest something, you should follow through.
Cabins: DH and I had a 4A, the others had 1As. We all were quite happy with the size of the rooms. Being near a stairwell was quite nice. I preferred to go upstairs then travel the ship, rather than walk down an endless hallway of cabins.
Our cabin steward never introduced herself to us. That's ok with me, as long as they do their job. On sea days we didn't get beach towels and others did, so I'm not sure if we were supposed to.
Dining: I found the formal menus hit or miss. Some meals I was underwhelmed and not sure what to eat. Others, I would have liked to order many of the entrees. The mushroom and goat cheese pizza, French fries, and filet mignon were my favorites.
Our wait team was Cupid from St Vincent and Mila from Russia. We enjoyed them immensely. They were warm, friendly, competent, and made us look forward to meal times. Cupid was a ham, so the dances were great fun to watch.
I don't eat sushi, but those who did enjoyed it.
Nassau: We went on Stuart Cove's half day snorkel ship. It was great. I was hoping the boat would not be full, since it was early January, but it was full. We had about 25 passengers, and two crew members. We had three snorkel stops - a shallow reef, a slightly deeper reef with a plane on the ocean floor, and a much deeper spot where they used chum to attract sharks. We didn't have time to shop after the excursion, which was fine with me.
La Romana: We took a cab to Altos de Chevon (or, as I kept saying, Altos de Chevron) and then to La Romana to see the town. For our group of six, it was $8pp. Much better than the $79 the ship wanted for the same thing, but with a boat ride. I thought the town was beautiful, but probably wouldn't go again. It's so obviously created for tourism that it's not as quaint as I'd hoped.
St Thomas: We took Godfrey's tour, which was wonderful. The sights were beautiful and those world famous banana daiquiris sure were strong, but they made the curves and hills to the beach seem like a ride. We spent our beach time at Coki beach, which was busy, but not overly packed.
Activities: I was dismayed that many of the trivia events were either first thing in the morning or while in port. They were all held in open areas - the lido deck or US Bar (the promenade deck hallway). Why do sun bathers want to hear trivia and why do trivia people want to try and hear over the din of the deck? I suggested they move things inside.
There was only one 30 min ballroom dance class, which was quite sad. I did enjoy the various parties as opportunities to drag hubby on the dance floor.
My favorite activity was the open forum held by ship employees to answer questions about life on board. But most of the panel was white and American. I would have liked to hear from a waiter or a housekeeper. It just reminded me of the class structure on board. It was nice to know that the crew is dismayed that the Paradise will be made smoking.
There were also similar activities held at the same time. For example, on the last day at sea, the galley tour started 15 min before the talk about life on board. As similar events - seeing backstage - wouldn't one think the same people would want to attend both? I went to the talk after the tour and the crowd only grew as people did what I did.
Entertainment: Since the shows were the same as the last time I sailed Paradise (even some of the comics), we did not go to most of them. The adult comedy events were so well attended that the last one was moved to the Normandie show lounge from the smaller Queen Mary lounge. We sat on the balcony and there was a constant up and down shaking which made me feel ill and I had to leave.
Roberta is the piano sing-a-long lady. She is so out of touch. She does not have a song list and gets angry when you suggest songs she does not know. When we were singing songs like I Will Survive and Summer Nights, the place was packed and everyone had a great time, but then she'll jump into I've Been Working on the Railroad and older songs I've never heard (and I love old standards) and clear out the place. She also doesn't play songs with the rhythm they were written, which makes it very tough to follow along. Unfortunately, the piano bar is one of the things we were excited about and it didn't quite live up to that.
The ship: I didn't notice anything other than design choices that would let you know the ship was 6 years old. It's big enough to offer choices but small enough to navigate easily. It was tough to squeeze our party of 6 around a table at the Paris restaurant and I just don't care for booths when eating formal meals.
Warning to parents: Make you keep a very close watch on your children. We saw a three year old almost pitch into the sea, before someone caught him, after climbing the railing. Mom was eating and her son wandered out of the Paris restaurant and she didn't know.