We booked a 5 night on the Carnival Paradise, leaving June 23rd out of Tampa. We also bought a Faster to the Fun....and it was TOTALLY WORTH IT! The night before we stayed at Hampton Inn in Rocky Point and did their Park and Cruise Package. The hotel not only offers parking during the cruise, but a shuttle to AND from the port, as well as breakfast the morning you check out and the morning you get back before you get your car and head home. They were very accommodating. I know there are some reviews with pictures saying it needs to be fixed, but I only saw paint rubbed off on the bottom of the bathroom door and to me that is certainly not a deal breaker. It does have a small pool but it was perfect for us and we practically had it to ourselves that night. We did see many Hampton Inn guests walking to the Holiday Inn right next to us so I don't know if they had a better pool or the two hotels have some sort of deal between them. We also walked to Bahama Breeze and had a very nice dinner the night prior.
The hotel shuttle picked us up at 10:55 the next morning and had us to the port by 11:15. We had told the hotel that we were Faster to the Fun and they made sure we got our money's worth. SIDENOTE: Some people riding the shuttle with us had boxed wine and it was confiscated at check-in in the port. Apparently, that is "wine in excess" and they were not allowed to bring it on the boat. Faster to the Fun had us checked in and on the boat by 11:30 and we were able to go straight to our rooms and dump our carry-ons. After lunch on the Lido, we went back to our rooms and our luggage was outside our door at 12:00ish. We found some loungers by the pool (there were 8 of us in a group) and were in the pool and down the waterside shortly thereafter. We never had a problem with the pool. If you hang out to the left of the waterslide you are not only in shade but you aren't in the crowded end of the pool. We tried out the back pool, but for me the water was too warm and yes it was the pool and not the hot tubs. My theory is that the continuous flow of the waterslide kept that end of the pool nice and refreshing.
Faster to the Fun: As I said before this was worth the money. You only have to buy 1 and the rest of the people in your cabin are included. We got priority boarding getting on the ship. We also got priority tender to Grand Cayman. We got to sit in a nice lounge, not a long line, and then they escorted us to the elevators and let us walk past all the people standing in line. We were one of the first tenders off the ship that morning. For disembarking (we did self-assist) we also got to sit in the REX lounge until 8:30 and we were literally off the ship, through customs, on our hotel shuttle, and back in the hotel parking lot by 8:55....NO JOKE! Had we done self-assist or put your luggage out the night before we would have been one of the last zones called because we were on the Riviera deck (deck 4).
Cabin: We had R159 and our traveling mates were in R137, R175, and R179. These rooms were all identical interior rooms. Three of them had the king size beds, and one with twins. These were a lot roomier that I had anticipated. And we were able to completely unpack and get our suitcases out of the way. The shower/bathroom area was bigger than the one we had on the Carnival Legend room we had with a balcony! We were all pleasantly surprised.
Excursions: In Grand Cayman we did our own thing and took a public bus to 7 mile Beach/Calico Jack's. It was $2.50 each way and you have to walk out of the port and go left down the street. There will be a tiny sign on that side of the road that indicates a bus stop. We told our driver what time we wanted to leave and he was there waiting for us at the beach where he had dropped us off. We also stayed to the left of Calico Jack's and were able to get a deal on Beach Chairs (they threw in 2 free) and umbrellas. Because we were a little further from Calico Jack's we practically had the beach to ourselves. We walked and got lunch to go from Calico Jack's. I highly recommend the Jerk Chicken - it comes with coleslaw and french fries. For two people with 2 Jerk Chicken plates, a beer, and a mixed drink it was $49 USD.
In Cozumel, we did the Twister to Passion Island. We've done this excursion before and loved it so we did it again and it did not disappoint. In fact, they've added a lot of stuff to the beach since the last time we went there. Hammocks in the water!, inflatables, more shaded canopy areas. A lot of reviews said that they only served chicken nuggets and spaghetti. These people are complainers! They had spicy chicken (really good!), MahiMahi, pasta salad (one creamy and one with tomato sauce...this might be the one people are confusing with spaghetti. They did have chicken nuggets but please keep in mind that this dish is really reserved for CHILDREN. They also had fresh fruit, chips, salsa, and guacamole. The drinks were free flowing and they were definitely safety-oriented, much more so than 4 years ago. They had "tour guides" that walked the beach to make sure people weren't getting too drunk. They even made my group do a "walking test" to make sure we were okay to drink....even though my friend was speaking fluent Spanish to them at the time. Obviously, we passed. Our favorite part were the hammocks in the water. This was so relaxing. The boat ride over was smooth and exciting. We had Charlie "Brown" as our first mate though I can't remember the name of our captain. We did about 20 - 360 degree spins by the time the whole excursion was over. And remember, the very back in the BEST seat in the house!!! After we got back, we walked the nice shops in the port area and were able to get a lot of great deals.
Ship: I really enjoyed it it. Yes it is a smaller ship but there were places that I didn't even go to, or get to. I didn't even get to the putt-putt course until the last night. I do have two complaints but they are minor: 1. They do need to take out the dancing stage and put in another pool. And they need to make that back pool larger. 2. Having 2 separate dining rooms with a galley in the middle when you need place on one side or the other creates a very creative "how do I get there" plan. Most times, however, we were able to walk right through dining service to get to the other side. As said before, we never had a problem with the pool or the dated cabin rooms. There were many things to do on this ship and one could never get bored unless you are a person that doesn't like anything. We played lots of trivia games and finally won the coveted "Ship on a Stick" during a game of Scattergories. We also enjoyed the Martini Tour in the Rotterdam Bar. You pay $17 and get to pick out 4 to try. You leave with the recipes for all of them (including the ones you didn't try) and a Martini Charm to put on a martini or wine glass.
Food: Contrary to some people saying it was sub par probably ate in the Paris (buffet) restaurant all week and also didn't order anything new off the dinner menu. We only ate at Paris on the first day for lunch and when we needed a light snack or lunch during sea days. Brunch on Sea Days was great. I ordered Eggs Benedict and my husband got Steak and Eggs, no complaints, these were both very good. On the last day I ordered an additional item of Funnest French Toast coated with Frosted Flakes. Turns out this wasn't my cup of tea but others at our table liked it. We also ate breakfast in the dining room on Cozumel day, it was also very good. For dinner, we had late seating and we ate in the Destiny Dining Room...I personally think our dining rooms was prettier, decor-wise. Every night we ordered about 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts. Some of my favorites were of course, the Warm Chocolate Melting Cake, Lobster Bisque, Strawberry Bisque (this is a cold soup), Lobster and Jumbo Shrimp.
Entertainment: Loved both shows! Some reviews complained about the Country Music show "8 More Seconds" because they weren't "country-music fans".....but I think these people really didn't go see the show. This is more of a song and dance revue with great costumes and dancing choreography. I guarantee you will know at least a couple of the songs they do. The other show "Shout!" is more oldies-geared, starting from the 50's and working it's way up. Again, you have to have lived under a rock your whole life to not know some of these songs they are singing and dancing too. One night Cruise Director Steve Cassell juggled and then they had a hypnotist. We only stayed for his juggling (which he was very good at). I wish it had been longer. We also noticed that a lot of people got up and walked out when his act was over. After that we hit up the Motown Hits playing in the Casino Bar! Another show was a Talent Show, 4 acts performed and 4 didn't show up. Of the 4 that showed up all should have tried out for American Idol, So you think you can Dance?, and America's Got Talent. After that Steve performed the first season of Vivaldi's 4 Seasons on his violin to fill time. He was very good and got a standing ovation.
Overall, this was a great vacation. We left our child at home so it was just adults going. I would probably do a bigger ship next time - I've heard great things about the Breeze, but I would sail this one again if the price and timing were right.