My wife and two children (ages 3 and 6) just returned from the 12/28/03 New Year's sailing and we had the best cruise ever. We traveled with my wife's sister's family of four and with my in-laws. This was our 5th cruise - 1st time with children (second on Carnival, 2 w/Princess, and 1 w/NCL) and all of us were extremely satisfied with our Paradise cruise experience.
We checked into the Sheraton Biscayne Bay at around 4:30 p.m. (free booking with Starwood credit card points). Had a fun dinner at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company located at the Bay Market - a must if you have never eaten at Bubbas. Unfortunately, Carnival never showed up to perform the pre-check in at 9:00 a.m. in our hotel lobby. So we had breakfast in the Sheraton then we took a cab ($12) to the port at 10:30 a.m. - we were physically on the ship at 12:25 p.m. We didn't have to wait in line for anything! Carnival started letting the first group of passengers on board the ship around noon.
Many times during our 100% occupied cruise, I found myself saying, "where is everybody?" The ship was so big that there was plenty of room for all passengers to enjoy their vacation without seeing large groups of people. We found the staff and crew to be very friendly and most of them greeted you and smiled as you pass them in the corridors. Rommel and his assistant (table #261) treated us like royalty every day in the dining room. The food was just as good or even better than on any ship that we sailed on. Carnival didn't even charge extra for cappuccino or double expresso at dinner. Buffet food really didn't impress us, however the following delicious alternative dining options did: 24/7 unlimited frozen yogurt/ice cream machines and 24/7 pizzeria.
As a native New Yorker, I have been exposed to B'way shows. I thought the shows on the Carnival Triumph (January 2001) were much better than the ones we experienced on the Paradise. However, my children and nephews really enjoyed them and the magic shows and comedians were very entertaining for all. Our room steward was very visible and always knew exactly when to tidy up our cabin, which he did several times a day. Everything was done to perfection, including creative towel animal creations with our personal items (sunglasses, swim goggles, hats, etc.). We booked a Category 6A guarantee and did not receive any upgrades, but had a great ocean view room (M225) with one upper and three lower beds. We thought the room was very spacious for a family of four and the bathroom/shower was equally sufficient as well. As for the rest of the ship, it was always glittering and sparkling clean. The dEcor was much more traditional than compared to the "Las-Vegas" dEcor of the Carnival Triumph, which is loaded up with neon lights everywhere. The only neon lights we found on the Paradise were in the Rex Disco.
We did all the island excursions on our own, as this was our third return to the Western itinerary. We were not too impressed with Belize or Isla Roatan, but enjoyed the ship's beautiful amenities instead. In Grand Cayman we took a cab to the "new and improved" Turtle Farm, had lunch at the neighboring Conch Restaurant, sampled free rum cake at the neighboring Tortuga Rum Store, then took a swim along 7-mile beach at a friend's condo. In Cozumel, our ship was fortunate to dock at the "newly constructed" pier in town, right where all of the shopping and partying is located. We were permitted to get off the ship around 12:30 p.m. We brought our swim and snorkel gear and took a cab to Chucknaab National Park for about 4 hours - if you love to snorkel in waters filled with beautiful fish & coral and lay on the beach, this is the place to go. The cab was only $10 each way for four persons and the park admission was only $10 per adult (children under 6 are free).
Being non-smokers, we found the smoke free environment absolutely marvelous. The water slide was incredible and was open from 10am-5pm. As usual, not enough of lounge chairs at pool areas. No Problem Mon - just got up at 7:00 a.m. to reserve lounge chairs like all the other cruise ships that we were on. Camp Carnival was professionally run and the free beepers provided worked out great.
Additionally, Paradise is the only ship in the world that is currently totally smoke free. However, I did confirm with the cruise director that Paradise will only operate as a smoke free ship through September 20, 2004 - they claim that the Paradise operates in the red by over $5,000,000. I was also informed that the majority of the U.S. and European population does smoke and that the majorities of smokers drink more and gamble more than non-smokers. Thus, smokers are bound to spend more money while on board. I find this very disturbing and would encourage you to contact Carnival, and let Mr. Dickinson, Carnival's President, know that you disapprove of this. I would think that Carnival executives would look to charge a little more for their non-smoking passengers - maybe then they would eventually show a profit. I know that I, along with thousand of you non-smokers out there would pay more for a non-smoking ship.
Overall -- we highly recommend the Carnival Paradise- especially to you wonderful non-smokers out there. And at those prices, you can't beat the value that you get compared to other cruise lines. Way to go Carnival! Keep up the good work!