My husband Joe and I took this cruise to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We traveled with our good friends Tammy & Keith, who were married 2 weeks after we were - and so were also celebrating their 20th. Joe and I had cruised once before - on the Carnival Paradise in 2004 to the Western Caribbean. We took our 3 kids on that trip. This was Tammy & Keith's first cruise. A quick "warning" - I tend to give a lot of details, so this is NOT going to be a short review! But - if you want lots of tips and tricks for how to get the most out of your cruise - great excursion ideas, cost savers, taxi prices, etc - this is a review you'll want to read!
Getting there: We chose to book our own hotel & flight to get the best deal. I use travelocity.com to book flights, and tripadvisor.com for hotels - because they have reviews available.We flew down to San Juan the day before - so that we could see a bit of Puerto Rico before we sailed, and to avoid missing our boat if we had any delays. We booked a room at El Canario by the Sea. El Canario owns 3 hotels in the Condado area of San Juan. Their website is: http://www.canariohotels.com/sea.htm We paid $125 tax included for a quad occupancy room - which was quite a bit cheaper than anything else I found on the internet. The hotel is not fancy, but were very clean, and the staff was friendly and helpful. There are in-room safes available for a $2 fee, and plenty of room for the 4 of us, even with all our cruise luggage. They serve a simple continental breakfast in an enclosed courtyard area. The hotel is perhaps 20 steps from the beach - although there is a highrise between the Condado and the beach, so most rooms do not have a beach view. The website was very clear about this, however. The website also gave a lot of info about the Condado area -available restaurants, attractions, where to pick up necessities. I exchanged emails a few times with Linda, their reservations clerk, and she was extremely helpful & prompt. She even connected me with someone who would give tours to a number of attractions - although we didn't end up using a tour guide in San Juan. We took a walk on the beach after we checked in, then walked around the condado area. There are plenty of restaurants within walking distance - and we felt very safe walking day or night. We stopped for dinner at a restaurant called Latin Star - they have an outdoor patio. We were looking for some local cuisine, but didn't see anything on the menu that really sparked our interest, and it was a bit pricey, so we ordered appetizers & drinks. On a positive note - they had the best Piña coladas I had on this trip - very good! After that, we walked around some more - stopped at a local park where musicians and dancers were performing, and a number of vendors had booths set up. I bought some nice earrings there, and we enjoyed the music. The vendors are not at all pushy. There is a Walgreens only a block from the hotel - we bought bottled water & soda to take on board the ship with us.
Embarkation - there were taxis parked in front of the hotel when we checked out. I believe the fare was about $20 for the 4 of us including all our luggage to get to the cruise terminal. (Taxi fare was $22 for the four of us from the airport to the hotel in Condado.) Taxi fares are standardized in San Juan, so there's no bargaining process. The carnival info says boarding time is 2:30 & that you should not arrive at the terminal more than 30 minutes before that, but I had read reviews that said you could board as early as noon, and we wanted to get rid or our baggage before exploring San Juan anymore, so we headed directly for the terminal. When we arrived , locals were waiting to load our baggage onto a cart and escort us into the terminal. The walk from the sidewalk to the doors is perhaps a little longer than a football field, so if you don't want to fight with your baggage, this is a good deal. These guys work for tips - no set amount. We gave our porter $10 and he seemed pleased with that. We had completed our funpasses online, so after the baggage was dropped off, we went up the escalators and waited for our zone numbers to be called. Here is where things are different from most cruises I've read about. There is a large duty free liquor store in the terminal. They give out samples liberally - "take as many as you want!" and guarantee that if you buy liquor there, and place it in your carry on baggage, you will have no trouble getting it on board the ship with you. We found that to be true - we did see a liquor confiscation table, but it was empty. We bought some Kahlua, a bottle of Cuervo Gold, and a bottle of Parrot bay (coconut flavored rum.) The Kahlua is great over the soft serve ice cream that is available 24 hours a day on the Lido deck. I'd recommend taking along a collapsible cooler for your room - that way, if you like Kahlua & milk, you can pick up extra milk at the breakfast buffet. I took a couple of empty water bottles and filled them with passion/guava juice from the breakfast buffet - it's a great mixer for the Parrot Bay. We didn't experience any long lines in embarkation - just showed our passports and boarding passes, stopped for a quick photo and we were on the boat by 12:30. We dropped off our carry-ons in our rooms, and headed out to explore the ship and pick up some lunch on the Lido deck. I had read in some reviews that the Destiny was showing her age & in need of repair - even after a refurbishing in 2005 - but we didn't find this to be the case. The ship was clean, and the staff were incredibly friendly - it was rare that we were not greeted by several staff members as we passed down the hallways. We booked an inside guarantee cabin - meaning you are guaranteed a room, but you don't book a specific room - this is a cost-cutting option that we were willing to take, because we don't spend a great deal of time in our room, and we preferred to save our money for excursions and activities rather than paying for a window or balcony room. The room was clean - our room steward Suvata was very sweet, and took great care of us.
The Ship: The ship has the usual assortment of lounges - we spent time in the Karaoke club, the Criterion Lounge where a good latin band played several evenings, and a bit of time in the Onyx - good jazz band, and the Point after disco - although most of the time, they tended to have singles events there - and often nothing was going on there till pretty late in the eve (hence the name?) The Palladium lounge is the big lounge where the large shows are held. 3 or 4 pools - fairly small, but we didn't do much swimming on the ship - mainly used them to cool off when sunbathing on the Lido deck on our At Sea day. Activities: - We are ballroom dancers and were looking forward to dancing on the cruise. At first, I didn't think we were going to have any big-band type music to dance to, but the fourth night on the boat, they had a ballroom dance class followed by a 30 minute dance set. The band was quite good - and we did get to dance several numbers. My preference would have been a much longer dance set, (we typically dance 3 or 4 hours every Friday night) but I know they try to offer something for everyone on these cruises. When we sailed on the Paradise, they had a ballroom dance set with the Captain's welcome aboard party - that would have been nice - but as I said - the band was very good, and we did get to dance. We also danced to the latin band in the Criterion lounge, and a bit in the disco and the Karaoke bar. There are always activities going on aboard the ship. A favorite of ours is the "Newlywed & not-so-Newlywed game" -- it is always a hoot! Our friends went to the Destiny Idol competition - some very good singers on board - we heard them in the Karaoke lounge on a number of occasions. As far as the scheduled talks - I had made our own excursion plans, and didn't want to waste time at the port talks, although Steve, the cruise director, was entertaining no matter what he was talking about (who would have thought a disembarkation talk could be funny?) Likewise, we didn't attend any of the shopping talks by Decio, the "supershopper" - because I cruise to enjoy what sights & sounds each island has to offer, not to shop. I think if you are interested in shopping, these talks would be great - that was just not our preference. My hubby did buy me a beautiful bracelet in the duty free shop on board, though- we just didn't shop in port. Dining: - We had early seating in the Galaxy dining room. Our servers were Wijaya, from Indonesia, and Tatyana, from Ukraine. They were both fabulous, and made us feel very special. On the second formal night we brought a bottle of wine to dinner, and Wijaya served it for us (the website says Carnival charges a $10 corkage fee to serve wine at dinner if you don't buy it from them, but Wijaya never mentioned it - just took over and took care of us. Keith surprised us that night with an anniversary cake - and several of the staff joined Tatyana and Wijaya in singing "Happy Anniversary" to us. They took pictures of us, also, which I thought was very nice, since they have professional photographers roaming around taking shots that they hope to sell you in the photo gallery. The assistant Maitre d' visited our table a few different times, and was very friendly and helpful also. The dining room staff did a little show for us each night & we always enjoyed those. For most breakfasts we ate at the buffet on the Lido deck. There was a nice assortment, and two fresh omelet stations. Once, we dined in the Universe dining room, which was also good. We did most of our lunching in port - sometimes carrying along sandwiches which we made off the breakfast buffet, or from room service. When we were on board ship, the Lido buffet always had a great selection. The burgers are great as well. Pizza was average buffet fare. There is also a Happy Valley oriental grill and a New York deli. Never got to sample the deli, but the oriental was pretty good.
Shore excursions: - cruise ships will always try to sell you their excursions by telling you that this is the only way that you can be sure you will not be left in port if you are late, and that it is safer to take their excursions than book someone you do not know. What I've found is that cruise ship excursions are often more crowded and less personal than independently booked excursions. I have never booked a ship-sponsored excursion - and I have never regretted booking an independent operator. That's my own personal bias, but I like to get the most for my money, and I do not like vacationing "with the pack." Of course, you have to use good judgement, but realize that tourism is big business on these islands, and these people are anxious to please for the most part. Reviews and recommendations are their bread & butter. We had some extraordinarily memorable excursions on this trip - and I found my tour guides through internet reviews like this one. I'll go over our experiences port by port:
St. Thomas - That morning at breakfast, I picked up some extra croissants, ham & cheese, & fruit and made sandwiches for lunch. Packed in a softsided cooler with a gallon ziploc of ice and our water bottles, and we were all set. (Always pack a box of ziplocs quart & gallon for this purpose!) We had decided that we wanted to spend the day at Trunk bay on St. John, so we left the ship, caught a taxi for about $10 each to Red Hook (there is a Vitrans bus - but we couldn't tell for sure where or when it would pick up - so we opted for the taxi.) From Red Hook - the ferry is $5 per person to Cruz bay on St. John. Then, another taxi to Trunk bay for $6 pp. Trunk Bay is supposed to have a $4 pp entry fee, but we got there so early that there was no one to collect money, and we just walked onto the beach. We had the beach to ourselves with one other couple from the Destiny who we had shared the cab with. Many more people came later, but I never felt that the beach was crowded. The snorkeling at Trunk bay is some of the best I've ever seen - there is a marked underwater trail - but what I liked was the clarity of the water, and the vast variety of coral and aquatic life. There is an island out in the bay near the marked trail, and I swam completely around it, without ever feeling fatigued. The waves are slightly rougher on the far side of the island, but not bad at all. I don't think we were approached by any vendors at all at Trunk bay. There are national park workers who will lead tours, but we pretty much went on our own.
Dominica - this island is mountainous with lush tropical jungles & black sand beaches. I had pre-arranged a tour for just the 4 of us with Fredos Peltier of Fredos tours. Our tour was $50 pp because it was exclusive for the 4 of us - if you book the regular tour, you may share the van with other passengers, but I believe the rate is $40pp. (email Fredos at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check his website at: http://freddy536.tripod.com/index.html Fredos was a fantastic guide. He was waiting outside the gate for us at the pier, with a sign that said "Fredos Tours". He had an air conditioned van, in good repair. We toured through Roseau and out into the countryside, as he told us all about "his island." It was obvious that Fredos loves Dominica, and was eager to share all that makes Dominica special with us. Several times on the tour, he pulled over to the roadside to retrieve something he wanted to us to see, taste or smell - lemon grass, cinnamon leaves, or tamarind seeds. At one stop he brought Tammy & I beautiful pink flowers. Our first stop was Emerald Pool - a 10 minute moderate walk brought us down to a cool jungle clearing where a 30 foot waterfall plunged into a dark green pool. I stashed my dry geam under a rock ledge, donned my water shoes and waded in. The water is cold, but refreshing! Take your water cameras, but take some shots with your digital also - it was so shady in this location that our water camera photos came out rather dark & grainy. I had read that this spot could get crowded with tours, but it wasn't when we were there. Fredos said he tried to keep ahead of the other tours, and he seemed to be able to do that without making us ever feel rushed. There are souvenir vendors at the visitors center here - I bought some pretty baskets made by Carib indians. Next stop: Mr. Nice's fruit stand - be prepared to enjoy yourself! "Mr. Nice" chops all sorts of fruit - pineapple, coconut, banana, etc. We ate fresh pineapple till our mouths were sore. Fredos also made us a special treat from a piece of banana, a roasted cocoa bean, and a mound of coconut ginger candy, still warm from the oven. - I promise you, you've never had anything like it! Ladies from another tour watched us and then said "I know you're not our guide, but could you do that for us?" Fredos graciously said yes, but asked us if we'd like some more as well, making sure we knew we were his first priority. Mr. Nice joked and played with the crowd. Fredos told us that they occasionally got into singing contests - but that Mr. nice would not sing if Fredos started the contest - so Tammy asked him "do you sing" and he started at once - singing one of Fredos' songs to get him to respond. (Fredos does calypso music under the name De Intruder - we bought one of his CD's.) You don't buy fruit at Mr. Nice's -- he tells you "if it's nice, do it twice...if it's sweet, you repeat....if it's great, don't hesitate.....and leave what your heart tells you when you go - he has a hanging gourd for tips. After Mr. Nice's - we drove through banana and pineapple plantations, saw coffee & avocado trees, drove through several villages on the way up to Morne Bruce, where there is a fabulous view of the Roseau and the cruise ship in the harbor. We also drove past one of Dominica's black sand beaches, where Fredos pulled over and poured us some of his famous rum punch - made with cinnamon, and I believe a bit of tamarind. Then, it was on to the botanical gardens, and up to Trafalgar Falls - twin falls high in the mountains. One of the falls is warm water, one is cold. It's a 10 minute walk to the lookout, then if you want, you can climb over large boulders down to the base of the falls. I did - and Joe took my picture sitting in the rushing water. Note FYI - there is a $2 per person fee to enter national park sites - Emerald Pool & Trafalgar falls - which is not included in the tour price. Fredos' email let us know about that beforehand. Our day with Fredos was full of adventure and beauty, and he did everything he could to make sure it was a memorable one. I don't know how he packed so much into one day without ever making us feel a bit rushed! If you tour with Fredos, you will not regret it! !!! A couple of other notes- pack a sandwich on this day so you won't get hungry on the road - although Mr. Nice's fruit filled us up pretty well! Also - while at Mr. Nice's, buy a bottle of Kubuli beer - Dominica's national beer. It is very good - similar to Heineken - and our favorite island beer.
Barbados - after our full day in Dominica, we were looking for a relaxing day on the beach. We disembarked, and caught a cab to Brandon's beach - which most of the locals call Malibu Beach, as it is the site of the Malibu Rum factory. There is a visitor's center, and for $10 we bought 2 beach chairs & an umbrella to put between us. There are waiters on the beach if you want a cocktail - available but not pushy. Some of the vendors are more persistent than others, but no one was annoying. A special treat here was an aloe foot & leg massage from a local named "Elmo." He offered me a "sample" - and immediately convinced me to buy the 1/2 hour massage for $25. After he finished with me, he asked Joe if he would like one - and Joe eventually made a deal with him for all 4 of us for $85. Talk about relaxing! We swam some, but mostly relaxed in our beach chairs. The visibility wasn't great for snorkeling. I had heard that if you went to the right side of the beach, and swam out near some floating barrels, you could see the sea turtles - but the waves were a bit too choppy on this day to do this. there were jet ski rentals, catamarans to take you to the turtles if you wanted to go. Keith and Tammy had chosen this island for parasailing, and we thought we'd have to go over by the boatyard to do that, but the parasailing boat came to our beach after I had asked Elmo about it - I don't know for sure if he called them, but he had told us he would try to get ahold of them. A note on the parasailing here - we didn't do it because we'd done it previously in Florida, but from Tammy's description - the boat wasn't extremely powerful, and mostly relied on wind to take the parasail up - which made for a less than smooth ride. Keith enjoyed it, but it was a bit much for Tammy. A couple more notes about the beach: We didn't tour the rum factory, but that was available if you wanted to. The right side of the beach is in front of the rum factory, so it's not terribly picturesque - but I wasn't looking BEHIND me - I was looking out at the beautiful water. Because of the factory, the air sometimes smells of "sour rum" - further down the beach there is a hot water outlet with a very strong current coming from the rum factory. The locals bathe there and say it's good for "rheumatism" - but the water smelled like rum with a faint whiff of sewage to me - Joe got in - I sat in the edge for a minute and the warmth & current feels great, but the smell was too much for me.
St. Lucia - when I read about St. Lucia, I thought it would be pretty similar to Dominica - both about the same size, both mountainous, with lots of rainforest - and after loving Dominica so much, I thought nothing could top it....but I was WRONG! We booked a private tour again, with Shal of Jungle Tours - (email: email@example.com, website http://www.jungletoursstlucia.com) Again, I had read about Shal from other cruise reviews, and this was the tour I had been most looking forward to up till our visit to Dominica. Shal had emailed me his cell number, and the St. Lucia terminal has 2 exits, so I called him when we arrived, and he said he would be at the door in "2 minutes and 14 seconds!" We climbed into the back of his bright green open - air land rover. There were well padded bench seats on each side, and sturdy rollbars to grab onto if you wanted to stand. Shal has an incredible sound system in this vehicle - and a rather eclectic collection of music ranging from 1960's country to some of the best calypso and reggae I've ever heard. I can't begin to tell you everything about Shal's music collection- you just HAVE to take the tour to experience it - often when we stopped, he'd turn up the stereo and provide the music for everyone around - it was like a traveling party. Shal headed out of Castries, letting us know about the cooler of water, soft drinks & beer that was available to us at any time. In just a few minutes, we were all standing up - letting the wind blow our hair, hanging on to the rollbars, and enjoying the changing island scenery as we climbed away from Castries. The 60's country standards gave way to Bob Marley as we climbed higher into the mountains. The palms, flowering bushes & trees, tropical fruits, etc. were larger than life, and the ocean glistened blue-green below us. It was really awe-inspiring. Our first stop was a roadside fruit stand with fresh coconut, pineapple, papaya, and star-fruit. They would cut the top off a coconut and put in a straw to give you coconut water. Shal & a female guide form another group did some impromptu dancing to an old George Jones classic - seems like wherever Shal goes, the party follows! Back into the land rover,we pulled away hooting and hollering, as the cruise ship passengers in their 30-40 passenger bus peered out of the window and stared longingly! Shal said "you are makin' dem jealous!" Our next stop was a Cassava bread stand. Cassava is a root vegetable, which looks similar to a potato. They make both sweet and salty breads with it - we had a cinnamon raisin bread. also - they sold all sorts of bottled seasonings and sauces there - we bought an assortment. Back into the land rover....In a few minutes, the scenery changed again, as we entered the rain forest. Shal reached over and switched off the stereo, to allow us to hear the sounds of the jungle. Gorgeous Paradise is the closest I can come to describing it. The trees and plants are larger than in Dominica - and having our view unimpeded by windows or roof made it all the more spectacular. Along the way, we saw various dwellings - some very nice, some little more than shacks. Shal stopped at a roadside bakery to pick up some bread for his mother, and shared a loaf with us. it was piping hot and delicious! While he was inside, a number of locals came over with various items for sale - they were all nice, but you could see they were really anxious to sell their goods. I think the poverty level in St. Lucia is pretty bad. All through the tour, Shal was checking to see if we were having a good time, offering us drinks, and singing along to his music, or shouting out "Yeah, Baby!!! if we seemed to be especially enjoying ourselves. The next stop was the sulfur springs - where steam bubbles up in boiling volcanic springs. The water boils in pools and the sulfur smell is quite strong. Steam rises in the air. We toured the park with a guide named John - it was interesting even if smelly! After our tour - we met back up with Shal at the mineral springs below. The water was about 105 degrees - really a bit too hot for my tastes. Shal had gone up above the springs and came back with a bag of volcanic mud. He helped us to smear the mud all over ourselves, and while we were drying in the sun I noticed that other tourists had lined up behind us and were waiting for Shal to help them, too. We laughed as we watched him applying mud to several girls in string bikinis, grinning at us as if to say "tough job, but someone's gotta do it!" :) Shal helped us take pictures with our mud masks, and then we rinsed in the overflow of the spring - since getting all the way in was more than I could handle. The warmth of the overflow was nice, though. The next leg of our tour brought us in view of the Pitons, two magnificent peaks rising straight out of the ocean. They are an Enesco world heritage site - and they are truly breathtaking. As soon as they came into view - Shal pulled over, reached into the cooler for St. Lucia's national beer - Piton beer. "See da mountains, drink a beer," he said, as he passed us each a cold one. We wound up to an overlook that looked down on Soufriere, and over at the Pitons - beautiful! Then, it was on to our beachside lunch stop - Still's resort. Shal helped us settle our things and asked if we'd like to snorkel before lunch, as it would be easier on the stomach than snorkeling right after lunch. We agreed and headed for the beach. Again, the snorkeling was nice, with lots of unusual coral formations I saw some fish I'd never seen before there. After we finished snorkeling, we came up to the restaurant. It was about 2:00, and most of the tables had their chairs turned up on them, as we were the only ones there, but in just a minute or two, they had laid out a fresh caribbean buffet just for us! We tried all sorts of things we'd never had before - Shal explaining what everything was. The waitress served us fresh tamarind juice, and we were encouraged to eat all we wanted. On the way back to the boat, Joe had mentioned that he would like to pick up some pineapple juice to drink with our Parrot Bay rum - Shal made an extra stop to try to find some, and when they didn't have it, he stopped at a gas station with a market attached and told Joe to check there - they not only had the pineapple juice, but some coconut milk as well, and we made great piña coladas back on the boat later! This was the tour of a lifetime - for $85pp we had an incredible day jammed packed with the best St. Lucia had to offer. Again, we never felt rushed. Shal's easy-going joy-filled personality set the tone for the day, and we had an experience we'll never forget. If you go to St. Lucia - Shal is the ONLY way to go!!!! Antigua - we booked an island tour with Elvis George. He was recommended to me as a very courteous, safe driver, and very reliable, which he absolutely was. We were all a bit tired, this being our 5th port in 5 days, and I felt a bit bad for Elvis, as we were not the enthusiastic tourists we had been at the beginning of the week. Nevertheless, we had a good time - got to see Devil's Bridge - a natural bridge made by the atlantic pounding against the coastal rock - the surf sprays up through a blowhole and the coast is quite beautiful there. Next, we visited Long bay - the snorkeling was very good there, also - the sun was hot, but the water was refreshing. We tried Antigua's national beer there - Wadadli. Then, we were off to Nelson's Dockyards and Shirley Heights. We weren't overly fond of the dockyards - many people had told us they were a must-see in Antigua, but I think we would have all preferred a longer visit to Long Bay. There was one entrance fee for the dockyards and Shirley Heights, however, and the view from Shirley heights was beautiful. We took a lot of photos up there, as well as on the way up at a place called "black hole" which overlooks the peninsula where Eric Clapton's island estate is located. You can't see much, but with a good zoom lens, we got a nice picture of the home. Elvis's email is firstname.lastname@example.org Our tour with Elvis cost $40 per person plus the entrance fee to Nelson's Dockyard/Shirley heights. I can't remember what that cost now, but it wasn't more than $5pp. Summary: This is a great itinerary, although very full! Plan a couple of slower beach days to balance it out - but don't miss the jungle tours in Dominica and St. Lucia - they are absolutely worth it!!!! Entertainment: We attended a couple of shows - I'd rate them as average - the singers were good, dancers were good, but I'm not a huge fan of LasVegas style entertainment, i.e, thongs everywhere. Call me crazy, but I get tired of looking at other women's butts.....The western number with full chaps in front, thongs in back bordered on ridiculous....but that's just my take on it. I don't think they were trying to entertain the women in the audience with those particular numbers. :) There was a juggler who was quite good - and our friends went to a comedy act that they enjoyed a great deal. We heard one of the comedians once, also, and enjoyed him a lot. Also - we saw a a show by a former member of the Platters. His voice was a bit gravelly, but it was great hearing the old classics again.
Disembarkation : As per usual, we were supposed to have our bags packed and outside the room by midnight on the last evening of the cruise. Buy some plastic cable ties to close your luggage before putting them in the hallway to keep your items secure. Also, pack some bubble wrap and tape for breakable items. I packed our remaining Kahlua in double ziploc bags, then bubble wrapped it and got home with it without a problem. Ziploc any lotions, suntan oils, etc to keep them from spilling on your clothing - something ALWAYS comes open in those things! We attended the disembarkation talk, but if you miss this or any other talks, they replay them on the in-room TV, so catch them there. They call you to disembark by tag color. These tags can be confusing - ours looked gold but I think they called it peach or something....anyhow, find a spot to wait with your carry-ons (a lot of the lounges are open and empty, and are a comfortable waiting spot, once you've vacated your room. Do try to clear out of the room as a consideration for your stewards - they have a lot of work to do before the next bunch come in. We waited in the Criterion lounge until our tag color was called. They seat you in the Palladium lounge and release 100 or so people at a time as customs calls for them. They play "America's funniest home videos" for you while you wait. This process goes smoothly as long as everyone follows instructions and doesn't try to put themselves ahead of others. If you have an early flight, they'll give you a special colored ticket to disembark early - if in doubt - DO THIS! The check in process at the airport in San Juan is NOT speedy - we were in line 2 1/2 hours, but had a later flight so we didn't mind. Back to disembarkation - We showed our sail & sign cards one more time along with our passports and were off the boat and into the luggage claim area. There are an abundance of porters in this area waiting to help you through customs. USE ONE! - and pick one who is fairly aggressive. They will have you through customs in 30 seconds. Ours loaded our luggage onto his dolly and said - "Give me your customs forms - you don't need anything else - stay close behind me" and we were off and in a cab in 5 minutes. The cab from the terminal to the airport was $22 for all of us counting luggage fees. There are not a gaggle of porters waiting for you at the airport. We soon found out why - the line for check - in would keep them tied up for hours, so they let you go it alone there - or at least that was our experience, and we were fine with that. Try to remember that you've just been waited on hand and foot for 7 days, and don't be a big baby just because you have to stand in line for a while. Final do's & don'ts: DO pose for lots of photos before dinner in the evenings - there are no "sitting fees" and you get your pick of lots of great photos - and WHEN do you have the time to dress up for photos at home?? The Carnival pix are expensive, but they make for some great memories. DON'T get suckered into buying more than one copy of each photo. They will show a photo that shows a copy with a sort of Carnival watermark - but I was able to scan and copy our photos with no problem - and I have a release from Carnival allowing copying of their photos - it used to be available on their website - not sure if it still is, though. DO try unusual and new things at dinner - when do you get a chance to do this without it costing you an arm and a leg? If you don't like it, your servers are only too happy to bring you something else. A couple of nights when we couldn't make up our minds, we would order 2 appetizers, and Joe & Keith even ordered 2 entrees - enjoy! DON'T miss the warm chocolate melting cake - it was one of our favorite desserts - Joe and I each had it at least twice during the week. DO tip extra for outstanding service - when you think of what you would tip for one very nice dinner out, the $10 per person per day tip doesn't seem like a huge amount. We gave our servers & our room server $20 each on the last night - they were truly worth it, and we were fortunate enough to have a little cash left, so we did it. DO - keep a travel journal - even if you only have a few minutes each night to write in it - you'll be surprised how quickly you forget where you did and saw what. DO - go on this cruise with a great attitude, ready to enjoy yourself & make memories!- - on both cruises we've been on, we've noted that the attitude people came on board determined what kind of cruise experience they had. Happy Cruising!!!