Pre-Cruise: The NY group flew out the day before (SAT) to FLL. We stayed at the Embassy Suites by the FLL. Pier. The hotel picked us up at the airport. The hotel is very nice. Beautiful grounds and pool. The room was big...sleeps 6. Free cocktail hour and buffet breakfast. If you are going out on a cruise from FLL. They will drop you off at the pier for n/c. Unfortunately it rained all day. My kids were determined to go swimming. We let them go in for a short while. They were going to get wet anyway. We ate dinner at the Outback Steakhouse across the street from the hotel. We made arrangements with a car service to bring us to the Port of Miami ($65). We had made arrangements with Cruise Connections to pickup my Mother & Nephew in Clearwater and bring them directly to the ship ($85 r/t).
Embarkation We arrived at the pier about 11:30. We were delayed a little while to fill out the Bahamas Immigration papers. I don't understand why Carnival didn't send this info out with our docs to save time. Things went fairly smooth and we were on the ship by 12:30.
Cabin Our cabin had my family of 5 in it: My wife, myself, our 11 yr old daughter, 8 yr old son, and our almost 6yr old son. The cabin was set up with a queen bed, two Murphy beds and a rollaway. A little tight but manageable. Ample storage for the clothing. The Bathroom is roomy with a nice amenities basket provided. The cabin steward was excellent. Our kids loved the Towel animals and the cookie turndown service.
Ship The Paradise in in excellent shape. The public areas are tastefully done and well laid out. The Atrium area is very beautiful. The main deck area has a very large pool with a spiral slide and a couple of hot tubs. A very large bandstand area for the live music. My main complaint was the design of the main theatre. Many obstructed views. Get there early or you will not be able to see the stage very well. The non-smoking aspect of the ship was a real pleasure. Too bad they will be changing that policy when the ship relocated to California.
Dining & Service This is an area Carnival is very inconsistent. We had all of our breakfasts at the main restaurant. This was good but limited menu. Lunch was served only on sea days in the dinning room. On port days we had lunch in the Paris buffet and the grill area or the Pizza. Very small variety in the buffet areas and not that tasty. They did have good Hamburgers. The Pizza we good but being from NY we are big Pizza critics. For Dinner we originally had a 5:45 early seating. We tried it the first night and felt very rushed. We changed it to 8pm. This was much better. Some of the dinners were very good for example the Lobster, Chateaubriand, and the Grouper. Beef dishes can only be ordered Med Rare or Med Well. Sometimes the meals arrived cold and had to be re-ordered. They never came around to offer 2nds. If you asked they would bring you another entree. They didn't serve shrimp as often as our previous cruises on Princess & Celebrity. The midnight buffets were basically repeats of the lunch offerings at the Paris with the addition of make your own crepes. The Grand Buffet was nice but again not that great. They had one deck party with a Mexican theme. Room service was quick and efficient.
Drink Prices We purchased one soda card for our 11yr old for $23. Our boys loved the Fruit Punch and Lemonade. We drank mostly Iced Tea. I found the drink prices to be on the high side. Virgin Pina Coladas ran $4.
Camp Carnival This is where Carnival SHINES. My kids absolutely loved the Camp program. Our boys were put together in the 6-8 yr old group and had a fantastic time. They couldn't wait to go everyday. They ate dinner with the Camp Counselors every night (this is a great feature). On the first formal night they had a cocktail party and had dinner then they took them to the show. The boys made several arts & crafts items they were able to take home. They were also given a Camp Carnival T-shirt and backpack. Our 11yr old enjoyed it also. She made several friends. She went to dinner with us adults. She also had an all night party- 10pm-8am (this cost $32 extra-but it was worth it!). The Counselors were excellent!!!!
Ports Of Call-We basically went to beaches with the kids. Sightseeing would bore the heck out of them. Nassau We took a taxi to Paradise Island to a public beach. Nice beach but very rough swimming water. One tip-We heard many complaints from people who took the excursion to Blue Lagoon. Carnival's description of the tour said it was 5 1/2 hrs long. But the actual beach times is approx 2hrs. They charged a lot for this and people felt ripped off. Dominican Republic We took a taxi to Bayahibe Beach, beautiful..very tropical setting. Calm warm Swimming water. Very clean beach. The kids loved this beach. One word of warning: there were some topless sunbathers here. Our kids didn't notice.
St. Thomas Everyone had to wake up early for US Customs. This is a new procedure when visiting this port. We all had to go to the main lounge to clear customs before they would let anyone off the ship. When we made it off the ship we were harassed by all the taxi drivers at the port. This really turned us off to the island. We did finally take one of the taxis to another beach. This time we went to Morning Star beach. Very nice-not crowded. The swimming water was not as calm as DR but not as rough as the Bahamas.
Sea Days Hard to get deck chairs near the main pool. Much better luck getting chairs in the rear (AFT) pool area. Went to Afternoon tea twice- this is held in the America Piano bar area- not big enough to handle the crowd. Service here not great. Had to ask for tea and wait a long time for the snacks. We tried to go to the library to play Scrabble. Unfortunately they were out of Scrabble games (all checked out). The library has limited hours. The casino is very nice- calm crowd and no smoking!!!
Entertainment Very nice production shows but hard to get a good seat. The Piano music was excellent. The Deck band was way too loud most of the time. You couldn't talk to one another without raising your voice. Staff Extremely friendly. The Purser's desk was probably the nicest people I have seen in this area.
Debarkation Very smooth. Off the ship by 9:30am. No problem finding our luggage. We took the Carnival Transfer back to the Ft. Lauderdale airport. They only charged us for 3 passengers ($16ea) and let our sons travel for free.
Overall Very nice family vacation. Considering what we paid ($1950 for our cabin of 5 + Insurance) this was a good value. Carnival could improve their food and service some. I would definitely take the kids again on Carnival. When my wife & I get to go alone we will still look to go on either Princess or Celebrity again.
Our previous cruises: 1989 Chandris Victoria-Southern Carib. 1999 Celebrity Mercury-Western Carib. 2001 Princess Sea Princess- Mexican Riviera 2003 Princess Grand Princess-Western Carib.