My husband and I are from Illinois. He is a journeyman painter (union) and it's difficult for him to get time off. I too was a union painter, but had to quit when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. I became a grandmother this year. Yay!
This was our 4th cruise. The first in hurricane season. I am so dumb I wondered why it was so cheap. Three Carnival (2 on the Conquest, Western Caribbean, and NCL to the Mexican Riviera). We prefer Carnival except for the anytime dining offered on the NCL cruise ships. It was less stressful coming back from shore excursions.
We always fly Northwest Airlines and the flight was turbulent due to bad weather, but otherwise no delays or problems. Took a taxi to our hotel in Miami Beach which was about 45 mins. from the airport and cost $50.
We arrived in Miami two days early. We had reservations to swim with the dolphins at the Sea Aquarium. This was the most awesome experience that we have ever had. It is expensive, but well worth the money. CNN was taping the day we were there for the Anderson Cooper Show. You get to spend a lot of time with the dolphins. More than is offered on shore excursions. Hotel: We stayed at the Newport on Miami Beach. Very nice hotel. We chose our hotels based on their location on the beach rather than closeness to the port. My husband was raised in San Diego and now lives in Illinois so needless to say he misses the ocean. The hotel had a nice breakfast buffet (not complimentary), beach with lifeguards, rentals, also a pool. Across from the hotel was a strip mall with a CVS and a fantastic chinese restaurant. Rooms are very nice size.
The concierge suggested we hop a bus to South Beach for $1.50 ea. and assured us it was safe. What a blast. It took about 30 minutes and we saw so much of Miami as we rode. We ate at a nice Italian restaurant in South Beach and walked around. It was beautiful. Then took the bus right back.
Embarkation: For $45 we took the shuttle service from our Hotel and he took us and us only directly to the Port of Miami. We arrived about 10:00 a.m. A porter took our luggage and we entered the terminal. It is beautiful and large. The Triumph was late getting in so it was late boarding. We were given the #2 to board. We were still on the ship around noon. I noticed on our sail and sign cards that we did not have the dinner we had requested so my husband was told to wait at the London Dining Room at 1:00 to talk to the maitre d. We always ask for a table for two and especially now that I am ill. We do not drink and it is uncomfortable at the larger tables and with my husbands work schedule our vacation is precious time alone. We were given a table for two in the Paris Dining Room at the 5:45 seating. We tipped him well at the end of the cruise. Lunch was being served in several places on the Lido Deck. We dropped off our carry ons, ate and toured the ship.
SODA CARDS: These are a great bargain if you do not drink alcohol. They are $45 and you can get soda and club sodas from the bar staff and at the bars, unlimited.
WARNING ABOUT CABIN 8275 : While waiting to leave port, I went out on the balcony as a commercial for Red Zone was being filmed and the wind blew the door closed and it would not open despite being unlocked. If my husband had been out there we would have been stuck. The cabin steward said it couldn't be fixed. This is my only complaint about our cabin. Yes the bathroom is pink, but it was clean and the cabin was spacious. We had 6 pieces of luggage.
PORTS: Half Moon Cay: In one word "PARADISE". When we looked out our balcony and saw the island, I was speechless. We rented a half shell, swam, snorkeled, and had no problems with the buffet. The souvenirs were very overpriced. The t-shirts are cool though. The water is like a sparkling swimming pool.The sand really does feel like flour. This is a tender port and there were nonstop tenders.
St. Thomas: We snorkel and I did my homework so we hailed a cab and went directly to Coki Point. It was sunny and warm. The water was perfect and calm. Saw quite a few fish, but am still waiting to see a seahorse. We rented chairs and an umbrella. People walk on the beach selling drinks, food, and yes, drugs. If you are a beach person, take a cab which was $20 ea. way and go on your own. This is a safe beach. We packed up around 2:00 and on the way back to the ship it started to rain hard. When we got back to the ship the cab driver was walking behind me with an umbrella so I wouldn't get wet. Very Nice. We took our snorkel gear back on the ship and went back out to shop. We had fun in the rain. It was warm and a little rain won't kill ya, the way some people were acting. Beautiful port.
San Juan: We visited this port in the afternoon, which is one reason I took this cruise. I wanted to see San Juan during the day. We took the ship's Rain Forest Excursion. After a 45 minute drive through San Juan which was narrated and beautiful we made several stops in the Rainforest. There are so many beautiful trees, flowers and waterfalls. It was 92 out so the a/c excursion was perfect. We were offered a chance to get off before the ship to shop and walk the rest of the way or continue on to the ship. It's a great excursion to see PR plus its a/c.
Grand Turk: We booked the dune buggy excursion. This was a disaster at first. I booked the excursion online prior to the cruise at 12:15 and when we got off the ship it seems that the time was changed to 1:30 because they added an 11:00 a.m. excursion. It was hot, there was nothing else to do, so we paid $10 for two smoothies the size of dixie cups. Once it was time to get in the dune buggies, it was really fun. You drive off road and through the town, making sightseeing and photo stops. Not sure it was worth $109 per person, but my husband was smiling ear to ear. The dune buggies break down alot and I have read that this is still happening. We then played around in the water. It was very clear, but it was very rocky. I don't think I would want to go back to this port. Heard Margaritaville was alot of fun for those that went.
Days at Sea: We enjoyed our cabin more this cruise. We watched PPV movies, sat on the balcony and even ordered room service at night which was kinda fun. We ordered bagels, sandwiches and brownies. All were good. Plenty of ship activities. You shouldn't get bored.
DINING: Paris Dining Room. RED TEAM! Well this was different for us. The food was really bad. I ended up ordering steak most of the time and it was so tough. Vegetables were rubbery and my baked potatoes were hard as a rock. Even the salads were not that tasty. The dinner rolls were really baseballs I think. My husband tried different things on the menu and enjoyed the soups and entree's he had. His lobster was excellent. My prime rib was not. The melting cake was good but too rich for me. Our wait staff was very good, but our main waiter spoke very little english. He smiled alot though. Bar staff that brought our pop always had it waiting when we arrived.
ENTERTAINMENT: We never missed a show. Cecil Parker, The Village Idiots, and the comedian, Mike Panzeka were all awesome. He made us laugh so hard our ribs hurt. He also had an adults only show and it was funny too. The other late night comedian was so bad, he quit early. We both thought the male and female Carnival singers were just horrible. Especially the male singer. The dancers were good.
The cruise director, Brad was good and Chris (from Iowa), Island Girl and Bonnie made things even more fun. We played Bingo and got involved in the other activities offered. I actually wanted to win a "ship on a stick". Came close. Yeah RED TEAM won.
Overall, I would rate the cruise an 8 and a 10 if the food was better and our balcony door problem.
SHOPS: I like all the shops. NCL has very little. I got a designer purse for half the price I saw it in Vegas. Lots of bargains if you are looking.
DISEMBARKATION: We put our bags out and cleared customs in about an hour. We were second call to disembark. It was organized. Got a porter right away and he stayed with us and then hailed a cab and a way we went.
Stayed at the BW Oceanside in South Beach. Yuk. The cool thing was that up the beach they imploded an historic hotel (Bal Harbour Sheridan). Nothing around this hotel. Dirty pool. Complimentary breakfast that was old and stale. Room was large. No lifeguard or rentals, and not even a lounge chair. We took the bus back to the chinese restaurant in Miami Beach that we ate at when we arrived in Miami.
Left the following day. We called the shuttle from our hotel we stayed upon arrival (Newport) to take us to the airport for $45. He bypassed the traffic and we were at the airport in plenty of time. Miami to Illinois on Northwest Airlines was smooth and ontime.
WITH ME BEING ILL, I NEVER KNOW WHEN MY VACATION IS MY LAST AND THIS WAS A DREAM. A GREAT SHIP, GREAT PORTS, GREAT WEATHER. I NEVER KNEW THERE WAS SUCH BEAUTIFUL PLACES LEFT IN THE WORLD.
We are booked on the Carnival Freedom 12-6-08. This is an 8 day cruise that visits Tortola and Antigua, two ports we have not been to. Cross your fingers my health holds out. Happy Cruising!