Warning: If you are looking for a bad review, you may as well stop reading here as we had a blast on this ship and loved every minute we spent on it. Also, the review is fairly long, but I just can't stop talking about this trip, so bear with me…..
We are a group of 4 adults who decided to try a cruise in the Caribbean. I had done one cruise way back in 1993 in the Greek Islands on a small ship for which I can't even remember the name. However, I did remember I'd enjoyed it and was really eager to try one of the "big ships" roaming in the Caribbean. We decided to go with Carnival for two main reasons: the itinerary and the price. We were not deceived with our choice.
Following recommendation from most CruiseCritic.com members, we left a day earlier in order to ensure we would not miss the cruise, especially coming from Canada where the weather can turn really ugly in no time. We flew with Continental on February 22nd from Ottawa with a connection through Cleveland and landed in West Palm Beach where we took the tri-rail to Miami. Flight was right on time, and the tri-rail experience was really not bad at all, considering that it cost only $5.50 for the ride all the way to Miami. We had an airport hotel booked through Priceline, and I must admit I was worried about it as the reviews on tripadvisor were not really good. The hotel was La Quinta Inn Airport North. Turned out that the hotel was not as bad as the reviews were suggesting. We had two rooms, and they had been completely renovated. Mattresses were brand new, and the rooms were clean. On the other hand, there is not much around the hotel as far as restaurant and shopping. On each side of the hotel, there was a Wendy's, McDonald's and a Denny's. There is also a small shopping centre where you can find a pharmacy, convenience store and liquor store. In the morning, they offered a complimentary continental breakfast which included muffins, croissant, toasts (with peanut butter and jam), fruits, cereals, coffee, tea and juices. They also offered transfers (for $10 per person) to the port, which we took advantage of. At 9:45 AM, we were in the van making our way to the port, and were very excited about it.
Very efficient. Being there early allowed us to receive a Zone 1 ticket, which was great. The terminal is awesome, and the view of the ship very impressive. At 11:30 AM, we were on board and started discovering what would be our home for the next 7 days. The lobby itself is very nice, with the glass elevator, the bar and grand piano, and all the lights on. We then proceeded to explore the remainder of the ship. We had to meet with the Maitre D as they had put us on the second seating in the London dining room while we wanted to be on the first seating. The Maitre D was very nice and accommodating, and we ended up on the first seating at a table for 4.
Being our first cruise, we don't have anything to compare with, however I was really impressed with the ship. The layout is awkward on the dining room decks, but on any other deck, it is fairly straightforward. Did not see any rust, nor did I focused on finding any, and never really experienced the sewer smell I kept reading about. Maybe I was just lucky to be in an area where this smell was non existent.
We had selected two inside staterooms, number 6287 and 6289. We loved our rooms and where they were situated on the Upper Deck. Close to the glass elevator in the lobby, but far enough to keep the noise away. Our rooms were directly mid-ship on a small corridor which had only 11 staterooms, which made it very quiet. The size of the rooms were good, in fact I was surprise at all the leg room we had and the storage space. Our cabin attendant was very good and kept the room in order all week long. It is amazing how you don't really see them all the time, but whenever you get back to your room, everything is back in order. They are really doing a great job.
The dining experience onboard is definitely one of the highlight of the trip. The food was excellent, and our headwaiter Anil and is assistant Saka were absolutely wonderful. They made sure that everything was perfect for us. They were always smiling and very efficient. We were seated on the mezzanine, and had a great view onto the dining room, which was great when the staff were singing and dancing to entertain us.
We were always having lunch on the Lido Deck at the buffet, and it was good. The NY Deli sandwiches were very good. We did not try the Noodle restaurant, but had pizza, as well as hot dog and hamburgers from the Grill which were also very good. We had breakfast at both the buffet and the Paris dining room. The buffet was good, but the breakfast in the dining room was superior.
There is really nothing to complain about the food onboard. And if you happen not to really like something, it is easy to order something else.
Although we were too full to eat at the midnight gala buffet, we took a look at it and were very impressed with the work they had done on it. From gigantic ice sculpture to the presentation of the food, it was really worth seeing it.
We attended most of the shows in the Rome Lounge. The magicians were exceptionally good, as for the Century Café and Wonderful World shows. Michael Valentine, the lead singer, is very good, as were all the dancers. These guys put tremendous efforts to entertain us and deliver high quality shows. The Legend show on the last night was hilarious and very fun to watch.
We tried the casino (no luck!!!), went to Club Rio for the Captain Cocktail party, and enjoyed most of the public rooms with the various entertainment. Let's just say that there is never a boring moment on the ship.
During the fun days at sea, we simply enjoyed the sun deck as much as possible. The weather was very good during the entire trip, and decided to get the most out of it, therefore we did not participate in all the other activities going on at all time. We did, however, played a game of mini-putt, and it was fun. The main pool area was always crowded, but the Continental pool area was fairly quiet.
Our CD, Brad, told us that there was 500 kids on the ship. Camp Carnival did a great job in keeping them entertained as we barely saw any of them all week long.
The Ports of Call
Half Moon Cay. Our first stop. What can I say other than it is the most beautiful beach I have ever seen (and I travel quite a lot). This place is a paradise. Crystal clear water, with unbelievable shades of turquoise, white powdery sand. As the sign says, I could have lived there forever. Carnival should make this stop at the end of the cruise as after you have seen it, it takes a lot to impress you afterward. We did not do any excursion on this island, as we had decided to soak in the sun and enjoy the sea. The BBQ lunch was great, the weather was perfect (blue on blue), and the view of the ship from the beach magnificent. Memorable….
St-Thomas. Beautiful, lush green St-Thomas. We had book a tour online with Sunny Liston. We had a blast. This guy is fantastic. He picked us up at the ship, and brought us to town for shopping. All along, he put the music on very loud and everyone in the little bus were singing along with him. Shopping was great, especially if you are looking for jewelry. Quite expensive however. From the downtown shopping, Sunny brought us to Mountain Top, stopping along the way so we can admire the beautiful view of the harbor and the cruise ships docked in the bay. He provided us with good information. On Mountain Top, we had an astonishing view of Magen's Bay, and we could see why it is considered one of the top ten beach in the world. We then had the famous Banana Daiquiri ($7.50) and it was worth it!!! From there, he brought us to Sapphire Beach. Looking at the beach, which was crowded, we decided to go back to the ship and do more shopping at Havensight. Good choice as I was able to find 1 litre of Grand Marnier for $19.50 (sorry, cannot get over it as it is so expensive in Canada!!!). Overall, another wonderful day in paradise…
San Juan. I was not expecting much out of San Juan… Turned out I fell in love with the city. What an amazing place. We took a tour with one of the taxi driver waiting for customers at the pier. At $10 per person for an hour, it was a good deal. He showed us the new part of San Juan, and brought us to El Morro. We visited the fortification (still in fantastic condition) and made our way down back to the ship. The old city is fascinating, colorful, full of life. Beautiful. Will definitely go back and spend more time over there….
Grand Turk. Our least favorite, nonetheless we had a good time. The beach is nice, but certainly not as nice as Half Moon Cay. We did not book any tours, and simply enjoyed swimming and sunbathing. Shopping was not bad either!!!!
We decided to do self disembarkation. Went very well, and in no time were out of the ship and into a taxi to West Palm Beach. In fact, at 10:30, we were heading to City Place from our hotel.
Our flight was leaving on the Sunday, so we spent the night at the Courtyard Marriott West Palm Beach Airport. Again, we had a great deal through Priceline. The rooms were very nice, and the hotel offered free transportation to both City Place and the airport. Being able to go to City Place is very convenient as there is nice shopping and good restaurant (we ate at the Cheesecake Factory!!!). The hotel also has a nice pool and outdoor whirlpool.
We had a fantastic time. We loved every minute we spent on the ship, as well as all the islands we visited. It was by far the best vacation ever down in the Caribbean. We are all looking forward to the next one, and will certainly go with Carnival again.