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Three Generations in Paradise
Day 1: Queen Mary and Embarkation
Day 2: Catalina Island and Formal Night
Day 3: Ensenada
Day 4: Fun Day at Sea and Contemplation of Short Cruises
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Carnival Paradise ship review
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Day 4: Thursday, Fun Day at Sea and Contemplation of Short Cruises
Fun Day at Sea and Contemplation of Short CruisesIt was surprising how many people came to dinner last night, considering that the ship wasn't scheduled to leave until 10 p.m. The dining room, at least at our 8 p.m. dining time, seemed as full as it always did.

I admit to feeling a pang of jealousy as our dining companions, the Japanese family, regaled us with stories of their afternoon and evening at Papas and Beer. Their ages ranged from mid-forties down to about 10, and every one of them had a terrific time. I would have loved to see Jesse in the conga line, and my mother with a "yard" of margarita. They did have a great time lazing around, however, even though my mother was sunburned on one side.

They were both glad that we had stayed aboard for supper. Last night's Georges Blanc specialty was filet mignon, which they ordered. I got the jerk pork roast with a three-bean puree, and despite the fact that their filets were about three inches tall and perfectly prepared to order, my pork dish was one of the best entrees I have ever enjoyed. It was spicy and flavorful without being over the top, and I savored every bite. Jana, our server, told me it was a new menu offering. Now -- along with the Mediterranean-style lamb dish (and the light-as-air pizza in the Lido Cafe) -- I can look forward to this entree on future Carnival cruises.

There was a late-night Mexican buffet and deck party last night. I usually get a kick out of the contests and dancing at these parties, but for some reason they had the microphone set so high that it was painful to listen to the dance instructions and contest rules. I swear, I could have heard it from Connecticut. I finally gave up before my head exploded, and went off to bed.

Today -- this is now our real Fun Day at Sea, and the last day of our cruise.

Jesse had introduced my mother to Soduko, a Japanese numbers game (worked similarly to crosswords on a paper grid) that had my eyes glazing over. Not my thing at all, but once my mom got into it, she was really into it. The two of them sat quietly near the pool, enjoying their games, while I read.

Gabriel, the Maitre d' of the Destiny restaurant, is from Buenos Aires. I sought him out at lunchtime so I could ask him some questions about his magical home city, and he joined me at my table. When my mom and Jesse came in to lunch, he was still sitting with me, so all of us got to chat a bit.

He told us that the California crowd is much more interested in "dining" than those on short East Coast cruises. He said that, as a rule, the buffet line is much less busy on Paradise than on other ships, and the dining room is almost always full. I asked him if my theory about why the sushi line is closed on formal night was correct, and he said yes. He said that the California (or Los Angeles area) passengers always ordered more sophisticated wines and used most of the silverware (I counted 12 pieces of flatware at one meal). I thought about what he was saying and realized that, even though we hadn't taken advantage of a lot of "Fun Ship" activities, we certainly had enjoyed our dinners.

Then he told us that he had ordered 60 or so chairs for the dining room, to replace some that were worn. He said it takes about four months for them to be fabricated, because they have to be "specially made so they don't burn." I shot my mother a grin and asked him if the legs were made of thin veneer around metal so it looked like real wood legs and arms; he looked surprised and said "yes." I told him that I had been explaining SOLAS to my mother, and that his chair order exemplified what I had been trying to tell her.

Jesse was itching to go back to the blackjack tables, so I accompanied him and tackled my nickel slot machine again. My mom loved the alcoves on the Promenade, especially the ones near the Ile de France coffee and pastry shop. We left her there with her book while we both generously donated to the casino's bottom line.

Most of the people I met onboard were first-time cruisers, and most were hooked after this experience. There were some who had done a four-night cruise more than once and some who just folded it into their vacation time on the West Coast, the way one would choose Disney World in Florida. And then there were some, like my mom, for whom the proximity to home and the semi-exotic itinerary worked just perfectly. My mother has lived in Los Angeles for 57 years, and had never once been to Catalina Island, a short day-trip away.

When Paradise had first arrived in Long Beach, nearly two years ago, I sailed on a three-night itinerary. It wasn't a bad experience, generally, but it wasn't terribly enjoyable, either. It was a long holiday weekend and the ship was filled with rowdy kids and college students. The staff wasn't used to the three - four night turnarounds, and a trying, work-intensive schedule. As a result, service was largely uncoordinated. The stateroom softgoods were long overdue for replacement back then too, with raggedy towels and scratchy sheets.

What a difference those 22 months have made since my last trip. Service was exemplary; the staff seemed happy and eager to please. On more than one occasion I had my plate whisked out of my hands by a waitperson in the cafeteria so I wouldn't struggle with my cane and plate at the same time. This is service I expect on Holland America, but not on Carnival. What an incredible, wonderful surprise.

Although not completely made over (as on Fantasy and Ecstasy), the accommodations have definitely been upgraded. Big, fat, fluffy white towels have replaced the shredded beige ones, and a down-filled comforter and duvet, high-thread-count sheets and fluffy pillows now dress the beds.

Paradise is one of Joe Farcus's more moderate canvases; it's more classy than outrageous. Turquoise Faberge egg replicas anchor the grand stairway in the atrium and the elevator banks throughout the ship. Faux Murano glass swirls edge the different levels around the atrium, and real glass tiles are embedded into the banquettes in the theatre, the Normandie Lounge. Brightly colored glass circles and triangles float above the molding along the top of public space walkways, and the Paris Cafe, the Lido Deck eatery where the design on most Carnival ships tends to get really "out there," is actually very pretty, with an Art Deco motif and a pleasing blue color scheme. I knew all about that before I recommended this ship to my mother, but I still had worried that the "Fun Ship" experience might prove too much for her.

Before we went to dinner, I accompanied my mom to the photo gallery. She loved the portraits that had been taken of her and Jesse, and of each of them individually. But there was a little problem, and it proved one of the only down-notes on our otherwise fabulous experience. Portraits are created in 8x10 sheets only. If you want smaller sizes, there are a range of packages you can purchase that offer sizes from wallets to 5x7's. The problem is that in order to get the smaller sizes, you first have to purchase the larger portrait -- at $20. (Candids, like the shots of you getting off the ship, or with the pirate in the dining room, are 5x7 originals, cost a lot less, and can be ordered in various sizes. It's only the portraits that present a problem.)

There were four shots that my mom was interested in purchasing, but she did not want the 8x10's of each of them. She wanted two 8x10's and then the other two photos in smaller sizes. It was not allowed.

"Seriously?" I asked the cashier at the photo gallery. "So Carnival is willing to forgo revenue by not allowing someone to make a purchase?"

"Company policy, ma'am," the fellow told me. I walked away shaking my head. My mom did buy the two 8x10's she had planned on buying, and ordered two smaller packages based on those (she would have ordered at least two more small packages based on the other portraits, but didn't want to pay $20 each for the extra 8x10s first). And another down-note: The portraits are on a matte paper but when the 5x7s were delivered, they were on glossy paper and don't look nearly as nice. We weren't told about that, nor were we asked which we'd prefer. In any event, I don't get Carnival's stance on this issue. My mom didn't get what she wanted and Carnival didn't get extra revenue because of it. Silly policy, in my eyes.

So here we were, enjoying our last meal onboard (the Georges Blanc special appetizer on the menu was a "fois gras creme brulee," which had my mom's eyes popping. I told her it had to be similar to a quiche, which it was; she loved it and would have ordered a second round of it had her soup not just arrived). It turned out that our assistant server, Iva, is from Prague and has plans to return home in a couple of weeks to get a degree in hotel management. Both she and Claudia, the assistant restaurant manager, will be home, in the Czech Republic when I'll be there in October. We exchanged e-mail addresses, they each made me promise to contact them, and they both promised to show me the real Prague. Then we shared a toast with our table mates, three of whom were returning to Japan this week, three of whom live in northern California. We exchanged e-mail addresses with them too.

When Jana, our server, asked for someone at our table to get up and join her in the dance to "Hey Hey, Baby," Jesse was the obvious candidate ... but he pleaded out of it because of his repaired tendon (he managed spinning and recumbent bikes in the gym for four days, so I didn't buy it). Alison, our 19 year old tablemate from San Jose, was also an ideal candidate, but she pleaded shyness. "Don't look at me!" my mom exclaimed -- which left me. Jana and Iva had been so fantastic, such an incredible "team" during our four dinners, that I couldn't see disappointing them, so I got up and wiggled along with the song. There was no baked Alaska "parade," but after the song and dance routine, that's what we were served for dessert.

"Well," I sighed. "This is it. It's over."

"Too short," I added, after another sigh. (Of course I say that at the end of every one of my voyages, even the 14-nighters.)

To my utter amazement and everlasting delight, my mom said, "Hmmm. I was just thinking the same thing."
Day 3: Ensenada red arrow  

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