We chose this cruise because it was going to Cuba, and we wanted to see Havana before you could no longer go as a U.S. citizen, or before it became commercialized. We stayed in the Ybor district before the cruise for 2 days, 1 would have ... Read More
We chose this cruise because it was going to Cuba, and we wanted to see Havana before you could no longer go as a U.S. citizen, or before it became commercialized. We stayed in the Ybor district before the cruise for 2 days, 1 would have been plenty. The Columbia restaurant is amazing and I highly recommend it. We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites and it was adequate for 2 nights. The air conditioning was extraordinarily loud, the pool is tiny, the breakfast is very good and the front desk staff is very friendly, and the security is excellent. Call for the shuttle the morning of your departure at 9:30 sharp - I called at 9:45 and the earlier shuttles were booked, we had a 10 am embarkation time and could not get on a shuttle until 11.
We purchased faster to the fun, so embarkation was painless 30 minutes total, which included some clumsy extra's as the Cuba destination is new and unfamiliar to all involved. The Paradise is an older ship and scheduled for dry dock soon, but it is a great sized ship for a short cruise with 2 sea days - plenty to do. We had an ocean view cabin E79 in back of the guest services area, the location was perfect for us, but it can be noisy at night if you are early to bed, because of the atrium lounge. The ship staff is what you would expect from any ship, most are very friendly, but every once in a while you get someone who is less than enthusiastic - never bothers me as they work so hard, I give them a break. TIP - this ship does NOT have hair dryers, in 20 years of cruising this has never been the case so it was a huge surprise to me. The cabins are what you would expect although the shower is a bit larger than on more modern ships. We eat at the Lido most of the time for breakfast and lunch and it was very clean, great variety, and plentiful of course. The Mongolian wok is really good, I suggest going on a port day as the lines are usually long on sea days. The main dining room was good, but nothing stands out as far as dinner was concerned. The sea day brunch, however, was certainly worth taking advantage of! The pizza/salad center that is available for late night needs some attention, the person who worked there was a jerk, there was never any pizza available and if you wanted pepperoni, he would ask you if another would be OK instead because he had that and did not want to make another - so not what you would expect at 9 pm.
The activities were the usual, nothing new here. Most of the entertainment was good, especially the musicians. One comedian at punch liners was so bad we walked out, not offensive bad - just not funny at all.
We went parasailing in Key West on Fury which was booked through carnival and the experience was great, not our first time, but our best time. Other than that we just wondered around and went into a few shops and had a few drinks here and there. We would not normally buy souvenir's, but as this was the second ship back after the hurricane we bought a few things. We were back on the ship by 1:30, but if Key West had been up to speed as it normally is, we would have spent more time there.
Havana is much nicer than I expected. That being said there are some extremely poor areas and some really nice areas - pretty much like most islands you visit on a cruise. Younger adults do speak English, you can tip in US currency, it does NOT smell like garbage or exhaust, the people are very friendly and happy, a few people will ask you to come into their store or restaurant, but no one harassed us - and no one asked us for money. We did the classic car tour and it was really good, and the perfect amount of time. Two tips here: when you pick out your car, pick one with a younger driver, they will be more likely to speak English and that will enrich your tour immensely. We had a very nice older man, he tried hard, but we could not understand each other. And second, at the end of this excursion, they take you to a cigar store/straw market - this is where we tipped the guides and left to go off and do your own shopping. The shopping around the cruise port (I don't mean the terminal) has many things and there are a few really good cigar shops as well. We did not eat in Havana as we spent our CUC's on tips, rum and cigars but I would not have hesitated to do so. In hindsight we would have done the 9pm excursion to the Tropicana as that sounded like a lot of fun from those we spoke to that went as well as the Hemmingway walking tour which got great reviews from those who attended. Finally, the reason we purchased faster to the fun, was to get on the ship early to get signed up for the behind the scenes tour - and I was successful. We really loved the tour and it was only $55 per person and very worth it, especially with all the extra goodies they give you along the way. The back stage and dressing rooms, laundry room, cold storage, pantry storage, through the galley to the pastry area, staff lounge and cafeteria,engine room and bridge were the areas that were visited each with a little talk from the head of that particular area - a cruise highlight. Read Less