My husband and I (both in our 60’s) chose this five-day cruise to enjoy with our son and DIL (in their 40’s). I usually cruise with my sister, so this was different for me, and for my husband who had not ... Read More
My husband and I (both in our 60’s) chose this five-day cruise to enjoy with our son and DIL (in their 40’s). I usually cruise with my sister, so this was different for me, and for my husband who had not cruised since 2012. It was my son and DIL’s first Caribbean cruise. We drove from North Carolina to the Holiday Inn in Tampa, a long drive, but enjoyed a “park and cruise” special package which allowed us to leave our vehicle in the parking deck while we enjoyed the cruise. The rooms at the Holiday Inn were spacious, clean, and elegant. Breakfast (included in the park and cruise package) was extensive and delicious. The night before, we especially enjoyed Ulele, a local restaurant with Native American influence.
We had purchased Carnival’s “Faster to the Fun” pass and also booked a Grand Suite, the first ever for me after a dozen cruises. The combination of perks made embarkation quick and easy. We had a noon appointment to board the ship. We enjoyed a special priority line through security and straight to the counter to get our Sign & Sail cards. At or close to the appointed time, we were allowed to follow the Diamond and Platinum passengers to get on the ship early, and go straight to our cabins, which were ready for us. We elected to wheel our luggage on and it was simple because the gangway in the port boards the Paradise at deck 7, making it easier to roll luggage without an extensive uphill climb (there are two escalators in the cruise port).
We booked our cruise over a year in advance and even then, had difficulty getting a cabin. We wanted a regular balcony cabin, but the only thing available at that time were Junior Suites with an obstructed view and the Grand Suites. As my husband and I celebrate our anniversary this month, we threw the budget to the winds and booked the Grand Suite. Our cabin was U79 and our son/DIL’s was U83, with an adjoining door between the Deck 6 suites (“upper deck”). We loved this part as it made it possible for us to share balconies (the partition between could not be lowered as on other Carnival ships). The Grand Suite was about the size of a regular hotel room. The décor was a little dated, but very clean and elegant. Bedding was comfortable (as always on Carnival), and it was a treat to have a jetted tub, a walk-in closet with plenty of hangers, and a large balcony with 3 chairs and enough room for a 4th.
Our room steward was Jeamer and our room was kept in tip-top condition each day.
The Paradise, a 1998 Fantasy-class ship, is getting a little elderly, but was and still is a grand ole gal. I understand that she is due to be refurbished in 2018 and while I agree it is time, that did not impact significantly on our vacation. The elevators were slow and took turns being inoperative, and there were a few other indications of small problems along the way, but nothing that really impacted my experience. Carnival Paradise is one of the smaller ships still being used by the cruiseline at only 70.3 GT, so there was a little bit of rocking and rolling in choppy seas, but again, nothing untoward. I’m interested to see how the ship is refurbished – I hope they’ll get a “Guy’s Burger Joint”-- and wouldn’t hesitate to visit again.
We chose early dining and were surprised to be seated at a table for four. While we enjoy talking to others, it gave us lots of family time, one main purpose for our cruise. Our waiters at our little table (#372) were two men both named Iwanyan and assistant Eko. They remembered our names and preferences and did a stellar job serving us each night.
Dining selections show Carnival’s cut-backs more than anything else on the ship. The food is still good, and one can certainly select a delicious entrée, but the lobster and steak special meal is gone, there were only linens on the tables for elegant night, and it seemed to me there were fewer choices each evening across the categories. My son opted for the $20 extra surf and turf meal one evening and said that while it was good, it was not amazing. For both evening and buffet dining, I noticed very little real cheesecake, the cheese being replaced with a jello-type filling and similar cut-backs. I noticed that staff now serve some items, attempting to manage portion-size on more expensive foods such as bacon on the breakfast buffet, or the meat/seafood on the Mongolian Wok station. I felt this was as much a commentary about the greediness of people as evidence of cutting back. Bread selection was still good, the salad bars are very fine, and there was a good array of entrees and desserts.
One evening, we opted to enjoy the Chef’s Table, a combination of a tour of the galley, and an amazing full-service meal, a multi-course dinner that is unavailable anywhere else on the ship. It’s limited to about 12 people and is done once or twice during the cruise. It’s pricey -- $75 on our ship – but is interesting, entertaining and delicious. This was my third Chef’s Table and the food is just amazing. The only thing I don’t like about the experience is the magician who does an up-close private show. The concept is good, but the magicians are just too caustic for me, with cutting comments and sarcasm that I did not appreciate, sometimes bordering on being inappropriate. All three times the magicians were from India and all three made comments which were supposed to be funny, I suppose, about their skin color and that of the guests. In these days, I don’t feel that’s very humorous. Our magician this time made the comment, “why do white people have to be so difficult?” when someone was not choosing a card or following his instructions quickly enough to suit. That soured me on the presentation and I was glad to get back to the meal, which is what I came for, after all. In talking about it with my cruisemates later, we thought if a break is required perhaps having the spa staff come in for a quick neck or shoulder chair massage would be pleasant, touting the benefits of the spa. A brief musical or dance interlude would be entertaining. At a minimum, a magician should focus on the illusions and not on the ethnicity of the guests.
We only attended one show this cruise, a 70-80’s Rock Music presentation, which was entertaining and well-done. We don’t expect Broadway, but are happy to enjoy some skilled dancers and singers for a fun show. This one did not disappoint.
The central bar area on deck 7 (with guest services) is very small, allowing only a soloist or possibly a duet. There were two men singing during the evening – one performing jazz-type selections, the other singing oldies. There were other bands throughout the ship, but I avoided the smoke-filled casino area where they performed. Prerecorded music was available throughout the day, and was acceptable.
The fun shops need major attention. I had more of a budget this time for purchasing a few items, but found there was little in the shops to choose from. The shops also did not open on time – once my husband and I waited for a few minutes, then did something else, only to return to a closed shop after 15 minutes. The same was true several other times. Most telling, there was very little “crowd” in the shops buying much of anything. Even the obligatory $10 t-shirt tables did not have all sizes, and were not swamped as they usually are. Rather than hundreds of watches and dozens of faux stone rings and bracelets, I’d like to see some hand-crafted items representing the various ports, something I could be proud to take home to a friend or relative. It’s definitely time for a change here.
Again, it’s time to enter into some new technology here. Photos should be viewable from the stateroom or on a kiosk, rather than making jillions of prints. I always get what I call the “pixel headache” from trying to locate photos and craning my neck trying to see all levels. I rarely pose for photos any more because of the hassle of finding them later. Offering a pre-cruise package would be great, too, just as the pre-cruise beverage or spa packages are available. On elegant night, my husband and I spontaneously opted for photos. We purchased one using a coupon given to my husband for his birthday. If photos were easier to find and view and cost less, I would have purchased many more.
Grand Cayman is a tendered port, but our Faster to the Fun pass bumped us to the front of the line. Even without it, it appeared that the tender service was excellent. I had visited Grand Cayman several times and we decided to use the inexpensive ($2.50/each/way) city bus system for transportation. It’s about a 5-minute walk from the tender cruise port and into a small van which leaves every 15 minutes. It’s a great way to see a bit more of the area and interact with local people. We love the turtle farm, not so much for the educational tour, but for the amenities – a huge salt-water snorkeling area full of hatchling turtles and colorful fish, and a clear refreshing fresh water pool with a water slide on the other side. Both sides have inexpensive lockers and wonderful air-conditioned restrooms and changing areas. The food is also great – we enjoyed fried cheese, calamari, conch fritters, and coconut shrimp – all delicious. We left the Turtle Farm to quickly catch a city bus back to the cruise port.
I had visited Cozumel twice before and had planned to revisit PalMar Snorkel Beach Club, a private estate on the Dzul Ha Reef. Taxi service is reached after walking through the extensive shop area of the cruise port, but the price is very reasonable -- 4 of us was only $11. The Beach Club is a real bargain and includes use of the private pool, touring the Butterfly Sanctuary, and using the beach area on the world-famous reef. Day use tickets even include 2 free drinks. The food is excellent – we enjoyed guacamole, cerviche, and chicken enchiladas, all terrific examples of great local food. Best of all is the sweet service offered by the employees – it’s a perfect balance of the staff being humble and grateful for the income we generate, and us being grateful and humbled by the beautiful surroundings and the grace of the local folks.
We carried our own luggage off and were pleased to be directed to a special lounge with some breakfast offerings before we left due to our purchase of Faster to the Fun. We were slightly delayed, but still were out and in a taxi before 8am. I have no complaints about the procedure at all.
I’m a big believer that there is rarely such a thing as a bad cruise. You may encounter challenges, but when you get your cruise attitude firmly in place, you are able to see and enjoy the amazing opportunities cruising offer. This cruise was no exception and was especially pleasant because of our upgraded splendid surroundings. I highly recommend the Carnival Paradise and would welcome a chance to see her again after the drydock/refurb planned for the spring of 2018. Read Less