We chose this cruise on the Carnival Paradise for one reason and one reason only - CUBA. The itinerary was exactly what we were looking for: only 5 days as we were leaving our 4 year old home w/ the grandparents and two ports Havana and ... Read More
We chose this cruise on the Carnival Paradise for one reason and one reason only - CUBA. The itinerary was exactly what we were looking for: only 5 days as we were leaving our 4 year old home w/ the grandparents and two ports Havana and Key West (which we also love).
We had not cruised on a Fantasy class ship in over 10 years, so I wasn't sure how we would like it compared to the larger ships we've sailed on (Breeze/Vista etc.). We actually really enjoyed the smaller ship. It had the Funship 2.0 upgrades (Guy's Burgers, Blue Iguana Cantina, Waterworks) that we loved on other ships but not nearly the crowds we've experienced in the past. We never waited more than a couple minutes for anything - drinks at the bars, lines for foods, elevators. We knew the ship was sold out, but it never felt that way.
The ship itself was in good condition - I didn't notice any major areas of disrepair and we didn't get any of the bad odors that I've seen mentioned elsewhere. The only thing to note is that the water in our toilet and sink had a yellowish tint to it on occasion. I first noticed it in the toilet - I thought it hadn't been flushed so I flushed it again and when the bowl refilled it was still yellow. It took several more flushes for it to fill up with clear water. If we would fill the sink it would also sometimes be yellow. I didn't notice anything in the shower though. It didn't really impact us other than I would use bottled water to wash my face and brush my teeth.
We booked cabin M230, a balcony near the aft of the ship on Main deck (deck 5) on the port side. The cabin was great. We had adequate storage for the two of us which included two closets (one had a shelf in the middle so could not be used for long dresses) and four of five shelves for storage. The safe was huge - my sister could fit her laptop in her safe easily! The bathroom only had one shelf above the sink, but it was ok for the two of us. The vanity area had two small corner shelves for storage and one drawer which housed the hair dryer and had little extra room for other things. There was also an in-cabin refrigerator which we didn't use. We had our two twin beds converted into a king size bed which was very comfortable. Unlike balcony cabins on larger ships, this cabin did not have a sofa or table. The balcony itself seemed like it was the same size as other ships' standard balconies. We had two chairs and a table on the balcony. I did note that the doors to the balconies did not have the tendency to slam shut like on other ships. Our cabin steward was Giri and he was great. He kept our ice bucket full and our cabin cleaned and stocked each day. One day he wrote a Happy Anniversary message to us on our vanity mirror! It was super cute and sweet!
Overall, the food we had was very good quality. We had breakfast in the main dining room 2 or 3 times and our service was always very quick even on ordering drinks. I had just eggs and bacon both days for breakfast. The other days we had breakfast on the Lido deck (either breakfast burritos or food from the buffet). Lunches were almost always from Guys or Blue Iguana. I don't think we ever got lunch from the buffet. Several in our group got sandwiches from the Deli and raved about the BLT, but lines here could be a little longer. I also got Sushi from the small Bonsai Sushi stand one day and it was great. You really get a lot of sushi for $7.50! It more than filled me up!
We had dinner in the main dining room three of the five nights. Since we had a larger group, most of us elected to have our bookings linked so we could be seated together at the late seating in the aft dining room. The first night our service was pretty slow, but things seemed to improve as the week went on. We did get drink service at our table at least once each night. The food in the main dining was very good. I usually ordered a couple appetizers and one main dish. One evening I upgraded my dinner to the Filet Mignon on the Steakhouse Selections menu ($20 cost).
On the last night of the cruise, 5 members of our group participated in the Chef's Table. We had a little bit of a snafu with our Chef's Table reservation. I had reserved for our group back in June, 2018 and had a confirmation email from the Paradise Maitre D. I had read that you would get a note in your cabin once onboard letting you know what night your Chef's Table experience would be. By day three we hadn't received anything, so I went down to the Guest Services to inquire. The girl working the desk said she did not show up signed up for the Chef's Table. I showed her the email confirmation and she said that she would have to reach out to the Maitre D who was currently off duty. My sister and I went back to Guest Services in the morning and talked to someone else. They had the Asst. Maitre D and another dining room staff member come out and talk to us. They told us that both that night and the following night's Chef Tables were already at capacity but they would see what they could do for us and let us know that evening at dinner. Ultimately they were able to accommodate us on the last night of the cruise. The Chef's Table is $75 but it was so worth it. It started with our group meeting in the lobby area where we were given glasses of champagne. Then we took a short tour of the galley where we had four different small appetizers served to us and were shown how Carnival's famous Chocolate Melting Cake is made. We then were seated at tables in the Library for a 7 course feast - dishes included gourmet breads, a beet/panacotta appetizer, crab stack appetizer, duck, a tomato bisque soup, sea bass, beef wagyu and a dessert plate with four mini dessert options. During the entire dinner, both red and white wines are free-flowing. We did have someone in our group with some dietary restrictions which were accommodated for her.
As is the norm in our experience with Carnival, the entire staff was friendly, hard-working and courteous with the exception of the first Guest Services person I spoke to about our Chef's Table reservation. Not sure why, but I find Guest Services to usually be the least helpful people on the ship. Everyone else from our dining room staff, maitre d, bar servers, cabin staff, spa staff, etc.
My sister and I had a "couples massage" on one of our sea days (her treat as a birthday present for me). The massage itself was very good and the two girls working on us were great! The room itself was a little on the cool side and they didn't have heated tables so I was a bit chilly during most of my massage. They did give us the product sell afterwards, but I'm pretty good at saying no to that stuff! LOL
We went to one of the comedy shows and I did not find that guy funny. We did not catch any of the production shows this time around. The band playing outside of the casino bar was awesome! They usually played 80's music and always had a big crowd! Even when the nightclub had an "80's Party", this band drew a bigger crowd. They were so much fun to watch! Karaoke seemed to be a big draw as well. I really never felt that any of the bars or lounges were over crowded.
I also spent some time in the casino. I did fairly well on blackjack but gave it all back playing three card poker and texas hold 'em. The casino itself did not seem very smokey, but the smoke was noticeable at the one side of the casino bar that allows smoking.
Tampa - This was our first time cruising from the Port of Tampa and I would do it again in a heartbeat! We flew down the day before and stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites Ybor City. The hotel was just okay - standard Hampton Inn. The pool area was tiny and only had a few lounge chairs and was not fully in the sun. The rooms were pretty standard. Our only real complaint about the hotel room was the volume of the a/c unit. It was very loud which made it hard to sleep. The hotel provides a free shuttle anywhere within a three mile radius of the hotel. We used Lyft to get to the port as we didn't want to wait for the shuttle and go with a crowd of other people.
Embarkation and disembarkation at the Port of Tampa were the fastest and easiest of any of my 18 cruises. We arrived at the Port around 10:50 and were able to walk right through the priority line and were through security in a matter of minutes. When we got to the check-in desk, there was no line whatsoever. The agents checked our paperwork, gave us our Visa's and sent us to the Priority waiting area. We only waited there about 5-10 minutes before boarding began. Since we are Platinum, we were among the first to board and were on the ship by 11:15. Disembarkation was the same way. We were heading to the meeting area for those carrying off their luggage by 7:25. My husband stopped at the little cafe area on deck 9 and ordered a coffee and by 7:34 they were calling for Self-Assist passengers to head to the Lobby to disembark. Getting off the ship was easy, customs was a breeze and we were outside the building waiting for our Lyft by 7:50. In fact, we were at the airport, checked-in, through security and at our gate by 8:45! So easy!
Key West - We have been to Key West several times on cruises and also honeymooned there. Most of our group elected to book the Key West Pub Crawl tour through Carnival. This was my third time doing the tour. It's always alot of fun. For the cost of the tour, you visit 5 different Key West bars and are given a ticket for a free drink (either their specialty drink, well cocktail or domestic beer). It's a walking tour, but you aren't going that far between stops. We visited Tree Bar, Flying Monkey (where you can get any of their frozen concoctions), Hard Rock Cafe, Sandbar and Rick's. Along the way the guide talks about Key West and engages with the group. There is also a conch blowing contest for those inclined to give it a try (NOTE - I won this last time we did this tour!). After the tour, we walked around the Mallory Square area a bit and then headed back to the ship. We did not dock at the main pier on this trip. We were docked at the military base. They had conch trains set up to shuttle people between the ship and the Mallory Square area. The trains ran about every 15 minutes or so.
Havana, Cuba - This was the real draw of this cruise. Our ship was scheduled to be in Havana from 7AM until 6AM the following morning. 15 of the 18 in our group booked a private tour through I Love Cuba Photo Tours. We were to meet our guide, Yosel, at 9AM. One member of our group got up early and got in line to get stickers to get off of the ship. We were in group C. We had planned to meet at 8AM at the Blue Iguana and exit the ship together. By 8AM, Carnival was well past group C so we were able to pretty much just walk off the ship. When we got to the customs area, there were several lines formed. Of course, I picked the slow line! But it still only took us about 7-10 minutes to get through the customs line. The customs agent takes your Visa and Passport and they supposedly do a infrared temperature scan. If your temp is over 98.6 you are sent for further screening before being allowed to enter the country. No one in our group had this issue.
Once through customs, we headed to the currency exchange line. This also went very quickly. We exchanged $300 US dollars for 261 CUCs. There are restrooms near the currency exchange so everyone decided to take care of business before heading out of the terminal. Once we got outside, we took a right and walked about 5 minutes to a bus stop. This is where we were to meet Yosel. We were initially supposed to meet him at the rum factory to the left once you exit the terminal. But Yosel contacted me the day prior while we were docked in Key West and said they were no longer allowing tour pick ups there. He had also contacted a friend who works on the Paradise and asked her to relay the message in case he wasn't able to reach me. We were able to find him easily at our new meeting spot.
Our tour was a full day tour with four hard top Classic Cars with A/C. Each car fit four of us plus the driver and our guide who is also a professional photographer. You provide them an SD card and they take all of the photos for you. It was great cause I was able to just enjoy the tour and not worry about capturing moments on camera. After the tour, you get to take your SD card (and photos) with you! They did a great job of capturing candid moments as well as staging us for group pics.
We visited the following places:
Fusterlandia - artistic area of Havana
Forrest area located in central Havana - this is where a lot of religious sacrifices and rituals like baptisms take place.
Revolution Plaza - where Castro used to hold his marathon speeches
Lunch at El Cocinero - we researched and picked the place we wanted to eat lunch at
Hotel Nacional - landmark hotel
El Morro fort
Also drove through other various parts of Havana including the "ghetto" and central business district
After the tour, we were taken back to the port area. Some of our group explored near the port area for a while before taking a taxing to the Vedado area of Havana for dinner. We had dinner at a Paladar (private in-home restaurant) called La Narajos. The menu here constantly changes based on what they can get at market. Our waitress set up a chalkboard and easel next to our table and ran through the options with us. My lobster dinner was huge and was only $25. After a great meal, we took a taxi back to the port area where we spend the next couple hours just hitting up a few bars sipping on mojitos and listening to the local musicians. We headed back to the ship around 10:30PM.
A few things to note about Havana:
* We never felt unsafe at all even walking around at night. The people there are very friendly and not aggressive at all.
* Buildings and streets are often in disrepair. You do have to be aware when walking at night because areas of the sidewalks have holes or other hazards which are hard to see because the streets are not well lit.
* Overall we found things to be very reasonably priced. Our lunch was about $50-60 total for my husband and I and that includes a couple shared appetizers, two entrees and a couple drinks. Our dinner was a bit pricier, but still not bad for a nice dinner out. Taxi prices seemed to depend on whether you flagged down a classic car or regular yellow taxi (classic car was $20 for four of us from the port to dinner, yellow taxi was $10 for four us from dinner back to the port). Supposedly you can negotiate, but we didn't attempt to. These people make so little, that it didn't feel right to try to talk them down.
* English speaking in Cuba is hit or miss. Our tour guides spoke flawless English. But in the stores and bars, most people seemed to know just enough to take care of our drink orders. At both restaurants we went to, our services spoke great English.
* We had heard prior to getting to Cuba that you had to pay to use restroom facilities and that most do not provide toilet paper. We took a handful of tissues off the ship with us just in case. But we really did not encounter this. At the last bar we went to, a lady tried to get my husband to give her money after he came out of the bathroom, but he just said he didn't speak Spanish and walked past her.
*It is VERY hot in Havana and also humid. I wouldn't book a Convertible for a full day tour. You would get pretty beat up by that hot sun! Our tour did include about an hour in a convertible and that was enough for us! The rest of the time we were in hard top cars with AC. And the drivers are VERY particular about their cars - do not slam the doors shut too hard and watch the curbs when you open the door so as to not scrape them on the pavement.
Overall, it was a great trip and I wouldn't hesitate to visit Cuba again. There is so much to see and do there! We do regret not taking in the Buena Vista Social Club show and would love to do that next time. I hope our government keeps the options for visiting Cuba open long term! Read Less