Extensive Cruise Review! Carnival Paradise 8/18 – 8/26, 2018
Hello! We were a strange party of four. L & T, female/male, mid 50’s, from Pittsburgh. Both have cruised before. Accompanied by F & J, 40’s and 30’s, both ... Read More
Extensive Cruise Review! Carnival Paradise 8/18 – 8/26, 2018
Hello! We were a strange party of four. L & T, female/male, mid 50’s, from Pittsburgh. Both have cruised before. Accompanied by F & J, 40’s and 30’s, both male, one from Maryland and one from Florida, neither having cruised before. We chose this cruise because it was 8 nights and offered a full two days in Cuba. We would probably not have chosen Carnival, except for the itinerary. We had two true adjoining cabins on Deck 4 – oceanview, cabins 61 and 65.
Embarkation: Ridiculously easy. We were given an arrival time of 12:30 to 1:30. We arrived about noon via uber from an airport hotel. We literally walked in, filled out our Cuba form (where we checked Support for the Cuban People and that was the last question we ever had raised about what we were doing) checked in and walked on board. It all took maybe 15 minutes. Probably the easiest check in process I’ve ever had. We went to the Lido deck and happily settled in to a table by the pool in the shade until the announcement was made that we could access our cabins. I think that was a little before 2 pm.
The cabins. As mentioned previously we had two adjoining ocean views. They were small – no chair, no sofa, just a stool under the desk area. But the beds were comfortable, room clean and in good condition, nice access to usb charging ports by the beds, etc. There is a small frig/cooler under the desk. We had to get someone to unlock the door between the rooms. I will say that since we were traveling together this worked out great – but if we had an adjoining room with strangers I wouldn’t have liked it since it seems sound does travel between the doors more than a solid wall. The bathroom was typically compact but the rectangular shower was more spacious than some other ships. Water pressure and temperature was fantastic. There was zero storage space in the bathroom though. We met our steward Inna who was friendly and warm throughout the cruise. We asked for morning service and three sets of towels in each cabin. He happily complied and left the requisite fun towel animals each day. (I celebrated a birthday during the cruise and also received a nice towel cake. ) TV channels were very limited to the cruise channels, CNN, ESPN, TMC, etc. There seemed to be lots of country music on this ship.
Dinners/Food – When we went to dinner we were surprised to find we were seated at a table for four. There were LOTS of smaller tables on this ship which was a different experience for us. We had early seating 6 pm in the main dining room. Our waitstaff team was awesome. Attentive, friendly, and fun. Hats off to Juan, Milagres, and Supriono. So honestly, the food at dinner was better than I expected it to be, but not great. I was prepared for the worst. The guys ordered the steaks a couple of times and found them to be overcooked even when ordered medium rare. I don’t really remember any standout meals in the main dining room, but dinners were fun and the food was certainly edible. Rolls were always great! The guys ate pizza EVERY night and often during the day. The pizza station at the back of the Lido buffet area was a favorite. It was really good. We ate at guy’s burgers a couple of times and also found that to be good – certainly on par with like a meal at Red Robin. The “late night snacks” were the biggest disappointment IMH. Every night it was hot dogs, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, and like chicken strip sandwiches, apples, pears, and oranges if I remember. And of course the ice cream machine. You’d think they could come up with something a little different every night. We did the two sea day brunches in the main dining room and those were pretty good. We did breakfast in the main dining room several days, too.
Entertainment – we went to the 80’s show and the rock show the last night. They were both OK. We tried to go to the comedy shows a couple of times but unless you went early you couldn’t get a seat. The lounge where those take place is pretty small. One of our favorite evenings was the last night spent at the Atriun bar where Cruise Director Erin and the team did an 80’s singalong/trivia thing complete with glow sticks, confetti, etc. It was a ton of fun. She was a good CD and created a fun and friendly atmosphere. We spent a lot of hours on one of the aft decks on the lido deck at night just talking and checking out the stars. The casino paid us no favors. And I didn’t find the machines to be very fun. There was an author and Cuban expert on board who gave several presentations. They were good – but we found them to be a little “inflated.” For example, we never had to use the “pee pee coin” she advised us to carry at all times. The lack of toilet paper was real though!
Pools – Not sure why but there were always TONS of chairs available. The one main tiny little pool was usually crowded and we never went in it. The serenity deck was full on sea days and the hot tubs there would fill up. Our favorite place was the deck with the slides. The grown men (and I) thoroughly enjoyed the slides, there were plenty of deck chairs, and when you got too warm you could just hop under the waterfalls/showers. Drink servers passed by regularly. Kids running around the slides, but not bad. This was a great area. Speaking of kids, one of the annoyances of the cruise for us was the number of farel teenagers running about. There seemed to be zero attempt on the part of security to do anything about it. I think they connected through the kids club (which is good) but then basically ran around the ship like a pack. At one point we even saw some of them sitting on the railing of deck 11 which hung out over deck 9. Of course we’re all invincible at that age.
Excursions: In Cozumel we only had from 10 am to 4 pm. We took a taxi into the main downtown area. One of the guys had a massage at El Sol Day Spa and was very pleased with that. The rest of us just walked about a bit. We then celebrated my birthday at Senor Frogs which was fun, and moved from there to the Thirsty Cougar. That was a really fun bar with great food and drinks. In Grand Cayman we signed up for a “Rum, Beer, and Beach Tour” via an ad on Trip Advisor. We had some confusion because the tour began at 1, but we were to stay on ship’s time, which made it 2. And all aboard was 5 pm. It got even worse when the guide and driver were late picking us up for the tour. There was our party of four and another large party of about 10 on the bus. First stop was the rum distillery where we had a tour and got to “sample” quite a few flavors/types of rum. There goal was obviously to get everyone tipsy and they were successful. There was music, dancing, it was fun. From there, I though things were going to deteriorate quickly. The advertised second stop was a brewery. The guys I was with are beer drinkers and were looking forward to that. We were told that we weren’t going to be making that stop, but instead would be going to the Tortuga rum cake place, followed by a local restaurant to taste local cuisine. Huh? This wasn’t what we signed up for? The other larger group was unhappy because they were anxious to get to the beach portion of the day. We really didn’t care about the beach portion, we wanted the brewery. So a compromise was struck and after a BRIEF stop at the rum cake factory, the other group was dropped off at a beach, and our group of four went with the driver and the guide to a local restaurant – off the main grid and obviously frequented by locals. I believe it was called Champions? Anyway – they provided beer, local food including conch, other seafoods, beef, flan, etc. We really enjoyed the time spent with the guide and driver and it turned out to be a fun and different way to spend the rest of the afternoon. We’re quite convinced that those who chose the beach chose badly.
Despite all of the chatter on the boards about the necessity of using ship’s tours, we booked two days of tours in Havana through a company called Havana Journeys. We couldn’t have been happier and it went VERY smoothly. Prior to our arrival they had us sign a letter indicating we would be participating in Support for the Cuban People and provided us with thorough documentation of our activities. Debarkation on the first day took a while. Ship’s Tour groups started being called off at 7. Our sticker number was called off at about 9:15 – that went smoothly but the line for currency exchange was insane. We were late for our designated time to meet our guide at 10 am by about 15 minutes. If possible, if you are booking a tour with a private company, ask them if they can take you somewhere to exchange money right away instead of waiting in the line at the port. We met up with a delightful young woman by the name of Yeni in the plaza across from the port. We spent the first three hours touring the historic area on foot. We stopped for a couple of beverages, went to the top of a building to see the DaVinci planetarium thing (I know that’s not what’s called but I can’t remember!) We were then picked up by Eduardo in his beautiful 1957 Mercury hard top with AC, complete with a Fiat engine. The guys were fascinated by the car and his work on the engine. He actually owned the car and with the help of Yeni was able to talk about that with the guys. Yeni took us to a palador called Restaurant La Casa for lunch. It was a little pricier than I expected but very delicious, comfortable, and fun. Yeni was convinced to join us for lunch and we enjoyed continued conversation. We had shrimp, lobster, roast pork, etc. with flan for dessert. The mojitos were delicious. I think the tab for the 5 of us came to about $120 including beverages. We toured around the outskirts of the city including El Malecon, and Fusterlandia after lunch. We ended the day with some time in the market with Yeni as our guide then returned to the ship for showers and dinner. (There was open seating on the first Havana night and you could have dinner whenever you wished even in the main dining room.) After dinner we headed back out for our own bar craw. It was getting kind of dusk and the streets looked very different at nightfall – but we didn’t feel unsafe and there was a lot of activity in the area. There were some areas that became very dark as night fell. We started at Floridita for daiquiris, it was pretty crowded and crazy. From there we went to El Patchanka which was great fun. The band was awesome and the drinks cheap. We had planned to stop at the Art Pub for our last stop but it looks too hipster and like a place back home – so we skipped that. We stopped somewhere else closer to the ship – but I don’t remember the name. It was really a fun evening.
Our second day in Cuba Yeni and Eduardo picked us up at 7:30 am and we made our way to the countryside and Vinales. We had a spectacular day. We visited the caves, which were kind of cheesy but fun, the downtown area, the hotel with the scenic view of the “haystack” mountains, a tobacco farm and cigar rolling demo, the painted mural, etc. The best part of our day was lunch at Restaurante El Cuajani. Wow wow wow. What a beautiful location, amazingly friendly people, delicious food, and great prices. Both Yeni and Eduardo joined us for our every enjoyable lunch. Our meal choices ranged from pumpkin risotto to filet mignon. We enjoyed mojitos, beer, appetizers, mains, and desserts, and the bill for the 6 of us was about $120. This was a very special meal that I hightly recommend. We wondered if riding in a relatively uncomfortable car for 6 hours (3 out and 3 back) would really be worth it – but I would say if you are lucky to have 2 full days in Cuba, get out to the countryside. This was spectacular. Back in Havana we said our farewells to Yeni and Eduardo, and spent a little more time shopping and enjoying beverages before reboarding the ship. Sailaway at 11 pm was kind of emotional. Most passengers lined the decks, waving cell phone beacons back to the shoreline, where Cubans were lined up saying goodbye. What a special opportunity to visit this beautiful country and its people. Oh one more thing about Cuba – take lots of coins/bills to use for tips. Everywhere you go the bands, guides, waitstaff, etc. are hoping for tips. We had gotten larger bills when we did money exchange and were left scrambling to come up with tip money on several occasions.
Our last day was a fun day at sea. The ship had very little movement the entire cruise with water as smooth as glass. We were very fortunate in that regard. We danced with our waiters during our last dinner and enjoyed the evening with new friends and crew members.
We opted for self carrying our bags off the ship. Debarkation was pretty bad. Cabins had to be vacated by 8:30 am and we were still waiting for our deck to be called after 10 am. Breakfast and the lido deck got very crowded. Getting through the crowded hallways to exit with bags in tow was rough – and then the line for customs was long – but really there were no questions asked and actually getting through immigration was easy at the end of the long lines. No more forms to fill out. Hooray!
My opinion on Carnival was changed on this trip. The crew was amazing. Activities fun. Food was OK. The price was good…. And the itinerary was incredible. Instead of seeing Carnival as the line of last resort if they have an itinerary I want, I’ll be much more likely to check out what they have to offer first. Adding up all of the pieces, I’d give this cruise experience four out of five stars – and one I’ll remember fondly. Havana ooh na na. Read Less