This was our 8th cruise; 7th with Carnival, and the 2nd for our two children, 5 and 7. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale 2 days prior and stayed in Miami to enjoy the sights. We reserved our hotel through Expedia.com and stayed at the Dupont Plaza Hotel. It is located on Biscayne Blvd. Way. It's approximately ½ mile from Bayside. Although the hotel was rated 3 stars, it didn't really turn out to be all that was promised. It's a very old hotel that's in desperate need of renovation. It also has a large number of long term residents (most who work on various boats/ships which sail from the Port of Miami). Overall, the hotel was spotless, so it turned out to be suitable for the $65.00 per night price we paid.
EMBARKATION We were lucky enough to upgrade to a Category 12 Suite at the last minute for a nominal price increase. This allowed us to utilize the Skipper's Club (which we had used in the past). We proceeded to a private room and were able to sit at the desk while we checked in. Unfortunately, due to Sept. 11, you no longer are escorted directly to your suite. You must proceed to the waiting area, obtain your Sign & Sail cards and wait with the masses. Overall, the wait for boarding was approximately 1hour. Not bad, considering.
THE SHIP Our first impression was "wow". It's the first Carnival ship that had virtually no neon lights or loud, bold colors. The tones are on the neutral side with copper, rather than brass accents. Very pleasing to the eye. Although I'm a recently reformed smoker, I immediately noticed the absence of smoke and that the overall condition of the ship was superior to newer ships we have been on. The layout is exactly the same as the other Fantasy class ships. Very easy to get around and find what you're looking for. We did notice, however, that the main pool located midship is MUCH smaller than on the other Fantasy class ships. There is a large bandstand area, that takes up a lot of space in the pool area. We spent most of our pool time either at the children's pool or aft on the top deck.
THE CROWD Overall, we found many families with small children (it was the week AFTER Easter vacation) and couples ranging from mid thirties to mid sixties. The overall atmosphere of the cruise was less noisy and rowdy than other cruises we've been on. The night life was also rather subdued. We enjoyed that aspect very much. I opted to purchase a tuxedo as we plan on cruising again and again. My wife wore gowns as did my 7 year old daughter. We purchased a double breasted suit for our 5 year old son. All of these items were purchased at local department stores for significantly less money than casual clothes (suit, dresses) would have been. Shop several months before and the deals will come.
CAMP CARNIVAL My wife and I cannot say enough about Camp Carnival. Our children made some great friends right away and many times we had to tell them they couldn't spend all day and all night there. We did utilize the babysitting/slumber party service on 4 of the nights. We picked up the children by midnight and put them right to bed. We usually send them in their sleepwear, which makes it much easier to put them to bed once you're back in the cabin.
CABIN/SUITE On the Fantasy class ships, the only way to have a balcony is to book a Category 11 or 12 suite, unfortunately. Our suite was quite large. It had a sitting area with large, sectional sofa and 2 chairs, sleeping area, large vanity/desk area, tv/vcr/bar area with refrigerator, walk in closet and a pretty decent sized bathroom with whirlpool tub. The kids used the whirlpool tub almost every night! The balcony was a decent size also, allowing room for all 4 of us to be out there without feeling cramped. We do feel that Carnival should provide some "extras" to passengers in the suites. We didn't even get a deck or cards or keychains like we did on previous cruises. Just a suggestion.
SERVICE The service was some of the best we have ever had. The room steward worked very hard during the week and did an excellent job. With 2 small children, we had brought a lot of toys/books/games and they were always kept organized. The dining room staff in the Elation Dining Room were prompt and attentive. I did notice, however, that they didn't remember likes/dislikes as much as they used to. That did NOT affect our overall experience. It's just an observation.
ENTERTAINMENT This is the only area we thought could use some improvement. The first production, called Dream Voyage was probably the worst we've seen at sea to date. Many people left in the middle. It was very drab and lifeless. The second show, Shout, was much better, however, still not up to par with previous shows we've seen. Usually our children love the ornate costumes and sets. The show lacked those items but overall, it was an enjoyable show with top 40 hits spanning the 50's through the 90's. The Talent Show is always enjoyable but there were more "real" people who participated. Usually, there are several who would qualify as the next American Idol. There were no professional singers in this show. Jeff Bronson was our cruise director, filling in for Troy Linton who was off for a few weeks. Jeff did a good job. He was very friendly and approachable. The jokes were old, but after several cruises, you tend to hear them over and over again.
FOOD The food was much better than our cruise last year on the Sensation. The beef on this trip was cooked perfectly and was delicious. The Filet Mignon, Sirloin and Chateaubriand could be cut with a spoon. The lobster was a bit chewy, but we're used to Maine Lobsters and when you're cooking for 2,000, not everything will be perfect. The desserts were pretty good. Our all time favorite is still Decadence of Chocolate. The food in the Paris Restaurant on the Lido Deck is standard cruise fare. The pizza, as always, is very good. The kids loved the salad bar and the ice cream. They also had a sandwich station with tuna, corned beef and other cold cuts. Very nice for a change.
PORTS OF CALL Nassau: The shopping in Nassau is decent and the islanders for the most part, are just trying to earn a living. When you say no, they pretty much back off. We took the Blue Lagoon excursion through the ship. It's beautiful! We spent the day swimming and just relaxing. The kids loved it! You can also take part in the Dolphin Encounter (for more money) if you wish. There is a snack bar and restrooms. A must, for families! St. Thomas: What can I say? One of our favorite ports. Having been there 2 other times, we chose to take the Red Hook Ferry over to St. John. The ship's excursions were very expensive and didn't give enough beach time. It cost about $90.00 total, roundtrip, for taxis/ferry to St. John. $3.00 pp for admission. For 2 adults and 2 children, that was a bargain! The ship was charging nearly $60 pp for the same trip. St. John is perhaps one of the most beautiful beaches we've ever seen. There were 5 ships in port that day. That means approximately 12,000 passengers, yet there were only about 150 people at St. John. I guess Aegean's Bay had the rest!! Casa De Campo: This is one of Carnival's newest stops, and you can tell. We opted for the Catalina Island Excursion. We had heard that the islanders were very pushy and not used to cruise passengers. The Paradise only stops there alternate weeks, so they've got to make their money when the ship docks. I don't believe any other ships stop there yet. The ferry ride over was EXTREMELY rough. Several passengers got seasick. Take your Dramamine! The island was crowded but very nice. The surf is very rough and the undertow, at times, a bit unsettling. We had to hold on to the kids the entire time. We still had a great time. There are restrooms, snack bar and some gift "shacks". They will try to charge you outrageous money for junk. Be prepared to bargain!
Overall, we had a fantastic time. I highly recommend the Paradise as well as Carnival overall. With small children, Carnival's programs can't be beat! I also think that there isn't a better bang for your buck. Royal Caribbean was almost twice the price. I'd rather take 2 cruises! Norwegian was comparable in price, but I've heard some negatives about the kids' programs.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and reference the Paradise in the comment section (so I don't think it's junk mail).