Paradise - Eastern Caribbean - Nov. 23 - 30, '03 So much has been written in other reviews about the Paradise, I'm only going to highlight a few things which I hope might be useful. I will add my praise to the many who have written about the pleasure of being on a smoke-free ship. It really does make a difference. And I will also add that, of the 4 ships we have been on, this was the most grandiose atrium we have seen. It was always a pleasant place to visit, made more-so by the excellent 3-piece orchestra group that often played there. It was a very clean ship everywhere we looked, even with 600 kids on board that week. We had been told that we should prepare ourselves for a bit of a letdown on Carnival, that we would not see the kind of service or the quality of food we had experienced on other lines. In fact, we thought the Paradise exceeded the quality we found on other ships in many respects, and both of us hope to return to the Paradise in the future. The pillows were flat, but we had 2 each. The mattresses were in good shape. My wife and I were on our 4th cruise on our 4th different cruise line. We are early 50's. We used Priceline to arrange a room at the Sheraton Biscayne for Saturday night ($37 + $10 Priceline fee). Paid $25 for cab from airport (inc. tip and toll fee). We asked for a room on an upper floor facing the cruise port and ended up with a wonderful view including a little of Bayside park. It's a very nice place and a great bargain through Priceline. We were treated very well. It was probably the best hotel bargain we've ever found. We walked over to Bayside Saturday afternoon (about 6 blocks, 10-15 minutes) and cabbed back after dinner at Bubba Gump's. We did see a rat scurry under a dumpster on the way over, and some of the streets are not well lit, but we could have walked back without any real safety concerns. As a matter of fact, we saw a young couple head back about the time we got into the cab, and they beat us back to the hotel as we were delayed (with the meter running) while a boat passed through a lift bridge. Bayside is a large collection of shops, stores, restaurants (Hard Rock, Hooters, Bubba Gump's, a Chilli's opening soon, and others), and fast food places. They have free, live music. We also found a "discount store" on a back corner between the hotel and Bayside where we picked up a few bottles of water and Pepsi. There is a post office, and we heard there is a grocery store in the area. They were setting up quite a little Santa's village in the park that weekend. There was no preboarding check-in available at the Sheraton that Sunday. We cabbed to the port Sun. at about 11:30. With the traffic delays and confusion, it cost us $15. Check-in: Speaking of confusion. After the security scanner, we were directed to a line being served by about 8 people. Just as we neared the front of that line, some of us were directed to the back of another line being serviced by about 4 people. From there, we were directed upstairs where we picked up our sail and sign cards and the confusion and delays really got pretty awful. This check-in process might take you 15 minutes or an hour, depending on the whims of line monitors. Next time, we'll wait till 1:00 or 2:00 to avoid the frustration.
On board: The cabin was ready when we boarded and the last of our luggage arrived by 4:00. The cabin attendants were friendly, courteous, and efficient. We had dinner in the Elation dining room and all other meals in the Paris buffet. The buffet crew was, by far, the most efficient group we have encountered on a cruise; plates and tables were cleared quickly, and we never had trouble finding a place to sit. We really appreciated having the napkins and utensils placed at the tables. The tables outside by the pool area were often not available due to people refusing to vacate them after eating. (Deck chairs were also hard to come by in the pool area, though there were almost always at least a few scattered chairs without stuff on them). We enjoyed all of the shows, particularly Adam Ace, one of the comedians. We were entertained by several of the contests and competitions and saw lots of people win the 24 carat gold plastic ship on a stick. Brent, Karl, and Tina worked very hard at providing entertaining activities in several different venues. Tina, especially, impressed us with her vitality and smiles, though all three seemed to genuinely enjoy their work. We did attend a question/answer session with Brent and Tina on the last day. My question was, "Do you know about the cruise critic web site?" Their answer was that they were familiar with it and corporate also paid close attention to it. We learned the breakfast lines were always shorter outside; the seats in the Normandie balcony are more comfortable with the high backs but require you to look through a brass railing and around posts; the gift shop prices match prices at shops on shore, there is a small, secluded deck at the rear of the ship; only about 10% of the men wore tuxes on formal nights, about 1/2 wore dark suits, and I was the only one wearing a sport coat on casual night; and some parents bring their children to adults-only entertainment.
Disembarkation: Whatever you may hear, there is no such thing as "express" disembarkation. Sleep in, relax, enjoy the ship those last few hours. Not sure if it works that way all the time, but we were told if we carried our luggage off, we could disembark between 7:30 and 8:30, dependent on clearance by immigration officials. Since we cleared immigration in St. Thomas, we assumed that would be a quick and painless process. At 7:15, we found an out of the way place on main deck near the elevators and waited - and waited - and waited - until the elevator lobby was so full people couldn't get off the elevators. At 8:20 they announced we could leave, but by that time, we were at the back of the pack with lines of people coming from everywhere. I took us 45 minutes to get to the exit.
Miami Airport: The standard rate from port to airport is $20 plus tip. We had thought we might be able to get on an earlier flight, but, after the delay leaving the ship and spending nearly an hour in the airport security line, that wasn't going to happen.
Paradise Eastern Ports 11/23-30/03
Nassau We had toured Atlantis before. On that trip, arriving at 7:30, we found no one at the doors to the dig or anywhere on the grounds looking for room keys or wrist bands and spent a few hours wondering around for free. We assume that would have been true this trip as well. This time. we took a walk up to the Queen's Staircase, then to Fort Fincastle, then over to the pirate museum and the British Hilton and back along the waterfront. The Queen's staircase is about 4 - 5 blocks from the pier up some narrow side roads where there are not always sidewalks. It is just behind the hospital at the bottom of the water tower. It is a pretty little grotto cut into the sides of limestone walls. At the top of the staircase is the water tower and the fort where there are several open stands with t-shirts and nick-knacks similar to those found at the straw market. Prices are about the same. There is a short, decrepit stairway leading down to an alley at the front of the fort. It's ugly but a much shorter route into town than following the cab/bus route. The pirate museum was interesting but probably not quite worth the $12 entry fee. The "pirate" out front was entertaining but pretty intimidating to the kids. The grounds of the British Hilton are very pretty, but nothing compared to the Atlantis. They do have a pretty little beach there, but I'm not sure if it's available for cruisers. Nobody asked us for ID of any kind while we walked through. The straw market is the place to go for bargains on t-shirts and woven bags and placemats, but the aisles are very narrow and it gets warm by afternoon. There is a good-sized grocery store on one of the side streets at that end of town. We did check the price of a perfume we were looking for and found the price was considerably higher than on the ship. We didn't see any bargains at the nice shops in town. Dominican Republic The ship docks up in the mouth of a river coming out of La Romana. The town was larger than I expected, but, according to what we have heard, there is just nothing there for tourists interested in shopping. There are some baseball fields separating the port area from the town. We saw some passengers cut through the home base area of one of the fields and walk into town from the ship. Otherwise, the road used by taxis leads way around and would involve a few miles of walking. We spent the morning at Altos de Chevon ($20 taxi ride + $10 for each hour waiting). The taxis are all minivans, so you might want to share the ride and cost with another couple. It's about a 10 - 15 minute ride, mostly through the sprawling grounds of the resort, Casa de Campa. The reconstructed, stone-crafted village and adjoining gardens are charming and very nicely landscaped. There are some pricey shops, several restaurants, and a small convenience store. We did enjoy our hour of wondering and could have stayed a little longer. The shoreline along the port area is very rocky but not very high above the waterline- reminded me of the north shore of Lake Superior. From the ship, we could see a small bay about 100 yards down the shore which would probably have been accessible for snorkeling. No one was walking along that shoreline though, so it might be a restricted area. St. Thomas We rode with Godfrey into town to shop for a few hours, then with Timmy (Godfrey apparently subcontracts when he has more than one load) up to Mountaintop and around to the other side of the island to Coki beach. Although we originally thought we would have a choice of beaches, as it turned out, we were all taken to Coki. Between the 4 ships in port and everyone off for Thanksgiving, the town and the beach were very crowded. Coki does have clear water and lots of fish, but most people snorkel around the rocks at the east end near Coral World. I found much more vibrant coral and sea life toward the west end about 50 feet out from the beach and near the hills at the west end of the beach. If you (or your children) go that way though, you need to be careful not to touch the black, spiny sea urchins. There are lots of them in the shallows there and, as I understand it, they are very poisonous. There is a hut/restroom for changing with a fresh water hose outside to rinse off. There are hair braiders and people renting chairs and umbrellas. There is limited shade available. Besides only costing $20 for the full day, a big advantage of going with Godfrey is being able to leave purchases, cameras, and other valuables locked inside the cab of his truck when at the beach.
A few things we've learned along the way: We each travel with a different credit card, so if one gets lost, we can cancel it and still have a card available. We carry our credit cards and passports on shore. If we don't make the ship, we can still get out of the country quickly and catch up to the ship. We bring along a small Minnesota Xmas tree ornament which we tape (of course, we always bring duct tape) to our door, so we can always find our cabin easily. (I could tell you a story about how my wife misplaced her card and made a cabin attendant open "her" cabin only to discover a couple in their cabin having some afternoon fun time, but I always try not to tell stories on my wife.) We eat late on board even though we eat early at home. Fewer kids, less interference with shore trips and daytime activities, more sunsets, and less late night snacking.
I hope some of this is helpful to others. We have learned a great deal from cruise critic and had much better cruises as a result. Feel free to ask anything.