This is a description of my VERY FIRST cruise. It WILL be very long and detailed. It WILL also be VERY objective. I did and did not like some things and if that offends someone sorry.
Paradise seven day Western:
SHIP: Beautiful. I never ever thought a ship could be sooo pretty. The wood trim and egg dEcor is gorgeous. I loved all the dEcor; you just have to see it. Not gaudy and glitzy or neon. Our room was larger than I thought it would be. Plenty of storage space for 2 20-somethings who had WAY over packed. My bed was pretty comfy. The pillows were not and I was glad I brought my own. Shower wasn't too bad, though small and the water kinda ran out onto the bathroom floor. The toilets scare me. Be careful or you will get sucked in! The best thing is the clean clean air. NO SMOKE!!!
FOOD: Most of the dining room stuff was pretty awesome. I loved all the soups I tried. Most of the salads were good. Main entrees were sometimes hit or miss. The steaks were perfect, but the lobster was dry. The omelets on Lido deck were good, but the French toast in the Dining room was bland. We only ate here on Debark day. Coffee could use some work, but cappuccinos after dinner were free and very strong. The buffets were always awesome. Lunch was best, we only went to the midnight one twice, once to eat and once to take pictures. Never tried the pizza (was always full) but the burgers were great. Didn't realize til several days in that there was frozen yogurt AND ice cream and was much happier to discover the ice cream cause the yogurt left much to be desired. Sushi bar was awesome the first few days, but by day 5, it got old.
STAFF: Let me just say WOW! I thought I was at Disney!! Everyone was always smiling and saying hello. Even when they were cleaning in the morning, they seemed to be enjoying their job. Jeff Bronson (the cruise Director) just didn't do it for me. I did not think he was funny. And though I did see him more than I thought, it was always right after or before something. Never really saw him during the day. Brent and Karl (with a "K") were HILARIOUS. My waiters in the Elation dining room. Man I cannot say enough about them. I love them and miss them already. Ercan and Carlos really made my trip. They were always happy to see us, always on the ball with everything and anticipated our every need. Ercan didn't even put croutons on my salads after the first night when I had left them in the bowl. They were both soooo funny. I wish I could rave about my room steward. I did not like him at all and this is probably the biggest disappointment of my entire cruise. I can't even remember his name being as we only met him once. He did keep the room clean and brought towels and made the beds. But he did the barest minimum to get by. Our wine was more often in water than on ice. The first towels animals ALL had the same body, he just switched the heads. We asked for a Paradise book the first day and did not get it again until the last day when we had to ask for it again. Then when we did get it, we got it with a snide note accusing us of having two. But I did not let one person ruin my experience, just hope I have someone nicer next time.
SHOWS: Okay, the first formal night show "Dream Voyage" scared the begeebbers out of me and my sister. It was like bad nightmare. But the costumes were cool. The second formal night show "Shout" was much much better. Upbeat 50's and 60's music and dancing. Happy Cole was the absolute funniest comedian I have seen. His adult show is rather explicit so if you don't like that, don't go. Tia Thompson was pretty good. She has a beautiful voice. The ventriloquist from Vegas was cool, but his puppet was scary. Jim Brick was mediocre, but still funny.
MISCELLANEOUS: Not many kids, only saw them in the hot tubs once. They were running around a bit, but didn't really notice them, except the day they nearly ran everyone over on their scavenger hunt quests. The drink of the day is by far the strongest you will get. We got a few others and there was no where as much alcohol in them as in the DotD. Watch out for the Goombay Smash, it will knock you out. Drink coupons take care of refills on the DotD's. Pool bar staff wasn't too pushy, came by and asked and walked on if you said no. Show lounge staff could have done a better job. We waited a long time to have someone ask us if we needed a drink one night. Slot machines were TIGHT!! I didn't win and didn't see many others winning much. I didn't budget enough to play the tables. Never got seasick on board. Not much rocking some vibrations. Did get a little worried in Belize and Roatan (more later).
PRE-CRUISE and EMBARKATION: We flew into Fort Lauderdale Saturday, rented a car from Thrifty and stayed at the Hyatt Downtown Miami. Very overrated. If you do not get it cheap on Priceline, stay somewhere else. It wasn't much flashier than an upscale Holiday Inn. Parking was awful. If you were lucky enough to use valet, it was $20 a night with in-and-out privileges. But if you had to park in the garage, it was $12 dollars a night WITH a validated ticket, and otherwise it was hourly and you had to pay every time you went out. Then you had to walk about what seemed like a mile from the garage through the convention center to the hotel lobby. And it was not a walk I liked to make alone. The hallways were often deserted and far from other people. We went to Bayside market. Take the metromover rather than walk, there is a stop right by the garage elevators and it lets you off a block from Bayside. Do not walk through downtown Miami, it was eerily deserted. Ate at Hard Rock, that was fun. Great waiter named Jeremy. We returned the Thrifty car right at the Hyatt (the only good reason to stay here) and they got us a shuttle to the Port from there.
Embarkation was so much faster, smoother, and easier than I expected. We got there around noon I think and were on the boat by one. Found our room. UPGRADE FAIRY!! Booked a 6a guarantee, ended up on the EMPRESS deck, E68, nearly adjacent to the atrium bar! My parents had my room decorated for my birthday. The cake itself was really good, but the icing was not. The ship was a little confusing to figure out at first, but we got the hang of it real quick. DS and I discovered we do not like shuffle board! Got a drink, met our other Cruise Critic buddies in the Cafe Ile de France. Suffered through the boat drill (okay it wasn't that bad) and ran to the front for Sail Away while DS went to Jewish holiday services. Enough people must have complained about sailing off during the boat drill cause they just untied during it and didn't sail off til after it.
1St SEA DAY & FIRST FORMAL NIGHT: Just chilled most of the day. Hung out with my buddies dryehair and his DW and son. Tried the water slide, that was cool, until I got the sea water splash at the end, it stung! Posed for a bazillion pictures and came away with 2 I liked. Met dryehair and DW for the Captain's party. We danced to escape the weirdo who sat next to me! Our dinner table mates were never there much. Met the 1st two (mom and daughter) the first night. They never came back. The second 2 came almost every evening, but weren't very chatty.
BELIZE: Ordered room service for breakfast. Went to get tender tickets (get there EARLY) got #1 yeah!!! Take your bonine, the tenders are small but fast. First sight of them rocking violently made me worry, but they go sooo fast that they cut through wakes and don't rock. We used CBelize.com and went on the Altun-Ha/Zoo combination. Narciso met us at the Tourist Village and Marcia took us on the tour. She is soo sweet and knowledgeable. It was just 4 of us, so that was nice. Short trip through city and she explained everything. Armed Militia is a little disheartening. The roads are pretty bad. Went to the zoo first. Really neat, but it rained the whole time. Watch out for the Tapir, she sprays (yes I do mean urine). Marcia had warned us before we saw her and another group was unlucky enough to find out first hand! Altun Ha was cool. We climbed to the top of one of the temples. That was scary, slippery an uneven stairs. Don't know how the Mayans did it all dressed up with no handrails. Got to the top and saw a real tarantula who just happened to be hanging out on the altar. The rain had flushed him out of the jungle, Marcia told us. Vendors are a little pushy. Don't wander out of the tourist village. You can find everything you want reasonably inside it and it is kinda scary outside it.
ROATAN: We decided to book Sante Wellness Center and get a massage since it was my birthday. Book this early if you want to do it. Angela sells out fast and it is less expensive than the ship's spa offerings. Angela meets you right at the pier and drives through town about 30-45 mins to the resort (under construction) where she has her spa. You have to take a small boat from one side of the cove to get to her house, I was worried because I hadn't known and didn't take any bonine. So if you do this, be prepared. We were greeted by her husband and her 3 dogs, and large collection of parrots (and a macaw). She offers snorkeling and swimming right on her private little beach. We didn't snorkel cause this would have been our first time, and we were not brave enough to try it. We wished we would have now, another guest said the reef was beautiful and very very healthy. The massages were excellent and my first facial was kinda neat. I like being pampered. Roatan is a very poor country. Tourism is growing and maybe will help, but expect to see poverty. The roads are under construction and the homes are basically shacks. The people are soo nice though. And the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. The vendors in the little town at the port are very pushy and will follow you down the street. Kids are the main peddlers cause it is harder to say no to them. Just say no thank you and keep going. I got two beautiful conch shells for $6. They will bargain with you.
GRAND CAYMAN: This was our first "major" port and you could really see the difference commercialism makes. Everything is expensive. The island is the top part of a plateau and the surrounding waters are only 10-12 feet deep at the deepest. About a mile or so off shore though, the plateau drops off sheer for 2 ½ miles. If you are the last ship to arrive, they will not drop the anchor (they can't come in close enough), they will just float round. A little scary cause you would look out and your ship wouldn't be where it had been. We used Captain Marvin's to go to the Coral Gardens and Stingray Sandbar. For the first time trying snorkeling this was sooo awesome. The gardens are full of fish and different coral and it isn't really deep. The guides help you with everything. They were great. Stingray City was scary at first. I was afraid of them and of getting the tail barb! But once you get over the initial fear, it is definitely not something to skip! You have to do it at least once. Had turtle and conch fritters in town, they were great. Second Formal night, more pictures. The Gala buffet was kind of overrated. Pretty to look at but didn't see anything that looked appetizing to actually eat!
COZUMEL: If you don't like shopping, drinking, and having fun, don't go to Cozumel. This was a party. A bunch of us took a cab to Los Cinco Soles (a big store) at the end of the ocean drive. And shopped our way back down to Punta Langosta where the Paradise docks. Go to all the spots recommended by your shopping expert, you get free stuff!!! We ate a great lunch at Palmeras (about half way down the road) and had awesome Margaritas. Decided to go play mini golf. She is on the corner of Calla 1st and 15th Ave, take a cab. We wandered around lost til we found some other Americans who knew where it was. Asking for directions did not get us anywhere. Sally greeted us along with Sunshine and Lola (her dogs), gave us a walkie talkie to order drinks while playing, and let us choose some CDs to play during the game. This course is tough but so beautiful. There are a lot of little lizards and mosquitoes so be prepared. Met all the other Cruise Critics at Carlos and Charlie's. This place rocks. It easily beats some of the clubs here in Baltimore. This is just an experience you have to try and there are no words to describe it. It is wild. The food is good too. We even managed to make it to the ship on time! Didn't see much of the Mexican folkloric show on board, but it did not really interest me. Joined in the sail away Lido deck party, that was more fun.
2ND DAY at SEA
This was even more laid back than the first. Played all the bingo games, didn't win any of them! Watched the horserace (very fun) and saw the evening shows. Gave our waiters their much deserved tips and packed up sadly. Had our suitcases out and collected. Tried not to get depressed about leaving our new friends and our new home. Decided we would be back very soon.
DEBARKATION & POST-CRUISE: This was fairly painless. Except that loud rude people felt the need to tramp down our hallway and drop their luggage right in front of our door at 7am for the express debarking. This was the only time we hated where our room was. Went up and had our last breakfast with the other Cruise Critics. Just as we were heading back to our room to wait for our color, they called our color. We were off the ship by 10:30 I think. Thrifty sent the shuttle (rapidly) and we went to Miami airport to get our car. Trouble finding a car to fit our luggage. She wanted to give us a convertible, but we couldn't get everything inside it so ended up with a PT Cruiser which was very nice. We decided to drive the Key of Biscayne and go to the Seaquarium before heading back to Ft. Lauderdale. We balked at first at the price $23.95 per adult plus the $5 parking fee. But we felt it was well worth it when we got in. You get so close to the marine animals that it really makes the experience. You can feed the sea lions, and there are a lot of shows. But you will get bored after about 2-3 hours here. We drove the lighthouse at the point of the Key and were disappointed to find you can only get right up to it on the days they are running tours (Mon-Thurs). Headed back to Ft. Lauderdale, dropped off the car and sat in the airport for 3 hours (we were tired of driving and just wanted to relax). Now all I have to do is unpack.