BACKGROUND I'm 23 and my DH is also 23. I'm originally from Indiana, and he's originally from England. We took this cruise as a gift from my parents for completing my Masters degree. It was the first cruise for both of us. The date of departure was May 9, 2004 and we returned on May 16, 2004. I've tried to write everything I can remember. The way this review is structured is chronological; with major things highlighted in the order I encountered them. I apologize for the length, but the review is as much as place for me to record my memories as it is for the benefit of others.
Our itinerary was as follows:
Sunday: Arrival and sail away Monday: Nassau, Bahamas Tuesday: Sea day Wednesday: La Romana/Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic Thursday: St. Thomas. US Virgin Islands Friday: Sea day Saturday: Sea day Sunday: Return to Miami
ARRIVAL IN MIAMI We flew American Airlines out of Indianapolis. Our flight (1779) was scheduled to leave at 7:10 am, but we pushed back a few minutes early. We weren't due to arrive until 10:50 am in Miami, but we were off the flight and waiting for our luggage by 10:30. Once we had our luggage, we grabbed a cab (flat rate of $21) to take us to the pier. We left the airport at 10:40. I was under the impression that it was to take 30 minutes to get to the pier, but it took only 15 minutes (perhaps because of the way the cab driver drove!) We were at the pier at 10:55 am.
EMBARKATION After reading endless tales of quick embarkation, I expected to be on board in less than 2 hours upon our arrival. At 10:55, when we arrived at the pier, we were quickly shuffled to the baggage stewards who took our bags. We had two to check and two to keep with us. We tipped $1 per bag. I had gotten several $2 bills from the bank for purposes such as these. It just makes life easier, so you're not fumbling around with endless single $1 bills. Once our bags were dropped off, we were inside the building about 3 minutes before 11:00. There was NO LINE! We handed off our Bahamian immigration forms, which I had filled out in advance. I noticed a large group of people off to the left busy filling in their paperwork, because they had not bothered to do so. Why would people wait to do this? Anyhow, we went through security, which was just like at the airport, except they didn't make you remove your shoes. The scanning devices are WAY smaller than at the airport, however, so stick to those carry-on guidelines that Carnival provides. They nearly made my husband check his suit carrier, except he was able to quickly fold it into half (again) and make it easily fit through the scanning machine. Once through, we walked through tons of tensa-barriers (but there was NO wait, again). By this time it was about 11:05 and we were greeted by a very friendly Carnival employee who took our tickets. She also took my husband's green card and passport, and issued him a receipt for this. This entire process took about 10 minutes. We went past the desk and I checked my watch; it read 11:15. At this point, we went up an escalator to encounter our first line, but not a very long one. We waited in line for only 5 minutes and proceeded to the desk, where we were issued our Sail & Sign card. We then walked off to the right and took a seat. It was 11:20. We were handed a "Welcome" sheet which welcomed us to the ship, but asked us not to go to our room until 1:00, as the cabins would not be ready. A friendly Carnival representative made periodic announcements, telling us they would be letting us aboard shortly, but first she reiterated what was on the sheet and told us to go to lunch on the Lido deck first. Here we waited for only about 10 minutes. At 11:30, they began to dismiss people in rows to begin boarding. Once you get up from the waiting area, you hand over your S&S card and have your photo taken. This photo is connected to your card, and each time it is used (example, for re-boarding the ship at ports) your photo comes up for the Carnival employees. Once this photo is taken, we found ourselves in a quick-moving line that took us up an escalator and into a short line where a "Welcome Aboard" photo was being taken. By the time we crossed the gangway, I checked my watch. It was 11:45! We were on board the ship less than 1 hour after arriving at the pier. Amazing! I would recommend getting there around the time we did (just before 11) and having all your documentation filled out. Any earlier and you'd be waiting in the waiting area longer than necessary, or wasting valuable time filling out things you should have filled out weeks ago. Things worked out perfectly.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS I was hoping to be absolutely wowed once on board, but everything moved so quickly, I didn't even realize we were on board yet (duh). You enter right next to the internet cafe, into the atrium. Once I looked up (I had been concentrating on my bag) I realized we were in the atrium. It was beautiful! We decided just to get our bearing and locate our room, even though we weren't supposed to actually go in there. So, we were on the upper deck, so we walked to the right to the forward bank of elevators and went down one. We easily found our cabin, as I'd studied the deck plans ad nauseam prior to leaving. Our cabin steward (but we didn't realize it at the time) happened to be right there and asked us if we wanted in, but we said it was okay, we were just trying to find our room and we'd be back after 1:00 when it was allowed. We then proceeded up to the Lido deck to grab some food. I found a great table halfway between the pool and the grill, on the starboard (right) side. I sat with the bags while my husband went to get some food. He returned with a hamburger and fries. I went up to find something. There were a ton of meat products available - hot dogs, hamburgers, even boeuf bourguignon for lunch (I'm a pesco-vegetarian - I eat only sea creatures, and only then to keep my protein levels adequate, because one can only eat so much soy!) but I was able to find some potatoes. I got myself some iced tea and returned to the table to find my DH had gotten us both some drinks of the day. We had some drink tickets acquired in advance. Even through drinks of the day are $6.95 the first time (you keep the glass to refill all day); they let us use our drink tickets on them (which are only supposed to be good up to $4.75). Now is as a good time as any to say, I rarely drink (I'm always the DD) but I drank more than I normally do on this trip. Not to excess, but since I usually may only have a glass of wine once a month, it was somewhat out of the ordinary for me. Anyhow, the Lido deck lunch was surprisingly good. We hung out on the deck until 1:00, when we desperately wanted to drop off our bags.
STATEROOM I had originally booked a 1A guarantee, gambling we'd get upgraded. We were upgraded to a 4C, cabin U8. I had cheated and was able to figure out our cabin number about a month early by using the Kelly method, and later confirmed this once we got our documents and I "cracked the code" on the back of the S&S form. So I knew right where it was. Now, if any of you have your deck plans handy, I'd ask you to look at the location of U8 on the Fantasy-class ships. It's ALL THE WAY FORWARD, right in the middle of the hallway that crosses the ship. I won't lie: we had a fair bit of motion here, but it was more of the up-and-down versus the back-and-forth type. It was actually better than other parts of the ship, during our really windy days, for this very reason. I got a case of motion sickness from late Tuesday until late Thursday, and the cabin became my refuge because of the lack of back-and-forth motion felt on the rest of the ship. Additionally, that motion made sleeping so wonderful. The only bad part was when pulling into port, there were horrible loud "EEERRRRRRRR" noises, but they only lasted about 10 seconds. It wasn't too cool, however, when we pulled into Nassau at 3:00 am and that was my wake-up call.
The stateroom itself was surprisingly roomy. We had plenty of room to store our bags in corners and underneath the bed. When we arrived, the beds were already together into the King-sized formation. I couldn't figure out how to turn off that blasted corner light for some time, but of course once I set my husband to the task he noticed the huge switch that said "Corner Light" and turned it off - truly one of my less brilliant moments, indeed. The bathroom had the nifty shower that drained right into the floor. Yes, the toilet flushes with incredible ferocity. At first it's annoying, but now I'm upset with my puny toilets at home and miss the "WHOOSH." A note about the water: It is HOT!!! This is good and bad. The good: if you like a hot shower, a cruise ship is the place for you. There are even signs warning you against scalding, instructing you to always run the cold water first. The bad: The water in the sink never gets cold - it's always lukewarm. One of my foibles is that I MUST have cold water to brush my teeth, so I was less than pleased with this facet of ship-life for the week. But I got over it. The bathroom is equipped with tons of towels and hooks to hang your wet items, a nifty freebie-bowl with toothpaste, Tylenol PM, Rolaids, lotion, shampoo/conditioner/gel samples, and one of those cool Reach flossing sticks, which I fell in love with and quickly claimed as my own (I'm a compulsive flosser). The shower has dispensers with shampoo and body wash. If you need conditioner, bring your own. I also brought my own shampoo, and I'm glad I did, because that shampoo dried my hair. The shower gel is fine, but I prefer soap, so I'm glad I brought my own soap as well. The mirror in the bathroom opens into a medicine cabinet, but we never used that. There is no hair-dryer in the Fantasy class ships, nor did we have bathrobes, since we were an inside cabin. The cabins are always very COLD. The air conditioning cannot be turned off, only turned down, which is still too cold for me. I ended up using 3 blankets every night. Take long pants and warm things to sleep in! Also, the inside cabins are DARK, and unless you bring an alarm clock, you have no clue what time it is. I found myself waking up and having to turn on the light to look at my watch. I was under the impression that there was a television channel with an outside camera from the ship's bow, but there wasn't. I'm not sure why I thought there would be. Speaking of television, there is no FOX! Which, for a Simpsons and American Idol addict, was nearly too much to bear. Also, no CNN, which is hard for a news junkie like myself. However, there are the other 3 major networks, as well as several movie channels, one news channel (which was just text news, not live news) and the Travelog playing endlessly. Also, the cabin air is SO DRY that I had a sore throat from Wednesday onward. Overall, the stateroom exceeded my expectations.
CABIN STEWARD These people are the hardest-working people you will EVER meet. It breaks my heart to know that there are people who refuse to tip these people. We left our tips alone, and gave him an extra $20. He introduced himself the first night (we had seen him earlier in the day when we first found our cabin) as Adolpho, from Honduras. He was immensely helpful, and so friendly, always smiling. I had always wondered how many rooms each steward had, so I asked. He had 15 rooms. Fifteen! How he manages to do this, in the impeccable way he does, is mind boggling. Turn-down service each night was a delight, as were our towel animals, which started on the second night. However, we didn't have one our last night, and I was looking forward to getting the monkey, which we never got. We had a collapsible cooler for our 6 bottles of wine/champagne and 5 mini-cans of Sprite we had brought on board. (FYI - I had bubble wrapped them carefully and put them in my carry-on, and they were fine. Wine and champagne, as well as soft drinks are perfectly legal to bring onboard). We asked him to keep it full of ice all week, and gave him an extra $10 for the trouble. Sure enough, it was full of fresh ice all the time. Any time we paged him for something, he magically appeared at our cabin door. Truly amazing people. Bravo for Adolpho, and all the other hard-working cabin stewards.
SHIP LAYOUT It was so easy to find my way around this ship. Like I said, I had studied the layout for months in advance, so perhaps that helped. My husband, who does not share my compulsive need to over-plan, did not look at the map but once, and had no problem. Upon boarding, they give you a pocket-sized ship map which is also very helpful. There is really no way to get lost on this ship. The only mildly confusing thing is the Atlantic deck, where the dining rooms are, on which you cannot go all the way fore to aft. Once you've got that figured out, you're good! No wasting time going down wrong paths on this ship. Now, the larger mega-ships may be a different matter. We were docked next to the Victory in Miami, and were dwarfed by it. That may be difficult to navigate, I cannot say. The Fantasy-ship classes, I can say, are very user-friendly and well thought out - except for the Normandie lounge, with giant pillars blocking about 75% of the good views. I guess, however, if those pillars are necessary to hold the ship together, then they're a necessary evil.
EXCURSION DESK Once we'd found our cabin and dropped our luggage off (1:00 pm), we had a few hours to kill until the lifeboat drill at 4:00. We explored the ship for awhile, located our dining room, took part in the scavenger hunt (fun!) for a prize drawing later in the night, and booked our excursions. There was a MASSIVE line for excursions, as people had all sorts of questions. I, however, thanks to my compulsive over-planning, had decided on excursions months ago, grabbed some forms, and dropped them off in the drop box. Done. Feeling tired from lack of sleep the night before (due to intense excitement), we returned to our cabin for a nice nap.
LIFEBOAT DRILL We were woken at 3:45 by the "lifeboat drill in 15 minutes" announcement, our introduction to our Cruise Director, Jeff "Brrronson". We got up, changed clothes, and grabbed our life vests. At 4:00, the ship whistle sounded and we went to the Normandie lounge (Muster Station "A") and sat for about 20 minutes while everyone shuffled in. Once everyone was in, and wearing the life vests, we were herded out to our respective life boats, where we found we were beginning to head down the pier so the ship could turn around. Once at our lifeboats, Jeff came on the loudspeaker and announced our vacation had begun. It was 4:30. So, we returned to our cabin to return our fashionable life vests, and headed up on deck for sail away.
SAILAWAY The Capers said sail away would begin at 5:00, but of course, it started during our lifeboat drill. No big deal, however, as it's not a fast process and there's plenty of time. We had a Cruise Critic's group to meet up with, and we found everyone and made introductions and took pictures. Sure enough, one of the ship's photographers was nearby and took our picture as well, for purchase. I'll say now that it is AMAZING how often you run into people on board. You'd think you wouldn't see people again all week - some people we ran into 5 or 6 times a day. Then again, some folks we never saw again until our planned party later in the cruise. Much depends on the assigned dinner time. Anyhow, sailing out of Miami was beautiful, and we walked around for awhile, exploring the ship further, until the Sushi Bar opened at 5:30.
SUSHI BAR We're massive sushi fans, so I was pleased as punch the first time I read there was a sushi bar on board. The sushi chef is quiet, but efficient and great at what he does. Every day there are four selections. Typically, you receive four pieces, but you can ask for more, and go back as often as you like. Sake is available for a reasonable price, but I did not have any, so I cannot speak to the quality of if it is served hot (yum) or cold (yuck). Each day, there was a sushi tower with a different topping, a traditional roll, a nigiri selection, and a wrap of sorts. One selection was always a vegetarian offering. The wasabi is POWERFUL so beware! We visited the sushi bar each and every day - and I miss not having early evening sushi every day on a whim. It's on the Promenade deck, so you take your plate of sushi over and sit and watch the ocean go by. My my, life is tough, isn't it?
DINNER/DINING ROOM TEAM Our dinner was the late seating in the Elation dining room. As you may have read, there are four seatings, and we were the last of four. This had its benefits, and its drawbacks. On the plus side, there were no children. The dining room staff is less hurried to get ready for the next seating, so you have an opportunity to sit and talk with them afterwards, which I recommend, as these are fascinating people. Also of benefit: while the early seating people are at dinner, the ship is a ghost town. No lines, and you get to see the sunsets (not to be missed!) Drawbacks: you're not hungry for the midnight buffets (which could be a good thing if you're trying to watch your weight!), and dinner ends around 10:00, and the late show doesn't start until 10:30. This was great for my DH, who is a night owl, but I tend to get up around 5 or 6 am, so I was dozing off during all of the shows, and had to leave to go to the cabin to sleep, so I missed the shows (despite my daily naps). The dining room staff is unbelievable: Our head waiter, German (pronounced Herman) was from Columbia, and the assistant, Roxana from Romania, was the cutest, sweetest, friendliest person we encountered our entire cruise. The sort of person you want to take care of and nurture. DH & I tend to frequent very fine restaurants, so we're accustomed to and expect the finest service. We were not disappointed - our every need was not only met, but anticipated in advance. The first night, I ordered a cappuccino and DH a double espresso after dinner (before dessert), and every night afterwards, they were brought out without asking. PLEASE leave the tips alone for these people, and tip them extra afterwards. Do not stiff these hard-working professionals. We brought 6 different bottles of wine/champagne on different nights, but were only charged corkage fees for our champagne on formal nights (according to our waiter: that's when they really crack down on that.) The Maitre'D had a joke each night, and the waiters sang and danced - conga lines, Macarena, The Ketchup song, "Leaving our Fun Ship" - so entertaining! Food was exceptional. Here is what we ordered each night, with comments where appropriate:
Day 1: Starter (both of us): Hickory-smoked Alaskan Salmon - superb dish with fabulous salmon served with a spoonful of caviar. Soup (both): Crème de Funghi Slevatica - if you like or love mushrooms, do not miss this dish! DH wanted me to point out that any soup that says "cream of" isn't really thick, like some of you may be used to. It's looser than typical, but all are full of flavor and recommended. Salad (both): Mixed greens and field greens - this is a typical salad. In fact, I never ordered a salad again for the rest of the week but once, as I found myself filling up on this course. Entrees: Rack of New Zealand Spring Lamb Dijonnaise (DH); Sweet and Sour Shrimp (Me) - this shrimp was the only disappointment of the cruise, as the batter was overwhelming. It was okay though, as I was full from the salad anyhow. Dessert (both): Guava cheese napoleon - okay dessert - pastries sort of dry, but edible nonetheless
Day 2 (formal night): Starter (both): Mississippi Delta Prawns Soup (both): Strawberry Bisque - DO NOT MISS THIS. It's like melted strawberry ice cream. Salad (DH): Mixed greens and field greens Entree: Lobster (both), Prime Rib (DH). DH ordered two entrees this night, and loved them both. The lobster was good - not the best I've ever had, but good nonetheless. Dessert: Tiramisu (DH), Cherries Jubilee (me). DH said the Tiramisu was the creamiest he'd ever had, and it looked like it. Cherries Jubilee was good, but I wish I'd ordered the Tiramisu, since everyone at the table said it was spectacular.
Day 3: Starter: Escargot Bourguignon (me), Penne Mariscos (DH) - both were excellent, especially the snails. Soup: Lobster Bisque (DH), Chilled cucumber soup (me) - pass on the cucumber soup - too much dill. DH said the lobster bisque was good. So that's what they do with the leftover lobster from the night before! Salad: Mixed greens (DH) EntrEe: Catch of the day (me), Aged New York Sirloin (DH) - fish was, well, fish. It was supposed to be sea bass according to the master menu that's floating around on the internet, but it wasn't. DH loved his sirloin, cooked medium rare just as he likes it. Dessert: Pineapple sorbet (DH), Chocolate Rum SoufflE (me) - DO NOT MISS THE SoufflE!! The soufflE are the best I've ever had - even better than those I've had in France.
Day 4: Starter: Smoked breast of Long-island duckling (DH) - he said this was very good, although it was served as a mousse, which may come as a surprise to some people. Soup: Cream of sun-ripened tomatoes (DH), Chilled cream of lychees (me) - the lychee soup was similar to the Strawberry Bisque - it tasted like melted lychees ice cream - yum! DH said the tomato soup was stellar. Salad: Artichoke Hearts (DH) - DH said it was the best salad of the week. If you like artichokes, it's a must. If you don't, but just want to try something new, it's highly recommended. EntrEe: Leg of Lamb (DH), Black tiger shrimp (me) - DH raved about the lamb. Shrimp were typical, but was served with whipped potatoes that were superb. Dessert: Napoleon (DH), lime sherbet (for my sore throat). Others at the table had crème brulee and said it was excellent. I would have, but my throat was in such pain, lime sherbet was all that was palatable by that point.
Day 5: Starter: Tomatoes and mozzarella (both) - one of my all-time favorite appetizers. Since I'm from Indiana, I've grown up with the best tomatoes in the world (in my opinion), so I found the tomatoes slightly under ripe and very watery, but the mozzarella made up for it. Soup: French Onion Soup (both) - good Salad: Curly endives and tomatoes (DH) - DH said it was okay, but could've been better. EntrEe: Filet Mignon (DH), Coquilles St. Jacques (me) - best scallops ever! DH loved his filet mignon. Dessert: Amaretto cake (DH), Fresh fruit salad (me)
Day 6 (Formal night): Starter: grilled mushrooms (DH) Soup: Broccoli and cheddar (DH) - good Salad: mixed garden (DH) EntrEe: Black tiger jumbo shrimp (me), Long-Island Duckling (DH) AND Chateaubriand with BEarnaise (DH). DH couldn't decide so he got both. The shrimp were okay. DH was floored by the Chateaubriand, and the duckling was excellent also. Dessert: Baked Alaska (both) - everyone gets this, and it was quite good.
Day 7: Starter: Supreme of fresh fruit (both) - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Soup: Mango Crème (DH) - keeping with the melted ice cream theme... Salad: Vine ripened tomatoes and cucumber slices (both) - okay Entrees: Delice of the Ocean (me), Prime Rib (DH), Turkey (DH) - Delice of the ocean was a nice selection of seafood. DH liked the turkey and the prime rib, both. Good, but not breath-taking. Dessert: SoufflE (both), Chocolate fudge cake (me), brie (me) - I went all out on this last night. Again, the soufflE was great. I had to try the chocolate fudge cake - it was too rich. The brie was great - if I would've known it was so good, I would've ordered it all week long.
NASSAU We arrived in Nassau around 3:00 am - I know this due to the loud "EEERRRRR" noise signaling our arrival. Fortunately, I was able to fall back asleep. We got up at 7:00, went down the Paris for breakfast, and got off the ship. We didn't book an excursion for Nassau, since it's so easy to get around and do your own thing there. We got off the ship around 7:45. Once you get off the ship, you walk a short distance into a "Welcome to Nassau" center, filled with scooter rentals and hair braiders. Warning: I've heard of cases of head lice from getting one's hair braided. Do so at your own risk! The women who braid hair and persistent, which is unfortunate for me, as I have hair down to my waist, so I was an easy target. Just be firm and polite with your "no thank you" and they'll back down, although sometimes it takes 2 or 3 times to get the point across. DH & I walked around downtown Nassau, which is quite charming. We enjoyed just exploring before the other tourists were up and around. There were 2 other ships in port that day: a smallish RCI ship and the Disney Wonder. So we were up before the city itself, which was a delightful time for exploration. After walking around until about 9:00, we ventured to the straw market. Such fun! It has a temporary "tent city" sort of feel, as the original straw market was destroyed by fire some time ago. The vendors are friendly, if not pushy, but that's part of the fun. My DH found a great white fedora-type straw hat with a great colonial-looking navy blue band. They wanted $35, we bargained down to $17. Some flea-market type stuff is around, but if you look closely, you can find some really cool stuff. We were here until about 10:30. So far, the weather was cloudy, but warm. We caught the #10a Jitney bus ($1 per person, each way) to Cable Beach. The helpful driver dropped us off in front of a hotel, which we simply walked through the lobby to get to the beach. Easy as pie! The beach was beautiful, the water warm. The clouds remained, however, and never broke. We were there until 12:30, when we decided to leave since the sun wasn't out. Naturally, once we were back on the return bus, the sun came out. Just our luck! We were hungry by this point, but first we wandered around the (now very busy and crowded) shops on Bay Street. We got back on board around 1:00, and the ship was nice and quiet as most were still in the town or on excursions. We grabbed lunch and I went up to lay out on the deck, and fell asleep in the now blaring sun. The weather was funny that way. We had clouds at Cable beach, yet we could see a massive rainstorm which seemed to be some miles away. We later found out that same rainstorm was over the Blue Lagoon, where many had excursions that day. We never felt a drop of rain. The time to be back on board was 2:30, yet there were two stragglers who came running up at 2:55, to be whisked back to the ship by a waiting golf cart. There's some in every crowd. I would recommend doing Nassau on your own unless there is an excursion you desperately want to take.
MOTION SICKNESS Tuesday was our first full day at sea, and my, was it a windy one! I was fine in the morning, laying out in the beautiful fun from 9:00 am until 1:00 pm. There was never a noticeable problem with chair saving throughout the week - there were always enough for everyone. Obviously, the ones right by the pool fill up first, but that is such a high-traffic area, I can't understand why anyone would want to try to lounge there anyhow. The wind this day was a steady 35 knots. Yes, that's right, 35! So there was a fair bit of rocking around. Now, I've never had motion sickness in my life. I can be on small boats and be just fine. Roller coasters? No problem. However, around 4:00 Tuesday afternoon I started to feel funny, and this lasted until Thursday night. I never vomited, but was constantly dizzy. I started taking Meclazine Tuesday evening and kept taking it. By Thursday, when it wasn't making me any better, I stopped taking it and by Friday morning I was fine. So I wonder if it helped, or made me worse. Tuesday was so rocky it was probably a legitimate case of motion sickness, but then when I kept taking it (on two port days); perhaps it hurt more than helped. Others had some problems with motion sickness that day, as the wind was so unyielding. Even DH, an able seaman himself, had a bit of difficulty.
INFORMATION DESK (Purser) While lying on the deck that Tuesday, we indulged in two Miami Vice frozen cocktails, which we paid for with our drink tickets. We handed them to our drink server when he came around to take our orders, yet he didn't ask us to sign the back, which I found strange. "Oh well", I thought to myself, "no big deal." Well, sure enough, when he returned with our drinks, he had rang up a charge to our account, and presented me a receipt to sign. I refused to do so, since we had paid with drink tickets. He said, "Oh yes" and said he would remove the charge. Yet something didn't feel right about the situation to me. Sure enough, he didn't remove the charge, and we had been charged for the drinks we had already paid for. So, I paid a visit to the purser's desk Tuesday afternoon around 2:00. She said his shift may not have yet ended, and to check back later that night. So, I checked back later that night and the charge was still on my account. So, we filed an inquiry to have it removed, and I was to check back on Wednesday. I did so - Wednesday, the charge was still there, so we filed another inquiry. By the third attempt, the charge was finally removed. So, make sure to check for erroneous charges, and be persistent! And if you are given a receipt to sign, and you know you shouldn't be charged, don't sign it! The fact that I did not sign the erroneous receipt at the time he brought our drinks worked in my favor, even though he apparently didn't retain our drink tickets that we paid for the drink with. Overall, the pursers were patient, professional, understanding, and helpful; even though it took three trips down to get the charge removed.
BINGO Bingo goes on every day. Typically, it is $10 for one card and $20 for three cards, and you have to have new cards for each game. However, on this particular Tuesday, they had "Austin Powers" bingo where there were four games, and you got to keep the same card for each day. Being frugal, I thought "what a good deal!" and purchased myself a single card, for $10. I won $100 on the first game. Hooray! This helped to offset some of our painful casino losses (he he).
AFTERNOON TEA If you're a tea drinker (or even if you're not!) this is something not to be missed. Every 4:00, on sea days only, in the American Bar, you can indulge in a one-hour tea time. Mark, the fabulous piano player, provides entertainment, while numerous servers bring around a choice of tea, done the correct English was, finger sandwiches (cucumber and tomato as vegetarian options, and they are fantastic!), and a selection of pastries in the last 15 minutes. This was one of the highlight of my sea days. Absolutely magnificent, and a great way to pass away that hour when there's not much else going on. Plus, it was never crowded in there. You don't have to show up right at 4:00 either, whenever you wander in is completely okay.
INFIRMARY Tuesday afternoon my husband woke up from our afternoon nap and noticed his chest and arms were covered in a nasty case of hives. We had some cortisone cream with us, so we applied some of that in hopes it would make the inflammation go down. Well, it didn't. So, early Wednesday morning, we visited the infirmary so he could get a Cortisone shot. Now, Wednesday was a port day, visiting La Romana in the Dominican Republic, and we had an excursion leaving at 8:30. The infirmary didn't open until 8:00, so we figured go in, quick shot, plenty of time to make the excursion. Well, it would have been, except no one in the infirmary bothered to even show up until 8:15! Now, I'm usually pretty easy going. However, if you're supposed to open the infirmary at 8:00, then be there on time! 8:15 and 8:00 are not the same thing, folks! Anyhow, 8:30 rolled around and my DH was still waiting for the doctor to bother showing up (the nurse had already done the paperwork, blood pressure, etc). Our excursion was leaving! So, it became my job to run out to the excursion and have them wait until he got his shot. I told him to run like h#$% when he got his shot and get out there. So, at 8:29, I ran out to find a much longer trek to the parking lot where the excursions were being held than I had expected. DH showed up 15 minutes later, with a sore bum and some prescriptions for steroids and benadryl. I asked him how much it was, he said he didn't care to ask, he just signed and ran out to the busses. We went to our excursion, and went back to the infirmary upon our return for the total. This story is pretty funny so I'll try to recount it well, but it's hard to do in writing. But I'll give it a try.
The nurse was figuring our total, and said "I won't charge you for the Benadryl." Finding this gesture very nice, I said "Thank you! What is the total?" "Six ten" replied the nurse. Both of our jaws dropped. "What was that?" I asked "Six ten." She repeated, wondering why we had these ghastly looks on our faces. "Six ten?" I countered. "How on Earth could a shot and some medications be that much? The nurse figured out what was going on. We thought the total was $610. She meant that the Benadryl, for which we were not being charged, was $6.10. She chuckled, and explained herself. I have never been so relieved in my life! The actual total was $87, including the $60 it costs just to see the doctor. Whew!
LA ROMANA After our adventure with the late-arriving medical staff, I breathlessly made the surprisingly lengthy sprint to the parking lot to locate our guide "Coochie Coochie" for the Powerboat Pure Adrenaline Tour. I panted to him that my DH was getting a shot and would be right there, if he would hold the bus. He said no problem. I stood and waited to flag down my DH, who came sprinting out (despite his sore bum!) 15 minutes later. It turns out there was a large group, of about 15 people, who were holding up the tour anyhow because they had overslept, so all our panic about missing the tour was for naught. Once everyone was on board, we pulled out into the amazingly beautiful Dominican countryside. Now, based on everyone's reviews of this port, I had very low expectations. However, it turned out to be my favorite port of all. The bus took us for about 20 minutes to Casa de Campo, where we got off the bus and walked about 5 minutes to the pier. We had a chance to go to the bathroom before being divided into two groups for the powerboats. I wasn't looking forward to this excursion - I'm terrified of high speeds, yet I let my husband choose this excursion. I'm glad I went! Once we started going I had a blast. We first went past a picturesque harbor with lots of massive yachts, for a photo op. Next, we went past some neat eroded cliffs. Then the boats stopped and the guide fed some piranhas, which was quite a sight. Then we went about 50 more feet to the beach, and got out. Naturally, the piranhas don't bother the beach goers, if anyone is concerned about that. This beach was small but beautiful, and the sun was out (for once!) There was a young man selling fresh coconuts for $1 each from a wheelbarrow. He cuts them open, sticks a straw in them, and then when you've drank all the milk, he chops them in half so you can eat the flesh. Beautiful! There were some small vendor stalls about 100 feet off the beach, but they don't approach you. You only go up there if you wish, but there is a language barrier if you do not speak Spanish. After about 30 minutes on the beach, we went back to La Piscina Natural, the natural swimming pool. There are massive starfish on the floor of the "pool", which is simply a large area of very shallow, clear, warm water that extends quite a way off of the coast. We got back in the boats to head back to the Marina, and could see it was raining at our final destination. So, we waited some distance away until the rain left. So, in both Nassau and here, others got a heavy rainstorm on their excursions, while we watched from a comfortable, dry distance away. During the entire excursion, there was complimentary rum and cokes, water, and beer. I had only water, DH had beer (he said it was similar to Red Stripe) and rum and cokes. We were bussed back to the ship, but first went to an exclusive area and were shown the home of Sammy Sosa, the national hero from the Dominican Republic. Overall, I was very pleased with the DR and with this particular excursion, which was a bit pricey ($89 pp) but well worth it!
IMMIGRATION Thursday was our final port, St. Thomas. Since this is a US territory, we had to go through immigration here rather than upon return to Miami. Immigration was due to start at 7:00 am for non-US citizens and 7:30 for US citizens. As my DH is British, but a US permanent resident, he reported to the Normandie lounge dutifully at 6:50, and I wandered over to the Queen Mary Lounge at the same time. I encountered a line of already about 50 people; DH was in a line of 5. So, we waited. And waited and waited and waited. The immigration officials weren't ready to start processing the US Citizens until 8:00 - bad news for those in the latter part of the line who had 8:15 excursions! DH & I had an excursion to St. John leaving at 8:30, so we agreed to meet back in the cabin before heading out. Well, since I was I in the front of the line, I was finished by 8:10, so I returned to the cabin. It turns out that immigration for non-US citizens didn't even begin until 8:30 (a full 90 minutes late!). Fortunately, DH was fifth in line and was done in 5 minutes. At 8:30, we ran out from deck 3 to our excursion, which was in no hurry to go anywhere since the majority of people were still going through immigration. We didn't set out until 9:30, a full hour late. The trouble was that, apparently after I had gone through, they announced that people with excursions should advance to the front of the line. Well, this made those who had been waiting patiently very mad and some shouting matches erupted. If the immigration officials had been ready and begun on time, there would have been no trouble. But, the way I look at it, it's better to do it here than in Miami, where people may have early flights that they couldn't make if there was an immigration snafu. Let's get it figured out here, and not mess with it in Miami.
ST THOMAS/ST JOHN So, we left the port on the "Island Girl" ferry (?) at 9:30, and arrived at St John around 10:30. We boarded a safari bus with the craziest driver I've ever been with for the 30 minute drive to St John. We arrived to the National Park at 11:00, after several stops en route for photo opportunities of Trunk Bay. We had but one hour to snorkel, whereas we would've had two had we left on time. But it worked out, as after an hour I was ready to go, having snorkeled all I could. The snorkel equipment is included with a brief explanation. They turn you loose on the underwater trail, which was crowded but fine. The most interesting sections to snorkel in are off to the right, which is much less crowded with people and more crowded with fish. There is a snack bar with great greasy fries, but the birds here are VERY aggressive and will take the fries right out of your hands, so beware! We were back by 1:30, at which point DH & I changed clothes and grabbed lunch, to head out to Charlotte Amalie for some shopping. DH had his eye on a Raymond Weil, and we found some very nice ones for GREAT prices, so we know where to return to for jewelry shopping! We picked up some rum balls (yum!) at a nice gift shop, among other souvenirs. It is a bit of a walk to downtown, so take a taxi ($3 pp, each way) unless you really want to walk. All day here it was quite cloudy, but humid. If the sun would have been out, it would have been oppressively hot. We had a nice time here shopping, and it is a beautiful place. We were back on board at 4:00, even though we had until 4:30.
WEATHER The weather was funny this week. On our three port days it was cloudy, and rained on some people on different parts of the island, but we lucked out. Some nights we encountered rain, but it wasn't noticeable in terms of any choppy waters. All of our sea days and both days in Miami were sunny and beautiful, but Tuesday was incredibly windy.
SHOWS I was only able to stay awake for the final show, the talent show. The other nights included Vegas-style productions, which I sat through the first half of each but fell asleep, as I didn't find them too engaging, but then again I'm not really into that sort of thing. The magician was slightly cheesy, and I fell asleep about 10 minutes into it, so I went back to the cabin. DH went to every show, every night, including late-night comedians, which he really enjoyed.
COFFEE BAR Starbucks-type venue on the Promenade deck, with great chocolate tuxedo strawberries and pastries, and coffees that aren't quite Starbucks, but then again they don't cost as much either.
karaoke BAR DH went here and said it was always crowded with people having a great time. I, of course, was asleep.
REX NIGHT CLUB DH was here as well, and went 4/7 nights. They had retro night (80's, old school hip hop) which he loved, and it was always crowded and popular, except for the final night (the one time I stayed up!) when there was no one there.
GALLERIA SHOPS Strangely enough, this was comparably priced to the shops on the islands. We took advantage of the special of 4 bottles of Cruzan flavored rum for $24, a very good price. They had a surprising selection of liquors. Do not pass up rum cakes! They're no cheaper on the islands, and they have a 6-pack of 6 different flavors for $24. They offer samples throughout the week. Best cake ever! Even the souvenirs were not overpriced, as you may find at say, a hotel gift shop.
NON-SMOKING It was so nice not to have to inhale the toxic death fumes from inconsiderate cigarette smokers at all, not even in ports did I encounter the nasty stench of death. I'm writing a letter, begging Carnival to keep a smoke-free ship. For those of us who enjoy life and do not want to kill ourselves and others, a smoke-free ship is such a nice slice of heaven.
FUNNEL DECK Friday, when I was finally feeling great, with no touch of motion sickness, and the sun was shining, so I ventured up to the funnel (topless) deck nice and early (9:00) when there was no one up there. A strange thing happened. I was enjoying my solitude and my book, when every single person (men *ahem*) who was up there felt the compulsive need to come over and talk to me. Now, this was a strange phenomenon - all week, with my top on, no one stops to say hello. But as soon as the top comes off, everyone must come and introduce themselves. Okay, I get it, if you want to look, look! I don't care! But you don't have to stumble over your words and embarrass yourself (and me) by trying to make conversation to have an excuse to stare at them. Once others came up to the deck around 10:30, this phenomenon stopped. It was just strange, really. I don't mind others up there "enjoying the view" so to speak, the human body is beautiful and there's nothing to be ashamed of. But please, give me my solitude! I was up there to be alone, not to make feeble conversation with men who were really only interested in the view.
CRUISE DIRECTOR Jeff Bronson (pronounced as the French would, a la "Brrrronson") was quite a character. Never pushy with the endless announcements, always funny, always friendly. I was amused by the capers, which began on Sunday saying "Cruise Director: Jeff Bronson", proceeded by Wednesday to read "Cruise Director: Jeff Brrronson" and by Saturday had degenerated to simply read "Cruise Director: Brrronson!" It's true, a good CD can really make a good cruise great, and he did.
SOCIAL HOST Sara from England is a delightful social host, moderating the games and in general, providing lots of fun.
CHILDREN There were very few children on this cruise. Those that were on board were rarely seen or heard, and always polite. No running on the decks, no running in the halls. I couldn't have asked for a better "children" situation, and I'm one who is easily annoyed by children.
ROOM SERVICE Quick and good, we never waited more than 10 minutes. Try the shrimp salad sandwich! A fairly good room service menu, but I'm sure you could make special requests. Don't forget to tip! (This is where those $2 bills come in handy.)
ICE CREAM Oh yes, I miss this! The one on the right is Frozen Yogurt; the one on the left is Soft Serve. My husband didn't notice this until about mid-week, and was wondering why the ice cream wasn't quite what he expected (he'd been eating frozen yogurt, which I prefer by the way). There are 3 choices: chocolate, twist, and vanilla. I was under the impression there was a toppings bar, but there is not. However, you can get a bowl rather than a cone, and mix in fresh fruit or granola (yum!)
PIZZA This is every bit as good as you've heard. My husband enjoyed the meat-types; I had the "De Chevre", which was Goat cheese and mushroom, two of my all-time favorite foods. I'm not sure what makes this pizza so good. Maybe because it's free, maybe because it's 24 hours a day, maybe it's the view as you take it out on the Lido deck and watch the sea go by. But it's GOOD! Great toppings, not too much sauce, lots of cheese, fantastic crust. I want some now!
SPA We had wanted to try the Chakra Alpha Balancing capsule, and we were lucky enough to both be able to do it. My DH went on Wednesday, when they were running a 25 minutes for $25 special, and had but one appointment left while we were in port. I was sad I didn't get to go, but wandered up on Saturday and they gave me the Wednesday port special price (actually, because there was some confusion, she gave me 40 minutes for $25, which got her a nice tip!). This thing is awesome. It's an egg sort of thing which you lay in, while music plays, your muscles are vibrated, and your body is wrapped in warmth. It's so relaxing! I fell asleep. 25 minutes in this is supposed to be equal to 2-3 hours of deep sleep, and I believe it. I felt so rested once I emerged. There is only one capsule in the spa, so if you want to do it, book early! The prices were fair, comparable to a land-based spa, but the in-port specials are not to be missed.
GYM We both took our gym clothes, but I had taken a nasty St. Bernard-related fall the Saturday prior to leaving, so my knees were really banged up and sore all week, so I didn't work out. DH did, but found the weights strange and unnatural to use, so he didn't go back. However, it was usually pretty busy and the view from up there is spectacular.
BREAKFAST We had breakfast in the Paris most days, where they have a nice buffet, omelet station (with vegetarian options such as mushrooms and cheese), cereal, fruit, pastries, tea, coffee, etc. We had breakfast in the Elation dining room one day, which was fine, but we really liked the Lido deck breakfast, so we returned to that.
LUNCH Lido deck 5 days, room service 2 days. Typical lunch fare.
GALA BUFFET This is so cool! It takes place after your second formal night. The detail of this food is unbelievable. After you take photos in the Elation dining room, you can go to the Destiny dining room and "tear into" the duplicate buffet set up over there. Yum!
FORMAL NIGHTS Surprisingly few tuxedos were worn, mostly dark suits for men, evening gowns for women. Lots of picture stands everywhere - get your photos taken as much as you can! Everyone that I noticed was dressed appropriately (i.e. no jeans in the dining room on formal night! (He he).
POOLS Filled and cleaned daily. They were never too busy, although I never did try the water slide.
CASINO This took a fair bit of our money, but we love casinos as it is. As the cruise was a gift from my parents, including $2000 spending money, we were slightly more liberal with our casino donations than we may have been otherwise. We both entered the Blackjack tournament both nights, but the dealer (the Casino Host) was ruthless and kept hitting 20's and 21's, eating contestants up and spitting them back out. Everyone always says "don't play roulette!" but I did well at roulette, hitting pretty well and coming out ahead. DH played Blackjack all week and lost about $300, so between my slot, bingo, and roulette wins, we came out just slightly under even. There are many slot machines, several blackjack tables of different varieties (traditional, face up, fun 21), Caribbean Stud Poker, 3-Card Poker, Craps, and Roulette.
PHOTO GALLERY Each day the new photos are put up, along with all the others from the rest of the week. I didn't decide which to buy until the last day, when all the formal night photos were finished. The photographers are absolute professionals, who take great photos. What a great souvenir, or gift for a loved one!
SHIP CLEANLINESS There was always someone scrubbing, polishing, sweeping, washing, etc. The ship was spotless and beautiful, although I still managed to catch a nasty cold around Wednesday.
CELL PHONE SERVICE We took our GSM T-Mobile phone, and surprisingly didn't have reception in Nassau, but we did in La Romana and St Thomas.
DEBARKATION I attended the debarkation talk on Saturday, and since we'd already cleared immigration, everyone was eligible for express (self-assist) debarkation. Generally, it's only open to US citizens, but everyone could since we didn't have to mess with it in Miami. Jeff instructed those who wished to do express debarkation to not put their luggage out the night before, and around 7:00 am, open our cabin door and listen for the announcement, but to wait in our cabin until we heard the announcement. We wanted to do self-debarkation so we could get to the airport sooner rather than later. So, at 7:00, I opened the cabin door, and listened. Tons of announcements, mostly "so and so, please report to the information desk or dial 7777." 8:00 rolled around, when the announcement was supposed to be made, no announcement. 8:15, no announcement. By 8:25, we were antsy, so I called information. "Yes, the announcement was made at 8:00. The window closes in 5 minutes, so please proceed quickly to the debarkation area." What?! Turns out that announcement isn't made in the cabin hallways, only the public areas. So, even though I followed instructions to the letter, waiting in my cabin and listening to announcements as instructed, I nearly missed the self-assist debarkation. Good thing I called, huh? If we hadn't called, we would've had to be the last off the ship. Anyhow, leaving at 8:25 when we did was perfect, as we were off the ship by 8:30 due to there being absolutely no line.
LEAVING MIAMI We grabbed a cab at 8:30, and we were at the airport by 8:45. Our flight wasn't until 1:27, but I'm the kind who would rather wait in the safety of the airport for 6 hours rather than running up to the counter with 30 minutes before the flight.
TOTAL COST Overall, we spent a total of $3100 for two people, and we shopped, drank and gambled to our heart's content. The flight and cruise together were $1800. We spent $600 cash, mostly in the casino and on shore for souvenirs, and $700 on our S&S card, which included tips, drinks, 2 corkage fees, duty-free shop purchases, bingo, and little here-and-there purchases such as an extra pastry or coffee. We never watched our nickels and dimes and still spent well less than we had budgeted for.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS Great vacation! Any minor problems were dealt with. The ports were great, ship was immaculate, never a shortage of things to do. The value was good, considering one couldn't do a week at an all-inclusive resort for 2 for $3000, yet that's basically what this turned out to be. We will be doing another one soon, perhaps the western route since we want to visit Grand Cayman. Seven days may be about two days too long for me, as I was missing my dog horribly by day five. So next time, we may try a five day from Tampa. I'm just sad that any future cruises I take will be on smoking ships, but maybe Carnival will come to its senses and resume non-smoking service on some ship, somewhere after the Paradise goes smoking in September. The only bad part was my cold (not Carnival's fault) and the motion sickness (again, not Carnival's fault) which I now know how to handle (not so much medication!). We'll be cruising again.