Background information: We were a party of 6 that flew in from Washington, DC. We are all from VA and our group consisted of two married couples and two single girls and we are all affiliated with EMS. My husband and I have sailed Carnival Fantasy class ships 5 x's and the other couple have sailed the same class twice before. The two girls were new cruisers.
We flew in the day before to FLL and spent the evening at the Comfort Inn Airport/Cruise Port Hotel. They have a shuttle to and from the airport and you just contact them from the baggage claim when you arrive. We got an internet rate of $69 per night. We decided on a limo from "A Family Limo" vs. the Carnival transfer b/c it was only $4 more pp and they picked us up at the hotel so we did not have to shuttle back to the airport. They picked us up at 11 AM, we were driven to the cruise port, checked in and were on the ship by 12:30PM. We all had completed our fun pass which helped expedite the process.
The two couples did a guarantee 6A cabin and using the method of looking at the back of our sail and sign forms in our cruise documents, it showed that we were on the Empress Deck, which was a nice upgrade. However, when we arrived, we were even more surprised to find out that we had been upgraded even more - Verandah Deck, Cabins 1 and 3! These were very nice and the balconies were not obstructed by life boats. I was even more surprised to have a dozen yellow roses in my room that my husband had sent me. :-)
Once we had checked out our rooms, we went to the lido deck for lunch. Here we met the bar waiter that made our trip even more fun - Richard. He is from India, has a great sense of humor and is a super nice guy. If you sail the Paradise before December '04, please tell Richard hello from Cyndi, Mike, Tammy, Sarah, James and Lisa.
Nassau was our first port on Monday. My husband and I had been to Nassau several years ago and not much had changed - the straw market was moved due to a fire a couple years ago, but they still sell the same stuff. We negotiated a cab to take us around Nassau. He took us to the beach and came back 2.5 hrs. later and then took us downtown shopping. The cab driver did not take payment until the ride was over, which I thought was nice. We did some shopping and went to Hard Rock Cafe for lunch and then back to the ship. Monday was the first formal night. We took advantage of the pictures b/c typically they are good. We pick out a couple to take home but it is nice to have such a variety to chose from.
Tuesday we were at sea and we spent the morning up on the Verandah aft deck beside the smaller pool. There was an emergency around 11 AM and everyone was cleared from the aft area. Apparently, someone was very ill and a coast guard helicopter had been called to come and pick them up. This was very exciting for us as I mentioned earlier, we are all EMS, so we were all interested in the rescue, as well as the other 2000 guests. The coast guard helicopter came in and hovered over the aft deck, a member was lowered down to the ship to assess the patient and then a stokes basket was lowered down to bring the patient into the helicopter. All in all, the rescue took about 30 minutes from the time they arrived, but it was done without incident and the Coast Guard deserves a lot of credit for this. It was very windy on this day so I am sure this made it much more difficult.
Wednesday we were in the Dominican Republic. We took a tour to Catalina Island for $45 pp. This was your tender ride over to the island (approx. 30 min.) and 4 hours on the beach. It was cloudy and rainy most of the morning, but some of our group took some time to explore the island and got some great pictures from out on the point.
Once back at the ship, we took a cab ride in to the city to shop. What we saw was a very poor area - kids knocking on the windows asking for money, run down housing, etc, The place we went to shop did very little negotiating but they were friendly. The cab ride cost our group of 6 $15 plus tip.
Thursday we were in the Virgin Islands. Everyone had to clear immigration that morning b/c we were back in a US territory, but this did not take too long. Carnival has this type stuff down to a science. As long as all passengers pay attention and get to where they should when they should, all is well.
USVI was the highlight of the trip. I had reserved on-line, a tour with Godfrey Tours. For $20 pp, you get 2.5 hours of beach time, 3 hours shopping and 2 hours of city highlights. We were transported in a open safari type vehicle which was very clean. Shopping in St Thomas is great. Lots to chose from, some great local stores with locally made merchandise. One store, Local Color, right on the water front downtown, was my favorite. If you head to the Hard Rock from the open air market, it is on your right mid way down.
Thursday night we all went to a deck party. I believe our group of 6 was the party! People were telling us the next day that they were surprised we were even up and about! We had a great time, met some great people and most retired to our cabins around 3 AM.
Friday (formal night) and Saturday we were at sea and nothing too eventful happened. My husband and I were invited to the Senior Officer's table for dinner on Friday night, which was a pleasant surprise and a nice event. We dined with the Staff Captain, the Head Purser, the Chief Engineer nd the Spa Manager. There were only two other couples at the table, so it was a nice evening.
Disembarking was very easy - we put our luggage out and our cabins were called by 9 AM. The two girls traveling with us on Empress were about 20 minutes behind us. Because we had to clear immigration coming into the USVI, this had been done and did not slow things down on Sunday.
Some things I noticed about the Paradise: 1. everyone was friendly - I never passed a staff member that did not speak and smile. 2. security was good - they were on the decks at night, walking the blvd., etc. I felt very safe. 3. the ship is very clean.
The food was really good. I did not care for some things, but they were things I probably would not eat at home either. The Caesar salads at dinner and the pizzas were good. The frozen yogurt is also good and available 24 hours. We took advantage of this a lot.
All in all, I loved the Paradise and staff, but the only port I would return to is St Thomas.
If you have any questions, email me. Happy cruising!