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Paradise Review – April 2019 5-night cruise from Tampa to Key West, Havana and Cozumel departure on Monday, April 8 and return on Saturday, April 13. This is a long review because we spent several days in Tampa prior to the cruise and have a lot to say about Cuba. We are a couple in our mid-50’s. Pre-cruise Hotel We drove from South Carolina to the Tampa Bay area several days prior to the cruise and stayed at the Hampton Inn next to the St Petersburg/Clearwater airport. The room and hotel were as expected from a Hampton Inn. Our last visit to Tampa we stayed in Ybor City and thought it was great, but we needed to save some $$$ on this trip and the Pinellas Park/Largo area was much cheaper. Tampa pre-Cruise Activities NCAA Women’s Final Four (Downtown): Our original purpose for visiting Tampa was the basketball tournament. We greatly enjoyed the basketball tournament, which was our third. Parking at the Convention Center was reasonable, but the food in Amalie Arena was very, very expensive. We checked what cruises were departing after the tournament ended and this cruise fit perfectly. Busch Gardens (North Tampa): We planned to visit Busch Gardens not sure what to expect. We thoroughly enjoyed the animals, particularly from the Serengeti Express train through the Serengeti Plains exhibit. We rode once in the morning and again in the afternoon and saw different animals in different places. We also were impressed by the massive alligators and the gorillas. Our visit coincided with the annual wine and food festival, which was nice to have good food and drink available for purchase. It is also the Year of Beer at Busch Gardens honoring the founding of the park 60 years ago. Each guest (21 and over) can receive two free beer samples, which we enjoyed. The park maps are not sufficiently detailed and we struggled figuring out where we were and how to get where we wanted to go most of the day. We did not ride any of the huge roller-coasters. We purchased the Tampa Bay City Pass for just a few dollars more than admission to Busch Gardens. Chihuly Collection (St. Petersburg): We decided to purchase a Tampa Bay City Pass because we were spending several days in Tampa. We visited the Chihuly museum in St. Petersburg and enjoyed the exhibit, which is smaller than the Chihuly museum in Seattle. It has mostly similar works of art but some smaller pieces I did not recall seeing in Seattle. Florida Aquarium (Channelside): The City Pass included admission to the Florida Aquarium so we visited before the basketball game at nearby Amalie Arena. The exhibits were nice but not anything we haven’t seen at other nice aquariums. S.S. American Victory Mariners Museum (Channelside): The Florida Aquarium required less time than we planned so we toured the American Liberty, which is a functional WWII liberty ship with exhibits about the role these ships played in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The ship is moored next to the aquarium between Cruise Terminals 2 and 3. To find it walk between the aquarium and Terminal 3 and follow the signs. The American Victory is not part of the City Pass. Port of Tampa Departure: Could not be easier. Arrived at Terminal 3 slightly before our scheduled time of 11:30. Dropped the luggage quickly (few cars dropping bags) and parked in the parking garage across the street, which had ample spaces available. We pre-paid parking before leaving home and handed the parking attendant our printed ticket and parked on the second level near the elevators. Although we were early, by the time we had competed check-in our group number had already been called. We were still on the ship before many passengers had shown up. We had Guy’s burgers for lunch, at 1:30 we went to our cabin to change and went to enjoy the hot tubs on the Serenity deck before it was crowded. Return: Getting off the ship was quick and orderly and went much faster than the scheduled departure times. We learned that self disembarkation was starting with Deck 14 and we were on Deck 4 (Riviera), so we got luggage tags when they were offered at 10 am on the last day (Friday) and had a low group number (5 out of 28). Customs consisted of checking passports, and asking how many cigars and how much liquor (rum) we were bringing in from Cuba. We were under the duty-free limits and were on our way home. Muster Drill and Sail Away The Muster Drill was reasonably quick and efficient. As usual several passengers did not show and had to be tracked down. We did not need to walk from the muster station to the lifeboats. Sail away takes about two hours to sail down the channel and across the bay to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the Gulf of Mexico. Guy’s Burgers The burgers and fries were very good and consistent throughout the cruise, as we have experienced on past cruises. Paris Restaurant (Lido Buffet, Deli and Pizza Pirate) The Lido Buffet for breakfast was good, except for the coffee which wasn’t very good. The Lido Buffet for dinner was only okay, except the ribs on the last night were excellent. The Lido serves a sub-set of the offerings in the main dining rooms. The ice cream was good. The other deserts were only so-so. The pizza was always fresh and tasty, and the line was never long. The Deli offered a large variety of sandwiches and hot dogs for lunch and dinner, but sometimes the line was long. The Lido Buffet was under staffed compared to previous cruises on Fantasy and Elation. Tables were not cleared in a timely manner, many times only one side of the main buffet was open, and only one person was typically working the Deli. We had anytime dining but never ate dinner in the main dining room. Lido Deck Rum Fog and Blue Iguana Bars The bars seemed well staffed on the first day, then appeared to have fewer working and walking the Lido deck for the rest of the cruise. There was a special drink offered on embarkation day in a Tervis Tumbler for about $20 (drink and tumbler) which we thought was the best deal of the cruise. We used the tumblers for water and other drinks for the rest of the cruise. Stateroom Our porthole stateroom on the Riviera Deck was near the bow. The carpet and furnishings were in excellent condition. The bathroom sink and shower were also in great condition. The shower curtain tended to drift into the shower. The water pressure was outstanding, and very hot (the warnings in the bathroom about scalding should be taken seriously). Our room steward did a great job keeping the room fresh while we were away having fun. A towel animal made an appearance every day. There was excessive noise and vibration overnight after leaving Cozumel and on the sea day. It sounded/felt like a heavy metal door being slammed below our cabin two or three times each minute. I assume these were waves hitting our side of the ship since we did not hear the noise the first three days. Casino We visited the slots on Thursday after leaving Cozumel and again on Friday. The casino was not as smoky as previous cruises we have taken. Entertainment and Activities The “80s music” show in the theater was well done and we enjoyed it. The “rock music” show had some undisclosed technical issue, requiring the singers to sit in front of the curtain, and it was boring. The other musical performers at the Atrium Bar and Casino Bar were loud and not soothing to our ears, like our last cruise on Fantasy. The “PG” comedy show consisted of bringing some passengers on stage and asking some questions with the comedian making jokes out of the responses. While I appreciate the improv nature of the show, it lasted about 20 minutes and just wasn’t very funny. We skipped the adult comedy shows. We noticed other activities like trivia contests, bingo, etc. seemed limited on this cruise, like our last cruise on Fantasy. Key West We docked at the Outer Mole/Navy Mole and had to take the “conch train” to the depot near Mallory Square. We docked at noon and left at 6 pm so we only had about 5 hours. We had been to Key West on a prior cruise so we walked down Duval St as far a Truman Avenue, walked over one block to the Hemingway House and Old Lighthouse, then walked back toward Mallory Square and enjoyed some Key Lime Pie. A squall line came through late in the afternoon and it was very windy, delaying our departure by 2 hours. Havana We arrived in Havana on-time at 7 am, because it is only 90 miles from Key West. We booked the “Culinary Traditions tour” though Carnival. We gathered in the dining room and waited for our turn to exit the ship, go though Cuba customs, exchange money and start our tour. We asked for small bills to have money for tips when using bathrooms, etc. The entire process lasted approximately 1.5 hours. Our group of 44 people (a bus load) was one of many leaving about the same time. We stayed up front near the tour guide and had no difficulties hearing or getting the photo’s we wanted. Our tour started with a walking tour of old Havana. Many of the streets in old Havana are cobblestones so they can be difficult to walk on unless you wear comfortable walking shoes. There are also numerous unmarked large and deep holes in sidewalks all over Havana so you must watch were you are walking and stop walking to take photos, etc. Some buildings near the major plazas in Old Havana have been restored (or at least painted) but many buildings outside Old Havana are very run-down looking on the exterior. We then boarded a tour bus for drive by several government buildings and eventually stopping at the cigar shop. After being given the opportunity to buy some authentic Cuban cigars, rum, and coffee we boarded the bus and went to lunch at the former Havana Hilton (known as the Havana Libre since 1960). Lunch is on the 25th floor and the views of the city are amazing. There is a lengthy pre-lunch show, which is probably required to meet the “people-to-people” travel requirements of the tour. We were the second group to arrive for lunch and the prime seats to see the show in the middle of the restaurant were already taken, but it wasn’t all bad because we sat by the floor to ceiling windows enjoying the views and were free to move about as we pleased. If you “volunteer” to get on stage and participate in the show you are rewarded with a free drink made as part of the show, which we did instead of buying drinks at the bar. Lunch consisted of corn soup and Cuban pork, it was good but it was not spicy. After lunch we boarded the bus for the Plaza of the Revolution. This is one area where the classic 1950’ cars (which are mostly taxis for hire now) congregate. Our tour then drove along the Malecon back towards the ship. Our last stop was a shopping area with a restaurant and small shops, including another cigar and rum buying opportunity. This is where we learned how to smoke Cuban cigars, along with a small sample of coffee and rum. We appreciated the short cigar smoking “class” as a uniquely Cuban experience. We also noticed very few Cubans other than the tour guides appeared to speak any English, including most of the hotel staff at our lunch and the two cigar stores where tourists probably visit every day. There is also no Diamonds International or Senor Frogs in Havana. For us all these factors made the day very authentic and unlike any other Caribbean port. Cozumel We arrived in Cozumel at noon and left at 10 PM. We walked from the Puerta Maya Cruise Pier where Paradise and other Carnival ships dock about 2.5 miles to the Thirsty Cougar near the Punta Langosta Cruise Pier “downtown”. After enjoying various adult beverages and a late lunch, we walked back to the ship.

Havana is unlike any other Caribbean port we have visited

Carnival Paradise Cruise Review by Elvis1001

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Trip Details
  • Sail Date: April 2019
  • Destination: Cuba
  • Cabin Type: Porthole
Paradise Review – April 2019

5-night cruise from Tampa to Key West, Havana and Cozumel departure on Monday, April 8 and return on Saturday, April 13. This is a long review because we spent several days in Tampa prior to the cruise and have a lot to say about Cuba. We are a couple in our mid-50’s.

Pre-cruise Hotel

We drove from South Carolina to the Tampa Bay area several days prior to the cruise and stayed at the Hampton Inn next to the St Petersburg/Clearwater airport. The room and hotel were as expected from a Hampton Inn. Our last visit to Tampa we stayed in Ybor City and thought it was great, but we needed to save some $$$ on this trip and the Pinellas Park/Largo area was much cheaper.

Tampa pre-Cruise Activities

NCAA Women’s Final Four (Downtown): Our original purpose for visiting Tampa was the basketball tournament. We greatly enjoyed the basketball tournament, which was our third. Parking at the Convention Center was reasonable, but the food in Amalie Arena was very, very expensive. We checked what cruises were departing after the tournament ended and this cruise fit perfectly.

Busch Gardens (North Tampa): We planned to visit Busch Gardens not sure what to expect. We thoroughly enjoyed the animals, particularly from the Serengeti Express train through the Serengeti Plains exhibit. We rode once in the morning and again in the afternoon and saw different animals in different places. We also were impressed by the massive alligators and the gorillas. Our visit coincided with the annual wine and food festival, which was nice to have good food and drink available for purchase. It is also the Year of Beer at Busch Gardens honoring the founding of the park 60 years ago. Each guest (21 and over) can receive two free beer samples, which we enjoyed. The park maps are not sufficiently detailed and we struggled figuring out where we were and how to get where we wanted to go most of the day. We did not ride any of the huge roller-coasters. We purchased the Tampa Bay City Pass for just a few dollars more than admission to Busch Gardens.

Chihuly Collection (St. Petersburg): We decided to purchase a Tampa Bay City Pass because we were spending several days in Tampa. We visited the Chihuly museum in St. Petersburg and enjoyed the exhibit, which is smaller than the Chihuly museum in Seattle. It has mostly similar works of art but some smaller pieces I did not recall seeing in Seattle.

Florida Aquarium (Channelside): The City Pass included admission to the Florida Aquarium so we visited before the basketball game at nearby Amalie Arena. The exhibits were nice but not anything we haven’t seen at other nice aquariums.

S.S. American Victory Mariners Museum (Channelside): The Florida Aquarium required less time than we planned so we toured the American Liberty, which is a functional WWII liberty ship with exhibits about the role these ships played in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The ship is moored next to the aquarium between Cruise Terminals 2 and 3. To find it walk between the aquarium and Terminal 3 and follow the signs. The American Victory is not part of the City Pass.

Port of Tampa

Departure: Could not be easier. Arrived at Terminal 3 slightly before our scheduled time of 11:30. Dropped the luggage quickly (few cars dropping bags) and parked in the parking garage across the street, which had ample spaces available. We pre-paid parking before leaving home and handed the parking attendant our printed ticket and parked on the second level near the elevators. Although we were early, by the time we had competed check-in our group number had already been called. We were still on the ship before many passengers had shown up. We had Guy’s burgers for lunch, at 1:30 we went to our cabin to change and went to enjoy the hot tubs on the Serenity deck before it was crowded.

Return: Getting off the ship was quick and orderly and went much faster than the scheduled departure times. We learned that self disembarkation was starting with Deck 14 and we were on Deck 4 (Riviera), so we got luggage tags when they were offered at 10 am on the last day (Friday) and had a low group number (5 out of 28). Customs consisted of checking passports, and asking how many cigars and how much liquor (rum) we were bringing in from Cuba. We were under the duty-free limits and were on our way home.

Muster Drill and Sail Away

The Muster Drill was reasonably quick and efficient. As usual several passengers did not show and had to be tracked down. We did not need to walk from the muster station to the lifeboats. Sail away takes about two hours to sail down the channel and across the bay to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the Gulf of Mexico.

Guy’s Burgers

The burgers and fries were very good and consistent throughout the cruise, as we have experienced on past cruises.

Paris Restaurant (Lido Buffet, Deli and Pizza Pirate)

The Lido Buffet for breakfast was good, except for the coffee which wasn’t very good. The Lido Buffet for dinner was only okay, except the ribs on the last night were excellent. The Lido serves a sub-set of the offerings in the main dining rooms. The ice cream was good. The other deserts were only so-so. The pizza was always fresh and tasty, and the line was never long. The Deli offered a large variety of sandwiches and hot dogs for lunch and dinner, but sometimes the line was long. The Lido Buffet was under staffed compared to previous cruises on Fantasy and Elation. Tables were not cleared in a timely manner, many times only one side of the main buffet was open, and only one person was typically working the Deli. We had anytime dining but never ate dinner in the main dining room.

Lido Deck Rum Fog and Blue Iguana Bars

The bars seemed well staffed on the first day, then appeared to have fewer working and walking the Lido deck for the rest of the cruise. There was a special drink offered on embarkation day in a Tervis Tumbler for about $20 (drink and tumbler) which we thought was the best deal of the cruise. We used the tumblers for water and other drinks for the rest of the cruise.

Stateroom

Our porthole stateroom on the Riviera Deck was near the bow. The carpet and furnishings were in excellent condition. The bathroom sink and shower were also in great condition. The shower curtain tended to drift into the shower. The water pressure was outstanding, and very hot (the warnings in the bathroom about scalding should be taken seriously). Our room steward did a great job keeping the room fresh while we were away having fun. A towel animal made an appearance every day. There was excessive noise and vibration overnight after leaving Cozumel and on the sea day. It sounded/felt like a heavy metal door being slammed below our cabin two or three times each minute. I assume these were waves hitting our side of the ship since we did not hear the noise the first three days.

Casino

We visited the slots on Thursday after leaving Cozumel and again on Friday. The casino was not as smoky as previous cruises we have taken.

Entertainment and Activities

The “80s music” show in the theater was well done and we enjoyed it. The “rock music” show had some undisclosed technical issue, requiring the singers to sit in front of the curtain, and it was boring. The other musical performers at the Atrium Bar and Casino Bar were loud and not soothing to our ears, like our last cruise on Fantasy. The “PG” comedy show consisted of bringing some passengers on stage and asking some questions with the comedian making jokes out of the responses. While I appreciate the improv nature of the show, it lasted about 20 minutes and just wasn’t very funny. We skipped the adult comedy shows. We noticed other activities like trivia contests, bingo, etc. seemed limited on this cruise, like our last cruise on Fantasy.

Key West

We docked at the Outer Mole/Navy Mole and had to take the “conch train” to the depot near Mallory Square. We docked at noon and left at 6 pm so we only had about 5 hours. We had been to Key West on a prior cruise so we walked down Duval St as far a Truman Avenue, walked over one block to the Hemingway House and Old Lighthouse, then walked back toward Mallory Square and enjoyed some Key Lime Pie. A squall line came through late in the afternoon and it was very windy, delaying our departure by 2 hours.

Havana

We arrived in Havana on-time at 7 am, because it is only 90 miles from Key West. We booked the “Culinary Traditions tour” though Carnival. We gathered in the dining room and waited for our turn to exit the ship, go though Cuba customs, exchange money and start our tour. We asked for small bills to have money for tips when using bathrooms, etc. The entire process lasted approximately 1.5 hours. Our group of 44 people (a bus load) was one of many leaving about the same time. We stayed up front near the tour guide and had no difficulties hearing or getting the photo’s we wanted. Our tour started with a walking tour of old Havana. Many of the streets in old Havana are cobblestones so they can be difficult to walk on unless you wear comfortable walking shoes. There are also numerous unmarked large and deep holes in sidewalks all over Havana so you must watch were you are walking and stop walking to take photos, etc. Some buildings near the major plazas in Old Havana have been restored (or at least painted) but many buildings outside Old Havana are very run-down looking on the exterior. We then boarded a tour bus for drive by several government buildings and eventually stopping at the cigar shop. After being given the opportunity to buy some authentic Cuban cigars, rum, and coffee we boarded the bus and went to lunch at the former Havana Hilton (known as the Havana Libre since 1960). Lunch is on the 25th floor and the views of the city are amazing. There is a lengthy pre-lunch show, which is probably required to meet the “people-to-people” travel requirements of the tour. We were the second group to arrive for lunch and the prime seats to see the show in the middle of the restaurant were already taken, but it wasn’t all bad because we sat by the floor to ceiling windows enjoying the views and were free to move about as we pleased. If you “volunteer” to get on stage and participate in the show you are rewarded with a free drink made as part of the show, which we did instead of buying drinks at the bar. Lunch consisted of corn soup and Cuban pork, it was good but it was not spicy. After lunch we boarded the bus for the Plaza of the Revolution. This is one area where the classic 1950’ cars (which are mostly taxis for hire now) congregate. Our tour then drove along the Malecon back towards the ship. Our last stop was a shopping area with a restaurant and small shops, including another cigar and rum buying opportunity. This is where we learned how to smoke Cuban cigars, along with a small sample of coffee and rum. We appreciated the short cigar smoking “class” as a uniquely Cuban experience. We also noticed very few Cubans other than the tour guides appeared to speak any English, including most of the hotel staff at our lunch and the two cigar stores where tourists probably visit every day. There is also no Diamonds International or Senor Frogs in Havana. For us all these factors made the day very authentic and unlike any other Caribbean port.

Cozumel

We arrived in Cozumel at noon and left at 10 PM. We walked from the Puerta Maya Cruise Pier where Paradise and other Carnival ships dock about 2.5 miles to the Thirsty Cougar near the Punta Langosta Cruise Pier “downtown”. After enjoying various adult beverages and a late lunch, we walked back to the ship.
Elvis1001’s Full Rating Summary
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Cabin Review

Porthole
Cabin PT R11
Our porthole stateroom on the Riviera Deck was near the bow. The carpet and furnishings were in excellent condition. The bathroom sink and shower were also in great condition. The shower curtain tended to drift into the shower. The water pressure was outstanding, and very hot (the warnings in the bathroom about scalding should be taken seriously). Our room steward did a great job keeping the room fresh while we were away having fun. A towel animal made an appearance every day. There was excessive noise and vibration overnight after leaving Cozumel and on the sea day. It sounded/felt like a heavy metal door being slammed below our cabin two or three times each minute. I assume these were waves hitting our side of the ship since we did not hear the noise the first three days.
Empress Deck Inside Cabins, Outside Cabins, Balcony Cabins

Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

  • Cozumel
    We arrived in Cozumel at noon and left at 10 PM. We walked from the Puerta Maya Cruise Pier where Paradise and other Carnival ships dock about 2.5 miles to the Thirsty Cougar near the Punta Langosta Cruise Pier “downtown”. After enjoying various adult beverages and a late lunch, we walked back to the ship.
    View All 6,701 Cozumel Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Cozumel Cruise Port Review
  • Havana
    We arrived in Havana on-time at 7 am, because it is only 90 miles from Key West. We booked the “Culinary Traditions tour” though Carnival. We gathered in the dining room and waited for our turn to exit the ship, go though Cuba customs, exchange money and start our tour. We asked for small bills to have money for tips when using bathrooms, etc. The entire process lasted approximately 1.5 hours. Our group of 44 people (a bus load) was one of many leaving about the same time. We stayed up front near the tour guide and had no difficulties hearing or getting the photo’s we wanted. Our tour started with a walking tour of old Havana. Many of the streets in old Havana are cobblestones so they can be difficult to walk on unless you wear comfortable walking shoes. There are also numerous unmarked large and deep holes in sidewalks all over Havana so you must watch were you are walking and stop walking to take photos, etc. Some buildings near the major plazas in Old Havana have been restored (or at least painted) but many buildings outside Old Havana are very run-down looking on the exterior. We then boarded a tour bus for drive by several government buildings and eventually stopping at the cigar shop. After being given the opportunity to buy some authentic Cuban cigars, rum, and coffee we boarded the bus and went to lunch at the former Havana Hilton (known as the Havana Libre since 1960). Lunch is on the 25th floor and the views of the city are amazing. There is a lengthy pre-lunch show, which is probably required to meet the “people-to-people” travel requirements of the tour. We were the second group to arrive for lunch and the prime seats to see the show in the middle of the restaurant were already taken, but it wasn’t all bad because we sat by the floor to ceiling windows enjoying the views and were free to move about as we pleased. If you “volunteer” to get on stage and participate in the show you are rewarded with a free drink made as part of the show, which we did instead of buying drinks at the bar. Lunch consisted of corn soup and Cuban pork, it was good but it was not spicy. After lunch we boarded the bus for the Plaza of the Revolution. This is one area where the classic 1950’ cars (which are mostly taxis for hire now) congregate. Our tour then drove along the Malecon back towards the ship. Our last stop was a shopping area with a restaurant and small shops, including another cigar and rum buying opportunity. This is where we learned how to smoke Cuban cigars, along with a small sample of coffee and rum. We appreciated the short cigar smoking “class” as a uniquely Cuban experience. We also noticed very few Cubans other than the tour guides appeared to speak any English, including most of the hotel staff at our lunch and the two cigar stores where tourists probably visit every day. There is also no Diamonds International or Senor Frogs in Havana. For us all these factors made the day very authentic and unlike any other Caribbean port.
    View All 12,961 Havana Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Havana Cruise Port Review
  • Key West
    We docked at the Outer Mole/Navy Mole and had to take the “conch train” to the depot near Mallory Square. We docked at noon and left at 6 pm so we only had about 5 hours. We had been to Key West on a prior cruise so we walked down Duval St as far a Truman Avenue, walked over one block to the Hemingway House and Old Lighthouse, then walked back toward Mallory Square and enjoyed some Key Lime Pie. A squall line came through late in the afternoon and it was very windy, delaying our departure by 2 hours.
    View All 1,784 Key West Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Key West Cruise Port Review
  • Tampa
    Departure: Could not be easier. Arrived at Terminal 3 slightly before our scheduled time of 11:30. Dropped the luggage quickly (few cars dropping bags) and parked in the parking garage across the street, which had ample spaces available. We pre-paid parking before leaving home and handed the parking attendant our printed ticket and parked on the second level near the elevators. Although we were early, by the time we had competed check-in our group number had already been called. We were still on the ship before many passengers had shown up. We had Guy’s burgers for lunch, at 1:30 we went to our cabin to change and went to enjoy the hot tubs on the Serenity deck before it was crowded.
    Return: Getting off the ship was quick and orderly and went much faster than the scheduled departure times. We learned that self disembarkation was starting with Deck 14 and we were on Deck 4 (Riviera), so we got luggage tags when they were offered at 10 am on the last day (Friday) and had a low group number (5 out of 28). Customs consisted of checking passports, and asking how many cigars and how much liquor (rum) we were bringing in from Cuba. We were under the duty-free limits and were on our way home.
    View All 573 Tampa Cruise Port Reviews
    View Cruise Critic's Tampa Cruise Port Review