I can honestly say that this was one of, if not THE, best cruise that we have taken in about 20 years of cruising. For us, this cruise brought us many firsts, including our first out of LA/Long Beach, our first along the Mexican Riviera, first through the Panama Canal, and first 14-day sailing. We have cruised The Carnival Paradise several times when it sailed out of Miami into the Caribbean and have always enjoyed this class of ship.
As expected, we were amongst the minority on this sailing, that is to say that we are not yet retired and still "work-to-cruise". I can also say that we made some great friends on this sailing and hope to cruise with them again in the future (both through CCritic and people that we met on the ship).
While the Carnival Paradise is an older ship and will be going into dry dock in early 2012, everything worked as expected, hot water was hot, cold air was cold, and everything was clean and neat for a ship of her age.
On this class of Carnival ship for such a long sailing (14-days) it was great to have the added space of the Grand Suite. The room, balcony, closet space, and bathroom are all oversized for a ship of this age. While this ship had very few balconies (or suites) - those with interior and/or ocean view staterooms all seems to have great sailing as well, and that is the bottom line for any sailing.
Our first port and my first of two (scuba) dive ports on this sailing. I booked though the cruise line, which I frequently do not do. This dive operators were professional and planned well. While there were both beginners and advanced divers on this excursion, they did a good job of giving our advanced group the room to roam and to see a little more than the beginning group which was appreciated.
Again, another first time port for us and the excursion (privately booked) was well run and allowed us to see much of this port. While I would have enjoyed the opportunity to Whale Watch - we were slightly ahead of the season, so another trip into the area will certainly be needed down the road.
Our first time to anywhere in Costa Rica and this was also a great port and (privately booked) excursion. While a little more action into the Rain Forrest would have been nice - we knew what we were getting ahead of time. When there again, we might try something a little more challenging.
Of the five ports on this cruise, four were new to us. Cartagena was by far the most impressive and interesting. We booked our own excursion with several other travelers and it could not have done any better. We had no concerns about our safety as we explored many areas of this fascinating city. Being in a smaller group and on a smaller bus, I believe that we were able to get to some areas that other (larger) groups may not have been able to. While the vendors can be very pushy - we would never let that bother us and would negotiate when interested in something that they had and avoid contact when not. Our tour guide also did a great job and keep them "in check" if they crossed the line or pushed too hard.