Carnival Paradise, departing Miami on 9/28/03, for a 7-day Exotic Eastern Caribbean itinerary stopping at ports in Nassau, Bahamas; St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands; and La Romana/Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic
We are a couple, married 24 years, and both over 40 years old. He’s a Business and Technology Consultant, and I am an HR Manager. This is our fifth cruise, fourth on Carnival and the other on Royal Caribbean. This is our third sailing on Carnival Paradise. The first was the Eastern itinerary, the second was on the Exotic Western itinerary, and this cruise was the Exotic Eastern itinerary.
We flew to Miami via American Airlines on Saturday, September 27. Our flights were uneventful, we located our luggage easily at the Miami airport, and we quickly caught a cab to our hotel. We had purchased the Hyatt Regency on HotWire several weeks earlier. We breezed through the check-in process at the Hyatt, carrying our own luggage up to our room. We had the most beautiful corner room at the Hyatt, with a king-size bed, a wall of windows, large TV, and a separate seating area. Although this was much more than we needed for our one-night pre-cruise stay, we were thrilled with the luxury of our room! We have previously stayed at the Sheraton Inn Biscayne Bay, which we enjoyed a lot, but this was even a notch up from that!
We freshened up, then slipped downstairs to their lounge, where I had my first Miami Vice for the trip, and we ordered Conch Fritters. The Nascar race was in town that weekend, so many of the streets were blocked off for the race. The front desk recommended that we take the People Mover, which is free, instead of attempting to walk over the Bayside Marketplace, because it had just started showering. So, we took a brief indoor walk to catch the People Mover. Unfortunately, the People Mover still dropped us off where we had to walk all the way around the Nascar race to get to Bayside Marketplace. The rain had stopped, so all we had to contend with in that walk was the crowd and the roar from the racecars. They were so loud, that it was almost intolerable to be outside anywhere in the Bayside Marketplace (unless you simply like that sound). We strolled through the shops until it was time to meet our new friends we found on the online cruise BBs.
We met up with our group of 12 at Bubba Gump’s for a lovely meal with drinks. It was fun meeting all those people we communicated with online! We had a great time. Then a few of us moved on to the Wet Willie’s in Coconut Grove, where we continued getting to know one another over very strong drinks!
We enjoyed our night’s stay at the Hyatt, getting up very leisurely the next morning. We had a nice breakfast in their casual restaurant just downstairs. Roger enjoyed a nice buffet, while I dined on Lox and Bagels. Then we headed over to the Carnival terminal in a taxi, arriving about 10:30. We were very surprised that the traffic jam we usually experience was non-existent – our taxi driver drove us right up to the terminal with no honking and no delay. The explanation for this phenomenon appears at the end of my review, so stay tuned!
The luggage handlers immediately assisted us in discovering our cabin number, since we had booked a 6A guarantee. We were pleased to find we had been upgraded to U59, a 6C Oceanview room, near elevators – we like being close to elevators rather than walking and walking down rows of cabins! A quick tip to the luggage handlers assured that all of our bags would arrive at our cabin that evening. Again, we noticed that no one was leaving the ship, grabbing taxis or buses – strange!
We entered the terminal at 11 a.m., immediately made our way through the check-in process, and upstairs to get our Sail ‘n Sign card, just to wait for a while. We were pleased to note that we had been given the 8:00 late seating, but we were surprised, because we were assigned to the aft Dining room but had a forward cabin. Unusual in our experience!
As we waited to board the ship, the Carnival employees were selling raffle tickets, hot dogs, and drinks to raise money for the United Way. A really good idea, the basket won from the raffle tickets included among other treats a bottle of Vodka. They allowed us to board the ship about 12 Noon, but they actually excused the passengers by rows of seats. This was the first time this process had been used, but there was no pushing or shoving. It was very organized, and everyone was quickly aboard the ship within only a few minutes!
We quickly found our cabin, dropped off our stuff, and headed to the Paris restaurant for our first drink and pizza. A new thing there was that the Paris bar now has those Playmaker machines where you can play trivia games, like you see in land bars! We enjoy those on land, but didn’t see any reason to sit at a bar to play that game while at sea – we feel the same way about the casino, too, though, so thought someone might be interested in that information.
We toured the ship for a while to see what else was new and reacquaint ourselves with our favorite haunts, and then headed to the Lido Deck to lie out in the sun. We stayed there for about an hour, until they announced the muster drill. We gathered our life vests then headed to our muster station in the Normandie Lounge. Lots of people were in this large area where all the shows were, and they made us put our life vests fully on before we were seated in the theatre-style seats, which proved more uncomfortable that I remembered. We then were all moved to various lifeboat stations where we stood for a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, just as the end of the muster drill was announced, the captain headed out of port. We had to fight the crowds to get back to our cabins, discard our life vests, and head to the outside deck for Sailaway. As this is one of our favorite moments on the cruise, we were very disappointed – surely the Captain could have waited those extra fifteen minutes to let us all get settled after the muster drill.
We met up with our online cruise BB friends again at the aft Verandah deck. Pictures were taken, drinks were purchased, and we were officially headed to sea! At 5:30, the sushi bar opened, so we headed downstairs to allow Roger to enjoy Paradise sushi again. We stayed there until time to dress for dinner, and then headed to the Destiny dining room for our late 8:00 dinner.
We were pleased to find that we had a table for 8 by a window. Our waiter from our last Paradise cruise, Aquino, noticed us and stopped by to greet us. We had two other couples with us at our table: Steve and Jane, and Willie and Christy, and the other two seats were vacant. We couldn’t have asked for four more pleasant people if we had tried! Steve and Jane told us that they were changing to early seating the next day, but we all hit it off so well that first night that we pleasantly crossed paths together all week. Willie had a birthday later in the week, and Steve and Jane joined us that evening again to celebrate his birthday! So, for the remainder of the week, our table for eight was only filled with four!
Clifford was our headwaiter with his assistant, Manuel. We had many problems in getting the right food placed in front of each of us in a timely manner, as well as not always getting everything we needed to eat our food in a timely manner, such as steak knives or jelly. We found that Manuel would help us as quickly as we caught his eye, so he became our favorite! We purchased a bottle of wine a couple of nights at dinner, which they kept for us until the next night each time, but other nights I purchased an individual glass of wine from the bar waiter, Augus, who we thoroughly enjoyed!
I’ve covered what we’ve eaten on the Paradise in previous reviews, so I’m not going to review that again here, except the things that have changed. Steaks – previously we could only order medium rare or medium well. This was a problem for both of us, because I prefer my steak medium and Roger prefers his rare. Now they prefer them at all five temperatures – a wonderful improvement. The lobster was still bad! Try a variety of the soups; they are all so great! We had both a dessert and cheese after our meals most nights, and this turned out to be the most pleasant times in our meals, where we call visited leisurely after the rush of the meals. Sea days we ate every meal in the dining room, and port days we ate breakfast and lunch in the Paris Restaurant, and only the evening meal in the dining room.
We loved the 8:00 dinner seating, because it allowed us to arrive at the Normandie Lounge in enough time to still get good seats. However, the shows hadn’t changed at all since our last cruise, so we only went to four of the shows, skipping the Broadway shows and the Tia Thompson show that we had seen before twice. We went to the Welcome Aboard show, both Comedy shows, and the Guest Talent Show. All were fun, except the last comedian, J.R. McCullough, was heckled at the late show by an 11-year old boy on the front row of the theatre who had been at the early show, too. He kept calling out the punch lines before the comedian could say them. Security should have removed this young man! Apparently an older sibling went to get his mother, after J.R. made the boy sit on the stool in the middle of the stool, while J.R. sat in the boy’s theatre seat and heckled the boy on stage. Unfortunately, once the mother arrived, she joined the boy in heckling the comedian. We didn’t get to see the comedian’s show at all – disappointing for both the audience and the performer! Adam Ace was wonderful as always, and we again enjoyed the ventriloquist.
The cruise director was Jeff Brrronsonnnnn! He was fun and full of energy, and he wrapped up with the guest talent show with a great song of his own! His assistant, Brent, was helpful wherever he was found, with a friendly, open personality. Karl with a K was the social host. This guy was a little over the top for me, but I’m sure he was popular with the younger set. We never met our room steward, but everything was perfect, and towel animals appeared every night. We couldn’t ask for anything more!
Monday was our first port day in Nassau, Bahamas. This was our third visit to Nassau. On our first trip, we enjoyed snorkeling with the Stingrays and had our hair braided, and on our second trip, we visited Atlantis. This time we slept in and ate breakfast leisurely in the Paris Restaurant, while others rushed off the ship for their early ship excursions. (Did I mention how wonderful the omelets are in the Paris Restaurant?) We then walked leisurely through the shopping area. Taxi drivers and horse and carriage drivers were all asking us to ride with them. We finally agreed to a horse and carriage ride, when the driver agreed to take us to the Queen’s Staircase, which we wanted to visit this time. It was a wonderful ride. The Queen’s Staircase was amazing! And, we were glad to return to the ship, because it was a hot day in Nassau!
We enjoyed a nice lunch aboard the ship, and then lay out in the sun for a while, sushi, dinner, and our first formal night. The Captain’s Cocktail party was nice, as always, and we enjoyed dancing on the Normandie stage to the music of the live Paradise band. We bought some great photos from the first formal night.
Usually we enjoy dancing after dinner in one of the many lounges. Unfortunately, this time we did not enjoy the music in either of the lounges, and we’re simply don’t like piano bars! Some folks seemed to really enjoy one band, the Highlights, because there were always people dancing there, just not our cup of tea. There was a great singer at the US Bar on the Promenade deck, so we enjoyed listening to him some evenings, but the Promenade is just not conducive to dancing!
Tuesday was our first sea day. We love sea days, sleeping late, and then a leisurely breakfast at our late 9:30 a.m. seating in the dining room. Some days, Willie and Christy joined us for breakfast, and some days not! Then we headed outdoors to enjoy the sun and deck activities for a while. We came inside in time to join the first art auction preview at 1:00 p.m. with Park West auctioneer, Geoffrey. We collect Thomas Kinkaide paintings, and at this auction, anyone who purchased one Thomas Kinkaide, could purchase every additional Thomas Kinkaide at $100 off the gavel price. We picked up three of those, plus one “mystery” piece that turned out to be a nice Ballet, and then got a free Del Signore painting. A great auction day for us, and we can’t wait to see our paintings in our home. We enjoyed martinis at the Rotterdam bar, while waiting to complete payment and shipping for our art purchases – the martinis made the process painless!
Wednesday was our second port in La Romana (Casa de Campo), Dominican Republic. Nothing exists at the port here, except a parking lot and information center for the cruise passengers. To see or do anything, you have to take a ship excursion or a taxi on your own into the area! When we were researching this port online prior to departure, several people had said how great the Saona Beach excursion was. Just before we left, another person did a review of this excursion, describing a swarm of mosquitoes that left guests running for the water and some with as many as 50 bug bites on their body. I am a mosquito-magnet, so we quickly decided not to risk that, but then we had no idea what to do. On our flight into Miami, we sat by a woman named Mary who had spent two weeks at the Casa de Campo resort. She said the Altos de Chavon artist village was a must-see with great art and restaurants. She also recommended the golf courses.
Based on Mary’s recommendations, we booked the Altos de Chavon Village and Riverboat tour, and we did not regret that decision! We rode a bus from the pier for a tour of Casa de Campo resort (including Sammy Sosa's home) to the river, and boarded the riverboat. As soon as we pulled away from the bank of the river, three johnboats sped up beside us, selling us local "souvenirs" -- caps, necklaces, etc. -- funny experience. The lower deck of the boat had merinque music and dancing, while the upper deck was quieter and more scenic. We "paddled" (actually motored) up the river and back down, with many beautiful photo shots along the way. Oh, yeah, and did I mention they were pouring the Dominican rum and Pepsi freely! We then reboarded our motorbus and traveled up the bluff to the Altos de Chavon artist village. This was built by a prince for his lover in 1980, but in the style of a Mediterranean artist village from the 1700's. Beautiful! Overlooked the rain forest, river, and a beautiful golf course on Casa de Campo. We browsed through many lovely shops -- lots of art -- and the local Mamajuana (liquid ****** for women and men -- tasted like cherry root beer!), neat restaurants (no time to eat with the ship excursion), and great photo ops. Then back on the tour bus to the ship! We really enjoyed this port!
Other friends were brave enough to take the Saona Beach excursion, had no problem with the mosquitos, and said it was the best excursion they’d ever taken. Other friends took taxis into the city and shopped at Casa de Campo. Those friends suggest that someone in the group know some Spanish!
Thursday was our final port day in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. We love the Virgin Islands. This was our second visit to St. Thomas. On our first visit, we shopped, then took a tour with the best tour guide on St. Thomas, Roy, who gave us a great tour of the island, a visit at Mountaintop View and a banana daiquiri, and two hours at Coki Beach, before returning us to the ship. This time, we took a ship’s excursion to St. John’s Trunk Bay to snorkel. The snorkeling trail there was amazing, with underwater signs describing what was around the sign – how did they keep that stuff by the signs? After that excursion, we took the tram up to Paradise Point, which was not nearly as cool, in our opinion as Mountaintop View. Then we ran into town to pick up the necessary souvenirs.
Friday and Saturday were two consecutive sea days. Did I mention that sea days are our favorites. We slept in, sunned, napped, ate, drank, danced. We made our one and only visit to the casino on one of these days, putting $10 in the nickel slot machines, and walked away with $16.30. Big spenders!
This was a Carnival Past Guest Reunion cruise. We got free stuff and a coupon book – worthless! But the price was right! The Repeaters party on Friday night was spread out across the entire Promenade deck, including every lounge, because 80% of the passengers were past guests. What a great party! We strolled from lounge to lounge, finding our new friends, had a few drinks and appetizers, before dinner! This was also our second and last formal night, and everyone looked great! And, actually, everyone on the ship participated in the Repeater’s party, and in my opinion, this party was even better than the Captain’s Cocktail Party. We found a DJ spinning Latin music in the Rex lounge, with many passengers dancing … how fun.
A new twist to disembarkation occurred on this cruise. Our cruise director, Jeff, announced that customs has just started allowing passengers who can carry all their luggage off the ship with no assistance and who had no business with customs, to disembark from 7:30 to 8:30 on Sunday morning. Almost 600 passengers did this. To do this, you keep your luggage in your room, and when the Express Disembarkation is announced, you carry all your luggage off, handing customs your duty slip as you walk off the ship without delay. Taxis and buses are available to take passengers to their next destination. If we had known, we could have flown out earlier in the day at a much lower price. Once 600 people are off with their luggage, however, it was much easier for us to find our luggage in the terminal. And, because of this new express disembarkation, everyone is off the ship by 10:00 a.m. This is why no passengers were leaving the ship when we arrived at 11:00 at the cruise terminal at the beginning of the cruise.
One last kudos goes to our Lido deck waiter, Regino. Regino took care of us on our second cruise and found us again on this cruise. He calls us by name, memorizes our Sail ‘n Sign foil number, so we never have to pull it out again, brings us our favorite drinks, and generally treats us like important people. Find Regino on the Lido deck, let him take care of you, and tip him generously. He’s first class!
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to send me an email. My photos from past cruises and this one can be found at http://community.webshots.com/user/judyjbest. If you enjoy our photos, please take the time to sign the online guest book, telling us who you are and where you’re from! Notes like that make sharing more fun!
Thanks for the review and the pictures. I've always enjoyed your thorough descriptions. Sorry if my experience with the mosquitoes scared you away from Saona! I have heard several other people describe the excursion without mentioning them, for all I know our guides took us to the wrong island or the wind was just blowing wrong that day! But I've never seen anything like it, I'll tell you that much, and I thought I should describe the day as we experienced it.
No problem, BlueEyes, I appreciated your honesty! If there's a mosquito anywhere in my vicinity, I'm eaten alive. That would not be my idea of fun for $85. And, as I said, we were really pleased with the choice we made.
You should absolutely describe your experience accurately. Just because it isn't the same as someone else's, it's still valid. Many people rave about Godfrey tours on St. Thomas, but Godfrey was a no-call, no-show when we booked him cruise before last, and we waited for him for a long time. No one that's received his great services likes to hear my bad experience, but it's true and could happen again.
By the way, even though your mosquito story spooked me, I still really enjoyed reading your review before we left. Very few people had done thorough reviews of this itinerary before we left!