I know you are excited about going on your first cruise. We will be leaving on the 14th and doing the Western cruise. We did the Eastern on the Paradise over Christmas last year.. That was our first cruise with Carnival. We were quite impressed with the ship. There were lovely Christmas decorations everywhere. The atrium was very impressive when you board. You should arrive as early as you can to process all of the required documentation necessary. You will have to show id at least four times goint into the port and ship. It is usually effeciently run. As soon as you clear this, vind your statroom. You need to orient yourself on the ship. Lunch will be serven on deck 10 (Lido). They serve a very nice buffet luncheon. Take some time to get famillial with the ship. You will have a drill, with your life preserver. The muster station is posted inside the cabin door.
Our first stop was in Nassau. We took the city tour with the ship tours. They also have a lot of other tours available. On the day you board, about 2:45 or so there is a talk in the Normanday Lounge telling about the tours.
We did not stop in Dominician Republic on our cruise. Our stop was in Puerto Rico. You will love ST. Thomas. There are a lot of options for water swimming or snorkeling. They will tell you about these also. There is also a lovely island tour available too. People also like to shop here. There are a lot of duty free bargains to be had.
The formal dinners are fun. Most people dress up and have pictures taken. On the spiral stairs on a great setting. The menue on Christmas was rolled and tied with a red ribbon. We had a great time with our table mates.
I hope you have a great time and will be hooked on cruising. After the first one you can't seem to wait until the next.
I will also be on the 12/21 Paradise cruise. Hello fellow sailors! I've booked an excursion for Nassau I read about on some of the online review sites - so far, it has been highly recommended. It is a sail and snorkel excursion and seems pretty all inclusive. The website is http://www.barefootsailingcruises.com/. We do need more sailors!
As for the Dominican Republic, I've read in a few places that it is best to go with the cruise ship excursions due to the language barrier (unless of course you speak Spanish).
Finally, in St. Thomas we are going it on our own. We had a good experience doing so last time to Koki Beach. This time we are going to try Trunk Bay on St. John.
Hope this helps. Of course, if anyone knows differently or has other suggestions, I'd love to hear them too!