George Smart and Eleanor Stell
Occupations: Professional Speaker and University Program Director
Number of Cruises: 12 between us
A fabulously relaxing cruise. The ship: our favorite to date. The
ports: very good, with something for everyone, especially in
beautiful Aruba. The staff: professional and responsive but on the
whole rather distant--like they were on automatic pilot.
Carnival's Destiny was built in 1996 and was at the time the
world's largest passenger ship. Now RCL's Voyager of the Seas and
Adventure of the Seas are larger, but Destiny is still a champ.
She holds nearly 5000 people and crew at capacity, yet the ship
never felt crowded. In fact, many times we were the only people in
an elevator or hallway. As usual, most of the bar staff are from
countries such as Croatia, Thailand, and Romania. Most of the the
ship's navigational and engineering staff, including the Captain,
are Italian. And then there is Ronaldo from Brazil, the handsome
but ever-present social host. Ronaldo made up for horribly
mangling the English language with lots of charm. We were
constantly asking each other "What did he just say?".
Definitely take a taxi to and from the San Juan airport. It is
cheaper per person and much faster than the Carnival bus. Plus you
don't have the long waits for other passengers, their bags, and
the chaos involved getting everyone on the bus. $16 for a cabful
to or from the airport. If you get to San Juan the day before, the
Wyndham is only a short walk (even with bags) to the ship. The
Marriott is nicer, cheaper, is on the ocean, but requires a $12
cab ride to the port. There's a nice Walgreens a block away with
cheap prices on items you forgot to pack. If you have time, be
sure to see El Morro or San Cristobal, the massive forts of Old
Carnival does not advertise their adult soda cards--a great
savings and convenience since the usual cost is $2-$3 each. With
an adult soda card you get all the soda you want. The card costs
$30 for an adult for a 7 day cruise. We drank on average of 4
sodas a day each, so we saved about $100! There are cards for
kids, too, at a lower price.
The 24/7 pizza/salads/ice cream are a universal hit. They also
serve calzones on request, as well as some non-mainstream but
delicious pizza (like goat cheese).
The gym/spa is enormous, the largest afloat. Workout machines everywhere
(and they all worked!), coed hot tubs, separate wet and dry
saunas for men and women, an aerobics studio on the second level
(it's that big!), ten massage rooms, a hair salon, and locker
rooms as big as many landside gyms.
Although Carnival says embarkation starts at 2:30, you can get on
as early as 12:30. Bring an umbrella, though, as the waiting
line is outside where it
(often) rains on embarkation day. Head for lunch on the Lido
deck as your room will not be ready until 1:30. To save
yourself hassle, be sure to complete all your paperwork from Carnival
before getting in line.
In Aruba, renting a car ($40-70) to tour the island makes for a
nice day. Aruban drivers are sane (unlike on Martinique!)
and the country is lovely. The downtown area of Oranjestad is clean and organized.
We used the city bus to travel back
from a tour for only $1.50 per person! Go easy on the
tequila at Carlos and Charlies, a famous bar/restaurant in town. The drinks are huge (24" high) and pack about 1/4 bottle of
180 proof tequila each. But to people watch there is the best and the wildest!
On the Ship
Breakfast in the cabin is a wonderful way to start the day. They don't offer much in the way of variety, but for spoiling
yourself this is a good start. Breakfast is also served up
on the Lido deck and in the main restaurants, Galaxy and Universe.
The lines are always longer outside than in. Just walk 50
feet inside and the lines are shorter.
Our cabin (Verandah 8136) was a treat. Lots of room, as in
most Carnival ships, spotless, and in good repair. Destiny
was "in the shop" over Christmas 2001 and you can tell
they fixed some well-reported problems, such as non-working
elevators, faulty toilets, and poor signage.
Lunch and dinner are on the Lido deck and in both restaurants. The food is plentiful but just OK.
Even in the restaurants
on "special" nights, the food did not meet the
expectations Carnival sets in their advertising. All the fun
flaming desserts are no longer served "hot" and the
waiter entertainment was half-hearted. Best value? The wine list. They charge much less than landside restaurants for
a bottle. You can get many good ones (try the Chateau St
Michelle) for under $23.
The most romantic view on the ship is at the bow but finding
access it is not easy. Go to Deck 7 and go forward as
far as you can. There's an unmarked door on the left that
takes you through another door then outside to a deck overlooking
the bow and a panoramic view of the ocean. Great on a
moonlit night. Stairs from Deck 7 will take you to a smaller
but equally private area on Deck 6.
There are lots and lots of hot tubs. The best? In the
spa, where no children are allowed. The most fun? On
the Lido deck under the retracting roof. Here is also a
small pool, a bar, and walking distance to the ice cream machine! On sea days (when you're not in port) head out to the pool early
(by 9am) if you want a lounge chair. They fill fast. The waterslide is great (the longest on any ship) but hold your
nose on the way down unless you want water blasted into it upon
landing at the bottom!
At the casino, like all casinos, there is no easy money. You
only have to choose how much you lose and how fast! Play Bingo the last night for the free cruise;
otherwise, unless you're bored, Bingo is a waste of money. There are
also Scratch-off Lotto cards for a buck. Carnival makes a
mint on these. We've NEVER heard of anyone winning more
than a buck or two.
Carnival now "taxes" your shipboard acct $10 per person
per day for tips for tipping your waiter, assistant waiter, and cabin
steward. You can raise or lower it, but that takes a wait at
the purser's desk, always at least 15 minutes.
Not So Great
The comedians (there will be 2-4 per cruise) are hit and miss,
mostly miss. The Cruise Director, Jorge Solano, is a former
standup comic who is very funny and personable but delegated too
much airtime on the PA to the incomprehensible Ronaldo.
The traditional Captain's Welcome is not the
same as it has been on cruise lines for years. You don't get
to have your picture taken with him or shake his hand. The
Photo staff is friendly but overworked. The immense photo
galleries get clogged in the evenings. Browse during the day if
Getting off the boat takes forever, especially with new
immigration/customs procedures. Best advice: Sleep
late (until 8), get through immigration, get breakfast, then head
to a shaded, padded lounge chair (outside on Deck 3) to take a nap
until you're called to get off the boat (between 9:30 and 11:30). Again, take the taxi rather than Carnival's bus.
Finally, a dirty little secret:
Ever wonder why a ship begins to smell, especially later in the
cruise? We thought this was due to systemic plumbing
problems but now we have a whole new appreciation (and admiration
for) Carnival. The problem isn't the plumbing, although
things do break
occasionally. That smell, folks, is from a
small number passengers (people who drink too much
then hurl) and do it just about anywhere on the boat, from the
public decks to lounge chairs, even in the restaurants. With
alcohol being offered to you 20 times a day, and freewheeling
ports with bars (like Carlos and Charlies, or Senor Frog's) that
don't have to worry about you driving home, it's way too easy to
get plastered to the point of getting sick. So have fun, but
use good judgment, and keep the place smelling nice for the rest
of us! Besides, have compassion for the Carnival staff. Cleaning that stuff up is no fun.