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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman

Carnival Paradise
Sailing: Western Caribbean
New Year's Cruise 2003

by Harvey Dobbs

This was our New Years cruise on the Paradise, our 4th cruise, 3rd on Carnival. For comparison purposes, we have sailed on the Destiny, and Conquest prior. I apologize in advance for sometimes jumping around and being wordy, but, as this cruise is over, This review helps us to relive some of our great times and share some of our ideas with others. As this is an older ship, the décor and layout has been penned by many other authors far more accomplished to the task than I could hope to, therefore I will relate more about our experiences. I hope you enjoy!

We arrived in Florida on Saturday (giving us a one day buffer and making sure we had no problems with storms or security) and relaxed at relatives. Got to the pier around noon

It took about 30 minutes to get through the security checkpoint and we handed our luggage to the porters at about 12:30 PM and joined the many others in the “fun pass” line. Even though the line was fairly long we had our boarding passes and were ready to board the ship by 1:30 PM. The one big plus we all noticed as soon as we stepped on is how clean the air in this smokeless ship was. Everywhere you went, especially the lounges, not having to walk through a cloud of cigarette exhaust was truly wonderful. After boarding the ship we headed to our cabin to drop off our carry-on luggage and decided to visit the first of our many trips to the buffet and pizza. We were happily greeted by waiters with champagne which was a very nice touch. Unfortunately, then we were presented with the current standard of Carnival buffet. I don’t know if other lines have also cut back on the buffet, but Carnival's offerings I felt were scant and just not all that appealing. Unlike the newer Conquest class, which offers burgers, chicken, and steak, the grill by the pool on the Paradise offered only burgers and fries. Maybe I am getting too much Carnival, but even the pizza was not as great as I remembered only 5 months earlier on the Conquest. 

Anyway, after a bite for lunch we toured the ship as this was our first adventure on a Fantasy class. The layout was very easy to follow and nicely decorated. We then went to our room to check on luggage and meet the steward. We brought a small holiday gift along with a pre-tip. We were 4 people in an outside room, and with 4 of us I knew taking care of our cabin would be a challenge. Jerry, the steward was grateful and took great care of us the whole week. That service started when I mentioned the aroma which arose from the toilet when you lifted the cover. Jerry said he would scrub and make it better. I learned from this board that the aroma was something many people found on this ship.

We went for dinner and were seated at a table for 10. All the people were very nice, however we had requested a private table for the 4 of us, as this was a special celebrations cruise and wanted to be just us for a change. The Maitre’d was great and switched us the next night. Our dining staff, consisting of Vtor and Jolita. Vtor was right out of a comic book. He was a spitting image of Danny DeVito (size and mannerisms), and because he was from Portugal, he rolled every other word he said. We fell in love with both of them and mimicked them the rest of the cruise. Their service was outstanding by the way. 

We went to the welcomed show that night to meet the CD Shawn Bussey, who along with her assistants Tina and Brett, were a great team, certainly worthy of giving John Herald a run for the money. My only complaint is enough of the minister joke. Hey Carnival, write some new material. For those of you who have cruised Carnival before, I am sure you know what I am talking about, for those of you who are new to cruising, I don’t want to go into more detail and ruin any experience you may have. The CD, her assistants, and all the entertainment staff, except for the magician, were all good. The magician just could not grab the audience.

After the show it was back to the Lido deck for some late night pizza and then we headed back to the cabin to get some much needed rest for our first “Fun Day at Sea”.

We were on the Upper deck by the rear of the ship. The ship was very rocky. Since we departed Florida, the ship was very rocky. Except for my wife, the rest of the family loved the motion, but it was rough for my wife. I’m not sure if it was the motion or the mere fact we were so exhausted that had us sleeping like rocks. We awoke around 10:00 AM to a continuation of the aroma. I again mentioned it to Jerry who said he will bleach the bathroom. We missed breakfast, as we will learn will become commonplace and decided to try the breakfast buffet. Carnival, move your omelets station!!! It created long lines at the breakfast every day. We then moseyed out to the pool area to get chairs. See, I can be a comedian too. Finding a chair was akin to winning the free cruise bingo. Chair saving was out of hand. This was when I really wished they had balcony rooms on this ship. We eventually found some chairs. Between the continued rough motion, and sun, and, OK, a few foo foo drinks, we fell asleep again. We got in time for one of our many trips to Karaoke. My 16 year old daughter kept many people entertained with her singing and very contagious laughter. I should also mention at this point, our 4th member of our cabin was our 20 year old son who kept many of the women entertained during the cruise. Both of our kids had a great time due to the number of friends they met. According to Carnival, there were in excess of 800 people under 19 on board. Except for very few, too few to even matter, there were no problems at all on this ship with kids. The typical “running in the halls” and craziness other writers have mentioned on these boards in the past, were not to be found on this cruise. 

We then dressed for our first formal evening and ventured into the dining room. I’m not sure why, but the dining room did not open its doors for almost 20 minutes. We were cramped into the hallway and could not move until the doors opened. One teenager freaked out in the middle of this crowd, and they literally had no where to bring her. Suddenly an elevator opened and they managed to get her over to it and out of the crowd. We really felt sorry for her. Anyway, one outstanding meal they had was the rack of lamb. We had 3 portions, the lobster was just ok. Except for the lamb and the cold soups (mango and strawberry were not to be missed), nothing else was noteworthy. That of course did not stop me from gaining 10 lbs mind you!!! 

Night time was consumed with much the same each evening. Pictures, shows, buffet, drinks, and fun. Now you understand why we only made 1 breakfast. 

Awoke to the aroma, which we now nicknamed the “wild thing.” Jerry was scrubbing as you could smell the bleach but it just did not help. I call the purser this time who said he would call the plumber to check it out. He arrived in minutes and said it could not be from the ship, it had to be cleaning. We told him our steward was scrubbing and he just said I will talk to your steward. At this point we figured this is just the way it will be and had to put up with it.

Anyway, this was our first encounter with Belize so I wanted to take in some local flavor. We felt we had plenty of time for beaches later in the week. We tendered into a very nice dock area and found Fred. Fred was a local driver who talked us into seeing some monkey’s, my daughter’s favorite animal, at a local zoo. First after a short tour of the island, he brought us to the Belize Zoo. I was all set to be bored as the last thing I wanted was to walk around and waste my vacation at some local animal rest home, when if I really wanted to visit a zoo, could go to some great ones in the US. I was wrong. The BZ was a small intimate natural habitat with no cages or bars. It was wonderful and no zoo in the US that I have been, had me confront a puma, face to face, 14 inches apart. The animals were not drugged, sleeping (except for the puma), or shy. These animals were all moving and acting on their individual instincts. In the meantime, Fred took us around to show us all the highlights of both animals and local flora. He also was pointing out all the animals, which were using their natural camouflage. We would never have found those animals on our own. We saw many usual as well as unusual local creatures and heard all their histories. Fred then brought us back another way, giving more history of Belize, back to the tender. Just so you have a sense of comparison, Fred was with us all day. We originally agreed on $75.00 for all 4 of us, but I gave him $100.00. He was wonderful. All in all, a nice port stop.

When we got back to the room there was a knock on the door. It was the ships engineer who came to sample “the wild thing.” He said he would be right back and in about 10 minutes the plumber came back and said I have your new toilet here. Sure enough they brought this big cart with a new toilet still wrapped up and installed the brand new toilet and that was the last of “the wild thing.” We played our version of bingo to see who would inaugurate it.

This was our least liked stop. We are ones who choose activities on our own. We research areas we are going to and read experiences of others on this board to help make our decisions. This is one of the very few stops I would recommend booking through the ship. This island is very poverty stricken. Its lush physical beauty is overcome by the sadness you have seeing its people. Reading others accounts of this island prompted me to do a little exploring while my family readied themselves. When you get off the ship, you are behind a fenced in area where you are pummeled by taxi drivers. I exited past the gates to be greeted by Harry and his brother. Harry was on break from school going into the 3rd grade while his brother was going into 2nd grade. They wanted a few dollars to be our guide for the day. They brought me to a driver who agreed to take us to the beach. I went back aboard to fetch my family and make up a quick care package for the kids. By the time we got off, they were already gone. The poverty is overwhelming. We found another taxi driver to take us to tapiana beach where Carnivals excursion was going. When we got to the beach we were told it is a private beach for the exclusive use of Carnival excursions. By the time we got to the next beach it started to rain very hard so we decided to head back to the ship. The driver felt bad so he invited us back to his house. He said he would cook us iguana. He said it would be the best iguana we ever had. I told him I was sorry but on Atkins we were not allowed iguana. Carnival is very inventive here. They invested a large sum of money to create the only great beach around and forces you to purchase their excursion to use it.

We were back on ship by 1pm and just vegged out the afternoon at the pool and spa. Later that afternoon, we received a letter under our door, sorry for the aroma and appreciate your patience and gave us a discount on our next Carnival cruise. Thank you Carnival.

At dinner time they gave out party hats and noisemakers. After dinner and show we made our way to the Lido deck. The hot tubs had been closed at 5:00 PM that day and a big cloth was draped over them. Later the hot tubs were filled with ice and bottles of champagnes for sale. By about 11:30 PM the waiters starting passing out the free champagne and we made sure to get our fill prior to the countdown. They had the 2003 sign up on the funnel and you could see the outline of the four behind the three. The band was playing loud while the CD and crew were doing a countdown. At midnight the ship kept blaring its horn, the band rocked, the champagne and drinks poured, kisses and hugs were everywhere. It was paradise on Paradise. What a wild party We partied until about 1:30 AM and then headed to get some late night food at the buffet. We finally made our way up to the cabin about 3:00 AM as we had Grand Cayman in just a few hours. 

Once again we missed breakfast as we knew the tender lines would be long. Our last visit to GC brought us to stingray city via a great company “nativeway” and highly recommend it for anyone who has not done it before, so we decided this time we would just beach it. We got off the tender at about noon and headed to a cab to the beach opposite the Holiday Inn. It was a nice beach. Fun, sun, and snorkeling. GC was a quick stop so we did some quick local shopping, got back to tender and back on board. This was our next formal night. So we had plenty of time to pamper and take pictures.

Cozumel turned out to be the highlight of our ports. We rented an open air Jeep in advanced and had planned to go to Chankanaab Park. Our ship was docked at a different port from the main dock so we had a little hike to Avis. Along the way I spoke to an American who was living in Cozumel and told us to go to Paradise beach on the east coast and Playa Bineto on the west coast. Both were free and only wanted you to buy drinks. Paradise beach was a beautiful beach with a floating trampoline and climbing ice berg. They also had plenty of non motorized boats and floats free for anyone use, as well as wave runners and parasailing for rent. There were plenty of chairs, chaises, and hammocks complete with stewards to clean off chairs, bring drinks, or adjust umbrellas. It was not crowded and just wonderful. We did not feel we needed to go anywhere else accept we decided after all we had the jeep, let’s go for a ride. We were told the other side of the island had quite a surf and sandy beach instead of a rocky one. We found the other beach and felt we were on Gilligan’s Island. There were about a dozen chairs with umbrellas and a small bar with beers at $1.00 each. The water was warmer with waves 5-6’. We had a blast. With a breathtaking sunset over the horizon, we set sail back to town for a little visit to Carlos and Charlie’s. Along the way we found a small stand selling 15 flavors of Tequila. After sampling each one and buying several bottles we staggered to C&C for a yard. It was great staying in Cozumel til 11pm. We barely made it back on.

Today I awoke feeling the same rocking though this time I think it was more post Carlos N Charlie’s than the waves. We had a good time. My wife and daughter got up early in order to get on the list for talent night. We followed somewhat thereafter. Depression is starting to settle in as we know this last day means packing and goodbyes. Most of this beautiful day was divided between sunning, shopping, and thinking by this time tomorrow, someone else will be in our room listing to our Vtor and his great accent. We made sure we had our last slices of pizza and Cesar salad.

Par for the course, we woke up late again. We did make it off in time to see our luggage sitting all alone in the luggage warehouse. We were truly the last ones off the ship. Each time we passed a security agent he would say into the walkie talkie, yes here they come now. Needless to say, we had absolutely no problems getting off our private yacht. No lines, no hassle and a porter just waiting to escort us and our luggage.

There is so much I forgot to mention I thought I would just p.s. them here. Our steward was not just a steward who left towel animals, but indeed a towel animal artist. One night he created a guy, must have used 6 towels, complete with sunglasses, the headset from a CD player, reading a copy of the Carnival Caper. We walked into the room and just cracked up, we named him Clyde. (don’t know why). We attended all the shows except the Mexican evening. We had our own Mexican evening. As I mentioned all the stage shows as well as the visiting guests were wonderful.

Room service was a game. It seemed no matter how specific, or how many times we went over our order, they would just change the order. We started wagering between ourselves, which dishes would be changed. We would order hot chocolate and get ice tea, order roast beef and get ham and cheese. It became comical

For the life of me, I do not understand how someone who could design such a great ship could design such a lousy showroom. I sometimes thought there were more poles than seats. Downstairs was mostly OK except the seats were very uncomfortable. Up stairs, the seats were comfortable though 85% of the seats had obstructed views. Really obstructed. Avoid upstairs at all costs, get there earlier. The stage productions and especially lighting were excellent.

Service and helpfulness throughout the ship by most all the crew were excellent. The casino was never crowded and the dealers were always  willing to help a novice guest. Sushi offered 4 items each day. They left much to be desired. Sushi fans, pass on this. Sushi novices, don’t judge sushi by what you taste here.

Carnival collects and stacks chairs from around the pool by 7pm and closes the pool about the same. As we love to lie out late at night, under the stars, Carnival makes it troublesome to unstick the chairs you want. The dinner meals were good but the buffets were really a let down.

GOOD: Cozumel, rack of lamb, new years eve party. The Grand Marnier soufflé. Carnivals response to “the wild thing”. The Belize Zoo. The weather – not blazing hot, warm for swimming and yet great tanning time. The crew. The pizza, of course. Smokefree.

BAD: chair savers, The upstairs in the showroom, Sushi, did I mention chair savers? This is an area that Carnival needs to address and hopefully makes corrections in the future.

Overall, I think this may have been our best cruise yet. The hassle of dealing with flying and security has become a given so you just cannot factor it at all. It just exists and probably will for a long time to come until people start to learn to live in peace with each other (hopefully a dream to come true in the future), therefore you just realize if you need to fly to a vacation, don’t think of your vacation starting until you arrive at the port!! 

We have become to feel every cruise is a combination of what you make of it combined with the rest of the people on board. I do not know if it was the holiday, the New Years celebration, or the drinks, but we rarely ran into any rude people. We loved the slightly smaller fantasy class ship, and the overall experience and will look forward to another New Years cruise sometime in our future. 

Happy sailings everyone!!

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Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line