George Smart and Eleanor Stell
Occupation:Professional Speaker and University Program Director
Number of Cruises: 12
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Destiny
Sailing Date: NOT FOUND
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
Cruise Line: Carnival Cruise Lines
Sailing Date: April 21st, 2002
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 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 San Juan.
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 nonmainstream 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! If you see Nas, the Casino Manager from Cyprus, please say hello from George. 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, asst 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 you can.
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.
Hellos to Angie and Eric, scuba-diving dentists from San Diego, and Paul and Michelle, honeymooners from Boston!