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Cara

Age: 44

Occupation:Missions Director

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Splendor

Sailing Date: 2008-12-20

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

Our family of five travelled on the Carnival Splendor over Christmas. It left from Ft. Lauderdale and went to San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, La Romana in the Dominican Republic and Nassau. Our kids are 16, 14 and 8. We had 2 adjoining rooms on the main deck with ocean views. I had been on a cruise 20 years ago, but this was a first for the rest of the family. We did not book any excursions before hand. We made our own reservations directly with Carnival and our airfare directly with Southwest. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale a day early because we were worried about weather and potential flight delays. There was a group from Canada that missed the departure due to bad weather, but because they booked their flights with Carnival, Carnival flew them to San Juan free of charge and they met the boat there. Our dining companions also booked their flights with Carnival, but they ended up with connections and a terrible return flight that got them home at 2 a.m. We brought 6 bags of luggage (not including purses/backpacks that we carried on). We definitely overpacked, but I wish I would have brought a few jackets or wraps to wear with my dressier clothes because the dining rooms always had the air conditioning on and I was cold. Most days we were in our swim suits from dawn to dusk, so I didn't need as many shorts and t-shirts as I brought. Also, you can do laundry on the ship - I would suggest bringing a small amount of laundry detergent if you think you might want to do this because they charge $2.50 for detergent. We did not gamble, so I can not tell you much about the casino although it is filled with smoke. We bought soda cards for the kids which is a must because the sodas are not free and they charge $3.00 for each one.
The food was great and plentiful. Ice cream/frozen yogurt and pizza are available 24/7. There is a hamburger grill with fries, salad, onion rings that is open extended hours. The best lunch is at the aft of the ship, either the sandwich grill or the Indian/Asian buffet. They had a few late night buffets - the mexican one was not worth the wait. They had a chocolate buffet one day for lunch and it was great! The breakfast was the same each day - omelettes, cereal, pancakes, waffles, french toast, bagels, fruit, etc. The dining room menu changed each day and there were always great choices. We chose the late seating for dinner which I was really happy about because if you have the early seating (6:15) you have to rush back to shore from some of the excursions. We could take our time, have a little rest, shower at our lesiure, and then eat. There were a couple of nights that our 8 year old was too tired to eat, but given that she at about 20 ice cream cones and 10 slices of pizza each day, I was not concerned. We had great service. I thought the cost of drinks was high - the rum drink of the day was around $5.00, but everything else was $6 or higher. We did not eat in any of the restaurants. We were somewhat surprised on the first night when we did not have a table to ourselves. They sat us at a table with another family of 5. It was kind of awkward at first, but we got to know them and it was fine. I am not sure if you can ask for a private table when you book your cruise, but if that is important to you, you should check it out. We also did not order room service, but it is available 24/7 and is free (except drinks).
Our stateroom was really great - much larger than I expected. We had adjoining rooms on level 2 (main deck) with ocean views. Our window was 4 x 4. We had a queen bed and sitting area. The kids room had 2 twins and they made up the couch as a bed. There was plenty of closet space for luggage, and you can also store it under your bed. Plenty of hangars, drawers, etc. Bathroom/shower was plenty big. They provide blow dryers, shampoo, body soap so don't bother packing any of that. They provide really nice, large beach towels every day. You can bring them on excursions with you. You can turn them in any time poolside for clean, dry towels, but they will charge you if you lose one, so keep track of it. There are also nice robes provided in your room, so don't bring one from home. There was a flat screen t.v. in our room and we were surprised that Denver channels (we are from Denver) were playing. At first we thought they did that just for us, but we found out later that the Denver satellite is really strong in the caribbean. There are large bottles of water in your room - I think they charge $3 for each - we used a couple, but could have got water from the bar for free - just not in the bottle. They bring ice every afternoon and make up your room in the a.m. and turndown service while you are at dinner. Everyone enjoyed the towel animals they left.
Most of the time we just laid by the pool. The kids liked the putt putt golf (although it was really, really windy up there), and the water slide. There is also a fresh water water park for younger kids - my 8 year old really liked that. I thought the water in all the pools was way too cold, but I went in a few times. The hot tubs are warmer, but pretty crowded. Everything is salt water on board, except the aforementioned kids water park. There is bingo every night, shows, movies on a big screen by the pool, and other activities. You get a schedule every day that shows you what is going on and where - very helpful. The Carnival entertainers/dancers were pretty lame. We walked out of one show it was so bad, and the others were barely tolerable. They outside entertainers were better - a hypnotist one night, comedian - although the juggler/comedian they had was terrible - we also left that show. My youngest did not want to do camp carnival, but it looked really fun and the few parents I talked to that had their kids in it RAVED about it and said there kids wanted to go every day. We really liked sitting out at night and watching movies since we are not big gamblers/dancers. On Christmas Eve they showed Polar Express which was really fun. I thought the band that played on the Lido Deck during the day was a little loud, but we just moved up one deck and could still hear it.
San Juan we docked at 5:00, so we walked directly up to El Morro Ft. (you can see it from the dock, or just ask someone how to walk there). It took about 15 minutes. It is supposed to close at 6, but they stayed open late for the cruise traffic. We got some great pictures as the sun was setting and the kids enjoyed it. We weren't in the mood for shopping or doing a bacardi tour, etc. with kids, so we just hung out in the main square and went to Starbucks. The square was decorated for Christmas and it was fun to just people watch. In St. Thomas we got off the boat and there is a large shopping area right at the dock. Instead of shopping there, we took a cab ($3.00 per person) downtown to shop. The ship will give you a list of recommended stores and we stuck to those. We were not shopping for jewelry or anything like that - just t-shirts, souveniers, etc. We shopped and walked around for a couple of hours, then took a cab back to the ship. We looked at the stores near the ship and everything we purchased was CHEAPER there! So, if you are not looking for jewlery or something special, just do your shopping there. Then we took another cab (again $3 per person) to SECRET BEACH. DEFINITELY GO THERE!! IT IS GREAT, NOT CROWDED AND THERE IS PLENTY TO DO. Snorkeling equipment, etc. for rent, a restaurant for lunch/drinks, hammocks to lay in etc. We should have put on our suits and gone there first, then shopped at the end of the excursion, saving the double cab fare. In La Romana we booked an excursion with Carnival to go to CATALINA ISLAND. DEFINITELY book an excursion for this port - there is nothing to walk to in La Romana. We really enjoyed Catalina - just took a short ferry ride, and hung out on the beach. Found a lot of shells and sea glass. There is shopping there, which the excursion list did not mention, so we didn't bring much money - i bought some Domincan coffee - i thought the price was high - $10/lb, but I didn't feel like haggling. If you are into haggling, I am sure they will do that. See Franklin at shop #11. There is also art to buy which is really, really beautiful, but I didn't have enough cash and they don't take credit cards.There are also ladies who will braid hair - make sure to negotiate a fixed price up front - no more than $15-$20. I would also suggest bringing water bottles and some snacks from the ship with you as what they sell on the island is pricey and didn't look that great. You could load up at the buffet in the a.m. with oranges, apples, boxes of cereal, and buy some water bottles - or, buy some packaged snacks from home and bring it - like pretzels, beef jerkey, etc. Nassau - we did not book and excursion here because we thought we would just cab/walk to a beach and then shop a bit at the port. My daughters wanted their hair braided, so we found a shop right outside the ship but we were stupid and did not negotiate a price up front. They said $3.00 per braid and I wasn't really thinking about it and said okay, until I realized 10 minutes into it they were each already at 9 braids and only a small section had been done. I asked them to stop and we negotiated $20 each, but my youngest started complaining that it hurt and she didn't want to finish. I ended up taking them out. That ended up wasting about an hour of our day. It was also Boxing Day so there was a big parade and most of the shops were closed. We walked about 10 minutes to a local beach but it was full of trash and glass, so we decided to go back to the ship. We stopped in the straw market on the way back but none of the prices seemed that great and there wasn't anything I was interested in. We found a little shop near the ship that had t-shirts, 3/$10 - the best buy we saw the whole trip. In hind sight I wish I would have gone to the Atlantis Resort. You could arrange for your own transportation and go there, or do it through the ship - definitely more through the ship, but you are guaranteed to get there and back on time and you don't have to worry if you are being taken advantage of.
A few other things to mention: We brought walkie-talkies with us to communicate with our kids, but they didn't work very well - we kept picking up other peoples signals. I really thought they were unnecessary - the ship is only so big and if you just arrange to meet at certain times/places you don't need them. We had some rough seas a couple of times and I went to the pursers desk and they will give you free motion sickness meds - they worked great, but did knock me out. There are really, really rough seas leaving La Romana - the captain said it is something about that passage. I could not even eat dinner that night and the 10:30 show was cancelled because the dancers could not safely perform. Don't buy anything from the gift shop on board until the last night because everything goes on sale. Bring plenty of sun screen because it is expensive to buy on board or in ports. Wear the same thing on the two fancy nights - maybe just change it up with jewelry or a jacket because they are not back to back and it is a waste of space in your luggage. Don't bring an iron because they won't let you use it in your room and there are free one in the laundry areas on the ship. (Who wants to iron on vacation anyway!) Take pictures of your food so you will know why you gained 5 lbs why you were gone. Make sure to write down all the staff names that give you great service, because on the last night they will give you a survey to fill out. Pack a carryon with swim suits and other essentials - we did not get our luggage until 7 pm the first night. Most of all, don't sweat the small stuff and remember YOU ARE ON VACATION!

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