Age: 21 to 30
Number of Cruises: 3 to 5
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Paradise
Sailing Date: May 14th, 2000
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
This was our third cruise with Carnival, and the best by a safe margin. We have cruised aboard the Fantasy on a 4-day to the Bahamas (1998) and aboard the Carnival Triumph (January 2000). My wife (Debbie) and I chose this cruise for our honeymoon because it went to Tortola and Virgin Gorda, which aren't featured on many cruises. Other ports included San Juan and St. Thomas.
Much has been written about the embarkation and debarkation processes, so I'll spare you the usual gripes. It's a small price to pay for the week-long enjoyment that you experience on a cruise. Besides, it's not really as arduous as some would have you think.
Upon boarding in Miami, you enter the Atrium. Unlike the earlier ships in this class (especially the Fantasy) the Paradise Atrium is nicely subdued. Very little of the mirror, glitter and neon in comparison to the earlier Fantasy class ships. In the last few ships in this class Carnival has placed a bar with a small bandstand in the center of the Atrium's lower level. This is much better that the strange sculptures on some of their ships. The rest of the Atrium is decorated attractively. It's very possible that your first impression upon entering this area will be that this is one of the classier Carnival ships.
If you've ever been on a Carnival ship before, your cabin will not be a surprise. We had a midship outside Category 6C cabin on Upper deck (U-129). Furnishings are simple but functional and attractive, although some of the shades of orange, red and purple are not to my taste. Nothing overtly offensive, mind you. Just not the way I would want my house to look. The strong suits to these cabins are plenty of drawer and closet space (even for my wife) and plenty of space for two people on a 7-day cruise. The bathroom was also a decent size, but those vacuum toilets could wake the dead when they flush.
The overall theme aboard the Paradise is that of past ocean liners. Being a devoted ship fan, this was right up my alley. Most public rooms bear the name of a past ocean liner.
The main show lounge, Normandie, is at the forward end of the ship and is one of the most appealing rooms in my opinion. It spans two stories and most areas will afford you a good seat for one of the shows there. However, the number of view-blocking columns was somewhat annoying. The shows presented aboard were quite good, but do be sure to get there early if you want a really good seat. I'm a real stickler for details. Be sure to take time to look at the rosewood inlays in this lounge's decorations. The only better nautical woodwork I've seen was aboard the Carnival Triumph, which was spectacular in it's detail and finish.
Another of my favorite public rooms was the Queen Mary lounge at the ship's aft end. Here, the room's connection to its namesake was evident. Secondary and late-night shows are held in this cabaret-type lounge. The bar stools and table supports are cylindrical and done in the colors of the Cunard funnels and look like small replicas of them. Shows in this lounge rivaled the best I've seen anywhere. Comedians were on hand nightly, but be warned that they are often skewed toward adult humor. Attendants are given fair warning of this. When there was not a show in this lounge, there was an outstanding musical group performing. They were Filipino (I think) and did a great job with lots of 70s and 80s music.
The Rex Dance Club along the ship's main promenade was the site of nightly karaoke and dance contests. Not a bad place to go if you like loud dance music, but its L-shaped layout and furniture done in animal prints were a bit strange. The smaller Leonardo lounge next door was a bit more to my taste. It was more of an intimate, lower key place that often had a country music duet. It had more of the cozier club feel that I prefer.
The Paris Restaurant at the aft end of the Lido Deck is one of those alternative dining place that are becoming so popular. Food is served buffet style throughout the day and there are also a bar and a pizzeria at the rear of the room. You owe it to yourself to try their great pizza at least once. Even when the buffet area is shut down for the evening, the pizzeria is open around the clock. As for the buffet, all the food we ate there was good. I once heard someone describe it as the kind of food you could expect at a really good "Perkins" restaurant. That was pretty close to the mark. It was not the best tasting food on the ship, but it was hardly offensive and this restaurant was great if you didn't want to have breakfast or lunch in the dining room. The menu was mostly middle-America; burgers were common for lunch, as were stir-fry, salads, and meat-and vegetable dishes. Just as an added footnote, be sure to take a look at the unusual columns in this restaurant. Remember those details I told you about?
Our main seating dining room was the Elation Dining Room. This class of Carnival's ships has one dining room amidships and one at the ship's aft end on the Atlantic Deck. Ours was the midship one. Both are similar in size and decoration, so don't feel that you're missing anything by being in one instead of the other. All our meals in this room were outstanding. The menu is quite varied with things like Beef Wellington, Chateaubriand, Chicken Marsala and even lobster on several nights. The entire meal was enjoyable each evening, from appetizer through dessert. I would give the food a 9 out of 10 overall. Our waiter, Klavdij (pronounced "Cloudy"), was from Slovenia and was the best we've come across anywhere. He took time to stop and chat with us and ask us about our days ashore. While I know this happens with most of the waiters in these places, he was fun and pleasant to the point that we couldn't wait to see him at dinner that evening. Needless to say, he was tipped handsomely.
Let me clarify one point about Carnival's cuisine. Over the course of my three cruises with this company, the food has gotten significantly better. Before our first cruise aboard the Fantasy in 1998, we were warned about the food being mediocre. Sure enough, on that cruise it was somewhat bland and tasted like cafeteria food. "Institutionalized" would be a good term. Then, on our cruise aboard the Carnival Triumph in January of 2000, it was hard to believe the improvement. Very few of the items tasted or looked as though they had come from a box in the freezer. This time around, the food was better still. Even things like the spinach ravioli were outstanding.
And now for some importand miscellaneous points. This is the world's first non smoking ship. I do not smoke, but being around it doesn't particularly bother me. I found it amazing how clean and fresh everything on this ship smelled. No smoke-filled lounges, dirty ashtrays or cigarette butts anywhere aboard. I'm sure that this contributed to the taste of the food as well. I certainly hope that this is not the last ship to adopt this policy.
I mentioned in the beginning of this review that this was our best Carnival cruise to date. This is for several reasons. The main one is the ship itself. First, the Paradise has a happy, attentive crew. This is a COMPLETE contrast to the crew that we experienced on the Carnival Triumph in January.
A happy crew runs a happy ship. Another important point is that the Paradise is a
smooth-sailing, stable ship (as are most of the Fantasy-class). There is very little motion and
virtually no vibration in any of the rooms, even at the aft end of the ship. Despite being much
larger, the Triumph shuddered badly in the rear dining room and, on several nights, bobbed like a
cork despite calm seas. In all fairness, I've been told that the problem was not with the Triumph
herself, but with the way she was being "driven" by whoever was at the helm. The Paradise
has a new "Azipod" propulsion system that enables her to have such low levels of vibration
and increased speed. I thought it was all hype when I heard about it, but it really does work. She
is the last of the Fantasy-class vessels that was built in Finland, and in my opinion a great
advancement over the earlier ships of the same class.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, we took the Paradise to the Eastern Caribbean. We had sailed aboard the Triumph to the Western Caribbean four months earlier, so comparisons were inevitable. I preferred the ports of call on our western route. To me, San Juan was a waste of time. Most things were closed by the time we got there and no entertainment is allowed aboard the ship while she is there, by order of the Puerto Rican government. At least we got to enjoy the ship at night while many passengers were ashore.
Virgin Gorda and Tortola were nice, but small. Virgin Gorda is an optional excursion from where the ship stops in Tortola. Anyone who has seen how passengers are dropped off for Playa del Carmen on the way to Cozumel will get the idea. Same thing here. The ship offered this excursion for about $40 per person. My wife and I walked a short distance from the Paradise to the Virgin Gorda shuttle and got tickets and taxi transfers for less than $20 per person. We got the exact same thing that the tour offered with a little over 50% savings. In fact many of the gift shop staff from our ship were on the ferry with us and told us that we were going to the exact same place as the tour.
There was little to do on Virgin Gorda, but The Baths area was beautiful and made for a great day at the beach Tortola itself is pretty, but has little to do and few places for the wives to shop.
St. Thomas was the best stop on this route. Shopping is the order of the day, and if you've ever wanted to buy it, chances are it's here and at a discount. It reminded me of Nassau in a lot of ways. Minus the heckling by street vendors, that is. We took a taxi that we hailed in the downtown area to Megan's Bay. I think this is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. Right up there with Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica. This is a secluded beach that is surrounded on three sides by lush mountains. Kind of like a tropical fjord, if you can picture that. Definitely worth the $8 cab fare.
In closing, this was a good cruise on a great ship. If I had it to do all over again, I would have taken this ship on the Western Caribbean route that Carnival offers. I think that would have been the best of both worlds. There were things that we didn't like about this cruise, but the had more to do with the destinations than the ship and her crew. Take a good look at this ship, especially if you're a non-smoker. I doubt you'll be disappointed.
Chris and Debbie Rego