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Paradise Cruise Jul 14 – 19: Officially a Cheerleader Now!

Shaded Lady

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I decided once I got back from our cruise this week that I would write a review of our Carnival 5-day cruise to Grand Cayman and Cozumel… reviews of this cruise are not very frequent and I hope I can give some of you future cruisers a bit of insight to how the vacation went.

First of all, I wasn’t a Carnival ‘cheerleader’, but I think I am now. While not everything was perfect, most everything was, and we had a great time. However I will be honest about how I saw things, good or bad. It won’t be loaded with pictures because when I got home, I realized we’d missed photos of a lot of interesting things, because we were so busy enjoying the cruise itself! So here goes!

This cruise was a celebration of several events for DH (60) and me (52)… it was DH’s 60th birthday, our 20th wedding anniversary, and we also celebrated that after almost 40 years, hubby finally went back to college and completed his degree! Plus I’ve had a crazy busy 6 months at work and we really needed a vacation to just relax and unwind. Also, we wanted to keep the cost low, but didn’t want to stint on the things we wanted to do… this was my 6th cruise, and DH’s 4th. I hope you enjoy the review...

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Saturday morning we left home at 10 AM (we live about 30 minute drive from the port- yay us!) and drove to the port of Tampa cruise terminal 2. The plan was to have DH drop me off and go park, while I gave our luggage to a porter and waited for him. However the port police said that the dropoff area was full and to circle around a few times. Instead we decided to just drive to the parking spot we’d prepaid for (241services dot com- $ 32 for 5 days prepaid, it’s about ½ a mile north of the cruise terminal on Channelside). When we got there, it couldn’t have been easier- they had a shuttle waiting, parked our car for us, gave us our keys back, loaded our luggage and we were on the shuttle on the way to the port- 10 minutes after we left the terminal the first time we were back at the port in their shuttle.

We got in line about 10:45 AM and went through security. Here was the first minor issue I encountered… they confiscated my surge protector from my laptop bag in security. I told them that the Carnival site says it is allowed, and they told me that the Paradise Security director won’t allow them on the ship. The head of Port Security told me if I was traveling the next day on the Legend, they would have allowed them. They then told me that they would be seizing and destroying the surge protector. I voiced my objection that I wouldn’t get it back at the end of the cruise, since Carnival had told me it was allowed, and it wasn’t my fault the Paradise guy had changed Carnival policy. They told me to take it up with Guest Services on the ship- more about that later.

So even with this short delay, we got in line to check in with Carnival, got our Sail n Sign card and all the appropriate silly photos taken, and were immediately shown onboard! The time was 11:30- 45 minutes from the front door to onboard the ship- even with a 10 minute delay at security… pretty terrific!

DH as we get on the ship


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So DH & I made our way to the Paris Restaurant on the Lido deck to have lunch… we had the yummy reuben sandwiches from the Deli, then DH had the sugar-free coconut cake (he’s diabetic) and I had an ice cream. I found that the ice cream was always a bit grainy, like it had little crystals of ice in it. It never had the creamy consistency I like so I only had it one more time- other than that I stuck to the ice cream in the MDR. I also had my favorite new drink- 1/3 lemonade and 2/3 iced tea- they call it an Arnold Palmer which I’ve had before but never really liked… but I think it’s because it was always half and half before, and I found it too lemony! But this was very nice.

We people-watched for a few minutes then at 12:30 the rooms were ready- a full hour earlier than we were expecting! We dropped off our carry-ons and started exploring the ship. One thing I have to say here is that this is the only class of Carnival ship I’ve been on- Inspiration, Sensation, Paradise. It’s kind of weird because this was my first time on the ship and yet I knew where everything was!

Giveaways in the cabin- Crest toothpaste and Garnier Fructis shampoo samples- lots of each. Manuel said we could ask for more if we needed them.

We decided to go sit on the Serenity Deck for a while, then went back to our room to check on our luggage around 2:30. We were disappointed when we didn’t see it in the hallway, only to open our door and find out that Manuel, the Wonder Steward, had put our suitcases inside for us! He took great care of us all week, but was never a pest. We had fresh ice twice a day in our cooler, chocolates every day and a terrific towel animal each night! We were in room E121 OV on the starboard side.

Towel animal pics

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At 3 oclock we went to our muster station and hung out near the casino while they gave us the safety briefing. No fuss, no muss. At 3:30 we all trooped up to the lifeboat, looked at it and said ‘yup, that’s a lifeboat alright!’ then at 3:31 they released us to begin our cruise! We went back to our room to finish unpacking then went back to the Serenity Deck to watch sailaway. We stayed there until after we passed under the Sunshine Skyway… I love leaving from Tampa.

Sailaway pics







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We had Your Time Dining for the first time. It’s served in the Elation dining room from 5:45 til 9:30 PM. They have a mix of seated dining and YTD in there, so if you show up when the early or late dining folks are lining up (around 6 or 8:15) there is always a wait, but we never waited more than 15 mins. We were never asked if we wanted to join anyone, although we would have, since we’re sociable people. Each night we got a table for 2, but they were close enough that we always ended up chatting with our near-tablemates. Note- even if you ask for a window seat, as a table for 2 you will never get one. Those are reserved for 4 or more, and unless you share you’ll be seated beside the table for 4… not a big deal, since you are still close enough to see the view.

The first night we showed up (in what we boarded in, capris and shorts) around 6:30 and were seated right away. We had Manoj from Mumbai India, on the starboard side (on the sunset side of the ship!) who was terrific! We had him twice for dinner, and kept running into him all around the ship the rest of the cruise. Two other nights we had Gary from St Vincent on the port side- he was hysterical! Sorry- have to admit up front, no food porn here… I never remembered to bring my camera to the dining room. Most nights I can’t recall what we ate, but I can tell you that if they had soup, we had it! Hot or cold, we love all of their soups! I do know the first night I also had the Caesar appetizer and never had it again- WAY too many anchovies for me. It was definitely fishy. I had the lasagna Bolognese and DH had the braised beef brisket- both were excellent.

I know at various meals we had these dishes:

Appetizers: every soup offered! Black Tiger shrimp cocktail; stuffed mushrooms; spinach & artichoke dip; penne siciliana (entrée but I asked for it as a starter); Bacon Mac n Cheese (also an entrée but requested smaller portion as starter); crab cake (very tiny but good, DH says)

Entrees: Gourmet burger- too dry; prime rib and lobster tails/shrimp (on elegant night- have as much as you want; we were too full to ask for seconds); veal parmigiana (my favorite); shrimp n fries; beer-battered fish filet and shrimp (didn’t like it at all- too much batter, outside was crispy/hard and the inside batter wasn’t cooked enough); Chateaubriand- DH said it was good

Dessert: Black Forest Gateau; Bitter n Blanc; Apple pie w/ice cream; Grand Marnier Souffle; Cappuccino pie; diet desserts - Banana Gateau, Diet Orange cake, Diet Coconut Cake

I had a cappuccino each night and there was no charge…

A note here about bar service. We bought the Bottomless Bubbles card for each of us (just after we passed the Sunshine Skyway- saved over $5 in taxes). I had heard that some waiters would be reluctant to get us sodas in the MDR and in the shows… I found that this was partially true- one night in the dining room we ordered a bar drink then asked for a soda when those were gone- the drink waitress looked annoyed and we never got our sodas. The next night, we didn’t have an alcoholic drink, just sodas, and every time she passed us she asked if we wanted another, and we got them very promptly. In the shows, we found that it was a bit slow to get a drink of any kind- the waiter would make the rounds, and then come back 10-15 mins later with everyone’s drinks… but we were on vacation, so waiting was never a problem for us. We also bought an insulated drink glass from Carnival for DH for $5 (I had one already from my last cruise). These are not required for the Bottomless Bubbles, but they’re very convenient.

I had surprised my DH with drink coupons (2 sets of 4 valued at $5.75 each, cost $23.50/set, total $46)- we’re not big drinkers but I figured we were on vacation and celebrating, so why not! DH ordered exclusively Long Island Iced Teas; I tried the Cruiser, A Kiss on the Lips (my new favorite) and Chocolate Mocha Getaway… in each case they deducted the $5.75 for the coupon and we paid the balance. The nice part is you only pay a tip on the balance. Each round of drinks cost us $5 and change, instead of $18. It saved us about $1.75 per drink. It was never a hassle to use the coupons.

After dinner we made an emergency trip to the $10 shop for a pair of readers- I’d forgotten my glasses and can’t read a thing without them… DH had to read the dinner menu to me that night! We wandered around a bit then headed to bed early, around 9:30.

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Each night I made a point to leave our curtains open so we’d wake up with the daylight… it’s a less painful way of waking up than an alarm or wakeup call! So we got up, took our travel mugs up to the Lido deck for coffee around 7:30, checked out the breakfast offerings there, and decided to head to the MDR for breakfast… this became a routine- while I was getting ready DH would get us coffee from Lido deck so I could find my way to the MDR for breakfast (I DO NOT function without caffeine on board in the morning!).

HINT: If you are an Eggs Benedict lover like me, thank your fellow Cruise Critic posters for this tip: order your Eggs Benedict with the Hollandaise sauce on the side. You will get much fresher poached eggs since they will make the order fresh for you. If you order them with the sauce already on, then you’re likely to get eggs that are overcooked, sauce with a crust formed on top, since they’ve been sitting there under the heatlamp waiting for your waitstaff to claim them.

So here’s where I explain my ongoing discussions with Guest Services regarding the confiscated surge protector in the port of Tampa… I went there and explained the situation to the girl on the desk. I got the impression she didn’t understand most of what I was telling her, confirmed later when I got a letter from her telling me they couldn’t find any reference in Carnival’s rules about allowable items for ‘search protectors’. So every day for the next 3 days I talked to someone at Guest Services, and each afternoon I got a letter from them to please come see them so they could give me an update. The first 2 days, I went back to Guest Services in the afternoon only to have to explain the whole thing over again.

Finally on the 3rd day, I spoke to an Australian girl who seemed to really understand what I was asking for, and that afternoon, sure enough, my 3rd letter telling me to please visit Guest Services- this time they told me that they’d contacted Tampa Portside Security and that my surge protector would be returned when I disembarked in Tampa! Nice! Sure enough, when I ‘bonged’ off the ship at the end of the cruise, an alarm went off and they called Tampa Security to let them know I was on my way and as I left the building, the woman to took the surge protector was right there to hand it to me! Too bad they created this confusion themselves…

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So here it was Sunday morning, our first day at sea… we wandered the ship a bit then went to settle on the Serenity Deck in the shade… I brought my iPad and DH brought some books. I used the hot tub on Serenity a few times, never used any of the pools.

A note here about Serenity and Chogs… we noticed that there were never any children on Serenity, other than those just passing through with their parents. Several times there were younger folks there (early 20’s) and in each case the Serenity Deck attendant asked them to confirm their age. Once a 17 YO was there and she was politely asked to please move on, this area is exclusively for those 21 and over!

As for chogs, there was some evidence of it, but I also noticed Lido Deck attendants confiscating stuff left on chairs, so I’m presuming that they were monitoring it. We never had an issue finding a seat or a lounge anywhere at any time that we wanted to be during the cruise. John Heald announced a few weeks ago that they were trying something new to deal with this. I wondered if monitoring and taking action on chogs was the result.

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We really wanted to make this vacation as relaxing as possible, so we didn’t plan a lot of activities… we more or less played it by ear each day. But in spite of that, we were able to see/do a lot!

Onboard activities:

In Normandy Lounge- we watched Shout, song and dance from 50’s through the 70’s… it was very entertaining and well worth the watch.

In Normandy Lounge- we wanted 8 Seconds More, song and dance with a country music theme… it was good, but I preferred Shout.

A note about the 2 headlining singers: Will is great, but mismatched against Desirae… she is a powerful singer and sometimes her singing was just too loud for the Normandy Lounge! She definitely drowned out Will a lot on their duets.

We watched the Fun Force show in Normandy Lounge- breakdancing; was pretty good and only about 30 minutes so a nice quick break in your day. They also gave a dancing class on the last sea day but we skipped that.

We watched the Gender Show in the Normandy Lounge… we didn’t really want to go but there was nothing else happening at that time so we wandered in, and ended up having a lot of fun with it!

We saw both of the comedians in the Queen Mary lounge, Kim Harrison and Lars Callieou for their R-rated shows. Get there at least 15 minutes early to get a seat. They will ask you to vacate the lounge between shows, but you can turn around and come right back in via the other door once everyone is out. This gives everyone a chance to get into the comedian shows, and the ones there first can’t hog all the seats for the entire night. Sassy Cassie is a hoot- as your hostess she tries a new joke out on the audience each night… her standard line is ‘no photography, no videography, the only -ography that takes place is in her cabin later that night!

We watched a couple of karaoke sessions, one called ‘SuperStar karaoke’ in the Queen Mary lounge and regular karaoke in the casino bar… this was kind of weird since it was in the middle of the Promenade aisle, so people were having a lot of trouble getting through the crowd of people dancing and acting as backup singers… but it was fun, with a real mix of good and bad singers.

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We skipped the Welcome Aboard show and talk, since we’ve been through it before. We did listen to the first Fun Ashore talk that CD Sparkles gave (DH calls her Bubbles!). If you’re interested in shopping, the shops are the same as in every port- there’s a Diamonds International, EFFY and Tanzanite shop in Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Nassau and everywhere else!

Port Days:

We decided not to book any excursions, since we wanted to make it more relaxing and save money if we weren’t really interested in anything in particular.

Grand Cayman-

This is a tender port. We docked at 8 AM and all the excursion people rushed to get off the ship first. We waited until about 10, then went ashore. We considered going to Stingray City, but ever since they killed Steve Irwin, stingrays kind of creep me out! So we walked around downtown Georgetown for 2 hours, did some souvenir shopping (bought my grandson the t-shirt that says ‘My Grandma went to Hell to buy me this t-shirt!’) then went back to the ship for lunch and some well-deserved R&R. We spent the afternoon on the Serenity Deck and the ship departed at 3 PM.

Grand Cayman Pics, including Paradise at anchor







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This is as good a spot as any to talk about food on the Lido Deck… we had the reubens from the deli a couple of times… ask for double meat. We tried the Mongolian Wok on the day we were in Grand Cayman… I tried the sauce that only had 1 pepper, the middle of the road one, on the stir-fry, but it was WAY too hot for me. If you don’t like spicy food, go with the Black Bean sauce.

We LOVED the chicken fingers from the Lido Deck… french fries were always awful, but we were able to mix and match with other areas in the Paris restaurant to get plenty for lunch. Each day they have a different theme in the main buffet area- Italian, French, Caribbean, American. Then the different stations are available, where you can get hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, deli sandwiches, desserts, drinks (iced tea, lemonade, hot coffee & tea).

On the last day at sea they advertise a dessert chocolate buffet- pictures show the chocolate fountain, all kinds of chocolates, including truffles, cakes, pies etc. If they offered that on Wed on the Paradise, I missed it. At the dessert area, which advertised overhead the ‘Chocolate Buffet Extravaganza’ there were 2 kinds of cake, one cheesecake, a truffle (sort of), chocolate-covered orange peel and a bunch of other non-chocolate options… not a fountain in sight. I wanted to be disappointed, but I was so full from lunch I couldn’t have really enjoyed much of it anyway!

After sailaway we spent about an hour in the casino. It wasn’t very busy then, so there weren’t a lot of smokers. I’m not a militant non-smoker but I do find the cigarette smoke hard to take when it’s concentrated. So this was a perfect time for us to donate $20 to the slots. We’re not big gamblers, so we made a game out of who could make their $$ last the longest, then went to check out the shops for souvenirs and booze.

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We got up at our usual 7 AM, had our Lido deck coffee then went to the MDR around 8:30 for breakfast. We went to Deck 12 Upper (in front of the mini-golf) to watch our approach to Cozumel. We were hoping to dock at Punta Langosta downtown, but Elation was docked there. Instead we went to the International pier, and docked at Puerta Maya, right beside the Legend. It was strange, the pilot got on board and we navigated to pull in on the same side of the pier as the Legend, but closer to shore. Then just as we were navigating into position, we pulled out, turned around and pulled in beside Legend, side by side. We were docked by 11 AM, and they started letting people off right away.


Cozumel pics


Puerta Maya



Carnival Elation docked at Punta Lagosta




Carnival Legend docked at Puerta Maya



Paradise & Legend, docked side by side


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NOTE: Our next cruise we want to go on the Legend, because we want a 7-day cruise out of Tampa with a balcony so we were checking out the ship parked right beside us pretty closely. I have a much better concept of what you all have been talking about regarding Obstructed Balconies, Aft & Cove balconies… I see lots of homework on CC in my future!

We waited until the crush was over around 11:30, then went down to deck 4 and took the stairs to Deck 3.

NOTE: we disembark in Grand Cayman and Cozumel on Deck 3, but they direct you to Deck 4 and you have to take the stairs down one level. Handicapped can take the elevator directly to 3, but the crew does a good job of not allowing people who are not handicapped from butting in line when they get off the elevator at 3 instead of 4.

We wandered around the shops in Puerta Maya and decided not to do an excursion. At one point we crossed the main street in front of the port to see some shops across the street. We quickly realized that while the International port is new and well-patrolled, once you’re away from that area, it gets pretty seedy very quickly. Prices on souvenirs and alcohol were no cheaper, and the people approaching you were very aggressive. I was very uncomfortable, and even though I know DH could take care of us, I was very happy when we decided to go back to the immediate port area.

Word of warning here- the ports on this cruise are definitely tropical! If you’re not used to the heat AND humidity make sure you drink lots of water, and take cover under shade whenever you can. I saw a lot of very wilted people those 2 days.

We bought some rum, tequila and Kahlua for friends and for ourselves at the duty-free shop- everything was much cheaper than on the ship. For those of you who want Sheridans, buy it in the first duty-free shop you get to when you first get off the ship- it was $5 cheaper than on the ship. When we got back to the ship, they took the alcohol as we expected, and told us that we had to pick it up from one of the lounges on the morning when we disembarked. I was surprised because in the past they’ve always delivered it to our cabin on the last night. But she was adamant that they don’t do that. Funny thing- when we got back to our cabin the last night after dinner, there were our bottles, delivered as usual!

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After a few hours in Cozumel, we were back on board by 2 PM, had lunch on the Lido deck then went to the Serenity Deck again for a relaxing afternoon reading (I’m pretty sure there was some napping in there too!).

I had my one minute of Pity Party that night, as we passed the Queen Mary lounge and realized that the new ‘VIFP Party’ (AKA Past Guest Party) was going on without me… as a lowly Red Badge we weren’t invited. But I got over it, and made up my mind to book that next cruise ASAP so we can go to the party next time (2 days til Gold!)

We went to a show at 7 that night and dinner (YTD) right after… because we were there right at 8:15 this was the longest wait we had to be seated- 15 minutes. After dinner we went to the shops and browsed around, bought a few souvenirs. Then we hung out in the Leonardo Bar just outside the Queen Mary lounge. We had a great chat with Ilya, our bartender. She was really funny, and teased DH that if he could get up and walk away in a straight line after his killer Long Island Iced Tea that she made him, that he wasn’t ‘too old’…

We went to the Karaoke Superstars show that night. Had fun listening to the good and the awful!

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Last Sea Day: up at our usual time, coffee from Lido, then breakfast in MDR. We went to the Jewelry Sale for the Pandora-like bracelets, I bought one for my daughter when I was told that the Pandora charms will fit on it… I hope they were right, but if not, it was only $25 and it’s pretty so I think she’ll like it.

We sat on the Promenade deck reading, near the Photo area for a few hours. We went to lunch in the MDR and this is the one time I wasn’t pleased with the service there. We were seated right away but waited 15 minutes before anyone even brought us water or a menu. Once we ordered, it was at least 10 minutes between each course being finished before they brought the next course. Our water was never refilled, we were never offered dessert (but since we wanted to check out the Chocolate Buffet anyway, no big deal). The food was not hot, but as my DH pointed out, our main course was brought from the kitchen and put on the counter behind us where it sat for 10 minutes before anyone served it to us.

None of the ‘good’ waiters were working that day- it seems most of them were working the Lido deck for that lunch (at least Manoj and Gary were). I’m not sure if they were understaffed in the MDR or if they just had the ‘B’ team on duty, but it definitely was not our normal experience in there.

After lunch we spent some final time on the Serenity Deck. We went to our final show at 7 and went to the MDR for dinner after 8. We went back to our room to pack, then strolled on the Promenade Deck before retiring early.

Last night- don’t make me leave!



But I'll be back!



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Before Disembarkation, some random bits of information for you:

· Staff- every one I encountered, everywhere, were happy and upbeat. They greeted you with a smile and a ‘have a great day!’ I noticed the new edict, to greet passengers by their first name- but uniformly, it was ‘Hello, Miss Pat’ or ‘How can I help, Mr. David?’ very respectful and appropriate.

· I had communicated beforehand with Sparkles about how I could surprise my hubby with a sugar-free cake to celebrate all of his special events… she helped me out, and I was very grateful. On the first full day of the cruise, a knock on our cabin door and there was one of the cruise staff, with a hand-written note from Sparkles, congratulating DH and wishing us a beautiful cruise; along with the note was a bottle of champagne, a plateful of chocolate-covered strawberries and the obligatory 24-carat gold plastic ship on a stick! DH was floored!

· On past cruises I don’t recall getting local network channels on our cabin TV, just the movie channels and the typical Carnival channels. We were pleasantly surprised that we had NBC/ABC/CBS, CNN and other channels to watch when we were in our stateroom.

· I brought our own lanyards for our SnS cards. As soon as we got on board, we went to Guest Services and they punched the hole in our cards so we could use our lanyards. I used a Pink for the Cure lanyard, and had more comments about that than anything else!

· I looked for some of our roll call friends, but unfortunately no one wore a sign saying, Hi, I’m Gemynii, or My Name is Murph1031! Next time we need to arrange a way to recognize each other! :)

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Last morning: we woke up before sunrise as we were coming into port. We dozed for a while then got up, showered, did our final packing and headed to breakfast at 7:15. During breakfast they kept calling for a group of non-US citizens to report immediately to the Normandy Lounge for Immigration Clearance.

DH & I are dual citizens, Canada and US. We’re so happy that we don’t have to deal with that any more!

We were back in our cabin by 8 and at 8:05 Sparkles announced that the ship was cleared by Customs and those doing Self Debarkation were free to leave, by deck. Luckily, she called Veranda then Empress first! We walked to the Atrium, were told to proceed to our final ‘boop’ of our Sail n Sign card, then off we went. We made it downstairs, through Customs and were outside the terminal waiting for our shuttle by 8:15! Our shuttle driver to the parking lot was there in 5 minutes, and we were starting our 30 minute drive home by 8:25!

Home before 9 AM and greeted by our fur babies! Now it’s time to get our land legs back!

So I know this was long, and there are fewer pictures than I would have liked, but it was fun to relive the moments. So if anyone has any questions, ask away and I’ll try to answer… or I encourage the others who were on the cruise with me to weigh in with their responses, or experiences.

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