I will preface this by stating that this was our second cruise. The point of that is that we were unable to avoid making mental side-by-side comparisons during this cruise with the only other cruise we had taken - on the Norwegian Sky in March of 2000 (see review on this site). You may expect to see that happening in this review as well. That might seem to present a rather narrow contrast between only two ships, but I think it may be helpful to have those contrasts as a way of judging the thought process behind my comments. I have assembled this over a period of some days as time permitted, and I notice that it has run a little long. There is a very brief summary at the bottom if you want to skip down.
OK then, first the good stuff. As everyone undoubtedly knows by now, this ship is completely non-smoking; all the time, no exceptions and yes, they are very serious about it. We didnít hear about anyone getting fined and thrown off the ship during our cruise, but if you look at other reviews of this ship you will see that it does happen. This is without a doubt the best thing a cruise line has ever done. As 'Hi Dave' the cruise director pointed out, having areas of the ship where smoking is allowed is much like having areas of your swimming pool where peeing is allowed Ė it just doesnít work out. He also mentioned that the reason Carnival designated an entire ship as non-smoking was in response to comments from customers. ARE YOU OTHER CRUISE LINES LISTENING OUT THERE?? Folks, you can even go and sit in the casino and not be bothered by smoke. And from our previous experience and listening to comments from others, that is something very rare indeed -- particularly on a cruise ship where spaces are confined and ceilings are low. On our previous cruise the casino and the disco lounge were particularly bad. We heard on board that the Paradise has the highest booking ratio in the Carnival fleet, but the slimmest profit margin. Of course, non-smokers are statistically more educated than smokers; not as much consumption of alcohol or gambling. And, of course a lot of families prefer a non-smoking ship Ė the kids donít gamble or consume much liquor either it seems. Enough about that. The benefits of a non-smoking ship are pretty obvious to any non-smoker and the profitability problems could be fixed. Carnival may call me if they need ideas.
Hereís a plug for United Airlines; they know they screwed up with that pilot problem a few weeks ago. We got a very nice fare by booking ten weeks ahead. They seem to have really honestly improved the leg room in coach. We left Chicago ON TIME and arrived in Miami ten minutes early. All our bags arrived with us. They still need to work on the food though. We did not book air transportation through Carnival, but we did purchase transfers from the Miami airport to the Ship. A Carnival representative met us at the end of the jetway in Miami and told us where the baggage area was and said she would meet us there. She did. She got together a group of us and led us to a bus. We did have to lug our own bags from the baggage claim to the bus, but at least the driver stowed it. I suppose we could have gotten a porter, but our luggage has wheels and it wasnít a really big hardship. This was one area where Carnival exceeded Norwegian. On our last trip, we landed in Fort Lauderdale and had a very difficult time even locating a rep. At the dock, a crew of porters took over (and also accepted gratuities) and loaded the luggage aboard the ship. We got in line for check in and were speaking to an agent within 5 minutes. Another point for Carnival. Last time it took 30 or 40 minutes to get to this point. A couple of minutes for examination of documents, check your credit card, and up the stairs you go. Yes, they do make you sign to acknowledge that you understand that this is a non-smoking ship. A brief stop to pick up sail-and-sign cards, another brief stop for the obligatory here-we-are-going-aboard photo, and we were on the gangplank. Ships personnel were at the other end to direct us to our cabin. No problem; good job.
Hereís the first time Carnival slipped (not the last by any means): on the Norwegian Sky, our luggage actually arrived at our cabin before we did. On the Paradise we had to wait a couple of hours for the first suitcase. And the two bags we took showed up about an hour apart?? This wasnít a big problem however, and was within acceptable limits. Our cabin was well lighted, and the shower was LARGER than we expected. Two people could actually get into the shower without automatically having sex. Closet space was very ample. An in-cabin safe was provided and worked (although we had to call someone to unlock it when we got there as the previous occupants had left it locked). The TV worked, but it didnít much matter because there wasnít much on. We mainly found ourselves watching the previous dayís video of cruise activities, and once, a movie. You know, I am just as sure as I can be that these cruise ships could hook up an 18" satellite dish just like I have at home on a motorized azimuth mount and get 500 channels. Why donít they? Our cabin attendant never actually presented himself to us, but he did his job very well. Our cabin was always clean and tidy. We were left amusing towel animals on several occasions. He even carefully wound and tied the cord on my wifeís curling iron each day. I guarantee you that hadnít previously been done since it left the box. Only ONE 110V outlet in the cabin. ONE (razors only) in the bathroom. I expected this and took along a 4 outlet power strip. By the way, I left that in the cabin so if you were in cabin U183 on the Paradise leaving Miami on October 1 and there was no outlet strip in the desk drawer, you got hosed by the room steward.
Sorry Carnival, thatís just about the end of the good stuff. Contrary to their claims, our cabin was smaller than the one we paid the same price for on our previous cruise. When we arrived, my wife nearly turned around and got back off the ship as the cabin was equipped with two single beds. Of course, our cabin on the Sky was also 2 single beds, but they had put them together and made them up as a single king size bed BEFORE we even got there. We had to shove the beds together ourselves on the Paradise. They were never made up as a single bed, just 2 twins shoved together. It was very awkward getting in and out, the twin bedding kept tangling up, and it was very uncomfortable trying to adjust to the big ridge in the middle. And, the mattresses were so darn 'firm' they might as well have been made of plywood. We slept very poorly all week. Even the pillows were just not right Ė one was not enough, and two was too much. I had a stiff neck every morning, and a backache all day. The bed(s) on the Sky were very firm, but we were at least able to sleep.
There was only 1 small straight chair in the room, plus a backless stool for the 'desk' and a small round table the same size (and height) as the stool. I put 'desk' in quotes as there was no paper, and no pen in the room with which to write anything. I suppose it could more fairly be referred to as a dressing table with an empty desk drawer. There was a Gideon bible though Ė I suppose that was put there to help you pray for a pen and some paper -- and maybe an air mattress. One corner of the room was occupied by a corner mounted TV just above eye level, a floor cabinet that held the life jackets and at night, the bedspreads. Taking up half of the available space on the top of the floor cabinet was an angle mounted piece of frosted glass with a ship painted on it, with a light behind it. I suppose this could have been used for a nightlight, if it were about 1/4 as bright as it was. We brought our own nightlight so this thing merely served to occupy what would otherwise have been useable table space. And we needed it because our suitcases did NOT fit under the bed(s). I admit, they are pretty big suitcases, so maybe itís our fault. We were able to stand one in the closet area and the other on the remaining space on that corner floor cabinet. If you were keeping track, you now realize that there was no possible way for us to have ordered room service and enjoyed the meal. We would have had to either try to eat off our laps sitting on the edge of the bed, or hunched over a 14" diameter round table while sitting on a small straight back chair and a backless stool, or one of those and the toilet. Aboard the Sky we had a small couch and table PLUS another chair. Why tell us about room service when there was no way we could make use of it? I suppose we could have ordered it up and taken it to the dining room to eat it!
At the time of booking, which was 10 weeks before sailing, I requested late seating for dinner. Upon our arrival we found we had been assigned to EARLY seating. Early seating is fine for those families with small children and anybody who hits the hay at 8 PM. We are neither. Our first order of business (after we shoved the beds together) was to get our meal seating changed. We headed to our assigned dining room. Nobody home. We went towards the information desk in the atrium and happened upon an employee who told us that requests for seating changes were being taken in the forward dining room (we were aft). We went there. Nobody home. Then, we overheard a different employee tell some others that they had moved to the Leonardo lounge (Aft again). We went there. Nobody home. I should point out that by the SECOND 'nobody home' we were getting very angry. Finally we were advised that we needed to go to the Queen Mary lounge (Further aft). Bingo (excuse the expression). But, there were a couple dozen other people in line ahead of us. We had to put our names on the list and WAIT. It was only about 10 minutes, and we were seated before the Maitre d'. Fifteen seconds later he had our cabin number down, had noted our request to change to late seating, and stated he would 'see what he could do'. He had a notebook with requests for change to late seating and he was NOT on the first page. We were advised that we would have to attend early seating that night as nothing could be done before tomorrow. Of course, this was about 3 PM and we hadnít yet had lunch. I canít imagine what sort of person normally eats lunch at 3 PM then sits down to dinner at 6 PM. Apparently the good folks at Carnival believe this is perfectly OK and normal. We were very upset, but determined not to let this ruin our vacation. We went up to the Lido deck and had lunch, figuring we had better get our blood sugar up a little before somebody got hurt. Monday morning sometime a note was slid under our cabin door advising that our dinner seating had in fact been changed to late seating. Thank you Mr. Maitre D'.
We spent a bit of time familiarizing ourselves with the ship before the mandatory lifeboat drill. The ship is new and very clean (except, oddly, the lifeboats which looked much older???). Lots of attention to detail and decor. However, I was often puzzled by the decoratorís choices of color and pattern. They used marble and granite that didnít quite seem to fit, and colors that were a bit off. Of course, you canít change the color of marble or granite - you dig it out of the ground and take it as is - but you CAN pick your carpet and trim colors. And you CAN chose one marble/granite over another - or use ceramic tile. The decor was very busy. I think someone was going for ďelegantĒ, but only achieved ďtackyĒ. I kept expecting to see Ronald McDonald peeking around a corner. Another result of this decorating effort was that there were NO really comfortable chairs anywhere on the ship. The chairs in the buffet dining room only had one arm. Not padded - wood. We spent most of a sea-day on Wednesday roaming the ship trying to find a pair of comfortable seats where we could relax, put our feet up, and read a book for a few hours. Folks, no such thing exists on this ship! All the lounge chairs are in the vicinity of the pool on Lido deck. We never actually sat in one, so they might be OK, but of course the area by the pool is constantly flooded with 120 decibel reggae music from Kooshal (the Lido deck band). You might be able to concentrate on a book while your ears are bleeding, but I sure canít! The chairs spotted along the outside rail at other places are straight back vinyl tube chairs. Not very comfortable for very long. We finally ended up in the Normandie theater. The chairs were slightly less uncomfortable than others and it was quiet. There actually were some quiet places around the ship, but the chairs are NOT suitable for long term occupancy, as they almost all have short backs, no (or only one) arms, and have no foot rests. I assume all the short back chairs were bought in an attempt to make the place seem more spacious. It didnít work very well. We decided that the Sky seemed much more airy and open. And we liked the floor plan better on the Sky.
On this trip, we often ended up in our cabin trying to sit up in our beds to read. (Only one little chair, remember). We have FAR more comfortable seating in our own home. In fact, we have some collapsible chairs with head and foot rests that we have determined we are taking on our next cruise. On the Sky, the forward observation lounge had couches and coffee table/foot rests and was very quiet during the day. Perfect for reading. I notice I have digressed. The lifeboat drill was perhaps excessively complex. We had to muster in a lounge, THEN walk up three flights, THEN move forward 100 feet, THEN stand around in a crowd of hot, sweating people for 20 minutes wondering whether the captain would give in before we gave out. The crew never did take a head count (that I saw) or check participants against the passenger manifest. The lifeboat drill is a pain in the butt, but it has a purpose. Aboard the Sky, participants were checked off the manifest as they arrived at the lifeboat station and a make-up drill was held for those that had missed the first one. I canít figure out how Carnival would give anyone a list of known survivors and missing in the event of a real emergency. After we left port (on time) the cruise director 'Hi Dave' Armour made a bunch of announcements and invited everyone to sign up for shore excursions. They had a little desk set up for this purpose. Woefully inadequate. The line was quite long, and the staff was, well, inadequate. Hereís another area where NCL wins. When we received our tickets from NCL, they included a brochure describing the tours that would be available during the cruise at the various ports of call, thus allowing us to look them over ahead of time and decide what we wanted. Carnival did not do that. In my opinion, the tour personnel aboard the Sky were also friendlier, more helpful, and more knowledgeable about the various tours. There was one guy on the Paradise who was pretty good in this regard. He had been on ALL the tours and knew what they were like. Sorry, I donít recall his name Ė only spoke to him once, briefly.
We actually did attend the early dinner Sunday evening, and managed to eat something even though we had eaten lunch just 3 hours earlier. The menu was just jam packed with garlic. The only thing we could find on the menu that wasnít all garlic-y was prime rib. When my wife eats any significant quantity of the stuff, her body chemistry reacts badly and she really, really smells bad for 2 days. Sleep in a separate room kind of bad. We ate the prime rib. It was really pretty good. Other nights we ate in the main dining room had a more varied menu, so the garlic wasnít always that big a problem. In fact, I suppose this would be a good time to mention that IN GENERAL, the food we had aboard the Paradise seemed to be just a little better than aboard the Sky. It was always fresh, always presented nicely, and did not seem to be over spiced. The head chef is from Germany. The head chef aboard the Sky was from Jamaica. I donít know if that has any bearing, but it might. The big problem we noted on the Paradise however is that there is no 'fall back' entree on the dinner menu. On the Sky, there was always a 'plain' grilled chicken breast or something you could eat if the regular menu items were a little too fancy for your taste. I donít particularly care for fancy over-prepared food myself, nor does my wife, particularly. We ended up eating dinner in the main dining room only 4 times on this cruise because there was nothing on the menu we cared to eat the other days. We only ate lunch in the main dining room ONCE. Thank goodness for the hamburgers, hot dogs, and 24 hour pizzeria. There were also other, more dinner-like entrees at the buffet for lunch. Some were quite good. Ladies and gentlemen, I warn you now, that of the people seated at our table of 8 for dinner, no one was able to locate any popcorn anywhere aboard that ship. This was a serious disappointment to at least 5 of us. At least on the Sky it was available for a few hours per day at the 'Sports Bar'. Enough food talk.
You might like to know about the entertainment aboard the Paradise. I am sorry to say that it just doesnít measure up. We were severely disappointed. They made a big deal about their two 'Las Vegas' productions. Apparently they have never actually been to Las Vegas. We have. The Normandie theater on the Paradise has a very good, state of the art sound and lighting system. But for some reason, they put the 10 piece orchestra right up on the stage. Which, as it turns out is OK because they were the best part of the production. Iím sorry to have to report that although the several dancers they employed might have been OK individually, it looked like they hadnít practiced much as a troupe. They hopped around the stage at various levels of competence, never quite starting together, never moving quite the same way, and never maintaining an even position with respect to the other dancers. Quite frankly, I am embarrassed for them. And they canít claim shipís motion was responsible either Ė the ship was rock steady during their performances. The pair who attempted a few ballet moves were apparently on their first professional outing from dance class. Iím sorry, but they were sloppy, slow, and mostly trite. They did have 2 interesting moves I hadnít seen before however, so there is a little promise for the future there after they polish up some more. The female lead singer wasnít too bad, but her voice is very typical of low budget theater. A little too high pitched and strident for my taste. The male lead singer was apparently unable to hit very many notes reliably. He was all over the place and seemed happy to disregard the melody much of the time. We did not attend the first 'variety' show as we had low expectations following the first 'Las Vegas' example. We did catch parts of it on the in-house televised replay the next day. It looked mostly like 'Hi Dave' the cruise director telling a bunch of old jokes and a singer who needed help from the audience to make her show complete. The only things we saw in the Normandie lounge that were of professional quality were the orchestra and on the last night they had a balancing act performed by a gentleman (and his wife) from Hungary who had been assisting the fine art auctioneer all week. He actually provided a 'Las Vegas' quality show. We did not attend the passenger 'talent night', although from reports we heard later, that may have been the place to look for quality entertainment. I will just mention that aboard the NCL Sky, the production shows actually WERE of 'Las Vegas' quality. And that was on a ship that WAS experiencing a good bit of motion. In a way, itís good that the entertainment in the Normandie lounge wasnít that great -- the theater itself is so poorly designed that we would have been upset if there had been anything worth seeing. You have read it here before -- the sight lines in that theater are HORRIBLE. While sitting in some of the upstairs seats, you canít even see the floor of the stage. There are very few seats where the view is not obstructed by a column. If you are sitting on the main floor and don't happen to be very tall, your head is BELOW the stage.
As far as the other entertainers aboard, we found that the lounge bands were just not that good. The Leonardo lounge contained a country-western type band that was mediocre at best. We donít care for that type of music, but we gave it a quick listen anyway just in case there was some actual talent in there. The hyper-loud reggae band by the pool was hyper loud. They might have been as good as OK if you like hyper-loud reggae music. About every other review seen here complains about the LOUD music by the pool. Donít the cruise lines read these? They should; Iím going to send in a copy of this review. The only kind of music that should be played that loud is Rock and Roll. And even then, it should only be done where there are people who WANT to listen to it. There was a rock Ďní roll band in the Queen Mary lounge. They needed some help. The lead guitar was barely audible during solo work, and the mics werenít balanced very well. We didnít care too much for their repertoire either. Picky, picky, picky. At least we could stand to be in the same room. We didnít actually go into the Rex disco while in operation. Itís mainly for the kids. It seemed pretty loud though, and I guess thatís the main thing. I donít recall ever walking past a lounge where a band was playing (or DJ) and seeing any kind of a crowd. Sometimes, the country-western band would be playing to an EMPTY ROOM. Nobody was in there at all. We were disappointed that the 10 piece orchestra was never allowed to let loose. All they ever played (other than the music for the evening shows) was 'big band' music. They played a few bars of other music as walk-on music during the introduction of the ships officers and we felt that if had they just played some rock Ďní roll, it would have been great. There was one occasion that was designated as a dance session with the orchestra. Again, they played nothing but 'big band' oldies. There were only about a dozen people in the theater that holds a thousand, and maybe 5 couples actually dancing. Carnival has clearly misunderstood the musical tastes of their passengers.
We attended a midnight 'R' rated comedy show. That was pretty good. A second comedian switched over from a different Carnival ship in Grand Cayman. He was pretty good too. 'Hi Dave' the cruise director was personable and rather amusing. I think my wife is in love with him. I heard something that caused me to believe that 'Hi Dave' Armour was new on the ship as cruise director. I hope that is true. That way someone else can take the blame for booking all the mediocre talent that was aboard.(Exceptions as noted) I hope he can make some quick changes and get the quality up to the level that the brochures claim. Good luck Dave. As to our ports of call, 'Hi Dave' gave very informative and amusing port briefings before each port. We attended faithfully and I am confident we were wise to do so. Of course, Carnival has itís 'recommended' shops ashore that they promote, but they donít get rude about it. Dave even admitted that Carnival paid him to promote those shops. The theory is that Carnival checks them out and makes sure they are honorable businesses. Carnival also backs them up with their own 30 day quality assurance program. We even took advantage of that program and filled out the form at the end of the cruise. Of course, I'm sure they mainly use those forms to demonstrate to the shops that their promotion is working, but what the heck. Dave also advised us about cab fares, native attitudes, what to avoid, things to see, etc. We have been on Carribean islands before, but we felt we gained valuable information from Daveís presentations.
Cozumel was as advertised. Yep Ė $4.00 U.S. Mexican blankets (maybe less if you shop/bargain carefully). The shopkeepers were definitely interested in having you look around in their stores, and they stood out in the sidewalk to invite you in. The were just a little 'in your face', but I donít recall any that were obnoxious, and we never felt threatened. They were all very helpful and friendly. Almost TOO helpful. We did make our contribution to the Mexican economy as we figured (correctly) that the best shopping on the cruise would be in Cozumel. My wife owns a retail business and was very agitated at the idea of bargaining with the merchants. She figures that 'the price is the price' just as in the States. After about an hour ashore, she became angry if a shopkeeper WOULDNíT bargain with her. Life is funny, isnít it? We signed up for a sunset cruise tour in Cozumel (through the Carnival tour desk). Seems silly to get off one boat for a ride on another boat, doesnít it? Anyway, it was a three-decker 'party boat' with a band and open bar. Silly games were played, a pinata was abused, various wares were hawked by on-board merchants, some dancing was done, and everyone aboard got pretty friendly by the end of the evening. We even sat with one of the other couples for a meal aboard the Paradise later. As I say, it sounds silly, but it turned out to be pretty pleasant. The only bad thing about this outing was caused by Carnival. For some reason, since we were in port until midnight, they changing the dinner times. Earlier. Our tour started at 6:15. The buffet opened at 6:00. We had NO CHOICE but to eat pizza or go hungry. I suppose we could have ordered room service and eaten it standing up, but we didnít think of that. Anyway, the room service menu appeared to be mostly cold sandwiches. We survived on the pizza and hit the midnight buffet later. As did (apparently) everyone else on the boat. What a mob!
Grand Cayman is where I suffered the biggest disappointment of the cruise. I am a certified diver and had signed up for a SNUBA tour in Grand Cayman. Very early in the morning on the day we were to visit Grand Cayman, a release form for this tour was slipped under our cabin door. I have been on dive tours before, so I expected the usual questionnaire about health, certification, recent dives, release of liability, etc. What I got was a form with a few medical questions, and THREE, count Ďem three separate line items requiring me to release the tour operator from liability for THEIR possible negligence. Folks, I am perfectly willing to release them from liability for MY negligence, but I was darn (< cleaned up for publication) sure not going to release them from THEIRS. All this did was to convince me that the tour operators were pretty sure that they WERE negligent and that they knew it was only a matter of time before they got somebody killed. I went to the pursers desk later that morning to inquire, and got no discussion, no explanation, no argument, no substitution. All I got was an immediate offer to refund the tour. I accepted. The part that STILL perturbs (< cleaned up again) me off is that since there were two other cruise ships in port that same day (and, it was getting late by the time we got ashore) I was unable to arrange any other SCUBA or SNUBA on my own. We would have loved to go to stingray city, but it was way too late for that as well. I went this entire cruise without so much as getting my toes in the ocean. I donít know if this absurdity was solely the fault of the tour operator or if maybe Carnival had something to do with it -- having deeper pockets and all. This alone is enough to put me in a hateful attitude towards Carnival. If this had happened at the FIRST port of call, I think I would have availed myself of Carnivalís Satisfaction Guarantee and taken a refund on the cruise and gotten off the ship. There was the possibility of a single tank dive in Ocho Rios, but even 'Hi Dave' counseled that it was unlikely to be particularly satisfactory. I gave it a pass. Besides, we were already signed up for a tour in Jamaica. We just walked around the shops by the Grand Cayman pier and made a few little contributions to the economy. The retail atmosphere there is pretty similar to here. The shopkeepers stay in the shops and the prices are as posted. One little oddity - one of the shops we went into had prices marked in Grand Cayman dollars. They are actually worth MORE than a U.S. dollar, so anything you wanted to buy here was increased by about 20% if you paid in U.S. Dollars. We left it all there.
We signed up for a ground tour in Jamaica that was to include a botanical garden (Coyoba). We got off the ship and were directed by a tour operator to a place to assemble. I guess some others had been there ahead of us because a minute later another guide came along and asked for ďtwo moreĒ for the tour. We went. That turned out to be a mistake. We were led to a 10 passenger bus that already had 10 passengers in it. But that was OK Ė they had some fold-down seats alongside the normal school bus type seats. I might as well have been riding along sitting on a sharp stick. And, it seems that all the islands in the Carribean got together and outlawed the import of replacement shock absorbers. We never got into a ground vehicle anywhere on this trip that was in what I would consider to be good repair. On this particular trip, the bus driver apparently was a rocket test pilot drop out. We went whipping around some other busses in the lot, rocketed through town, then blasted up ďFern GullyĒ. Which is a paved, dried up river bed that has turned into somewhat of a rainforest and is heavily grown over with a lot of ferns. This 'road' goes 3.5 miles uphill to an altitude of about 1100 feet. Itís a gully. The gully walls are pretty close to the bus windows. The road is narrow and makes a lot of turns (river bed, remember). I swear the driver crossed himself before every turn and made frequent use of the horn. The amazing thing is, although our bus was making the best possible time up that hill, other cars kept passing us. Swear to God. Even around curves. All I could see out the window was a green blur most of the time. When we got to the top, the driver turned right around and started back down. Of course, we were able to go even faster on the downhill trip. I was actually honest-to-god suffering from motion sickness by the time we got back down that hill. The Coyoba Botanical Garden and Museum that we visited next was actually quite pleasant. It is a privately owed garden. A tour guide was provided that pointed out the various species. I have taken to referring to their museum as a ďgarage museumĒ. It was about the size of a garage, and the exhibits appeared to have been made by a guy in another garage. It was somewhat informative as to the history of Jamaica however, so not a total waste. Then, we went to the Soni (not a typo) shopping area - 30 minutes to shop - back on the bus and over to the Taj Mahal shopping area - 30 minutes to shop - back on the bus and on to Dunnís River Falls. We were accosted by sales persons at every step in both markets. They almost insisted that we enter their shops, then followed us around step-by-step trying to get us to buy everything within arms reach. We did not actually feel threatened, but we were much annoyed. 'Hi Dave' had warned that the merchants here were like that. Dunnís River Falls is apparently the main tourist attraction on the island. Even the shopping tours end up there. We were asked if we intended to climb the falls. The description of this tour did NOT indicate that this would be an option, so we were not prepared for water sports. No one on the bus actually got in the water. We were there for an hour admiring the view. The park itself is nice and pretty well maintained. The $6.00 entry fee was included in our package. There is also a 'native market' inside the park. (This doesn't mean you can actually buy natives, just that they are there selling things.) We made the mistake of walking through it. The vendors are VERY aggressive. Much more so than was the case in Cozumel and worse than in town. Back on the bus, back to the ship - all done. After we got off the tour bus, we decided to go back to the Taj Mahal center and look around a little more as we still had 3 hours left in port. Itís only about 2 blocks from the pier so we figured we would walk. As we approached the pedestrian gate to the pier terminal, a crowd of local taxi drivers, vendors, and I donít know what all started walking quickly toward the gate. I slammed on the sneaker brakes and decided I had had as much Jamaican salesmanship as I could stand. We got back on the boat and stayed there. I donít care if I never go back to Jamaica.
Debarkation back in Miami was just about as expected. We waited until our tag color was called, made our way off the ship, found our bags in the big warehouse, and got aboard the bus for the airport. Another plug for United: We got to the airport about 4 Ĺ hours ahead of our flight. The porter at the bus area hinted that maybe he could help us out. He got us on a flight 3 hours earlier Ė no charge (except tip, of course). We gave him our bags, walked through the airport, got a quick bite (in-flight food not so good, remember) and boarded the plane. Left on-time and arrived 20 minutes early. The only problem we had was back at OíHare. United lost our bags IN THE AIRPORT. Well, kind of. They put one cart of luggage on claim carousel #9, and the other cart on claim carousel #6. But they didnít tell anyone. It took about an hour for us to find our luggage - even though it was only 3 carousels away all along.
Hereís the summary: We were satisfied with: the quality of the food, the performance of the cabin attendant, and the cruise director. Also we were happy that the ship didnít run aground and made all ports on time. Good job on the bridge. All the ordinary service personnel were good. Non-smoking a BIG plus. We were dissatisfied with: the (original) handling of our meal seating, our cabin arrangement, our bed(s), our pillows, the layout of the ship, the available dinner menu selections, the quality of on-board entertainment, the comfort of the ship (also often too cold), the handling of the tours, the excess volume of the poolside band, the children at the late shows, the cost of soft drinks ($2.50+), and no popcorn. Even though I enjoyed the smoke-free environment, itís going to take some convincing to get me to cruise with Carnival again. At the end of the cruise, I wasnít nearly so much in the 'I really had a good time' frame of mind as I was at the end of our previous cruise. In fact, I remain somewhat irritated and sort of feel like I 'wasted' a precious week of vacation.