ENGAGE YOUR PLANET
Sailing with Carnival Cruise Line aboard Carnival Paradise to Cuba, I had some time to look around the ship and think. Contemplating stuff was part of the deal sailing during the first season to Cuba for United States citizens, and many did. Comparatively void of top deck attractions, Carnival Paradise found cruise travelers accustomed to having their time occupied by features on larger ships doing something else. They were talking to one another with a frequency reminiscent of the most luxurious of small ships where an engaging conversation is the order of the day. That was different, unexpected and got me looking around for other unique features of the Carnival Paradise travel experience.
The Port Of Tampa Is Easy to get in and out of. Cruise line transfers run like clockwork back and forth from Tampa International Airport (TPA) to the Port of Tampa if needed. I did not. Driving from Orlando to Tampa makes no sense for me. The process of driving to the airport then making it to the gate takes longer. I drove from Orlando and paid a reduced price of $57 by using Parkway Parking, across the street from the Port of Tampa (which would have been $75, $0 disabled with modified vehicles).
Arriving at Parkway Parking for embarkation, I walked across the street to the port which was a pretty good walk over uneven surfaces. Not your thing? There is a shuttle bus that runs back and forth all day. On the front end though, they were waiting for the van to fill up which would never, ever work for me when the ship is right across the street calling to me. On the return, a more pleasant experience walking off early with my luggage: direct to my car which was pulled up and waiting with the engine running. That more than made up for the slight service fail at the beginning of the deal.
Also easy at the Port of Tampa: boarding Carnival Paradise. Faster To The Fun and/or Platinum VIFP and above past guest status got us on in the first wave where we went directly to our cabins to drop luggage and move along with the Fun.
Debarkation Is Different when coming from Cuba, I assume because we have come from a Communist country currently under a trade embargo with the United States and/or they want to be sure no Cubans snuck into the country. They might also be looking a bit closer for missing passengers who used the opportunity to reunite with family members in Cuba and stayed behind. “It just takes longer.” said Cruise Director Jaime at a debarkation talk before arrival. Indeed, it did seem to take a bit longer to get the process going but then things moved along quite nicely.
New on this cruise, an answer to “So is it correct to say disembarkation or debarkation?” See photo above.
When Would You Like Your Room Cleaned? is a question I have wished cabin stewards would ask passengers for years. Frankly, if it ever happened, I thought it would be a tiny ship with few passengers where I saw it first. Nope: 2000+ passenger Carnival Paradise was the scene within minutes of arriving in my Oceanview stateroom, when Henri brought me the menu and explained the selections.
What a great idea: For those who like to sleep in or just take their time getting going, once a day at evening turndown time would be highly preferred. Passengers who retire to their stateroom early find themselves hanging the “Snoozin” sign out before cabin stewards begin service. I chose evening service thinking that would be the most likely time for me to be out of the stateroom anyway. I could have chosen both, no problem.
I got to thinking about this move and smiled. ‘What a great way to help the cabin stewards get their jobs done efficiently and make passengers happy at the same time’ and couldn’t shake that thought for the rest of the journey. The intuitive move on cleaning staterooms would not be the last true innovation that directly improved the traveler experience; something we are all over here.
Great Sunsets And Sunrises can be had at home but can be surprisingly wonderful along the route we sailed from the Port of Tampa. It was two days at sea and a stop in Cozumel plus a full day and overnight in Havana for us.
Lots Of Open Deck Space is the upside of not a lot of top deck attractions on Carnival Paradise. That brings plentiful space for on deck gatherings like a first-class Caribbean sail away party that is actually a party with party people doing party-like things in a party atmosphere that flows into the night.
The theme here: Fun. And what’s more Fun than a party? That would be a party to kick off your Caribbean cruise and get everyone in the right frame of mind as the big ship finally starts to move away from land and all the cares and woes of those along for the ride melt away. The Sailaway party is the salt that melts the ice. Some cruise lines do it better than others. Carnival nailed it here.
Sailaway Like It Should Be Done starts with lots of open deck space but that’s just giving room for something to happen. The ‘what happens?’ part is the result of a very well executed plan reminiscent of our former gold bar standard for sail away parties on any cruise line: Empress of the Seas a decade ago. Then, we were impressed that the ship’s singers and dancers seemed to explode out onto the deck, making contact with passengers to get them excited about what is coming over the course of the sailing.
It was a similar scene on Carnival Paradise with one exception that put this over the top for all time favorite sail away: it never ended. Cruise Director Jaime invested a great amount of time and personal effort for that sail away show to get the ball rolling then kept that momentum going until we got off the ship. I can not recall that happening in that way before. Impressive.
The Crew is a topic we hit on a lot here, mainly because we identify with working people I suppose. Basically, the crew of cruise ships do their jobs and get paid like other working people, just at sea. Passengers often complicate that fact by feeling sorry for crew because they are away from their families for months at a time. That’s an uncomfortable road to go down at best, mainly because most travelers do not come on a cruise to feel sorry for others along the way. I did not think about that until this sailing because the crew’s attitude was such that the topic never came up. Ever.
Perhaps smart win/win moves like that menu for when I wanted my stateroom serviced contribute to a generally happier crew. I believe there are more programs in place like that which have added up to happy for all. Another smart move that indirectly affected crew attitude: drink pricing (down) and selection (up). It’s no longer ‘hmm, I could buy a case of beer for what that bucket cost me’ but ‘let me sign this and gladly add on an additional tip on top of the automatic gratuity added to each beverage.
Increased staffing combined with those lower prices brings crew topping off buckets of beer with ice on a hot day…like all the time. Put away your pretentions, this is a Caribbean cruise, let’s think like this is a Caribbean cruise which means frozen drinks and buckets of beer. The enabled crew hit the ground running, doing things for guests I do not see on luxury ships.
Photo Opportunities extend beyond the cars, although they surely are something to see for anyone. I remember a long time client of mine asking me decades ago if we (U.S. citizens) would ever be able to go to Cuba like we do another island in the Caribbean. He wanted to book that really badly but would have to wait for years to do so. Why? “I just want to see the cars!”, and indeed many came for just that reason. Actually, people come to Cuba for three main things other than if they have a family heritage there: Cars, Rum, Cigars.
All three provide unique photo opportunities. Better yet, most shore excursions include all three as part of the cultural exchange requirement that gets around the still-in-place United States trade embargo against Cuba. <–click on that link and you will learn all you ever wanted to know about that embargo. Or you can wait until you get on board. There will be speakers along the way.
Interesting if not unexpected and/or surprising, a whole bunch of travelers who concluded by the time this was over; “This was our best Carnival Cruise ever”. What seemed to be about the same number thought “Cuba was good but once is enough”…which, frankly, I thought I might say too as I had heard this reflective comment frequently prior to going myself. Nope: I’ll go back and bet other travelers do to if Cuba tourism continues along the path they seem to be going on. Freeze that process or take it back a step or two, maybe not. This one was a solid win for a number of reasons yet to be discussed here. That’s coming up.