Living in Central Florida gives us many pluses when it comes to a quick getaway for fun, relaxation or vacation. We have the sun, beaches at a short driving distance, champion golf courses, fishing options, amusement parks galore and even some last minute cruises similar to those available in Sydney! There is also a fun alternative to driving or flying away for a few days of fun—so pack your bags and search for the next cruise leaving out of our home ports. We have two alternatives for sailing away, as Tampa and Port Canaveral ports are within easy, convenient driving reach for any of our SVA readers. An affordable vacation, usually with additional discounts for seniors and Florida residents, comes accompanied by luxurious decor, the best of service, gourmet dining, first-class entertainment, relaxing spas and the beauty of the sea surroundings that put a magical touch around the entire experience. If you’re looking at more affordable vacations because you’re concerned that you might not be able to cover the cost of a more expensive one, you could always consider whether to apply for a loan to help fund your travels.
The Port of Tampa offers cruises from three lines: Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, offering the variety of 4, 5, 7 and 14-day cruise itineraries. Out of the eastern location of Port Canaveral, you may embark on 1 to 7-day excursions aboard vessels from Carnival Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International. You are sure to find a cruise that suits your schedule and fires your imagination.
Recently, our family returned to an already-visited route with Carnival Cruise Lines out of the Port of Tampa, a 5-day cruise with stops in Grand Cayman and Cozumel on the ship Paradise. The Paradise, the eighth and last vessel in Carnival Cruise Lines’ Fantasy-class cruise ships, was built in 1998, and still remains a beautiful ship, spiffy-clean, easy to navigate and filled with many
attributes. Looking for a relaxing getaway paired with the pampering and superb treatment we always receive from this cruise line, we sailed out of the Tampa channel with wonderful weather and bursting excitement. As usual, we encountered wonderful service in every corner of the ship and a comfortable cabin that was kept impeccable by a very friendly maintenance crew with attention
to every detail, including animal shape towel folding and turndown service with chocolates on the pillow. Standard inside and outside cabins are spacious enough, at an average size of 185 square feet, and have ample storage and closet space. A plus while traveling with Carnival is that standard cabins include robes and the “Comfort Bed” sleep system featuring deluxe plush mattresses, soft duvets, high quality linens and upgraded pillows. We prefer cabins with a view: Even though time spent in the
room is minimal, except for sleeping, it is enjoyable to peek at the passing waves with the first morning light or gaze at the twinkling stars in the clear night sky. Another aspect that we love as part of the Carnival standard is the excellent menu selections in their evening dining experience. Travellers may choose an earlier sitting at 6:15 p.m. or a later one at 8:15 p.m. Here is where
you are sure to be wowed by the fresh options and varied selections, which include fish, beef, specialty lamb and premium seafood, including Maine lobster tail during the gala evening. All the dishes we tried during this voyage (and earlier vacations) were delicious, from appetizers to soups to warm, fresh varieties of breads and rolls, to salads, gourmet main courses and extravagant, decadent desserts, all deliciously prepared and beautifully presented. There is a standard, unvaried menu as well, with home-style items including tender sirloin and vegetarian dishes. In the dining room, we encountered wonderful service with very personal attention to every detail and every personal need. Since we were listed as press-related guests, we had the added bonus of nightly visits from our elegant and gracious Maître d’, Valentin, as well as the food operations manager, Richard, the Maître d’ from the other restaurant, Yusuf, and even had several encounters with the ship’s head chef, Jay, who was kind enough to offer to cook some special dishes, not on the menu, from his native India. We were also fortunate to be invited on a private galley tour by Jay and Yusuf, where they explained the secrets in the intricate process of the preparation of the many thousands of individual dishes served on a daily basis, not only in the restaurants, but the buffets, deli and 24-hour pizzeria. It is amazing to see the amount of work, the precision and effective ways in which the entire food operation functions, while also keeping in mind safety and protection of the environment through careful recycling, which includes food waste that is reprocessed and released in the ocean as nourishment for marine life.
Our trip was also highlighted by the fun atmosphere, which is the soul of the Carnival family. Activities are planned and advertised in a daily flyer, fit for every taste, from the early riser looking for exercise routines to those who enjoy trivia games to fun activities for all ages, including children and teen clubs, art gallery shows, shopping specials and evenings filled with live music, karaoke, dancing, comedy, Las Vegas-style shows or a test of luck in the casino. Then there is something to look forward to at the ports of call, where there is plenty of time to enjoy a booked tour from the knowledgeable cruise team, or you may venture out on your own to enjoy the paradisiacal shores. In our first stop, Grand Cayman, there are pristine white sand beaches with amazing views of coral reefs filled with colorful fish. Some may be a bit crowded, but there are spots in the famous Seven Mile Beach or more secluded points like Cayman Kai or Rum Point that are just a cab ride away. The island also celebrates marine life at Stingray City, an unforgettable experience where you can interact with the majestic sea creatures, or at Cayman Turtle Farm (both available as part of ship tours). There is a plethora of dutyfree shops selling everything from jewels to liquor for those not inclined to spend their days doing water sports. Our next stop, in the Mexican tropical island of Cozumel, is always a pleasant experience. This is Mexico’s largest Caribbean island although it measures only 28 miles long by 10 miles wide. Its position off the coast of the
Yucatán Peninsula blesses the island with spectacular coral reefs, which makes this destination perfect for the scuba or snorkeling fan. There are plenty of restaurants or small resorts offering cruisers the option to spend the day by the beach, but with restaurants, bars, music, pools and other services available. Our usual stop is Mr. Sancho’s, where there is plenty of shade, varied
menu, clean restrooms a pool; massage area and floating activity zone at the beach are both extra. Cozumel also offers shopping deals on jewelry, Mexican crafts, T-shirts and other souvenirs, mostly in the main town of San Miguel. As the ship sails home, there is one last day of fun, to enjoy the sun by the pool or on the spacious sun decks.
There are still many activities throughout and wonderful food to be enjoyed in the different venues. The vacation comes to an end, and it is a moment of mixed feelings as we get ready to disembark, but we take with us all the memories of wonderful days at sea. Words cannot express how thankful we are for the treatment received by the very professional individuals met onboard the Paradise, from the food and hotel service industry administration to the wait and bartending staff, the room attendants, and all who do so much work behind the scenes of dining and glamorous surroundings. You keep the ship in such tip-top shape, sailing week after week, pleasing each and every group, family or individual cruiser who is sure to become, as we have, loyal members of
the Carnival Cruise family. Very special thanks to: Seth Grunes of Carnival Cruise Lines, Nancy Clark and Paradise crew Valentin,
Yusuf, Richard, Steve, Liz and Jay.
By Lourdes Saenz