Paradise Followed us to Florida

Who: Rich and Kathy
When: February 16-20, 2012
Where: Tampa to Cozumel and back
Why: Celebrating Life in Florida
Ship: Carnival Paradise

We first cruised the Carnival Paradise out of Long Beach for the 3-night Angels’ Fan Cruise to Ensenada in January, 2011. It took an Angels’ Fan Cruise to get Rich onboard a Carnival ship – my first cruise had been with Carnival on the old Mardi Gras back in 1982 (combined with the opening of Epcot and my first trip to WDW). But Rich had refused to even consider cruising with Carnival – until the Angels’ Fan Cruise. And that cruise surprised both of us. It was so good, we were willing to give Carnival another chance. But we wondered if it was so good because it was out of SoCal and we were with “our people” (Angels Fans) or Carnival was better than we’d thought.

So when we knew we’d be moving back to Florida, we also noticed that the Paradise would be based out of Tampa and thought how fun it would be to sail the same ship from Florida. Looks like we’re not the only “Califloridians” – lol! The itinerary was perfect – embark in Tampa, a day at sea, Cozumel (our favorite port), another day at sea, and return to Tampa. It was close to Valentine’s Day, our half anniversary on the 17th, Rich’s 90-day probation would be up on his new job, and he had to take 3 days off before March 1.

Getting There

Because Buddy (our cat) was still recovering from treatment for his newly-diagnosed Diabetes, we decided we’d feel better if he stayed at the vet’s boarding facility. We can’t say enough about Orlando Cat Hospital – they treat cats only, and the staff is so caring. They’ve grown to love Buddy, and he is our most well-behaved cat when it comes to trips to the vet. In fact, when we brought Buddy in, we registered him and then was given a tour of the boarding facilities. Roy, one of the technicians got so excited and said, “Where’s my Buddy?” and then he walked down the hall to move Buddy’s carrier to be close to him. They also gave us an email address so we could check on him whenever we could log in at sea. We interviewed a new pet sitter for the other 2 cats where they would be staying at home.

We were so nervous about this – we always are with a new pet sitter – and we were missing our fabulous pet sitter in Las Vegas. She was the best we’d ever had. Thankfully, we found her after that terrible first pet sitter in Las Vegas – the one who’d set off our alarm and the alarm company called us while we were at Disneyland. That was only the first thing that had gone wrong with that sitter. So, not knowing who we were really entrusting our cats and home to, we were a bit nervous. We called the pet sitter that morning before we left and she reassured us the kitties would be fine. We dropped off Buddy, and then drove the back way to 4 to Tampa on 429, passing the west entrance to WDW. We were excited, and were feeling some of the pressures leaving our shoulders. It felt good to be setting sail for the Caribbean.

Embarkation The Port of Tampa at Channelside was familiar to us because when we lived in Tampa, we used to frequent some of the restaurants, shops, margarita bars to toast ships sailing away, and just hang out or visit the aquarium. But we had never cruised from there. Ironically, we never cruised from Florida while living in Florida – we always flew in from out-of-state. This would be a first for us – to actually cruise from Florida while living in Florida. The pleasant surprise was discovering valet parking at the port – Rich is all over any opportunity to valet park. And because we’d booked a suite, we also had special VIP check-in – what a way to go! The next thing we knew we were on the ship (around noon) and told our cabin would be ready at 1:30 p.m.

FAB1-1
The first thing we did was head for the pool for the first FAB (frosty adult beverage) of the day

shipbandAnd when the band began playing, we were in Heavenship_flowersRich’s Valentine Gifts Awaited me in Our Suite: Flowers, Champagne, and Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

Sailaway

Once we got the lifeboat drill out of the way (thankfully, no drunken guests looking as if they’d pass out any minute during the drill this time), we made our way back to our large balcony for the sailaway – one of our favorite moments on a cruise. Finally, we were getting to sail out of Tampa Bay under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Sailing under the bridge is a big thing and everybody’s on deck or on their balcony waiting to snap pictures of it.

We still had internet service on our cell phone, and about an hour after sailing Rich noticed an 800 number come across his phone. He ignored it, but then it rang again and so he answered it. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that something was wrong. By the look on his face, I knew something terrible must be happening. I felt sick inside, and by what he was saying on the phone, I knew my fear had come true – the pet sitter couldn’t figure out how to turn off the alarm (even though we’d included directions on the pet sitter form and again above the alarm itself). Anyway, when she couldn’t figure it out, the alarm company called us and turned off the alarm remotely. Once we informed them it was our pet sitter, they said they’d call off the police. Okay, in retrospect, this may not seem like such an emergency. The pets were okay except for being scared of the alarm and this stranger in the house (and why did Buddy go with the parents?). The house was okay, and we knew, for sure, that the alarm worked.

But I began to feel quite panicky over being out to sea with a new pet sitter who seemed incapable of taking care of things. I’d felt uneasy with her, anyway, during the interview, but I’d hoped the main pet sitter would be taking care of our pets. Not true – her assistant was assigned our pets – she seemed good enough with the cats, but, frankly, I didn’t think she was the sharpest knife in the drawer. And that worried me. She seemed too much like the “bad” pet sitter in Vegas before we found the amazing pet sitter. Too bad Valerie couldn’t move with us to Florida. But she was also from California and wanted to move back home. The downside of being at sea is the feeling of being totally disconnected from home. And only living in Florida for 3 months made things worse. We really felt cut off. We wish we’d known somebody in the area we could call and have stop by to make sure everything was okay.

We were getting closer and closer to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge but having a terrible time enjoying ourselves. I wanted to get off the ship right then. I was sure it was impossible to enjoy the cruise at this point. But we soldiered on, trying to calm ourselves down with more champagne, swearing we’d never cruise again, and insisting we were going to find a better rental house once we got home (this house was adding to our discomfort). I think the turning point was when I called Skipper and Lovey (the 2 cats at home) “Mitch & Lori” by mistake (my half siblings I’d been far too responsible for). I knew I’d made a Freudian slip and it was time to let go of control. We’d taken care of our responsibilities the best we could, and it was time for us now.

bridgeApproaching the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (the timing of the sunset and the bridge was perfect)

By the time we’d sailed under the bridge, it was getting dark. Today had been a long day, even though the port had been relatively close by. So we decided to stay in our first night (like we did on the Long Beach to Ensenada cruise), and order room service. We each had a sandwich and went to bed early, looking forward to being rocked to sleep. But the ship was still puttering along and we could barely tell we were moving.

After the pet sitter scare just as we were headed out to sea, we realized we would need the internet package in order to stay in touch with home enough to feel reassured. So the next morning we went down to the Internet Cafe to set up an account. We anticipated how many minutes we might use and chose the corresponding package. This worked out well because then twice a day we could log in from our iPhone and check for the pet sitter’s email. What we did like about this pet sitter is that she would email a photo of the kitties twice a day. That was a first – getting pics of our kitties while away on a trip. After checking the morning’s email, we ordered a pot of coffee from room service and sat out on our verandah, enjoying the views of the deep blue sea. This is Heavenly and what we love about cruising

When we got hungry, we dressed for the pool and headed for the Lido deck for breakfast where we had Raisin Bran, a Danish, and more coffee. Then we moved on to the Serenity deck, which was located aft. This is an adults’ only area with 2 hot tubs and several chaise lounges. It’s a small area and in high demand so we weren’t able to get 2 chairs. But we did snag one, set down our stuff, and soaked in the hot tub, with more spectacular views of the sea. We shared the hot tub with a friendly older couple from Zephyr Hills (not too far from where we lived in Tampa Bay before), and another younger couple. We continued to run into the older couple throughout the cruise. By the time we’d soaked for a while, Rich suggested we go to the main pool area for some music.

We found 2 chaise lounges on the upper deck overlooking the pool and the steel drum band – way cool. An older couple (I admired the woman’s dark red pedicure and polka dot swimsuit – could this be Millie? lol!) next to us were sipping tropical drinks, but we weren’t ready for those yet. We soaked up the sun, music, and atmosphere until lunch, and then we went to the poolside grill for hamburgers and fries. Why do they always taste even more delicious by the pool or on the beach? Yum, yum! After lunch we went back to our cabin and decided to get a couple of beers from the mini-bar, sit out on the verandah, sip and soak up the atmosphere some more. Heavenly, once again! Then it was nap time.

Tonight was “elegant” night, which, on Carnival, can mean anything. Last time Rich wore a tie and jacket, but this time, decided to leave the jacket at home. I wore slacks, my new leopard print top with black lace trim and a black jacket. The jacket was overkill here, so I ended up not wearing it. We were noticing that the So Cal cruise was dressier and many more people were taking advantage of the photographers, including us last time. There was quite a hubbub of activity around all photographer stations last cruise. This time it was pretty dead. We couldn’t help but compare the different vibe on both cruises – same ship – one from Long Beach on the Pacific side of Mexico – the other from Tampa on the Caribbean side of Mexico.

Maybe this is a good time to talk about the Tampa crowd, which is what the ship was mostly made up of. Before we moved back to Florida, we thought Tampa would be the place we would return – mostly because after living in the desert, we were craving a water-based lifestyle. Plus, we were more familiar with the neighborhoods, compared to Orlando, which is tricky, finding a good neighborhood not on top of the tourists and away from the crime areas. So I was a bit disappointed when we found ourselves moving back to Orlando. But after this cruise, I see the wisdom in God’s plan – Tampa was where we felt like fish out of water before and we felt it over and over again on this cruise. I was definitely missing the vibe and the people on the Long Beach cruise – Tampa made me feel so cut off from the familiar.

By the time we arrived at the dining room, which was around 7:30, we were told there would be a 40-minute wait, so we took the beeper and headed for the nearby piano bar where others were waiting, although it was quite dark in there. We each ordered a dirty vodka martini, shaken; not stirred. The waiter was fabulous. And while sitting there, we chatted with a dairy farmer from Iowa who was there with his daughters. Well, he asked if there was music in the bar and then asked if I was the singer – lol! Was it my leopard top and red glasses? Or maybe it was easy to impress an Iowa dairy farmer. He was probably just teasing, as I was when I answered, “Yes, I’m the singer.” Whatever it was, he started something in my head and I found myself sitting at the piano later, wishing I was the singer. Sitting there felt so right! I’m thinking maybe I seriously need to give up writing for my music so that I can get a job on a cruise ship after retirement. 🙂

After they left, an attractive blonde woman with a distinguished looking older gentleman sat down at the piano and we looked at them and said, “That’s Cyn and Cary” (from Real Women Wear Red). We took pictures but it was too dark to really see anything.

Anyway, after about half an hour of waiting, our beeper went off and we were seated in the flexible dining part of the dining room. Don’t be fooled that you’re dining at your own private table instead of at one of the communal tables They’ve just spaced out 8 tables so that you think you’re dining alone, but the waiter will treat the entire row of single tables as one dining party. This means he/she will take everybody’s order at once and you will be served as if you are one table. And don’t be surprised if other people expect you to chat it up with them – people are far more group and social oriented here than they are in California, generally speaking, where they respect your privacy.

While we waiting for our first course, we noticed “Cyn and Cary” walk by and were seated at the opposite end of the room. Darn! We wanted to sit with them – lol! Anyway, we had fun “stalking” them and writing little scenes throughout the cruise. They were the only interesting people on the cruise (besides us, of course) – lol! The truth is, the 4-day cruise from Tampa seemed to attract either the retired set or the party crowd, and we were neither. Elegant night or formal night means Lobster but I wasn’t in the mood for that. The Prime Rib called to me so both of us ordered that. For starters, Rich had the Minestrone Soup and I had a Black Pepper Shrimp Cocktail. The Prime Rib was tender, but what a disappointment. The food is definitely hit and miss on Carnival – we couldn’t believe this was their “elegant” night.

We skipped dessert and headed for our favorite hangout – the Rotterdam Bar. But talk about another disappointment. It had changed completely. On the Long Beach cruise, we were here every night. The bar service was fabulous – the waiter lit Rich’s cigar and remembered our names, cabin number, and Carnival number – he was amazing. We’d watch officers and guests come and go, have a quick smoke and/or drink, maybe hear a joke or two from the Comedy Show and then come out laughing about how bad it was. This place was dead this time – no wonder – no smoking at all in this lounge – and definitely no cigars on the menu. We left after our after dinner drink (Scotch for Rich and Amaretto for me), and never went back. What a huge disappointment!

Again, I couldn’t help but compare the 2 cruises, and this one, while fun, did not have the same vibe as the one from Long Beach. What it did have is warmer, balmy weather, and the gorgeous waters of the Caribbean and one of our favorite ports, Cozumel, where we docked the next day. But that night we took a quick peek into the showroom, listened to one song, did some shopping where I got a fun, fashion ring, and then we headed to our cabin, all cozy and welcoming with turn down service, and we sat out on the verandah before turning in.

Cozumel

The main attraction for sailing out of Tampa is access to the Western Caribbean – our favorite itinerary – and Cozumel in particular. We’d done several different shore excursions in the past. But this time, we decided to relax and just see what we felt like doing. After checking on the cats, we ordered room service breakfast – a pot of coffee, orange juice, Raisin Bran, and a couple of Danish. This would become our regular breakfast. All arrived quickly, except for the coffee cups. We called back and they were delivered pronto. We enjoyed our breakfast out on the Verandah, enjoying the varied shades of blue water. We saw the Millennium (the “Millie”) pull in (pictured below), and sometime that day, the Destiny and Elation arrived.

Around 10 a.m., we got off the ship to explore the shops in the Puerto Maya pier area. The first thing that got our attention was a restaurant/cantina called “Three Amigos” – we made a note to return there for lunch.

We browsed a few shops. At one, we bought some Tylenol (the stairs on the ship were aggravating my knee). We’d considered buying some Bengay because I forgot the Icy/Hot but our Spanish wasn’t good enough to feel comfortable with buying this particular brand.

In another shop, we thought it fitting that we purchase a cross on this side of Mexico  since we had done the same in Ensenada. Then we stopped to listen to 3 Mariachis sing “La Bamba” – we offered up some cash and then continued exploring the area. We noticed Pancho’s Backyard and had heard good things about them, but something about Three Amigos caught our attention so we headed back for lunch.

We found a table overlooking the gorgeous azure waters of the Caribbean, ordered a Margarita for each of us, and guacamole with chips.

Then Rich ordered a steak burrito and I had the fish tacos – all delicious and enormously filling. The service was fabulous – there was both canned music and live music (those same Mariachis strolled over and sang to us). One of the waiters pointed out an iguana on the rocks, and all in all, we had a fabulous time. Mexico is our favorite non U.S. country.

We sipped and enjoyed the view for as long as we could.

We made our way back to the ship, soaked in the jacuzzi on the Serenity deck, and then took our afternoon nap. But right before our nap, somebody knocked on the door and when I opened it, he said, “Room service.” I told him we hadn’t ordered room service. And he offered a tray of yummy desserts and an “apology” card for forgetting the coffee cups at this morning’s room service breakfast. Wow! That was a first for us on any cruise line or hotel, for that matter.

Dinner and SailawayBecause we love sailaways so much, we decided we should eat dinner as soon as the Elation Dining Room opened at 5:45 – all passengers were supposed to be back onboard by 6:30 for a sail away time of 7 p.m.

We were seated next to a couple from Erie, PA and this was their first and probably their last cruise. They were definitely not into it. Like so many, they had chosen a short cruise to “feel it out” but while that may give you a bit of an idea what a cruise is like, you really need a 7 night cruise to get the full cruise experience. We’ve been on both and there is definitely a difference in the activities and atmosphere.

Anyway, after last night’s boring dinner, I chose to order off the “always available menu” – steak, baked potato, caesar salad – all delicious! Rich ordered from both – the navy bean soup from the night’s menu, the salmon and baked potato from the other menu. And when I told him how yummy the hint of anchovy in the caesar salad was and offered him a bite, he then ordered his own salad. It was that good! Service was wonderful – this is one thing Carnival does really well!

So full, I didn’t order dessert but Rich ordered the apple pie ala mode, and of course, we ended up sharing the entire thing – at his insistence, of course. After the first bite, I was happy to oblige.

After dinner, we headed back to the cabin, broke out the champagne and enjoyed another gorgeous sailaway from Cozumel, enjoying the rest of the evening in our suite. This is Heaven!

Today was another day at sea and this is what made this itinerary so perfect for a short cruise. We had our usual room service breakfast at about 7 a.m. – I didn’t sleep well at all the previous night – my knee was really hurting due to all of those stairs. At the time, it didn’t hurt at all and I could easily climb the stairs. But stairs are probably the worse thing for arthritic knee. I’ve worked up to walking all over Disney for several hours at a time so I was surprised that my knee would hurt so much on the cruise. We did get some BenGay in the ship’s gift shop, but even that didn’t help that much.

We continued to sit out on our Verandah after our breakfast, sip our coffee, check in with the pet sitter and enjoy the photos of our kitties. Later in the morning, we got dressed for the pool, stopped off at the Grill and had a second breakfast – ham, bacon, potatoes, sausage, etc. This was the first we’d eaten there for breakfast on this cruise. Then we snagged a couple of chaises by the eating area, but after a few minutes, decided it was too boring. It was about 10:15 and the band wouldn’t start until 11:00. So we made our way to the Serenity Deck, knowing that all chaises would be taken – and they were. We put down our stuff and got in the hot tub to soak. Rich spied two people from Tampa getting up, so he got out and snagged the chaises.

We sunned ourselves and it was getting quite hot by then and noticed people cooling off in the outdoor shower so we did the same. Then Rich went inside to get a couple of drinks from the bar since there was no bar service in the serenity area. These were delicious. Around noon, we headed back to the cabin with a stop for cookies (our favorite sweet on Carnival). Needing some private time away from the crowds, we ordered room service for lunch. Rich had a steak and cheese sandwich with potato salad and I had a caesar salad with shrimp and potato salad. Then it was nap time, wake-up Diet Coke out on the verandah. Here’s a pic of just part of this large verandah, where we spent so much time.

What Cruising is All About for Us

The one big production show was scheduled for this night – the first show was at 7 p.m. – so we dressed for dinner and arrived at the Elation Dining Room a few minutes before opening at 5:45 p.m. What a crowd every night – so many early diners on this cruise, but, then, there were so many passengers from neighboring towns in Tampa Bay (like those called “Heaven’s waiting room”). We chatted with a party of 4 retired folks and were seated next to them to our left and two women were seated on our right. The older folks were far more interesting – lol!

This was the best meal of the cruise. I had the delicious crab cake for an appetizer (had apple in it), Rich had French onion soup, which was also delicious, he tells me. Rich ordered the spring chicken with potato gratin (his favorite potatoes on Carnival and what he’d been looking forward to the whole cruise, although they called it “diced potatoes.”) I had the seafood pasta and another caesar salad, although by the third time, it was losing its appeal. We each had a glass of Murphy Goode Merlot. For dessert, we both had a slice of Baked Alaska. It was a very satisfying meal. We made our way to the show lounge for one of the best shows at sea – Shout! It was awesome!

We sat in a booth on the side and were able to clap, dance, and shout along with other “Boomers” who joined us when they saw our participation. But I felt like I was the only one moving and dancing to the “Surf City” music – well, most people from Tampa are from the midwest and I, of course, am a Southern California girl.

For the first time on the cruise (besides seeing “Cyn and Cary”), I felt connected to home. I’d thought that if we sailed on the same ship we’d sailed out of Long Beach on, that I would feel the connection in Tampa. Not so. The same feelings overcame me that overcame me back when we lived in Tampa – fish out of water – and felt totally cut off being out to sea with all of these Tampa people.

Then I knew why we hadn’t moved back to Tampa and why Orlando would always be our “place” in Florida – so many more Californians in Orlando. So perhaps we’d cruised too soon after our move here, or maybe next time we’ll cruise from the other side of the state, because I was starting to feel really lonely. However, the music really helped! It was an awesome show. We returned to our cabin and packed our suitcase and put it outside between the required times of between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Our Comfy, Cozy Bed with Turndown Service

Our Favorite Towel Animal

The next morning we ate breakfast for the first time in the dining room. It was “open seating” but, of course, they sat us at a round table of 12, which was actually rather interesting. Big enough to not feel on the spot about carrying the conversation but not awkward like a rectangular table for 10 I once had for an entire cruise. 🙂 Rich had the sliced bananas that I’d raved about since my first cruise in 1982 (and they lived up to their reputation), raisin bran, and some hash. I also ordered the hash but with 2 eggs over easy and we shared an order of toast, and coffee, of course.

We waited in the library for our priority disembarkation (the same place we waited in on our Long Beach cruise) and then we were off the ship, through customs, and off to the valet desk where we drove home, picked up Buddy at the vet, and home, sweet, home where our other kitties awaited us. After the cruise, we felt even more connected to the Orlando area and are looking forward to getting even more settled.

About Kathy

Novelist, Singer/Songwriter, Music Producer