Setting out on a FunShip Voyage to Cuba!

The Carnival Paradise passes the historic El Morro Castle in Havana, Cuba, on its first voyage to the city on Friday, June 30, 2017. Photo courtesy of Sven Creutzmann/Carnival Cruise Line.

August 14, 2017

Today, I embarked Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Paradise in her homeport of Tampa, Florida to set sail on one of Carnival’s newest and most unique itineraries: a five-night voyage to Havana, Cuba.

Carnival Paradise arrived in Havana for the first time on June 30 of this year, becoming the first Carnival ship in the company’s 45-year history to ever visit Cuba. All of this was made possible by the easing of travel restrictions against the island nation by the U.S. Government – though how long this will all last is anyone’s guess.

Cuban and American flags…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…adorn Carnival Paradise’s soaring atrium. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This isn’t my first visit to Cuba. As a Canadian, I’ve traveled here in the past as part of Celestyal Cruises’ Cuba Cruise product that has historically been aimed at the Canadian market. During seven days, we circumnavigated Cuba, and I fell in love with the country and its people.

Carnival’s entry into Cuba is a very big deal. Not only does it give American and international guests the opportunity to visit Cuba aboard a FunShip, it also has the potential to reinvigorate the Caribbean cruise market with new – and much-needed –  destination possibilities.

To kickstart this, Carnival has deployed Carnival Paradise on a handful of four-and-five-night itineraries to Cuba this year.  They are:

As you can see, the five-night voyages are rarer than the four-night, Cuba-only cruises. I’m on the Five Night Cuba with Key West itinerary, which I love: Key West is one of my favourite places to visit, and I’m really enjoying the whole Ernest Hemingway connection between Key West and Havana (the famous author lived – and drank – in both cities). In fact, you may be surprised to know that Key West is only 106 miles (170.5 kilometres) north of Havana; closer to Cuba than Miami.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Additionally, Carnival has just announced more sailings to Cuba for the 2018 season, along with a month-long drydock for Carnival Paradise this coming February. More on that later in the Voyage Report.

Our full itinerary onboard Carnival Paradise:

Carnival Paradise - To Cuba from Tampa

Monday, August 14, 2017Tampa, FloridaEmbark4:00pm
Tuesday, August 15At Sea
Wednesday, August 16Key West, Florida8:00am5:00pm
Thursday, August 17Havana, Cuba8:00amOvernight
Friday, August 18Havana, Cuba / At Sea6:00am
Saturday, August 19Tampa, Florida8:00amDisembark

Embarkation in Tampa

Tampa’s Terminal 3, as seen from onboard Carnival Paradise. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Boarding Carnival Paradise in Tampa was a breeze. With my Faster to the Fun Pass (which is well worth the money), I was able to go from curbside to ship in less than 19 minutes. But even standard embarkation didn’t look as bad as in some terminals (I’m looking at you, Long Beach!). It also doesn’t hurt that Tampa’s cruise staff are exceedingly friendly, from the porters to security to check-in. Sailing from Tampa seems far more civilised than Florida’s other juggernaut ports, Port Everglades and Miami.

Carnival Paradise: Ahead of Her Time

Carnival Paradise is seen in this 1998 press photo issued at the time of her maiden voyage. Note the “No Smoking” symbol just aft of the bridge wings. Aaron Saunders collection.

It may sound strange, but I was over the moon to board the 19-year old Carnival Paradise for the first time today. Embarkation never gets old, and I was all smiles as I stepped off the gangway and into the ship’s six-storey atrium.

The last of Carnival’s trendsetting Fantasy Class ships, Carnival Paradise debuted in 1998 and has two interesting claims to fame.

The “No Smoking” symbol, painted over, is still visible on the sides of Carnival Paradise. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Firstly, she was the world’s first purpose-built non-smoking ship. When she first entered service, huge “no smoking” symbols were affixed to her sides. So serious was Carnival about Paradise’s non-smoking status that even the contractors building the ship in Finland weren’t allowed to light up. As a guest, the penalty for doing so was steep: a $250 fine and immediate disembarkation.

Carnival Paradise was way ahead of her time. Unfortunately, the no-smoking rule was put to bed in 2004 due to lower-than-expected revenues; guests have been able to smoke in designated areas of the ship ever since.

Carnival Promenade aboard Carnival Paradise, Deck 9, facing aft. This attractive space links nearly all of the ship’s public venues together. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Paradise has some of Carnival’s most distinct interior design, including the use of repeating emerald Faberge eggs throughout the ship. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The ship’s other claim to fame is more technical in nature. Along with Carnival Elation, Carnival Paradise was built with Azipod propulsion: giant outboard motors that eliminate the need for traditional rudders and shaft-driven propellers. This was a major departure from the rest of the Fantasy Class, the remainder of which all features traditional propulsion systems.

The resplendent Rotterdam Martini Bar is representative of public rooms aboard Carnival Paradise, all of which pay homage to the classic ocean liners of yesteryear. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

So why should you care? Azipod propulsion was in its infancy back in 1998. Today, many new cruise ships feature azimuthing podded propulsion, which aids in reducing fuel consumption and provides a smoother ride thanks to reduced vibration as opposed to traditional shaft-driven propellers. And since my stateroom aboard Carnival Paradise is at the back of the ship, a smoother ride is very important to me.

My Stateroom: M257

My stateroom, M257, located aft on Main Deck 5. The drapes open to reveal a picture window. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

My home for the next five days is Category 6B Oceanview stateroom M257. On Carnival’s Fantasy Class ships, ever stateroom is preceded by a letter that indicates which deck you’re on. M257, then, signifies that this stateroom is located on Main Deck, the second-to-last accommodations deck. Balcony staterooms are few and far between on most Fantasy Class ships, so odds are good that you’ll be staying in an Oceanview stateroom like this one (though Insides and Suites are also available).

Looking back towards the corridor door. These rooms are decently-sized, and should be comfortable for two fully-grown adults. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

One look and you can see how far Carnival has come in 19 years. Room accents, including bedside reading lights, closet door handles, and stateroom doors themselves, are done in a pink-ish shade that seems to intensity depending on the time of day and lighting. The carpeting is red; the ceiling and bathroom tiles are done in a rosé hue. The rest is a sea of browns and earthtones that makes the room look dark, even when it’s not.

On the plus side, at 185 square feet, my Oceanview cabin is more than spacious enough. There are three closets (two with doors, one without), all of which should be adequate for a couple traveling for just five days together. A small desk/vanity area is located next to the closets, and has four drawers for extra storage.

All staterooms feature Carnival’s signature comfy beds…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and a vanity/writing desk that should be adequate for most tasks. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Electrical outlets are limited to one North American-style plug, and one two-pronged style European plug (bringing a converter or adapter along is a good idea). Power strips aren’t the best idea: you run the risk of overloading a system that was never designed to handle the electrical requirements of 2017. Play it safe and swap devices out to charge them.

Bring An Adapter: you’ll only find one North American-style outlet in standard oceanview and interior staterooms aboard Carnival Paradise. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

One interesting thing that’s missing from oceanview staterooms aboard Carnival Paradise is a mini-fridge. You also won’t find a hair dryer in staterooms and suites aboard Carnival Paradise. You can see which ships have hair dryers by clicking here.  Your stateroom steward can also procure one for you.

The bathroom is small but functional. Instead of the modular design on Carnival’s newer ships, bathrooms aboard Carnival Paradise feature a vanity in the center of the room, with a shower stall and toilet off to opposite sides. Bath gel and shampoo are mounted to the wall of the shower in dispensers, and are standard Carnival. Interestingly, the shower is substantially larger than I would have expected.

Stateroom bathrooms feature a larger-than-average shower…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…along with a sink, behind-mirror storage, and a toilet. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Despite the fact that I’m not a fan of the colour scheme, the room is extremely comfortable and cozy. If you’ve sailed on other Carnival ships before, you’ll feel right at home here on Carnival Paradise, which still sports the same great beds and pillows as the rest of the FunShip fleet.

Setting Sail from Tampa

After the mandatory muster drill, Carnival Paradise dropped her lines just after 4pm and we pushed away from Tampa’s Terminal 3. The ship is very quiet in operation, and sails with a steady, self-assured manner. Two hours later, we passed under the Skyway Bridge and out into the main shipping lanes on the eastern coast of Florida.

As pool drinks flow…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and guests flock to the open decks…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…Carnival Paradise sails from Tampa. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The onset of dusk, as seen from the domed roof of Carnival Paradise’s soaring atrium. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

We only need to make about eight knots in order to reach Key West on Wednesday morning. Until then, there’s plenty of time to settle into this great ship for the first night onboard.

I find it interesting that some of my cruise routines have been in place since Carnival Paradis entered service. When I started cruising 19 years ago, I’d always lay in bed and read the daily program for the following day before turning in for the night. It helps build excitement for the day ahead, somehow.

That’s how I’m planning to turn in tonight. Old habits die hard…

Making our way into the Caribbean Sea aboard Carnival Paradise. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report from onboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Paradise in Cuba continues tomorrow, with our first day at sea and a look at Carnival Paradise. Follow along with our latest cruise adventures on Twitter: @deckchairblog.

Carnival Paradise - To Cuba from Tampa

Monday, August 14, 2017Tampa, FloridaEmbark4:00pm
Tuesday, August 15At Sea
Wednesday, August 16Key West, Florida8:00am5:00pm
Thursday, August 17Havana, Cuba8:00amOvernight
Friday, August 18Havana, Cuba / At Sea6:00am
Saturday, August 19Tampa, Florida8:00amDisembark

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