This was our first time sailing with Carnival Cruise Lines. We had prepared by reading other reviews and the information provided by Carnival. We took a 7 day Western Caribbean cruise on 8/27/2002 - 9/1/2002.Embarkation: This was a really smooth process. We did not have cabin assignments until the day we arrived. No problem - there was someone there waiting with an alphabetical list with cabin assignments. You CANNOT carry your luggage on board yourself - make sure you have one (or maybe two) small bags with your personal belongings (medication, toiletries, bathing suit if you want to swim right away). Be prepared to pay a tip of $1 per bag to the ground crew. I saw lots of people getting upset over this, but the way I see it, after paying $$ for the cruise, why get bent out of shape over a couple of bucks?? Not a good way to start the vacation. Just have the dollars with you and move on....we had our bags waiting for us outside our cabin before dinner.Shore Excursions: Carnival provides a sheet outside the information desk with their recommended shore excursions and the cost per person for each. If you plan on going ashore using one of Carnival's recommended excursions, then simply fill out the form on day one and there will be a box you can drop the form off in - NO WAITING IN LINES!!! We did this and got all of our first choice tours!! The tickets arrived in our room the next day - piece of cake!!Food Service - I thought Carnival did a wonderful job with the food - we took the galley tour and got a better appreciation for what the staff needs to go through to prepare meals for over 2,000 guests each day. The dinners are not pre-prepared and there are no microwaves on board. My suggestion is to relax, enjoy and let the wait staff take care of you. We had the early seating (5:45pm) in the Destiny dining room. Lee and Mauro were fantastic!! Next time, I will try to get the late seating because the shore days can rush you to get to dinner on time. The Paris Restaurant is open 24 hours with pizza and ice cream to help with the in between hunger cravings.Kids Program - the space allotted to the kids is small and I was disappointed that the club shut down each day during lunch and dinner (except formal nights where the kids could have dinner at the club). Late night babysitting (10PM - 3AM) was available, but at a fee of $6 per hour one child and $4 per hour for each sibling. We had two boys with us, ages 9 1/2 and 7. They both loved the program though and had a really good time. On the last formal night, our older one had the opportunity to stay at the club with his friends and stay awake and play games until 3AM. He had a blast. I would give the Kids Club an overall ranking of 3 - the kids had a great time, but the club was lacking some amenities.Entertainment - The entertainment is not Las Vegas - but it is very family friendly and fun. There was a great variety and the crew worked extremely hard to put on the best show possible for the audience. I give them a thumbs up.Pools - be prepared; they are all salt water pools and small. Not a problem for us, but took many folks by surprise.Shore Excursions: Folks - here is where we made the biggest mistake - Make sure you bring $1's and $5's for tipping. The people in the countries providing your excursions basically live on the tips you provide. They work hard to make your trip enjoyable and they will ask for a tip in return. Put this into your budget for shore excursions - we found they all did a great job and had no problem tipping. We had to scramble though, to break $20's.Disembarkation: be aware, the process does not start until 9:30am. Plan your return flight appropriatly. There are excursions in Miami for those with late flights.All in all, the trip was near perfect and we will sail on the Paradise again!!!
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