Best Deals Definitely take a taxi to and from the Miami airport -- it is way cheaper per person and much faster than the Carnival bus. Plus you don't have the long waits for other passengers, their bags, and the chaos involved getting on and off the ship -- $18 for a cabful to or from the airport. If you get to Miami the day before, South Beach offers a wild night among the pierced, tattooed, chic, barely clothed, and international crowd. Be sure to have breakfast at the News Cafe, where movie stars frequently start their day. Although Carnival says embarkation starts at 1:30, get there by 11:30 and you'll be on by 12. Head for lunch on the Lido deck as your room will not be ready until 1:30. To save time, be sure to complete all paperwork before getting to port.With an adult soda card, get all the soda you want -- a great savings over buying them one by one for $3. The card costs $39/adult for a 8 day cruise. Buy one the first day. We drank 4-6 sodas a day each saving over $100. There are cards for kids, too, at a lower price. The 24/7 pizza/salads/ice cream/yogurt are universal hits. They also serve calzones and caesar salads on request, as well as some non-mainstream but delicious pizza (like goat cheese). Dinner in the Empire Dining Room was consistently well-prepared, interesting, well-presented, and delicious. We loved the soups (pumpkin is not to be missed). The very best food and service yet on a Carnival ship.The Nouveau Supper Club ($25 a person) is Carnival's experiment in "premium" dining. Although skeptical at first, we were won over. The service is impeccable as are the seven courses you'll receive. Be warned, though. Hustle up there FIRST THING to get the time and day you want for that special romantic dinner. Good times sell out quickly. And come hungry - this is not a dining experience for the timid of appetite. A very minor thing - sparkling water offered before the meal is not free, we discovered.In Belize, the most popular tour in the country is the Cave Tubing (around $85), an astonishing day trip down an underground river. Panama's tours vary between visiting the Canal ($80) and actually going through the locks ($155). We chose the latter and it was well worth it. Costa Rica's port is as yet unimpressive but any tour to the rain forest will be exciting. Panama's port shopping and Free Zone shopping is second only to the deals in St. Maarten (which you won't be visiting on the Western itinerary). Book all your tours IMMEDIATELY upon getting on board.On the Ship Our cabin (Panorama 8186) was a treat. Lots of room, as on most Carnival ships, and spotless. Spirit's elevators, toilets, lights, and other systems always worked. Breakfast in the cabin is a wonderful way to wake up. Salmon, bagels, fruit, cereal, coffee, tea, and breads brought to your door starts the day off right. Breakfast is also served up on the Lido deck and in the main restaurant, Empire. Lunch is standard fare except for the NY Deli. Lunch and dinner are on the Lido deck and in both restaurants. You'll wait 5-10 minutes at most stations. At dinner, all the fun flaming desserts (Cherries Jubilee, Baked Alaska, etc.) are no longer served "hot" due to past accidents (glad we weren't at those tables!). Best value? The wine markup is much less than landside restaurants. You can get many good ones (try the Chateau St. Michelle) for under $20.The most romantic spot is up by the mid-ship white navigational "ball." Hike up there late on a moonlight night and have a nearly 360 view of the ship and ocean. There are hot tubs everywhere. The "adults only" tub aft always had a kid in it during the day. The spa tub had no kids and was almost always empty.
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