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Old 07-18-2018, 12:19 PM
 
Location: SW Florida
2,319 posts, read 1,852,661 times
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We, husband and I late 20s/30 no kids, are set on planning our first cruise this year. We are flexible on dates, currently looking around September or October. We do not drink but would like decent free food options included with cruise. I'm guessing all cruise lines offer inclusive free meals and dining. We will do a Caribbean cruise for our first as it seems cheaper and convenient(we live near the Tampa FL port, so wanting to cruise out of there). We're not sure if we will like cruises yet so rather not overspend on our first one. We both just want a super relaxing trip. We enjoy shopping, history/hiking, outdoor adventures, swimming. Things like a movie theater, zip lines, bowling, etc is all awesome to have on the boat but I know not all do. We like going to the beach in FL so didn't really make that a priority at first when at ports however after seeing some pictures of some very beautiful beaches we may just want to relax on the beach during Port day. We are open to shore excursions to but trying to keep budget tight.

Iv researched a lot about carnival as we planned this to be our default cruise line - cheap and well known and leaves out of Tampa. Now I'm not so sure.. seen a lot of negative things. Older boats, less amenities, very small pool, and the main issue I'm seeing is the party type atmosphere. We are far from the party type. Sometimes I see people say that this is exaggerated.. so then I'm just not sure what to expect.

Right now the two choices I'm seeing for us out of tampa(this seems limited..) is Carnival Paradise and Royal Caribbean brilliance of the seas. Both have same itinerary - 5 nights. Port stops in Cozumel and Grand Cayman. Not a big price difference between them. Another negative I hear about carnival paradise is after they remodeled this year they added 700 more rooms. People are saying it was already overly crowded. I understand any ship will have a good amount of people on it.. but I don't want to feel crammed in like sardines for 5 days.

So my main question is which to choose based on what we're looking for - royal Caribbean or carnival?
Or suggestions of other cruise lines/itineraries?

Any input would be very helpful for us first timers! Thanks!
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Old 07-18-2018, 04:25 PM
 
Location: Florida
5,232 posts, read 3,007,646 times
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We intensely dislike "mega ships". They can not fit under the Skyway bridge, so they can not go into Tampa. The "midsize" ships that do sail from Tampa are fine.

If you are driving to the port, the city parking is very expensive. You can go up the street and get much cheaper parking and they will shuttle you to your ship. There are web sites for this.

We are partial to Holland American, but we are older folks.
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Old 07-18-2018, 04:48 PM
 
3,750 posts, read 9,599,239 times
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Have you been on cruisecritic.com yet? Huge community of people and all kinds of detailed reviews of all aspects of cruising. I found it very useful.
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Old 07-18-2018, 05:08 PM
 
Location: Denver CO
21,155 posts, read 11,761,610 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sweetana3 View Post
Have you been on cruisecritic.com yet? Huge community of people and all kinds of detailed reviews of all aspects of cruising. I found it very useful.
I agree with this and was about to recommend the same thing.

These are some general thoughts, since I can't do a comparison having not been on both lines you are considering. I've only been on one cruise and it was on a Carnival ship although not the same one. I think some of this may be across the whole line but can't say for sure. But between that experience and reading various reviews and other information, my understanding is that Carnival cabins are larger than average for the same level. Not that you spend that much time in the cabin necessarily but a little extra room is nice.

I thought the food on Carnival was quite good - much better than I was expecting. They have shifted a bit in the recent couple of years where there is more of an emphasis on additional options where you pay extra, which I find kind of annoying since one of the attractions of a cruise is supposed to be the all inclusive aspect. Now it's not just the steakhouse but some of the ships have 3 or 4 other specialty options that cost extra. Not sure if that's the case for the Paradise. In any case, we stuck to the main dining room and the Lido and were happy with the food.

The party atmosphere is what you make of it. I'm not a fan of hairy chest contests and the like so we avoided the main deck during those activities. But there was more than enough other stuff to do to keep as busy as you want, or conversely, to find a quiet place on deck to hang out and relax. Sometimes you have to explore a bit to find those quiet places but they are there. If there is a big noisy crowd and that's not your scene, you can move on.

Entertainment was good, although you do have to get there early to get a seat for the bigger shows and the comedy shows. There are usually some smaller options too though, like the piano bar or other small groups of live music, which can be very fun. We liked the trivia contests and did a lot of those over the course of our cruise and lots of people like Bingo (you have to pay extra for the cards for that).

One issue, I think on all ships, are "chogs" - or chair hogs. Meaning people who put towels and clothing on a lounge chair to "reserve" it but then leave it empty for hours while they aren't using it. Staff isn't supposed to let that happen, but it can be hard to get a nice seat near the pool at times. You can complain, sometimes staff will move things if they are left unattended for too long.

The other thing I would add is that I personally felt it was worth every penny to pay for a cabin with an outside balcony. Sitting on the balcony relaxing and watching the waves was one of the best parts of the cruise to me. I know it adds a lot to the cost, but I would not go on a cruise if I didn't have a balcony cabin. Particularly as someone who talks about not being party people and not wanting to feel crammed all the time, I think a balcony would be worth it for you to get the maximum enjoyment, because you can always bring a cup of coffee or a drink and a snack back and enjoy it on your balcony if you are feeling a bit too crowded at any point.
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Old 07-18-2018, 08:24 PM
 
Location: Phoenix, AZ > Raleigh, NC
15,059 posts, read 18,990,908 times
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You're not going to like my advice.

Forget about departing from Tampa. Both of the choices you have selected are not a good fit with what you want. Carnival will be party central younger folks - especially in a five day cruise. RCCL will have a lot of kids. Neither will be the relaxing vacation you are looking for. Neither are bad, per se; but you can do better with your limited vacation days for very little more money.

My advice:
1. Go to Ft Lauderdale or Miami for departure. That will open up TONS of much better choices.
2. Do 7 days - not 5.
3. Find a good travel agent to guide you. NOT somebody at a big online booking agency. For inexperienced cruisers, a travel agent is priceless AND will probably save you some money.
4. Isn't Sept Oct the end of hurricane season?

If you need a referral to an agent, shoot me a DM.
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Old 07-18-2018, 09:50 PM
 
Location: Moku Nui, Hawaii
9,662 posts, read 18,852,256 times
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We've cruised on Holland, Princess and once on Carnival.

That Carnival cruise was in the Caribbean so it would possibly be similar to what you're looking at. However, I will NEVER go on another Carnival cruise. It was a parody of a cruise and not a real cruise at all. The food was completely substandard (and I'm not that fussy), the whole ship was crowded, there were lines for everything, they kept everyone standing at muster for fifteen minutes while they tried to upsell ship's tours and such. Everything was just not right. Afternoon 'tea' was only Lipton tea and "would you like regular or decaf" and requisite little sandwiches (tuna and one other) were 'would you like white or wheat'. They did have a dessert tray, but it was less than stellar as well. I'm not looking for high tea, low tea would be just fine, but the Carnival folks just haven't got a clue. Holland afternoon tea has a whole assortment of different teas, then there's the little trays of assorted sandwiches followed by trays of assorted savories and then assorted sweets. White gloves and silver tea pots. Holland does tea right. And they get the rest of the food thing right, too.

There is one HAL (Holland America Line) cruise out of Tampa by Holland, although the itinerary is more South American than Caribbean:

Date Port Arrive Depart
Sunday, Oct. 28 Tampa, FL 5:00pm
Monday, Oct. 29 Key West, FL 11:00am 6:00pm
Tuesday, Oct. 30 At Sea
Wednesday, Oct. 31 Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala 8:00am 6:00pm
Thursday, Nov. 1 Roatan, Honduras 8:00am 5:00pm
Friday, Nov. 2 Costa Maya, Mexico 8:00am 5:00pm
Saturday, Nov. 3 At Sea
Sunday, Nov. 4 Tampa, FL 7:00am

It's on the Rotterdam, which is one of the smaller ships in the Holland fleet, so it won't have as much entertainment as the larger ships. But the service will be excellent, the food great and it will be pretty close to probably what you'd expect a traditional cruise ship to be. The other guests on the ship will tend to be older, however. Probably not too many kids. The larger HAL ships have a bit more to do on them and have more entertainment, but any HAL ship is better than a Carnival ship, IMHO. Which is really surprising considering they are owned by the same company.

Other than that one HAL cruise, I don't see anything other than Carnival and Royal Caribbean leaving from Tampa this October or September.
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Old 07-19-2018, 09:01 AM
 
Location: Florida
490 posts, read 894,159 times
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Drive to Miami. Much better selection of cruise lines and ships. Go on a seven day cruise instead of five.
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Old 07-19-2018, 10:17 AM
 
Location: Bel Air, California
21,318 posts, read 21,872,221 times
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NOAA is predicting an above average number of hurricanes this fall. If you are going to cruise in the Caribbean in Sept or October, make sure you load up on trip insurance.

https://www.livescience.com/57671-hurricane-season.html

https://www.frommers.com/trip-ideas/...an-travel-tips
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Old 07-19-2018, 06:25 PM
 
Location: Florida
4,356 posts, read 3,692,049 times
Reputation: 4084
TRY https://boards.cruisecritic.com/
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Old 07-20-2018, 04:54 AM
bUU
 
Location: Georgia
11,879 posts, read 8,655,358 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Icemodeled View Post
I'm guessing all cruise lines offer inclusive free meals and dining.
All the mainstream cruise lines do, but practically all of them now also offer surcharge alternatives as well, but you of course don't need to patronize those.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icemodeled View Post
We will do a Caribbean cruise for our first as it seems cheaper and convenient(we live near the Tampa FL port, so wanting to cruise out of there). We're not sure if we will like cruises yet so rather not overspend on our first one. We both just want a super relaxing trip.
Keep in mind that there isn't necessarily a strong correlation between inexpensive and super-relaxing. For example, the most affordable cruises from Tampa are during September, when you are far more likely to spend time chewing on fingernails about severe weather reports, as compared to January.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icemodeled View Post
We enjoy shopping, history/hiking, outdoor adventures, swimming.
The "history/hiking" indication leads me to recommend Western Caribbean over Eastern. Lots of Mayan ruins are accessible from ports in the Yucatán, Belize, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icemodeled View Post
We are open to shore excursions to but trying to keep budget tight.
I found it exceedingly frustrating to try to capture the fantastic shore experiences that others have shared with me without actually budgeting a decent amount to afford them. YMMV. There's lots you can do without spending a lot on excursions, but there is also a lot you cannot do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icemodeled View Post
Iv researched a lot about carnival as we planned this to be our default cruise line - cheap and well known and leaves out of Tampa. Now I'm not so sure.. seen a lot of negative things.
Cruise passengers, generally, are among the worst cannibals online (i.e., people who eat their own - who criticize for the sake of criticizing, who bash anything other than what they personally prefer and sometimes even that too). If you want to know how "good" a cruise line is, rely on objective information, like load levels, sold out cruises, and revenues, to the extent you can acquire such insights. Cruise reviews simply are too far out of whack to be a reasonably reliable indication of the reality. Keep in mind that if a cruise line is twice as big as another cruise line, and it has twice as many bad reviews, then you can rest assured that the two cruise lines are pretty much the same in quality. As a matter of fact, that's probably true even if the twice-as-big cruise line has triple the bad reviews - again, because cruise passengers are such cannibals, and attack big more than they attack small - just because.

I've cruised on Sonesta, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, and Carnival. They are all offering a product commensurate with their price.

Having said that, it is important to understand how the pricing of cruise lines is structured. While you can always find anecdotal examples contrary to the general cases, the general cases are such:

- Economy cruise lines: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL, MSC
- Premium cruise lines: Holland America, Princess, Celebrity
- Luxury cruise lines: Azmara, Seven Seas, Silversea

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icemodeled View Post
Older boats, less amenities, very small pool, and the main issue I'm seeing is the party type atmosphere.
It isn't Carnival that affords you only the choice of older ships - it is the fact that you want to cruise out of Tampa.

The newer ships cruise out of bigger cruise ports on the east coast of FL. Check the other cruise lines: Royal Caribbean runs Majesty of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas out of Tampa - two of their oldest ships. Holland America does the same. NCL runs moderately newer ships, so if you insist on cruising from Tampa and insist on newer ships, that's an option.

Party-type atmosphere is also a matter of which cruises you choose, not the cruise line you choose: 3-day cruises over a weekend - most party-type. 4-day cruises during weekdays - still party-type cruises, but less so. 5-day cruises might still be problematic if you are concerned. If you want to avoid a party-type atmosphere, then choose a 7 day cruise. While our recent 7-day cruise on Carnival was a bit more festive than our recent 7 day cruise on Holland America, we enjoyed both.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Icemodeled View Post
So my main question is which to choose based on what we're looking for - royal Caribbean or carnival?
As much as I love the idea of cruising out of Tampa (we are close enough to make an embarkation in Tampa from our home here north of Atlanta, without having to stay overnight), we're still going to be cruising out of Port Canaveral, Port Everglades and Port Miami (even though that means we have to do an overnight on the road, the night before). We just have better choices that way. And we are going to steer clear of anything less than a 6-day cruise.
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