Skip to main content

Cruise Ship Review

Carnival Paradise - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Editor's Note: All eight of Carnival's Fantasy-class ships will receive extensive upgrades as part of Carnival's $250 million "Evolutions of Fun" program. Expansive children's water parks, a new design style and features for the pool areas, and the creation of the Serenity adults only deck area will be part of the changes to the open decks of Carnival Cruise Lines' eight Fantasy-class ships.

The expanded outdoor recreation areas will be initially incorporated onto the 2,052-passenger Inspiration and Imagination during month-long dry docks in fall of 2007 and added to other Fantasy-class ships in 2008 and 2009 during scheduled dry-dock periods.


At 2,054 passengers and 70,367-tons, the mid-sized Fantasy-class ships (which include Fantasy, Ecstasy, Inspiration, Imagination, Fascination, Elation, Sensation and Paradise) are the workhorses of Carnival's fleet. These vessels, which lack some of the up-to-the-minute accouterments sported by Carnival's newer ships -- plentiful balcony staterooms, distinctive indoor promenade -- are typically assigned shorter-than-a-week itineraries and, as such, make frequent turnarounds. Paradise is no exception.

Paradise, which at one time was the industry's only all-non-smoking cruise vessel (the company abandoned the philosophy a few years ago) remains a beautiful ship, spiffy-clean, easy to navigate, and filled with the attributes -- tons of activities, great food, Camp Carnival for kids, wonderful pools and sun decks, first-rate entertainment -- that draw guests to Carnival again and again.

Paradise is based at Southern California's Long Beach terminal and sails back and forth to Baja Mexico. Like most of its siblings, it offers short cruises; in this case, three- and four-nighters. As a result, the ship tends to appeal to a "drive to port" traveler, and in that huge metropolitan region, it means that most hail from places like California, Nevada, Arizona and Oregon. This gives the Paradise experience a distinct laid-back, Southern California feel. We were told by our Maitre d' that Californians order finer wines and use the dining room (as opposed to the Lido Deck cafeteria) more than do those on East Coast three- and four-night itineraries. The sushi lines are definitely longer, and while it's no longer a non-smoking ship, there are fewer smokers and fewer places to smoke than on vessels that homeport in other locations.

Dining

Paradise offers dinner in two seatings in its two main dining rooms, the midship Elation and the aft Destiny (set seating times for both are 6 and 8:15 p.m.).

A three- or four-night cruise still offers the same dining traditions as any longer cruise, with a Captain's Gala formal night dinner (complete with lobster tails) on the second night, an excellent wine selection, a well-rounded menu each night, and wonderful entertainment by cheerful waitstaff who stop service for a few minutes each evening to make people smile, sing, dance and laugh. The addition of menu items designed by Michelin-starred chef Georges Blanc is a delightful treat; we tried several and were impressed with their creativity and quality. The "fois gras creme brulee" was a surprise; the turbot in a butter-cream sauce was heavenly. (Blanc parted ways with the cruise line in 2008.)

The menu selections were excellent each evening, with a fresh fish option, beef, chicken and a specialty of lamb or pork. The breads and rolls were warmed, salads creative, and desserts -- usually the weakest part of any shipboard meal -- were excellent as well. The food was appropriately spiced and arrived quickly. The four dining times help in this regard, as the galley staff has fewer meals to prepare at any one time. We particularly loved the cream of pumpkin soup and the mixed lamb dish, a deliciously spicy mix of stewed shank and grilled loin with vegetables. There is also a low-carb option and a low-fat option for those who are really disciplined.

The Paris Cafe on the Lido Deck is one of the prettiest of this type of cafeteria-style restaurants at sea, and the way the stations are broken up makes for few lines and few bottlenecks. Lines flow well, and the fare, typical buffet food, is nonetheless quite good, whether it's omelets for breakfast or roast pork loin and fresh pasta for lunch. At night it is transformed into the Seaview Bistro, a more upscale version of the same cafeteria-style service, but with menu items from the main restaurants, presented to those who prefer to dine casually.

We did have to wait for service on one day; no one was behind the counter at a busy lunchtime for quite some time while the line backed up and guests began to grumble, but once served, the meal was excellent. The salad and dessert bars are located in a circular station in the middle of the room, away from the hot food counters, which allows people to pick through the little tomatoes and cucumber slices without causing a backup for hot meals.

Carnival's light-as-air, bubbly-hot pizza is served at the back of the Paris Restaurant, 24 hours a day, with freshly made Caesar salad.

Hint: If the pizza that is pre-sliced looks like it is a bit old, ask for a fresh one. It takes about five minutes, and is worth the wait. The server behind the counter will happily oblige.

Hint Number Two: For a real treat, choose to sit outside on the covered aft deck right behind the pizza bar. There are two of these promontories, one on each side of the ship, overlooking the children's pool. They are little known and little used, and offer a haven of privacy overlooking the stern wake.

Carnival remains one of the few cruise lines still offering a midnight buffet every night of the cruise. One of the nights is the Grand Gala Buffet, a beautiful display of culinary craft with exquisite chocolate confections, fruit and vegetable carvings, and ice sculptures. Another night had crepes and sundaes as the late-night offerings, along with hot and cold savory items. These buffets are held in the Paris Cafe, which also has a bar at the back, opposite the 24-hour pizza station. On the Lido Deck, in front of the Paris Cafe and behind the main pool, there is a daytime (noon until 6 p.m.) grill for hamburgers, hot dogs, cold sandwiches, fruit, salad, pastries and cakes. Most are self-serve, although the hot sandwiches are presented upon order. There is a condiment station and a drink station in the same area.

One of the nicest little bonuses on this ship is the sushi stand, open every evening from 5:30 until 8 p.m. It's small, with only one server, and the line forms early and lasts quite awhile. Californians tend to be familiar with and really enjoy sushi, so this is just an added benefit (complimentary sushi? Wow!), even if the offerings are fairly standard tekka maki (tuna roll), California roll and spicy tuna hand rolls. They are served fresh with ginger, wasabi and shoyu, and the little stand was a huge hit with everyone who tried it.

The Ile de France Cafe, located on Carnival Boulevard, offers great specialty coffees for an a la carte charge, along with cookies and chocolate confections (dipped strawberries and milk shakes).

Room service is streamlined and efficient, with excellent continental breakfasts (including smoked salmon and bagels) and cold items for the rest of the day. Carnival's room service menu is standardized fleetwide, so our favorites were on it, including the usually wonderful roast beef and brie on a baguette sandwich. Why someone in Paradise's kitchen would choose to slather half a jar of yellow mustard on it is beyond us, but otherwise the 24-hour service is a great luxury.

Suite guests are entitled to an expanded room service menu that includes a choice of hot breakfast items and dishes from dining room offerings.

Public Rooms

Joe Farcus, Carnival's long-time designer, chose "Ships of the World" as the theme for Paradise. He was feeling sentimental about this being the last of the Fantasy line, so he infused the public spaces with nostalgia, too -- hence rooms like the Normandie Lounge, the Queen Mary Lounge, the America Bar and the Rotterdam Lounge. He tipped his hat to his employer by naming the indoor walkway the Carnival Boulevard and the two dining rooms, Destiny and Ecstasy, after Carnival ships.

The six-deck-high atrium is cozy and comfortable, with Italian floral blown-glass panels and large replicas of enameled Faberge eggs on pillars. The turquoise eggs, about a foot tall, are lighted from within and are found in the elevator lobbies throughout the ship, adding a further touch of nostalgic elegance.

One of the most interesting spots onboard is the Blue Riband Library, filled with memorabilia from ocean liners of the past. The Blue Riband was a symbol, in the 1800's and early 1900's, of the fastest ship at sea, and could only be flown by one ship at a time, so as each new ship was built, the Riband changed hands. The library itself is a charming room, a lovely place to sit quietly or to meet with friends -- though, consistent with other Carnival ships, the book selection is minimal and the glass cases remained locked throughout our cruise.

It's the ship's lounges and bars, though, that really distinguish the Paradise, with enough active and festive places to enjoy group conviviality, and enough quiet spaces to enjoy conversation. The America Bar, with blown-glass stars and stripes, is the ship's piano bar, which gets loud and chummy later in the evening, but it's a great pre-dinner meeting spot for those dining in the Ecstasy dining room. The Rotterdam Bar tends to be a quiet spot for wine before and liqueurs after dining in the Destiny restaurant. The African themed Rex disco stays open until the wee hours, and its lion-head symbol's eyes flash with the beat.

The window banquettes and seats along Carnival Boulevard allow guests to sit quietly and watch the goings-on without participating, or to enjoy a coffee and pastry from the Ile de France Cafe. The United States Bar, located in the promenade just outside the casino, has a funny little stage behind it and up high, in which a lone country-western singer serenades the crowd with his guitar, looking as though he's going to topple off at the next swell.

Our favorite is the Paradise Bar, located in the atrium, with its light filtering through the glass panels above. A classical trio plays in the evenings, and a glass of wine here, accompanied by the strains of Mozart or Vivaldi and the rosy glow of the setting sun, provides a relaxing break between a busy day and the promise of an active evening.

The ship's Internet center is located in the atrium, adjacent to the Paradise Bar. There are several stations on high counters with barstool-like chairs. Although the ship is equipped for wireless access, the cost of using the ship's computers rather than your own laptop is considerably less. Packages range from 25 cents a minute to 75 cents with no pre-purchased options; the lowest cost for Wi-Fi is 40 cents per minute with a $100 package.

Cabins

The Fantasy-class sleeping quarters are fine for sleeping and showering but were not designed for cocooning. It works out though, since the objective is to get you out on deck where this "Fun Ship" really shines. That said, the ship has gone partway into its cabin refurbishments, adding Carnival's new, luxurious beds and bedding, including plump pillows and fluffy duvets.

Standard rooms are spacious enough, at an average size of 185 square ft., and have ample storage and closet space. Each cabin has a small desk with five nice sized drawers and a stool, a closet with shelves on one side and hanging space on the other, an open storage area, twin beds that can be made into a king, a 19-inch television, a small round coffee table, and a small chair. The predominant color in the cabins is coral with red highlights; the ceiling is coral, the Formica desktop is coral, the little coffee table is coral. The spreads and window treatments are a mix of pink, orange, blue and purple, and the carpeting adds dark grey and light blue to the underlying coral color.

One corner of the cabin has a built-in box that is used for extra blankets and the life jackets. When the beds are configured as a queen, the person on the inside has no access except to climb over the outer bed. Above the box and angled into the corner is the television, which does not swivel but instead faces the center of the room. It's almost impossible to view comfortably from either bed when they are configured as twins, and the lone chair is too uncomfortable for relaxing.

Television programming is minimal, with three network stations from the eastern U.S., one movie channel for adults and one for children, and several in-house channels with information about shore excursions, shipboard activities and shopping.

The standard bathrooms are also spacious, with a roomy shower, sink with storage space above for makeup and other necessities, and an explosively loud vacuum toilet. Hot water is plentiful and the water pressure great; the cloth shower curtain does tend to billow and cling, but otherwise the shower is excellent. The old, flat, beige, scratchy towels have been replaced with big, new, fluffy, absorbent, luscious white ones.

Carnival has partnered with companies that provide sample sizes of their items including Crest toothpaste, Johnson & Johnson dental floss, Bic razors and Listermint mouthwash, which arrive in your room in a bowl or basket on your bathroom sink. These baskets are really fun, because, like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.

The extra-large Category 12 suites are located midship on Deck 6 (Upper Deck), and are nicely furnished with a bar, large sofa and full-sized whirlpool tub. The balcony is deep and wide, perfect for lazing around outdoors on warm days. The Category 11 suites are slightly smaller, located forward on Deck 11 (Verandah Deck), and although similarly furnished, have a smaller balcony and no whirlpool tub.

Hint: Even though there are no prized aft balcony cabins, there are aft cabins with windows over the stern wake. Some of them are handicap-accessible rooms with a modified configuration and less closet space, but most are the same as the side cabins, albeit with a different (and unique) viewpoint. The ones in the middle of the six that span the aft have an extra foot or so of depth, and if you move your bed close to the desk, you actually have room to fit a chair under the window, the better to see where you have just been.

Entertainment

Carnival's entertainment options are always top-notch, and Paradise is no exception. We anticipated fewer quality offerings on a three-night cruise, but were proven wrong. The production shows in the main theater, Normandie Lounge, were great fun and professionally presented. After hours, one can find music of one sort or another in each of the 10 lounges and bars on Paradise. There's a full casino with slots and 12 tables, all of which were going strong during the day at sea and in the evenings. The American Bar's sing-along piano was great fun, as was the hokey karaoke in the Queen Mary Lounge, located aft along the Promenade. The Rex Disco goes all night with beat-heavy music and carefree revelers. There's a teen disco, too, Spirals, but it didn't seem crowded when we peeked in.

The comedy show is presented twice: The earlier one is G-rated for families; the midnight show is definitely adults-only fare.

Our favorite of all was the exquisite classical trio, playing each evening in the atrium and setting the mood for the night ahead.

Daytime activities are equally extensive, with the usual Carnival "Fun Ship" offerings around the main pool games (including, of course, the hairy chest contest), and trivia contests, bingo and art auctions in venues all over the ship. There is never, ever a dull moment on Paradise.

Fitness and Recreation

Being inside Paradise's extensive gym facility used to feel as though you had fallen into a box of Good & Plenty candy. The large room, located forward and overlooking the ship's bow, had a pink and black color scheme that was neither invigorating nor restful -- but that has changed with a recent spa makeover. Not too over-the-top New Age-y, but just soothing enough to feel contemporary, the new space uses lots of natural materials and neutral colors. One thing that's missing, though, and that we really missed, is the indoor Thalassotherapy pool, once located between the men and women's locker rooms. It's been replaced with extra treatment space.

The Nautica Spa and salon services are run by Steiner of London and offer a wide array of treatments from massages to facials. The best bargain at sea? The Frangipani Scalp and Shoulder massage, 25 minutes for $26. Other treatments include body wraps, salt scrubs and sports massages in smallish medicinal-looking treatment rooms.

There are two adult pools, each with two hot tubs; the Lido pool has Carnival's signature twisty slide and is the more active and loud of the two. The aft pool on Deck 11 is quiet and rarely crowded, and features a gigantic deck apron for sunning. The children's pool, located aft on Deck 9, is accessed through the Queen Mary Lounge, and is so hidden that it's rarely used at all.

There's a jogging track on Deck 12, as well as a basketball hoop, golf cage and Ping-Pong tables. Several classes and group workouts are offered during the day in the gym; Pilates and yoga are offered for a small extra fee.

Hint: Topless sunbathing is allowed at the base of the stack, located aft and accessed via a stairway from Deck 11. No cameras are allowed, including cell phone cameras, and security will confiscate them if they are found.

Family

Carnival's Fun Ships are made for families, with activities that encompass all age groups. There are games and contests for everyone to enjoy together, and there is Camp Carnival, located in the Children's World complex at the top of the atrium. Programs are offered free of charge from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m.; the three-room facility has arts and crafts, computer stations, walls with multiple monitors for movies and cartoons, a separate section for toddlers and babies, and well-trained staff supervising the children.

There is no "name" for each age group a la Disney's program; they are broken out into age-appropriate groups depending on how many take advantage of the program. A highlight is Camp Carnival's dining option, which allows kids to dine with other members of their playgroup.

One area where Carnival is rather unique among family-oriented cruise lines is that it accepts toddlers as young as age 2 into the program -- even if they aren't toilet trained (and staffers will change diapers). Carnival also offers babysitting at an additional charge (plan to pay about $6 per hour). There is a teen program as well, which features pool parties and special excursions.

Fellow Passengers

The weekend passengers are onboard to party and tend to be a rowdy lot; there are more children on the weekend trips as well. The four-day trips are slightly more serene. The ship appeals to people of all ages who know that they are receiving exceptional value for an all-inclusive weekend or midweek getaway.

Dress Code

Casual during the day, resort casual in the evenings, with one formal night per cruise. No shorts, swim suits or tank tops allowed in the restaurants in the evenings.

Gratuity

Standard gratuities of $10 per night per passenger are charged to your shipboard account (and can be adjusted); the service personnel, especially the room stewards and stewardesses, work extra hard to turn the cabins for two cruises per week and deserve any extra they receive. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.

--by Cruise Critic contributor Jana Jones, who has also written for a variety of publications, including Vacation Agent, UK's Travel Holidays and Ocean Drive Magazine.

Dining

Paradise passengers have two options for dinner in the main dining rooms. They can opt for traditional, set seating (6 and 8:15 p.m.) or go with the flow via Carnival's "Your Choice Dining" program. With the flexible option, passengers can have dinner in the main dining room anytime they like between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m. (times may vary). Dining assignments -- which you select before the cruise -- are made on a first come, first served basis, so if you have your heart set on one or the other, consider booking earlier rather than later.

A three- or four-night cruise still offers the same dining traditions as any longer cruise, with a Captain's Gala formal night dinner (complete with lobster tails) on the second night, an excellent wine selection, a well-rounded menu each night, and wonderful entertainment by cheerful waitstaff who stop service for a few minutes each evening to make people smile, sing, dance and laugh.

The menu selections were excellent each evening, with a fresh fish option, beef, chicken and a specialty of lamb or pork. The breads and rolls were warmed, salads creative, and desserts -- usually the weakest part of any shipboard meal -- were excellent as well. The food was appropriately spiced and arrived quickly. The four dining times help in this regard, as the galley staff has fewer meals to prepare at any one time. We particularly loved the cream of pumpkin soup and the mixed lamb dish, a deliciously spicy mix of stewed shank and grilled loin with vegetables. There is also a low-carb option and a low-fat option for those who are really disciplined.

The Paris Cafe on the Lido Deck is one of the prettiest of this type of cafeteria-style restaurants at sea, and the way the stations are broken up makes for few lines and few bottlenecks. Lines flow well, and the fare, typical buffet food, is nonetheless quite good, whether it's omelets for breakfast or roast pork loin and fresh pasta for lunch. At night it is transformed into the Seaview Bistro, a more upscale version of the same cafeteria-style service, but with menu items from the main restaurants, presented to those who prefer to dine casually.

We did have to wait for service on one day; no one was behind the counter at a busy lunchtime for quite some time while the line backed up and guests began to grumble, but once served, the meal was excellent. The salad and dessert bars are located in a circular station in the middle of the room, away from the hot food counters, which allows people to pick through the little tomatoes and cucumber slices without causing a backup for hot meals.

Carnival's light-as-air, bubbly-hot pizza is served at the back of the Paris Restaurant, 24 hours a day, with freshly made Caesar salad.

Hint: If the pizza that is pre-sliced looks like it is a bit old, ask for a fresh one. It takes about five minutes, and is worth the wait. The server behind the counter will happily oblige.

Hint Number Two: For a real treat, choose to sit outside on the covered aft deck right behind the pizza bar. There are two of these promontories, one on each side of the ship, overlooking the children's pool. They are little known and little used, and offer a haven of privacy overlooking the stern wake.

Carnival remains one of the few cruise lines still offering a midnight buffet every night of the cruise. One of the nights is the Grand Gala Buffet, a beautiful display of culinary craft with exquisite chocolate confections, fruit and vegetable carvings, and ice sculptures. Another night had crepes and sundaes as the late-night offerings, along with hot and cold savory items. These buffets are held in the Paris Cafe, which also has a bar at the back, opposite the 24-hour pizza station. On the Lido Deck, in front of the Paris Cafe and behind the main pool, there is a daytime (noon until 6 p.m.) grill for hamburgers, hot dogs, cold sandwiches, fruit, salad, pastries and cakes. Most are self-serve, although the hot sandwiches are presented upon order. There is a condiment station and a drink station in the same area.

One of the nicest little bonuses on this ship is the sushi stand, open every evening from 5:30 until 8 p.m. It's small, with only one server, and the line forms early and lasts quite awhile. Californians tend to be familiar with and really enjoy sushi, so this is just an added benefit (complimentary sushi? Wow!), even if the offerings are fairly standard tekka maki (tuna roll), California roll and spicy tuna hand rolls. They are served fresh with ginger, wasabi and shoyu, and the little stand was a huge hit with everyone who tried it.

The Ile de France Cafe, located on Carnival Boulevard, offers great specialty coffees for an a la carte charge, along with cookies and chocolate confections (dipped strawberries and milk shakes).

Room service is streamlined and efficient, with excellent continental breakfasts (including smoked salmon and bagels) and cold items for the rest of the day. Carnival's room service menu is standardized fleetwide, so our favorites were on it, including the usually wonderful roast beef and brie on a baguette sandwich. Why someone in Paradise's kitchen would choose to slather half a jar of yellow mustard on it is beyond us, but otherwise the 24-hour service is a great luxury.

Suite guests are entitled to an expanded room service menu that includes a choice of hot breakfast items and dishes from dining room offerings.

Dining

Paradise offers dinner in two seatings in its two main dining rooms, the midship Elation and the aft Destiny (set seating times for both are 6 and 8:15 p.m.).

A three- or four-night cruise still offers the same dining traditions as any longer cruise, with a Captain's Gala formal night dinner (complete with lobster tails) on the second night, an excellent wine selection, a well-rounded menu each night, and wonderful entertainment by cheerful waitstaff who stop service for a few minutes each evening to make people smile, sing, dance and laugh. The addition of menu items designed by Michelin-starred chef Georges Blanc is a delightful treat; we tried several and were impressed with their creativity and quality. The "fois gras creme brulee" was a surprise; the turbot in a butter-cream sauce was heavenly. (Blanc parted ways with the cruise line in 2008.)

The menu selections were excellent each evening, with a fresh fish option, beef, chicken and a specialty of lamb or pork. The breads and rolls were warmed, salads creative, and desserts -- usually the weakest part of any shipboard meal -- were excellent as well. The food was appropriately spiced and arrived quickly. The four dining times help in this regard, as the galley staff has fewer meals to prepare at any one time. We particularly loved the cream of pumpkin soup and the mixed lamb dish, a deliciously spicy mix of stewed shank and grilled loin with vegetables. There is also a low-carb option and a low-fat option for those who are really disciplined.

The Paris Cafe on the Lido Deck is one of the prettiest of this type of cafeteria-style restaurants at sea, and the way the stations are broken up makes for few lines and few bottlenecks. Lines flow well, and the fare, typical buffet food, is nonetheless quite good, whether it's omelets for breakfast or roast pork loin and fresh pasta for lunch. At night it is transformed into the Seaview Bistro, a more upscale version of the same cafeteria-style service, but with menu items from the main restaurants, presented to those who prefer to dine casually.

We did have to wait for service on one day; no one was behind the counter at a busy lunchtime for quite some time while the line backed up and guests began to grumble, but once served, the meal was excellent. The salad and dessert bars are located in a circular station in the middle of the room, away from the hot food counters, which allows people to pick through the little tomatoes and cucumber slices without causing a backup for hot meals.

Carnival's light-as-air, bubbly-hot pizza is served at the back of the Paris Restaurant, 24 hours a day, with freshly made Caesar salad.

Hint: If the pizza that is pre-sliced looks like it is a bit old, ask for a fresh one. It takes about five minutes, and is worth the wait. The server behind the counter will happily oblige.

Hint Number Two: For a real treat, choose to sit outside on the covered aft deck right behind the pizza bar. There are two of these promontories, one on each side of the ship, overlooking the children's pool. They are little known and little used, and offer a haven of privacy overlooking the stern wake.

Carnival remains one of the few cruise lines still offering a midnight buffet every night of the cruise. One of the nights is the Grand Gala Buffet, a beautiful display of culinary craft with exquisite chocolate confections, fruit and vegetable carvings, and ice sculptures. Another night had crepes and sundaes as the late-night offerings, along with hot and cold savory items. These buffets are held in the Paris Cafe, which also has a bar at the back, opposite the 24-hour pizza station. On the Lido Deck, in front of the Paris Cafe and behind the main pool, there is a daytime (noon until 6 p.m.) grill for hamburgers, hot dogs, cold sandwiches, fruit, salad, pastries and cakes. Most are self-serve, although the hot sandwiches are presented upon order. There is a condiment station and a drink station in the same area.

One of the nicest little bonuses on this ship is the sushi stand, open every evening from 5:30 until 8 p.m. It's small, with only one server, and the line forms early and lasts quite awhile. Californians tend to be familiar with and really enjoy sushi, so this is just an added benefit (complimentary sushi? Wow!), even if the offerings are fairly standard tekka maki (tuna roll), California roll and spicy tuna hand rolls. They are served fresh with ginger, wasabi and shoyu, and the little stand was a huge hit with everyone who tried it.

The Ile de France Cafe, located on Carnival Boulevard, offers great specialty coffees for an a la carte charge, along with cookies and chocolate confections (dipped strawberries and milk shakes).

Room service is streamlined and efficient, with excellent continental breakfasts (including smoked salmon and bagels) and cold items for the rest of the day. Carnival's room service menu is standardized fleetwide, so our favorites were on it, including the usually wonderful roast beef and brie on a baguette sandwich. Why someone in Paradise's kitchen would choose to slather half a jar of yellow mustard on it is beyond us, but otherwise the 24-hour service is a great luxury.

Suite guests are entitled to an expanded room service menu that includes a choice of hot breakfast items and dishes from dining room offerings.At 2,052 passengers and 70,367-tons, the mid-sized Fantasy-class ships (which include Fantasy, Ecstasy, Inspiration, Imagination, Fascination, Elation, Sensation and Paradise) are the workhorses of Carnival's fleet. These vessels, which lack some of the up-to-the-minute accouterments sported by Carnival's newer ships -- plentiful balcony staterooms, distinctive indoor promenade -- are typically assigned shorter-than-a-week itineraries and, as such, make frequent turnarounds. Paradise is no exception.

Paradise, which at one time was the industry's only all-non-smoking cruise vessel (the company abandoned the philosophy at the end of 2003) remains a beautiful ship, spiffy-clean, easy to navigate, and filled with the attributes -- tons of activities, great food, Camp Carnival for kids, wonderful pools and sun decks, first-rate entertainment -- that draw guests to Carnival again and again. Its short cruises -- three- and four-night Mexico cruises out of Long Beach through November 2011, and four- and five-night Caribbean cruises out of Tampa December 2011 and beyond -- are affordable getaways that attract everyone from young families to seniors.

However, make no mistake that this is an older ship. Carnival is doing its best to spiff it up -- adding in dedicated teen and tween clubs, an adults-only sun deck tucked away on an aft deck and even extra-fee, higher-end steak and seafood options in the dining room (to make up for its lack of a specialty dining venue). And further Evolutions of Fun upgrades, including the addition of more waterslides and a redesigned pool area, will take place over the next few years. In the meantime, though, cabins definitely have an outdated look with wardrobes and bathroom vanities showing some wear, as well as a lack of balconies. (And the suites with balconies don't even have floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors.) The dining rooms are one level with low ceilings as opposed to the airy, multi-level venues found on newer ships.

Still, if you can keep from comparing this ship with its younger siblings, it's easy to have a good time on Paradise with plenty of activities and casual dining options available nearly round the clock. Because with such brief itineraries, you will run out of time onboard before you run out of things to do.

Dining

Paradise passengers have two options for dinner in the main dining rooms. They can opt for traditional, set seating (6:15 and 8 p.m.) or go with the flow via Carnival's "Your Choice Dining" program. With the flexible option, passengers can have dinner in the main dining room anytime they like between 6 and 9:45 p.m. (times may vary). Dining assignments -- which you select before the cruise -- are made on a first come, first served basis, so if you have your heart set on one or the other, consider booking earlier rather than later.

The two dining rooms, Destiny and Elation, are located on Deck 8, but while Elation is easily accessible from the main atrium, Destiny can only be reached by the aft elevator or stairs from Deck 9. The dining rooms have low ceilings and are partitioned into sections with both round and rectangular tables and banquettes.

A short cruise still offers the same dining traditions as any longer cruise, with a Captain's Gala formal night dinner (complete with lobster tails) on the second night, an excellent wine selection, a well-rounded menu each night, and wonderful entertainment by cheerful waitstaff who stop service for a few minutes each evening to make people smile, sing, dance and laugh.

The menu selections were excellent each evening, with a fresh fish option, beef, chicken and a specialty of lamb or pork. The breads and rolls were warmed, salads creative, and desserts -- usually the weakest part of any shipboard meal -- were excellent as well. The food was appropriately spiced and arrived quickly. We particularly loved the cream of pumpkin soup and the mixed lamb dish, a deliciously spicy mix of stewed shank and grilled loin with vegetables. Spa Carnival (featuring lower-calorie, lower-fat options) and vegetarian items are always on the menu. In addition, diners can pay an extra $18 for "Steakhouse Selections" -- featuring premium seafood and USDA prime beef -- including filet mignon, prime rib, Maine lobster tail, and surf and turf. As Paradise does not have a full-fledged alternative, for-fee restaurant onboard, these selections are passengers' opportunity to order a fancier dinner.

The Paris Cafe on the Lido Deck is one of the prettiest of this type of cafeteria-style restaurant at sea, and the way the stations are broken up makes for few lines and few bottlenecks. Lines flow well, and the fare, typical buffet food, is nonetheless quite good, whether it's omelets for breakfast or roast pork loin and fresh pasta for lunch. At night it is transformed into the Seaview Bistro, a more upscale version of the same cafeteria-style service, but with menu items from the main restaurants, presented to those who prefer to dine casually.

We did have to wait for service on one day; no one was behind the counter at a busy lunchtime for quite some time while the line backed up and guests began to grumble, but once served, the meal was excellent. The salad bar (with a good selection of veggies, beans and premade salads)and dessert area are located in a circular station in the middle of the room, away from the hot food counters, which allows people to pick through the little tomatoes and cucumber slices without causing a backup for hot meals. A made-to-order panini station is nearby.

Just outside the Paris Café is another serving counter, offering grilled items (including premade hot dogs and chicken fingers), a small selection of salads and desserts, and a made-to-order Mongolian stir-fry station that was very popular.

Carnival's light-as-air, bubbly-hot pizza is served at the back of the Paris Restaurant, 24 hours a day, with freshly made Caesar salad. If the pizza that is pre-sliced looks like it is a bit old, ask for a fresh one. It takes about five minutes and is worth the wait. The server behind the counter will happily oblige.

For a real treat, choose to sit outside on the covered aft deck right behind the pizza bar. There are two of these promontories, one on each side of the ship, overlooking the Serenity deck. They are little known and little used and offer a haven of privacy overlooking the stern wake.

Carnival offers late-night buffets every night for those midnight munchies, held in the Paris Cafe. One of the nights is the Grand Gala Buffet, a beautiful display of culinary craft with exquisite chocolate confections, fruit and vegetable carvings, and ice sculptures. Another night had crepes and sundaes as the late-night offerings, along with hot and cold savory items.

One of the nicest little bonuses on this ship is the sushi stand, open every evening from 5:30 until 8 p.m. It's small, with only one server, and the line forms early and lasts quite awhile. The offerings are fairly standard tekka maki (tuna roll), California roll and spicy tuna hand rolls. They are served fresh with ginger, wasabi and shoyu, and the little stand was a huge hit with everyone who tried it.

The Ile de France Cafe, located on Carnival Boulevard, offers great specialty coffees for an a la carte charge, along with cookies and chocolate confections (dipped strawberries and milkshakes). Also available on all of Carnival's ships is the Chef's Table dining experience, which affords a dozen passengers a multicourse dinner with a master chef, a private cocktail reception, and a tour of the galley and its operations. This dining option usually takes place in a nontraditional venue, such as the galley or library, and it can be booked onboard at the information desk for a per-person cost of $75.

Room service is streamlined and efficient, with excellent continental breakfasts (including smoked salmon and bagels) and cold items for the rest of the day. Carnival's room service menu is standardized fleetwide, so our favorites were on it, including the usually wonderful roast beef and brie on a baguette sandwich. Why someone in Paradise's kitchen would choose to slather half a jar of yellow mustard on it is beyond us, but otherwise the 24-hour service is a great luxury.

Suite guests are entitled to an expanded room service menu that includes a choice of hot breakfast items and dishes from dining room offerings.

Public Rooms

Joe Farcus, Carnival's long-time designer, chose "Ships of the World" as the theme for Paradise. He was feeling sentimental about this being the last of the Fantasy line, so he infused the public spaces with nostalgia, too -- hence rooms like the Normandie Lounge, the Queen Mary Lounge, the America Bar and the Rotterdam Lounge. He tipped his hat to his employer by naming the indoor walkway the Carnival Boulevard and the two dining rooms, Destiny and Ecstasy, after Carnival ships.

The six-deck-high atrium is cozy and comfortable, with Italian floral blown-glass panels and large replicas of enameled Faberge eggs on pillars. The turquoise eggs, about a foot tall, are lighted from within and are found in the elevator lobbies throughout the ship, adding a further touch of nostalgic elegance.

One of the most interesting spots onboard is the Blue Riband Library on Deck 8, filled with memorabilia from ocean liners of the past. The Blue Riband was a symbol, in the 1800's and early 1900's, of the fastest ship at sea, and could only be flown by one ship at a time, so as each new ship was built, the Riband changed hands. The library itself is a charming room, a lovely place to sit quietly or to meet with friends for a game of cards -- though, consistent with other Carnival ships, the book selection is minimal and the glass cases remained locked throughout our cruise.

Deck 8 is also home to many of the ship's shops, selling sundries, duty-free items and jewelry. Upstairs on Deck 9 is the "items under $10" store and Formalities for tux rentals, as well as the photo gallery and shop. The window banquettes and seats along Carnival Boulevard on this deck allow guests to sit quietly and watch the goings-on without participating, or to enjoy a coffee and pastry from the Ile de France Cafe.

The ship's Internet center is located on the bottom level of the atrium on Deck 7, adjacent to the Paradise Bar. There are several stations on high counters with barstool-like chairs. The ship is also equipped for wireless access. Internet packages range from $24 for 60 minutes of Internet usage, $16.50 for 30 minutes or 75 cents if you pay as you go. Also on Deck 7 are the guest services and shore excursions desks, as well as the art gallery that seems to be located in a hallway to nowhere.

Self-service Laundromats can be found on Deck 7 forward and Deck 6 mid-ship. An infirmary is located on Deck 3.

Cabins

The Fantasy-class sleeping quarters are fine for sleeping and showering but were not designed for cocooning. It works out though, since the objective is to get you out on deck where this "Fun Ship" really shines. That said, the ship has gone partway into its cabin refurbishments, adding Carnival's new, luxurious beds and bedding, including plump pillows and fluffy duvets. However, the style of the cabins and the amenities (wardrobes, bathroom vanities) definitely show their age.

Standard inside and outside cabins are spacious enough, at an average size of 185 square feet, and have ample storage and closet space. Each cabin has a small desk with five nice-sized drawers and a stool, a closet with shelves on one side and hanging space on the other, an open storage area, twin beds that can be made into a king, a 19-inch television (not flat screen), a small round coffee table, and a small chair. The predominant color in the cabins is coral with red highlights; the ceiling is coral, the Formica desktop is coral, the little coffee table is coral. The spreads and window treatments are a mix of pink, orange, blue and purple, and the carpeting adds dark grey and light blue to the underlying coral color.

One corner of the cabin has a built-in box that is used for extra blankets and the life jackets. When the beds are configured as a queen, the person on the inside has no access except to climb over the outer bed. Above the box and angled into the corner is the television, which does not swivel but instead faces the center of the room. It's almost impossible to view comfortably from either bed when they are configured as twins, and the lone chair is too uncomfortable for relaxing.

Television programming is minimal, with three network stations from the eastern U.S., one movie channel for adults and one for children, and several in-house channels with information about shore excursions, shipboard activities and shopping.

The standard bathrooms are also spacious, with a roomy shower, sink with storage space above for makeup and other necessities, and an explosively loud vacuum toilet. Hot water is plentiful and the water pressure great; the cloth shower curtain does tend to billow and cling, but otherwise the shower is excellent. The old, flat, beige, scratchy towels have been replaced with big, new, fluffy, absorbent, luscious white ones.

Carnival has partnered with companies that provide sample sizes of their items including Crest toothpaste, Johnson & Johnson dental floss, Bic razors and Listermint mouthwash, which arrive in your room in a bowl or basket on your bathroom sink. These baskets are really fun, because, like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.

Paradise does not offer standard balcony cabins. To get a verandah, you'll need to upgrade to a Grand Suite (GS) or a Balcony Suite (OS). The extra-large 330-square-foot Category GS suites are located mid-ship on Deck 6 (Upper Deck), and are nicely furnished with a bar, large sofa and full-sized whirlpool tub. The 70-square-foot balcony is deep and wide, with two metal-and-mesh chairs and a round metal table, perfect for lazing around outdoors on warm days. The 220-square-foot Category OS suites are slightly smaller, located forward on Deck 11 (Verandah Deck), and although similarly furnished, have a tiny 30-square-foot balcony and no whirlpool tub. Note that in both categories, there are no floor-to-ceiling windows with sliding glass doors leading out to the balcony, but a large picture window adjacent to a regular door with a small window in it.

The ship has 24 wheelchair-accessible cabins in inside categories 4B - 4E and outside categories 6C - 6E.

Hint: Even though there are no prized aft balcony cabins, there are aft cabins with windows over the stern wake. Some of them are handicap-accessible rooms with a modified configuration and less closet space, but most are the same as the side cabins, albeit with a different (and unique) viewpoint. The ones in the middle of the six that span the aft have an extra foot or so of depth, and if you move your bed close to the desk, you actually have room to fit a chair under the window, the better to see where you have just been.

Entertainment

Carnival's entertainment options are always top-notch, and Paradise is no exception. The ship's lounges and bars really distinguish the ship, with enough active and festive places to enjoy group conviviality and enough quiet spaces to enjoy conversation. The America Bar, with blown-glass stars and stripes, is the ship's piano bar, which gets loud and chummy later in the evening, but it's a great pre-dinner meeting spot for those dining in the Ecstasy dining room. The Rotterdam Bar tends to be a quiet spot for wine before and liqueurs after dining in the Destiny restaurant. The African themed Rex disco stays open until the wee hours to entertain carefree revelers, and its lion-head symbol's eyes flash with the beat.

The United States Bar, located in the promenade just outside the casino, has a funny little stage across from it, in which a lone country-western singer serenades the crowd with his guitar.

And if hokey karaoke is your thing, you'll find it in the Queen Mary Lounge, located aft along the Promenade. The same venue also hosts the comedy show, presented twice: The earlier one is G-rated for families; the midnight show is definitely adults-only fare.

Our favorite is the Paradise Bar, located in the atrium, with its light filtering through the glass panels above. A classical trio plays in the evenings, and a glass of wine here, accompanied by the strains of Mozart or Vivaldi and the rosy glow of the setting sun, provides a relaxing break between a busy day and the promise of an active evening.

The production shows in the main theater, Normandie Lounge, are great fun and professionally presented. The theater itself, done in rust and gold with blue accents, has a fairly level lower floor, with more stadium-like seating in the upper level, where you can choose from regular seating on the sides or round banquettes in the center. The full casino offers slots and 12 tables, all of which were going strong during our day at sea and in the evenings.

Daytime activities are equally extensive, with the usual Carnival "Fun Ship" offerings around the main pool games (including, of course, the hairy chest contest), and trivia contests, bingo and art auctions in venues all over the ship. The arcade on Deck 9 is open day and night for cruisers of all ages. Passengers interested in a behind-the-scenes tour of a cruise ship can pay $55 for the once-a-cruise, nearly three-hour Behind the Fun Tour, which takes a limited number of participants to visit the bridge, engine control room, galley, staff dining areas and laundry room. For the price, tour participants receive special gifts, including a Behind the Fun baseball cap and commemorative photo.

With such short cruises, Paradise has limited shore excursion offerings, but the selection on our cruise was reasonably priced ranging from $22 per person for a shopping tour to $85 for a jeep adventure tour and $146 for golf play at a local resort.

Fitness and Recreation

Paradise's extensive gym facility is located forward and overlooking the ship's bow. Not too over-the-top New Age-y, but just soothing enough to feel contemporary, the space uses lots of natural materials and neutral colors. Two trainers run the free health seminars and offer boot camp packages (metabolic testing and fitness instruction) for $69 as well as Pilates, yoga and spinning classes for $12 a class. Free classes such as stretching and abs workouts are also on offer.

The Nautica Spa and salon services are run by Steiner of London and offer a wide array of treatments from massages to facials. Other treatments include body wraps, ionithermie weight loss treatments, and new bamboo and Thai poultice massages in smallish medicinal-looking treatment rooms. Carnival also offers kids and teen spa menus, featuring mother-daughter manicures, ice cream "flavored" treatments and acne attack facials. The men's and women's locker rooms each have sauna and steam rooms for complimentary use.

There are two adult pools; the Lido pool has one of Carnival's signature twisty slides and is the more active and loud of the two. It's flanked by two hot tubs. The smaller aft pool on Deck 11 is quiet and rarely crowded, and features a gigantic deck apron for sunning, one hot tub and a children's pool.

Hidden away aft on Deck 9 is the adults-only Serenity sun deck. It's accessed only through the Queen Mary Lounge or down a set of stairs from the Paris Restaurant's aft outdoor seating areas. Here, adults can relax in the two hot tubs or sunbathe on padded loungers that are a step up from the Lido's deck chairs.

For the sporty set, there's a jogging track on Deck 13 (11 laps equals a mile), as well as a nine-hole mini-golf course. Shuffleboard courts, a basketball hoop and Ping-Pong tables can be found on Deck 11.

Family

Carnival's Fun Ships are made for families, with activities that encompass all age groups. There are games and contests for everyone to enjoy together, and there is Camp Carnival, with separate programs for kids, tweens and teens. The short weekend cruises attract many families; the midweek cruises less so.

The Camp Carnival facilities for children ages 2 to 11 are located at the top of the atrium, opposite the spa. Programs are offered free of charge from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m.; the multiple-room facility has arts and crafts, computer stations, walls with several monitors for movies and cartoons, a separate section for toddlers and babies, and well-trained staff supervising the children. A highlight is Camp Carnival's dining option, which allows kids to dine with other members of their playgroup.

One area where Carnival is rather unique among family-oriented cruise lines is that it accepts toddlers as young as age 2 into the program -- even if they aren't toilet trained (and staffers will change diapers). Carnival also offers babysitting at an additional charge (plan to pay about $6 per hour). At certain times, babies ages 6 months to 2 years can spend time in Camp Carnival, either with their parents (for free) or on their own (for a fee). However, toddlers and babies that aren't toilet trained are not allowed in any pools onboard, not even the children's pool, and kids must be at least 48 inches to ride the waterslide -- leaving some disappointed five and six year olds on the sidelines.

Circle C is geared toward tweens (ages 12 - 14) and this group has its own hangout on Deck 8 with computer terminals and board games. Free activities run from 9 a.m. to about 1 a.m., including scavenger hunts, dance parties, karaoke and mini-golf.

Teens ages 15 - 17 gather in Club O2, one deck up. The space is similar with computer stations, flat-screen TVs and a mocktail bar. Activities also run from morning until after midnight with photo hunts, T-shirt decorating, ice cream and make-your-own-pizza parties, and sports games. Teens also can opt to attend a supervised, teen-only tour in port.

Fellow Passengers

The weekend passengers are onboard to party and tend to be a rowdy lot; there are more children on the weekend trips as well. The midweek trips are slightly more serene. The ship appeals to people of all ages who know that they are receiving exceptional value for an all-inclusive weekend or midweek getaway. However, the shorter trips do bring on a generally younger crowd.

Dress Code

Dress is casual during the day. Evening-wear is typically resort casual, which encompasses everything from nice khakis and sundresses to dress shorts and jeans (no cut-offs). However, there's one formal night per cruise where you can go as laid back as a dress shirt and slacks or a skirt and blouse or as fancy as a tux or cocktail dress. No shorts, swim suits or tank tops are allowed in the restaurants in the evenings.

Gratuity

Standard gratuities of $10 per night per passenger are charged to your shipboard account (and can be adjusted); the service personnel, especially the room stewards and stewardesses, work extra hard to turn the cabins for two cruises per week and deserve any extra they receive. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage purchases.

Gratuity

Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff. An envelope is provided on the last night for those who want to extend thanks to the maitre d'.

Gratuity

Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.

Cruise Critic

Cruise reviews are provided by CruiseCritic.com, an award-winning cruise community and online resource for objective cruise information, published by The Independent Traveler. Copyright 1995-2009, The Independent Traveler, Inc. All rights reserved. Travelocity.com LP neither assumes any liability nor makes any representations with respect to cruise reviews and other content provided by CruiseCritic.com. Before relying on any information in a cruise review, we recommend that passengers confirm the information with the cruise line.