Our son-in-law was skeptical about his first cruise. But after eight days aboard the Carnival Breeze, including four stops at exotic Caribbean ports, his feeling changed dramatically. “Much, much better than expected,” was his verdict as we reluctantly left the ship in Miami and headed back to Canada.
Our daughter had cruised with us 30 years ago but it was also a first for our three granddaughters (ages 5, 7 and 9) as we joined the growing trend of multi-generation travel. It took an extra degree of planning to co-ordinate flights, transfers and ship accommodation for all seven of us – but it was worth the trouble.
With unpredictable flying weather we always recommend arriving at a cruise port a day or two in advance, and we found the perfect hotel. The Acqualina Resort and Spa is located on the beach in Sunny Isles, midway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale (either airport works well for cruisers). The spacious, luxurious rooms, pristine swimming pools, great food and outstanding service all contributed to one of our best hotel experiences ever.
The luxury of Acqualina set the stage for our arrival at the Port of Miami and the Carnival Breeze, the newest and most innovative vessel in the massive Carnival fleet (currently at 23 ships and growing). Gone are the neon and garish colours of earlier ships, replaced by warm Caribbean pastels and themes. But these are still clearly the “Fun Ships,” with almost non-stop action for kids and adults alike. Breeze can hold about 4,000 guests and crowding is occasionally evident by the main pool and in the Lido Buffet, but most of the time there seemed to be plenty of space to relax and partake in the many activities. We booked three balcony rooms, with ourselves in one separate room and the family in two adjoining rooms. All of our accommodations were clean and comfortable with terrific service by Louie, our room steward (he made towel animals for our beds every evening).
Although adults can and do have a fabulous time aboard a Carnival ship (there are many bars, a great spa, a comedy club and even a large, kid-free Sanctuary area) the emphasis for us on this cruise was on the grandchildren. They were never bored.
The most dramatic aspect of this ship is Carnival Waterworks, dominating the top decks with two twisting waterslides (one spiraling for 100 metres), various sprays and smaller slides and a giant PowerDrencher bucket that tilts and drops its huge load of water every minute or so. This area, plus the two swimming pools (the smaller, rear-deck one was favoured) and the four or five hot, bubbling whirlpools became the go-to spots for our grandchildren. In addition, they loved the mini-golf and the Sky Course, a challenging tightrope walk with safety harness.
Other activities also got high marks from our family. Both kids and adults loved the intimate Thrill Theatre where short, exciting 3D films (like a log flume ride) were accompanied by gyrating seats, ticklish brushes and water sprays. On the same deck was the large Arcade area with a couple of dozen games of skill and chance (including Plucky Ducky, the one that five-year-old Abbie especially liked – nabbing small rubber ducks with a claw device). The ship also features a Dr. Seuss theme with Cat in the Hat outfits and a special “Green Eggs and Ham” breakfast. In the 2,000 seat Ovation Theatre, covering three decks at the front of the ship, elaborate production shows (with eight singers and dancers and a high-tech light curtain) alternate with cabaret acts every evening. On two sea-day afternoons the theatre presented oversize Hasbro games with audience members playing creative stage versions of games like Sorry, Yahtzee, Simon and Connect 4. Nine-year-old Eva was thrilled to be selected to play one of the games. Matt, the Cruise Director, was a great MC.
Late in the cruise, our grandchildren discovered (and loved) Camp Ocean, the special age-specific area set aside for kids where Carnival staff supervise many activities and even take them to dinner so mom and dad can have a break.
Carnival offers fixed meal times (6:00 or 8:15 pm) or anytime dining in either the Blush (stern) or Sapphire (midship) dining room. Early dining was ideal for us so we gathered in Blush most evenings to review our days and enjoy a meal. Everyone was surprised and delighted with the quality of the food and service. The Hotel Director told us the menu had recently changed, with a greater choice of dishes and even a chance to sample some unusual dish every night (the grandchildren loved the alligator fritters but turned down a chance to eat rabbit or snails). We were particularly impressed with the beef dishes and the fish (even though most of it had been frozen – getting quantities of fresh fish is impractical for 4,000 guests). The Children’s Menu had the usual choices but some imaginative ones as well, like mini Beef Wellington (a favourite of the five year old). Our waiters, some of whom sang and danced on several evenings, were excellent, remembering our names and preferences.
Lunch was also a treat on Carnival Breese with plenty of choices (Mongolian Wok, Fat Jimmy’s BBQ., Pizza, Tex-Mex, Italian) plus two big hits for our family – Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint featuring the best burgers and fries at sea and Tandoor with authentic Indian cuisine. Surprisingly, Tandoor became the lunch favourite for the kids.
Because of the huge range of activities aboard, some guests just stayed on the ship during port stops, but we were keen to visit Caribbean Islands, especially their world-renowned beaches. In St. Thomas we joined a ship tour for a look at the island and then spent a couple of hours at Sapphire Beach, an amazing stretch of sand and crystal-clear water. In Antigua we hired a driver for three hours ($25 for adults, $10 for kids) to show us the island and then stop at Darkwood Beach, one of its 365 extraordinary beaches. Cruise ships in Nassau berth close to the British Colonial Hilton and the hotel offers a beach day pass ($60, including $40 worth of food and drink). It’s a small, clean beach with warm, clear water just a 10-minute walk from the ship.
Our eight days went much too quickly, with all of us sad to leave the Carnival Breeze. Our son-in-law (now a cruising convert) found the food and drinks to be “amazing” and was very impressed with the variety of kids’ activities. Before we left, the Hotel Director told us that competition among cruise lines is very intense, especially from Royal Caribbean and Disney for family vacations. But, he said, Carnival is constantly tweaking and improving its product to stay ahead of the game. From our family experience, we can attest that they’re on the right track.
All photos by John and Sandra Nowlan – All Rights Reserved