Setting out on a FunShip Voyage to Cuba!

The Carnival Paradise passes the historic El Morro Castle in Havana, Cuba, on its first voyage to the city on Friday, June 30, 2017. Photo courtesy of Sven Creutzmann/Carnival Cruise Line.

August 14, 2017
Today, I embarked Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Paradise in her homeport of Tampa, Florida to set sail on one of Carnival’s newest and most unique itineraries: a five-night voyage to Havana, Cuba.
Carnival Paradise arrived in Havana for the first time on June 30 of this year, becoming the first Carnival ship in the company’s 45-year history to ever visit Cuba. All of this was made possible by the easing of travel restrictions against the island nation by the U.S. Government – though how long this will all last is anyone’s guess.

Cuban and American flags…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…adorn Carnival Paradise’s soaring atrium. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This isn’t my first visit to Cuba. As a Canadian, I’ve traveled here in the past as part of Celestyal Cruises’ Cuba Cruise product that has historically been aimed at the Canadian market. During seven days, we circumnavigated Cuba, and I fell in love with the country and its people.
Carnival’s entry into Cuba is a very big deal. Not only does it give American and international guests the opportunity to visit Cuba aboard a FunShip, it also has the potential to reinvigorate the Caribbean cruise market with new – and much-needed –  destination possibilities.
To kickstart this, Carnival has deployed Carnival Paradise on a handful of four-and-five-night itineraries to Cuba this year.  They are:

As you can see, the five-night voyages are rarer than the four-night, Cuba-only cruises. I’m on the Five Night Cuba with Key West itinerary, which I love: Key West is one of my favourite places to visit, and I’m really enjoying the whole Ernest Hemingway connection between Key West and Havana (the famous author lived – and drank – in both cities). In fact, you may be surprised to know that Key West is only 106 miles (170.5 kilometres) north of Havana; closer to Cuba than Miami.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Additionally, Carnival has just announced more sailings to Cuba for the 2018 season, along with a month-long drydock for Carnival Paradise this coming February. More on that later in the Voyage Report.
Our full itinerary onboard Carnival Paradise:

Carnival Paradise – To Cuba from Tampa

Monday, August 14, 2017 Tampa, Florida Embark 4:00pm
Tuesday, August 15 At Sea
Wednesday, August 16 Key West, Florida 8:00am 5:00pm
Thursday, August 17 Havana, Cuba 8:00am Overnight
Friday, August 18 Havana, Cuba / At Sea 6:00am
Saturday, August 19 Tampa, Florida 8:00am Disembark

Embarkation in Tampa

Tampa’s Terminal 3, as seen from onboard Carnival Paradise. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Boarding Carnival Paradise in Tampa was a breeze. With my Faster to the Fun Pass (which is well worth the money), I was able to go from curbside to ship in less than 19 minutes. But even standard embarkation didn’t look as bad as in some terminals (I’m looking at you, Long Beach!). It also doesn’t hurt that Tampa’s cruise staff are exceedingly friendly, from the porters to security to check-in. Sailing from Tampa seems far more civilised than Florida’s other juggernaut ports, Port Everglades and Miami.

Carnival Paradise: Ahead of Her Time

Carnival Paradise is seen in this 1998 press photo issued at the time of her maiden voyage. Note the “No Smoking” symbol just aft of the bridge wings. Aaron Saunders collection.

It may sound strange, but I was over the moon to board the 19-year old Carnival Paradise for the first time today. Embarkation never gets old, and I was all smiles as I stepped off the gangway and into the ship’s six-storey atrium.
The last of Carnival’s trendsetting Fantasy Class ships, Carnival Paradise debuted in 1998 and has two interesting claims to fame.

The “No Smoking” symbol, painted over, is still visible on the sides of Carnival Paradise. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Firstly, she was the world’s first purpose-built non-smoking ship. When she first entered service, huge “no smoking” symbols were affixed to her sides. So serious was Carnival about Paradise’s non-smoking status that even the contractors building the ship in Finland weren’t allowed to light up. As a guest, the penalty for doing so was steep: a $250 fine and immediate disembarkation.
Carnival Paradise was way ahead of her time. Unfortunately, the no-smoking rule was put to bed in 2004 due to lower-than-expected revenues; guests have been able to smoke in designated areas of the ship ever since.

Carnival Promenade aboard Carnival Paradise, Deck 9, facing aft. This attractive space links nearly all of the ship’s public venues together. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Paradise has some of Carnival’s most distinct interior design, including the use of repeating emerald Faberge eggs throughout the ship. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

The ship’s other claim to fame is more technical in nature. Along with Carnival Elation, Carnival Paradise was built with Azipod propulsion: giant outboard motors that eliminate the need for traditional rudders and shaft-driven propellers. This was a major departure from the rest of the Fantasy Class, the remainder of which all features traditional propulsion systems.

The resplendent Rotterdam Martini Bar is representative of public rooms aboard Carnival Paradise, all of which pay homage to the classic ocean liners of yesteryear. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

So why should you care? Azipod propulsion was in its infancy back in 1998. Today, many new cruise ships feature azimuthing podded propulsion, which aid

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