I tend to ramble, so this will be long... but for those who like that kind of thing, enjoy. I've copied this over from what I've sent around to family and friends, so I'll try and remember to remove anything inappropriate :)
A bit of background - there were 11 of us in our group, all women, aged 29 to 60. We had 5 cabins - 3 inside, 1 oceanview, and 1 balcony. Only one of us had ever cruised before, and it had been over a decade since she had cruised. Several of us are well travelled outside of cruising.
Day 1: Saturday, January 17th... 8am ...minus 30 Celsius... time to rock... 3 cars and 11 gals set off on our first cruise adventure (well, 1 of 11 had cruised once before over a decade ago)...
3 hour drive to Bangor was uneventful. Stopped at the Bangor Mall for lunch before heading to the airport. Ate at Ruby Tuesdays, which I hate, but was quick and easy enough. White beans with chicken were good. Waitress was Sunshine, and she was defintely perky... though it was possibly drug-induced.
Self-check in at Bangor airport for Delta was a
disaster at best... 3 lines of people, but only one line of them was printing out luggage tickets, and the people working there were way too frazzled... when they stayed at the desk for more than 2 minutes... got through security just in time to walk on the plane pretty much. Uneventful flight to JFK, uneventful wait in JFK (tho the gates were listed wrong) and an uneventful flight to Tampa. At the hotel (Rocky Point Holiday Inn Express) around 11pm - staff was nice, hotel was what you expect from Holiday Inn, free breakfast, and the shuttle from the airport was free. LaTanya, who was at the front desk in the morning, was incredibly helpful.
Day 2: Took the hotel shuttle to the port Sunday morning at 10am. Our group was too big for one, so they split us over two. $10 pp (and $10 pp again when we got back to take the shuttle to the airport). Dean was our driver, and he told us some interesting stuff about Tampa en route. Left our luggage with the porters, and then hung around Channelside for a couple of hours in the sun (in the courtyard beside the terminal),
before getting in the line to board the ship. There's a wine store there, so many of the gals stocked up on wine to take on the ship. There was also this ridiculous alcoholic slushy drink store that lots of people decided to check out. There's a grocery store about 5 blocks away I believe... some of the people in our group took a walk to it. Embarkation went smoothly, and we were on the ship within an hour I would say. Very simple process, and very well organized.
Our room was already prepared when we boarded, so we left our carry-on luggage in the room and headed up to lido deck for something to eat.... and drink - Singapore slings on the ship were GROSS... pina coladas were tasty. Muster happened around 3:30, and it was relatively painless. People were ALREADY TRASHED and we hadn't even left port (including some of our group lol). During muster, the South African girl dealing with our section had her hands full with some jerk from Wisconsin (who appeared all over the place the rest of our trip, and who we started referring to as Wisconsin)... she said that she would send
the special needs team to get him if we started to sink - he didn't get it, but the rest of us had a good laugh. And really I should have been paying more attention, but Nic and I were texting about stupid people - it had to be done. Fortunately, the run-ins throughout the week with incredibly annoying drunk or rude people were few and far between. We had our luggage before 4:00 I would say, though some of our group (those on Riviera deck instead of Main) had theirs just about immediately. Once we finally got ours, I went around and delivered wipe boards and markers, which came in super handy trying to figure out where people were the rest of the week... by Tuesday, mine normally said "lobby bar" if I was on the ship
Left Tampa at about 4:20 - only 20 minutes late, which was fine... it's not like we had to be anywhere right away. Stayed up on the top decks most of the time... it was really windy and not exactly warm in Tampa (though definitely warmer than home), but it was too fun to go back in. Watching the ship sail
under the Skyway Bridge was interesting... I think they said it only clears underneath the bridge by about five feet...after that, time to get changed and ready for our first dinner in the Truffles dining room. Since many of us had excursions planned for most of the days, we opted for late seating as it would be the only time several of us saw each other everyday. They had put several smaller tables together to seat all 11 of us together, which was nice. Our wait staff were Ketut and Komang, and we had a lot of fun with them during the week... went to the welcome show in Follies, and really, it wasn't very good. This would become a common theme, and I think we all pretty much stopped going to the shows.
Day 3: Fun Day at Sea... Unicorn Cafe for breakfast, and then my sister and I wandered all around every floor of the ship to see where things were. It's pretty amazing how much stuff they can pack into one ship... there were tons of bars, lots of places to just sit around... several places to eat, stores, a casino, a library, a gym, a
spa, pools and hot tubs, mini golf, etc. We tried one of the games that were offered this afternoon, and it was fine... but watching people cheat so they could win a plastic gold ship was a little weird and kind of turned me off a bit on the games. Pina coladas on our balcony that day - also a highlight. Dinner was fancy pants day #1 of the cruise... and the captain's receiption (free drinks and snackie-poos) was before dinner... so everyone got all fancied up for that (for the free drinks, and not necessarily because anyone cared about seeing the captain... though it was kind of interesting)...
Day 4: Cozumel - This was the only day we did an excursion booked through Carnival... .we went to Tulum, and there was about 3 buses full of people going. Raoul Torres was our guide. He was pretty interesting, and didn't hold us hostage on buses, in shops, and at the site like some of the other guides did. The other people in our group except myself and one other got on the bus with Angel as a guide, and he was definitely a talker.. .mis amigos!! At our first
opportunity, we ditched the guided tour and just made sure we knew when we had to be back to the bus. The ruins were nice, the weather was fantastic, and I was amused by all the iguanas all over the place. We ate some Mexican food at the restaurant there, and it was excellent... including the incredibly hot pico de gallo and old school Coke.. I don't drink soda, but someone warned me to give it a try since they make it with sugar cane in Mexico... good stuff... The snack Carnival gives you is a bottle of water or soda, and then chips, a cupcake type thing, and cheese ritz crackers. GROSS!! We got back to Cozumel with about 30 minutes to spare, and we ducked into a shop or two before getting back on the ship. I spent a whopping $3 USD in Cozumel. We went to the show tonight as well - it wasn't really all that good, and we didn't bother to go to any of the others, except one comedian.
Day 5: Belize - We booked a tour of the ruins at Lamanai with BelizeExcursions dot com. The only thing I didn't like about
this tour is that we had to wait twice (once at a gas station and once at the river dock) for other people who were coming on the tour to catch up with us. We had gotten up early to make sure we got one of the first tenders off the ship, and there's no reason why the others couldn't have done the same. Our driver was Douglas (I think) and I have nothing to say about him - he barely said a word, but he got us to and from where we were going. Then our guide was Ceedrow (no idea about the spelling)... and he told us to call him Icy. The river boat ride was fantastic, and Icy stopped to point out wildlife like birds, bats, and crocodiles. We had a provided lunch when we got to Lamanai - chicken, salads, fruit, rice, and drinks.... all of it was very good. Icy guided us through the site, and gave us time to explore the different areas. There's also a tower that you can climb to the top of, and there was time to do that for anyone who wanted. The rude Europeans who made us late getting
to Lamanai started complaing though that we needed to get going back to the ship while some of my friends were still on the tower, so I felt I had to let them know that since we waited for them in the morning, they would have to sit and wait for us now. They didn't say much after that. The ride back down the river was much faster, and Icy only made a couple of stops. Before we got back in the van, Icy told me he tried to point out everything interesting he could think of en route so I could take pictures. Made it back in plenty of time to catch the last tenders (there were several coming and going at once) to the ship.... so much for the adventure of possibly missing the ship :P We caught the comedian's early show this evening, and he was really quite funny, but I don't recall his name.
Day 6: Honduras - This was my favorite of all the ports. We booked through Victor Bodden and did a customized tour. Our tour guide was Ben, and he was friendly and informative. We drove all over Roatan, stopped at various
locations for pictures, visited Yubu (native dancers and crafters), went to Victor's place for zip lining (no thank you, that doesn't even look the least bit fun, and cuts into picture taking time), and had lunch at Half Moon Bay resort... excellent food (mmmm giant plate of coconut shrimp), and had some excellent Honduran beer at the same time. Honduras is still a very poor country, and I'm not sure if the tourism from the ships that have started to stop there (and their new dock) is a good thing... not that I wouldn't go back in a heartbeat. You hear a lot about people just asking the tourists for money, not even offering to sell them anything, or any kind of service or anything. Ben took us to the top of one of the hills on Roatan Island, and lots of kids swarmed because there were tourists... offering to take your picture for a dollar, pointing out what they could see in the distance, and some of them just asking for money for no reason.
Day 7: Cayman Islands - We booked the east end island tour with ShoreExcursions dot com. Dave was our guide, and he was
talkative once you got him going or asked questions, but was content to drive in silence the rest of the time. We went to the Caybrew brewery for a tour and samples (delish - nothing better before noon), then to St. Pedro to tour the grounds, and then to the botanical gardens (flowers weren't that interesting, but cool giant blue iguanas were). We had some time left when we got back to the port, so we shopped a bit for rum cake and hit Margaritaville (mmm Havana Banana with chocolate sauce). I had a good time here, but this was my least favorite of all the ports (they have all the major fast food chains, which grosses me out)... it's too north americanized, and didn't really feel all that different from lots of other places I have been except for the pretty water. We also waited a long time to get a tender off the ship that normal due to a medical emergency and a lack of organization. This day would be the only day I thought about complaining about getting off the ship. It took about 90 minutes, and fortunately our tour waited for us.
Day 8: Fun
Day at Sea... this one was jam packed!! Breakfast at Truffles... since we didn't have to get off the ship today, didn't see why we should have to go to the buffet... in general, I hate them. Then the disembarkation talk at 11 (not really that informative, but the top 10 stupid questions were half interesting). Chocolate covered strawberries and coffee for a break... registered for On Deck for the Cure... 5 of us participated. Fruit and chocolate buffet around lunch, and then the walk... and then real lunch... and then word games and trivia... most time in between all of these events was spent at our bar in the lobby. Final dinner was a lot of fun - all the wait stuff sung their version of "Leaving on a Jet Place" - "Leaving on a FunShip". Back to the bar after packing (suitcases had to be out in the hall between 10 and 12), and then back to the bar. After the lobby bar closed, I made my one and only appearance in Billie's Piano bar when the other half of our group had been hanging out most of the week. Too smokey, and the piano guy sucked... but
my favorite bar tender was there, so I hung out for an hour or so with friends. Prasetyo (before-mentioned favorite bar tender) mixed us up some coconut irish cream goodness (one of many creations from that week based on him remembering what people drank). By 1:00 I had to call it a night, since I'd been on the go since 7am, and drinking since 9am ... when you're nice to the bar staff, they are nice to you in return, and I had quite a few "extra" drinks that day.
Day 9: Headed home... as non-Americans, we had to be up to clear customs early in the morning... 6:30 for our cabin. No issues on my end, but the same junk as normal for my sister (extra screening, possible deportation, etc) Off the ship after 9, and waited in the sun for my sis for a bit. Then off to the Florida Aquarium to kill a few hours. Took our shuttle to the Tampa Airport, which is really quite nice, and has a Starbucks... which is all I ever really want in an airport. Flight was uneventful, until we had to sit in holding and circle JFK. We only
had about 50 minutes to connect at JFK, and by the time we landed, we had less than 10. Only 6 of us made the connection, and the assorted airport peoples couldn't be convinced to hold the plane. The flight was short and uneventful, and amazingly all our luggage made the flight. The five that missed the flight were flown to Portland instead, and when I called them from Bangor, they were just getting off the plane in Portland. Delta taxied them from there to Bangor. A couple stayed with all of their luggage, and the other four of us headed back home.
I loved this ship... I thought it was a good size (though I don't really have anything to compare it to, seeing as this was my first cruise), the decor was fine, and it was incredibly easy to navigate. Lots of places to sit and hang out, no matter what you wanted to do. Didn't spend much time in the casino, but it always looked busy when it was open. Didn't really make use of the couple of stores on deck 3 either. I spent the most time in the lobby bar - the staff there
was amazing... Prasetyo from Indonesia was my favorite bar tender... he knew my name and what I drank before I came back to the bar the second time. Svitlana (Ukraine), Made (Philippines), Cynthia (Philippines), and Artur (Belarus) were all excellent as well. We went to the welcome show in the evening, and it was pretty cheesy. Jen the cruise director was far too perky for me, with a voice that just grates on you... though I guess it comes with the job description.
Our room steward was Philip from the Philippines. We didn't see him much, but our room was always clean and the few requests we left for him were handled quickly. So that was fine by me.
Announcements were only piped into our cabin once, and that was for muster the first day. If you actually wanted to hear them, and if you were in our cabin (4209), then you would have to open the cabin or balcony door. I didn't use room service, but my roomates did and liked it. I also didn't use the spa or gym and didn't bring kids, so I don't really have any comments on those.
I thought the
food was excellent across the board. Breakfast buffet is breakfast buffet, and it was fine but nothing amazing. We loved all our dinners in the dining room. I come from a family with lots of fisherman, and thought the lobster wasn't great and a little too salty, but it wasn't horrible either. I'm not a fussy eater, have no allergies, and generally will eat something even if I don't like it... We had a couple in our group with shellfish allergies, and they had no problems.
There was one night that was rough enough that they put the seasickness bags by all the elevator banks... that put two of our group out of commission, but otherwise all as well (fyi - you can get seasickness meds at the purser's desk for free).
Our weather was perfect - beautiful and warm all the days we were in port. Not as warm but still nice on the sea days... only a few momentary bouts of rain.
We were delighted with service across the board on the ship and we tipped above and beyond our prepaid grats to our cabin stewards, dining room staff, the maitre'd, and our favorite bar
staff. They earned it.
All in all, though I generally prefer to travel in smaller groups and avoid the horribly touristy attractions... I would definitely cruise again...
Safe travels all.
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