Saturday, December 21, 2013

TABC to begin collecting taxes from Galveston Cruises in 2014

 
 

If your a Texas resident it just became a little more expensive to bring liquor back 
from your cruise.  See the following press release:

El Paso, TX (KTSM) — The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) will begin collecting personal importation taxes on alcohol and cigarettes from passengers returning from cruises in Galveston in 2014.

On January 4, 2014, cruise travelers disembarking out of the Port of Galveston will need to pay the tax for alcoholic beverages and cigarettes imported into the state that were purchased either on the ship's duty free store or at a foreign port of call.

TABC currently operates 20 ports of entry collection facilities along the Texas-Mexico border where the tax is presently collected.

During the recent legislative session, the agency was appropriated funding to begin tax collection of imported alcoholic beverages and cigarettes from seaport facilities.

The Galveston Port facility will be the first seaport location where this tax will be collected with plans to extend to the Houston-Bayport facility in the fall of 2014.

Section 107.07 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code, in effect for over 40 years, requires that each adult (21 years old and over) importing alcoholic beverages into the state for personal consumption pay the state tax and an administrative fee of $3.00.

The law limits personal importation by an adult to once every 30 days with limits of: 1 gallon of distilled spirits, 3 gallons of wine, and 288 ounces of malt beverages (24 12-ounce containers).

Persons importing alcoholic beverages must personally accompany the product as it enters the state.

For a detailed list of the taxes for both cigarettes and alcoholic beverages go to http://www.tabc.state.tx.us/poe/tax_rates.asp.
 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Caribbean Princess

Caribbean Princess

Cruise Review 12/7/2013

Just the Facts:
Ship: Caribbean Princess
Captain: Girgio Pomata
Cruise Director: Brett Siborne
Ports: Houston, Cozumel, Roatan, Belize

I am sailing with the Dear Wife (DW) and a group of 9 good cruising friends. We all like Princess Cruise Line and are very happy that they are sailing again from Texas.  This is my 21st Princess cruise, first time on the Caribbean Princess, and 83rd cruise overall.

Friday / Travel
North Texas was experiencing a major ice storm so we wanted to leave a day earlier than we would have, but didn’t leave soon enough.  It took us more than an hour to get down our mountain and off our property as it was solid ice everywhere.  We finally got to Clifton and once to State Highway 6 the roads where much improved.  South of Waco it was fine and soon we were beyond the ice line and in a few hours at our friends house in Cypress.  After some good Texas BBQ we were resting for the big day tomorrow.

Saturday / Embarkation / Houston / Day 1
Piazza - Caribbean Princess
We were up early and soon on our way to our group meeting point in Alvin, Texas.  We have a special plan today for transport to the cruise terminal.  Our group of nine are all riding together in a very nice motorhome.  In the MoHo we had breakfast snacks and morning cocktails so it was a very fun hour drive to Bayport and the party started very early.  In  addition to the nine we have two local friends doing the Bon Voyage experience.  This is unique to Princess and allows BV guests to board for the day, enjoy lunch, have a complementary welcome photo, tour the ship and receive a future cruise credit.  This also allowed the entire group to board early so we were through security, check-in, and on the ship about 11:30 am.  After dropping our bags we all met for a welcome cocktail in Crooners, the martini bar on deck 7.  We all had lunch in the Coral Dining Room, one of three Main Dining Rooms (MDR) located on ship and open for Bon Voyage, Platinum & Elite guests on embarkation day.  Lunch was fantastic I ordered the Shrimp Salad, Beef Tenderloin, and Orange Cheesecake.   After lunch we toured the ship visiting: Lido Deck (quickly as it’s cold outside @ 34°), International Cafe, Skywalker’s on deck 18 aft, the various Public Lounges on Promenade Deck, and ending in the Princess Theater.  Our Bon Voyage friends left about 3:00ish as Boat Drill is scheduled for 3:30.  Our bags were delivered by now so we unpacked and then had a nice quick nap.  We did not sail until after our scheduled time getting way about 6:00 pm.  Some went to the 7:00 pm Welcome Show, but since we were in the Houston ship channel I was getting some last minute internet use as we had phone service for the two+ hours it took to get into the Gulf of Mexico.  It was now time for our first dinner in the Palm MDR, the designated set time dining room located on deck six aft.  We have a nice nine-top table and the waiters were very nice.  Dinner was very good, I ordered The Red Snapper Cerviche Cocktail (Red Snapper, Shrimp, Mango, Rum, Lime, Avocado garnish served chilled in large cocktail glass.) Fettuccine Alfredo, Sliced Pork Tenderloin with Potato & Vegetables, a Crayfish Étouffée  to sample, and two desserts: the Passion Fruit Souffle and the Creme Brûlée.  After dinner we saw Seth Gibson the piano player in Crooners for a short time before retiring for the evening.


Sunday / Fun Day at Sea / Day 2
Caribbean Princess Aft Pool area - our HQ for the week
A little bit of choppy seas overnight as we broke through the cold front, but I slept very well.  We now have very welcomed warm weather.  I had breakfast in the Coral MDR and ordered the days special: Blueberry Pancakes with a side of bacon & ham. It was very good. Afterward I saw some of the group heading to the International Cafe for one of their signature Cronuts (combination donut & croissant), I did sample one just to say I had.  We are very conveniently located next to the aft pool so it’s very easy to lounge here as many did this morning.  Since the Pub Lunch is limited and it was available today in the Crown Grill some decided to meet there at 11:30.  We got a nice larger table fairly easily and ordered beer and lunch.  I had a Fish & Chips and a Ploughmans Lunch.  The afternoon was Casino, more deck time, or NFL football for the group.  Some in the group attended the Matre’D premium Wine Tasting and said it was very good.  Six of us attended the Captains Circle event 4:00-4:30+ in the Princess Theater.  This was my first time to see the Cruise Director and they had a nice small show with the Caribbean Princess orchestra and feature singers.  What I really liked was that in lieu of being served a ‘cheap’ cocktail we were given drink vouchers good for a cocktail of our choice in any of the cocktail bars.  Wonderful idea.  We went strait away to see our cocktail server Kelvin in Crooners.  I had a Hershey’s (chocolate) cocktail.  As it was now sundown, we went directly to the aft for our own wine party.  We had wine glasses, our own music, and went through 5 bottles of wine while enjoying the sundown+.  This is the first formal night and we went to see the Champagne Waterfall and Kelvin made sure we got a complementary champagne.  Dinner was good, I ordered the Crabmeat & Monterey Jack Cheese Quiche, Farfalle alla Rustica, French Onion Soup, and the Golden Medallions of Beef Tenderloin.  For dessert I had a very nice Bananas Foster prepared by the head waiter and also sampled an Oreo crusted Chocolate pie.  DW, a vegetarian, had the Mixed Greens Salad and Crustless Spinach & Potato Flan with Spicy Tomato Sauce.   After dinner most attended the feature show: Do You Wanna Dance in the Princess Theater.  It was an enjoyable show and we had a great view from our third row seats.  It was a FUN sea day on the Caribbean Princess.

Monday / Island of Cozumel / Day 3
Chen Rio area on east side of Cozumel
Very smooth seas overnight. Weather is perfect 82° with a breeze.  We docked at the Puerta Maya pier by the scheduled 9:00 am arrival.  The Carnival Dream is also docked and the Carnival Triumph is next door at the International pier.  Several went to the MDR for breakfast, the daily special was a Mexican omelette, but I had Eggs Benedict this morning.  A  group of eight of us arranged a private van to do our own tour and bar crawl on the eastern shore of the island.  We met our driver at 10:00 am, stopped at the 7-11 to get some Bohemia beer & water and were on our way to the “wild side” of the island.  First stop was  Rastas bar with our first view of of the Caribbean and Bush Beach.  The wave and surf were very high.  After a round of drinks, a very nice mojito for me, we were on our way.  Next stop was Playa Bonita that used to be our favorite stop in years past,  Unfortunately time has taken a toll, the beach here is basically no more.  Still a wonderful view and very good guacamole.  The waiters did a bit of a raunchy show along with free shots of tequila.  Chen Rio was the next stop and it was super with a small bay that allowed us to swim as the surf broke on the large coral rocks just beyond us.  They also had Bohemia beer and beach massages.  Next stop was the chichi bar Coconuts located on a bluff overlooking the coast line.  This is one of the most famous bars on the island and I had a mojito and enjoyed the view.  Final stop was at Punta Moreno and as it’s later in the day we had the place and it’s saltwater pools to ourselves.  They also had a nice beach, hammocks, swings,and more.  The mojito here was the best of the day.  We then headed to San Miguel and after a pit stop at Woody’s Bar we went to a pharmacy to get our medicines needs fulfilled.  We arrived back at the pier about 4:30 in time for some shopping at Cinco Sole and shops.  From the balcony we watched the Carnival Dream docked next to us depart with the usual waves and horn blasts between ships.  Always fun.  We sailed about 6:00 pm.  Hot shower and rest time until dinner.  Half our group did the Monday Night Football Party on Lido deck where they were showing the Dallas Cowboy Game so we had small group for dinner.  I ordered the Warm Crab & Artichoke Dip with Baguette Chips, Cock-a-Leekie Soup, Fettuccine Alfredo (they have this on the menu every night), Surf & Turf  (filet mignon and jumbo shrimp) and Ice Creme for dessert.  A great day on ship and in Cozumel.

Tuesday / Island of Roatan / Day 4
We snorkeled around these!
A little bit of rolling overnight just enough for a good sleep.  The weather is perfect in the mid 80’s.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and ordered the day’s special: The Lumberjack Breakfast (steak & eggs).  We arrived at Mahogany Bay in Roatan a little late and that always causes a back up for those wanting to leave the ship.  Our group arranged for a Catamaran private excursion with Radical Adventures, rated #1 in Trip Advisor.  Their van picked us up at the Mahogany Bay entry and we were off to Oak Ridge on the east end (south shore) of the Island of Roatan.  The Catamaran was very nice with a crew of five and they provided snacks, soda, beer, or piña coladas.  We sailed to the Cow and Calf islands and had some great snorkeling completely around the small island. We saw great coral reefs, fans, lot’s of colorful fish, lobster, and even a small octopus. We enjoyed the water and scenery as we were served a very nice grilled lunch and dessert before sailing back to Oak Ridge.  After returning to the dock we were taken back to Mahogany Bay in the same van.  It was a great excursion and perfect for a group.  It was a good day for balcony or deck time with the perfect weather, we have a view of the bay and shipwrecks from our balcony. After a hot shower I relaxed and enjoyed a good movie in the cabin, White House Down until dinner time. This was the night I was looking forward to for dinner as it’s Italian Night.  I ordered: Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan), Iced Peach Bellini Soup (in a glass), Spaghetti con Polpette in Sala di Pomodoro Fresco, Scaloppine di Vitello al Marsala, Saltimbocca di Pollo (pan seared chicken breast  topped with parma ham) and Cassata alla a Siciliana (ice creme with candied fruits) for dessert.  The waiters were are dressed in Italian uniforms and the assistant Matre’D sang several traditional Italian songs, it was an outstanding dinner. Several went to the casino or listen to music after dinner, but after a long day including snorkeling I retired soon after dinner.

Wednesday  /  Belize City  /  Day 5
Entry to Skywalkers
Smooth seas overnight and we arrived at our anchorage early well before 8:00 am; however, the weather although warm is foggy and rainy.  I went to the MDR for a nice breakfast, Italian (open faced omelet with mushrooms over Frittata and Polenta with Italian sausage) was the special, but I ordered an Eggs Benedict and a nice Pineapple boat fruit starter.  Afterwards we met on the aft deck for Bloody Mary’s and watched the weather, most are staying on board especially since this is a tender port. We watched a movie then had a nice late lunch on Horizon Court.  Rain continued throughout the day so they opened more television stations with movies so it was an afternoon movies and reading for us.  Some did the wine tasting in Vines and enjoyed it.  There is enough indoor public space and activities to handle a rainy day so everyone seemed fine with the weather.  Dinner was good, I ordered the Goat Cheese Souffle, Potato Gnocchi in Tomato Sauce, the Pork Tenderloin entree, a Trilogy of Lamb Chop, Veal Breast, & Chicken Kabob (to sample),  and a Chocolate Lovers Delight for dessert.  After dinner some went to the Casino and Disco located in Skywalkers high above the sea on deck 18.

Thursday  /  Fun Day at Sea  /  Day 6
Caribbean Princess - Main Dining Room
Calm seas overnight and the weather has improved to just cloudy, but it’s nice and warm so outdoor decks in use today.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and the special was Eggs Benedict so that’s what I ordered.  Mine were cooked hard not near as good when being mass produced…the previous ones I ordered were perfect, still a very good breakfast though.  They had a lot of shipboard activities today including: Bingo, Trivia, Games, Seminars, and a Veterans meeting. I watched some Love Boat reruns in the cabin and I ordered a Club Sandwich and Chef Salad from room service for lunch, they were excellent.  The weather improved and after an afternoon relaxing on the aft deck most met at Crooners Bar for cocktails.  This was quite fun and one of the bartenders could make a very nice Sidecar Cocktail.    This evening was the Elite Guest Circle C event in Club Fusion.  They served cocktails and appetizers and were very generous at this half hour+ event. We did get to meet several officers and staff and shook hands with the Captain. It was enjoyable and very different than the previous one for Gold and Ruby guests on Sunday.  Dinner tonight was the formal Chef’s Dinner menu evening, I ordered: Escargots Bourguignon, Roasted Tomato Creme Soup, Ravioli di Vitello in Salsa di Funghi Porcini (ravioli & mushrooms), and the Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs as an entree.  Other choices were: Broiled Lobster, Pheasant, Beef Wellington, and Filet of Rockfish.  An excellent dinner.  We went to the late production show: Born to be Wild in the Princess Theater and had very good center seats on row two.  The center piece on the stage was a Pink Cadillac so they did that song and other 50’s-70’s road themed rock music. Always enjoy the song Route 66.  It was a very good show. 


Friday  /  Fun Day at Sea  /  Day 7
MUTS - Movies Under the Stars
Fair seas overnight and I had another MDR breakfast. Today's special was Eggs Florentine, but I ordered Pancakes with sides of Bacon and Ham.  The weather is great today, very sunny and warm, but enough breeze to be comfortable so a deck day today.  The group had some loungers and tables on Lido aft so we made a morning of it and enjoyed both our bought-aboard and bar cocktails.  Also perfect for our Pizza lunch.  We were fortunate to have such a nice day as we know it’s very cold back home.  In the late afternoon we visited the shops to see if there were many late bargains and I also purchased a Future Cruise Certificate from the Futures Desk.  While in the Piazza I did go by the International Cafe and sampled a nice Cuban Sandwich.  DW did select a ring so she got a souvenir and we celebrated with a cocktail in Crooners.  I had a Sidecar and she liked the Poinsettia Champagne Cocktail (served with cranberry it would make a good Christmas cocktail).  At 5:00 pm we met friends in Skywalkers for the Elite Guest cocktail hour.  It’s the first time we had actually attended, but they offer reduced prices on cocktails and have nice snacks to Elite and Platinum guests.  This evening it was a very nice Shrimp fountain with cheeses and other goodies.  We had a great time and actually stayed until dinner time. Tonights dinner was a USA theme although we requested a repeat of Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan) for the table. I also had a Green Salad, NY Strip Steak, and a proper Baked Alaska sliced at our table.  We also had a birthday cake for one in the group so it was a very nice dinner.  After dinner I packed as we had to have our bags out by 11:00 pm.  Afterwards I finally had a chance to see Seth at the Crooners piano bar.  I was able to catch a song most evenings as we were going from one area to another, but it was always too busy to get a seat.  He is very good and not to be missed, but I will say it’s not as ‘randy’ as his sets on the Carnival Sunshine….LOL. 

Saturday  /  Debarkation  /  Houston
We arrive back at Houston ship channel early, but it was closed due to fog so we had to anchor outside the harbor  The waves hitting the ship certainly could be felt and were loud while we were anchored so we were up fairly early.  I finished packing my roll-on bag and the group had a final MDR breakfast in the MDR.  We finally arrived at Bayport about 10:45 am so we had a long wait until most of us debarked.  It was about 1:30 pm for us, and eight of us returned to Alvin in the motorhome.  We left Alvin about 3:00 stopping at the new Waller mega Buc-ee’s on Highway 290 for fuel arriving home about 7:30 pm.  A long interesting travel day.

SHIP
She's a beautiful ship and until just a few months ago when the Royal Princess was launched the Caribbean Princess was the largest ship in the Princess fleet.
Launched:   April 2004
Tonnage:     112,894 GT
Length:        951 ft (290 m)
Decks:         17 total, 15 passenger
Power:         2 diesel-electric propellers (42,000kW each)
Speed:         22-knot
Capacity:     3,080 passengers
Crew:          1,200 crew

CABIN
Our cabin is a BE category balcony on deck 14 aft.  Good location near the exit to aft Lido pool.  It is slightly smaller than a comparable balcony on Carnival, but the bed itself is larger.  No couch, but two chairs and a table.  The refrigerator was stocked with my Elite Bar set-up and we added the cokes we brought on board.  Standard bathroom although DW would prefer a more adjustable shower head.  We did loose hot water a few times during the week. Cabin Steward was good and kept us adequately supplied with ice. 

DINING / FOOD / BARS / ENTERTAINMENT
MDR service was very good, Princess has more waiters per guest than most cruise lines and that is reflected in the service. Impressed that our MDR 10-top table was set for 9 the number in our party.  Enjoyed Crooners Bar, the Wheelhouse Bar, and International Cafe very much.  DW enjoyed the vegetarian choices on the menu, much better than most other cruise lines.  I really enjoyed the MDR breakfasts.

GENERAL
Always great cruising with a group of friends.  We always create our own fun on board ship.  I enjoyed the Caribbean Princess very much and although I won’t be able to sail her again this year, I am already booked on the Emerald Princess out of Houston for next year.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Carnival Sunshine Transatlantic Cruise



Carnival Sunshine soon after arrival in New Orleans

Carnival Sunshine Transatlantic Cruise Review

November 1-16, 2013


Just The Facts:
Ship:  Carnival Sunshine  1-16 November, 2013
Captain:  Giusseppe Giusa
Cruise Director:  Jamie Dee
Ports: Plama De Mallorca, Malaga, Las Palmas, Grand Turk
Weather:  Very good with smooth seas

This is my 37th Carnival cruise, 4th transatlantic, and 82nd overall cruise. I am traveling solo, but know many people on board.

Travel
I began my trip leaving the ranch at 4:30 am on Thursday (Oct 31) by driving to Waco for a 6:00 am flight to DFW airport.  I then took a morning flight to New York JFK airport to catch an afternoon transatlantic Delta flight arriving at 8:35 am (Nov1) in Barcelona Spain. After clearing customs and retrieving my checked bag I took a 10:15 am  Carnival shuttle to the cruise pier.  Check in was fairly smooth and I was on board and in my cabin at 11:35 am.  Nineteen hours of travel from home to ship cabin is a lot for my old bones, but it will be an easier return.

Day One--Friday--Barcelona--Embarkation
Oceanview Cabin
I have one of the newly installed cabins located on the Promenade deck aft, an interesting new location for passenger cabins on Carnival ships. This area is where the aft promenade showroom is located on all other Carnival ships (and used to be located on this ship) and it is very convenient to the new Red Frog Pub, Alchemy Bar and Ocean Plaza.   After dropping my bags I went upstairs to get a stir-fry in JiJi’s Asian grill (similar to the Mongolian Grill on other Carnival ships) from the new concept all enclosed Lido deck aft.  Located there is the Cucina de Capitano, JiJi’s Asian Kitchen, and the Havana Bar.  In addition to my wonderful bowl of made-to-order stir-fry I also sampled the Cuban sandwich from the Havana Bar.  All very good.  After the long travel experience I retired for a much needed sleep until near dinner time.  I appreciate that they do two Welcome Aboard Shows as I would not have made a late one, but the 7:00 pm show time was perfect.  Jamie Dee the cruise director is a very good host and I believe will become one of the top CD’s at Carnival.  I have late seating at 8:00 pm in the Sunset Dining Room one of two main dining rooms (MDR).  I’m used to set dining being in the aft MDR, but the Sunrise Dining Room is now reserved for Your-Time dining.  I do have a nice table with a very good group of people and the best Maitre‘D in the fleet with Ken Byrne so that makes up for the secondary dining room location.  Tonight for dinner I ordered: the Creme of Sun-ripened Tomato Soup, Fresh Green Salad, the Chicken a la Grecque entree, and two desserts: the Creme Brulee & the Black Forest Gateau Cake.  After dinner it was cabin time for much needed rest.

Day Two--Saturday--Palma De Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain
Palms in front of Old Palace - Palma de Mallorca
Smooth seas overnight and I was up early for an excursion today.  At 6:45 am there are very few in the Havana Bar and I got a great made-to-order omelette from the omelette station.  I then met a group in the EA Sports Bar after 7:00 am for a private excursion.  Soon we were off the ship and boarded a nice coach for a Panoramic tour of Palma on our way to the Caves of Drach.  After driving and viewing the countryside we stopped in Manacor to see a display and history of Mallorcan Pearls, it was interesting and worth the visit.  We were soon off to our 10:45 tour of the Caves of Drach located on the eastern shore of the island.  The caves are very interesting with a large lake at the bottom.  Once you reach the lower chamber by pathway you take a seat and enjoy a concert performed by musicians in a boat on the lake.  Your then ferried in a row boat across the lake and after some new views along the path exit the cavern.  It was enjoyable.  After a quick San Miguel cerveza we boarded the bus for a drive through the very picturesque village and harbor of Porto Cristo and then the return to the city of Palma.  We had a nice guided tour of the outer castle walls, Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, and old town area before some free time.  The narrow streets and shoppes of the Arab section and the Cathedral doors were most interesting.  I found a great gelato shop and remembered the flavor Crema Catalona from previous trips to Barcelona...excellant.  We arrived back at the ship about 3:00 pm for a 4:00 pm sail away.  I tried my first Guy’s Burger upon return and was actually disappointed.  It was a very good Hamburger, but it was not a proper Guy’s.  It was not smashed out thin and cooked with a light crust, but a thicker meat patty.  Still better than what they used to have, but not a Guy’s.  I went to see Lance Montalto’s family comedy show at 6:00, he was very funny followed by a wonderful Alchemy Bar apéritif.   For dinner tonight I ordered:  the Hot & Sour Soup, baked Pene Pasta with Sausage, Roast Beef of Tenderloin, and the Passion Fruit Creme Brulee for dessert.  Another good dinner. The feature entertainer was juggler Neil Duinker, but I went to the Alchemy Bar for cocktails and then to the Comedy Club for the 11:00 show with Lance Montalto.  The comedy show was fantastic.  Following comedy I helped close the Piano Bar.  Seth the piano player is young and talented and people had a fun time.  I predict he will be the next Carnival Piano Bar 'Star'.  About 1:30 am I went up for pizza and they were actually busy at this late time and the pizza was very good.  After a very long day I retired to the cabin.

Day Three--Sunday—at Sea
Carnival Sunshine - Behind the waterfall
Smooth seas overnight and it was refreshing to sleep late this morning.  I didn’t get out until after 11:00 am and had a late breakfast in the Lido Marketplace.  As this was the first sea day I took a walk around the decks and explored new areas on the ship.  The Serenity Deck area is very large and was very busy.  The Waterworks looked like great fun, but it was not busy at all and it was a very nice and warm day.  I want to do the water slides but the staircases up to them look more challenging than the slide itself.  We’ll see.  At 1:00 pm I went to a nice private cocktail party for Facebook friends in the  piano bar.  It was the usual deal, unlimited drinks for an hour, and the servers were very good, enough for the 60+ in attendance.  After a nice buzz and enjoying good conversation it was back to the cabin about 2:30 pm and ordered BLT’s from room service as cabin time was the plan for the afternoon.  I made notes for the blog and enjoyed the BLT sandwiches, they really need to be ordered each cruise as the Carnival room service version is very good.  The feature show in the Liquid Lounge is Motor City a Playlist Production with the eight feature performers and great LCD stage backgrounds.  This is also Elegant/Captains night and passengers have the opportunity to meet and have photos taken with the Captain & Staff before dinner.  For dinner tonight I ordered: the White Mushrooms, Roasted Pumpkin Soup, Spaghetti Carbonara, Prime Rib, & Cherries Jubilee for dessert.  The mushrooms were not the large ones as usual, but very small portions, but everything else was very good.  Other options of course included the Broiled Maine Lobster or Seared Redfish.  I retired after dinner as Monday is another early day.

Day Four--Monday—Malaga, Spain
Mijas Pueblo - Fountain
Again smooth seas overnight.  I ordered a light room service breakfast as a wake up and it was delivered at the scheduled time.  Carnival room service is usually very consistent with service. I met our private excursion group at 7:30 am and soon we were off the ship and on our motor coach and away at 8:00 am on the way to Mijas for the day.  The guide pointed out several points of interest in Malaga and on our way along the Costa del Sol.  We drove briefly along the beach before heading up the mountain to the old Mijas Pueblo.  Our bus  parked at the visitors center and the guide gave us a tour of the quaint Virgin de la Pena chapel built in cave then a  walking tour of the old town.  All the houses and shoppes are white washed and built along the hill side in this town.  It’s a lovely town and the views of the Mediterranean Sea and coast are spectacular from here.  After our tour a small group of us spent our hour of free time at a restaurant with a panoramic view drinking some good San Miguel cervezas and using their Wifi.  It was then time to meet the rest of the excursion group for a Tapas lunch.  Family style we were served sangria wine, meatballs, cheese, shrimp, mushrooms, ham, potatoes, peas, and fresh bread.  It was an excellent meal.  A unique feature in this town is that the taxi’s are burros, a good choice considering the hilly nature of the streets.  We boarded tour bus and returned to the ship by 2:30 for our 3:00 pm departure.  I had a nice snooze upon return.  After my nap I had my first Thirsty Frog Red before dinner in the Red Frog Pub, it’s a very good beer.  Dinner was interesting tonight for a couple of reasons: 1) Half out table was eating in the steakhouse so we were joined by both comedians Lance Montalto & Joel Lindley & the Punchliner host Wally and 2) it was a completely new & unique menu.  I ordered: Chilled Borscht, Gravlaks, Farfalle Pasta with Artichokes & Arugula, and Roast Striploin with Popovers.  Other menu items included: Truffled Duck Livers, Green Asparagus & Mussels, Spring Chicken in Crawfish, Glazed Veal, and Roasted Fennel & Braised Leeks.  Interesting menu.  Comedy Magic with Thom Peterson was the feature entertainment in the theater this evening, but the real entertainment was the 10:00 pm Playlist Performers Feature in the Ocean Lounge.  The eight performers did numbers of their own choosing with the band. They were all good and I was able to hear it from a good seat in the Alchemy Bar.  We turn back our clocks for the first time tonight, an extra hour of sleep.

Day Five--Tuesday—at Sea
Carnival Sunshine - Alchemy Bar
Smooth seas overnight and I was up around 8:00ish so I went to the MDR for a nice full breakfast with friends I ran into at the deck five elevator.  (I’m really liking the deck 5 cabin location...everyone uses the promenade to traverse the length of the ship so you do see a lot of people)  After breakfast I made some notes then I actually took a nap, why not?  For an early lunch I had a salad from the Salad Bar on Promenade Deck, very nice.  It was now time for the Cocktail Seminar at The Alchemy Bar.  Daniel the bartender did a nice basic presentation and we sampled three small Alchemy cocktails in addition to receiving a coupon for a full cocktail later.  It was a two hour presentation and good fun.  Click here to see the Alchemy Bar menu. New friend Lance Moltanato did a Beatles show this afternoon and it was a full house as was the previous one he did on Sunday.  I went to Guy’s for a burger and it was much better than previous, these burgers were flattened better, but still needs more fire.  I got an ice creme for dessert and as I went through the Ocean Plaza saw some friends and Lance M and joined them for a while.  I really enjoyed getting to know Lance this cruise as I had several lunches and dinners with him as it happened to turn out.  He was always a favorite, more so now, and he is genuinely a nice and funny guy.  It was cabin time for the rest of the day to make some notes and have a Cabin Cocktail (Cuba Libre light).  Dinner was again interesting with some old and new items on the menu. I ordered an Iced Pineapple Salad with Watermelon, Spanakopita, Cannelloni Piemontese pasta, and Roast Prime Rib.  All very good.  After dinner you couldn’t get in to see the 9:45 comedy show as it was packed so only early dining guests would get a chance to attend.  I had a cocktail in the Alchemy Bar then ended up with friends coming so stayed for a few hours.  The Alchemy is kind of my neighborhood bar on ship since my cabin is just around the corner.  They had called for all passengers to turn in their passports before arriving in Las Palmas tomorrow.  Since it was now 1:00 am I went to Guest Services and avoided the long lines from earlier in day.  A Fun Day at sea.

Day Six--Wednesday--Las Palmas, Canary Islands
Cathedral Santana Veguetta - Las Palmas
A bit of higher seas overnight.  We are not scheduled to arrive in Las Palmas until 11:00 am and that is very unusual as the Magic arrived early and we are doing the same itinerary.  I went up to JiJi’s on Lido for a wonderful omelette with a side of Canadian Bacon and readied to meet for another private excursion.  Our group of about 28 debarked just before noon and it was very busy as the ship was half hour late arriving so everyone was debarking at once, but we got to the bus just after noon and head out of Las Palmas.  First stop was Arucas where we stopped at the very large Cathedral of Arucas and then the Arehucas Distillery and tasting room.  After driving through the mountains, the next stop was Teror one of the oldest towns in Gran Canaria with interesting houses, buildings, and streets.  I did have time for a local cerveza with friends in Pino Square before leaving.  Final stop was the Caldera de Bandama the site of an old volcano caldera and scenic overview of Las Palmas.  We returned to the ship by 4:00 to long lines of passengers waiting to board.  Once on ship I went straight to Guy’s for a burger then took some ice to the cabin for cabin time until dinner.  Dinner was perhaps the best of the cruise so far.  I ordered the Escargot, and two entrees: the Osobucco, and the Carnival Filet Mignon.  The osobucco and steak were great.  I had a very nice Apple Crum and a Pineapple dish for dessert. The feature entertainment this evening was Hasbro, the Game Show and we have new Comedy Show entertainers onboard: Tom Pepper and Gary Thompson. 

Day Seven--Thursday--at Sea
Carnival Sunshine - Epic Rock
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well...past 9:00am in fact.  Today they had the NEW Sea-day Brunch in the MDR.  New menus, new hours, and even new aprons for the servers.  I like the concept.  The Punchliner theme didn’t really work, but the menu was good so they saved the best and did away with the comedians and later start time.  Good job Carnival.  I had the Steak & Eggs and they were excellent.  I went on deck and lounged around the waterworks area and would have gone down the slide, but there was no attendant on this beautiful calm day.  Lunch from the JiJi’s Wok and it was very good as usual.  I had afternoon cabin time then went for a walk around decks, stopped for a Reuben Sandwich on the way back to the cabin.  I went a bit early to the Liquid Lounge and got a great seat for the Playlist Production Epic Rock 7:00 pm show.  This is a high energy rock show with great costumes, the full LCD background and with stage enhancements such as smoke, fog, & flames.  A very entertaining show.  Dinner tonight was good.  We had Chicken Wings for the table (2nd time) and I ordered: the Butternut Squash Soup, Pasta & Shrimp entree as a starter, the Pork Tenderloin and as I couldn’t decide on a dessert had the first three (Apple, Strawberry,& a Brulee) listed on the menu .  Might as well.  They had rock music in the Ocean Lounge this evening, I only listened for a while then cabin time.  We turned our clocks back one hour this evening.

Day Eight--Friday--at Sea
Singing Maitre'D Ken Byrne
Smooth seas overnight although a bit higher than yesterday.  I went to the MDR for breakfast and they have reverted to the standard breakfast menu, not the brunch so Eggs Benedict ordered this morning.  I went up to the Water Works and again the slides are closed and the seas are calm.  It’s a shame to spend so much money on the new design only for them to not be able to be used.  I was told that they are not holding enough water in the small pool at the end of the slide run.  After a walk about the ship I had some very good Chicken Schnitzel from the Lido Marketplace for lunch.  At 2:30 pm Ken Bryne, the long time Carnival Maitre’D did his first ever official Carnival show in the Liquid Lounge.  He had a packed house with people in the aisles and staircases.  He did a great show and received two standing ovations.  Carnival should have been doing this on all of the transatlantic cruises.  At 4:30 they hosted the Diamond Cocktail Party in the Limelight Lounge.  It was well attended by more than the 116 Diamonds on board.  This is the largest number of Diamonds ever on a single Carnival sailing.  CD Jamie introduced the Captain and senior staff and they served very nice h’orderves as well as your choice of complementary cocktails.  It was nice of Carnival to do this...thanks.  Following the party several gathered in the lobby bar until time for the feature show with David Knight, the hypnotist.  I’ve seen his show several times and it is entertaining.  Dinner was good, I ordered French Onion Soup, Pork Tenderloin, and Short Ribs.  Tonight was 1950’s theme music in the Ocean Plaza from 10:00 pm to late.  We also turned the clock back another hour.

Day Nine--Saturday--at Sea
Carnival Sunshine - Cherry on Top
I felt some rolling seas overnight.  I was up and had a very nice special omelette this morning.  I then met a friend to get some photos for my blog before going up to waterworks to check on the slides.  Not running and it actually looks as though they are shut down.  I now wonder if it’s a weight situation with the extra fuel on for the Atlantic crossing or problems with the NEW fresh water system for the Waterworks.  Not really right to promote it if it can’t be used.  I did something new this morning, I had my haircut in the Spa.  It was nice and they did a good job.  I just couldn’t wait until December to see my regular barber in Cozumel.  I watched the movie Lincoln on cabin TV, Daniel Day Lewis did a great job, but I thought the movie was slow.  I went to a kiosk and had my Sail&Sign account summery printed out for review.  The kiosks are great and saves time standing in line at Guest Services (GS).  I had Stir-fry from the JiJi’s Wok for lunch...always good.  There were a couple of college football games on TV as they picked up two television stations from San Juan and one in USVI.  So I was able to watch some Big 12 football during the day as I would do at home. Nice.  For dinner I’m doing a basic plan, I ordered a Salad, Pasta, the Prime Rib, and three desserts just for myself and the table to sample.  All were good too.  The feature show this evening was Seth, the piano bar entertainer.  He was very good and has a very bright future either with Carnival or wherever.  They also had a nice 10:00pm show in the Ocean Lounge by Justin, one of the Playlist entertainers.  We again moved our clocks back an hour at bedtime.

Day Ten--Sunday--at Sea
Carnival Sunshine - the Twister
Just enough seas to rock you to sleep, it’s been a very smooth cruise.  I went to the MDR for a nice full breakfast this morning.  I heard that the waterworks opened yesterday afternoon for two hours so I went up to check and the Waterworks was open.  Amazing what a few complaints to senior officers, on social media and JH’s Facebook page will get done.  I doubt we’ll know why they have kept it closed, but passengers were taking advantage this morning.  There are three slides, two for racing if you wish, but the  Carnival Sunshine Twister is the longest slide on any cruise ship and that is the one I tried a few times.  Lots of twists and two black out areas...exciting.  I’ll try to do this each day.  Another advantage of my cabin location is I can easily get a light snack from the Taste Bar around the corner, the Egg Drop soup today was good.  This is cocktail party day.  At 1:00 pm we had a Facebook Friends Cocktail Party in the Piano Bar, my drink of the party was mojitos.  Good Fun.  The next Party was the Carnival VIFP Party at 3:15, but I had time to have two slices of pizza from Pizzeria del Capitano between.  The VIFP Party, one of three that they held,  was the usual deal with the Carnival video and I did have a couple of FunShip Specials but that was my limit.  The Sunshine does not have a live orchestra so the DJ did the music from a booth on the stage.  A little different, but it worked fine.  The more I see Jamie the more I like her as a cruise director.  There are about 2725 passengers on this cruise, with 116 Diamond, 717 Platinum, and 1014 Gold thus the need for three parties.  As we get closer to North America we are getting more television so there were some NFL games on TV this afternoon, so I enjoyed some room service BLT’s and football.  I did the same at dinner tonight as last ordering just a basic Fruit appetizer, Arrabiata Pasta, Rib Eye Steak, and three desserts for the table to sample. Duck, Frog Legs, and Perch were other options.  Dinner was good especially the Pineapple Boat fruit selection.  After dinner they had a Caberet show in the Ocean Lounge with Chiara Castania one of the Playlist entertainers. She was great and they have done a great 10:00 pm show most every night.  The Dallas Cowboy vs. New Orleans Saints NFL game was also featured in the EA sports bar and cabin TV late this evening as we have a lot of pax from both places on this cruise to NOLA.  Very late game as we are still a few time zones east and I was actually asleep before the game ended.  We again changed our clock back an hour this evening.

Day Eleven--Monday--at Sea
Guy's Burger
Smooth seas again and I had a nice sleep.  This was a Sea Day Brunch day so I had long casual breakfast in the MDR.  I had the Hueavo Rancheros and they were very good.  I also tried the Banana Creme Pie...it was very nice.  At 11:00 am (11/11/11) they made a special announcement concerning Veterans Day and had a moment of silence.  Very well done and this afternoon a big Veterans gathering and show in the theater.  It was a packed house and guests really enjoyed it.  This afternoon I had a nice Fiery Tomato Soup from the Taste Bar as a lunch snack while walking around the ship then retired to the cabin to read.  About 3:30 I went up to Guy’s Burgers and since they were not too busy I discussed with the manager the  fact that it’s not quite a true Guy’s Burger.  He said it was the meat, that they are still using the European supplier.  That makes sense as Guy’s requires a 70/30 mix so hopefully that will be corrected once in the USA.  No Waterworks today yet leaks and brief loss of water in Lido Marketplace area today (it’s just below the Waterworks)...who knows what’s going on?  Minor inconvenience and not disruptive to cruise though.  The feature show  this evening was another Playlist Production: Studio VIP.  A very good high energy show.  Too many fruit drinks on the cruise for me so I enjoyed a White Russian with friends in the lobby bar before dinner.  Tonight I ordered: a double Shrimp Cocktail, Spinach Crepe (not good), New York Strip Steak, and a Banana Split & White Bread Pudding Cake for dessert.  Disco and 1980's music was the theme in Ocean Plaza this evening.  Another nice sea day.  Clocks turned back again.

Day Twelve--Tuesday--at Sea
Again nice seas overnight.  I was up early and with six consecutive 25 hour days I have had plenty of sleep.  I read for a while then went early to the MDR for a very nice breakfast.  It’s another beautiful day and I had a walk on deck, no Waterworks, but there was enough to keep the sun worshipers busy.  There does seem to be plenty of deck chairs although there are chair hogs on board, I suspect it’s the high number of European passengers on board and the fact that while in the MDR I overheard some telling another group to take your time, they’ve covered a dozen chairs on Serenity deck.  I read until meeting a friend at Cucina del Capitano for lunch.  I had both a pasta and lasagne, they were very good.  Maitre’D Ken did an encore show in the Limelight Lounge this afternoon.  It was again very well received.   I’m really getting into my book so did more relaxing reading this afternoon and I went to the pre dinner feature show featuring Jerry Goodspeed the comedy ventriloquist.  He was very entertaining and is a Carnival regular feature.  Dinner was again good, but similar to previous night.  I ordered two Shrimp Cocktails, the seafood entree Zuppa di Pesce Cioppino, and the NY Sirloin Steak.  Late tonight was the Mexican Fiesta Party on deck.

Day Thirteen--Wednesday--Grand Turk
Grand Turk sunset
Calm seas overnight and I was up up early and did some reading.  I had a very nice Omelette with Canadian Bacon from the Lido Marketplace this morning as we arrived early into Grand Turk.  We are docked next to the Carnival Victory out of Miami and they are transferring some provisions to us this morning.  It’s a beautiful day with temperature in the mid 80’s and will get warmer.  I’m not in a rush to get off and pretty much had the ship to myself for a few hours.  I did some more reading then went up to get a great stir-fry from JiJi’s grill.  It was somewhat busy with crew as they are allowed to eat there on port days and it’s a popular spot with crew as well as passengers.  I left the ship about 1:00 pm and headed to Jack’s Shack.  Friends were already there so I got a lounger and hit the water strait away.  Wonderful.  Topher the JS dog was doing his thing playing with some kids on the beach.  I started with some Turk’s Head beers and signed on to the internet for the first time since leaving Barcelona.  It was a Beautiful day with a great beach, a great bar, good beer, so it was like a day in Paradise.  I was actually the last cruise passenger to leave making my way back just before our 5:30 boarding time.  In fact it was sunset, see photo at left (thanks Doug).  Tonight I went to the Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse with a friend.  It was fantastic, I ordered Green Salad, Escargot, Ribeye Steak, and Fruit for dessert.  The escargot was prepared individually in pastry shells and assorted seasonings....best I have ever had.  After a wonderful day and meal I retired early this evening.

Day Fourteen--Thursday--at Sea
Rolling seas overnight, unusual that we made it across the Atlantic with smooth seas and get some bumps now that we are sailing the pseudo Caribbean.  We will be sailing just off the north coast of Cuba all day today.   It’s also the first day that we have had cloudy skies although it’s still warm although humid.  Today was the last of three Sea-day Buffets in the MDR so I went there for a nice Steak & Eggs breakfast.  The Veterans events they had Monday onboard inspired me to get into my book.  I finished it and I’m sorry to admit that it’s one of the few I have read cover to cover in several years.  The book is From Dogfight to Diplomacy a memoir of Donald MacDonnell of Glengarry.  He was a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain and later a spy in the Soviet Union. While sailing the Carnival Legend last month I had promised Lady Glengarry that I would read it so I ordered it and I was lucky that it was delivered just a few days before leaving for this cruise. It was a very good read. I was fortunate to carry the Glengarry Chief banner for him at a ceremony in Glencoe Scotland years ago.  He actually showed me his ‘spy’ camera at the time.  A great man.  I timed lunch for just after 2:00 pm so there was not a long line at JiJi’s for another good stir-fry lunch.  I began a new book this afternoon and then met friends for cocktails in the Alchemy.  They added a new Alchemist bartender who joined the ship from the Carnival Victory in Grand Turk, so there are new faces on board including several Carnival Beards (executives) that came aboard as well.  I had dinner in JiJi’s Asian Grill this evening.  JiJi’s is Carnivals new premium Asian dining venue and the Carnival Sunshine is the first to have one so I did want to experience it firsthand.  The food was very good.  You pick from a choice of appetizers, an entree, side dishes, and a dessert.  I also ordered their specialty drink, a Green Tea Martini.  Lots of activity around the ship and another new comedian onboard.  We also set our clocks back for the final time this evening so we are now on CST the same as our destination New Orleans and home time in Texas.


Day Fifteen--Friday--at Sea
Carnival Sunshine - Serenity Pool
Seas were slight overnight and weather the same as Thursday- warm, cloudy & humid. I was actually up early, didn’t use our final 25 hours for additional sleep.  I went up to the omelette station for another great omelette then some Canadian bacon and fruit from the Lido Marketplace.  I set on deck for a while to people watch and I’ve started a new book- SOS Spirit of Survival about the family of four from California that was on the Costa Concordia when she sank in the Mediterranean Sea in January of last year.  I enjoyed lunch in the MDR for the first time today, I had a great Pasta dish and a Yankee Pot Roast.  I read after lunch for most of the afternoon although they repeated the excellent Playlist Performers Musical Feature at 2:30 pm.. This afternoon turned into the only really cloudy day and brief rain of the cruise.  We have been very fortunate. The 7:00 pm feature show was a New Orleans Band, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, that joined us in Grand Turk.  It was a good, but a loud show and old-timers were bailing fairly early.  Dinner was good, I ordered the Tom Ka Gai (soup), Farfalle Pasta with Turkey, Grilled Pork Steak, and Grand Manier Souffle for dessert.  I had not attended any of the late functions in the Havana Bar as yet and tonight they had Havana Fusion with Salsa Music, Mojitos & special drinks, Mombo dancing and more.  I finished my book then retired.  Another nice sea day.

Day Sixteen--Saturday--at Sea
Fair seas overnight in the Gulf of Mexico and I went to the Sunrise MDR for a nice full breakfast this morning.   I also started another book, This is Your Captain Speaking by Gavin MacLeod.  We approached the Mississippi River and entered about 11:00 am, it was great entering in day light hours and get a good view of it as it had always been dark on previous cruises.  Since I was on the upper open decks watching us sail upriver I decided to get a hotdog from Seadogs located on deck 11 aft, one of many lunch locations and one most passengers forget to enjoy.  We had our final Facebook Friends cocktail party in the Piano Bar at 1:00 pm and I spent the rest of the afternoon reading.  I did make a Guy’s Burger run followed with ice creme in the late afternoon.  Resting and reading as I know tomorrow will be a very busy day.  The feature show this evening was Thien Fu a comedy juggler, but I stayed in the cabin and read.  Final dinner was good, I ordered  the Sweet Potato Soup, Prime Rib, Planko Shrimp, and Bitter & Blanc for dessert.  After dinner they had a Bathrobe Farewell Party on deck, that was interesting and appropriate as most were now packed for debark on Sunday.

Day Seventeen--Sunday--Bonus Debut Day--New Orleans
Captain Giusa and Carnival Sunshine Godmother Lin Arison
Again smooth seas overnight and I slept well.  I had a nice MDR breakfast again, my final Eggs Benedict until my next cruise.  I do not have to leave the ship today as I received an invitation to attend the one day Debut and Naming Ceremony event for the Carnival Sunshine in New Orleans.  I do have to clear U.S. Customs though so I relaxed until they almost cleared the ship about 11:15 am.  I least I was able to exchange greetings with John Heald in the lobby from deck 3 to deck 4 as he boarded the ship.  Unfortunately there was a long slow line through baggage claim and customs, but I finally made it through about 12:30 pm.  Once I finally cleared I just went around the corner and up the escalators to where they were preparing guests for the days ceremonies.  By the time I got my new documents they began boarding the ship so I was back on about 1:20 pm.   I had stowed my big bag with friends so I retrieved that and went to my new cabin, number 8289, a balcony located on deck 8 about mid-ship.  Now for the important thing of the day other than the special ceremony: Open Bar.  I made it to the Alchemy Bar by the 2:00 pm opening and had the first drink they prepared, kind of fitting.  Daniel knew the ‘program’ and started me off slow with a few Aperol Spritzers.  Soon friends from the transatlantic cruise, friends in the press, event guests, and new passengers began arriving and soon a party was underway.  After a few regular Alchemy Bar cocktails a few of us went up to the Havana Bar for a late lunch.  They were serving their very good Cuban Sandwiches and there was no line in the nearby at JiJi’s Wok.  After mentioning to the bar manager that although I saw their daily drink specials each day I never actually had a cocktail from the Havana Bar in my previous 16 days.  He solved that with a tray of ALL the drink specials.  We had the Havana Especial, Mojitos, Papa Doble, Cuban Iced Tea, La Buena Vida, and Daiquiri Clasico.  The group of us used straws to sample before ordering our favorites.  Very interesting drinks and follow this LINK for the drink descriptions.  Dino the Sunshine Beverage Manager came by with his approval of our FUN idea.  The Carnival Sunshine naming ceremony was held in the packed Liquid Lounge and all the Carnival Senior Management were in attendance. Lin Arison who christened the original Carnival Destiny did it again and renamed her the Carnival Sunshine.  They had a very good preview of the ship for the guests, the Punchliner had four comedy shows, there was entertainment in all the venues, and they had two showings of the feature Playlist Productions show Epic Rock.  Jerry Cahill did an official welcome prior to both showings in the theater.  Dinner was in two open seatings in the Sunrise Restaurant. Basically the elegant night dinner was served: Prime Rib, Lobster, etc. with complementary wine.  Of course a final visit to Daniel in the Alchemy Bar was on the agenda.  The shows and previews, especially the Piano Bar and Red Frog Pub, went very late into the evening.  They even delivered a nice BLT sandwich in the wee hours of the morning.  THANK YOU Carnival for a wonderful day.

Debarkation--Monday--New Orleans
I had my final MDR full breakfast this morning and a Bloody Mary to start the day, both needed after a full FUN day on Sunday.  Since I cleared customs on Sunday all I had to do this morning was walk off the ship. Very simple. I left about 9:15 am and was able to share a taxi with two Carnival Corporation beards (Miami executives). Carnival even paid for the taxi...thanks again.  I had an early afternoon flight from New Orleans to DFW, then a commuter flight to Waco.  I had time to begin catching up on the internet with airport Wifi, but finally arrived in Waco and made the one hour drive back to Bosque County and the ranch.  Much easier than the trip to Barcelona at the beginning.

Ship / Cruise
Of course the Carnival Sunshine is the reincarnated Carnival Destiny.  She had an extended refit adding extended decks, new cabins, refurbishing, updates, and a NEW name.  Are there still a few kinks to work out?  Yes.  I saw the buckets catching water leaks on several occasions and other items that needed repair, but  it wasn't enough to effect the enjoyment of the cruise.  Also added to the Carnival Sunshine were all the 2.0 features such as a Red Frog Pub, Ocean Plaza, Waterworks, Guy’s Burger Joint, JiJi’s Asian Kitchen, and more.  I wonder if they did not try to do too much, they have a wide variety of venues, but most are smaller than one would expect on this size of ship.  The Liquid and Limelight lounges are much too small.  I really enjoyed the 7:00 pm start time for feature shows for late seating guests. They had a lot of Trivia sessions, Crafts, Lectures by Micky-Live, and activities to keep passengers busy during the crossing.  Weather also cooperated with lots of good deck time and deck activities available each day.  It was a very nice transatlantic crossing.

Cabin
I had cabin 5335 one of the new cabins located aft on deck five. Basically a standard Carnival cabin with three closets, safe, drawers, mini-refrigerator, couch, a new style table, night stands, and queen/twin bed. This is the only Carnival ship with cabins located on the promenade deck.  Good location as deck 5 traffic goes from forward to aft and it’s next to Ocean Plaza.  First thing I noticed is that it is an adjoining cabin although it was not shown as one on the original deck plans.  I try to avoid adjoining as you usually lose your couch because of the door; however, the new design has the door opposite the bed so you do not lose any cabin space and I never heard my neighbors. After retuning I noticed that the newer revised deck plans do show this correctly.  The thermostat and cooling system worked very well, but I did bring my fan that helped with circulation.  Poor selection of movies on the cabin flat screen television and it is NOT interactive so you can not check your Sail & Sign account or check menus, etc.  I heard several opinions on various cabins during the course of the cruise and some had cooling or drainage problems, but mine was fine.  I know that the deck 6 cabins above the new Ocean Plaza are NOW very noisy...avoid these.  A few buckets in the passageways will probably be a fact of life on this ship until they trace down all the leaks, it’s a minor inconvenience and not disruptive to cruise life.

Crew
The crew were great.  Carnival has done a great job in training, it is noticeable, and the primary reason along with value to cruise on Carnival.  My MDR headwaiter Kaz was very professional and efficient. One of the best I have had.  The Alchemy bartender Daniel is now one of my all time favorites, but all were great.  Cruise Director Jamie Dee is a star and now #1 in my book.  She is energetic, professional, easy on the eyes, a great host, and all one needs in a CD.  I liked that she had a entertainment and highlights plan that was given at the beginning that outlined the 16-day cruise.

Food
Overall I did not find the food as good as on the Carnival Legend last month.  As I mentioned in that review, Carnival food many times is ‘hit or miss’.  That was a hit, this cruise was good, but many times closer to a miss. MDR service was very good though.  I really liked all the breakfast options: MDR-regular, MDR-brunch, Blue Iguana, Lido Marketplace, Ocean Plaza, Havana Bar, and three omelette stations.  I liked the availability of Canadian Bacon too.  Lunch also has a lot of options.  I loved my two dinners in the the specialty locations: Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse and JiJi’s Asian Kitchen, well worth the additional charge.

Needs Improvement
  1. The venue for the Punchliner’s Comedy Club is much too small.  Once she begins her Caribbean sailings with 95% english speakers the demand for space  will be even greater.  
  2. It would be nice to have an interactive TV system so that you can check the status of your onboard account or something as simple as the dinner menu.  I doubt that is in the future though. 
  3. The Waterworks were advertised to be open from 9:00 to Sundown (or  5:00 pm) each  day in the FunTimes yet was only open a few days and only a few hours on those few days.  Weather was good so not a factor.  Don’t know the true problem.  The fresh water is nice, but if it’s the problem go back to salt water, not that big of a deal.
  4. The primary aft dining room should be for set time diners especially now that Your Time dining seems to have peaked and the majority of guests are now repeat and not first timers.
Cruise Highlights (for me)
  1. Meeting new friends and seeing previous cruise friends
  2. Carnival Crewmembers
  3. The Alchemy Bar
  4. Mijas Excursion
  5. Great Breakfast & Lunch options
Comments
The Carnival Sunshine is promoted as the only ship in the Carnival fleet with ALL the Funship 2.0 improvements.  True and they are very nice, but perhaps it was too ambitious as many of the venues are in my opinion too small to accommodate many guests.  Hopefully the variety of venues will spread demand...we will see.  She is a great choice as a 'sampler' or beginners cruise. I do believe the space/venue problems will become more acute once she sails the Caribbean itineraries. I will be back to back on the Sunshine for the John Heald Bloggers Cruise in February and that will be fun with the Snoozemates and other Blogger friends, but I really don’t see myself booking the Sunshine as a destination ship beyond that.  Too many other choices closer to my home ports in Texas. 

Did I have fun on this cruise?  You bet I did!!

~Thanks to ZydecoCruiser and other friends for photos~
(click on photos to see full size)


Epilogue:  I no more than posted this with my final comments when I actually booked the Carnival Sunshine again for 19 January 2014.  Goes to show that aggressive marketing works.  It my case it was the no solo supplement offer...that makes it a great value.  It is unusual though that the newest Carnival ship is already using promotions and discounted fares.







Friday, October 4, 2013

Carnival Legend - Norway & Europe Cruise

Carnival Legend in our first port: Ålesund, Norway

Carnival Legend Norway & Europe Cruise Review

September 1-12, 2013


Just The Facts:
Ship:  Carnival Legend
Ship Captain: Giuseppe Donato
Cruise Director: John Heald
Ports: Dover, Alesund, Bergan, Stravanger, Oslo, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Zeebrugge, LeHarve
Weather:  Mixed, but generally good

This is my 36th Carnival cruise, 81st cruise overall, and my 1st time on the Carnival Legend. I am cruising with DW (dear wife) and my regular and close group of cruise friends: the Snoozemates. 

Day One--Sunday--Dover--Embarkation
We left Canterbury with another couple about 10:00 am for the easy drive to Dover.  We dropped the
White Cliffs of Dover
ladies and luggage at the cruise terminal & then returned our friends rental car.  We decided to walk across the bridge back to the pier as it would be a long wait for a taxi, but the weather was cool and only about a mile so off we go.  Embarkation was smooth as they had been boarding for a while, we basically just checked in at the VIP Desk and walked onto the ship.  After dropping our bags in the cabin we were up on Lido deck for lunch.  Soon we began seeing our other friends and that’s all it takes for a party to start.  I was able to sneak away to the cabin for a short snooze before the mandatory safety briefing.  Just after 5:00 pm we had an excellent view of the ‘White Cliffs of Dover’ as we sailed out of the harbor and into the English Channel to begin our wonderful cruise.  I was surprised to see all the large wind turbines in the channel.  It was time to explore the ship as it is my first time on the Carnival Legend.  First impression is good, but she has not had the 2.0 upgrades as yet.  Most of the public rooms and lounges are located forward on the ship including the piano bar, comedy club, and of course the primary show lounge.  We have two round tables located center in the Truffles Dining Room (MDR) for late seating dinner.  DW and I had a nice salad in the Unicorn (Lido) before dinner so I only had the new Chicken a la Grecque entree, but had two desserts: the Creme Brulee and Black Forest Gateau.  All were very good.  Since we had two Carnival newbies in our group I insisted that we attend the 10:15 pm Welcome Show presented by John Heald in the Follies lounge.  It did not disappoint as JH was his usual very entertaining self and the newbies were rolling in laughter.  Great start for all on the cruise.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
Private Cocktail Party
Very blustery day with choppy seas as we sail from the English Channel and into the North Sea.  Not too concerned as this is a sea day and weather is to improve as the day progresses.  I started the morning with my usual 1st morning Carnival MDR breakfast in Truffles.  I had the Melon, Eggs Benedict, Bacon, hash brown Potatoes, Juice, and hot milk.  It was good so that is a good sign for the cruise.  DW had her usual room service breakfast.  Our cabin is located just below the lido beverage area so it is very easy to get juices, tea, and lemonade as needed.  Also just below the Deli and Salad bar, very convenient for a quick snack. Cruise activities for the day have begun, but we finished exploring the ship and had a casual morning.  We had our usual first sea day ‘Snoozemates and Friends’ cocktail party in Billies Piano Bar at 1:00 pm.  Our new and regular friends all attended and thanks to a good server and excellent bartender we had a great party and social.  In fact they were very generous with drinks and it was a very happy hour.  Following the ladies went to shop, one has her eye on a nice diamond, and a few went to the Carnival Deli for a nice late lunch.  The Corned Beef Sandwich was very good.  Being very content I had a very nice long afternoon snooze in the cabin.  It was the Captains Elegant Night this evening so there were photo opportunities and cocktails on the promenade deck with the Captain and ships officers.  Also the Captains Dinner with entree choices of Prime Rib, Lobster, Red Fish, and more.  I had Speghetti Carbonara as a starter and Prime Rib with Cherries Jubilee for dessert.  A few in the group went to the Punchliner Comedy Club and some to the casino. The main entertainment was Jazz Hot, but with a late show for late seating (10:30) we retired to the cabin as we have a big day planned for Ålesund.

Day Three--Tuesday—Ålesund, Norway
A beautiful day sailing around the islands into Ålesund this morning.  I went upstairs (one deck) to Lido for a nice buffet breakfast and brought it down to my balcony so I could enjoy the views as we approached our first Norwegian port.  We were docked about 9:00 am and were soon off as we have a big adventure to Geirangerfjord with another couple planned for the day.  We walked to Avis and picked up a rental car and were off for the two hour drive to meet the 12:30 Geiranger tourist ferry at Hellesylt.  En route we crossed one fjord by ferry, went through long mountain tunnels, crossed  over several mountains and enjoyed wonderful scenery.  The Geiranger ferry passes through the UNESCO heritage listed Geirangerfjord between several large snow capped mountains with numerous waterfalls on each

Geirangerfjord Overlook
side, a truly beautiful and unique experience. I even enjoyed an authentic Norwegian hot lunch of meat balls, new potatoes, mushy peas while on the ferry.  As the ferry Captain approached Geiranger he began playing Con Te Partirè by Andrea Bocelli as a tribute to the Italian ship anchored there...very clever I thought and I doubt very few ‘got it’.  The return drive was similar with one small ferry, ten consecutive hairpin curves up a very steep mountain, tunnels, and beautiful farm land and a few small mountain villages. The highlight of the return trip was a fantastic turn out with spectacular views up the Geirangerfjord.  Beautiful views.  Open the photo at left (double click it) and you will see the ferry returning up the fjord.  It will give you a since of scale as well, this fjord is huge.  We returned the car in Ålesund about 4:30 and were back on board ship by 5:00 pm.  A great adventure indeed.  We found a note on our cabin door upon return that the
Ålesund Salute
group sail away party was scheduled for 5:45 pm. in our cabin.  Makes sence as we have a large balcony facing the port of Ålesund.  We sailed at our scheduled 6:00 time and were escorted out by a fire boat spraying water and firing guns as a salute.  We had a perfect view from our balcony of the salute, harbor, and mountains as we sailed away.  It was soon time for dinner, tonight I ordered the Shrimp Cocktail, Fillet of Sole, a Shrimp entree to share, Prime Rib, and a Strawberry combo dessert.  Brett Cave was the primary entertainment in the main lounge, but after a long busy day we retired to the cabin after dinner.


Day Four--Wednesday--Bergen, Norway
Some rough seas overnight until we entered the fjord leading into Bergen.  We arrived about 9:00 am
Bergen from Mt. Fløyen
right on schedule and most in the group have a big nine-hour excursion today on the Flam railway, but our plan is to see the Bryggen and visit Mt. Fløyen in Bergen today so we have an easy morning.  I had an omelet from the Unicorn Cafe on Lido deck and DW had her room service.  We are docked in town so it’s only a easy ten minute walk to the UNESCO heritage site Tyskebryggen located along the eastern pier side of Bergen fyord.  The Bryggen is a series of wooden wharf warehouses dating back to 1360‘s when the local merchants were a part of the Hanseatic League.  The fact that any have survived is amazing in itself although most now date back to 1702.  They now house art galleries, premium tourist shops, and restaurants.  We ran into two friends while there and decided to go to the Mount Fløyen Railway together.  It was only a few blocks to the rail station where we boarded the train that takes you to the top of of Mount Fløyen and the beautiful overlook of the town of Bergen and the harbor.  We have been fortunate with the weather and had a wonderful view.  The Carnival Legend cruise ship looks so small from here.  We returned to Bergen proper and looked around before heading to the famous Bergen Fish Market at the head of the two sides of the Bergen fjord.  Here are located fresh fish stands that will sell and cook any combination of sea food you wish.  Very popular spot for lunch.  We walked around more of the town then back through the Bryggen again on the return to the ship about 4:00 pm.  A very nice walkable port to visit.  I ordered a BLT sandwich from room service as a late afternoon snack and it was excellent.  We had sail away cocktails in one of the cabins on starboard side as that was the side we were docked, nothing fancy as in Ålesund, but sailing the fjords are so beautiful in Norway.  Dinner was very good this evening, I ordered the Escargot, a Seafood salad, the Filet Mignon, and Ice Creme for dessert.  The steak was great so I will go with a beef theme the rest of the cruise.  Again we retired to the cabin after dinner.  Others went to the Casino or Punchliners Comedy Club.

Day Five--Thursday--Stavanger, Norway
Preikestolen - the Pulpit Rock
We had good weather and smooth seas overnight and arrived early so it was very easy for passengers going ashore early this morning. I went up to the Lido to get a nice breakfast and returned to the balcony this morning to have breakfast with the DW. We have a nice view of a picture perfect Stavanger neighborhood.  We have really found Norway to be very neat and clean, not only this area we are overlooking but the rural areas and small towns we have visited as well...almost unbelievably clean.  Again we are docked very near the city center so I went into Stavanger before our noon excursion.  I walked around for an hour+ visiting the Watchtower, the Stavanger Cathedral that dates to 1150, and observing the numerous quaint shops along the cobblestone streets of the old town.  Just before noon the group met for our big Lysefjord cruise tour.  We did book this one through Carnival as it was impossible to book a private tour to this location.  It was dear ($149.00 pp) but well worth the cost.  The Lysefjord is situated close to Stavanger, and is especially known for the mountain formations of Kjerag and Preikestolen (The Pulpit Rock).  We had a nice high speed vessel that took us from the cruise pier around the harbor, some islands, and into the Lysefjord.  It was
Lysefjord Crew
another spectacular Norwegian fjord and a fun excursion especially with the entire group along.  Again we were lucky with the weather. A guide pointed out Cleng Peerson’s home area to me, he is buried in my local cemetery in Norse, Texas.  We returned to the ship about an hour before sail away so it was an enjoyable easy day.  DW and I made a dash for the old Stavanger Cathederal as it was not open this morning, we got in just as they were closing.  It is an active church so tourist hours are limited depending on use...very worthwhile if you can get in to see it.   Dinner tonight was again very good and I’m staying with the steak theme, tonight I ordered the Langostino Cocktail,  Pumpkin Soup, NY Strip Steak, and the Penne Pasta with Artichokes.  After dinner John Heald hosted a Jazz and cigar event on the Serenity Deck.  It was fun, but starting to get rather cool in the late evenings.  The feature entertainer tonight was Justin Illusion and the Legend Dancers in a magic show.

Day Six--Friday--at Sea
Golden Fleece Steakhouse luncheon
Smooth seas overnight, foggy morning and no port today so we slept until 9:00 am.  Just a light room service breakfast this morning on the balcony as we have a special luncheon today for the Diamond Guests on Board.  At noon we went up to the Golden Fleece Steak House on deck ten for the function. Cruise Director John Heald introduced Captain Donato, Hotel Director Chastney, the Senior Chef, and Senior Staff.  They served Champagne when we arrived and we had a choice of Red or White Wine with dinner. We were served starters of Quail, Cured Salmon with Candied Tomato, and Peppered Cheese Ravioli in Truffle Creme. My entree was Duet of Petit Fillet Mignon and Short Rib Confit served with Oven Roasted Potatoes and Burgundy Wine Sauce.  For dessert we had Variations of Strawberries: upside down Strawberry Cake, Strawberry Sorbet, Strawberry and Mascarpone Creme Strawberry Tart.  DW had a very nice Vegetarian Platter of potatoes and vegetables.  The ravioli and steak were outstanding.  It was a very enjoyable two-hour lunch and the service and venue were fantastic.  You can see from the photo there were about 50 people as they combined the Diamonds with passengers on a B2B.  With great afternoon weather we met our friends out on Serenity Deck and spent the rest of the day.  Very enjoyable sea day on the Carnival Legend.  The group met for cocktails as usual and then off to the Truffles dining room. For dinner tonight I ordered: Shrimp Cocktail, a Penne Arribacco, the Rib Eye Steak, and a sampling of desserts.  Again staying with the steak theme...they have been very good.  After dinner it was visiting, music, or gambling for most of the group.

The Scream by Munch
Day Seven--Saturday--Oslo, Norway
Smooth seas overnight and nice weather as we sailed up the Oslo fjord.  I had a nice MDR breakfast with fried eggs and all the extras.  Weather continues to be nice.  We are docked just opposite Akershus Fortress and although we are within walking distance of Oslo city center several of us took the HoHo bus this morning as you can catch it just outside the cruise terminal.  We got off at the Viking Ship Museum as others continued on to other sites.  After visiting the VSM it was back on the bus for the center of town and then to the  Oslo National Gallery to see the Munch 150 exhibit.  The highlight of course is the painting The Scream by Edward Munch. This is one of I believe five originals by Munch, three of them here in Oslo.  It was amazing to see such an iconic painting that holds the record for most times stolen and highest purchase price for sale of a painting.  The old Gallery and building are also very nice.  Upon leaving the gallery we needed a little break and went to  Karl Johan Street and stopped at the Hard Rock Cafe’s sidewalk cafe for drinks and lunch.  The local Ringnes beer was very good.  Not long after arriving the rest of our group happened by so we had a nice mini party.   I must mention that Norway is expensive as the Norwegian Kroner vs US dollar is not the best of exchange rates, but prices are just generally higher on most everything.  For example our Ringnes beers were $12+ each in USD.  After our late lunch the ladies spent time shopping in Oslo.  We eventually made our way towards the fortress and the cruise pier by sail away time.  After some needed relaxation and wine on the ship it was time for dinner and I ordered: French Onion Soup, Penne Mariscos, Beef Short Ribs, and sampled some desserts.  Tonights feature entertainer was David Knight the hypnotist, but several of us went to the Punchliners Comedy Club after dinner for some late night adult British humor.

Day Eight--Sunday--at Sea
Truffles Dining Room
Calm seas overnight.  I slept late and as this will be the last sea day of the cruise and with four upcoming ports of call, the plan is to have an easy day today. I enjoyed another casual MDR full breakfast this morning in Truffles. John Heald hosted his famous Marriage Show this afternoon in the Follies theater, there was a Veterans gathering, more Trivia Contests, and lots of other ship activities today, but it was Rest and Relaxation (R&R) until dinner for me.  Tonight for dinner I ordered the Green Pea Soup, a Green Garden Salad, a very good NY Strip Steak, and a selection of desserts.  I went to Punchliner’s Comedy Club for another comedy show with Tom Pepper, then to the theater for the late (10:30pm) production show: The Big Easy.  We’ve seen the show on other Carnival ships and it is one of their better production shows featuring music from or about New Orleans.  The show is a little different from cast to cast and we really enjoyed it. 

Day Nine--Monday--Hamburg, Germany
Lübeck Town Hall
Calm seas overnight and a light rain this morning.  Our plan is for another adventure on our own today with another couple so we had a quick breakfast and prepared for an early day.  We are docked in the commercial Fish Market area of Hamburg docks so it’s somewhat away from the town center and we were off so early there were no taxis to take us to the train station.  We walked in a light rain to a sub station that took us to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof, the main train station, and arranged for our return tickets to Lübeck about 40-45 minutes away by train.  Lübeck is an old town that was for several centuries the "capital" of the Hanseatic League and, because of its Brick Gothic architectural heritage, is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.  We arrived in Lübeck and the plan was to walk to old town through the famous Holstentor gate, but as it was still a light to steady rain we took a taxi from the station and began our self walk through the medieval old town area dominated by seven church steeples. The oldest are the Lübecker Dom (the city's cathedral) and the Marienkirche (Saint Mary's), both from the 13th and 14th centuries.  We took a nice self-tour of St. Mary’s then it was off to lunch at the famous Ratskeller zu Lübeck located in the basement below the old City Chambers (photo).  We arrived at opening as planned and were rewarded by being seated in the Thomas Mann booth.  I really wanted to eat at an old traditional German restaurant and they did not disappoint.  We started with some Holsten Pilsener beer and I ordered the Lübecker Pökel-Eisbein mit Sauerkraut, Erbsenpüree, Speckstippe  (Lübeck cured-pork knuckle with sauerkraut, mashed peas, and bacon) and it was excellent.  DW ordered a Vegetable Potato AuGraten and she
Lübecker Pökel-Eisbein mit Sauerkraut
said it was the best vegetarian dish she has had in years.  As we left people were contending to get our booth...very interesting.  Lübeck is the home and originator of marzipan so we went just a block to Niederegger to purchase some as a dessert and take back to the ship.  We had to limit our day and catch a train back to Hamburg as the ship leaves early so we returned to the station and took the next train to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof.  Upon arriving we took a taxi back to the ship passing along the Reeperbahn and seeing the Beatles-Platz and entertainment district.  We just made it back by the 4:00 pm scheduled departure.  Carnival scheduled the Past Guest Party for 4:45 in the Follies Theater, it was the usual with complementary drinks, the Carnival Legend Show Band, a Carnival film, but perhaps better than many as John Heald as the CD makes it entertaining.  The group then continued the party on our extended balcony and watched us sail down the busy River Elbe until sunset.  We have one in the group leaving tomorrow so we met for cocktails in the Oydessy Lounge before dinner.  For dinner tonight I ordered the Tom Ka Gai, Farfalle Pasta with Turkey, Grilled Pork Steak and had two desserts: Bitter & Blanc and Tiramisu.  After dinner there was a 4 hour Dancing set by the Carnival Legend band in Satchmo's, Samantha Jay as the singing feature in Follies theater, Motown Hour in Medusa's Lair, the Piano Bar, and much more, but after a very long day I retired to the cabin after dinner.

Royal Palace in Amsterdam
Day Ten--Tuesday--Amsterdam, Netherlands
Fair seas overnight, rain light then heavier throughout the day. We are to arrive in Amsterdam at 1:00 pm and the Carnival Legend spent the morning sailing up the channel to the inner Dutch canals. We met six of our friends for breakfast in the MDR primarily so we could use our Carnival VIFP complementary cocktail coupons.  I had a nice full breakfast with a Bloody Mary.  Soon the Carnival Legend started to enter the primary lock as we will not be at sea level in the canals so everyone headed to the various decks then our extended balcony to watch the process.  It was very interesting, a smaller version of the Panama Canal locks.  We arrived in Amsterdam on time and DW and I debarked about 1:45 pm.  We walked through the infamous Red Light District (RLD) on our way to Dam Square in the center of Amsterdam.  Here we saw the various monuments and did a tour of the Royal Palace.  It was very interesting and one of the places I could not visit on my previous holiday in Amsterdam so I was pleased we were able to take the tour.  Afterwards we found a great little bar, Cafe Belgique on Gravenstraat near Dam Square. As it was raining we stayed for a few beers.  We began walking back towards the Central Station and ship and planned on a canal tour, but it was really too rainy, so we stopped at the Grasshopper then a nice Grolsch sponsored pub on the edge of the RLD.  We had to walk in the rain back to the pier, but we really didn’t mind by this time.  We arrived back late, after 8:00 pm and ordered late room service, the BLT’s and Reuben sandwiches were great and the chocolate covered strawberries that were delivered were a good dessert.  It was a rainy, but very interesting day in Amsterdam.

Day Eleven--Zeebrugge, Belgium
Grote Markt Square in Brugge
We arrived in Zeebrugge and docked by 9:00 am as scheduled.  We are in Flanders and the Flemish area of Belgium and this is my first visit to this area.  I had breakfast on the balcony and we were getting around a little late after a long day in Amsterdam.  Earlier most of the group shared a taxi into Brugges.  Since transport here is a little difficult I called the Legend excursion desk and asked if there were any tours still available, there was only one with spaces still available so I booked it. The excursion was the Brugges and Belgian Beer Tasting and it left at noon. Perfect.  We did not know what to expect, but it turned out to be the BEST Carnival shore excursion I have ever been on at anytime. We did not even have a full bus so some Carnival entertainment staff joined us and as we pulled away from the ship the guide began explaining the history of the area and what we will be doing this afternoon.  When we arrived in central Brugges we split into two smaller groups to do a wonderful walking tour of the area.  Brugges is a wonderful old medieval town also with ties to the Henseatic League as are several towns we have visited on this trip.  The historic centre of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we saw many Coblestone streets with wonderful chocolate shops and beautiful Canals & bridges, the Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk, the Basilica of the Holy Blood,  the City Hall on Burg Square, Brewery De Halve Maan, and of course the Grote Markt (great market) Square with the large Belfry and it’s intact medieval architecture.  After our walking tour we met our other ½ group and all went to Bierbrasserie Cambrinus just off the Grote Markt for our beer tasting.  I was expecting a tourist or secondary bar and small glasses for the tasting, but I was wrong, 
Bierbrasserie Cambrinus is one of the top rated locations in Bruges and the beers were full sized 12-16 oz. proper Belgian beers all served in the appropriate glassware along with bottle.  The beers were wonderful with one having an alcohol content of 12%+ yet it was smooth.  My favorite was probably the Westmalle beer (alc 9.5%) We also ordered fries so we were doing well especially me who was  able to share much of DW’s beer as well as my own.  We had an hour of free time and DW got an early start to shop while I finished the beer.  In the area were tourist shops and many chocolate shops including one of the original (1926) Godiva Chocolate shops located in a prime spot on Grote Markt Square.  We too soon had to return to the bus for the return trip to the port and our ship.  We had a fantastic time on this excursion and our afternoon in Brugge and wish to return.  We did sample the Big 3: beer, fries, and chocolate! In fact it was the best carnival excursion we have ever taken.  We sailed at 6:00 pm and we enjoyed our balcony time again for sail away and some rest after a great day.  The production show tonight, Juggler Neils Duinker, was actually early (7:15)  for late seating guests, a much better plan IMHO. Dinner tonight was again very good, I ordered the Escargot, Chateaubriand and for dessert had some NY Cheesecake and the traditional Baked Alaska.  They have new comedians in Punchliners’ so some did that and others went to the casino or other music venues.

Day Twelve--Le Havre, France
Bayeux Tapestry
Smooth seas in the English Channel overnight.  We have a long port day today 8:00am to 8:00 pm in LeHarve.  We both had room service breakfast this morning on the balcony.  Six of our group are debarking today to do Paris or France, our plan is to rent an car and tour Normandy.  I was worried about our rental reservation so I wanted to be at the terminal early, but we were able to get our car in a timely manner.  Soon three of us were off on another adventure.  We made our way out of town and soon crossed the Pont de Normandie bridge, when opened a few years ago, was the longest suspension bridge in the world.  We are now in the heart of Normandy and heading to Bayeux.  We arrived in Bayeux in just over an hour and went strait to the see the famous Bayeux Tapestry. The Tapestry dates to the 1070’s and is a 230 ft long embroidered cloth that depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, later King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings. It was very interesting.  Just as we reached the gift shop we ran into two of our friends who debarked after us and will be touring France.  We had a wonderful crepe lunch at Le Moulin De La Galette in Bayeux.  Then all of us drove to the coast to visit the Normandy D-Day beaches.  First stop was Pont De Hoc were the Rangers went up the cliffs to take out German guns.  They still have the concrete pill boxes, underground bunkers, and  huge craters created by the large shells fired from battleships on D-day.  Next stop was the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer.  Everyone has seen photos or the opening of Saving Private Ryan and seen the cemetery in photos or film, but it really is hard to describe in person.  It is a beautiful site and the museum is very good, but one has to experience it for themselves.  We needed to start back towards LeHarve and took the coastal road past the Omaha beach and Gold Beach landing areas.  We could see the British memorials at Arromanches and others along the coastal road.  I will say it was a very interesting drive through the countryside and along the coast.  We now started heading back through Caen and the main highway to LeHarve and arrived back at the pier about 7:30 pm.  Quite an adventure for our day in France.  We did make it dinner and we are down to just one table for our last night on the ship.  Tonight I ordered the Crab Cake, Panko Shrimp, Prime Rib, and Grand Manier Souffle for dessert.  After dinner we retired to the cabin to pack for tomorrows debarkation.

Debarkation / London
Tower Bridge in London
Light rain in Dover as we arrived about 7:00 a.m.  Three of us chose to do self-debark and take our own bags off the ship. We had a light breakfast on Lido deck and left the cabin about 8:05 am.  We had no problems getting an elevator nor getting through to the gangway and final check-out. (ding!) We had purchased an advance Carnival Shuttle ($10) ticket to Dover Priory Train Station. It was a local carrier with smaller vans than ran continuously so we were at the train station straightaway and purchased a ticket (£38pp) on the 8:40 Express to London that arrived about 10:15 am.  Perfect timing all around. Upon arrival we took a London Taxi (£15) to the hotel arriving about 10:45 am.  The folks at the Chamberlain Hotel were very accommodating and allowed us an early check-in.  We were in our rooms by 11:00am--a very successful debark morning.  We had a great day in London using our London Passes starting by walking down to the  Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels, then the Tower Bridge tour, a visit to Westminster Cathedral where we saw the tombs of many British dignitaries & Royals including:  Elizabeth I, James I, Mary Queen of Scots and many more. We had a very good late lunch at Fullers Ale & Pie House in Westminster, I had a Steak Pie and a London Pride.  After eating we took the City Tours Thames River Cruise from Westminster to Tower Hill docks and back to Westminster.  Then it was just a short walk over to the new Battle of Britain Monument where we saw the name of our friend: Squadron Leader Donald MacDonell.  Very fitting since his wife was in our cruise group.  It was now time to get to the Victoria-Apollo Theater where we saw the musical Wicked. It was a very busy and enjoyable day in London. The next morning we took a car service (£95) from the hotel to London Heathrow and three of us were off on our flight to DFW and Texas.

Ship
Maiden Voyage: August 2002
Passenger Capacity: 2,244 (this cruise) | Length: 963 feet
Gross Tonnage: 88,000 tons  | Cruising Speed: 22 knots
As most ports were so close to each other the average speed on this cruise was only 10-12 knots during the day and night.  Always kept very clean and ship shape, but I will be glad that she will have her Carnival 2.0 upgrades before sailing her again next year.

Crew / Staff
All the crew and staff were very efficient and professional.  John Heald as a cruise director is always a bonus.  Wyan our cabin steward did a great job.  Noel our head waiter was wonderful. 

Cabin
We had cabin 8232 a category 8K with extended balcony.  We like this location as your only one deck below the Lido buffet or Serenity Bar for food, ice, drinks, etc.; however, there will also be some noise from the Lido above when the crew roll carts along the passageway.  The cabin is a standard Carnival  balcony cabin with: a three section wardrobe, full couch, mini bar refrigerator, swipe safe, older standard TV, and small stool for desk/vanity.

Food
The food on Carnival ships is usually ‘catch as catch can’ and this cruise was a catch.  The food was very good to excellent.  Also more menu choices such as Ossobuco, Fillet Mignon, NY Strip Steak, Lobster, Duck, and much more. There was a steak or a quality beef choice every night.  Excellent pasta dishes and the breads were great,  DW had room service breakfast each morning and it was delivered on time and correct.  My MDR breakfasts were all good.  Service was wonderful.

Highlights

All the ports both in Norway and Europe.
Great friends sailing with us.
Very good food on the ship and in ports.
Best Carnival cruise and best Carnival excursion ever!

Comments

It seemed to take me a long time to get this review written.  I believe it is because once I finish a review I am mentally on to my next cruise and the one just reviewed is forgotten or in the past.  I really didn’t want to put this cruise in the past so quickly.  I had more FUN and experienced so many new and wonderful things on this trip that it has to be by far the BEST cruise holiday I have ever taken.  It had so many different activities, excursions, and adventures that it was really hard to believe.  I would do it all again in a minute if I could.


The end of a GREAT cruise