Monday, June 5, 2017

Europe 2017 Post-Cruise Review

Throne Room - Rosenborg Castle - Copenhagen Denmark

Europe Post Cruise Review - June 2017
Copenhagen Denmark & Brugge Belgium

Friday / Copenhagen Denmark / June 2nd  / Debarkation

The Little Mermaid - Copenhagen
Debarkation from the Regal Princess was very smooth and we were at our hotel The AC Bella Sky by 10:00 am.  The hotel is a full service modern unique styled high-rise hotel located outside the old town area and decorated in Danish Modern design. Due to a Festival this weekend there were few rooms available near the old town. Our rooms were not available when we arrived so we checked our bags, bought a Copenhagen Card, and were off to the Metro Station just a short walk from the hotel.  We were in downtown Copenhagen about 10:30 am.  We walked over to the Nyhavn originally a busy commercial port where ships from all over the world would dock. The area was historically packed with sailors, ladies of pleasure, pubs and alehouses. Today the beautiful old houses have been renovated and classy restaurants dominate the old port. No. 9, Nyhavn, is the oldest house in the area dating back to 1681. The design of the house has not been altered since that time. The famous Danish fairytale writer, Hans Christian Andersen, used to live in no. 20. This is where he wrote the fairy-tales 'The Tinderbox', 'Little Claus and Big Claus', and 'The Princess and the Pea'. He also lived twenty years in no. 67 and two years in no. 18.  We had sit down and enjoyed a beer and a coke to make plans for the day.  Since the location and timing was right to witness the Changing of the Royal Guard at noon we walked over to Amalienborg Palace…a must for anyone with a taste for royal history and the life of Denmark’s royal family who still resides inside the palace.  After we watched the changing of the guard we made the long walk to see The Little Mermaid.  Unveiled on 23 August 1913, The sculpture is made of bronze and granite and was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about a mermaid who gives up everything to be united with a young, handsome prince on land.  A very busy site with tourists, but as we’re on our own we can stay and travel at our own pace.  We returned to Amalienborg Palace to visit the Museum with nice displays of the Royal Family.  We then returned to the Nyhavn for lunch at Nyhavns Færgekro located at No. 5 along the docks.  I had the Danish Smorgasbord platter with Salmon, Herring, Roast Beef, Chicken Salad, Shrimp, and more.  It was very good.  We then walked over to Gammel Strand were we took a Grand Canal Tour on an open top canal boat.  We saw: The Opera, Amalienborg palace, The Old Stock Exchange, Christianshavn, Our Saviours Church, The Sixtus Battery, The Black Diamond library, and of course, the Little Mermaid from the waterside. Plus some very interesting neighborhoods on the hour long tour.  After the tour we walked over to the Strøget: Copenhagen's largest shopping area centered in the heart of the city. Strøget is one of Europe's longest pedestrian streets with a wealth of shops.  From here we returned to the Metro Station for the ride to Bella Station and our hotel.  We then got our room and bags and retired for some much needed rest.  A great day in Copenhagen.

Saturday / Copenhagen Denmark / June 3rd  / Post Cruise Day 2

Tivoli Gardens entry
Our hotel room is interesting, DW says it’s like a prison cell, not really that bad, it is basic but has all the amenities.  We walked to the Metro and were soon in Copenhagen eating a Danish (Spandauer) at Taffel Bay.  Our first visit was to Rosenborg Castle featuring 400 years of splendor, royal art treasures and the Danish Crown Jewels and Royal Regalia. Rosenborg Castle was built by one of the most famous Scandinavian kings, Christian IV, in the early 17th century. Among the main attractions is the Knights’ Hall with the coronation thrones and three life-size silver lions standing guard. Tapestries on the walls commemorate battles between Denmark and Sweden. The interiors are well-preserved and all original.  The crowns of the Danish kings and queens are kept in special vaults and are embellished with table-cut stones, enamel and gold ornamentation. We sat on a bench in the lovely park before heading towards the 17th century Round Tower and joined the Strøget as mentioned yesterday one of Europe's longest pedestrian streets with a wealth of shops, from budget-friendly chains to some of the world's most expensive brands. The stretch is 1.1 kilometers long and runs from City Hall Square (Rådhuspladsen) to Kongens Nytorv.  We were certainly entertained as there was a parade on the Strøget featuring countries from South America doing local dances as the parade…pretty much as they do during Festival in Latin America.  We finally made our way to Christiansborg Palace, located on the tiny island of Slotsholmen, and contains the Danish Parliament (Folketinget), the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of State.  We toured the part of the palace used by the Royal Family for various functions and events. The Royal Reception Rooms include The Tower Room and The Oval Throne Room where foreign ambassadors to Denmark are received by the Queen. The Throne Room gives access to the balcony where the Danish monarchs are proclaimed. The Great Hall is the most imposing room in the palace. This is where you will find the Queen's tapestries (contemporary pieces featuring Danish history).  We wanted to end the day at Tivoli Gardens amusement park in Copenhagen…a must for all visitors. Tivoli Gardens was founded in 1843 and has become a national treasure and an international attraction. Fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen visited many times, as did Walt Disney and many other celebrities, who all fell in love with the gardens. First we enjoyed a nice meal at Grøften, a restaurant with a long 131-year tradition and one of Tivoli's oldest and most venerable establishments.  We walked the park taking in all the interesting and unique sites and amusements.  We had ice creme cones from the century old Vaffelbageriet, rated as one of the ten best ice creme parlors in the world by National Geographic Traveller (and others).  I tried a licorice flavor since that is very Danish and a scoop of berry (including Ligonberry)…the berry was best.  We treated ourselves to a taxi back to the hotel as I was ‘walked-out’ by this time.  We enjoyed a few cocktails in the SkyClub on the 23rd floor of the hotel and enjoyed the views of the Copenhagen area and Baltic Sea.  It was a great day of site-seeing in Copenhagen.

Sunday / Travel / Brugge, Belgum / June 4th / Post Cruise Day 3

Madonna of Brugge
We have a 5:25am boarding time for our flight so we were up about 3:00 am and in lobby by 4:00 for our taxi to the airport.  Being that early checking our bag and security was fairly easy and soon we were eating a Danish at the famous Copenhagen bakery Lagkagehuset's airport location when it opened at 4:30 am.  Yes fresh!  Soon we were on our hour and a half hour flight to Amsterdam and no passport control this time at Schiphol and our short connection flight to Brussels was easy.  We arranged for a car service transfer to Brugge and after retrieving our luggage the driver was at the meeting location at the designated time with my name on his iPhone and easy to find.  His car was parked very close and we were off to Brugge arriving at 11:30 am.  We are staying at the Navarra Hotel...this charming hotel is in a 1600’s era building and only a 5-minute walk from the town center Markt. Our rooms were not ready so we took a walk to the main square then to Cambrinus my favorite establishment from our previous trip for a light lunch and first two Belgium beers including a Tripel Karmeliet, one of my favorite beers from last trip. Then we went to see Michelangelo's "Madonna of Brugge". Yes the one from the movie 'Monuments Men'.  This 500 year old piece looks beautiful and is the obvious pride of Brugge.  We have already had a long day so we returned to the hotel to check-in and rest.  DW hit the bed immediately and I unpacked and settled in while setting up internet.  Then a nap and rest.  DW was done for the day but I went out for a walk around town.  It is much nicer once half the tourists have left town, Brugge is primarily a day-trip place for tourists staying in Brussels or Amsterdam, on bus tours, or on cruise ships docked in Zeebrugge.   I too retired early after a long long day.

Monday  / Brugge, Belgum / June 5th / Post Cruise Day 4
Our view from breakfast table this morning
The sun does not rise as early here as in Scandinavia so we slept very well.  We did get out about 8:30am in order to take photographs before tourists arrive.  Got some good photos from the most popular locations.  We then had breakfast on Markt Square awaiting the opening of the 12th century Basilica of the Holy Blood at 10:00 am.. The Basilica and museum were both beautiful and historical and we learned that the iconic Relic of the Holy Blood itself would be displayed from 11:30am-noon today so we returned for that.  An amazing experience.  Between the two visits we took a nice boat ride along the canals in Brugge.  You can get a good perspective and really see the 14th-15th-16th-17th century buildings and homes built along the canals that had access to the sea at that time.  Brugge was such an important and rich merchant city at that time and to be able to have such an important Christian Relic, the dominating and towering Belfry of Brugge, and the first Michelangelo outside of Italy shows it’s dominance during that period.  We are lucky that so much has been preserved for us today.  We stopped at a grocery and had a midday break at the hotel.  We had a afternoon walk and visited some of the lesser known areas of the old town.  There are fewer tourists in the city today than yesterday so that has helped.  We had drinks in the nice Hotel Garden then went to dinner at a new hot restaurant called Bones.  There were as many more locals than tourists as it’s new to Brugge and the concept is: Ribs.  Yes a rib joint in Belgium.  They did have a bottle of Texas BBQ sauce on each table as well as a large bottle of Merlot wine.  DW ordered a Large Salad with Goat Cheese and I had a full rack the Sweet Ribs served with Slaw and Baked Potato.   When I finished that they brought me a full rack of the Spicy Ribs. It's 'all you can eat'.  The recommended beer, Tongerlo blond, was also very good.  It was a great meal and a touch of home although certainly with a Belgium style.  We went to a gelato shop (Fred's) for dessert and ate our cones on the Markt Square enjoying the view and people watching.  Just a short walk back to the hotel to retire for the evening.  Another great day in Brugge.

Tuesday  / Bruge, Belgum / June 6th / Post Cruise Day 5
We had rain overnight and we slept very well.  Light rain off and on in early morning so we adjusted our plans for the day and walked over to the Jan Van Eyck for breakfast.  We had spotted this pretty place on our walk yesterday.  We ate inside and had wonderful omelettes, bread, coca cola, and hot milk. Great breakfast and huge omelettes. We walked down to Burg Square and visited the beautiful City Hall Museum and Chambers…they were very interesting.  We picked up some gifts at one of the many chocolate shoppes in town and stopped at a local market for some snacks then returned to the hotel for the afternoon since it’s chilly & very breezy today.  We have seen most of the major tourist or historical sites so we are good having some down time updating this review and since we are just across the English Channel from Great Britain we are getting numerous English speaking stations on television.  The weather improved in the evening and we went on a walk and enjoyed some of the residential areas and canals near our hotel location.  We also did the local ‘fast food’ thing and had Belgium Fries at a local frites location.  BTW-they have a Frite Museum here in Brugge based just on the local delicacy.  I had another nice beer in the hotel bar: Westmalle Trappist Triple before turning in for the evening.

Wednesday  / Bruge, Belgum / June 7th / Post Cruise Day 6
Chateau of Loppem
We slept well and the weather is still breezy but not as chilly this morning.  We have a tour of Flanders today scheduled with Quasimodo Tours and they picked us up at the hotel about 9:00 am.  We only had one other couple from Australia with us on the tour so the van was quite comfortable.  Our tour was through the beautiful countryside and we passed through several villages including the beautiful Village of Lissewege, drives along the numerous canals including the Stinker and Blinker, and numerous sites.  First stop was at the moated Castle of Tilleghem, then we went to the very historic Chateau of Loppem with it’s collection of art and historic artifacts.  Lunch was next at the original location of the former site of the Monastery Ter Most.  The monastery was destroyed long ago during the 16th century, but the most amazing thing was the huge surviving tithe Barn originally built in 1220 and the oldest Gothic building in Belgium.  This was a huge wooden/stone barn that has survived and is stilled used today.  We drove to old Flemish community of Damme and saw the Shellemolen Damme windmill, the old medieval town square, and the old Cathedral.  Our final stop was at the Fort Lapin Brewery where we sampled Belgium beers and our guide gave us Belgium chocolates.  It was a great day in the Flanders countryside and we were dropped off at our hotel about 5:15 pm.   It was Jazz night at our hotel with live music at the bar, but we didn’t stay long as I wanted to visit Le Trappiste a 4.9 rated bar (highest I have seen), where they have a very wide selection of beers at a fair price.  It’s located in a medieval era cellar and even had a beer that DW enjoyed: a peach flavored beer.  I had the Triple Karmellite beer.  For dinner we decided to return to Bones as it was on the way back to he hotel and easy.  Again a very good meal.  We did some pre-packing and settled after a long final day in Brugge and Flanders.

Thursday  / Travel / June 8th / Post Cruise Day 7
Brussels Atomium
We were up early to finish packing and meet out driver to the Brussels airport at 6:30am. We had a new driver and he was late arriving (7:00) but we were finally off…it went well but there was huge traffic on the airport road as we approached Brussels so he went to the outer loop and it was also bad.  He began a cross city and neighborhood route that was even worse IMHO.  We were in 8:00ish city traffic that included local commuters, delivery vans, school buses, pedestrians, and we even had to follow a bike for a while.  It made me anxious as we were already behind schedule.  We did drive by the Atomium and the Japanese Garden Tower before finally arriving at the airport.  We again wondered why the driver drove through the parking garage and not the drop off area, but it did turn out to be the easiest way to enter since the airport was under heightened security with military and police at the entries.  It was now 9:00 am but Delta had ample staff at baggage check-in as well as a pre-security check.  We then went through regular security followed by passport control.  It went smoothly…100% better than Amsterdam.  We made it to the gate where they were already boarding our flight where we had one more security check and finally our boarding check.  Fortunately the flight was only half full so we were able to each get two seats and soon we were off at the scheduled 10:25 time.  Again the entertainment system did not work on this flight, but you could use your iPhone to access the Delta entertainment system and movies.  We arrived in Houston by way of Atlanta about 6:00 pm Texas Time.  We drove to Huntsville for the night and Tex-Mex food and arrived home at the ranch on Friday.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Regal Princess Baltic Cruise Review

 Regal Princess Baltic Cruise Review
May 22, 2017
Just the Facts:
Ship: Regal Princess (2014)
Captain: Tim Stringer
Hotel Director: Richard Harry
Cruise Director:  Kelly Rose
Ports: Copenhagen - Oslo - Warnemunde - Tallin - St. Petersburg - Helsinki - Stockholm - Copenhagen

This is my 22nd Princess cruise, the first time on the Regal Princess, and 129th cruise overall.  I am cruising with the dear wife (DW) and this is also her first cruise on the Regal.  I have never cruised the Baltic so this a certainly a cruise I am looking forward to experiencing.

Sunday-Monday / Travel /  Embarkation / May 21-22, 2017 / Day 0

KLM Airlines
We left Carnival Breeze about 8:30 am on Sunday and made our way to George Bush airport in Houston arriving about 11:00 am after parking our car at FastParkRelax remote lot.  Since we were arriving early both the KLM check-in and TSA Security was a breeze and we could relax and use the Airport wifi until boarding of our KLM flight about 2:30 pm.  First time to fly on KLM and there is more leg room and good food, but the entertainment system was not functioning and nine hours is a long time to endure a long overnight flight.  We were just happy to get off in Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport at 7:00 am local time, but the worst was yet to come.  Our short KLM flight to Copenhagen boarded at 9:20 am plenty of time we thought…but no…we had a two hour wait standing in line for Passport Control.  In addition to being stressful standing for two hours after a nine hour flight we began to wonder if we would even miss the connection.  We made it but just barely, I know I will never fly through Amsterdam Schiphol again…never.  Arrival in Copenhagen was better and the baggage was easy.  We had Princess transfers so we checked our bags with Princess and didn’t have to deal with them.  The bus from the airport to cruise terminal took about 45 minutes, but we did drive through town and saw some sites along the way.  That and the nice weather began to lift our spirits…we were certainly not in Texas any longer.  There is a seven hour time difference from Texas to Denmark. Overall it was almost exactly 24-hours in travel time from the Port of Galveston to the Port of Copenhagen. 

Monday / Embarkation - Copenhagen / May 22nd / Day 1
First Baltic Sunset
We arrived at the Regal Princess about 1:00 pm. and security was not difficult.  We finally got to skip a long line with our Elite status on Princess as we were immediately checked-in and proceeded to board the ship.  There is a WOW factor…the Lobby or Piazza area look great.  We went to our balcony cabin on deck nine and DW settled down for a needed nap and I went up the the Horizon Court on Lido for a nice salad then a nap.  Preparations for muster drill started about 4:00 pm so we soon took our Life Jackets to our muster station and listened to the instructions.  Our bags also arrived just before safety drill…yea.  The Horizon opens for dinner at 5:30 so we went up to eat about 6:00, DW had a great Salad and I had a very nice Pasta.  After dessert we found the Cloud Nine Bar, this is the specialty designed bar for Elite and Suite guests.  Great h’orderves as usual and I ordered a Mojito ($5.75).  This is a much better space than having this daily Elite event in another space or lounge.  DW found a nice new nautical top to purchase in the shops while I listened to a great Jazz group in the Piazza.  We returned to the cabin and watched us sail away from Copenhagen and it felt good to shower off all that travel and get into relaxing clean clothes as we sailing into the sunset and enter the Baltic sea.  The day got better as it went along…a nice first day on the beautiful Regal Princess.

Tuesday / Oslo / May 23rd / Day 2
Regal Princess & Akershus Fortress
Smooth seas overnight and we both slept very well.  We had room service delivered about 8:30 am and we ate our breakfast as we sailed up the Oslo Fiord on this bright sunny and somewhat chilly morning.  We were docked by 10:00 am below Akershus Castle. This is our second visit to Oslo so we are enjoying our morning and allowing it to warm up a bit before debarking and it did became a beautiful Spring day.  I had lunch in the Horizon Grill: Lamb with mint jelly, Brest of young hen from carving station, Mashed Potatoes, Meatballs in tomato sauce, and more.  We left the ship about 1:00 pm ready for our lovely day in Oslo.  The primary cruise ship pier is well within walking distance of the city center, but I was a bit lazy and we did the Hop-on Hop-off train.  My plan was to get to the Royal Palace, one of the highest points in the city then walk down hill the rest of the day.  The train did get us fairly close.  Palace tours of the interior do not begin until June, but we enjoyed the beautiful grounds, wonderful views, and the Changing of the Guard.  As we were on the backside of the palace and looking through the back gate we noticed a limo pull into the main entry (yes into the interior entry) from the back doors.  Unusual we thought but as we determined later as we walked down from the palace they were picking up King Harald as his motorcade then passed us as we approached Karl Johans Gate.  We spent time on the beautiful boulevard and park enjoying ice creme and the weather.  As we headed back by Oslo University we noticed the motorcade and some activity so we got luckily into the inner photographer station and only waited a few minutes and King Harald V appeared.  Hello King of Norway…nice  to see you.  Following our visit with the King we took the HoHo train around to Acker Brygge the location of the former old docks and now restored as trendy boutiques, shoppes, restaurants, and businesses. The area was packed with locals enjoying the exceptionally nice weather. I enjoyed several Ringnes beers and DW an Elderflower Spritzer at Lekter’n a famous very Norwegian Bar & Restaurant.  It was good beer and a great people watching experience.  After beers we walked along the docks, visited City Hall, enjoyed a Crepe, and returned to the cruise terminal arriving back on the ship after 6:00 pm.    I went to the Horizon Grill about 8:00 and they have an excellent dinner set up including wine service…very nice.  I attended the Norwegian Folk Show in the Princess Theater at 9:00 pm it was nice…I’m pretty familiar with the costumes since I live in a Norwegian community.  Amazing that it is still daylight at 10:00 pm…we are so far north and approaching long days…beautiful late views, we got to see a sailboat race across the harbor from our balcony side we don’t sail away until 11:00 pm.  It was a wonderful day in Oslo.

Wednesday / Day at Sea / May 24th / Day 3
Østbroen Bridge
Again very calm seas over night and another good nights sleep. We again had room service for breakfast.  Princess is one of few cruise lines that serves a nice warm breakfast sandwich option for mornings, most are just a continental breakfast.  I also had melon and citrus as well as hot milk.  It’s another sunny day and we are enjoying a relaxing morning with wonderful views from the balcony on this sea day. We went to lunch about 1:30 in the Horizon Court…they have really altered the menu to offer a large variety of Asian foods since half the guests are Asian.  Interesting.  I worked on airport transfers for the end of the cruise and got those arranged, but used a lot of my internet time.  I’m still on the original 250 minutes allotted to the Elite guests for now.  At least the internet is working very well this week.  With the hourly system guests do log out when not online.   We also had an easy afternoon but I did a walk about ship and guests were sitting in the sun on Lido Deck and there were activities all over the ship.  We went to dinner in the Concerto Dining Room…very classy room with wonderful place settings and table cloths…we actually had a table for two at a window.  Tonight I ordered: Shrimp Cocktail, Spaghetti Carbonara, Yorkshire Pudding: Roast Beef with Horseradish-Carrots-Peas-Potatoes, and two desserts: Ice Creme selection and Vanilla Creme Brûlée.  We retired to the cabin after dinner and about 10:00 pm we sailed under the famous Østbroen Bridge. It was very cool as the ship’s horns played the theme to the Love Boat as we passed under…got a kiss from my sweetie too.  It was a very nice relaxing sea day on the Regal Princess.

Thursday  /  Warnemunde, Germany  /  May 25th / Day 4
Schwerin Castle - great excursion
Calm seas and another good nights sleep. We had an early room service breakfast as we needed to meet our excursion at 7:30 am.  We booked the Regal Princess’ Schwerin Castle, Lake Schwerin Cruise & Rostock excursion and were on the bus and on our way by 8:00 am. We had an hour+ drive to the town of Schwerin located in a forested area with several lakes and a historic castle in the Mecklenburg area of northern Germany.  Our first stop was for a photo op of Schwerin Castle from above the beautiful park area, after which we enjoyed a 30-minute boat ride on Lake Schwerin, Germany's third-largest lake with unique views around Schwerin Castle.  Leaving the boat we had a walking tour of the city of Schwerin, the old market square, and Schelfstadt district, popular for its very old half-timbered houses.  We then boarded a trolley train for a short tour of other areas of Schwerin.  Finally it was time to visit the very unique Schwerin Castle itself.  We enjoyed a guided tour of the former living, social, and ceremonial used by the palace museum to exhibit pictures, sculptures, furniture, weapons, medals, jewelry and other objects d'art. We saw the grand living quarters and the ceremonial rooms including the ancestral portrait gallery and the beautiful throne room.  After the tour we had lunch at a local restaurant along the lake shore adjacent to the castle.  It was a nice meal and following we boarded our buses for the drive to Rostock.  We had a tour of Rostock then stopped for an inside visit to St. Mary's Church, the most famous of Rostock's seven medieval churches. Constructed in the 13th century, St. Mary's features an exquisite, working astrological clock that is today maintained by the mathematics faculty of the University of Rostock.  We arrived back at the ship about 5:00 pm.  After a brief cabin visit we went down to the Club 6 Lounge as it was both Shrimp Fountain day and Cosmopolitan cocktail day for the Elite guests.  We did take advantage of both until the 7:00 pm last call.  We went down to the International Grill for a dessert and cookies, our first visit there, but DW discovered some perfect vegetarian snacks there so we will return.  While on deck five we visited the Gelato Shop and I enjoyed a nice sampling of gelato while listening to Prestige the wonderful jazz group performing in the Piazza.  No need for dinner tonight so we retired to the cabin to relax from such a busy excursion day.  We turned our clocks forward one hour tonight and will be the same as the next four ports.  It was a great day in Germany and the Regal Princess.

Friday / Day at Sea / May 26th / Day 5
Regal Princess Piazza
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well, almost too well, I didn’t get up until after 10:00 am.  We did play the special Sleep Music available on the interactive TV system for the first time so that may have had a part in the nice sleep.  We have a special luncheon at noon so I had some fruit and a cookie for breakfast.  The luncheon was for the Elite passengers with the most days traveled and I was very happy that I received the invitation. We met at Sabatini’s on deck five and everyone had their photo taken with the Captain as we entered. We had individual printed menus and place cards…very classy.  As a starter I ordered the Symphony of Seafood: Cured Salmon, Ahi Tuna Poke, & Lobster Medallions.  My entree was Sterling Beef Chateaubriand with Napoleon Vegetables, the other choice was Pan Seared Halibut.  DW had the Freshly-made Leek and Potato Ravioli,  For dessert we had Love Boat Temptation:  White chocolate and peach melba mousse, raspberry rose center and sable breton.  They also served a selection of Petit Fours.  My food was outstanding and prepared perfectly.  DW did some shopping and I returned to the cabin with the mementoes of the luncheon and to do the paperwork for our debarkation transfer.  This afternoon we watched the recent movie The Accountant with Ben Affleck, a great movie.  One that would never be shown at the Cliftex back in Bosque County.  DW watched another movie, Jackie, and I did a walkabout the ship.  It was a beautiful day of Baltic sunshine and guests were enjoying it on Lido deck.  Also a lot of activities in the Piazza and Theater today.   It was formal night on the Regal Princess but we chose to eat at the Horizon Court that was set very nicely with placemats and long stemmed glasses for dinner.  I had a basic, but wonderful meal.  They had Strip Sirloin Beef at the carving station that I had sliced into thick steaks then additionally grilled to perfection on the grill behind the station…excellent.  I had sides of Mashed Potatoes and Mixed vegetable and an additional steak for dessert.  We met the Captain and staff at lunch so didn’t participate in any of the formal night functions, but retired to the cabin for another movie: The Infiltrator with Brian Cranston.  It was a great relaxing movie and food day on the Regal Princess.

Saturday / Tallinn, Estonia / May 27th / Day 6
Old Town Square Tallinn from Pharmacy
Smooth seas overnight and we again had a nice sleep.  We were already docked in Tallinn when room service breakfast was delivered about 8:30 am.  Forecast was for rain, but it as a nice sunny day as we left the ship to meet our private tour.  We had a small group of 16 on a nice full size bus so it was easy touring.  This was a combination two hour bus tour and two hour walking tour. The bus tour passed by the new New Tallinn area with lovey squares and modern building, the 1980 Olympic Yacht Park, and a stop at Kadriorg Park and Kadriorg Palace founded by Peter the Great (the palace's main hall is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in all of Northern Europe). We had an additional stop at the UNESCO recognized Song Festival Ground, this concert arena can accommodate 30,000 singers on its vast stage and is home to Song Festival, an Estonian tradition since 1869. The walking portion of the tour began at Toompea Hill (Upper Old Town) and Toompea Castle, the current home of Estonia's Parliament. Then a quick visit into the historic Russian Alexander Nevsky Cathedral that serves as the dominating landmark in Palace Square. This cathedral serves as a living relic of the Russian Empire, and a strong testament to the influence of years under the rule of Russian Tsars in Estonia.  Next we visited the overlook of the lower and modern city of Tallinn.  Last stop in the upper old town was at Gothic St. Mary's Cathedral. Simply called the "Dome Church" by the locals, St. Mary's Cathedral is the city's oldest church and an architectural landmark that has played a prominent role in Tallinn's history. We then walked through the Uhike Jalg gate down to the Old Town (lower) of Tallinn to St. Nicholas Church (1230-1275) then to the beautiful Old Town Square and old City Hall.  The square is dominated by old buildings from Gothic to Medieval with various businesses, restaurants, and more.  We did visit the oldest continuous pharmacy in Europe and visit some shops.  The highlight was lunch in an old restaurant Liisu Juures severing genuine traditional Estonian food and beer (recommended-would never of found it on our own).  I ordered Saku Original (local beer) and Mylgikapsad Keedukartuliiga (Sauerkraut Mulgi style with boiled potatoes) and DW ordered Potato Pancakes with Loganberry.  After lunch we walked the streets of Old Town seeing the smallest house, the old walls, St. Olaf’s Kirke, and Stout Margaret’s Tower. We then walked back to the Cruise Terminal arriving back about 4:30 pm.  We planned an easy evening after all the walking today and big plans for tomorrow, so we just had a light snack from the International Cafe retired early.  It was a great day in Tallinn Estonia.

Sunday / St. Petersburg, Russia / May 28th / Day 7
Grand Cascade - Peterhof Palace
We had a very early room service delivery that served as our wake up call for a very busy day. Fortunately it’s a sunny day although cold with temps from 45°-55°.  There are six large cruise ships docked this morning.  We left the cabin about 7:00 am and it took 45 minutes to clear Russian passport control so we met our private tour about 8:00 am the designated time.  It was 8:15 am when the stragglers arrived but soon our group of 14 tourists plus driver Sergi and our guide Catherine were off.  We drove downtown to view monuments and stop at a very nice souvenir store for a WC break, but actually we were delaying time until the time to board a nice Hyrofoil boat to Peterhof Palace.  After a 30+ min ride we arrived at the Lower Park of Peterhof Palace.  We walked the grounds of the Versailles of the North admiring the many fountains and Gold statuary. Afterward we ate lunch (Vodka, Salad, Borscht, Chicken & Rice, and Apple Cake Dessert) that was served banquet style in a nice Russian Palace styled facility specifically for tour groups.  We then drove about 45 minutes to the town of Pushkin  to visit Catherine’s Palace.  This is perhaps the most beautiful of all the former Royal Russian Palaces in the St. Petersburg area.  Room after room of beautiful  salons most trimmed with gold and the feature salon being the Amber Room filled with Amber and Gold decor.  There were just so many tourists that it took away from overall enjoyment of it all, but Catherine’s Palace is beautiful.  We returned to St. Petersburg and drove down the main avenue passing the Leningrad Siege Memorials, the Theater, Department Stores, and more before returning to the sea port about 7:15 pm.  We were very tired and kept it simple going to the Horizon Court where I had a nice plate of Fried Scallops before retiring.  It was a good first day in St.Petersburg.

Monday / St. Petersburg, Russia / May 29th / Day 8
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Again we ordered room service as a wake-up, but we were up and around earlier as we actually meet our tour earlier than yesterday @ 7:30 am.  Again there are six large cruise ships in port. We left the cabin about 6:50 am and Russian Passport Control goes much faster on second day in port so we had time to look at souvenirs (TIP: prices are really much better at the port than in the City) and I did get a Russian Hat.  Our nice group of 14 were all early so with our guide and driver we were off to the City of Petersburg.  First stop was an hour long River Boat Ride, I thought it would be touristy, but it really is the best way to see all the Palaces built along the river and I enjoyed it.  We visited Yusupov Palace it belonged to the House of Yusupov, an immensely wealthy family of Russian nobles, known for their philanthropy and art collections.  The building was also the site of Grigori Rasputin's murder in the early morning of December 17, 1916.  Next we visited a beautiful and interesting Subway Station and then took a break at a McDonald’s (always a great Coca-Cola).  Next site was the world famous Hermitage Museum and Royal Winter Palace.  Supposedly closed on Monday it was full of tourist groups, but it did go fairly smooth through the numerous grand halls of the Winter Palace and exhibition rooms of adjoining Palaces.  It is a huge building and complex with many wonders and the #1 must see in St. Petersburg.  Lunch was next at Legran a very nice Russian restaurant located in a cellar downtown. We had a very nice Mixed Slaw Salad, Mushroom Soup, and Beef Stroganoff.  Much nicer lunch than yesterday.  We did a speed tour to get in all the sites needed after lunch and next was the one I personally liked best: Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.  This church was built on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in March 1881.The church was built between 1883 and 1907. The construction was funded by the imperial family and is a colorful iconic Russian Church that harkens back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism.  It has been beautifully restored inside from damages during the War and Soviet era.  Next we visited St Isaac’s Cathedral, the largest of all St. Petersburg churches, again with beautiful religious icons.  Our final stop was Saints Peter & Paul Cathedral located at Peter & Paul Fortress, This fortress location was the founding location of St.Petersburg and the first church.  The smaller but old Cathedral is the final resting place of all the Romanoff Czars and families from Peter the Great to the last: Nicholas II who was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1917.  We were delivered to the sea port just after 5:00 pm in time for our 5:30 boarding call.  The two day Deluxe Tour by local  SPB Tours was excellent and a better value than the Princess ship tour with a smaller group.  Our guide Catherine was very knowledgeable, very attractive, and her English was very good, I felt as though we were listening to Melania Trump for two days.  Perhaps a little scatterbrained, but it added to her charm.  We went strait to Club 6 for some much needed cocktails and snacks…they had guacamole & various cheeses.  We skipped dinner and retired to the cabin after such a busy and tiring day.  St. Petersburg was a wonderful experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Tuesday / Helsinki, Finland / May 30th / Day 9
Helsini Waterfront & Market Square
Smooth seas every night of the cruise and a good nights sleep although I was up in the night updating review and on the internet just as I would be at home because of bandwidth speeds.  BTW-the sun was coming up about 3:45 am…amazing this far north.  We were docked in Helsinki when I awoke the second time about 8:00 am so I went to the MDR for the first proper breakfast.  I ordered a Banana, Blueberry pancakes, and Two Eggs with Ham, Bacon, and Hash Browns.  We did not have plans for Helsinki although I had “HoHo?” on Calendar so when we stepped off the ship about 10:00 am and saw the HoHo bus we did their tour of the City.  We saw: the Sibelius Monument, Olympic Stadium, Finlandia Hall, and the retail center including the huge Stockman’s Department Store.  We got off and walked a portion of the Esplanade to the Market Square along the waterfront where they have stalls selling fresh fish, fruits, sweaters, souvenirs, and more.  I bought a mixed fruit basket of Cherries, Strawberries, Raspberries, and Blueberries.  We walked by the Uspenski Cathedral then by the Presidential Palace to Senate Square.  We walked up the many steps to the Cathedral and were there as noon services began.  We caught the HoHo bus at Senate Square for the return to the Regal Princess arriving back before 2:00 pm.  It was a nice quick tour of Helsinki and we beat the masses back as we have a very early sailing today.  We had a nice late lunch in the Horizon Court, I had Virginia Baked Ham from the carving station, Salad, and Mashed Potatoes & Vegetables.  We then enjoyed much needed rest in the cabin. We did watch the movie Allied starring Brad Pitt, they have a nice selection of current and classic movies available in the cabin.  About 8:00 pm, I went up to the Horizon Court for a nice dinner:  Pork Tenderloin With Remoulade Sauce, Beef Steaks, Mashed Potatoes, and Vegetables…then retired to the cabin.  It was a very nice day in Helsinki and on the Regal Princess.

Wednesday / Stockholm, Sweden / May 31st  / Day 10
Royal Swedish Guard
Smooth Seas over night and we moved our clocks forward one hour back to Central Europe Time.  We were sailing into Stockholm when we opened the balcony drapes this morning.  I had time to go up to the Horizon Court for a light breakfast before our excursion meet time this morning.  DW had room service as usual.  Our Princess excursion today was: The Royal Palace and Gamla Stan walking tour.  We left the ship at 9:15 stopping for a photo op at a nice city overlook and arrived at the Royal Palace at it’s 10:00 am opening time.  The Palace is one of the largest in Europe with over 600 rooms and the King and Queen were in residence.  We toured several staterooms, chambers, and more.  Not as opulent as many in Europe, but a very nice tour of a stately palace.  Gamla Stan is the original old town area with the oldest city square with original medieval structures.  We had some free time for some shopping and a Swedish beer, then found a great spot back at the palace to watch the changing of the guard.  The guard ride in on horseback including a mounted band.  Very impressive. Soon we boarded our bus back to the ship as we have an early sail away at 1:30 pm and upon arrival went strait up to the Horizon Court for a very nice lunch.  It was really busy as all the tours were arriving back at the same time today.  We spent the afternoon watching us sail away from Stockholm, with a Love Boat salute, and through the beautiful Stockholm Archipelago with thousands of islands.  Twenty-four thousand to be exact.  We were in Club 6 having cocktails at 7:00 pm when we past the final channel buoy so it took five hours to sail through the archipelago…it was a quite an experience…glad we could experience it in full daylight…sort of combination of sailing the inside passage of Alaska and the coast of Maine or Nova Scotia.  Tonight is Italian night in the MDR so we went to Concerto Dining Room where I ordered the Melanzane Parmigiana and Spaghetti & Meatballs.  It was a very good dinner. We also viewed perhaps the best movie of the cruise: Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge (excellent).  It was a great busy day in Stockholm and on the Regal Princess.

Thursday / Day at Sea / June 1st  / Day 11
Østbroen Bridge at Sunset
Smooth seas overnight and we slept very well.  I went to Horizon Court for a nice breakfast.  Found the fried eggs and love the Danish bacon.  We began the packing process and watched movies this morning.  Very sunny day so decks were busy on this last cruise day.  We went to lunch again in Horizon and I had Turkey from the carving station and Mashed Potatoes.  They have had Bread Pudding several times this cruise and that’s what I had for dessert.  Movies and finished packing this afternoon, then put the bags out in passageway for pickup before dinner as requested.  Trifecta on Horizon Court for meals today as we went again for dinner this evening and the Minute Steaks were very good.  Our bags were gone when we returned to the cabin so the cruise almost over.  We did pass under the Beltway Bridge again about 9:50 pm and I got another trifecta with a photo of the bridge, sundown, and a warship also passing.  Since this was a very port intensive cruise we really didn’t attend the Production shows this cruise. We really didn’t do many of the daily activities offered each day either, but the time seemed to pass so fast over the 11 days.  We were always busy doing our ‘thing’ or watching movies and relaxing from a lot of site seeing and walking done in the eight busy days in port.  We really enjoyed this cruise and it will probably be in my top three of all time enjoyable cruises.  It was a relaxing final day on the Regal Princess.

Friday / Copenhagen Denmark / June 2nd  / Debarkation
Smooth seas overnight and we were docked about 5:00 am in Copenhagen.  We were up about 6:30 am and finished our small bag packing and I had a quick breakfast in the Horizon Court.  Your to leave cabins by 8:00 am and we were out about 8:15 for our designated meet location of the Casino for our 9:15 am designated departure time. Our tags (White-2) are actually the last color on debark schedule so guests leave early and I suspect most are on airport shuttles or tours the end up at the airport…so off very early.  We actually waited in Club 6 as it was more comfortable and they called our group a bit early.  We walked down to deck 4 and were ‘clicked’ off strait away without huge lines.  We walked to the White-2 luggage and our bags were the first in White-1 actually but right in front of us…easy.  We then rolled them the the Taxi line and only waited a few minutes for a taxi…it was very well organized.  The taxi had us at our hotel by 10:00 am for our two day Copenhagen visit.  Very smooth debarkation.

Cabins - Crew
We had cabin D616 a balcony cabin located on deck 9 towards aft on port side.  Good location between mid and aft elevators. Typical Princess room plan with dressing area and long clothes hanging area next to bath area. It’s fine for two people with small couch, button type safe, one electrical outlet on counter/dresser, Telephone on desk, Chair at Dresser, Hair dryer in drawer, and large flat screen TV with the interactive features.  There is an empty refrigerator and as an Elite guest I had a bar set up. The bed and bedding were great. Great shower pressure and water temperature too. Wonderful large flat screen TV mounted opposite bed was perfect for watching movies.  The only disappointments for us were the bath towels: cheap motel quality, and bath robes (very old and shabby).    I acquired some alternative towels. The ships crew we encountered were very friendly, they themselves can make the cruise more enjoyable for the guest. Luis, our cabin steward, was good, the cabin was always clean and ice container filled.

Dining / Food / Bars
We relied on the Horizon Court on Lido deck for most dinners and many lunches, the food was good and there was a varied selection.  The MDR was very good the limited times we did go for dinner.  The International Cafe and Gelato Shop were very good.  Our favorite bar was the Club 6, but we really didn’t go to many this cruise.


St. Petersburg Two-Day Deluxe Tour of the numerous sites
Schwerin Castle tour in Germany
Tallinn Day and tours.
Oslo Day with beautiful Weather
Club 6 lounge for Elite guests
Horizon Court

Monday, May 15, 2017

Carnival Breeze Cruise Review May 14, 2017

 Carnival Breeze Cruise Review 5/14/17

Just the Facts:
Ship: Carnival Breeze
Captain: Vincenzo Alcaras
Hotel Director: Damir Mrsic
Cruise Director:  Schwartz
Ports: Galveston - Cozumel Mexico - Belize - Isla Roatan - Galveston

This is my 70th Carnival cruise, the 6th time on the Carnival Breeze, and 128th cruise overall.  I am cruising with the dear wife (DW) and this is her first cruise on the Breeze.  i am looking forward to the updates on the ship as the Breeze has just come from a dry dock the week prior.

Sunday / Travel /  Embarkation / May 14, 2017 / Day 1
Newly added Alchemy Bar
We left the ranch about 8:00 am well after our former usual scheduled departure time as I have found it easier to take our time and board after the initial rush.  We stopped at the Waller Buc*ees and then arrived at EZ Cruise Parking about 1:00 pm. We were shuttled with our bags over to the ship soon afterward.  Priority works very well at this time as we bypass the long line outside the terminal. We were checked in at the ViFP priority check-in area and boarded about 1:30 pm.  it was a smooth process.  DW checked her bag And I wheeled my large duffle on board with me to our cabin on Main deck (deck two) and relaxed for a bit and then began setting up.  We did go to Lido for a lunch, Mongolian Grill for me, then returned to finish cabin set-up before muster drill.  Our muster location for the Safety Drill is inside the Ovation Theater.  Following we went to the Alchemy Bar for a cocktail. The Alchemy is newly installed and located in the Ocean Plaza area.  They actually sell some beers and wine due to its location in center of the ship and being the only bar in the area.  We had a nice visit with the Alchemists Brian and Antal. Very soon we were sailing away and we took a walk about the ship to familiarize DW with the Breeze and get a soft serve ice creme.  We did notice the new Pandora retail shop on board. DW’s bag was delivered by the time we arrived back at the cabin and we met our cabin steward Ferry.  We had a nice lazy evening.  We watched the movie Keeping Up with the Jones’s and ordered room service…I had two wonderful BLT’s. So no MDR nor Welcome Show for us tonight, but a nice relaxing and restful evening.  It was a very nice first day aboard he Carnival Breeze.

Monday / Fun day at Sea / May 15th / Day 2
Damir, DW, Milan, Moi at Diamond party
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I went up to Lido deck to get a nice Huevos Rancheros breakfast from the Blue Iguana, very nice.  I took a continental breakfast back to the cabin for DW.  We relaxed in the cabin and watched a movie while preparing for the Diamond Guest gathering at 11:00 am in the Piano Bar.  We were sitting  in the outer area of the Piano Barr 88 when they opened the door for the Diamond event. It was good to see crew that I know including Hotel Manager Damir and Beverage Manager Milan.  There were only four Diamonds in attendance.  We had a nice visit with the Captain about Sicily. They served very nice h’orderves & a dessert and of course the Bellini cocktails were very good.  We did take advantage of the full hour of hospitality.  The piano bar on Breeze is unique in that it can be closed for a private party or in it’s usual open concept with areas extending into the promenade.  We went down to the Blush Restaurant for the final hour of the Sea Day Brunch, I had the Tomato Soup and the Hey Pork Chop with Banana Creme Pie for dessert.  When we returned to the cabin there was the usual chocolate plate for ViFP’s delivered on Captains Cruise Elegant night…the rest of the afternoon was cabin time for movies or nap as needed.  We had decided we were not going to eat in the MDR this cruise, so about 7:30 we went up to the Lido Marketplace for dinner.  I had Spaghetti Carbonara, Stuffed Chicken Breast, Roast Beef, Baked Potato, Fresh Broccoli, Mushroom Soup, and Key Lime Cake.  A great meal.  Following dinner we went to the Piano Bar 88 to meet Milan for cocktails. I was able to visit with my favorite Carnival bartender and friend Jana. I successfully sneaked in the bar and ordered a Jana-88 cocktail from the server so she didn’t see me or know I was there until she got the order.   A nice surprise.  We ended up staying for a full long set of Piano Entertainment by Gregg.  It was a fun evening, thank you Milan, Jana, and Tatiana.  We retired after 11:00 pm to the cabin.  The Platinum/Diamond gift was delivered tonight: a compact travel backpack.  It was a great sea day on the Carnival Breeze.

Tuesday / Cozumel Mexico / May 16th / Day 3
Puerto Maya Pier
Smooth seas overnight and we both again slept very well.  We were docking at Puerto Maya pier about 7:30 am so that was basically a wake up call as they began announcements about 8:00 am.  I went down to the Blush MDR for breakfast.  The assistant Maitre’D recognized me and asked why I had not been to the MDR…they have a two top table for us.  Maybe soon.  As guests were filing off the ship I had a nice breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, ham, hash browns, melon, and more.  The Breeze is the only ship in Cozumel today so it was easy to get a taxi when we left the ship about 10:00 am.  We went by the San Miguel church, then Antonio’s Barber Shop for my much needed haircut.  DW did some shopping then we ended up at  Woody’s Bar & Grill our Cozumel HQ.  The Coca-Cola’s, Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Bohemia beer, fast internet, and live music by Pako were great as usual.  Before leaving town we purchased some pharmaceuticals then taxi back to Puerto Maya.  We were early so shopped a bit and purchased some Vanilla at Cinco Soles.  Smooth process boarding and we were soon resting in the cabin from the very warm day.  Our cabin was a very nice 68°.  About 4:00ish I had a Guy’s Burger and DW Guy’s Fries.  The Playlist Production tonight was 88 Keys one of the better shows in the Ovation Theater.  As we have seen the show several times we enjoyed the evening doing a little walk about on deck and noticed the large number of guests watching the outdoor movie on Lido deck.  We relaxed this evening in the cabin with our own movie time.  It was a very nice Cozumel Day.

Wednesday / Belize / May 17th / Day 4
Reflection in Cucina Restaurant window deck 11
Again very calm seas over night and another great nights sleep.  I went to the Blush MDR for a repeat of yesterdays breakfast, it was even better.  I barely made it to the Banana bread station before they took them off, but I bagged the rest for DW and the cabin.  Beautiful day today in Belize and guests are tendering away to get to shore.  We’re going to stay on the ship.  We enjoy staying on the ship on some port days as you have better use of the ship; however, looks like a lot of other guests have the same idea today as the pools are relatively full. It was very warm on deck so in the pool was a relief.  Just after noon we went to the Cucina Del Capitano for a nice Italian lunch. You select your own pasta, sauces, and toppings in a pasta bowl that is prepared for you. I had two Pasta Bowls as I like two different styles: A linguini with tomato sauce and cherry tomatoes only, and Bowtie pasta with chicken, sausage, onions, & zucchini with Bolognese sauce.  Sides are bread and Caesar Salad.  It was a very good lunch and free during the day, there is a service charge for the premium menu in the evening. The food was very good and it was not too busy on this port day.  This afternoon we had a Better Call Saul marathon.  I had previously downloaded season one so we watched the first four episodes.  A very good show.  At 7:00  pm we went down to the Piano Bar to visit with Jana and Tatiana before they get busy and enjoy some cocktails.  DW had not seen the show Flick so we got seats in upper center to enjoy the show.  It’s probably the most unique show on Carnival with the use of fans and graphics.  I had seen it several times on the Breeze and Vista and thought this the weakest cast, but still a good show.  After the show we retired to the cabin and ordered room service.  I wanted to try the delivered Pizza and it arrived in about 40 minutes.  It was awful, but at least I now know.  The Pizza Plus station on Lido has much better pizza. Fortunately I also ordered Buffalo Wings and they were good although not great.  Based on tonight and previous orders, the french fries are the only good items of the ‘pay’ portion of menu, I will stick with the tried and true items on the free side of room service in the future. We watched another late episode of Saul before retiring.  It was a nice port day ON the Carnival Breeze.

Thursday  /  Mahogany Bay, Roatan Island, Honduras  /  May 18th / Day 5
Calm seas with a few rolls overnight and another good nights sleep.  The ship thrusters woke us about 7:00 am as Mahogany Bay is a difficult bay to enter for large ships. We were docked by 8:00 am but we are being lazy this morning.  I did go to Blush MDR just before the 9:00 am closing for a wonderful Eggs Benedict breakfast.  DW had room service breakfast.  We got off the ship and only walked around a few shops and the craft area of Mahogany Bay port area.  It was very hot and humid day so we returned to the ship's cool Lobby Bar for a wonderful Mango Daiquiri.  Then we both and a wonderful lunch, I had a great Mongolian Grill and she a Taco Bowl from the Blue Iguana.  Soft Serve ice creme for dessert.  The rest of the afternoon was a Better Call Saul marathon of three episodes.  We went up to the Lido Marketplace for dinner about 7:00 pm.  I had every entree offered in the MDR and two of four (Breaded Chicken and Turkey from carving station) were excellent.  Salad and Baked Potato sides and Apple Plum Pudding for dessert.  After dinner we stopped by the Piano Bar for a cocktail with Janna.  The primary entertainment was Hasbro, the Game Show, but we retired to the cabin for DW’s regular network TV shows and I updated this review and worked on a possible fall trip to the Balkans.  It was a relaxing day in Roatan and the Breeze.

Friday / Fun day at Sea / May 19th / Day 6
Alchemy Beer - a first
Smooth seas with only a few minor bumps overnight and I slept very well. I was up early and had a good internet connection…it has been poor wifi most of the cruise.  I went to the Blue Iguana for Huevos Rancheros for breakfast and DW had room service as usual.  It’s a beautiful day and very pleasant on deck this morning. There are a lot of activities today: Towel Animal Theater, The Military Appreciation Gathering, Trivia, Ice Carving, Bingo, and more.  We did a walk about and enjoined the sea air this morning and we had Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ.  I enjoyed the pulled Pork Butt, BBQ Chicken, Slaw, & Bread. DW had the Macaroni & Cheese (served cold…more of a macaroni salad), Potato Salad, & Slaw.  It is an improvement from Jimmy’s C-side BBQ.  They also serve Beef Brisket, Sausage, Greens, BBQ Beans, and more.  This afternoon we did several more episodes of Better Call Saul.  About 4:30 pm I went up to the Alchemy Bar and had a few Pilsner Urquell beers.  The first beers I’ve ever been served at an Alchemy Bar.   I also tried a new cocktail (for me) a Death in the Afternoon a Ernest Hemingway inspired drink consisting of Absinthe and Champagne.  Very dry, very strong, and very good.  The Breeze Playlist Production show tonight was:  County Road,  a journey of the Ramsey Boys singing selections of the places they visit and people they see…Carnival really needed a new country themed production and this will please many guests and good choice for the Breeze.  We really just had a few assorted snacks this evening and again skipped the MDR.  Not really missing it and now actually making an effort to skip it this cruise...just for a new experience.  Good music and comedy on the ship tonight and I did catch the Carnival Breeze orchestra section (Yes a live band on the Breeze) in the Ocean Plaza.  It was a relaxing and Fun sea day on the Carnival Breeze.

Saturday / Fun day at Sea / May 20th / Day 7
Smooth seas overnight and we had a nice sleep on this our final sea day. We had room service
Our porthole cabin
delivered about 8:00 am and about 10:15 am I went down to the Blush MDR for a proper Sea Day Brunch.  I had banana nut bread, the fruit plate, steak & eggs, bacon side, potatoes, and more.  It was a very good and filling breakfast.  Guests were on deck enjoying the perfect weather this morning.  DW began some packing.  We did a mid-day walk about and amazingly the lines for Blue Iguana were longer than I had ever seen, I guess many waited until the last day to try it.  Also a big line for the Chocolate Extravaganza.  We watched a few more episodes of Better Call Saul in the afternoon then I went up for a Guy’s Burger about 4:00pm.  The big event for us today is the Diamond Platinum party at 5:00 in the Limelight Lounge.  We had as many cocktails as we wished and they provided nice hors d'oeuvres and entertainment.  Also nice seeing the officers and staff again. Schwartz, the Cruise Director, did a good job and i actually won the award for senior Diamond on the cruise with 508 days. DW had 248.  It was a party night for us as we went by to visit Jana and Tatijana in the Piano Bar and the Alchemists at the Alchemy Bar.  A fun evening on everyone’s last night on the ship.

Sunday / Galveston / May 21st / Debarkation

Smooth seas overnight going into Galveston and I heard the thrusters very early so we were docked well before scheduled arrival.  We left the cabin about 8:30 and were off the ship quickly.  There was a long line through U.S. Customs but it wasn’t a long wait. We rode the shuttle to the EZ Cruise parking lot, stopped for  McDonald’s biscuits, then gas ($2.09) and was on the Causeway off the island at 9:30am.  We drove to George Bush Airport and parked for our next adventure: a flight to Europe and a Batic cruise.

We had cabin 2221 a Porthole located on deck 2 far forward on starboard side.  I love it. It was the coolest cabin I have ever had actually dropping to 65° at one time. Great shower pressure and water temperature too.  I was originally booked as a solo in a 1A just a few cabins forward, but upgraded to this one at final pmt time…so glad I did since DW joined me on the cruise.  It’s fine for two people with the three section wardrobe, couch, swipe type safe, one electrical outlet (two plugs) on counter/dresser, Telephone on desk, Small Stool at Dresser, Kleenex dispenser, and Hair dryer in drawer, and small flat screen TV with the interactive features.  There is an empty refrigerator. My cabin steward was very good, the cabin was always clean and ice container filled.

Dining / Food / Bars / Entertainment

Both Main Dining Rooms are nice especially the Blush Dining room, but for the first time ever we did not eat in the MDR a single night. The Blue iguana for Burritos and Guy’s Burgers are excellent.  The buffet food is pretty standard fare, but selected entrees are very good.  The saucers for coffee cups as well as tablecloths are now gone from breakfast tables. The Mongolian Grill and Cucina del Capitano are great options for lunch or dinner at a fee.  The new Alchemy Bar on the Breeze is in the Ocean Plaza a bit different.  I also thoroughly enjoyed my aperitifs at the Piano Bar with Jana.

The entire ship crew are very friendly, they themselves can make the cruise more enjoyable for the guest. Waiters and Cabin stewards especially very friendly. They always seemed to have a smile on their face and eager to please the guests. The excellent training by Carnival is quite obvious.  The Ship Officers are fantastic…they really seem to enjoy working as a team and are very friendly.  i have never had so many crew call me by name on any previous cruise.

Diamond Guest Cocktail Party with Captain & Senior Officers
Carnival Breeze Crew members
Cozumel Day
Platinum / Diamond Party

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Carnival Imagination Cruise Review

Carnival Imagination
Cruise Review  March 5, 2017

Just the Facts:
Ship: Carnival Imagination
Captain: Bruno Palomba
Cruise Director: Alex Degmetich
Hotel Director:  Guna Chellam
Ports: Long Beach CA - Catalina Island CA - Ensenada MX - Long Beach CA

This short  four day cruise is the fifth of five consecutive cruises for me.  This is my 69th Carnival cruise, my first cruise on the Carnival Imagination, and 127th cruise overall.  I am cruising as a solo with a group of friends (Snoozemates).  The Imagination, an older Fantasy class ship, recently received the 2.0 upgrades and other extensive changes in a late 2016 major drydock.

Sunday / Embarkation / March 5th / Day 1

The new Horizon Court Buffet
I left the Norwegian Jewel my cruise home for 14 days about 10:30 am very near the last guests to leave the ship.  Two friends (the very last to leave) and I took a taxi ($30) from San Pedro Cruise Terminal to the Long Beach Cruise Terminal…less than a 15 minute trip.  We dropped our bags with the porters and proceeded to the VIFP check in and immediately saw our friends completing their B2B arrangement so our timing was perfect.  They had warned us that check in was behind at Long Beach certainly one of my least favorite ports to check in since you actually wait outdoors.  We finally boarded again meeting our friends doing the B2B at the lobby bar.  Everyone was in a good mood especially after a cocktail or two.  We ate at the newly remodeled Horizon Bar & Grill located aft on Lido deck.  I had a Grilled Rubin sandwich and a Tuna on white sandwich, thus the two plates in the surprise photo.  After lunch I went to the cabin and both of my bags had arrived (that was efficient) so I did my cabin set up.  Much smaller cabin area this cruise from last.  I attended Safety Boat Drill, my Muster area was A and met in the theater. We were sailing about 6:00 and heading south I assume looking for warmer weather for tomorrows sea day.  About 7:00 pm the group met at the Alchemy Bar, it was very busy.  The bar is located in the old cigar bar location…very different.  We have 8:15 dinner in the Spirit Dining room located aft. The Maitre’D arranged a nice 11- top table for our group and even offered complementary Sparking wine for the table.  They have never had nine Diamonds in one group or table before tonight. Thank you Ian.  The traditional Welcome Show was at 10:00 pm in the Dynasty Main Lounge.  It was a good day for seeing friends on the Carnival Inspiration.

Monday / Fun Day at Sea / March 6th / Day 2 
Captain & Senior Staff' toast.
Smooth seas overnight and I was up early. I have the Green Eggs & Ham breakfast scheduled for 8:45 but at 7:40 I went to the Blue Iguana for a Huevo Ranchero…just in case…it was good.  At 8:45 I met friends for the Green Eggs & Ham theme breakfast.  At first the kids were rowdy, but soon they were preoccupied with all the colors and decorations.  We were visited by Thing 1 and Thing 2, then Sam I Am, then the Cat in the Hat…they are of course accompanied by a ship photographer ($).  I actually had the Steak and Eggs breakfast similar to what you would receive on the Sea Day Brunch. A friend actually ordered the Green Eggs & Ham…someone had too.  It was interesting and I now know what happens at this event.  I did the Parade and Book Reading on previous Breeze cruise so I now have the full Carnival Dr. Seuss experience. Rather cool out on deck today so found the gang in Lobby Bar, it’s actually my favorite bar on a Fantasy class ship and a great place to people watch.  Very interesting passengers on this sailing with 80% Blue and Red cards. I bet the average age dropped by 50 years from my last two weeks on the Jewel.  After a ginger ale and visiting it was to the cabin for a nice wee nap.  I went up to Lido for a very good Guy’s Burger about 3:45 then to Cherry of Top for some Swedish Fish.  At 5:00 pm we went to the Piano Bar for the Diamond Party, in addition to the 11 in our group, there were two or three other guests.  They were very generous with the complementary cocktails and the h’orderves were nice.  The Captain and senior officers who attended were very generous with their time.  They continued to serve us until almost 6:15 and we stayed until 7:00 since the entire group was there…it was a great party. I went to the cabin to change for dinner and I say our group looked impressive in our matching black Hawaiian shirts this evening.  Dinner was good, I ordered Broiled Sea Scallops on Risoto, the Baked Stuffed Mushrooms, Minestrone Milanese, Barbecued Spare Ribs, and shared a Blue Crab Ravioli.  Ian and his team again poured Champagne for us.  Very nice meal and the Scallops were a new dish to me, maybe a west coast thing or new menu item.  We were finished in time for the 2nd seating of the first production show: Divas in the Dynasty Lounge.  It was an interesting and very busy first, last, & only sea day on the Carnival Imagination.

Tuesday  /  Catalina Island, CA  /  March 7th / Day 3
Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well.  I was up early and watched the sun rise on the ship
Tourist in Avalon
camera from the comfort of my bed while updating this review.  Nice, but I would have been awoken
anyway when the ship dropped anchor at 7:10 am outside Avalon Bay as my cabin is far forward.  I went down to the Pride Dining Room for a nice Eggs Benedict breakfast, then to GS to purchase a voucher to LAX, spoke with the Hotel Director for a bit, then a walk about on the upper deck for a photo of Avalon.  The weather is better than I expected so I have decided to tender onto the island after all.  I was on a tender that arrived in Avalon about 11:00 am and began to walk to the main shopping district and saw friends on the way.  It’s a very interesting and pretty town. I visited with friends, looked at some shops, walked out on the pier, and took a photo of our ship.  I took a tender back early to beat the crowds and any long lines and was back on board about 2:30 in plenty of time for a Guy’s Burger.  I was visiting at the lobby bar and ended up entering the paper airplane contest, another first.  The group met about 4:00 pm in the lobby for Mimosas, etc. from all the bottles of champagne accumulated.  During the cocktail hour I used my two VIFP vouchers for cocktails at the lobby bar and enjoyed the entertainment. Roma and Edward the bartenders make a great team.  Another bartender working relief was Sebastian who had been my head waiter twice on previous cruises.  I actually prefer the Lobby bar to the Alchemy on this this ship, a rarity for me.  Dinner tonight was good, I ordered: the Beetroot Carpaccio (2), the Iceberg Wedge Salad, the Sliced Beef Sirloin entree, and shared a Steak Taco entree.  For dessert a wonderful Carrot Cake. During dessert and following we were entertained by the Magician Vlad from Russia.  He did several very entertaining feats of magic for us. It is very nice being at the ‘A’ or Diamond table.  The Love and Marriage Show was the primary entertainment this evening, but I passed and had some cabin time before retiring.  It was a very nice day on Catalina Island and the Carnival Imagination.

Wednesday / Ensenada, Mexico / March 8th / Day 4
Smooth seas overnight and again I was up early to see the sunrise. It will be a beautiful day.  It will be
Sign at La Bufadora
a beautiful day.  I went to the MDR for a nice full 3-egg breakfast then met our group for an Carnival excursion at 8:30.  We were off at by 9:00 in our bus for the 45 minute trip to La Bufadora.  The vendors were interesting, but the waterspout was a pretty much a dud today. The Pina Colada and Churos from street vendors were good.  We returned to Encenada and stopped at the The Riviera Cultural Center a former resort hotel casino built 1929/30.  It was a very interesting complex, I enjoyed the vintage photos of former Hollywood stars who visited.  This was final stop of the tour and the bus actually dropped us off in front of Hussong's.  We arrived after 1:00 and most of our friends were already there so it was catch up time. It was packed when we arrived, but gradually cleared.  I  usually have the margaritas and had a few, but drank Bohemia Blanca beer.  I also enjoyed the Mexican food from next door and visited the Gift store down the street.  It was another fun meeting at Hussong's.  I taxied back to the ship and  was back on board by 4:00ish and had time for a Guy’s burger.  I then took a wee nap before meeting the group.  For dinner tonight I ordered the Escargot, Pumpkin Soup (too salty), Italian Wedding Soup, and a NY Strip Steak.  Dessert was Bread Pudding Cake (too dry for me), although overall it was a good dinner.  We were visited again by the Magician, he did some amazing tricks.  It was farewell for the group tonight. Some went to the Production show Epic Rock, some to the casino, and some retired to their cabins.  It was Fun day in Mexico and on the Imagination.

Thursday / Long Beach, CA / March 9th / Debarkation
I woke early as we docked in Long Beach and got the bags out to pack.  First I went to the MDR at
Long Beach
7:00ish for a final breakfast ordering something different: Poached Eggs…they were good. I witnessed a rude guest, he walked in and began taking off his backpack at a series of tables and a waiter called him on it saying he needed to be seated by the hosts.  He got into an argument with waiter  saying we was going to wait for friends and asking the waiter for his name and acting very bossy to him, I actually yelled across two tables and told him that there were no waiters assigned to that series of tables as they are on an isle and would be bumped by bags on this debark morning.  I also called him a ‘jerk face’ … I have no idea where that came from I don’t recall ever using that term before today.  I thought the waiter would nod or something to me since I had his back, but he was flustered by this time.  I was packed by 8:30 pm the time to clear cabins but waited another twenty minutes to roll off…they did allow a little Diamond shortcut since I’m already on the correct deck for debark.  Captain Bruno and HD Guna were near the exit so I got in a final farewell to the two of them. Customs went quickly and I was outside and heading to the shuttle bus to LAX…they left as soon as I boarded.  I was at the airport by 10:00 am…a very smooth process.  It will be good to be home after this 40 day cruise adventure.

Tonnage: 70,367 GT - Length:     855 ft - Beam: 103 ft - Draft: 25 ft 7 in - Decks:     10 - Speed: 21 knots - Capacity: 2,056 passengers (lower berths) 2,634 passengers (all berths) - Crew:     920 - Carnival Imagination is a Fantasy-class cruise ship operated by Carnival Cruise Line. Built by Kværner Masa-Yards at its Helsinki New Shipyard in Helsinki, Finland, she was floated out on July 1, 1995

I had cabin E7 an interior porthole cabin located on Empress deck 7 far forward on starboard side. The cabin is a standard Porthole/OV space, with twin or queen bed. It has a swipe type safe, three-section closet, one chair, one electrical outlet, Telephone on desk, Small Stool at dresser/desk, Hair dryer, and small flat screen TV with the interactive features.  There is no refrigerator. The cabin is great for me as a solo. My cabin steward, Christian, was very good, the cabin was always clean and ice container filled.

Dining / Food / Bars
Recently upgraded to Carnival’s now standard 2.0 upgrade she has all the dining and bar options one would expect on Carnival: Guy’s Burgers, Blue Iguana Cantina, Alchemy Bar, Red Frog Rum Bar, and more.  The Horizon Lido Buffet is much improved as well.  I found the food adequate and really like the 2.0 additions.

Crew / Other
Crew were friendly, helpful, and efficient. The Carnival Hub iPhone App is wonderful, especially for checking your account balances.  I found the internet Wi-Fi worked very well.


Sailing with the Snoozemates
Diamond Party

Dining in the MDR: The attention from staff, head waiter, magician, etc. more than the food 
Catalina Island

Diamond Party - Carnival Imagination

 Click here for link to great photos of this cruise from ZydecoCruiser