Sunday, September 10, 2006

Review--Ecstasy--September 4-6, 2006

Ecstasy 9/4/06 - 9/9/06 Galveston -Progreso-Cozumel-Galveston
This was my seventh Carnival cruise, third solo, and first time on Ecstasy. The ship isn’t sailing full. There will be many comparisons with Conquest since I just sailed her a few days ago.

Monday / Embarkation / Day 1 Embarkation was smooth for most. I had a some small problems. There was no S&S card for me. I did book late, four days earlier, but have booked even later twice & had S&S card without problem. It would not have been a problem, but the lady who checked me in gave me the wrong information. She wrote something on doc and said proceed to pursers desk for card. Didn’t sound quite right but did as she said. Of course, Security said “wrong wrong”. I had to go get a temporary badge to board, then go to pursers desk. I could have taken care of the temp badge before boarding if given correct instructions to begin with. Anyway, no big deal, some delay, but everyone was nice about it. When I did finally receive my S&S card I had to back track for security photo, etc.. On top of that no dining table assignment. Well my favorite place is the lobby bar on embarkation day, so now that I had a card I could start the “sail away specials” and wait for the Maitre’D. C-C member oldmedic saw me at the bar and mentioned his table number. When it was time to make dining assignment changes I was able to get that table. I should mention that the dining room changes were handled very well. A waiter queues everyone outside the dining room and admits one at a time to the Maitre’D station . Seems to work smoother and people can’t just shop the tables, but legitimate changes are made fairly easy.

The Lido had the usual buffet for arriving guests. The deli also has hot sandwiches so a Rueben right away for me. This was a pleasant surprise as the Elation did not have them.

Time for more sail away drinks and to explore the ship. Yes there is the secret door. Actually a couple to the same forward deck.

One complaint I heard was that muster drill runs too long and into the sail away. We were well underway before dismissed from “muster”. Still time to see the dolphins as we left the harbor if you hurried though.

Welcome Show tonight. “Rebecca” is the CD. Entertainer was Gene Merola. He was funny, I’d seen him before on the Elation. . I always enjoy the dancers and the two feature singers were very good. After show a visit to the sushi bar.

Dinner was nice. Late seating in Wind Star Dining Room. I was at table 115 and the waiter & staff are very good. There are three couples and myself. I had the Filet Mignon and sampled the shrimp. I think the shrimp were better. The breads and salads are excellent. I had two deserts, don’t tell DW. Towel animal on first night.

Tuesday / Fun day at Sea / Day 2 Good sleeping with the inside cabin, but up early (ranch life, I guess) so to the dining room for breakfast. I’ve had the same breakfast on the first morning of all my CCL cruises: Sectioned grapefruit & oranges, Eggs Benedict with side of bacon, and french toast. I have to say that this one was the best I have ever had. Much better than Conquest which I was on just a few days ago. You could tell the difference. I’m not much for sun, I get all of that I want at home, so indoor activities for me. They had Indian food on the lunch buffet so I had to sample the mulligatawny soup. It was better than Conquest, but just OK. I guess there are as many variations of mulligatawny soap as there are chiefs.

A two hour+ nap this afternoon. That was nice. Drink special today is Yellow Birds, but this afternoon was Pilsner Urquell day for me at the atrium bar. A good place to people watch. Good bartenders (Aleksandar & Nyoman) at this bar as well.

This is formal night. Captains reception is in show lounge. I prefer how they do it on Conquest, but they have the larger clubs to host it in than on fantasy class ships. Formal dinner was nice. I had lobster of course. I had already told my table mates about the new desert Bitter&Blanc and it was served tonight. I think I have a new favorite.

The productions show, Dream Voyage, featuring the Carnival dancers and singers was tonight. It was very good. I was too tired for the gala midnight buffet which was tonight, so off for some sleep.

Wednesday / Progreso, Mexico / Day 3 The docking procedure woke me up about 6:30. I wanted to sleep in as I had no real plans for Progresso. They finalized docking and slept in long enough to not rush to dining room breakfast. IMHO The standard buffet breakfast is just OK. I sure the omelets are good, but I didn’t want to wait. We dock in Progreso, the only hold up is the shuttle, Since I was solo I went the shuttle route as I usually rent a jeep here. This was my 4th time in Progreso and I just did a few things: went to bank, the internet location (still only $1 for an hour), and then to my favorite spot Le Saint Bonnet. Padre saw me right away (4th visit) and seated me. A DosXX, bottled water, and shrimp cocktail. I bought a small wooden bowl ($5) with a spurtle to use at home to muddle mint for my mojitos. I went back to the ship early to beat the late rush and get some lunch. I had the hamburger. They had a desert bar in the Panorama Grill and the Napoleons were fantastic. Drink of the day today is Blue Margarita. Second trip to the sushi bar, they do vary the selections. For dinner the seafood delight is very good. A variety of different seafood. Tiramisu for desert. The talent show was tonight, but I watched a bit of Texas hold’em poker and retired early.

Thursday / Cozumel, Mexico / Day 4 We are tendering into Cozumel, but at least to the San Miguel pier and not Puerto Maya. Taking a casual breakfast in dining room as I’m not in a big hurry to get to shore as I was just there and since solo have no plans to rent a jeep or tour. It went very smooth. They opened to general boarding just about 9:15 a.m. not long after finishing breakfast. Took some friends by a shop that I know the owner. I have never visited the Cozumel Museum so thought this would be something to do in the morning. It was nice, but the best feature is the snack bar on the second floor. It overlooks the harbor at San Miguel and being a beautiful day you could clearly see Playa del Carmen and Xcaret across the straight of Cozumel. They seem to feature breakfasts at this cafe and the menu looked good. A little shopping on the way to the Havana Club. Excellent mojitos, best in the caribbean. There were a lot of RCL employees from the Navigator of the Seas which was docked at the International pier. They have WiFi at the Havana Club so many had laptops. Wanted to try my laptop from ship since we were anchored just opposite, but didn't get back to ship in time. It may work from an upper deck. Also great views of the ship from the Havana club. A few cervezas from before returning to the ship to rest a bit form a hot day in Cozumel. The return guest party is tonight although I skipped. Drink of the day is Mexican mama, but didn’t try it. Wow guess you can’t drink all the time. Dinner was OK another seafood combination since Wednesdays was so good. This was as well. Baked Alaska for desert. The feature show is X-treme Country. It was very good. Best show of the cruise.

Friday / Fun day at Sea / Day 5 Usual dining room breakfast as it will be the final one since I will do self-debarkation the following morning. This was the second time I’ve seen flying fish while returning from Cozumel. They are small, but very numerous. Also Dolphins were seen following the ship most of the day. Last Rueben sandwich for awhile as well for lunch. Afternoon spent at the Texas Hold’em table. A lot of fun. Visiting with some C-C folks and new friends at the atrium bar was very enjoyable as well. Anytime a lady buys you a drink at the lobby bar AND you walk away with $ from the tables--It is a good day! Final dinner was nice I had the pork and of course the desert was the Grand Marnier soufflĂ©. Bags were to be out before midnight, but I’ll be doing the self debarkation.

Saturday / Debarkation
The only hitch of the cruise-ordered room service (and as a wakeup call) for something light between 6:00-6:15 a.m. It never showed. Finished packing and was in line for self debarkation by 7:15. It went smooth. They had 6 agents working so it went very fast through customs. I was off the island by 7:45 a.m.

SHIP-- The Ecstasy is an older ship. She seemed in great shape. She does show her age is some areas, but is very clean and nice. I like the layout. There are a lot of “hump” locations on the upper decks which make watching the sea or views very nice. Also the ceiling above the atrium is skylights. I like it. That’s all the sun I want to see during the day. I knew there was a lot of neon so I was prepared for it, but it was not dated at all and is very impressive in the evening. A very different look. No smoking in the lobby area at all. This is much better than on Conquest. Although I overhead a lady complain about smoking I thought it was better controlled than either Conquest or Elation. The new mini-golf area is very nice.

CABIN-- I booked late on a 1A guarantee bargain deal. I received a 4A, cabin R234 located aft so I was happy with that. The cabin steward is excellent. One of two best I’ve ever had. I actually saw him cleaning the base in the hall with a toothbrush. The cabin was always clean. The retrofit in dry-dock was well done. Changes I noticed included: New doors for bath and hallway entry, new flooring in bathroom, new fixtures in bath, magnetic doorstops (that work), new telephone, flat screen televisions, the new Carnival bedding system, new stateroom directory (smaller than those on Conquest & Elation), new upholstery, and new carpet. Also, the cabin was a quad, but didn't have the drop down from ceiling bunks. They were built into the large heavy wooden head/side boards of the units. I'm sure these were new. It looked more like nice furniture than ugly metal bunks.

Important: The flush button is above the toilet lids. Much better than those that are semi-hidden behind the lids. You conquest class folks know what I’m saying! No comedian jokes inserted here!

The only negatives are the exhaust fan is noisy. Doesn’t bother me that much easily confused with the sound of running water in the bath. Also you have a separate card to open your door. The Sail&Sign does not act as your room key. Minor, but I was always afraid I’d leave the room key since I wasn’t used to carrying two cards.

There are no refrigerators in the 4A’s. (OK by me I never use them) There is some vibration at times, especially aft I suspect, but I just reminds me that I’m on a ship.

DINING / FOOD-- Overall, I think the food was better on Ecstasy than on Conquest or Elation. The thing I liked the most was the table set up. They use the old standard (and proper IMHO) silver set up with all silver on the table at the beginning. On Conquest, they have gone to the 1on1 system which is just a short cut for the servers as they will use the slight of hand not actually change out the silver (caught you Zoltan). I did mention this to the Ecstasy Maitre’D and he seemed pleased to hear it. He said it’s the newer ships are using the other system.

GENERAL-- The gulf was almost dead calm so the sailing was very smooth. There are a lot of Texans on board although a lot of people from all over. I met a lot of very nice people. I differently will do this cruise again with DW and DD. In fact the Ecstasy may become my new favorite CCL ship.

Monday, September 4, 2006

Review--Carnival Conquest--August 20-27, 2006

Carnival Conquest 8/20 - 8/27 2006

I won’t do this chronologically as I have already written two Conquest reviews. We had had a very tough week prior to the cruise with a loss of my Mother so we used this cruise for much needed R&R. I will highlight some features and observations of the week.

EMBARKATION & DEBARKATION--Went very smooth. A little late to begin boarding. Security seemed to be the problem. A lot more people do self-debarkation now so that can be a bit crowded very early on the final morning. As long as ship is on time, it is still the best way off for people that can handle it. My favorite spot after hitting the deli for some Ruebens on embarkation day is the lobby bar for my first Sailaway drink. I love to see the “newbies” when they board. Best observation this time- A couple walked in and observed the atrium and was a little slack-jawed on how large it all was. They walked over to bar and DH orders a beer and hands bartender his S&S card. He then asks DW if she wants a beer and she says (pointing to all the Sailaway drinks she sees) “nah, I’ll just have one of those free ones everyone is having”. Not sure how long before she found out they weren’t free, but they didn’t know it for awhile anyway. (The bartender didn’t hear her, he already had the card in his hand and just charged for the two drinks) I always make the lobby/atrium bar my HQ and make friends with the bar staff there asap. The Conquest actually sailed out before the Rhapsody which very rarely happens.

SHIP--The Conquest was very ship shape. Looked very clean and there were always crew cleaning the public areas and the ship itself.

CABIN--was not as clean as previous cruises. We always bring disinfecting wipes so we had it in good shape soon. I had already left notes for the Steward when I discovered that it was our Stewards first day with Carnival and obviously first time on Conquest. In fact I think we were probably aboard before her. (It made muster drill easy.) She did a great job for the rest of the week and we reminded her of some simple things that were overlooked. She’ll be fine. This was also our first inside cabin on Conquest and we really enjoyed it. (We have previously had extended aft balcony & O/S) We were so tired of the heat and sun from the ranch that the dark cabin was really enjoyed. We decided to leave the beds separated for the additional room. It was great, we spent more time there than we would have ever thought. Carnival Bedding-- I have decided that I don’t like it. Our sixth time with the new duvets, etc. and they are just not right. A sheet is not enough and the duvet is too much. The mattresses are good though.

BAR SERVICE--the bad news is that Boris is gone. Back to Czech Republic to get married. The good news is the Mojitos. The Miami Vice/Bacardi Rum promotion is on Carnival for August. They were very good. I watched & inquired from three different bartenders (since I'm a mojito guy & also like to sit at the bar) and the mojito mix was just the simple syrup, some lime, and bacardi rum already mixed together. They then topped it off with soda from a can. Two did a very good job, one used too little mix & too much soda. The mint was surprisingly good on board. Overall they did a good job; however, it remains to be seen if they continue them beyond the promotion. It was the drink of the day on the second day. BTW-purchased alcohol was distributed very early on the last sea day.

DINING ROOM--last cruise we had a bad location, but a good waiter. This time a great location and good, but average service. Our table mates were all fantastic though. Well dressed, very professional, and one could say, several celebrities in their professions in the group. Dinner was the highlight of the cruise for me. (not necessarily DW though). Lots of blue jeans, hats, and shorts in the dining room. People were dressed well for the Formal nights though.

FOOD--Everyone has an opinion so I’ll say standard Carnival fare. I enjoy most food so I was fine. My favorites were: the Steaks, the Lobster, Pumpkin soup, French onion soup, Escargot, Hearts of Palm, the Salads, Grand Marnier SoufflĂ©, and Bitter & Blanc (a new desert). All the vegetarian dishes were pretty lame. (Not just DW’s opinion, we actually had three at our table). From the Deli, I had my share of Ruebens and DW the Vegetable sandwich which was very good. Same usual Carnival menu for breakfast & lunches. Chocolate buffet is last sea day.

SHIP ACTIVITIES--We have seen all the shows before so we were very selective on them, but did not want to miss Marc Rubben. He has the funniest act I have ever seen on a cruise ship. Just see him if he’s on your cruise. We had never done the afternoon tea so we did that on 2nd sea day. I guess we are getting old as we really enjoyed the tea with the great desserts and music. Todd Whittmer is still CD. He does a good job. No Rocky Horror show though. I guess he has retired it.

PORTS--Ships time and port times remain the same until daylight savings time goes off. Makes it easy. We stayed on board ship during the Jamaica stop and really enjoyed the pool and ship activities. I had never done this at a port-of-call before and it was actually fun as we had the ship to ourselves. We did some shopping in Georgetown. Best bargain: Three one-liter bottles of Captain Morgan spiced rum for $20 and they deliver it to the ship. In Cozumel, DW went straight to a lady she knows who has a jewelry shop in town. She had some pieces made for her that she wanted (pearls). She raved about an inexpensive long strand of jewelry that has magnets in some of the pieces. You can make different types of necklaces or bracelets by how you match up the magnets. Pretty cool. While she was doing all this, I went to see my friend Martin Antonio at the barber shop and got a haircut. We go to Cozumel so often that he is now my regular barber. Really! The Havana Club has moved to the new shopping center north of Cinco Soles. Best mojitos in the caribbean. I drank a few Victoria beers before heading to Pancho’s Backyard for margaritas. Cozumel is always our favorite place.

As mentioned, we probably didn’t have a proper cruising “mindset” or countdown time for this cruise, and I apologize if that is reflected in these comments. We did enjoy the cruise very much. We always do. I will be joining those wild and crazy S&S folks in October again on the Conquest and I know I’ll be in a much better mood and ready to party then. At least I won’t get lost on the ship.