Friday, November 12, 2010

MSC Poeisa Review 11.1.2010

MSC Poeisa Review

Just the Facts:

Cruise: MSC Poesia 10-day Southern Caribbean
Date: November 1-10, 2010
Captain: Giacomo Romano
Cruise Director: Anna
Weather: Very Good
Ports: Cozumel, Mexico—Puerto Limon, Costa Rica—Christobal, Panama—Cartegena, Columbia— Montego Bay, Jamaica

This is my first cruise on MSC, an Italian cruise ship operator, and many of my comments will be comparisons to more U.S. oriented cruise lines. There are a lot of differences.

Day 1--Monday November 1—Embarkation
We left the ranch about 7:00am to begin our new cruise adventure. We drove to Austin’s Bergstrum airport via FM roads, SH36, I-35 and toll road arriving about 9:30 am. This was perfect for our 11:00 am flight on Southwest Airlines. We like this very easy to maneuver airport and it will be an option for us on future travels. The flight went well and we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale about 2:40. After retrieving the bags we proceeded to the shared shuttle kiosk and arranged a shuttle ($11 pp) to Port Everglades. We were actually the only ones on the van and arrived at the MSC terminal in just a few minutes. The check-in went smooth as we were behind the initial crowds and we were on board by 3:30. We were very pleased with the travel taking just over eight hours from doorstep to ship.

Upon boarding we went directly to the cabin and dropped our carry on bags. We then went to the buffet as we suspected it may close soon. We just made it as it does close at 4:00 pm. We had a light snack: the roast beef, salads, and four cheese lasagna were excellent. We now needed to orient ourselves to the ship. It is very different from many cruise ships as there is no central focus or atrium area, but a series of smaller spaces. This is very different to us and an interesting concept. We took a quick walk around the lido deck then went back to the cabin to settle. Soon they delivered our checked bags (very quick service). They began announcing boat drill about 5:00pm. You still have to wear your life jackets and proceed to the muster area on this ship. We unpacked our luggage and familiarized ourselves with the cabin. It is a very nice balcony cabin on deck 9 and is very nicely decorated in dark blues and wood, a very classy look. There are a lot of drawers (not shelves) small sofa, and other little amenities that make it a premium cabin. The layout is nice with the bed on the entry/toilet side and the sitting area on the balcony side of the cabin. I like the layout much better than most cruise cabins. We had a short rest, reviewed the deck plans and Daily Programme then off to explore the ship before dinner. With no large central area the standard lounges are very large and the large lounges are huge. There are shops scattered on the deck between lounges and it really has a very good traffic flow. We really liked the Zebra lounge (photo right) decorated in zebra print and African motif. The Del Poeti lounge was also nice. Both lounges feature live entertainment. We were supposed to sail at 7:00, but didn’t get away until after we had gone to dinner. We have late dinner in the Il Palladio dining room. All the food is Italian and features a different region of Italy featured each night. An information card is on each table explaining the unique foods of the region. They also have two always available menus, one American and one Italian. Tonight was food from the Milan area of Italy. We mixed our choices from two of the menus and from the always AA menu: a Mediterranean Salad, Fruit, and Pasta Pomodoro, from Milan I had the Encrusted Pork Chop (excellent-and it had a much fancier Italian name) and the Marscapone for dessert. They also have chocolate and a different flavor of Gelato each night, tonight was banana. The gelato was just OK, but the Marscapone was the best I have ever had. They do have a premium gelato stand and I will sample that soon. There were no shows or events this evening, but all the lounges were very busy. After dinner we retired to the cabin for needed rest after such a busy day.

Day 2--Tuesday November 2—at Sea
It was smooth sailing overnight and we slept very well. I would have been late to breakfast, but the ships time changed overnight so we are now on Texas time. DW had room service and I ate in the Le Fontane dining room. They have a wide selection of items in the dining room, but the room service is very limited with only pastries, juices, and coffee. I had Eggs Benedict with bacon and potatoes. Very good, but very different. The ship activities are more traditional. No hairy chest contests or such, but Trivia, Italian lessons, Shuffleboard, etc. A bit more refined I would say. The lounge chairs around the two swimming pools filled early. The lounge chairs themselves are different with a small upper tent/shade to cover your face. We found a spot on the shady side this morning and enjoyed a nice breeze. We usually do a buffet lunch when on a cruise, but because of the reputation of the food on Poesia we had lunch in the dining room. A good choice as it was very good. They have a standard everyday menu for lunch with a daily special that changes. You can order just about any combination of pasta and sauces. I had Penne Pasta with cherry tomato sauce. DW had Mozzarella sticks with marinara. On the daily menu was a very nice grilled Sirloin Steak. The Gelato flavor today is mint, and it was better than the banana. After lunch DW found a spot on deck and did some swimming and had some deck time reading. The pools are fresh salt water and very comfortable. I explored some more of the ship and had some cabin time. We have had an excellent view of Cuba all afternoon. Our balcony is on the correct side of the ship to watch as we sail along the Cuban coast. Obviously MSC has a different relationship with Cuba as no other cruise line I have sailed has ever been this close to the island. The western portion of the north Cuban coast is very mountainous. We thought we would sample the room service. The room service menu is very limited compared to some cruise lines, but what we tried was very good. We ordered an egg salad sandwich, tuna sandwich, fruit platter and of course an antipasti plate. It took about half an hour for delivery, but a good option for late afternoon snack. We had some nice balcony time with our snack and watching the Cuban coast until it disappeared as we entered a rain cloud. We broke through the rain and clouds just in time for beautiful sunset. The feature show for second dinner seating begins at 6:45 in the Carlo Felice Theater (photo) and tonight was Euphoria. It was a very visual show and enjoyable. This is the first Gala or formal evening with a Gala night menu in the dining room. I had the Shrimp Cocktail (very nice with large shrimp), Shrimp Risotto (just OK), and the Prime Rib with Baked Potato and vegetables (very good). For dessert I had the Peach Melba. DW had an excellent Crepe with julienned vegetables, one of the better vegetarian dishes she has had on a cruise ship. We retired after dinner to watch election results on the cabin TV.

Day 3--Wednesday November 3rd—Cozumel, Mexico
The seas were calm overnight and weather is very nice. We arrive early in Cozumel and docked just after 8:00 am, well before our scheduled 9:00am arrival time. There are six cruise ships scheduled for Cozumel today so it will be busy. The ship’s Daily Programme said local time was one hour later so we thought we get off early and go San Miguel to take care of some business and beat the crowds. We soon found out that the local time was one hour earlier. Perhaps something lost in the translation? We took a taxi from the pier ($7) ending up in San Miguel an hour before Antonio’s barber shop would open. First stop was the 7-11 for our first diet coke in a few days. We soon did see our friend Nelly next door to the 7-11 opening her new shop, Caribbean Angel. She has nice paintings, pearls, and purses among other things especially jewelry. If you visit say hello from Ray. She can also direct you to places to see on the island and has even been an unofficial liaison for Americans stranded on the island. While DW visited and shopped I went to the Internet shop ($1 an hour) while waiting for Antonio's to open. Soon afterward I saw Martin, my barber, on the way to the bank. It has been a while since my last haircut so we exchanged greetings and planned to meet when he opened. I got a great haircut and Martin showed me the new location he will move to next month. He has cut my hair for almost five years and I will see him again in January. We had heard a lot of internet chatter about Wet Wendy’s a new margarita bar that I knew was near Nelly’s and she took us over to visit. They are remodeling with a very nice bar and an open air concept just off the main square. We met the owner and they will have reopened by the time I post this review. I look forward to visiting her in January and sampling one of her 20+ favors of margaritas. With our shopping and business finished we wanted to spend the day at a beach club. We were trying to decide between the Money Club and Buccanos and decided on Buccanos since DW was there just two weeks ago, I wanted to see it, and mainly because they have a swimming pool (photo at right). We took a taxi ($7) to Buccanos located north of San Miguel in the Zona Hotelera norte. The location is at the old hotel Caribe, but the hotel has not reopened since hurricane Wilma. All the open air restaurant areas and beach facilities are restored and very nice. They have a beautiful private beach and a designated snorkel area. The large freshwater swimming pool is very nice with good showers and view of the water. There are a lot of cruise excursions that visit here for either rock climbing or the snorkeling and I saw cruise ship towels from RCCL, Princess, and Carnival. I had a wonderful swim in the Caribbean and the pool. We ordered guacamole and chips and had a few beers and margaritas. Overall it was a wonderful afternoon. We took a taxi ($15-I thought too much) back to the International pier about 3:30 pm and looked at some of the shops and bought some diet coke on the way back to the ship for our scheduled 5:00 pm departure. We ordered some fruit plates and antipasti plates from room service and enjoyed some balcony time with a view of Cozumel and the Grandeur of the Seas docked next to us. Based on my contrarian cruise theory we went to lido to swim in the main pools while most were preparing for early dinner or sail away. There were only a very few in the pool and it was refreshing from the local heat and humidity. While we were in the pool they began to play Con te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye) and I knew what that meant, sail away. Italian ships may not leave on time, but they do leave with a dramatic flair! After the song they began 3 long horn blasts that were returned by two of the ships docked near us (and I suspect with Italian crews). Very cool. We were docked next to a Costa ship once on a sail away and they played Time to Say Goodbye as they sailed away, but it was great to experience it on your own ship. Bravo! Show time was again at 6:45 and Extraordinaire was another good visual show with a few songs in this performance. Tonight’s region in the dining room is Sorrento and it is also Italian Day on board. I had a Mediterranean Salad and combined two entrees into a single. One entrée featured Sorrento Meatballs and another Fettuccine Alfredo and the waiter was able to make a Fettuccine with Marinara and Meatballs (excellent). Just what I was wanting for Italian Day! Sorrento is known for it’s Limoncello so the waiters make a presentation with the Limoncello Delight desert and sang some Italian songs. After dinner we went to the Pigalle lounge to watch some of the Mr. Italy contest, but retired soon to the cabin.

Day 4--Thursday November 4th—at Sea
Smooth seas overnight and the ship is sailing much faster than previous days. I had a nice dining room breakfast. The eggs seem to be true to order and not overdone as you find on many ships-no keep warm lamps I’m guessing. A new friend at our dining table is a Travel Agent and arranged for a tour this morning. We were able to see a suite, a handicap cabin, and an interior cabin. All very nice and the interiors have all the same amenities that other cabins including mini refrigerator and hair dryer. All the cabins are very well done. We looked to booking an excursion for tomorrow, but it was sold out. We had lunch in the dining room: Fried hearts of artichokes (different and good) Fucille pasta with tomato & mushroom sauce (very good), and a veal in mushroom sauce with rice. We had some rest full cabin time most of the afternoon with a lot reading and blogging. The show this evening was mini Italian opera called Grazie Maestro featuring music by Puccini. The soloists were tenor Aurelio Gabaldon and soprano Rosita Tassi Certainly not a show you would see on any other line than MSC. The regional Italian food this evening was from Florence. I had the Soup, Pasta Pomodoro, and a chicken dish with regional spices (good) and a very good Tiramisu for dessert. DW had a very good Cannelloni with three cheeses. We had a late walk on deck and some Gelato from the premium Gelato stand at the Mojito Bar before turning in for the evening.

Day 5--Friday November 5thPuerto Limon, Costa Rica
The seas were calm overnight with a few more rolls than previous nights. We arrived about 9:00 am and it was foggy and misty early, but cleared during the morning. We were able to meet a private tour group from GreenWay Tours I had contacted by email before leaving and join the group for the day. We had a very nice small bus, a small group (13), and a good guide and driver. First stop was a jungle station for a ride in a jitney pulled by a tractor through the jungle and up a mountain. We saw a lot of plants and wildlife including Sloths and Dart Frogs (photo left). We also walked an elevated walkway for an up close look. Next stop was a banana processing facility. Costa Rica is the worlds 2nd leading exporter of bananas and this particular facility was a Del Monte unit. Next stop was a boat trip on the Tortuguero canals where we saw birds, butterflies, sloths, and monkeys. Following the boat ride we had some local fruit: pineapple, mango, and watermelon. We returned passing the beach area and dropped off next to the ship and the market area set up inside the terminal area. I wanted a bit of the local flavor and we ventured into the town of Limon area for just a few blocks. It was rough. They did have a serious earthquake in 1991, but the town is really third world. We returned to the area within the terminal, to look at the stalls and then returned to the ship. The show this evening was “Sam” as in Uncle Sam and featured American songs and dance, including a few from Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The Italian region tonight in the dining room was Roma. I had the Roman style egg drop soup, Risotti with meat sauce, the Veal entrée, and Roman Pie for dessert. Probably the weakest menu of the cruise.

Day 6--Saturday November 6th—Cristobal, Panama
Weather was the same as previous day, cloudy but the rain held off until sail away. I had a dining room breakfast this morning as we were in no rush today. We really only just wanted to see the Panama Canal so didn’t want to do a tour. We hired a private taxi to take us to the Gatun Locks (photo) and we were able to see a couple of ships go through the locks. It was very interesting and certainly the thing to see if in the area. After the locks we got a quick tour of Colon, not impressed. Some friends went to Panama City and said it was nice, others said the Portobello tour was not good. Glad we kept it simple today. After returning to the port area and the adjoining shopping center we found a grocery and stocked up on diet coke and some snacks. I also got a new Panama Hat from one of the shops. We were back on the ship in time for lunch in the dining room. We did some swimming after lunch, had some cabin times, and tried to watch some NCAA football as only one TV channel carries American sports. The show this evening was Stars on Broadway. This was also the second Gala night and gala dinner menu. I had the fried shrimp, Italian Salad, Fettuccine Alfredo, Beef Sirloin (sliced) entrée with potatoes and vegetables, and Peach Helene for dessert (all good). DW had Pumpkin Rissato (very good) and Cheese Lasagna. We had a walk around ship and checked the lounges before retiring to the cabin.

Day 7--Sunday November 7th—Cartegena, Columbia
The seas were smooth overnight and we arrived in Cartegena early. We had breakfast in the lido buffet before leaving the ship and we dressed for hot weather. The humidity was very high and it was very hot even for us. There is a short walk to the cruise terminal (walk it as it is a waste of time to wait for the shuttle). Booking an individual tour here is very easy and fairly cheap ($20-30 pp) but in addition to the sites agreed upon you have to visit their emerald and souvenir shops It’s a good inexpensive way to see sights, but operators then have a captive audience. Our plan was to spend the day in the ‘Walled City’ or the old town so we took a taxi ($10) to the Plaza de los Coches (photo-right) the clock tower entry. The ‘Walled City’ is a designated historical area with very old colonial buildings, churches, museums, shops, restaurants and plazas. Plaza de Bolivar has the famous equestrian statue of Simon Boliver. We really had a great day going at our own pace. We really liked the St. Pedro Claver Church & Cloisters Museum (photo below), the Oro (Gold) Museum, and the Café San Pedro. The mojitos from Café San Pedro (photo below-yellow bldg) were very good and the coco pie (like a southern pecan pie, but with coconut) was very unique and very good. Some of the shops were closed as it was Sunday, but most opened at noon. The downside of the area is the number of peddlers pestering you see their merchandise. There are some with little displays on the ground on blankets that were fine, but the ones walking and following you around offering: free tours, T-shirts, etc. were annoying—They should clean that up or it will spoil a beautiful atmosphere. We went back to the ship about 3:30 pm and by chance had the same taxi driver. The cruise ship terminal is really one of the nicest I have ever seen. It’s very clean with beautiful trees surrounding, it also has: a gift area, a display of exotic birds, a small emerald museum, rest rooms, café, and duty-free area. To cool off we went to the pool on lido deck. It was refreshing, but got busier as more returned to the ship. We stayed on deck for sail away so we could hear the Italian sail away with flair! They actually sailed very close to on time and gave another salute when they passed the statue of Cartegena in the harbor. Back to the cabin to prepare for the Italian show in the theater. It was Cuore Classico Italiano with highlights from famous Italian operas. For us, this is a very different show and very entertaining. Dinner featured items from the Palermo Region, I had Fried eggplant lasagna , Fusilli pasta with tomato & eggplant (an entrée I had as second course), Chicken Marsala as the entree and Cannola stuffed with riccotta for dessert. This was the best of the regional menus, all items very good. This was a long day with a lot of walking so we retired soon after dinner.

Day 8--Monday November 8th—at Sea
Calm seas with just enough roll for a nice nights sleep and we did sleep late. The weather is very good, sunny skies with a few scattered clouds. We had an advance copy of our account status under the door this morning a good idea as you can not review on the TV. They do charge $12 a day for gratuities which is higher than other lines. We did a small buffet breakfast and we did a walk on deck. Cabin time for me this morning and DW did a line dance class on lido deck. We had a very nice late lunch in the dining room (veal cutlet). They had an afternoon show in the theater with classical Italian music called Music Forever featuring the soloists and classical trio. The regular 6:45 production show was Atlantis, the show was very colorful and featured the dancers, a soloist, aerial acts and more. The Italian region tonight at dinner was Polairmo, I had the Stuffed Zucchini (good), a Pasta with a pesto sauce (not so good), a veal entrée (just OK), and a lemon sorbet for dessert. A very easy and restful day.

Day 9--Tuesday November 9th—Montego Bay. Jamaica
Weather was typical for this week: cloudy and nice. We arrived in Montego Bay very early and they were disembarking by 8:00 am. I had breakfast in the dining room and DW had some items from the buffet. This was to be our ‘stay on board day’ that we now like to do on cruises, but we did go down to the terminal area and little village next to it. Nothing really to see or buy and we returned to the ship. We were the only ones in the pool for quite a while and that’s a benefit of SOBD. DW continued to swim, but I did go back on shore in order to use free internet as long as the battery lasted on my laptop. When I returned we went for a late lunch in the dining room (fish & chips) and then nap time before sail away. We went to the top deck to watch the sail away from Montego Bay. From there we could see that they pushed away just as they began the aria Time to Say Goodbye, then the three blasts from the ships horn. Very cool and the last time we will experience it this cruise. We didn’t attend the welcome party, but did attend the Farewell Cocktail Party. They served complementary drinks in the Zebra lounge and we discovered a new drink: a pinky-pinky. The Captain and officers toasted the passengers before the production show. The show, Follie Barock, was the best of the cruise with another eclectic show with the dancers, and various acts. The highlight was when the soloists sang Time to Say Goodbye and were then joined by all cast members and entertainment staff. This was also the final Gala evening, the third of the cruise. It was the best menu of the cruise as well. I had Spring Rolls, Greek Salad and a Surf & Turf of lobster and filet mignon steak. All were very good. The presentation of the Baked Alaska brought back experiences of cruises long ago. They were the old fashion flaming Baked Alaska and the waiters marched then through the dining room. (I didn’t see any carried on the head though) It tasted very good too. I was a fun evening.

Day 10--Wednesday November 10th—at Sea
It was a cloudy morning and seas were rolling, class two waves, they said at the morning announcements. Not too bad really. I had breakfast in the dining room, sampled the pancakes and they were good. If you have read some of my reviews it can be hard to find good pancakes at sea. The weather cleared and was very nice. We got a table on lido deck (lucky) and DW did some swimming and I used the internet as this was a ‘hot spot.’ I did finally purchase a internet package (100 minutes is $30) and you get a cable to have access in your cabin or you can find a ‘hot spot’ somewhere on the ship. We can again easily see the north coast of Cuba. We actually came right across the far eastern tip, but it was early in the morning, but we sailed along this part of the coast for 8+ hours. We had lunch from the lido buffet, they have a fresh pasta each day and a carving station. After lunch I used the balance of my internet time from the cyber café, the best ‘hotspot’ I found. The production show was highlights of previous shows, I think they ran out of shows on the ten day cruise. The region for our final dinner was Venice. I had a Fruit Plate, Pasta Pomodora, and the Pot Roast. Also the final Gelato and Lemon Sorbet. After dinner we packed.

We choose early debarkation and were told to meet at 7:00 am in the Zebra lounge and that was about the time we docked. We made it there about 7:10 and as we suspected there were not that many using early. It really went very well and we were off the ship by 7:40 a.m. We took a taxi to the airport ($18 with tip) and was there in just a few minutes. From the airport we could see the new Allure of the Seas dock. Our flight was at noon so we had plenty of time. We arrived in Austin, found the truck in remote parking and drove home to Bosque County.

The ship was built in 2008 and has a passenger capacity of 3600. There is no large central entry or point of focus in on the ship other than a small three level staircase atrium at reception. There is a series of larger lounges that are the main public areas. The dining rooms are similar with no central area, but a series of smaller spaces on a single level. Decks 5-6-7 have the public lounges, dining rooms, shops, etc. The Villa Pomppeiana or lido buffet is similar to most cruise ships. The public rooms and areas were all very well done with a lot of marble and pleasing colors. The Zebra Bar was our favorite. There are a lot of elevators with five sets. We had a daily announcement at 9:30 am. each morning. There are not many announcements (I like fewer), but when they do them they are made in many languages.

We had cabin 9161 a category-10 balcony on Ungaritti deck. It has a nice couch and small sitting area. As mentioned the sitting area and dresser are on the balcony side of the cabin and the bed is towards the bath and closet. It has a standard three door wardrobe, one section is all drawers. Also in the cabin: robes, a very good hair dryer, number keyed code safe, drawers-not shelves in dresser, mini-refrigerator, flat screen interactive TV, two prints on wall, and a large floor to ceiling mirror. The bedding is not up to par with Carnival or RCCL, but adequate. The cabin lights are unique, you have to insert your key card into a slot by the cabin door in order for the lights to work. It also tells the cabin steward if the cabin is occupied. There are NO American television stations although some individual shows are on International channels.

The production shows such as Euphoria, Extraordinaire, and Aquarius were very visual shows with colorful costumes, dance, juggling, unicycles, balance beam, aerial acts, knife throwing, contortionists, etc. to cater to a multilingual audience. They usually had recorded music, but it went very well. The principal soloists, already mentioned, are very good and featured in all the Italian shows. They were very consistent with a production show every night (for those of us on late dining from 6:45 to 7:30 pm). The primary live musical acts were a three piece classical group and a three piece Italian folk group. The theater is very nice with large plush individual seats. The beautiful lounges had other musical groups or singers each evening.

The dinners were very good. I have listed common names for the selections I made, but the menus had a beautiful description of all the dishes each night. The regional Italian menus are a wonderful idea. Since we weren’t familiar with all the Italian dishes and we wanted to try new things some of the dishes were hit or miss as far as liking or disliking them. It was fantastic experimenting with the various dishes. You could get a steak every night from the always Italian option on the menu if you wished. The buffet was fine, but not as good as many cruise lines due to fewer choices and limited hours. In fact the buffet is not open on Gala nights. I was told that room service was very prompt with coffee orders in the mornings. We used room service a few times and it was quite adequate. The off time snacks were sandwiches and PIZZA. The pizza was excellent. In fact all the bakery items were excellent, the rolls, the muffins, the croissants, and there was a different type of bread each night. This is a Pepsi ship, no coca-cola products. Ice Crème machines are located on lido deck and available most of the day. Drink prices seem to be less than other lines. The DOD (drink of the day) was about $5-6. You could also buy drink coupons for wine, beer, or cocktails and save a bit.

Our favorites in order: Cozumel, Cartegena, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica.

After re-reading this review it may seem that I am being critical on some points, but I only wish to emphasis differences from a European based line and an American based line. Not necessarily saying one is better than the other. A cruise on a non-American line may not be for everyone, but after sixty previous cruises we really enjoyed the differences and new things to experience. We would not hesitate to cruise MSC or the MSC Poeisa again. I would love to see an MSC ship in Houston's Bayport facility. Our favorite Italian phrases we learned: Ciao (chow), Cin Cin (chin-chin, a toast), and Keepa Go!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Carnival Ecstasy Review 10.21.2010

Carnival Ecstasy Review 10.21.2010

Just the Facts:
Cruise: Carnival Ecstasy-4 Day Mexico
Date: October 21--October 24, 2010
Captain: Andrea Viacava
Cruise Director: Brad Calabrese
Port: Cozumel, Mexico
Weather: Very Nice

I didn't personally participate in this cruise as this was a family GIRLS cruise for the wife, daughter, sister, nieces, and grand nieces. This was DW's 12th Carnival cruise and her first time on the Carnival Ecstasy. Nine in the group in three cabins on Empress deck.

DW and DD drove to Galveston and parked at EZ Cruise Parking. They used the parking shuttle to transport themselves and bags to the Terminal arriving about noon. The others in the party flew into Hobby airport and used the Carnival Shuttle to arrive at the Terminal. They had a wait at the airport until they could board the 1:30 shuttle and didn't arrive at the terminal until 4:00 ish. The Carnival airport transfers are $30 pp each way and a private limo may be better. Whenever possible I recommend driving to Galveston for a cruise. The parking at EZ Cruise is fair ($35-55 depending on cruise) and you have a choice of using a shuttle or walking. It's just so much harder on passengers when flying into this port.

Most in the group were newbies to cruising so DW helped them along with advise, but basically all were on their own. They all attended the Welcome Show and all enjoyed the cruise director, Brad.

Dinner was in the Windstar Dining Room and they had a round ten top table. The waiters were good and they all enjoyed the dining experience. A big hit was the ice creme machines. A few really took advantage of the complementary ice creme and Room Service.

Most attended each production show and comedy show and they really enjoyed them. The shows were: Xtreme Country and Dream Voyage. The comedians were: Chris Wiles and Carl Faulkenberry. DD won a 'ship on a stick' playing trivia.

The younger ones really took advantage of the new WaterWorks park area of the Ecstasy. DD loved the neon theme of the ship, DW not so much. (I like the neon--I told them to watch the changing colors) Their favorite crew members were: Brad the CD and Miljan the bar server (I don't think they got THAT many drinks though).

Four days is a short cruise, but a good introduction. I bet this won't be the last GIRLS cruise.


The weather was typical for Cozumel: warm, humid and scattered showers. DW arranged to get a van for the day (smart move) and the group went to Buccanos Beach Bar & Grill located on the Playa San Juan beach area of Cozumel. This is the area north of San Miguel know as Zona Hotelera norte. Buccanos was very nice with a great beach, swimming pool, clean facilities (important to the ladies), showers, lounge chairs, etc. They had a great time and the food in open air restaurant was very good. The restaurant has been in the same family for many years and well known for their Mexican and Caribbean menu. After leaving Buccanos they all stopped in San Miguel for some shopping and of course to see our friend Nelly. She still has the Mayan Pearl, but has also bought a new place closer to the square (next to the 7-11) called Caribbean Angel. The girls loved it and bought pearls (all she had), handbags, and other jewelry. I believe Nelly was very happy to see this group.

The van worked very well for a group of ladies as they had a place to leave bag's, etc. and knew they would have transportation an driver when needed. I believe the charge was $150 (+ tip) for nine people for the day. A good value IMHO.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Carnival Paradise Review 9.6.2010

Carnival Paradise Review 9.6.2010

Just the Facts:
Cruise: Carnival Paradise-4 Day Baja Mexico
Date: September 6--September 9, 2010
Captain: Domenico Cilento
Cruise Director: Jeff Bronson
Hotel Director: Keith Bunton
Ports: Catalina Island, CA, Encenada, Mexico
Weather: Cool in mornings and Beautiful

This was my 22nd Carnival cruise and 1st cruise on the Carnival Paradise.

Day One Monday Embarkation Long Beach California
No travel for this cruise as we stayed next door to the Carnival pier at the Queen Mary Hotel. You can see how close the two are to each other in the photo. About 11:00 am we rolled our luggage over and checked them and went to the VIP building. The embarkation process was much smoother than the Splendor the week before. We received our sail & sign cards and went down to the terminal entry about 11:30 and boarded soon afterward. We have a few friends on this sailing so it will be good to see familiar faces. First impression is very good, a beautiful lobby area perhaps the nicest of the Fantasy class ships. We were on Lido deck eating lunch before noon a big change from the week before. I was pleased to see a Mongolian Grill so ate there first before the other guests discover it. It was excellent. Cabins were to open at 1:30 so we went down to our cabin on Empress deck. It is my favorite deck on a Fantasy class ship as it’s the same level as the gangway, close to the lobby bar, and only a deck below the dining room. The Port Talk was at 3:30 so we attended that and got to meet Jeff the Cruise Director following the presentation. I’m not always keen on boat drill, but since we don’t have to drag out life vests we did attend. It was painless. After boat drill I had to go to the ‘naughty room’ to claim my luggage. It did have two bottles of tequila that we bought in PV on the previous cruise. Didn’t really think about it and wasn’t planning on drinking it as I had them rolled up in dirty clothes for the return. They took them and I’ll see them on the last night.

While passing the lobby bar I spotted a bartender with a familiar face, it was Maria from Romania. I sailed last with her on the Carnival Elation in October 2006 just after she won her employee of the month award. She remembered me as well and some of my drinks. She is a good bartender, but I may not see as much of her as I don’t drink like I did four years ago. We then had some cabin time and watched the movie Last Song. After the movie we went to the dining room for our first experience at AnyTime dining. We arrived about 8:00 and had a short wait before being seated at a table for two actually located in the regular dining section. (1/3 of the room was set aside for AnyTime) Our waiter was Vevik from India and his assistant Christian. They were excellent and a great change from the Splendor last week. I had a Shrimp Cocktail, the Fried Shrimp, Barley Soup, and the Pork Chop. All the food was hot when served, silver taken and replaced as needed and a good dining experience. The Welcome Show featuring Cruise Director Jeff Bronson was at 10:15 pm. in the Normandie Lounge.

Day Two Tuesday Catalina Island, California
A nice morning with cloudy skies and calm seas. I had a very nice breakfast of Eggs Benedict in the Elation dining room & DW ordered room service as usual. After returning from breakfast I caught CD Jeff’s Welcome Show from the previous night. About 9:00 am we met our friends for our trip to Catalina Island. This is a tender port and you are dropped at the pier in the center of Avalon. We rented a golf cart and had a nice 3 hour tour of the Avalon area and a stop at the local museum located in the casino building. I’m not sure if it was ever actually a casino, but a multi use facility serving the island. The views of the port area and Avalon are post card perfect. We did some shopping, had lunch, ate some very good ice creme, and did some people watching. The beach isn’t really much to look at, but adequate and as the sun came out several were taking advantage of the little beach area. We tendered back to the ship and while going up the gangway, DW lost one of her favorite bracelets. It belongs to Natalie now. We watched the Paradise sail away from Catalina and the sunset from the aft deck, it was pretty. This is elegant night and it is even more casual than it was on the Splendor. I saw few jackets worn by the gentlemen. We went to dinner earlier and by fortunate chance we were able to get the same dining table and wait staff. For dinner I had the Shrimp Cocktail, Pumpkin Soup, Stuffed White Mushrooms, and the Shrimp & Lobster. After dinner we attended the first production show Eight More Seconds. It was a Country/Southern music theme and very well done. The dancing was outstanding. We had just a few weeks ago attended a performance of “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and they performed the Aggie Boys dance from that show, it was Fantastic! The NEW comedy club performances started tonight and they had three shows, two for general audience and one ‘R’ rated. They will repeat later in the week.

Day Three Wednesday Ensenada, Mexico
The seas were very calm overnight and another cloudy start to the day. I had another full breakfast in the dining room, it was very good. We were docked early, but didn’t leave the ship until about 10:00 am. They have a shuttle you can take into town for $3 or you can walk. We took the shuttle and decided to book a tour to La Bufadora with the shuttle company. It was $15 pp and you ride a bus about 50 minutes to the site. The seas were calm so the water wasn’t going that up that high at the blowhole, not like the photo on this day. A flea market of Mexican crafts line each side of the road from the parking lot to the actual site. This was very interesting indeed. We had nice lunch at a local restaurant before returning to the bus for the trip back to Ensenada. We were dropped off downtown and we made our way to the famous Mexican cantina Hussong’s. The cantina has been open since 1892 and holds Baja California liquor license No. 2. They are supposedly the birthplace of the margarita. It is a very nice and clean place. We had a great time at Hussong’s with our friends. Just looking at the bill as I’m writing this and it looks like we had 29 margaritas, 4 cervezas, and 1 agua for $1155.00 pesos. Sounds like a fun time, but really the glasses are smaller than most bars. Lot’s of Mariachis come by to play and interesting people as well. Great place. We did some shopping and took a taxi back to the ship arriving about 9:00 pm. The Paradise looked great all lit up at night. Once on board, straight to the cabin & bed.

Day Four Thursday at Sea
The best nights sleep of the trip. Ten hours and really woke up feeling surprisingly well; however, the cabin was a mess and the poor towel animal was crushed. I wonder why? I had another good dining room breakfast to start the day. The ship is traveling at less than 1 knot and really didn’t move much the entire day. We found our Hussong friends on the Promenade deck and between the four of us we were able to determine one train of consciousness or recollection of the previous evening. Yes we did have fun. Weather is best of the cruise so many are taking advantage of outdoor activities. People are having Fun. For lunch I had a nice salad from the Lido buffet and later in the afternoon a very nice BLT from room service. We attended the Farewell Party in the Normandie Lounge in the early evening. Watch for these events as they are really not publicized that much in the Fun Times newsletter. We went to dinner about 7:00 and they saved our usual table for us and I appreciated that very much. The waiters were very good and Christian was the vocal star of the dining room when the waiters performed. For dinner I had the Crab Cake, two Shrimp Cocktails, Onion Soup, the Short Ribs, and Apple Pie with ice creme for dessert. All very good. After dinner we went to see the final production show: Shout! in the theater. It was even better than the first show. Very high energy and non stop dancing and action. Excellent!! After the show we attended the comedy club located in the Queen Mary Lounge and saw Lance Montalto. He was very funny. This was the adult show so it was very different as he had comments about many nationalities, but fairly presented. When we returned to the cabin, the liquor had been delivered, so we were ready to start packing and get some rest.

Debarkation Friday Long Beach, California
I was up early to pack and get a final dining room breakfast. It was good and I again made it each morning for breakfast. When I returned to the cabin I turned on my cell phone as I had hoped to call American Airlines to see if it were possible to get an earlier flight. Within just a few minutes my cell phone rang and who should it be calling me? American Airlines. They said our scheduled flight was overbooked and would I consider an earlier one. Of course I said yes, and guess what? We also got upgraded to First Class. Woo-hoo--just what we wanted. We then hurriedly finished packing, put our Group 1 luggage tags on and headed out while they were still doing self debarkation. We got off the ship easily and headed to the Carnival airport shuttle buses. The trip home went very well.

Ship Stats: Built: 1998, Tons: 70390, Passengers: 2052, Speed: 19.5, Length: 855, Beam: 103. The Carnival Paradise is the last of the Carnival Fantasy Class ships built. The ships decor and theme is other cruise ships and there is more wood and faux wood in the decor. The public rooms are named for other cruise ships. I like the look and style very much. The ship is very clean and the crew seem to take great care in maintenance.

Our Stateroom Attendant was good. He kept he cabin clean and usually had ice for us. As mentioned the wait team was outstanding. They really restored some confidence in Carnival training as we had poor waiter experiences on the previous two Carnival cruises.

We had cabin E82 an Oceanview on Empress deck. It is an average sized cabin. The safe is a card swipe, no hair dryer, flat screen TV, one electrical plug on the wall next to the vanity/desk, robes, two section wardrobe, small chair, and the usual. No refrigerator. Carpets and furniture all clean. We had our beds split as it allows for much more floor space.

We did the AnyTime dining and enjoyed the wait service so much more than the previous cruise. The Mongolian Grill was great, the BLT’s from room service are great, the salads in the buffet are wonderful. I think the food was much better than the Carnival Splendor. DW's tip: Get a bowl of ice creme or yogurt from the machines on Lido deck and sprinkle with sugar coated almonds or walnuts from the chocolate buffet. Makes a great topping and unique dessert.

The weather was very good. Some cloudy mornings and clear in the afternoon.

Platinum Perks
The check-in building at the pier was very nice. We didn’t use the laundry service. I did use my Slot tournament entry and we did request escort for the Catalina tender.

Personal Comments
As with the previous cruise I had never sailed this ship nor visited these ports so I wanted to experience them. It was good to combine the two cruises into one trip, I feel better about the overall experience.

Cruise Highlights
The food and the production shows were the highlights by far. We loved both ports although they were very different. I really enjoyed this short 4-day cruise.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Carnival Splendor Review 8.29.2010

Carnival Splendor Review 8.29.2010

Just the Facts:
Cruise: Carnival Splendor-Mexican Riviera
Date: August 29--September 4, 2010
Captain: Giorgio Pagano
Cruise Director: John Heald
Hotel Director: Renil Kuruvilla
Ports: Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, & Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Weather: Beautiful

This was my 21st Carnival cruise and 1st cruise on the Carnival Splendor.

Day One--Sunday-Embarkation-Long Beach California

When traveling for a cruise holiday it is best to arrive a day before debarkation to acclimate yourself and allow for any potential travel problems. As we were traveling west and gaining time we chose to travel on debarkation day, but this made for A VERY LONG DAY. We left the ranch before 5:00 am in order to make our 8:30 a.m. direct flight from DFW airport to LAX. The 3 hour flight was very smooth and we arrived, having gained two hours, about 10:00 am local time. We had not purchased Carnival airport/pier transfers, but saw the Carnival representative and arranged for the transfer ($26pp) on site. This was very convenient and certainly the way to get to the ship if flying into LAX. We were dropped off at a designated area in front of the check-in and able to check bags directly with the waiting porters. This was a very easy process. We proceeded to the VIP building and checked in for the cruise, a great system for Platinum and suite guests. Boarding was scheduled for 1:30 much later than other Carnival cruises from other ports. The embarkation process does not seem to be as smooth as other ports, but most of the people were very friendly and helpful. The weather was very pleasant as we waited outdoors with others until the terminal opened. The time passed quickly after we were spotted by other Snooze Cruisers from the Cruisemates roll call. It's great seeing your friends before you even board. Many of them had stayed on the Queen Mary so walked over to the cruise terminal for embarkation. After boarding the wedding parties and handicap the VIP guests boarded just before 1:30.

The first thing we noticed upon entering was the décor: PINK everywhere. We headed direct to the Lido Buffet as we were both very hungry, it was well past lunch time in Texas. I have always enjoyed arriving early at the buffet so that you can appreciate the presentation of the food and the buffet lines looked very nice. The food and choices were very good. I had roast beef and a nice green salad. Of course I had to also get a bowl of beef and vegetables from the fantastic Mongolian Grill before it got too busy so I had a very nice buffet lunch. The room itself follows the general pink theme of the ship and I did like the small Venetian style glass bulbs. Cabins were to open at 2:30 so we went down to our aft cabin and it was available although some were still not ready. The cabin location is our favorite on deck 8 aft, but it is a bit different than the Conquest class ships. The balcony is covered which I like very much and the interior is better as well so we are very pleased with the first impression. DW had a nap and I went to the Internet Café to ask a question. Teryn Francis, from South Africa, is the manager and very very helpful (and cute too). She is more accessible than I have found on other ships. I then went to the Liner Bar on Lido deck aft for the usual Carnival sail away drink of the day, a Funship Special, and to visit with friends in our group and roll call. Boat Drill closed the bar at 4:45 and the safety drill was well done by CD John Heald. As with the recent changes you did not have to retrieve your life jackets from your cabin before going to your muster stations. After boat drill we received our luggage and met our cabin steward so we were able to settle into the cabin. We are fortunate to have two adjacent extended balcony cabins that we are able to use for a nice sail away party. It was beautiful weather, perhaps even cool to us Texans and we had a nice sail away from Long Beach. With so many beautiful sailboats, large pods of dolphins, friends, cocktails, and the sunset, it was a fantastic sail away. One of the best I have experienced.

We have late dining in the Black Pearl Restaurant. It is a very beautiful room but I’m still not used the pink decor. Our group has two very nice tables in the center of the room and share the same wait team, just as we requested. For dinner I had the featured Tomato Soup, Sweet & Sour Shrimp, the Grilled Tilapia, and Soufflé for dessert. The Welcome Show featuring John Heald was at 10:30 pm. in the Spectacular Theater but being so tired we retired after dinner. It was an enjoyable, but very long day.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
A beautiful morning with cloudy skies and the sea was fairly calm. The plan was for this to be a relaxing day at sea. I had a very nice breakfast of Eggs Benedict in the Gold Pearl dining room & DW ordered room service as usual for our first day on a Carnival cruise. The California crowd seems to eat later as it was not busy before 9:00 am. and they were still serving breakfast as late as 11:30 am. in several places on the Lido deck. After returning from breakfast I caught CD John Heald’s ‘Morning Show’ and he prominently mentions Cruisemates and our little Snooze Group on board. Very nice. He later sent gifts to all. We set out to explore the ship and look at all the public rooms. I still haven’t quite caught the grasp of the overall theme of the decor. It is a very interesting ship for sure. I had a Rueben sandwich for an early lunch and visited with friends. Around 3:00 the clouds broke and it was beautiful and sunny the rest of the day. Passengers took advantage and the pools were packed. The aft pool is designated for adults only. I had a great nap in the afternoon and a nice balcony party during cocktail hour. Everyone in our group received some very nice gifts from John Heald the cruise director and the champagne extended the party. Thank you John! This is Elegant (formal) night and the Captains reception was this evening on the Lido deck. For dinner I had the excellent Pumpkin Soup, Stuffed White Mushrooms, and the Shrimp & Lobster. After dinner we attended the first production show: The Beat. It was very good and featured a variety of dancing and musical styles. After the show we saw many of our group dancing at the Oceanview (casino) Bar so we joined them for a while. The musical acts they have around the ship all seem to be very good. I hope to see them all. This was the first night of the NEW comedy club performances and they had four shows, two for general audience and two ‘R’ rated. I think this will be a big success. I will catch some of the acts later. Our cabin was a welcome site so we moved the cute doggie towel animal and ‘hit the hay’. It was a relaxing, but busy day!

Day Three-Tuesday-at Sea
The seas are very calm and we have perfect beautiful weather today. I slept a little later and had another full breakfast in the dining room. Still not busy after 9:00 am. I explored more of the ship discovering the Serenity (adult) deck on deck 12 forward. They have padded lounge chairs, lounging areas, and a bar. It’s a bit noisy from air exhaust or intake fans, but there are some quiet areas away from the fans to catch sun away from the busy pool decks. We had lunch at the Rotisserie that features Grilled Chicken, Baked Potatoes, Macaroni & Cheese, and select Salad fixings. This is designated group shirt day. Everyone purchased shirts or blouses in the same Hawaiian print, red with white hibiscus. Passengers do a double take when they see so many dressed in the same shirts. It also got some special attention and favors from ships staff. The afternoon was ‘party time’ as our group had their private cocktail party in the Grand Piano Bar. We had a great time posing for photos, visiting, and keep our bar server very busy with cocktail orders. Following the private party we attended the ‘past guest’ party in the Spectacular Lounge. Our cocktail server from our private party saved us seats in the lounge and already had our cocktails ready and waiting when we arrived for the show/party. I must say they have really improved the complementary h’orderves and there were plenty of servers to assist the full house. They had the orchestra and a production singer perform and CD John Heald recognized our group during the show. Following the past guest party we had a photo session with John. Since it was by then almost time for the second scheduled ‘past guest’ party most stayed for that one as well. I have to admit there is some gap in my recollection as to what we did the balance of the day. I know there was a Mojito special at the Oceanview bar. I do recall: everyone in the group had on the same shirts at dinner, and the sun down was beautiful. We move time forward one hour tonight.

Day Four--Wednesday-Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Another great nights sleep and again calm seas and nice weather. We arrived at our first port on time and I had a great breakfast omelet in the dining room and allowed the anxious pax to rush off the ship. Since we had a big excursion planned for the evening most in our group decided to taxi into PV and walk the Malecon. First stop was the beautiful old Church of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. We then proceeded down the Malecon stopping for samples of tequila, looking at shops, and just enjoying the stroll with a wonderful view of the sea. They have interesting statues and monuments along the way. We ended at Diamonds International so that the girls could get their local port charms. We returned to the ship, but before boarding DW and I visited the local Walmart located across the road from the cruise ship terminal. It was fun and I bought some spices for home cooking and diet coke for the cruise. Very handy, and I know the crew members love it.We were back in time for a nice late lunch in the Splendido (Lido) Buffet, the Pork Cutlet and the Baked Ham from the carving station were very good. Just enough time for a wee nap before the big excursion.

At 4:00 pm we met for our Rhythms of the Night evening. We boarded tenders to travel across Banderas Bay to Las Caletas, former home of film director John Huston. This is a beautiful location only reached by boat. We had eleven in our group and they had a nice table prepared for us and a wonderful Mexican buffet dinner. We had choice of two wines, several mixed drinks, or water. Food items included: several salad choices, guacamole, pico de gallo, grilled Jalipenos, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, grilled vegetables, potatoes, rice, beans, tortillas and much more. After dinner choices included: Mexican coffee (add your own Kahlua), flan, rice pudding, coconut pie, chocolate cake, brownies, fruit, cheese and more. After dinner there was time to explore the grounds before the ‘big show’. The show itself is very interesting with the natural stage built in the jungle and natural Mayan style temple as backdrop. The semi-historical theme of man & nature included a lot of dance, music, drums, and fire. There was even a comedy bit as a pre show. On the return the crew of the tender did a dance show. It made the 40 minute trip across the bay go by quickly. We arrived back at the ship just before the 9:30 pm. sail away. We had to take advantage with a late sail away party by having another champagne balcony party complete with our own magical lighting.

Day Five-Thursday-Mazatlán, Mexico
The weather was again very nice over night and during the day. Hot, but not as humid. I enjoyed another dining room breakfast as we docked in Mazatlán about 9:00 am. Today we are breaking away from the group to do our own exploring of the interior and Sierra Madre Mountains. When leaving the ship you take a tram to cruise terminal where you will find 100’s of people trying to sell you something. We arranged for a private taxi for the day. On the way out of town we saw he ‘largest shrimp fleet’ in the Americas, the industrial area, and the home of Pacifico beer. Not the best scenery until we actually reached the highway going north into the interior and the rural areas. The two primary places I wanted to visit was Concordia and Copala. Concordia is an old colonial town (1565) with a nice square and old church. This was a nice clean town and a good spot to walk the square, do some banking, visit the Farmacia (got some meds), and a get a coca-cola light. The area is very green as it is the rainy season and the mountain scenery is wonderful. Copola (1565) was originally a mining town as old as Concordia, but so remote it hasn’t changed much in all those years. All the streets are cobblestone including the road into town from the highway. The San Jose church is well over 400 years old. The buildings are colonial and built in the small arroyos with the church at the top of the hill. There are two restaurants, we ate at the most wonderful spot, Chavis. Our table was under a huge avocado tree and the food was wonderful, what we would call Tex-Mex. I had a Mexican Platter and the Chili Rellano was the best I have ever had. Quesidllias, Chicken Taco, Tacos al Carbon, and Guacamole all very good. Some local mariachis entertained while we dined. We visited with the owner for a good while and learned about the recent history of the area. A very small colonial town that has not changed a lot in hundreds of years. Our taxi returned us to Mazatlan and we had a brief city tour seeing the Golden Zone, Old Town, Malecon, and the Monuments. We returned to the ship about 5:00 pm. The rest of the group had a great adventure, but I’ll let one of them post about that one on this thread when we return.

Our group had another great sail away party from the balconies, we are making progress on the 24+ bottles of champagne we have (as a group). We went straight to dinner from the sail away party, I had Farfalle Pasta with Chicken in creme sauce, the Neptune’s Delight (scallops & shrimp in creme sauce), and a wonderful Grilled Pork Chop. Bitter & Blanc and Tiramisu for dessert. After late dinner was the Guest Talent show and the opportunity to hear John Heald’s infamous ‘Bedtime Story’. Quite a famous routine in the Carnival cruise world.

Day Six--Friday-Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
We arrived very early as scheduled at Cabo and anchored, but the Captain wasn’t satisfied that we would be able to tender because of high seas so tentatively canceled the port call. However he moved closer towards shore using the lee of the rocks and initially said we would be able to tender from that location and extended port time an hour in order to make up for time lost. However it wasn’t long after that announcement that they then canceled the port call. False hope and of course there are a lot of disappointed passengers. The beach did look to be the best of the cruise and at least we did get a very good view of Lands End, but that’s it for Cabo. Time now for a proper breakfast of fried eggs, et al in the dining room and a morning movie. I had time for some posts and to check my ship account and I did purchase another future Carnival Cruise certificate. They added ship activities and bands on the Lido and Promenade decks during the day. The lunch venues were very busy, but DW ate at the Burrito Bar and I had a selection from the Grand Buffet. The Southern Fried Chicken and the Roast Beef from the carving station were very good. The pools and most venues were very busy, but I used the day to relax! An in-cabin movie, nap, and cabin time filled the afternoon until our aft balcony happy hour. before late dinner. This was the second ‘elegant’ night and dinner was good. I had Escargot, Broccoli Soup, Chateaubriand, and Baked Alaska for desert. DW said her Baked Vegetable Pot Pie was the best veggie dish of the week. The production show was Vroom. It featured popular songs from the rock and roll period. The singers, dancers, and orchestra were great. It was really one of the best shows I have seen on board ship. Very unique costumes from R&R period and of musical groups. The Beatles characters, Kiss costumes, and Queen costumes looked great. We turn back the time tonight before retiring and gain our hour back.

Day Seven-Saturday-at Sea
We tried to sleep in a little later, but with gaining an hour I was still up and around about 8:00ish. Another wonderful Eggs Benedict breakfast in the dining room to start the day. It’s a bit cloudy with time of fog mid-morning. The ship’s fog horn being used a few times. Another in-cabin movie and a Bible study meeting by some in the group to fill the morning. I had the Tandoori Grill for lunch. They have always had an Indian Food grill in a “Taste of Nations” station usually one day in the buffet, but I’ve never seen a dedicated Indian Food venue on a cruise ship. Our group met in the beautiful lobby bar after lunch for a wine sampling. Everyone brought the wines remaining from their wine packages and perhaps a few contraband as well. Several attended a Veterans Meeting that was arranged earlier in the week by some in our group. The pools were all busy as were the shops on board. I had some nice cabin time watching opening week of NCAA football. I had already written my comments about our waiter and discovered that others had the same opinion so tonight almost everyone in the group decided to eat in the Lido other than in the dining room. It was fine, but the last night was probably not the best night to pick to eat there -lol. It was fine food, just not a wide selection. The Legends show was this evening and they delivered the tequila we had purchase earlier in the cruise (WalMart). We picked up a few last minute gifts before retiring.

Debarkation--Sunday-Long Beach, California
We tried to sleep in again as we are in no hurry to leave. I went to the dining room and it was busier than any morning of the week, Everyone came early since they had to leave the ship soon. Good breakfast and I did make it every morning of the cruise. Debarkation was going very slow. I packed this morning and we stayed in the cabin until they announced we had to leave. We met friend on aft Lido and waited until last call as we are staying next to the ship in the Queen Mary Hotel. It was almost 11:30 am, very late for a Carnival Ship.


Ship Stats: Built: 2008, Tons: 113300, Passengers: 3700, Speed: 22.5, Length: 952, Beam: 118. The Carnival Splendor is only two years old, the second newest ship in the Carnival Fleet. As mentioned the decor is eclectic and dominated by the color pink. It ‘grew’ on me by the end of the cruise becoming a little more welcoming. The ship is very clean and the crew seem to take great care in maintenance.

The staff and crew for the most part are very good at their jobs and friendly. The entertainment staff is excellent especially with John Heald, Carnival’s senior Cruise Director on board. The weak link was our head dining room waiter, he would be in my bottom 5 of waiters experienced on 60+ cruises. He did improve as he discovered I expected better service. Our Stateroom Attendant, Adi, was fantastic and he had some extra work because of a few parties as well. The room was always neat and clean, the cooler in ice, notices & messages delivered in timely manner, and a very nice man. He would be in our top 3 all time of cabin Stewards. Sylvia, the group services coordinator was very helpful. We had some great bar servers, bar tenders, and our dining table location was exactly as requested.

We had cabin 8461 an 8N aft balcony on deck eight. It is an average sized cabin and a nice extended balcony. The safe has a button keypad and there is a hair dryer, flat screen TV, one electrical plug on the vanity/desk, robes, three section wardrobe, small couch, small stocked refrigerator, and the usual. Carpets and furniture all clean. The advantage of the cabin is when combined with the cabin next to it you have a compartmentalize large private balcony area. (the ships superstructure acts as partitions) The balcony is also covered. I like the design much better than the Conquest class cabins in the same location.

We had second or late seating for dinner and we received tables just as requested, so thanks to the Miami office and the Maitre’d, Shane or Mr. ‘Hello’. There were a few new dishes on the menu, but it is primarily the standard Carnival menu. The buffet food was good to very good, the dining room menu was average to good. DW really enjoyed the Burrito Bar, she said it was excellent. The Deli was good as was the Rotisserie. The Tandoori was different and the Mongolian Grill was always very busy. There are several ice cream and yogart machines with vanilla and chocolate flavors. Room Service was good, but sometimes slow. We do use Room Service more when we have a balcony cabin. DW used it for light breakfast every morning. We also used it a few times in the afternoon for snacks or party items.

The weather was very nice especially considering that we were still feeling the effects of Hurricane Frank.

Platinum Perks
The check-in building at the pier was very nice. We used the laundry twice and it was wash & fold service; fine for undies, socks, t-shirts, denim short, but not cotton shirts, dress clothes, or better items. Had we needed it the priority tender would have been handy in Cabo, but we did not need it.

Personal Comments
The poor service at dinner was very disappointing-enough said. I had never sailed this ship nor visited these ports so I wanted to experience them. Having now sailed them I doubt I would ever repeat. Fine to experience once, but I can cruise the Caribbean, with better ports, much easier. This is a great cruise if you live in southern California and have easy access to Long Beach, but if you have to travel by air I would frankly recommend another cruise. We did have fun, but we always have fun!!

Cruise Highlights
The group of people we sailed with was the highlight for us. John Heald is very entertaining and was perhaps the highlight of the ship. We did enjoy the production shows especially Vroom. Our favorite port was PV our least favorite was Mazatlan (only two we had).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Carnival Splendor & Carnival Paradise

Hello all

I will be sailing on the Carnival Splendor & Carnival Paradise this next week. The Splendor 29-August sailing and the Paradise 6-September sailing. I will have a night between on the Queen Mary so I am looking forward to experiencing and sailing these fine ships.

I will be posting a daily review on that you can follow from the Cruisemates message boards.

When I return I will have reviews and comments for this blog.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review--Carnival Conquest--1.17.2010

Carnival Conquest Review 1.17.2010

Just The Facts:
Carnival Conquest
January 17 - 24, 2010
Captain: Alfonso Verdoliva
Cruise Director: Chris Jefferson
Hotel Director: Marvin Barrantes
Ports: Galveston, Texas - Montego Bay, Jamaica- Georgetown, Grand Cayman - Cozumel, Mexico - Galveston, Texas
Weather: Good all week

This is my 20th Carnival cruise and 10th time on the Carnival Conquest. I sailed this ship in September and October, but on the eastern itinerary. It’s nice to sail the standard western Caribbean route. I am sailing with DW (dear wife) and with the Group. I am the host for the group known as: The Snooze Cruise.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
We left the ranch at 6:45 a.m. dropped off the dogs at the neighbors and drove with only two stops to Galveston. We arrived at EZ Cruise Parking about 11:30 and rode the shuttle to Terminal 1 to board the Carnival Conquest. I recommend EZ Cruise as your close enough to walk if you choose. We were a little later than normal (for us) and there was a long line for security. Fortunately they now check security inside the terminal so we proceeded on in the building. We were luckier than those at Terminal 2 and the very long lines outdoors to enter the terminal and board the Voyager of the Seas. At least the weather was nice for January. We were on the ship about 12:45 and went to the Cezzane dining room for a nice lunch buffet. The roast beef and salad were very good. Cabins opened at 1:30 so we proceeded to our cabin. We met some of the group who were also on deck 8 and proceeded to unpacked our bags that were delivered quicker than I expected. The double set of VIP luggage tags may have help or it could have been just the luck of the draw. Our group has four of the deck 8 aft balconies so we had our own sail away party on the aft decks after muster drill and sailed close to 4:00 pm. I was originally going to complain about the lack of “Funship Special” cocktails and bar servers, but discovered that there were ‘U.S. Health Inspectors’ doing their annual inspection. They were doing very limited bar service so pre made drinks and embellishments were kept to a minimum until the inspectors left the ship. BTW--the Carnival Conquest received a 99 on the inspection which is an outstanding score. Congratulations. We have the second seating for dinner at 8:15 and we are assigned the Monet dining room. DW was skipping dinner so I went to the Cezzane with her about 6:15 and I had to have a sample. I had a plate of the wonderful shrimp and sweet & sour sauce that I knew would be one of the entrees for dinner. They were fantastic and made for a great appetizer. Our group tables were located aft and not in my favorite area, but that’s basically the norm for group bookings. The company is the highlight. For dinner I had the Tomato Basil Soup, the Flat Iron Steak, and the Cream Brule for dessert. The Welcome Aboard Show was scheduled for 10:30 p.m. It featured the Carnival Conquest Singers & Dancers, CD Chris Jefferson, and comedian JR McCollum. I was very impressed with all the ship venues being full and having a good variety of entertainers during the evening.

Day Two--Monday--Fun day at Sea
I enjoyed a good nights sleep and the seas were calm. I had breakfast in the Monet dining room, my personal standard 1st morning Carnival breakfast of Eggs Benedict, side of bacon & hash browns, tomato juice, milk and grapefruit which were all very good. We walked around the ship and I had some group business to handle in the morning. At noon we had a scheduled group activity. We entered a Cruisemates team in the Super Trivia game. It was great fun and almost everyone participated. We did well but have two more days of competition. We had a spontaneous cocktail party on deck 8 aft cabins in the afternoon. It was great fun and basically forgot about lunch. I later ordered BLT’s and a Ruben sandwich, both very good. A great new change is the appetizer plate delivered to the Platinum guests. This consisted of very nice fresh seafood items and a great improvement. Not sure if it is fleet wide, but new to me since October. It is the first elegant evening and they no longer have a formal Captains cocktail reception with complementary drinks, but offer $1 off cocktails at the promenade deck bars. The Captain was available for photographs for a set time. He did his introductions of staff officers in the Artist’s Lobby Bar. The main production show Point and Click was the primary entertainment this evening. For the elegant night dinner I had the Pumpkin Soup, White Stuffed Mushrooms and the Seafood entrée consisting of Lobster and Jumbo Shrimp. I had the Apple Tart for desert, it was fair. The platinum guest gift was left in the cabin at turn down and it is again the picture frame and a Carnival Conquest pin. This group has a tradition of a ‘Yawning Table’ on Promenade deck for informal late gatherings and did so tonight. Great for people watching and late drinks.

Day Three-Tuesday-Fun Day at Sea
It was a nice morning and the seas were again calm overnight. DW again ordered room service and I had breakfast in the dining room, same as previous morning. I enjoy the service in the dining room and DW enjoys a leisurely start to the day especially when we have a balcony cabin. We had an even larger group show for the noon Super Trivia Game. We scored 29 points the same as previous day and we have a firm hold on third place. It was great fun and the highlight was the butt cheek bingo portion of the game. Yes this is a very different Trivia contest. Members of the group have discovered the new Mongolian Wok and Sur Mer, two of the best places for lunch on the ship. I was able to arrange to have our Cruisemates group cocktail party for this afternoon in Vincent's Lounge, one of my favorite public rooms on the Conquest. We had a bartender and two servers for our group so the cocktails were flowing as fast as the great conversation and company. A great mixer for the group. Following the party we all went to the Carnival Past Guest Reception to continue the party for another hour. Of course a bit of rest was needed for many before dinner. The feature production show this evening was singer Ron Joseph who does Motown and soul music. I skipped, but people in the group attended and enjoyed the show. For dinner this evening I had French Onion Soup, Shrimp Cocktail, the Jerk flavored Pork, and the new Fig dessert for dessert. The waiters danced the Jai-ho, an Indian Bollywood dance that was very entertaining. Tonight they had a Mardi Gras deck party in the bars and on Lido deck, but after all the partying today we retired early.

Day Four--Wednesday-Montego Bay, Jamaica
A very nice nights sleep. DW again had room service and I went to the Monet dining room for breakfast. I had Fried Eggs with the usual. This is to be a stay on the ship on port day for DW, but I’m going into MoBay with several of the group to Doctor’s Cave Beach. We met on the pier and took a mini bus ($5 pp) over to the beach for the day. Admission is $5 and extra for other items as needed, i.e. beach chairs, umbrellas, etc. We staked out a large table in the Groovy Grouper as a HQ and people did their own thing. I had a few Red Stripes, a Yellow Bird, and got in the water a few times. The weather and the company was very nice. For lunch I had their signature Snapper and it was very good. The beach was as busy as I have ever seen it and there were a lot of Europeans there from the Costa ship also docked in MoBay for the day. It did make for interesting people watching. We arranged transport back to the ship by a local tour boat operator. We went directly across the bay and had a great time on our brief time on the water, it was much better than a taxi for sure. We watched sail away from the aft cabins with our friends and time for a room service BLT. The production show this evening was Lady Helevi, Enchantress of the Elements. It is a Carnival produced show featuring a Magician and the Conquest Dancers. The costumes were really unique and beautiful. This is a very visual show, the type of show with little dialogue that will be the future for cruises with a lot of international guests. Although very colorful it is not one of my favorites. Having seen it we skipped and people in the group had mixed reviews, some loving it and others not so much. Dinner was very good this evening, I had a Salad, the Neptune Seafood Dish and the Grilled pork chop. One of the menu changes is that they now have two of my favorite desserts on the same night. The answer to that is you have both so I had a Tiramisu and the Bitter & Blanc. They were both excellent. The waiters again danced what seemed to be another Bollywood style dance. After dinner it’s yawning-table time.

Day Five--Thursday--Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Another good night sleep and good weather today. We arrived off of Grand Cayman by 7:00 am and anchored with three other ships. I was in no hurry as I had nothing really planned for this port so I had another good breakfast in the Monet dining room while DW had her room service. After breakfast I took the tender over to Georgetown to buy liquor and since it went to the new tender station it was next to the new liquor store that I wanted to visit. Georgetown is a relatively an expensive place for shopping; however, liquor is a bargain here. I went early as if you do so they will deliver it to the ship for you. I also got to meet Lucy, the female production singer, while on the tender, she was also on the September and October cruises and a great singer. I was back on the ship before 11:00 am and went to the Sky pool to swim where I found a large number of our group having an impromptu ‘Bloody Mary’ party. Swimming and partying before noon while most passengers are off the ship is quite fun. Since most were off the ship this was a perfect day to do the Mongolian Grill. The crew also know this so there was still a short line. I had the Pork with Szechwan (the hot spice choice) and it was very good. I also had a short visit with Marvin Barrantes, the Hotel Manager, he has been on the Conquest for several years now and is IMHO responsible for the improvements I have noticed in that time. That’s why I like him, he makes changes and improvements as needed. BTW-The Conquest is now No.2 in the Carnival fleet in positive guest comments. We sailed from the Caymans about 3:00 pm and we had another sail away party in the aft cabins. A little bit of cabin time with again BLT’s and a nap. Tonight is the second elegant night in the dining room. The main production show was Formidable. I have now seen it ten times, but still enjoy it very much. This show is exclusive to the Conquest so the only way to see it is to sail on her. The Cancan dance is still my favorite part of the show. Of course I enjoyed watching Lucy as well. Dinner was good. I had the Shrimp Seafood entree as well as the Chateaubriand and Baked Alaska for dessert. I tried to stay up for the yawning table, but made it an early evening.

Day Six-Friday-Cozumel, Mexico
Another good nights sleep. The seas were fine and the weather is great. I went to the Monet dining room for a good breakfast of Fried eggs, et al. since we didn’t arrive at the Puerto Maya pier until 10:00 am. There are four or five cruise ships on the island so there will be lot’s of tourists. Today was the big event scheduled for the Cruisemates Snooze Cruise group, the Cozumel Bar Hop tour. We met at the bus and were soon off to the ‘far’ side or ‘wild’ side of the island. There is no electricity over there so all the bars are unique cinder block and/or palapa style buildings each decorated in their own unique way. First stop was Punta Moreno and they gave us our first ‘shot’ of the day. I followed up with a few Pacifico beers and we enjoyed the high surf and views of the Caribbean as the waves washed ashore. Second stop was Coconuts the infamous bar located on the highest point on the island. Here we had a Mayan liquor shooter and of course a few more beers. There is a lot to see at Coconuts: the beautiful Caribbean water, the unique signage in the bar, the waiters boob books (beware ladies), and people watch. Next stop was the beach at St. Martin and the El Galeon bar. The water and surf were high, but the water felt great. Most stayed in the bar located just across the road. Here they gave a tequila shooter and they do have my favorite Mexican beer, Bohemia, so I had to have a few. Next stop was a brief visit to a scenic overlook of the natural bridges and blow holes along the Caribbean. Before Hurricane Wilma there were more, but it also brought the beach. Nature takes away and adds as she pleases. Final stop was the Rasta Bar. The Rasta has been in its location for years and years. They also make a great shrimp quesadilla. Here the shooter drink was a called an Iguana. I liked it so I tried one as a cocktail as well. They also do a fair mojito, but I liked the Iguana better. They had a little shop to visit or very nice beach chairs and hammocks. Very nice stop for our group. The tour operator customized some of their shirts to add ‘Snooze Cruise’ and that was a great souvenir of this wonderful tour. They had us back at Puerto Maya about 5:00 so there was some time for shopping if needed. Some cabin time and a BLT for me after the return. A wonderful day and very nice to watch the island disappear from site from the aft balcony as we sailed away. We did attend the Marc Ruben show and it was hilarious as usual. So used to seeing him as the Welcome Show headliner, but it was wonderful. The honeymooner he selected did a good job too. I did make dinner, I had the fried Shrimp appetizer and a Green Salad as well as the entrée, a Petite Filet Mignon on a sliced pot roast. On the menu they call it a Filet Mignon on Short rib, but it was really a very tender pot roast style meat. Enough fun for one day, cabin time for rest of the evening.

Day Seven--Saturday--at Sea
Another good nights sleep. A cloudy day, but warm and calm seas. I had my final breakfast in the Monet dining room, the Eggs Benedict. The debarkation talk was held at 10:30 but it repeated over the TV continuously during the day. We had our final day of the big Super Trivia contest and was great fun. Our group really enjoyed it and we won the day big time, but was one point off the overall score. Still a FUN event and was perfect for the group since we were split half and half between early and late dinner. it gave us a great day time event to share. After the game most were off to either the Mongolian Wok or the Chocolate Buffet in the Taste of Nations area of the Cezzane dining room. I had the Roast Beef with a salad in the buffet. A lot of our group met in the Sky pool area although the water is now getting cool. We met again at the aft balconies to try and finish off the last champagne that had been delivered to the group, but the official plan for the day was to meet at the Farewell Party at 5:00 pm. This was the most unique group gathering I have ever experienced. We had great service and had to have set a Carnival party record with at least close to 50 drinks setting on the table at one time. How? First we were able to get a good area with several tables in the Degas Lounge. Then the Beverage Manager came by and told the waiters to take care of this table. Then his boss the Hotel Manager (who we know) came by and told the waiters to take care of this table. Also one of the bar servers who worked our cocktail party (he received a nice tip) also started working our table. Everyone had as many cocktails as they wanted and we were allowed to stay longer, but we are not yet finished. We then met in the private Gallery Room on deck 4 for piano music (provided by one of our members) and more cocktails. Wow, a fantastic Farewell Party. Best ever for me. Dinner this evening was again good, my choices were Salad, Chicken Pasta, and Grand Mariner Soufflé for desert. I didn't attend the Carnival Legends Show after dinner but did listen to the excellent band in the Impressions (casino/promenade area) Bar and had the last meeting at the Yawning Table.

They had a 7:00 am meeting time for self-debarkation Platinum members, but the ship was a bit late so we didn’t even go down to deck 3 until 7:30 and it was 8:00 before we allowed off. We were through customs by 8:15 and at the truck by 8:30 am. It could not have gone smoother once off the ship. I filled the truck in Galveston as usual ($2.49 gal.) and was off the island by 8:45 am. We were home at 1:30 p.m. in time to pay the hired hand as promised.

I have always thought that the Conquest is beautiful and I was very pleased to see it again through the eyes of others in the Cruisemates group. The French impressionist and postimpressionist themes are wonderful. Try to see the video featuring Joe Farcus, the designer of the Conquest, on the ships TV while on board. The crew is very friendly and will greet you. The cabin steward and waiter will call you by name. The new fabrics and chairs in the public areas continue with the theme of the ship and the ship really looks wonderful.

The Cezanne Restaurant buffet food is good, but not great although the salads, fruit, and desserts are excellent. The cookies available on the buffet and room service are very good. There are ice cream and yogurt machines in several locations on Lido deck. Paul's Deli was good, the Rueben sandwich is my favorite and DW’s favorite is the arugula veggie sandwich with Pesto. The Mongolian Grill is excellent. Sur Mer was good, my favorite item is the bouillabaisse. The Sushi Bar is unique and should be tried by guests. The Pizza Station was very good as was the Sky Grill both located on Lido deck aft. Room Service was very good and they have added several new sandwiches, the BLT's are great. Drink prices have again gone up in cost but they have specials each day. The Monet Dining Room food is very good to excellent and much better than the buffet. No entrée changes since October. The waiters do a few dances during the week and it is enjoyable especially the new dances. DW said the Vegetable Lasagna was the best vegetarian dish on the trip. They no longer do the team game announcements in the dining room (yea!) and leave that to the entertainment department as it should be. I have been alternating tables between the two group tables we have for late seating and it is interesting to compare the waiters. One is very good and the other very poor. Interesting.

We had cabin 8457 on Verandah deck (deck 8). It is a very nice aft extended balcony and our third time to have this particular cabin. There is a mini bar, safe (card slide), full couch, and hair dryer. The cabin was clean and was well maintained by our cabin steward who also did a good job with my ice. We did get a towel animal most nights. A very short walk to food & drink as it’s below the Cezanne dining room. You get full WiFi in the cabin if your using a laptop computer.

Changes / Needs Improvement
There are not many changes I would recommend now. They have done such a good job as mentioned previously. If you will read some of my older Conquest reviews you will actually see that they have implemented most of the things that had concerned me. Anything now is minor. I would like to see the Fox News Channel as one of the television choices and not so much of CNN. Not sure if this is a fleet wide issue or not, but the Conquest sails from a red state and most guests are not big fans of CNN. One of the waiters this cruise was sub par, but that is very rare on the Conquest or on Carnival and can be corrected.

Interesting / Unique
The magician visited our table in the dining room twice. He is very interesting and unique. People in the Cruisemates group were very impressed with the entertainment on the ship. They do have a good variety now and there was always a choice of entertainment types and styles. The Seaside Theater is a wonderful addition, the movies at night were very popular as were the NFL football playoffs.

This was a really FUN cruise for me. Perhaps the best of sixty cruises, certainly the most FUN. I really enjoyed helping the Snooze Cruisers from Cruisemates and they made it so much more enjoyable for me. I believe we have taken cruising to a new level.

thanks to TC and Phil&Liz for photos