Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Carnival Valor Cruise Review

Carnival Valor Cruise Review
February 10-17, 2013

Just The Facts
Ship:  Carnival Valor
Captain: Ettore Bovo
Cruise Director: Felipe Vultaggio
Ports: San Juan, St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Martin
Weather:  Fantastic!

This is my 34th Carnival cruise, 79th cruise overall, and my 1st time on the Carnival Valor. I am cruising with DW (dear wife) and my regular and close group of cruise friends: the Snoozemates.  I am recovering from some major oral surgery so that will influence my menu selections this trip.

Day Zero--Saturday--Travel
Caribe Hilton - San Juan
We left the ranch at 5:30 am for the two+ hour drive to DFW airport.  We parked at a local hotel and shuttled to the AA terminal for our 9:30 am direct flight to San Juan.  We landed at 3:45 pm local time, a four+ hour flight and two hour time difference.  We took a taxi ($23) to the Hilton Caribe resort arriving about 4:30 and several Snoozemates who had arrived earlier were there to greet us at reception.  One of the fun traditions of our little group.  After we were settled in our room we met at their famous lobby bar for a classic Pina Colada.  There is a local argument as to who was the first to serve the traditional drink, this hotel bar or the Barrachina Restaurant in OSJ (old San Juan).  I believe the bartender actually worked at both places many years ago.  I did have my first real Pina Colada at this very bar exactly 30 years ago although at that time the bar was in a huge Palpa just outside the lobby.  The Barrachina still serves the original recipe and the hotel serves a slightly more modern version using a blender.  My personal choice for best Pina Colada is here...either way this signature drink is not to be missed.  After a very nice Happy Hour we had dinner at the Italian restaurant located at the hotel.  I had the Pasta Arrabiatta.....a pasta in a hot (spicy) tomato sauce.  After dinner we walked the beautiful lighted grounds and enjoyed the Caribbean air.  They have a great little pier with a low light that lights up an area of clear water and coral. The light attracts bugs that then attract beautiful fish that leap from the water to feed.  I have seen game fish do this, but never tropical fish, very interesting.  After a wonderful evening and long travel day we turned in for the evening.

Day One--Embarkation--San Juan
Rosie's - Lido deck buffet - Carnival Valor
We had a very restful sleep and slept until 9:00 am.  The hotel has a private beach in a cove and a wonderful three level swimming pool with a full swim up bar, beautiful grounds with palm trees, parrots, and all the resort features you would expect.  Very nice place for a pre cruise night. We checked out about 11:00am and split a taxi with friends to Cruise Terminal Four in OSJ.  They were still debarking the ship when we arrived about 11:30 so we went through security and waited in the VIP lounge.  They had sandwiches, cookies, pastries, lemonade, and water for us during our wait.  We began VIP boarding about 12:30 and as we entered the ship we were greeted by four Snoozemates that had been on the ship for the previous cruise. Cool tradition.  Since they have FTTF and knew we could go direct to our cabin we didn’t check our bags and rolled them onto the ship ourselves.  We took our bags to the cabin and began settling in strait away.  We went up to Lido aft our usual meeting spot for the group and had lunch and visited.  I had a very nice bowl of fried vegetables, beef, angel hair noodles, and chicken from the Mongolian Grill, I was very pleased that I could eat one of my favorite Carnival dishes.  I purchased a ‘Bubbles’ soda package (~$50)  and enjoyed my first diet cokes in weeks.  The meet up turned into an extended happy hour with group members coming and going through the afternoon.  The diet cokes soon became Cuba Libres with the addition of Spiced Rum.  Since we have a late sail away some went into OSJ for liquor or other goodies for the cruise.  At 5:30 we went down to the lobby for a surprise entry of some Snoozemates that no on else in group knew were coming on the cruise. A successful surprise.  Since they had open seating tonight on the ship for all dining rooms we all ate at Rosies, the Lido deck buffet.  I had a very generous portion of the Tiger Shrimp with Sweet and Sour Sauce for dinner.  They had boat drill at 9:30 pm, our boat or muster station is G on deck 4.  The drill didn’t seem to be well attended, but was adequate for such a late time.  We enjoyed sail away from one of the aft wrap balconies on deck 8, the usual cabin area location for our group members.  Sail away was very nice, San Juan is very pretty at night.  After a long busy day we retired to the cabin although they were having a big sail away party on lido deck.  I did purchase a small internet package and was able to contact my source in St. Thomas late to make arrangements for the following day.

Day Two--Monday— St.Thomas, USVI
Snoozemates - Mountain Top - St. Thomas USVI
A short nights sleep, I was up late and then early this morning, but fair seas overnight.  I had some blog time very early then called my contact to confirm a jitney for today as soon as we docked at 7:00 am.  I then went up to Rosie’s for a buffet breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. I had arranged a private tour using Islander Taxi.  Our driver was Conner and we had a nice jitney that held all 15 of us easily.  After leaving the dock area and Charolette Amaile our first stop was the popular Mountain Top lookout where we enjoyed the wonderful view and their famous Banana Daiquiris.  Next stop was Megan’s Bay beach for a relaxing 2 1/2 hours to enjoy the beautiful beach and have lunch.  The water and weather was fantastic.  Next stop is Utter Delights a local dairy that has a retail location selling specialty shakes, I had the Rum Raisin, very tasty. Next stop was Secret Harbor a very nice resort hotel with a small nice beach.  It was beginning to sprinkle rain so I only hit the water to test the beach area and headed to their very nice bar for one of their specialty drinks: a Key Lime Pie cocktail, very different and very good.  Our final stop was to be Duffy’s Love Shack, but since we ended up doing cocktails at Secret Harbor we just returned to the ship a bit early arriving back around 3:00 pm.  A very FUN tour.  After clean up and a shower we received our room service order: DW had a grilled cheese, I tried a BLT that I wasn’t able to eat, but enjoyed the Tuna Salad.  We had a very smooth sail away about 5:00 pm and shortly after I had a nice nap while DW had a salad from the buffet.  After my nice rest I went to my first dinner in the Washington Dining Room.  We have two nice tables with a good view of the restaurant area and MDR activities I ordered: Shrimp Cocktail, French Onion Soup, Braized Short Rib of Beef, and Strawberry Cheesecake dessert.  The feature show tonight was The Welcome Show @ 10:15 pm, but there were a lot of other activities that friends were doing including the Comedy Show and Casino.

Day Three--Tuesday--at Sea
Washington Dining Room - Carnival Valor
Calm seas overnight and I slept well.  Also each day I am getting more feeling in my lips and mouth too.  I ran into friends on the elevator on the way to the Washington dining room so they joined me for breakfast.  On our only sea day the Valor is basically offering the new Punchliner’s Brunch; however, they are not branding it as Punchliner’s and just calling it brunch.  I ordered my favorite from this menu:  the Steak & Eggs (it’s identical to Carne & Huevos) served with a grilled tomato, ranch potatoes & curly fires, a great vinegar dressing, and a bernaise sauce.  I added a side of bacon for a wonderful breakfast and it was very good.  After breakfast I went up to Lido deck aft bar to get a coke and soon was joined by a Snoozemate, then another, then another, and soon most were there and we were enjoying our traditional Bloody Mary happy hour.  This turned into a party and we were there several hours enjoying the great weather and company. Since this was the only sea day we had prearranged a 12:30 meet for lunch in the Washington dining room primarily so we could use our complementary cocktail vouchers. There were 12+ of us so we actually had the Captains table as it’s the largest in the MDR.  Having already had breakfast this also gave me the opportunity to get more of the ‘brunch’ items on the menu.  DW and I both ordered Cosmopolitans as our cocktails and for brunch I ordered the wonderful tomato soup, a very good pasta dish, and banana creme pie for dessert.  After lunch the group went to Veterans meet, Trivia, Casino, Lido deck, or afternoon Naps.  I tried the nap and DW did the salsa dance lessons.  A Fun day already.  Tonight is Elegant night and they delivered the Platinum h’orderves to the cabin and the Captain was available for photographs on Promenade deck.  We had a Fun combination Balcony Party and Birthday Party on deck 8 before dinner.  Most of the group dined in Scarlett’s Steakhouse, but I dined in the MDR.  Tonight I ordered: the Stuffed White Mushrooms, Spaghetti Carbonara, Prime Rib of Roast Beef, and Cherries Jubilee for dessert.  After dinner tonight’s production show was: Nightclub Express featuring the live Valor band, the Valor singers, the Valor dancers and hosted by CD Felipe and an animated couch. They have a nightclub theme and sing popular music or dance from the Cotton Club, Crazy Horse Saloon, Grand Ole Opry, Las Vegas, Copacabana, and more.  It was a very enjoyable show.

Day Four--Wednesday--Barbados
Happy Anniversary in Barbados!
Calm seas and good sleeping overnight.  I went to Rosie’s and had a nice omelette from the omelette station for breakfast.  We arrived in Bridgetown on schedule and we are the only cruise ship in port today.  We have an all day private group catamaran tour planned with Cool Runnings so the group met at 8:30am on deck three. We went down to the pier and met the transport as arranged and they took us to the Cool Runnings office at the city pier where we paid for the Day Lunch Cruise and boarded our cat for the day.  Our 15 made up about half of the passengers.  There is a nice bar with draft Banks beer, wine, and a good selection of rum drinks. Soon we were off and the first stop was a snorkel stop to swim with turtles in Carlisle Bay.  We moved further down the bay to snorkel over two sunken wrecks that were very interesting and there were numerous tropical fish.  I had taken my own snorkel mask and used their fins so it was easy to gear up.  The water was beautiful and clear.  Next we made sail and sailed up the west coast and anchored near Sandy Lane.  Here we were served an outstanding lunch:  green salad, macaroni salad, shepherd’s pie, bbq chicken, and flying fish.  We could also swim here and I was first in the water after lunch. Soon a turtle came up to check me out and kind of hung with me for a long while.  Soon others hit the water in order to see the turtles.  It was really better than our earlier turtle stop.  They crew was very generous with the drinks and even brought me a beer while in the water.
Drinking a Banks Beer with Turtles 
We sailed back down the coast to Bridgetown and as we approached the pier they had everyone up and dancing.  They also gave DW and I a half gallon of Mount Gay rum as an anniversary gift.  I really highly recommend Cool Runnings, they are a first class operation: crew in matching shirts, great food, great bar, friendly crew, and very nice boat.  We were bussed back to the ship about 3:00 pm and it was nap time for most including myself.  Tonights production show was Gravity Defying Comedy featuring comedic juggler Dana Tison.  The entertaining show in the Ivanhoe Theater was before dinner for late diners. I actually prefer the earlier scheduled shows.  Dinner was good.  I ordered a Shrimp Cocktail, the Tom Ka Gai Soup, Farfalle Pasta with Turkey, the Beef Stroganoff, and Tiramisu for dessert.  The Beef Stroganoff I didn’t care for, but the rest was good.  They did bring a dessert and sang “Happy Versery” to us at the end of dinner.  They had the Mega Deck Party on Lido deck this evening as well as a Mexican buffet.

Day Five--Thursday--St. Lucia
Saman Tree - Town Square - St. Lucia
I slept very well and since we had no plans for St. Lucia the goal was to sleep late, but I was up early enough to see us tie up to the pier and then watch the Adventure of the Seas sail into the beautiful natural harbor.  I was off to the Washington dining room for a nice MDR breakfast with my usual Eggs Benedict, Potatoes, Bacon, Mixed Fruit, and my Leche Caliente.  We did leave the ship about 9:30 for just over an hour just to see the big Saman tree in the town square and the old church.  They were very interesting, the church had (I believe) a painted mahogany ceiling and upper walls and the tree was perhaps the largest tree I have ever seen.  We then walked through the public market that had primarily souvenir and craft stalls before heading back to the ship.  After returning we took a nice dip in the aft, still adult only, pool that was a relief on this hot and humid tropical day. I had a nice lunch from the Mongolian Grill and relaxed on deck most of the afternoon.  The group had a nice aft balcony sail away party that lasted from the 5:00 pm sail away through sun down.  DW and I had our Valentines day ‘Kiss on the Lips’ apéritif before dinner.  This is the second scheduled cruise elegant evening although it’s black Hawaiian shirt night for the group.  Dinner was good, I ordered the Escargots, Eggplant (not good), Braised Basa Fillet of Fish, Chateaubriand, and the special Valentines Day Chocolate Dessert.  The production show this evening was Far From Over.  I had visited with Matt the feature singer earlier in the day in line at the Mongolian Grill and he said that tonights production show was one of the best in the fleet. He was right!  It was a very high energy show featuring music and dance from the 1980’s.  I thought the Pee Wee Herman bit was great.

Day Six--Friday--St. Kitts
Nevis from ShipWreck Bar - St. Kitts
Calm seas overnight and a good nights sleep.  I went to the MDR for a very nice breakfast before meeting friends for a mini island tour.  We hired a private van for four ($25 pp) and did an auto tour of Basseterre on the way to Romney Manor Gardens.  The gardens are beautiful with tropical plants & flowers, large palm fans, and a large Saman tree.  On the grounds is the Caribelle Batik Studio where they make various batik fabric items. I did get a batik fabric shirt.  Next stop is the Brimstone Hill National Park, a designated UNESCO Heritage Site.  This   is a huge fortress built on a volcanic peak over looking the Caribbean.  Built by the British it took 103 years to complete primarily using slave labor from the local sugar plantations.  A very interesting site with museum and fantastic views.  Final stop is the beach so we made our way to South Friars Bay where we met all our Snoozemate friends+ at the ShipWreck Bar.  There is a volcanic sand beach and the ShipWreck is a great beach bar with very good food.  I had some lightly fried plantains that were very good and perfect for me.  They have a local Caribe brewery on the island so that was the beer of the day.  We had to return to the ship a little earlier than sail away as the VIFP party was scheduled at 5:00 pm.  After cleaning up from the beach we met in the Ivanhoe Theater and set as a group in the area of our favorite cocktail servers.  They were very very generous with the drinks...I had the Funship Specials as it’s a good Carnival signature drink and easy as it’s already on the servers trays. They did recognize me and the other Diamond guest (and FB friend) and took a photo that they later delivered to the cabin.  Wanting to continue the party we all went to the hidden away Bronx Sports Bar, a beautiful bar replicating Yankee Stadium.  They serve Thirsty Frog here so that was a good change from the Funship Specials.  Just to mix it up at dinner tonight the girls sat at one table and the guys at another. I’m afraid we all may have been a bit rowdy after the afternoon of partying.  Dinner was good tonight, I ordered the Mushroom Soup and the Filet Mignon & Short Rib combination.  The beef dish is one of Carnival’s better meat dishes IMHO.  After dinner the gals (sisters) hit the One Small Step dance club (disco) and  the Dream Bar (casino) for some dancing and had a Fun evening.  The feature show was More Than Magic in the Ivanhoe Theater, but Snoozeman’s magic was disappearing to bed for the evening.

Day Seven--Saturday--St. Martin
Courthouse - Phillipsburg - St. Martin
Calm seas overnight and I slept in as long as possible this morning.  We were already docked next to the P&O Azure when I awoke.  I had breakfast in Rosie’s on Lido deck and we prepared for our final port call of the cruise.  The group was off on another adventure to Maho beach, but we planned a slower day. We went down to the nice port area skipped the water taxi ($7 pp) and walked into the downtown area.   Phillipsburg is right on a beautiful beach so there are beach facilities as well as tourist and city oriented businesses.  The water here is beautiful and the town is very clean and a good place to shop or have lunch.  We ran into friends and had lunch  and drinks at the Blue Bitch Bar, a very interesting place on the waterfront.  After some shopping we shared a taxi back to the ship about 2:30 pm and changed for our 4:00 tea time on the Bridge.  The two Diamond guests were invited to have a bridge tour and tea with Captain Bovo. It was nice and I really liked visiting with the Captain.  We had to leave the bridge as it was time to sail away at 5:00 pm, but our group had our final sail away party on the aft balconies.  Always fun.  Dinner tonight was very good, We had a special order of Spaghetti Carbonara and I also ordered the Panko Crusted Jumbo Shrimp, the Prime Rib, and Gran Mariner Souffle for dessert.  Final farewells to wait staff and friends as usual on the final night.  The Carnival Legends Show was the feature show this evening.  Also last chance for the comedy club and casino.

Old San Juan Cruise Terminal
We arrived back in San Juan about 6:00 am. My final Sail & Sign bill and refund check was under my door by 7:00 am.  I packed this morning and went to breakfast in the MDR, for a final Eggs Benedict breakfast.  We hoped to time a smooth transition off the ship and going to deck zero after the self debark and 1,2,3,4, & 5 tickets were called.  There are too many VIP’s now to make the VIP debark a smooth process so we try to time it so that you don’t meet in the VIP area, but attempt a smooth flow direct from cabin to pier.  We did and were off the ship in ten minutes. Nailed It!  Customs took a little longer but was smooth and soon we were at the taxi stand and on our way to the Sheraton Convention Center.  We were of course very early, but they put us on a list for an early room.  We went to the internet center and spent an hour, then to the very nice pool area on level four with a nice view of the city.  Soon they called me on my iPhone and we had a room just about noon.  The room is on the Club level and fantastic.  It was very large with great decor, big screen television, large bath area, fair view, great high speed Wifi, and more.  We decided to chill out and enjoy the room and not tour today.  About 2:30 we went to the lobby restaurant for a salad and a wonderful Cuban sandwich, it was both very good and the first sandwich I have been able to eat in more than three weeks.  I worked on this blog and more importantly was able to update all my computer software and iPhone applications  (50) during the day here.  This I had not done in months as I have limited bandwidth in Bosque county.  This hotel is not the most scenic location, but has five-star amenities and rooms.  We took a taxi to the airport early on Monday morning and arrived home about 3:00 pm Texas time.

Having spent so much cruising time on the new Carnival Magic and even newer Carnival Breeze sailing on the Carnival Valor is in a way stepping back in time in my cruising experience.  The Valor is a Conquest class ship that has yet to get the new Carnival 2.0 upgrade so there are a lot of features I certainly missed.  The itinerary from San Juan is very good, for me it’s a rare opportunity to sail the southern Caribbean. I liked the “Heroes’ theme of the ship and the unique architecture of the public rooms.

The crew as on all Carnival ships are very good.  I do believe the Guest Services Department was somewhat lacking in answering my queries though, but as soon as GS Manager Ari became involved it was straightened out immediately.  All the Bartenders and Bar Servers were very friendly.  The bar server Ionuts from Romania was fantastic, I hope to have him serve me again on a future cruise.  He never failed to bring me a diet coke at dinner or breakfast.

We had cabin 8427 a category 8C balcony on Empress deck aft, but nearer the elevators than our aft facing friends.  It had a double bed, standard Carnival 3-section closet unit, mini fridge bar, card slide-open safe, couch, table, and standard balcony.  Overall a nice cabin although there was more noise than usual or expected from above.  I believe it was too close to the automatic door between the lido aft pool and Rosie’s.  You could hear carts rolling through at odd hours.

As mentioned I had had oral surgery the week prior so that influenced my eating choices.  There were plenty of options from the standard MDR menus for me to choose from and even test my situation.  Lot’s more pasta and fish this week.  Carnival always has a good selections of soft desserts and I had all of them this week.

The Paris Hot Bar is beautiful and I hate seeing it wasted as a smoking lounge, I believe more could enjoy it if it didn’t have that heavy smell, but this is just my personal opinion, if it functions for them, fine.  The Barbados catamaran excursion by Cool Runnings was very special, the best shore/excursion day of the cruise although St. Thomas was very good too.  The best part of the week is the group of regular cruise friends who sail together twice a year.  Woo Hoo Snoozemates!

Another Fantastic Fun Cruise!!

FTTF = Fastest to the Fun, a service that allows you to board early for a fee.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Carnival Breeze BC6 Cruise

Carnival Breeze Cruise Review
January 19, 2013

Just The Facts
Ship:  Carnival Breeze
Ship Captain: Vincenzo Alcaras
Hotel Director:  Pierre Camilleri
Cruise Director: Butch Begovich
Blogger Cruise Director: John Heald
Ports: Miami, St. Thomas, Antigua, Tortola, Nassau
Weather:  Very Good

This is my 33rd Carnival cruise, 4th John Heald Bloggers cruise, and 78th cruise overall. I am cruising as a solo, but I have lots of cruising friends and JH Blogger friends on board.

Day One--Saturday--Travel & Embarkation
Carnival Breeze Atrium
I left the ranch at 4:20 am for the hour drive to the small Waco Texas regional airport and a 5:30 am check in time.  It was a nice short flight to DFW and as I walked up to the gate for the Miami flight they just called priority boarding and I walked straight onto the plane. I had two seats that made the 2.2 hour flight to Miami fairly nice. I do like a window seat and had a great view of the Mississippi River SE channel where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico and just before we landed I had a great view of the seven cruise ships in the Port of Miami.  Amazing views.  We arrived on time at 11:00 am and I decided to use the new Carnival Cruise Line check-in facility at the airport. They are located in the baggage claim area in a couple of the terminals.  It was an easy process, they issue your sail & sign card and take your security photo, this will save a lot of time at the port.  I also purchased the Carnival shuttle ($16) and we were at the port just after noon.  The airport pre check-in means you go through a designated (shorter) security line, then bypass the check in at the cruise terminal.  Since there were so many Priority passengers due to the JH bloggers at VIP check in this was the fastest way to get on board by far. I was in my cabin on deck nine by 12:45 and in line at the Mongolian Grill by 1:00 pm.  First impression of the new Carnival Breeze is good.  To me it seems as though it has a very Caribbean feel, perfect for sailings from Miami.  Actually the first thing I noticed were the new Carnival uniforms for housekeeping and the Lido Marketplace staff.  The new faux wood cabin doors are a nice touch and very different.  The Funship 2.0 stations such as Guy’s Burgers, Blue Iguana, and Red Frog Rum Bar on Lido deck look great and are very popular.  I’ll visit them and explore more of the ship in the following days.  After a very good lunch from the Mongolian Grill I began running into friends and soon we were in the Red Frog Pub for some afternoon Welcome Aboard cocktails, visiting, and people watching until time for boat drill at 3:30 pm.  Safety drill seemed to go well, my muster station is D4 in the Club Oz on deck four.  The Hotel Manager sent champagne and a nice fruit basket to the cabin, I assume he did it for the bloggers and with 600 of them them would be a lot of cabins.  It is appreciated, always nice to have a welcome gift.  There was a Welcome Party for the Bloggers 5:00 - 6:00 pm in the Ovation Theater with cocktails and introduction of Bloggers staff and some crew.  I missed sail away due to the party, but soon all the shops and bars were doing a brisk business...a very busy ship.  I had been debating with myself about purchasing the new “Cheers” drink program and decided to do it so I could experience how the program works for myself.  Everyone in your cabin must purchase it and since I’m solo on this cruise and with some extra OBC’s this was a good time to try the program.  I’m no longer a ‘big’ drinker and I’ll evaluate if it is worthwhile for me, but it looks like more daily cocktails this cruise.  After my initial cocktails it was time for dinner in the Blush dining room.  Some friends and Ken Byrne, the Maitre’D, arranged a very nice table in the center of the dining room, just as I prefer...sweet.  I ordered both the Creme of Sun Ripened Tomato Soup and the Gazpacho Andalouse, the Tilapia entree, and the Creme Brulee for dessert.  It was good.  After dinner, a final nightcap, and a very long day I retired to the cabin.

Day Two--Sunday--at Sea
Sapphire Dining Room  -  Carnival Breeze
Very smooth seas overnight, I woke very early 5:00am-ish so still on ranch time I guess.  We made a surprise docking in Nassau early this morning to debark a medical emergency.  Just a fast in and out.  For breakfast I went to the omelette station in the Lido Market Place and had a nice omelette with a side of bacon.  A change from my usual Carnival cruise 1st day breakfast, but with the new Comedy Brunch format that plan doesn’t work.  They do open earlier (8:30am) for the brunch so the gap I mentioned on the Carnival Magic review is not as critical here on the Breeze. A bloggers only Q&A was held in the Limelight Lounge, John H has a brilliant way of making the guests a part of what actually becomes a comedy routine.  Luckily I had a seat at the bar so was able to enjoy some Bloody Mary’s during the Q&A.  I then had some organizational and set up time as I had volunteered to help with a private cocktail party, our now ‘Friends of John H’ meeting from 1:00-2:00 pm in the Liquid NIghtclub.  It went very well and John Heald even came by to say hello to the sixty FUN people who had been active on the Breezers Facebook page prior to the cruise. The two NFL football championship games were on every screen on the ship this day and passengers seemed to enjoy them along with all the usual sea day ship activities.  I was able to get a short nap before heading to the Red Frog for a pre dinner cocktail. This was the first elegant night and dinner was very good, I ordered the White Stuffed Mushrooms, Pumpkin Soup, the Spaghetti Carbonara, the Red Fish seafood entree, and Cherries Jubilee for dessert.  After dinner I went to the Production show: The Brits in the Ovation Theater.  This was unlike any production show I have ever seen incorporating LCD lights and panels to create the scenery and animated cast members. It was fantastic!, the best Carnival show to date-IMHO. I wish they would do it again as this show is not to be missed. After the show I went to the Piano Bar for just a bit until time for the midnight adult comedy show in the Punchliner Comedy Lounge.  A very good show, Al Ernst just gets better and better.  When I finely got back to the cabin to retire the towel animal on the bed was holding a bloggers gift: a nice commemorative pin.

Day Three--Monday—at Sea
For me?  -  Diamond Reception  -  Carnival Breeze
Another good nights sleep and we turned our clocks forward to Atlantic time so it was 8:15ish when I got around and 9:00ish when I to the Punchliner Comedy Brunch in the Sapphire dining room for a proper breakfast.  It was a good time to go as there was no line and I was seated straight away.  I had a very good Bloody Mary then ordered the Carne & Huevos (steak & eggs) and they were excellent. They were served with a grilled tomato, ranch potatoes & curly fires, a great vinegar dressing, and a bernaise sauce.  I added a side of bacon for a wonderful breakfast.  I was just finishing when my friend Al Ernst, did his little comedy routine.  I am coming around on the brunch concept although I enjoy being seated with other random guests at breakfast as is the norm on cruises, but this room and concept is not really set up for it.  Since this is the Your Time dining room there are a lot of smaller tables so very nice for couples, but not so for solo cruisers.  I finally got to explore more of the ship this morning and I’m really starting like the more subdued public spaces, they are not as dramatic as many past Carnival ships, but very nice with clean decorative lines and concept.  This is by far the best of the three ships in this class.  I had lunch with friends at Fat Jimmy’s C-side BBQ outside in the Ocean Plaza.  I had BBQ Chicken and pulled pork, they also offered sausage, ribs, baked beans, potato salad and slaw as well.  After lunch several regulars ended up at the Atrium bar until time for the Bloggers Slot Tournament ($20 entry) no luck for me, but at least we knew the winner.  The Diamond Guest function was held in the Liquids Nightclub. There were complimentary cocktails and nice horderves.  The Captain and senior crew were all there along with 35 Diamond Guests, an unusually large number of Diamonds on a sailing.  It was great seeing Ana and Marusya from guest services, love them both.  The party continued over to the Red Frog Pub until time to dress for dinner.  Dinner was good, I ordered: French Onion Soup, Penne Mariscos Pasta (with seafood), Braized Short Rib of Beef, and the Fig & Date dessert.  The feature show tonight was Hasbro-The Game Show with Butch but there were a lot of activities that friends and bloggers were doing including Punchliner Comedy, Piano Bar 88, and the Deck Party.

Day Four--Tuesday--St.Thomas, USVI
Megan's Bay - St. Thomas
Calm seas overnight and I slept fair.  We arrived on time and are berthed next to Carnival Liberty just as we were a few days ago in Miami.  Fortunately we are the only two ships here.  I had a private tour arranged by good cruise friends using Sonny Liston Tours.  Our driver was Elvis and we had a great group and tour starting at the popular Mountain Top lookout where we enjoyed the wonderful view and their famous Banana Daiquiris.  Next short stop was Sir Francis Drake’s seat that has a great view of Megan’s Bay.  Following that we went down to Megan’s Bay beach for 1.5 hour stop to enjoy the beautiful beach.  The water was fantastic. Although I’ve been to St. Thomas many times this is the first time to hit the water at Megan’s Beach. Next stop is Coki Beach for an hour followed by Sapphire beach for an hour, both were nice, but Coki’s smooth sand was much nicer than Sapphire.  We then made a quick stop at Duffy’s Love Shack for a final Bushwacker cocktail before returning to the ship.  A very FUN tour.  I watched sail away from St. Thomas from deck eleven, it was a very nice sunset sail-away Charlotte Amille.  I had an apéritif in the Piano Bar, a Standing Ovation, one of their branded drinks for the Piano Bar 88.  Dinner was good, I ordered the Yukon Gold Potato Soup, Tom Ka Gai, Beef Stroganoff and Bitter & Blanc and Tiramisu for dessert.  After dinner tonight’s feature show was: The Evolution of Edge a one man comedy / juggling act.  It was an entertaining show, but doesn’t need to be seen more than once.

Day Five--Wednesday--Antigua
English Harbor - Antiqua
Calm seas and good sleeping overnight.  I had an early continental breakfast from the Ocean Plaza and ate outside overlooking the port of St. John, Antigua.  I met my private tour mates at 8:00 am for a fantastic tour organized by one of my cruising buds with Tours by Gordon.  We had a couple of 8 pax vans and were soon off for Devils Bridge on the Atlantic side of the island.  This was a natural bridge created by high surf on the rougher coast.  From there we where on our way to the Nelson’s Dockyards area stopping first at Dow Hill Fort to enjoy the beautiful view of English Harbor and see a multimedia presentation about the history of that particular area.  We stopped at the Ridge for another great view to the Atlantic side and some snacks and beer furnished by Gordon. Next was Shirley Heights for an even better view of English Harbor and the location of the old British lookout station.  Then we then went down to  English Harbor and Nelson’s Dockyards National Park the location of the main British Navy base in the Caribbean during the ‘age of sail’ and the 18th century.  There were a lot of period buildings that now house trendy restaurants, hotels, and yacht related businesses as this is now a very popular sailing destination.  After a guided tour and a bit of free time we were off to the final destination: Valley Church Bay Beach.  Since we were somewhat self contained as Gordon had hot pasties (meat, chicken, & vegetarian), beers and sodas we selected our own more secluded section of the beach away from the bar and facilities.  It was a wonderful 1.5 hours to chill. I had to hit the beautiful water again and it was wonderful.  We returned to the Carnival Breeze and I had my first Guy’s Hamburgers of the cruise. They are 100% better than what they served before and pretty close to an ideal Texas style hamburger.  The Bloggers Super Star Live was this afternoon, I was late, but got to see most of it, a lot of talent in the group.  Clean up and rest before a pre dinner cocktail in the Red Frog Pub.  Dinner was good, we actually had an order of Chicken-Wings for the table that went well with my entrees:  The Tilapa and NY Strip Steak.  After dinner I attended the production show: Latin Nights and it was very good.  Tonight was designated as Pirate night by Bloggers so it was interesting seeing those dressed as pirates for the evening.  I didn’t, but was a pirate supporter with my jolly roger t-shirt and hat I purchased in St. Thomas.  I went to Cigars Under the Stars at 11:00 and they actually had some nice snacks prepared.  It was fun and made for a long and late evening.

Day Six--Thursday--Tortola
White Bay - Jost Van Dyke - Soggy Dollar
I was up early this morning as I have an early tour so I saw the sun rise over Tortola while having breakfast grits out on the Ocean Plaza.  Very pleasant.  Our tour left early as this is a short port day so the group met and walked the short few blocks to the marina and we were off to the island of Jost Van Dyke by 8:00 am. After a 40 minute boat ride we arrived off the beach at Jost Van Dyke and there was already a mega-yacht and several sail boats anchored off the beach. The options here are to swim in or wait for a dingy to take you ashore.  I chose to swim in as this was the original tradition.  The beach and water are wonderful, I can see why this is a prime destination spot.  There are several beach bars along the beach, but I went to the most famous of them: The Soggy Dollar.  I ordered a wonderful Bloody Mary paying for it with soggy money from the swim in to the beach (thus the name of the bar) and enjoyed the banter while setting at the bar.  In the next hour and half it became much busier as tours arrived and most wanted to try the Soggy Dollar signature drink: the Painkiller.  The Painkiller is a generous amount of dark rum with pineapple, orange, coconut mixer and nutmeg.  It was good, but I actually prefer the bushwacker a very similar drink.  We left the island about 1:00 and headed back to Tortola and the Carnival Breeze before the 3:30 final boarding time.  In fact the Past Guest party began at 3:30 pm in the Theater.  They had complementary FunShip Specials and horderves, they also recognized the Gold, Platinum, and Diamond guests.  Next there was a birthday party organized by some in the Facebook group for John Heald held in the Limelight Lounge. The folks that volunteered did a great job, it was another fun thing on the fun ship.  I had to get a short nap in as it has been a busy day, but made it to the Piano Bar for an aperitif.  Dinner was good tonight, I ordered the Chicken Noodle Soup, Mushroom Soup, and the Filet Mignon & Short Rib combination.  The beef dish is one of their better meat dishes IMHO.  I had the Apple pie for dessert, but it wasn’t top notch, so just an additional sambuca to finish the meal.  Again a lot of choices on the ship this evening including the Hasbro Game Show and the Mexican Fiesta on Lido deck.  We actually mad a quick stop in San Juan to debark an ill passenger before midnight.  Interesting day and evening.

Day Seven--Friday--at Sea
Pub Crawl - Red Frog Rum Bar - Carnival Breeze
Smooth seas and it was so nice to be able to sleep in this morning, we also gained our one hour of time back so we are now on Miami time.  I went to the lobby around 8:15ish to get a morning Bloody Mary and work on this blog, then to the Punchliners Brunch for breakfast.  Tough choice since I have not had Eggs Benedict yet, but went with the Carne & Huevos again, they are just so good.  There were some intermittent light sprinkles this morning and it is cooler, perfect weather for me, I get enough hot at home. I popped into Cherry On Top to get some sweets then later a small burger from Guy’s to carb-up before the Pub Crawl / Poker Run at 1:00 pm. This was planned as a fun bloggers event and about 35-40 participated.  We drew a poker card at each of six bars and I also ordered a cocktail at each. If I’m going to hit my 15 Cheers limit, today will be the day. We started at the Lobby Bar, then the Winners Luck Casino Bar, then the Red Frog Pub, then the Red Frog Rum bar on Lido, then the Blue Iguana, and finished at the Tides Bar on aft Lido deck.  This was a lot of fun...thanks to those that organized it, the traffic guard with drunks crossing signs were a funny touch.  Afterwards we had a tube of Thirsty Frog in the Red Frog Pub with friends.  I’m not positive what I did the rest of the afternoon, but I’m pretty sure a nap was involved.  I did have an aperitif in the Piano Bar before dinner.  This is the second cruise elegant evening and to mix it up a little I ate at the table next to my usual table.  I knew all the guests and they have a fun waiter too. Tonight I ordered the Escargots, Braised Basa Fillet of Fish, and baked Alaska for dessert.  After dinner I did go to Piano Bar 88 to hear Ron Pass, the best piano bar player on the high seas.  I guess I did end up closing it down, but that has to be done at least one night if Ron is on board.  Also sometime just before 2:00 am I was informed that I had reached my 15 limit of drinks on the Cheers card.  I also wanted to do that at least once so two things accomplished. 

Day Eight--Saturday--Nassau
Ropes Course - Hot Dog Stand - Carnival Breeze
I slept until almost 10:00 am this morning, then caught the end of the bloggers meet to get my group t-shirt, then up to Lido to get an omelette from the omelette station before it closed.  We docked in Nassau about noon.  I believe there are six ships docked including the Disney Wonder across from us, she will be in Galveston next year.  This is going to be my day to get a last look around the ship while many are off to see Nassau and work on the blog.  I had a nice late lunch in Cucina del Capitano, my first visit there on this cruise.  I really slowed down today after the big day yesterday so cabin time and a little exploring.  Did you know that there is even a hot dog stand on the miniature golf course...very clever.  I tried to make a booking for the Bloggers-7 cruise, we’ll see if the future cruise person gets it done.  I did go to the Piano Bar for my last sidecar cocktail aperitif.  Dinner was very good, I ordered two of the Panko Crusted Jumbo Shrimp, the Prime Rib, and Gran Mariner Souffle for dessert.  The feature singer was in the Ovation Theater tonight, but I retired early after getting a Carnival airport transfer and saying farewell to Marusya at Guest Services.

We arrived back in the Port of Miami about 6:00 am. My final Sail & Sign bill and BC7 booking was in my mail box.  I packed this morning and went to breakfast in the MDR, first Eggs Benedict of the cruise, unusual for me.  They were calling for all Self Assist by this time (8:00ish) so I went down but perhaps could have waited another 20 minutes as it was still very busy.  I try for that time just at the end of self and before deck assigned numbers. Getting to the transfers was easy and as soon as the bus filled we were off to MIA and was checked in by 9:30 through security and at the gate by 10:00 for a 1:05 boarding.  Transfer at DFW went well and I was in Waco by 6:30 pm.  Just an hour drive to the ranch and home.

John Heald Bloggers
For those that don’t know, John Heald is the Senior Cruise Director and Brand Ambassador for Carnival Cruise Lines.  He writes a very popular blog and the Bloggers as mentioned in this review are basically John Heald fans that read his blog and now his Facebook page.  This is the 6th ‘Bloggers Cruise he has hosted.  There are about 200-300 that have become regulars so it’s nice to see many people again.  The Bloggers cruises have all been FUN and really become an event unto itself.  The BC7 will be held on the Carnival Sunshine out of New Orleans in February 2014.

Cheers Bar Program
This is a new alcohol program recently introduced by Carnival and still not yet fleet wide.  You are allowed up to 15 drinks (under $10) for the per day cost of $42.95 per person + 15% gratuity.  You must purchase for all adults in your cabin and pay for each day of the cruise.  This was a good test opportunity for me since I’m sailing solo this cruise. It became routine for me to order 1 or 2 Bloody Mary’s at breakfast an apéritif before dinner, a glass of wine at dinner, then an after dinner drink in the dining room.  As the situation, day, and time allows various cocktails during the day.  You can also get sodas and I did that several times as well.  Personally I got my moneys worth, but honestly would not have had as much to drink without the program.

I found the crew to be very good.  I was able to meet many ships officers through the Diamond reception and VIFP party. The ship seems to be in very capable hands.  I enjoyed visiting with Pierre the Hotel Director, Ana the Guest Services manager, Marusya from Guest Services, Gertrude from Group Services,  Butch the Cruise Director was outstanding, Senior Head Waiter Damir was excellent, and of course Ken Byrne is an excellent Maitre’D and he sang in the dining room most nights and the waiters did their dances as well.  All the Bartenders and Bar Servers were very friendly.  It was good seeing Sebastian again.

I had cabin 9359 a category 1A interior on Vista deck.  It had a single bed (and a drop down option), standard Carnival 3-section closet unit, mini fridge bar, push button safe, and lots of floor space.  It didn’t have a table, but they brought one for me.  Overall a nice cabin for a solo cruiser.  Ringga the cabin steward was great.  I love the new cabin doors.

The Guy’s Burger Bar is a fantastic addition for more reasons than just the good food.  The good location and the fact they have an express line means they can feed a lot of people in a short time.  This really takes the pressure off of room service and other food locations on the ship especially on port days when hungry passengers all return about the same time.  Excellent concept.  The new Bonsai Sushi seemed to be very popular.  Cucina del Capitano was great.  I never used room service this cruise.  Ice creme and yogurt machines were available.  I didn’t try the pizza nor the burrito bar, but they both looked very good.

Needs Improving
I really think the aft pool should be adult only as I have stated several times about the Carnival Magic. It was even worse here with kids playing chase around the pool and using the hot tubs as play tubs...no adults among them.  If the Disney ships with many more children sailing can have an adult pool then surely Carnival can have one.  Please review that Carnival with your new 2016 concept ship. Other than that one issue the Carnival Breeze really seems to run like a well oiled machine, no major problems anywhere that I could tell from the viewpoint of an experienced passenger.

The Diamond VIFP reception by the Captain was very good.  Guy’s Burgers were excellent.  The ship really looks very good although not flashy at all, I like it much better overall than the Magic.  But the highlight was seeing all the blogger friends of John Heald again.  Always great to see familiar faces having a FUN time!

Another fantastic FUN Bloggers cruise!!