Saturday, December 9, 2023

Norwegian Escape  -  December 9, 2023  -  Cruise Review

   Norwegian Escape  -  December 9,  2023  -  Cruise Review

Just the Facts:
Ship: Norwegian Escape is a 165,000-ton Breakaway+ class ship launched in 2015 with a guest capacity of 4266+ . 
Ports: Port Canaveral,  Puerto Plata,  St. Thomas,  Tortola,  Great Stirrup Cay

This is my second cruise on the Norwegian Escape, my 9th cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line, and my 204th cruise overall. I’m cruising as a solo.

Saturday / December 9th, 2023 / Embarkation / Day 1 
I finished packing early Saturday morning and I was off on my drive to Port Canaveral at about 9:20 am. I drove the northern route: Hwy 52 to I-75 north, then east to the FL Turnpike, then Hwy 528 (the Beachline Expressway) to the port and Atlantic beaches. I arrived at 
Park-N-Cruise cruise parking at about 11:30 am and easily parked. I checked in and joined the already waiting line for the shuttle to the NCL Escape. Luckily I was on the second bus that came. Park-N-Cruise is my overall favorite of all the parking locations and ports in Florida. We were soon at Port Canaveral, busy with five mega-ships in port today. A bit of a line to enter NCL terminal 10 and security, but once inside it went fairly quickly…I was on the ship at about 1:30. I did my Muster Station (D3) check in the Casino on my way to the aft elevators. Experience and luck (muster station location on the same deck) got me through the crowd of dawdling guests. I went up to the Garden Cafe on deck 16 for a Buffet lunch. It was very busy with too many guests loitering awaiting cabins to open. A lot of Food Stations, I had Roast Beef and a selection of vegetables. I remembered that they had a Noodle Station and I had a great bowl of Pho, although I made it a bit too spicy. For dessert: Bread Pudding with caramel sauce. I then found my cabin on deck 12, an interior on a special passageway, to unpack and set up. I have a standard interior, the unique Studio Cabins designed for Solo guests are just too small for me. Plenty of storage with a large bathroom and shower. At about 3:30 they began Muster Drill…since I had already visited my station I was good. NCL was the first to return to the traditional meet-up before sailing away after COVID-19. I had to do it on a previous Escape cruise. That didn’t go over well with guests so thankfully they have gone back to the simple visit and a safety spiel over the PA. The WiFi works very well (so far) and you can switch between devices (ie- iPhone and laptop). I did a walkabout and then sat out on deck 8 to watch the sundown, a great area with fewer people, it was a beautiful sundown too. Guests were certainly taking advantage of the inclusive drink program, every bar I passed today has been packed. But guests do tend to party hard on the first day. I went to the District Brew House undiscovered as yet, I had the drink of the day as it had organic Vodka and Elderflower…it was just OK. I did have a Funky Buddha draft beer that I discovered from the previous cruise. I went to the Garden Cafe (buffet) on deck 16 for dinner. I got a very nice thick sliced Prime Rib then had them grill it for me. NCL always has a hot grill near the Carving Stations, but few know about it. Better than a steakhouse entree. Mixed Vegetables, and a wonderful Passion Fruit cake for dessert. I then retired early after a busy day with a lot of walking. It was a very nice embarkation day on the Norwegian Escape.
Sunday / December 10th, 2023 / Day at Sea / Day 2  
Fair seas overnight and I slept very well. At about 9:00 am I went for breakfast in the Savor MDR. I ordered: a Fruit Bowl, Eggs Benedict with sides of Bacon & Potatoes, Danish, and Hot Milk. It was very good as was the company at a shared table. I then started this review as I was too tired last evening. When the cabin steward came to clean I went up to my deck 8 hideout…more guests but nice with sea breezes and views. I made Platinum Status on this cruise, with a few extra benefits, I have two premium dinners now and a new reception at 1:30 pm in the Manhattan MDR. This is a Next Cruise event and selling is the goal although they did have some cocktails and cheeses. If you have the drink package this may not be a worthwhile event. I did fill out a form for two futures. $500 = $250 OBC on the current cruise. It used to be a 1 to 1 so not as good a deal as it was in the past. The rest of the afternoon I watched NFL football. NCL is one of only two cruise lines (that I know) that have NFL football in the cabins. I made reservations for the Manhattan Room for dinner @ 6:15 pm and had a very nice shared table in the center of the room. The tables are very nice with proper linens and great service. I ordered: the Cobb salad, Shrimp Pasta Alla Vodka (entree as starter), the Parmesan-crusted Pork Chop entree, and Boston Creme Pie for dessert. It was all very good with the pork chop outstanding. Very pleased with the dinner. I believe NCL may have the best food overall among the Big Four cruise lines.  After dinner, I watched the SNF feature game between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles for the Division lead. A good game. I updated this blog and had some online business to do as well, a relaxing evening. It was a very nice although rocky sea day on the Norwegian Escape.
Monday / December 11th / Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic / Day 3
Rolling seas overnight and I slept very well. We changed our clocks to Atlantic time overnight as well. I was up early and went to Savor for breakfast at about 8:00 am. Very few guests (time change?) this morning. I had a heart breakfast: Hot Milk, Tomato Juice, a Fruit Bowl, three eggs fried sunny side up, Bacon, Ham, Sausage, Potatoes, and Toast. Very nice and had a view as we approached the port. There are three cruise ships docked at Puerto Plata today. I have an excursion today, Ocean World Day Pass & Adventure, and met my group at about 10:15 on the pier. Only a 15+ minute drive and you know when you arrive when you drive under a (man-made) waterfall at the entry. Once off the bus, they have a nice Folklore Dance group as a welcome. It’s a very nice and clean park experience. Features include the Beach, Rain Forest, restaurant and shops, and Activities. There is a snorkel area, swimming areas with waterfalls, Tropical birds, and Show areas. I saw the Dolphin show (photo), Sea Lion Show, Bird Show, and Shark Feeding. The first two were very good, the other two were meh. A Buffet Brunch was provided with Dominican food or Burgers and hot Dogs. I did the two types of Chicken, Beans, Salad, and French Fries. The weather was breezy so nice with good views of the sea, WiFi was provided in some areas. We met for the return @ 3:30 and were back on the ship at about 4:15 after walking through the Taíno Bay Cruise Port shops & bars at the pier area. Shower, rest & recover before going up to the Garden Buffet for a snack as I have an early show this evening. I had a built it yourself Hamburger with Fries. It was good. I went down to the Theater at about 6:30 but it was already full, although as a solo found an empty seat in row 3 center. Sweet. If you can’t get in on the first night it will be hard to get in for subsequent shows as the ladies on the ship will have it packed. The Choir of Man is probably the BEST show at sea at this time. I was familiar with the opening so was able to score a draft beer from the bar set on stage. Featuring a traditional Irish/Scottish Pub theme with interesting pub’s a great show with great singing and storyline. This was a new cast from my visit in January, I love this musical concept, even two acapella numbers. Many ladies sitting down low where I was sitting had to be regulars and one would think we were at Chippendales. They loved it. Short walkabout afterward, but a very long and busy day for this old guy, so I retired early. It was a great port day and ship day on the Norwegian Escape.

Tuesday / December 12th / St. Thomas, USVI / Day 4  
Rocking seas overnight and I slept well. We have a late arrival so a good day for sleeping late and having a relaxing morning. I updated this blog and did some internet work while relaxing in bed all morning. I needed that. We docked at about noon as scheduled, we were the only ship, but still docked at the end of the pier. I went up to the Garden Buffet for lunch. Very nice Vegetables and Soup today. I have a prepaid ticket from NCL for the Gondola up to 
Paradise Point so that’s my plan for the day. I was at the top of Paradise Point at about 2:30 pm and I had a nice table with a nice view (photo). Not that busy with only one ship in port. I enjoyed one of their special Painkillers and a pina Colada since I heard the song sung last night at the Choir of Man show. The view is always nice and the breeze keeps it cool. I returned to the ship at about 4:30ish. I used one of my premium restaurant vouchers tonight to go to Moderno Churrascaria, the Brazilian Steakhouse. I recall how great their salad Bar was the last time I ate there years ago and yes it is still fabulous. So many exotic choices including my favorite Hearts of Palm. The meats are sliced at the table for you. Sirloin, Filet Mignon, Chicken, Sausage, Pork, and Pineapple. You’re served about five sides as well as bread. For dessert, I had Rice Pudding. I thought about seeing Howl at the Moon in Headliners on deck 8, but the room was really packed. From what I could see it looked like a lot of fun with dueling piano bar + drums set up. This show alternates each night with the Comedians in this venue. I retired to the cabin and relaxed. It was a good day in St. Thomas and on the Norwegian Escape. 
Wednesday  /  December 13th  /  Tortola, BVI  /  Day 5 
Rolling seas overnight and we were docked well before I got out of bed this morning. I have an early excursion, The Baths at Virgin Gorda so I was up at the Garden Cafe for breakfast by 7:15 am. and met the tour on the pier at 8:30 am. Our big group of 100+ boarded the ferry for the 35 minutes over to Virgin Gorda. We passed by the Little Sisters chain of islands on the way. Once docked we board five open-air jitneys for the ride to The Baths National Park. Huge rocks/boulders all over this portion of the island even going down to the sea. Very nice facility: Top of the Baths restaurant and bar, they make a nice Bushwaker too. Very uneven trails down and up to the beach areas and if you do the Caves Trail from Devils Bay beach to the Baths beach you pass through/over/under and around some very narrow rock formations. (The photo is off the easiest portion).  Be careful as is is not an easy journey, but this old guy made it. Both beaches are wonderful I wish we would have had more time. We met at 12:15 for the trip back to the ship as we had an early debark of 1:30 pm. Soon after arrival, they announced that due to poor weather in the Bahamas, our stop on Friday had been canceled and we had another three hours here. Would have loved to know that earlier, but I was very tired. So tired that after cleaning up I took a four-hour nap. Sweet. Waking at 6:00 pm I checked the Markets (great day) until 7:00 and debated whether to go eat. I did. I went to the buffet and had a very nice Salad with Crispy Lettuce, Beets, Egg, Onions, Veggies, and croutons. The Beef Brisket and Chicken entrees were nice. I had Watermelon and a great dessert called Raspberry Charlotte. Yes glad I ate. I then retired to the cabin to update this blog, review the day's activities, and rest. It was a great excursion day on the Norwegian Escape.
Thursday / December 14th  / Day at Sea / Day 6  
Rocky seas overnight that began after dinner last night. I enjoy sleeping when we have some movement. At about 8:00 am I went to Savor for breakfast, I was given a nice window table. When I checked in at the counter the nice lady read some notes about my booking, smiled, and everyone began calling me by name. I’m a nobody on NCL, but if NCL Marketing discovers my live review they make the ship aware. One million hits on this modest blog will do that. I had my Hot milk and a Tomato juice straightaway. My Fruit Bowl, which has freshly sliced fruit, is not a mix of uniform fruit squares…it’s very nice with fresh melon, blackberries, cantaloupe, kiwi, strawberry, blueberries, and orange slice. I had my perfect Eggs Benedict, with sides of bacon and potatoes, and an additional plate with bacon. Sweet. Service was excellent too and I have to mention again the crisp tablecloths. There is no doubt that NCL has the best food & dining experience of the four mainstream cruise lines. Now that I’m in Florida I will be sailing more on NCL. I sat on deck 8 in the quiet zone and enjoyed the wonderful sea air and sea breezes, we were sailing slowly and I assumed the Captain was keeping us in the sun as best he could. Overcast but very pleasant weather. Plenty of time to update this blog and review the news of the world online. At about 1:45 I went up to the buffet. They had Pork Loin on the carving station so I got bread and mayo from the sandwich station and made my custom sandwich. It was good and I didn’t want too much as I’m doing a premium restaurant tonight. After a wee nap and cabin time, I went to La Cucina, the Italian Restaurant on deck 8. A nice space and I had a prime two-top table at the window as well as good service, This is the new dinner that comes as a Platinum guest and it includes a bottle of wine but they allowed me to have a Cocktail so I had a very nice Cosmopolitan. I ordered the Mozzarella Caprese, a custom Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce, and the Filetto Di Manzo Al Pepe Verde ( Beef Tenderloin with Green Peppercorn Sauce), I am very particular about my steaks and this was a very good entree. For dessert I had a very nice Panna Cotta, the pistachio on the side was a perfect addition. I did a brief walkabout on the ship, the Pour House was hopping tonight then retired. It was a great day with a great meal on the Norwegian Escape.

Friday / February 3rd / Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas - now Sea Day  / Day 7 
Again rocky seas overnight that look to continue throughout the rainy day. Looks to be a cabin day. I haven’t watched TV on this cruise, but they do have some good selections. I mentioned sports coverage, but they have movie channels various (red & blue) news coverage, and the CNBC business channel. That's better than most cruise lines nowadays. I enjoy the bad weather on occasion. This was to be our day at NCL’s private island, the correct decision to cancel it earlier, we did get $50 in OBC, better than just the port fees. The ship seems to be doing the same trick that MSC did last month: we never changed time back to EST from Eastern Atlantic Time…this way many guests will be an hour ahead for debarkation tomorrow morning. Anything to help speed up that process. I made it to Savor before closing, although busy I had a table at the window and a good view of the huge swells and heavy seas. I ordered my Fruit, Hot Milk, and Egg order as usual but also ordered a Huevos Rancheros because as a Texan I was curious about how the ship would prepare it. It was interesting, but not how I would prepare it. My cabin was cleaned by the time I got back (thank you) and at 10:00 am the Captain gave us an update on the weather…continued high seas, rolling ship, and bad weather until docking in the morning. My laundry was returned today, it was folded in a nice basket, very impressed. Of course, I knew to only send items that will survive a cruise laundry. I had dinner tonight at the Garden buffet. They had small Sirloin Steaks and Pork Chops and they were good. Creme Puffs for dessert and I took two for breakfast in the morning. I soon retired to the cabin to start packing. It was an easy final day on board the Norwegian Escape. BTW— I have been pronouncing the name of the ship as Es-Cop-A…people smile (my goal) so they like it or they think I’m a bit touched. A bit of both is true.

Saturday / February 4th / Debarkation Day / Port Canaveral, FL
Rocky seas on our last night. I woke early to finish packing.  At about 6:45 am I went down to deck 7 and joined the line for self debark.  They started just before 7:00 am. It was Facial recognition at Customs so it went well, I was soon on the first Shuttle bus and left the parking lot at about 7:30 am…fairly smooth process. Home after a grocery stop by 10:00 am.

The ship is huge, but the lack of a larger central atrium and narrow corridors in the public areas makes the ship crowed and difficult to navigate from one area to another.  The passageways on passenger decks are even narrower making it difficult to pass guests let alone dodge cleaning carts.  Only two sets of elevator banks, but ten elevators in each bank. Art and decor is only fair IMHO although some theme areas are cleverly done.  Fortunately NCL has gone back to the easy Muster Drill, they had gone back to the standard drill after covid. The crew
 are well trained and efficient. Most of the crew are from the Philippines and there seem to be a lot of crew for the passenger ratio.  Friendly and nice.

Dining / Food / Bars / Entertainment
Fantastic to have Tablecloths in the MDRs. I love it.  The Bars are almost always packed with guests…makes since since many passengers have a drink package as a part of the NCL booking system.  The bartenders are quick, drinks are good and the passengers were courteous.  The Choir of Men is probably the best entertainment at Sea.  Worth the cruise for that show.

HIGHLIGHTS of the Cruise
The Choir of Men
Virgin Gorda and tour of the Baths 
Moderno, the Brazilian Churrascaria
Ocean World Excursion in the Domenican Republic
La Cucina Italian Eatery
Savor (MDR) Breakfasts


Sunday, October 29, 2023

MSC Seaside Cruise Review -- October 29,2023


MSC Seaside Cruise Review  --  October 29,2023

Just the Facts:
Ship: Gross tonnage: 153,516. Launched: November 26, 2016. Capacity: 4,132 (double occupancy)
Captain:   Corrado Iaconis (Italy)   Cruise Director: Bennie Robinson (South Africa)
Ports: Port Canaveral, USA - Ocean Cay, Bahamas (overnight) - Costa Maya, Mexico - Cozumel, Mexico

I’m cruising as a solo on this 7-day cruise. This is my 3rd cruise on the MSC Seaside, my 19th cruise on MSC, and my 203rd cruise overall.  I do have Diamond (formerly Black Card) status, the highest of the MSC Loyalty Club levels. 

Sunday, October 29 / Port Canaveral / Embarkation / Day 1

I have a 12:00-12:30 p.m. assigned boarding time so planned accordingly and left the Florida Villa at about 8:45 a.m. for the drive to Port Canaveral. I arrived at Park-N-Cruise at about 10:45. A very efficient parking company I have used for years now and soon I was on my way to the port terminal. I arrived at Pier number 10 at about 11:40 grabbed my bags and went up one level to port security and through fairly quickly. They had a Diamond card line and I went directly to a check-in counter. Very smooth process this morning and I was able to go straight to my cabin arriving on Deck 12 at about 12:15 p.m. I have an interior cabin located very near the aft elevator/stairwell. It is very comfortable, especially for a solo (cabin photo below). Much better access to the Wardrobe than in a balcony cabin. The cabin has a Queen bed, Wardrobe, Large screen Television, a Counter/dressing table with mirror, a Small stocked refrigerator, Shelving, and drawers inside the wardrobe, a Chair, and a small but adequate bathroom with a solid glass door shower. I was able to begin setup and hang my clothes straightaway. I was fortunate as most guests were waiting for cabins to open as late as 2:00 p.m. There are two buffets: one on deck 16 and one slightly smaller on deck 8. I went to deck 8 as they had outdoor seating (although they were full of guests waiting for cabins). My traditional embarkation selection Roast Beef was excellent…very moist and flavorful. I also had a nice fresh salad from the salad bar. I ordered the premium WiFi package and the reception in my interior was good. I had a wee nap until they began Muster Drill announcements at 4:00 p.m. I have the earliest seating, 5:15 pm, in the Seashore Restaurant on deck 5 aft. I was assigned table 550 an eight-top for solo cruisers and we had seven attend. Interesting group of old timers, but I’m not good with the time. The tables are beautifully set with proper tablecloths and table service something you don’t see on many cruise ships. Dinner and service was very good. For dinner, I ordered the Tomato Basil Soup, a very nice Scallop Ceviche, and the Prime Rib with Baked Potato entree. For dessert a wonderful Crema Catalonia. After dinner, I spent time on the aft deck in anticipation of the 7:45 scheduled Rocket Launch from Cape Canaveral. It was delayed until 8:17 but scrubbed just 17 seconds before lift-off. Disappointing but the weather and breeze were very enjoyable. I had reservations for the 9:30 Variety Show but retired to the cabin. It was straight to bed and some TV after a very long and busy day.

 Monday, October 30th / Ocean Cay Marine Reserve / Day 2 

Smooth seas overnight just enough movement for a very enjoyable night's sleep. The bed is very comfortable with good pillows. I went to the MDR for breakfast and I ordered Eggs Benedict with a side of Bacon, & hash brown potatoes. I was served Hot Milk which is not always easy to get on other cruise lines but very common on the Seaside. The Captain had to do a sail-around on the first attempt at docking this morning, but he was then successful and we were docked at about 9:20 am. I went up to deck 16 just to get a good view of the island. The water here is beautiful and the Palm trees have grown since I was last here. This stop will only improve over time. After a walkabout on the ship and a snack from the buffet, I debarked from deck 4 onto the island. I decided to swim in the lagoon area as I had not done that previously. The water was great. There is plenty of beach area for the entire ship without being crowded. I enjoyed a few beers while relaxing in the perfect 85° weather. I returned to the ship just in time for my 5:15 p.m. dinner assignment. I did observe that four 8-top tables in our area of the MDR seemed to be solo tables for seniors…and they did have a solo fare for this cruise. The early time does make some sense for MSC. I still prefer later but going with the flow as it's good for theater show times. It was French night for me, I ordered a Niçoise Salad with Tuna as my starter and the Coq Au Vin as my entree. MSC now charges $5 for a second entree, but the Niçoise Salad is so rare to find it was well worth it. It was very good too much better than the Coq Au Vin. My dessert was again very nice, I had a light whipped Fruit Cream. I went to the Metropolitan Theatre to see the comedian Ken Boyd. The 7:30 show was a packed house and he was entertaining but confrontational so not my style. Afterward, I did a walkabout and refamiliarized myself with the ship since I did a B2B on her when the Seaside was new. A very nice ship, but I prefer the MSC Meriviglia. I soon retired to the cabin and watched some NFL football before sleep.  I will note that NFL football is highlighted on this ship.  Most every game is featured and most available in the cabin.  You can even reserve choice booths in the Sports Bar for games.  A nice day at Ocean Cay.

Tuesday, October 31st / Halloween / Ocean Cay Marine Reserve / Day 3 

Happy Halloween. I slept in and had a casual morning updating this blog and doing some online business with the first of the month tomorrow. I did a walkabout to see the newest Halloween decorations…mostly newly carved pumpkins everywhere. I had a very nice lunch at noon when the main buffet (hot) opened on deck 8. The Grill and Pizza opened earlier. I had: Chicken Breast, Snow Peas, Couscous, and Mashed Potatoes, with an assortment of Panne and Petit Fours for dessert (photo: cake at buffet), I ate on the outer deck and enjoyed the weather and view of the island. I decided to stay onboard and went up to deck 16 for a different view and also made a reservation at Butchers Cut Steakhouse. Then to the Seaview Lounge to relax and use my laptop during the afternoon. I again went to the MDR for early dinner…it was Caribbean-themed tonight. I ordered the Guadeloupe-style Shrimp Tails, the Creole Seafood Gumbo, the Blackened Red Snapper with Lime and creole spices, and key Lime pie for dessert. All was very good. I also had the special Halloween dessert a Pumpkin spiced Cake with Cheesecake icing. I had a walkabout to see the many guests in costume then I went early to the Metropolitan Theatre in order to get a good seat for the feature production show: Peter Punk. A typical MSC production with a theme, great costumes, and physical entertainment such as Acrobats, Jugglers, Contortionists, Singers, Dancers, and even a Dinosaur. Very entertaining. I say typical for MSC as they have a very diverse mulitl-language guest base. I made it back to the cabin in time to see the World Series game four. My Rangers are in it for only the third time. I had season tickets for many years before we moved to the Ranch in Bosque County. It was a great day on board the MSC Seaside.

Wednesday, November 1st / Day at Sea / Day 4 

Smooth seas overnight and I slept very well. We also changed the ship's time to match our two Mexico ports. They delivered Prosecco, Macaroons, and Chocolate yesterday as a Diamond benefit so I will have macaroons for my breakfast snack. It’s a beautiful sea day, guests will enjoy the outer decks. At about 10:00 am I went to the Haven Lounge for the Diamond Reception. I walked in at 10:00 exactly and was the late, early crowd. They had small snacks on the tables and I was offered a selection of five drinks. No Hugos unless you paid. They had a saxophone player and a juggler before introducing the Captain and Hotel Director (photo). Nice event, but I took two Diet Coca-Cola from the bar and left early. I retrieved my laptop and spent some time on deck 7 at Bistrot la Boheme. Nice people-watching area while I work online. Also after the removal of the Halloween decor, you can see the three-level Waterfall in the atrium’s HD multi-screens. At about noon I went to the Buffet for lunch. I had a nice Salad and Pizza. My first Pizza of the cruise and excellent as usual on MSC. I sat out on deck 8 aft and enjoyed the view of the wake and blue seas. I lingered on the outer deck then returned to the cabin, with a few desserts, for a wee nap before dinner. I had a casual afternoon, considering some Trivia, but just relaxed. I went to the Butcher's Cut Steakhouse at 6:00 p.m. for dinner. A nice venue on deck 16 adjacent to the other premium restaurants on board. I ordered my usual favorites: the Burrata and Beet Salad, the Hearts of Palm Salad, and the Filet Mignon Steak with a side of Asparagus. The assortment of Breads and Steak Sauces were also good as was the service. Thank you, MSC. I made it back to the cabin in time for the first pitch of Game 5 of the World Series. It was a very tense and scoreless game until the 7th inning when Texas scored one run. Texas blew it open with key hits in the 9th and they won their first World Championship. Wow…a great night on the Seaside.

Thursday, November 2nd / Costa Maya, Mexico / Day 5 

From calm seas to rolling seas once we began approaching shore overnight and I slept well. We docked along with two Royal ships early. I went to the MDR for breakfast when it opened at 7:30 a.m. and it was busy. I ordered Mixed Fruit, Hot Milk, Danish, Eggs, Bacon, Hash Browns, and Toast. It was good once the order was corrected. As did the long walk down the pier to meet my 9:15 am excursion there were huge waves and threatening weather to the east. The excursion is to the Kohunlich Mayan Ruins. Our group of about 28 was prompt and we left a few minutes early. It was nice to have cell service while we were near the port and a few cities, but soon lost it in the Yucatan jungle. It was a bit of a drive as the site was located near the Belize border. Kohunlich is famous for the unique Temple of the Masks… which makes it different from other Mayan sites I have visited. There are a set of five (remaining) large carved Masks on one side of the Temple. We also saw Spider Monkeys and the scary Howler Monkeys in the Jungle canopy while on site. It was interesting. We returned to the port just before 4:00 p.m. I made it back to the ship at about 4:30 p.m. in time to get a couple of cans of Diet Coke from the scheduled Welcome Back Cocktail Party in the Haven Lounge. I took the cokes back to the cabin as it was such a short time until 5:15 dinner. We had some new guests at the table which made it better for the two ladies. Tonight I ordered Maryland Crab Cakes, Shrimp Cocktail, the Steak Diana entree, and a Tapioca dish for dessert. It was a nice dinner. After dinner, I attended the Production Show: Rock It. It featured the Singers and Dancers doing a set of classic songs. Unique costumes and a talented group. Thursday Night Football was even offered tonight, I have been impressed with the current Sports being offered, and I am hoping for the same with NCAA football on Saturday. I retired early as I was tired from all the walking today, about 8200 steps. I also love the evening turn-down service, very nice to have a clean cabin in the evening. It was a very busy day in port and on the Seaside.

Friday, November 4th / Cozumel / Day 6
Smooth seas overnight, just enough rocking for a good sleep. I actually slept late for me waking at 9:00 a.m. and we had been docked at Puerto Langosta for two hours. I was soon off and walking into town, I love docking at this pier, so much easier for the things I usually do when in Cozumel. My first stop was at Antonio’s for a haircut just after he opened at 10:00 a.m. A very good haircut too. The second stop is at ZensiSpa for a pedicure…very nice. The third stop is at my Cozumel HQ: Woody’s Bar & Grill. Luckily my favorite table was still available. The Live Entertainment by Michael, great Mexican Coca-Cola, excellent Guacamole and Pico de Gallo, and Bohemia beer were fantastic on this cooler and breezy day. My best weather day in Cozumel in a long while. I casually walked back to the ship (took photo above) arriving back at about 4:20 pm and a quick clean-up for my 5:15 dinner time. Dinner was very good, I ordered: a Baby Shrimp Cocktail, Penne all’Amayriciana, the Honey BBQ Meatloaf entree, and a Cherry Clafoutis Creme for dessert. The comedian Ken Boyd is scheduled in the theatre tonight, but having seen him previously did not attend. I had a movie night in the cabin and rested after two full days of activities. In business, it was a successful five days in the Stock Market up all five days, I should cruise more often. Overall another great port day in Cozumel.

Saturday,  November 4th / Day at Sea / Day 7

Some rolling seas overnight, just enough rocking for a good sleep. Wearing my game day T-shirt I went to breakfast at 7:30 a.m. when the MDR opened and sat with some (by now) regulars. I ordered Eggs Benedict with Bacon and Hash Browns. Also Hot Milk, Tomato Juice, Orange Juice, and Fruit Bowl. It was very good. I went to Trivia in the Haven at 9:30, it was a rather difficult one, I contributed but our team was short. Fun though. Agus cleaned my cabin while away…so glad he did it before kickoffs. It’s an overcast and windy day at sea so busy at all the indoor venues. I’m planning on having an NCAA Football Day all day. I watched the early games until about half-time then went to the Marketplace Buffet for a Salad and Pizza. It was good. I took several desserts back to the cabin for snacks as I suspect my Oklahoma game will run past early dining time. At 2:30 pm I took the laptop and AirPods up to the Bistrot la Boheme for better reception. I had a good spot and good reception to watch the OU vs. OSU game from there. Unfortunately, OU lost…too many turnovers, bad calls (seriously), and injuries to have when you play a good team. I retired to the cabin to eat my snacks and begin packing. I think we will be rolling off very early as we (the ship) never changed the time back to Eastern time. We should be an hour ahead of schedule when we arrive back in Port Canaveral .Photo is my interior cabin.  It was an interesting day on the Seaside.


Sunday, November 5th / Port Canaveral / Debarkation

We arrived very early, I was up and about at 5:00 a.m. and we were docked. I finished packing and was at the self-debark location before 6:30 a.m. We began leaving at about 7:00 a.m. and thanks to facial recognition we were soon on the street. I was on the parking shuttle bus by 7:30 and on the road by 7:50 a.m. Washed the VW in Lakeland, stopped for groceries, and was home at about 10:00 a.m. Easy Peasy.


Maiden Voyage: 2017 I Gross Tonnage: 153,500 tons

Passenger Capacity: 5179 | Crew: 1413 I Length: 323 meters/1060 ft

Max Cruising Speed: 22 knots I Avg Speed 21 knots

Installed power: Diesel (40,000kW) I Propulsion: Twin propellers

17 passenger decks Builder: Fincantieri

Godmother: Sophia Loren


I had cabin 12168 a starboard side interior located on deck 12 at the aft elevators. Storage is very limited too compared to other MSC ships. The toilet seems smaller perhaps because the glass shower doors restrict some movement. The wardrobe is also smaller so storage can be a problem. The cabin has a push-button safe, twin/king beds, a large padded headboard, two small nightstands, wall-mounted wall lights, a large mirror, a small refrigerator, a small table/bench (unusual), and a nice TV with interactive features. My cabin steward Agus was very good. See the Photo above.

Bars / Entertainment

Entertainment is not nearly as good as pre-covid. What they do is good, and guests are well entertained, but they will never know just how brilliant it used to be.  

Dining / Food 

The dinners in the MDR are very good, service and settings were wonderful. I love the tablecloths. Our wait staff were excellent, very pleased with the service. The buffet food was good to excellent. Not as many selections as in the past, but the food variety was fine. Favorites: all the Pizza, all the Pasta, Guacamole, Hamburgers, and Salad Bar. I only did one specialty restaurant: The Butcher’s Cut and it was great. 

Comments - MSC Cruise Line

MSC is very different than the usual American cruise lines and if you're looking for the same experience it will be much different. You may like the differences or you may be very unhappy with the differences. As an experienced cruiser, I love different. If you don’t like change or are not flexible you will probably NOT like sailing a European cruise line. Following are my personal observations on sailing MSC:  

MSC Pluses

Beautiful Public Rooms, Good MSC Production Shows and entertainment, Quality and Beautiful Themed Bars, Nice Cabins, Hot Milk readily available on buffet and MDR, Attentive bar servers, and Good MDR Breakfasts.

Changes since my last cruise on Seaside

Announcements are only in English

Fewer children since they changed the ‘Children sail free’ promotion.

Comedy shows

Many more American guests result in more: Scooters, Wheelchairs, and complainers.

$5 upcharge for a second entree in MDR

Highlights of the Cruise

Butcher’s Cut Steakhouse

MSC Loyalty including Diamond Card Parties & Gifts


Saturday, September 16, 2023

Carnival Mardi Gras Cruise Review - September 16, 2023



Just The Facts:

Ship:  Mardi Gras, first of Carnivals Excel class @182,000 gross tons. 5282+ capacity.

Ports: Port Canaveral - Cozumel, Mexico - Costa Maya, Mexico - Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan, Honduras
This is a 7-day Western Caribbean cruise. It's my 8th cruise on the Mardi Gras, my 111th Carnival cruise, and my 202nd cruise overall. I am sailing as a solo using cruise credits from the canceled Carnival Jubilee inaugural so not a planned cruise but a cruise of opportunity.

Day One -- Saturday -- September 16th, 2023 -- Port Canaveral Embarkation  

I left the Florida Villa at about 9:30 a.m. for the drive to Port Canaveral and my 1:00-1:30 p.m. check-in time. I arrived at Park-N-Cruise just after noon. A very efficient parking company I have used for years now and soon I was on my way to the port terminal. I arrived at the pier at about 12:30 and went through port security and checked in fairly quickly. I was able to drop my roll-on bag in the cabin by 1:00 p.m. I have an interior cabin located on deck five at the aft elevator/stairwell. It is very comfortable, especially for a solo. The cabin steward, Aris, fixed me up with ice for my cooler and we set a cleaning schedule. The cabin has a queen bed, Double wardrobes, a Large screen Television, a Counter & mirror with a Heavy ottoman seat, a Small refrigerator, Shelving and drawers, and a small but adequate bathroom with a solid glass door shower. I went to my Muster Station on deck 7, then up to the Lido Marketplace on deck 16 for some Roast Beef. I ate very light as I was on a Game-Day schedule with kickoff at 3:30 then went to Big Chicken for my primary meal at about 3:00 pm. A good time to go as it wasn’t too busy. I had my MDE (regular chicken sandwich with Pickles & Shaq sauce) and a Tenders & Fries with dipping sauces…it was very good. I got back to the cabin at about 3:35 just in time for kickoff. I ordered the premium WiFi package and the reception in my interior was very good. I purposely selected a cabin along the elevator shaft with that in mind. Very happy with the Oklahoma vs, Tulsa game too, a 66-17 blowout for the Sooners. At sundown, I went up to the Lido Marketplace and had a nice bowl of mixed fruit on the outer deck. It was quite nice (photo above). I was looking for fruit to take for smacks but none to be found, I hope that’s not a cut-back. I didn’t go out for any shows or bars but returned to the cabin to watch the evening football games. One advantage of being an experienced cruiser is that you don’t have to do any ship activities if that’s your choice. I soon fell asleep to the rocking of the ship.

Day Two -- Sunday --  September 17th, 2023 -- Port Canaveral Embarkation 
Slightly rocky seas overnight and I slept very well in my interior cabin. I woke early, reviewed scores of late NCAA football games, then went up to Lido deck and my favorite breakfast on a Carnival ship: The Blue Iguana. I had one Tortilla with two easy-fried eggs, I added Cheese, Pico de gallo, and Salsa. I had an Arepa and Watermelon on the side. It was fantastic. I did a walkabout on Lido then down to deck 6 to get back to the aft staircase. Guests were exploring the ship and the Lido deck was already full. Mid-morning I went up to deck 6 when Aris came to clean the cabin… guests were busy with Trivia and a large crowd waiting for the Seaday Brunch, they will learn to use the HUB to make reservations. I had time to update this blog and finalize getting the cabin squared away…I feel like I’m ready to cruise. At about 1:00 pm I went to the Summer Landing on deck 8 aft. They have most of the NFL games on various Televisions in the area. I found the Tampa Bay Buccaneers TV and found a decent seat. I did the bucket of beers special as it included Pilsner Urquel my favorite. I enjoyed several during the game and also had a BBQ Plate before they closed at 2:30. It was fun watching with a group and the Bucs and my favorite (OU grad and Heisman Trophy winner) Baker Mayfield did well. Go Bucs! I retired to the cabin to relax then went up to the Lido Marketplace at sundown for a light dinner. The beef was excellent. I ran into an old friend former Alchemy Bartender Milos who is now the Bar Manager on board. I haven’t done a bar yet but will soon. I did catch the end of the Cowboys game too before retiring for the evening. It was a fun sea day on the Mardi Gras.

Day Two -- Monday --  September 18th, 2023 -- Cozumel, Mexico 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I wasn’t up until almost 9:00ish as we approached Cozumel. We were docked before our scheduled 10:00 am arrival and the Breeze is the only other Carnival ship at Puerto Maya…I do miss the Carnival Breeze out of Galveston. It’s a beautiful day in Cozumel so many guests will love a beach day. I left the ship at about 10:40 and it was quite busy. I got a Taxi outside the port and went into San Miguel. A quick stop at the church then Martin opened Antonios. It was 10:00 local time. After a much-needed haircut, I went down to Woody’s Bar and Grill my Cozumel hangout. It was slower than usual and I had my favorite table. I started with a proper Mexican Coca-Cola as usual, I brought my own insulated mug that helps with the ice situation. I saw David, my favorite bartender, and Ximena one of the new owners. I soon ordered my Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, and chips as I skipped breakfast this morning. Very good guacamole today…and becoming harder to find in the USA. I enjoyed several drinks including a Bohemia Clara, and then ordered a Shrimp Quesadilla dinner plate, it was great. We had a brief rain shower that dropped the humidity too. My guayabera shirt was feeling a little tight so I purchased a new one from the DW’s favorite vendor in the Craft Area across from Woody's. A good day in San Miguel all around: a great bar, Live Music!, fast internet, a haircut, a new guayabera shirt, and seeing some old friends. I took the taxi back to Puerto Maya arriving before our 5:30 back on board time. After some relaxing cabin time, I went to dinner at the Bonsai Teppanyaki at 7:15 pm, it was a chance last minute booking. It was very good, my main entree items were a Lobster and filet Mignon combination. The appetizers, fried rice, vegetables, and dessert samples (6) were very good. Of course, the show is unique and enjoyable too (photo). IMHO it’s a better meal and value than the premium seafood and steakhouse venues. The meal and gratuity rounded up comes to $50. After dinner, I went to the Brass Magnolia to listen to my favorite jazz band from previous Mardi Gras cruises: Washboard Joe. They were excellent. I then retired to the cabin and I was soon asleep. It was a very productive day in Cozumel and on the Mardi Gras.
Day Four -- Tuesday --  September 19, 2023 -- Costa Maya, Mexico   
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. We were docked well before our 9:00 am arrival time and it's a beautiful sunny day in Roatan. I had a very lazy morning relaxing on the deck 8 recliners on the shady side of the ship facing the Mahahual lighthouse. The water is a very beautiful Caribbean blue today as the weather has been fair here of late. Very nice for guests on a beach day. I had lunch on the aft Lido deck at Big Chicken. Always good. I went to the Serenity Deck on 18 forward, lot of guests staying on board, but I got a nice table for my laptop. The pool was refreshing and the view was nice. I retired to the cabin and actually took a nap, easier in an interior. I went for dinner in Cucina del Capitano at about 7:15, I was able to make a reservation very easily. It felt odd when I walked in, other than the terrible table that tried to place me at the entry door, it finally dawned on me: No Tablecloths. The Cucina had been the last hold-out for tablecloths on Carnival and the red and white checked tables were so attractive and Italian. Alas, no more. I ordered: Arancini, Nonna’s Meatball, Minestrone Soup, Spaghetti Carbonara, and Chicken Parmesan (no dessert). It was good, but not as good as I remember. A bit dry and I asked for extra tomato sauce. After dinner, I went to the Brass Magnolia to hear two jazz sets from Washboard Joe. Also a nice Cosmopolitan as an after-dinner cocktail. I then retired. It was a very relaxing day on board the Mardi Gras. 

Day Five -- Wednesday --  September 20, 2023 -- Mahogony Bay,  Roatan Island, Honduras 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I woke at about 8:00 am and we were already docked at Mahogany Bay. The weather is beautiful but it will be hot today and I am staying on the ship. I’ve been everywhere on the island and done everything there is to do as well. The Mahogany Bay Port facilities are nice and actually perfect for the beginning cruisers, but not very interesting to me. I went up to the Blue Iguana before it closed at 10:30 a.m. for my favorite breakfast. I spent several hours in the Summer Landing area lounging and watching rugby on the big-screen Television while working on my laptop. I did a walkabout on the ship and there are a lot of guests who remain on board. Most were seniors such as myself or guests who had been to Roatan previously and used the many options on board the ship with fewer people on board. The Bolt rollercoaster was busy today. At about 4:20ish, I went to Guy’s Burgers for a standard hamburger (photo), it was good, but I could do better. They won’t customize enough to make a proper onion-fried hamburger, but I had them prepare two fresh hot meat patties & had them place the fresh shredded onions between the meats then smash it all on a single bun. The heat then does its magic, it was great. I had a good outside shaded table with a view of the beach too so this was a nice early dinner for this evening. We were late sailing away due to two missing guests, then once we were finally away the Captain made a ship-wide announcement…that’s never good. It seems we were having propulsion problems and would have to come to a complete stop. Doesn’t happen often and in just over an hour the Captain announced an all-clear…so we were off again. Nice, I want to be home on Saturday in time for a noon kickoff. Just a relaxing evening, I did go by Pixels and picked up the Diamond gift, it was a fanny pack and ship pin. I also got my $25 free-play casino chips, but didn’t use them. I had movie time in the cabin before retiring. It was another relaxing day on the Mardi Gras.

Day Six -- Thursday --  September 21st, 2022 -- Fun Day at Sea   
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I woke early and updated this blog and had some travel business on recent bookings so it was internet time this morning. I had a restful morning then went to the Diamond Luncheon at noon in the Flamingo Dining Room. This was my first luncheon since they finally introduced the new menus a few months ago. I had a nice service team and a bar waiter. I ordered the Natchitoches Meat Pies (from the Bistro menu) as my appetizers, and two entrees: the Gilled Jumbo Shrimp and the Bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon (photo). For dessert the Fresh fruit and Pineapple Sorbet. It was all very good. The CD introduced the officers and my friend Milos is now the Beverage Manager. I spoke with Washboard Joe on my way back to the cabin, I asked about the ‘chicken’ and it’s not a part of the act this year…less comedy and more Jazz. That group is perfect for the Brass Magnolia. I had a long four-hour nap this afternoon which is a tradition following a successful (cocktails) Diamond Luncheon. This evening I again was able to make a dinner reservation with only a 10-minute wait at ChiBang for 7:15 pm. I had a nice table and could watch the sunset as well. I ordered all my favorites: Egg Drop Soup, Pork Belly, Simple Greens Salad, Hakka Noodles, Beef and Broccoli, Kung Pao Chicken (spicy), and Coconut Tea Tres Leches for dessert. It was all very nice, a good day for food on the Mardi Gras. I went by the Brass Magnolia for a while then retired to the cabin to update my blog, do some business online, and watch some NFL football. The WiFi has been excellent, with great reception for the game. It was a FUN lazy sea day on the Mardi Gras.

Day Seven -- Friday --  September 22, 2023 -- Fun Day at Sea 
Smooth seas overnight and I slept well. I had online business early then made a reservation for Sea Day Brunch in the MDR at about 10:15 am. Again a very short wait until I received a table assignment, it was aft facing two-top table…perfect. I ordered my almost complementary Bloody Mary and a nice hearty breakfast. Eggs Benedict, Two fried eggs easy, Hash Browns, Pork Sausage, Pork Bacon, French Toast, and Milk. It was very good and very filling. I then finished my online project and did some debarkation planning. I had an easy afternoon doing a walkabout until the Diamond/Platinum Reunion party at 4:30 p.m. in the Theater. I got my Diet Pepsi at the door when entering and sat low to hear the solo guitarist that I had only seen in passing on deck 6 near the Fortune Teller Bar small stage. He was good. My first time seeing the Cruise Director since I haven’t gone to any shows, he too was good. As it turned out I was the high cruiser…the good thing about it was that Captain Alessandro met me as I came up the stage, we became friends years ago when he was the Captain of the Triumph. I had his Texas farewell party photo of him in his cowboy hat on my phone and he had to show it to the staff. It was nice. I don’t always go to this event, but glad that I did. I had my $25 Fun Play chips in my pocket so stopped at the casino to play roulette. I did fair, I walked away with $60 in real chips. For dinner tonight I went to the Pig & Anchor located in Summer Landing deck 8 aft. The Backyard Band had just started their first set when I was seated…great view. I enjoyed them and the female lead, she was excellent…she did Brenda Lee, Beatles, Classic rock, and more. My dinner was perhaps the best meal of the cruise. I had a half rack of St. Louis Ribs, Brisket, Pulled Park, Slaw, Onion strips, a wide variety of BBQ sauces, and Banana pie for dessert. I had taken a Pilsner Urquell I had left over from the football night bucket too. All is well. I went to the Brass Magnolia to hear one set by Washboard Joe and have a dessert cocktail New Orleans style with my Diamond voucher before retiring.  It was a great final sea day on the Mardi Gras.

Debarkation -- Saturday -- September 23rd, 2023 -- Port Canaveral, Florida 

Smooth seas overnight as we sailed along the coast of Florida and I slept fair. I was up by 5:30 a.m. and I finished my packing process. The Diamond guests meeting was at 7:15 a.m. at the Center Stage space but I went early and was glad I did as they were leaving when I arrived at about 6:45 a.m. So I never stopped leaving the cabin until I reached the shuttle bus spot at 7:00 a.m. Facial recognition really gets everyone through security quickly. I was leaving the Park-n-Cruise lot by 7:40 a.m. Home at the Villa in Meadow Oaks before 10:00 a.m. Amazing how smooth debarkation was today.



Diamond/Platinum Reunion

Good Fast Food: Big Chicken, Guy’s Burgers

Bonsai Teppanyaki

Instrumental Grooves with Washboard Joe 

Pig & Anchor BBQ

Diamond Luncheon