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