This was the 5th Annual Howell (and Duren/Sarraile) cruise of which my wife and I have been on 3. My brother Turkeyman is the coordinator and did a great job of getting the group together, including dining together, excursion scheduling, etc.
Due to the Jazz Fest in NOLA, we used some points to stay at the Crown Plaza in Baton Rouge since we were driving from Houston. The stay there was very nice, getting an upgrade to concierge level and a delicious dinner at Ruth's Chris next door. Sunday morning, drove over to Middendorf's restaurant in Manchac where we met the daughter and grand daughter who live north of NOLA. Great lunch there and then made the 45 min. drive to the dock. We arrived around 1:30 pm and boarding/parking was quick and easy since the crowds had thinned somewhat.
After dropping our carry on's in the room we made it to the Lido for drink of the day and met our friends from Alabama. For this trip, we did not tell any of the family members we were going on the cruise. I had a cell phone picture taken of my wife and I on the Lido and sent it via text to my brother saying "guess where we are?" It took him about a minute to find us and the reunion party was on. Besides my brother and spouse we had three first cousins with spouses and a friend and daughter of theirs. Total of 14 in the group.
We had early dining in the Renoir - nice table for us in the aft/port corner, upper level, giving us a nice view. Very good service from our assigned staff and we enjoyed the food - no surprises and we received what we expected. Also, my wife and I purchased the Wine package, which saved us around 30% on our dinner wine selections. One drawback from not telling our family we were cruising with them prior to boarding was that our friends from Alabama were seated away from the family table. No more surprise cruises for us.
The itinerary was changed to a "reverse" route that put us in Cozumel for our first port stop after the Monday sea day. Wife did the Spa thing on Monday, the guys started our regular sunrise "Board" meetings on the Lido where we drink coffee and tell lies for a couple of hours. My wife and I did not participate in many onboard activites since we use the cruise to de-compress from our regular lifestyle. Instead of "Eat, Pray, Love", we did "Eat, Drink, Relax". From the header, one of the pleasant surprises was the mongolian-style wok, which became our favorite lunch. Passed a pleasant Monday on the Lido getting some sun with the family and friends and had good beverage service there from G-man. Had another good dinner in the Renoir and turned in early - seems like relaxing can be exhausting sometimes, especially when alcohol is involved.
Since we had no excursion booked for Coz, we left after the crowds and made our way to Diamonds Intl. at the Puerto Maya shops. Seems like on our 6 prior visits to Coz, we somehow find our way to DI and leave with some jewelry. Our salesman, Alvaro, has sold to us before on prior trips and remembered us. After looking at a few watches, he took us to his office and then brought us two beers, two margaritas, a bottle of tequila and two shot glasses. Now that's the way to sell jewelry! Needless to say, we made a purchase. Alvaro directed us to an off-strip bar/restaurant in downtown Coz called Wet Wendy's. Great drinks and food there and appears to have a local clientele along with the tourist trade. While there, we also pick up some good cigars from Havana Bob's shop - Bob is a transplant from East TX and has a good selection of products. Back on the boat by 3:30 and watched folks stagger back on board from our balcony.
Grand Cayman is not our favorite stop since tendering is somewhat incovenient and we are not into watersports anymore. Made the obligitory stop at Buffet's, bought some rum and returned to the boat before the crowds. The rest of our group did the stingray tour and had a great time.
This was our third cruise stop at Montego Bay, so we knew what to expect. Did the bamboo raft trip down the Martha Brae river and found it just as relaxing as the first time we did this. As expected, after the raft trip we were dropped at the shops on the highway for about 30 mins. Back on the ship with a few trinkets in time to see the band perform on the dock from our balcony. Dinner that evening was "Chef's Table" ( the second pleasant surprise). What a wonderful and special four hours to spend on the ship - put this one on your bucket list.
Two sea days returning, one evening at the Steakhouse and more relaxing. Prior to the steakhouse dinner, we hosted a small reception in our suite for the group. When trying to order several bottles of wine and other stuff for this, I was told that standard procedure dictated that they could not deliver more than one bottle to us. This is completely contrary to Carnival's DNA, which calls for relieving as much $ from us as possible. After escalating this to a manager, at least four room service folks appeared quickly with our complete order, including a "free" bottle to compensate for the incovenience.
Debarkation in NOLA was efficient and trouble free - off the ship, collected the luggage, waved through Customs (Welcome home) and in the car by 08:15. Lunch at Crawfish Town in Breaux Bridge and back home by 4pm.
One final item:
- This was the first cruise by our friends from Alabama and they put down their $100 for a future cruise. I think they enjoyed it.