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This ain't your Mama's Bahamas
The scene: 5 Day Bahama adventure on the Carnival Ecstasy, August 2012.
The players: 4 adults, experienced cruisers, prolific adventurers.
We flew in (from Arizona) the day before our cruise, so as not to tempt fate of "missing the boat" because of airline incidences. We stayed at the Four Points Sheraton in Cocoa Beach----ugh. We stayed here because we have points with Starwoods and got the room for free----note to others.....NOT worth it. Although the room was clean, there was little else that could even be mentioned as a positive...and if you are SPG people, this hotel is well below standards.
Pleasantries: The attached restaurant, (Shark Pit Lounge) had a pretty decent burger and some nice local beers. There is an attached surf shop, a Walgreens, CVS, and Winn-Dixie within walking distance in case you forgot something. The hotel will provide a shuttle to the ship dock for $6 per person or $10 round-trip.
Shuttle from hotel to dock....easy peasy. We arrived at 11am. Dropped our luggage off for the staff to take on board and were guided to the appropriate "lines". Now, I will have to tell you, we had a suite so we did have VIP boarding, which is WONDERFUL. However, we were aware and made a point to pay attention to what others were experiencing. (Before this cruise, we have always done the regular check-in). The Carnival staff was well versed, pleasant, and was even playing trivia with guests, which if answered correctly, would get you on the ship earlier. I think that Carnival does make every effort to make this as painless as possible....It might be the other "patrons" that can make this an unpleasant exercise for you.....so put on your happy hat and know that the ship isn't leaving without you, and a nice cold DOD is waiting for you on board. :)
Pleasantries: They feed you right away, bring you DODs, and encourage you to start your vacation. Your room will be ready around 1:30ish---we did venture "quietly" down to ours around 1p---note the word quietly. ;)
~~Day 2--Day at Sea:
Serenity Deck: this deck was an afterthought. It is super small, no pool, no clam-shell loungers, no air movement, and no music.
Pleasantries: 2 (warm water) whirlpools, a cold water shower, no kids and 5 umbrellas--better get there early if you want one of those.
Lido deck: has the pool and lots of lounge chairs....keep in mind, if you are not there by 7:30am, you are probably NOT going to get a lounge chair on a sea day...and people do get aggressive and possessive over the lounge chairs---so on a sea day, your happy hat needs to be on. The pool is small and mostly standing room only on a hot day, but because of the close proximity to one another....you can make friends easier. ;)
Overall food on the ship: Well....lets just say there have been budget cuts on Carnival. The menus are limited and the quality has gone down hill. If you want hot food, your better bet is to serve yourself on the Lido, in the main dining room (MDR) the food was tepid and covered with a steam lid....which made everything soggy. :/ ugh. They really don't know how to cook beef. In most cases it was over cooked and they didn't know what Medium Rare was....they also didn't know how to make an over-medium egg....sheesh There was a sushi bar that was open 3 of the 5 nights----good stuff!!!!!!! Bad coffee, bad pizza.
Formal night: Its what you make it. We dressed up, but there were plenty who came in flannels and torn jean shorts because "they forgot" to pack their suit....I would like Carnival to enforce the dress code in the MDR on formal night....There is always the Lido deck for those who don't want to dress.
Overall Service: I'm pretty sure that we had a training crew. This is a smaller and very much older ship, so we don't think we got the top of the line crew. They didn't seem to know the answers (guest services, shore excursions). Sometimes you would get 3 different answers to the same question. Room staff was fine, not exceptional. MDR staff was a little less than expected.
Shows: We watched the comedians and some of the game shows....pretty funny stuff. Brent was our cruise director but we thought he was mostly lame and invisible....Wee Jimmy from the Legend was much better!!!
In general: On a scale of 1-5 we would give it a 4.0 We made our own fun. We brought champagne and coke on board (by Carnival's rules) and had Tequila delivered to the room through the Bon Voyage department. For the price, it was a pretty great time!! On a 5-dayer though....there will be LOTS of kidlets. Camp Carnival keeps them pretty busy during the day.....but at night, they got a little wild---the parents, at least the ones we had on board, were not to be found. It was a little hot and humid....maybe taking it more towards the winter months might be a better idea.
Affordable fun, in a manageable time frame. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
Day 5: Freeport
You will port in an industrial area. There really is no shopping to speak of, other than the Carnival sanctioned vendors....so plan to book something away from port!!!! We booked the Carnival sanctioned tour: The city and BREWERY tour ($40 per person). We weren't quite sure as this one didn't have many reviews. We were taken by bus (driver Bryce) on a short tour of the island, went to a local shopping market (mostly everything was closed), and then to the brewery. Some reviews will complain that the vendors weren't open, but lets keep in mind, the economy. We have been hit hard, so they have been hit hard. There were many businesses on the island that have been forced to close, just as we have experienced in Arizona and beyond. It is not anyone's fault, it is simply a sign of the times....no one was closed to ruin your cruise experience. (getting off my soap box now)....There is a little candy shop, that has pretty typical candy...but if you look behind the counter, they have these wonderful pockets of yumminess. They were pattys...which resembled pasties. We had the pizza flavored, and the beef, another couple had the chicken....the beef was the favorite. Pretty soon....the whole bus was getting them. The lovely lady behind the counter was so excited for us to try them, she even let me sample some tamarind sauce that they had just made....ooo tasty!! Back to the bus, we were dropped off at another vendor location that had fruits, crafts, and shells. I bought some more sugar apples and shared them with some tour mates....fun for all. The vendors were super nice....there is an intriguing shaman who makes medicinal herbal tonics if you are willing to try one. Neat stories, neat people. Off to the brewery, short tour....really hot and humid inside....but all the beer you can drink til the tour is over, in an air conditioned location. :) We got to sample 5 beers plus a non alcoholic malt beer (maltz beer---German sweet beer), you picked the one you liked, or a few, and drank until it was time to leave....A great time all around. The other tourists were great and we made some new friends, the tour was nice, the beer was good and cold. Back to the pier, we ate a one of the small shacks next to the ship...we had conch salad, cracked lobster, and garlic conch.....OMG....super, super delicious and fresh. Back to the ship, it rained as we sailed away. Great ending to a pretty perfect day.
~~Day 3--Half Moon Cay: Carnival's private island
RENT THE CABANA. If you are planning on spending the day, I cannot recommend more highly than renting the cabana. We had #12 which is a little further down, just past the restrooms. Here is what you get--2 cushioned loungers, 2 cushioned chairs, a table for 4, an air conditioner, a misting fan, 4 floats, towels, chips & salsa, fruit, sodas, water, ice and shade. everyone gets a bbq style lunch with burgers, dogs, jerk chicken, fruit, lemonade, tea,and desert. Walking from our cabana to lunch was a little ways away....but worth it to not be in the middle of chaos.
The food was just okay....my favorite---the spice cake and the brownie.
*note: we were the only ship in port, so it wasn't overwhelmingly crowded.
Unpleasantries: The very LONG line without shade, to get the tender boat back to the ship. It was overpoweringly hot, and being from a state (Arizona) where we spend a good majority of our time above 110, that's saying something. On the return, the staff seemed disorganized as we waited on the tender for 20 minutes before we could get back to the ship. Lots of people were showing signs of heat distress at this point. We left at 2:00, the last tender was at 3p....I can't imagine what those folks had to endure.
Pleasantries: If you walk past all of the cabanas ALL the way to the other side of the CAY (by the rocks)...we snorkeled here with no one around....keep in mind that this is probably NOT a Carnival sanctioned area, it is about 3/4 of a mile down the beach....but if you like adventure, curly tailed lizards, sponge coral, and yellow damsel fish with no people, then this is the place to go.
~~Day 4: Nassau--a cultural look.
Let the adventure begin. You do not have to tender here....bonus! We did not book a sanctioned Carnival excursion. We started our adventure by walking to the Queen's Staircase. Yes, you can book a cab right off the pier, but we thought walking would be more fun and you get to see what YOU want to see. Whew, and what a walk it was. The walk was lovely, but the areas that you go through aren't as "pretty" as maybe what the taxis/cabs might show you...but we never felt unsafe, it gave us an authentic Bahamian feel. The Queen's staircase was really beautiful, we then up the 65 steps to the fort and water tower. It was an excellent adventure. We walked back down to Bay street and picked up a public bus for $1.25 and took it to the fish market under the bridge (the one that leads to Paradise Island).
*note, this part is probably not for the faint of heart. The bus for $1.25 is pretty run down, and you will probably be the only tourists on it, but...if you want to see the "real Nassau", then its a blast. The fish market under the bridge is....Pewee, stinky and dirty. But the people are real, honest, and hard working. We purchased some local fruit: a sugar apple, which was super yummy and some Genip(Spanish Lime)that was okay in flavor, but had the wonderful attribute of turning your tongue numb---not a favorite of my friend---I thought it was amusing and it made me giggle. :)
After the fish market, we asked a bus driver if he went to the straw market, he said yes. Well....he did go to the straw market, but he went all the way around the island first. If you are going to do this....you MUST have ample time as this bus ride took us around 45 minutes to an hour. But we got to see the Nassau, that most tourists don't. We learned a lot, it was relaxing and fun, but NOT touristy. It wasn't pretty, clean or manicured, it was "Nassau, behind the scenes" adventure tour....and guess what...it was $1.25 each. Once we were close to port, the bus driver dropped us at the straw market. zzzzz If you want a bunch of made in China, or Taiwan stuff....then this is the place. Can't say I wasn't disappointed as I am an avid lover/purchaser of authentic art and craft. I however, did not find any here. The vendors purchased the straw items in bulk (probably China)and then embroidered gaudy things on them....I will give them credit that they did the embroidering, but we did not find any vendor, who did the straw work. The vendors were aggressive in their selling practices, but given the close proximity to the next vendor and the state of their economy... they have to be. No harm, no foul....just be prepared to be approached.
A JAMMIN' AWESOME LUNCH: We ate at Skans(Skanz), just a stroll down between the straw market and the ship. Wow, better than the food on the ship. We had conch chowder, Bahamian bean stew (everyone's favorite at the table), shrimp sandwich, and curry chicken......all of them were fabulous and home cooked. We drank a local beer, Sands...which was like a medium bodied pilsner, iced tea (clean and refreshing). I would highly recommend eating here!!!!
Favorite sign: Protect ya Tings.........wear a rubber every time.