12/21/12 - At 05:30 I went to work as usual. Having figured out the solution to the hemorrhoid project the day before, I spent the time updating my team on the details of the plan. Once they understood what to look for, I was sure that my vacation would enable me to sit in comfort!
The first flight, from Phoenix Sky Harbor to Houston was a bit like taking a dirt road in a sedan with bad springs while over New Mexico, but otherwise uneventful. The flight from there to Orlando even less eventful.
The swelling in my right leg due to knee surgery back on November 16th, had been a bit less before the flights, but has increased a bit now. I took some Naproxen before going to sleep in the hope that it would lessen the pressure.
12/22/12 - I awoke at 05:07 and found the swelling in my right leg had subsided a bit. Susan's wakeup call came in at 06:00. After answering it, she attempted to go back to sleep. About 6:15 she remembered why she had put in the request for the wakeup call and she then called the company she had arranged our transportation to the Carnival Dream to be sure of where and when we were to meet our shuttle. If one can accept their idea of where as being within 800 yards, that turned out to be the only answer she was given correctly. The company that collected our money, never sent the email describing the pickup arrangements prior to our phone call (they did send one about 7 hours after we were dropped off at the cruise terminal in Port Canaveral) and in three phone conversations did not tell us they subcontracted with a different company that did the driving. That information was given to us on the fourth call when we tried to find out why their shuttle had not been seen at the designated pickup spot 5 minutes after we were due to leave. The fifth call directly to the subcontracted company revealed that neither of the probable pickup locations given to us would have been correct, as their spot was midway between the ones we were given. John, our driver was very polite and got us to the ship on time. He even made a quick return to us, when it was discovered that my backpack containing camera equipment and my passport was still in his van. Our future departures from Port Canaveral will be made using his company directly.
Carnival Dream - Is a big ship with nice lines. The interior public spaces are equally impressive and inviting. There is festive atmosphere on board (lively but not solely Christmas oriented). I found myself revitalized before we even saw our cabin. When we finally got to our cabin on the Riviera deck (or Riviero as pronounced by the voice in the ship's elevators), I was surprised to find that we not only had the customary shower sink and toilet, we also had a separate bathtub with a shower and a sink. I could have known about this beforehand had I taken time to review the cabin layout, but who really does such a thing when their wife books the cruise? Either way, the bar is set much higher for future cruise expectations!
The Dream offered an internet package that differed from most of the ones our other cruises have had. For $29.99 one could buy a daily plan with unlimited "high speed" wireless internet access from any devices you had (one at a time). For $99.99 you could do the same thing for the entire cruise. What a smoking deal. The sad reality, their capacity for internet at any speed is woefully lacking. It was rare to be able to log on at any time, and was slow enough to have most pages time out if one did manage to get on the system. This caused many people to miss out on checking in to their return flights near the end of the cruise and made me glad I had paid an extra $10 for early bird check in when I bought my flight. The only way to handle the amount of traffic created by the use of "smart" devices is to create capacity for each potential device. A ship the size of the Dream needs to be able to handle at least 5,000 devices in order to not be bogged down.
After a fantastic supper that included Gazpacho Andalusia, Brisket done to perfection and melting chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. I did too much walking and standing, as now my right leg is more swollen than it had been on the 21st. Time for more Naproxen.
12/23/12 - We ate breakfast at the Punchliner Comedy Breakfast. This was the first time on a cruise I did not have to season my breakfast in order to enjoy its taste. My burrito was tasty and so were the salsas that came with it! The sea day was spent exploring the ship and hitting the gym to attempt to keep my knee rehab on schedule. I was a bit disappointed in finding out they did not have any ice packs in the spa or gym, which I would need if I were to do a proper work out for my knee. I did the exercises I needed to do, and did the best I could to chill my knee down using wet wash cloths I placed in the freezer section of the mini bar in my room along with ice the cabin steward provided. It was not sufficient to reduce the swelling significantly. Guess I will be using Naproxen the rest of the cruise!
Formal night photo and food fun on Carnival Dream was enjoyable, but had the Strawberry Bisque not been fantastic, the Prime Rib was sliced in a manner that suggests their goal was conservation of cattle. Had I figured out a way to enjoy barbecued ribs, a delicious but messy finger food, while wearing a suit and tie, I would have ordered that instead, as the portion for that was much closer to my ideal.
Carnival seems to know that in order to run a good comedy club, you have to have the right host. Jeff, the fun dude, is clearly the right host! Both comedians were very entertaining. I chose the late shows for adults only, mostly because PG material is easily seen on television and television puts me to sleep. My sides were a bit sore from laughing by the end of the evening.
12/24/12 - We docked in Cozumel about 9:45. There was the usual mad rush to get off the ship, but it went far easier than expected. Perhaps that was because our room was only 1 level up from the ramps, or we just timed it right!
Unfortunately, Dolphin Discovery at Chankanaab National Park was a huge disappointment. They only allow their own photographers to shoot from within an area with the best perspective. They then attempt to sell their images at a highly inflated rate due to the scarcity they created. If you want to go strictly for the experience of swimming in waters filled with dolphin shit, be my guest. If the images they have on display are an indication, they have a tendency to shoot with a formula that ensures that only the dolphin will look its' best. Half open or completely shut eyes are seen in most of their images. This photographer does not think the positive outweighs the negatives,
Somebody missed their chance to sell Mayan Calendar themed T-shirts reading "I survived the Mayan Apocalypse"!
By the time we left the park, my right knee had gotten too swollen to permit painless movement. I went back to the cabin and used the tub to relax the muscles, rejuvenate my spirit and get ready for supper. Two out of three ain't bad, Naproxen helped with third. I rested for the remainder of the evening.
We ate supper in the Crimson Dining Room the food was good, but not memorable. The entertainment by the wait staff was better. Then again, this is a "Fun Ship"!
12/25/12 - I left my room around 04:30 along with my stowaways. As soon as other passengers started stirring, they stealthily made their way back to the cabin. They enjoyed almost 2 hours of freedom. The few workers that saw them were amused and smiled even more than usual. I like giving the crew something out of the ordinary to talk about.
After breakfast in the Crimson dining room, we prepared to go onshore in Belize. We booked a Cave Tubing Tour through Cave Tubing Belize with Veronica Cattouse. Regardless of who you book a cave tubing tour through, you will be going to the same cave. The important factors here are will you have a small enough group to maneuver around obstacles without missing the sights and ensure the safety of all. To this end, you should have no more than 12 people on the tour which will necessitate the use of 2 guides. Veronica's husband, Rick, was our second guide. Our group had 9 adults and 3 children, with 1 of the adults being our guide's son. The tour was educational, interesting and fun. There is a fair amount of walking up and down hills, over unpaved rocky terrain, and carrying your tubing equipment, (not advisable for the average person one month out from knee surgery, I am not average) but the trip is well worth the effort. Rick and Veronica are excellent guides.
Having worked up a fierce appetite from the day's activities, I made the mistake of trying to eat just enough at the buffet to hold me over until supper. The reason it was a mistake, I found myself too full to enjoy the Christmas dinner. I will try to not do that again.
12/26/12 - Mahogany Bay, Roatan is a place where one cannot go wrong booking a tour with Victor Boden. We booked early enough to get Sam, who by his own claim is the best guide on Roatan. We soon discovered that there may be more truth to his claim than mere boasting. We saw everything we planned on seeing and had loads of fun via Sam's wit, charm, and informative banter. As my wife and I prefer to have a day planned around photographically interesting things, we more than got our money's worth from the tour we planned ourselves.
The Iguana Farm we visited had a large number of them, none of them caged. The Botanical Garden was a bit disappointing to us, mostly because we were there at the wrong time of year to see it at its best, and partly because my knee was not in good enough shape to climb up and down the hill to see other things. Monkey Jungle, here was a place where we got to interact with monkeys and birds. Being in the cage with them is better than watching through the bars. Our last stop was at a butterfly garden. Although we were there at the wrong time of the year to see many butterflies, we were able to see and enjoy this place. We shot many images and drained the camera batteries and ourselves. We were quite tired and very happy by the time we made it back to the ship. Maybe Sam under estimates himself!
The problem with anytime dining is the food is rarely served at its optimal time. Assigned dining times ensure the food can be at its best. Locking in the time gives one better food, at the expense of freedom to eat a good meal without running the risk of dropping it on the floor or another cruiser. Carnival's food, although not served to me at its best time, is fairly tasty and in good portion sizes for most items (the one exception on this trip being the Prime Rib). One way I get around that issue is to try their cold soups. The other reason I get the cold soups is that there is no way I am likely to make them at home. A good cold soup makes the rest of the meal I get more palatable. I highly recommend the peach soup. The entertainment provided by the wait staff makes the food much more enjoyable. Besides, humor helps you digest food better! Keep in mind that the biggest differences between a 5 star restaurant and a 3 star one are location, price and atmosphere. I really enjoy the atmosphere here on Carnival Dream!
12/27/12 - The stowaway's and I took another early morning stroll. They do not get to enjoy the upper deck very often as they dislike windy environments, but they had a great time. I must remember to get some gaffer's tape before my next trip!
Costa Maya, made up for the brief stop by offering the opportunity Cozumel did not. We finally got to photograph dolphins to our satisfaction. Not because of any changes in the attitude of the people running the dolphin pen, but by the proximity of the place we could observe the dolphins. As we had not made any other plans for this stop and got off the ship too late to go outside of the cruise ship village, we lucked out and were able to get out of the rain in short order.
I found the science trivia challenge to be fun. For being a team of one (I got there late), I didn't do bad by missing one answer. The winning team had 5 players on it and got all of the answers correct. There was no way I could have effectively played the next trivia challenge as it dealt with music from the late 90's to 2010. My musical taste is a bit older than that.
None of the Mayan heritage ports we visited had taken the opportunity to create a T-shirt tribute to their calendar. I hope that was because they wanted the world to know they were smarter than the idiots that misinterpreted their calendar. Most of the trinkets sold in the tourist trap shops were made in China and the few locally made ones were much more costly, just like every other cruise port I have been in.
Strawberry Bisque could be a dessert! The evening meal's pork chop was tasty, but a bit tougher than one would expect. As usual, the entertainment provided by the wait staff made the meal a good experience.
The late evening's Mexican Buffet was a disappointment. No soft tacos, no sopapillas, no carnitas and the same 3 salsa's that always were served (none of which are more than mild).
12/28/12 - Another sea day, and the last full day of our cruise. It started off with packing up the big suitcase with the dirty laundry followed by a layer of bags from our purchases (not the actual purchases). The bags provided separation between the dirty clothes and the clean but unused clothes. The heavier carryon bags would be packed after breakfast. Breakfast was once again eaten in the Punchliner. This time I had their steak and eggs. I should have asked for salsa, but that is only because I prefer spicier food than most. I still had a bit of my own blend with me, which made the meal to my taste. I gave the majority of my own blend of chiles to the staff members on the ship that both made my cruise enjoyable and would appreciated them (for some it is a taste from their home they rarely get to enjoy). I kept just enough for my supper.
We spent a good portion of the day enjoying the amenities the ship offers on the serenity deck. This is an oasis free of children. A Christmas sailing can often have a third of the passengers under the age of 18, which can be annoying. This cruise had about that percentage, but by avoiding the areas the children are, which is actually easier to do than one might think, you can go most of the cruise without realizing how many are there.
While wandering around the Promenade Deck, I stumbled in to another trivia game that was just had just commenced (I heard the first question, grabbed a game card and sat down). This game was asking truth or myth questions. It went on for 30 questions and 6 bonus questions that had a combined total of 40 points. I was a bit dismayed to find out I had gotten 32 points, but I ended up winning. The prize was as they called it, a ship on a stick. It looks a bit tacky, but it's a lot better than the pewter medals some people won for other games and is now part of my home office decor.
By supper time, I was starving. I had resisted eating buffet meals all day as I wanted to see what the last good meal was going to be. That was a good decision. I had the mango soup and finally got a decent serving of prime rib. This one more than made up for the earlier one.
The nights comedians were great once again. I like the idea of having different comedians. On other cruises I have taken, the jokes got stale by the third time you walked past the lounge the comedian was playing.
12/29/12 - I watched as we passed Disney Fantasy on our way to our berth. It garish lighting and the fact they probably had twice as many children on board made me glad I wasn't on her.
After the ship docked, we went up to the Lido Buffet for our last meal on board. It's always a confusing feeling at the end of a cruise. You are sad to be leaving the ship, glad to be going home and you can't be sure if the crew members are smiling because they are glad to be rid of you or if they were given Botox injections making it impossible to do anything else. The Dream is a wonderful ship with a great crew and it is a pleasure to cruise on her.
We opted for having our big luggage get sent directly to our airline. That enabled us to leave the ship at any time we chose. Had we not done that, based upon the tags we were given, we would be on the ship until the last number called. We opted to leave near the middle of the numbers in order to see if we could get a better flight home.
We were able to change our flight, but our luggage did not make our flight. It also didn't arrive on the originally scheduled flight. Instead, it got the chance to stay there until Sunday morning. We picked it up ourselves, and got a reduction voucher for a future flight! What a vacation!