I had planned to get a cruise report written right after we returned but got too busy with school related stuff (I am a high school math teacher.) Hopefully this will still be beneficial to someone.
Our family cruised on the Victory (western route) from August 14th to August 21st. DH and I had done two cruises on the wonderful smoke-free Paradise prior to this cruise...both on the western route. The family consists of myself and hubby...both within weeks of turning 50 (yikes!); oldest son (24) and wife (21); middle son (21) and youngest son (17). Also traveling with us was my sister from St. Louis (40+).
August 12th we drove the 3 ½ hours to Minneapolis where we met up with oldest son and wife. Night was spent at the Microtel Inn & Suites in Eagan that offered a park 'n fly package. Saturday morning we took the hotel shuttle to MSP for our non-stop flight on Northwest Airlines to Miami. My sister actually flew "up" from St. Louis and then flew "down" to Miami with us. This sounds weird, but was one of the cheapest options for her and kept her from having to travel alone. After waiting in very long lines in the airport, we met up with her at the gate. A special touch to the morning...the high school exchange student from Brazil who youngest son had been dating all summer was also at the airport. Her flight from the previous night had been cancelled and son got to see her one more time before she took off to South America!
After arriving in Miami, we took two cabs to the Holiday Inn Port of Miami. Since there were 7 of us, we took one car taxi and one van taxi...with all of our luggage it was still a tight fit. Cost for each cab was around $21 before tip. I had booked the "Sail Away Package" at the HI that was to include free breakfast and a choice of a sightseeing cruise on Biscayne Bay or drinks at Bayside Marketplace for two people per room. The cost of the package was $99/room. The website said that additional people were $15 each, but after making several calls ahead of time, I was assured that the $99 room cost was for up to 4 people.
When we checked in we were given the coupons good for the options mentioned above...but only two per room. I inquired about purchasing additional coupons for $15 per person, but the people working the desk were clueless. Eventually they called out a supervisor (who also knew nothing.) I had printed out the hotel web page that mentioned that additional people were $15 so she said they would honor it. The cruise alone would have cost $13 (with a discount coupon I had printed from the internet) so I figured $15 for the cruise AND breakfast wasn't too bad. She printed out the extra 3 coupons that we needed and said she would put the $45 charge on my credit card. (Only the room charges have showed up on my credit card so guess we got the extra coupons for free!) Had I booked the room without the Sail Away Package, it would have cost over $100 so it turned out to be a good deal.
Our rooms were side by side on the 7th floor overlooking the Port of Miami with a great view of the cruise ships docked there. The four "kids" were in one room and DH, sister and I in the other. The Holiday Inn is directly across the street from Bayside Marketplace...an outdoor shopping complex with various shops and restaurants. Dark clouds were forming so we decided to first have some dinner and then check about the cruise on the Island Queen later on. There is a food court on the upper level at Bayside that has many, many different ethnic food offerings. After wandering around the whole food court (and getting many samples along the way) we all chose different types of food and sat on the outdoor patio to eat. By the time we shopped our way back to where the Island Queen boat was docked, it was nearly 8:00.
It never did rain, and in hindsight we would have been much better off taking an earlier cruise. Apparently the evening cruises are booked more as "party cruises" and the music was blaring so loud that we all came home with headaches! The music was turned off temporarily while we cruised past the million dollar homes and the guide told us all about who lived where. Unfortunately by then it was so dark that we couldn't really see any of the homes. (Oldest son said the cruise made him feel like a stalker...)
Back at the hotel we could hear (plain and clear) an outdoor rap concert that was going on across the street in a grassy area by Bayside. The kids decided to go over and check it out while the old folks went to bed. They didn't pay to get "inside" to see the concert but said it was Jay Z and Kanye West. An advantage to staying at the HI is the closeness to Bayside, but that's also a disadvantage. The rap music and huge amount of traffic following the concert made it really hard to get to sleep. Also during the night I was woke up by the people in the next room who obviously had a little too much to drink. Finally at 4:30 a.m. I called the desk to complain and eventually someone came to quiet them down.
Sunday, August 14
The seven of us went to the hotel restaurant Sunday morning with our "free" breakfast coupons in hand. I showed them to the hostess at the door and we were seated at two tables...five of us at one table and son & wife at another. We helped ourselves to the buffet...a nice selection, but nothing outstanding. After eating a waitress came by and presented me with a bill for around $65 for our table of five. I showed her the breakfast coupons we had and she told me that we were only supposed to have gotten a "continental" breakfast. I explained that I had shown the coupons to the hostess and nothing was said...and that the coupons were printed with "continental breakfast buffet". She came back a short while later and said everything was taken care of...no charge for breakfast. Like I said...the food was OK, but not worth $13 per person in my book!
There were several cabs out front when we left the hotel around 10:30 or so, but no vans. One of the drivers insisted that we could fit in his car and we did but it was VERY tight AND we had to hold some of our luggage that wouldn't fit in the trunk. Luckily it isn't a very long trip to the port. There is a lot of construction going on around the port and we entered the area differently than we did last summer. The cost of our cab was about $10. My sister, oldest son & wife were in the other cab and said their driver never turned on the meter and insisted the fare was $15...they didn't know better so they paid it. A porter was waiting to take our bags and immediately started giving us the speech about how he would be the one taking care of the luggage till we saw it again on the ship (which really isn't true) and we should be giving him a tip. It irritates me to be "asked" for a tip but I gave him about a $1 per bag...he looked at the money and acted like I should have given more.
Right inside the door of the terminal, we entered one of several short lines to check in. My sister took care of getting her shipboard charges put on her own credit card at that time (she was to share a room with DH and I.) After getting checked in, we went through the security check and entered the larger room that was set up with several roped off winding queues leading up to the main check-in desks ( this is where we checked in for our previous cruises.) The first section was full so we were directed to the front of the next set of lines. Youngest son got scolded for trying to duck under the ropes instead of weaving in and out all the way through. It was around 11 a.m. at that time. No one was working at these desks and people were just left standing with no explanation why. Off to the left of where we stood was a window that looked through to an escalator. There was a slow but steady stream of people coming down from the upper level the entire time we were there. Turns out they were passengers from the previous week still disembarking. Eventually a few Carnival employees started showing up but they just wandered about visiting with each other...no announcements were made explaining why we were all just standing there. One of the employees was standing near us (since we were in the front) and I asked her what was causing the hold up. She said that customs officials had not cleared the ship so no one was allowed to go upstairs to the main waiting room. As we were waiting, I turned around to see someone waving at me...it was Eric who I had met on the Roll Call board! We had exchanged pictures via email and he had recognized our family. We saw each other off and on throughout the week, but never did really find time to sit down and talk. Still it was sort of fun to meet someone I had corresponded with!
I think it was around 12:30 or a little later that they finally began letting people go past the main desks and go upstairs. The huge waiting room full of chairs was empty while we were left to stand for almost 2 hours! The line snaked through another long set of winding queues and eventually we got our pictures taken for the Sail & Sign cards and then we boarded the ship shortly after 1:00. I wanted to drop off our carry on bags before going to lunch, but the hallway to our cabin was blocked off so we headed up to the Lido deck and got something to eat.
After lunch we went to check out our cabins. I had booked two inside guarantee cabins for the kids and an ocean view cabin for DH, sister and I. A couple of months prior to the cruise I pretended to purchase gifts through Carnival.com and found our cabins had been assigned. The kids were upgraded to inside cabins on the Upper deck (6299 & 6303). The cabins were located between two other sets of inside cabins along a third hallway through the deck. Looking at the deck layout online, I realized that these cabins were more square-shaped than the normal cabins. I was worried that they might be smaller but actually the opposite was true. The layout was different from most cabins in that the closets were not right by the door, but on the side wall by the beds. The desk area was at the foot of the bed. The actual square footage may not have been different, but the room just felt bigger.
I had originally booked the ocean view cabin for the three of us since it is 220 square feet compared to an inside which is 185 square feet. Besides being larger, many of the ocean view cabins have convertible couches which we preferred over having an upper bunk. My guess is that once Carnival put the kids on the Upper deck, then they upgraded us to that deck as well. The bad news was that we were put into a cabin that was not designed to be a triple...the good news was that we had a balcony! Our cabin (6371) was just a short distance from the kids which was handy when coordinating plans throughout the week.
I had requested the 6:15 dinner time which we had found to be convenient on our past cruises...instead we were assigned to eat at 5:45. I was ready to go talk to the maitre'd to request a change but decided to first check out the location of our table in the Pacific Dining Room. Turns out we had a round table in the corner at the rear of the ship surrounded by floor to ceiling windows...to me this was ideal so I didn't even attempt to change. Had we been given the 6:15 time, we would have eaten in the Atlantic Dining room which I didn't think was as pretty...nor did it have the views that we did.
The kids had taken off on their own and my sister had gone back to the cabin so DH and I went to the spa tour...something we had never done on previous cruises. They had several passengers serving as "models" for the various services that were offered...not sure I would want that job though. Most were gooped up with all sorts of stuff and just left to lay on a table while people paraded through gawking at them. The tour did give DH a chance to check out the gym and shower area which he used throughout the week.
We had left the kids with instructions to make sure they showed up at the muster drill on time. When the alarm sounded, I didn't see them, but they assured me later that they had been there. They had tried to take a nap, but the "rude alarms" kept waking them up. The drill was hot and awful as usual, but we survived. The kids said there was a toddler near them. He was fussing cause the life jacket had his head all scrunched up and about then someone bumped into him and knocked him flat. They had to endure his screams for the rest of the drill (can you blame him though?)
I finally caught up to the kids after the drill and told them I had a "secret" place for us to go for the sail away. We all walked to the front of the ship on our deck (Deck 6) and we went out an unmarked door that led to an open deck at the very front. No one else was there...it was like being on our own private cruise ship as we sailed out of Miami!
By dinner time the kids had received all of their luggage and we didn't have any yet! I had packed an outfit in my carry-on bag, but DH went to dinner in his shorts. The two younger sons were late for dinner cause they got lost on the ship...they had wandered around for over a half an hour trying to find the dining room! It was very confusing because you couldn't go from front to back on decks 3 or 4 and they couldn't figure out how to get to the dining room! Eventually they learned to go all the way to the rear of the ship and take the elevators down to deck 3...but not before they were late several other nights.
Our waiters for the week were Babelito from the Philippines and Barbara from Hungary...both were excellent. All three boys are big eaters (especially youngest who is actually the "biggest") but Babelito never even flinched when they ordered several different entrees each night. The kids called him "Fun Bobby". We got a kick out of another waiter at a table next to ours. He was always singing happy birthday to someone, but would do it at the top of his lungs and out of tune. Barbara said he did it because he was old and wanted attention!
After dinner we went back to our cabin to finally find our luggage...and see a beautiful sunset. We have never had a balcony cabin before and now I realize what we had been missing!
Oldest son insisted we check out the liquor tasting in the shops that night. He ended up buying several bottles for himself and for friends. Same son loves to perform so we all headed to the Adriatic Lounge for karaoke. All three boys and DH ended up taking their turns at the mike...how funny! I appreciated the fact that the lounge was smoke free. The "Welcome Aboard show was held at 10:30 and we left in time to see that.
Earlier in the evening we had met our room steward, Maila who seemed surprised that we had three people in our cabin. She said she could bring in a cot or since sister is fairly short she could try sleeping on the couch (which was really more the size of a love seat). When we got back to the cabin, Maila had the arms of the couch removed and it was made up with sheets and a blanket. Sister tried sleeping on it, but even though she is only 5 feet tall...it was still too short.
Although the sleeping arrangement was less than perfect, there was enough storage in the cabin for the three of us...lots of drawers and two closets. The luggage fit under the bed. Having the balcony also gave us a little separate space when we started to feel too much togetherness! Monday - Day at Sea
The kids never made it up for breakfast, but the rest of us went to the Lido deck which was very crowded. I didn't even attempt to get the hot food and just grabbed some Danish and yogurt which didn't have a line. One complaint (besides the long lines) I had with the breakfast buffet was that they put the butter on the line with the hot food. In order to get some for a croissant you had to reach across someone waiting in line to get it.
Not sure what all we did that day, but do know DH ran about a 5K on the outside running track. We did make it down the slide (a goal for me since I had never made it on a slide on previous cruises) and lounged around. DH and kids played some shuffleboard and I managed to get to the laundry room to iron their dress shirts...handy because it was located very close to our cabin on the Upper Deck.
I was surprised, but the kids decided they would like to have lunch in the dining room rather than on the Lido deck. It meant changing out of their swimsuits, but it was nice being away from the crowds and long lines. Lunch time was open seating in the Pacific dining room but we were lead back to the same area where our regular table was located. We had lunch and breakfast in the dining room several times throughout the week and each time we were seated in this same place. Since we had 7 people seated at a table for 8, the waiters would always seat a single person with us. It was nice to meet the people, but also awkward at the same time since our family was involved in our own discussions. We tried our best to make conversation with whoever was with us, but it just felt weird.
Later in the afternoon I couldn't interest anyone else in attending "tea time" so went by myself and thoroughly enjoyed it. The event was held in the Ionian Lounge which by night was the cigar bar (no smell that I could detect however.) A string trio was playing and I was served tiny sandwiches and small desserts. A waiter came by with a wooden box filled with different kinds of tea bags and then brought me a pot of hot water. There were only about a dozen people attending. The atmosphere was somewhat spoiled for me because people were walking through the lounge to reach the Internet stations...many wearing just a bathing suit. It just didn't seem right to listen to the classical music while sipping my tea and see some guy with a beer belly walk by in his swim trunks.
I worried that my kids would balk at getting dressed for formal night, but at the end of the week youngest son said it was one of his favorite things! The two older boys both had suits, but youngest wore the tux that we bought off Ebay for his prom in the spring. (I knew he could use it on the cruise so it made sense to buy instead of rent...the tux looked great by the way!) The Captains party was held in the Adriatic Lounge and cruise director Steve Knisley was there in his kilt welcoming us. The free drinks were appreciated as we enjoyed the jazz trio that performed. Following dinner we attended the first of the production shows called "Livin' in America"...good show and even the kids enjoyed it. After that it was back to the cabin for the "old folks" to prepare for the next day's tours...I'm sure the kids were out and about the ship till much later....
After attempting to use the love seat the first night, sister decided it just wasn't going to work. Instead, Maila, the room steward, brought in a roll away bed. Comfort-wise it wasn't too bad, but it did cause the room to be very crowded. When it was made out at night our room had literally no floor space left. The beds were pushed all the way up against the window, then the cot, then the couch, then the wall. There was about a 6" space between my bed and sister's cot that we could squeeze out at night if one had to use the bathroom. There was a small convertible-height table in the room that at night had to be put up on the couch to make room for the cot.
During the day the cot was folded up, but still left in the room so that it was in the way. It blocked one end of the small couch so that it could only be used by one person. After a couple of nights, we left a note for the steward to leave the bed folded up even when she made up the room in the evening...we would unfold it ourselves just before going to bed. Otherwise trying to be in the room after dinner just didn't work for 3 people. I was thrilled to be upgraded to the balcony room for the price of an ocean view guarantee so I couldn't complain too much. In the future however I think I would probably make sure I had a room that was designed to be a triple and not take a chance.
Tuesday - Cozumel
This port was one factor that helped sway my decision to book the Victory over the Conquest as we had originally planned. Both ships stop in Cozumel, but the Victory is there from 7 a.m. till midnight…the Conquest leaves much earlier…around 6 p.m. I think. (Also the fact that the Victory alternates sea and port days where the Conquest has all three ports back to back made this itinerary better in my opinion.)
The original plan was for DH and oldest son to scuba dive and I had booked the Cozumel Beach Break with Island Marketing for the rest of our group. The Beach Break excursion was to be a day at Nachi Cocom Beach with an open bar and Mexican buffet for $32/person. It also included the use of any water "toys" for one hour. From the pictures it looked like a wonderful place…the beach seemed nice AND there was a Jacuzzi and fresh water pool with a swim up bar. I had contacted Chellie at Eagle Ray (whom the guys were going to dive with) and we had it arranged so that they would be dropped off at Nachi Cocom once they had completed their dives so they could join the rest of us at the beach. Ah….a perfect day in Cozumel…at least until Hurricane Emily paid the island a visit in mid July. The restaurant at Nachi Cocom sustained structural damage and the beach was shut down (re-opening date is set for September 22.) Island Marketing was very good about keeping us informed of what was going on and when we ultimately decided to not book any other excursion they were prompt in refunding our deposit. We had booked two tours through this company on our cruise last summer and I wouldn't hesitate to use them again in the future. They have a "live chat" feature on their website so it is easy to contact them and get questions answered when booking one of their tours. Plan A didn't work so the week before the cruise I scrambled and came up with Plan B…..
There was an hour time difference between ship time and Cozumel time so kids decided we had time to get up and have breakfast in the dining room together. The new arrangement had two sets of plans for the family in Cozumel…DH and oldest son were to scuba dive with EagleRay Divers and the rest of us had some beach time planned. The breakfast in the dining room was nice…we had already docked and our window table overlooked the port of Cozumel. However it turns out DH and son were a little rushed for time…especially when son remembered he still needed to shave his beard so his scuba mask wouldn't leak! Several of us ordered the eggs benedict (which isn't available at the buffet on the Lido deck) but it was a disappointment…the English muffin was so hard that you couldn't even cut through it with a knife! Still it was nice being waited on and not dealing with the lines in the Mediterranean Restaurant. DH and son took a cab to La Caleta Marina and made it on time for their scuba diving with Eagle Ray. The guys ended up with Arturo as their dive master. DH and I had dove with Eagle Ray back in 2002 and had also had Arturo with us at that time. Arturo has his master's degree in marine biology and has done research work with whales along the Pacific coast…a very knowledgeable and fun guy to be with. DH and son were the only two on the boat…talk about personal service! This was son's first real dive since getting certified and he loved it…he got to see a nurse shark and sea turtle among many other aquatic creatures. The idea of the two guys meeting up with the rest of us at a beach was scrapped since we weren't sure just where we would be.
The rest of our crew (five of us) got off the ship and headed towards the taxi stand. Sister has some problems walking so she grabbed one of the "bike taxis" waiting by the ship and was pedaled down the long dock, through the stores and out to the waiting cabs. The guy said "no charge…just tips"…I think she said she gave him $5.
I had done some research on cab prices and figured with 5 people that we would need a van cab (cars will take up to 4 people for one price.) From what I had read, a van usually charges double the price of a car plus $2. There is a sign with prices to many destinations and our destination of Dzul Ha was listed as $7. I assumed that meant that we would pay around $16 so was pleasantly surprised when I asked the cost and the man arranging the cabs said $12. As we were getting into the van I asked the driver how much and he said $10!
I was trying to decide whether to go to what is called the Dzul Ha "beach club" or go across the street to Palmar Beach Club. In reading reports, Palmar Beach Club had been described as a "mansion with a pool" across the street from Dzul Ha. When we arrived, I was somewhat surprised to see just how "run down" this area really was. No one was around at Palmar Beach Club and it really didn't look that great so we found a table overlooking the water at the Dzul Ha Beach Club. I use the term "beach club" quite loosely here…there was a large palapa roof over a deck with a bunch of plastic chairs and tables. Part of the roof was gone…I assume damage from Hurricane Emily that had struck the island just a few weeks earlier.
Only one other couple was at Dzul Ha and when I tried to start a conversation I found out they were from Italy and spoke very little English! Our main goal of going to Dzul Ha was for the great snorkeling that I had read about. We had our own equipment, but I think you could rent equipment there if needed. Before getting into the water I started to smear middle son with sun block. An employee of the beach club came running over and said that no sun block was allowed. (There was a sign but I hadn't seen it.) He insisted that son go wash it all off at an outdoor shower down the beach a ways. I am very fair skinned so cut my time in the water short for fear of coming out toasted.
The snorkeling in front of the beach club was OK, but two sons snorkeled down the beach for a long ways and said there was more to see where they went. Most of the morning we had the beach to ourselves…later on more people showed up including a jeep tour group with an obnoxious leader barking out orders on what to do. They were only going to be there for about an hour and he collected $2/person from each one of them for the "marine park fee". No one mentioned anything to us about paying anything for snorkeling there. We did all buy some drinks…Pepsi…but it tasted different than what we get in the states.
Our next stop was to be Palm Beach. As I was walking up to the little food service stand to inquire about getting a cab, one was just coming by. I flagged him down and he was willing to take us (and luckily it was a van)…I think we paid $15. The drive to Palm Beach was a little further than what I had imagined, but it gave us a chance to see more of the island (and some more of the hurricane damage.) Just as we were getting to Palm Beach, the driver told us that he thought we would enjoy Paradise Beach more…the two beaches are right next to each other. I had considered Paradise Beach, but was afraid it would be too crowded. We took his advice and went to Paradise Beach first and weren't disappointed…the beach was much larger than Palm Beach and was beautiful.
The kids decided that we should go way down to the far end of the beach where there were several chairs with umbrellas available together. We plopped down in the chairs and as I was messing around trying to get settled I hear my middle son (age 21) say…look!…"coconuts". I assumed he was talking about vegetation growing on the trees but quickly realized he was referring to the topless young lady coming out of the water!! Both sons decided that switching to this beach was a good decision! Unfortunately (for them) we didn't stick around long to enjoy the "sights". A dark cloud had come over the beach and it was starting to sprinkle so we gathered up our stuff and headed under the protective roof of the outdoor restaurant.
The five of us got several orders of nachos and an order of guacamole and also some drinks. The storm amounted to just a few sprinkles so after filling our stomachs it was back to the beach. Sister decided she wanted to get her hair braided so we stayed on the end of the beach by the hair braiding and massage tents (no coconuts there!) Youngest son also decided maybe it would be cool to get a few braids in his fairly long hair. (Sister's braids stayed in for a couple of weeks…son's fell out the next day!)
I saw Paradise Beach Tom making the rounds on the beach and spoke to him by name when he came up to our chairs. He sat down and visited for some time. The kids were impressed to think I personally knew the manager of these fabulous beach…I didn't tell them that he is just that nice to all Cruise Critic people!
Middle son and DIL took their snorkel gear and went out by the pier. Some little kids were screaming in Spanish and they realized that there were stingrays under the dock! DIL is majoring in Spanish so she had fun talking to the family. They taught her the Spanish word for "shark"…she was a little nervous about being in the ocean and wanted to be prepared to yell just in case! ?
I think we all could have stayed at Paradise Beach much longer, but around 3:30 I decided we should be getting back to the ship…I knew the guys would probably be getting back soon too. There were several cabs waiting, but no van…one driver insisted he could take all five of us in his car so we crammed in with DIL sitting on middle son's lap…cost back to the ship was $15.
DH and oldest son had made it back to the ship just before us. They had showered and were filling out their dive log books when we returned. DH had rinsed all of his scuba gear and had it drying on the balcony…another plus for a balcony cabin! Dinner was open seating that night and again we had a single lady placed with our family of seven. She was a bit strange and after sending back one meal hardly touched a bite of the second one she was served.
After dinner we headed back to the area around the pier for some shopping. The kids went off on their own direction and sister, DH and I just wandered through the shops. Sister found a couple of t-shirts for gifts but other than that we didn't buy anything and decided we would rather just go back to the ship. To get back to the ship, you must walk through a long building containing various duty-free shops. On previous visits there was more of a variety of merchandise, but since the new shopping area has been constructed it is now mostly liquor. I did buy a liter bottle of vanilla for $12. It was pouring rain when we reached the end of the shops so we waited a bit for it to let up.
Back on the ship I checked out some of the family photos that we had taken on formal night and bought one that I think is actually quite good! Since coming home I called Carnival and asked if they would send me a copyright release so that I won't have trouble getting copies made. The guy I talked to said "no problem…I'll send it today"…that was three weeks ago and it still isn't here.
There are nice padded lounge chairs on the outer deck just off the lobby on deck 3 so DH, sister and I sat out there enjoying the evening. I was also wanting to watch to see that the kids made it back on board… they knew that the ship sailed at midnight but I was worried that they didn't know they needed to be onboard by 11:30. You could hear the loud partying going on at Fat Tuesday's bar on shore and we were entertained by the line of drunks trying to walk down the dock. Around 11 p.m. I still hadn't seen the kids and was starting to get pretty worried (that's my job as a mother.) I called both of their rooms but got no answers so left "urgent" messages on their voice mail. By 11:15 I was mentally trying to figure out what we should do in the event that the ship did sail without them. For some reason I ran back to our room to get something and just happened to notice the message light was lit on our phone. It was oldest son saying…"Mom…we got back on the ship around 10:30 and are going to play shuffleboard…just didn't want you to worry!"
Full of relief I decided we should all celebrate by going to the midnight Mexican buffet. Right away we spotted the kids who had the same idea! Turns out after we had left them to return to the ship, they took a cab into town to see the "real" Cozumel. They were laughing about all of the shop owners who had tried to get them into their stores to buy something. DIL had found a bottle of vanilla for a few dollars cheaper than what I paid, but that was about it.
DH and sister went on to bed, but I went with oldest son to his cabin so he could download the pictures from my digital camera onto his laptop. Altogether we had 3 different digital cameras in the family and every couple of days son would dump all the memory cards onto the computer. By the end of the week we had hundreds of wonderful photos.
Wednesday - Day at Sea
Oldest son wanted to eat breakfast in the dining room again, but couldn't convince anyone else to get up and get going that early so he went alone. He was seated with some "interesting" (not in a positive way) type people. The breakfast was not a total bust though in that he saw several dolphins swimming alongside the ship! Sister and I went to the Mediterranean Restaurant but again the lines for the hot food were so long I just opted to grab a couple of danish and a cup of coffee. DH joined us after his morning run.
Later in the morning the guys (DH and sons) had gone to play shuffleboard and sister and I were roaming around the ship not doing much. I had my digital camera with me and at one point got it out to take some photos and realized that the LCD screen on the back had cracked. I was not happy. I had bought this camera (a Canon SD200) specifically to use on this cruise and it was only a couple of months old. To this day I can not think of a single reason why the screen broke…it just did. After getting home I have done some research online and realize now that broken LCD screens are a major concern with this model (and others in the SD series.) I checked out several different photography boards and saw many posts from others who had their screens just break for no reason. The warranty specifically states that broken LCD screens are not covered, but I sent the camera in and just received an email saying that they would fix it for no charge provided the inside of the camera doesn't indicate any type of water damage, corrosion, etc. (which it shouldn't). I was able to keep taking pictures using the viewfinder until Friday when the whole camera just died. Since two older sons both had digital cameras we were able to still get photos from the last few days, but like I said…I was NOT happy. ?
The family met again for lunch in the dining room and this time had a gentleman from New Jersey join our family. He was traveling with his wife and kids but they didn't want to eat in the dining room so he came alone.
Following lunch everyone (but me) went to the pool. I chose to go back to the cabin and sit on the balcony and read. I'm not sure if I would spend the extra money to be sure and get a balcony, but I must admit, it was a luxury that I thoroughly enjoyed this time!
After we found out that we had been upgraded to the balcony I started reading posts about how wonderful it is to prop open the balcony door and hear the ocean waves lapping on the ship. Following suggestions I read, I made sure we packed a bungee cord and also DH "made" a wooden door wedge covered with sand paper just in case the bungee plan failed to hold open the door. Guess what…the balcony doors on the Victory stay open by themselves…all you had to do was open it fully and it stayed. I will also share another revelation from this cruise…it is too hot and humid to leave the door open! The air-conditioning in our cabin was "adequate" although sister and I both would have preferred to have it cooler. (Hot flashes might have something to do with that. ?) A maintenance worker even checked it out (on our request) but said the vent was wide open and nothing more could be done. We did not leave the balcony door open…ever.
In contrast to our cabin, the inside cabin where two younger sons were staying was "frigid"…about the same as living in a meat locker! They could have closed the vent a bit, but they liked it that way. Youngest son declared that his cabin was the best place in the whole world to sleep…I'm sure it was due to the cold temps AND the extreme darkness of the inside cabin. Also Carnival has replaced all of the ugly orange bedspreads with wonderful white down comforters…AND gotten some new pillows that are so comfortable…both make sleeping an "experience"!
Back to the day's events…since Wednesday was a sea day, tea time was held in the Ionion Lounge at 3:30. I think the family must have felt guilty for making me go alone on Monday and all showed up this time. I appreciated the effort, but could tell that three sons would have rather been anywhere else but there! They ate a few of the finger sandwiches and even tried a cup of tea, but then oldest & youngest had enough and left. Middle son had fallen asleep sitting up (guess the classical music was too soothing) and didn't wake up until we were almost ready to leave. The only reason he woke up then was that he was drooling down his arm! Oh well…DH, DIL and sister and I did enjoy tea time…it's such a relaxing respite from the heat and crowds on the Lido deck.
Wednesday night was the Past Guest Party on the Victory which reminded me that I need to back up and explain about our room situation. Carnival's policy is that kids can not be booked in their own cabin…someone over the age of 25 must be included in that room. The only exception to this rule was if guests are married…that meant DS1 and wife could at least be together even though neither one is yet 25. However it meant that DS2 (aged 21) and DS3 (aged 17) could not be booked together. So…for booking purposes only, DH and I split up and each was booked with one of the boys. This really doesn't make much sense since the first evening on the ship we went to the Purser's desk and they cheerfully made new key cards for DH and DS3 so they could change rooms. That meant they each had to carry two cards for the week…one was strictly a door key and the other was the Sail & Sign card that got swiped for purchases or getting on & off the ship. However it also meant that now the two boys were together like we had wanted in the beginning!
The day before the Past Guest Party, the room steward delivered invitations to the cabins. Sister and I each got our invitation but DH didn't get one. I just assumed it was an oversight so went to the Purser's Desk again and they printed out an invitation for him without any questions asked. That night at dinner the topic of the Past Guest Party came up and DS3 announced that he planned to go since he had gotten an invitation! Turns out since DH was really booked in that cabin, his invitation had been delivered there. DS just "assumed" that since he had an invitation in his possession he was going and going to take his older brother as his guest!
Neither boy was happy, but I made it clear that they were "not" invited to the party! We had checked and found it was OK for DS1 to attend with his wife so the five of us went on Wednesday following dinner…and I do mean "immediately" following dinner. The party was held in the Adriatic Lounge and when we arrived there was a very long line waiting to enter. By the time we handed over our invitations and got into the lounge, the only available table was waaaaaaay in the back of the room.
DH and I had skipped the Past Guest Party on our Paradise cruise last summer since our traveling companions were not previous cruisers. I felt bad knowing we had missed out, but after attending this party I realize it wasn't such a big deal. There were plenty of free drinks and hors d'oeuvres but since we had just eaten we didn't even try the food. During the "party" they gave away a bottle of champagne as a door prize and then showed a movie showcasing all of Carnival's ships. The guests would cheer when they saw one of the ships that they had sailed on. Not being big drinkers, I'm not sure if we would attend this party on future cruises or not. The fact that they try and squeeze the party in between dining times really makes it inconvenient for the earlier diners.
The evening entertainment was a magician. There's something about watching a magician that just bugs me (guess cause I can't figure out his tricks) but anyway it was my least favorite entertainment. We tried to go to karaoke in the Adriatic Lounge again, but they were holding auditions for those wanting to be in the "Victory Idol" competition and the place was so packed we couldn't get in. My mind is fuzzy, but I think maybe we (the old folks) made it back to the cabin a little earlier than usual. The kids were out and about till all hours….
Thursday – Grand Cayman
The tender situation in Grand Cayman had me worried. On our previous cruise DH had stood in line alone to get tender tickets for the four of us traveling together. Things were different on the Victory…each person had to show up at the Caribbean Lounge to get a ticket. (Only those who had NOT booked a Carnival tour had to go through this ritual to get off the boat.) I had made arrangements with Nativeway to do an 8:30 a.m. Stingray tour. To complicate matters even further, the island was an hour behind ship time so that meant our tour was to start at 9:30 “ship time”. I had visions of waiting and waiting to get off the ship and then missing our tour.
Only five of us were to see the stingrays…DH and DS1 were going scuba diving again. Their plan was easy…get off the ship whenever and walk to Eden Rock Diving Center. Since they are both certified they were just going to dive alone without a guide.
Being nervous about getting to shore on time, I made sure everyone was up early for breakfast. Around 7:30 the announcement was made that tender tickets were ready to be given out. We all went down to the lounge just to “check” on the situation and they were still giving out tickets for the first tender. Taking the tickets would mean that we would have to go to the tender immediately and none of us had brought our “stuff” for the day with us.
Getting off the ship at 7:30 seemed a bit early so we trudged back to the cabins to get our gear. I figured this would chew up enough time so that by the time we made it back to the lounge we would get a later tender number and be right on schedule for our tour. What do you know…back at the Caribbean Lounge we got the last seven remaining tickets for tender ONE!! I had envisioned long lines and we just walked right up and got the tickets with no wait whatsoever!
There were only three other ships at Grand Cayman that day…two RCCL ships and the Conquest. Still the dock area was a mob scene when we got off the tender. After all of my worrying about missing our tour, it was only 7:00 a.m. island time and we had an hour and a half to kill!! DH & DS1 left us and headed off for their scuba dive. The day was incredibly hot and humid and none of the stores were open. I spotted a couple of benches across the street in the shade of a store awning and that is where we went. Just sitting there was miserable…my youngest son is very sensitive to the heat and I truly think he was about to have a “melt down”! Eventually some of the stores started opening and the “kids” left to seek some air-conditioning. I made a couple of trips across the street and eventually located the guy from Nativeway to let him know we were there.
Around 9:25 we went to our designated spot to meet up with our tour, but then we waited another 15 minutes or so till everyone else showed up. There wasn’t any place to sit down and by this time I think we were all just ready to head back to the ship and cool off. Once the group was all assembled, we were lead down the street and around the corner to some waiting vans. Part of the group was doing the Stingray tour with us and the others were doing a tour that combined the stingrays and a trip to Rum Point Beach.
At this point we weren’t separated by tours…we just were told to get in either van. Finally being able to sit down and get cool was wonderful and the day started to improve! The ride through the island was interesting…there were many signs of the hurricane that had ravaged the island the previous year.
The vans arrived at a marina area and at this point the two tour groups were split according to destination and loaded onto separate boats. Our boat had 19 people headed out to visit the stingrays. Ah…the sea breeze felt great. Besides three Nativeway staff, there was also a photographer on board who explained she would be taking still pictures that we could purchase at the end of the trip. On our first visit to Stingray City back in 2002 a videographer had accompanied our tour and we bought the VHS tape as a souvenir of our day. The video was set to Caribbean music and was well worth the $50 or so it cost.
As I had expected, there were many boats once we reached the sandbar where the stingrays congregate. Our boat was carefully backed into position so we could join the throngs of people feeding the rays. I was very impressed with the individual attention that we received from Nativeway. The guides caught rays and made sure we each had a chance to hold them, feed them and get pictures…multiple times if we wished. At one point a few people from one of the huge tour boats tried to join our group and were told “no” that they should go back to their own group.
After a lengthy time with the rays, we boarded the boat and went a short distance to a spot where we could snorkel. After three cruises, I’ve finally gotten the hang of breathing through a snorkel and I could have floated for hours watching the marine life below.
When we got back on board, we started back to shore but after a few minutes just stopped. Turns out we were running ahead of schedule and rather than wait at the dock for the van, the guides decided it would be cooler out on the water. I was sorry that they hadn’t figured this out earlier so we could have snorkeled longer. The boat was bobbing up and down and my poor DIL started getting sea sick. We stayed put for about 20 minutes before resuming our trip back. During this time the photographer went around letting people look at the digital photos on her camera. We had taken many pictures with our disposable water cameras and decided not to purchase any of the ones she had done. I might have considered a video if it were available.
We were dropped off at the tender dock in Georgetown. DIL was feeling better by that point and headed off to do some shopping. The rest of us (myself, sister & two sons) shopped for a short time but headed back to the ship fairly quickly. (We did manage to sample several rum cakes however!) Dinner time that night was spent sharing stories of stingrays and scuba diving. I’m sorry that DH and older son couldn’t have gone with us, but they had a great time scuba diving instead.
The evening entertainment was the Victory Idol show…an interesting twist on the usual cruise talent show. The singers that performed in the show were outstanding…at least all but one was anyway. He was merely there for “comedy”! Hector (the super shopper) was one of the judges of the contest and was quite entertaining himself! Hector is a Cuban and an “interesting” character! The boys always made it a point to talk to Hector when they saw him around the ship…he usually responded by blowing his little whistle!! I’m sorry I didn’t get a picture of Hector to add to my album!
Friday – Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Each morning I would flip on the cabin TV to check out the latest news on the impending Northwest Airlines mechanics’ strike. The strike was set for Saturday, August 20th and I was concerned how this was going to affect our flight home on Sunday, the 21st. On Friday it wasn’t the strike news that caught my attention however. The headline news that morning was that a tornado had struck Stoughton, Wisconsin…one person was killed and a large part of the city had been destroyed. My DIL is from Stoughton…her parents, brother and sister live there.
I called DS1’s cabin and told him to turn on the TV immediately. DIL could tell from watching the news coverage that the damage was in the neighborhood where her parents lived and she was frantic. We were scheduled to meet up with Phil Lafayette for a tour a half an hour after the ship docked so I told her to wait and call from shore rather than trying to use a ship phone. A representative for Phil was waiting for us at the end of the dock and I explained our situation. She showed DIL where to buy a phone card and also the location of the pay phones. I’m sorry we held up the tour a bit that day, but I know that I would have understood if it had been someone else. The phone call home brought good news…no damage to her parent’s home, even though homes only a block away had been destroyed. DIL was greatly relieved and able to enjoy the rest of her day in Ocho Rios.
Leaving the dock area at Ocho Rios we were loaded into one van and then transported a short distance to where we switched vans. This time we were with Phil Lafayette who was to be our guide for the day. Our tour started with Phil driving us around the Ocho Rios area showing us a school, an affluent area in the hills where we had a great view of the ship and also a small “kitchen garden” along side a country road. As we walked through the garden, Phil would stop and tell us stories about the different plants and let us smell some that had unique fragrances. There was a woodcarver’s stand right next to the garden and a few people made purchases before getting back into the van to continue the tour. Three years ago we had done a tour of Ocho Rios with Peat Taylor and had visited the very same place.
Eventually we came to the place where we were to do the river tubing. Not all of the people on the tour chose to do the tubing…probably about half of 20 people or so. We walked down a set of rustic stairs to the river and got into our tubes. There were a couple of guides helping us since the river was flowing fairly swiftly at this point. My sister chose not to do the tubing so she and the others who didn’t take part left with Phil. She said he drove them around to see additional sites and then they met us at the take-out point for the tubing.
Tubing down the river gave you the feeling you were a million miles away from civilization. The forest provided a thick canopy that covered the river. The current was fast enough to provide a bit of excitement, but not so swift that it seemed scary. The tubes were fitted with a wooden “bottom” that provided some protection from rocks in the shallower waters. At times one of us would get carried over to the side of the river and get hung up on a branch or a rock. Within moments a guide would be there to help free us and send us on our way down the river.
After floating for some time, the guides motioned for us to go over to the side and get out of the water. We walked up to the top of a small cliff where some young boys were jumping into the river. My family wasn’t going to miss out on this opportunity so Bob and the kids all took their turn jumping off the cliff into the river below. This frightened me since there were rocks jutting out of the water nearby. My first thought was…” I wonder if there is a hospital nearby?” And if this didn’t cause enough worry, my oldest son did a flip off the cliff! Once the daredevils were finished, we climbed back into our tubes and floated down the river to where Phil and the others in our group were waiting.
There was no place to change out of our wet swimsuits, but Phil had plastic seat covers in his van so it wasn’t a big problem. Except for our family, all of the others in the van were going to climb Dunn’s River Falls next. We had done this previously and decided we would pass on it this time. (We wanted to avoid the crowds and the extra cost of $20 per person.) Phil offered to take us to a beach to hang out until the others were done with the falls, but instead we opted to be dropped off at Island Village and then just walk back to the ship. My sister wasn’t feeling well so Phil took her directly to the ship.
Shopping in the “Island Village” we felt very safe but it was also much more “touristy” than our shopping experience in the craft village on our last visit to Ocho Rios. We browsed through the shops and also stopped in at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. Prior to the cruise we had all found the “lost shakers of salt” on the Margaritaville website and had coupons for free margaritas. Besides the drinks we ordered some buffalo wings and nachos to share. It was relatively calm and quiet in the upstairs of Margaritaville where we sat…downstairs loud music played and guests danced through the building in conga lines. Margaritaville boasts a slide going from the second floor down to the pool below. After finally getting dry from our river tubing, we opted to not try the slide.
Island Village is just a short walk from the ship. Upon returning it was too late for lunch, but too early for dinner so DS2 and I grabbed a hotdog from the grill on the Lido deck. It was good, but would have been better if some toppings were available…I had my heart set on grilled onions! I think they were in the process of closing up so nothing extra was set out. As I look back, I think I only remember getting hot food from the buffet in the Mediterranean Restaurant one time…at breakfast. Otherwise I just grabbed cold Danish for breakfast, a sandwich from the deli, the hotdog from the grill or pizza. Most of our lunches and dinners were eaten in the Pacific Dining room where we could relax and be waited on!
Friday night was the second of the formal nights. Once again…it was a treat for me to see my family looking so spiffy and even better is that they enjoyed it too and didn’t whine and complain about getting dressed up! During the week, DIL and I both bought the $10 shawls sold in the ship’s gift store. I had wanted black, but waited too long and they were sold out so settled for white…DIL got a hot pink one that goes great with her dark hair. The shawls were a nice complement to our formal dresses and also provided some warmth in the chilly Caribbean Lounge!
The show that night was “Vroom”…a montage of rock and roll songs throughout the years. It started with a movie about some guy on a motorcycle which I thought was strange, but the live show was pretty good.
The Grand Gala Buffet was also held on Friday night. On our Paradise cruises, the gala buffet was held in one of the formal dining rooms. On the Victory the buffet was set up in the Mediterranean Restaurant…not quite as classy in my opinion. DH, Sister and I sat and watched them assemble the large ice sculpture of the sea monster and arrange all of the food displays to perfection. Instead of standing in line to actually eat the food, DH got a tuna sandwich at the deli and I got some pizza. By the end of the week we were starting to crave “common, down to earth” food!
Saturday, August 20
The last day of a cruise is always such a let down because you know the week is over. Breakfast was in the Mediterranean Restaurant and DH, sister and I all went through the buffet and had hot food. For a change, the lines weren’t tremendously long so I even waited to have an omelet made to order. Sister and I spent the morning browsing through the shops…there was a sale on t-shirts…2 for $20 and sister also bought some magnets and some cologne. I looked at the rings…I had bought a couple on the Paradise that I really like, but didn’t see anything special this time. The rest of the crew was off at the pool and playing shuffleboard I believe. At 11:00 we all met in the Caribbean Lounge to hear some of the debarkation talk…how depressing!
From there the whole family went for one last lunch in the Pacific Dining Room. Lunches were always open seating and held in the Pacific. Even though it was open seating, we were always taken back to our regular table or nearby…probably because they filled those tables first before staring on the ones in the center of the dining room. I loved our table with the great views of the ocean and it was nice seeing “Fun Bobby” (as the kids called him) and Barbara…our regular waiters. Most of the group ordered hamburgers which are available with a multitude of choices for toppings…even guacamole…they were very good.
Sister and I spent the afternoon on the balcony trying to savor one last day at sea. The others went to the pool for awhile. DH went to a class on folding towel animals and even bought the book. Now guests in our home are always treated to some sort of towel critter on their bed!
The interactive TV was one feature that wasn’t available on our Paradise cruises. Each day we would use it to check the dinner menu for the night and ponder what we would order. One could also check the balance on the Sail & Sign account. At one point during the week I was alarmed because I thought we were getting someone else’s charges on our account. It turns out that the two younger sons’ charges (and tips) were shown on our TV because their account was linked to our credit card. They didn’t have any excessive charges…it was just confusing till I figured out what was happening. Another piece of information…you can only access your account from your own cabin…not on anyone else’s TV. Because of the room switching that went on (due to us having to book an adult with the two sons) we had to deal with this.
At some point during the day a letter was slipped under our door informing us that Northwest Airlines mechanics had gone out on strike. The letter stated that if you had booked your air through Carnival then they would make sure you found an alternate flight if necessary. This wasn’t much comfort to me…I had booked our air independently and was worried we were going to have a hassle getting a flight in Miami.
The evening entertainment was a singer billed as the “soul man of Bourbon Street” and a comedian, Allan Ball. Neither was exceptional. Throughout the week we had stopped in to hear some of the music in the various lounges along the Promenade Deck after the show was over in the Caribbean Lounge. The Piano Bar was too smoky. The band playing in the Red & Black lounge wasn’t the greatest and the place was almost empty when we were there. When DH got his way we went to the lobby to listen to the classical trio playing. The “kids” and sister did spend some time in the casino, but DH and I aren’t gamblers and so avoided the casino and the smoke that went with it.
By far the best entertainment that night was watching the full moon from our cabin balcony. There were also thunder storms off in the distance providing numerous light shows in the darkness. Sleep that night was fitful…I was worried about how the airline strike was going to affect our flight home.
Sunday, August 21
The next morning we awoke in Miami. I immediately used the cell phone to call NWA to check on the status of our flight. The recorded message said there were no changes due to the strike but I was still a little on edge.
Being nervous about the flight situation, I wanted to do the self disembark. I wasn’t sure if we could handle all of our luggage, but I was willing to try. I thought maybe getting to the airport early would be a good idea if we were going to have to look for another flight. Unfortunately when we attended the debarkation talk the previous day they told that if you had bought over the amount of duty free liquor allowed then you could not take advantage of the self disembark (it had something to do with dealing with customs agents to pay duty tax on the extra bottles.) Oldest son had been so excited by the low prices on liquor he had bought way too much so that meant the self debarkation was not an option for us. The night before we had set our luggage out into the hallway and that meant we would get to play the game of “luggage, luggage, where are you?” once we got off the ship.
Passengers with flights at 1:00 or earlier qualified for the privilege of getting off the ship first…our flight was scheduled for exactly l:00. We had gone to the Purser’s desk to inquire about what needed to be done and without even looking at our tickets were told to just grab some Spa Deck luggage tags and be at the Ionion Lounge by 8:30.
When we arrived there were so many people in the lounge that they were spilling out into the area around the elevators. Eventually they announced that we would be getting off the ship. This process sort of resembled “follow the leader”…we formed a long, long line and went through the Ionion Lounge, past the internet library, through some strange hallways, through the Atlantic Dining Room, down the stairs and finally out the doors on Deck 3. This probably took a half an hour at least. Customs agents were waiting to collect our declaration forms, but no one even looked at them…and no one even mentioned the extra duty tax that DS was supposed to pay.
Finding our luggage amongst the thousands of pieces didn’t prove to be too difficult. (I had tied bright green ribbons to the all of the handles…otherwise every piece of black luggage looks just like the next.) Outside we got a couple of cabs without much of a wait and it was off to the airport.
My fears about NWA were for naught. I do believe that checking in our luggage and getting to the gate was about the easiest that I’ve been through (at least since 9/11). There were picketers outside the airport, but the NWA employees we encountered were overly friendly and helpful. It was almost like they were compensating for all of the bad press that NWA had been getting.
After grabbing some food from the airport Burger King, we enjoyed watching a slide show of all of our cruise pictures on oldest son’s laptop computer while waiting on the flight. The trip home was uneventful but seemed so much longer than the trip down…all of the anticipation was over and we knew it was back to “real life” once again.