So.... I literally just walked in the door and wanted to sit down to write this while everything was fresh in my mind. I sailed out of Jacksonville, FL on February 8th for a 5 day cruise stopping in Nassau and also Half Moon Cay. I went with my fiance'. This was her first cruise and my second.
I was a bit late buying my tickets for this cruise. I made my purchase about 3 weeks before the cruise and there were only a handful of rooms left at the price I was looking for. I also purchased 3 excursions. I purchased the See and Sea tour in Nassau, the Snorkeling by Boat in Half Moon Cay, and the Faster to the Fun pass from Jacksonville (even though it's not an excursion, it is sold as one on the web site). If you can get the Faster to the Fun, absolutely get it. They treat you like a VIP and you get to the front of the line for leaving the boat or getting on the boat. More on that later. I also purchased the Bottomless Bubbles card for my fiance'. She drinks Coca-cola like her life depends on it and soda on the cruise is not free and a bit expensive and this card allows for your sodas free (up to 15 a day) and was well worth the money. The only limitation was that it only worked at a bar or in the main dining rooms, not room service.
I purchased an interior room on the Empress deck (Deck 7). I was happy with that because I originally was looking at an interior room on the Riviera deck (deck 4) but had a free upgrade. A day before the cruise, I was called by the sales office of Carnival and informed that I could upgrade to one of the Grand Suites for about $350 total including taxes and fees. It was a bit more that what I wanted to spend on a room so I asked if they could work on the price for me. I guess I was in the mood to haggle a bit. They said they did have one normal balcony stateroom that they could upgrade me to for about $150. I jumped on it. We spent most of the cruise on our balcony enjoying the sunrises and sunsets and the warm ocean breezes. The extra cost was more than worth it. If you get a chance to get a room with a balcony, do it!
Our embarkation day was a cold day in Jacksonville, windy and a bit rainy. Embarkation was fast and easy with our Faster to the Fun card. As soon as we went through security, they personally escorted us up to the check in desk while everyone else waited in line. Check in was quick and easy. Then they escorted us to the front of the line getting on the boat. From the time we stepped out of the car to the time that we stepped in our cabin, it was about 20 minutes.
The cabin was nice and roomy with plenty of room, well... in comparison to what I expected. We had plenty of storage space. The balcony was a little small, but room enough to sit on with three people and a small table. The room was neat and organized. The bathroom was small but room for what it was needed for.
The ship pulled out and we were on our way. The first day was a little rough. The ship did sway a bit. I don't know if that was unusual or normal for the waters of the coast of north Florida. The ship movement didn't bother me at all but, my step daughter, who was in another room and who is very sensitive to motion sickness, had a rough time of it the first day. The ship is a smaller ship, but still very large. By the end of the first day we pretty much got the lay of the land and were comfortable moving around the ship. The ship was nice and clean and they did a great job at keeping it that way throughout the cruise.
The second day was a sea day. We spent most of he day on the balcony but enjoyed a couple of the on board activities. We visited the fun shops which consisted of the Carnival brand souvenir shop, a jewelry store, and a liqueur store. Vanessa bought a sparkly lanyard for her Sign and Sail card and we ended up buying a pair of walky talkys also. If you have family or friends that will be doing their own things on the ship, having a pair of walky talkys is invaluable. Vanessa also hit the $10 store. It was her favorite store. It was mostly cruise/floppy hats, beach bags, purses, watches, and the like. She bought a couple of hats ( hats are her thing) and I bought a cheap watch to wear on the boat so we didn't miss any of the activities from not knowing the time. We finished out the day watching the first show of the trip. It was the Diva's show. Vanessa, my fiance', said she wasn't that impressed. But, I felt, for a show on a cruise, it was entertaining and enjoyable.
The 3rd day was our stop in Nassau. Since our Excursion was scheduled from noon til about 3:30pm, we decided to do our souvenir shopping in the morning. We were practically the first people off the boat, thanks to our Faster to the Fun card, and were met by a small onslaught of locals begging us to ride their taxi or rent one of their scooters and such. We ended up agreeing to take a horse a carriage ride from a local named Marcel. It was cheap and he agreed to drop us off at the Straw Market when the ride was done. Honestly, the ride was the best part about the day. He was nice and friendly and was full of information. We thoroughly enjoyed the ride. As promised, he dropped us off at the Straw Market. If you have never been, its a flea market style venue with hundreds of people all selling pretty much the same thing. Its a great place to find trinkets and t shirts and such at very reasonable prices. Just don't be afraid to haggle with them. They will all come down on the price. And if one won't agree to the price you want, don't be afraid to walk away. You will find someone that has the same item that will agree to your price. We found one lady that was very nice and not pushy at all. We bought a ton from her. She had a great start to her morning because of us. We walked up Bay street and went in several of the stores. But seeing that we had pretty much bough what we wanted to at the Straw Market, we didn't buy much of anything in the stores. ADVICE: grab a city map from the customs building that you have to walk through when you get off the ship. There are several ads in there that have jewelry stores that will give you a nice, but inexpensive piece of jewelry for free just for coming in their store... no purchase necessary. We finished out the day in Nassau with the See and Sea tour. Its a nice boat ride through the harbor where the guide gives neat little pieces of info about Nassau and some of the celebrity houses you see on the way. He was informative and funny at times. We transferred over to the glass bottom boat. It was more of a semi-submarine. We walked down stairs into the lower part of the boat which was underwater with windows you could see out to the fish. They fed the fish outside the windows. It wasn't amazing, but it was neat. Plenty of fish and a couple of turtles were swimming around. When we were done with that boat, we transferred back to the first boat and they took us back to where we started and we loaded on a small bus/van. They took us to a fort and the queens staircase for about 30 minutes, then drove us back to the pier, pointing out interesting landmarks on the way. We got back on the boat and readied ourselves to get underway. We sat on our balcony and fed the seagulls who would take the food right out of our hands from the balcony. It was pretty neat.
The next morning, we dropped anchor off of Half Moon Cay. The island is too small for a pier so we had to take a boat from the ship to the island. It was a short ride. The process for getting a spot on the boat to the island is a little bit of a pain, although it seemed to be well organized. We, however, didn't have to deal with that process. Once again, our Faster to the Fun card saved us. We just went to the purser's desk and they escorted us down and onto the first boat. Super Easy. A bit of advise. If you don't like crowds, make sure to take the first boat and move down the beach a ways. In about 2 hours after the boats started dropping people off, it became very crowded and noisy with music. I don't like real big crowds. So at that point I was ready to get off the beach. But we were lucky, thats about the time our Snorkeling excursion started. We got on a boat with about 30 other people and they took us to a spot about 100 yard off the other side of the island. They provided everything we needed and we got in the water. It was amazing. There was plenty of room to swim around. I didn't feel crowded at all. And the sea life was plentiful and spectacular. This excursion was definitely the highlight of our cruise. We went back to the ship a bit early and enjoyed the ship while it was quite empty.
The next day was a day at sea. It was a beautiful day and we spend half of it on the balcony and the other half enjoying the shows and other activities on the boat, including the gambling. I realized very quickly that I am not a gambling man. But it was fun. That night, there was a storm system that came through very quickly. It was a bit unnerving at first. We were right at the end or the stage show and the ship made a very sharp turn to point into the wind. The ship listed very sharply during the turn. The sets on the stage started falling over and the performers rushed off the stage. And we could hear bottles crashing and breaking from the liqueur store just outside the showroom entrance. They decided not to finish the show, which was understandable. On our way back to our cabin, we could see the mess that was made by the turn. There was merchandise all over the floors of the shops and broken glass where glasses and bottles had fallen and broken at the bars. We passed by the casino and at the entrance there are those quarter machines where you drop a quarter in and it pushes it in with the other quarters and you try to get it to push more quarters off the ledge. We heard someone saying that when the shipped turned that the machines dropped most of the quarters in the machines off he ledge and into the winning pan in front of he players. The people that were lucky enough to be there were filling up buckets of their "Winnings". But after that moment of unnerving, it was fixed very quickly and the ship got back to normal.
We docked in Jacksonville the next morning and the Debarkation was swift and easy.
I wanted to speak of the ships staff separately. I was amazed at every staff member we came across. Our head waiter and his staff were outstanding. They catered to our every need and request in the dining room with a smile. The food in the Main dining room was very, very good. You can order whatever you want. Most of the time, I had a couple of appetizers with my meal. And a couple of times, I couldn't decide between 2 entree's... so they brought them both to me. Outstanding! (The buffets were hit or miss. But, I enjoyed them when I ate there.) Our room Stewart was great. I only needed him for something 2 times, once requesting robes and another requesting a bucket of ice. He dealt with my requests friendly and quickly. And for the rest of the cruise, my ice bucket stayed full of ice all day long.
Every crew member that we passed in the hall spoke to us saying hello or good morning with a smile. I can't say enough for the friendliness and care that every crew member we met, showed to us. They even made our room twice a day which was a real treat. Our room seemed to be all fixed up and in order every time we came back to the cabin, regardless what time it was.
Over all, even though there were a couple of hiccups, which were out of the control of anyone, we had an absolutely amazing time. We can't wait to go back and do it all again.