My husband (37) and I (38) cruised aboard the Glory on the December 8th sailing to the Western Caribbean. As much as we love to travel with our four kids (daughters 9 & 7 and sons 4 & 2), after being a stay-at-home parent for the past four years, when I saw a great deal for the Glory in July, I thought it was a great excuse to take a break from parental duties and have a week alone with hubby. Thankfully my wonderful parents agreed and came to my house for the week to take care of the kids and do my daily grind.
While we’ve cruised steadily over the years, this was our first cruise on Carnival in over a decade. We were very excited to try the brand again to see how it stacked up against the other cruises we’ve taken aboard Princess, NCL, Royal Caribbean and Disney.
We booked our flights out of Toronto’s Pearson airport using blue Air Miles. I have been collecting these points since I was in University and this is the first time that I redeemed them for flights. For our previous trips we have used the Aeroplan program, but I find generally with Aeroplan you have to book early or you’re left with undesirable flight times and connections. We were happy with our direct flights on Air Canada, but I did notice that the taxes and fees with Air Miles are higher ($192.51 per ticket in July 2013) than through Aeroplan ($140.05 per ticket in Jan 2012).
We always fly in a day early and were due to fly to Miami on Saturday, Dec 7th with our original departure time being 9:15 am so we knew we’d have to leave our place nice and early to be able to park, check-in, clear security and customs, etc. In early September our flight time was moved up to 8:05 am, so we decided to book a $75 offer for a pre-flight stay at the Airport Quality Suites that included up to 15 days of parking through GroupOn and complimentary shuttle, since the price to park off-airport for the week was around the same amount.
Hubby and I left late for the hotel once we put the kids to bed and hubby finished a few important work emails. We had clear traffic and arrived before 10:00 pm. The “suite” itself was clean but is exactly what you’d expect for $75 a night and near the airport – very basic and not overly comfortable. Neither of us slept much or well and since we had the alarm set for 5:15 am in order to catch the 5:40 am shuttle we officially started our vacation very tired.
I had checked us in online the day before so already had our boarding passes at hand. As such we only had to join the baggage line to check our one piece of luggage before heading off to customs and then clearing security, all of which took under 15 minutes, leaving us plenty of time to enjoy some Timmy’s before boarding.
We had a very pleasant flight – no turbulence and smooth take off and landing, where I had the pleasure of watching a full-length movie UNINTERRUPTED. Oh the life of Riley!
Despite being utterly exhausted from a mediocre sleep the night before, we landed gleefully to a beautiful Miami day unfolding and grabbed a taxi to the Intercontinental downtown for our pre-cruise stay.
While I wouldn’t recommend the Quality Suites Airport Toronto unless price was your main motivator, I would HIGHLY recommend the IC Miami, which I had booked through Last Minute Travel based on all of the recommendations here on Cruise Critic’s Homeports – Florida Board.
We were able to check in early (12:30) and although we didn’t get to enjoy a port view, were placed in a city view room which I figured was better than the condo view the third side of the building was privy to. We dropped off our bags, freshened up and walked through the park to Bayside Market for lunch. Although we both said we wanted something light, we ended up with a burger and fries at “hamburgesea” since they had outdoor seating and by this point we were starving. They had decent burgers but also very aggressive seagulls which made the overall experience unpleasant.
We spent some time checking out the shops and then headed back to the hotel. On our way we happened upon a CVS and decide to buy our two bottles of allowable wine and some cold beer to enjoy back in our room since it’s ridiculously cheap and easily available in the States (context: in Ontario, the province we live in, you have to go to the provincially regulated LCBO – Liquor Control Board of Ontario – for wine and spirits and the Beer Store for beer – also *way* more expensive, ie. 375 ml Barcardi Rum is $14 and a 24 of beer is generally around $40). We were more than happy to drink up 6 Heineken for $8.99 usd over the course the reminder of the day and evening.
Later in the evening, we walked a block north of the hotel to find another CVS location and a Subway where we had dinner. We decided to call it an early night and had a very restful night in a beautiful room with very comfortable bedding.
The following morning, we grabbed a croissant and coffee from Starbucks for breakfast since it was in the hotel lobby and went up to the pool area that overlooks the port to get the first glimpse of our ship. With two Carnival whale tails visible, we weren’t sure exactly which one was the Glory but we were thrilled nonetheless. We then set out on foot to Gesu Catholic Church to attend Mass before heading for the ship (thank you Concierge IC Miami). On the way back we did a bit of shopping for last minute sundries as there were many stores in the area, and once back at the IC we felt it was time to pack up and head for the ship.
We got into a massive lineup for a taxi outside the hotel but it moved quickly and in no time we were headed to POM at a cost of $13 (tip included).
We were thoroughly impressed with the check in process especially compared with how long it was the last time we cruised Carnival (I distinctly remember being in line an hour and half to board the Victory in 2001). This was without a doubt the fastest check in we have ever had, regardless of cruiseline or time of arrival. We arrived around 12:30 and were through both the security line (yes, they “extra” screened my bag with our two bottles of checked wine- I assume to ensure they were sealed) and the line for sign & sail cards, stopped for the welcome aboard picture and were crossing the gangway by 12:45. Since we had two carry-on bags and heavy non-alcoholic drinks (I was carrying a 12-pack of diet coke and hubby, a runner, was carrying a 12-pack of water as he can never seem to get enough water), even though it was early we felt it was worth the trip to our cabin to try to off-load our cargo.
Our cabin: 2379 – ouside cabin, main deck. When we originally booked this trip in the summer, we had booked an inside cabin, category 4A aft on Riviera deck. The week before the cruise, we decided that we would see if we could upgrade ourselves to an outside cabin as I knew that it would have significantly more space than the inside. The majority of our cruises have been in inside cabins, and they are not created equally. While those on Disney are extremely spacious, the one we had on the Emerald Princess was tiny but sufficient for sleeping. Having looked at pictures of the inside cabins on Glory, we thought it would be worth the $100 more to have the additional benefit of having the comfort of a sitting area with couch, rather than fighting over the one chair like we had in our Princess inside.
We headed to our cabin which were able to access and were ecstatic to find that it was ready for us. We were pleased to find that the cabin was very well appointed, although there were small areas that showed her age (drawers under the sofa would no longer align and close properly) or lack of minor maintenance (several burnt out light bulbs) but it was kept spotless all week by our lovely cabin attendant Trisha and was very spacious. There was a ridiculous amount of storage space that we were hard pressed to use as we had packed so lightly. The space under the bed, the drawers under the sofa, the drawers at the desk, three closets and a pantry at the end of the desk all made for sufficient places to tuck away belongings. We also noticed that there was plenty of room around the window with a generous ledge. Throughout the week I was able to hoist myself up onto the ledge with my book while hubby was showering and getting ready for the evening. We also thought the bathroom was a good size with lots of shelves for toiletries and also spotlessly (and I mean spotlessly) maintained throughout the week.
After checking out our stateroom, we ditched our drinks and our carry-ons (with important docs going right in the safe), took our camera and headed out for a late lunch. After a small measure of exploration on the Lido Deck, we ended up in the Red Sail buffet for lunch.
I won’t get into all the finer details about what we had to eat everyday at each meal but I will offer up a few thoughts about the offerings aboard. If you’re curious about the new Main Dining Room menus, I did post here separately about each meal we ate there as it was the first cruise with the new menus and dishware.
Generally we found the food to be very good to excellent. The best meal of the week bar none was the first night meal in the Emerald steakhouse – so delicious and a very nice setting for our first night aboard (quite a step above the sub sandwich we had the day before). We thought it was well worth the $35 per person fee for us to dine here and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys steak.
We thought the buffet offerings for breakfast and lunch were also good although I would say that NCL’s Garden Cafe aboard the Epic was better in terms of food quality, array of options and flow of traffic. My one pet peeve of the week was the staff person dolling out bacon at breakfast. I had read about the “bacon police” from other posters but didn’t really understand that you can line up at two separate breakfast lines and still end with this one poor little girl handing out bacon. And man she was stingy. I felt like I had to practically beg for bacon every morning to the point where it was embarrassing. Although bacon with breakfast every morning is usually a preferred cruise indulgence, I finally stopped toward the end of the week.
The coffee onboard was decent (didn’t try Creams or the other fee specialty coffee bar in the Red Sail buffet) and I liked the juices offered at breakfast and the lemonade served throughout the day. The lemonade is very sweet but I found cutting it with 1/3 water made it very refreshing.
Hubby and I felt that where Carnival really excelled was in the alternate food options, most appealing for lunch time. The Blue Iguana Cantina and Guy’s Burgers were really very good. We ate at the cantina twice (hubby also had a breakfast burrito on two separate occasions) and Guy’s twice for lunch and each offering we had from both places was really, really good. The Guy’s burgers are particularly delish and have been lovingly remembered several times since being home (FYI – go to the toppings bar to get your bacon fix that was missed at breakfast).
Lots of options in the buffet for lunch as well with most things we sampled being good. I have read a few comments about the desserts served here, that they are lacking in the flavour department. I would agree that the desserts were hit or miss. Either they were very flavourful and satisfying or they were beautiful but tasteless. Although I don’t like wasting food, I also don’t want to eat empty calories without a taste payoff so we were guilty of only taking a bite if the dessert was more looks than substance. On the positive side, the serving sizes were small which I thought was great. We didn’t end up getting as much self-serve ice cream as I thought we would with only one each for the entire cruise. But the one I had was tasty and refreshing on a hot afternoon.
In general we liked the food in the main dining room and hubby in particular (who doesn’t have food restrictions like I do and loves seafood) was particularly pleased with his meals. He feels this was the some of the best food he’s had on a cruise overall so he was very pleased (this was his 8th cruise, we’ve cruised with NCL, Disney, Princess, Royal Caribbean & Carnival in the past). I would agree that we had some very memorable meals, and that the food in the MDR was better than Disney or NCL but on par with Princess. I would give the edge to NCL for their buffet, particularly at breakfast and lunch, for the reasons mentioned earlier.
OK – so the lack of a real steel drum band or other live band was noticeable on sea days. The constant blaring of movies or concerts on the big screen in the main pool area was distracting rather than a perk. I totally get the appeal – I have several great memories of watching movies under the stars aboard both Princess and NCL ships and it’s great for football but I don’t understand why there always seems to be something on. Luckily there are plenty of other deck areas to escape if you want some quiet time.
Throughout the day they did have a young man singing his guts out and playing guitar which was a nice way to at least capture some of that live music feel. We also stumbled upon him completely by accident a few times playing in the atrium while we were wandering about.
We had a great week enjoying the talents of Dave in the piano bar. We kind of found ourselves there almost by accident on the first night after enjoying the Steakhouse and to our surprise, ended up staying for three hours singing along to some great tunes and meeting some really nice people. We returned every night for at least an hour, except for two nights where we decided to check out some other stuff going on.
Dave is a great pianist and also really knows how to engage his audience. He developed quite a loyal following during the week and it was really cool how he took all of our names and info he had gathered during the week and crafted a song that included us all which he performed for us on the last night. Thanks for a wonderful week Dave!!
We also spent a healthy amount of time in the Punchliner’s Comedy Club during the week, since we rarely get out on our own when we’re at home. We saw four different comedians at various shows throughout the week. I will say that we generally enjoyed the family shows more than the adults-only shows. We’re not prudes by any means but 10 – 15 minutes of mediocre sex jokes wears thin in a 25 minute set and generally this is where several of the guys went during their adult shows. But we found plenty to laugh at and with and probably went to 7 or 8 shows so it was overall really fun.
We went to a few of the stage productions as well, which were good. The performers are good dancers and decent singers and it was nice to just sit back and watch a live show. We also went to the Hasbro game show which was fun to watch and had a great time playing Battle of the Sexes in the show lounge too and I would recommend these with the caveat that like the Piano bar, these things are only as fun as the people participating.
Our Cruise Director was Matt and I have to admit that I was pretty surprised the first time I saw him because he looks like he’s 20. Turns out he is in his twenties but I guess I still think of a cruise director as someone a little more “seasoned” in terms of age, although the CD on our Emerald Princess cruise in 2008 was also quite young. For what it’s worth Matt was great and I did see him out and about quite a bit. So right off the bat, compared to my last cruise (aboard the Epic, which as far as I’m concerned didn’t even have a CD – did they have one?) he was definitely very visible and quite amiable.
Hubby also participated in the Sports trivia held 5 nights in the EA Sports Bar. The results were cumulative and hubby came close to winning it all, losing to another team by only one point. There was good participation on our cruise with around 10 teams. It was also a great way to get hubby showered and out of the cabin early (trivia started at 5:30) so I could get myself ready and meet him up there for a pre-dinner drink.
There was a lot more we could have done onboard, including lots of Bingo, trivia and demos but we tried to make an effort to go to only those things we really wanted to do. It was nice for us not to have a set schedule since we are such slaves to them at home, we didn’t want to be constantly under pressure to get to different things during the week.
PORTS OF CALL
My report on the ports of call will be light simply because we didn’t even bother getting off the ship at our first two ports. We had been to Costa Maya previously in 2003 and didn’t think too much of it, other than it was a good gateway for other excursions (sightseeing, adventure). We didn’t plan any excursions here and we were very happy with that decision as it rained most of the day. I took the opportunity to go to the Spa for their “Tip to Toe” promotion of a facial and hot stone massage. It was heavenly.
In Cozumel we had already agreed that if we were docked in town we would debark and walk around,
poking into shops and maybe head to Poncho’s Backyard for some great authentic food. We were docked outside of town and after a brief chat, decided that we would rather stay on board and use the amenities since it was a beautiful day. This is the only day that we spent any time at the main pool since it was basically empty. There were about 8 other people there for the majority of the day. We were the only ones in the pool, hot tub and using the slides for over two hours. It was amazing! We had actually started the morning off in the Sanctuary area but even though we had a covered bed, the heat was too intense for our Canadian sensibilities so we quickly relocated to the pool deck which we had to ourselves.
In Mohagany Bay we had pre-purchased the chair lift/loungers/floats at the small beach near the port as we do love a few hours on the beach. It wasn’t the nicest day and was raining lightly for at least half of our time there. Luckily the sun did make an appearance and we used that time to actually go for a quick dip which was very nice. We were happy with this outing as it was exactly as advertised. Nothing fancy but just what we were looking for.
In Grand Cayman, which we had been to a few times before, we opted to tender over and just walk around, picking up souvenirs and thank you gifts for my parents. We really enjoyed just walking around in town. We had done the Stingray City excursion on our first trip to Grand Cayman and while we loved it we’re a little gun shy about going again. I don’t know about you, but I find generally you can never recreate the same experience a second time. Should we cruise to this port again in the future with our kids, I would take them since that we would able to experience it through their eyes.
My husband and I have never had a cruise we didn’t like. We’re very laid back people – we go into each one knowing that not everything might work out as we had envisioned, but ready to roll with the punches and have a good time. I believe in the philosophy of you get out of an experience what you put in.
We’ve been fortunate enough to get several cruises under our belts with several different cruise lines. We find that each line has something different to offer and each have their strengths and weaknesses. There is no line we’ve been on that I wouldn’t cruise again. We were very impressed with how this experience on the Glory stacked up in comparison to RCI, Princess and NCL and we wouldn’t hesitate to book again on Carnival.