This was our second cruise with the Carnival, the first on the Conquest. I had considered various options for our vacation, but settled on cruising again because it seemed to be the most relaxing way to spend a week when nearly everything is done for you, especially we live in Houston, going to port is just a leisurely drive away.
Last year we parked at Port of Galveston's parking facility; this time I decided to try EZ Parking instead since I read so much about it on this board. Around 10:00 AM, my brother-in-law and his wife joined us Sunday morning, and the four of us took off for Galveston.
By 11:15 AM we arrived at EZ Parking, but once we parked we waited for our shuttle, and we waited, and waited.... There was a little drizzle earlier, and we had to dodge puddles of water on the pavement. A small tent/waiting area in the middle of the lot had about 15 people in it already. Finally 2 vans pulled into the lot and we breathed a sigh of relief.
Much to our surprise, once the 2 vans dropped off the returning cruise passengers, they just went and parked. Soon hoods were popped, and they took out jumper cables to rescue dead batteries! Seems to me they should have dedicated cars doing this rescue operation instead of making their departing customer and returning customers wait for shuttle vans while the shuttles finish rescuing dead batteries.
One van finally pulled up and quickly loaded up 7-8 passengers and their luggage. Another van came a little later and loaded 7 more. By the time we got on the 3rd shuttle, we have been waiting in the wet parking lot for almost an hour! We could have walked to the terminal in less time. I told my wife, next time we'll use the Port of Galveston's lot which, according to my past experience, had no waiting problems, and it is much closer to the terminal anyway, in case one should choose to walk.
Lines at the terminal were long, but moved quickly. We had our paperwork filled out beforehand, and within 25 minutes we were on board. Embarkation went very smoothly.
We went to the Lido deck and were told our staterooms were not ready, so we headed for the buffet lines. From reading on Cruise Critic, I knew what to expect and where to find Sur Mere, the seafood shop. I took the BIL to get Fish N Chips then came downstairs to meet the wives. Lo and behold, I stepped into some water that someone had spilled on the slick dark tiles, and instantly my Fish N Chips and Bouillabaisse were all in my laps, and I, on the floor! A crew member quickly came over to clean up the spills while I struggled back on my feet. A word of caution, be extra careful walking in the buffet area which is all tiled.
Not to be discouraged by the minor incidence, I went right back upstairs for - you guessed it! And yes, it was delicious. You betcha!
We love casual dining because of the relaxed atmosphere. There is nothing like reclining with friends enjoying meals and conversations while looking out over bright, beautiful waters. We would spend the rest of the cruise enjoying breakfast and lunch while glancing over the waters at casual dining. It is one of our favorite times on the ship.
We went back to our rooms on Lido little after 2:00 PM and found them ready with our luggage waiting. The rooms are clean and nice; bigger than our last cruise on Ecstasy. Plenty of closets, hangers, drawers.... My wife panicked when she didn't see a hairdryer which I told her would be furnished in every room. After fumbling around, I found it stashed in a drawer. It is meant to stay there as it is connected to an outlet behind the drawer.
After the muster drill, the four of us went to the top deck to look at the proud ship steaming valiantly ahead into the Gulf of Mexico. We took each other's pictures and came back down to look for the Monet where we were assigned early seating at 5:45 PM.
We had a table to ourselves and met our waiters, Mr. D from India and Mr. K from Indonesia. They were very professional as well as entertaining. At the end of our second formal dinner, Mr. K performed an awesome table trick that even my BIL who has a sharp engineering mind found absolutely incredible! Stunned, I told him, "I should call you 'Dr. K' from now on!" He grinned from ear to ear.
Every evening after dinner, "Dr. K" would perform a magic trick for us. We showed our appreciation at the end of the cruise by generous tips from the BIL and me to both D and "Dr. K."
The food in the Monet is good. They do try very hard at making gourmet-styled foods for their formal dining, but imaging having to do it for 3,500 people every night! It is virtually impossible to please everybody every time. With a proper attitude, we gave thanks for each meal we partook on board. And had fun doing it. There were bright moments too. I had a Chilean Sea Bass that was out of this world! The best I've ever had.
By the third evening, I began to order two appetizers to go with my entree. They all looked so good, I simply could not decide on just one.
Lunch at the Cezanne was not bad either. They put out something different each day. Then there is a Chinese fare, a sandwich place, Sur Mere, a grill, a 24-hr Pizza.... There is something that will please everyone - again, with a proper attitude.
The entertainment...well, they do try very hard at making it a "fun ship." My wife and I came here to relax and unwind. To maintain my peace and joy that is much deeper than those outward and fleshly excitement, I chose to stay away from the nightly Vegas-styled shows and dance.
Excursions. From reading the Cruise Critic, I gathered that I could book our own excursions. I decided to try and do our own excursion when we made port, but BIL was not up to my experiment and booked with Carnival for all of us. We took the Montego Bay City/Shopping tour and did have a good time. Jamaica is a beautiful island. The hills and beaches are all beautiful; and the people are beautiful, but poor. The vendors were all too aggressive in trying to sell you something.
BIL booked again for us a tour of Turtle Farm and Hell when we arrived Georgetown, Cayman Island. We took our time to enjoy breakfast when most folks have rushed to shore. I told the wife and the in-laws there would be plenty of chances to tender ashore.
To me tendering would be a nice change of pace, an adventure in and of itself. We took pictures of a couple of "pirate ships" while tendering to shore. I enjoyed looking at the immensity of the Conquest from the little bobbing boat and the majestic view of it as we left it behind. Seeing it from a distance gave me a sense of awe.
Waiting at the terminal for our excursion, I grumbled to my wife and the in-laws we should have waited till we landed to book our own tours. They were half the price of the Carnival's! My wife gave me a jab at the rib and told me not to spoil the fun.
Unlike Jamaica, Grand Cayman is flat. No hills, no rivers, no waterfalls. Just beautiful beaches. And beautiful people. And unlike Jamaica, crime rate here is extremely low. You can walk around in confidence and peace. No harassing vendors. Again, this tour was also enjoyable.
By now, BIL learned not to book an excursion for me and my wife for Cozumel.
The ship docked right by downtown San Miguel. Again, we took our time enjoying breakfast and walked off to the bustling downtown. San Miguel is a beautiful city located right on the beach. There is something about this experience - shopping with the sound of seagulls and the sight of gentle, crystal blue water lapping the shore with a hint of mimosa in full bloom. Pictures. And more pictures. Snap, snap. It would be a waste of trip to come to Cozumel without walking down the beachfront boulevard, taking in all the sights and sounds, and taking a deep breath every now and then. You gotta breath out all the cumulative stress from work at the office and breath in all the lazy sunshine, sea air, and a hint of mimosa that Cozumel has to offer. Too bad they haven't figured a way to package them into a bottle!
After a couple of hours, we walked back to the ship for lunch at the Cezanne. BIL and his wife went back down to join their pre-booked Submarine excursion. My wife and I walked to the terminal to talk to a tour operator to enquire about a tour of the island. We'd have to wait till a van is full for $45.00 ea. We decided to walk out to the taxi stands. For $25.00 ea we could have our private 3-hour tour of the island. Deal! We hopped in. The cabby spoke broken English, but it sufficed. We took the Island Tour last year with Carnival and knew what to expect.
Our cabby took us on the more scenic route this time. Apparently, the Carnival-booked tour was more interested in getting you to shop and took you to more populated areas. This time, our driver stayed on the scenic beachfront drive most of the way, and we were thoroughly pleased! The scenery was much better, and we stopped whenever and wherever we wanted. Snap, snap, more pictures.
My experiment worked - create your own excursions. Just don't try it in Jamaica, from all I've heard and seen.
Back to Galveston. Debarkation was a bit trying. Long wait for your deck to be called. And the lines were long and slow. Good thing EZ Parking shuttle was right there to pick us up and take us to our car; the weather had turned very cold when we arrived.
On the way home my wife called her younger sister and her husband who were driving toward Galveston to board the Conquest that we've just vacated. It was fun to tell them everything we learned about the trip. They too, were going to park at EZ. We warned them about the wait.
Turned out, they waited in freezing temp at EZ Parking lot for almost an hour!
The Conquest was very nice, the trip was enjoyable, the food was very good. I can still hear the sound of seagulls, the gentle waves lapping the shore.... Yes, we'd do it again.