OK, our flight wasn't supposed to leave until 5:50 AM. Since our security is a little tighter here (we have a nuclear weapons facility 10 miles off the north end of our airport) it has been common practice for one to arrive at the terminal an hour and a half prior to departure to ensure they can make it to the gate on time. So we arrive at 4:20 AM only to find that security won't open the wing that our gate is on until 5:00 AM. We get to sit for a bit. Luckily, a concession was open and we were able to get a sausage, egg & cheese biscuit for breakfast. This was fortunate for us as we did not have another realistic opportunity to eat until we got on the ship. Once airborne, our flight attendant came on the intercom stating that since this flight was of such a short duration (45 minutes), no refreshments would be served. The actual translation was that she was the only stewardess on board and she wasn't about to do her job without a helper (Boooo American Airlines!).
As soon as we landed in Dallas, we headed for the next gate without stopping for anything, which was fortunate because boarding started for our connector almost as soon as we got there. Then we arrived in Houston. We promptly found the baggage claim and got our bags. one of the exterior pockets on my suitcase was completely unzipped and flopping loose. I don't know where or when it happened, but I'm glad I hadn't put anything there and am appalled that American Airlines employees didn't even have the decency to try to zip it back up after it got unzipped. So, we gathered the bags and quickly and easily found the Carnival rep. She quickly pointed us to the waiting area we needed to be in and were assured that transportation would arrive ASAP, which most likely would be at 10:30 AM. We didn't try to get anything to eat and never ventured further than the restroom, due to fear of missing a ride to the ship. 10:30 AM rolled around and we finally started loading up on the bus. We hit three other terminals to collect more shipmates and then began the 1 hour and 45 minute ride to the ship. I had fully planned on taking every aspect of the trip in, having never been to Houston before, but soon and frequently I found my eyes slamming shut. When I woke up the last time, we were approaching the bridge to cross over to Galveston. I perked up then. My compliments to the bus driver. I never got the chance to tip him, but he did a great job of getting us there in one piece. Being a professional truck driver myself, I surely would not have wanted to drive a bus for that trip, much less just through the ship's parking area.
Now comes the ship boarding adventure! I should have seen the omen at the airport. There was a "special" contractor who was assigned with shuttling crew members to and from the airport. I didn't know it at the time, but it was time for the ship's 90 day crew rotation. We arrived at the ship, identified our luggage, and got in the line that went from the entrance all the way to the east end of the building next to the wharf. Two couples in our group decided to walk across the street to Fuddrucker's for a bite to eat, in hopes the line would be under control when they finished eating. Having not planned or intended to buy any meals in Galveston, I along with another couple from our group opted to stay in line. This was at 12:45 PM. By the time we made it upstairs to the last few switchbacks before the security screen, the speed of the line really picked up fast. It was getting close to departure time and the line had not shrunk a bit. 2:45 rolled around and we finally walked onto the ship. Granted, it really shouldn't have taken us this long to board, we did get on much faster with Royal Caribbean. But they were undergoing a complete crew rotation. A delay such as this is to a point tolerable, but they really need to get the bugs worked out and get the process sped up.
OK, We're on the ship! FINALLY! The first thing we did was drop off our carry ons and hit the buffet. Pam went to the buffet while I went to Sur Mer. The buffet (which I also visited) surprised me, the food was actually warm! (take a note RCL) At Sur Mer, I first had the fish and chips, then the fried oyster, and finished with the Brulees (?). All items were prepared right on the spot and were piping hot (again, take a note RCL, passengers like their food hot). The fried oysters were the best I've had yet and the fried fish was to die for. The Brulees had mussels in it, which I don't particularly like, but the broth pretty well made them tolerable with the exception of the mussel flavored belches I endured afterwards. We had the 6:15 seating in the Renoir for dinner. I had originally planned on just doing the buffet and only, but decided I'd be sociable and try to meet some new people. We were seated at a table for 8 and they were all older than we were (I'm 51). I could not have asked for better mannered tablemates. Discussion was warm and friendly and the food was great. My wife and I both had the Alaskan Salmon and it was prepared perfectly, and was still hot (RCCL! Are you listening?). We then went to the Welcome Aboard show, which my wife and I left shortly after it started. I found my eyes slamming shut again and figured I'd better go back to the cabin and go to bed. From what I can remember of the show, it was good. As for sleeping in the cabin, the cabin had been a bit too cool for our liking. I adjusted the thermostat and everything was OK after that. The wind is up a bit and the boats rockin' and a-rollin'. The wind was causing the balcony door to whistle and rattle. I took a clothespin and inserted the flat grip end of part of it into the latch for the door, thus drawing the door tighter against the lamb and tightening the deadbolt so is didn't rattle. The bed was much more comfortable and the pillows were far better than what we had experienced on the Serenade of the Seas. There was a little noise from the lobby musician and the boat did rock and roll. But I slept good anyway.
I slept so well that I woke up at 6:45 this morning. I laid there 'till 7 and decided it was feedin' time. We hit the buffet for breakfast and everything we had was good and warm. Lunch time rolled around, back to Sur Mer for fried oysters and fish. Yum! Went back downstairs and found the frozen yogurt machine. I had a large cone, then got a slice of pizza and went back for another cone of frozen yogurt. For the most part, all we've done today has been to wander about the ship and explore. Tonight is the first formal dinner night. I ordered two lobster dishes. Though the quality of the meals left a bit to be desired, the food was hot and tasty. We had finished our dinner entree before the table behind us ever saw their dinner entrees. I know there had to be a glitch somewhere in the system, but I doubt it was the fault of our waitress. She caught the brunt of the flak from that table regardless. I made sure to tell her that she was doing a fine job when we left. We were to meet the rest of our group in the lobby for a group photo after they finished their meal, they had the second seating in the Monet. To kill some time, we went to the casino to blow 20 bucks apiece on the nickel slots. True to form, I played for about 30 minutes before running out of nickels. My wife, on the other hand, was having a bit of difficulty in this because her machine simply would not let her lose. At one point, I had looked at my watch and noticed we had about 15 minutes left before we'd better start trying to meet up with the gang so I figured if my wife was gonna lose, she'd better lose fast. I told her to hit the Max Bet button until she ran dry. She hit it three times and then hit a jackpot. 4300 nickels were hers for the taking. That, combined with the credits left on her machine brought us $237.30! Not too shabby for nickel slots. We caught up with the gang after collecting her winnings and I proceeded to reveal to our associate pastor my wife's gambling problem. He agrees, she's not winning enough. We stayed up until midnight, wandering about the ship. Then went to bed. About 5 AM, I noticed the balcony door wasn't rattling and hissing any more. The wind and seas had dies down. Hallelujah! Maybe we can walk straight tomorrow!
We slept in today (finally) till about 9:00. We then headed off to breakfast. Today all we've done is wander about all decks both inside and out. I between passes by the buffet, we'd stop for something new to munch on. We also caught up with the gang a time or two and ate our second lunch with them, followed by my traditional tall ice cream cone. It was then off to the cabin for a bit. All that eating can really tire a person out. I had to get rested up for dinner tonight. So far, the food has been tasty and warm. It ain't like eating in any kind of a high falootin' eating joint, but even one of our complainers eventually saw my point in waiting in line for fish and chips at Sur Mer. It tastes good and the fried fish fillets come out piping hot every time. I saw my first flying fish ever today! I was out on my balcony, looking towards the bow. I saw something long and silvery fly across the bow and off to the starboard side. I wondered exactly what kind of bird that might be and what in the world it would be doing this far out at sea when it suddenly dove into the water and disappeared. It was then that I'd remembered that mom said I'd see flying fish on this cruise. Wooo hooo! I saw my first flying fish ever!
We've arrived in Jamaica. Departure was uneventful and remarkably easy. As long as we were in the terminal, we were not pestered by locals. Our excursion was the Canopy tour. We hit the terminal building and went straight to our area to line up, we were probably about 30 minutes early, but having never been to Jamaica we figured it was better safe than sorry. Our time to board the bus finally arrived. One member of our group started singing the theme song from "Rawhide" while I made cattle mooing noises. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain in my side, totally unexpected. It was my friend's wife jabbing me in the side for being silly...........again. We boarded the bus and headed out of the terminal area. I was truly never happier that I wasn't the person who had to drive. They all drive on the wrong side of the road and the roads are very narrow by my standards, much narrower than I prefer. I also noticed that the rearview mirrors on the bus didn't stick out as far as they do on US vehicles, they probably need that added bit of clearance. We went first through an affluent part of Montego bay, full of nice houses. One of the girls in our bus commented on how nice they looked. I pointed out that all the nice houses were either surrounded by a security fence with barbed wire at the top or had wrought iron bars on each window, door, or other possible access point. This concerned me. I've seen the same thing in El Paso in their affluent sections and I know they put it there for a reason. It ain't for enhancing the appearance of the home, it's for keeping the bad guys out. As we made our way up into the mountains, the transition from wealth to poverty made a rapid transition. I'll not go into detail about the conditions other than to point out homes with open holes in the walls where doors and windows should be and shacks slightly smaller than our fireworks stands (and built about as well) passing for local drinking establishments. We turned off this road onto a guarded dirt road that went further up through a large orange grove and into the hills. We arrived at a series of shacks that served as the starting point for our Canopy Tour, this also serves as the starting point for the river tubing adventure. The water in the river tour was still and not too fresh looking, we were glad we weren't taking that tour. The buildings as I said weren't necessarily top-notch architectual structures and certainly wouldn't pass code here in the US, but they served these people well and they were able to make the most of what they had. Our tour guides were "Super" and "Michael". These guys really worked hard to make this a safe and enjoyable activity for everyone involved. They know that none of us "Had" to do this tour and that if we didn't enjoy it, it would have an adverse effect on their future income. There were 7 people from our church group total involved in this excursion. Of the 7, we figured my wife would be the screamer. We were wrong, it was the wife of our associate pastor. Her screaming was much more heartfelt and sincere. Ye, after it was all said and done, even she had a blast. We got to walk through a lot of the woods in the course of the tour, concrete steps had been put in place where necessary. We also saw native bamboo growing alongside the trail and had a couple of Jade Parrots plying in the trees above us at one point. I kept seeing little wisps of smoke coming from the ground along the trail. These were insect repellant coils the guys had set up and lit before we arrived. I thought very highly of this as it appeared to be working. Overall, this was an enjoyable excursion and the only complaint I have is that there was only one 1000 foot long zipline out of the seven lines that we did. Though the others were shorter though, they were still fun. When we returned to the terminal, my wife and I decided to play it safe and shop in the terminal shops. Only one shop had a few people who I would consider as being pushy, but when I said "No", I had no problems. We got back to the ship and ate a light lunch and took a nap. I awoke to the sound of the marching band on the pier. Being a kinsman band member, I had to wake up, grab the camera and cheer them on. The admittedly small group was playing songs that were simple enough in the way they were arranged and they were played at a tempo slow enough to accommodate the skills of the musicians. This also allowed the musicians to add to their performance with marching drills and intermittent dance routines. I was very disappointed that the band had no low brass, specifically tubas. But seeing as to how I am very familiar with the HIGH cost of tubas and the lack of care given them by school kids, I could easily understand their not being used in this band. Yet there was a soprano sax used. I found this odd as I have never seen any band in the US use a soprano sax in a marching band. Dipstick caught up with me and was about to throw an empty plastic Coke bottle with some money in it for the kids when I stopped her and added some of my money to her coke bottle. Though we were only three decks above the kid, the bottle sure went through the air pretty fast. I was relieved that the kid stepped out of the way just in time, he'd obviously experienced this before. My final thoughts on the marching band are this. They obviously spend a lot of time practicing this routine specifically for performing at the ship. It's possible that the songs may change from time to time, but the marching drills can easily be used over and over and no one will ever know any different except for the kids. I have no problem with this, it's still bringing the kids in some money and if they continue to pursue a career in music, it could actually help them provide a living for their family later in life.
We've arrived in the Cayman Islands. Our excursion here is the Stingray City Sandbar Tour. We got up, got fed, got ready for the excursion, and got ashore. We promptly found our meeting point for our excursion and only had to walk for one block to get to our busses. Again, these people drive on the wrong side of the road. We were very fortunate that I didn't have to drive, we'd all have gotten killed. The trip to our boat was a short one and we boarded promptly and were likewise underway. The boat ride out was slow as other people have posted, but the thing one must consider is that people are walking around on the deck. Were the boat traveling at a higher speed, a person could be severely injured were they to fall. It's best to keep it slow and safe. We arrived at the sand bar and the guides set the anchors, then helped us into the water. The temp was a bit cold for my liking at first, but once I was acclimated to the temp, everything was fine and I was swimming with the stingrays. I successfully fed one of them and still have all of my fingers to prove it. This was an awesome adventure. Many of us had brought water shoes, but we were instructed not to use them. The sand bar had nothing on it to hurt our feet and as long as we shuffled our feet as instructed, no one was harmed. We were there for about 45 minutes, which to me seemed sufficient. We all got back onboard, the anchors were pulled up, and we were under way back to the dock.............or so we thought. "Houston! We have a problem" was the cry that came out over the intercom. It seems as though we had thrown a driveshaft on one engine and the other wasn't powerful enough to return us to the dock. They had radioed back to the dock for another boat to come and retrieve us and bring a repair crew for the boat. They arrived a short while later with a boat that was very fast compared to the one we were on. We were quickly returned to shore, once we were all on board. Upon returning to the tender pier, we decided it was better to return to the ship rather than fight the crowds later on if we decided to go shopping. We enjoyed the excursion and liked Grand Cayman just fine. I don't now what keeps this place from being blown off the face of the earth by a hurricane though.
We've arrived in Cozumel. We got up, got fed and bravely headed out into the land of the unknown. I've never been a big fan of visiting anywhere in Mexico. I've heard too many horror stories just concerning people who had visited Juarez, this really left me with no desire to ever visit any part of Mexico. Yet, we had booked the Atlantis Submarine Adventure. So I figured I'd better "Cowboy up" and get us under way. We departed the ship and I saw we were in the midst of Mexicans on big tricycles who wanted to give us a ride to the end of the pier. None pressed us for service, so we walked past them and on to our meeting point. We passed a couple of armed Mexican military dudes, their rifles at the ready. This concerned me a bit, there was no call for their rifles to be anywhere but slung over their shoulders, but they had both hands on them as if they might have to fire on someone at a moment's notice. My concerns were quickly dashed when we made the corner on the pier and saw a huge US Coast Guard patrol boat tied up at the pier. I knew that our boys had them other guys outgunned, so we walked bravely on. We found our meeting point for our excursion and visited with the other excursion members before we were loaded into taxis. The gentleman who led our excursion was quick to point out that our taxi fare was already taken care of and that we would not be required to pay any additional fees, we'd booked through Carnival. We were under the impression that we would need to watch an orientation film at the loading pier before boarding the boat to go to the sub. Apparently, we were a bit late in arriving as we were ushered directly onto the boat which already was half loaded with people from another cruise ship. As we cast off, one of the guides starts giving the introductory speech in German. I had one of those "Twilight Zone" moments, am I really on the right boat? I then found that the people who were already on the boat were from Germany, that explained everything. One of the people in our group replied to the guide in German asking for him to please repeat his announcement in English. Laughter followed and another guide got up and did exactly that. When he introduced the pilot of the boat, the pilot stumbled out of the wheelhouse sporting dark glasses and a white blind man's cane. Much laughter followed. Then the review of the safety equipment came, first for the PSD's on the boat, then concerning the PSD's on the sub. The guide was quick to point out that the Atlantis Corporation had been in business for 25 years and had never had an accident to date. He also pointed out that the on-board safety equipment was also that old and no one knew for sure if any of it still worked, but if a situation arose, we'd find out for sure. And so we bravely settled into the sub. It's very clean and appears to be very well maintained. After the hatches were closed, the guide again pointed out the location of the safety equipment and this time pointed out that if by chance we had a problem and sank, all he could say was "Sorry". The water was amazingly clear. It took a little while for us to start our descent, but once underway we went down quite quickly. we hit 65 feet below the surface and came up on a coral formation. We circled around that one and a few others at a depth of around 46 ft. We then ventured towards a shelf area and went down to 100 ft below the surface. We could see how the depths just dropped off into oblivion. At one point a large lobster was spotted (I would have grabbed it, but I couldn't figure out how to roll the windows down) and a shark. We puttered along a coral formation on the edge of the shelf and then headed back to the surface. It seemed to take a little while from 100 ft to 46 ft, but after the 46 ft mark we got to the surface surprisingly fast. We boarded back onto the boat and a new set of victims, I mean passengers, boarded the sub. The pilot pulled the boat back and we got to see the sub submerge. It was then back to the pier. The crew handed out glasses of orange juice and passed around a bottle of rum for flavoring purposes if people were so inclined. I opted not to divulge in either, having heard the stories I have. We got back to the pier and were awarded with souvenir certificates stating that we had successfully survived a submarine ride. We loaded back up into the taxis for a trip back to the ship terminal shops. The driver did try to suggest some stops along the way and he thoughtfully dropped us off at the back of the terminal shops, assuring the merchants that we would have,to walk in front of their shops en route to the ships. If you like cheap junk, they've got it! We got back to the ship and in all fairness decided to go back and give the shops an honest look. In my opinion, they might actually be selling some decent jewelry there, but the rest is cheap junk and I'd be leery of the jewelry too. We got back to the ship and spent the rest of our evening there. Departure was smooth and we only had to wait a little while for 1 late returning couple.
Well, the party's almost over. We're heading back to Galveston. The day has started off smooth enough, but I've been watching the weather and I know we've got to run into a change or two soon. I noticed some flying fish popping up on the port side of the ship this morning during breakfast. I went down to the third deck to try to get some clips of them flying away. There was another guy with his wife who was doing the same. The last clip I shot was of a school of about 30 of the little rascals popping up. Wow! That was strenuous enough, better go get some ice cream. We got our ice cream and headed to the aft pool to look out the back window whilst we enjoyed our ice cream. We heard a noise like an old hand cranked siren, I turned to look and noticed the canopy over the aft pool was closing. As it was still relatively warm, I assumed that someone up in the bridge knew something that we didn't know. I was correct because just about 30 minutes later we ran into fog, drizzle and colder temps. Ahhhhh, we're heading home. So started the day, we spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping and eating. As the cold weather blew in, so did the rough seas. The waves were kicking up pretty good and we were heading right into them This probably explains our delayed arrival on Sunday (1-20-08). We had our final meal in the Renoir with our tablemates. I honestly hadn't planned on eating any meals in the dining hall, but after we first met our tablemates we couldn't even think of not eating with them. We attended the final Bingo night and as usual lost. Afterwards was the disembarkment speech given by Mark Price. Very informative and very helpful. The seas were getting rougher as well and with all the passengers in the auditorium, the ship really got a little nose heavy (or so it seemed) and we hit some pretty solid bumps. With Mark's instructions though, I could at last etch my battle plans for departure in stone. Mark would interject a bit of humor here and there as he was instructing us and of the things he said, he made comment of a gentleman's remark that he'd discovered that the toilets on the ship were using salt water. "How would someone know this!?" said Mark. I figured (remembering that home port was close to Texas A & M) that the guy who'd made this discovery must have been a graduate from Texas A & M. After all, this would have fit perfectly with the recommendations for killing an Aggie. You slam the lid on his head when he gets a drink of water. Anyhow, we staggered and stumbled around for a bit, bought some photos we had made against a cowboy setting, got back to the room and got packed, set the wake-up call and hit the sack.
Day seven - back to reality.
I didn't sleep well after 4:00 AM. the seas had settled down considerably and I thought I'd overslept and were in port. That pretty well set things up for the remainder of my sleep, sleep for 30 minutes, wake up and check the window. The alarm finally went off at 6:00 AM, I jumped up and got dressed and went for the balcony to watch us come in to the pier. We weren't even in the channel yet! Dang! Those rough seas HAD slowed us down. Oh well, I stayed at my post with my camera in hand. I got a few good shots of us passing sips in the dark and repeatedly flashed my camera at the Seawolf webcam in hopes that I'd accidentally timed it just right so that the webcam would catch my flash. We waited around, did some last minute checks, and at 6:45 AM headed to the auditorium. Yep, I was self-disembarking and our flight was before 2:30 PM. After seeing the fiasco when we'd boarded, I wanted out of there ASAP. It was really a lot easier than I thought it'd be. We had a little bit of a line at customs. I told them I'd left all of the drug cartel money in Jamaica along with the Ganja and they let me right on in. We walked straight out of the building, found and boarded our bus and 1.75 hours later arrived at Bush International airport which is now where we sit as I'm finishing this review.
Final thoughts This was a great cruise and I met a lot of great people. I didn't really have any problems with any fellow cruisers or and staff member. Last night we tipped our drink waiter, our waitress and assistant waiter and additional $20 apiece. We had plenty of new friends to visit with on the ride back to the airport.
Plusses: The food, to me, was great wherever I ate. Hot dishes were hot and cold items were cold. Even the buffet food was warm. I also feel there was a better variety of eating options on the Conquest when compared to what I'd experienced on the Serenade of the Seas. I ate ate every location except the Sushi Bar (I don't eat bait) and any place that required a reservation. I loved the abundance of frozen yogurt machines but would really like to see strawberry as being a an optional flavor. Overall appearance inside the ship was good and clean. Service was good and announcements were made by the staff as were needed.
Minuses: The outside of the ship really needs some work, this is where the first impression is made and it ought to be the best impression. The funnel needs a fresh GLOSSY coat of paint after the soot is washed off. I saw several windows on the outside of the ship that needed touchup paint around them. The slide has some discoloration in it that makes the water appear to be yellow, this gives a person concerns as to what might actually be in the water and if it is something someone would really want to put their body in. I can understand the need for crew members to have a space of their own on deck to relax during their time off, but I wish it was orchestrated in a way that passengers could enjoy a view from the bow as well. I don't really enjoy the muster drill being performed as we are leaving port. I missed out on my opportunities to see the webcams and the porpoises as we left. When seas were rough, vibration was very present in the ship on most decks we visited and the stabilizers didn't seem to work as well as they should have. Several lights were burnt out on our vanity in our cabin and the balcony light was also burnt out. I would have pointed this out to our cabin steward, but felt that something this obvious should have been corrected before we ever boarded.
Would I cruise Carnival again? Sure! It has it's plus and minuses just like any other cruise line. And concerning people on this board of whom were on our roll call thread, I met: Aleah & Michael ffmikey SPHD59 Goldhedge Dipstick Treens, I looked for you, but never made contact with you. I was half scared to try to strike up a conversation with every person on the ship in trying to find you, but I did make the effort and asked a few people.
I'm sure there were other people from our roll call whom I met in passing, but I surely didn't know it at the time if I did. I certainly met a lot of great people.