Saturday 02-16-08 - My DW and I drove down to Galveston from the Dallas area the night before. After our last cruise, where we barely made the ship as they were pulling up the gangplank, has convinced me to take a more leisurely approach for all future cruises. The idea was to stay at a no frills motel in order to save all our funds for the fun. The thinking was that all we really needed was a place to sleep. We stayed at the Sandpiper and I do not recommend this. Next time, we'll definitely invest a little more in the room and stay at a little nicer establishment. I draw the line at sheets with obvious stains.
Day 1 Sunday - Up early and out of the room by 9:00am. Quick stop at the local Walgreen for last minute this and that's, breakfast at IHOPs on the Seawall, then off to EZ Cruise parking. Arrived at the terminal about 10:45 and on the ship by 11:00. Since my DW is not a US citizen we always get to take advantage of the short line. :) Cabins were not ready until 1:30, so we took advantage of our first opportunity to dine at Sur Mer, and yes, it was as good as everyone warned. I had the fish & chips and my wife had the Ceviche. Great light lunch. We strolled around the Promenade until 1:30 taking in the elegance of this very attractive ship. Much more upscale decor than previous trips. We had booked an inside guarantee category 4A, and were pleasantly surprised to find we had been assigned a 8A balcony. Wow! We had a blast in this room and really appreciate the difference. Thanks Carnival! Since we didn't get much rest the night before we made this first evening simple by eating dinner in the Monet 8:00pm seating. We dined with a delightful mother and daughter from Toronto area. They were reveling in the wonderful weather versus what was happening back home. It was the daughter's first cruise and she was overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds. Off to the Welcome Aboard show in the Talouse, then off to bed. Just love sleeping to that rocking motion.
Day 2 Monday - First Sea Day. We are up by 8:00 and as usual I am ready to go by 8:45, while my DW still has another hour or so of beautification to go through(Always worth the wait). As became my pattern throughout this cruise, I occupied my waiting on wifely time by partaking of various gaming options in the Tahiti Casino. Quite a large casino for a cruise ship. Never had to wait for a table, other than a few primetime situations regarding the Texas Holdem table. I won some, lost some, but came out about $100 ahead. This became my pattern throughout the cruise. Overall I was about $500 ahead for the trip, which was a nice way to pay for my port days. Once DW was ready to go we mapped out our day with the Capers and were off. The first disappointment came when we discovered the Classical Music and Tea Time had been cancelled due to some maintenance problem in Alfred's Lounge. Turns out it was cancelled the next day as well. Too bad since this is one of our favorite activities. We enjoyed exploring the ship, in and out of the shops. Found good bargains and had a thoroughly good time. We particularly enjoyed the Boy/Girl group Impromptu which sang in the Main Lobby for most of the cruise. Very talented couple with a wide array of musical offerings. My highlight of this day was the New World Wine tasting. Always enjoy these, and learn something everytime. Had great tablemates for the wine tasting, and I do believe we all left with a slight buzz. Very good wine. We lunched in the Cezanne buffet, and were impressed with the overall upgrade in the food quality since our last cruise three years ago. Carnival has obviously made a conscious effort and it shows. For that matter, there were so many food choices on this ship, we never even got around to the pizzeria, Lido deck grille or the Deli. Just another reason to get back sooner rather than later. First Formal Night. Everyone looked lovely and dashing. Lots of after dinner pictures. We ended up purchasing 5 8x10's ourselves. After dinner, we were again off to the Lobby to listen to a little light music before the main show in the Toulouse. We really enjoyed this show and marveled at the number of costume and set changes. Very talented group. After the show, we went back and enjoyed the Lobby music until about midnight and off to bed.
Day 3 Tuesday - Second Sea Day. This day looked so much like the day before, I'll simply highlight the differences. We ate lunch at the Chinese restaurant and really enjoyed it. The main show was a comedian/ventriloquist. Very good. Let me say at this point that one thing Carnival should have done differently in the area of entertainment, was to move the Jazz music around the ship to different locations. For the entire cruise they were in Alfred's Lounge. Alfred's is the most smoke-filled location on the entire ship and the only place cigars are allowed. My DW is very sensitive to smoke, and as a result, we were not able to avail ourselves of our favorite music genre. Shame.
Day 4 Wednesday - Montego Bay. We had read the message boards and received overall mixed reviews on this port. We had decided to play it safe and taxi over to the Sunset Beach Resort. They offer a $40 per person all inclusive rate for Cruisers. To put it bluntly, this port was a complete bust. The only positive was the first souvenir shop inside the terminal. We met the only person on the island that apparently knows how to smile. We bought a pound of Blue Mountain coffee for our son, a few TShirts and souvenirs for coworkers back home. From there we exited to the taxi/shuttle area and stood there as several drivers argued back and forth over who was up next. We finally were assigned a driver by someone working Security and followed him a quarter mile to his cab. The drive to Sunset Beach is just a couple minutes. The entire trip he was trying to convince us what we really wanted to do was go up into the mountains with him to see the marijuana fields. This was such a sleazy guy, all I wanted was to get there and get out. Once at the "resort", we passed through their security and after asking where we were to go from there, the person just grunted and pointed in a general direction. We wandered around and finally came out into a parking area just outside the main entrance. We assumed we should go to the front desk. There were three ladies at work there and try as I might could not raise a smile from anyone. They took our money, and offered no direction or guidance. I was carrying a bag with various personal items, and when inquired about lockers, was just given a blank stare and shrug. We decided to head for the nearest beach and see what we could find on our own. As it turns out, they have not changing area or lockers. I suppose the thinking is that most of their guests have rooms and thus no need of such things. Beach was average, nothing much going on, we spent a couple of hours sitting on lawn chairs then decided to head back to the Conquest. Suffice to say, we'll not be visiting Jamaica again. The locals had a very cold, almost hostile vibe about them. Our tablemates, that evening, shared similar experience and felt the aggressive attitudes of shopkeepers was very intimidating. Back on ship, headed for something to eat and had a great salad in the Cezanne. I had the best Key Lime Pie for dessert while my DW had one of many varieties of cheesecake she would sample on this trip. Another great lunch. Strolled around the ship, visited the various lounges; Degas, Blues, Henri's. Dropped into the Internet Cafe and sent an email back home to let our son know we had gotten his coffee. Dinner at 8, show and off to bed.
Day 5 Thursday - Grand Caymans. After our Jamaica debacle, we decided to play it safe here. We spent the morning and early afternoon walking around town, checking out the various shops and had a pleasant time of it. We picked up a few more souvenirs, but noted that though the locals here were not at all hostile or aggressive, they too seemed less than interested in creating a festive atmosphere. Very blase to bored was the overall impression. Back on the ship by 1:00. Chinese for lunch, onboard shopping, casino, then dinner at the Point Supper Club. This specialty restaurant is by reservation only and has a $30 per person charge. It was very nice. Very low-key, subdued atmosphere compared to the main dining room. Food was good, company was wonderful and overall a very nice, relaxing and romantic 2 1/2 hours. I recommend it. After dinner we caught the late show in the Toulouse. This was a Motown Review by a special performer and was pretty good. We finished the night up in the Lobby with Impromptu then off to bed.
Day 6 Friday - Cozumel. Hooray!!!! Finally, we port somewhere where they get it. Lots of sights and sounds as you are coming off the ship. Mariachis performing, dancers, costumed greeters and lots of choices. Amazing the difference when you're made to feel welcome. We did a little shopping in just off the Punta Langosta pier before catching a taxi for Chankanaab National Park. This is a great beach for snorkeling and simple shore dive, even though it does show the damage from Wilma. Still lots to see when compared with the local diving we endure here in the states. We hadn't planned on diving, since my DW is not certified and has only been snorkeling a couple times. However, after a conversation with one of the local dive/snorkel shop stand owners on the beach, we were convinced he would be able to make my DW comfortable enough with a short crash course to take a resort dive. I was skeptical, knowing how much went into my certification process, however my DW was game and so we went for it. Bottom line, for $40ea, we had the best 1hour dive to 30fsw max depth. My DW was amazing. She had a blast and we have a great souvenir picture which I would have paid a lot more than the $10 they asked for. After the dive, we had a great Mexican lunch at one of the restaurants on the beach. Again, wonderful service delivered with a smile. About this time, we began discussing what it would take to move to this paradise. After lunch and diving, we were pretty beat and decided to head back to the ship. We weren't hungry, so while my DW was napping I took advantage of the Cozumel massage special at the Spa. A truly wonderful hour and best money I spent on the entire cruise. We ate again in the Monet and shared our wonderful day with our table mates. They had spent this day shopping and agreed Cozumel was by far the best of the three ports. After dinner we headed to the show. Tonight's show was Happy Coleman the comedian. He was so funny my DW and I nearly cried from laughing so hard. Best show of the cruise. After the show, yes you got it, we finished off the evening listening to Impromptu before retiring to our cabin.
Day Seven Saturday - Last Sea Day. Booo! Always hate this day, but try to make the most of it as I am dodging debarkation meetings, and Final Day sales. We are very laid back this day. Strolling around the ship, eating at the appointed times, drinking the occasional Foo Foo drink. Had my first piece of Apple Strudel this trip. Terrible compared to the same dish on my last cruise. This, coupled with a bad piece of apple pie on a previous evening, led us to the conclusion this particular pastry chef had no idea what to do with apples. We had our last meal in Monet's and said our farewells to our delightful table mates. Skipped this evening's show to make sure we had plenty of time to pack up and have our bags in the hall before midnight. Overall this was a great trip. We really enjoyed the balcony upgrade, the Ocean Player's club bon voyage gifts, the shows and entertainment in general. The food was just great and plentiful. Had room service several times and really enjoyed the BLT and brownies.
Sunday - Debarkation. This is what it is. It was about 9:30am when our station was called for debarkation. Took about 30 to 45 minutes to actually load into the shuttle. Fifteen minutes later we're in our car and headed back to Dallas. Planning my next trip.