IF YOU'RE FLYING DOWN, FLY IN THE DAY BEFORE. I've heard too many horror stories of people's luggage not making it or worse.
Where do I start? I went with my fiance, her parents, their best friends, and their daughter and son-in-law. We'd all been cruising together before: the elder 4 of our party are all Platinum (there's a joke there for later) and the other three of the younger had all been on at least 5 cruises, this was my second.
We all know that half of the fun of a cruise is because you spend time together on board, as well as anticipating your departure. About two weeks before we set sail, I started emailing our group with a paragraph or two about what we were going to do in 14 days, then 13 days, then 12 days... you get the idea. The whole crew got into it, razing me and my future father-in-law about packing too many suitcases, my fiance about packing too many shoes... stuff like that.
We set sail on Feb 2. My fiance and I live in Orlando, so we drove over that morning. Port Canaveral charges $105 to park your car there. (OUCH) We all made our way through security and the like. Up on top is where we split up, the VIP/Platinum went off to the left, we stood in a 200 person long line. In all honesty, the line moved fairly quickly, about 15 minutes. The running family joke is about all of the perks of the Platinum Card when you're on board... my future father-in-law and his best friend proceeded to walk around with their Platinum Sail and Sign cards on their foreheads for a moment or two. Yep, that's where the fun started!
We all got aboard without a hitch. My future mother-in-law took all of our Sail and Sign cards (SNS) and headed up to the Maitre D' to get all of us seated at the same table for dinner. My apologies if he winds up reading this, but I cannot remember the spelling of his name... Dimitir is close, and he's the Maitre D', so I'll call him "D". D was fantastic. His personality is perfect for the job he's in, great sense of humor, the whole deal. D switched everything around to have us all sit at the same table, and he made it a point to come by at virtually every sitting and make sure we were all doing well, even joking with us about things that happened when he saw us in other parts of the ship.
Our room steward was Augusto. I cannot say enough about him. He and his assistant Ay Wan were so good I can't describe it. If we even thought of needing something, it appeared the next time they did the room up. Efficient? Oh yeah. One time I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. When I came out, the bed was made! Obviously I'm joking, but that's the level of service we got from them.
Our travel agent booked us with a group of over 150, so some little things here and there didn't get done like we wanted. Make sure you stay on your agent if you want a certain dinner sitting, or your cabins grouped together, or at least on the same deck and side of the ship!
We arrived at Nassau bright and early, I have some great shots of Atlantis as we were heading into port. The cab fair to Paradise Island was $8 for my fiance and I, plus $1 for the bridge toll. I gave him $12, and the driver seemed appreciative. Carnival recommends you don't rent scooters there, and after watching the way people drive there, I don't either! We walked through Atlantis... calling it beautiful doesn't do it justice. We were going to walk through the aquarium, until we were told it was $32 per person. I have a Sea World Annual Pass, that's all I'm saying... We went back and laid out on the deck for a while. REMEMBER TO SUNSCREEN THE BOTTOMS OF YOUR FEET!
That night was great, we met Michael and Angga, our waiters. They're both from Indonesia, as was most of the staff in our section of the dinning room. I left notes on my comment card about these two teaching rookies for Carnival. They both approached their jobs with confidence and humor. Michael specially ordered a Key Lime Pie (my future-father-in-law's favorite) for us one night. As a part of the entertainment, they all sing every night. D's personality really came through there... Michael can sing, no arguing that. Angga had to be the funniest of the wait staff... let's just say it involved a Madonna song and a string mop head... I was laughing so hard I was crying! That night we also met our "bar server" Elena. We probably ran into her three times a day in addition to dinner. She knows her drinks, and her bright personality shines through every time. Dasvidania!
The next day was at sea... A "Sea Day" on a Carnival ship, what more need be said?
Tuesday was spent in St. Thomas. It's America, so the cell phone calls were charged normally. Of course I called and rubbed it in to everyone I knew in Ohio and Michigan, not to mention Florida. The way things were handled when we went through customs on board could have been handled way better. I asked a crew member later, she said it changes every time they port in St. Thomas. Crew members said that "James", our cruise director, had made a number of announcements the night before and that morning... nobody from our group of 8 nor anyone I asked as we stood in line had heard said announcements. Hmm...
We took the tour of the island. I don't remember the actual name of it. The taxi ride in the back of a Ford pick-up was different, and the views were breathtaking. We spent 2 hours at Magen's Bay Beach. WOW. (If you buy beer there be ready, a 6 pack and a strawberry daiquiri ran me almost $30) We ended the tour at Blackbeard's Castle. The tower was tall and narrow, but you could feel what it was like to have been assigned there, defending the harbor's flank. Gorgeous view of Port Charlotte Amalie. We toured the houses on premises; if you read the later Horatio Hornblower books where he was Port Captain in the Caribbean, all of the scenes described will come back to you as you walk through these houses. The rum factory... I can honestly say that you want to wait until the afternoon to hit the gift shop there. The tour entitles you to a cup of rum punch. They ran out, so they made punch and left a bottle of rum for us to mix ourselves... The famous 99 steps were a little tricky for me... We found a taxi for the ride back to the ship, even though it was only about a mile walk (again, remember the rum). The other younger pair from our group went jet-skiing. They had a blast, that's about all I remember them saying... Did I mention they gave us rum at the rum factory??
The next day was St. Maarten. We (my fiance, the older 4, and myself) went shopping in the tourist areas. We walked the port shopping area, and then took the water taxi to the first stop. That's where we found some good deals on shirts, and some cigars that I was not allowed to bring home. As we wandered down the street, we were offered beach chairs ($20 for 2 and a bucket of beer, not bad) and other items: towels, bags, reefer, cigars, shirts... yes I said reefer. Right in front of a cop. That's St. Maarten!
2 days at sea... again, what more needs said? OH, beware the blue margaritas... I got ferschnuckered at a party where the booze was free... beware the blue margaritas.
We all took our luggage off the ship with us... we thought to make it faster. My future bride and I packed up the car and said goodbye to the family, then headed home. Her mother called as we got home; we had made it out just in time. The port had been shut down because somebody had left a laptop computer on a table. Overkill for this instance, but understandable. They changed their flights and flew home a little later.
My advice to anyone flying into Orlando is to get as direct of a flight as you can. There is another airport here, Orlando-Sanford International (SFB). Allegiant Air is based there ( www.allegiantair.com ) and they fly all over to smaller airports east of the Mississippi. You might need to spend a day or two here prior to your cruise... go visit Mickey or Spiderman or Shamu for a day. NASA has a phenomenal tour, and there's always Cocoa and Daytona Beach. AirTran is based here in Orlando, with flights to and from their primary hub in Atlanta every two hours, and a nonstop from Akron every day. You may find flying to Tampa is cheaper, spend a day at Busch Gardens and work your way up I 4 to the Orlando stuff. No, I'm not a part of the tourism committees. I just know the value of spending time together having fun on vacation.
We all had a great time on this cruise. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. In fact, we are in November. You know you enjoy cruising when you take your in-laws on your honeymoon!