We had stayed in NYC for two nights at the Hampton Inn Times Square North on 8th Avenue above 51st Street. It was perfect: two blocks' walk to Times Square and Broadway, about a mile from the Port by taxi. "CSI: NY" was filming in front of the hotel Saturday morning!
This was our 9th cruise on Carnival, plus one on Princess, one on Royal Caribbean, one on Costa.
Embarkation was quick in New York. Well done! The ship was clean and modern, and we saw no signs of wear in the decor. During the week we saw carpets replaced in a lounge and a cabin so the maintenance is obviously up to date. Muster drill was uncomfortable on deck wearing life jackets and it was not even blazing summer - the temp all week was 65-75. We look forward to musters like the Carnival Inspiration where you report to a lounge and can sit and actually hear the procedure.
We're in our early 50s and were clearly among the junior cruisers on this itinerary. Lots of experienced cruisers to talk to at open-seating breakfast and lunch. We were paired with a couple that was our age for late dinner in London dining room and had some wonderful conversations. Carnival matched us up just right.
Port times in Boston were 2-10PM so we ate in port and did not experience that night's open-seating dinner. It seems like a good idea and we would have gone there if we had cut our port visit short.
We ate breakfast on Lido one morning and it was fine. It's just so nice to be pampered in the dining room with full service. Never got any pizza this trip, and ice cream/frozen yogurt only once, but it is always available.
The dining room food was very good. During the week we had prime rib, lobster, shrimp, flat iron steak, salmon, excellent soups, and dessert every night. Our choices varied: we definitely appreciated the Spa Carnival choices of low-sugar, but Warm Chocolate Melting Cake found its way to our table too. Special touches still exist with rack of lamb, pastas and vegetarian selections, and fruit and cheese platters for dessert if not tempted by Cherries Jubilee or Baked Alaska.
CD Jorge Solano's style is interactive with the audience, starting with the Welcome Aboard show. One night he picked us out to move to front-row seats at the Wonderful World show - what a treat. That show and The Big Easy show were new to us. They're creative and fast-paced and upbeat. Loved the use of the aisles for parts of the show.
Comedians Leighann Lord and Marvin Bell were excellent in two very different styles. Each did a main show and an R-rated midnight show another night. We went to both shows of each comedian and loved them. We missed the hypnotist, but caught Kevin and Caruso's illusions - still puzzling over them!
We saw a new type of trivia, and hats off to its author: landmarks from around the world on a PowerPoint on a huge screen in the Rome Lounge, with a clue printed on the slide. You had to identify where or what it was. It was long, too - 20 or 25 slides? And just right for the Carnival "Triumph" whose theme is to celebrate notable parts of the world. We did wish that people would stop shouting out the answers so we could think about it, but they were having fun so we didn't take the competition seriously.
Justin from South Africa represented the Park West art gallery. We found his approach to be directly counter to his goal (to sell some art). First of all, he didn't explain the concept of the mystery auction, so instead of explaining and getting better participation, he scolded those not holding up a card.
Newcomers know that holding up a card always means a bid - except when it doesn't. On the mystery item, it takes a confirming bid to get it at that price after you see it. So Justin told the crowd that anyone not holding up a card was, essentially, too dumb to get in on a good deal. It made us very uncomfortable on behalf of the non-participants. A definite turn-off. There's another review on cruisecritic.com that I think came from our week and it said the same thing about him.
Secondly, the art was priced too high. I'm not commenting on its value related to price. I'm saying that in this economy, during one of the cheaper weeks to sail that itinerary, pre- bids of $800 and up for the most part just made it boring. It's impossible for us to jump in. Small works for $200 or so might have gotten the bidding started, but it was pass, pass, pass. And we are frequent-flyers of Park West in the past.
Boston: We docked right on time in Boston. With two gangways open, we walked right off just after the 2PM invitation to disembark. We took a taxi from the port door to the Four Seasons at the south end of Boston Common, an excellent way to get right to the good stuff. It was about $10 with tip.
We ran right to the Swan Boats and took one of the last rides of the season. I went on them when I was a child; they've been running since 1877. Wait, that doesn't read right, does it. That's NOT when I went on them! Those are two different facts.
Anyway, the Swan Boats are little platforms with park benches bolted to them and big swan sides that cover the pedaling done by an extremely strong pedaler! The rides closed that same day at 4 and I was so excited to make it there. It was $2.75 a person for about 15 minutes, can you beat that?
No need for a paid excursion in Boston because we used to live there. We walked through the Common and up to Park Street Church. We enjoyed their music for the service at 4PM (remember this was Sunday). They welcomed us and it was a youngish, urban congregation with a warm and open style. Then we followed the Freedom Trail to Faneuil Hall/Quincy Marketplace.
The trail is bricked into the sidewalk, you can't miss it. We ended the trek at Cheers restaurant for dinner. Reasonable prices and yes it looks like Cheers. It's not the original Bull and Finch Pub that served as the model, with the stairs leading down; that's back by the Common. This is an indoor/outdoor restaurant with the Cheers theme.
Took a taxi back for about $14 with tip so you can see how much ground we covered!
Portland Maine: this looks like a typical New England town and we liked it very much. In the morning we walked to the left out of the port, down Commercial Street. Caught the 9:45 AM trolley at Long Wharf, 1 hour + around town. Great driver/guide. We saw the waterfront park with cannons, 9/11 memorial, and the natural amphitheater lawn sloping down to the traditional New England bandstand for Friday night concerts in the summer. Chatham, Mass. has one too so it just says "home" to me.
The Portland Observatory has some history in how they watched out for ships; the fire stations were interesting because they had fought serious downtown fires several times in the city's existence. All in all a great ride.
In the afternoon we took a Carnival tour called "Three Lighthouses." It went to (duh) three lighthouses, which we loved. Admission to the little museum at the Portland Head Light is free with the Carnival tour, and they closed it so the director could talk to this tour group alone. If you take the trolley in the morning, it stops there too. Don't pay for the museum if going on the bus tour later - you'll see it free!
Each stop of this nice coach was 20+ minutes, plenty of time to walk to the lighthouses, enjoy the peace of the ocean, and study the plaques. The reason we took the Carnival excursion is that it left at 2PM for 3.5 hours: arriving back exactly at 5:30 which was the boarding deadline. Would not want to be on a private tour with that schedule.
Between the trolley and the bus, we ate lunch on a converted car ferry, Demillo's restaurant. It had the lobster roll and whole fried clams we craved, and it rocked very gently at times if there was a big wake. We sat outside and just watched the active marina. It was terrific.
Saint John, New Brunswick: this port was shrouded in fog in the afternoon but perfect the morning of Sept. 22. We walked to the left out of the port, slightly uphill, and ended up at Market Square, which has a small museum that concentrated on whales. Don't know if it's a changing exhibit. Wonderful gift shop though!
We then walked east up another hill to the City Market. Fascinating! Friendly locals selling fresh vegetables, Java Moose coffee, holiday ornaments and more. All kinds of vendors. We ate out on the "patio" of Billy's Seafood. It's tables on the side of the building in one lane of the working alleyway, gated off of course, so that exiting traffic honks its horn and backs all the way up the one-lane drive next to you. It faces a pretty park across the street. The food was good. It's not harborside, so if you read reviews and choose it for its food, just remember that.
At 1PM we took a Carnival tour, St. John Highlights. Be sure to line up early - they took us out to the bus at 12:45 and we departed on the dot of 1. Excellent. The guide was dressed in a long blue dress, white cotton wrap, and ruffled cap covering her hair. (All the guides were in costume.) Marian was easy to find at the end of the time at each stop!
She gave us history, sights to see, and some silence to appreciate both: an excellent guide. We went all around Saint John and out to the Reversing Falls very near high tide. It's a wondrous sight to see, one tide crashing into the one coming from another direction. And that's it. You don't need to film it, it's on YouTube, and a picture is a good reminder, but nothing replaces just absorbing the absolute fury as those tides crash together. Our other stop was at the City Market and since we'd already walked it ourselves we knew just how to use our time and buy up all we didn't buy before.
Halifax, Nova Scotia: the fog here took just the opposite pattern Thursday 9/24. It was foggy in the morning and perfectly clear in the afternoon. We started out on FRED, the bus that gives you Free Rides Everywhere Downtown. Well, it's a great idea. The downtown merchants sponsor this bus from 9-5 for the summer months. And 'free' is good.
However, it's just one bus making a 40-minute loop all day. With three ships in that day, the boarding line at 9AM was long at the first stop. We came out of Pier 21, walked across the driveway to the real street in front, and walked left for ½ block. The empty bus pulled up to begin its route. It can hold about 70, crammed in and standing. We stayed on to the Citadel stop, the highest point in the city. We didn't pay the fee to go into the Citadel, so then we debated whether to waste 40 minutes queueing up til FRED came back stuffed to the gills, or take a taxi back to the harbor.
The taxi took us to the Maritime Museum at the harbor. With a AAA discount we sprung for the $3 ticket to the 3-D Dive to the Titanic movie. We hadn't seen it, but it was done by National Geographic about 10 years ago. The exhibits on the Titanic were fascinating, and the city's role in recovering the victims is a focus.
They also had a tugboat exhibit. Theodore the Tugboat children's stories originated in this area, and these people love them some tugboats. We had lunch on the harborside patio of Murphy's on the Water. Can't beat the view and the food was good.
Then, the highlight of the afternoon was the HarbourHopper tour. It's like the Duck in Boston. Not to be missed in one city or the other! The fog lifted at noon so when we took the HarbourHopper at 2PM it was perfect.
Braden the guide was a student at Dalhousie University. He was very good with history and the sights to be seen including a public garden and park beside the Citadel. After about 30 minutes the HarbourHopper rolls down the ramp and floats into the harbor for a while; it's more than an hour altogether. We saw a submarine tied up on a home visit, some Coast Guard folks going out on a drill, and the harbor coastline from the harbor. We walked around the glass-blowing shop and stopped for coffee at Tim Horton's in the ferry terminal before thinking of heading back to the ship.
This put us about three stops east of FRED's starting point, about 4PM. When FRED rolled around it was nice and empty, the last circle of the day, so we rode 30 minutes for the rest of the loop and heard the guide's comments for the rest of the route after the Citadel where we'd left her that morning.
FRED is a great service, but you can't see out the windows if you're standing or someone is standing in front of you, so you're missing what you came to do: see the city. I think a GrayLine Hop On/Hop Off might have been the easier way to go: nobody was standing on those! As with just about everything arranges, Carnival has these HOHOs pick you up right in front of the port. But we knew this first visit was only an overview, and we got it, without spending a lot.
Other details: people on cruisecritic.com were generous with their information and advice so I hope this helps those planning next year's cruises. I wouldn't have changed a thing. Notes to self:
1. Keep a running list of tips from other reviews and postings all year long. Separate into places to go, ways to get there (tour companies etc. with cost) and restaurants. List restaurant addresses! When you get the tourist map at the end of the pier you can then figure out where it is. Don't bother with getting maps in advance and dragging them with you. There will be one there. Always. 2. Print each city on separate page(s). I ran them continuously so I had an excess page or two with me every day. 3. Watch the cruise prices. When you see a significantly lower price than the one you booked, call for a reduction. Even OBC can help offset your gratuities or photos. 4. Be on Deck 10 or 11 to depart under the Verranzano Bridge. The ship looks like it's barely clearing it! 5. Riviera Deck was great. No noise, no movement, and it's a flow-through deck back to front. The price difference can be significant compared with other decks. 6. Chuckle at those who complain you have to go up, down, and around to go from back to front. That's only on Decks 3, 4, and 5. If your cabin is on any other floor, walk all the way to the back on your own floor and take the elevator to the Paris Dining Room's floors. Or walk to the front elevators, then take them to 3 for London. It's not difficult. 7. Compliment those who deserve it, right then and there. We got some stationery and wrote a letter to the Captain to tell him how great the ship's physician and two nurses were in a critical health situation we experienced. They were overwhelmingly grateful. Get the crew member's name and keep it in your room to write on the Comment Card at the end of the week, at the very least, when you get great service. 8. Bring a jacket to sit at the Atrium Bar. When people open the doors to go out to Deck 3, the cold air comes in. Why is this such a surprise? This will replace complaining about how cold the ship is, as we heard at lunch one day. 9. Clap for the musicians. Not too many people do, but the people comment to each other how good the musician is. It's nice to actually let the musicians know.
Good itinerary for those who don't expect adventure. There's no ziplining or ATVing this time! Loved the size of the ship and the overall experience. We're stockholders, so we expect to be back. The next cruise will turn us to Platinum!