Our cruise vacation started the day before when my sister and I drove into Galveston and spent the night at The Harbor House. We had read mixed reviews about this hotel so we did not know what to expect. Since we are both in our early 60s we knew that we are smart enough to make up our own mind on whether or not we would like this place. Well, lets just say that before the night was over we made reservations to stay there again for our September 19, 2010, cruise.
Our room was spacious with two comfortable beds, a nice size sitting area and a great view of the harbor. From our window we had a great view of Carnival's Ecstasy. After watching it leave, week after week, on Galveston's Cruise Web cam, and seeing it actually leave in person are two totally different things. Lets fast forward several hours, the ship was so close to the pier when it finally left that we felt that we could have reached out and touch it a far cry from the way it looks on the web cam.
After checking in and dropping off our luggage (it is now 1:00 PM) we donned our coats and headed for The Strand which is only a block away. For those of you who are not familiar with Galveston, The Strand is Galveston's historical shopping district with shops, antique stores, restaurants, lofts, etc. We knew where we were going but had to find it first. Galveston's PostOffice web cam shows a small restaurant called The Gumbo Bar which is a bar and restaurant and this is where we wanted to eat. Thanks to a map that we picked up at the front desk at our hotel we found it with no trouble. We order the seafood gumbo and it was true to its name. It was full of jumbo shrimp, crab meat and oysters. BUT a word of warning, we are not big eaters and the regular size we order was enough to feed 5-6 people. So if you are like us and not big eaters order the Lil Daddy size.
Since it was a bitter cold day we decided to fore-go any shopping we had planned to do after lunch and head back to the warmth of our hotel room. After an hour or two sitting around our room we put our coats and gloves back on, grabbed our camera and headed for the pier where we could watch The Ecstasy leave the Port of Galveston. After an hour wait the cold weather drove us back to our room but first we stopped at Willie G's and The Olympia to checked out their menus that was posted outside their restaurants. Both looked equally as good so we decided to try The Olympia this trip. We made a good choice. We both started with the Greek Caesar Salad followed by the broiled shrimp, my sister's choice, and lamb chops which was my choice. Each dish was prepared to perfection and our waiter made sure that we were well satisfied with our meal and that we had everyone we needed. After a glass of wine we headed back to our room where we were to await our morning adventure that would begin our week aboard The Conquest, our home for the next seven days.
By 1:00 AM we both found ourselves wide awake so we made ourselves a cup of coffee and just talked about our week ahead. We finally went back to bed around 3 AM and finally fell asleep.
Sunday morning finally comes...
We both woke up around 8:00 AM and took turns taking a nice hot shower and got ready to go to the Continental Breakfast offered by the hotel and that is exactly what it is, a continental breakfast so if you are expecting a hot breakfast you will be disappointed.
By 9:30 we had checked out of the hotel, drove our car to the EZ-Cruise Parking Lot and was being driving to the terminal. We were surprise to see that we were immediately allowed to go inside the terminal and find a place to sit down. On our three previous cruises with Royal Caribbean we had to wait outside the terminal until the ship was cleared of its last passengers and then once the ship was cleared again for its new passengers would we be allowed to go into the terminal.
Just 30 minutes later Carnival allowed us to proceed to the check-in area where we received our Sea Pass Cards and were then asked to sit in another area. We were told that it would probably be 45 minutes before we were allowed to board the ship but the time went by faster than we imagined. My sister and I are both Saints fans and we struck up a friendly and fun-filled conversation with some young adults from Dallas who are definitely Cowboys fans. Right before we boarded the ship we were told to look under our chairs for an orange piece of paper. The lucky people who found one could choose between a stuffed bear or a T-Shirts. As luck would have it, I had one of the lucky orange pieces of paper and choose a teddy bear which I was able to get from the children's area once I boarded the ship.
Once onboard the first thing I did was head to the excursion desk and sign up for the Behind the FUN Tour excursion. But, atlas, I was told it was too early and to come back at 1:30 PM. So off we go to get a bite to eat at the buffet and found that even though we were one of the first people on board, that the buffet area was already filling out. We finally found a table and while my sister sat and watched our carry on luggage I went to find us something to eat. I got each of us a salad, piece of fish and steamed vegetables and while it was OK I have to admit that I have tasted better. After eating and visiting with the people next to us I told my sister to watch our luggage while I went up one flight of stairs to sneak in and check our cabin. By now it is only 12:00 PM and even though I knew our cabin would not be ready until 1:00 or 1:30 I just, just this one time since I have been cruising, sneak in the doors and take a peek. As luck would have it our cabin was directly in front of the door and our cabin door was open. I told our cabin steward, Jimmy, that all I wanted to do was check out our cabin and would be out of his way in a few seconds. He told me that he was just finishing up and if I kept it quiet he would allow my sister and I into our cabin. It took me seconds to run downstairs grab my sister and our carry-ons luggage and be back in our cabin. Of course it was still too cold to sit on our balcony so we unpacked what we had and decided to explore the ship. We had been on in once before in 2005 so we wanted to make sure we remembered where everything was. By now it was 1:20 so we headed back to the Excursion Desk and immediately signed up for the tour of the ship. More on this tour later but I will say that the $98. per person for a 3-hour tour is well worth the money.
We headed to the dining room to find our table and found that the place was empty. Not a waiter around so I walked in found our table and we headed back to our cabin to wait for the Muster Drill. Before we knew it the Muster Drill was here, over with and it was time to get ready for our early dinner. We found that we were by ourselves that night so we did not find out who our six other table mates that night. Monday night we ate at the buffet and Tuesday we ate at The Point (more on this later) so it wasn't until Wednesday that we made it back to our table. I have to say that when we did show up at our table in the dining room our table mates were so upset with us that they immediately left and went to sit with other people. It seemed that when we did not show up Monday or Tuesday these two couples had brought one of their friends over to sit in one of our chairs which meant that their friend would have had to eat at her assigned table. In fact I can remember their words exactly. And I quote "GOD, you mean they showed up and we have to eat with them?" Oh well, so sad too bad. We were able to share our table with two other lovely couples and only because our original table mates had taken their table.
Monday was a sea day and we spent the day meeting up us our Meet and Mingle group and having a slot pull. Then we walked around the ship, ate lunch in the dining hall and just hung around the ship. We had planned on dressing up for the first elegant night but neither one of us felt that great so we ate at the buffet and then rested until we met up with the 600 plus people we were with on our group cruise. We came cruising with a band called Nik*L Beer from the Lafayette, LA and their first performance was at 9:30 that night. I tell you that they really had the ship rocking and rolling all week. If you are a fan of music from the 60s then you will love this band.
Friday - Sea Day
Friday was going to be another fun-filled planned sea day with our group. We slept a little later than usual and had breakfast, as most mornings,in the dining room. Its always nice to have breakfast here because you never know who you will be sitting with and who you will meet. We meet the most interesting people this way and it is always fun to find out where every one is from and what brought them on that particular cruise.
We had a Mardi Gras party planned with a Mardi Gras Parade planned at 3:00 PM with the rest of the passengers of the ship so at 11:00 AM my sister and I sought out and found the best seats we could find on the Lido Deck. If this was New Orleans we probably would have had to pay big money for such great seats. But as luck would have it this was our only hot and sunny day, not to mention our last calm sea day, and both of us got a little too much sun. So at 2:30 PM we gave up our prime seats to two friends of ours and retreated to our room. We did not get want to be sick on our last elegant night so we took a nice long nap and were glad we did. Later that night we found out that we missed a great party and parade, with lots of beads being thrown but figured that there will always be another cruise with the band in a couple of years.
That night the seas started to get rough so we left dinner before dessert and headed back to our room to get comfortable. We were in bed early and at 1:00 AM I woke up and decided to get out passports, credit cards, and money out of our safe and place them in our purses which I then hung on the handle of the door. I then place both our life vests on the door handle of the bathroom, near our purses, just in case. I wasn't afraid but when I have a hard time trying not to roll out of bed I rather be safe than sorry. But with the rocking and rolling of the ship I soon found myself falling back to sleep again. Then at 3:00 AM my sister and I both woke up to what sounded like a balcony chair crashing through our glass door. After checking the door we found out that not only was the fog so thick that we could not see beyond our patio door but we also had a lighting show too. Our door was still intact but my sister and I spent the next 30 minutes on our hands and knees picking up pieces of glass that was all over our carpet. A large bottle of water that was on the cabinet had fallen over with the shifting back and forth of the ship and fell against two water bottles that then exploded into hundreds of pieces. Since it was so early we decided not to call house keeping and wake someone up. We did the best we could and later that morning when we woke up we made sure we had our tennis shoes on so we would not walk on the little slivers of glass that we could not pick up. One thing I did find out was that housekeeping does have someone on duty 24 hours a day so if you ever need help in the wee hours of the morning please do call them up.
Saturday - the day of Our Behind the FUN Tour is finally here. There are two tours for this tour with each tour allowing only 14 - 16 people each which an age limit of 13 years old or older. Although in my own opinion parts of it might be boring for the younger crowd. I read some where here on cruise critic where someone had a 13 year old who got bored and asked his parents if he could leave the tour early and join his friends and he was told by the person conducting the tour that, that was not an option he had to stay for the whole tour.
We started off by meeting in the library where they had orange juice, coffee, water, and pastries ready for us although no one really took advantage of it at that time. Then we were all wanded by security to make sure that we did not have any cell phones or cameras with us and if we did we had to hand them over to staff person in charge of showing us around. True to form it was a very cold rainy day so our first photo op at the bow of the ship did not take place. We then started climbing stairs and you do have a lot of small narrow stairs that we will be climbing up and down. I wish I had a note book to take notes because while I would do this tour again in a heartbeat there are parts of it that are a little hazy especially in the order that they visited them in.
We did visit the crew areas but since the crew works in different shifts we could not see any of their cabins since we did not know if someone would have been in one of them sleeping. We did learned that there is a big difference in the ship's crew and the ship's staff, with the latter being treated a little better than the former. Including the type of dining room each set eat in. What is interesting is that they do not eat the same food that we eat in the main dining room or the buffet. Their meals are very simple and most of them eat foods that are almost ethnic to their native lands. She mentioned that one group of crew eats almost nothing but rice at all their meals. She did mention which race they belonged to but I did not get it and no, it is not Chinese. We got to see where the morgue is and learned that there are two cold tables in there and yes people do die on cruises of heart attacks, etc. But this morgue is mostly for crew members who just can not be air lifted off the ship at any time. Next to that is the brig where we learned that it is not only padded but only has a single cot in it along with a straight jacket.
We toured the laundry facilities we were watched how these big machines actually folds the towels and sheets and each one is operated by a single individual. Next time you think your job is boring think of this individual that does nothing but feed towel after towel or sheet after sheet into a machine with no one around him to talk to, for hours on end. These people really earn their money.
We met with the officer in charge of the engine control room. It was amazing to see all the instrument panels on the walls and at any given time he knew exactly what each little blinking light meant. He explained each instrument panel and controls but he was talking so low that all I heard was stabilizer and thrushes. He has several people working with him who constantly looked at monitors and one or two of them always seem to be on the phone talking to the bridge.
We visited this big warehouse that was filled with every liquor, beer and soft drink that you can find at any bar on the ship. Needless to say none of us wanted to leave that place. The meat locker was so bitter cold that we only stayed in there for a few seconds as well as the ice cream locker where we also got to see several ice sculptures ready to go on display.
The head chef took us on a tour of his gallery where we got to see just how much work goes into preparing different meals for thousands of passengers. Especially when each one of us are asking for our cuts of meats to be prepare differently. And if you think you tiny little waiters and waitresses have a heavy load to carry you are right. We each got to hold one of their trays that they carry above their shoulders and I can tell you that they feel like they weight a ton. And while they usually have 12 plates on them, we got to hold them empty. So next time you see them with a full tray of plates then thank your lucky stars that it is not you carrying them. We also got to learn how to make some of those cute flowers that they kitchen staff makes our of vegetables which I thought I knew how but really didn't. The chef also had a member of his staff craving miniature swans out of ivory soap (yes a bar of ivory soap) which he presented each one of us as a souvenir of our visit to his gallery.
Our tour guide brought us to her office where they have a row of computer terminals. The crew and staff is allowed to go there to keep in touch with their families back home but that have to have for their internet minutes just like us and she says at times they have the same problems we have with a very slow internet connections. All of them also must learn some basic English skills especially the ones that will involve safety procedures so in case of an emergency that they will have to evacuate the ship they can understand the announcement made by the ship's captain. We also learned that since they tend to stick with other workers from their countries they tend to speak in the native language so the minute they walk into her office they have to speak English. And if it is learned that they are lapsing into their native language a little to often they are brought in for more English lessons.
We did visit several other places but the highlight of our tour was to the bridge where we met the Captain and his staff. He explained how everything worked and which instrument was important in its own way. For example their is one instrument panel that they use when there is no visibility at all. He showed his the instrument panel that showed us where different ships were, a cargo ship, cruise ship, etc, even though they were not visible to us.
We took a group picture with him, then we had individual pictures taken with him. Our tour ended at The Point, where as I mentioned earlier, we learned about the different cuts of meats and lobsters offered there.
We need got a back pack, lanyard, and baseball cap all with the wording "Behind the FUN" written on them. That night at our tables we were presented with the three photos that we took while on the tour.
Was this worth the $100 dollars per person, in my opinion yes. Would I do it again, again I have to answer yes. I know I left some surprises out so you will just have to take this tour to find out what they are.
Then the second best part of this day was the afternoon when we got to watch our NEW ORLEANS SAINTS WIN THE GAME! CAN YOU SAY GEAUX SAINTS!
I have to mentioned that the day we boarded the ship my sister and I had a sign on our cabin door that had a big ship on it with the words "The Guidry Sisters' Home Away from Home" We also had to cartoon characters of us; mine was me on a deserted island and my sister on a kid's inner tube that had sprung a leak. We had had two large pink flamingos on our door. We had more people stop us and ask us if we where The Guidry Sisters and we had to admit that we where. Our door was the very first one you saw when you either got off the elevator or the stairs and they told us that by seeing our decorations they knew where their cabin was. Either they were on the side of the ship they should be on or they knew that their cabins was on the other side. We had loads of fun with this sign so if you ever thought of decorating your door go ahead and do it. Not only do you enjoy it but so do some of your fellow passengers.
I am sure I made quit a few spelling and grammer errors but this is the second time I had to write this. This is one my computer crashed and I lost everything I wrote from the day we arrived in Galveston to the day we arrived in Freeport. And tonight it took me at least three hours to do this. So is I made any errors, excuse them.
Anyway - we did self disembark and was off the ship and on our way home before 8:15. Only downer was that both my sister and I got very bad colds our last day on the ship but at least it was the last day and we didn't spread it to the other passengers.
HAPPY SAILING EVERYONE.