This trip was a departure from our usual type of vacation. My husband and I normally like to lie on the beach in the Caribbean and relax. We were tempted into trying a group cruise with twelve actors from Guiding Light and about two hundred fans called So Long Springfield at Sea. The cruise went from New York to Canada with stops in St John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Guiding Light was a soap opera that had been on the air for seventy two years and was cancelled last fall. There are many fans that still miss the show and this was a fun way to celebrate the show that we all love. My Mom and I are the Guiding Light fans but my husband and my Dad agreed to come along with us. They both have watched the show by default at various points in their lives and were familiar with the actors that were going to be there.
Unfortunately our trip had a tragic start. We took Amtrak to Philadelphia and up into Manhattan. Since our cruise left on a Saturday, I wanted to make sure we were in the city the day before so we wouldn't miss the ship. I have taken the train many times over the past twenty years and this was the first time I ever heard of anything like this happening. Our train hit a person who committed suicide by jumping onto the tracks. We were delayed for about two hours while the police and the coroner investigated. Eventually they had another train come alongside ours and everyone transferred to the new train. We were back on the regular route into Philadelphia and then Manhattan. It was a very sad start to our vacation but since we purposefully left the day before, it didn't affect the cruise. Amtrak is a very convenient and comfortable way to travel into New York but I don't think I would take it again with so much luggage. My parents weren't able to pull their own suitcases the distance that we had to go. If we ever go on another cruise out of NYC I might look into a car service instead.
We had to call and cancel our Little Italy dinner reservation in NYC due to the accident so we ended up eating on restaurant row at La Revista. I ordered a delicious risotto with calamari ink dish. They gave us all some fabulous pecorino romano cheese with balsamic reduction sauce drizzled on top as an appetizer. It reminded my Dad of cheese that my grandmother used to serve when he was growing up. He said that it tasted very authentic.
We stayed at the Warwick via Priceline. This is a great hotel. It was my mother's birthday on the first day of the cruise so I called the Warwick a few days before we left and asked for a nice room for her. They ended up putting my husband and me in a suite which we gave to my parents. They were thrilled. My husband and I had a room with a nice view. We saw the musical, Promises, Promises which was a great choice. The show was entertaining and had a few songs that we were familiar with.
The next morning we ate a full breakfast in the Warwick's restaurant and then took taxis to the ship's terminal. I wasn't sure what to expect when queuing up for the ship. Our checked bags were taken at the street area and then we were directed to a line that corresponded to the deck on which we were staying. The workers behind the counter seemed to be on island time even though the island was Manhattan and not in the Caribbean. We eventually got through the line, they wished my Mom a Happy Birthday on the loud speaker and we were on our way.
I'm glad that I read about bringing an extension cord for my Dad's CPAP machine. He needed it and didn't have any problems getting on the ship. He also has a pacemaker. When we were going through the pre- boarding, they patted him down instead of having him walk through the metal detectors. We brought a note but he didn't need it.
I was very worried about getting seasick when we were planning the cruise. Before we left I ordered some ginger candies online from Gin Gin to calm any nausea that I might feel from the waves. The amount that they shipped to me was much more than I needed. Surprisingly I didn't notice the motion on the ship very much. I actually got sicker in the car ride on our excursion in Halifax than I did on board. The ginger tablets came in handy then!
After boarding we went to the Lido deck and grabbed some lunch while waiting to have access to our rooms. This was the first time that we saw some of the actors in the buffet line and eating at a table. It felt like we were in the fictional town of Springfield. They were all so gracious and nice. We waved to them when we saw them around the ship but didn't bother them outside of the scheduled activities because they were on vacation too.
We had to do the muster drill our first day. It helped us to know where to go in the event of an emergency but I thought it was too long. My parents both have some hearing problems and couldn't make out anything they were saying. I told my Mom to bring her hearing aids with her but she always complains that they're too itchy.
We had two 8C balcony staterooms and it was my husband and I in one and my parents in the other. I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the balcony rooms that we had. We were in room numbers 7401 and 7405. I was expecting something much more cramped. There were a few suggestions that I read about here that weren't a problem for us. There was adequate space for our toiletries in the bathroom - no need for an over the door organizer. I lugged along my hairdryer for no reason because I read that the ones on Carnival were weak but theirs ended up being fine. We also had no problems at all with water pressure or overflow in the shower. The room was very comfortable and met our needs.
We tipped the room attendant when we met him the first day. I told him that I need an extra towel for my hair and we like towel animals. It was money well spent. We always had a multitude of towels and we had a towel animal each day in both rooms.
We've eaten in some great restaurants over the years on our land vacations. Coming onto the cruise we were wary of what the quality of food on board would be but we really enjoyed our dinners. The cold fruit soups were a treat that you must try. There was a vegetarian quiche type dish with polenta that was excellent. The warm chocolate melting cake tasted like warm gooey hot fudge. It was decadent. I could still feel the caffeine in my body the next day or maybe it was the after effects of the piano bar - LOL! My husband had a pasta dish that had perfectly cooked calamari and scallops in it. The lobster was fine but we missed our favorite, escargot. We were tired from the excursion that day and just got pizza on the Lido deck.
We liked the food in the dining room better than at the buffet. One area for improvement for them is coffee on the Lido deck. It was one of the worst cups of coffee that I've ever tried. I had two sips and I was done. I noticed that there was a station where you could purchase specialty coffee. I wonder if the coffee on the Lido deck is worse than in the dining room so you'll pay to have better tasting coffee. I know a lot of people who are addicted to that first cup in the morning.
The first sea day we went to the main dining room for breakfast. My husband had a half of a waffle - yes singular - with a banana topping in the dining room. He said that it tasted fine but was a small portion. I told him he could ask for more but he didn't want to bother them. The main dining room was freezing that day for breakfast or should I say Brrrrreakfast - LOL! We were actually shivering. Remember to bring a jacket if you eat there. We ate on the Lido deck after that for breakfast even though the coffee was subpar. The breakfast buffet food was standard breakfast fare and was adequate. They had a person doling out the bacon but it was never a problem asking for a few more pieces. The worker was friendly and attentive as were most all of the staff on the ship.
We chose to have Your Time Seating for dinner and were able to get tables for four for our meals. The night that we were in St John the wait seemed longer but that could have been because we skipped lunch and my mom was feeling weak. We went to the desk a few times to check how much longer until we would be seated. When we got to our rooms later that night they had a small tray of chocolates in each of our rooms to apologize for the seating delay. It was a very nice gesture from Carnival. I liked Your Time seating and would choose it again for the freedom in dining times.
Since we were on the cruise as a part of the Guiding Light group and already had a busy schedule of events but we didn't participate in too many of the ship's scheduled activities. We a rock show which was an entertaining Vegas style revue. We knew we had to see the Illusionist because my Dad likes magic. He didn't disappoint. It was a fun energetic show. We also went to an up close magic seminar but had some problems understanding the magician because of his accent.
My husband and I are piano bar aficionados and have gone to several of them over the years on our travels. There were plenty of seats around the piano had a good time a few nights there. There was another woman at the piano bar who liked to sing who I think actually had a worse voice than me - LOL! Bruce, the piano player seemed to have his own playlist instead of encouraging the patrons to request and tip for songs. I don't like the piano players who seem to beg for money and overly encourage people to tip them to stop other people's songs but I also don't like the ones who seem indifferent to receiving tips for a specific song. I guess it's a fine line. We still enjoyed ourselves and would go back and see him again if he was playing somewhere on our travels.
We docked at St John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia. We decided to just walk off the ship in New Brunswick since we had to make it back onboard for a 3:30 PM Guiding Light activity. St John has a small craft market where we bought some souvenirs. I found some warm hand knitted mittens for winter from a vendor called Lydia's bags. I bought a pretty black and white beaded bracelet from another vender. Silly Portraits by Kim was a small business where a woman drew caricatures on shells that are used as Christmas tree ornaments. We had fun posing for them and they look like us. The day that we docked in port happened to be New Brunswick Day the day and they had a little outside festival going on with music and Scottish dancers. Entrance to the museum inside the mall was free since it was New Brunswick Day but I didn't think it was overly crowded. We bought T shirts for ourselves, candy for work and a moose stuffed animal for our niece. We posed with fun goofy statues outside and with a stuffed moose inside the mall. It was just enough to see.
For our second port, Halifax, Nova Scotia, I pre booked a private excursion with Daytipper Tours. We were supposed to call him when we were getting off the ship. They told us that only take cash and asked that we pay in person. We like to sleep in and had a late start to the day due to singing in the piano bar way too late the night before. When I called the tour contact person he said he was already out with another group. I was under the impression that we had a reservation and that he would wait for us until we were ready for the tour. I was very disappointed and a little bit grumpy - it's not like he had time to take two groups out on the same day. So there we were ready to walk off the ship with no plans on what to do. We had to figure out a plan B. We exited the ship and happened to find Paul McNeil from Arrive in Style Limousine Service at email@example.com or at 902-453-5646. The four of us went on a tour with him in a sedan for $50 per person. Instead of going to the overly crowded Peggy's Cove, we saw a lot of sites in and around Halifax. We drove up to but were a bit late for the shooting of the cannon at the Citadel. Darn, I knew we shouldn't have slept in. We drove out to and walked around the York Redoubt National Historic Site. We walked around the Titanic Memorial and got there before the big tour buses arrived which was to our advantage. I have some really nice pictures of it without ten thousand other people in the background. We went to Fisherman's Cove and had seafood soup at a restaurant called Boondock's. They also had a cute little shopping village. We bought some more souvenirs both there and at a market right outside of where our cruise ship docked. I would highly recommend taking an excursion with Arrive in Style Limousine Service.Paul was an excellent and very personable guide. He helped to save what started out as rapidly deteriorating day. This tour ended up being the favorite part of the vacation for both of the guys. When we returned to the ship we were all exhausted so my husband and I opted out of dinner in the main dining room. I slept for a few hours and we grabbed some pizza on the Lido deck. Unfortunately we learned that we missed the escargot night in the dining room.
Guiding Light Activities
My Mom and I had a different view on the vacation than my husband and my Dad. We thought of the vacation as another one of our Guiding Light events that happened to be on a cruise ship while the guys thought that we were going on a cruise that had a few GL activities on it. It made for different expectations and different priorities. The guys were troopers though. They went to most of the GL events with us and really enjoyed the behind the scenes antidotes from the Q and A sessions. They even did bingo with the stars.
It was my Mom's 74th birthday on the first day of the cruise. At the Welcome aboard party for the GL group, two of the actors led a Happy Birthday song to my Mom. It really made my Mom's day. She has been telling that story to all of her friends. My Mom and I were able to meet, get a picture with and talk to each of the actors on the cruise. The fans and actors were able to interact with each other and share what the show meant to them. I even enjoyed standing in line at the meet and greet sessions, being able to talk with other fans and hearing their stories.
We had a dance party with the stars where everyone was up dancing together on the stage. Unfortunately they played music for the younger crowd. I would have liked more 70's, 80's and 90's music and less hip hop and clubby songs. I tried to request the electric slide but the music was premixed. There was also a talent night where the actors and some fans sang. I really enjoyed hearing the stories from Adam the Director about how they staged some of their scenes. I found myself going home and watching some old shows to see if I could find the stage cues that he talked about.
Random Cruise Musings
On the last sea day we were on the Lido deck near the pool. While walking to get in line for pizza, my Mom tripped over the leg of a lounge chair. She had a large skin tear on her arm that was bleeding a lot. We went to the medical area on the bottom floor of the ship and the nurse tended to her wound. He was kind, compassionate and competent. He gave her a few extra bandages to tide her over until she got home. Because it was a ship accident, there was no charge for the care. We certainly hope that no one ever needs to see that area of the ship but we highly recommend their service if it's needed.
The cashless system that Carnival is jsimilar to the resorts that we stay at in the Caribbean where you can sign purchases to your room. Our Sign and Sail account was a little over $400 for a five day cruise which wasn't too bad for us. Our land vacations tabs are usually much more. My parents' S and S was only $120 and they thought it was high which amused me. They clearly aren't used to vacationing with us.
We usually like going to the Caribbean and never seriously considered going on a cruise especially to Canada but the Guiding Light event was too tempting to resist. I enjoyed the cruising experience more than I thought I would but I think I would have had a better time if it was a seven day cruise and we were able to relax a little more. We tried to fit all of the excursion time, the ship's activities and meals and the specialized GL activities into a five day cruise. We had a great time but we all exhausted by the end. That being said, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.