The vacationers: The Halders (Kevin, Katie, Emily, Colton and Noel), The Eibens (Julie, Erv, Katie) and The Other Eibens (Deb, Wayne, Hayo)
Day One Friday 11/26 "Flying to Miami"
We were up at 4:30am in order to get the van loaded and eat breakfast. The kids were awake right away and super excited to get going. We met up with the Eibens at 5:45am at the high school parking lot, then headed towards Moline, IL. We arrived at the airport way way earlier than we anticipated. A friend from Moline had offered to let us all park at her place while we were gone (Thanks Debbie!). Deb and Wayne had already left on Tuesday to drive down so they missed all the airport excitement.
The Moline airport is small but organized and very clean. We were able to get through security with no issues, no x-rays and no pat-downs. It was my birthday so I was hoping for a little action from TSA but oh well. ;) We discovered that Emily fit into the "carry on luggage" tester. The kids opened up their Mystery bags and waited mostly patiently for our turn to board the plane.
This first leg of the flight was on the teeny airplane from hell. It made many of us claustrophobic and queasy. Luckily it was a short 30 minute flight to Chicago's O'Hare airport. We stopped at the food court for some lunch. The prices at O'Hare for food were very reasonable which was a surprise to me. After eating lunch we went to our gate and did some people-watching before hopping on the plane. This plane was a 767 and very nice and spacious. We all had plenty of room. There were TV screens throughout the plane and they showed an episode of The Office as well as some Twilight Scene-It trivia. That made me very happy and I won the trivia game but I don't think anyone else was playing except me LOL.
Note to the couple that was getting hot-and-heavy on the plane: WOW. It was bad enough that you had to showcase your oral talents with everyone watching, but hogging the bathroom for over 15 minutes (we timed you!) so you could join the mile-high club was just tacky. And we overheard you in the terminal saying you had only been dating 6 months. My 11 year old got more of an education watching the two of you than he ever could have by watching soft porn!
We landed smoothly in Miami and was able to get all our luggage quickly. Kevin called for the hotel shuttle and they arrived within minutes. A quick jaunt over to the hotel complex and then we were checked in. We explored the hotel a bit (gorgeous) and then ordered some pizza and pasta from a local place. (Cheap and delicous!). Wayne and Deb showed up with a birthday cake (Thank you!) and they all sang Happy Birthday to me. There was a beautiful outdoor seating area that we claimed as mostly ours for the duration of our stay in Miami.
Day Two Saturday 11/27 "Miami"
We started out the day with the hotel's breakfast buffet. This was an "okay" buffet but not great. We were comped for the breakfast which was a good thing, because I can't imagine paying $15/person to eat it. After breakfast the boys swam for a bit. My parents were coming down from The Villages to visit and stay the night so while we waited for them to arrive some of the group went out exploring. The girls found a boutique where they tried on numerous outfits. Miami fashion is so not like here in Iowa! Their dads were indulgent though and the girls bought a few dresses each.
My parents arrived with coolers full of subs and drinks and homemade cookies, yum! We all ate a great lunch and the boys did some more swimming. For supper we walked to a little restaurant that served food from El Salvadore. Everyone was pretty adventurous in their eating and I had fried plantains for the first time. After we ate we went back to the hotel and sat around the pool drinking and talking until we finally decided we should get to bed as we had a busy Sunday planned.
Day Three Sunday 11/28 "Getting on the ship"
We were up early again for the breakfast buffet. My mom learned how to use my phone to send a text message to Emily LOL. The hotel provided a free shuttle to the port so we loaded up all the luggage. Deb and Wayne drove theri van to the port and found parking to be easy and fast. The porters were really helpful and we were in the port line in no time. Colton got selected to take a survey but when they saw he was under 18 he did not have to take it. We waited in the line for security for a while then went through security. No issues there, and no x-rays or pat-downs either. After that we had to wait in another line to check in and get our room keys. Then it was up the escalator and onto the ship!
The first thing we did when we got on the ship was see Guest Services to have all our room keys coded correctly and changed everyone around so they were in the right rooms. Deb, Wayne and Hayo shared a balcony room. Julie and Erv had a balcony room and Kevin and I had one as well. Katie and Emily shared an inside room and Colton and Noel also shared an inside room. While the room keys were geting switched around, Julie and I explored the Amber Palace and once we sat down we realized that we really did not want to get up again. But it was time to drop off our carry-ons to our rooms and then have our first meal on the ship.
I have to note that the hallways were decorated with giant murals of people's heads. When you came out of your room, these giant heads were staring at you. I tried putting sticky notes over the eyes of the giant head that faced my room, but the stewards took them down.
The Red Sail Restaurant is the "casual" eating area on the ship and it is made up of several different buffet areas as well as a Fish & Chips station, Burrito bar, Deli, 24-hour pizzaria, 24-hour ice cream stations and a Grill. We found the area to be pretty crowded during breakfast and lunch times. I did not eat dinner there any of the nights so I'm not sure how crowded it was. The food was good, and hot, and varied. For the first lunch I enjoyed the lasagna. The Taste of Nations theme was "Mongolian". The seating area is on two levels as well as surrounding two of the ship's pools.
After eating the kids went off to explore on their own and we adults went up to check out the Serenity "adults only" area. This was a beautiful two-story area with really nice cushioned seating, hammocks, and two hot tubs. We also explored the Promenade level where all the various bars, casino, and dance clubs were. And then it was time for the Sail Away party on the Lido Deck. That was pretty noisy and busy but everyone looked like they were having a blast. We went back to the room and watched from our balcony. We also got to meet our room steward, Stani. He was very soft-spoken but had some really great advice about the ports.
Our room was spacious and had a very nice layout. We had way more space than we needed. Three closets, multiple drawers and cabinets. We also had a large bed (two twins pushed together), a couch, a bathroom w/amazing shower and lots of shelves in the bathroom too. The only thing we never figured out was how to turn on our balcony light. Other people had them on but we could not figure it out. We had Stani open up the door between our balcony and Julie's so that we had one large balcony to share. That was really nice for visiting.
We stopped and purchased our soda cards on the way to supper. This is a good deal if you have teens who drink a lot of soda, like Colton does. Emily declined the pop card. You have to drink at least 2 sodas per day to make the card worth your while. Since we had smuggled on alcohol, the soda came in handy as a mixer.
We had the early dining time of 6pm. All 11 of us were seated together which was a great way to reconnect after our long and busy days. My dinner that night was the Black Tiger Shrimp appetizer (great), the St. Louis Style Ribs as a main course (fantastic and my favorite meal of the week) and the Creme Brulee (ick) for dessert. Service was good but a little slow. Two of our servers were new to the ship (Donche and Jan) and the other had only been working a few months (Octa).
After supper the kids went to their respective Teen and Kid Clubs to register and we went to the Welcome Aboard show. Our CD was Jorge and he was hilarous all week long. The kids went to see the Movie Under the Stars which was Alice in Wonderland. Julie and I checked out some crazy comfortable lounge chairs and then hit the Cinn-A-Bar for the piano sing-a-long. It wasn't very crowded and we didn't return for the rest of the week. It reminded me of a Glee Club...people were really into it. I'm on vacation, so I really don't care if you sing "Piano Man" in the G-chord range LOL.
Note about the Kid and Teen Clubs: I hardly saw the kids all week. They were super busy with their own club activities. Each day they had a schedule of activities and the kids could pick and choose what they wanted to participate in. They did lots of things like mini golf, scavenger hunts, dance parties, food parties, games, video game time, arcade time, basketball, dodge ball, and a bunch of other stuff. At the end of the cruise each kid got a Tshirt that their new friends all autographed, and a backpack, and certificates for various things. One night Noel and Hayo attended a party that went until 3:30am! Counselors delivered them back to the rooms. For the teens, they hung out with their friends all the time. I think most nights they were in way after midnight. Carnival is doing something right when it comes to keeping kids busy and happy!
Day 4 Monday 11/28 "Fun Day At Sea"
Today was full of exploring and trying out new things. Started out the day with breakfast at the buffet. Then I went to the Welcome Aboard morning talk about the port excursions and shopping and things to do on the ship. This was funny as Jorge joked around a lot. After the show it was time for lunch already. Tried the Fish & Chips but did not like it very much so I had pizza instead. The pizza on the ship is very good. Deb says the hot dogs weren't really hot dogs, they were turkey dogs but I couldn't tell the different.
Julie and I sat in on the Art Auction and then went for Afternoon Tea. That was pretty good but I didn't like the tea I picked out. After tea we were supposed to meet Noel at Laser Tag but he didn't show up, turned out he was playing miniature golf instead. So we browsed the shops. I have to say we purchased the last 2 insulated mugs and we needed 2 more for Kev and Erv. We were told that they'd have more later that evening. It was so funny because we had a bunch of people stop us and ask where we purchased our mugs. We should have gotten commission from those mug sales! We also bought some chocolate-covered strawberries and they were delicious.
Dinner was an appetizer of Strawberry Bisque soup, chilled, and very good. Main course was Prime Rib and Lobster/Shrimp and they were fantastic. Dessert was a caramel apple puff pastry thing and was also quite good. Service was okay, very slow. The waiters all sang and danced.
After supper we went to the show which was called Living in America. Now, Kev and I have seen this show FOUR times now but this time the costumes were new which was a nice change. The show was great. We also went to the adult R-rated comedy show which wasn't great at all. The Glory is trying out a new comedy club venue where they have several comedians on board and multiple shows each night. All of the shows we attended were packed full of people so it must be a popular event. The Latin singers in the Colors Lobby were awesome and Deb and I learned some new dances.
Our towel animal that night was a dog. Favorite quote from today: Deb: "Watch out for the vacuum cord!" We stayed up way too late and had way too much fun!
Day 5 Tuesday 11/30 "Cozumel, Mexico"
The weather today was warm and sunny, just perfect tropical weather. Breakfast was a croissant and some salami LOL. After breakfast we debarked the ship (quick and easy) and headed over to the taxi stand to take a taxi to Paradise Beach. There were a LOT of unscrupulous taxi companies promising great deals. One driver we talked with wanted $28/person to get a ride to the beach. In Cozumel they have an official taxi stand with fixed pricing. A van of 8 people costs $24 TOTAL. If you did not know this ahead of time and were new to the port you could get taken advantage of very easily.
Paradise Beach was very fun and friendly for the most part. For $14/person you get a lounge chair and unlimited use of the water toys, land toys, kayaking and snokeling. Note that they require a $20 cash deposit or a photo ID (Driver's license) that you get back if you want to use the snorkel equipment. They will not accept a passport or a Sign-n-Sail ard as your ID. They have some new water toys and the three of us women managed to climb up onto the giant trampoline which was a miracle. Julie and I tried some snorkeling but the water was pretty murky. We had snacks on the beach and smoothies/drinks and they were all delicious.
After the beach we headed back to the ship to change into dry clothing and then headed back into the port to do some shopping. The prices in Cozumel were the best we'd see in any of the ports. The girls loved browsing and I was able to find some neat things for my daycare kids and CCD students. Everyone we talked with, both local and guests, were smiling and having a great time. That's so nice to experience. Colton was excited because they offered him a drink at a local bar, but dad stepped in and said no LOL.
The ship left port and then had to re-dock to pick up a few stragglers. We were on deck 3 watching the "runners" endure the catcalls from the passengers already on board. Sure glad that wasn't me! After we left port it was time to try the Sushi bar and then head up to dinner. My appetizer was French Onion Soup (out of this world), my main course was Short Ribs, Asian Style (wonderful) and my dessert was Warm Chocolate Melting Cake which was good but a bit too rich for my taste. Service was very good even though Jan was out sick and the other two servers had to pick up the slack. The waiters danced on the tables as entertainment and encouraged the girls to dance along too.
We discovered that our neighboring tables were full of bird-watchers that were all travelling together. Each night they would pull out their lists and have heated discussions over who saw which bird. It was quite entertaining. :)
There was no formal evening show so we sampled a few of the other venues. The PG-rated comedy show was okay, but not super funny. The White Heat disco held a Tribute to Michael Jackson and that was quite popular with guests. We enjoyed the Colors Lobby singers and watching the dancing. Our towel animal that night was an elephant wearing sunglasses.
Day 6 Wednesday 12/1 "Belize"
We woke up while pulling into Belize. The day was cool and cloudy with frequent rain sprinkles. This was a tender port and the water was very rough. Some of the shore excursions were cancelled due to the weather. We didn't have an excursion planned at this port.
We decided to try the main dining room for a fancier breakfast. The Eggs Benedict was quite good and we all got a kick out of drinking milk from wine glasses. They did not have hot cocoa or muffins available though much to Noel's chagrin.
We headed into port and it was raining pretty good off and on by this point. The shops were very small and rather crowded with everyone wanting to be in them instead of out in the rain. The prices were high in Belize and there was not a lot of bargaining going on. I do not think that Belize is a port that I would revisit. I might have felt differently if I had booked an excursion that took me out onto the water.
After doing quite a bit of browsing the boys went for a local snack and we met up with them to head back to the ship for some lunch. The Taste of Nations theme was "Mediteranian" and not very good. I tried the Deli where they made me a Reuben sandwich which was outstanding. (So good that I had several more throughout the week).
After lunch I took a nice nap and then enjoyed watching the sail away from my balcony. Got ready for dinner. I should note that each night they would set up many locations to have your picture taken and then they'd put them up around the 4th floor gallery. Katie and Emily must have gotten over 100 pictures taken the night before, it took us a long time to go through them all and select a few for purchase. The boys were a bit more reluctant to have their photos taken.
Dinner that night was very good. My appetizer was beef with noodles and a spicy peanut sauce. My main course was Seafood Newburg which was really yummy, and my dessert was Bitter and Blanc which was a bread pudding. No waiter show that night.
The main show this night was Justin Illusion, who was an illusionist who performed really well. The show was set to music that I like (alternative) and his "tricks" were pretty cool. This was by far the best show I saw during the cruise. After the show we enjoyed DJ Ryan in the lobby. Everyone was line dancing and singing along. I think it's great that everyone can be so carefree while on vacation. I figure most of these people will never see me again so why would I care if they see me doing the chicken dance? LOL. After that we went up to the Serenity deck but it was sopping wet from all the rain. We tried to laughingly re-create the scene from Titanic while Deb took pictures but it was pretty pathetic. We were in bed pretty early that night. Our towel animal was a hanging monkey that scared the crap out of me when we walked in the room.
Day 7 Thursday 12/2 "Isla Roatan, Honduras"
We woke up while the ship was still moving and docked during breakfast. We had some excursions planned for the day. Erv and Colton got to kayak through the rainforest and then did some snorkeling. Kevin, Julie, Katie, Emily, Noel and I went out on a big catamaran boat for a cruise around the island and snorkeling over the Barrier Reef. This was amazing and I loved every minute of it. Our guides were great and kept close watch on everyone. They were super helpful with "old folk" like me who needed a bit of extra help getting into the water. :D The fish and reefs we snorkeled over were just amazing, I have never seen so many different kinds of colorful fish!
One neat thing that happened was that we saw a pod of dolphins while sailing. Our guides turned the boat around and sailed right into the middle of the pod so that we could all try to take pictures and watch them. The babies were so cute! And they were all jumping around and swimming around the boat. This was truly a magical moment for me.
After we snorkeled we ate lunch on the boat. They served jerk chicken, salads, saffron rice and sodas/water to drink. The food tasted extra-good and I am sure it was the combination of the hot sun and splashing around in the ocean that made us so hungry. As we ate we got to sail around part of the island and get a close-up look at how the locals live. That was pretty sobering, it's so sad that people live in such poverty.
After we reached the port we changed clothes on the ship and then went into Mahogany Bay which is their little shopping center for tourists. It was spacious and clean and really enjoyable shopping. It had started to rain at that point. I bought a few things carved of wood as well as a really pretty ring for myself. On the way back to the ship it started raining pretty hard and I tripped and fell in front of everyone. Graceful me! Roatan is certainly a port I want to visit again, whether it be by ship or by a land vacation there. I wish we had more time there, as it was the most beautiful out of all the ports.
Dinner that night included a fresh fruit cocktail appetizer, a main course of filet mignon with short ribs (out of this world), and dessert was apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The waiters all danced and sang again. By the time dinner was over the boat was really rocking and many people were getting seasick. There was supposed to be a big deck party but that was cancelled due to the rain.
The main show that night was Asad the Hypnotist which was hysterical. We also went to see the comedy show, which was funny this time. Noel was really sick at this point so he slept in my room with me while Kevin went across the hall and slept in Noel's bed. The balcony divider door banged all night long and the doorways all whistled. It was pretty scary and at one point I dreamt we were sinking but when I woke up the next morning all was quiet!
Day 8 Friday 12/3 "Grand Cayman"
The day was grey and foggy when we woke up. Our orignal plan was to tender into the port and walk to a local snorkel center for snorkeling, but an announcement came over the speaker that we had anchored on the far side of the island due to the port of George Town not letting us tender in there. The seas were rough so that was probably why.
We had breakfast (I had pizza) then sat on the balcony and tried to come up with a plan B. We decided to stay on the ship until lunchtime, then tender onto the island and see what we could find. Lunch theme was "American" including pot roast and fried chicken and was good.
When we tendered into port (after a really long wait in line), we found out that in order to go the 14 miles into town, we needed to hire a taxi. We ended up riding the "Taxi School Bus From Hell" into town. It cost $5/person for the ride which was not too bad. The stores in Grand Cayman were very similar to the ones in Belize. Very pricey, overcrowded etc. But due to the rain it might just have been more crowded than normal. We walked up by Eden Rock which was where we had planned to snorkel but they had the beach closed off due to the weather. So we headed back to the ship but not before stopping for some Big Black Dick LOL. Our taxi driver on the way back was a lady who I swear was a million years old....do they even have driver's licenses in Grand Cayman? We luckily made it back alive.
Dinner was quite good again. This was our second "formal night". My appetizer was a Fresh Fruit Cocktail. Main course was Chateaubriand and my dessert was Amaretto Cake. The service was faster and the waiters danced and sang again. After supper we had our family pictures taken and some pictures taken of our whole group.
The main show was the Rock Show which was good but partway through they had technical difficulties so the show was paused for a bit. After the show we headed up to the 80's Dance Party which was a blast. The airplane couple must have had twins because they were at the 80's party. LOL luckily no kids around to watch this time. The lobby had the Latin singers again and they were awesome too.
Speaking of singing, I have to mention that every time Kevin, Erv, Julie and I were in the glass elevators together we would sing or dance or both. So anyone reading this who was singing "Yellow Submarine" with us, thank you! :)
Every night from 11:30-1am they would have "late night snacks" by the aft pool. They'd have burgers and fries, pizza, and desserts. That night the desserts were leftovers from a previous night and they were icky the first night. Overheard at the dessert table "They should put a sticky note on these nasty desserts to warn people!"
Also overheard: "Are you going to change into something different?" "No, I was just going to lose my skirt!"
Our towel animal was a scorpion. The "room fairy" had snuck into Julie's room and left her a surprise on her bed, so hearing her say "What the hell!" as she entered her room made us giggle. :)
Day 9 Saturday 12/4 "Fun Day at Sea"
We ordered room service for breakfast, which was great. My plans for the day included a lot of relaxation, so I headed up to the Serenity Deck to lay out for a bit and have some alone time. It was partly sunny so not too bad weather-wise. Kevin and Erv found me up there and we all sat in the hot tub for a bit and then it was time for me to do some onboard shopping and check out the pictures that we had taken the night before. Purchased a few and then it was time for lunch. Lunch included the giant Chocolate Buffet which was really neat. Took Colton for his first "tattoo". Then I went back to the Serenity Deck for a while then headed to afternoon tea.
(Some advice if you want to settle up your account: The line for Guest Services was very long but only got longer as the day went on. Better to wait in line for 1/2 hour early in the day than wait for almost 2 hours at night!)
As I was getting ready for dinner, I could hear the family across the hallway fighting. I should mention that they fought/screamed/yelled all week long at each other. Hightlights from this day's fight "I'm not a hooker! I am your mother!"
Dinner was fantastic but also sad as it was our last meal with our servers. Donche was very adorable and asked "Mr. Kevin's" permission to give Emily and Katie his email information. My appetizer was fresh fruit with peach schnapps. My main course was the St. Louis Spare Ribs. My dessert was the Grand Mariner Souffle. Service was great again, and the servers all sang a goodbye song and it made me teary.
After dinner we went to see the last evening show, "Legends". This show featured guests that had won the karaoke contests all week. Some were outstanding, others not-so-much, but kudos to all of them for being brave enough to get up on stage! And the show featured a suprise...Black Elvis! He was really good, too!
After the show we went back to the room and found our last towel animal. We're not quite sure what it was supposed to be. We packed up our bags (booooo) and set them out in the hallway for the porters to pick up and get ready for getting off the ship the next morning. As I laid in bed that night Kevin and I talked about the trip and how we would miss everyone, including the "fake hair lady", the "frown lady", "Stiffy and Shorty", and even the "fighting family". :)
Day 10 Sunday 12/5 "Heading Home"
Breakfast at the Red Sail was crazy and chaotic. Some people had decided to carry all their luggage off themselves but also carried it through the restaurant which meant lots of backups. We gathered our carryons and went to the Amber Palace to wait for our disembarkation numbers to be called. There was a delay with customs so everyone was delayed in getting off the ship. It was quite funny, though, when they called our number and our group jumped up and cheered.
The line for customs was long. Our porter was very helpful and got us through the line and out into the taxi line quickly. We got two taxis to the airport and arrived with plenty of time to spare. The Miami airport isn't the greatest, kinda dirty and the food there was very expensive. Again no body scan and no pat downs for me.
We flew into the Charlotte, NC airport which was very very nice and clean. Food was still expensive but a large variety of foods and we had supper there. We then flew to O'Hare where we had to sit on the runway for an hour to wait for a gate. We almost missed our flight and had to run through the whole airport at full speed (Okay, I was at slow speed) to make our flight. Our luggage wasn't so lucky but was delivered the next day to our home.
In a nutshell: We really loved this trip and having our friends along made it a lot more fun! I think that if we cruised again we'd go back to the smaller class of Carnival ships though. There are still a few things that I'd like to do while cruising that I haven't done, and a lot of ports that I haven't visited yet. Can't wait until our next cruise!