Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
With the snow/ice storm affecting the midwest and northeast, we decided to leave early. We (me and DW) had already planned on leaving Thursday evening, but with the weather we left very early on the 3rd. Seeing as I work for Southwest Airlines, we had to go where the was availability, and availability was slim. We made it to FLL by 12:30 with a little luck (got seats on 2 flights CLE-BNA-FLL on flights that were basically sold out) which would set the tone for the rest of the vacation.
We stayed at the Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Airport. We got there with our luggage just after 1 to find our room was not yet ready. A bell hop was called to store our bags until the romm was available, but before he could get all of our bags tagged, the desk clerk called us over and said she had a room for us! We dropped our bags at our room, came back down for lunch, then went back to the room for a nice long nap (we both work 2nd shift, and did not get home until after midnite on Wednesday. We never made it to bed, so to say the least, we were pooped!)
Later that evening, we took a trip down to the pool, which happened to be a bit chilly as the air temp was around 70, so we hit the hot tub. The hot tub "closed" at 7:00pm (3 hours before the pool) but it was still hot, just with no jets. Since ther was no guard on duty to kick us out, we snuck into the hot tub. Despite being "off"', the hot water felt good after a long night/day.
This property is listed as 3 star, and I don't entirley disagree since it is a bit dated as Hilton's go, but it is a good bang for the buck. The rooms are clean, the beds comfortable, there are 3 dining options on site, the pool/hot tub are is beautful, the staff is very friendly and helpful, and the price is acceptable. I have stayed here before all 3 of my South Floriday cruise departures that I flew in the day before or earlier and reccomend it. There is a free airport shuttle, too, which is helpful. A taxi from here to POM is about $75, or they offer a hotel van for $20pp as long as more 4 or more people sign up, $80 for the van if less than 4 sign up. A shuttle to PE is $9pp.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Waking up rested after a 4 hour nap and a nice, long night of sleep, we picked up our rental car ($11 plus tax via priceline) and drove the 1 hour 15 minutes to Billie Swamp Safari. It turned out to be a very enjoyable trip! The brochure does not do it justice at all....we spent 8 hours here and could have spent more.
Included in the $49.95 pp admission is a "swamp buggy" ride through what is normally swamp land (not tis time of year, though...dry season means it was more "safari" than "swamp). Despite the dry conditions, the ride was interesting with many species of animals to view and a Native American historic site to view. The ride was about 45 minutes, and we did this twice before the end of the day. Also included is an Air Boat ride that was about 20 minutes long. This was both my and DW's first AirBoat ride, and we took this ride twice as well. There are numerous animal exhibits, including birds, reptiles, and amphibians and 2 animal shows, one snake show and one reptile and amphibian show. The cafeteria, called "Swamp Water Cafe", served traditional american meals, such as burgers and dogs, as well as some Native American dishes, including gator tail. We were not brave enough for the gator, so we stuck with sloppy joes and a burger, both of which were very good.
We both would reccomend this to anyone looking for a pre-cruise "shore excursion"!
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Started the day with some room service (continental breakfast, pretty good for the money) and then went down to the lobby to check out. This is where minor inconvenience #1 started.
I looked around for the cheapest rate for transportation to POM, and found Howard's Transportation. Do NOT use them for your transportation. First off, their website says they are a "transportation broker," or something similar. We thought this meant they arranged your transportation, and since there was no mention of this being a shared ride, we thought it was a private car/taxi. The price would have been good had it been private, but at $54 per couple, it is a rip off for a shared ride (you can get a shared ride to POM from the airport for $21 pp and the shuttle from the hotel is free).
He was 10 minutes late picking us up, and then told us that since his other van broke down, we had to go to the airport and pick a group of 8 up, drive 15 minutes north, drop them off, then leave for the port. Um, no. We told him that was not acceptable, that we did not knowingly book a shared ride, and if he was going to delay us a further hour we should be entitled to a discount. He got all bent out of shape saying it wasn't worth his time to take us to POM anyway for $54, that it was not his fault, we booked a shared ride and should have know that (despite not being noted on his website and him not telling us when we booked...) blah blah blah. This guy really needs a lesson in customer service. In the 10 minute ride to the airport, he stopped the van 3 times and told us to get out if we did not like it, that this is what we booked, and if we wanted to go to POM, we had to go on his terms. We got out at FLL, he huffed as we walked off with out tipping him (he actually said sarcastically "thanks for the tip"...), and snagged a taxi to POM which put us out $84 after the tip. But, we arrived at the terminal at 11:30AM. After a wait of 335 days, we were there
It had been almost 4 years since we sailed on Carnival, and the check in/boarding process seemed much smoother now than back in '07. The last time we sailed on a Conquest class ship (Valor in '06) it took us 2 hours and 30 minutes from arrival at the terminal to setting foot on the ship. This time we went from the front of the terminal to walking into the atrium in an hour flat! We made a bee line to the shore excursions desk to try and snag a cabana for HMC, and to our surprise two were left (so, this means they save at least 2 for on board sale. If you get shut out in your attempts to pre book a cabana, get to the ship early and pray! It is $26 more, but well worth it.) While we were at the desk, the other cabana sold, and the couple behind us about cried. I guess this stroke of luck made up for the issues with our transportation earlier
We then made our way to the Golden Olympian Dining Room to see the Maitre D'. We were sailing with some friends (who were getting married on St. Thomas) and family of those friends, so we wanted to see if we could get seats together. It proved a little difficult as they were part of a group booking and we were not, but by the third night, we had all switched to Your Time Dining and sat together the last 5 nights of our cruise.
By then it was 1:30 and our room was ready, so we found our cabin and checked it out. No luggage yet, so up to Lido!
After the first delicious DOTD, it was back to the room to get ready for the lifeboat drill. To our surprise, our luggage had arrived (all 3 pieces by 3:00!) and we had just enough time to unpack before the alarm sounded. We were both thrilled to find out that you no longer have to bring those jackets to the drill...made it much more bearable!
At 4:00PM sharp, we sailed away, following the Norwegian Epic out of port.
After sail away, we got ready for dinner and explored the ship a little, walking the Pormenade and Lido. At 8:15, we had dinner, and at 10:30 went to the sail away show. After that, we went back to Victoria Lounge for some Superstar Live.
After about 45 minutes of Superstar Live, we went back to the room. HMC and our cabana awaited at 9:00AM sharp, so we wanted a good nite sleep. This is where minor inconvenience #2 hit. When we got back to the room, there was a loud vibration coming from the ceiling. We have been on 6 cruises before this one, so we knew it was not normal. A quick call to maintenance and a repair man was sent up. He did a "quick fix" by hammering a couple small wooden blocks between the light fixture and the ceiling. In just 15 minutes, the problem was addressed. This held until morning, but the rattling would be an issue again the next day.
Some info from 2/5's Fun Times:
Cruise Director: Todd Wittman. He was excellent, very informative without being intrusive, and he put on the best "Game of Love", aka Newly Wed Not So Newlywed game I have seen in my 6 sailings with Carnival!
Welcome aboard show was at 10:15PM....same show it has been every time we sailed...don't think it has changed since 2002. Stale, but the performance was good.
Superstar Live ran at 9:30 and 11:15pm. This is a neat addition since the last time we sailed. If you have not experienced it yet, it is Karaoke on steroids. Same people with no talent singing with a live band backing them up. We went a couple times during the cruise and got a good laugh both times!
February 6, 2011 Half Moon Cay
The morning started with continental breakfast delivered to the cabin at about 7:15. A bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, bowl of cereal, yogurt, and a muffin for each of us which we enjoyed on the balcony as we approached Half Moon Cay. After we dropped anchor at about 8:15am, the tendering started. The first two boats were ship staff and supplies going ashore, which I wish I had gotten a photo of...food, computers, and other supplies were shrink wrapped, placed on pallets, and loaded onto the tender using a crane. Quite an undertaking!
We made our way to Victoria Lounge, where we were meeting for an early tender ashore to get into our cabana. By 8:30 we were on the tender (2nd boat for guests), and by 9:00 we had made it to Cabana 15!
The tender took about 10 minutes from boarding to the dock on HMC. IT was a cool ride as the entrance to the port was carved out of solid rock! After exiting the tender, you pass through the "gates" to "Fort San Salvador" and you have entered paradise!
We checked in at the information desk, which was staffed by three people. Only one, however, seemed to know what was going on. Unfortunately, there was a language barrier (it did not seem that English was her native tongue) and because of this she seemed rude, almost like she was barking orders at guests. In reality, though, she was very organized and got people grouped into their respective excursions and on their way. When you get onto the island, just listen to her and don't take the "attitude" personally! Thee run a military style transport around the island, so when you get there you will have a ride to your cabana or excursion, but you will have to walk back to the dock from wherever your cabana may be.
We boarded the tram and went down to Cabana 15. This is, quite simply, paradise.
As we thought we were going to get shut out of a cabana, we booked the Aqua Tr ax excursion. These are SkiDoo personal water craft, so I don't know why the didn't call it a Jet Ski excursion, but.... After a quick dip, we walked along the beach back toward the excursion meeting place near the dock.
When it looked like we were going to get shut out of a cabana, we booked the Aqua Trax excursion for 10AM. Even though we got the cabana onboard, it was too late to cancel so we ended up going jet skiing as well! You only get about a half hour on the bike, but they let you open it up. If you want more time, book it twice back to back. The ship says it is 1 hour 15 minutes, but we were back to the main plaza before 11AM. Not sure if you could talk the excursions desk into selling you back to back tickets with the scheduled overlap, but would be worth a try!
There was a complimentary lunch served on HMC from 11:30AM until 1:30pm that consisted of burgers, dogs, jerk chicken, four types of pasta/potato salad, and dessert. They opened up a bit early, so we stopped on the way back from the Aqua Trax and grabbed an early lunch. Our cabana was only a few hundred feet past the pavillion where lunch was served, so we carried our plates back and hung out in the shade while we ate.
February 6, 2011: HMC Part 2
The rest of the day on HMC we lounged in the cabana and swam/snorkeled (snorkeling equipment is included with cabana rental, as well as four large foam mats for floating). The snorkeling was just swimming face down looking at sand most of the day as the beach was packed, but toward sail away (After 2:30pm) the beach began to clear out and some fish made their way back into the shallows. Still nothing stellar, but at least some action! I tried to swim out past the ropes, and got yelled at, and I tried to swim down the beach in the shallows,and again got yelled at. So, stay in the ropes, or you will get yelled at Even out of the marked areas, still no fish. Save the snorkeling for another day and just enjoy the crystal clear water and bright sunshine here!
After HMC was out of sight, we ran up to the aft Hot Tub for a few, then cleaned up for dinner and, more importantly, the Super Bowl. We sat up on Deck and watched most of the first half, then went down to the PG comedy show in Victoria Lounge at 7:30 (Jason Blanchard). His PG show as good, but his R show was hilarious. At about 8:15 we went to dinner. After dinner was show time, and Sundays show was Manuel Zuniga Jr, a juggler, at 11:00. He was OK, but I would go see the comedy shows instead. After the main show, we went to the midnight R comedy show with Jason Blanchard again. The other comedian performing at Punchliners was Ed Regine. Full lineup for comedy was Jason Blanchard at 7:30, Ed Regine at 8:30, Jason Blanchard at 9:45, Ed Regine at 11:00, and Jason Blanchard at midnight.
After the shows, we grabbed a couple iced teas, went back to the room and hung out on the balcony until about 1:30. There is nothing quite like the peacefulness of the ocean at nite....
Monday, February 7th, 2011: First Sea Day
Today we took it easy. Slept in until about 11, went up to the late risers breakfast on Lido midship, then DW had a massage and I hit the casino. For one, I walked away a winner thanks to a good run at the craps table! After that, we took a short nap, then sat out on the balcony for a while, and eventually went back up to the hot tub before cleaning up for the shows. Before the shows, we grabbed some sushi from Origami, which is pretty good. This is one area where the food quality did not suffer compared to our last cruise! Tonight's lineup was similar to the 6th: Comedy show at 7:30 (Ed Regine this time), dinner at 8:30 (we switched to Your Time starting today so our whole group was able to sit together!), then "Just Rock", the production show, at 10:30 (early seating was at 8:30), and comedy again at midnight. Ed Regine was not too impressive, IMHO. He had an annoying habit of putting down the mic and screaming. We sat near the back and could barley hear him. Like Jason, Ed's late show was better than his early, PG show. The production show was good, one I had not seen before, and featured rock tunes from the 70's and 80's.
By 1am, we were pretty beat again, and had a very early day on the 8th for the wedding, so we retired for the evening.
I have to say I am impressed with Punchliners Comedy Club. In the past, there were a few comedians here and there, but the addition of a separate venue for comedy is great!
February 8, 2011: St. Thomas
We had to wake early today for the wedding, so it was continental breakfast at 6:15AM, then DW went off to the salon for her hair appointment. I stayed behind and watched St. Thomas appear!
We met the rest of our party at 8:30am, and were escorted off the ship to the waiting transportation. The wedding took place on Lime Tree Beach which was beautiful, and the ceremony itself was amazing. The beach is about 10 minutes by van from the pier in St. Thomas.
After the wedding,we went back to the ship for more photos, then me and DW, the other couple in the wedding, and the new bride and groom went up to Paradise Point to take some of our own shots. Me and DW stayed behind when they went back to the ship for a Bushwacker. It is a Baileys base drink that is delicious! I couldn't wait to get back this time for another!
Back onboard, we cleaned up and got ready for dinner. Likely due to the early call in San Juan the next day, the production shows were early tonight (7 and 8:30) and there was no comedy club or Superstar Live. We went to the early seating of "Singing with the Big Band", a tribute to Sinatra and Davis Jr which featured Christopher Allen Graves. This was among the best production shows I have seen on Carnival. If this plays on your cruise, go see it! After the show, it was off to dinner, then a half hour in the hot tub, and in bed around midnight.
This was a quite night onboard as not much else was going on. The only other major activity was Legends auditions at 11:00pm, but we skipped that.
St. Thomas is still my favorite port we have visited. It is absolutely beautiful. Given the chance, I would not hesitate for a minute to relocate here!
This is also where the only major problem I have ever had on a cruise took place. For the show, I hooked my camera up to the charger. I took photos past sail away, and hooked the camera up at about 6:45pm. We left for the show, came back to the room before dinner, and found my camera damaged to an unusable point. Someone dropped something on the LCD screen, cracking it rendering it useless. A call to the info desk got me nothing but blamed ("I'm sorry sir, there is no way to prove we did it. I can take a report, but that is all I can do. There are safes in the room to prevent this kind of thing from happening"). She is right, I should have locked the camera up, but the battery had died and I wanted to take pictures later. Shame on me for not charging it the night before, I guess.
So, it is my fault for leaving it out and I understand that. This did not ruin my cruise (the camera is old and I did get my use out of it), but it did make picture taking tedious the rest of the cruise as all I had was my Palm Pre with no zoom.
February 9, 2011: San Juan
On or last visit to San Juan we visited the rain Forrest and took a night horse back ride. Since the only excursions offered by Carnival for this call were a 5 hour bus tour, which included a shopping stop, or various shopping or walking tours, we decided to sleep in for a bit to recover from the long day on Tuesday. We woke around 10:30, got ready for the day, and went up to Lido for the late risers breakfast. After breakfast, we decided to take the walk to San Cristobal since it gets so much praise on Cruise Critic.
The fort was very easy to get to--take a left when you leave the cruise terminal, and take the first street on the right. Keep walking until you get to the fort! I have seen 10 minutes quoted as the walking time, but 15 is more realistic, at least on your way there as it is all uphill. The hop on hop off trams are supposed to stop near the pier, but it is a complete cluster by the curb with vans piled up on top of vans trying to offer you rides, so we just walked it. It is just $3pp for adults, and free for children, to enter the fort, and just $5pp to visit both forts. We did not allow enough time to even finish seeing San Cristobal, though. I recommend at least 3 hours (including walking time from ship and back) to see San Cristobal, and an extra 2 hours if you want to visit both. The hop on hop off stops right in front of San Cristobal and will drop you off at the entrance to El Morro, so you do not have to walk between the two. Best of all, they are free!
San Cristobal was absolutely amazing, and all the praise it gets on here is very justified. If you go, take the time to explore and bring a flashlight as there are some areas you can get into that are original passage ways and unlit. Not for the claustrophobic among us (very tight) but I would have loved to see where these tunnels went!
We got back on board at 3pm (we thought we were running late, but there was a steady stream of people still boarding when we got back) and went straight to deck 10 for sail away.
After San Juan faded in the distance, we grabbed some sushi and went back to the cabin to clean up for dinner. There was absolutely nothing going on on board this evening. We went to Superstar Live for a while after dinner, and there was laser tag in the Venetian (sounds a little dangerous.....) Also, there was a deck party with live music at 11:30 followed by the late night Mexican buffet (I miss the gala buffet....) This is the first night I have spent on Carnival with no main show of any type, and I was a little disappointed, but we passed the time with Superstar, some live music on deck, and some Mexican food!
February 10, 2011: Grand Turk
We were not scheduled into Grand Turk until 11:00am, so we slept in a little. I woke at 9:00am, but DW wanted to sleep a little longer, so I planted myself on the balcony until about 10:30am and watched as Grand Turk appeared, got larger, and we docked. My first impression was that this is not like any other Island I have seen...it is flat as a pancake! Honestly, I don't think there is a point on this island that is higher than 50 feet above sea level. And it is tiny...7 miles long and 1.5 miles across.
Once we were docked, I went back inside to wake DW, but she said she was not feeling too well and asked if I could go get her breakfast. A quick trip to the lido buffet and DW had breakfast in bed. After breakfast, she was feeling better, but we did not have an excursion until 2:30pm, so we were in no hurry. We made our way to the gangway at about 1:30 and walked up the pier to explore before we met our transportation.
The Power Snorkeling was among the best snorkeling excursions I have been on. The site is about 10 minutes by van from the terminal, and the advertised 7000 foot drop is only about 500 feet offshore so the boat ride out was real quick. After a crash course in operating the personal skidoo's (which will go about 3mph), we were off. The variety of fish was very good--saw tangs, angels, what looked like damsels, triggers, a cow fish, a puffer, at least 2 different species of blennies, pencil fish, and whatever those silver fish are (name is eluding me now...I will think of it later, just after it is too late to edit this....), but the density of fish was not as great as I have seen further south (ie. St Maarten, St. Thomas).
This was the first time I have seen jelly fish while snorkeling, too, and both me and DW got stung. Let me tell you, even though the largest jelly we saw might have been half dollar size, and the ones that got us smaller than that, a jelly fish sting hurts like a mother..... I got stunk on my left forearm, DW on the inside of her left calf, and both of the stings swelled up pretty good. Other than the annoying dull throb of the sting, though, it was not debilitating. We ended up seeing about 10 jelly's, all in the deeper water near the drop off.
The guides stirred up the fish a couple times with some bait, but they never hung around too long. This did lure fish into the shallower water, though, which increased the number, if not the variety, of fish we saw.
After about 75 minutes in the water, the guides signaled it was time to head in. No boat, though, power all the way in! All I can say is when the guide says follow him, don't be like us....listen. The coral goes almost all the way to the shore and there were many urchins in the real shallow water. There is apparently a way in that is mostly clear of coral, but us being the adventurous type did not take that way. We both ended up with a few scrapes from brushing against the coral (luckily we avoided the urchins!), but it was tense for a few minutes because the water was about 2 feet deep and there was no way to stand up without getting spines through your feet.
Once we finally got past the urchins and out of the water, the guide took the long way back to the pier so he could talk about the island's history a little. You could tell he loved his home, and he was very informative. Up in that first photo, you can see brown water. Those are actually salt water ponds (that reek horribly....) that used to be the primary industry for Grand Turk. They would evaporate the water and sell the salt. Now, however, the primary industry is service, ever since Carnival came to town.
After a drive around the island, this place is truly a third world country. It looks like a bomb went off in 1981 and they never cleaned up or re-built. Buildings that are half done, destroyed, or in varying states of disrepair are every where. No one has air conditioning, and almost no one even has glass windows (just shutters). I did not see a hotel or motel anywhere, and their airport (which you will drive by) looks like a converted Applebees. The reef, though, is the third largest natural reef in the world and it alone is worth the trip if you enjoy snorkeling or diving.
Once back on board, we sat out on our balcony for sail away, then went up to Lido for some burgers and watched Grand Turk fade into the distance from the aft pool area. After burgers, we hopped into the hot tub for a while before cleaning up for dinner.
Tonight was the second elegant night, which for me meant bring out the dress shirt and tie again (I hate dressing up, if i have not mentioned it yet....just do not like dress clothes). We started the evening with the comedy of JR McCollom, who was very funny but he had that habit of laughing at his own jokes that drives me a bit nuts. His jokes made up for it, though, and he is one of the better comedians I have seen on Carnival. The comedy schedule for Thursday was JR at 7:30, 9:45, and midnight, and Allyn Ball at 8:30 and 11:00 (same comedians for Friday, times reversed). After comedy, it was dinner at 8:30, then the main show, Wonderful World, at 10:30 (early seating at 8:30). This show was a showcase of music from around the world. IT was not bad, but by this point we had started to really like Punchliners, so we ducked out at 11:00 and went over to the Victoria Lounge for Allyn Ball. Allyn rocks, and really might be the best comedian I have seen live anywhere. IF he is on your ship, go see him. All 5 of his shows were different, too, so no repeats! We hung out for the midnight show with JR again, then took a walk around the open decks until about 2:00. Friday was the final day aboard, so we stayed up a little later the last couple nights to get more quality time out of it!
A note: I would not hesitate to book a cruise with Grand Turk as a call again. The natural beauty of the area rivals any other island I have been to, the water was nice and warm and clear, and the people were the friendliest I have seen anywhere!
Friday, February 11, 2011: Final Sea Day
We took it easy today. We woke about 9, went up to Lido for breakfast, then came back to the cabin and relaxed on the balcony for about an hour just watching the world go by. At 11:00, I went to the casino to play in the poker pro challenge, but only 2 participants had signed up (one of which was me) and there is a 5 player minimum, so no chance of winning my fare on Dream in December. All those hours of playing full tilt poker, and I don't get to test my skills in a real tournament! Oh, well, off to the excursion desk to book our debarkation excursion to the Miami Seaquarium, then back to the room where DW was still relaxing on the balcony. A little past noon, we went up to Lido for a Burrito. I was a bit disappointed with it, to be honest. It was good, but I am a big Chipotle/Currito fan and this was no Chipotle or Currito!! It was tasty, though, and I would stop again on a future cruise!
After lunch, it was off the the Spa where we had booked a couples massage workshop called "The Art of Massage". It went step by step through how to give a quality massage, and lasted about an hour. Each partner got to give and receive a massage with the time split about evenly at a half hour each. At the end, each couple got a free bottle of massage oil and an instruction pamphlet for future massage practice! The cost was $61 per couple, and was worth every penny.
After the massage workshop, we went back to the cabin and packed up so we did not have to worry about it later. After packing, we hit the hot tubs for a while, then came back to the cabin to get ready for the shows and dinner. We had a quick snack at the sushi bar again, then did some browsing at the shops until the first comedy show started (Allyn Ball at 7:30). After comedy (much like previous nights) it was one final dinner with the rest of our party, then we caught the beginning of Legends at 10:30. We ducked out before 11:00, however, after "Livin La Vida Loca" was obviously, and poorly, lip synced. I thought the point of Legends was to showcase talent, but this was so blatantly staged that we gave up and went to Puncliners. We got there to catch both Allyn Ball and JR McCollom, and just as on Thursday, both were excellent. After the shows, we were not nearly ready for bed, so we hit up the pizzeria for a snack and walked the open decks for a while, lounging midship for a few with our pizza and iced tea, and eventually making our way to the forward viewing area on Lida (that was "closed from sunset to sunrise"....oops!). We stayed there for about a half hour just enjoying the peaceful song of the ocean. Finally, at about 3am, we retired for the evening, and for the last time on board the Liberty.
Some other highlights from Fridays Fun Times:
Game of Love: 2:45pm
Corn hole (Bean Bag Toss) 10:00am and 3:30pm
Farewell Party 5:00pm
$10,000 bingo 9:45pm
Saturday, February 12, 2011: Debarkation and Miami Seaquarium
Let's be honest, there is nothing worse than debarkation day on a cruise. Besides vacation being over (which sucks regardless of what type of vacation it is), it means you have to go home and start doing everything for yourself again. Not that I mind cooking, working, or general house work, but it is realllyyy nice to have someone else take care of it so you can relax! The first couple days off the ship are tough, at least for us.
But anyway, the day began with continental breakfast at 6:30am which we ate on the (chilly 56 degree) balcony one last time. We were not in port yet at that time, surprisingly, so we got to watch us dock at Terminal 4 and watch them get everything squared away before they began debarkation. Since we booked a debarkation excursion, we were to met in Venetian Palace before 8am, so we made our way down there and waited to be called. at 8:30, we swiped our S&S for the last time and walked reluctantly off the Liberty. After gathering our luggage and clearing customs (and being laughed at by the immigrations officers for having stickers on saying where our debarkation excursion was going), we made our way to the waiting transportation.
I am not sure if this is normal, but the South Beach Experience and the Miami Seaquarium were the same bus, meaning even though it was not bookable, the bus went to both MIA and FLL. So, if you have a flight late from FLL, keep this in mind. The bus operator said we could stay on through to FLL for $5 each, but we got off at MIA as we had a better chance of getting home from there than FLL.
Once onboard the bus, we drove the short distance to the Destiny's terminal and picked up about 15 more passengers and we were on the road at about 9:10am. After a short drive through Miami with the very informative tour guide (Juan), we arrived at the Seaquarium in a pouring rain. I shouldn't laugh, but since she was ok I think I can post this. A little girl did not want to get wet, so her parents told her to just go fast once she was off the bus to get under the overhang. She listened, pulling her hood over her eyes and ran. Right into a railing, clotheslining herself. If someone had a video camera, this would have been the $10,000 video on AFV, no doubt. She got up crying, but after being comforted by her parents she was ok. We saw them later and she was laughing up a storm!
The Seaquarium was a nice side trip. I would have liked another couple hours here, but we did get to see most of the exhibits and all 4 shows.
At 1:30, we boarded the bus for the trip to MIA. We made it home to Cleveland just after 9:00pm, drove home, and started the transition back to reality.
I was surprised that there was no show on Wednesday at all--no production or comedy. This is a first for me. Even on the Victory back in 07, there was a show the night we were in San Juan until midnight. There was not a call in the morning until 11am, so I do not see why the stage was dark.
Many have said that the quality of food has declined. I disagree. The quality is as good as ever, it is the selection that has suffered. In 7 nights, there was no fillet on the menu, and, in fact, the only steak offered was the flat iron steak. This was ok, but a bit tough and fatty. There was a seafood selection almost every night, tillopia once, snapper another, shrimp and lobster on yet another night. All of the seafood that I tried was tender, flaky, and well prepared. The portions in the MDR were noticeably smaller, but again, no big deal. Order multiples, or order a variety if you think it is not enough. Personally, I would rather order more if I like something or am still hungry than consistently throw excess food away.
The quality on the buffets and food stations (deli, burrito, stir fry. fish and chips, pizza) is as good as I remember. I did not notice a difference in the pizza that others have mentioned, but I have also not sailed with carnival in almost 4 years so it could be my fuzzy memory!
The number of activities seems smaller than in the past. This could be due to the 4 ports in 7 days, but it just seemed like there was less organization than in the past. I am not a big fan of the organized activities, but one thing I did miss was the belly flop competition. I was ready to sign up, but it never happened as far as I know.
Overall, I think this was my second favorite cruise, behind my first cruise on Valor which was also our honeymoon (kinda hard to beat that ), narrowly beating out our Celebration cruise. I like the smaller ships better, and was sad to see the Celebration and Holiday go, but the Fantasy class is still nice for a quick getaway. I would like to book one of the longer Fantasy Class cruises next year (out of Charleston or Mobile, maybe?) just to get some time on a smaller ship.
(URL to the full version of this review on the CC message boards: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1359425)