Carnival Dream B2B, January 5- February 12, 2011
This was our 15th and 16th cruises. We are a married couple in our early-mid sixties.
Since we had driven the 1000 miles to Florida less than six weeks ago, we decided to take the auto train this time. The station is in Lorton, VA, just outside of Washington DC. It's about a 3 ½ hour ride down I-95 from home. We knew another storm was coming overnight, so I awoke at 4 a.m. to start shoveling 18 fresh inches of snow. Two days before that, we had another 12 inches. DH awoke about an hour later and finished the shoveling. We were ready to leave at 8:30 a.m. to find the road blocked by a car stuck in the snow. DH went to help them, but they weren't going any place. With two wheel drive, they were completely stuck. Then we tried to go up our street, only to find another stuck car. This guy thought he owned the road, forcing us to drive into the really deep snow. But we managed to get through. We made it to the end of our street, only to find a woman who decided to park her car in the middle of the street while she shoveled her driveway! She reluctantly went to move her car, and got stuck. What normally takes a minute or so to get out of our section took a half hour. After we got to a main road, there was no problems at all. I-95 was clear all the way to VA. We arrived at the train station about 12:30, collected our tickets and had plenty of time to drive to the little artsy town of Occoquan for a nice lunch. The only eats available at the train station are a few pre-packaged sandwiches that didn't look very appetizing and some packaged snacks. We returned to the station before 2:30, turned in the car, checked in and made ourselves comfortable for about an hour until boarding started. We were on our way before 4:00. DH enjoys train rides and he was looking forward to this trip. A dry snack mix and fresh fruit were available immediately. The lounge car was open for soda and drinks. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are complimentary and available all the time. Seating times for dinner seating were 5,7,9. We choose the early seating. Our table mates were two women on their way to spend a month in FL, and conversation was pleasant. We all agreed that dinner was delicious. A movie is shown in the evening in the lounge car, that night it was the original "Singing in the Rain" with Danny Kaye. The train was full of many seniors, I'm sure a few of them enjoyed the movie. Many others played cards at the lounge tables. Later we went to the lounge car to have a drink, we each had a rum and diet coke for $6.00. We both slept more than I thought we would. The coach seats are large and roomy and they recline to a comfortable position. In the morning a light continental breakfast is served. We arrived about 8:30. Unloading of cars went fast. It wasn't very long before our number was called and we were on our way to Cocoa Beach for an overnight at La Quinta. But first, after driving through all that snow, salt, and dirt the car need washing desperately. We pulled into a car wash, under new management, and the new owner looked at the car, shook his head and asked " and where have you been?" They did a great job!
The room at La Quinta was $99. and included a great breakfast, 14 days parking, and shuttle to and from the port. In talking to another passenger, we did discover that there are two La Quinta's in Cocoa Beach. The other one is beach front, and the cost may be different, and I'm not sure if they give you 14 days of free parking, or only 7.
Some CC contributors planned on meeting at Fishlips the night before sailing. After approaching the wrong parties a few times I recognized Amy from her picture and met her and Stephanie. A little while later we met Jim and some of his party. This was a great location for cocktails, dinner, snacks, and watching ships leave. Lots of waving people gathered on the banks of the channel.
The shuttle from La Quinta to the port is fairly well organized as compared to the fiasco we encountered a few years ago using Radission parking and shuttle. However, even though most people use common courtesy, it seems there is always one who pushes in front of the people waiting longer and takes up two seats...one for herself and one for her carry on, rather than using the overhead. We arrived at the port around noon. It was very crowded at this time, long lines outside of the terminal. Check in took an hour. The Gathering on Lido was crazy busy, of course, so we went upstairs to the Pasta Bar. It was wonderful. The hostess gives you a slip of paper and pencil, and a number to place on your table. You choose a table, mark your paper with pasta, meat/vegetable ingredients, and sauce choice. Turn it in to the cooks, and a few minutes later you meal is delivered to you. Caesar salad and garlic bread is also available. If you want dessert, the dessert section of the Gathering is at the bottom of the stairs. There is a drink station up at the Pasta Bar, but no restroom. Restrooms are also at the bottom of the stairs, walk straight a little bit and right.
At 2:00 we headed for our cove balcony room. After reading so much about the cove balconies, we were really looking forward to this. Very private and so close to the water. Some people expressed concerns about getting sprayed or wet. We never experienced that. The view is excellent and amazing for seeing hundreds of flying fish up close. Thoughts of joining the Balcony Club (LOL) were dashed when DH spotted one of the security cameras within view of our balcony. But, one of the women on stage at an audience participation show admitted that she and her husband did join the club, as it was one of his dreams. The CD got a big kick out of that, and told her that all the balconies, even though you may think they are private, they really aren't. With all the cameras and the bridge position, almost everything can be seen. Think about it, when someone goes overboard they always review the security tapes and can tell you what time and where it happened.
Our cabin, 2415, was plenty large enough, had lots of storage, enough bathroom space, comfy bed, good quality towels. Our cabin was located right under the galley. When we booked, our PVP mentioned that this wasn't her favorite room, but we didn't experience much noise. There was only some light rolling noise or mixer noise, not anything to complain about. In fact, we joked about trying to find something to complain about. The only thing we could come up with was that when the pilot boat comes right up next to the ship to let the pilot off, practically under our balcony, it is really loud! (joke) It is amazing seeing it so close. The bottle of Beefeater that I ordered ahead of time from Bon Voyage ($42.50) was there.
Our Cruise Director was Butch. Truthfully, the first time I heard him on the speakers, I wasn't sure if I would like hearing him for two whole weeks. Something about his fast, clipped way of speaking. But after seeing him the first night at the Welcome Aboard Show, he is a great CD. We did enjoy his energy and humor the entire time.
We saw several of the production shows. The best, as everyone else has mentioned, is Dancin' in the Street. The physical abilities of the Fun Force left me in awe. They reminded me of the Cirque Shows. They truly are the strongest men at sea. We didn't see it, but they also do some performances in the Atrium.
Other shows that were very good were "Edge", juggling and comedy; Bob Brizendine, magic and comedy.
PUNCHLINER COMEDY CLUB
Is located in the Burgundy Lounge. We spent a lot of time here. On comedy nights, there are usually four shows. The first two are family friendly, the last two are for over 18. What worked for us was seeing the second family show and the first adult show. The late adult show is past my bedtime! That way we got to see two different comedians also. The comedy club manager is Jeff the Fun Dude. He was fantastic and a great comedian himself. He has a wonderfully self-depreciating way of describing himself as a broke down Rod Stewart and Ellen's lost brother. Even though we heard his opening monologue several times, we still laughed, he is that funny. One of his jokes was that this job was created for him because "you don't want to hear this voice calling bingo". Yea, it is a little unusual. Another was his father asking him if he was gay. "No, dad, I'm straight, I'm just not good at it". He is on FB and I looked him up as soon as we got home. We always greeted him by name and complimented him on the club when we arrived. Usually we found nice seats right away. But one night, arriving later, it was SRO. It was really gracious of him when he spotted us standing with many other people and directed us to two open seats.
We liked most of the comedians we saw. Our favorite is Al Earnst. We recognized him from our 2005 cruise out of New Orleans. We loved him then and were delighted to see him again. Other comedians we saw were Phat Cat, Ed Regine, Tony Esposito, Michael Macy, and Percy Crews Two. Top of our list there were Percy and Phat Cat. It takes a lot of talent to perform an adult show as well as an family show without being offensive to anyone, and Al can do that. His show shouldn't be avoided by anyone who finds adult material offensive. His material is hilarious, yet mild as compared to, let's say, Michael Macy.
is a beautiful room, but very sparse. It has a very limited book selection. There are no games or cards. There are a lot of puzzles. The only good thing about the library is that it is always open and on the honor system. On previous cruises you were at the mercy of Carnival and whoever was scheduled to open the library and the locked cases. The hours were always severely limited, so this way works for us.
We visited several lounges, all were nice. We didn't spend much time in Sam's, the piano bar, because of the smoke.
is on two decks and has plenty of seating, including big comfy chairs, sofas, and clam shell chairs that are nice for curling up or cuddling. Chair hogs are in abundance. People that take up more than one place to sit are in abundance. People that use a sofa that seats six or eight to sleep on are in abundance. But all of this didn't affect us. We avoid the crowded areas and can always find a quiet spot when we want it. Our best time in Serenity was during dinner time, after dark. There was no one else up there, we laid in one of the hammocks and watched the stars. It was nice and quiet until a few kids under the age of 18 (serenity is adult only area) arrived and loudly used the hot tubs. We did use Serenity one afternoon, but not for long. As I mentioned, it does get crowded with people and chair hogs, but we found two seats in the shade and settled in to read for a while. We didn't stay long because in front of us was a large group obviously traveling together. They started with 15 people, grew to 20 or more people, and with each newly arriving person, got louder and louder, screaming actually. And they were speaking French! Do they not understand what the word "serenity" means?
We witnessed more obnoxious behavior on Serenity. On the first day of the second part of our B2B we didn't think Serenity would be crowded because everyone heads for the food. So we went up and found our quiet shady corner immediately. It was in direct view of one of the two hammocks. The hammock was occupied by a man relaxing and reading. After a little while, a group of travel agents were being given a tour of the ship. They were delighted to see the beauty of Serenity and tried to joke with the man saying things like "hey, you've got the best seat in the house" or "that's my seat". Well, he rudely responded for them to get in line like the rest of us. Later, the man's wife arrived carrying a tray from Lido (aft deck 9) to Serenity (front deck 15). She looked about ready to collapse. Of course, they piled their stuff on the hammock, found a table within sight of the hammock to have lunch, and returned to the hammock. This spanned 2 ½ hours, time for us to move on. Heaven knows how long they hogged it. It seems like the hammocks are in demand, why not be gracious and share?
We were told by a crew member that the best chef in the Carnival fleet was on this ship, and that he has won many awards. We believe him. The food was delicious. We tried several of the different venues, and all were great. I already mentioned the Pasta Bar. We especially liked the Deli, the Grille, Pizza, Burrito Bar, and Tandoor. On sea days, don't miss the Lanai BBQ outside starboard on deck 5. Outstanding ribs, sliders, and quesadillas. The lines are long at peak hours, but move quickly because of the limited selections. Not everyone knows that the Sushi Bar on deck 5 turns into a salad bar at lunch time. From among a wide variety of fresh ingredients you tell the cook (salad mixer?) what you want, he places them in a large bowl to combine with dressing of your choice. They also have turkey wraps.
In the Main Dining Room we choose Your Time Dining. This worked well for us. Only once did we have to wait for a few minutes, I think it was elegant night. Our team of servers on the first night were Elpedio, Glenn, and Rennie. Any night we returned we requested them. They were all very nice, especially Rennie who greeted us enthusiastically by name every time he saw us.
The only thing uncomplimentary I can say about the food is that for some reason the desserts on Lido always look better than they taste. They are all beautiful, but most of them taste rather bland. I'm also not a big fan of the chocolate extravaganza, which is held during the afternoon on one day. The best thing I found there was chocolate dipped orange peel.
But, for a absolutely wonderful dessert, go to Express It, the coffee bar. You pay extra for it, but it is so good! We split a piece of carrot cake ( way big enough to split) for $2.25. Coffee is reasonably priced, and so much better than Lido coffee.
In all our previous cruises, we figured that we could find good food no matter where we ate. We usually cruise on my birthday and I wanted something different this time. You can take waiters singing "hoppy birsday" just so many times! We made reservations for the Steakhouse, and we're glad we did. It is worth the $30.00 per person. The food is excellent. I had surf and turf, which was a 7 oz. Lobster tail and a 4 oz. Filet mignon. It was a difficult choice between that and a 10 oz. Tail. DH had a steak which was perfect also. For dessert I choose the chocolate sampler, I couldn't finish it. DH had the Washington apples, also good. We overheard a man at a nearby table declining dessert. His wife ordered the cheesecake. Then we could see why. The size of the slice of cheesecake is obscene! It was enough for four people. They couldn't finish it either. So for the people who are wondering if you can order more than one entree, you won't want it. The servings are all huge. My crab cake appetizer was large enough for an entree!
MEET AND GREET
Previously, we've been two other m&g's, both on NCL. They were wonderfully organized, we had nice private rooms, we were visited by top ranking officers, including the captain, who invited us for private bridge tours. The room was set up with coffee, tea, juice, bagels, muffins, danish, cookies, etc. We also received a few other small perks, but I can't remember them at the moment.
The meet and greet for the first part of our cruises was set up by Amy, through her TA, since Carnival doesn't get very involved with them. We had a private room, the Song Bar. We paid $17.00 each for a two hour open bar. Top shelf liquor was used, but Carnival had the right to refuse someone if they went overboard (pun). Small bowls of goldfish crackers were placed around the room. It was nice putting faces to the names of people we had been talking with online for months. It's amazing how some people can be so funny in seeing that they get their money's worth at an open bar (hey, luved you John, wish we had more time to spend with you and Tom) and others can be so rude and obnoxious to the bartender. I saw one man demand that the bartender open a new bottle of a very expensive liquor, after he and one other man had already emptied two bottles of the same liquor. She tried to cut him off, and he get even ruder. He ended up getting his way, just to shut him up. His response to me was, see, that's what you have to do to get your way. Well, I don't think so.
Thanks again for organizing, Amy, good job!
The m & g for the second part of our B2B was rather lame, mainly because we couldn't find it. It was set up for us to meet at Ocean Plaza at a certain time. Well, OP is a very big place. We even showed up wearing our custom made name tags with our screen names and real names. After vainly searching and approaching the wrong parties we sat and relaxed a bit, still looking for what could have been people we were supposed to meet. Finally after an hour, we took one more walk through and spotted a group of people across from the Fun Hub that was probably the group. By this time, I had no interest in approaching or meeting anyone new. Making OP a meeting place is not specific enough for an unofficial m & g. You need to choose a more definite location, and/or wear something so that you can recognize each other. Even a piece of ribbon pinned to your shirt, beads, a name tag, something, anything.
BACK TO BACK
At the end of the first part of the B2B, except for the people staying on board, the ship was cleared before 9:30. We all met at guest services. We were surprised at the number of people staying on for another cruise, there was about fifty of us. The information for our new sail and sign cards was collected, even though it remained the same. We were told to put our old sail and sign cards away and given new cards. We were then walked off the ship, went through customs, and right back on the ship. Very easy and quick. We did have to stop at guest services, though. Our first stop after getting on board was for the piece of carrot cake that we had been eyeing all week. We knew there would be a nice new fresh cake there for embarkation. But it was early and the barrista wasn't quite ready with the coffee. She told us to come back in about fifteen minutes. When we presented our sail and sign for payment, she had to hand write a receipt as our card came up as unregistered. The man at GS fixed it quickly.
Oh, Perks for a B2B? No discount. But we got a good rate on the ES. Our PVP said she would call when we got back. We've been back for two weeks and no call yet. What we did receive, from the hotel manager, was a bottle of champagne and a fruit and nut basket. We told our cabin steward, Mario, which night we wanted the champagne iced, and champagne glasses brought in. Mario and his assistant did a fine job the entire two weeks we were on board.
We've been here many times, we love this port, it's so pretty. We've been up to Paradise Peak , traveled to Red Hook for the ferry to St. John and have taken Sonny Liston's tour previously. All are worthwhile. And Mountain Top has reopened since the fire. We shopped for a nook with no luck, collected some information on St. John as we hope to spend a week there next year. One of our hobbies is geo-caching and there was a new one placed since our last visit here, so we went off to find it. Havensight is so built up now that there is really no reason to take the shuttle to Charlotte Amalie if you're only interested in shopping.
We did a lot of walking here as we usually do. Visited Queen' s Staircase again. There was a new geo-cache here also. The women vendors were helpful in giving hints to help us in finding it. After walking in one direction, we headed back to the dock and walked the other direction to attend a service at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. We had visited the Cathedral a few years ago, it was nice to see it full of people this time. It was especially nice seeing the people attending the service dressed the way people should dress in a church.
We're fortunate to have a cousin who spends a month here every January/February, it's like having your personal tour guide. On this visit I only wanted to visit Guavaberry Emporium. It's a nice little store, free samples of different guavaberry liquors. It's really good stuff. Bought three different kinds, got a free tee shirt, and they delivered it to the ship so we didn't have to carry it. We walked along the waterfront to The Green House for lunch. In St. Thomas we usually eat at The Green House, this one was just as good. We stopped at several casinos on the way back, we didn't have any luck, but my cousin's husband did. By then the heat was getting to me, time to return to the ship.
We love Cozumel. Usually we go to Chankanaab National Park for snorkeling and swimming, we decided
to skip it this time. Docking at Puerta Maya was a first for us. All the other times we've docked at Langusta. Our first stop was Dufry for Mexican vanilla for friends of ours who bake a lot and appreciate good vanilla. In Dufry the conversation went like this: ME: I need to buy a lot of vanilla. SWEET YOUNG CLERK: Yes. ME: I want the best vanilla you have. SYC Yes. ME: Is this it? SYC Yes. ME: Will you deliver it to the ship? SYC: Yes. Then we proceed to carry six large very heavy bottles to check out. The SYC messes up the transaction by charging pesos rather than dollars. The manager is called over and after several minutes of charging and canceling on my cc, they get it right. After they wrap it up I tell them they need my cabin number to deliver it to the ship. They tell me "NO, YOU TAKE". I tell them, "NO, I CAN'T TAKE, YOU CANCEL" It is a very long walk down the dock to the ship and the packages are very heavy. They agree to get one of the bikes, sort of like a rickshaw, to take us back when we are ready to return to the ship.
The area at Puerta Maya is built up, but we prefer downtown. We headed for the taxies and knowing that the charge for 1-4 people is the same, we spotted another couple heading DT and offered to share a cab with them. The taxi stops at Los Cinco Soles, right where we wanted to go for shopping and lunch at Pancho's Backyard. There was another Pancho's at the dock, but I didn't want to go there, it isn't the same atmosphere. We walked and shopped a little, found a wall hanging for our new fifth wheel. I was ready to return to Pancho's in time for the entertainment. I gave our server my free margarita coupon and ordered another one as well. I didn't like having to explain to him, yes, I know what I'm doing. I know that the free margarita is small, and I'm a big girl and yes, I can drink another margarita. Our server, Tomas, was pleasant but doesn't have the finesse of the server who has waited on us previously. I spotted our server from last year, called him over and got his name for next time. As usual, my drinks and our lunch were wonderful. On the way out, we stopped at their tequila store and I bought a bottle of Orendain Ollitas, Reposado, 100% agave. That's the tequila that Pancho's uses and their margaritas are awesome! We taxied back to PM, picked up the vanilla and got our bike ride back. Going through security to get back on the ship was fun. Security sees our bags with heavy bottles and tells us to check in our liquor for delivery on the last evening. I say "no liquor, banilla" They say "banilla? We check" "oh,ok, banilla".
We were here last year, went all through the Tourist Village, even ventured outside "the wall" to interact with locals. This is a tendered port, and tendering is a twenty minute ride. Seas were very rough early, they calmed a little later. We choose to stay on the ship and thought we would enjoy the emptiness of the ship. We were surprised at the number of people who didn't leave the ship. All of the prime Serenity seats were either taken or being hogged. Had a good chuckle at a woman who raced to a suddenly vacant hammock
jumped in and promptly fell out. She wasn't hurt, just was embarrassed and laughed. It was this day that we discovered that the lounges still offer the morning Bloody Mary, Mimosa, and Screwdriver specials. ($4.25?)They used to listed in the Funtimes, but no more. We happened to see the sign on a bar as we walked by. Since it wasn't listed, we assumed it was another cutback.
This time we docked at Mahogany Bay, we were glad as we were ready for a beach day. Upon exiting the ship, after a short walk, all passengers must pass through Dufry to get anyplace else. Dufry is not that big and if anyone stops to look or shop there is gridlock. We used the chair ride ($12.00 each, unlimited trips).
A little pricey for our one trip, but I don't deal well with sun or heat. If high temperatures and bright sun don't bother you, it could be a pleasant fifteen minute walk on a paved walkway to the beach. We promptly found two lounges in the shade, took a short walk to explore the area, and went for a swim. We read in previous reviews about sand fleas and came prepared with bug spray, but we didn't need it. The only bugs we saw were when I went for a geo-cache located next to a tree covered with those nasty red ants. I studiously avoided them. After some relaxing we returned on the flying chair, strolled through the shopping area and added another geo-cache to our count. It's fun picking up a cache in public with no one noticing what you're doing.
This was a wonderful day and I was looking forward to it for months. It was my birthday and I did some research on the CC boards so I could plan accordingly. We exited the shopping area off the dock and saw a window to purchase tickets for a ride to Mahahual , known as downtown, pronounced mah'-ha-wahl). Tickets were $3.00 each, you wait for a few more people to show up to fill the van, are approached by several people wanting to sell you other tours, one even asking if "we had reservations for the beach". Uh, I'm not that dumb. To avoid this, we saw that you could walk a little further, pass the white vans to the yellow taxies. Same price, no waiting or vendors. The ride takes about 6 or 7 minutes, (don't try walking it) you will pass the devastation left by Hurricane Dean three years ago. When you are dropped off downtown walk down any alley to the beach. There is a wide paved walkway, both directions are lined with bars and restaurants. We went left, because my GPS'r was pointing that way for a geo-cache at Tropicante. We met George, the cache owner and signed the cache log. We continued walking a bit, and decided to stop at Maya Bar, mainly because we were approached by a personable young man with the unlikely name of Charlie Brown. The beach there was partly shady, there were tables, chairs and lounges. I asked Charlie about the beach massages and he said that the women were getting ready to set up and would be ready in about a half hour. Shortly afterward, ...."I had my toes in the water, ass in the sand, $20.00 beach massage, margarita in hand, life on my 63rd birthday is grand...." At this location, a half hour massage is $20, plus they give you five extra minutes for free. All beaches are free, but if you use their chairs, facilities, etc., you are expected to buy food or drink from them, of course. Two sodas and one margarita came to only $8.00. We didn't eat here, because with all the research I did, I knew I wanted to go to Fernando's 100 % Agave for lunch. It was a short two blocks away. It is a small place and the floor is sand. There were many interesting objects to look at, some very old, older and more unusual than the kinds of things you see at Cracker Barrel. We were given menus by a woman who didn't speak English, but understood from her that Fernando would be coming shortly. Fernando arrived and we told him that we were on the cruise ship and had read so much about his place. He was very gracious and spent time talking to us. What especially impressed me was that when he brought my margarita, he explained how he made it and it was just how I make them at home. Which is exactly why I rarely order a drink in a restaurant. Most restaurants, even Mexican restaurants, don't make them properly. A true margarita does not have sweet mix added to it. A true margarita has tequila, triple sec (or orange liquor or curacao) and fresh lime juice. Period. Nothing else, except a salted rim. What Fernando did teach me was that clear tequila is fine for cocktails, gold is better for sipping. He also brought over the complimentary small pitcher of a tequila/grapefruit soda mixture that we read about. Delicious! Our meals of tacos, chips, fresh salsa and guacamole were great. After we were finished he brought over complimentary after dinner drinks. He said it was a mix that he makes himself, with tequila, honey, and something blue (maybe curacao?) for the color of the Costa Mayan sea. It shows hospitality he explained. We had a great time in a local establishment. All of this, plus one soda and one Negro Modella, came to $13.00! This certainly was a better time than visiting any of the chain restaurants that attract tourist.
Disembarkation was easy and quick. The return shuttle back to La Quinta wasn't as organized as the trip to the pier. We had a twenty minute wait, but that wouldn't stop us from using this package again. We loved the Dream, our cabin, the service, almost everything. Can't think of anything to complain about. I'm ready to plan the next one!