A little background on our cruise history, this was my 21st cruise total, 19th with Carnival (Celebration - 2, Fantasy - 3, Ecstasy - 10, Elation - 2, Conquest - 1 and Triumph - 1) and 10th on the Ecstasy. I have 1 with Royal Caribbean and 1 with Princess as well. My Mother (my cruising partner in crime) and I love the Ecstasy, and are so sad to see her moved to another homeport, so this was to be our "farewell" cruise of sorts.
I saw the update Sunday morning "Ecstasy will be delayed Monday due to a medical emergency." Oh no, is the first thought, I mean anyone who cruises often knows that even the smallest glitch can really slow down embarkation. Soon after the Facebook message, the call and email came in from Carnival saying that embarkation would be delayed until 6:30pm on Monday evening. Oh well, what can you do. I just took it to mean I could finish packing in the morning, and sleep in a little. I mean we all want to be on the ship as soon as possible, but some things can't be helped; and I later learned on our Behind the Fun tour that the person taken back to Cozumel for medical treatment, was in fact going to be ok, so that's good news.
We live in Katy, about an hour and a half from the Port of Galveston. We left the house around 1:30pm Monday afternoon and headed to the Strand to meet a friend of mine for lunch. About halfway to Galveston my buddy that was waiting for us sent me a picture, our ship was pulling in! It was about 2:30pm, just as Mr. Heald had promised on his Facebook page. We arrived in Galveston around 3pm and had a nice lunch at Yaga's Cafe. This little gem has been there for years, and if you go I recommend their cajun potatos as a side. Amazing! We walked the Strand a little, and drove down to the seawall after lunch, finally heading to EZ Cruise to park around 5pm.
We had booked our parking at EZ Cruise online for $35 for 5 nights, so we checked in very quickly and were whisked away to the ship in no time. We checked our 2 large suitcases with the porters (one containing 2 12-packs of soda, as Mom wasn't aware you were supposed to carry them on. They did, in fact, make it to our room.) and headed up to the check-in area with our carry-ons. Much to our surprise, there was no line getting in the building, so far so good! Once up the escalator, we went to the VIP check-in line and were through security in no time. They did check my Mother's bag that contained 2 bottles of champagne, but since there were 2 of us sailing together, it was no problem and we were sent into the VIP room to get our Sail and Sign cards. This was my Mom's Milestone cruise with Carnival, so she was disappointed when they handed her a regular Platinum card. (No big deal, a quick trip to the Guest Relations desk once onboard and she had her fancy white card, lol.) Check in took a total of 15 minutes from entering the building until being seated in the waiting area, probably the quickest we've ever experienced. There were quite a few people that had been waiting already. We learned later that many didn't know of the delay until they arrived at the pier that day due to being on the road and not receiving the email/call. They were providing water and bags of chips, so it wasn't unbearable. We sat down for about another 15 minutes, and they began boarding around 5:30pm. There were 2 wedding parties that went first, then us in the VIP section, followed by zone 1, etc. etc.
We're on a boat!! As we walked in they were giving away free, yes free mimosas as a thank you for being patient with the delay. Very nice, drink in hand and we're not even on the Lido deck yet, score! Rather then fighting the masses on the Lido, we went up to the Promenade. The mimosas were running low, so we stopped at the casino bar for our first official DOD. Ahhh... funship special, how I missed you! Since we weren't being let into the rooms until 8pm, we walked over to the sushi station and grabbed a snack. There was nobody else around (I assume people were eating up on the lido) so we sampled... then sampled some more. By the time we were done it was 7:15pm or so, and being the obedient cruisers we were, we decided to sneak into our room early. I know, I know, shame on us... but I was tired of lugging around the laptop, lol. Our room was E9, so the doors (still closed) to get to it were right in the middle of the madness of people still boarding the ship. We opened one and snuck in unnoticed, I guess the doors were open elsewhere because there were many others going into their rooms, we dropped off the bags and headed up to the Lido with our bottle of champagne. Now, we may have had a sushi snack, but who can resist the Mongolian Grill, especially when there's no line! I grabbed a bowl, and am pleased to report that it is still in fact DELICIOUS! We settled into out favorite spot for sail away, the open deck all the way aft, got a bucket of beer and a bucket of ice for our champagne and waited. No one was sure of exactly what time we were to set sail. We had been told that boarding would be from 6:30-9pm, so of course we knew it would be late. Side note: due to the delay, all passengers were given a $15 credit on our Sail & Sign cards for lunch that day.
About 9:45, we heard that wonderful horn blow! We were off! We popped our champagne and toasted to the official beginning of our vacation. Since we'd been snacking all day, we didn't go to the MDR for dinner. Matter of fact, we didn't eat in there for dinner at all the entire cruise, lol. We sat back on the open deck for a while sailing down the channel, then decided to go check out the happenings around the ship. There would be no Safety Briefing tonight, it would be at 10am the next morning, eh... as long as it didn't interfere with breakfast I'm ok with that, lol. We found our way to the MDR, not to eat, but to be sure they had our reservation for the Chef's Table. Side note: John Heald is a very busy man, so be sure you go to the Maitre D and CONFIRM your reservation, they did not have ours. No big deal, there were plenty of spaces available still. (I hadn't put "please reply" on my request on the "ask John" section of his blog, so that was my fault.) He asked if we'd rather have dinner on Progresso or Cozumel day, um Progresso please... I do well to get back to the ship on time in Cozumel, lol. We stopped by the liquor store to pick up some bottles of Crown for my uncle, and ended up hanging around for a raffle. After that, we went down to Guest Relations to ask about the Behind the Fun tour, we were told we could book in the morning, sounds good., we headed to the casino. There was a particular machine I was interested in, the $.02 win a BMW/$25k machine. I found one that paid out pretty well, for a penny slot anyways, it would become my nemesis for the rest of the trips to the casino. Picking up our free tournament entry cards for the slot tournament, I decided it was time for a shot. We headed into Stripes disco. There were a lot of college aged people on this trip, and let me say this, they loooooved to dance. It was kind of fun to watch the girls compete for attention from certain guys and vice versa. My Mom was confused by some of the girls that seemed to think they were in a gentleman's club, lol. After a Jaeger-Bomb I decided maybe the club wasn't for good 'ol Mom and we went to the piano bar, which as usual was packed. Yes, it is smoky in there, and honestly this was my first cruise as a non-smoker, so previously I'd never really noticed. However, it wasn't enough to deter me from staying a while... Until hunger struck again. We found our way back up to the Lido buffet where they were serving hot dogs and hamburgers, yeah... a hot dog at 1am with sauerkraut hit the spot. We headed back to our cabin at the front of the ship. Let me recommend booking your cabin in the forward section, you will get lots of good walking exercise going back and forth to the Lido buffet/pizza/deli areas.
1st Sea Day:
We got up around 8am on the 1st sea day, we're generally early risers so even after a late night we're up before 9am. We went to Guest Relations and booked our Behind the Fun tour, I wanted to be sure and do that early as I would be very disappointed if it sold out. Next was breakfast in the MDR, we were seated at a table for 4 and then joined by a lovely couple. We started chatting, and guess what? It turned out to be aggie1 from our roll call! How perfect is that? We discovered we would be doing the chef's table the same night, and enjoyed some great conversation over some great eggs benedict. After breakfast it was time for the Safety Briefing. Our muster station was "A" and in the Blue Sapphire (main show lounge) so it was very comfortable. I still LOVE the fact we don't have to lug the life vests to the drill, so much easier! The drill lasted about 15-20 minutes, totally painless, they didn't make us go out to the lifeboats so that was nice. Well look at that? The gift shops are right outside of the Blue Sapphire and it's time for a raffle, another loss, lol. We did a little shopping, and headed back to the room to grab a bucket of beer and went to check out what was happening at the pool. It was packed, lots of chairs being saved, but still plenty of places to sit so I didn't see that it was a big deal on this day.
Now, the "kid factor." I have no issue with children cruising, and there were quite a few on this particular cruise, HOWEVER... pleeeeease ensure your little angels are aware of the rules, and do not rely on Carnival staff to discipline them. There were kids in the hot tubs every day, not just sitting, but splashing, snorkeling (masks and all), etc. There were also parents that ignored the "adult only" rule on the Serenity deck, and would bring their little ones (some in strollers) down to relax with them. However, I don't see many kiddos that enjoy sitting quietly in the sun and just relaxing, lol. Really you can't blame the little ones, if their parents are not adhering to the rules, neither will they.
We watched a little of the hairy chest contest, finished our beers and headed down to the Promenade to see what was going on. We headed to lunch in the MDR, we've been on so many cruises we rarely eat in the MDR anymore. Nothing wrong with it, I'm just never hungry when it's open, which is why now we sign up for the anytime dining now that it's available. However, this trip the way the activities were falling that first sea day the timing was right and we did enjoy eating in there. Now as I said, I haven't been in the MDR for lunch in a very long time, but I'm really glad I went today. I had the chilled avocado soup and Mongolian steak salad, both were fantastic! Hmmm.. The art auction is about to start. I'd never gone to one, and hey, there's free champagne, so why not? We looked around, nothing really caught our eye, but I wanted to see what people were going to buy so we hung around. We saw a gentleman spend $8k on some artist we'd never heard of, and in the end there was a Peter Max piece that was going for $28k, no takers? Didn't think so, I mean that's a nice SUV or about 28 cruises, lol. We relaxed the rest of the day, read some books and just laid around. That evening was the "elegant" evening, we decided not to get dressed up and just went up to the buffet for dinner. There was many of the MDR items on the buffet that night, including the prime rib, it was fantastic. Upon arriving back at our room we found our Platinum petit fours treat and settled in for the night.
I woke up to an earthquake! Not really, but let me say this, if you do not like being awakened by what I would later call the "shake n' wake" do not book E9. Whenever those bow thrusters were on, that room would shake like mad! We've stayed in every category the Ecstasy has to offer, so it didn't bother us, and I mean every category.. From a 1A to the Owner's Suite., I like variety, hehe. We didn't have anything planned for Progresso, so we took our time getting dressed and having breakfast at the buffet. Yes, there are bacon police, but they can be bribed with a pleasant smile and a "may I please have a little more?" We got off the ship around 10am or so and wandered into the large duty free store you have to pass through to get to the other shops, busses, etc. I ended up buying some cigarettes (3 cartons for $56) for a friend, ha! I just realized how contradictory that sounds. Hey friend, here are your sticks of poison, lol. I also bought a few bottles of a certain tequila requested by a few people and we settled in at the little bar in the middle of all the shops. I found my name on the wall from last October and they allowed me behind the bar to add the date for this cruise. We got comfortable, grabbed some Del Sol beers and watched the high school kids buying drinks, ah to be young and want to be older again, lol. After a few rounds and several of the shots they pour down your throat, we decided it was time to head back to the ship. We grabbed some Mongolian Grill and a spinach turnover (yum!) from the buffet and sat down on the outer deck for sail away. Oh, and to the woman that changed her baby on the open eating area on the Lido deck, shame on you. People are eating, just gross.
We headed back to the cabin for a little rest, it was after all Chef's Table night, and we would need all our energy for the delicious treats to come! We missed the Past Guest reception, got the time wrong. Mom was disappointed, I felt really bad, and wouldn't be in charge of scheduling anymore, lol. We received our Platinum canapEs this night as well. I love this little treat. Let me just say, if you're into food, the Chef's Table is for you. It was simply delicious! We started with a tour of the galley with Executive Chef Suresh Babu, while in the galley you get to see how it functions during dinner (our Chef's Table was at 6:30pm) and were served appetizers and champagne. I've read in other reviews that some found it difficult to manage the plate and champagne flute, on our tour they had a table to place your items so you would have your hands free to enjoy your food. After our tour and reception, we headed to the Explorer's Lounge (library) where they had our table set up for dinner. The wine was flowing, the food was fantastic and half way through, I started to feel wonkie and had to retreat to the cabin. BOOOO! I will say that I only wish I would have gotten the name of the gentleman waiting on me that evening, he made sure my last couple of courses were boxed and delivered to me in the cabin so I didn't miss out on anything. My mother told him she could take the food to me, but he insisted on delivering it himself, a true class act and a great addition to Carnival's food service staff. We also received an autographed cookbook and 8x10 photo as party favors. After my super fancy room service, we turned in for the night to rest up for Cozumel. We had a great group for our experience, and I'm still bummed I had to sneak out early, but a big hello to my fellow CC members aggie1 and Rosenbeans, loved having dinner with you and yours!
Again, we didn't have anything planned so we had a buffet breakfast and got off the ship around 11am. We walked through the shops to the taxis and headed into town to hit Carlos N' Charlie's. We hung around there for a little over an hour and 2 yard glass Del Sols later, headed back to the pier to get some shopping done. We didn't plan on spending a lot here, so I picked up some shot glasses and other knick-knacks for a select few back home and headed to Fat Tuesday's to sit on the swings. I can't stress how much I love Cozumel, and if I ever decide to skip a cruise and do an all-inclusive, it will be there. Everything is so beautiful, the beaches, the water, the people; it's just lovely. After swinging a while and finishing our beers we headed to Three Amigos. (Anyone see a pattern? We love our beer, lol) I did stop and climbed into the birthday cake at Fat Tuesdays for a picture, a friend back home was celebrating her 30th that day and what better way to say "wish you were here" than from inside a giant cake? We had a couple drinks at Three Amigos and got ready to head back to the ship. Uh-Oh, you HAVE to walk through the duty free shop, this could be bad. With a nice beer buzz going on, a fancy bottle of tequila caught my eye. I mean, it was just painted beautifully. 3 bottles of hooch later, we were in line to get back on the ship. Now I had zero plans to spend anymore money on liquor, but the free sample and my beer induced decision making said otherwise, lol. We went though security, and again checked our bottles to be picked up the morning of debarkation in the Stripes disco. That makes 6 to pick up now, wonderful, that's going to be fun carrying off the ship!
When we arrived back in the cabin there was a letter for Mom to contact Guest Relations about her Milestone program. She had gotten her OBC for this trip, but they wanted to let us know she was still eligible for 25% off a booking in the future, nice! We headed up to the Mongolian Grill. OH NO! We were about 5 minutes too late, luckily a wonderful man named Ramesh let us get a bowl anyways. I'm pretty sure I told him I loved him, and we got our delicious afternoon noodles. This again is why I love the Ecstasy, the staff, they are simply outstanding. Everyone says hello, they go above and beyond to accommodate people and are always making sure the ship is spotless and everyone is happy. This particular afternoon we saw Executive Chef Suresh Babu bussing some tables on the Lido deck. What a guy, he is. I always appreciate upper management that isn't afraid to get dirty with everyone else. Bravo to him, he and his staff are great and truly understand what excellence is all about. Cozumel had worn us out, so after watching the sail away we headed to the cabin for a little sun and beer induced nap. That evening we had the buffet for dinner again, I don't remember what we had, by this point this day was starting to run together and we were exhausted. We grabbed some food and took it back to the cabin. We spent the late evening eating, reading, and called it an early night.
Final Sea Day:
Again with the breakfast buffet, yes we are creatures of habit. We were up early today because it was our Behind the Fun tour day! YAY! We met our group in the Explorer's Lounge at 8:45am and started our tour around 9am. Our first stop was the galley, we had seen this during the Chef's Table portion of our cruise so we were the galley pros, lol. Next was a trip below the water line. We went to the laundry room, where I learned that I need to invest in a sheet folding machine, it's pretty big, but who needs to put their car in the garage? We saw some of the food storage areas, and the I-95 (the only passageway the goes completely forward to aft on the ship. We learned about the environmental procedures. Everyone knows that they release food waste into the water, but did you know that several crew members have to got through all the food waste to ensure there isn't any non-food items mixed in before it can be put into the grinder and sent to the fishes? Remember that food you didn't finish off the buffet? Someone had to go through that later, talk about portion control! We also learned that all crew (Captain included) has to separate their garbage for recycling purposes. So your room steward literally picks through your garbage to ensure all plastics/cans/paper/food items are separated. Crazy! We saw the engine control room, backstage in the main showroom, got to go to the crew's outer deck, training room, mess halls (separate dining areas for officers and the Captain), lounge, and of course THE BRIDGE! Being on the bridge is worth the cost of the tour alone, just fantastic! An officer gave us a rundown of the instruments and then Captain Giulio Basso came out to visit and have a picture taken with us. He is a very friendly man, and knows what he's doing... A very good thing! A couple of notes on the tour itself. There is a fair amount of stairs to climb, however when going up or down more than 1 deck, we did use the elevators. There are no cameras, phones, or video cameras allowed. Security does wand you before the tour starts, so if you were planning on trying anyways you can forget it. I think this is fair for the chance to see things you'd never get to see otherwise.
After that we headed to the casino, it was slot tournament day! We signed up for the 12:10 time slot, and went to get some pre-game cocktails. I sat down with that evil penny machine again, and what's this? I hit something! Now like I said, this machine was my nemesis, half the time I'd hit something and have NO idea where the lines were going, etc. Right before noon, I hit big, I mean it just kept dinging and dinging, it lasted so long Mom had to go and move me from the 12:10 time slot in the tournament. It turns out I'd won 6000 credits, of course since it dings for every credit, this took a while. Ah if only they were dollars, lol. With a little extra change in my account, I still had time before my turn in the tournament so I proceeded to put half of it back in. I was in one of the last rounds, neither Mom or I made it to the finals, but it's always still fun to play. One change in the last year or so that I don't like is that they time the tournaments now. I was watching the woman's machine next to me and because hers was a little slower resetting, she didn't get as many spins as I did. I think they should go back to the 100 (or whatever) set amount of spins, it just seems a little more fair. We headed for lunch, guess what we had... that's right! Mongolian Grill one last time. And as expected, it was again delicious. We went and played bingo after lunch, another loss, so we went to look for our pictures. After a long search we found them, they had a sale on albums and being a sucker for a good deal, we bought a couple.
It was that time of day, too early to eat again, haha, so we went to the cabin grabbed another bucket of beer, read a little and took a cat-nap. That evening we discovered we were going to need another bag for all of our new goodies, as my beach bag from the $10 shop wasn't going to cut it. A quick trip to the Galleria shops, and we had a new rolling travel bag, flip flops and some make-up. I started the sad process of packing up the luggage, how did I get all this crap in here to begin with??? We got the checked luggage out into the hall, and went up to the Lido for the last trip to the buffet. Tonight they had the braised short ribs on the buffet as well as lamb, both were very good. We did a lap up on the outer decks, cashed in whatever we have left on our Sail and Sign cards from the casino, and headed off to the cabin. But what's this? Another surprise! Chocolate covered strawberries from the Behind the Fun tour, yummy! Stayed up late finishing up packing and reading, had our last bottle of champagne with a room service grilled cheese (classy, I know, haha) and drifted off one last time in those comfortable Carnival beds.
NOOOOOO!!! This day is the biggest bummer, we try to make the most of it, and are never in a rush to get off the ship. We used to be those people that tried to carry everything off, and used our VIP status to be first off the ship. Then one day we realized how silly that was, I mean who wants to hurry to get OFF the ship? I want to be the last to get off! We went up to the MDR for breakfast this morning, eggs benedict (which by the way, they did have on the breakfast buffet one of the mornings) and bacon, and look! A couple of extra pieces of bacon to boot! We lingered around in there until about 9am and then went back to the cabin. Since we were on the Empress deck, and in the forward part of the ship, we were right by the gangway to debark. We waited until they called for the people in zone 1 with checked bags and left our cabin and towel animal zoo one last time. Debarking in Galveston can be a pain if you don't know what you're doing, so here's my advice. Grab a porter, and have your passport. Once we were off the ship we were out of the doors of the port in about 20 minutes. The people pulling their own bags had a line a mile long, and even worse if you were using a birth certificate rather than a passport. Onto the bus, and in the car I took one last look at the ship and the post-cruise depression set in. There was zero traffic, so we were home and doing laundry in no time.
After the initial disappointment that Steve Cassell wasn't going to be our CD this trip, we were very pleased with Danny Ghilarducci. He was well spoken, not overbearing and entertaining. The bingo host Gary was also a lot of fun, we enjoyed playing bingo with him, even if we didn't win. "COME ON GARY!" We had beautiful weather the entire trip, and smooth seas. There was a live reggae band on the Lido sometimes during the day. I'm really not seeing the lack of live entertainment to be as bad as has been reported in the past few months. Picking up liquor purchased in ports in a designated lounge area, not a big deal. Ours was in the Stripes disco. All the booze was grouped by what deck you were on, and we were in and out of there in about 10 minutes, totally painless. The Ecstasy turned 20 years old this year (in April actually I think) and she is aging beautifully. There was always cleaning, painting, mopping going on somewhere on the ship. There is a reason why she wins the Crystal Eagle award repeatedly, she is a true gem in the Carnival fleet.
If you have any questions for me ask away, I'm sure there are things I left out too, so if I think of anything else I'll add it in another post.