Ready, Set, Cruise! (Advice Numbered)
The Carnival Miracle
In the middle of winter, we went on a cruise. We departed Norfolk, VA at 6:45am Saturday to catch a connecting flight in NJ. Due to a severe snowstorm (where our connector was coming from), the flight was cancelled. At 11am the snow drifted into NJ. In anticipation of the airport closing, we took one of the last flights leaving...heading to Richmond, VA. Once in Richmond, we had to turn to another airline to get to Tampa. $1000 later, and with the help of Richard Simmons, that's right the exercise guru Richard Simmons, we were on the last plane allowed to leave Richmond (due to a relentless snowfall). We had a successful connection in Charlotte and made it to our hotel in Tampa before midnight. We were living a dream as we escaped two airports in heavy snow, had Richard Simmons serving us drinks, and had arrived to our final destination on the same day. (#1: Schedule winter connections in cities with moderate climates)
The next morning, I ran the Florida Gulf Beaches Marathon. 26.2 miles passed, I showered and was in line with my family at the Port of Tampa to board the Carnival Miracle. The boarding process was thorough and efficient. (#2: Remember your Passport & Driver's License)
Once on board we quickly signed up for our excursions. The in-room computerized process was user friendly. (#3: Decide which excursions to take before getting on the ship)
Sunday January 23rd
There was a daily schedule (named Carnival Capers) placed in our mailbox just outside our cabin door. Sunrise time was printed on the top left, and sunset on the right. It listed more activities than we could possibly attend (although I diligently tried). To get comfortable with the ship and everything on board, I embraced a scavenger hunt contest (described in the Capers). As the day progressed, I noticed the ship was immaculate, the dining room settings exquisite, and the staff was very friendly. The Welcome Aboard Show featured dancing and a seasoned comedian that could relate to everyone in the audience from age 8 to 70. In addition to the show, at various times and locations, there were many other activities including but not limited to...calypso music live, a
Pilates with Yoga class, bingo, karaoke, a "name that tune contest" at a piano bar, and a midnight party. The ship's entertainment Cruise Director Steve M. Knisley left no stone uncovered when setting up the schedule. Did I mention I won the scavenger hunt? $500 in prizes! (#4: Read your Caper cover to cover)
Monday January 24th
At 6am (#5: Bring a CD alarm clock to wake up to your favorite music), I found myself
in the gym taking advantage of the modern equipment. The exercise facility (located in the front of the ship) had sweeping views of the ocean ahead. Subsequent to the workout, I joined an aerobics class. The staff had high energy and was very supportive, despite my lack of coordination. Following the aerobics class, I sweated it out in the steam room and dry sauna before taking a private shower (in a separate enclosed and locked room) with one overhead jet and 4 wall side jets (opposing each other). From Monday forward, I found myself utilizing the gym facilities daily. (#6: Showering at the spa is better than in your cabin) Monday's activities included, but were not limited to...a poolside upper deck beach party, gaming lessons (there was a big casino on board), a limbo contest, a golf putting competition (there was also a golf cage to practice your swing), a men's hairy chest competition (I became instantly famous as this was broadcasted on the ship's "what's happening" channel), tea time, trivia time, a cocktail party, a lounge crawl, a late night adult comedy show, a tanzanite seminar & raffle, free health seminars, and a musical show with dancing accompanied by Steve Wenzel and the Phantom Orchestra (who were excellent all week). Dinner tonight was formal, (#7: Bring a power strip to accommodate your electric razor, wife's hair dryer, digital camera battery re-charger, and CD alarm clock at the same time) so my son and I took advantage of a complimentary shoeshine on the same deck as the dining room.
Tuesday January 25th
Grand Cayman. My wife and son went on the Stingray Sandbar, Hell & Turtle Farm Experience. They described feeding the stingrays from their hands and holding giant sea turtles as a magical experience. My wife, a big sea turtle devotee, found this to be an incredible excursion. I went on a local trek, by myself. I managed to find a stretch of sandy beach interspersed with jagged rocks giving way to crystal clear blue water. I found a conch shell significantly larger than the size of my hand. I rinsed it in the waves and moved on. Among the various fossils, I located a piece of brain coral that was perfectly shaped and neared the same weight of a human head (I am a science teacher and chiropractor, so I know this stuff). I then came upon a very narrow area of beach, while on my return path. Standing ashore was a man reaching into a bag of fish. I moved closer and he explained, "This is a fish market where the locals come to buy..." but I was fixed on the waves. For in the breakers were many fish, 3 and 4 feet long with ominous fins piercing the surface. He said those were tarpon and they come to feed on the scraps. He also said, If I had my fly rod with me, it would be a lot of fun. (#8: Bring a compact fly rod with common salt water fly patterns)
Wednesday January 26th
Costa Maya. Prior to describing Costa Maya, 1 want to share briefly your dining options that are part of your cruise. On deck 9 you have Horatio's (that served an incredible high quality assortment of foods from different nations around the world), a grill line (that spoiled me daily with Reuben sandwiches), 24-hour pizza (this was best at 1:30am in between leaving the disco and heading for the casino), and a 24-hour ice cream/frozen yogurt bar. On deck 2, you have the Bacchus dinning room, serving you breakfast and dinner daily, and lunch most days. It was the first time I could experience fine dining daily. My 8-year-old son felt like a king, and lived up to the challenge displaying exceptional manners.
We all went on the Costa Maya Jungle Beach Break. We were taken to a secluded beach by a charter bus. Once there, we had 3 hours of swimming, sun bathing, kayaking (which was free) and could for a small fee partake in snorkeling or the use of a jet ski. My daughter had her hair braided and my son was everywhere on the beach, while my wife and additional family (my brother and his wife, my sister in law with fiancE, my mother-in-law and boyfriend) basked in the sun. Before I get to kayaking, I want to mention the 2 open bars included, serving tropical drinks with a rum or tequila base. I didn't keep count, but at one time found myself with a shot of tequila in my left hand and a rum punch in my right. (#9: This is a great excursion if drinking is your forte) And this was before kayaking! My highlight though, was pulling a giant ruby red starfish out of the water and taking a picture. I have never seen a starfish so large and colorful.
Thursday January 27th
Cozumel. Deep-sea fishing. (#10: Bring something to prevent getting sick at sea) My brother, my son, and myself were set up with a couple from Wisconsin on a 31-foot "Island Hopper" with outriggers. The half-day trip was exciting and eventful as each of us ended up reeling in a Wahoo, ranging from 35 to 45 lbs and my son a small amberjack. The first mate accommodated plenty of time for pictures on the way back.
After getting lunch aboard the Miracle, we returned to Cozumel to explore the local shops. Bargaining was part of the game, and I managed a good deal on a fine Cuban cigar.
Friday January 28th
Belize. Goff's Caye snorkeling. This excursion was "un-Belizeable!" We were up close and personal with magnificent fish, stingray, coral and vegetation of a Great Barrier Reef. The staff on this excursion will lead in the water so you don't miss anything, and at the same time you are allowed to explore on your own. (#11: Bring/purchase on the ship an underwater camera) Dinner was formal, and every night I had the pleasure of eating with my parents who were also on board. We then took advantage of many evening activities.
Saturday January 29th
All week, Camp Carnival (a program for minor cruisers) was an excellent setup for my 14 year-old daughter. She made friends quickly; appreciated age appropriate activities, and (as a teenager) she relished time to do things on her own.
However, my 8 year-old stuck to me like glue. He loved being everywhere at all times and participated in everything. As a result, Noah became a celebrity in his own way and many people we didn't know would say as we passed by, "Hey Noah, how's it going?" He started to look for activities labeled "Karl with a K presents..." Karl was very dynamic and engaging. My eyes are now wet with tears as I cannot remember having spent so much quality time in a good space with my son.
(#12 Bring your Kids!)
Sunday January 30th
Even though we were packed as instructed and prepared for departure, the ship's crew continued spoiling us with a fantastic breakfast. In addition, while waiting to leave the ship, there was one bar open.
On a scale of one to ten, I would rate this vacation experience as a ten+! The Service, Entertainment, Activities, Camp Carnival, On Board Services, Food and Beverage (#13: Buy the Fun Fountain Card for unlimited soda) were outstanding. And as I turn to look at my beautiful wife, she shares a bright smile while describing preparations... for our next cruise.