This was cruise number 8 for us, our fifth with Carnival. We have been on HAL once, NCL twice, and are cruising with Princess in May. We are retired and in our mid-late fifties. This cruise didn't have a plethora of young twenty-something year olds swilling beer 20 hours a day as some Carnival cruises do. We were saved from this because this sailing had a convention of more than 1100 John Deere employees and spouses. There was also another company on this cruise with more than 400 employees. As we stood in line waiting to embark we noticed the difference between this cruise and past cruises right away.
We left our home in SE Pennsylvania at 4 a.m. Thursday 2/03/05 to drive to Cape Canaveral. The ride down I-95 was steady without too much traffic. This was right before Super Bowl Weekend and we did pass several RV's and cars decorated with Eagles flags and colors. Some even had signs in the windows "need one ticket," "need two tickets." Stopped at a Va. Cracker Barrel restaurant where we were informed that Cracker Barrel will not have the Breakfast Casserole ever again (Boo Hoo!) because of fights breaking out over who was to get the limited number they prepare. We arrived in Hardeeville SC just before 6 pm and stayed at Comfort Suites for the night. We were too late for their $39 room saver coupon special and didn't bother to look elsewhere as we were ready to call it a night. So we took the next best rate, $55. for AARP members, which could be used toward our choice rewards. It was well worth it, the room was great and a bargain for the price. It even had an oversized tub with Jacuzzi, comfortable king bed and a more then adequate breakfast included.
We left Hardeeville at 9 a.m. the next morning and crossed the Florida state line at 11. Stopped at the welcome center, had the orange juice. We had planned on visiting a Jacksonville cousin briefly but he advised us there was no briefly to it. Jacksonville was bumper to bumper and wall to wall with Philadelphians. He even said not to even try staying on I-95 and to use I-295 instead. It proved to be a better idea. We will probably keep using this route in the future. After stopping at a Sonnys BBQ we arrived in Cocoa Beach at 3 p.m. We had reservations at Quality Suites for the night. The two room suite was very nice, with fridge, micro, two televisions. One reason we chose this hotel was because their website says they offer a parking package and shuttle to and from the port. What the site doesn't tell you is that it is not at this location, you must drive a couple of miles north to the Radisson and leave your car there. That's no problem, but waiting for the shuttle at the Radisson front door is an absolute zoo. There were 3 ships in port with hundreds of people waiting for a limited number of shuttles mostly for the Disney Cruise Ship. We had reservations for the 11 a.m. shuttle and were told to arrive 15 minutes ahead of time. We were ready and waiting 45 minutes early just to be sure. We checked in with the front desk and then checked in with the clip board guy out front. At 11 a.m. I overheard him say he was a little behind and still had a few 10:30 people to board. Okay, that's fine if you're a little busy, we don't mind waiting. But at 11:30 I overheard him say he would be boarding noon people on time. I finally went and asked him if he skipped us because so many other names were being called. He said he would definitely get us on the next shuttle. He did, but said he miscounted and made three people left standing get off as all passengers must be seated. So after almost two hours of waiting we were on our way to the ship. The way Radisson pushes their parking and shuttle package you would think that they would have it better organized. The port is only a mile from the Radisson, we even joked about walking it since we've done that before when we were on the Norwegian Majesty out of Charleston. But that's another story.
Embarkation was extremely busy but the lines moved quickly and we were on the ship in less than 30 minutes. We went right to our outside cabin to drop off our carry-on luggage. We were ready for lunch and headed to the tastefully decorated Red Sail on Lido deck. Afterward we explored the ship, checking out all the lounges and public rooms. Glory is a very colorful ship but I didn't find it glaringly so as some people have said. All of the rooms are named after colors.
PORTS -- Nassau -- We were in Nassau last spring and covered a lot of territory then, including the Water tower, The Queen's Staircase, Fort Fincastle, Fort Catherine, Ardastra Gardens and more. So this time we took the ferry to Paradise Island, $6 pp road trip. Our destination was the Cloisters and the Versailles Gardens. We headed off in what we thought was the right direction but asked an Atlantis employee on his way to work just to make sure. His direction didn't sound right to me so we asked the next employee we saw. This one sounded better and after we checked with a third employee we were on the right track. Our destination was about a mile or so away but we always do a lot of walking and enjoy seeing the area this way. We found the history of the Cloisters very interesting. Behind the Cloister is a great harbor view. The gardens are directly across the street and are a series of stepped landscaping with many statues, including FDR. Nassau is a relatively short stop, we had to be back on the ship by 1:30 but still had time to shop after returning on the noon ferry.
St. Thomas -- Because you are arriving at a US port after leaving a foreign port everyone, even if you are staying on the ship, must go through immigration. (To quote Stuart Dunn, it's for all the right reasons.) We docked at 9:15, our deck was called two hours later. Two years ago we explored much of St. Thomas so this time we wanted to see St. John. On the advice of other reviewers we took a taxi to Red Hook for the ferry. This would have been a fine ride except for the dispatcher overfilling the taxi for three different stops. Coki Beach, Sapphire Beach and lastly Red Hook. So the driver takes the high road which takes about 15 minutes longer to start with the Coki Beach stop. This stop was really out of the way and time consuming compared to the other two stops. Soooooooooo, when we get there the woman who wanted to go there says,"Oh I changed my mind. I want to go to Sapphire Beach too." The driver says patiently "Oh, you changed your mind?" This puts us arriving in Red Hook three minutes late for the ferry. We made the best of the nearly hour long wait for the next ferry by walking around Red Hook for awhile. An alternative scenario would have been the driver saying I've got people who have to make the next ferry. But that didn't happen. The ferry was a pleasant 20 minute ride, $3 pp each way. Our destination here was Cinnamon Bay Beach, both for the beach and the nature trails. There is also a restaurant and facilities here. The beach is beautiful although the surf was a little rough that day. After getting tossed about in the surf a bit, we walked the nature trail in search of a geocache hidden there. (Curious? geocache.com ) We found the geocache and enjoyed checking out the sugarmill and cemetery ruins. The taxi ride to Cinnamon Bay was $4.50 pp and exciting with steep grades and hairpin curves. The timing on our return to Cruz Bay for the ferry back to St. Thomas was off by a few minutes also so we made the best of this also. Half price drinks at the nearby Ficus Inn during happy hour with a very pleasant young woman bartender! We didn't get back to the ship until 6:30 so we missed our 5:45 early seating and had dinner on lido instead.
St. Maarten/St. Martin -- We docked here at 7:15. There has been a lot of improvement here since my visit here in 1996. A hurricane went through here in '95. We had plans to meet a vacationing cousin at the tendering dock at 11 a. m. to spend the day with her and her husband. After getting off the ship shortly after 8:30 we had time to visit several of the nearby shops before taking the water taxi to the tendering dock. This taxi is $3 pp one way or $5 pp round trip or multiple trips. We thought it was 9:30 when we arrived at the dock as all passengers are told to stay on ship time. But St. Maarten time was 10:30 and cousin Terri and George were already there waiting for us. Since seven (7!) ships were scheduled to dock today it was going to be great to get away and really see the sights from people who know the island well. Terri and George have been spending one month here every year for the last 15 years. Our first stop after dodging the goats that appear prevalent all around the island was Oyster Bay for a photo op. There is a small observation tower and nature preserve here. Next stop was Orient Beach for some libation on a hot day. This area, too, has been greatly rebuilt since the last time I was here nine years ago. We had a round of $3 per bottle beers, used the facilities. You need to ask the bartender for a ticket or they will charge you 50 cents for the bathroom. Be prepared, there is a nude beach available here. After a nice ride through the countryside we started up the mountain to Pic Paradis, the highest point on St. Martin. Terri had warned us that we may not be able to drive all the way up and might have to walk to the peak. The paved road changed to gravel to ruts to even bigger ruts. But George is determined. Finally we came upon a rut as big as a drainage ditch and he knew the Maxima wouldn't make it. We backed up on the one lane path and found a place to pull over to the side. Later the husband and I tell each other we're each thinking that we're going to lose the muffler and/or transmission and be stuck on top of a mountain on the other side of the island from the ship. Jokingly, of course, we love the thrill of an adventure! We got out and walked the last half mile to the top. It was worth it, simply incredible. At the top we took each of two separate paths for a spectacular view of both sides of the island. Marigot and the lowlands on one side, Phillipsburg and the cruise ships on the other. The hike down the mountain was easier and we were glad the car had brakes to reach the bottom. We now continue on to Marigot and visit Fort Louis. We learned the history and climbed the steps (92) and took more pictures of the beautiful harbor and scenery. After all that physical activity we were ready for lunch. We went to Marina Royale surrounding Simpson Bay in Marigot. Marina Royale has many exclusive shops and restaurants. We choose Le Village and had a tasty lunch of salads, pizza and pasta. Terri and George then took us to see their timeshare condo at Pelican Club, a lovely resort. Our last stop was Rima Beachwear. This is where the vendors shop for their merchandise to re-sell at the markets. The prices are great, we picked up some silk shirts for $8, and baseball caps 3 for $10. After a full, fun day we were dropped off at 4:30 and still had time to shop Front and Back Streets and get the water taxi back to the ship.
DINING -- We had early dining in the Golden Room. I have the unfounded fear of having young table mates with four unruly children. This never happens, of course. We've always had dining companions much like ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed their company this cruise. The dining room food was wonderful and the meat portions were large. The vegetable portions could be larger. Grilled zucchini was a two match stick sized portion, two brussel sprouts was a portion, etc. I like the dining room menu on NCL where a side of steamed vegetables was available anytime. We would frequently order this to share. I still haven't decided if the purpose of serving a "special dessert" three times during the cruise to the whole table is to really give the passengers a special treat or to make it easier on the waitstaff. The first time the chocolate souffle was nice, but two nights later the Baked Alaska was just so-so, and after that the grand marnier souffle didn't even taste like it. Afterward you are offered the regular dessert menu but by then half the dining room has left and the staff is getting ready for the next seating and you really don't want anything else then anyway. NCL also has a much more varied breakfast menu, and after I got used to all the hand sanitizing stands on NCL I like having them. I think they would be an asset for Carnival to offer them. The Lido buffet was good also, but we prefer the dining room food. The pizza station, grill and deli were also good. We didn't use the sushi or fish and chips restaurant.
ENTERTAINMENT -- The entertainment on Carnival is always topnotch. Since this was the Super Bowl weekend, on Sunday night the dining room attendance was low because there was offered in the Amber Palace showroom a Super Bowl party with free (?) food , and purchased beverages with some added give-a-ways and contests for rights to sit up in a makeshift living room to watch the game. The amazing thing about this was the Large Movie type screen that the game was presented. The Las Vegas style reviews are stylish and splashy with great vocalists. The comedians we saw were all good. They included Percy Crews, Happy Coles and JR McCollum. Besides a family comedy routine JR McCollum also did one of the midnight adult shows. This show is advertised in your Carnival Capers as adults only. Before the show you are warned adults only, anyone under 18 to GET OUT. Well, I guess there's always one. And this permissive mother choose to let her three under 18 year old children to stay. Daddy was sleeping. And even had the gall to sit up front where they would sure be noticed. Well, to JR's credit he let her have it. He said something to her and she hollered back something to the effect of "parental guidance." His barrage kept up for a minute or two with no holds barred, and this woman deserved it. She even had the 13 year old boy keep his suit and tie on thinking it would make him look older. Dai Andrews the sword swallower was good. We enjoyed the lounge performers also. Among them were Darin, Ed, Mozart Trio and Two of a Kind. Simple Friends are great musicians and we even got used to their country songs with their Filipino accents. The night we sat in on Simple Friends for a few sets we had even more entertainment then we bargained for. Simple Friends played in the Ebony Bar, which is right next door to the Bar Blue, where they have Karaoke. After the dance floored cleared we noticed there was a new addition to the stage, an obviously intoxicated woman singing with the band and swaying to the music. We think she was confused as to what bar she was in. A friend tried unsuccessfully to persuade her to leave. She was coaxing men in the audience to come up and join her for a dance and even succeeded once, much to the delight of his wife. She was harmless, we had a good chuckle and a hope she didn't have a headache the next morning!
CONCLUSION -- We always enjoy our trips, but this one seemed really special. Everything on the ship was great, the cabin, service, food, entertainment, the sights, the activities we did, the company. We will cruise Carnival again.