The cast of characters for this Christmas cruise was me, Cindy, age 50, and my husband Jim, also 50. That's it...no kids, no pets, no extended family, or at least not on this cruise. The only thing of interest we brought with us was a couple bottles of good wine. This was our 13th cruise and our third on Carnival, but we've also cruised with Princess and Royal Caribbean, and we haven't met a ship we didn't like. Most of our cruises have been out of Galveston because the lure of a cruise homeport only an hour from our house is something I've yet to be able to resist. Obviously, at least at this point in our lives, we cruise more for the ship than variety in our ports!
We decided to go down to Galveston and stay at the Harbor House the night before our cruise, so we could watch the ships sail and soak in some Christmas spirit walking around the Strand. We were successful in watching the ships sail, although Voyager didn't leave until about 6:15...she sailed by Willie G's while we were at dinner. The Strand was kind of a bust...not nearly as decorative as we thought it would be, and it was COLD!
We went to Willie G's for dinner with some trepidation, because we both thought the Landry's restaurants had declined a lot in quality in recent years. I had thought about trying Olympia Grill, but discovering $50 in Landry's gift cards buried in the pantry pretty much took care of the decision where to eat. Much to our surprise, dinner was excellent! We were both pretty beat, so after dinner we watched football for a while and called it a night early.
On sailing day, I forced myself to stay in bed until 6:30, when the need for coffee got me up. I grabbed my cameras and my coffee and headed down to the patio for my first sight of the Ecstasy. After a few minutes I was joined by another early riser. We exchanged pleasantries, and then she looked at me and asked if I was Cindy! I guess even though the Roll Call for this cruise never really got going, somebody read the thing! The ship came in right on time, which meant it was time to get ready so I could be one of the first people to board...after all, once I'm on the ship I'm officially on vacation!
We walked our suitcases over and dropped them off about 10:30, then went back to the hotel for our carry-ons and to check out. I was a little nervous about the bill at the Harbor House, because we had pre-paid, and when we checked in they didn't seem to know anything about it! Luckily I'm extremely obsessive, so of course I had brought a copy of my credit card statement showing the charge. As it ended up, they didn't even charge us for parking, so we got a room at the Harbor House and parking for the cruise for only $99. I thought that was a pretty good deal!
We got back to the terminal to check-in at 11:15. The only delay we had was at the first station where they check your boarding pass and ID...that was a little backed up. Going through security we did end up being happy we weren't smuggling. For the first time ever, we had to open and empty a carry-on! As the bag was passing through the scanner I heard, "Red bag has bottles!" Sure enough, they wanted to check our wine to make sure it was really wine. Of course, the wine was in a padded carrier at...you guessed it...the very bottom of the bag! Interestingly, we later heard from a couple at our dinner table that they got called to the naughty room...for soda and water. I don't know if they were checking more closely on this cruise because of the holiday sailing, or if they're just cracking down more. On our other two Carnival cruises we have taken some "extra" wine, and haven't had a problem.
Once we proved we're good, honest, rule following cruisers, we were on the ship in no time. From VIP check-in we walked down to be seated, but the agent looked at us and told us to just keep on walking until we were aboard! We bypassed the boarding picture and voila! We were on an almost completely deserted ship at 11:45.
It took a little while to get our bearings/figure out the lay of the land, because the Ecstasy is laid out completely differently than any ship we've been on. Lunch was Rotisserie for both of us, and we grabbed a nice table outside by the pool and watched people board. It's always fun to watch the newbies...they're overwhelmed and excited and lost all at the same time.
Since we couldn't get in our cabin until 1:30 I explored a bit. I did find our dining room and discovered we're assigned to a wonderful round table for 10 very close to the entrance and next to the Captain's Table. The rest of the afternoon was spent settling in...the bags came early, and I had us completely unpacked by 3:00. We met our steward, Ovie (from Romania), and engaged in our favorite sailing day pastime...watching the ship get loaded. It still amazes me to see the amount of "stuff" that gets brought onboard for consumption.
Muster drill was at 3:40. We met in the City Lights, and I thought it was going to be a piece of cake until I realized they still needed to lead all the people outside to show them the location of their lifeboats. Unfortunately, as we were sitting there I sensed something different. Sure enough, we were moving. No waving at the people on the Harbor House patio today...we were at muster for sailaway. For us it was an annoyance and a minor disappointment, but it would have been a real let down if this was our first cruise.
Later - Day 1 - I'm not sure what it is, but everything just seems a little discombobulated to me tonight. Is it that I need to go up when my mind thinks I should go down? Is it the wine and drink coupons I pre-ordered that didn't get delivered? I'm puzzled about the wine...the whole wine (non)delivery thing seems odd to me. Guest Services is claiming wine can't be delivered until tomorrow because of Texas law, but has the law changed since March, or is it different for the Conquest? Maybe it's just adjusting to a new ship - one with TONS of first time cruisers aboard. It seems crowded to me...there are 2,700 folks aboard, and at least tonight, most of them seem to be lost in the stairwells and elevator lobbies. Then the places you would expect to be crowded are relatively empty. Welcome aboard show? We walked in at 6:40 and had our choice of seats. Dinner? There were only 6 of us at a table for ten. One place that is VERY crowded is the balcony next door...it sounds like there are 15 people staying in that cabin. Thankfully they appear to be "early to bed" types.
Dinner was good, but not great. Our servers were Charlie (short for something very long) and John. Jim and I both had the pork chop, and for the first time it left something to be desired. Both of our entrees were overcooked and dry. Luckily everything else was superb, and we certainly didn't walk away from the dining room hungry! We got a bottle of Paraduxx (Zin blend) and I had fried shrimp, lettuce wedge, pork chop, and WCMC, while Jim had shrimp cocktail, pork, and WCMC.
After dinner we checked on our wine (out of commission until tomorrow) and the missing drink coupons. The coupons were handled tonight, while the good stuff will have to wait until Tuesday. Once business was taken care of we made our usual donations to the casino, and we were off to bed!
Tuesday, December 21, 2010...early...too early...thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. What's that you ask? Grr...it's the sound of children chasing one another in the hallway about 6:15. ? Why on earth would a parent let their children out to run around at that hour? That was the end of sleep for us! Jim went and got us some hot sludge masquerading as coffee, and we decided to head up to the gym to make ourselves feel better about the food intake. We had seen something called "Body Sculpt Boot Camp" in the Fun Times, and it wasn't marked as a fee class, so we thought we'd give it a try. That is, we thought we'd give it a try until we got upstairs and discovered it was $69 per person for 2 classes. We decided to save our pennies and just worked out on the machines. It was typical first day of a cruise in the gym, with a wide variety of people, some who have never been inside a gym before and some who are crazed with the thought of missing a workout. I've noticed a real decline in the quality of the exercise program on all ships since our first two cruises on the Sea Princess and the Rhapsody...all the cruise lines seem to have figured out that they can offer specialty classes for a fee, and most of the free stuff has disappeared.
After our workout we tried to track down Steve to say howdy, so we actually sat through the port talk figuring we'd be able to grab him after, but it was to no avail. As soon as Steve was done he disappeared behind the screen, so it was off to lunch and some relaxation.
We discovered the Serenity Deck today. There's just something about a breeze and the wake of a ship that acts like a sleeping pill for me. We had fantastic naps on those padded loungers! It was the perfect way to spend a couple hours on a ship! That area ties with the adult aft pool area on the Grand Princess for my favorite spot on any ship.
Some of my "issues" from embarkation day took care of themselves today...the wine arrived late this afternoon, and we have our Chef's Table confirmation for Thursday night. Maybe I was just too impatient! I think I figured out the running in the hall thing, too...we're on Deck 6, in the section that juts in, so the corridor on Deck 7 runs right over our cabin. The pounding feet are actually coming from above us, which explains why we kept hearing the racket this morning but there was never anybody in the hallway...they were upstairs.
Before dinner we walked around at the Captain's Cocktail party for a while...we finally tracked down Steve so I could say hi. Dinner was wonderful. There were 10 at our table, and even though we were all different ages and backgrounds we pretty much shut down the dining room and had a lot of fun doing it! The food was very good, but service was a bit slow. They really do have people just packed into the dining room on this cruise...most of the tables for 10 seem like they would ordinarily be tables for eight, and our wait staff has three of the big tables plus a couple twosomes. Combine that with one person who ordered an extra course and we were one of the last tables to finish dinner.
The highlight of the evening was the Extreme Country show starring Cruise Director Steve on the fiddle. He was AWESOME! I have a confession to make...I got busted in the theater, trying to sneak a picture of Steve during the show. How embarrassing! I thought I was being very discreet, and the flash was off, but I was spotted from behind! I quickly put the camera away and behaved for the rest of the evening. Once the show was over, it was straight to bed for us. No casino, no more drinks, nothing but sleep!
Wednesday we arrived in Progresso right on schedule, It was a beautiful day...just picture perfect weather...warm but not hot, no humidity, not a cloud in the sky. We took a very entertaining tour to Merida called Salsa, Salsa. We first toured the old cathedral and governor's mansion, and then we went to an open-air restaurant to make three kinds of Salsa and for Salsa dance lessons! FYI, we did a pretty good job with the food part, but nobody's going to be hiring us to perform a Salsa dance for them anytime soon! The only thing I didn't like about the tour was the bus ride back took forever because of traffic. The excursion was supposed to end at 1:00, but we didn't get back to the ship until 2:00. That kind of spoiled our plan to go to the Mongolian Grill without waiting in line!
We pulled out of Progresso right on time, and noticed a theme taking over. We're not "doing" much on this cruise, and that's fine with us. We decided to skip the Past-Guest party at 5:00 in favor of some quality balcony time and a quality nap!
When we went to dinner, we discovered our table for ten was an almost deserted table for four...we had seen the young couple that sat with us the night before and they had opted for pizza, we figured the couple who went to Chichen-Itza was exhausted, and we didn't know about the other couple. We settled in for a perfectly nice meal with just four of us...we ordered, and were just about to be served our appetizers when everything came to a screeching halt. Yes, you guessed it...the last couple showed up about 20 minutes late for dinner. The kicker here is what the female was wearing. I'm not usually too concerned with what other folks wear on a cruise. We like to dress up a bit for dinner, but if others don't that's fine. Well, it's usually fine, but I could have lived without looking at the bra-less tank top with the sparkly design on the chest for 90 minutes! Who knows, maybe she hung it on the line in the "lingerie bar" at the port.
We didn't do much of anything noteworthy after dinner, unless you count losing more money in the casino as noteworthy. We didn't really feel like going to the deck party, and there wasn't much else going on, so when we were out of money our day was over!
Cozumel was another early day for us. Let me say there's just something fundamentally wrong with setting the alarm clock when you're on a cruise, but that's exactly what we did. On the bright side, I slept like a baby this trip so Jim was the one to trudge upstairs for the morning caffeine infusion.
We took a Dune Buggy excursion in Cozumel which was a lot of fun but definitely hard on our rear-ends. The excursion took us to Punta Sur, where we saw a tiny Mayan ruin, alligators, and had some beach/snorkel time. Well, the excursion included a snorkel, but since we didn't even bring bathing suits with us, we just had beach time. Lunch was included, and the sightseeing part of the tour ended at a lighthouse that we opted to admire from below! It was a pretty spot, and we've been very fortunate on this trip to have just glorious weather, both on the ship and in port.
Much to our surprise we were the only Carnival ship in port on Thursday, and there was only one other ship in town...the RCCL Liberty of the Seas. For some reason we were expecting it to be very crowded, but it was nice to be in Cozumel without 8 ships in port!
We got back to the ship and decided to take it easy before our Chef's Table dinner. Hello, balcony! Jim finished more of his endless stack of Sports Illustrateds that tend to pile up, and I finished a trash novel for the first time in ages. In our opinion, it just doesn't get better than the opportunity to sit outside, on the water, on an absolutely gorgeous day, and do nothing of great importance.
We met the Executive Chef, Suresh Babu, at the Lobby Bar at 6:30 for our Chef's Table dinner. There were 11 of us...10 adults and a VERY well-behaved six year old. We were escorted through the Wind Star Dining Room to the galley for appetizers and champagne. The chef explained a little about what goes on in the galley, and we were served small tastes of Ahi Tuna Tartar on a Wasabi Crisp, Duck Pot Sticker, Steak Taco, and Avocado Cheesecake. They were all delicious, even the tuna, which I was skeptical about because I'm not a sushi girl. After the appetizers, we went to the pastry section and had a demonstration on how to make Warm Chocolate Melting Cake. You only need this information if you're not concerned about the amount of fat and sugar you put in your body every time you order this dessert. If you care about those kinds of things, you're better off without this information! The chef gave us a short tour of the other parts of the galley. It's definitely busy in there, with lots of people scurrying around for dinner service. We even saw a little fuss at the salad station...one of the cooks was very unhappy about something, and was letting others know about it!
From the galley we were escorted to the Explorer's Club for dinner. The table was beautifully set with place cards and personalized menus. After a group photo we were seated to begin our meal. This is where it got a little weird, and where just like in the dining room, your dinner companions can make or break a dining experience. The food and presentation at dinner was just exquisite, but the whole experience was awkward. The two gentlemen seated to Jim's left never said a word the entire (lengthy) meal. They didn't smile, they didn't comment on the food, or the weather, or their cruise...they just sat there stone-faced the whole time. Well, they did frown every time I took a food-porn picture! One other person at the table was either still drunk from Nachi Cocum or already hung-over, and never spoke nor did he touch his food. I think the mother and son who were with the stone-faced guys tried to enjoy the experience, but they were concerned with the lack of enthusiasm from across the table and didn't say too much during the meal. So really, there were five of us having a conversation while five other adults sat there. It just made for a strange experience. We loved the food and the wine...it's just the kind of thing we like to do, but I'm not sure we'd do it again unless we made the reservation with some other people. I'm just not sure why anybody would reserve something like that if a lengthy dinner with strangers isn't up their alley.
When dessert was served, one of the poker-faced guys said, "that's enough of this!" and the two of them abruptly got up and left without touching the food on their plates. They didn't thank the staff, or say good bye or anything...they just left...almost stormed out. Can you say AWKWARD?
At any rate, the Chef's Table was phenomenal in the food department, but less so for the overall experience. I think it would have been an absolute dream if the group had included people who were all there to enjoy fine food and wine and interesting conversation. Unfortunately the group we ended up in lessened the experience. We did enjoy the food, and I think special events like this and the Behind the Fun Tour are one of the things Carnival does best. Although it wasn't an inexpensive experience, we had a lovely meal, and were also given a group photo and a Carnival cookbook.
After dinner we decided to try our luck in the casino again, and quickly realized this just isn't our cruise in the gambling department. We're pretty disciplined about taking a limited amount of funds to the casino when we go, and getting up and leaving when we run out, so it was a short visit!
As I type this, it's Friday morning and we're headed north to Galveston and home. It's another beautiful day, but noticeably cooler with some little whitecaps out there today. We slept until the unheard of hour of 7:30, and now Jim is working out while I'm being LAZY. I suppose at some point I'll have to get dressed and let Ovie in to clean the cabin, but I'm not moving too fast. Today's agenda will consist of lounging, eating, and packing. ? We also need to take a trip to the photo gallery, because it's been a good picture week for us! ?
Later...we accomplished exactly what we set out to do on our sea day...not much! We went to the photo gallery and poked around the shops, had lunch in the dining room, and took LONG naps! It's kind of funny to see how my spending on a ship and in port has evolved over the years. Our bill from the Sea Princess looked like the national debt. I loaded up on more $10 shawls, purses, and cruise t-shirts than I could use in 10 cruises. Every port induced more spending. Now I buy very little...most of our onboard account is for drinks and events like the Chef's Table, although I do still buy some pictures. In port on this trip I bought 2 bottles of vanilla...one for me and one for the neighbors who were keeping an eye on the house. The cruise lines probably aren't as happy with us as they used to be, but I saw plenty of people buying all the stuff I used to buy, so I guess they'll be able to stay in business!
Back to our day...I woke up about 4:15 and decided I'd better pack, and Jim took off with his last $10 in casino chips while I attended to the nasty chore. It was really pretty simple - it took less than an hour, and then we showered and got ready for the evening. We went to the show (Dream Voyage) before dinner. It was entertaining, but like the show on Tuesday we thought the audience was very sparse. The performers on the Ecstasy are very good...much better than the Conquest last March, which made the production shows very enjoyable.
There were 8 of us for dinner tonight...the young couple who sat with us on Tuesday never made it to another meal. We had a pleasant evening, but again our service was slow. During the cruise, it just never seemed like our waiter and assistant waiter were totally in sync with each other. Combine that with the very large tables and one person who had an extra (third) appetizer each evening, it seemed like dinner took a long time. We went straight to bed after dinner. I'm not sure I ever completely woke up from my nap earlier, and I had no problem falling asleep!
Sometime during the night we ran into the cold front. I couldn't tell you when, because I slept through it, but I woke up about 5:30 and you could hear the wind. When I touched the balcony door it was very cold, and it took a lot of effort to push the door open. I went back to sleep for about an hour...long enough that Jim was stirring and could do the caffeine duties. We wrapped up in our robes (for warmth!) and tried to sit on the balcony with our coffee to watch arrival in Galveston, but we were driven back inside by the elements.
We had our only real breakfast of the trip (in the dining room) before we disembarked. Eating dinner at 8:15, we find that we're not really hungry for much in the mornings, and we just have fruit and cereal on the balcony. We were amazed that while we were at breakfast they turned the ship around before docking. I thought surely with the wind we would come straight in, but they did get us turned around with the assistance of tugs. Just a side note, this was by far the windiest we've seen it down in Galveston at the cruise terminal. There were huge waves and white caps in the channel, and the wind was the kind you have to fight to walk into.
Disembarkation was super simple. I was concerned because we hadn't gotten any kind of VIP disembarkation information with our luggage tags. Actually, when I asked at guest services the staff member was kind of snippy and asked me how I knew I should have gotten a letter! It ended up looking like there really wasn't a true VIP disembarkation. We waited in our cabin, as did our neighbors, and were in the first group called after the self-assist. Zones 1-7 (we were Zone 4) were called about 9:50, and we got our luggage/got through customs/walked to Harbor House, and we were on the road for home at 10:15. I had been concerned about disembarking on Christmas day since our only other holiday disembarkation (Easter Sunday on the Voyager) had been a three and a half hour disaster, but this couldn't have been any easier.
Walking off the ship was a snap compared to the mayhem and the pushing/shoving we experienced on the Conquest last March. It really looked like everybody followed directions and kept the lobby and staircases clear. We did see Steve right in the middle of disembarkation leading the proceedings/saying good-bye to the passengers, which I thought was a nice touch and probably helped a lot.
Some thoughts about the Ecstasy and this cruise...we liked our cabin and location. We had plenty of space, and a nice sized balcony. I would say a GS on this ship is about the size of a Junior Suite on RCCL or a Mini Suite on Princess. Only two things were a bother...one was the pounding feet from above in the very early morning hours, and the other was the pervasive "cruise ship smell" in our bathroom. You know the smell...it's on every ship at various times...and it was in our bathroom most of the trip. Sometimes it was stronger than others, but it never really went away. That brings me to another thing that was strange on the Ecstasy...the water has a very funny taste. I think it must be something in the purification system, but the water smells bad and tastes worse. It's the first time we've had a problem with the water on a ship, and wouldn't you know we didn't bring any with us this time!
If you plan to buy an internet package and use your laptop in your cabin, save your money. The WiFi on the Ecstasy is rotten. I had originally planned to update daily like I was able to do on the Conquest with no problems, but I got thrown off almost every time I tried to use the internet.
Something I missed on the Ecstasy is the interactive TV. It was no big deal, but I like being able to check the dinner menu and my account from the room. It was pretty funny...the day we boarded I spent about 15 minutes trying to find the interactive section on the TV before Ovie told me it doesn't exist.
I really liked the staff on the Ecstasy. Everybody we encountered (save the one snippy lady at Guest Services) was very friendly and helpful. Even though we didn't see a lot of Steve (because we didn't go to many events!), he's a very approachable CD with an awesome musical talent. I really appreciated that he wasn't incessantly on the PA system...there were relatively few announcements on the ship.
The Ecstasy, to me, is a study in contrasts. The areas that have been completely refurbished are modern and sleek, while areas like the atrium and the elevator lobbies/stairwells are a tribute to her neon heritage. Something that confused me all week is that all the public areas on the Ecstasy are on the upper decks, and I'm used to going up for the Lido, but down for the dining rooms, lobby, casino, promenade, etc. Even though the Ecstasy is the oldest ship we've been on, and the smallest we've been on in quite some time, she's in fine shape and rides well. It was kind of nice to not feel like we had to walk six miles to get someplace! Even though the Ecstasy doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the newer ships, she has everything we need to have a great time, get away from the daily grind, and relax!
For all that I was concerned about crowds on boarding day, it was never an issue despite the 2,700 passengers on board. We do less than some (most?) people do, and pretty much avoid the buffet and main pool, so your mileage may vary. The only place it seemed tight to us was in the dining room, and as I mentioned earlier it seemed like they had set extra places at each of the tables...there really was one setting right on top of another...you couldn't set a menu down without it being on top of the flatware.
This was only our second five-day cruise, and our first Christmas cruise. To me, a seven-day cruise seems more like "vacation," while the shorter cruise seemed like a "getaway." It's almost as if people get more in the routine of ship-life on a longer cruise. I almost felt as though I was packing my bags as soon as I had unpacked.
I was very excited about sailing at Christmas, but it wasn't as much of an event as I expected it to be. Maybe it was because we arrived back in port on Christmas morning, but aside from some different photo backdrops, decorations, and a special Christmas show that we missed due to naps, there wasn't anything that made it different than any other sailing. I had expected something special for dinner on Christmas Eve, but it was like any other night on a ship. Maybe it would have been different if we had not been disembarking the next morning. My only other experience with a holiday meal was Thanksgiving dinner on the Rhapsody in 2002, where we received special souvenir menus and dinner was a Thanksgiving feast. Still, that was a different cruise line, and much has changed in the industry since that time. In summary, I expected more of the holiday aspect, but aside from the decorations on board, it was much like any other sailing.
The passenger demographic on the ship was about what we expected...lots of families. It was very similar to our Spring Break cruises in that there were lots of children aboard. One thing that seemed different was the size of the family groups. We saw many more large multi-generational groups than we're used to seeing, which I suppose were people taking advantage of the holidays to get everybody together.
In summary, this was a lovely relaxing cruise for us. We slept a lot and recharged our batteries, which is just what we needed! I enjoyed the Ecstasy, and I wouldn't hesitate to take another cruise on this ship! Read Less