Here are more details about our back-to-back Eastern/Western Caribbean cruises on the Carnival Glory.
Warning: this is going to go on and on and on! You'll enjoy it if you're a cruise junkie or if you're researching for an upcoming cruise of your own. But this will seem long and boring to some people, I'm sure. Consider yourself warned!
I guess we might as well just start at the beginning... getting from our home in San Luis Obispo county, California, to the cruise ship terminal in Miami, Florida.
As you can imagine, we were full of excitement as we made the 3+ hour drive from our home to the Los Angeles International Airport. It had been the wettest winter in years, and we were ready for some sunshine and warm temperatures!
About our flight...
One thing that became apparent in the planning stages was that flying during the day was going to be the most expensive time to fly, and then there was also the added expense of getting a hotel for a night prior to the cruise. So we decided to take the "Red Eye" flight... leaving LAX at about 9:30 PM California time and arriving in Miami at about 5 AM Florida time. No hotel required. We'll just sleep on the plane, right? Well, that was the plan, at least! This also left many extra hours in the plan, just in case the plane was late. After all, they don't generally start boarding passengers on to a cruise ship much before noon. So, if we arrived at the Miami airport on time, we would have a LOT of time to kill. The problem, of course, is all that luggage. You can't very well have a cab drop you off at a restaurant for breakfast... or take your luggage with you to the beach for a few hours before the cruise. We would simply have to hang out at the Miami airport from about 5 AM until perhaps 10:30 or so.
Our flight was on time, and the only thing that didn't quite go according to plan was that thing about sleeping on the plane! Way too uncomfortable for me. I have enough trouble falling asleep in my own bed! Sleeping upright in a coach airplane seat just didn't work for me... and I didn't even try to sleep in the Miami airport. I figured I would just pull an all-nighter, and I could always catch a nap on the ship later.
While I have a lot of experience cruising, I'm really more of a novice when it comes to flying on big jet airliners. On the rare occasions that I do fly, it's usually on a little regional jet. But the LAX to MIA flight was in a big 737-800. Note to self: next time, don't pack the noise-cancelling headphones in your checked baggage! They really would have come in handy on the plane. I could have listened to the in-flight movie and the several hours of NBC TV shows that followed.
About the Miami airport... there's a really cool train system that gets you from the outer terminals to the baggage claim area! The train system looked a lot like San Francisco's BART system, only designed for people to stand rather than sit down. I made a joke that this was the Florida Area Rapid Transit system, or FART. It was impressive that even after being up all night, I could still be funny at 5 AM!
With hours to kill, Kellyn sat with our luggage and I set out to explore the Miami airport. At one point, I was riding in an elevator with a couple that had two kids... one an infant, and the other approximately two years old. It was a really cute family... especially the two year old girl, all dressed up in pink. The other kid, an infant boy, was being kind of fussy and one parent tried to reassure him by saying something like "you'll be able to sleep once we get on the ship". So, I said "which cruise ship are you going to be on?" and they said the Carnival Glory. I said "I'll be right there along with you!"
As we exited the elevator, we struck up a conversation about how we needed to waste time in the airport while we waited until we could make our way to the cruise ship terminal. We traded information about how many times we had cruised before (it turned out that this was their first time) and since I am a more experienced cruiser, they wanted my opinion on what time they should make their way from the airport to the cruise terminal, and how best to do it. I told them about the fixed-price $24 cab fare, and suggested that this was an especially good idea for a family of four since you paid per family not per person. However, it never occurred to me to consider the issue of child car seats... and so my advice to take a cab was actually crappy advice for them! Luckily, they later ran in to a Carnival representative at the airport who explained that young kids can't ride in a cab since the cabbies don't exactly carry around child car seats with them. The Carnival rep told them about Carnival's shuttle bus to the cruise terminal... no special seats required for the kids.
I know this because Kellyn and I settled in to seats in the airport lobby that were fairly close to where this family settled in for their wait. So, I just kept an eye on them throughout the morning since they were a cute family and we both were basically playing the same game of "wait at the airport until the cruise ship is ready for us".
Around 10 AM, I saw them pack all their stuff up and follow the Carnival rep to where the shuttle bus is. My wife and I waited a few more minutes, and then we finally couldn't stand waiting any longer and we hauled all of our gear out to the taxi loading area. I knew taking a taxi would be faster than any shuttle bus was going to be, but I was curious about just how much faster. So, I vowed to keep an eye out for the cute family once we arrived at the cruise ship terminal... and to see how their trip from the airport compared to ours.
Our cab ride from the airport to the cruise ship terminal was quick and easy. It took less than 15 minutes, and there were no surprises. The fare was, as promised, a flat $24. The driver was quite happy when I handed him $30.
Once we had all of our stuff out of the cab, it was time to start figuring out the system at the terminal... where exactly to take our luggage, and how to begin the check-in process. This was somewhere around 10:20 AM.
The scene in front of the cruise ship terminal was a bit chaotic... basically hundreds of people standing around with their luggage. I assumed that it was people like us who had arrived at the terminal early... so early, in fact, that the terminal wasn't even accepting passengers for check-in yet as they were probably still disembarking the last few guests from the previous cruise. I tried to figure out if there was a line, and where the end of the line was. But as I started trying to figure it all out, it started to dawn on me that these were not people standing around waiting to go in... they were people who had just disembarked and they were either standing around waiting for their rides or waiting for all the members in their group to show up.
Now keep in mind that all of my previous cruises were out of either Long Beach or San Diego. At Long Beach, the luggage thing is super-easy... they actually have a luggage drop-off area right there as you exit either the parking garage or the bus/taxi drop-off. It's well marked, and obvious. In San Diego, they collect your luggage right out in the parking lot outside of the terminal, and again that's right where a bus or taxi would drop you off and it's well marked. I looked for something similar at the Miami terminal, but didn't see anything. So, I found the first Carnival employee I could and I just asked him what to do with my luggage. He actually thought I was a disembarking passenger from the previous cruise, so there was a moment of confusion... but we eventually got it sorted out and he pointed me to a guy in a white hat who had an empty luggage cart at the curb. We took our luggage over to the guy, and I tipped him $5 to try to ensure that all would be well. Then we followed the signs towards the check-in area of the terminal.
The hardest part of the process is getting through security. It's much like airport security, except you don't take your shoes off and you don't take your laptop computer out of its case. I knew all of this from my previous cruises. No surprises. The only reason it was hard is that they only had one x-ray machine going... so there was a bit of a back up. There weren't a lot of people arriving at that hour, but it was more than one x-ray machine could keep up with. With a little patience, we got through it. Once past security, it was a breeze. I was really impressed. On the west coast, we don't have the self-check-in terminals that they have at Miami. Carnival needs to bring that over to the west coast, as it is far superior to the traditional process of being checked-in by a human clerk! We had our Sail & Sign cards in hand at 10:40 AM, and began the wait for embarkation to begin at noon. We sat down, and kept an eye out for the cute family from the airport. It was about 45 minutes later before they finally showed up! I asked them what the shuttle bus ride cost, and they said the kids rode free but the cost of a round-trip ticket (in other words, including the trip back to the airport at the end of the cruise) for the parents was $62. So, they actually paid a little more than we did, and got there significantly later. The moral of the story is take a cab, as long as you don't have young kids with you.
Carnival's terminal in Miami
I was really surprised to see people still disembarking all the way until about 11:45 AM. I found out later that these last people departing the ship were employees. The very last of the passengers are usually off the ship by about 10:30. By the way, the very first passengers off the ship (roughly 8 AM, or so) are the ones willing to do "self-assist" disembarkation. This means that you're willing to haul all your luggage with you. So, if your goal is to get off the ship as early as possible on disembarkation day... be sure not to pack more than you can carry on your own without assistance. We use rolling suitcases that have a special strap so you can attach two together and easily roll two at the same time. So, my wife and I each bring two of these rolling suitcases and that way we can just roll our luggage by ourselves and take advantage of the early self-assist disembarkation.
Anyway... exactly at noon, embarkation did begin... starting with the platinum-level folks (those who had been on at least 9 previous Carnival cruises) and the handicapped folks. Because we had arrived so early, we were in the "Zone 1" group... the very next group to board. So, we got on the ship real quick, and made our way up to the Lido deck to grab some lunch at the buffet. And right away, I noticed something about the Carnival Glory that impressed me over the other Carnival ships I had been on... a classier-looking style of furniture in the Lido buffet, known on the Carnival Glory as the "Red Sail restaurant".
Years ago, after a couple of Carnival cruises, we decided to try Norwegian Cruise Line just to see how they compared. (Short version of our conclusion: Carnival does it better, and we never went back to NCL after that.) One thing I remember quite clearly about the Norwegian Star was the tacky look of their Lido restaurant... it reminded me of a bad mall food court. All the Carnival ships I had been on featured a slightly classier looking dining area in their Lido buffet. And what I immediately noticed about the Carnival Glory was that it had the classiest looking Lido dining area of all the ships I had been on. So, it was a good first impression. And the lunch did not let me down, either!
The decor in the Red Sail restaurant is casual but definitely not tacky
After lunch, we did a lot of walking around exploring the ship. We had never been on a Conquest-class ship before, and we wanted to see how it compared to what we were familiar with... the Spirit class, the Fantasy class, and the Splendor. I'd say it's most similar to the Splendor... but instead of having a retractable dome over the main pool mid-ship like the Splendor does, it has a retractable dome over the aft pool.
Another thing that I noticed in comparing the Glory to the Splendor is that the interior decoration is not as gaudy as on the Splendor. Gosh, I hate those ugly pink circles on the Splendor! There's none of that foolishness on the Glory. The ceiling that covers portions of the lobby is interesting! It changes color as time goes on. In all my pre-cruise research about the Glory, I saw a lot of photos of the atrium, but once I actually walked in to it I realized that a still photo doesn't do it justice. You need a video to see the interesting thing that was done with the ceiling. It's all lit up, with an interesting pattern that changes colors over time. It's that Vegas-on-a-cruise-ship vibe that Joe Farcus (the guy who does the interior designs for Carnival) likes to add to every Carnival ship to make the design seem a little more "fun" than you would get on a more dignified line like Holland America or Princess. As I said, a still picture doesn't do it any justice... so take a look at this video
that I shot, and you'll see what I'm talking about.
All of the videos that I'll be linking to in this review were shot in full 1080p high definition. The default YouTube video player resolution is 360p low resolution... but you can change the resolution and watch the videos in high resolution, if you have a fast enough Internet connection to support all the bandwidth required to stream HD video. First, start the video playing and then change the 360p setting to 720p or (if you've got a lightning-fast connection) to 1080p.
If you're a cruise junkie, I think you'll REALLY love this next video! When the Carnival Glory finally left the dock in Miami on that first afternoon of the cruise, I just hit the "record" button and let it go... for over 12 minutes of video of all the beautiful sights you see from the deck of a cruise ship as you head out to sea. I think it's really cool, and sometimes I just watch it again to re-live the joy of it all. The port of Miami is so beautiful! Click here to see the video I shot as the ship sailed out of Miami
I think I'll skip most of the rest of the first-day story... as it was nothing unusual and nothing that hasn't been in a million cruise reviews before this. Except I do want to say something about the Cruise Director and the safety briefing.
Jorge Solano, the Cruise Director of the Carnival Glory
You know on that first afternoon on the ship there are always going to be "welcome aboard" announcements over the loudspeaker system throughout the ship. I thought it was odd that the Cruise Director, Jorge Solano, didn't make those announcements. Shouldn't the CD make that great first impression starting with those first announcements? He had one of the entertainment staff do them. But then at the Safety briefing (lifeboat drill) it was Jorge reading the whole long script... and he's got a pretty substantial accent. For safety-related announcements, I think they should go with someone that speaks super-clearly without the accent. Just my two cents worth. Safety stuff is important. There literally were parts of his little safety speech where I only knew what he was saying because I had heard it on 8 previous Carnival cruises. His reading voice is that poor. No disrespect to Jorge... in fact, I like the guy. I liked him even before I got on the ship, because in my pre-cruise research I read a fascinating interview with him
. The thing about his story I found so cool was that his very first cruise as Cruise Director, after completing all the training, was the cruise during 9/11/2001. What a way to start off your career as a Carnival Cruise Director! How do you encourage people to have a fun vacation when the 9/11 terrorist attacks had just happened? Somehow, he got through it.
Anyway... let's move to day two, where we visit Nassau in the Bahamas. Hey, I'm sure I'm not the first to ever say this, but... six hours in port, and everyone has to be back on the ship at 1:30 PM? Are you kidding me? Carnival, you have GOT to find a way around this. Six hours is not enough time in Nassau. What if you stopped here on the last day of the cruise instead of the first day? Nassau is so close to Miami, I would think that you could stay later if it was the last day of the cruise.
The aft pool area of the Carnival Glory
with the Atlantis Resort visible in the background
By the way, while the Carnival Glory was docked in Nassau, guess who was docked right next to her? The brand-new Disney Dream... the one with that cool "Aqua Duck" water-coaster feature. From the top deck of the Carnival Glory, we had a pretty good view of that water coaster. It looked like a cool idea, except I don't think they've quite worked the bugs out! As we were watching it in action, it suddenly had some kind of breakdown... all the water stopped flowing, and it remained shut down for about 45 minutes before they finally got it going again. And there was a huge line of kids waiting to get on it... even during the whole shutdown and restart. It was cool when it worked, but it's a pretty short ride with a long line! Compared to the Lazy River we had just been on at the Atlantis Resort, it didn't hold a candle. An unfair comparison, I know.
Take a look at this video
of the Aqua Duck water coaster on the Disney Dream.
By the way... have you ever priced out a Disney cruise versus a Carnival cruise? Do an apples-to-apples comparison for similar cabins, similar itineraries, and similar dates. You can do about two Carnival cruises for the cost of one on the Disney Dream! And boy, you better like kids if you're going to do a Disney cruise! As we sat next to them in Nassau, I couldn't help notice the huge difference between the scene around the main pool of the Carnival Glory and the scene over there on the Disney Dream. While we basically had a big party for fun-loving adults going on, complete with reggae band... they had a gazillion kids and some stupid animated movie on the big outdoor TV. There is no way I would have wanted to spend five minutes out by that pool on the Disney Dream. But I suppose I would feel differently if I had a young kid cruising with me. Different strokes for different folks, eh?
How about if I pass along a couple of my tips and tricks for new cruisers? Let's start with a breakfast tip. My favorite meal of the day! I like eggs for breakfast, and let me just tell you right now to avoid the scrambled ones they serve at the Lido buffet. If you want eggs, look for the omlette station... even if you don't want an omelet. You can order eggs sunny side up or even scrambled from the omelet station. That's the best way to get eggs that are fresh out of the frying pan. I'm not entirely sure that the scrambled eggs that they have in the buffet line are 100% real eggs right out of the shell.
I'm sure this is not the first cruise review to ever suggest avoiding the scrambled eggs and going to the omelet station. But my next breakfast tip is a lot more unique. I always like some kind of potato product with my eggs... whether that be hash browns, or country fried potatoes, or whatever. My suggestion to you is to bring on board with you a small dispenser of seasoning salt. It will really improve the taste of your eggs and potatoes. You can get a small shaker of Lawry's seasoning salt at the grocery store... or another good seasoning salt is the stuff they sell at Bob's Big Boy fast food restaurants. That's what I brought along on this trip. Several times, other people eating breakfast on the Lido deck have stopped when passing by our table and commented on the seasoning salt. I also bring it along at lunch if I think I'm going to have some french fries. It's better than just using plain old table salt.
You can see the little shaker of seasoning salt that I bring to breakfast with me
to improve the flavor of the eggs and potatoes.
It's also good for French Fries at lunch.
There's lots more to come in my next post... so keep reading!