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We got back last weekend from back-to-back Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises on the Carnival Glory. It was a FANTASTIC cruise... literally the best two weeks of my life! Here's my review...
The Carnival Glory docked at the island of Grand Turk
Please note: The photos and videos in this review are my original photos, and none are stock photos supplied by Carnival.
For information about the camera used to shoot both the still photos and the videos, click here.
We are the Zimmerlins... Jim and Kellyn. (Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.) She and I are in our early 50s and we live on the central coast of California. We have cruised 9 times previously, 8 of those with Carnival. All of our previous cruises have been "Mexican Riviera" cruises out of either Long Beach or San Diego. Those cruises to the west coast of Mexico are cheap and easy for us, since we can just drive to the port and we don't have to bother with airplanes. But we finally decided it was time to experience a Caribbean cruise... so we decided to do so to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in April of 2011.
Jim & Kellyn Zimmerlin
at the Paradise Point overlook in St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
I brought a tripod along with me just so I could get shots like this.
I figured it made no sense to pay $1000 for roundtrip airfare to get to Miami, do an Eastern Caribbean cruise, and then pay another $1000 for airfare a few months later to come back and do the Western Caribbean. So, I suggested to Kellyn that it made more sense to just do back-to-back Eastern/Western Caribbean cruises to save on airfare... and since she loves cruising as much as I do, she was easy to convince!
Highlights Of Our Cruise
Let's start by sharing some of the best moments of our two-week Caribbean cruise...
Our very first port of call was Nassau, in the Bahama islands. We chose to spend our day in Nassau doing the "Atlantis Aquaventure" shore excursion. Basically, this gives you a day-pass to use the facilities at the waterpark at the Atlantis resort. They've got a gazillion swimming pools, beaches, water slides, and fantastic "lazy river" that you float down on an inner tube. It was absolutely FANTASTIC, and we had the best time! It beat the heck out of a water park shore excursion we did in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on one of our previous cruises. But a few hours here was not enough. Kellyn and I agreed that someday, somehow, we had to come back to the Atlantis resort for several days... if not a week. Maybe drag along a grandkid or two. It was paradise.
Jim & Kellyn at the Atlantis Resort in Nassau
Our second port of call was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Our idea of fun in the Caribbean involves a lot of time in the water... so we picked a shore excursion that involved swimming and snorkeling. Even though it rained for a portion of the afternoon, it just didn't matter... we were already in the water! A little more coming down from above had no effect on us. After all, the temperature outside was around 80 degrees and the ocean water temperature wasn't much cooler than that.
Kellyn snorkeling at St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands
Our final stop in the first week was Grand Turk. This was actually my favorite spot in the first week, and maybe even in the whole two-week cruise. When I fantasized about a Caribbean vacation, it was all about great beaches and having fun in the water. Grand Turk has a great little beach, and a lot more! This is one of several locations in the Caribbean featuring one of singer Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurants. It's a little slice of paradise for people who love water and sun!
The beach at Carnival's port facility in Grand Turk
Speaking of restaurant chains you'll run in to on a Caribbean vacation... the classic is Seńor Frogs. We decided to have lunch at the one in San Juan, Puerto Rico... and it sure was entertaining! Sure, the target customer is probably actually about half our ages and twice our level of rowdiness... but it's fun to watch people letting loose and having a good time. And heck, we're on vacation and won't ever see these people again... so we'll have some fun and follow the Seńor Frogs custom of wearing a balloon thingie on our head! "When in Rome..."
Kellyn after lunch at Seńor Frogs in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Later that same day, at a party that Carnival throws exclusively for people who have cruised with them at least once before, Kellyn won a Carnival trivia contest. We had seen these same trivia contests at past-guest parties on almost all of our previous cruises, so that gave her a little bit of a leg-up on the competition. The prize for winning the contest was a bottle of champagne and the classic prize they always give you if you win anything on a Carnival cruise: the "solid gold (plastic) ship-on-a-stick". I had been trying to win one of these on all of our previous cruises, and never quite made it. It was ironic that Kel beat me to it!
The prize for winning the Carnival trivia contest at the past-guest party
The Carnival Glory is certainly a beautiful ship, and the biggest and most ornately-decorated room inside her is the Amber Palace show room. Here's a look, as seen from the very back of the balcony... behind the audio mixing board:
Show time in the Amber Palace theatre on the Carnival Glory
At my "real job", I have lots of cruise ship pictures posted at my desk... so the subject of cruising often comes up with my co-workers. Many of them have never cruised before, and they often ask me what it is about cruising that I find so enjoyable. Well, besides all the fun in the sun and in the water, and all the food, and having a cabin steward cleaning up after me... one of the big attractions for me is the entertainment. At home, I just never go to a comedy show... or to a theatre to hear a great singer... or out for a night of karaoke. But on a Carnival cruise ship, there's great entertainment every night.
For fun in the water (and lots of sunshine), it would be hard to beat a day at Mahogany Bay on Isla Roatan. Carnival spent a lot of money to develop a private beach here (with shops and restaurants, too) and we just had a great time. We'd love to come back here again!
The beach at the Mahogany Bay cruise terminal on the island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras
Another great place I'm sure I won't forget is Grand Cayman island. We spent the afternoon at the government-run turtle farm, and I just thoroughly enjoyed it. First off, you get to see and touch turtles of all ages... from babies to senior citizens...
Jim at the turtle farm on Grand Cayman island
The real highlight of visiting the turtle farm was an opportunity to actually swim with some of the turtles in a gigantic salt water lagoon. I would have really loved to have shot some underwater pictures or video of the turtles with my waterproof Olympus digital camera, but I managed to lose it earlier in the cruise! Which brings me to the portion of our story where things aren't all wonderful and happy...
The Low Point Of Our Cruise
It was an absolutely fantastic cruise... but yes, there were a few things that we'd like to forget! The big one was a day in Belize, where we went cave tubing.
In my pre-cruise research, it seemed like cave-tubing was the classic shore excursion that everyone visiting Belize talked about. I also have a friend at work that has been on many Carnival cruises and she told me that I absolutely MUST go cave tubing on the Western Caribbean portion of our cruise. So, it seemed like a no-brainer that we would have fun cave-tubing. It didn't exactly work out that way!
In truth, the actual cave-tubing itself wasn't bad. Personally, I enjoyed the lazy river at the Atlantis water park a lot more... but I can't say that cave tubing was bad. What was bad was the hours and hours spent in getting there and back! We left our cabin at 8:15 AM and didn't get back to it until 3:30 PM... so that's over seven hours spent on this adventure... and only about one hour of it was actually on the tube going down the river through the caves. Over six hours spent to get there and back! It starts with a long ride on the tender to get to shore... and then a really long bus ride (over bad roads, through some particularly un-scenic countryside) to the tour company's base camp near the caves... and then a hike of about a half hour through the hills until you reach the starting point of your tube ride. And between each leg of the journey... lots of waiting. Mercifully, when the tube ride down the river and through the caves is finally over, there's only about a one minute walk back to the base camp... and then there's some food and drinks to tide you over on the multi-hour journey back to the ship.
Spending over seven hours to achieve a one-hour tube ride through some fairly plain-looking caves is bad enough... but two things made it even worse for me and Kellyn. During the 30 minute hike from the base camp to the beginning of the tube ride, Kellyn (who has very bad osteoporosis, which makes her bones brittle and prone to breaking easily) set her foot down a bit wrong on the rocky path and fractured part of her foot. And later, as we were getting out of the tubes at the end of our cave tubing, I somehow managed to drop my waterproof digital camera in to the river... without realizing it. By the time I realized my camera was no longer in my pocket, I couldn't get back to the river to look for it.
If we ever get back to Belize on another cruise... we definitely won't go cave tubing again! In retrospect, we should have gone on a nice snorkeling excursion. It would have been a lot more enjoyable and we wouldn't have wasted so much time getting there and back.
So, now you know the high and low points of our cruise... but there's so much more to tell you! I'll share a lot more details in my next post.
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!
Loving your pictures and your review! What a horrible thing to happen to your wife with breaking her foot! But she seems to keep a smile on her face! Keep it coming! We are planning a cruise on the Dream and I am NOT doing the cave tubing...what the heck is in that water, in the dark!!! I'd rather not know!
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Here's another tip for you... this one for people who get balcony cabins or suites. There are times when it's really nice to have the balcony door propped open... either to just let some fresh air in to the room, or to just make it easier to get in and out from the balcony. (But don't prop open your balcony door if you think anyone will be opening the main cabin door out to the hallway... you'll create a giant wind tunnel and stuff will get blown all around your room!) How to prop open your door? The classic method is to bring along a bungie cord and to connect the cord from the balcony divider to the door handle. But there's another way, that does not require bringing a bungie cord. Have you ever noticed that there's a rubber door stopper on the carpet next to the cabin door to the hallway? The room stewards use it to prop open the door when they are cleaning the cabin. At first glance, you wouldn't think that a door stopper would be useable on the balcony door, since the bottom of the door sits way high over the level of the balcony deck. But what you need to do is open the door and wedge the door stopper in the area of the door hinges. Just BE SURE that before you leave your cabin, you return the door stopper to where you found it by the hallway door... so that it's there for your room steward when he needs it.
If you look real carefully... you can see the black rubber door stopper wedged in there
(just above the center hinge) to prop the balcony door open.
Keep in mind that when you do this, your cabin air conditioning system shuts OFF.
By the way, if you do decide to use the bungie cord method instead of the door stopper method... here's what NOT to do! Never leave your bungie cord dangling by one end, out on your balcony, when you're not using it. It has a tendency to flop around in the breeze when you are out having fun... and the sound of it clanking against metal will really annoy your neighbors! So, be a good neighbor if you use a bungie cord.
Our balcony cabin... room 9230 on the Carnival Glory
If you look really carefully, you can see the rubber door stopper
under the three tall closets by the cabin door.
Be sure you put the door stopper back here if you borrow it for the balcony door!
You may be wondering how we ended up in cabin 9230. Did we just let some travel agent pick a cabin for us, or did we chose it ourselves? Well, I'm an experienced cruiser and have learned to be really careful when picking a cabin! I study the deck plans of the ship and look for any potential problems as well as any interesting features. For example, I try to avoid cabins with noisy places (restaurants, lounges, disco, etc.) above or below them. For that reason, I'm usually looking for a cabin on a floor where both the floor above and the floor below have cabins... not public spaces.
In studying the pictures and deck plans of the Carnival Glory, I found something that was really interesting! I discovered that on the forward corridors of decks 9 and 10, there are doors that lead to observation areas on the front of the ship. As a photographer, this intrigued me... because those observation areas have fantastic views. It would be really convenient to have a cabin close to one of those observation areas. When coming in and out of ports, I could just walk out to the observation deck with my camera and I should have a great view.
So, I decided that a forward cabin on either deck 9 or deck 10 would be perfect for us. I ended up choosing the Lido deck (9th floor) simply because that meant that we wouldn't have to take any stairs to get from our cabin to the buffet at meal times. But I ended up regretting that decision... and wishing I had picked a cabin on deck 10 instead!
What I didn't realize was that there was a design problem with the door that leads from the corridor of deck nine to the observation area at the front of the ship. The designers of the ship weren't thinking about all the wind that hits the ship as it travels at full cruising speed. On deck nine, the corridor door leading to the observation area faces directly forward... and right in to the wind. When the ship is cruising along, the wind hits this door at full force and it's actually dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, that they often keep this door LOCKED! Much to my disappointment, it was locked during the entire first week of the cruise. I actually called down to guest services and asked them to unlock it, and they explained to me that it was kept locked for safety reasons due some bad incidents with passengers getting hit by the door on windy days. I have no idea why they decided to unlock it the next week.
On deck ten, there are actually two doors leading to the observation area... and these doors face out to the sides of the ship, not forward, so they don't catch the wind. These doors were unlocked during our entire two week cruise... making me wish I had picked a cabin on deck 10 instead of deck nine!
You can see a portion of the deck nine forward observation area... which sits right on top of the bridge.
It's a great place for taking photos, especially since it sticks out over both sides of the ship...
which gives you a view to the rear, sides, and forward.
Now let's talk about something else I discovered in studying the deck plans of the Carnival Glory. I assume this also holds true for the other Conquest-class ships, but I don't know that for a fact. If you've ever cruised before, I'm sure you've noticed that there's almost never a Jacuzzi that doesn't have someone in it already. I'm not an un-social guy, but I like a table for two in the dining room and I like some privacy in a Jacuzzi. I came on the cruise to be with my wife, not with you! So, how to find an empty Jacuzzi? Did you know there's one on the Carnival Glory that is empty almost all of the time? It's not empty because there's anything wrong with it... it's just a secret Jacuzzi that few know about. And even among those that have seen it, I bet quite a few still can't figure out how to get to it! No, I'm not talking about the two Jacuzzi's outside at the bow. Those are for the crew only. There's one more secret Jacuzzi... and that's the one that's sort of in the gym and sort of in the spa. But it's really hard to get to! It's tucked between the gym and the spa, but a big glass wall prevents you from getting to it from the gym. So even if you happen to go to the gym (which few people on a cruise do) and you notice this Jacuzzi through the glass, you will have a heck of a time figuring out how to get to it! I bet most people assume it's some kind of private Jacuzzi that you have to pay to use as part of a spa treatment. It's not! It's totally free, and open to all passengers. You just have to know how to get to it. Here's the trick...
You have to go through the locker room to get to it. So, there's no way for you and your spouse to walk to the Jacuzzi together. You have to split up... men through the men's locker room, women through the women's locker room. Once inside the locker room, look for a door on the interior wall of the locker room that has a sign on it that says "Whirlpool". In the men's locker room, you practically have to walk right to the toilet stalls before you will see the door on the right. In the women's locker room, the door is going to be on the left. Once you find that door, you're still not there! Opening this door leads to a hallway that looks empty and leads to a door with a sign for the opposite gender's locker room. So, for example, when a guy opens the door from the men's locker room, all he will see is a short hallway that leads to a door that says "Women's Locker Room". It appears that you have made a mistake, and are one door away from entering somewhere you don't belong! Your first tendency is to say "whoops!" and to back right out of that hallway. Don't! Look to the side of the little hallway and there's a door with a tiny little sign on it that says "Jacuzzi". Open that door, and you're there! So, if you're a guy entering from the men's locker room, that last door will be on your left... and if you're a girl entering from the women's locker room, that door will be on your right. You've made it to the most secret Jacuzzi in the entire Carnival fleet! And you can almost be sure that you'll have it all to yourself. If by some remote chance someone else does end up joining you, it's very unlikely to be some old fat guy... because old fat guys don't spend time in the gym and so they never discover this secret Jacuzzi on their own!
This Jacuzzi is hidden between the spa and the gym on the Carnival Glory
By the way, on the Spirit-class ships there is also a free Jacuzzi just off of the gym. But it's a lot easier to get to than on the Conquest-class vessels. And just like on the Conguest-class ships, the gym Jacuzzi on Spirit-class ships very rarely has anyone else in it... so be sure to check it out if you sail on one of those ships. The Splendor is a totally different situation... they do have a big "therapy pool" in the spa area, but it's not free. So, this is one great thing that the Spirit and Conquest-class ships have over the newer Splendor. I don't know about the Dream-class... I haven't made it there yet!
Speaking of secret places on the Glory...
This next one's not as secret as the secret Jacuzzi, but I bet a lot of people spend a week on the Carnival Glory and never bother checking out the fish & chips restaurant located one level above the grand buffet. To call it a fish & chips place really doesn't do it justice. Let me just say that if you like seafood, you should make a point to a least walk through it at lunch time sometime and check it out. It's probably not what you are expecting. And even if you don't like seafood, this is a dining area you might want to know about... because even during the height of the lunch rush, when you can scarcely find a table in the Red Sail restaurant, if you just walk up the one flight of stairs with your food from the buffet you will probably find an empty table in the area surrounding the fish & chips place.
The fish and chips bar, one level above the buffet at the Red Sail restaurant
While we're on the subject of lunch, one place that is far from secret is the burrito bar! If you're a burrito fan, make a point of stopping by the burrito bar on the very first afternoon you are on the ship. That's the only day when there won't be a big line there! A lot of people don't discover it on that first day. And speaking of the burrito bar... is anyone from Carnival reading this? It's only open from Noon to 3 PM... are you kidding me?!? First off, does the phrase breakfast burrito mean anything to you? This place should open at 7 AM, serving breakfast burritos until 10 AM... and then switch to standard Mexican-style burritos at 10 AM and stay open until 10 PM... for all the same reasons you offer a 24 hour pizza bar. Enough said!
Besides secret places, there is also a secret event! I'll tell you about it in my next post...
As I mentioned... there's a secret event on the ship! On the very last day of the cruise, if you look real carefully at the list of daily events, you will see something called the "Fun Farewell". Don't miss this! It is not publicized at all, other than that little listing in the event list of the "Fun Times" newsletter. I'm pretty sure they don't want too many people to know about this. It's basically a little party with music and free booze for anyone that shows up.
A beautiful Caribbean sunset during our cruise on the Carnival Glory
There's one other secret event that they also intentionally don't publicize much because they can only handle a small amount of people. I'm talking about the Behind-The-Fun tour. You may have noticed in some of the pictures on this page that I am wearing a hat that says "behind the FUN". That's one of the little gifts they give you if you take the tour. I took the Behind-The-Fun tour when I sailed on the Carnival Splendor. It costs $95, and if you're a cruise junkie like me... it's worth every penny! (And if you've read this far in to this review, I bet you ARE a cruise junkie!)
As the names implies, the Behind-The-Fun tour takes you behind the scenes and shows you the areas of the ship that passengers don't normally see. You'll go to that deck at the bow of the ship where there are two Jacuzzi's for the crew members... backstage in the big theatre, including the dressing room for the dancers... to the ship's brig and morgue... to the Engine Control Room, where you'll have a chance to ask questions to the Chief Engineer... to the Bridge, where you'll have a chance to ask questions to the Captain... to the kitchen, where you'll have a chance to talk to the Food and Beverage Manager... to the liquor store room... and many more places that are usually only the domain of the crew. This tour lasts hours, and will give you a tremendous appreciation for how things really get done on a cruise ship.
The Golden Restaurant on the Carnival Glory.
This is where they do "anytime dining" for those guests that do not want to be locked in to a fixed dining time each evening.
One of my favorite places on any Carnival cruise ship is The Serenity Area. The idea is that it is an adults-only area where you can escape from some of the craziness that exists on certain areas of a Carnival ship. And by that, I'm really talking about the main pool area with the kids playing in the pool and the constant way-too loud music blaring over the loudspeakers. I know I made fun of Disney for the pre-teen scene at their pool... well, Carnival's main pool area is crazy in its own way. Take a look at this video of the Lido pool area on a typical afternoon, which gives you a little taste of the party atmosphere you'll usually find here.
I actually prefer the main pool area on a Spirit-class ship over the Conquest-class or the Splendor, simply because on the Spirit-class they DON'T have that big screen TV by the pool. As long as you're there when the Reggae band isn't playing, the main pool area on a Spirit-class ship is more relaxed than on a Conquest-class ship or on the Splendor. (And presumably, the Dream-class, although I have yet to experience that for myself.)
Oops, I digressed. What's needed is a little dose of serenity. That's what The Serenity Area is all about. You'll find it all the way forward on decks 12 and 14. (By the way, notice that out of superstition, there is no deck 13 on the Glory. I wonder if the Splendor had a deck 13?!?!) Sorry... digressing again. Be sure to check out the upper level of The Serenity Area if the loungers on the bottom level are full. Bonus: there are two jacuzzis up on the upper level of The Serenity Deck... and they have a spectacular view out in front of the ship!
One of two large couches on the Carnival Glory's Serenity deck.
About the only time you'll find it empty like this is at night or when everyone is ashore.
Besides finding more peace and quiet in The Serenity Area, you will also find two other great things: soft cushions on all the lounge chairs, and even some very large outdoor couches designed for snuggling. It's the ultimate romantic place on the ship... a must place for all couples to visit.
Now if you really want to see a great Serenity area on a Carnival cruise ship, you actually have to sail on the oldest vessels in the fleet: the Fantasy-class ships. They have the best Serenity decks of all... because they are in the far aft of the ship. This is where a Serenity area really should be located, because it is wind sheltered and also less noisy. And there's no bar on the Serenity deck of a Fantasy-class ship!
Three things make The Serenity Area on the Carnival Glory a bit less-than-fantastic for me: too much wind up there on the front of the ship, too much noise from the big loudspeakers at the pool, and too much noise from the drunk guys at the Serenity bar. I would definitely not put a bar in The Serenity Area if I was designing a cruise ship! But at least on the Carnival Glory, you can get away from it. The Serenity Area is so large that there are several parts of it that are well removed from the craziness that occurs at the bar. Frankly, even people talking is enough to spoil the Serenity for me... so here's my trick: an MP3 player and noise-cancelling headphones. It does a great job of blocking out all the craziness. For couples: two sets of noise-cancelling headphones, and a Y-connector so you are listening to the same music for a bit of a connection between the two of you. Pass the MP3 player back and forth and take turns picking out songs for the other person.
The bar at the Serenity Area of the Carnival Glory (at night)
Sometimes the most serene area on a cruise ship is actually your cabin and your balcony. Too bad they don't have loungers out on the balconies! Well, I guess some of the suites do... but that's a bit too rich for me.
Just for the record, the Carnival Glory didn't originally have a big screen TV out by the pool and didn't originally have a Serenity deck. They added them during a refurbishment in 2010. So be careful when you are doing your pre-cruise research... some of the photos and maps you may see of the Carnival Glory are outdated. Speaking of TVs and the 2010 refurbishment of the Carnival Glory... they replaced all the old-style tube televisions with nice new LCD TVs.
There's a channel on the cabin TVs that show's you where you are and how you got there.
I laughed when I saw the route we had taken overnight on the way to Belize...
Had the Captain been drinking the night before?
Every cabin has a nice LCD TV in it... and you can get CNN, NBC, ABC, and CBS. For some reason, during our cruise the on-screen TV guide indicated that we should have been able to see Fox, too... but the channel that was supposed to be Fox was not. I had to miss American Idol for two weeks!
There's more to come! In my next post I'll talk a bit about the great entertainment onboard, and we'll also get a glimpse of the ugliest cruise ship in the world...
Something that's different now on Carnival Cruise lines than it used to be only a couple of years ago is the whole comedy club thing. Someone at Carnival saw the light a year or two ago and committed the line to doing much more comedy than they ever used to do in the old days. On a 7-day Carnival cruise, you can now see four different stand-up comedians in the Punchliner comedy club. This is one of my favorite evening activities on any Carnival ship.
Comedian JR McCollum does his stand-up comedy routine
in the Punchliner comedy club onboard the Carnival Glory
Another thing I really like about the night life on a Carnival ship is what they call "Superstar Live". It's basically karaoke with a live band. If you've ever fantasized about being on American Idol and singing with a live band... you'll love Superstar live. I can't sing worth a darn, so I am strictly a watcher of Superstar Live... not an active participant.
Speaking of music... Jerome Dabney, who calls himself "Mister Motown", put on a fantastic show for us one night. He sings those classic Motown songs that everyone knows... and really gets his audience involved in the show. At the conclusion of the show, I commented to my wife that we had just seen as good of a show as we would probably ever see on a cruise ship.
Jerome Dabney performs in the Amber Palace onboard the Carnival Glory
Our second port of call was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. When we arrived, there was already one other cruise ship tied up at the dock... the ugliest cruise ship in the world, the Norwegian Epic. It looks like they took the design for a fairly decent looking cruise ship, and then decided to add two more stories on to the front end. Where Carnival ships look sleek and cool... this thing just looks boxy and totally uncool. I'm sure it's nice inside... but it's just so ugly! I bet they never design another one like this.
The ugliest cruise ship in the world... the Norwegian Epic
A little bit after we arrived, a Royal Caribbean ship pulled in between us and the Epic. And in a completely separate docking area a few miles away, at the far other side of the harbor, was a Holland America Line ship as well as the Disney Dream. So, there were five cruise ships visiting St. Thomas that day!
Besides the three in the foreground, can you spot the two other cruise ships in this photo?
The Disney Dream and Holland America's Eurodam are barely visible in the upper left.
They are docked facing away from the camera, so all you can see is their aft ends.
From my pre-cruise research, I knew that there was some kind of ski-lift or gondola that you could ride up to an observation area in the hills overlooking the port. It's called the "Skyride to Paradise Point". Since photography is my thing, this was an absolute must-do item for me, in order to get some photos of the ship docked in this beautiful harbor!
So, as soon as they made the announcement that the gangways were in place, we hurried ashore and headed over to the base of the SkyRide. It's extremely easy to get to... literally about two blocks from the ship's gangway. There was hardly anyone else waiting for the SkyRide at that hour... but later, when we came back down we noticed that the line for it had gotten huge... something like a one hour wait. So, my advice to you is that if you want to make it up to the top of the hill to see the beautiful views, do it quickly... as soon as the ship docks and before the peak demand hits.
In this photo of St. Thomas, taken from Paradise Point,
you can see the "skyride" cable car over on the right.
Up on top of the hill, it was everything I had been hoping for, and more. The view was as gorgeous as I expected. The "more" was the fact that there were some nice little shops, a bar, and a restaurant. Since we got there early in the day, the restaurant wasn't even quite open yet. It would have been a nice place to eat lunch. They also put on a bit of a show up there... sort of their mini-version of "Carnival". (The celebration, not the cruise line.) Take a look at this video to get a little taste of it.
After getting all the photos I wanted, we made our way back to the ship for some lunch... and then later in the afternoon we took a fantastic shore excursion. I'll tell you about it in my next post.
While visiting St. Thomas, we chose to do the "Two Island Power Cat Snorkeling Adventure" aboard a 85' catamaran called the Bimini Breeze.
This was so much fun, in spite of a few hours of really bad weather! If you're going to have some bad weather on your Caribbean cruise, it's good to have it on the day you were going to go snorkeling... because when you're swimming in the ocean, it really doesn't matter if it rains on you!
The Bimini Breeze has some big powerful engines and so we made our way very quickly over to our snorkeling spot. The seas were a little choppy and the boat was just zipping along at high speed, so it was quite a ride! If you're prone to seasickness... this is not for you! But none of us seemed to have any problem with it, and the weather was quite warm in spite of some very threatening clouds, so it was really not much of a problem when the boat would hit a wave and send spray over many of the passengers. We were all dressed for snorkeling, so it didn't much matter.
After we arrived at our snorkeling spot and all got in the water, the clouds just opened up and it started to pour! It didn't matter, though, since we were snorkeling. The water was clear and there were a fair amount of fish to see. Also, the water was extremely calm, so you weren't swimming against any kind of current... which made it nicer than some previous snorkeling I've done. I was say this was a "good" snorkeling excursion, but it would have taken a lot more animals under the water to make it a "great" one. The official description from the cruise ship indicated that we would be snorkeling with sea turtles... in fact the spot was called "Turtle Point"... but we did not see a single turtle or anything more exotic than some fish and coral. No problem, though... it was fun.
Kellyn snorkeling off the Bimini Breeze during a brief period of rainy weather
Remember that this excursion was called the "Two Island Power Cat Snorkeling Adventure"... so after snorkeling at Turtle Point we got back on the Bimini Breeze and headed over to our second destination. The weather was really not cooperating during this portion of the Catamaran ride! It was windy, wet, and a bit cool. Even though we were all under cover on the Bimini Breeze, we still got wet from a lot of spray from the Catamaran powering through the waves... so we all huddled under towels and made the best of it. By the time we got to our next stop, it had stopped raining. No snorkeling at this next stop... just basically swimming and a big party on the beach with the Bimini Breeze anchored off shore! Some people elected to just stay on the Bimini Breeze where there was rum punch, beer, sodas, and chips... but most of us swam to shore. One of the catamaran's crew pulled a big ice chest with him through the water and over to shore... and it was full of cans of beer and sodas. Party! What we all fairly quickly discovered was that since the weather was still a little on the crappy side, we were all warmer when we were in the water. So, we partied while wading or swimming. It was an only-in-the-Caribbean kind of scene! The funniest part was that we were all spread out over about a 50-yard wide section of water... so when someone wanted a can of beer or a soda they would just holler to the guy at the cooler and he would throw it out to them. He had an amazingly powerful arm, and could toss a beer can farther than you would think someone could!
Finally, it was time to head back to the cruise ship, so we all got back onboard the Bimini Breeze and she made her way back. By this time, the weather had improved quite a bit and the rum punch and beer had worked it's magic... so everyone was happy and enjoying life. As we sailed past the Carnival Glory and over to the dock, we were making a lot of happy drunken noises! I'm sure everyone sitting out on their balconies on the Carnival Glory could hear us and could tell we had been having a very good time that afternoon!
Our third port of call was San Juan, Puerto Rico...
Sunrise over San Juan, Puerto Rico
We didn't really see anything on the San Juan shore excursion list that looked interesting to us, so we decided to just wing it. We ended up wandering around the old downtown area that is immediately adjacent to where the ship was docked. Mostly it was clean and very tourist-friendly, but my wife was a little frightened by a few shady looking characters we saw in the distance. We did have to cross the street one time to avoid some people that looked scary even to me.
A few blocks from the ship is a really beautiful park-like area with a big walkway that eventually leads to the old fort which overlooks the harbor. We didn't take it all the way to the fort, but it was obvious that this was a stroll designed for tourists and that the city had gone to a lot of trouble to make it nice and keep it nice. Throughout the area were signs alerting everyone to the fact that there was free wi-fi in this tourist zone. I thought about going back to the ship to get my laptop, but decided to just see later if I could pick up that wi-fi signal from our balcony. (The signal did make it all the way to our balcony, but for some reason I never could get it to work.)
Our goal for the morning was to find somewhere to buy some Coca-Cola in cans, so we could stock the mini-fridge in our cabin with inexpensive drinks. I f you drink the stuff from the stateroom mini bar, a Coke costs you $1.95. So we always ask our cabin steward to empty out the fridge of all the mini-bar stuff and we stock it ourselves with inexpensive Coke bought onshore. We had brought a 6-pack onboard with us, but were starting to run low... so, it was time to find some more. We found a CVS Pharmacy about two blocks from where the ship was docked. Sixteen cans of Coke (two 8-packs) set us back $6. And since Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S.A., you pay in U.S. dollars.
On the way back to the ship, with my two 8-packs of Coke in hand, we were approached by a middle-aged gentleman that looked American and who asked us if we spoke English. When I told him we did, he was visibly relieved. At first I thought he was just going to ask for directions, but then he launched in to a speech about being a tourist visiting Puerto Rico with his elderly grandfather and I sensed I was being given some kind of sales pitch. About this time I was noticing that he spoke in a manner that indicated extreme stress, and also that he had some cuts and bruises on his face. It turns out that he and his father had been mugged, and that he needed $8 in cab fare to get back to his hotel. You may be thinking that this was some kind of scam, but I'm pretty good at reading people and this guy's story rang true with me... and the cuts and bruises on his face would have been hard to fake. I took a few steps away from him so that I had some maneuvering room if he made a move towards me, and then I took out my wallet and gave him a $20 bill. The look of relief and appreciation on his face was priceless. He gave me his email address and asked me to email him so that he could get our address and repay us.
We headed back to the ship and filled our fridge with Coke. When lunch time rolled around, we headed back off the ship again and walked directly across the street to the big Seńor Frogs restaurant. We had been to a Seńor Frogs in Cabo San Lucas, and knew that this was a fun place to have lunch. If you've never been to one, let me explain by saying that the food is good but the real reason to go to Seńor Frogs is the party. The tone is set within a minute or two of being seated... when a guy comes up and places a balloon hat on your head. Every customer in the restaurant wears one. And before long, they had us standing up on top of our chairs and dancing. A little later on, they had a conga line snaking through the restaurant and when you reached the bar they poured a shot in your mouth. Get the picture? Not the kind of place to take grandma to... but definitely the kind of place to go and let loose.
Later in the day, back on the ship, it was time for the past-guest party. I always look forward to these because it's nice to get invited to a party that about half of the passengers on the ship don't even know about, and also because they serve free drinks! In spite of what you probably think after my Senor Frogs story, I'm not much of a drinker... but I never turn down a freebie!
Captain Agostino Fazio speaking at the past-guest party
At the past guest party, they brought about 50 of us up on stage for a little Carnival trivia game. They ask you a multiple choice question about Carnival Cruise Lines... such as "what was the name of Carnival's first ship... the Mardi Gras or the Carnivale?" Those who think it was the Mardi Gras go to one side of the stage, and those who think it was the Carnivale go to the other side. And whichever group guesses wrong goes back to their seats. They do several rounds, and eventually get down to one remaining person who gave all correct answers... and that person gets some kind of prize. Kellyn and I had seen this game done at previous past-guest parties, so we had pre-arranged a strategy to help ensure our chances of winning the game this time: we agreed that if we felt strongly that we knew the answer to a question, we would both go with that same answer... but if we got to a question that we were unsure of, one of us would go one way and the other would go the other way. This would ensure that one of us would give the right answer. So, things went very well for us with a few easy questions to start... and then a couple of questions that I felt 75% confident about, so I gambled on those and asked Kellyn to stick with me so that we preserved our "lifeline" strategy for a really tough question. We made it through all the questions until we finally got to one that neither of us knew... and we employed our little strategy of each going with a different answer. I guessed the wrong way, but Kellyn guessed the right way. This left just her and two other people on the stage... and one question remaining. Instead of a multiple choice question, they went a slightly different way for the final question. They stated the number of guests on the cruise (it was something like 3200) and then they asked each of the three people on stage to guess how many of the guests were repeat guests. We got really lucky on this because they asked Kellyn LAST. The first person guessed something like 2500, the second person said 2000... and then it was time for Kellyn's guess. I was surprised at her answer, because she's a big fan of the TV show The Price Is Right... so she should have known to guess 1999... as that would mean she would win if the answer was anything less than 2000. I guess she was nervous, because that never occurred to her. She guessed 1600... and lucky for us, that was close enough to win. The prize was a bottle of champagne, and something I've been trying to win for the past 8 Carnival cruises we've been on... the famous "Solid Gold (plastic) Ship-On-A-Stick". Both of us were way more excited about the Ship-On-A-Stick than the champagne! It took us nine cruises, but we finally got that coveted Ship-On-A-Stick to place on our mantle back home. A very proud moment!
The next day, our fourth and final port of call for the first week of our two cruises was Grand Turk Island. I guess I should start by saying that I've never seen such interesting blue colors as the waters off of Grand Turk. This California boy has never seen anything like this before, except in pictures.
The unbelievable water colors at Grand Turk, in the Turks and Caicos islands
In my pre-cruise research, I noticed that there were usually two ships visiting Grand Turk at a time. Since Carnival owns the pier, you never see a Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, or a Disney ship there... only the lines owned by Carnival Corporation such as Carnival, Princess, and Holland America. As the Carnival Glory approached the dock, I was delighted to see that the dock was empty. No other ship! Great news as far as I'm concerned, as it meant that there would be that many less people to compete with for a spot on the beach or a lounge chair by the pool. We'd still be competing with over 3000 Carnival Glory passengers for space, but that's better than 6000 passengers from two ships. We came up with a strategy... we would be ready to leave our cabin as soon as the announcement came that it was OK to disembark, and we would head immediately to the beach and stake out a lounge chair in the shade of a palm tree. We'd enjoy that for an hour or two, and then head over to Margaritaville for lunch. After lunch, we would take our chances at finding a lounger by the pool.
The Carnival Glory docked at Grand Turk
Our plan worked out pretty well. We were among the first throng of passengers off the ship, and many of them either headed to Margaritaville or to the shops that are right there as you get off the ship. We made a bee-line to the beach, and had our choice of all the loungers. I figured that on a two-week cruise we had better be careful about sunburn, so we picked some loungers that were under the shade of some palm trees. It was a great location. Pretty soon my wife settled in with a good book, and I got in the water and took a swim. How often do you get to swim so close to a cruise ship? As a true cruise addict, this was a rare treat for me!
Meanwhile, it wasn't long before all the shaded loungers got snapped up and not long after that before just about all the other loungers got snapped up. So, it was a very good thing we got there quickly and staked out a good spot. An hour or so went by, and it was just so nice there on the beach. Any time I got a little warm, I just headed back out in to the water for a swim.
A little later, I looked out on the horizon and saw another ship heading our way! It was a Princess Cruise Lines ship...
With the Carnival Glory docked at Grand Turk, another cruise ship appears on the horizon
With another cruise ship bearing down on us, we knew that it wouldn't be long before we had another 3000 or so people to share Margaritaville with. It would take them a while to dock, but I figured we had maybe 45 minutes before all the people started pouring off that ship. We enjoyed our little shady spot on the beach for a while longer, and then when it looked like the Princess ship was about ready to start unloading... we vacated our shady beach spot and headed to Margaritaville.
Kellyn has a thing about parrots, so she immediately volunteered to pose
with this one out in front of Margaritaville at Grand Turk.
By now it was lunch time, so we found a table at the restaurant and settled in. In retrospect, this may not have been the smartest move. The smartest move would probably have been to take our beach towels out to the pool and toss them over some empty loungers to reserve them for us until we could have lunch. But I absolutely hate it when people tie up loungers and don't use them, so I couldn't bring myself to do this.
Lunch at Margaritaville was great. Kellyn and I decided to share the "Volcano Nachos". These were delicious. I was a little worried by the description on the menu which described them as being covered with chicken and chili and cheese... as I've always preferred beef nachos, and I really didn't think that chili on nachos would be good. But it turned out that the Margaritaville guys know what they are doing... and the "chili" was a meaty chili that worked quite well on nachos and made this a very enjoyable lunch. There was plenty for two people. We also ordered Margaritas (that seems like it should almost be mandatory at Margaritaville) and they were really good. My wife's not much of a drinker, and she said this was about the best tasting Margarita she had ever had.
Lunch took a while, and by the time we finished... all the Princess passengers as well as all the Carnival passengers had long since snapped up every available lounger around the pool.
This is just a very small portion of the gigantic pool at Margaritaville.
The big crowd on the right is at the swim-up bar.
We walked all the way around the pool area (and it's a BIG pool, far too big to fit in one picture) and there wasn't a pair of unused loungers anywhere to be seen. So, we decided to just go with "Plan B". One of the cool things about Margaritaville is that they have a FlowRider next to the pool. In case you don't know, a FlowRider is a surfing simulator that basically creates rushing water that you can surf against... either standing up in true surf style, or lying down in boogie-board style. "Plan B" was to just stand around watching the people use the FlowRider.
So, we went over to the FlowRider and tried out a couple of different places to shoot pictures and videos from. And after trying a few different spots, I settled on one that offered just the perfect view of the FlowRider. And at that exact moment, Kellyn looked down and noticed two completely empty loungers right there... with a perfect view of the FlowRider, and right next to the pool. It sure must have been our lucky day! We settled in there and enjoyed a couple of hours in that spot. Again, Kel was happy to just relax with her book... I shot a lot of video of the people on the FlowRider, and I hopped in to the pool anytime I got a little too warm.
I edited the FlowRider videos in to a compilation. It's fun to watch. Take a look.
Later, back on the Carnival Glory, we came to realize that we had caught a little more sun at Grand Turk than we realized! I wouldn't say we were sunburned, but let's just say we were a bit red and getting very close to being sunburned. So we figured we had better try to stay covered up and out of the sun for a few days... which shouldn't present too much of a problem since we had three non-beach days ahead of us: an "at-sea" day on the way back to Miami, a transition day at Miami where the first week's passengers got off the ship and the second week's passengers got on, and then another "at sea" day as the ship worked its way to Cozumel. As it turned out, those three non-beach days worked out real well for our red skin... by the end of the third day, the redness had turned to more of a brownish color.
That's a lot better tan than I normally have at home!
I'm going to take a little break from posting now. Feel free to reply with your comments! I've still got a lot more to post later today... including the story about what got me SO EXCITED on the first day of the second half of the cruise... and also the story of why we decided to cruise at this particular time. Let's just say we were celebrating a big event!
I know that you are still in the process of writing your review, but I just have to let you know how much I'm enjoying it. And your pictures - they are just beautiful. I love your sunrise in San Juan - that is just spectacular. I did click on the link to see what kind of camera you have. I just got a Canon Rebel T1I last September and am still in the learning process with it by trying the manual settings to get the most out of it.
Your review got my interest because we were on Carnival Glory for an Eastern Caribbean cruise last May and really enjoyed it. I'd been on Miracle for a Western Caribbean a few years prior to that so I'm also looking forward to that part of your review.
Thank you for taking the time to write your review and share your pictures and I'm really looking forward to the rest.
Carnival Festivale - June 14 - 21, 1992 (Southern Caribbean: San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Dominica, Barbados, Martinique, San Juan)
Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas - January 16 - 23, 2000 (Mexican Riviera: Los Angeles, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, Puerto Vallarta, Los Angeles)
Carnival Miracle - March 12 - 19, 2006 (Western Caribbean: Tampa, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Belize, Costa Maya, Tampa)
Carnival Glory - May 9 - 16, 2010 (Eastern Caribbean: Miami, HMC Bahamas, St. Thomas, San Juan, Grand Turk, Miami)
Carnival Valor - May 5 - 12, 2013 (Southern Caribbean: San Juan, St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, San Juan) REVIEW: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1917645
Carnival Liberty - April 5 - 12, 2014 (Western Caribbean: Miami, Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, Grand Cayman...missed port, Miami) REVIEW: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2039919
I am loving your pictures. I am a photographer, but I am considering just packing my point and shoot instead of my big DSLR and all my lenses and flash...then I look at your photos and change my mind. UGH! I wish I had a good point and shoot. Is there such a thing?
Your photos and review are both fantastic! Thank you so much for taking the time to share :0)
Carnival Vista NYC to Miami Repo Cruise - Nov 18, 2016 Group Site: click here
Carnival Breeze - September 21-27 (Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman)*First solo cruise* Norwegian Epic - November 16-23, 2013 (St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Nassau) **Review** Carnival Liberty - December 15-22, 2012 (Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, Grand Cayman)**Second family cruise** Carnival Liberty - March 3-10, 2012 (Half Moon Cay, St. Thomas, San Juan, Grand Turk)*First family cruise* Carnival Liberty - November 6-13, 2010 (Cozumel, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman)
Carnival Valor - November 2-9, 2008 (Nassau, St. Thomas, St. Maarten)