A little background... This was my 4th cruise on Carnival and my 4th overall. I'd like to think that I'm 38 going on 22, but in reality I'm just 38 and occasionally feeling older. This is the first cruise I have taken where I did not have a 13 or 14 year old with me. No responsibilities, no planning, all fun. I had been reading John Heald's Blog (http://www.johnhealdsblog.com) for a while and when they announced this cruise, I thought it might be fun. My boyfriend was SO NOT interested, and my girlfriends otherwise engaged, so (as was well documented on a thread here a while back), I mulled over the possibility of going solo. I was a little worried because I can, on occasion, be overcome with attacks of shyness. But John assured me on his blog that if I did come I would have a cruise I would never forget. I kicked around the idea for a while and then I found out that Ron Pass was going to be returning to the Freedom's piano bar in December and would remain on through April. Most of you who know me on here, know me from the piano bar entertainer thread (Oh yeah, quick shout out to VanIslandcruiser who recognized me in the piano bar and said hi. I can't imagine how he knew it was me! LOL!). I love piano bars on land and on sea and Ron is one of my favorites since I sailed with him a couple years ago on the Valor. So that clinched it for me, I booked it.
As it turns out, I needn't have worried about cruising alone. In the months leading up to the cruise, I met a fabulous group of people from the blog. We exchanged literally thousands of emails getting to know each other and plotting and planning a celebration for John Heald's birthday, dubbing ourselves "Big Ed's Evil Bloggers Crew". So when I eventually did get on this ship it was like meeting up with old friends.
Getting there is half the fun...
Being the obsessive control freak that I am, I flew in a day early and stayed overnight in Fort Lauderdale. I had a 6:30 am flight out of Newark. Early yes, but experience has taught me that the earlier you fly in the day, the less your chance of delays. So I arrived at the airport at some ungodly hour and sat down to wait for my flight. Eventually they announced that our flight was in an oversell situation and they were offering a couple of first class seats on the next flight out (7:35am) and a $300 flight voucher. Another woman and I raced to the desk leaping over carry-on bags and scaring small children with our blazing speed to reach the desk first. That was a no-brainer. By they time they finished boarding and printed our new documents it was time to board the new flight. I settle into my luxurious and roomy first class seat and shortly after take off, fully reclined and promptly fell asleep. When I woke up an hour and a half later the flight attendant immediately offered me a fresh fruit platter and buttery hot croissant. Yummy. This is the way to fly.
So I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale relaxed and happy. I figured this vacation was blessed. I stayed in Fort Lauderdale overnight at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper right on Fort Lauderdale Beach, I had run some errands when I first got in, so by the time I headed over to the hotel, I was able to check in. Pretty nice hotel. Excellent and friendly concierge and comfy beds I slept well that night. Now some of y'all are probably wondering why I would stay in Fort Lauderdale rather than driving down to Miami and staying closer to the port. Well, I wanted to check out a dueling piano bar I had heard so much about, Howl at the Moon. Shocker right? My hotel was within walking distance (well, walking distance for a Hobokenite/New Yorker) of that bar, so I moseyed on down and had a very nice evening. Dueling piano bars are a little different than a regular one. They are often rowdier and depend a whole lot of the chemistry and camraderie of the musicians playing. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and got warmed up for the coming week.
Off to see the wizard...
I got kind of a late start from Fort Lauderdale so I wound up returning my rental about an hour late at the Miami airport Dollar Car. There was a long line for the shuttle to the port. (This is a free shuttle offered by Dollar/Thrifty, there were even a few people in line who had just hopped on the rental car shuttle at the airport, to use the free shuttle). But two buses showed up after about 20 minutes and I think most of the line made it on. From there it was a quick trip to the port. I think I got there around 12:30 and handed one suitcase with a generous tip to a very friendly porter. I wanted to time it so that by the time I was on board I wouldn't have long to wait to go to my room, because my carry-on bag was extremely heavy, filled with sugar free jellybeans and tiaras and bagels (a present for a friend, who just can't find good bagels outside of New York). The line to get through security moved quickly, but I almost had a heart attack when port security said I couldn't take the bagels on board. No food, they insisted. I begged. I pleaded. I think I almost cried (tears can be very effective). I showed them the box which was still sealed from the shipping. I said it was a gift for someone, and they finally relented. Alcohol, I understand because that cuts into profits. Produce and raw meat, I understand because they can carry bad bugs. But these were shrink wrapped for freshness and sealed bagels! I guess next time I'll have to figure out a way to smuggle them. Any suggestions? Pack some in my jewelry case and insist they are bracelets or earrings? Hair decorations (a little Princess Leia)?
Bagels still in hand, I headed up to check in. Have to say here, I love the new terminal in Miami, my last two cruises on the Valor were out of the old terminal. The new one was light and bright and well set up. Not a lot of up and down. The line was long but moved quickly. I had all my paperwork filled out and handed over my passport, FunPass and Sail&Sign form and my credit card. The agent worked quickly, then disappeared for a moment to retrieve my Sail&Sign card. I liked this a lot too, rather than having to get on another line. I also told her as instructed that I was part of the Blogger's Cruise. She handed me a welcome aboard letter with and invitation to the Blogger's Welcome Party. After that it was straight onto the ship.
I think I was on about 1 pm. Still a little early to head for the room. so I found seat in the lobby dropped my bags and grabbed a drink and started people watching looking for anyone else from my group. Finally I dragged my butt and my bags up to Promenade and promptly ran into two people from my group. Then I finally got to my room to drop my stuff. I had a 1A on the portside all the way forward with two porthole windows. I liked it for the most part (You will understand the qualification when I get to the first sea day and Grand Cayman). Plenty of room especially since I was alone and there was one bed with a convertible couch. Now the nice part about sailing alone? All the closets and drawers are yours! Yay! Plenty of hangers, plenty of room. I met my room steward, Victor, shortly afterwards. He was great. A big friendly smile and asked about my day everytime I saw him.
I explored the ship a little. The nice part was that the layout was pretty much the same as the Valor so I navigated it easily. Again, I thought the decoration was garish, but not nearly as bad as I was expecting. I have to say honestly that I am usually so busy with other things that I rarely notice the decorations, or maybe I just don't care that much. I will say the one design I didn't care for is Scotty's Piano Bar. The wooden stools at the bar around the piano (thank goodness, I have my own natural padding! LOL!), the spartan chairs spread about the room. And the silly pianos with the moving parts arond the walls and ceilings, as if we couldn't tell it was a piano bar from the big blue(!) piano in the center of the room.
After that it just seemed like I ran into one person after another and spent the whole day gabbing. At one point my jaw was so tired from talking, I had to ask the person with me if I was still making sense. But it was great to finally meet in person all these people I had met on line. Truly like meeting old friends. Note: I haven't talked about eating yet, because I never got a chance to... until dinner that night.
Muster drill... there's not much to say about it except I'm glad they've stopped making you wear the life jackets until partway through the drill.
We were about 45 minutes late sailing because bad weather in the Baltimore area had delayed a bunch of people. Some ended up not catching up until Cozumel on Monday. So unfortunately sailaway was during the Blogger's Welcome party at 5 pm. The Welcome Party was nice. Free booze! John welcomed all the Bloggers and introduced some of the people behind the cruise. And I got to socialize a bit more, meeting more of the people I knew by email only. It was alot of fun, as people came over to greet me, the person next to me turned and said "You're famous!" Well, at least among my little group. After all I was Princess Laura, the sweet and innocent, of Big Ed's Evil Blogger Crew. LOL!
Then it was off to dinner. 6:15 seating in the Chic restaurant, mid ship. I was happy to find that I had been seated downstairs in the center for the first time ever. I could actually watch the show from my seat! A table for 8 with 6 other people from my little crew, plus one poor soul who had no idea what a blog was. He was on the second leg of a back to back. So I tried to make it a point to talk to him often. Our wait team, Maro (head waiter) and Davro (assistant) were great. Very efficient, very attentive. And Davro was really cute and a little flirty. I enjoyed him. The food was good. Do you know, I think I ordered all the same dishes that I had on the Valor this summer? I think I just realized that. I believe on the first night I had the lamb. The one problem I had in the dining room, was our bar waitress. I only ever saw her the first night and ordered a glass of pinot noir or a cabernet, she had no idea what I was talking about so I just said, "Red Wine". And that was the only night I ever saw her. And I was looking forward to a glass of wine with dinner. Oh well...
After dinner, I checked out the ship a little more then headed to my home for the week, Scotty's Piano Bar. I love piano bars and Ron Pass is definitely one of my favorites. For me he is the perfect combination of talent and personality (and he's easy on the eyes too! LOL!) He's the genial host of a rowdy cocktail party each night. For a more thorough review of him, you can see my post on the Piano Bar Entertainer thread, because I'm too darn lazy to write it all again. http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showt...4#post13155854
Suffice it to say, if you are on the Freedom between now and April 25th, make sure you stop by Scotty's and you'll have a really good time.
Many gin and tonics and a couple of tequila shots (I apologize to the guy who bought them thinking he would get a good show! But, the shots were very tasty all the same!) later, when the piano bar closed, I stumbled back to my room and went to bed, anticipating a nice relaxing day at sea on the morrow...
Next up... I want to Rock and Roll all night and throw up most of the day...
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