Jump to content


  • Posts

  • Joined

Everything posted by SonoranDevil

  1. Life is a continuous learning experience. It’s never mastered. For as happy and satisfied of a human being as I am, I have yet to figure out a way to truly enjoy the last day of vacation. Or most Sunday evenings for that matter. This especially applies to the last day of a cruise. I don’t want to pack up the cabin the night before to leave early the next morning. I don’t like it one bit. Our last full day on the Mardi Gras would see us visiting Nassau. The last time I was in Nassau, the night was capped off by a Matchbox 20 concert on the Carnival Imagination. I looked, they weren’t on this sailing. I tried, I really did. But I struggled getting excited about Nassau. I’m just not a big fan. We had kicked around the idea of not getting off the ship the entire week. After all, there was plenty on board that we still hadn’t had an opportunity to try out. But as happy as I am sitting around doing nothing and letting people bring me pina coladas, Shani is more of a let’s get out there and do something personality. For most of the week, we figured we would just get off the ship and wander around the shopping district near the port and then head back onboard early. We probably would have ended up doing this if it weren't for two factors: We didn’t want to make Mom walk any more than necessary and it was HOT! So, the day before, we found a simple Carnival excursion, on an air conditioned bus, that would take us around to see the top sights Nassau had to offer. We would do a repeat of our morning routine from Amber Cove, getting ready and having breakfast at Guy’s Pig & Anchor before heading off the ship for our excursion. Again, there were just a handful of other cruisers having breakfast with us. I’m not sure many people realized that everything that could be found up on Lido was also available at Guy’s each morning. After breakfast, we made our way off the ship and out to meet up with our excursion. There was no traffic jam to get off the boat today, no lines to disembark on Deck 3 midship. We made it to our bus and I will note that everyone that greeted us at the port were genuinely excited to see tourists. This would be another small tour, about 10 people total. We began driving around Paradise Island, past Atlantis and through some absolutely lovely neighborhoods. We would cross back to Nassau proper, through the docks and up past Fort Fincastle and the Queen’s Staircase. I can confirm that the teenager dozed off during this portion of the excursion. Shani may have also and I came dangerously close to dozing off. Halfway through the excursion, we decided that we should have just skipped the tour. Parliament Square, Nassau. Queen Victoria's statue in Parliament Square, Nassau. It’s not a reflection on the excursion operator or to the fine residents of Nassau. We’ve just been there before. We were all probably feeling the last day of vacation blues. We just weren’t feeling it. We did eventually make a stop at John Watling’s Distillery, makers of rum. The distillery sits on the grounds of a former plantation and is picturesque. We were given samples of a pina colada made with one of their rums and given a brief tour of their facility, before ending up in their gift shop and tasting room. Shani and I bought pina coladas and ordered a sampling of four of their rums. The grounds at John Watling's Distillery, Nassau. John Watling's Distillery ages their rum in old oak barrels previously used to age bourbon. The rum sampling at John Watling's Distillery. The pina coladas helped make the rest of the tour a little more pleasurable. After 30 minutes at the distillery, we were off around the corner to Graycliff village. Here there was a small chocolate shop, cigar shop, Nassau’s only winery and a small museum. We would have about 30 minutes here as well. We bought a little chocolate, sampled some wine (the grapes are Italian varietals and shipped to Nassau to be vinted). We stopped by the museum, but we wouldn’t have had enough time to view the exhibits even if we wanted to pay the admission fee. After visiting Graycliff, we were back on the bus and out to drive by Fort Charlotte before being brought back to the port. If you have never visited Nassau and aren’t prone to mid-morning naps, you might enjoy this excursion. We did a little window shopping near the port before heading back on board to grab some lunch. They are doing quite a bit of construction at the port and I can say that after seeing the artist renderings of the completed project, it is going to be a very nice port. The turquoise waters of Nassau provide a picturesque foreground for the Mardi Gras. Up next: Piazza Panini, Mardi Gras Casino III - Revenge of Carnival, Cucina del Capitano and Packing.
  2. After our massage, we decided it was snack time. An afternoon tea was offered in the Palm Dining Room each sea day. Shani loves a proper tea and rarely do I cooperate in that department. I would mask my distaste for cucumber sandwiches and hide my contempt for any hot beverage that isn’t coffee. We would go to tea. Upon entering the dining room, the string trio could be heard entertaining the tea goers. That’s where the resemblance to a proper tea ended for this experience. While the string trio worked their way from television and movie theme songs, they did serve you tea. And a tray of cucumber sandwich bites was brought by each table. Just don’t expect the same experience you would have at the Pump Room in Bath, England. Shani wanted to head back to our balcony which afforded me another chance to give Carnival more money at the casino. We would meet back up for dinner at the Flamingo Dining Room tonight. Another 90 minutes in the casino saw me double the money I originally brought to the table earlier in the day. I really showed them! I doubled my money! It would be a lot more impressive if I wasn’t innately averse to risk. Still, I had won enough to buy a family meal at Denny’s. Ok, maybe Outback Steakhouse. Having cleaned out Carnival of their operating budget, I timed my arrival at the Flamingo Dining Room almost perfectly. The rest of the family arrived a minute after I did. Tonight was a much better dining experience, especially when compared to the chaos experienced on the first Elegant Night. Tonight was the second Elegant Night, but we all agreed that we didn’t want to don suits and more formal attire this evening. Our table was ready within minutes of checking in, and we were quickly seated and orders were taken. While our dinner still took about 90 minutes from seating to completion, I find that acceptable for a 3 course meal. I ordered the New England Clam Chowder to start. One of the benefits of marrying into a family from Massachusetts is frequent trips to New England. I’m very fond of New England. Growing up in a place where there are basically two seasons (Summer & What Other People Experience as Summer. Copyright pending.), the thought of four, clearly defined seasons sounds very appealing. I also love New England clam chowder, good fish and chips and other various regional treats. The soup tonight was respectable enough to be served in most New England establishments. That was 3 for 3 on good soups in the MDR during the week. I also love a good steak. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you love a good steak, the complimentary offering on a cruise ship’s main dining room will probably disappoint you. Filet Mignon was on the menu tonight. To demonstrate how much I love a good steak, I’m always tempted to order the MDR steak every time. Some primal urge to consume slabs of delicious meat completely overrides my cognitive ability to determine that I’m going to be disappointed. I ordered the steak. So did Shani. No plot twist here, it was disappointing. Full of shame, we moved on to the Grand Marnier Souffle. It was delicious and dinner finished on a high note. After dinner, we rushed to the Mardi Gras Theater to watch Broadway Beats. Even arriving about five minutes before the start of the show, we were still easily able to find 4 seats together. We enjoyed the show and noted that they did a good job spanning a wide range of musical theater songs, spanning from the classics to contemporary hits. Even if you don’t enjoy musical theater, you will most likely recognize many of the songs. After the show, we stopped by Fortune Teller for a nightcap. We stayed for a bit, listening to the string trio play. They were very talented musicians and provided a touch of sophistication appropriate for a French Quarter lounge. Tomorrow would find us in Nassau.
  3. To call it a hot tub is a bit of a stretch. It's basically a jetted, soaking tub. It has to be filled for every use. While this provides some flexibility if you want to use it as a "plunge pool" filled with cold water, it's not a traditional hot tub. Max occupancy is definitely two people. Those two people should be very comfortable being intimately close with each other. That said, it's a neat feature. Did we spend a lot of time out there? Not as much as we expected we would. Shani definitely used it more than I did, but that isn't surprising. I'm highly combustible and that limits my sunbathing time. Did it meet our expectations? Yes, for the most part. It's an absolutely wonderful balcony, far surpassing the Penthouse Suite balcony we sailed in on Norwegian's Pride of America. The tub was a little disappointing, as we were expecting more of a hot tub when we booked. But there was plenty of space, and all of the furniture was luxuriously comfortable. Now, with all of that said, does it justify the price point for the Aft Excel Suite? More to come on that, but Carnival has some work to do to catch up with other main cruise lines on catering to suite guests.
  4. Our third and final sea day! No 8:10 AM call from the Spa about cancelled reservations today. No excursions to rush to. Sleeping in was on the agenda, followed by a do-over for Sea Day Brunch. Our couples stone massage that was cancelled on sea day #2 would happen this afternoon. That’s a recipe that I can cook with! Sleep in we did! Ok, sleeping in by our standards today would be laughed at by 20 year old me. But, what did he know? Up and showered, we collected Mom and headed down to the Palm Dining Room to give Sea Day Brunch a second chance. After checking in on the Hub app, our table was ready in a matter of minutes. We were quickly seated and greeted by a polite service team. We ordered our coffee and juice, and I tried to convince our server to just bring over the cow to the table, since I enjoy a little coffee with my cream and sugar in the mornings. Spoiler alert: service was much better! It was just a matter of time before the crew ironed out the wrinkles in service. I ordered the Pancetta Scrambled while Shani went with the House Special Skillet-Cake. The breakfast was good and the timing of delivery was spot on. Sea Day Brunch Redux: A success. Pancetta Scrambled at Sea Day Brunch. The "very tasty" House Special Skillet-Cake. After our meal, Shani and Mom were interested in a little more relaxation in the sun. They would head up to Loft 19 to lounge around. Not wanting to douse myself in sunscreen, I took this as an opportunity to check out the Mardi Gras Casino. I’m not a huge gambler, but I do enjoy sitting down at a blackjack table now and then. Aside from my first cruise in 1995, I’ve never utilized a ship’s casino, primarily due to the constant smoke associated with them. Well, the Mardi Gras sports a generously sized non-smoking section. With the exception of walking through the portion of the casino that adjoins the smoking section, I couldn’t smell a trace of a burning cigarette. I was pleasantly surprised to see $6 tables. Again, I’m not a big gambler and would prefer to spend my hard earned money on more secure investments. You know...guitars, old books, and baseball cards. I always sit down at a table with the understanding that the money I bring is my entertainment budget. I don’t expect to win and I am prepared to lose the entirety of my budgeted cash. This is one reason I enjoy blackjack. I can make $200 last a long time at a $6 table. Well, I showed Carnival who they were dealing with! In the hour I played before I had to head to the spa for our massage, I had increased my investment by 50%. Shani and Mom didn’t end up at Loft 19. It was unbearably hot out. No clouds. No shade at Loft 19. Surprisingly, no wind up there either. It was just hot and uncomfortable. Back down to our balcony they would go. Shani decided to turn the hot tub on the suite’s balcony into her very own plunge pool. The only drawback was that her cabana boy was sitting at a blackjack table and therefore she had no bar service. First world problems. The spa seemed lovely. Our massage was definitely a hit. As mentioned in an earlier installment, Shani would regret turning down the spa manager’s offer to upgrade our appointment from 50 minutes to 75 minutes. She may have cried a bit when we were told that our 50 minutes were up. It was relaxing and invigorating at the same time. If you’re not a big massage fan because you don’t enjoy the physical assault associated with a deep tissue beatdown, the stone massage experience might be for you. Sorry, I’m still dealing with the emotional distress associated with the beating I took at the hands of a surprisingly strong and deceptively tiny massage therapist. One thing to note about the spa. It is located on Deck 5 at the very front of the ship (The entrance is Deck 6 forward, but everything is located a deck below). All cruise ship spas I’ve been to have been located near the top of the ship. As a result of being high up, we both had always been attune to the ship's movement. Not so on the Mardi Gras. We both would have otherwise been unaware we were sailing in the North Atlantic. Carnival could be on to something there! Next up: Mardi Gras Casino II, Return to the MDR, and Broadway Beats
  5. Hi Mac! You're going to love the Mardi Gras! We did not see disposable gloves anywhere onboard, other that what was being worn at the time by the various crew members. I would definitely bring some hand sanitizer along with you, especially if you're visiting the Lido Marketplace.
  6. After satiating my appetite with a shrimp burrito from Blue Iguana, we headed up to Deck 18 midship, home of Bolt, the first roller coaster at sea. I should mention that I’m not an adrenaline junkie. In fact, for much of my professional life, I consciously worked to mitigate the effects of adrenaline dumps in my system. As a result, I don’t get much of a thrill out of thrill rides. Coupled with a healthy appreciation for gravity, I’ve just never been a roller coaster aficionado. Shani on the other hand? If her back can handle it, there’s not much in the thrill ride category that she wouldn’t be all over. In fact, the relatively short and tame track that Bolt operates on didn’t really generate much excitement from her. Well, after getting up to Deck 18, it didn’t take long for her to take the bait. A quick message down to the 14 year old and the plans had been made. In a matter of minutes, because there was no great back up to ride, the child and Shani were on the modified ride “bike” and spent about 15 seconds zooming around the top of the Mardi Gras. The verdict? It was fun, but not something to ride again. At the $15 per person price point, I doubt there will be many repeat riders. It’s a novelty. A really cool one, but a novelty. Still, the girls walked away as members of a relatively small group of people who had spun around the back of a cruise ship at 40 MPH, while 20 stories up. After that brief adventure, Shani and Mom decided they wanted to find some shade on a public deck where someone would bring them drinks. They wound up directly below our balcony, in the shade on Deck 8’s Summer Landing. I capitalized on the opportunity to partake in one of my favorite pastimes, taking a nap. Once again, the rumble of the Mardi Gras’ engines ushered me back to consciousness and I stepped out on the patio just in time to watch us pull out of Amber Cove. Move over...it's nap time! None of us were particularly hungry. I came down to Summer Landing and joined up with Shani and Mom, and we would spend the rest of the daylight hours relaxing with a few alcoholic beverages. Shani was particularly fond of a watermelon drink from the nearby bar. We decided that we would each go a la carte for dinner that evening. Mom and I figured we would grab some fish and chips from the Seafood Shack while the Muffalata from Emeril’s caught Shani’s eye. Before we left, I was able to grab a picture of the evening’s sunset. I enjoy a good sunset. I’m reminded that no matter how big my problems might seem at times, the sun simply doesn’t care. It rises and it sets. While I’m convinced that some days it rises to simply mock me and the fact that I’m not a morning person, I always appreciate a good sunset. The symbol of one more day in a life long lived. Shani enjoyed the Watermelon Crush from The Watering Hole in Summer Landing. The sign of one less day from dying young. Sunset from Summer Landing Emeril’s never seemed incredibly busy all week. I would imagine that the myriad of free dining options on the Mardi Gras might have something to do with that fact. Shani was able to order her muffalata directly at the counter and didn’t have to dine at a table. Once the sandwich was obtained, we headed up to Lido Marketplace again. Shani began enjoying her meal while Mom and I walked over to the Seafood Shack. We both ordered our predetermined fish and chips. I give the Seafood shack some credit on their fish and chips. First, nothing is made in advance. You want fish and chips? You order, they dredge the fish filets and drop the fresh in the fryer. Nothing was just sitting around, waiting for people to order under a heat lamp. Neither of us had the slightest problem with the $6 upcharge for our meals. Shani also enjoyed her muffalata, though our late lunch prevented her from finishing. While we were dining, the teenager messaged us and asked if we could come by the Havana Bar to watch her perform for the last night of karaoke. Nothing else was tempting us on the entertainment front that night, so we finished up and headed down to a pretty full Havana Bar. The Havana Bar definitely has a neat vibe, but it’s not the most conducive venue for karaoke. Limelight is definitely better suited for this activity. Yet, this would be the busiest night of karaoke all week. We waited patiently until it was the kid’s turn to sing again and watched with huge smiles on our faces, like any proud parent would. After wrapping up karaoke, Shani and I dropped by the Piano Bar again. This time, we were able to find the last two chairs left in the venue. To a person, it looked like the exact same crowd again, with the exact same songs being requested. Jennifer, our server from earlier in the week in Loft 19, was working the bar and we enjoyed one drink before Shani decided that she wanted something sweet before retiring for the night. Enter spiked milkshakes from Java Blue. At least, that was the plan. By the time we decided what we wanted, we were informed that they only had strawberry ice cream left for any shakes. Well, neither of us wanted a strawberry milkshake. It then dawned on us that we could order room service dessert. Back to the cabin we went. 30 minutes later, a banana split, a plate of brownies and a donut sandwich arrived at our door. My banana split was ok, if not a bit pedestrian. Shani’s brownies were unimpressive. The child’s donut sandwich actually was pretty good. We didn’t really care though. Somebody brought us dessert which was eaten in bed. What is there to complain about? Tomorrow would bring our final sea day and our stone massage that had been rescheduled after the scheduling snafu on Monday. Off to sleep we went! Next up: Sea Day Brunch Redux, Mardi Gras Casino and Couple’s Massage.
  7. Psst...and Aft Excel was open for the first sailing in September...at least it showed up last night.
  8. Hi Tom! Welcome back. When we visited for the Cabin Crawl on our sailing, my takeaway was that the balcony would have been unusable that sea day, because of the wind, especially the side wrap around section. My understanding was that the trip back North was less windy up front.
  9. One of the most attractive features of cruising for me is having my hotel transport me to my next exciting location, while I slumber comfortably in my bed. Our next nautical red-eye brought us to Amber Cove, just outside of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. We would have a 9:00 AM excursion that would take us to a hands-on chocolate making experience. We got up and moving with plans to meet down stairs at 8:00 AM for breakfast at Guy’s Pig & Anchor. Guy’s was hosting a breakfast buffet each morning on our sailing. It is really nice having a buffet alternative available for time bound port days. Guy’s was near empty. They offered a full American buffet, including pancakes, scrambled eggs, breakfast meats as well as the ability to order fresh eggs or an omelet. There may have been three other groups having breakfast, which allowed us to waste no time in downing some bacon. Well, it turned out that time wouldn’t be as big of an issue this morning, as we were a little late getting docked and ready to let guests off the ship. At 8:30, an announcement was made asking everyone to not make their way to the Deck 3 gangway yet, as a crowd was developing prior to guests being allowed to leave. Backing in to our spot in Amber Cove, Dominican Republic. Today, the Mardi Gras would leverage both of their Deck 3 gangways, both mid and forward. Of course, we had been waiting in line for a good 15 minutes near the midship gangway when they announced that the forward gangway was also open and there was no line. We were off the ship just a few minutes before 9:00 and quickly made our way to the excursion zone where we had been directed to. For our excursion today, we had chosen a more meaningful option. Carnival offered a hands-on chocolate experience. We would drive 45 minutes up into the surrounding mountains to the small village of Altamira. Chocal, the cacao farm and chocolate factory, is a co-op of local women. Employment opportunities in this rural area are not plentiful, especially for women. This co-op allows them the flexibility to raise families while providing a vital source of income. We would spend the day helping them and they would teach us how chocolate is made, from tree to packaging. Cruising sometimes gets a bad rap about not providing travelers enough exposure to local cultures, with limited times in various ports. Excursions like these help fill that void. Sign me up! We were a small group of 16 today. We were escorted to an awaiting mini-coach and we began our trek up into the mountains. The drive was fun. Traffic rules come off more as loose suggestions, but once I realized that everyone was driving by the same suggestions as our driver, I became a little more relaxed. The drive up featured some of the prettiest geography I’ve seen; a true Caribbean rainforest. Chocal would be unrecognizable in the United States as a food processing facility. I wasn’t sure what to expect. We were greeted by about 15 of the friendliest people we’ve ever met. The women sang us a song and each introduced themselves. As I’ve mentioned before, everyone seemed genuinely excited to see tourism return. A few of the women had their older children with them this morning, as they were home from school for the Summer. We were offered samples of hot chocolate for a treat while they explained their operation and what we would have an opportunity to do during our visit. Cacao pods, ready to be opened to plant. We started outside of the facility, and were shown how to plant cacao trees from a freshly opened cacao pods and then moving on to roasting the harvested cacao, grinding it up and finally working it into a tootsie roll like lump of pure dark chocolate. All along the way, we were able to get hands on in the process. An opened cacao pod, revealing the seeds for planting. The cacao beans not planted are roasted over an open fire. While the commercial operation uses an automatic grinder, we were given the opportunity to ground the roasted beans by hand. We were then led inside their production facility where we were given a tour of the small facility and introduced to the modern implements that allow the co-op to commercially produce chocolate. We were taught how to hand sort the roasted cacao beans, separating the usable cacao nibs from those unworthy of becoming chocolatey goodness. Before the beans can be grinded, they are hand sorted to select only the perfect beans for chocolate. After grinding, another hand sort is done to remove the bean husks. While we all realized that what we experienced was just a glimpse into the lives of our kind hosts, it sure let us dive deeper than just hanging out on a beach and shopping at Del Sol for a day. Outside of spending time with my favorite people and disengaging for a week, this would be my favorite part of our cruise. We all recommend the experience, but with a couple of small caveats. You will be traveling to what by U.S. standards is a primitive community. There is no air conditioning in the factory and you will want to bring/wear insect repellent. Don’t expect much in the way of facilities. If you level set your expectations though, you’re almost assured of having a great time while being ambassadors of your own culture. One thing our guide did provide was water. We were all offered refreshing bottles of cold water for our drive back to Amber Cove. We were dropped off right back where we had started, and we decided to do a little shopping at the shops located at the port. Yes, even Del Sol. I bought the child and my beautiful wife a piece of larimar and amber jewelry from Blu Mine. After not finding anything we wanted to eat for lunch in the shopping area, we again decided to head back on board and grab a bite to eat on the ship. Once back on board and having deposited our shopping spoils in our cabins, we headed up again to Lido to grab a late bite to eat for lunch. After dropping Mom off at the Marketplace, Shani and I walked over and enjoyed a couple of burritos from Blue Iguana. After lunch, and some gelato, Shani wanted to head up to Deck 18 to check out Bolt. Up Next: Bolt, Summer Landing, and another casual dinner.
  10. The motor coach ride from San Cristobal to El Morro is brief, but took us alongside the La Perla neighborhood. San Juan’s original barrio is visually stimulating, dominated by colors of orange, coral, blues and greens. Today, as evidenced by the 2017 revitalization project responsible for the brightly colored houses, La Perla is starting to transform back into a vibrant and rich neighborhood for the residents of San Juan. Once we arrived at Castillo San Felipe del Morro, Leo led us on a walk across a great expanse of green grass leading up to massive fortification. Leo informed us that the expanse of greenery served as a recreational area for U.S. military forces based at El Morro during WWI and WWII. As we crossed the stone entry way into the castle, we quickly noticed about a dozen iguana on each side of us, eagerly soaking up the sun’s rays during what would be a brief intermission to what would be a rainy morning in San Juan. I know that iguanas are not indigenous to Puerto Rico, traveling from Central America with various waves of immigrants throughout history, but it was a special site to see for a boy who grew up in the Sonoran Desert. The Iguanas were enjoying the midmorning break in showers. Leo had given us about an hour to explore El Morro. Construction started at El Morro by the Spanish in the 16th Century and is visually more exciting to take in than San Cristobal. This would be San Juan’s defense against a sea invasion and would serve quite effectively in that capacity until the Spanish-American War. Shani and I were both enamored with the blend of architectural flair and functionality. We spent about 20 minutes exploring, ascending and descending several staircases leading to the multiple levels of the castle. After our walkabout, we found a shady bench in the central courtyard and I spent some time talking more baseball with Leo. Cemetery view from El Morro. El Morro would protect the port of San Juan for over 300 years before falling in the Spanish-American War. A Triangle Staircase highlights the marriage of architecture and function at El Morro. Our visit to El Morro ended with another morning rain shower, this one meaning business. Everyone huddled into the various alcoves provided by the majestic fortress, as Leo and I continued talking baseball. If we didn’t have to be back on board by mid-afternoon, Leo and I would probably still be talking baseball. The rain ended at just the right time for us to make our trek back to the motor coach. We were fortunate with the timing of the rain, as it provided us with a slightly cooler temperature for the walk back. We boarded the motor coach for our drive back to the port. We still had a few hours before we had to be back on the Mardi Gras. On the drive back to the port, we asked Leo if they would be able to let us off a few blocks away so we could do some exploring and shopping along San Juan’s famed Camino de la Fortaleza. Leo happily arranged for this and we bid farewell. Our plan was to do some shopping and stop at Barrachina for lunch. Barrachina claims to have invented the Pina Colada back in 1963. While we shopped our way towards Barrachina, the skies opened up again and reminded us of why Puerto Rico has such a lush and green landscape. This time, the rain would fall for a good 20 minutes. While we darted from overhang to overhang in an attempt to stay dry, we slowly made it up the block towards our desired lunch location. Camino de la Fortaleza in Old Town San Juan. The rain would alter our afternoon plans in Old Town San Juan. Adapt, Improvise, Overcome! Once we arrived at Barrachina, the wait was an hour. It was already 1:00 PM and we quickly decided that we would have to alter our lunch plans. We decided to make our way back towards the ship and we would grab a late lunch onboard. Old Town San Juan is visually appealing with its cobblestone streets. We all wish we would have had more time to explore the area and to have eaten at Barrachina. But the unexpected is exactly what you should expect when traveling. Adapt, improvise and overcome. We soaked in the experience as much as possible on our short walk back to the pier. Back on the Mardi Gras, we dropped off some fruits of our shopping experience back in the cabin and headed up to Lido to grab a late lunch. Shani and I found Mom a table in the Lido Marketplace while she grabbed herself a salad. Once Mom was settled, Shani and I went a deck up to grab a burger from Guy’s before heading back to the Marketplace to eat with Mom. For those curious, Guy’s still puts out what is arguably the best burger you’ll find at sea. The larger seating area at Guy’s Burger Joint is a design win for the new Mardi Gras. It never seemed crowded. After lunch, it was back to the cabin. With the humidity, it would be a two shower day for this guy. But beforehand, there was one critical item to check off my cruise list. A midday nap. While Shani and Mom settled out on the balcony, I took advantage of some air conditioning and recharged my batteries. The rumble of the engines eased me out of my slumber as I woke up just in time to step outside and watch us slowly back out of San Juan. Shani and I watched as we made our way out of San Juan Harbor, gliding past El Morro and San Cristobal on our way. Standing next to my beautiful wife, watching the beauty in front of us and feeling relaxed, I was reminded why we prioritize our spending on creating experiences for the family. It was one of those moments where I am reminded of exactly how lucky I am. Taking in the view from our balcony of our sail away past El Morro. I showered while Shani somehow managed to doze off again on the balcony. We had decided that we would visit Guy’s Pig & Anchor for some barbeque for our dinner this evening. We had previously made an arrangement with the kiddo that on port days, since she had spent all day with the family, that they could make arrangements with newly made friends to have dinner and enjoy the evening, sans parents. Mom also would pass on dinner tonight, deciding that she had enough excitement for the day. The four of us that remained walked a deck down to Guy’s and checked in for a table. Guy’s would be complimentary on the Mardi Gras and you could not check in on the Hub app. We were told there would be about a 15 minute wait for a table, which was perfectly acceptable. We took a seat and within five minutes, we were taken to our table. I like barbeque. I have my own smoker and have developed an appreciation for good barbeque. I had my doubts as to the quality of barbeque I would find on a cruise ship. I was pleasantly surprised, if not blown away. I ordered the brisket, pulled pork, and cheddar sausage. Shani went with the brisket, cheddar sausage, and smoked chicken. The cheddar sausage was really good and the pulled pork and brisket were certainly worthy of being labeled as barbeque. The service was quick, as it should at any barbeque restaurant since everything was prepared in the hours before dinner starts. I ordered the apple crisp for dessert while Shani went with a bourbon banana dish. We tasted each other's desserts. I preferred hers, she preferred mine. It was a great casual experience after a long day of walking around San Juan. The Brisket, Pulled Pork and Cheddar Sausage at Guy's Pig & Anchor. After dinner, we headed to the Grand Central Center Stage, where our Cruise Director Chris would be starring in his own production that evening. As mentioned earlier, Chris is known as The Flying Scotsman. More times than not, you’ll find him on board wearing a kilt. He’s proud of his heritage and serves as an exemplary ambassador. We’ve never chosen a cruise based on who the Cruise Director would be. In fact, the only one we can even remember details about was Emma Pack, the former Cruise Director on the brand new Panorama from our previous cruise. We fell in love with her standard greeting of “Hello Lovelies!” and we had mixed emotions when we heard she would be leaving Carnival to become a teacher at the outset of the pandemic. We were looking forward to meeting Emma’s husband Mike as he was originally slated to be the Cruise Director on our Mardi Gras sailing. Well, the arrival of their first baby just prior to our sailing saw Chris stepping in for Mike. We won’t forget Chris, but it was cemented in our minds when we watched his performance. The man is a gifted vocalist. He took the stage and jumped right in with a rendition of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. It is not easy to perform well. He did it. He then pulled off Elvis, Queen and Whitesnake. With the energy you expect out of a real rock concert. Did I mention he was a great vocalist? We really enjoyed the experience and understand why he has such a dedicated following among Carnival cruisers. This would be another early night for us, as the next day would find us in Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic. We retired for the night and decided we would skip room service breakfast the next morning, instead agreeing to meet at the breakfast buffet set up in Guy’s Pig & Anchor prior to having to meet for our 9:00 AM excursion. Next up: Amber Cove, Chocal and another casual dinner.
  11. This morning would be our first port of call on our Eastern Caribbean itinerary. Being an earlier morning than we had up to this point and the need to meet for our Carnival excursion by 8:45 AM, we decided the night before to have breakfast delivered to our room the next morning. Shani and I ordered coffee as well as the sausage biscuit breakfast sandwich from room service. We placed our order sheet on the door handle prior to going to sleep. The order was promptly delivered between the 7:00 to 7:30 AM window we requested. If you are a coffee drinker, we definitely recommend a pot of coffee be delivered to your room each morning. It’s always complimentary. As for the food, the breakfast sandwich was certainly big enough to satisfy even the biggest breakfast eaters. Neither one of us were a fan of the “sausage” patty on the sandwich. I use quotation marks here, because I’m pretty convinced that it was a beef patty that was seasoned in an unsuccessful attempt to make it taste like breakfast sausage. We both got about two thirds of the way through the sandwich before we removed the meat patty. The biscuit and egg were delicious though. After eating and getting ready, we gathered up Mom and all headed down to Deck 3 to exit the ship. For this port, the midship gangway appeared to be the only one in use. The Mardi Gras also has a gangway on Deck 3 forward, which would come in handy later in the week. Exiting the ship was easy enough. Puerto Rico did require masks in the cruise terminal as well as on public transportation and buildings. It was strongly recommended to wear masks when outdoors as well. We were one of the first groups to arrive at our predetermined location in the cruise port for our guided tour of San Juan’s two principle “fortresses.” After a delay caused by waiting for late guests, we were finally greeted by our tour guide Leo and led out of the terminal to an awaiting motor coach. We departed at about 9:05. I liked Leo. He was extremely knowledgeable and very friendly. Most importantly for me, he was a huge baseball fan. In fact, he provides baseball focused tours during the Fall months, focusing on Puerto Rico’s rich baseball tradition and culture. A few of us on the tour were donning MLB baseball caps and he quickly zeroed in on us. While I also love history and was excited to learn about the Castles in San Juan, Leo and I would spend more time talking about baseball than we would anything else. Our first stop was the Castillo de San Cristobal. San Cristobal is part of the U.S. National Parks system and is certainly a grand site to see. Originally constructed in the 17th Century by the Spanish to provide protection to San Juan from any attacks from the land. It would be the largest fortification constructed by the Spanish in the New World. Looking up to the highest point of Castillo de San Cristobal from the central courtyard. A mock up of what the barracks would have appeared like during Spanish occupation. A view out upon Old San Juan from Castillo de San Cristobal. While the architecture of San Cristobal isn’t as magnificent as it’s sister castle, El Morro (more to come on that later), the views from atop the fortification are impressive. As we soaked in the expansive view of the city and coast, it was easy to imagine how the first shots of the Spanish-American war unfolded a century ago. Our visit was divided in half by a quick and refreshing rain shower, that cooled things down quite nicely on what was already turning into a sweltering day. We spent about 50 minutes wandering the grounds before it was time to head back to the motor coach for the short drive to El Morro. The Mardi Gras as observed from atop Castillo de San Cristobal Castillo de San Cristobal was the largest Spanish military fortress in the new world, occupying about 27 acres. Next up: Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) and shopping along Camino de la Fortaleza
  12. It was your pretty standard layout compared to other cabins, with the extra room. The bathroom is much larger. And I can confirm that there is no elevated lip between the room and the balcony, to allow an easy transition. If you are smart about using the space, parking a scooter inside is certainly doable. I did see several scooters parked outside of rooms, though I'm unsure if they were staying in FACs. We were in cabin 9504. 9502 and 9506, on each side of us, were FACs and both occupants had scooters. They never left theirs in the hallways.
  13. I didn't grab any photos or videos, but I did get an opportunity to view a FAC, if you have any specific questions.
  14. There has been nothing experienced in my life that has prepared me for the challenge associated with raising a teenage daughter.
  15. Sea Day 2 was ushered in by a decent night’s sleep thanks to the mattress topper Jonard was able to secure for us. We were deep in our dreams of tropical drinks topped with little umbrellas when we were unexpectedly awakened by the phone ringing in our cabin. It was 8:10 AM. 8:10 is usually when my mind decides to get its act together during my work day, after about an hour of being “awake.” It is normally aided by a nice hot shower and the nectar of the gods prior to reaching that state. It must have been quite the spectacle to see me stumble out of bed to quickly answer the phone. The caller was undoubtedly not impressed with my cognitive skills as she explained to me that our couples massage scheduled for 3:15 would not be happening due to a technical glitch that caused a double booking. The assistant spa manager was very sweet about it and totally undeserving of my gruff mumbling while I attempted to explain to my equally bewildered wife that we would not be getting our massages today. The game of telephone that ensued eventually reached a merciful ending when I told the spa manager that we would have to call her back. A cup of coffee later, Shani called back down to the spa. They were extremely apologetic, and we recognized that this was not their fault. It was a computer glitch with scheduling, which we did the week before online. They offered to extend our 50-minute massage to a 75-minute massage later in the week. Shani told them that wasn’t necessary and rebooking the 50-minute session would be perfectly fine. Shani admittedly regretted that decision later in the week. We should have taken the 75-minute session. Adapt, improvise, and overcome. Our massage was rebooked for the next sea day on Thursday. Since all three of us were firmly awake by this point, we decided to head down for breakfast. Instead of repeating Sea Day Brunch, we opted to visit Cucina del Capitano for their complimentary breakfast. This was a great decision. While the menu was fairly traditional, unlike the Sea Day Brunch, everything was in perfect stride. Our service team of Aila, Moises, and Vijay were top notch. The food was delicious and Aila and team were the best service group we would encounter in any restaurant during the cruise. We were lucky enough to be seated with them again for dinner and another breakfast throughout the week. I ordered another omelet while Shani got one of her favorites, the Broken Egg Sandwich. Great experience! After breakfast, we decided to leverage one of the perks of sailing in an Excel Suite and we headed up to Loft 19, the brand-new exclusive area for Excel Suite guests. You access Loft 19 from the Serenity Deck on 18 forward. We were greeted by friendly staff and they checked to ensure we had our Loft 19 bracelets. We found it pretty much deserted. We saw one or two cabanas that had been rented but few other people were there. Loft 19 is nice enough. On a full capacity sailing, I could see how the guaranteed loungers would be attractive for a lot of Excel Suite guests. Loft 19 was well appointed, minus shade. It was better with a Pina Colada! Our analysis? It’s a good place to start for Carnival. There were no fewer than five bar servers that constantly made the rounds through Loft 19. Jennifer quickly found us and would later remember us when she was working in the Piano Bar later in the week. The drinks kept coming, along with ice cold wet towels that were a nice treat on a very hot day. My one critique of the area would be that there is just no shade available up there unless you pony up the $500 for a cabana for the day. This could be a little complicated because believe it or not, the top deck forward on a ship cruising along at 17 kph can get a tad windy. With 55% of my DNA tracing back to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland and the other 45% comprised of other pale people, shade is important to me. None the less, we spent all afternoon up there, along with a big bottle of sunscreen. We had a couple of pizzas delivered for lunch and we capitalized on an opportunity to relax. After Loft 19, we headed back to the cabin to shower and relax for a few minutes before heading to dinner. We would be eating at Cucina del Capitano after a glance at the MDR menu didn’t provide us with much inspiration. Somehow, Shani was able to grab a reservation for 6PM through the Hub app earlier in the day. That functionality appeared to have vanished for the remainder of the cruise. By the time we arrived, the restaurant was already pretty much full. To our delight, we were seated in Aila’s section once again, without even requesting it. The team took care of us very well. Vijay came around and provided individual slices of bread for everyone. The days of the communal breadbasket appear to be over for now. The bread was served with a bacon-based garnish that was tasty. I started with a meatball while Shani enjoyed a Caprese salad. We shared an order of the arancini. The meatball was good, though it had Italian sausage in its make-up. I prefer a straight pork and veal combination. But it was tasty as well. The arancini was good. I ordered the Chicken Parmigiana while Shani ordered the Beef Short Rib. If you enjoy a side, they are ordered separately, something we missed upon our initial order. My chicken was ok. The accompanying marinara sauce was delicious, just not a lot of it. The chicken cutlet itself was not seasoned very much. At least not the first half that I ate. The second half of the cutlet had some crushed red pepper on top. It wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t expecting it on the first bite. I tried a bite of Shani’s short rib. It was delicious. Mental note taken. Chicken Parmigiana at Cucina del Capitano Braised Beef Short Rib which was delicious. For dessert, I ordered a lemon torte with blueberry ice cream while Shani ordered a ricotta fritter dish. The lemon was very tart, but it was balanced out by the blueberry ice cream. I liked the taste of the ricotta fritter. It tasted to me like a familiar Sonoran Mexican dessert, the sopapilla. Yum. Mental note taken. We all decided that we would be back to Cucina before the week was done. Dinner was a success. Lemon torte with blueberry ice cream. After dinner, the kiddo wanted to go back for another round of karaoke. We headed back to the Limelight Lounge for another night of being there for our kid. The lounge was busier this night and we all enjoyed ourselves. It’s a pretty neat experience to see the people’s reactions when our meek 14-year-old opens their mouth onstage. We had an early morning ahead of us. Tomorrow would find is in San Juan and an 8:45 shore excursion. Off to bed we went by 10:30. Next up: Castles, Iguanas, Baseball, and Rain.
  16. It was Kelvin 🙂 A very nice gentleman, but we were not in the market for such a large purchase. I totally get it, he's a salesman and that is his job. We live a pretty simple existence when it comes to the material things in life, choosing instead to focus our spending on experiences.
  17. Yes, the smirk communicates all of the sass that she's capable of unleashing without warning!
  18. Next up for the first Sea Day was the cabin crawl for a Facebook group that we had joined leading up to the cruise. This is the part of the story where you turn on the narrator. “What do you mean you didn’t take pictures?!” Hi, we didn’t take any pictures. The reasons are complex and I could try to convince you that I did it out of professional ethics because I didn’t receive waivers from the people I captured in my pictures. That would be a lie. The reason? I was so immersed in the experience that my hyper focus created tunnel vision and drained my neurological system of the juice necessary to fire up the capability to carry on with multiple lines of complex thought. Ok, that is also a lie. I forgot. (Please throw your complimentary rotten eggs at me now). I stand admonished. As soon as I invent my time machine, I’ll go back and fix it. Right after I travel to New Year’s Eve 1996, and break Ohio State University’s Quarterback Joe Germaine’s leg. Ok, both legs. Bonus points if you know why. We started the crawl with the premium offering, one of two Presidential Suites on the Mardi Gras. You probably don’t want to see the pictures anyway, you’ll not want to stay in it. It’s so large that it will seem cavernous and you won’t be comfortable. Ok, this is a lie as well. But, it’s awesome. I won’t bore you with details that you can find by simply searching on the Carnival website. The balcony is basically a 3rd, equally sized room in addition to the separate living room and bedroom inside. As we worked our way down the decks, we did visit almost every category of room, spare the inside cabins. If you have a question about any of the particular rooms, please just ask me. Hopefully it will be one of the ones I viewed. There were a couple of takeaways that I will share though. First, the front facing balconies are...um, windy. Yes, obviously. Second, while the cabins don’t necessarily feel smaller, the bathrooms do. It almost seems as Carnival took a step backwards from the Vista Class design. The bathrooms, while updated, reminded me of the Fantasy Class ships. Finally, with the exception of a suite we viewed at the front of the ship, the balcony doors are all sliders! No more slamming doors. Once we finished with the cabin crawl, we set out on a trek to secure my mother-in-law a snack. It was 3:00. Another dimension really. It’s kind of like the MLB All-Star Break phenomenon. The best professional sport all-pro exhibition game surrounded by days of no games from any of the 4 major US sports leagues. No fresh fruit could be found on a mega cruise ship. Lido was closed and Java Blue didn’t have any either. Of course in hindsight, we know we could have headed up to Serenity. However, the stress of making sure that I was not responsible for the death of a 74 year old diabetic because we didn’t give her food made us overlook that option. We ended up finding an appropriate snack at Java Blue. Shani got an empanada which was decent, made more so because it’s complimentary. I had a cup of coffee to bring down my blood pressure after the fun game of Don’t Kill Mom. We wrapped up the afternoon by visiting the various shops onboard. Shani picked up an Alex and Ani Hull Collection bangle. I tried to find a fragrance that I can wear when I go out. Then I realized that I don’t really go out. Wherever out is. We did stop by Effy, where my wife was presented with a $10,000 blue diamond ring. Well, she was presented with it. She kindly presented it back. Soon it would be time to head back to our cabins and begin getting ready for formal night. All six in our party would meet up at 6PM to head downstairs for some fancy photos before checking in for the Flamingo Dining Room. Pictures were finished and when we brought up the Hub app to check in, it showed a 45 minute wait. We checked in and decided to grab a seat in Brass Magnolia while we waited. I ordered another NOLA Iced Tea from Claudia. 45 minutes turned into 60 minutes. 60 minutes turned into 85 minutes. I turned into Hangry. I went to check in with the Flamingo host to see if they knew when our table would be available. Another couple arrived with me with the same question. I felt terrible for the host. There was nothing she could do. I went to turn back to the group, resigned to the fact that I would not return to the group the victor. It was then that she took me by the shoulder and said, “Six? Please come with me.” Our group of six and the other couple were escorted aft to the Palm Dining Room. It was just before the late seating dinner guests would arrive. We were led up stairs and sat next to each other and met by Orlen and his team. The sky parted and the sun unleashed its light upon us. I wonder how many people kept waiting and never asked how much longer it would be. My beautiful dates Lucky man. Our meal was decent and our new friends were extremely pleasant. I had the Mushroom Bisque to start and ordered the prime rib for my main course. The soup was delicious. The prime rib was passable as prime rib. The service by Orlen and his team was wonderful. Mushroom Bisque. Both MDR soups I had were very good this cruise! After dinner, we had just enough time to head back to the cabin to change out of our finer clothes and make it to the Mardi Gras Theater for the night’s production of Rock Revolution: Summer of 69. Since half of the passengers onboard were probably still waiting to get into the Flamingo Dining Room, there were still plenty of good seats in the theater. The show was really good. It was probably the most vocally gifted cast that we’ve ever encountered on a cruise. The songs were familiar to everyone and the cast’s execution showcased them very well. Plenty of seats remained do to the dining delays. We swung by the Piano Bar on our way out of the theater but it was filled with the exact same people that were in there the night prior. Though not confirmed, they may have actually camped out there the entire remainder of the week. Food was brought to them while Patrick spoon fed each one until 9PM rolled around again and he was forced to entertain them and do their bidding. Yes, that was just a 90 second train derailment thought while I was composing the next words I was to type out. I maintain it remains a possibility, it can’t be disproven. We passed on waiting around for an open spot and decided to round up our child and turn in for the night. Next up: Sea Day 2
  19. Day one was in the books. This would be a good time to mention a few things about our cabin. First, would be our room steward, Jonard. We loved him. There has been much ado about Carnival only offering once a day cabin cleaning. When we first met Jonard the day before, we first acknowledged the new policy and chose a morning cabin service. Since the child would be staying in the living room, we kindly asked if he could switch the bed back into the couch during the day, especially on the first sea day as we would be participating in a Facebook group cabin crawl. Absolutely! He did it for the duration of the cruise. He also ensured we always had ice and freshened our towels on the port days that required more than one shower per day. He did a wonderful job of anticipating our needs. He was always around as we were leaving the room, greeted us by name every time he saw us and always asked if there was anything he could do for us. Yet, for as accessible as he was, he was incredibly stealth. I’m pretty sure there was one time where we were out of the cabin for five minutes and when we returned to pick up something we had left behind, the cabin was in perfect condition. He was the best cabin steward we’ve had on a Carnival cruise. Jonard left a friend each morning. Shani and the kiddo also have a knack at finding cruise ducks. This is the 1st of 4. How YOU doin'? Another thing I want to mention was in relation to the comfort of the bed. We both prefer a softer bed and we were looking forward to the pillow top mattress advertised with the cabin. Well, we immediately became aware that the bed was on the firmer side. Adapt, improvise, overcome. On our way out to brunch the next morning, we asked Jonard if he could add an additional mattress topper. Problem solved. I’m guessing that the firmness was attributed to the fact that we were probably the first to sleep on the mattress (crew stayed in balcony cabins during their isolation period). Anyway, we slept fine every night throughout the remainder of the cruise. The final cabin related tidbit I wanted to share relates to Cabin 9504’s location directly above Guy’s Pig & Anchor. Specifically, directly above the stage at Guy’s Pig & Anchor on Deck 8. The band was really good, even though we never went to Guy’s to watch them. Please don’t mistake this as me complaining. I am certainly not and we were well aware of the cabin’s location in relation to Guy’s. That said, there was no mistaking that a loud, live band was directly below us. The music never went past midnight on any evening and it was nothing that our white noise machine couldn’t mask if we went to bed before the music ended. But I can see how some would be disappointed by the music every night. Always be aware of your room selection in relation to public venues. We slept in on the morning of our first sea day. I like sleeping in. In an existence with an infinite number of parallel universes, I can assure you that I’m a morning person in exactly zero of them. Preferably, after sleeping in, I want to follow it with bacon. Sea days are conducive to this pattern. The family got ready for the day and headed down to the Palm Dining Room for Sea Day Brunch. We checked in using the Hub app again and waited about a minute before being notified that our table was ready. Allegedly, this was the sunrise that greeted my mother-in-law on her balcony. I would have no idea. As with the Flamingo Dining Room the night before, the experience was a little disjointed. We completely expected this throughout the cruise and went in with appropriate expectations, another central tenet to our travel philosophy. I ordered an omelet and was immediately admonished that the omelet may take longer to prepare and would require a little bit of a wait. No problem. Shani ordered the Pancetta Scrambled while her mom ordered a bagel tower with salmon and cream cheese. My omelet and Shani’s scramble arrived shortly after, arriving together. Along with our food, a bagel and cream cheese was brought to the table. Our server, obviously a bit flustered, promised that the salmon and additional bagel would be arriving in just a moment. Well, Shani and I were pretty much done with our meal before the second bagel and salmon arrived. Again, a team doesn’t become cohesive until they experience a little game day action. Nobody left the table hungry. It would get better! Up Next: Cabin Crawl, Elegant Night and Rock Revolution!
  20. Thank you! I think it's all figured out and I'm eager to write my next post after work to include the pictures where I want them!
  21. The Tiki Mug Sail Away Fun The Flying Scotsman Sail Away Selfie! Patrick liked to raise a lot of toasts!
  22. Hanging out in Fortune Teller, Lime in the Coconut from Fortune Teller, Venus Rising from Fortune Teller, NOLA Iced Tea from Brass Magnolia, Ojen Cocktail from Brass Magnolia and Roasted Tomato Soup...
  • Create New...