Day 4: The Unexpected Sea Day
(Just pretend I didn't mention previously that we missed our first port-stop due to weather, okay? Thanks.
Since I had booked a cabana at Half Moon Cay, I was entitled to be among the first over to the island on the first tender, and so I had to get up super-early in the morning to be at the Victoria Lounge by 8:45, which was the designated time on my ticket. Looking out the balcony door -- wow, a balcony! -- we saw a nice island...shrouded in rain and clouds. "Oh, well, it should clear up, and besides, the cabana has a roof over it!"
My sister went back to sleep and I went down to the Victoria Lounge and joined a small group of people waiting with two Shore Excursions people.
"We're just waiting for the word by radio so we can start tendering; the weather should be clearing somewhat."
So we waited.
The crowd swelled larger as the people with 9:15 arrival times showed up. Still no word. Was the sky a bit brighter out the window? It was hard to tell. It was getting well past 9:30 now and I remembered that about one in five port-calls at Half Moon Cay are cancelled due to weather or waves. I'd found a few fellow members of our CruiseCritic roll call who had booked the horse-riding excursion and was hanging out with them. "If the voice on the PA is Karl-with-a-K, we're going over," I told them. "If it's the Captain, we're doomed."
The PA came on.
It was the Captain.
Our port-stop was doomed!
With tears in our eyes -- well, okay, not really -- we all trudged out of the Victoria Lounge. Back at the room, which was right over the Lounge's stage and really close, my sister had heard the announcement from the Captain (it was probably carried on the all-call, to every stateroom). "Oh, well, we're not going to Half Moon Cay," I said sadly. "But on the plus side, we've got a lot of onboard credit to blow!"
So I went down to the casino and lost it all.
Nahh, just kidding.
We watched in silence as the ship slowly pulled away from Half Moon Cay -- even through the rain, the beach looked nice, and I imagined I could see our cabana beckoning to us. We went down to one of the bars on the pool-deck and, as planned before the cruise, bought our Bottomless Bubbles soda passes, which all of sudden had become PRE-PAID soda passes. Later, we tried the burritos and tacos at the Blue Iguana Cantina and they were great! Another pleasant surprise from an alternative dining establishment, which on this cruise were proving to be better bets than the main dining room!
As the day went on the weather improved slowly and at some point they retracted the roof over the aft pool and hot-tubs, so I spent some time there and my sister did also. (One of her primary missions on this cruise was to work on her tan.) Later they closed the roof again and sure 'nuff, there were some showers in the area.
We explored the ship some, since we hadn't had much of a chance yesterday due to the whole stateroom flap. My sister had been along for the ride on my previous Carnival cruise, and we did a lot of comparing between Liberty
, our 'old' ship.
Thoughts on Carnival Liberty
1. The Serenity area and Camp Carnival forward are inaccessible by wheelchair; you must climb stairs. Seems kinda dumb.
2. The hot-tubs in Serenity close wayy too early, at 9pm. (On Imagination
, the hot-tubs closed at midnight, and one night they forgot to come by and I was relaxing in one until 2am!)
2a. The Serenity area on Fantasy class ships has a nicer location, one deck below the Lido buffet and right on the fantail in the back. Much less windy and a great view of the ship's wake curling off into the distance.
3. The aft pool and hot-tubs are a welcome chillin' spot when the main pool on Lido is being flayed by loud music and parties, which is almost always. They should keep them open later, though. 11pm is kinda early, especially for adult-only facilities.
4. Despite the ship's name, smokers don't have much 'liberty' onboard, since the Lido Deck is non-smoking.
5. There sure are a lot of bars onboard! (My sister can't drink for medical reasons and I very seldom imbibe. But see below.)
6. It seemed like there were a lot of under-utilized areas. There was a club on Promenade -- I've since identified it as the Hot'n'Cool night-club -- that was almost always empty. We saw it being used once for an art auction and one night there was a hip-hop dance party in there (IDs being checked at the door, too), but otherwise it always seemed to be empty. There wasn't an obvious sign for it and the red-colored windows looking in weren't too inviting, either.
7. Jardin's Cafe on Promenade had awesome cakes and pies. Even while my sister was sick from the lobster, she really wanted another slice of that glorious chocolate cake. $2.25 but worth it; you'd pay $7 for such a slice in the real world at an upscale diner.
8. I'm curious to know if the Serenity area was ever truly crowded. It never seemed to be when I walked up there.
9. Although there have been some complaints about the FunShip 2.0 upgrades taking away valuable Lido Deck space around the pool, I have to say I liked the 'terraces' going up from the pool level, all facing the screen.
10. I never really saw a problem with chair-hogging, either. Even if the immediate pool area was crowded, you could always find a deck-chair one deck above.
11. Did I say Promenade? I meant to say "Smokenade." (The smell of cigarette smoke from the casino wafts down the Promenade all the way to the Alchemy Bar....)
12. "Nothing says chillin' in the Bahamas and Caribbean like rap and hip-hop." --NOT.
13. Although every other bar onboard closes at 12:30, the bar by the aft pool near the 24-hour pizzeria doesn't close until 3:30am. (It is therefore the only place you can get so much as a soda after 12:30.)
14. And speaking of the pizzeria... No, wait, foodstuffs deserve another section on their own....
My sister and I aren't "foodies" by any stretch, but we DID eventually try most of the eateries onboard. Here's a rundown:
Already covered above. I really hope the Golden Olympian dining room was better than ours.
2. Emile's (Lido Buffet).
Actually better than I was expecting. On one night they had the same petite sirloins that were being served in the MDRs. We had a small breakfast in there on two mornings and it was adequate.
3. Mongolian Wok.
GREAT, but I'm a sucker for Mongolian stir-fry restaurants anyway.
4. Fish and Chips.
I kept reading about it but never knew where it was until the 4th cruise day, when I noticed the small sign directing you upstairs inside Emile's. For that matter, I hadn't noticed there was an upstairs, either.
I don't eat seafood but my sister does and she loved it! It supplanted the cantina in her pantheon of good eateries. Speaking of which.....
5. Blue Iguana Cantina.
The made-to-order burritos were wonderful; my sister said she loved their fish tacos also.
6. Guy's Burger Joint.
Not only great hamburgers but excellent fries as well...and the best part? Seldom a line since they sling the burgers out to you as fast as they can get them. They're also open until 6pm, unlike most of the alternative eateries like the Wok and the Cantina.
7. Jardin's Cafe.
Actually worth the slight upcharge ($2.25) for scrumptious slices of cake and pie. I wanted to try a shake but I always felt a little too full to put one away.
8. Pizza Pirate.
Don't know if Liberty
just happens to be better than other ships in Carnival's fleet, but despite dire reviews online I thought the pizza was great. Thin crust, fresh and flavorful, and the guys working there were pretty friendly, too. Open 24 hours and very welcome at 2am.
9. Good Eats.
This is on the starboard side in the aft pool area, across from Pizza Pirate which is on the port side. I think this station was only open as a late-night snacking option from c. 11pm-2am or so, but the hot dogs and ham'n'cheese sandwiches were pretty good and a welcome change-up from the pizza.
This is on the starboard side forward from Good Eats. I never actually tried it since there was a line whenever I walked by (not a huge line, but enough that I didn't want to bother). Food looked good, though, and online reviews are sharply positive.
At $35 we didn't opt to eat there but most reviews are favorable. It looked nice when I was in there during the Behind the Fun tour.
24-hour soft-serve ice-cream and frozen yogurt. There are two stations, one just aft of Guy's and the other in the aft pool area near Good Eats. Ice-cream was decent but after trying it, I liked the yogurt more.
13. Taste Bar.
We never saw any customers at the counter and I wasn't even sure what it was until after the cruise. I suspect not too many people did. Oh, well.
I think that's everything except room-service, which we only had once (just some breakfast pastries and coffee). That was fine, but I really wonder why they can't offer what the Main Dining Rooms have on their menu at the time.... Then again, judging from the level of service we had in the MDR, they might be afraid everyone would simply opt to 'eat in' and order room service!
Day 5: The "Real" First Sea Day
So, another "fun" day at sea, this time a planned one. I was beginning to see how a trans-ocean or repositioning cruise could drive someone stir-crazy with all the sea days...you really have to hope that your ship has a lot of things to keep you entertained!
fortunately my sister and I cruise largely for the relaxation and enjoyment, so we're pretty easy to please. We didn't really partake of any of the evening shows and we could hear the evening's entertainment in the Victoria Lounge anyway in our room...which was directly above the stage. Luckily the shows there were always over by 12:30am.
This was the day we had arranged for our Cruise Critic Roll Call's meet'n'greet, which started at 1:30 and ran until 3:30pm.
As mentioned earlier, it had grown so large that Carnival scheduled it for the Victoria Lounge, one of the bigger spaces for private meetings on the ship, which was awesome. (Really, $10/person/hour for an open-bar party is a remarkable deal.) I had paid for me, my sister and my mom to attend, but they were never on Cruise Critic or the Facebook group and they only stayed about 45 minutes before heading out to the aft pool area. I was a different story, trying to make the rounds and meet many of the people who I'd already 'met' online. Tina Hearn, the roll call member who had set up the party and collected all the funds via Paypal, had also made up colored nametags for everyone on the list, which was really cool!
As mentioned before I'm not much of a drinker, but before the end of the party I had put away three drinks: a midori sour and two strawberry daiquiris (note that you can't really taste the alcohol in them; I never really have liked the taste). By far the most I've ever had in a day! By way of comparison quite a few members of the roll call were taking full opportunity of the open bar, since drinks onboard normally start at $8 or so and work up from there. One fun group from Kentucky, including some 22-year olds, were pounding drinks down as fast as the servers could bring them!
All things must eventually come to an end and so did the party. I staggered up the one flight of stairs to our stateroom -- well, okay, not really; actually I wasn't feeling that tipsy -- and happily changed into 'pool casual' attire.
Since the main pool and hot-tub area on Lido was usually crowded and loud, my sister and I opted to use the aft pool, and so did my mom after she was able to consistently find it.
The weather had cleared and the roof was open, so we enjoyed a little sun-time, then it was time to get dressed for the first formal night. I hate dressing up but I figured, heck, we'd schlepped the garment-bag for all four of us down in the car for SOMETHING.....
All tricked out, with me in three-piece suit (with black leather vest), we went down to the Silver Olympian for dinner. Once again it lived up
to its 'second place finish' reputation although the service had improved a bit from the first night. (This was, however, the night when the drink-server lady argued with poor Thin from Vietnam after she ignored him on her first 'pass.')
After, we relaxed on our balcony and my sister and mom went down to the casino for a bit, too.
My mom went to the comedy show that night (or it might have been the night before) but said the comedian was pretty poor.
FYI, she said the quality and show-offerings at night were sub-par on this sailing: there was one night when there wasn't any big show at all, and the last night, with "Carnival Legends," really didn't count either (she said) since it's just the winning passengers from previous competitions performing.
Day 6: St. Thomas, USVI
Finally! We've sighted land! Land ho on the port beam!
For some crazy reason I was actually awake when we steamed into the harbor at Charlotte Amalie two hours early at 8am, and I took some photos. It really looked gorgeous! (Having a 'bonus' balcony to watch from didn't hurt the experience either!)
My original plan had been to go to Sapphire Beach and just enjoy a beach-day, but as I mentioned earlier, I decided to book the snuba excursion at Coral World through Carnival since, at $70, it was a lot cheaper than I'd ever seen it as a cruise excursion -- usually it's $100 and that's how much the snuba excursion at Grand Turk cost on the same sailing. I'm an avid snorkeler despite my hefty size and regularly free-dive down to around fifteen feet all summer at 'my' swimming hole (http://bluehole.paulcashman.com
) up in Tennessee, so I figured "snorkeling but with an air-hose connected to a tank on a floating raft? Sign me up!" I'd wanted to try it as far back as my first cruise in 2010, and dangit, I wasn't about to let this chance pass me by!
The excursion didn't meet up until 12:15pm and the ship had arrived at 8am, so after a small breakfast in the Lido buffet my mom and my sister went out exploring St. Thomas while I relaxed and waited on the ship...which rapidly emptied. I got a lot of pics of the ship since I had time to kill, and they also had a crew-only lifeboat and abandon-ship drill for the fifty or so people, including me, who were left on the ship. It's not often that you get to hear the captain say over the PA "This message is for crew only and is part of the drill. As Master of the vessel, I am hereby ordering all hands to abandon ship."
I really wish I had been video recording at the time!
Eventually it was time to meet downstairs for the excursion. THIS time (unlike when I snorkeled at the wonderful CocoCay) I remembered to bring my underwater camera, but I left my snorkeling gear in the cabin since they provided the necessary gear and I wasn't sure if there'd be a place to secure our belongings. (Big mistake, as we shall see.) After exchanging my snuba ticket for a blue wristband it was off to a handy gazebo by the pier to wait, then aboard an open-air 16- or 20-passenger transport for the hair-raising ride over to Coral World. (They could almost charge admission for it: curvy, hilly roads and then glorious views of the harbors that, oddly, none of us were able to capture successfully on camera.)
St. Thomas is odd. The vehicles have left-hand drive (steering wheel is on the left, just as it is in the U.S.), but traffic flows on the left side of the road, like in the UK. There are McDonalds. There are Pizza Huts. There's a Hooters. There's even a K-Mart, which is weird because almost all of them here in Atlanta have closed down.
There's also a lot of poverty, and at times during the ride over I remember thinking it was a good thing the open truck we were riding in didn't break down....
Snuba Excursion at Coral World
Once we arrived at our destination we were led into Coral World itself. Just to our left was Coki Beach, one of St. Thomas' three biggest beaches (Magens Bay and Sapphire are the other two). We were split into two groups, one with 5 and one with 6, and I was selected for the group that was to go snuba'ing first; then after about an hour and a half, the second group would go. When we weren't doing the excursion we were free to explore Coral World (which costs $19 for a regular adult admission on its own) OR walk over to Coki Beach, and I realized then that I should have brought my own snorkeling gear!
But first, our group was to go snuba'ing. (I'm making up words and verb forms as I go, here.)
After an orientation and safety briefing by Glenn, our guide, and completing the usual and customary waiver forms we were fitted with harnesses that had our regulators attached and we picked out our fins and masks. (No snorkels.) We trooped down to the big white 'seadome' where Coral World conducts its scuba, snuba and helmet dive tours and Glenn gave us all weight belts (he had to find a larger size for me. *sigh* )
Then we went down to the metal 'launch' platform and got into the water. Not too cold, not that warm either...just about right. It was windy and there were some waves, so we had to be careful. Glenn plugged my hose up to the supply line from the floating raft and I was the first to slip underwater and breathe through the regulator! Cool! I'd done it before, buddy-breathing with friends who were scuba diving, but it was the first time for me in about eight years.
After everyone had had a chance to become acclimated to the water and breathing under it, we were off! Glenn led us away from the platform and for a little while, WE were the underwater entertainment for a nearby group of tourists who were doing the helmet dive! (We should have gotten some money back for being part of their show!) At first I had some trouble controlling my buoyancy -- I probably should have asked Glenn for one more weight for my belt -- but after a while I was able to reach neutral or negative buoyancy by expelling most of my air. The other problem I encountered was that my fins kept slipping off, and I had to retighten them a couple of times. NEXT time, I vowed, I'll bring my own!
We were underwater for about 45 minutes, as advertised, and we saw a lot of fish; at one point Glenn got some food out and fed them and there was quite a rush! I got a few pics and several videos with my underwater camera, which was rated down to 12 feet but survived on THIS day down to 20 feet (whew).
Eventually Glenn led us back to the metal start/stop platform and, with regret, we got out of the water, took off our gear and tried to get our ears working correctly again! We also tipped Glenn for his services, as he was a good guide.
Back at Coral World itself we were free to wander and see the exhibits or go over to Coki Beach while the second group from the ship did their snuba. I wish I'd brought my snorkeling stuff so I could have enjoyed the beach, but Coral World itself is pretty nifty. I was able to watch a pair of giant sea-turtles being fed and even got to feed them myself, I walked through their mini coral reef aquarium, picked up a starfish at their display, and other things. All while watching our feet to avoid stepping on a veritable army of iguanas that basically loiter around the grounds, fifteen or more. They're accustomed to humans, but not 'tame.'
After an hour or so the other group finished their excursion with Glenn and we all hopped back on the same vehicle for the ride back to the pier, which was again pretty hair-raising. Once back at the pier I'd been considering trying to ride up to Paradise Point for some nice views of the harbor, but I decided there wasn't quite enough time to do it before sailing.
Back on board we met up for another lackluster meal in the MDR, but it was nice to be able to watch our departure from Charlotte Amalie through the aft windows. We were all pretty worn out and the following day would bring an early port-call, so I think we all retired a bit early.
To be continued with San Juan PR, Grand Turk T&C, and the Behind the Fun tour!