I booked a flight leaving Indianapolis at 2:50 PM on December 17th. I had a lot of papers to grade from an exam the night before, so I was pretty grateful for the late flight. I took AirTran from Indy to Miami with a stop-over in Atlanta, where I met up with my girlfriend (who arrived in Atlanta from Philadelphia). I've never flown AirTran before, and now I know not to get a window seat, as the space underneath the seat in front of you is much smaller in that position. I usually keep my backpack (with laptop, etc) and camera bag under my seat, and just my pack would hardly fit.
Upon arriving in Miami, we proceded to take a cab to the Radisson Downtown Miami, which I had paid $65 after taxes for on Priceline (bid $50). The cab ended up costing about $22 before tip. The hotel itself seemed decent, and I was given the option for a king-sized, non-smoking bed upon check-in. The room was a bit musty, however, and the A/C was barely putting out any cold air. My g/f and I were exhausted, however, and decided that it was good enough for the price we paid. We grabbed dinner across the street at Burger King (which had two armed guards at night, by the way), and ate in our room.
Day 1: Emarkation
After getting up and once again heading to the Burger King for food, my g/f and I watched TV and played games a bit until we couldn't take waiting any longer (about 10:45ish). We checked out and grabbed a cab to the port ($11). The traffic around the terminal was hectic, but the cabbie let us off right in front of the luggage collection area, and the worker there got $1 a bag for moving them about 5 feet into their proper bin. We then made our way to the terminal itself, walked inside, and found a decently long line that went down a long hallway, came back, then zig-zagged a bit up to a desk that had about 6 employees checking passengers in. We were also handed Bahamas customs forms to fill out by a Carnival rep, so we had something to occupy us for at least a few minutes while waiting in line. The line didn't exactly move fast, but it did move, and most people seemed OK and anxious to get on the ship.
After about an hour in this line, we made it to the front and checked in. I received my gold S&S card (5th Carnival cruise), while my g/f received a blue and red card (1st cruise ever). We then made our way though the metal detector, where I managed to drop our S&S cards and didn't notice they were missing until walking through the metal detector and being called back by the security guard. Once through security, with our S&S cards now safely in our pockets, we weren't sure where to go and followed a few people being led by Carnival agents through some cattle chutes in what I would call the "main" check-in room ... ie, the room with 30 stations lined up at the front. The woman in front of us was pitching a fit about the line with a GD here and and SOB there ... etc. I just rolled my eyes and continued forward. I turned out that this was the start of the "new" line to check in, so once they noticed that we already had our S&S cards, the Carnival agents had us step under the ropes and cross through the check-in stations and continue through the terminal. As we got ont he escalator up to the second floor, some people in line below us, evidently from the previous cruise, shouted up at us to "enjoy our 3 hour wait to get off the ship on Christmas!" Unfazed, we continued through the lines to get our photos taken for both security and souvenirs, and come 1:00, we were on the ship.
Once on board, we got on the mid-ship elevators and proceded directly to the Lido deck, where awaited both food and our room. Even though it was after 1, the room was still not ready, so we headed out to explore the deck and take pictures. We grabbed some lunch in Rosie's, made a few phone calls to relatives telling them we were on board, and then headed on back to the room, which was finally ready. We had room 9262, a Lido balcony room that was just a few doors beyond the elevator lobby. The room was spacious and the balcony (my first) was nice. I immediately called Scarlett's to make a reservation for the last night of the cruise (Christmas Eve), and from the sound of it, that night was filling up pretty fast. We dropped our bags, grabbed our cameras, and I gave my g/f a tour of the ship as I knew the layout very well from my last two voyages on the Glory. When we got back to the room and began to unpack, I noticed that the safe was locked shut. I called the purser's desk, and they told me that they would notify the room steward. A knock on the door a few minutes later was the steward, but he was just there to introduce himself to me and unlock the mini-bar. I informed him about the safe and he told me that he would take care of it. Let me just say that that safe was never unlocked the entire trip, one of my few complaints, and leave it at that. The ordeal with the safe and talk with the steward occupied me from 3:00-3:30 (sorry about missing the meeting, roll-call folks), and then we decided to unpack before the boat drill.
Ah, the boat drill. We all know it is necessary, even if we really don't believe that we will ever need it. However, no cruise would be complete without donning a life jacket and standing on a hot crowded deck. Thankfully, almost all of the people in my muster station had the good sense to refrain (or have their kids refrain) from blowing on the attached whistle, so that annoyance was kept to a minimum. One person fainted on deck (I think ... I refused to try to climb over people to see whatever happened) and a medical crew rushed in a few minutes later. The silliest part of the ordeal, however, came after the CD (Rebecca) made her 15 minute long safety spiel. Just when everyone though that the drill was done, the Spanish version started and was met with loud groans, then even louder conversation. Now, I know that Spanish may be the primary language of many passengers aboard (especially out of Miami), but it seemed pretty worthless considering amount of noise made by the other passengers. The boat-drill ended with the much dreaded (on this board, anyway) CD Rebecca's dismissal and WOOHOO! (the only one I noticed, BTW).
When the boat drill finally finished, we dropped off our life jackets and headed out to the deck for sail-away. I bought my first (and only) drink of the day (the Funship, of course), and the passengers cheered as we manuvered into the channel and passed the Victory, which was docked in front of us. Once out to see, it was more relaxation/unpacking/exploring time until our 8 PM dinner in the Washington Dining Room. For better or worse, my g/f and I were given a table for two on the second story of the dining room in between two large tables of ten. Our waiter and assistant seemed very nice and were even gracious when they plucked the lit cigarette of a fellow diner out of her hands when she lit up during dinner. Shorts, flip-flops, and ball-caps were abundant in the dining room the first night, but I know some people had yet to get their luggage, so whatever.
The Welcome Aboard show for late diners was at 10:30 and featured some dansing and the comedy of Marcus Macey, who I had seen before on at least one previous cruise (and I think more). It was time for bed by 12:00, with the next day being a short call to Nassau, Bahamas.
--To be continued--
Chris's guide for budget travel - Made for conferences (may make a cruise version some time) but airline, shuttle, Priceline, and Hotwire tips should remain the same
Cruise Albums on Flickr