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SonoranDevil's Mardi Gras Pre-Inaugural Sailing Full Review with Pictures! -7/31/21


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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.

 

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Jonard left a friend each morning.  Shani and the kiddo also have a knack at finding cruise ducks.  This is the 1st of 4.

 

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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.

 

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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!

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1 hour ago, #55worktoplay said:

Pictures are now appearing and very nice. 
 

Your daughter is so cute.   Feel free to share a video of your future Rock star singing 😀

 

She's 14, cute isn't always the first adjective that comes to mind but we love her.  She'd kill me if she knew I'd shared but here is a link to her singing Karaoke onboard.  Hopefully this works.

 

 

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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.  

 

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My beautiful dates

 

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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.  

 

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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.  

 

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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
 

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1 hour ago, ShaniBell said:

 

She's 14, cute isn't always the first adjective that comes to mind but we love her.  She'd kill me if she knew I'd shared but here is a link to her singing Karaoke onboard.  Hopefully this works.

 

 

Wow that was great. She has all the moves and did great. Thanks for sharing.   I can’t believe she is 14

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6 hours ago, SonoranDevil said:

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.  

 

4710.thumb.jpeg.d03db995921687deeacb1bc7f1e8482f.jpeg

My beautiful dates

 

4714.thumb.jpeg.c68937cca9c9273d9180b248070aa0f3.jpeg

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.  

 

20210801_204450.thumb.jpg.0bf5159d9689d4d9ab203805e01d4264.jpg

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.  

 

20210801_221954.thumb.jpg.63b2b87af41b91e2d82841e3d41ea1e6.jpg

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
 

Love the half smile, half smirk on your daughter in the formal picture of the three of you.  I would expect nothing less from a young lady who has great pipes belting out Jefferson Airplane and the embodiment of Grace Slick.

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6 hours ago, SNJCruisers said:

Love the half smile, half smirk on your daughter in the formal picture of the three of you.  I would expect nothing less from a young lady who has great pipes belting out Jefferson Airplane and the embodiment of Grace Slick.

Yes, the smirk communicates all of the sass that she's capable of unleashing without warning!

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15 hours ago, SonoranDevil said:

...

We wrapped up the afternoon by visiting the various shops onboarWe 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.  

 

...

 

 I wonder if that was Kelvin you were dealing with. We were in there a couple days ago. He has a well rehearsed pitch. We were also shown a $10k ring - he stated that THIS was the ring people get after they have all the diamonds and such (like it was only for people of means - gimme a break!). And about how we were lucky that they sent three rings of this size to this ship - and that he'd never come across such large stones (large blue center stone: paraiba tourmaline). It went on and on for several minutes... even taking us outside to look at the stone under natural light. I told him it looked better under their jewelry store lights!

 

Strong PASS !

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2 minutes ago, Tom-n-Cheryl said:

 I wonder if that was Kelvin you were dealing with. We were in there a couple days ago. He has a well rehearsed pitch. We were also shown a $10k ring - he stated that THIS was the ring people get after they have all the diamonds and such (like it was only for people of means - gimme a break!). And about how we were lucky that they sent three rings of this size to this ship - and that he'd never come across such large stones (large blue center stone: paraiba tourmaline). It went on and on for several minutes... even taking us outside to look at the stone under natural light. I told him it looked better under their jewelry store lights!

 

Strong PASS !

Even if i had means I would pass too

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10 minutes ago, Tom-n-Cheryl said:

 I wonder if that was Kelvin you were dealing with. We were in there a couple days ago. He has a well rehearsed pitch. We were also shown a $10k ring - he stated that THIS was the ring people get after they have all the diamonds and such (like it was only for people of means - gimme a break!). And about how we were lucky that they sent three rings of this size to this ship - and that he'd never come across such large stones (large blue center stone: paraiba tourmaline). It went on and on for several minutes... even taking us outside to look at the stone under natural light. I told him it looked better under their jewelry store lights!

 

Strong PASS !

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.  

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On 8/9/2021 at 9:10 PM, SonoranDevil said:

 

 

Karaoke conveniently ended at 9PM, just in time for the child to head to the Circle C ice breaker event.  The adults decided to make our way to the Piano Bar for some sing along fun.  The piano man for this cruise was Patrick Duffy.  Admit it, one of you started humming the theme song to the TV show Dallas.  Well, it’s not THAT Patrick Duffy.  Patrick appears to be a force of nature and it was clear that he had some of his die hard fans that were on this sailing.  The Piano Bar was always full.  We made it in twice, but every night was full to the brim.  There was some feedback we heard about the bar always being too crowded and that the venue was too small. I would venture to guess that if Patrick didn’t have his die hard followers so well represented, that there may have been a little more room in the room throughout the week.  

 

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Patrick likes to make many toasts in the Piano Bar

 

 

Patrick is my fav of all piano players.  Has an FB page too.  Piano Bar is a fun spot when he's on board.

 

Now I see pictures..

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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.

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Loft 19 was well appointed, minus shade.

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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.

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Chicken Parmigiana at Cucina del Capitano

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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.

 

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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.

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22 hours ago, SonoranDevil said:

Yes, the smirk communicates all of the sass that she's capable of unleashing without warning!

Having raised two daughters (both in their 20's now), I am very familiar with the smirk and VERY familiar with the sass.  Good luck!! 😉

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5 hours ago, Terab85 said:

Having raised two daughters (both in their 20's now), I am very familiar with the smirk and VERY familiar with the sass.  Good luck!! 😉

There has been nothing experienced in my life that has prepared me for the challenge associated with raising a teenage daughter.

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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.

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Looking up to the highest point of Castillo de San Cristobal from the central courtyard.

 

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A mock up of what the barracks would have appeared like during Spanish occupation.  

 

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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.

 

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The Mardi Gras as observed from atop Castillo de San Cristobal

 

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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

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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.  

 

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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.  

 

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Cemetery view from El Morro.

 

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El Morro would protect the port of San Juan for over 300 years before falling in the Spanish-American War.

 

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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. 

 

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Camino de la Fortaleza in Old Town San Juan.

 

 

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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.  

 

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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.  

 

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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.
 

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