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cyrus360

Inspiration review 10-17-04. Long with lots of pics!

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Inspiration Review 10-17-04

 

My girlfriend came up with the idea of a cruise for vacation this year. We are both 30 years old and never cruised before.

 

We booked the cruise, flight, hotel and excursions all ourselves. We went through Yahoo travel for the cruise and flight, Priceline.com for the hotel and the excursions were all done online. I will list the sites later.

 

We decided to play it safe and fly down a day ahead of time. We left Seattle at some ungodly early hour, and arrived in Tampa around 6:30pm. The weather was perfect. It was very balmy, sunny, and bright around 85F and not a cloud in the sky. This boded well since the weather sites we checked had predicted thundershowers and heavy clouds all week we were to travel. So far, so good I was thinking.

 

We grabbed a cab from the airport; it was $20 to the hotel. We stayed at a 2-star Residence Inn Marriott. It was better than we expected. Check out a link here http://www.google.com/local?hl=en&lr=&q=residence+inn+marriott&near=Tampa,+FL&oi=locald&radius=0.0&latlng=27947222,-82458611,14430026551461409230

 

The hotel room and all the amenities were great. We had a queen size bed, couch, full kitchen and a small balcony overlooking the basketball court, pool and hot tubs. It was very clean, the staff was very helpful and I would highly recommend them. I believe we got the room for $55 with all taxes included. Check out the pics.

 

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We have a family member who runs a company in Tampa and he wanted to take us out to dinner. Since the restaurant I wanted to eat at was too busy and didn’t have any reservations until very late, I asked the front desk to recommend a spot. They recommended Columbia restaurant. Check them out here http://www.columbiarestaurant.com/ybor.asp It was located in Ybor city, which has a lot of character and flavor. Along the main strip there was something for everyone. From bikers, to punk rockers, to young clubhoppers to the older crowd with jazz bars and cigar shops and upscale eateries and shops.

 

I cannot recommend Columbia enough. The food was great. Actually, it was the best meal we ate the entire vacation. I had some steak and crab cake combo ala Spanish style, our uncle had the filet mignon and my girlfriend had some shredded pork and rice dish. All 3 were excellent as was the shrimp cocktail appetizer. This place is HUGE and offers dinner and shows, along with a nice bar and cigar/gift shop. They had live bands, flamenco dancing and everything. Lots of atmosphere and plenty of great food to go around. Next time, I am ordering the seafood Paella for sure. The table next to us ordered it and it looked SOOO good.

 

We went back to the hotel and decided to relax in the pools. They were heavily chlorinated so our eyes stung but our muscles turned to jelly so it was well worth it. We had the whole place to ourselves. After an hour or so, we went upstairs to bed.

 

We got up, got all our stuff together and arranged for a free shuttle to the pier with the deksperson. While we waited for it to arrive, we partook in the complimentary breakfast of eggs, oatmeal, waffles, bagels, toast, muffins, cereals, danish, fruits, coffee, milk and juice. Then it was off to the pier we went!

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Embarkation:

 

It wasn’t bad at all. Found a porter, tipped him a 2-spot for our 2 medium bags, and we packed along one carry-on each. We showed our ID at the front door, waited in line a bit, hit security and were through in a flash. The line to get your Sail and Sign cards was a bit longer but moved swiftly. We got ours, the rep was very friendly too. We waited for our group number to be called, got our card pics, got the prerequisite embarkation photo and got onboard. The room had A/C and was comfortable and had vending machines for refreshments.

 

Here’s the view from around the ship whilst it was still docked.

 

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They told us not to go to our cabin until after 1:30pm, so we headed up to the brasserie/lido area for some grub. We snagged a couple of drinks of the day along the way too. They didn’t last long. The food was ok, nothing stood out except the fresh herb bread. That was yummy.

 

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We did the muster drill which was boring but necessary.

 

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The Cabin:

 

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After that we headed down to the cabin. We were on the Riviera deck in R25 which is forward. It was nicer than I expected. Our luggage wasn’t there yet and didn’t get there until around 6pm or so. No biggie there. I think next time I would prefer to be on a deck higher up. Simply because the elevator system seems to suck, and there are so many ignorant/stupid/clueless people on board who couldn’t understand how they worked. So what you had was you stopped at every floor, half the time there was no one there because the elevators take forever so people leave, or people can’t understand how to tell if the elevator is headed up or down, and hop in then freak out when it’s going in the wrong direction. So we did a LOT of stair walking. Also a window would be nice just to know what time of day it was. It made me tired since it always seemed like nighttime out hehe.

 

Ship Condition:

 

Having never been on a cruise before I can’t compare to anything else really. It seem in good shape. Kind of a gaudy color scheme in some parts, but I am no interior designer so whether it works or not is in the eye of the beholder. The main things I saw that looked pretty hammered were the inside of the elevators. Tons of graffiti scratched into them on the walls and the doors especially. Also similar markings in the bathrooms too. The slot machine reels looked a little worse for wear being taped together in some instances. Very minor things, but the elevators were a surprise. The ship seemed pretty good otherwise and people always seemed to be cleaning it nonstop. The only other area I thought could’ve been cleaned better were the glass areas above the booths in the dining rooms. They were orange in color and you could see they only cleaned the center and the edges were pretty dirty. They were never cleaned fully, the whole time. It was the same every night. It looked like how windows get in the winter when frost forms around the outer edge leaving a small clear circle to look through, except the frost was grime and dirt in this case. Overall, it was in good shape for how much people use and abuse it.

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Post Embarkation:

 

We took a spa tour. It wasn’t fun at all. I’ve never seen such hyped up services, all of which are available at most of the nicer spas I’ve seen on land but the ship charges about double the land spa prices. It was the hard sell the whole way through.

 

The tour ended in the gym where they were offering a 2 for 1 deal on their relaxation chamber/pod for $45. The woman and I decided to give it a whirl. We signed up for two 25 minute sessions. Supposedly 25 minutes in that contraption was equal to getting 3 hours of deep sleep. We were both pretty beat and figured it was worth a try. You sit inside this thing, with just your head poking out a bit like a turtle. They cover your eyes, fire up the machine which vibrates all the way through and coats you with hot air and aroma-therapy smells, they also put headphones on and play relaxing music. It was ok. It didn’t feel like I had gotten 3 hours of deep sleep but it did relax me a bit, and served to make me that much more tired. Not too bad, and it was fun to try something new.

 

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After that we headed to the cabin to get changed for dinner. We made our way up to the Mardi Gras dining room for our late seating appointment. I wouldn’t recommend getting there early since they never let you in early, and the line flows quickly once the room is open for business.

 

It turned out we were the only ones at the table that evening. We sat down and waited for our wait staff. After 5 minutes a waiter came to the table and was visibly annoyed that the others hadn’t shown up yet. Neither him nor the assistant waitress introduced themselves, when I tried to introduce ourselves, all he said was we had to wait a bit to see if the others would show in a very perturbed voice. So 10 mins go by and still we are alone. He comes back, throws some menus at us and mumbles about hurrying to order since we are now behind schedule since we had to wait to see if the others would show.

 

We browsed the menu for a bit, then our assistant waitress poured us some water. She seemed out of it and not very friendly as well. The water was way too chlorinated for me so I asked for some iced tea which was pretty strong and very refreshing. The waiter had no recommendations or any real personality for that matter, so I ordered 2 starters and 2 entrees. The woman played it a bit more conservatively and did 1 starter, 1 salad and 1 entrée. While we waited the assistant brought us bread sporadically. It was good. The tomato/herb types of bread seemed to be the best to us.

 

The food itself was good. The portions were small for a big boy like me so I was glad to get 2 of each. I can’t even remember what it was but I will tell you at this point, what I thought the best eats were. A lot of people raved about the pumpkin soup, we both found it to be just ok and not very pumpkin tasting. The mushroom soup was super delicious though. We didn’t like the cold soups much at all. The strawberry was the only one I liked a bit. The main courses weren’t too shabby. The lobster tail and filet mignon was always pretty good, the prime rib was good but some pieces were like 50% fat so it’s wise to order 2 of those. Let’s see, hmmm, the chicken alfredo was good, as was the seafood sampler with newburg sauce. The fish filet dishes were hit and miss, I had 2 of them and both were tasty. Dessert-wise my two favs were the chocolate mousse soufflé and the hazelnut crème brulee. I was sad that when I ordered 2 of the chocolate mousse soufflés I was only given one and then the waiter disappeared. That was truly a sad day indeed. ;)

 

The dining experience as a whole was just average for us. Our 2 of our tablemates showed up sporadically. They were a nice honeymooning couple from the Florida area. The wife was a heavy drinker and couldn’t remember coming to dinner on some occasions. She was a tad odd and obnoxious when plastered. She was impaired enough to the point she couldn’t even pull open a dinner roll. Yikes! I felt bad for her man because he didn’t drink or smoke, so apparently she made up for it for the both of them. Our other 2 tablemates never showed at all. If they had, they would’ve been sorry since they would’ve been sitting closest to the table next to us, which contained the most obnoxious group of adults and their children I have seen in some time. Their waiter and assistant were constantly asking them to keep it down, constantly trying to contain their kids from running rampant in the dining room. One kid we called Butter Boy because he was literally eating the packets of butter like they were going out of style. The parents did zero to make their kids behave. Screaming, throwing food, standing on tables and chairs was apparently the norm for this rowdy group. Sometimes it was impossible to even hear what the person next to you was saying, nevermind the person across the table, so we were repeating ourselves a lot or trying to outshout the folks next to us. Thankfully they didn’t bring their kids to dinner every night. They also got all their meal courses brought way ahead of the rest of the diners, it looked like the best way to get them out of the room as early as possible.

 

I would say I was a tad disappointed in our wait staff. The second night of dining, which was the formal night, the attitude continued a bit. It seemed like they had somewhere else to be and didn’t want to be helping us. They finally introduced themselves and asked us our names though. I was wondering if they would even bother. We got to see the wait staff for the rowdy group next to us in action and they were on the ball. They both introduced themselves the first night, they were very friendly and sociable, making small talk, food recommendations and just seemed very energetic and really enjoying their job. So it kind of made the lackluster performance of our staff stand out even more. By the third night though, they seemed to start warming up and getting in the swing of things. Our head waiter was Petar from Croatia and his assistant was Diana from Bulgaria. We ended up tipping them an additional $10 each on top of the minimums. It would’ve been more but first impressions mean a lot to me.

 

Here they are along with our tablemates dancing.

 

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After dinner we explored the upper decks and checked out the stars. It was very dark and very relaxing out there. After the late night stroll it was back to the cabin to rest up for our first fun day at sea.

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After dinner we explored the upper decks and checked out the stars. It was very dark and very relaxing out there. After the late night stroll it was back to the cabin to rest up for our first fun day at sea.

 

 

Fun Day at Sea:

 

Saturday was our first of 2 fun days at sea. It was ok. The decks were pretty crowded, more so than I was expecting really. The pools were smaller than I had pictured and were brimming with crazy kids and adults who were getting their buzz on. Not our cup of tea so we skipped it, and found a clear spot on the upper decks and caught some rays.

 

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Lunch was ok again, just your standard buffet style mass produced food. We walked around the ship a bit more, and relaxed in the cabin a bit.

 

Tonight was the first formal night so we got all gussied up. Most of the folks there followed the attire requirements as far as I could tell. No jeans, shorts or t-shirts. A lot wore sneakers with their outfits, and it looked odd to me, but I am no fashion guru so who am I to judge?

 

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Dinner was good, and our 2 of our tablemates finally showed up. The rowdy crowd didn’t bring their kids so it was a bit quieter, but not much.

 

After dinner we tried to catch the late night show. It was a Vegas style production of some sort. We had crappy seats so it was tough to enjoy it, plus it wasn’t our type of entertainment so we struggled to stay awake through it. They had a comedian who was ok, but he had a lot of predictable material and was obviously playing it cool since it wasn’t the adults only show. We were going to try and stay for it but we were pooped. So we headed to the cabin for some much needed sleep. We had our first port of call the next day in Progresso, Mexico. We had originally been slated to visit Grand Cayman but the slew of hurricanes put an end to that. I must say I was very disappointed that Carnival did not post the itinerary changes on their general website and add to the fact the itinerary we saw when we logged into our personal accounts was still the same, but when we called they told us for sure that our itinerary had changed for the ports visited and the times and dates of some ports also changed. I asked her why it wasn’t on the Itinerary Changes portion of the site as well as my personal itinerary when logging in and she had no clue. They didn’t end up changing it until a few days before we were supposed to leave. We talked to quite a few folks on the ship that had no clue about the changes until they got onboard. I figured Carnival would at least post the changes on their main site, like that had for several other cruises departing around that time, but not so.

 

 

Progresso, Mexico:

 

 

Since we had such short notice through Carnival about the itinerary change we didn’t book any 3rd party excursions at this port. We decided to just do our own thing and make a day of it.

 

We arrived pretty early in the morning. There was no tender required for this port.

 

The pier there is impressive and supposedly one of the longest in the world at 6 miles in length or so. I would believe it too.

 

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Once off the ship you make your way down and you come to a mini-mall with shops and a open air bar. Most everything but the bar was closed since we got in at 7:30am or so and they were an hour behind us.

 

We waited for the shuttle to the main part of town. It was a long wait. Apparently Carnival had the Elation set to visit the port as well but the tours were only set up for one ship at a time or something so they were scrambling and the tours were all overpacked it seemed. Of course, those who booked tours with Carnival got to get on their tour busses after a short wait but the damn shuttles for the non-tour folk were taking forever. Once they did arrive we had to wait for them to fill up. They refused to leave if there were any seats and since most folks were so impatient they started jumping out to get single cabs to town. Which meant more empty seats and more waiting. Finally everyone got pissed off and started yelling at the driver and he decided to start heading to town. Mind you it’s well over an hour that we’ve been off the ship and waiting. Of course, we had to wait some more because someone refused to use the bathroom on the bus and had to run out to the mall area for a good 15 more minutes.

 

Once we arrive it town, the shuttle operator gave a brief talk of the tours he offered, which were the same ones Carnival booked through, but at a 3rd of the price when getting them direct. They had ruins tours, tours to Merida the main city, and some snorkeling tours too I believe.

 

We stepped off the bus into a flea market and decided to browse a bit to see if anything caught our eyes. Most of the merchants were pretty pushy of course and everything was “almost free”. We didn’t buy anything since it was still early and figured the best bargaining was done before everyone was about to leave.

 

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So we walked to the beach about 3 blocks away. All the beachfront stores were closed still so we walked quite a ways up along the beach. It was pretty clean and the water was pleasant. It was an odd green color and not that tropical blue or green you see in photos. The water wasn’t dirty but had a bit of a current so it was cloudy and gave the appearance of being dirty.

 

We made our way back down checking out the stores this time, searching for someplace with a bathroom to be open and get a drink. We found one after about 20 mins. We used the facilities which were odd because I’ve never flushed a urinal with a foot pedal on the floor before.  We sat down for some cokes and chips with salsa. After a bit more and more people were showing up on shore and staking a claim to the many beach chairs provided by all the various establishments. We decided to do the same.

 

We found a spot near where we had planned to eat lunch at La Saint Bonne I believe it was called. The weather was clear, hot and very, very humid so trips to the sea to cool off were necessary. We ordered up a couple of tart and tasty banana daiquiris and lounged. The constant barrage of vendors hawking their wares was slightly obtrusive but I just sat there laying back, eyes closed ignoring their offers of hair braiding, “Cuban” cigars, bird whistles and various coral accessories.

 

They had some jet skis for rental right near us so we headed over there since I was itching to try it out. They wanted $35 for a half hour and $70 for an hour. You could however bargain with them and get a lower price for the same time or a longer time for the same price. I got him to $30 for ½ hour. However, they ran into repair issues and the ones that were in working order were going to be being used for another 45 minutes, so we advised the man we couldn’t wait and it was off to lunch we went.

 

We ate at Le Sainte Bonne. They had a live 2 man band playing some nice Latin music. We decided to be brave and ordered some ceviche. It’s a salsa of sorts with fresh seafood. We got the super mix which had conch, octopus, shrimp and something else I believe. It was actually really good.

 

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We also tried the lime soup and it was quite tasty as well. We enjoyed the food, music and the cool breeze flowing through the open air establishment.

 

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For our entrees she had some weird seafood cheesy dish. It was pretty nasty. Not poorly cooked or anything, more like it’s probably an acquired taste. It was like the wine tinged cheese they use in fondue, only cooled into a solid pancake of cheese over an odd tasting tomato-like seafood stew underneath.

 

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She picked out some seafood but shared some of my vittles. I ordered the shrimp and lobster shish kabob which came with fries and some fried plantains which were excellent.

 

The thing that cracked me up was the bill. $400!!! I couldn’t get used to the prices being in pesos. Toast and juice on the menu for $26 was a fun wake up call. So for $40 it was a great meal. It took a while since everything is made to order which is always good in my book.

 

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After lunch we made our way back to the flea market to browse the baubles. All of the merchants were eager to bargain, some more so than others. If you see something you like, don’t get it at the first booth, shop around. Many merchants had identical items and some were willing to go lower than others. We picked up some jewelry for her and a necklace for our 9yo daughter. It had jade, black coral and sharks teeth. She loves it and wore it to school to show it off today.

 

We hopped on the free shuttle back to the ship. We arrived back to the mini mall and picked up some more trinkets, a paper mache figure for $4 some vanilla for $6. I really liked some of the chess sets but I didn’t feel like carrying one of those badboys back home. One thing about Progresso, they seemed to have the cheapest prices on item out of all the ports we visited.

 

We retired to our cabin to rest up before dinner again. Nothing like a nice nap after swimming and sunning it up and having some great grub to boot. After dinner we tried to watch a show again. This time it was a juggler/comedy show. The juggler was pretty bad, dropping stuff constantly. Apparently he was working injured. The comedian was so-so. We had heard a lot of his lines before. Same old jokes, just phrased a bit different.

 

So we left and checked out the disco and other lounges. Nothing really suited us. Most of the folks our age were single or newly married and not too interested in sharing their time with others. So we usually just headed back to the cabin after a late night walk on the upper decks.

 

I do have to say the lounge singer in the Rhapsody In Blue lounge was probably the worst I ever heard. Musically he was good playing the piano, but he had a very weird voice. It’s hard to explain except that we laughed every time we passed him, and we were always in shock that he was even hired. The Mexican street bands/singers were 100 times better. One of the funniest was when he was dressed up like Captain and he had a gal dressed like Tenille. She looked more like Mimi form the Drew Carrey show. Her singing voice was no better. It made for a comical duo though.

 

Here’s the bar…

 

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Cozumel, Mexico:

 

Once again the weather was perfect as we stepped outside. Not much humidity it seemed, but it was hot, a good kind of hot. One that makes you ready to party, swim, and eat.

 

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You can walk right off the ship at this port. The water was super clean and very clear. You could see to the bottom easily in 15ft of water. We were getting more and more excited about this port.

 

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We had previously booked an excursion ourselves through http://www.dolphindiscovery.com to do a swim with the sea lions in Chankanaab Park for $60 a person. We had to pay the cab fare and park admission as well. That kind of bugged me a bit, but it ended up being worth it since this wound up being our favorite port.

 

It’s a short walk off the pier to the fair sized mall and the main streets where you can get a cab, rent a car, scooter or whatever. Since it was pretty early, not much was open at all. We strolled to grab a cab and it was $10 each way so $20 total for transportation. It was about a 5-10 minute ride to the park. The cab ride itself was an adventure. We had Mario Andretti’s Mexican cousin as our driver. 

 

When we got to the park, we were one of the first people there. We went and got our tickets to the park. It was $12 each for 2 adults. You get wristband, enter and have full access to the park. We went to the Dolphin Discovery check in and verified everything and signed in. We still had a few hours to kill so the lady at the info desk gave us some maps. We decided to go snorkel through the lagoon and out along the reef area. We grabbed some free lockers near the desk to store our unneeded stuff and money.

 

It was a stones throw from the desk, and once again we were the only folks there. We claimed a few chairs in the shade, got our gear and hit the water. The water was magnificent. I have never seen such crystal clear water before. Soft, powdery sand, 100 degree weather, and a cool refreshing ocean is a great combo.

 

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This was our first time snorkeling ever and it was such a blast. The tiny kids lagoon kept up busy for about an hour. There were tons of fish and crabs along the rocks. We saw some crabs jumping from the water and onto the rocks. It was quite a funny site.

 

There is a break in the lagoon that you can swim through and get to open water. It’s right alongside the fenced in dolphin pools, and you can hear the dolphins talking while you’re underwater. That was an unexpected surprise. If you swim out along the dolphin area there are a TON of fish looking for food. I wish we had bought some fish food to create a frenzy. There were these gray looking fish, pretty decent sized who were very friendly and always looking for handouts. We saw all kinds of colorful fish, from small to pretty dang big. The funniest/scariest was when my girlfriend called out for me to swim over to her to check out the “big striped fishy” next to her. So I anxiously swim over and notice she’s about 2 feet from a giant barracuda, with him eying us up. I yell at her to swim the other direction, explaining those fish can be dangerous, especially with jewelery and dangly silver locker keys hanging from our necks.

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This was our first time snorkeling ever and it was such a blast. The tiny kids lagoon kept up busy for about an hour. There were tons of fish and crabs along the rocks. We saw some crabs jumping from the water and onto the rocks. It was quite a funny site.

 

There is a break in the lagoon that you can swim through and get to open water. It’s right alongside the fenced in dolphin pools, and you can hear the dolphins talking while you’re underwater. That was an unexpected surprise. If you swim out along the dolphin area there are a TON of fish looking for food. I wish we had bought some fish food to create a frenzy. There were these gray looking fish, pretty decent sized who were very friendly and always looking for handouts. We saw all kinds of colorful fish, from small to pretty dang big. The funniest/scariest was when my girlfriend called out for me to swim over to her to check out the “big striped fishy” next to her. So I anxiously swim over and notice she’s about 2 feet from a giant barracuda, with him eying us up. I yell at her to swim the other direction, explaining those fish can be dangerous, especially with jewelery and dangly silver locker keys hanging from our necks.

 

We swam closer to shore and were enjoying the coral and its inhabitants. We started getting further out into the open water, and once again another barracuda was there following us it seemed. So we headed closer to shore again. Still there was a lot to see right at the shore. I had purchased a cheap SLR camera with a flash and a underwater housing for it for a mere $19 on Ebay. Not too shabby methinks. The pictures came out very nice IMO. I used 800 speed Fuji film but ran out, so I bought 2 rolls of 400 speed at the park.

 

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When I left the water to go buy the film and some sodas, they have a gift shop and refreshment stand right at the info desk, I asked the information gal about the barracuda. She stated she had heard of it, and that it’s a lone fish who just hangs out around the shore area. No one had been attacked every by anything there so she said there really isn’t much to worry about. I would still be cautious out there though.

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When I left the water to go buy the film and some sodas, they have a gift shop and refreshment stand right at the info desk, I asked the information gal about the barracuda. She stated she had heard of it, and that it’s a lone fish who just hangs out around the shore area. No one had been attacked every by anything there so she said there really isn’t much to worry about. I would still be cautious out there though.

 

I noticed on the map she gave us there were markings offshore where they apparently placed some fake ruins and statues and such. I got a few pics of those too. I thought that was a fun idea since we were swimming all over looking for all of them.

 

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Right behind the lagoon is a open air bar/restaurant and even further down along the beach were more entry areas to the water as well as a dive shop and tons of chairs and umbrellas for everyone.

 

After 2 hours of snorkeling we headed over to the sea lion swim meeting spot. The took us to get life vest, then we got to hold a big parrot and a beautiful toucan at the same time. They took your picture while you did this, hoping to get a few more bucks out of ya of course. They give you some quick rules and such about the event. You sit around the edge of the pool and the sea lion comes out. The one we swam with was named Karla and she was gorgeous and very intelligent.

 

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The trainer had her doing various tricks for us. You’re only about 1-3 feet away from her and it was great to see her eyes and body in the sun. After a few more tricks and information about the creatures we hopped into the pool.

 

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He had here do some tricks like stick her tongue out and do funny stuff when he asked certain questions. It was a blast. Then he guided her past us so we could pet her.

 

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She was so soft and smooth. After a bit she did 2 tricks with each person. One was were she swam up to you and gave you a hug and kiss. It was adorable. The next was she would swim into your arms, face the camera, and stick her tongue out then smile. It was a riot.

 

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The whole time they are video taping and taking still photos at every opportunity. After another 15 minutes of petting her and seeing tricks, like her jumping out the water and over our outstretched arms, we got back on stage where she gave us another hug and kiss.

 

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We had such a great time. I would highly recommend it to anyone. Then it was off to return the lifejackets and time to buy photos and the video. I chose to only get the video. They charged $30 for a VHS tape of it. No DVD available yet. They had it all ready to go within 10 minutes. We didn’t buy any pics because I am going to run the tape into my computer, burn it to a DVD and just take some screen captures and have them made into photos. They wanted like $10 or $15 per picture. They’re as bad as Carnival.

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We wanted to go back and snorkel but we were starving and wanted to get some food at Pancho’s Backyard, and the woman wanted me to get her a new diamond ring for her birthday. So we took another cab back to the ship, dropped off our gear, got more cash and went to the main ave along the beach. There are tons of shops there with everything for sale. We ended up getting a ½ carat diamond solitaire in white gold. They even gave us some free shots of tequila. They told us it would be about 1 ½ hours till the ring was ready since she wanted it in a different band and white gold. Pancho’s Backyard was too far away and I didn’t feel like getting a cab there so we walked down a bit more to Las Palmeras.

 

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It’s open air of course, with a table right next to the sidewalk and a view of the other pier for the smaller ships.

 

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Of course this means we were hounded by merchants every few minutes as well as the wandering mariachi bands, but no biggie. The food was a tad pricey IMO, especially for the amount you get. We ordered a fruit platter which was very tasty. It refreshed us immensely after walking and being in the heat for so long. I ordered the steak/shrimp/chicken fajita combo meal and my gf got the chicken in mole sauce and we both had cokes. Both meals were very good. I think the bill came to about $50 with tax.

 

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So we walked back to the jewelry shop, along the way we got a few souvenirs. There was a dollar trinket store which was great. We spent $10 on our kid. She loved every single item we got her. Necklaces, cloth purses, knick knacks, and toys.

 

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Then we got us some coconut alcohol drink. There was a huge bar and you could sample anything they sold. We tried the coconut and mango flavored drink. It was a cream drink like Kahluha(sp), only coconut flavored. Very smooth and tasty. It was only $10 for a medium size bottle. We continued on to the jewelry store and got her ring. She loved it of course.

 

Then it was back to the ship to cool off and catch a nap before dinner.

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Belize:

 

This was the only port where it required us taking a tender to get to land. The Carnival Capers newspaper said it was a 45 minute ride to shore. Not so by a long shot. The boat we were on took about 10 minutes to get there.

 

Once again we were super early. Not much was open of course. We had booked an excursion through http://www.coralbreezelimited.com/ to do the shark and stingray alley snorkel tour. We met up with the guide who let us store our gear aboard the boat until the tour was ready which would be in about 2 hours. We looked around the small port area. The shops had all the same stuff pretty much that the other ports offered and at the same prices. Progresso was by far the cheapest all around when it came to prices.

 

Once it was time to meet we headed back to the ship. Supposedly only 4 other people were going. The other 4 showed up, but before we could leave a bunch of the other freelance tour salespeople had asked if some people they wrangled up could join the tour. This was the beginning of the end so to speak. We ended up with 15 more people. One was a large group of Asian folks with 2 very young kids around 5 years old and one infant a few months old. I was kinda surprised they had this lil thing out in that heat and on a tour. The tour operator told us that she generally has more problems with Asian customers because of the language barrier and because they are very rude and inconsiderate and never knew how to snorkel. Well, all 3 of her observations came true with this group too. We ended up starting late because they wanted to argue about stuff and then their family wasn’t ready when everyone else was.

 

So we hop aboard and head out to Caye Caulker which is about 30-40 minute ride. They let a few other tour helpers tag along to help out with the crowd. They don’t work for Coral Breeze, they’re basically locals who know about the tours and have done them before.

 

We get to the Caye and they put in our order for lunch. We got the stewed chicken with cokes. They picked up snorkel gear for the add on people and off we went. Mind you, this is supposed to be a 5 hour tour. My calculations, if everything ran smoothly would barely get us to town before the last tender would leave since Belize is 2 hours behind the ships time. The late start coupled with them having trouble finding more gear for all the extra people and we were almost 1 hour behind schedule.

 

After getting back to the boat we head to the first reef for some snorkeling. Half the people had issues getting off the boat. For some reason people were putting fins on while on board so they couldn’t walk and were flailing and falling all over the place. Then they had issues getting into the water. Instead of providing the usual life vest used when snorkeling, we had old school life jackets that you had to rig up and tie around your waist which was awkward and uncomfortable.

 

Once in the water things just got worse. I would say 90% of the other people never snorkeled before and were struggling. None of them were paying attention and were kicking and ramming into people, never apologizing either of course. So me and the woman lagged back a bit to let the heard of cattle get ahead a few paces. The coral reef was interesting and seemed to have a lot of fish around it, but for some reason, we couldn’t just explore. We had to haul ass for no apparent reason. It was like a race, we could barely see a damn thing. What a waste. The absolute worst was we got a shallow spot, and we all stopped. They advised that the next part would require us to swim single file, through tight spots of coral, many of which were the stinging kind. There was quite a current too. It wasn’t hard but it wasn’t easy. Most of the crowd didn’t understand what a single file line meant so the helpers just kept shouting at them and holding them back. Once through the maze of coral it was another mad dash back to the ship so we could get to the shark/ray alley.

 

We ride for another 10 mins or so and they start to get the ship in position. There were about 3 or 4 sharks swimming below and it looked pretty cool. We asked about petting the sharks and ray and they said the sharks are too shy but the rays can be held and petted. They also said we wouldn’t need fins since the water was shallow and we could stand in it. I am not sure what kind of stuff they smoked that morning. Because none of what they said was true except the shark part. As soon as we hit the water, it was apparent no one was gonna be touching the bottom unless you were 8 feet tall. It went from 5 ½ feet in one or two spots, to 10 feet for the most part. The sharks scattered once we were all in and the rays started coming out as they dropped food in the water for them. There were about 8-10 rays, most were small around 2 feet in size with 1 or 2 large ones around 4-5 feet. They wouldn’t let us hold them, and if you were quick and lucky you could dive and run your hand along them real quick. It was fun, but disappointing because it wasn’t anything like they had described. Apparently one of the random tour helpers said to us that this was a protected marine park and the animals can be touched but not held and pet. After about 15 minutes the rays and other fishies ate all the treats put out and started disappearing. We were very disappointed to say the least.

 

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We then were shuttled back to the Caye where our lunch was to be served. One the way one of the boats motors broke down so we were running slow, which put us behind even more. So by the time we got there we had maybe 1 hour to eat, shop and beach bum around.

 

The restaurant is right next to a waterfront cemetery. Kinda creepy and kinda cool. The food was pretty good. Though if you don’t order a lunch through the tour, you can just do your own thing at this place. They had lots of stuff on the menu that sounded yummy. We had stewed chicken with rice and whole beans and coleslaw. All of it was very good.

 

We got done eating and headed towards the shops. We saw maybe 1 or 2 “shops” if you could even call them that. Nothing was open for some reason. And the prices in the shops were a joke. We didn’t feel like walking any further so we headed back to the beach to find the boat gone. They had moved it to a different dock to get it fixed. The clock was ticking. We had 45 mins before our last tender left.

 

Finally the ship gets back and we head out, all 3 motors at full speed it seemed. Because they overbooked the tour, there wasn’t enough of the ice cold water they advertised on the site. So each family got one water to split. Yay! We arrive at the dock and run to the tender. We made it by 5 mins at the most.

 

I would have a hard time recommending this tour again. While it was a unique experience, it didn’t seem to be all it was cracked up to be and was pretty overpriced for everything you get, or don’t get I should say. We were extremely disappointed with it.

 

 

When we got back to the ship we rested up before dinner again. This time we didn’t bother going to any shows since we always were struggling to stay awake during them because of our active day.

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Costa Maya, Mexico:

 

This was the last port we were to visit on our cruise. We had booked the Beach Break Party through http://www.costamayacruiseexcursions.com/ We booked it for 2 adults with 2 lobster and shrimp platters and a Mexican platter. This included beach access, chairs, and an open bar for about $110.

 

Once again, this port required no tender. They provide a small trolley to transverse the pier which brings you to the main entrance to the shopping area and transportation.

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The water looked clean and pretty, but very, very rocky. I didn’t see anyone swimming there for the most part, by the shore that is.

 

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We wandered through the mall area and grabbed a taxi to the fishing village of Mahahual. It cost $3 per person one way. It was a short 5 minute ride to the village. The website says the cabbie drops you off a few blocks from the bar you meet at called Pez Quadro, but if you request it, they will drop you off right in front. That wasn’t the case. The cabbie refused and told us to take a hike so to speak.

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I didn’t mind it much though. It was really humid and hot and gorgeous out. A few of the vendors were up and about, but not many so it was a quiet walk. It was more like 6 blocks away from the taxi drop off spot. Along the way we were greeting by quite a few stray dogs. They all to be of a smilar breed, sort of a Jack Russell terrier style. All very cute, very friendly, very hungry and wanting love and attention. I started to pet one a bit and he followed us all the way to the bar. He was sooo cute.

 

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The bar was easy to find, on the left side of the road right at the beachfront.

 

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We showed the guy working the bar our reservation print outs and I owed him $84 for the balance of the excursion. I gave him $100 but he said he had no change to give since it was early, even though I saw him giving change to other people who were there drinking already. I let it slide…for the moment.

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They tied a blue band around our wrists and directed us to 2 cushioned lounge chairs mere feet from the waters edge. The water looked great and had some patches of sea grass which you could walk over, or swim through the man made channels to more open water.

 

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We got a few pina coladas to get the party started. They were tasty, and much better than the ones aboard the ship. We got some water for our puppy friend which he happily drank up like crazy. He was so funny, that whenever anyone walked by us he would bark at them, warning them to keep away from his new found family.

 

After sunning ourselves for a bit, we hit the water. It was perfect. Though you should be careful because there was a lot of jagged coral pieces buried in the sand along with some slow walking pointy sea urchins. Luckily they were pitch black and in shallow water where you can see them. Though my girlfriend didn’t see it and might’ve stepped right on it, had I not warned her. We swam for a while and went back to roast under the sun a while longer.

 

We debated getting her hair braided by the staff there or getting a massage by them, but they were overcharging by double. In the village there were tons of massage joints charging $35 for 1 hour whereas this place was charging $60 an hour. The village had women offering braids for $10 and they were charging $30. Needless to say, they only had 1 customer in the 5 or 6 hours we were there.

 

Since they never mentioned anything about when mealtime was, I hunted down one of the operators to ask him about it, as well as my change he owed me. He explained that all I had to do was tell him when we wanted it and whether we wanted to eat by the water or in the restaurant. We opted for the patio area near the restaurant. I asked if they could have it ready in an hour and he said no problem. Then I asked for my $16. He had no clue what I was talking about. He was Italian and English was not his forte. When he finally got the gist of it he gave me $4. I told him he owed me $12 more. It was like trying to teach Algebra in Chinese to a Mexican. Once I got a little pissed and angry it all seemed to come back to him. He went and got the rest of my cash. It was annoying but nothing major.

 

We sat at the beach bar and tried a daiquiri and a blue lagoon. Both were strong and had quite a bite to them. The bar didn’t have stools, instead they were swings. Very cool looking, but not comfy, but still fun and different.

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After another quick swim we asked about lunch and they said it was ready. We went across the street to the patio and sat down. I got a few cokes from the bar and water for the woman. First was chips and salsa,

 

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followed by some cheese quesadillas and guacamole.

 

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So far, so good. The food was delicious. Then came the lobster and shrimp.

 

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There were 4 kabobs of medium shrimp with 5 on each kabob. The lobster was the Caribbean type, no claws, all tail. It was in a tomato like sauce that was very good. The shrimp had a salty, peanut tasting rub on it which was fantastic.

 

They forgot about our tortillas, rice and bean but when I reminded the waited he was quick to get them. All of it was great. We chatted with the waiter, who was apparently part owner as well. He was very nice, very chatty even though he didn’t speak English fluently.

 

There were a few small things I think they need to improve on for this excursion. Either take payment in full via credit card or have change available for every guest. Also they could’ve used some umbrellas or huts for shade. It was a scorcher that day and I would rather lay in the sand under an umbrella that at the bar in a swing to get shaded. They should also ask/inform the customers about the dining options and times and such. Don’t leave folks guessing. I would recommend getting more lounge chairs as well as some that float in the water. Maybe throw some signs up with info on renting the kayaks that were there and offer some snorkel equipment to rent. They should also warn customers about the coral and urchins in the water.

 

They have a small hotel/bungalow building which housed rooms, the restaurant and a shop.

 

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It was all very quaint and looked good.

 

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Once we digested a bit, we went for another swim and some more sun, then it was back to the ship we went. I did manage to get a coke and a bottled water for the road.  My girlfriend wanted to get her hair braided so we went to a lady who did it for $10.

 

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While she did that, I browsed the shops. As usual, everything was “almost free” or they would say, “I make special price for you”. Nothing really stood out here except they had a lot of large pretty conch shells for sale. One guy kept showing me those pipes folks use to smoke weed in. I laughed and said no thanks, he then asked if I wanted to buy some filling for it. I laughed again and advised I don’t smoke. He didn’t seem to believe me.

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While she did that, I browsed the shops. As usual, everything was “almost free” or they would say, “I make special price for you”. Nothing really stood out here except they had a lot of large pretty conch shells for sale. One guy kept showing me those pipes folks use to smoke weed in. I laughed and said no thanks, he then asked if I wanted to buy some filling for it. I laughed again and advised I don’t smoke. He didn’t seem to believe me.

 

After 20 minutes or so she was all done and we walked some more.

 

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We headed for the taxi spot and caught a ride back for $2 per person. We decided to get some t-shirts for the family and got a few for $5 each and a few for $8 each. Then we hit the trinket shops up. It was like a mob scene in the mall area by now. Bikini clad women were dancing on the pool bar and the music was blasting. After a bit of looking I was getting annoyed with the merchants who every 5 seconds would ask me “what do you need?” or “what are you looking for, I have it here for you I promise!”. So I decided to be a smart ass and when the next merchant asked what I needed since he would have it, I told him I needed a vacuum cleaner. He started laughing a lot. He said he had no vacuums but had some t-shirts I would like. I did this with the rest of the merchants that day. Most seemed mad, especially when I asked about a microwave or washer and dryers. Go figure. Another funny thing was they were all amazed at my tiny digital camera and all asked where I got it and how much I paid. I told them “it was almost free and I will make special deal for you!” They seemed to be thrown off when their own sales tactics were tossed back at them. Several merchants really wanted to trade me items for my Seahawks hat too.

 

One word of advice is…BARGAIN. Do not take the first, second, third or fourth offer. One shop had a ceramic sun/moon thing my gf wanted to get for her mom. The price started at $30 and ended up at $10. I got an ashtray for my dad that started at $15 and ended up at $5. Don’t be afraid to haggle.

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Fun Day At Sea:

 

This was our last real day for vacation so we decided to take it easy. We ordered room service to be delivered as we woke up. That’s so darn handy I wish we would’ve used it every day like that.

 

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I think we did a slot tournament in the casino. $20 for 100 spins of the wheels. It was short, but fun. We didn’t even come close to getting to the final 10.

 

We grabbed some hot dogs and burgers from the Lido deck. They were pretty good. We also tried the pizza which was ok. Better than Dominos or Pizza Hut.

 

Then the ice carving show started. As it did some dark clouds gathered and rain started to fall lightly. After the show we got some souvenirs at the gift shop. Our dog loves the fun ship Freddie doll we got him.  We got some rum cakes which were pretty tasty as well.

 

We attended the debarkation talk which was about 1 hour long. If you’ve never cruised before it would be a good thing to attend it. You could tell the people who didn’t attend it because they were totally out of it when it came time to leave.

 

We got all our stuff packed and ready to go for the next day. Once that was done, we headed to our last dinner. It was good and the Grand Marnier soufflé was quite delicious. We said our goodbyes to our tablemates and wait staff then headed to the casino for a lil more fun. I put $10 in a slot machine and won $40, then hit up the Inspiration Fun 21 Blackjack and won another $40. That was a good end to a good trip.

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Debarkation:

 

This was quite the experience. We got up, got our stuff together and headed to the promenade deck to await our group to be called. It took about 40 minutes to call our group. Once they did, it was a bum rush to the exit. It took about 20 minutes just to get down one flight of stairs. Lots of people didn’t have their papers ready of course. Then you had people trying to cut in front of you. It was chaos. It took about 2 hours to get off the ship.

 

Even though our flight didn’t leave until 5pm we just decided to get to the airport and eat lunch and read a book. Tampa is one of the nicer airports since they have a lot to do and it’s all before the boarding gates, where as Seattle, there is nothing to do and unless you have a boarding pass you can’t get to the gate area where the nicer eateries are.

 

We at at TGI Fridays, then I headed to the arcade to play while the woman read a book. We took off to Dallas where our plane took forever to taxi to the terminal and it was delayed about 1 hour then it took forever to take off because of the huge line of planes. We got to Seattle around midnight. Then we had an hour and a half drive home. Needless to say, we were pretty beat. It’s a good thing we took an extra couple of days off to recuperate.

 

 

Overall:

 

We had a great time overall. It sure beat working all week in 50 degree weather.

 

Carnival does provide a good bang for the buck though. The service was mostly friendly. A lot was hit and miss. For example our tablemates had robes in their room across the hall and got towel animals every night, we never got robes and got 4 animals I believe. We even made some towel designs for the steward.

 

My main complaints with Carnival were the lack of communication regarding the itinerary changes and the price gouging. The main one that got me was the photos they take aboard. Some turn out pretty good of course, but the ones we liked were the largest size which ran $20 a pop, plus you had to buy one of the large sizes before they would let you buy them in a smaller size. I can’t imagine the price if one were to purchase one of every picture opportunity Carnival offers to get you into. It would be astronomical. There were people there buying like that. They must be loaded. We bought 3 we really liked, brought them to Wal-Mart and made duplicates in the smaller sizes. There were no watermarks on any of the pics. Go figure. Why Wal-Mart charges like $3.75 for a 8x10 glossy reprint and Carnival charges $20 is beyond me. I know it’s a business but let’s be realistic. That’s just a pet peeve of mine I guess.

 

I laughed when I watched the tour talks provided by Carnival. They were adamant that if you booked one of the 3rd party excursions you would miss the ship, you would get injured, you would get arrested, you would die, and you would burn in hell for eternity. They totally went to the dark side and ragged on their competition. Very unprofessional in my opinion because they insisted unless you booked through them, you were in for trouble. If you feel comfortable booking them like I did, go for it. One of the benefits is that your guaranteed a place on the tour. I know our tablemates were bummed because every tour they wanted to do was already booked and Carnival’s talk scared the **** out of them so they refused to go 3rd party. Be smart, use good judgment and you will do great, plus you will save 50% or more at a minimum.

 

If you’re paranoid about carrying your expensive digital camera out and about, you might try those high definition cameras by Kodak. We got 2 of them and the pics came out wonderful. Of course you may want to get them put on a photo CD then use your computer to retouch the photos to make em look even better than the store does. I would recommend Jasc Paint Shop Pro. They have a one touch retoucher that works wonders. Check it out the free trial. Here are some pics I enhanced with it. http://www.jasc.com/products/paintshoppro/psptrialreg.asp

 

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All in all we had a great time. I learned a lot from these boards. I appreciate everyone answering my questions and such. If you have any for me, email me at freakynorm@gmail.com

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