We left our home in SE Pennsylvania on the Wednesday before our Sunday embarkation. Our first stop was an overnight in Kingsport, TN, the second night we spent in Laurel, MS. That put us less then 200 miles from New Orleans. Since we arrived early, we had a little time to spend driving around and exploring the city. We spent some time at LaFrenier Park, a nice big park for walking, jogging, or just relaxing. It also has a bird sanctuary and since we enjoy bird watching we found that a nice spot to spend some time.
We were checked in by Teri, who was both friendly and funny. We inquired as to the possibility of leaving our car there for the duration of our cruise. For a very nominal shuttle fee, we could. We were told to see Jill, the week-end clerk, Sunday morning to make arrangements with the driver. Quality Inn also provides a free shuttle ( tip the driver) to the French Quarter and we took advantage of that on both Friday night and Saturday. Our room there was quite nice, we had been up-graded to a mini-suite because there was a large fraternity party that week-end staying there also, taking many of the regular rooms. But that's another story. To Quality Inn's credit, they did offer to move us, but we found the frat boys and their girlfriends more amusing than irritating. Still, there is no excuse for destroying property, boys.
Friday night on Bourbon Street was quite a sight, an amazing town, you see it all! We had dinner at the Cajun Bistro, hubby had the Cajun sampler, I had the crabcakes, both were very good. We walked around a good bit of the Quarter, taking in the sights. At one point a young man came up to us with what at first I thought was a business card. He asked if we knew where St. Charles Street was. We couldn't help him, then realized it was his hotel key and he had obviously spent a little too much time in one of the 3 for 1 Happy Hours they hawk on Bourbon St. We did direct him to one of the Hospitality Rangers. These are city employees who wear bright yellow shirts and ride bikes around the area offering help, directions, brochures, etc. Sure hope he found his way home safely!
We took the last shuttle back to the hotel (11:00) and in spite of the frat boys, slept well. Saturday morning we stopped at the desk and spoke to Jill about leaving our car. The driver was there and she called him over to let him know that he "had a boat" in the morning. Papa was our driver and we were very happy about that. He shuttled us to the Quarter that morning and we learned a lot from him in the short drive. Especially funny was the "bead trees" that we hadn't noticed earlier. People throw the beads, miss their mark, the beads land in the trees and stay there! From watching the Mardi Gras parades on television we were curious about the route and Papa showed us.
After arriving in the Quarter Saturday, we took a city tour and learned a lot more of the history of the city. We visited one of the cemeteries, a city of the dead. Very interesting. Other touristy things we did were visiting the Farmers Market (very crowded), Cafe du Monde (yummy), ate muffeletta (delicious) and went to St. Louis Cathedral(beautiful). For $5.00 you can ride the streetcars (don't call them trolleys) and buses all day to see other nearby areas.
Papa took us to the pier on the 11:00 shuttle, arriving at 11:20. We walked right in, no waiting, checked in. It was too early to get on the ship so we were told we could have a seat or take a walk. Since there were about 200 people already seated and there were no seats left, we decided to go to Riverwalk and check out the shops. About 1:30 we returned to the pier, the line to check in went all the way outside the terminal!! Since we had checked in already we had a very short wait received our sail and sign cards and boarded the ship.
Our stateroom was located on Upper Deck Aft, our balcony looked over the stern of the ship. Although the balcony presented a interesting view of the wake of the ship and where the ship had been, We will not ask for this view again because of the design of the balcony dividers which could afford peering into you next door neighbors balcony and stateroom. We prefer a little more privacy while sitting on our balcony. The stateroom was comfortable and along with the bathroom provided plenty of storage. We were warned by previous reviews that the room location was above the Degas Room which is the ship's smaller public lounge for parties and dancing. There was a band playing almost every night and we could hear the band, it did not disturb us because we like the music the band was playing (Country!). Don't know if it is the design of the ships with the "pod" propulsion system, but there is a gentle rocking in the aft part of the ship. It was really like being rocked to sleep!
The ship is decorated with many French Impressionist Paintings everywhere you look. We visited several of the lounges, I especially liked Vincent's Lounge (the Sunflower Room). Didn't spend much time in the Sports Bar, it was very smoky. Speaking of smoking, cigar smoking is supposed to be limited to the cigar lounge and starboard deck yet there was a man smoking a cigar near the main lobby undisturbed. Another observation about the lower stern balconies is that every morning we had cigarette butts and even a pizza crust on the balcony from people tossing them overboard the night before. Please, people, use the ashtrays!
The small, comfortable library is only open for checking out books, games and cards two hours a day, 10-11, and 3-4. A minor annoyance was being warned of a $20.00 charge if the material you check out is not returned on the last day. I tried returning a book at the designated opening hour of 10:00a.m. on the last day. After waiting 35 minutes, the person had to be called. I playfully asked if she forgot about us, as there were several other people waiting. Her response " No, I didn't forget, I just felt like sleeping in a bit".
The lounge acts "The Daylon Wear Band" and "Donnie Bell and Darci Michelle" were great. They both played mostly country, southern rock and oldies. The comedians Al Ernst (aka Louisiana man)and Ronnie Bullard were hysterical. Al's late night adult show was good . Ronnie does one also, but we didn't make that one. We're early birds and don't make too many late night activities. Didn't even make one midnight buffet!
Two Carnival Conquest Dancer shows," Formidable" and "Point and Click" were well done. The Sun Pool Calypso Band sounded inviting and energetic every time we walked by even thought we don't spend much time in the sun We prefer the semi-quiet area behind the adult whirlpools or the shade of the port side (non-smoking) outside of the lobby. Even more energetic is the cruise director, Corey Schmidt. Wished I could have had the opportunity to tell him we live only two miles from Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA where he had his bird show for a while. The night Corey did his show Roger Homefield also preformed. We enjoyed both. Having seen the juggler's, Manuel Zuniga, wonderful show on the Victory last year, we skipped it this time as we were really tired.
The food was excellent! I've read several other reviews where the writers state that the food was just so-so, etc. Well, everything we had was just wonderful. We ate in the Monet dining room every night and were extremely pleased. Our servers, Melvin and Zuzanne, were professional. Even though I know you can have all you want to eat on previous cruises I was always hesitant to order more than one of anything. Not this time! Twice I ordered two appetizers and on formal night I did eat two lobsters. Yummy! The only thing that seemed skimpy to me was the vegetables. I try to eat a lot of fresh vegetables and the normal portion of vegetables in the dining room is about two tablespoons. I overcame this by eating the fresh brocolli and cauliflower on the lunch buffet. I never used room service on our previous cruises, but this time I ordered the fresh vegetable sticks with blue cheese dressing as a snack after returning from one the ports and that was good also. We alternated breakfast and lunch between the Lido and the dining room. The food was excellent in both locations but I think I prefer the open seating in the dining room as you get to meet and talk to people from different parts of the country. In spite of a full ship, I never saw unusually long lines in the Lido. The longest line, and slow moving, was the chocolate dessert buffet on the last full day.
Our first stop was Montego Bay. We've read all the horror stories about Jamaica. Going to Dunn's Falls with hundreds of other people didn't appeal to us either. Usually we like to plan our activities ourselves. This time we used a Jamaican tour company we read about on the newsgroups. We had a driver for all day and the rate was extremely reasonable. He met us at the dock and drove us one hour to Mayfield Falls. Along the way we got to see the real Jamaica. There were village women walking back from markets carrying their loads on their heads. Other women were washing clothes on rocks in the river. At the falls we were met by a man who was to be our guide. The falls are not steep, but fairly treacherous and you must be led by someone who knows the safest place for you to step. Our guide was Zuki who I think was chosen for us because we are seniors and Zuki had the most experience. Zuki is a Rastafarian with a very calming voice and professional manner. He is tall, slender but very strong. He had to be as I needed help in many instances and I am not a small woman. I needed to hold his hand, arm or shoulder at nearly all times, and sometimes all three of us had to link hands. Zuki has very long dreadlocks, past his hips, he has not cut his hair for seventeen years. I mean no disrespect here, but I learned that some Rastafarians smoke marijuana for meditation purposes. Anyway, it took about two hours to traverse the falls, a series of small falls connected by pools and mineral springs which you could swim and relax in. The entire way up was in the water, the way back was through fields where Zuki taught us about different plants and herbs. We knew to tip Zuki, but weren't sure what was appropriate for this Admission to the falls was included in the price of the tour. We decided on $20.00 as being seniors we weren't Zuki's easiest guests. It turned out that it was very generous as Hubby saw him give the thumb's up to several other employees. We throughly enjoyed this experience, even when Hubby missed a step one time, slipped into a deep area, came up sputtering and swears I'm trying to kill him! After we finished this part of our tour, he asked if I was at all scared. I told him no, I had complete faith and trust in the guide. Hubbies reply "You trust your life with someone who smokes ganja for meditation purposes!" LOL What a blast!
After this, we were driven an hour back to just past the dock where we had lunch at a local jerk restaurant. Had some chicken and shrimp, delicious! Our driver also stopped and got some fresh bananas for us. Sure was better than what we buy at the store.
The last part of our tour was a 20 minute ride to Rose Hall Beach Club. There was only a handful of people there, the water was wonderful, we swam for about 45 minutes, had a drink at the bar, rested and it was back to the pier for shopping . We tipped our driver , he gave us his card in case we go back he is available for private tours. E-mail us if anyone is interested. He works out of Negril and Montego Bay. We made our way through the hawkers and will treasure this for a long time to come.
Our second stop was in Grand Cayman. The port city of Georgetown has changed in the 3 years since we were last here. You still tender into port but there are more shops near the tender docking areas. We read about Smith's cove on a forum/newsgroup and went to look for it. The directions were to get off the tender go right for 1.2 miles to a secluded beach. Although we usually walk about 1.5 miles every morning when we are home, this 1.2 mile hike in the heat and humidity was a little trying but the swim in the marine park was most refreshing. Secluded means there were only about 6 people from a snorkel school off shore to use the facilities and one other man. The walk back to town was not as trying because of a stop at a local shop for a cola.
We went through a couple of shops in town but all that we purchased was some coffee and jerk sauce to take home. Had to use that 10% coupon we got from the ship!!
We tendered back to the ship for a nice lunch on the Lido deck and rested from our hiking in the warm Caribbean Sun.
The third and final stop was in Cozumel, Mexico. Again the area has SURE changed since were here 3 years ago. We remember the ride from the ship to the city was nothing but dirt road but now.... many resorts and hotels. The city of San Miguel has made a lot of changes since 2000, most notably is that Carlos and Charlies has moved to a bigger place. No, we did not go this time and no we did not overindulge 3 years ago but if you are ever in Cozumel you must make 1 trip to Carlos and Charlies. We did go back to Panchos Back Yard which is a nice place to have lunch with the marimba players and the cool breeze in the shade of the yard. We returned to the dock and the shops that are there then went through the Duty Free shops to purchase a bottle of rum and a bottle of vanilla.
On board the ship we sat on the public deck to watch the people who did visit Carlos and Charlies and Senor Frogs stagger back. We shared the dock with a Princess ship so it was double the fun watching the people return. The dining room that night was sparsely attended. Could it be the aftereffects of Carlos and Charlies????
Getting off the ship in New Orleans was much easier then when we got off the Victory in Miami last year. No problems with customs, the luggage were all pretty close together. We called the hotel and Papa picked us up within a half hour. (what did we do without cell phones??)The drive back was with a couple who was going aboard the next sailing. While packing the car we met ANOTHER couple going on the next sailing that day. Both couples were interested in our trip. Having been on 5/6 cruises and not ever having an inside cabin, it was interesting to meet 2 couples who were sailing with an inside cabin.
Several cruises ago, we had a very bad experience with a rude Carnival photographer. So for a while we "boycotted" them and would not pose or purchase and pictures. We decided to try again and were pleased that all pictures we posed for were handled politely and professionally and with sensitivity.
We obviously enjoy cruising and like Carnival in spite of it's hard partying reputation. The prices are always good, if you want a party, it's there. If you want a quieter place, that's there too.