January 11, 2008
My newlywed wife had never been on a cruise before. I had been on two, and I knew she would love a cruise honeymoon. So we booked Carnival and decided on the Holiday, sailing out of Mobile to Cozumel and Calica.
I booked it six months in advance and had no trouble getting it booked and paid for through Carnival's website and vacation planner. I probably should have taken advantage of the extra time to raise some money and buy pre-paid shore excursions and ship's credits, as it would have saved me some up-front money. I would recommend that to anyone planning a cruise -- just something you do not have to worry about, and will get no bill for when you are done.
We drove from our wedding in Knoxville, Tennessee and took two days getting to Mobile, which was a nice, relaxing car ride through Alabama. We stopped when we wanted and did what we liked on Sunday, aiming to get as close to Mobile as we could and not feel pushed or exhausted. We ended up staying in Greenville, Alabama, about two hours from the port. It was a nice savings on the higher priced hotels near Mobile, we were able to sleep a little late, and took our time getting to the port. Three other groups stayed in that hotel, all headed for the Holiday!
Monday found us up and on the road about 9:30 and put us in Mobile near noon (as I said, we took our time and did not rush). Of course, we were excited about the cruise, and did rush a little bit! We had breakfast in the hotel, and I knew where we would be having lunch!
The port folks did a beautiful job, pulling in and unloading the luggage quickly and getting us parked. Lines were short to moderate, and security/check-in took about 90 minutes. No one was in a bad mood, the security folks were nice, and the lines moved along well.
I know the Holiday is the oldest ship in the fleet. But it is still a nice ship, especially for folks who have not sailed on the newer ships and have no point of common reference for comparison. I have only been on one other boat (Fantasy, pre-remodel, twice) and I found the Holiday comparable. Many people said the smaller boat made it easier to get around and find the amenities. The boat is old, but does not show her age as much as I was led to believe by posters. The carpets are nice, not worn, and the interior finish is better than I anticipated.
Of course, it does have setbacks. The cabin bathroom water was brownish most of the trip, and I used bottled water to brush my teeth. The cabin steward said the water was safe to drink, but I just couldn't. The shower temperature fluctuated from too hot to too cold, and that got worse as the cruise progressed. But these are things you expect on a ship christened in the 1980s and ridden hard for years.
We got on board and settled into our room, which was ready. The cabin Steward was not really personable but very efficient and quickly took care of anything we told him about. We spilled coffee on the bed, and he had it changed in ten minutes. We went on deck and took in the sights, and had a great lunch. I will get into the food later on, but suffice to say I had no trouble settling the smallest hunger pang all week long.
My wife was a little tired after taking a pre-emptive Dramamine, so after the lifeboat drill she slept until dinner. We had late seating, but I will go for early seating in the future because it bumps up against activities and the show, and some folks in the late 40s to early 50s do not want to take it all in and go to bed at 12.30 a.m.
The ship had a little bad weather on the first day, but it cleared up. A little rain on Friday as we were coming home was the only other bad weather, and that was short. Holiday bucked a little on the first night, but my usually queasy wife weathered it well. She took half a Dramamine on Monday, and never touched the seasick meds again. She is usually motion sick in a car, so I think that says a lot about how skillful the crew was to keep us out of rough seas.
On-board entertainment was solid, if unspectacular. We saw one show on the final night -- I could get real picky about the quality, but in general they did a good job. The cruise director, Jacque, along with Byron and Sam, were excellent and made sure everyone had a good time. I expect Bryon and Sam both will be CD's on other ships in a few months. The on-board games were probably the most entertaining -- they are silly and done everywhere, but you get out of it what you put into it, and the guests really put themselves into getting everything out of it.
Food was certainly at Carnival quality level. Meats were tender and savory, and the dining room service was impeccable. You cannot go wrong on desserts -- the chocolate melting cake is perfect! Several people at our table became "two-dessert regulars." We were seated with four other couples, but only two couples besides us came to the dining room at all. Originally I wanted us to be alone, honeymooners and all, but we made good friends with the other couples, and that was a plus for us.
The biggest surprise about the food was that the quality level never dropped from the dining room to the lido deck. Prime rib was in the lounge one night, and it almost made me skip the dining room. The pizza is excellent and the ice cream was a treat every time we got some. The cheeseburgers are also top-shelf.
The pool was a popular spot, and space near it became prime real estate at times, but it was still fun, I became a kid again on the slide, as did a lot of folks my age. Speaking of age, this was not a blue-hairs cruise, as many of the couples were in their 30s and early 40s, as well as a few retired couples and groups of vacationers.
Cozumel is a popular spot -- there were eight cruise ships in port when we arrived, and we had to use a tender to get ashore. It is not a great way to get to the shore, certainly an experience, but not a bad one. The main thing in Cozumel is shopping, and the vendors are aggressive -- I had one chase me down the street to buy a necklace -- but it is a pretty easy place to spend the day. Grahame "Crackers" was ever-present and determined to show the passengers all the deals to be had.
I am not big on excursions, but we each got into one. I went golfing, which was great, while my wife went to the ship spa the day before. We both spent about the same amount of money, as it turned out. We had tickets to go to Tulum when we reached Calica, but my wife felt ill and wanted to sleep late on that day. We got back the money we spent on the unused tickets, except a small cancellation fee. I have been on excursions before, and I find them a bit pricy. But I would book then through Carnival as the ship will not leave you if anything goes wrong. That is reassuring, as I am a worrywart and vacationing is all about getting away from cares.
Getting off in Calica was easier as we pulled into the port, but it was uninviting as the port is primarily industrial. Calica is a place where you jump off the boat and ride to the real getaway spots (Tulum, Chichen Itza and Playa Del Carmen). We never got off the boat, but spent a great day on the deck, since everyone else was in port.
The last day was spent on the ocean, and we loved it. We just milled about, checked out what we wanted to, and had a great time. We went to the art auction, and while it was entertaining, it seemed a little pricey for a superb value. Who goes on ship to buy a Peter Max?
The option to carry out your luggage and get off the ship first is appealing, but with our cabin assignment we were the first off after the carry-offers. We only gave up about 45 minutes, which we used to eat a fantastic breakfast. Disembarking took about 45 minutes from call to disembark to driving off in the car.
The Sail and Sign card was settled without a word, since I guaranteed it with a credit card. This is the fastest way to get this done, as you can use shipboard credits to pay for what you do as you go.
Holiday's sailings are coming to a close (you can't book it in 2009) as the ship is reportedly going to be sold to an Australian line at the end of the year. This is Carnival's most cost-effective cruise (nothing about it would be considered cheap) and it is usually booked solid, but it is a fine way to spend a week and very practical for first-time cruisers. Do not go in with expectations of being on a newer, more glamorous ship and you will enjoy it. When you do go on another newer ship, it will be that much more impressive after being on the Holiday. The new ships do have to go the extra mile to match Holiday's staff -- they seem to know they have to put in the extra effort to overcome the disadvantage of working on an older ship. They were sensational, from the room steward to the captain, and all in between.
It was announced during the cruise that Carnival probably will put another ship in Mobile after the bay is dredged deeper, which should happen soon to fit the needs of a shipbuilding company that is also there. I do not know if that means one ship or two will be there after Holiday leaves, but it is good that a great port will continue on -- I hope the new ship can continue to build the reputation the Holiday built for it.
As for us, we will cruise again in the next few years. I have been on three Carnival cruises, and I would go again. But I may try another cruise line, just for comparison. Then again, I do like what I have gotten when I choose Carnival.