Carnival Reviews - Cruise Ship reviews by Cruisemates Readers
Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Legend
by Chris Owen
Southern Caribbean
March 18, 2003

6:30 AM, Right on schedule, the limo arrives to whisk us away to the airport. This is travel day and the first day of our Carnival Legend Spring Break 2003 Cruise Vacation.

We are a family of 4; Sydney 17 (soon to be 18, but already there in her mind, 38 sometimes to those who know her but also 12 sometimes to those same people), Whitney, 15 (happy with her age and not looking forward to the responsibilities that upcoming numbers will bring), Lisa, 45 and me, Chris, 50 for all practical purposes.

This is our 6th Carnival cruise but first on the Carnival Legend. Over the course of our cruising we have learned to come into town at least the day before the cruise to avoid any problems with flight schedules and delays. We tried coming in the day of the cruise one time and then, by advice learned from the good members of the Cruise Critics message board began a one or two precruise vacation tradition with ever cruise after that.

 

Normally airfare from our home in Stanley, Kansas (we tell people it's a suburb of Kansas City only as a point of reference, otherwise we shudder at the thought), is less expensive flying into Ft Lauderdale (FLL). Oddly, on this trip it was less expensive flying into the Miami (MIA) airport. Probably due to it being spring break. That was great news as we like the Miami airport much better, or so I remembered.

Our first trip into MIA was on our first cruise in August of 2001, just weeks before the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Since then security had tightened considerably. We knew that but I guess I just didn't relate it to this trip in the planning process. You see, I pre-arranged our major ground transportation in Miami via limousine through Limos of Miami. Incidental, post "dump-the-luggage" transportation is by cab. For this leg ,transport to the hotel from the airport, the results were not as planned. You see, the idea is to hire a limo to do the work and get us there on our timetable, under our control (see Planning section of our website www.LifeIsCruising.com) Last time at MIA, the limo driver comes into the terminal, meets us with a sign and helps us to his awaiting limo parked at curbside.

I knew this had changed because of heightened security measures but sometimes things just don't connect with me and with all the planning in the world, the results are not good. The trick in situations like this is to not let it throw me off my game. This, like other little hurdles that are inevitiable in the course of any vacation, must be isolated, dealt with quickly and effectively then move on. You just can't let it ruin the day.

I knew ahead of time that the choices on pick-up were two. Have the diver meet and greet us as we proceeded from the gate to bag claim, then walk the luggage out to the parking lot as they cannot leave their car at curbside unattended (car bomb?) or haul our luggage to curbside then call them when we are ready to be picked up and they would be there in a few minutes. This assumes that they are hovering someplace close by, monitoring the flight arrival times through some sophisticated on board system that, in and of itself, make security personnel wonder what they were up to. I , begrudgingly chose to haul our considerable amount of luggage to curbside then call.

This alone is a logistic nightmare. First we find the carousel that the luggage will arrive on, this time number 21. Then Lisa and Whitney stake claim on an area a little bit away from the carousel to line up all the luggage that Sydney and I pull off as it arrives, making sure we got it all. Now we go to curbside and find a place to line it all up. The plan is for me to wait there, guarding it, calling the limo, and being on the lookout for them while Sydney goes back and forth from the position in the terminal to my position at curbside, bringing each piece of luggage. If that was all it took, that would not be all that bad. Where the nightmare part starts is that there are effectively 3 distinct lanes of one-way traffic outside to deal with. Communicating with the limo driver I find that we need to be on an island in the middle of the three for pickup. That means we need to cross the taxi lane to get to it.

The taxi lane is a mess. Hundreds of taxi's zipping in and out, vieing for the best position to pick up their passengers. Navigating across this lane is tricky. It reminds me a lot of some video game in the early years of video games. It becomes apparent that Sydney will die here trying to cross the traffic. But by the time that little thought occurs to me all the luggage has been transported from inside the terminal to outside by the taxi lane which, in effect, just moved the whole staging operation up a little closer to where we needed to be. The next step, bringing the luggage from there out to the island, looked to me like trying to cross a stream infested with man-eating ( or in this case, teenager eating taxi cabs)

>From my position on the island where the limo had yet to arrive I had no choice but to beckon Sydney over so she could guard the new outpost while I bravely navigated the taxi river. To my horror though, I looked back to the curb to see Sydney stepping off trying to manage two large pieces of luggage on wheels through a line of cabs when one cut her off and hemmed her in.

This was not going well.

I had no choice than but to abandon the one piece of 12 that had made it to the island and go help. by the time I made it back to curbside, Lisa and Whitney had decided to help by leaving the curb and entering the traffic flow. Bad idea. Things were getting tense now. We were all going to die right here. The next few seconds are still kind of a blurr but somehow we managed to get the luggage to the island, the limo driver arrived and we lived. I'm pretty sure there was a warp in the space-time continuum there that made all the traffic stand still while we were allowed to complete our mission. I wondered if I had a pencil held at arms length and let it go if it would stay right there, suspended in mid air.

Probably not.

The funny part of all this (and you've just GOT to laugh at stuff like this) is that during all this probably a hundred cabs of all sizes, shapes and colors went wizzing right by us. Inside my brain that little voice I don't pay attention to much said:

"Hey genius, how 'bout you take a cab next time huh?

But we did get in the limo, it was nice and we made it to the Hyatt just about a half hour behind schedule. Not bad considering the flight was 20 minutes late and that we had just been through a scene from some movie that would scar the personalities of little children for life. We were in Miami.

We love Miami and even though this Legend cruise sails out of Ft Lauderdale, we chose to spend two nights here at the Hyatt Regency downtown. This is our first time at this hotel and I must say that so far I am impressed. After taking advice, again from Cruise Critics, we booked this hotel through Priceline.com for $35 per night, a great rate considering the rack rate of this hotel is over $200 per night. Last December, on our Christmas cruise, we stayed at the Intercontinental, right down the street, and were pretty darn impressed. So far I'd give a nod to the Intercontinental on quality but make that a guarded nod. The Hyatt people are genuinely friendly, the Intercontinental were what I call "hand-out" friendly. Hand-out friendly are those service people who are so obviously only in it for the money that it shows and they make no attempt to hide it or be graceful about it. Here at the Hyatt they seem to care.

A good example of this is the room service department.

I had pre-ordered some snacks and beverages to be waiting in our room for us when we arrived. When we did arrive in the room they were not there. I called room service to inquire. The nice lady who answered the phone was very much aware of the order without looking it up. She said that she had been monitoring our arrival and that she didn't want to send them up at the pre-arranged time of 4:30 and have them be cold when we arrived but that she knew we had checked in and they were on their way. They (Quessadillas, Shrimp Cocktails, Coronas and soft drinks) arrived within a few minutes. Delicious and just what I had in mind. Good job Hyatt. Another good job by the Hyatt was in the transport of our luggage.

As the limo pulled up in front of the hotel there was a big tour bus unloading a large group of Royal Caribbean seniors on a group tour. Inside the lobby was the tail end of this bunch checking into the hotel for the night before their cruise the next day. I was apparently the only one there not part of the group. They eyed me suspiciously like

"Whats this non-silver guy doing here? Is he part of our group?"

But their attention was drawn back to their tour books and trying to find the hotel voucher they needed to check in with. It apparently is customary in groups like this for the men-folk to send the women to do the checking in stuff while they stand a bit away telling each other stories of their cruises from years past. I think the men think the women are much better than this than they are. But being right there in line with them I had sort of infiltrated the ranks and was discovering the truth and the reason for the original looks of suspicion. They didn't have a clue what they were doing. They were all putting their heads together to figure out the process while the men stood away, confident that they had made yet another great executive decision, much like the ones they had made in business before they retired when in fact were it not for the all-knowing desk clerk they might have ended up filling out job applications instead.

I thought about clueing in the guys but thought better of it.

by the time all these old people shuffled off to their special floor of the hotel the lobby had been overtaken with hundreds of pieces of luggage. I was pleasantly surprised to see that after I had checked into our room (bayview, as requested) the bellman we had seen at curbside had our luggage tagged and ready to go to our room. Looking good Hyatt!

The room overlooks the Port of Miami, from a bit more distance than the Intercontinental room did but at a fraction of the cost. Good trade. A nice room on a non-smoking floor it has two double beds, a dressing area and bathroom. What I really like is that this dressing area is also a great place to store our big luggage pile. It's out of sight from the rest of the room, a big improvement over any hotels we have stayed at in Miami so far. Most of our luggage will not even be opened until we get on the ship so having it out of the way is a bonus. I suppose it must look odd to someone. Why do these people have 12 pieces of luggage for a two night hotel stay?

The room also sports a balcony with a couple chairs and a table, not unlike the size of a standard Category 8 balcony on a Carnival ship. I doubt we'll be out on that balcony much but its nice to have I suppose.

After settling in a bit we went downstairs and took a cab to Bayside, a tradition and must-do anytime we visit Miami. Our first stop, as usual, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

We asked if our favorite waiter was there that night and were disappointed to find out he no longer worked there. We would later find out that he quit and was working at a Steak and Ale in Kendall. We added our name to the waiting list and went to walk around for a while. The girls went shopping for another formal night outfit at Wet Seal while Lisa and I went to the harbour cruise boats to see what their schedule was like. We had been on the harbor tour before but it had been a while and the first time it was cold. I remember just wishing it were over while the people working the boat just wanted to sell us cold drinks. There are a couple different operators of these tours and I would recommend doing it. They take you by the homes of the Stars and around some cruise ships (maybe they don't get too close now with the security concerns). We decided it was too late to do it tonight so we went back to Bubba Gumps, had dinner, then went back to the hotel to watch a movie in the room.

We love doing this and consider it part of our vacation experience both on land and at sea.

No matter what's going on we can get everyone together for this at the end of the day We all get ready for bed and pile in our room (or cabin when on the ship) to watch. The new Harry Potter movie was available so they bought it ($10). We were going to watch the horror movie "The Ring" but I thought the airport luggage scene would surely be in any respectable horror movie of the day so I closed my eyes and went quickly to sleep.

Tomorrow will bring South Beach. MTV is filming there and the girls are pretty excited about being on national TV, sure to be discovered as a hidden national treasure and catapulted to fame. I just want to see the ocean,

Day 2- South Beach

Today is our one full day in Miami before boarding the Legend. Awake before the rest of the gang I went down to the lobby of the Hyatt to check out the weather. A nice day (or one even close to nice) means South Beach.

It had rained during the night and was cloudy now. Not a big worry as it does rain here a lot. In fact, I think rain has been in the picture just about every time we have been here. But that's a big difference between here and the Midwest from which we come. Here it can (and does) pour down rain but then it clears up rather quickly and you can still have a great day at the beach. In Kansas there's more of permanence to stormy weather, like it decided to pull up a chair and stay a while. I suspect that a meteorologist would tell us it has something to do with the ocean and the climate. I think Mother Nature just has a thing against people from the Midwest. She can be such a bitch sometimes. Think tornadoes.

Today feels like its going to be a good one, so South Beach it is. I try to get everybody moving and there at the beach by eleven in the morning.

With this being spring break though I think ten is a better idea. Or maybe I am just looking for any excuse to go to the beach. We had planned on having breakfast at the little Cuban restaurant that's within walking distance of the Hyatt as suggested by members of the Cruise Critics board. But by the time we got going it was pushing 10:00 so we grabbed some bagels and fruit from the Riverwalk Café in the lobby. Pretty good. Not great, but pretty good.

I always enjoy the cab ride ($20) to South Beach. We drive right by the Port of Miami, on the other side, the side you can't see from the big 4 hotels (Intercontinental, Hyatt, Holiday Inn, Sheraton). Today the Imagination and Fascination are in port. I keep forgetting that we are not sailing out of this port and wonder what Port Everglades is like. We'll find out tomorrow as the limo is set to pick us up at 9 AM for the transfer there. In South Beach there are three main streets to remember. Ocean, Collins and Washington. If you tell a cab driver to take you to 10th and Ocean, for example, you'll be right between the ocean (the one with water) and Ocean (the one with a sea of people). This has always been our place to start.

Today I told the driver to pull over when we got to Washington. Besides saving a few bucks on cab fare we were able to walk in to the busy area rather than starting there and walking out. This is a good idea especially if you live someplace other than a major airport on Christmas Eve as the hustle and bustle of the area can be quite intimidating.

We still chose to go directly to the beach, where others had already started arriving. We had heard that MTV was going to be shooting there but they were no where in sight. What WAS in sight was a fenced off area where they were building a huge stage for some Dance Music Awards show. Not really sure what that was but it was quite an operation. Walking around this area that was sandwiched in between the sand volleyball courts and the beach itself, we paid for four chairs ($32) and one umbrella ($10). Lisa and Whitney needed the umbrella as both are fair skinned and burn easily. I decided that Sydney and I didn't need an umbrella as we are not and don't. That could be that we are the outdoorsy type but its more likely due to using tanning beds everyday for the last month. Not that we're vain or anything, we just want to fit in with the locals.

But if we really wanted to fit in we wouldn't pay for chairs and umbrellas. The locals get right up close and personal with the ocean and lay on towels they bring from home. I thought about bringing beach towels from home but that would take up valuable space in our luggage that could be used to smuggle booze and soda on board the ship. (Not exactly recommended, but discussed a lot on the Cruise Critics message board) I don't need to pass for a local that bad. I think the key to fitting in and looking like one of them is to actually BE one. That dream will be fulfilled some day. In fact, the topic came up today, but in a conversation I had with Lisa that I'd imagine will be vivid in my memory for the rest of my life.

Some conversations are like that. So crystal clear in your memory that they could have taken place just moments ago, but yet they happened in previous decades.

We had inquired about where a restroom was earlier and were told the closest one to our position was at the Beach Patrol Headquarters building. Lisa and I walked down there and back. In one of the rare moments when we are without the kids, Lisa stopped and told me something I will never forget.

"If the worst happens, if they've done everything they can and theres nothing else that can be done for me, I want to be here"

She was referring to the upcoming chapter in our lives which would include the treatment and resolution of the cancer that was found just one week ago back home during an oral surgery. With all the sights, sounds and other distractions this vacation had afforded us so far it was not too hard to put this issue on the back burner, as planned. But it was still there, looming under the surface of everything we did and everyplace we went. We had the thoughts at bay for now and intended to do so for the rest of this trip but this was the right time and the right place for this short but poignant conversation.

I understood.

We went on to agree that this was a good place to have the end come. We have never been happier than here. And in her typical selfless demeanor she added

"..and it will be a good place for you to get a new start"

Those words struck at my heart so hard that I rose to a different level of consciousness that I had only flirted with before. The thought had indeed crossed my mind but I denied it away as quick as I could. Now here it was right in front of me, not in the shades of gray that occupy my mind but in living, breathing, color. At that moment Lisa took on an air of beauty I had seen just a couple times before. It was the glow of a bride or the wonder of the new mother. To be facing what could be the most difficult time of her life but be concerned about what might happen to me was the stuff that great people are made of.

Even though the discovering doctor thought this was something that could be "taken care of", even though she didn't fit the profile for people who should get this disease, the possibility was there that it could have devastating results. A few moments later, that conversation done and back to semi-reality we wondered if that was what it took for us to move here, why wait?

We had talked about and planned on moving here after the kids were off conquering their own worlds but those talks were, in reality, dreams. Now they had some legitimate foundation. But what was said was said and it was time to put the whole thing on the back burner again. Somehow talking about this had added a peace and calm to the day that resulted in a nap on the beach.

Naps are good, regardless of the source.

We stayed longer than we had on previous visits to the beach and probably would have stayed even longer were it not for a storm moving in. Who knows when we would be able to return. But it was time for lunch anyway so off we went.

We walked up and down Ocean Drive, passing the many places to eat on what I call "restaurant row". These places literally run together and it is often difficult to see where one leaves off and the next one begins except for the few that are not packed. I wonder if the food is bad in these oddly vacant places to eat. We ended up eating at the Pelican, both a restaurant and a hotel. The food was good, the service better and price about like any of the other places. It's about a $50 to $75 lunch in any of the boutique restaurants. There's a Johnny Rockets there that would probably be less but what's unique about that?

After lunch we returned to the hotel to rest. Still to do before embarkation was a trip to the store for soda and beer to smuggle on board. With nightfall coming on quickly we hurried out on to the street and off to find our contraband. No luck. If you're a Dr Pepper fan, like Whitney, bring it from home. Couldn't find it. We also couldn't find the liquor store we had used on our last cruise. But that was really ok with me; I think I was secretly looking for an excuse NOT to bring the forbidden stuff on board.

There's been a lot of talk about this topic lately. For a while the buzz was that Carnival had a "new" policy forbidding bringing drinks on the ship. It turns out this was nothing new but that they felt a need to enforce an rule that has been part of the contract a passenger makes with Carnival for a long time. Perhaps it was the passengers who were bringing rolling coolers stocked full of Bud Light on board? But what really bothered me about the whole thing was that it was just wrong to do it in the first place.

In addition to setting a horrible example for the kids, ("rules don't matter where booze is concerned"), I had agreed to the terms of passage as set out by Carnival when I paid for the cruise. Now I was going to break my word to save a few bucks on a cocktail? If I couldn't afford to buy a can of beer on the ship I probably shouldn't be going in the first place and surely shouldn't be drinking.

Some people justify their dishonesty by saying that Carnival does not offer what they like to drink. So they sneak their Dr Philbins Organic Stout Ale or Diet Rite Cola on board. Oh please, there's not one of the 376 different beers they offer that will work for you? Why not just say you prefer beer that has been taxed in North Dakota?

Having made the right decision we gave up on finding the elusive liquor store. We should have brought those towels from home after all.

Dinner brought the Hard Rock at Bayside into the picture. Good food, awful (as usual) service but just right to burn up the rest of the evening. We returned to the hotel to watch the movie I fell asleep too early watch last night. I made it through about half of it before dozing off into a dream about tomorrow and the Legend.

We'll probably be to the port by 10 AM and have several hours to kill before being allowed on board, but that's better than waiting at the hotel, especially since this is a new port for us.

I will probably spend my time studying the deck plans some more, you can never do enough of that!

This review starts actually began about a month out and followed our experience leading up to the 3/18/03 sailing of the Carnival Legend at home and during the course of our pre-cruise stay in Miami. Although the cruise sailed out of Ft Lauderdale, we did our pre-cruise in Miami just because we love it there. To see this pre-cruise stuff go to our website at www.LifeIsCruising.com and click on Ships and Reviews. Here, we begin with embarkation.

We were up early, fed and ready to go when the limo arrived at the Miami Hyatt shortly before 9:00 AM. I told the driver to take his time because we were so early. The traffic between Miami and Ft Lauderdale on this Tuesday morning proved to be plenty to slow us down as it was heavy.

When we arrived at Port Everglades a little before 10 the scene was much like we had encountered upon arriving early to the Port of Miami on past cruises; chaotic. We were dropped right in the middle of the madness which I wasn't sure was right but was assured by our diver and verified by a porter as being the place to be. I wondered who else was boarding with us. It was not real hard to tell the ones who were disembarking, they had the look. Instead of a happy look of anticipation they had the "its all over" look, sort of like somebody who placed well but lost a race.

I checked with a Carnival employee who was helping a handicapped passenger disembark who told me where to go. Being there early is the way to go at this port. The small waiting area that is inside the terminal is air conditioned, a nice place to wait out of the heat.

As qualifying members of the Skippers Club, I asked where we should go and what we should do, not really expecting much in the way of special consideration. Boy was I wrong about that. The embarkation staff just bent over backwards to accommodate us. Several members of the Carnival staff deserve a special mention. Herb Jacobs and Jay Mendelshon were especially helpful. I have always been impressed with the embarkation staff in Miami and found it hard to believe that they could be better here. I would have been really pleased if they were AS good.

They were better.

I came to find out that this terminal is not used exclusively by Carnival, sometimes they may be working out of an entirely different berth. I knew this from keeping an eye on the Harbor Masters report online, a little site I picked up off of Cruise Critics.com. So they have to "set up shop" here every time the Legend, the only ship out of this port, sails. Pretty impressive.

More impressive is the presence of the embarkation staff. They are everywhere, answering questions, pre-checking passengers' documents, and just putting a great foot forward for Carnival in general. As the waiting area overflowed into the outside area they continued to update passengers on when and how we would be embarking.

There was a wedding party there that would board first. I wondered if the wedding party planning lady was Carnival employee; she did not fit in with the rest of the friendly group. Maybe she was having an off day or marital problems that soured her on her job.

The next group would be Carnival employees, I guessed that they were employees that were new or transferring on to the Legend from another ship. Later I saw them having lunch with one of the ship's officers who looked like he was briefing them on the ship so I decided my idea of them being new/transferred employees was probably right.

After this group came travel agents. They looked like a kind of clueless group and I was glad that mine was not one of them. Here we were in this now jam packed area and Herb was calling and calling for the travel agents to come up and get on board.

Finally it was time for real passengers to go inside. The first stop for everyone would be security, then, because we had been pre-checked in by security, we would bypass the next area which was very similar to Miami, with lots of Embarkation staff ready to check documents and go right upstairs to get our Sign and Sail cards then wait till actual boarding time. Again, all along, the Embarkation staff kept us informed of the situation as to when we would board, a topic of big concern to us "early birds".

At Port Everglades boarding is done by group. When we got upstairs, had our Sign and Sail cards and were ready to board we were ushered into another staging area right behind the surly wedding planner, Carnival employees and travel agents and given a card indicating we were in group 1. I don't think this had anything to do with being in the Skippers Club, just the order of when where we were in the line. So getting there early paid off. If that was the end of the embarkation story I would have been quite pleased. It was a smooth, professional operation, well executed.

But that wasn't the end of the story.

Shortly the wedding party, Carnival employees and travel agents were ushered onto the ship and everyone else "moved up" closer to the gate and ready to go. Lisa pulled out her book, ready to wait. All the time Jay was explaining how things were going on getting all the old passengers off the ship and about how long he thought it would be for us to board. I can't tell you how important this is in keeping people happy. This information kept pretty much everybody happy. Informed people seem to be happy people. Imagine that.

Now here's the best part so pay attention.

It wasn't 10 minutes since the travel agents boarded and Jay motioned to the early Skippers Club passengers (us) and only us to board. We were on board by 11:15, easily an hour earlier that any previous cruises. I can't imagine a better ending for my story about the Embarkation staff. In every way they exceeded our expectations and, very obviously, the expectations of all the other passengers I observed.

Now on board we proceeded directly to our staterooms. On the way we could not help but stop to pause and admire the sheer beauty of this ship. This being our first time on a Spirit class ship we were a bit turned around after being on the Victory so many times that we knew the layout by heart, but many of the major components were seemed to follow the same logic in how this class was designed.

There was a sense of comforting familiarity.

This is one classy ship. The rich color scheme and legend theme that ties it all together works well. Farcus' use of urns, a topic of much discussion, provides a continuity that flows from one area of the ship to the next. Well done and more on that in later day's reviews as I explore each area in greater detail. For now I can sum up the appearance and layout of the ship in one word.

Awesome.

As we navigated the hallways, looking for our cabins, the stewards were busy still preparing the cabins. It would obviously be a while before the rest of the passengers were to be on board. We had booked one outside balcony cabin for Lisa and I and an inside across the hall for the kids. Both were in the process of being set up when we arrived. I met our stewards helper and introduced myself, inquiring if our steward was around. He told me that no he was not, he was sick and off the ship but would be back onboard later. It turns out he was getting his glasses repaired, thus the visit to an eye doctor.

I had ordered a bunch of Bon Voyage gifts and things from the gifts and services area of Carnival.com. Some had arrived, some had not, but it was early so I wasn't real concerned about them making it to our cabin except that on our cruise last December some didn't. This time I had saved the email confirmations and brought them with me just in case. I hoped I wouldn't need them and didn't think much about it as we were too busy being impressed with our cabins.

These cabins are distinct upgrade over cabins on all previous Carnival ships. I think we've had every category offered except Oceanview on Fantasy and Destiny class ships. There has been a lot of attention to detail here. Some of the highlights in every cabin include a nicely stocked mini-bar, voice mail, dispensers for shampoo and shower gel, thermostatically controlled shower, upgraded décor (very pleasing), an air conditioning "quick cool" button that's just out of this world, cooling off your cabin in a fraction of the time it would normally take, and upgraded lighting fixtures providing indirect lighting that makes for a real homey feel.

Since they were feverishly working on getting the cabins ready we dropped our carry-ons off and got out of their way, choosing to explore this beautiful ship instead of unloading our stuff.

Our cabins are located on the Verandah deck, deck 7. Up two decks is the lido deck, featuring a variety of casual dining options (more on that later) . In between the lido deck (deck 9) and the Atlantic deck (deck 3) are basically cabin decks. The action is on decks 2 and 3. So far this still throws me off some, being accustomed to going up for everything on other ships. But it all makes sense once you walk around a while.

Still early, they were in the process of setting up the embarkation lunch on the lido deck so we went down to check out decks 2 and 3 to start learning the layout of the ship and look at our dining room table assignment. Actually I should say assignments. We had been assigned to two different tables, a matter we would need to clear up later when dining room inquiries were considered. For now, we checked out the impressive, two level, Truffles dining room. I wondered how this would go as we had developed such a nice relationship with Francesco Tognini on the Victory. How will this compare? We'll see.

After a brief tour of decks 2 and 3, just to see all the different areas I had only viewed online virtually or on deck plans, we went back to the lido deck where they were just starting to serve the embarkation lunch and the other passengers were beginning to board. We visited the various stations, trying a little of this and that. Everything was great. We're not big buffet people and would probably be having all our meals in the dining room but it was good to know that they did a fine job in this area. Lisa had undergone oral surgery a week earlier and was still struggling somewhat to eat, taking it slow and careful, so it was especially nice to know that this self-paced option was available and good too.

We tried Chinese food, classic buffet stuff, grilled items, desserts, and salad bar stuff. There is a carving station that had all their stuff covered up that we didn't try. Not sure what was going on there as there were 4 people behind the counter apparently ready to serve. That was kind of awkward. But good stuff there at the embarkation lunch. Interestingly, they have brought back cafeteria trays for the use of passengers, something that was and then wasn't on other ships we have sailed. Also interesting is what appears to be an increased amount of non-smoking area on this and other decks. Servers were all over the place offering to help or provide refills on beverages. A really friendly bunch, they made you feel right at home.

We finished lunch then proceeded to the Round Table room to see the Maitre 'd about our table assignments. Although it was right at 1:00, the time set in the Capers for dining room inquiries, there were already several people waiting to talk about it. I was relieved to get us moved to one table, a 4 top in a nice part of the dining room, not that there are "bad" parts, it's a great room.

After this we headed back to the cabins. They had finished setting us up, sort of, and the cabins were pretty much ready to go. Still missing the key chains from Bon Voyage cabin decorations (got to have those, they are great), a bottle of champagne and the delicious cakes. Still not too concerned and with the stewards helper out of the way, we all took naps.

We awoke about 3:00, unpacked out carryons then got ready for the lifeboat drill. The cruise director Bret Alans (good) came on the PA system with instructions. I found it odd that he did not take that opportunity to introduce himself and welcome the passengers aboard as it was the first announcement made but no big deal. The lifeboat drill was about as painless as they get. The new, designer life vests are comfortable and easy to figure out. I normally get tied up in knots and look like an orange Gumby until Lisa fixes me. This time I almost figured it out myself.

The alarm for the muster drill to proceed to the lifeboats is pretty hard to miss. In fact, if you can sleep through this really loud, shrill sound you deserve to go down with the ship, that's for sure. The crew helped us do it correctly and most all passengers were paying close attention to instructions. I suppose that concentration is a result of the heightened security and concern over terrorist attacks and the looming war with Iraq. I guess we are all touched by that in one way or another.

After the lifeboat drill I went directly to the Pursers desk to inquire about my missing Bon Voyage gifts and to have extra keys made so we could open each others cabins. The line was short and the staff there seemed genuinely concerned with correcting the situation. In fact, after we returned from our early seating dinner we had our cakes and champagne, still no key chains but a nice message on our cabin's voice mail letting us know they were on top of it but had to check with the office in Miami about it in the morning. I appreciate the attention to this little detail and the follow-up.

With our dinner time being 5:45 it was time to start thinking about dinner. I changed out of shorts and headed to the casino to play some slots while the girls got ready to go. They would meet me there at 5:30. A little before 5 people were already circling the slots, getting ready to play. The casino opened at 5, about a half hour after we set sail and by 5:10 was packed. I could see that I would have to get there early to claim any machine I found that liked me. The slots were generous, as I have found them to be on the first night of about any cruise we have been on. I imagine (and this is probably just my imagination) that they set those things to pay off a lot the first day to hook us on playing then crank them down the rest of the week to get back what they gave us. I don't know if there is any factual basis for that but it sure has been the way it's worked out for me.

Lisa and the girls arrived to drag me away to the dining room at 5:30 and we headed up the hallway to the Truffles dining room where a huge line of passengers had gathered. The dining room doors were opened early and we went inside to find our table again. We were greeted pretty promptly by our waiter and his assistant. Unfortunately that was about the end of the service. The food was great, everything was prepared very well. But the service was just not there. I suspect that our waiter's helper was new and I rarely saw her. But our waiter's presentation left a lot to be desired, there was none.

After the initial greeting (done well) he came back with his "suggestions" for us. I guess. He was mumbling something that sounded like suggestions but I sure wouldn't call them "hearty" suggestions. No big deal, lets move on. Let me just bunch all the bad things up here and be done with it. I really don't like to complain about stuff like this as we are pretty flexible and easy to get along with but I should report this part to be accurate. Soup, although tasty and hot, was slopped all over the cup it was in and the plate he carried it on, the "timing" was way off for the entire meal (this does bother me) causing some members of our party to have a course in front of them while the others waited to be served (awkward). Granted, Lisa was eating slowly because of the surgery I mentioned earlier, but not that slow and why serve some but not all? Given the choice he should have had us ALL wait till the entire table could have been served at once. I asked for Iced Tea (obviously ticked him off) and he poured it in my tiny wine glass (huh?). Refills on everything were like pulling teeth. Bread was offered once, never to be seen again. Too bad, it was good and a real favorite of the kids. Ok enough of that.

My plan is to have a chat with him before the next meal begins to let him know what we expect. I hope that does it. I didn't ever see a Maitre 'd, Assistant Maitre 'd or Hostess ever on the floor, not sure where they were but I suspect they might have been busy making alternate table arrangements for people that had not gone earlier to do this.

I hope this improves as we always have enjoyed the dining room experience. It sure won't ruin our cruise, but it will take away from the richness of the experience. Here you have a beautiful dining room and a well executed menu, the service just needs to be there.

After dinner it was off to the internet café to get our accounts open, a little casino action for me (good night) and a movie in the cabin for the girls. I went with Sydney to check out the teen scene in the disco. Nobody there. That's ok though, she has a devoted boyfriend back home and no real need to mingle. I should mention that while the passenger group on this sailing has more older people than I have ever seen in my life in one place everyone I have met so far has been really nice. I suspect there won't be many reports of wild teens and drunken frat parties on this sailing and look forward to meeting more of them.

It had been a long day and we turned in about 11:00, early by normal standards but appropriate to prepare for the next day. This is a great ship and we are looking forward to the next two days, days at sea to fully appreciate all she has to offer.

This review starts actually began about a month out and followed our experience leading up to the 3/18/03 sailing of the Carnival Legend at home and during the course of our pre-cruise stay in Miami. Although the cruise sailed out of Ft Lauderdale, we did our pre-cruise in Miami just because we love it there. To see this pre-cruise stuff go to our website at www.LifeIsCruising.com and click on Ships and Reviews. Here, we begin with embarkation.

We were up early, fed and ready to go when the limo arrived at the Miami Hyatt shortly before 9:00 AM. I told the driver to take his time because we were so early. The traffic between Miami and Ft Lauderdale on this Tuesday morning proved to be plenty to slow us down as it was heavy.

When we arrived at Port Everglades a little before 10 the scene was much like we had encountered upon arriving early to the Port of Miami on past cruises; chaotic. We were dropped right in the middle of the madness which I wasn't sure was right but was assured by our diver and verified by a porter as being the place to be. I wondered who else was boarding with us. It was not real hard to tell the ones who were disembarking, they had the look. Instead of a happy look of anticipation they had the "its all over" look, sort of like somebody who placed well but lost a race.

I checked with a Carnival employee who was helping a handicapped passenger disembark who told me where to go. Being there early is the way to go at this port. The small waiting area that is inside the terminal is air conditioned, a nice place to wait out of the heat.

As qualifying members of the Skippers Club, I asked where we should go and what we should do, not really expecting much in the way of special consideration. Boy was I wrong about that. The embarkation staff just bent over backwards to accommodate us. Several members of the Carnival staff deserve a special mention. Herb Jacobs and Jay Mendelshon were especially helpful. I have always been impressed with the embarkation staff in Miami and found it hard to believe that they could be better here. I would have been really pleased if they were AS good.

They were better.

I came to find out that this terminal is not used exclusively by Carnival, sometimes they may be working out of an entirely different berth. I knew this from keeping an eye on the Harbor Masters report online, a little site I picked up off of Cruise Critics.com. So they have to "set up shop" here every time the Legend, the only ship out of this port, sails. Pretty impressive.

More impressive is the presence of the embarkation staff. They are everywhere, answering questions, pre-checking passengers' documents, and just putting a great foot forward for Carnival in general. As the waiting area overflowed into the outside area they continued to update passengers on when and how we would be embarking.

There was a wedding party there that would board first. I wondered if the wedding party planning lady was Carnival employee; she did not fit in with the rest of the friendly group. Maybe she was having an off day or marital problems that soured her on her job.

The next group would be Carnival employees, I guessed that they were employees that were new or transferring on to the Legend from another ship. Later I saw them having lunch with one of the ship's officers who looked like he was briefing them on the ship so I decided my idea of them being new/transferred employees was probably right.

After this group came travel agents. They looked like a kind of clueless group and I was glad that mine was not one of them. Here we were in this now jam packed area and Herb was calling and calling for the travel agents to come up and get on board.

Finally it was time for real passengers to go inside. The first stop for everyone would be security, then, because we had been pre-checked in by security, we would bypass the next area which was very similar to Miami, with lots of Embarkation staff ready to check documents and go right upstairs to get our Sign and Sail cards then wait till actual boarding time. Again, all along, the Embarkation staff kept us informed of the situation as to when we would board, a topic of big concern to us "early birds".

At Port Everglades boarding is done by group. When we got upstairs, had our Sign and Sail cards and were ready to board we were ushered into another staging area right behind the surly wedding planner, Carnival employees and travel agents and given a card indicating we were in group 1. I don't think this had anything to do with being in the Skippers Club, just the order of when where we were in the line. So getting there early paid off. If that was the end of the embarkation story I would have been quite pleased. It was a smooth, professional operation, well executed.

But that wasn't the end of the story.

Shortly the wedding party, Carnival employees and travel agents were ushered onto the ship and everyone else "moved up" closer to the gate and ready to go. Lisa pulled out her book, ready to wait. All the time Jay was explaining how things were going on getting all the old passengers off the ship and about how long he thought it would be for us to board. I can't tell you how important this is in keeping people happy. This information kept pretty much everybody happy. Informed people seem to be happy people. Imagine that.

Now here's the best part so pay attention.

It wasn't 10 minutes since the travel agents boarded and Jay motioned to the early Skippers Club passengers (us) and only us to board. We were on board by 11:15, easily an hour earlier that any previous cruises. I can't imagine a better ending for my story about the Embarkation staff. In every way they exceeded our expectations and, very obviously, the expectations of all the other passengers I observed.

Now on board we proceeded directly to our staterooms. On the way we could not help but stop to pause and admire the sheer beauty of this ship. This being our first time on a Spirit class ship we were a bit turned around after being on the Victory so many times that we knew the layout by heart, but many of the major components were seemed to follow the same logic in how this class was designed.

There was a sense of comforting familiarity.

This is one classy ship. The rich color scheme and legend theme that ties it all together works well. Farcus' use of urns, a topic of much discussion, provides a continuity that flows from one area of the ship to the next. Well done and more on that in later day's reviews as I explore each area in greater detail. For now I can sum up the appearance and layout of the ship in one word.

Awesome.

As we navigated the hallways, looking for our cabins, the stewards were busy still preparing the cabins. It would obviously be a while before the rest of the passengers were to be on board. We had booked one outside balcony cabin for Lisa and I and an inside across the hall for the kids. Both were in the process of being set up when we arrived. I met our stewards helper and introduced myself, inquiring if our steward was around. He told me that no he was not, he was sick and off the ship but would be back onboard later. It turns out he was getting his glasses repaired, thus the visit to an eye doctor.

I had ordered a bunch of Bon Voyage gifts and things from the gifts and services area of Carnival.com. Some had arrived, some had not, but it was early so I wasn't real concerned about them making it to our cabin except that on our cruise last December some didn't. This time I had saved the email confirmations and brought them with me just in case. I hoped I wouldn't need them and didn't think much about it as we were too busy being impressed with our cabins.

These cabins are distinct upgrade over cabins on all previous Carnival ships. I think we've had every category offered except Oceanview on Fantasy and Destiny class ships. There has been a lot of attention to detail here. Some of the highlights in every cabin include a nicely stocked mini-bar, voice mail, dispensers for shampoo and shower gel, thermostatically controlled shower, upgraded décor (very pleasing), an air conditioning "quick cool" button that's just out of this world, cooling off your cabin in a fraction of the time it would normally take, and upgraded lighting fixtures providing indirect lighting that makes for a real homey feel.

Since they were feverishly working on getting the cabins ready we dropped our carry-ons off and got out of their way, choosing to explore this beautiful ship instead of unloading our stuff.

Our cabins are located on the Verandah deck, deck 7. Up two decks is the lido deck, featuring a variety of casual dining options (more on that later) . In between the lido deck (deck 9) and the Atlantic deck (deck 3) are basically cabin decks. The action is on decks 2 and 3. So far this still throws me off some, being accustomed to going up for everything on other ships. But it all makes sense once you walk around a while.

Still early, they were in the process of setting up the embarkation lunch on the lido deck so we went down to check out decks 2 and 3 to start learning the layout of the ship and look at our dining room table assignment. Actually I should say assignments. We had been assigned to two different tables, a matter we would need to clear up later when dining room inquiries were considered. For now, we checked out the impressive, two level, Truffles dining room. I wondered how this would go as we had developed such a nice relationship with Francesco Tognini on the Victory. How will this compare? We'll see.

After a brief tour of decks 2 and 3, just to see all the different areas I had only viewed online virtually or on deck plans, we went back to the lido deck where they were just starting to serve the embarkation lunch and the other passengers were beginning to board. We visited the various stations, trying a little of this and that. Everything was great. We're not big buffet people and would probably be having all our meals in the dining room but it was good to know that they did a fine job in this area. Lisa had undergone oral surgery a week earlier and was still struggling somewhat to eat, taking it slow and careful, so it was especially nice to know that this self-paced option was available and good too.

We tried Chinese food, classic buffet stuff, grilled items, desserts, and salad bar stuff. There is a carving station that had all their stuff covered up that we didn't try. Not sure what was going on there as there were 4 people behind the counter apparently ready to serve. That was kind of awkward. But good stuff there at the embarkation lunch. Interestingly, they have brought back cafeteria trays for the use of passengers, something that was and then wasn't on other ships we have sailed. Also interesting is what appears to be an increased amount of non-smoking area on this and other decks. Servers were all over the place offering to help or provide refills on beverages. A really friendly bunch, they made you feel right at home.

We finished lunch then proceeded to the Round Table room to see the Maitre 'd about our table assignments. Although it was right at 1:00, the time set in the Capers for dining room inquiries, there were already several people waiting to talk about it. I was relieved to get us moved to one table, a 4 top in a nice part of the dining room, not that there are "bad" parts, it's a great room.

After this we headed back to the cabins. They had finished setting us up, sort of, and the cabins were pretty much ready to go. Still missing the key chains from Bon Voyage cabin decorations (got to have those, they are great), a bottle of champagne and the delicious cakes. Still not too concerned and with the stewards helper out of the way, we all took naps.

We awoke about 3:00, unpacked out carryons then got ready for the lifeboat drill. The cruise director Bret Alans (good) came on the PA system with instructions. I found it odd that he did not take that opportunity to introduce himself and welcome the passengers aboard as it was the first announcement made but no big deal. The lifeboat drill was about as painless as they get. The new, designer life vests are comfortable and easy to figure out. I normally get tied up in knots and look like an orange Gumby until Lisa fixes me. This time I almost figured it out myself.

The alarm for the muster drill to proceed to the lifeboats is pretty hard to miss. In fact, if you can sleep through this really loud, shrill sound you deserve to go down with the ship, that's for sure. The crew helped us do it correctly and most all passengers were paying close attention to instructions. I suppose that concentration is a result of the heightened security and concern over terrorist attacks and the looming war with Iraq. I guess we are all touched by that in one way or another.

After the lifeboat drill I went directly to the Pursers desk to inquire about my missing Bon Voyage gifts and to have extra keys made so we could open each others cabins. The line was short and the staff there seemed genuinely concerned with correcting the situation. In fact, after we returned from our early seating dinner we had our cakes and champagne, still no key chains but a nice message on our cabin's voice mail letting us know they were on top of it but had to check with the office in Miami about it in the morning. I appreciate the attention to this little detail and the follow-up.

With our dinner time being 5:45 it was time to start thinking about dinner. I changed out of shorts and headed to the casino to play some slots while the girls got ready to go. They would meet me there at 5:30. A little before 5 people were already circling the slots, getting ready to play. The casino opened at 5, about a half hour after we set sail and by 5:10 was packed. I could see that I would have to get there early to claim any machine I found that liked me. The slots were generous, as I have found them to be on the first night of about any cruise we have been on. I imagine (and this is probably just my imagination) that they set those things to pay off a lot the first day to hook us on playing then crank them down the rest of the week to get back what they gave us. I don't know if there is any factual basis for that but it sure has been the way it's worked out for me.

Lisa and the girls arrived to drag me away to the dining room at 5:30 and we headed up the hallway to the Truffles dining room where a huge line of passengers had gathered. The dining room doors were opened early and we went inside to find our table again. We were greeted pretty promptly by our waiter and his assistant. Unfortunately that was about the end of the service. The food was great, everything was prepared very well. But the service was just not there. I suspect that our waiter's helper was new and I rarely saw her. But our waiter's presentation left a lot to be desired, there was none.

After the initial greeting (done well) he came back with his "suggestions" for us. I guess. He was mumbling something that sounded like suggestions but I sure wouldn't call them "hearty" suggestions. No big deal, lets move on. Let me just bunch all the bad things up here and be done with it. I really don't like to complain about stuff like this as we are pretty flexible and easy to get along with but I should report this part to be accurate. Soup, although tasty and hot, was slopped all over the cup it was in and the plate he carried it on, the "timing" was way off for the entire meal (this does bother me) causing some members of our party to have a course in front of them while the others waited to be served (awkward). Granted, Lisa was eating slowly because of the surgery I mentioned earlier, but not that slow and why serve some but not all? Given the choice he should have had us ALL wait till the entire table could have been served at once. I asked for Iced Tea (obviously ticked him off) and he poured it in my tiny wine glass (huh?). Refills on everything were like pulling teeth. Bread was offered once, never to be seen again. Too bad, it was good and a real favorite of the kids. Ok enough of that.

My plan is to have a chat with him before the next meal begins to let him know what we expect. I hope that does it. I didn't ever see a Maitre 'd, Assistant Maitre 'd or Hostess ever on the floor, not sure where they were but I suspect they might have been busy making alternate table arrangements for people that had not gone earlier to do this.

I hope this improves as we always have enjoyed the dining room experience. It sure won't ruin our cruise, but it will take away from the richness of the experience. Here you have a beautiful dining room and a well executed menu, the service just needs to be there.

After dinner it was off to the internet café to get our accounts open, a little casino action for me (good night) and a movie in the cabin for the girls. I went with Sydney to check out the teen scene in the disco. Nobody there. That's ok though, she has a devoted boyfriend back home and no real need to mingle. I should mention that while the passenger group on this sailing has more older people than I have ever seen in my life in one place everyone I have met so far has been really nice. I suspect there won't be many reports of wild teens and drunken frat parties on this sailing and look forward to meeting more of them.

It had been a long day and we turned in about 11:00, early by normal standards but appropriate to prepare for the next day. This is a great ship and we are looking forward to the next two days, days at sea to fully appreciate all she has to offer.

Day 3- At sea- At War

Ok today let's fast forward to lunch first.

Its noon and we're at our assigned table (357) in the Truffles Dining Room. Lo and behold, our waiter shows up for work today. I'm not sure who this happy-go-lucky person is but he's a twin for the guy we've been not all that impressed with on days one and two. The improvement in the service is huge. I'm not really sure what happened but this is a totally different guy. Chatty and personable, we find out that he has been aboard the Legend since day one and will continue here until his contract runs out. At that time he will take off 8 weeks then transfer to the new Carnival Glory in Italy to take her out too. Hopefully this new-found service orientation is not a fluke and that's the end of that story. To fast forward a little bit more to dinner, he's still right on the mark there too. It's looking good for the rest of the cruise and I'm glad to see it.

Now the only issue I have to deal with is if we want to try the Golden Fleece alternative restaurant. Before lunch I had said to myself that if the service wasn't there today in the main dining room that my next stop would be the Golden Fleece to book us a table for that night if possible. That probably wasn't a good reason to try the place and I think that came from common land-based practices of not returning to restaurants where things were not quite right. So based on that notion I have a dilemma now. The food has always been excellent in the dining room and now the service is too so do I want to go to the Golden Fleece or not? I'd almost hate to miss out on the dining room experience now. But on the other hand I'd like to include a review of the highly acclaimed supper club here.

What do you think? Maybe I should have a poll.

Ok now that the dining room service issue seems to be under control, lets back up to the beginning of the day.

We start with a marvelous sunrise viewing from the outside seating area located just forward from the Unicorn Café on the Lido deck (close to the coffee). It's going to be a lovely day and many of those who missed yesterday's sunrise are here to enjoy the wonder of it all.

After a trip to the internet café to check mail and post my report. On the way back I stopped in the Lobby on Deck 2 to watch some of the Golf Putting Contest. This was pretty well attended and I would encourage anyone who has ever seen a putter to attend. Like so many other activities on board the ability to laugh at oneself is required. Putting on a marble floor covered with a thin veil of Astroturf is tough enough. I doubt that Tiger Woods has to compensate for the occasional rocking motion that the cruise passengers participating here did. That brings me to another topic I haven't discussed: the motion of the ship.

We've been sailing in what has to be the calmest seas I have yet to sail. The motion of the ship is almost non-existent. It's there and if I turn the wrong way at the wrong time I can still bang into a wall or knock down a small child ever without drinking, but even all the way aft the motion is not a real factor to be considered. I had heard reports here and there from some that the Spirit class vessels tend to experience more motion, supposedly due to their narrow width necessary to take on the Panama Canal. But talking to some passengers who did last weeks Canal itinerary on a back to back it just doesn't seem to be the case. I really suspect that the calm seas have a lot to do with it. This is more like sailing on a big lake than an ocean. I keep expecting to see kids skipping rocks on the water. But that would be silly because there are so many other things to do on this ship.

Bingo is huge on this sailing, with seniors trained in martial arts claiming their lucky spots in the Follies Lounge before each game. You do NOT mess with these people. This bingo is not for the weak. I stopped by a game and quickly realized that I was way out of my league. As I entered the room I was instantly sized up by these competitive "teams" of players. Boy did I feel out of place. Before I was stopped to have my credentials checked I slowly backed out of the room, head bowed, and watched from the doorway. I'm pretty sure I would have been caned by several of the players had I upset the odds of winning by buying a card. Nonetheless there were people of all ages attending. I theorized that they must be kin to the real players and allowed to attend so that, one day, if they were deemed worthy, they would be allowed to carry on the family tradition.

I should also add that I had heard reports of this showroom being just as cold as those on other ships. I was initially surprised to see no one wrapped in blankets, towels or with hand and foot warmers as though they were on the Alaskan itinerary. I think someone, someplace, at Carnival headquarters must have gotten tired of hearing this complaint and, when they designed this ship, they just "forgot" to put in air conditioning in certain places. "Oops! Too late now" someone probably said at some board meeting in Miami. There are places on this ship where it's downright hot. I suppose the temperature is about 98.6 degrees, a handy number that allows seniors to travel about without life support and newlyweds to never dress. Speaking of wild activities, the first slot tournament was today.

Tip: Go to this but don't enter, play machines with real money.

I'm just positive that when the slot tournament is underway that the secret casino snoops are not watching the few regular players, manipulating their machines to keep them from winning too much. Rather, they are concentrating on the frenzied activities happening around the tournament machines. I sat at my machine, within view of the tournament machines and watched these contestants rack up thousands of credits is a very short period of time. Then I realized the whole point of it all. Here's my theory.

I think they loosen up the tournament machine slots so they rack up way more than normal points. As the players feverishly punch, beat and poke the "spin wheels" button (like that's how you'd do it in real life.right..you'd go broke in 10 minutes) as fast as they can they and the bystanders say to themselves "Ok when this is over I am definitely playing THAT machine!" See? More mind control. They are masters at it. But today I think they messed up.

My machine was paying off almost as well! When I started playing I had about 1200 Ocean Players Club (OPC) "points", by the time I was done I had broke 1600. That's a lot for one session. Of course I played till I lost all I won but that's the fun of it. I don't understand these people that win and quit. The hit some lousy win like three cherries, hoop and holler then leave to tell their spouses. The men probably envision themselves a James Bond International Playboy type which eventually leads to putting out the "DO NOT DISTURB" sign on their cabin door. The ladies probably go back to the cabin and lord it over their men eventually winding up in the gift shop buying Tanzanite cabinet knobs for the kitchen back home. I can't do either because I don't stop till I run out of money for that session. Unless Kathy Lee reunites with Regis and they both pop out of the top of my machine singing a rousing rendition of Billy Cyrus' "Akey Breakey Heart" I will be there till the end. Oh and speaking of Kathy...

Kathy Lee is back!

Our cabin's television is an interactive experience with many features, one of which is our gal Kathy Lee Gifford. On our last sailing, on the Victory, Kathy Lee was no where to be found. Now she's back, in reruns, to help make sense of it all to new cruisers and lend a sense of continuity to us seasoned Carnival lovers. Somehow calm has come over the media presentations that are available on these in-cabin televisions. You can bet Kathy Lee has had a big hand in all of it. Sure, she's telling us all about the Sign and Sail card using the outdated one and she introduces the in-ter-net café in much the same way as a mother might associate "hot!" with "stove" to a 6 year old but hey, that's our Kathy! My favorite scene is where Kathy and group of friends (a big group) are in the dining room checking out the menu's. I just can't understand how those other guests can chat among themselves while Kathy is talking! Hey Kathy, I would pay really close attention if invited to sit at YOUR table, believe me! I dunno, maybe it's just me but a great part of this video is a nightclub performance by Kathy Lee singing what must be her own composition all about the wonders of Carnival's smoke-free Paradise. She's just soooo hot! Ok, I better stop right there on that.

In addition to the Kathy Lee channel there are other features too. You can book shore excursions right from your cabin or check out how much your kids have been spending for mud baths in the Spa. There are two ship cams, one pointing forward to the secret make-out area (this must have come from the comment cards filled out by parents and perverts) and another pointing aft showing where the ship has been and any Russian Acula class submarines that might be chasing us. There's a couple channels that are travel log channels, showing the footage that guy with the big video cam you're jealous of was taking all day and night as well as the events you missed because you were too tired to go (mandatory ones) or couldn't fit in your schedule (hairy ape contest)

SIDE NOTE: Have you ever been to one of these hairy contests? The fat men parade about and the women touch their chests, checking it all out! Gawd, how disgusting! Good thing there's not a "fatherhood" contest.

There are assorted music channels (sorry no exclusive "Kathy Lee Top 40 Hits" channel) and on this ship CBS, NBC and sometimes ABC.. With the war with Iraq just starting I wish we had CNN but am pretty sure the cable company would have a problem with installation to the ship. Speaking of the war. Chris P from the Cruise Critics board asked me if it was true that armed guards were aboard the ships.

Not this one, not yet anyway. I must say I am somewhat concerned about traveling to the French side of St Maarten tomorrow at our first port of call. In Miami we saw stores that had painted huge signs on their windows letting us know that they had boycotted French products. We'll see. If I can catch one of the ships officers I will ask about security and what this war might do to affect it.

Another feature, probably the best one, is the ability to watch pay per view movies in your cabin. All I can say is that Carnival has a dang good selection {more than 20 movies) at a great price ($8.99). We find it a great way to end the day by gathering our bunch together and piling in our cabin to watch a movie. You might not want to do this if you have a group of 40. For you, the ever popular game "Twister" is available for check out in the Holmes Library.

Other features include a channel on which the ships position and speed at any give time can be seen, a great channel that tells of the daily activities aboard ship as well as the different ships features and a news summary channel. Now if they would just put slot machines in my cabin and deliver my dining room meals to me I would never have to leave.

But today I did leave to go catch some sun on deck. The first thing I saw shocked me. In one of the shallow pools, about mid ship, there were a couple ladies laid down and not moving. At first I thought some clever kids had caught a couple Manatees to keep for pets, and then I realized it was just some ladies cooling off. Again there were plenty of deck chairs open, so many that they had not yet unstacked all the piles of them at 11 AM.

But all the good ones were taken or "reserved" with personal belongings, towels, coffee cups and children who were being punished. I first took a chair on the port side, aft, by the funnel where nobody was sitting. Somebody came on the PA system announcing something that I couldn't make out over the noise of the ships engines. Wondering if it was the cruise director announcing a contest to be the first to spot an incoming torpedo I decided this might not be the best place to sit. So I went to the cabin, collected Sydney and headed back for more sun. This was when the new chair saving rule went into effect.

New rule: You can save a chair for 30 minutes, and then it's anybody's for the taking. Ok so it's my rule; I think it's a great one and I plan on enforcing it. Starting right now.

We started to pass a couple chairs in a prime location that had obviously been saves since before sunrise. They were marked with a cabin towels and coffee cups. Pretty clever of them as if these items were stolen they wouldn't have to pay for their beach towels or replace their copy of Forbes. But not quite clever enough! The coffee cups got slid under adjoining chairs and I used the cabin towels to mop my perspiring brow as we fried in the early but hot hot hot sun. As the sun worshipers all around us consumed bucket after bucket of beer, oblivious to our presence or the atrocity we had committed, I relaxed and listened to the cruise mix cd I had made of Dean Martin, Bon Jovi, Wayne Newton, Aerosmith and assorted other cruise worthy artists, stolen off the internet. I haven't listened to a Jimmy Buffet song since the surly hostess was nasty to us at his place in Key West.

After naptime I took Lisa to the Internet Café to check her mail and, while she was doing that, stopped by Satchmo's Lounge to check out the Karaoke Contest. At the time there was a guy and a gal doing a medley of songs from the musical Grease. They were good and got a big round of applause even though they guy looked more like Elmer Fudd than John Travolta. It was another of the many fun activities available during the day on sea days.

Another is teatime and classical music. Forget the music. Although it is good, the food is to die for. On the Victory they were stingy with the tasty little treats, here they walk around with huge all-you-can-eat trays! Now that's my idea of tea time! On the first sea day tea time was sparsely attended, like I had seen on other ships. by today the word had gotten around about putting on the feed bag in regards to the little snacks and the place was packed.

And that about brings us up to dinner, where I started this day's report.

Now the urn report.

Yes there are many. Actually there are over 80 different ones. Yes many are repeated as in holding up hand rails. Forget those. On each set of stairs, on each floor are two special ones encased in a shadow box on display. These are works of art. I took pictures of all of them and plan on having a special presentation of them on the website (www.lifeiscruising.com) (had to slip that in) when I return. In addition to the urn collection, there are works of art, many signed and numbered prints, all over the place as well as hand painted murals on walls, section dividers, and ceilings. A tour, book or website devoted to the Art of the Legend would be interesting to see. This artwork dominates this ship in much the same way neon dominates other Carnival ships.

Finally, we are beginning to see the elusive teen group on the ship. I don't know where they have been but all of the sudden they are starting to show up in public areas. Perhaps an outbreak of Norwalk-like acne kept them hiding in their cabins, under the bed or in the closet. There's still not all that many of them but they are here. They might have stumbled into a bingo game and got scared off for a while.

Tomorrow brings our first port, St Maarten/St Martin. I think we're going to avoid the French side just in case there are some hard feelings there against Americans. Too bad, I was looking forward to Orient Beach and trying swimming in the ocean and prancing around without clothing. But there's a bright side to everything I guess: My kids may admit to knowing me now.

Day 4- Martinique and The Golden Fleece

We arrived early in Martinique. by 6:30 AM we were docked alongside RCL's Magesty of the Seas at the new pier in St Maarten. Since we had last visited here on the Victory in the summer of 2002, additional construction has begun. It appears that they are doing what Cozumel did by adding a shopping mall of sorts right off the pier. Somehow though it seems more appropriate to me here. In Cozumel I liked it the old way, with street vendors all set up here and there selling their stuff. I've said before, if I wanted to go to a shopping mall I have plenty to choose from at home. But St Maarten is all about construction anyway.

After a couple bad hurricanes almost back to back in the late 90's there is construction going on everywhere anyway. The new pier is nice, probably the nicest one we have docked at. On our last visit we engaged a cab driver and took a tour of both the Dutch and French side of the island. This time, at the recommendation of a friend of Lisa's from work, we got a cab and headed to Bain Rouge beach, a little known but beautiful, full service French beach.

I mentioned yesterday that I was a little apprehensive about visiting the French side considering the animosity toward the French for their reluctance to enter the new Gulf War as seen in Miami and heard about through the media. Not a problem. The were all too happy to take our American dollars, with a smile. I should probably mention that this whole war thing has had no effect on this cruise.

If you want to follow the latest developments you can either in your cabin on one of the channels available through the ship or, at times, in the Sports Bar, where in the beginning moments all the video screens were tuned to the unfolding events. One time the captain came on the PA system with his periodic update ships status and position. At the end he acknowledged that they were aware of the war that had broken out and offered well wishes and prayers to those involved. Other than that the topic never comes up. I briefly thought about life at home (shoo!) and knew that I would have every television in the house turned on a different channel, sucking in every bit of information I could find so that I could talk about it with everybody from the grocery store clerk to people I worked with. But its hard to get into all that when you are in paradise.

We arrived at Bain Rouge about 9:30 AM, agreed with our cab driver to be picked up about 1:00, then headed to the beach where we got chairs and umbrellas ($5 each) and set up shop on one of the most lovely beaches we've yet seen. The best, so far, has been Sapphire Beach in St. Thomas, but this was close. I'm fairly sure we were the only cruise ship passengers there although I later learned that this is a favorite of cruise ship crew (maybe that's why). They have an open fire barbecue there and were serving up some good looking chicken and rice creations that were well received by those who had them. We had a few Carib beers ($2) and then checked to find out that local time was an hour later than ship's time. That meant we would really be picked up an hour earlier than we thought which was too bad. I'd have loved to stay there the whole day but we needed to be back on board by 2:30 anyway so that worked out alright anyway. I would highly recommend this place, it is just beautiful. When we return to St Maarten we will surely go there again.

When we were picked up, knowing we had some extra time to burn, our driver took us back a different way than how we had come and a different way than we had seen on our previous visit. This kind of off the beaten path route took us by the homes of Mick Jagger (we saw his house in Jamaica too), Jay Leno, Brad Pitt (you can bet the girls were checking that one out), Stephen Segal, and Bill Gates. The were very nice but I wondered if they actually were those famous people's homes or if our driver was just saying that. How would we know? I went along with it and took pictures to impress our friends back in Kansas anyway. I was waiting for point to another nice home and say it belonged to John Lennon who he saw at the grocery store the other day but he didn't.

Back at the pier we stopped by the "Port of Call" bar which featured huge Fat Tuesday's daiquiris. We all had one and by the time we were done staggered back to the ship, along with a whole bunch of other passengers who had also had a very nice time in St Maarten. I'm glad I had that frozen drink though. There were a bunch of people enjoying the special of the day, Heineken for a buck a bottle. I thought about trying to smuggle a couple dozen back to the ship but didn't as I would surely get caught.

Speaking of getting caught. I haven't seen anyone get frisked or nosed by booze sniffing dogs. I think if you're wanting to smuggle you'll be ok unless you are really blatant about it. But there's one problem. There are no passenger accessible ice machines on this ship. You'd have to sneak into the steward's work room during the day to get it or bribe your steward to keep your collapsible cooler full of ice. I just don't think it's worth it so we didn't. Remember, though, we don't drink all that much which makes getting a nice stagger to my walk much easier than for you folks who use beer on your cereal. I must be getting old.

Finally back on board, it was nap time. After that I went to check out the menu in the dining room. Beef Wellington night. Yuck. This is one item I think Carnival does a lousy job with. If there's a Lord Wellington someplace he would not be pleased. Not wanting to give it another try I went upstairs to the Golden Fleece to see if it was too late to reserve a table for dinner. Lucky for me there was. The table available for the 6:00 reservation I wanted was right next to the dance floor which I agreed to. Later I wondered if this was a good idea. Being so close to the dance action I might be forced to go out there and make a fool of myself. But then Lisa might enjoy it so what the heck, let's go.

I killed a little time in the casino losing more money while Lisa checked her email in the Internet Café, just down the hall and up the stairs. That took longer than we had anticipated because they had lost the satellite signal momentarily. Apparently the internet gods at Digital Seas, the service provider, lock the signal in when a ship is in port to get a better connection and better TV reception then forget to unlock it when the ship sets sail. (Probably playing those annoying video games like those computer guru's do) Gates, the Intermanager (short for Internet Café Manager- throw that around and they'll think you know what you're talking about) was right on top of it though and regained the signal.

Lisa had been looking for a new ring and we had heard that a new selection at deeply discounted prices would be available after setting sale today so we went to check out what they had. She chose a very nice Tanzanite and Emerald model to wear as her wedding ring. We think it more accurately reflects where we are in life now (cruising fanatics) rather than how diamonds reflected our younger years (things-oriented). But by now it was 20 minutes till 6, almost too late to get to dinner. We talked about forgetting all about it and just having room service until the girls came walking down the Promenade towards us, all decked out in their finest gowns. Ok we'll go. We could have gotten out of it without penalty because I gave them the wrong cabin number with our reservation anyway (I just can't remember). I suppose it would have been icky of us to get those people in that cabin charged with the $25 per person fee for dining at the Golden Fleece when chances are they probably had pizza and ice cream on the Lido deck. As it turns out, I am really glad we went.

The Golden Fleece is located on deck 10, one deck up from the Lido deck. To access it we took an elevator to the Lido deck then walked up a set of crystal clear glass stairs. If you look down, you can see all the way down the atrium to the lobby bar. If you go here and are carrying bricks or a sledge hammer, hang on to them. I'd hate to bust through the stairs and end up crashing through the piano 9 decks below me. Somehow I think that would distract from the pleasant evening ahead.

The short version of the Golden Fleece review: Awesome. Excellent food, very good service, well worth the price.

When we arrived we were greeted by the hostess who advised us that we now had a choice of tables at which to dine. Recalling the daymare I had earlier about that dancing thing, I chose one on the other side of the room that looked out at the ocean and an occasional jogger/walker who came by with a confused look on their faces ("What the heck are those people doing in there?")

We were immediately greeted by the restaurants sommelier (big cheese of the wine cellar), who presented a nice wine list for us to consider. Knowing that at least one of us would be having the Stone Crabs from Joe's in Miami and noting the room's Italian influences, I asked if she had a bottle of Pinot Grigio. She did and promptly presented it well at tableside. Apparently since we ordered wine, she also became in charge of the kid's soft drinks. If there was any point of service that they dropped the ball on it was refills on beverages. But that was about the only negative so I'll get it out of the way right now.

The table's waiter comes by next to offer a choice of Evian or San Pellegrino water to have with the meal. I thought this was nice but a bit overdone, as though we were supposed to be impressed. I think a more subtle approach would have been more impressive.

Next they come by with a tray of raw meat from which to choose your entrée which they will cook "to perfection just for you". The nice girl doing this presentation repeated that "to perfection just for you" several unnecessary times. Like I thought they were going to get it mixed up with the burger that Joe Six-pack had ordered from the hot tub on the Lido deck? But the selection looked really good and offered a chance to preview what was yet to come.

Served in course order similar to the main dining room, the timing of each individual course was almost perfect.

The start with a nice selection of wonderful, fresh out of the oven breads along with a trio of flavored whipped butters. Ok we're not in the dining room any more Dorothy! This unique bakery selection precedes the appetizer. Lisa and the girls selected French Onion Soup while I had the crab cake, all were excellent. Next comes salad. We chose a Caesar prepared at tableside. Not a traditional presentation as they had the "Caesar dressing" pre-prepared but a great salad nonetheless. Again we were served hot bread, this time an entirely different selection, all great.

The entrée's arrive in a timely fashion and are also presented in a manner that makes me wonder if we will ever be able to return to the main dining room. Lisa, Whitney and I chose the 9 oz Fillet Mignon while Sydney took on the Stone Crabs. I opted to have mine served with probably the best Béarnaise sauce I have ever enjoyed. Everyone enjoyed their steaks and Sydney thought the crabs were the best she'd had. Served cold they presented a new taste sensation for her, our crab expert of the group.

They just do such a great job. I wonder if this is the level of service passengers on high end cruise ships receive as the regular thing they do. If so I could make a case to myself to continue to book my Carnival cruises with their attractive sea days, huge cabins and great prices but just add the cost of dining in one of these supper clubs in as something I need to do to enhance the experience. Kind of like requiring that we book a balcony cabin, preferably a Category 11 or 12 on a Carnival ship. I'll think about that.

After we finish our entrée's and within a reasonable amount of time, our table is cleared, crumbed and dessert menus are presented

If one were not already fully impressed with the quality of the service and food here, the dessert menu and presentation would do it for sure. Sydney chose a trio of Crème Brule, Lisa the Flourless Chocolate Cake, and Whitney the Fruit Assortment. All were excellent and served with upgraded coffee and, if you preferred, a selection from the after dinner drink menu. We didn't and the sommelier presented our checks. One for the wine and another for the $25 per person up charge for dining here. There is an opportunity to add a gratuity but it is noted that it is not required. I added $25 but wondered if that was appropriate. This was easily a $400 meal on the conservative side, perhaps $500 or so on the high side.

I would definitely do this again and am thinking of booking it for each night of the rest of the cruise; it's just that good and just that good of a bargain too.

I wanted the kids to see some really good service to have something to compare to the less than stellar reviews I had been giving of the main dining room service. They did. In addition it was a great way to introduce them to fine service at a fraction of what it would cost to do so at home, if we could find a restaurant of this quality there.

A few other aspects worth mentioning include the live music. As I mentioned we moved our table to the other side of the room. This was out of view from the dance floor (out of sight, out of mind) and, as it turned out, away from the live music played during the meal. Next time we will (I can't believe I am saying this) sit close to the dance floor and the music. It was simply superb. The selections played were totally appropriate for the room of a quality I had not heard before on a Carnival ship. I didn't realize it was live music until I heard Tom Jones singing some songs from his Live In Las Vegas album. No it wasn't Tom but I had to send one of the girls over there to be sure, he was just that good.

Also noteworthy was the ambience of the room. If you associate a fine dining experience with candlelit rooms you'll love this place. From the lace table cloths, to the silverware (yes real silver) to the upgraded service ware, they just don't miss a beat. Carnival has an excellent idea here. Especially for those who have cruised on upper end lines, this must help satisfy the desire for finer food and service. Good job Carnival, again. If I had it to do all over the only thing I would do differently is skip lunch. We chose the smallest of the steaks offered, others going up to 24 ounces and were just stuffed. Otherwise the evening was darn near perfect. I had read that this takes up to three hours, Carnival suggests allowing two. We got there at 6, were the first orders in and were done by a little past 8. Another table, a party of 2, finished before we did. Never was it a boring experience, they moved things right along. This night, at the time we were there, it was only about half full. I suspect this might have been because it was a port day, not sure about that though.

I can say just one more thing about this experience: Do it!

After dinner I went back to the casino to play around for a while as the girls watched a movie in our cabin. Later Sydney and I were out foraging for food and were drawn into the main showroom by the excellent big band music being played there. This place was rockin'! If you have any interest in big band music at all you would love this show. The musicians, dancers and singers all performed very well and were very well received. It was a great way to end near perfect day.

I returned to the cabin and thought about turning on the news about the war but thought better of it, opting to go to sleep instead.

Legend Cruise Day 5- Barbados

Today we get into port late, arriving in Barbados at 11 AM. We've never been here before and am not really sure what to expect. Should be fun? We'll see. Being a late port day, activity on the ship is different this morning. It would appear that many of the passengers have chosen to take advantage of the situation and sleep in late. Good call as we are here late tonight, passengers expected back on board at 10:30 PM with sailing away time planned for 11 PM. There will be neither gift shops nor the casino open today till we set sail tonight. We don't have any definite plans for the day and haven't booked any ships tours as none really contained the magic word for us: "beach".

Lisa wasn't feeling all that well, pretty drained from our excellent day in St Maarten the day before so we decided to sleep in. About ten I woke everybody up to get ready to go. I figured that there would be one of those mass exodus situations in the debarkation area since it was a late port arrival and that proved to be true. by 10 the deck was packed with people ready to get off the ship slathered with sun block, beach bags packed and cameras at the ready. I moved our debarkation plans up till 1:00 PM. I hate standing in that line, crammed in with everybody else, waiting to get off the ship. There seems to always be some people that want to complain about how slow the process is going. I wondered how many of these people would get a negative attitude about the day.

As we approached this new port I saw that there were two other ships in port. The Ventadam and Star Clipper, much smaller ships, were in berths ahead of us. The dock here kind of reminds me of a really long Ocho Rios Jamaica dock, extending far out from shore. In fact, shuttle busses were available, lined up and ready to go, from where we would be docked, delivering passengers to a nice terminal that boasted a variety of stores looking for cruise passenger bucks.

The currency here is Barbados dollars that exchange at a convenient 2 for 1 rate. Although we paid for everything with American dollars, we received change in dollars and Barbados coins. Nice for the kids to play with. Prices here were reasonable and there is a well stocked convenience store just inside the terminal where one could pick up any little odds and ends you might need at a decent price. Sydney found an international phone calling station that DID accept her pre-paid phone card picked up at Sam's Club before we left. She had had no such luck in St Maarten. The minute's exchange rate was high though and it cost her many of her minutes to make the call. Nonetheless it was nice to finally hear her boyfriend's voice and be able to communicate with him live rather than through emails. She spent most of the time we were in the terminal accomplishing this task, running her card down from 500+ minutes to less than 100 for a 30 minute phone call. Don't even ask me how that works.

Whitney was also able to talk to one of her friends from the (she'll kill me for saying this) "Boy" band B2K. ("They are NOT a boy band dad!") It was a short phone call but surely the highlight of her day if not of the entire cruise. Sometimes I think if I were to be able to make phone calls work for these girls that the ship could sink and they wouldn't care much.

Lisa and I wandered around the terminal, bought a few souvenirs, and stopped by the Travel and Tourism office to see what they had to say about stuff to do here. I asked about a tour of the island and the very helpful man hooked us up with a great taxi driver for the day ($20 per person). If you've read our previous cruise reports you know that this is something we really like to do and have had great success with it. Today was to be no exception.

Our driver, Mr. Riggs, was a life-long native of the island who looked as though when he spoke of the history of the island that he could speak from personal experience. He started out driving and talking, telling us the facts and numbers of the island. 98% of the people that live here are liberate, that the government provides free education through college, complete health care, even subsidized housing and bus service. These people seem to be a genuinely happy people, glad to see us but not glad like "we want your money" glad. They are just nice.

All through the tour people would wave at us, smiling.

Our first stop was Harrison's cave. Mr. Riggs touted this place as one of the wonders of the world. Unless there are 8 of them now I'm not so sure about that but it was impressive nonetheless. Here, you ride through an underground cave full of stalactites and stalagmites that have formed some unusual configurations. Lisa and the kids thought, as others have reviewed, that this was just an awesome sight. I had some different feelings.

When I was 12, my father took me on a month long camping trip, like he had my brother before me. Now before I go on about this trip perhaps I should digress and explain something about the nature of it and my father in general.

He died in 1975 and was an unusual man. He would get on these "kicks" as we called them, which involved the whole family. The first one I can remember was golf. He got into golf in a big way, diving in head first. We joined the most exclusive country club in town, at the time being the only family with Jewish in our formula for what they consider for admission. How he pulled that one off I will never know, that secret went to his grave with him. I suspect that he made a nice contribution to some fund they had to build something. They were always building something. In any event, we all had to take golf lessons. They even pulled me out of school to learn how to play. We all had all the golf stuff that serious golfers have and were well known at the pro shop where he set up an account for us all to get whatever it was we needed. All I really needed was a new bike, but that would need to wait; golf was the name of the game now.

After golf we all learned how to fly.

Even though I was too young to get a license, he bought an airplane and we all took lessons. My mother thought this was about the silliest thing we had yet done but went along with "the program" anyway as the other option was to be left behind while he just went out and did whatever it was he wanted to anyway. The highlight (and end) of that little chapter in our lives was getting lost flying from Kansas to California, intending to land in Las Vegas, Nevada and winding up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The focus was on saying "I can fly" rather than "I can fly well".

I should mention that we were not wealthy people; he just had an uncanny knack for prioritizing where our resources would go. I suspect that he had a list someplace of things he wanted to do in his life and he was hell bent on accomplishing those things before he died. And he did.

After flying came camping. As you might suspect, we were outfitted with camping gear so well that we could have made those people from National Geographic jealous. In fact, when he died and we were making up a list of his accomplishments I truly thought that being a member of the National Geographic Society, an honor he had bestowed on him as witnessed by the framed certificate in his office, took more than paying the magazine's subscription fee. It didn't.

This, in a round about way, brings us back to Harrison's cave in Barbados.

On the "big" camping trip my father took me on, many things had to be accomplished to satisfy his agenda. One of which was climbing a mountain. In Colorado he suddenly pulled the car over to the side of the road and announced to me that he was going to climb a mountain now. He went on to say that if he died that I should go find a park ranger that would help me. (Ok remember I am 12) He said I could stay in the car or go with him, it was up to me. I asked why and he simply stated "Because it's there".. It would be many years before I would learn that that statement was not an original thought but something some great explorer said before attempting to clime Mount Olympus or someplace. To this day I suspect he had convinced himself that he was indeed National Geographic Explorer quality and that if he died hauling his 300+ pound body up the side of a mountain that people would write about his nobility.

I sat in the car till he had disappeared out of sight, got nervous, and then followed. I found him around the corner, out of sight, waiting for me and smiling. Apparently I had passed some test and was now "a man". Oh brother. For years he would refer to that moment whenever some huge obstacle of life would come in my way like being brave enough to ask a girl out on a date, go on a job interview, or stand up to the neighborhood bully.

After he had taught me that little lesson in life that I should write down in "my little book", a make-believe novel I supposedly carried in my head, it was time to whip my claustrophobia. Where that came from I will never know. Perhaps when I was an infant and don't remember he had bought a submarine, set on catching a giant octopus. Nothing would surprise me.

The first stop was "Garden of the Gods" which as I remember was also in Colorado. A "cave" formed by gold miners, this one also had the unusual rock formations and visitors were driven through in what I would swear was the exact same tram as they had here today in Harrison's cave, Barbados. Things were going pretty well until the tram broke down in what must have been about a hundred miles below a huge mountain. Sure we were going to die in spite of my newly acquired mountain climbing skills, and manhood, I was pretty dang scared. For the next 6 hours, while we waited to be rescued, my father reassured the group that we would indeed live as witnessed by several stories of great danger overcome from World War 2 of which he was a participant. Like in Harrison's cave there was only one way in and one way out. Another tram had to back into the tunnel through the cave and pull us out. They eventually did but not before I gained a lifetime loathing of caves, stalactites, mites and everything else a cave contained.

But today, in Barbados, I was much older, wiser and had nearly recovered from my fathers lessons in life. Still, I couldn't help but remember that time and how when we got out of that cave decades earlier that my father had simply said "Now THAT was an experience"

Being the older and wiser person that I am now though I would indeed recommend this stop in Barbados for anyone visiting here. Actually, from the traffic jam of taxis in the place's parking lot I'd imagine that Harrison's Cave is probably on all the driver's list of must-do sites to show tourists. I suspect that the little bar outside the waiting area for starting your cave tour gives taxi drivers free booze while you are exploring, a comforting thought to those who believe in the notion that drinking and driving don't go together.

After Harrison's cave we continued our tour of the island which, to me, looked a lot like most of the others we had done this kind of tour on. Until we got to the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. There we were greeted by a truly spectacular beach with huge (to me anyway) waves coming in to shore having not been broken by land, Africa being the closest land mass, 3000 miles away. Lisa thought it was the coolest thing she had seen on any of these islands and I agreed. It is a totally different experience. We associate Caribbean islands with pretty blue water, relaxation and a pleasant, laid back atmosphere.

Here people surfed!

Next trip here we will get a cab and tell them to go directly to the Atlantic side. bypass the cave please.

On our return to port we stopped for some shopping and drinks then took the walk back to the ship. The Legend had been lit up now as it was getting dark outside and what a pretty sight to see! We were too late for dinner in the dining room and too tired to dress to go to the Golden Fleece again so we went to our cabins, rested a while then went to the Lido deck for dinner. There, I saw dang near the whole Golden Fleece crew working, clearing tables and helping guests. Apparently late port days like this one translate into few reservations in the supper club.

As usual, everything was great. But it had been a long day so by 7:00 I decided to take a nap then wake up in time for the deck party, scheduled for right after sail-away at midnight to coincide with the midnight buffet. At 11 I woke but decided to go back to sleep and skip the whole thing, it was my vacation anyway right?

Tomorrow is Martinique, a short port arriving at 7AM with all guests back on board by 1:30. This will be a busy morning for us. We really need to get Whitney out there using her French just so she can say she did. Of course, now, with the end of the cruise closing in on us I think about where we have been and what we have done. All agree its been the best cruise to date, in no small part because of this fantastic ship and her crew. Thanks again Carnival.

Legend Cruise Day 6- Martinique

Today is a short day in port, arriving at 7:00 and needing to be back on board at 1:30 for sail away scheduled at 2:00. I got up early then got the rest of the gang up early too. We were on the Lido deck having breakfast at 6:30 and ready to go at 7. We usually don't fight the crowd of people getting off the ship first but decided to anyway since our time was limited and we had so much to do. To my surprise we went down to deck A to disembark and simply walked right off the ship, no crowd. Disembarking the ship we passed through a small tourism area and stopped to ask about hiring a cab for the day. We needed to accomplish two things. I wanted to see the volcano, Mt Pele and stop by a beach. First priority was the volcano, if it was possible, as we had not seen one before.

Rates for cabs are clearly posted with the price to go to downtown for shopping ($2 per person) and hourly rates for the day ($40 per hour). I told them what we wanted to do and was informed that to go to the volcano and a beach, without stopping, would be about 3 houirs ($120), so I figured that with some stopping we could do it for about $200. That was fine. After our Barbados tour and being crammed in a small car for the ride, I told them we wanted a van. That was fine except that they wanted to hook us up with another couple that wanted to go on a similar tour. Not interested. Nothing about being anti-social, we just wanted to do our own thing like we always did, by ourselves. Otherwise we end up entertaining the other people. Not interested in that today. I suppose if we had met some nice family or couple and had hung out with them that we would have let them tag along, we did that in Jamaica once and it was lots of fun. This time we had an adjenda and intended to make it happen. We usually don't, trusting the driver to show us the sites. But Whitney has a friend that she goes to school with who used to live here. Apparently she is the granddaughter of some very important person here and we also wanted to ask about buildings and landmarks named after them.

Our driver, a lifelong native, was more than happy to accommodate our wishes. It always takes me a while to adjust to whatever accent our drivers on tours like this might have, this one's strong French accent was no exception. At first I couldn't understand half of what he said, but as I got used to his accent I couldn't understand half of what he said but I was getting the drift of where he was going with it. I just nodded thinking that he talked so fast that if I understood a third of what he said that I would get as much information as someone I fully understood who talked at a slower speed. I wonder if he knew I was thinking that.

The ride to Mt Pele was long. We drove for a long time through a rain forrest that was surely where they shot the movie Jurassic Park. In fact, we stopped at a rocky waterfall area that made me a little nervous. It was the exact spot where they shot the scene where the Raptors come at Nedry, the defecting computer geek from both sides, slashing his innards all to heck. I could have sworn I saw a can of dino embryo's cleverly disguised as a can of shaving cream tumbling down the rocky creekbed. This must have been a popular place to stop as, although it was Sunday and most commercial establishments were closed, local vendors had set up shop to grab a few tourist bucks from passersby. This was a beautiful area that we all agreed was just as nice if not nicer in parts than Jamaica, our former standard for rain forests. Huge ferns and palm trees along with other lush vegetation were everywhere.

Our diver agreed to take us all the way up to the volcano rather than dropping us in town while a tour bus took us the rest of the way. Good, we don't really like tours all that well. We arrived at the base of Mt Pele after about an hours drive to find that a substantial hike was required to make it all the way to the top. Momentarily I thought about the mountain climbing lesson my father had taught me years ago (see yesterday's report) but, looking at the people who had made it all the way to the top who looked like ants from my vantage point I opted to stay down at the base and keep Lisa company. Well that and I didn't think I wanted to die of a heart attack right here. The girls however, with their young hearts, took off to have a little adventure of their own up to the top. As our driver, Lisa and I watched, I asked how long it would take them to get up there and back.

"About two hours" our driver said

"I'll give them twenty minutes before they lose interest in their quest and come back", I replied

Lisa gave them ten

They were back in five

Good thing. I was thinking of the ticking clock on the $40 per hour cab ride.

>From there we continued around the island, pausing at a beach that featured black sand, caused by the volcanic activity. I was disappointed in the black sand which simply looked like dirty sand, cigarette urn style. We didn't stop there.

We did stop at some resort which I think I was supposed to be impressed with but wasn't and a really old catholic church that was really cool architecture-wise all the while getting a very informative narrative of the history and composition of the island. It was a great tour, probably one of the best we've done. We did all this, stopped by the shops at the pier, and were back on the ship by 11:30. Quite an adventure in a short amount of time.

Now let me back up and provide a little more detail on a few things you might be interested in.

As I mentioned some time back, I had bought Sydney a pre-paid phone card to use on this vacation to keep in touch with her boyfriend back home. This was anything but an easy task from the time we left home and required some skill to make happen. I asked Sydney to write down everything she could think of in terms of phoning home on this cruise so I could imclude it in this report. Here's what she had to say:

An In Depth Look on Phone Cards

With Sydney Owen

Sam's Club, Costco, Walgreen's, your local phone service provider and the machines in the Airport. All these vendors of the little plastic cards we find as a necessity on our vacations promise wonderful conversations with your loved ones while you are away, several claiming that these phone calls can even be made from the Caribbean, or Mexico. My experience? DO YOUR RESEARCH FOLKS!

I am Sydney Owen, local expert on the phone card situation. On these past cruises I have tried several options including the cards from our long distance provider, an AT&T pre-paid card, calling direct to the States using a credit card, and of course, collect. Now which one of these provide the most promising results? Well, it depends on your itinerary. This time around, dad (Chris Owen, astound author of the LifeisCruising.com website and its fabulous reviews) purchased a 600 minute phone card at Sam's Club for $30 (we think, not real sure on the price). The 600 minutes sounded like a lot to me at the time, 10 hours of talk time - who needs that much? But in the long run, the large amount of minutes would pay off.

BASIC FACTS

You see, a commonly misunderstood fact with phone cards is that the minutes listed on the card are flat rates throughout the States, they don't account for the connection fees or higher rates when calling from different places around the world. Something else you should know is to read the instructions that come with the card. In this case, it was a plastic thing that the card detached from. From the back of this I learned that I would need the access numbers for the different ports of call so that I could actually use my card from the Caribbean. AT&T has a wonderful service website that lists every country you could want to call from and its access number, provided for you on the instructions. So I wrote these down and the instructions on how to use these numbers to get to the regular USA access number.

HOW IT WORKS

Anyway, moving on. It was fantastic and easy to use when I used it to call from Miami to Kansas City a couple times. All you had to do was dial the 1-800 number, pick your language, enter your card number and it was like using a regular phone from there.

Sounds great, an easy to use card that has a lot of minutes and is relatively inexpensive, considering the priceless conversations you might have. Now, upon arrival in St. Maarten, it was a different story. Every phone I went to there were signs plastered all over the booths "NO PRE-PAID CARDS ACCEPTED". Well dang. So I was unable to call my loved one from the first port.

Barbados; an AT&T card users dream. They have a nice air conditioned phone center with 40 some odd phones in these little booths. Reminded me of Mexico, but I'll touch on that later. All of them were payphones except 5, which looked like normal phones. Again, the payphones had NO PRE-PAID CARDS ALLOWED plastered all over them, and hope was almost lost. So I got out my handy 3x5 with my access numbers on it. Didn't work. Dang - I was envisioning my boyfriend sitting at home thinking I was dead. But seeing as how this place had so many phones and there was a lady at a desk selling phone cards, I thought I'd ask for help (noble idea I know). Turns out the 5 phones that looked out of place were AT&T phones, PRAISE THE LORD! Here's where the cards with a lot of minutes are great. After my last call within the states, there were 575 minutes left or something like that. When I called the boy from Barbados, 575 translated into 62. I think that nicely represents how outrageous the call would have been collect or direct dial (when you use credit cards). So Barbados was a great experience, the card worked, I reassured my boyfriend that I wasn't dead (he was kind of confused, guess that's what you get for having an imagination that frequently runs wild) and all was well. I might also add that my sister Whitney called a number that was given to her, supposedly from a member of her favorite group, B2K - well turns out it was him, she talked to a damn celeb when we were in Barbados. Rock on.

Martinique was a long and drawn out but interesting experience. No prepaid accepted here either. They made that even clearer than St. Maarten did, it said multiple times that the prepaid cards just won't do it. But a nice local man was selling 20 minute cards for $6. Good deal man! You had to use one of three phones though, for all of which the lines were at least 2 or 3 people deep. But I figured it would be worth it to hear the boy's voice so I bought one of the French cards. These things are hard to figure out. You pick up the phone, wait for the tone then dial the number that's on the card. In my case it was 3636. Then you listen to a French recording speak rapidly as to what languages you can select from. Praise the lord the guy told me 2 for English or I would have been lost. Then you dial 001+area code and the number. THEN it tells you how many minutes you have left. An hour and six minutes. wait, I paid for 20, even better deal! The boy picked up and all would have been swell if there weren't the Caribbean music blaring, an old rickety fan spinning around and people on the other phones shouting over the noise. Okay so it was hard to hear. But the card worked and was virtually easy, despite the long waits - I'm very impatient, trying to trick the payphone into accepting the prepaid card and then the fact that the receiver is HUGE and made my ear sweat like no other (really gross).

Thank you Sydney

A few odds and ends about Martinique. At the pier there are two shops concentrating mostly on duty free booze and cologne. If you want a t-shirt and are larger than an 8 year old you'll need to go downtown or stop by one of the streetside vendors. I don't know why they had just such small sizes, perhaps they were sold out of the human sizes. The did have one really good deal though. They sold a pack of 6 1.5 liter bottles of French spring water for $3.00 (US) that was a great bargain, especially considering that the ship sells one 1.5 liter bottle for $3.00+ (US). Everyone was toting those back to the ship, some of the crew with 2 or 3 of them. Also, as you disembarked a local band was playing Caribbean music that was very good. When you come back there is a member of this band selling a CD they made of all of it. At $10 I thought it would be a good one to play in the future, at home, while watching the hours of video I had taken and, being the last possible thing you can buy in your very last port before getting back on the ship I bought one. The band is called the "Family band" and they are quite good. I thought I could play it on my portable CD player over the course of the next two sea days and turn it up really loud to drown out the John Cougar Mellencamp music that seemed to be always playing whenever I stepped on deck. I was beginning to think of "Little Pink Houses"as my theme song, played upon my arrival wherever I went. I would have preferred to be associated with something from a James Bond movie.

Back on board we stopped by the Lido deck for lunch. I haven't given this area a lot of attention so here's a little more detail.

Everyday there are several stations to choose from. As I read about this prior to this cruise I imagined it as a skatter style cafeteria with all these places in one room or central area. Not so. They are spread out all around the "Unicorn Café" which takes up a good amount of the aft section of the Lido deck. The are like small cafeteria lines, complete with trays so one can get a single item from one area then easily walk to another for something else. In between these areas are salad bars, dessert bars and beverage stations.

There is one area that is always Chinese food. They feature a soup and several entrée's that change from day to day. On most days they have spring rolls or some appetizer item that are very good. The Fried Shrimp Won Tons are excellent as well as the Kung Pao Chicken. If you like this kind of food, you can always find something good here. Lisa tried a Calamari (squid) and eggplant dish that she said was just wonderful. No slimy sea creatures for me though.

Outside, close to the sun and fun action is a grill that features Hamburgers and Hot dogs. I understand that Steak Sandwiches and Grilled Chicken Breasts are available here also but I have yet to see someone order or eat those. I think they could do a better job with signs or perhaps a map of where all this stuff is and what they offer. You figure it out after a couple days but it's not as well defined as dang near everything else on this ship is.

The deli is yet another area featuring great sandwiches. Known also as the Rotisserie, this also is a somewhat confusing area. It's set up on in an area like the rest of the stations, featuring a hot table to keep their stuff warm on. But its all covered up with steamtable pans so you can't really see any of what they have to offer. This is similar to the Deli on Destiny class ships in its offerings, but harder to navigate. Great food though, try the Reuben for sure and the Roast Beef baguette sandwich is really good too. Lisa's favorite.

In addition they have a "taste of nations" area that features different foods from all over the world (Greek, Asian, etc). I walked by this daily but nothing really caught my eye. It was well attended though and offers one an opportunity to try different foods you might not normally have the opportunity to eat. I keep looking for "hillbilly" day where they feature corn dogs, tater tots, and moon pies. We'd all line up for that just for a break from the elegant and well prepared food they served everywhere else.

Finally, there is an area that serves food that I would describe as "standard cafeteria fare" but that wouldn't really do it justice. You'll find rotating items (the things change they don't spin around) like Turkey and Dressing with the turkey carved to your order, Roasted Strip Loin (looked like Prime Rib to me), and assorted other entrée's and side dishes. Check this everyday to be sure you don't miss out on the Batter Fried Fish, probably one of the best things they do.

All in all I'd rate the food here on the Lido deck as excellent.

The food in the dining room is great too. The executive chef here has done a marvelous job in all the different areas. But we were so impressed with the food and service in the Golden Fleece that we have booked it for the remaining three nights of the cruise. We will divide our dining options between the Lido deck and the Golden Fleece now, ignoring the dining room. Not because the dining room service is bad. We did have a few problems at the beginning of the cruise but they were resolved. Its just that the service is so much better upstairs in the Golden Fleece that it makes it worth dressing up every night (hate it) to have a wonderful and memorable meal.

With this decision made I went to the Fleece to book our tables. Tonight was sold out and they couldn't accommodate our party of four. I booked a table for two and invited Lisa out for a date. That was fun. The kids did go to the dining room, had a great time and came back reporting that our waiter and his assistant were having an affair, hardly keeping their hands off each other. Well how nice for them, I guess one would get lonely at sea so long huh.

Our dinner for two was very nice. Again the service and food in the Fleece was great, and it didn't take all that long. In fact, we got back from our meal before the kids finished theirs in the Truffles dining room. We both had the Fleece's version of lobster. Before I had reported about the non-rubbery lobster in the main dining room. There is was tasty and freshly prepared. In the Fleece, besides being twice the size, it was even better. The Creamed Spinach side dish that Lisa ordered was, in her words, "the best spinach ever". Oh another interesting and noteworthy thing concerned our beverage order in the Fleece.

We ordered Iced Tea, choosing not to have wine with the meal tonight. They asked if we would like it sweetened and returned with a perfectly sweetened glass of tea with lemon and mint in it that they kept refilled throughout the meal. Finally, somebody got it right!

The next two (and final) nights, we have reservations for all four of us and are really looking forward to it.

After dinner I was going to go to the casino but decided to stay in the cabin where we joined the kids and watched a movie. After sitting on the balcony for a while watching the sea roll by (my favorite thing to do) we turned in for the night.

I did want to add something here about our cabin and cabin steward. Both have been excellent. Our steward is just the kind I like. He takes care of everything quietly and efficiently but we rarely see him. We get our towel animals every night, he performs all the necessary services, and he does so in spite of our odd schedule which includes a lot of time spent in the cabin while he is servicing other rooms. He must really keep an eye on us to accomplish all he does in the sometimes short amount of time we are away.

Additionally I have to report, before I forget again, about the cabin's bathroom. On this ship, unlike other ones we have sailed on, there is a great exhaust fan in the bathroom that evacuates steam from the shower that fogs the mirror as well as other unwanted airborne things very quickly. Also, the shower gel and shampoo are excellent. Carnival should sell this stuff in the gift shop. We have not used the shampoo we brought from home once. I also bring a bar of soap from home but have not used it either. This is top quality stuff and a great addition to the amenities of the cabin.

Speaking of amenities, on this ship the amenities basket is actually a white amenities tulip bowl, filled with the regular stuff; toothpaste, hair gel, Tylenol PM, disposable razors and some breath mints. No shampoo, none needed, its in the dispenser in the shower.

Tomorrow brings the first of our last two sea days. I plan on letting everybody (myself included) sleep in, rest and relax as instructed by Brett Adams, our able Cruise Director. Some people have asked me what I think of him. I think he's just my kind of cruise director. He has the great communication skills that first-time cruisers need to make sense of it all, know what to do and when to do it to get the most out of their cruise. In addition he does what I think is the most important part of his job, he ties it all together. If left alone, the various activities and places to go and do stuff would seem confusing and disjointed to even the most experienced cruiser. He is the glue that holds it altogether and that, to me, is his job in a nutshell.

As I said before, this is an awesome ship. I am so tempted to compare it to the Victory, our most sailed ship in the fleet, but that would really be so unfair. They are different ships, different crews and attract a different passenger. Both are great ships and great cruise experiences.

More tomorrow

Legend Cruise Day 7- At Sea

So today is the first of two days at sea. We slept in today for a while then planned on getting the most out of our day at sea. For me that meant a little casino action (or lack thereof), too much food (again), some sun on deck and plenty of watching the sea roll by. For others there are tons of activities available. The Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and Newlywed & Not-So-Newlywed Game are classic favorites. Survivor (Part 2- Part One played earlier in the week) is the conclusion of a fun battle of wits that takes place in the afternoon on the Lido Deck. Also in the afternoon are the Galley Tour and the Towel Animal Folding demonstration. Both offer behind the scenes looks just as the Backstage tour will tomorrow. I guess they save these tell-all activities for the end of the cruise so that they can maintain the illusion that these things are generated by magical elves that roam about the ship in places we can't see.

In the casino there's two slot machine tournaments, one regular one like earlier in the week, another one for couples only. I wonder how many of the spouses that I have come to know as my "slot buddies" will drag their better halves along saying something like ":Hey that's a novel idea, do you think they'll show us how to use those machines first?", still sticking to their story that they have been frequently going out on deck for fresh air.

In addition there are other activities, events and shows available to occupy your time if occupying time is what you want.

Tonight is also the second of the formal nights on board. We'll be dressing up anyway as we have reservations in the Golden Fleece again so it doesn't mean all that much to us but it's a big part of the cruise anyway. But that's tonight. For breakfast I went to the Lido deck and had omelets made for Lisa and I then brought them back, along with some other goodies, to our cabin. I don't think I have mentioned the great quality of the bakery items, especially the cinnamon rolls, croissants, and Danish on this ship. I think these are the best I have had to date. Whoever is doing the baking really knows what they're doing. Highlights are the breakfast breads and the bread in the Golden Fleece.

After breakfast we decided to take an extra nap. Probably just because we can. This thing Carnival promotes about "its YOUR cruise, make it a great one" is just so true. During the time we were napping this morning, others were in the casino, the library, the golf cage or on deck, just to list a few things that one might enjoy. Others went to the dining room for breakfast or ordered room service.

Speaking of room service, they do a great job of it here. While the menu is the standard one for all Carnival ships, the attention to detail mentioned so many times before in these reports concerning the food is very apparent here too. This is the first Carnival ship I have been on where they really pay attention to the presentation of the room service fare. For example, the chocolate cake (very good) is presented on a plate that is decorated in much the same way as you might find it in the dining room.. And that makes sense when you think about it. Why should room service be focused on simply delivering the food to your cabin? Someone, someplace, has taken the time to say "Hey,. Lets make this room service food just as appealing as the food served in the dining room". And they do. Additionally they are fast. Today we went to the Lido deck for lunch but ordered dessert through room service. They were there in less than five minutes. Pretty impressive.

It seems as though when we talk about room service, the topic of tipping always comes up. As others have mentioned I usually tip a buck or two, more if it is a large order. But on this cruise I brought along some of the gold US dollar coins. They seemed genuinely pleased to have those and I will continue to use those in the future. Now I wonder if maybe the two dollar bills might not be a good idea too. In the past I have mentioned that I thought those were silly. Thinking about it though I suppose that feeling might come from years in the retail business where most cash registers don't have a slot in the drawer for those odd bills that you rarely get. Then, they were just a pain.

I wanted to try lunch on the Lido deck today because I figured they might have run out of icky nations at the "Taste of Nations" place where they had so far served every nationality I didn't much care for. I was right; today was Mexican day and the line was long. It moved pretty fast though as they were obviously prepared for the onslaught of Mexican food lovers. While I was waiting in line I wondered if the term :"Mexican" food was politically correct. I pondered the idea of calling it "Spanish" food or something like that. It didn't seem to matter much to the passengers loading up on Nachos, Tacos and Quesadilla's though. They did a real good job here. Sydney and Whitney who had stated that they really weren't all that hungry dove right in when I brought it back to the cabin.

This afternoon was also another food event that they don't mention all that much but that appears to take place everyday on the lido deck, aft, by the ice cream machines. They have a sundae bar that is very popular. There are all kinds of toppings for self service and an attendant adds hot fudge and whipping cream if you prefer. Good call on that; I can see whip cream fights all over the place without the attendant, either that or the 8 year olds would steal the cans of whip cream, invert them and suck the mind altering propellant in for a cheap ocean-going high.

After our afternoon naps I went off to the casino. This time I won, thanks to Sydney. I was up like 500 credits on this one machine when she dropped by to see if I wanted to go to tea time with her. I suppose I must have looked like a crazed madman when she interrupted my winning streak to ask. Hey I was winning! I fired off some reply that I am hard pressed to remember in the frenzy of the my unexplained up moment but I did come out of my gambling coma long enough to see a disappointed look on her face as she turned to shuffle off into that grayness that represented the conscious world. (You gamblers know exactly what I am talking about, others probably don't understand this) If it weren't for this interruption I surely would have pumped every bit of my winnings back into that machine but, feeling guilty, I cashed out and walked out of the casino a hundred bucks up. Later I would lose that in a matter of minutes but it was a unique and different experience walking out of the casino with money in my pocket. I was pretty sure I would get stopped at the border and ordered to go back and lose it by the casino hosts/border patrol but I guess they must have been busy in the secret back room, plotting how they would get me later, because I easily escaped with my loot. I can just hear them talking about me as they watched me on one of the many secret cams hidden in the wheelchairs of most passengers "Let him go, he'll be back and since he won he'll pump twice as much in later believing himself to be a "winner". Ha!"

Dinner at the Golden Fleece was wonderful, as usual. We all tried different things, most of which were well received. Whitney even tried (and liked) the lamb chops! Sydney, however, tried the spinach salad and was somewhat disappointed. She was uncharacteristically nice about it, saying it "just wasn't what I expected". I'd imagine it was the "hint of Blue Cheese" which, to most kids, tastes like vomit. I remember when I was a little boy and we would go out to dinner my dad would always order Blue Cheese dressing on his salad saying ".and leave it lumpy" referring to the hunks of Blue Cheese that had settled to the bottom of whatever they used to hold the dressing back in the magical, unseen land of the kitchen. He just loved the stuff. I tried it once and still to this day remember not being able to tell the difference between the Blue Cheese and other partially digested food that I deposited in the little boys room shortly thereafter.

After dinner we walked around the ship on the outside Promenade, an addition unique to this Spirit class Carnival ship that's a really great idea. If they could just figure out how to make it go all the way around it would be even more perfect for an after dinner stroll. But then you'd probably have to dodge the walking/jogging fanatics who passed by with this determined "I AM NOT GOING TO GAIN ONE OUNCE ON THIS CRUISE" look on their faces. I'm about to trip one of those people with their better-than-thou attitudes just for fun.

Off to the casino for a really short losing session I went, then back to the cabin for some cabin-potato time with the family. Tonight was a two-hour "The Practice" episode which couldn't be missed, cruise ship fun be damned. I wondered if we would be able to keep the satellite signal that long. This has been a problem at times. But I suspect it is controlled from the casino by those same manipulative Carnival sickos that keep giving me 7-7-bar, 7-bar-7 and bar-7-7 on my slot machines, almost allowing me to win but not quite. I get so close. I DO have over 5000 Ocean Players Club points though and scoff at my neighboring players who have 323 as though I have really accomplished something. Maybe I will get TWO key chains for my efforts? Oh speaking of key chains.If you have been reading these reports you might remember that we never got our key chains with the Bon Voyage Cabin Decoration package upon embarkation. You might even remember that instead of the key chains of which they had run out they gave us a nice bottle of wine. Although I thought that was a nice idea and appreciated their quick response, I am still worried that the bottle of wine will knock against my leg when I am driving. (think about it) The other part I haven't mentioned is that I also received a very nice letter from the Pursers desk again apologizing for the key chain shortage and hoping I had a great cruise. At first, when I saw that letter I thought "Oh great, my credit card was declined". Then after reading it I wondered how many people would take that letter to the Pursers desk, wondering where their 10% discount on a future cruise was, surely the only way to make the trauma of being key chainless go away. I think some people just sit at the ready looking for anything they can to complain about and get something for nothing. Duh, what else is new?

Tomorrow I plan on making a walking video tour of the ship. I'm not really sure why, the DO offer a video travelogue of the same thing, but I have several hours of unused videotape to fill up and this sounds like a good way to do it. I tried doing this on our Victory cruise last December but didn't realize until I got home that looking through the viewfinder on my camera is not exactly what the camera records. All the tapes look as though I am pointing the camera slightly down which makes the cameraman look like some kind of pervert, cutting off all the heads of the people that would enter the picture centering boobs and bottoms in the field of vision. Those tapes could be called "The Victory: from the neck down"

Tomorrow is our last (sad) day, as I write these reports the day after I may not get the final one posted until I get home (not a happy cruise port) so it will probably include debarkation information from when we leave the ship with those same sad looks on our face that we saw on the exiting passengers as I began this review. As we have a late flight I bought Carnival's Ft Lauderdale tour to kill some time. I have no idea what it is all about except that they tote us and all our junk from the ship to the airport with some time-killing stops and sightseeing in between. I wonder if the security at the airport will be greater, now that this war thing is going on. I also wonder what kind of cruise prices I will return to. Have they all dropped their prices as some predicted or now that the "uncertainty" element is no longer a factor have they stayed the same? We'll see. We do have another cruise booked but I bet I change it. I just know I will have to dive head first into booking mode to chase off the post-cruise blues and demons.

As our cruise winds down we spend another day at sea.

Slicing through the ocean at 22 knots we make our way back to Ft Lauderdale under clear skies that provide lots of last chance sun. We're all on deck, all the way aft, and a strong breeze keeps us cool to get the maximum sun we can take. We'd almost forgotten one of our traditions and order a couple Miami Vice's, our first (believe it or not) of the cruise. Yummy. The girls join us with Strawberry and Raspberry daiquiris. This truly is the life and the rest of the passengers seem just as set on not letting any of the last hours slip by unappreciated as we are. Some of my final video of this marvelous ship will be taken from my chair here on deck, views of what I see as I try to brand these final images into my memory. This has been a great cruise and here in this last on-board report I would like to revisit some of the highlights of this ship, its crew, the ports we visited and our fellow passengers, hopefully adding details I may have forgotten the first time through.

One of the most important facets of this cruise that has made it so great is the passengers on board. From my first meeting with Mike from the Cruise Critics board to even the children on board; this has been the happiest group of passengers I have yet sailed with. I heard no one complain or moan about stupid details, the things that go wrong on any cruise or vacation that aren't worth my time to take a second look at. It seems there's always some people dead set on ruining their cruise for some reason or another. Not on this one. I wish I could just take them all with us on each and every cruise, they are just that nice.

I think I may have mentioned that there seems to be a lot more older cruisers, senior citizens, on this cruise than on our previous cruises. Many of them that I had talked to had sailed on various other lines, none were disappointed with this cruise or went on and on about how this and that was better on some other line. I fully expected this to happen and was prepared to let it go in one ear and out the other. It didn't happen. Instead I came in contact with some really well seasoned travelers, all too eager to share their love of cruising and the various ports they had to visit or would visit sometime in the future. Healthy, normal people, handicapped and wheel chair bound, they all shared a zest for life that was truly intoxicating. A couple of my best "slot buddy" friends were an elderly couple who had some challenges to their enjoyment of life. She had a hard time walking, using a walker to get around. He reminded me of my father in his last days, after several strokes and heart attacks. But they were determined not to let the cards life had dealt them slow them down. "As long as we're able, we'll be traveling, there's so much we've yet to see" they both agreed. These are my kind of people. These are people to whom a stain on the carpet (there were absolutely none by the way) means nothing. They're here to have fun and by god that's exactly what they're going to do! Great memories there.

In addition to the older group there was a limited but very well behaved group of small children. Some of them were totally adorable. Here's the difference between these kids and the sometimes annoying kids I had seen on other cruises, regardless of the time of year. Their parents were involved with them. They didn't just turn them loose. They had a good time with them, set limits for them and enforced those limits, and enjoyed having fun cruising with them. Today there was one little boy who had the attention of all the passengers on deck as he played back and forth between groups of sunbathers. Not in an annoying way, in a cute way. It was obvious that he knew his limits and stuck to them. It made me look forward to a time when we could be cruising with our yet unborn grandchildren. (Not that this is a hint or anything girls if you are reading this) Great memories and thoughts of memories to come here too.

The ship itself, the physical plant that took us across the ocean, deserves a second look too. This one is really laid out well. I forgot to mention the smoke/smoking situation onboard. I believe this ship is set up much better to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers as well. Non-smoking areas are clearly marked I did not see any problems in these areas. For those that like to smoke the cigar lounge offers a refuge for them to enjoy a nice selection of cigars that are for sale. As usual, all showrooms and dining areas are smoke free as well as some open deck sections and bars on the lido deck. In addition, handicapped access is 100% on this ship. I didn't see any of the venues that would be in the least bit difficult for those in a wheel chair. Often, I saw crew members helping the handicapped get just as full a value out of their cruise as anyone else. Most of the time Carnival wheelchairs were positioned on each floor, by the elevators for use as needed. I also noticed more open space on this ship than any other I have ever been on. There are open deck spaces on lower decks, like right outside the internet café, that are never used at all. The "Enchanted Forrest", an area I am still somewhat confused as to its purpose, is another rarely used area that has lots of space although I think it could be scary at night. Carnival has paid more attention to the details of this ship than any other one I have yet been on. Even the strings of lights that illuminate the deck at night, creating a party atmosphere show real thought. Somebody thought to buy long life halogen bulbs, the kind I buy at the hardware store so I don't have to change them very often, for these high flying signature lights. Add it all up; the artwork, the layout, the attention to detail and you have one hell of a ship. Great memories of this ship for years to come.

Finally I was really pleased at our personal experience on this ship. As this could be the last one we take as a family for quite some time due to Lisa's anticipated cancer treatment, this was very important to me. Carnival really came through for us now, when it counts the most to us. From the itinerary, the ship, its crew and the upgraded level of quality this cruise represents, it has been truly great. As cruises wind down we talk among ourselves about the highlights. I'll never forget how happy Lisa was when we reached the awesomely beautiful Atlantic side of Barbados, stating "that was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen". It was great to see her so relaxed at the secret beach we found in St Maarten on the advice of her friend from work. In Martinique we were able to share a proud moment as our girls went off to bravely explore the volcano that we were satisfied to see from ground level. We've done a good job with them and she knows it. I will relish forever the quiet dinner we had, just the two of us, in the Golden Fleece that night when the table conversation had those quiet moments where nothing need be said between two people that are one. These are great memories, the stuff that really matters in life. Thanks Carnival.

Today was debarkation day (duh). We had booked a post-cruise tour through Carnival, the Fort Lauderdale Highlights tour, as we had a late flight out. When we booked the flight I thought that was a pretty good idea but as the cruise date came closer and closer I was having second thoughts. All I was reading was how Port Everglades went really well and people were having great experiences, a "breeze" as so many CC members put it.

Well I'm sure glad we did that. We were first off the ship at 8:30! Walked directly to the bus and left. I gotta tell ya, that's the way to go for sure! The tour was $29 pp and it was really a time killer more than anything stopping by the beach for coffee then a shopping area for lunch, but the ease of debarkation was well worth the cost. I don't think it much matters were the tour went or what you did, getting off at 8:30 is great. We were dropped at the airport about 1:00. I would buy this tour if it was the "Drive Around In Circles" tour, just to get off the ship at 8:30.

NOT THAT I WANT TO LEAVE!

But until I can figure out how to make time stand still or be on a 7 day loop, as long as I have to go back to the real world, might has well get it over with.

I hate travel day, it's like going to an Chiefs (NFL football) game on Sunday, it pretty much uses up the whole day (when you live in Kansas) We gave up on that when Joe Montana retired, bought a big screen TV for about what season tickets cost, and can take a nap if its a bad game (that was difficult to do at the stadium)

I think the best bet would be to take the Carnival post-cruise tour but after the tour bus leaves port, jump out and head to the airport in plenty of time to make your 9:45 AM flight.

So yes, add me to the list that says debarkation at Port Everglades was a breeze. I almost feel like we cheated but don't much care, it was so easy. Oddly, they didn't have us punch out with our sign and sail cards...I wonder why?

FLL was at "crisis" status on the security deal but yet we had little delay and no one in our party was strip searched or interrogated as we were prepared for. The DID xray every piece of luggage that entered the place and 3 of our 9 bags were opened and searched then sealed with a note inside saying they had done so.

Delta was our carrier on the way home and I gotta say they did a great job. I like thier snack mix a lot better than American's pretzels. We flew from FLL to Atlanta first, good snacks, easy landing but I really don't like those cramped seats.

From Atlanta to KC we upgraded to First Class mainly for the legroom. Sydney happened to notice that as they began boarding that they had 12 seats remaining in First. Normally they won't upgrade my cheapskate restricted fare but I guess they figured they might as well make a few bucks than let those seats sit empty. It's usually fifty bucks a seat to upgrade but she let me do all 4 for $50 so I took her up on it.

Well so here we are at home in the real world. I don't wanna think about that so I'm going to sleep.