by Andy Brown
October 26, 2004
My wife and I returned this week from our fourth cruise, all of them with Carnival. This time we cruised on the Carnival Legend; we previously sailed on the Inspiration from New Orleans in March 2002, and then the Paradise in October 2002 and September 2003.
This time we wanted to try a new class of ship; besides, with the Paradise going to the west coast that ship wasn't an option. After this cruise it's easy to see why Carnival did away with the non-smoking concept. It was really a different crowd, and drinking and gambling definitely go hand in hand with smoking. The casino was usually quite busy, and always smoky. Other than that, though, the smoke wasn't really a problem for us.
The crowd seemed to be more of a drinking crowd this time. We didn't enjoy ourselves at either of the Lido deck pool areas due to the obnoxious behavior of our fellow guests, but that wasn't a big problem; we easily amused ourselves otherwise. We just didn't spend much time at the pools. The one day I was in the pool, there was a disgusting layer of grease, dirt and suntan lotion floating on the water, so I didn't really mind not spending time in it.
The ship is spotless throughout and really very nice. The occasional cigarette butts carelessly disposed of on the carpet were turnoffs, but were admittedly few and far between.
This was the Legend's first cruise of the season from Ft. Lauderdale after her stint in New York. We heard more than once that the New York crowd is a tough bunch, so the crew seemed happy to be in Florida. They'd also had a two-day transit down to Florida with no guests on board, and they seemed to enjoy that break also. The crew was without exception friendly and helpful -- just a great bunch, and they really seemed to be trying to please us.
Ft. Lauderdale is much cleaner than Miami, and my wife liked it there. I prefer Miami Beach still, but she doesn't like the crowds and dirt there. We stayed three nights in Ft. Lauderdale prior to the cruise and that was fun. I got in some good beach time there, since this cruise didn't have any good beach ports on the itinerary.
We booked a guaranteed lowest-deck inside rooms, and were pleased to be upgraded to room 4203. I never booked a guarantee before, but always picked a specific cabin with the reservation agent on the phone. This time, it was $100 more per person to do that, for whatever reason, so we stuck with the guarantee and it worked out well. When we arrived in our room we were astounded at how huge it was, and the bathroom too, but were puzzled by the bathroom shower. It was in the corner of the bathroom with a partial curtain, and no separate floor. The whole bathroom floor was also the shower floor! Well, my wife finally figured out on the third day that we were in a handicapped-access room! That explained the extra room and extra-wide doorways. But it was a nice room and we enjoyed it. It had a window mostly obstructed by a lifeboat, but we could see enough to check the weather and let a little light in.
I didn't meet our room steward until the last day. He'd introduced himself earlier in the week to my wife when they bumped into each other. He did a fine job in spite of being relatively invisible. He did the towel animals and took good care of the room a couple times each day -- and kept the ice full.
We didn't bother eating in the surcharge restaurant; call us cheap, but we figured, Why spend extra money when we can get great service and food right there in the dining room? Plus I didn't have a jacket to wear -- but I did see gentlemen dining in the supper club wearing polo shirts with no tie and no jacket! Anyway, our waiters were fantastic and eager to please. This cruise differed from previous ones in that lunch in the dining room was open seating. We only ate lunch twice in the dining room; other days we were in port or ate at the Lido buffet. Dinner each evening was the usual treat of fine service and food. I love the soups, and usually ordered two. My wife mostly stuck with the beef entree, but I always tried something different on the menu and was never disappointed. Desserts were the usual fabulous creations, always delicious.
Another change in the dining room was that a full silverware service was not set out, just one of each utensil. Not a problem, but I always liked the other way better. We were at a table for two, which was nice. We always enjoyed the company of our fellow guests, but this was a nice change of pace. Our table was next to the railing on the upper level so we could see the entire dining room.
Our ports were Belize; Limon, Costa Rica; and Colon, Panama. We'd been to Belize last year and took a tour that time, and were planning expensive tours at the next two ports, so we just went ashore for souvenirs on the pier and went back to the ship. It rained that day anyway. Later in the day I went back in just for the boat ride; I love those high-speed tenders, and the long ride is fun. Elation and two other ships were anchored there that day.
In Costa Rica we took the "green train" tour, a neat ride along the remnant of Costa Rica's narrow-gauge railroad, which was severed by hurricanes and never fully rebuilt. The poverty in Limon was depressing, but the people were friendly. When we passed in the train, the children came running to wave at us. It was very heartening. I guessed the ride to be 15 miles or so, through a banana plantation and into the countryside. It was a great ride, but I'm a rail buff so that gave me added enjoyment.
At the end of the line we switched to a bus, and another group boarded the train for the ride back. During the tradeoff a crowd of youngsters was milling about, one young boy carrying a snake around his neck. I posed with him for a picture, then he said, "One dollar." So I pulled out my money, and suddenly I was the most popular guy in Costa Rica! The kids were swarming about, all hands reaching for some bills! I passed out several ones, but had to draw the line when they were reaching for my twenties, and made my escape into the bus.
The next day in Panama we rode the Panama Canal Railroad -- another great ride, this time over a modern high-speed railroad with former Amtrak equipment. A word of caution: The railroad doesn't closely follow the canal until midway across the isthmus, and the speed is quite high, so it's not a good tour if you really want to see the canal. I heard several people grumbling about that.
We went for the train ride, mainly, but you do get to see much of the Pacific side of the canal, including the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks. There were many ships going through though and we still got a good view. Taking pictures from the train was difficult, but I got a few good ones. The other more expensive tours would've been better to actually see the canal, and if we get back we may consider one.
On the Pacific side, we took a short bus tour around a suburb of Panama City, made a shopping stop and a couple of photo stops, then headed back to Colon on the train -- another very good tour. It was expensive at $155 apiece, but we didn't regret it. Colon is another poverty stricken city, very depressing.
The sea days were the usual Carnival fare, but we didn't participate in many of the activities, preferring to relax. The cruise director was Brett Alans, who was better than I'd remembered him from the Inspiration (but I liked Jeff Bronson on the Paradise better).
We had three "Vegas Style" shows on this eight-day cruise, but the first two weren't anything outstanding. The last one was very good though. I'd heard others raving about the other shows, so it's largely a matter of opinion. My favorite show was the Village Idiots, a couple of guys who do the show circuit on Carnival, with juggling and fire-eating and various stunts, and lots of humor. I really liked those guys, even went to both shows.
The last show of the cruise was a one-show-only, at 10:30 p.m. I can't remember her name, but it was one of the soul singers from the '60s or '70s, and I felt bad for her. People were just walking out left and right. She stuck with it to the bitter end, smiling all the way. When they turned up the house lights after her show, it was a pretty sparse crowd left. I'd suggest that they move this show up in the week, or earlier in the evening.
We did have a guest talent show one evening, which was also Halloween, so I sang "Mississippi Squirrel Revival" by Ray Stevens, dressed in my punk costume, which was quite a hoot. The costumes were lots of fun and many participated in the festivities.
All in all, another great cruise!