May 4, 2003
Sunday, Day 1- Embarkation in Miami
I live about 2 ½ miles from the port so getting there was no problem. The last time I cruised was on a Friday and there was lots of traffic, we left early as a result just to find absolutely no line at the pier. They had greatly relaxed the security measures so we just needed to show our tickets to the guard, no ID needed and we were in, this was at aprox. 10:00am.
The traffic started when we were getting ready to turn into Carnival's piers 8 and 9. We were early so the previous passengers from the Victory and Paradise were just getting off and the huge shuttle buses were paralyzing traffic. We sat there for about 20 mins. before we made it the 900 feet or so to the parking lot. We paid the $70 parking fee and found a perfect spot close to the entrance of the lot.
We wheeled our luggage to the terminal and found out that because the luggage from the previous passengers was still inside we had to wait a bit until they set up the cranes for us to turn in our luggage. We just hanged out in the shade watching the previous cruisers lugging off their booze and feeling the pain for those that can't tan but still tried and ended up walking out in pain while looking like a lobster.
We had an Oceanview Guarantee so we had the gray TBA tags, a Carnival Rep found our cabin number on the list and just wrote it in the tag. We didn't need to change color tags. The porter simply picked up the luggage and loaded it up but I tipped him anyway to make sure that I wouldn't see my luggage floating in the bay during sail-away.
Made it inside the terminal, line is just starting to build up; it is now between 11 and 11:30 am. Go through the security checkpoint where my big bracelets, jewelry and biker belt overwhelm the metal detector after going in they hand out the popular FAQ flyer and a letter letting us know that although they would let us board early, we couldn't go to our cabin until 1:30pm because they were still being cleaned.
We finally make it to the check-in counter and discover that the nice lady handing out the flyers forgot to give us our SARS questionnaire. This form is very simple and we filled it out in seconds. We were checked-in in no time and proceeded upstairs to pick-up our Sail & Sign cards. We got our cards in no time but it was still early (about 11:45am) and boarding hadn't started (the only people allowed to board at this time were members Wedding Party).
We sit around, make ourselves comfortable, I pulled out my Carnival book to locate our cabin and strategize on the best routes to get to all of the interesting places. Pretty soon the place starts to fill up and the chairs run out. Apparently I had an "I know it all" look on my face because many people kept asking me questions like "What is going on right now?", "Why aren't we boarding?" "When will we board?" "What happens next?" They seemed to like my answers so much that the same people kept coming back to me the whole week to ask me questions; amazingly enough I always had an answer. I should bill Carnival for this service since I saved a lot of people a trip to the Purser's Office.
At around 12:10pm people started to get impatient and rude. As soon as boarding started everybody forgot the concept of courtesy and manners and the "First come First served" concept went down the drain. It felt like a stampede of anxious cruisers trying to cut everybody off just so they could be one of the first ones to board.
We were still among the first 20 or so passengers to make it up the long walk through the terminal to the gangway. This time they took our pictures before we got to the gangway, according to the embarkation picture it was then 12:23pm. We got our pictures taken for our Sail & Sign card and we were onboard.
First impression is: "Atrium is pretty but not as nice as the Fantasy class ships". Second impression is: "I don't think the green is gaudy, I kind of like it" (with one exception I will mention later).
First thing we do is head to the Atlantic Dining Room and find our Maitre 'D. We requested late seating but got assigned early and there is no way that my boyfriend and I would make it to dinner at that time. We were the first person there, Vito, the Maitre 'D actually looked surprised that there were passengers boarding already (apparently he hadn't looked at the time in a while). With just a few clicks in the computer our assignment was changed to 8:30pm in a booth for 2 on the second floor of the Atlantic Dining Room right next to the bandstand. It was a relatively quiet and romantic location but I'll expand on that later.
After that we headed to the Lido Deck to get some lunch. The buffet was nothing out of the ordinary but was good food. After eating we walked around to get familiarized with the ship and then headed to our cabin.
For the first time the 2 beds were already pushed together so we didn't need to call our steward to do it for us. A couple of hours later we met Octavio, our cabin steward. He was nice but spoke supper fast with an accent so we didn't understand half of what he said. We didn't get a towel animal on the first night but we got a different one every night after that, we carefully moved them off the bed to different locations in the room so by the end of the cruise our cabin looked like a zoo and we had tons of towels.
Our luggage arrived little by little relatively early and I was all unpacked before the drill. The lifeboat drill was quick and painless. I enjoyed the fact that our muster station is right by the lifeboats instead of one of the lounges like in the Fantasy class ships.
I missed the Cruise Critic meeting after the boat drill for some unknown reason. I remembered it was taking place but I guess I just got busy eating pizza and doing stuff that it was sail away before I knew it.
We spent the afternoon hanging out and relaxing until dinner where we met our waiter Lucas from Colombia and Assistant Waiter Gabriel from the Philippines. They were nice and professional but we made very little small talk, there was not much conversation with them during the cruise. Gabriel was very shy at first but really loosened up and started smiling a lot more after the first night. Lucas was very nice and always made sure we were taken care of. He would make suggestions and was always telling us "if you don't like it let me know and I'll get you something else". We were never without water thanks to them.
On this evening we met who would become our regular barmaid for the week. Luciana Pinheiro from Brazil goes from table to table during dinner offering drinks. She is so nice and sweet that we were never able to refuse a drink from her; she was very good at making suggestions when undecided.
We made it a point to go to the Alternative dining every night before the actual dinner so we were always pretty full during the actual dinner (this worked great for when we couldn't find any appealing dishes in the menu)
Monday, Day 2- At Sea
This was a very relaxing day, we got up late at around 11am and went to have breakfast on the Lido deck and then hang around the pool and hot tub. There was some deck chair saving but nothing major; there were plenty of chairs available. We got ready for formal night and posed for pictures before dinner. I don't remember why but we somehow missed the Captain's Party.
We went to the Purser's office to get a hole punched on our Sail & Sign cards since we brought lanyards and I sometimes didn't have a pocket to carry it. The Purser seemed to have a hard time understanding why she couldn't punch the hole on the side where the card goes in the lock to open the cabin door. She ended up having to print out new cards for us, this proved to be a nightmare on the gangway because they never worked right after that. They had to take our picture again on the gangway and even then the computer would keep buzzing and we had to present ID all of the time, very annoying.
The most embarrassing time on this cruise came after dinner when we were walking out of the dining room our waiter stopped us and sent us back to our table. I had mentioned to my TA that this was an anniversary cruise for my boyfriend and Iand she apparently made a note of it. Our dining team gathered around us and started to sing "Happy Anniversary" to the tune of "Happy Birthday" to us and brought out a cake. It's official now, as far as everybody on board is concerned, we are married.
After dinner we went to see the show "Livin' in America" it was nice but I'm not that fond of Vegas style shows simply because I don't understand the need for the dancers to wear thongs to perform their choreography. After that we stayed for the R rated comedy show with Greg Ray, he said some funny things about relationships and although this show was better than the first one, still didn't meet my standards for good comedy.
Tuesday, Day 3- Puerto Rico
This was supposed to be a sea day with a late afternoon arrival in San Juan. When we woke up in the morning we discovered that the ship wasn't going as fast as it was the night before. We later learned that they were having some mechanical problems with the propulsion system so we couldn't go as fast as needed, therefore our arrival at San Juan would be delayed to 9:30pm, technicians were on stand by in San Juan with the parts necessary to make the repairs to allow time for this the ship would stay in Puerto Rico until 6:00pm on Wednesday but we would miss St. Marteen.
My boyfriend and I were thrilled since I was born in Puerto Rico and hadn't visited for several years and he had never been there. I had been to St. Marteen before so I didn't really care; my boyfriend had never been there but didn't seem the least bit affected. Other passengers were not so happy, I was in line at the Purser's office to address a discrepancy with my account and I was surrounded by angry passengers complaining to no end. Most of their anger was out of ignorance because they were not paying attention to what was being said. Some where thinking that we would not make it back to Miami on time and kept yelling instead of listening to the Purser who was very patiently trying to clarify their understanding. I felt sorry for the poor girl who had no fault over the situation and was taking all the heat. I felt like helping her by explaining things to the people but some of them either were not smart enough or simply refused to listen.
After getting back to my cabin I realized that I needed to contact the car rental agency to change my reservation and avoid a penalty. We were not too far from land since I was getting a small signal on my cell phone but it wasn't enough to get the call through. I ended up paying $13.98 for an in-cabin call and our car reservation was adjusted.
We pulled up to the harbor close to 9pm, it was a beautiful view with the city lights, shortly before 9:30pm we were out the terminal, we took the first taxi we found to Charlie Rent-a-car's Isla Verde office, rented a 2003 Daewoo Lanos for $29.95 plus insurance, the car was really nice and had less than 1,000 miles on it. We drove to my parent's house and dropped by unannounced at aprox. 10:30pm they were extremely surprised but happy, headed back to the ship after 1am. There is no parking in the terminal in San Juan so we drove around trying to find an open garage, we parked in the Covadonga Parking Garage across the street from the terminal, and their rates are very cheap. Secure parking totaled up to $6.50 for 8 hours, I really liked the automated cashier, it completely eliminates the line to get out.
Wednesday, Day 4- Puerto Rico
We woke up at around 8 am, had breakfast in Lido as usual and we walking towards the car by 10am. I drove my boyfriend around town pointing places from my childhood growing up there. We went to San Patricio Mall and browsed around Castle Books, and then we headed to Plaza Las Americas and walked around the mall and shopped at Borders Bookshop. Did some more driving around and headed to the Condado area to drop off the car. There is some major construction taking place on Dos Hermanos Bridge which divides Old San Juan from the new city, traffic was horrible in that part. Dropped off the car, the shuttle was out at the time so they gave us $10 to cover the cab fare to get back to the ship. We walked aprox. 2 blocks to the Whyndham Condado Plaza and took a taxi that dropped us off at El Morro Fort.
We didn't go inside El Morro but we took some pictures and started the walk through the Old City. I ate some delicious fruit ice cream from a street vendor and my boyfriend had a "piragua" (shaved ice). We walked around through the cathedral, El Convento hotel, and many tourist shops. We tried to go to "El Parque de las Palomas" (Pigeon Park) to feed to Pigeons and enjoy the view but it was closed. Found a place that sold Miami Vices and bought one to rehydrate myself. We walked through the "Paseo la Princesa" and the San Juan gate before walking back to the ship for our 6pm departure.
We sailed out of the harbor just as the sun was getting ready to set, the view was beautiful, we took some nice pictures of the fort while leaving the bay. As usual had dinner in the alternative dining before heading to the Dining Room. We were so tired from that day that we just relaxed the rest of the night and went to sleep early.
Thursday, Day 5- St. Thomas
We woke up in the late morning as usual, had breakfast in St. Thomas. I had been there so many times before that I didn't care much what we did. We took a personalized tour with a guy named Daniel aka Chihuaha; he was very good and showed us views and places that the organized tours didn't offer. We took some really breathtaking pictures of the view from the mountains, including Magen's Bay. He did such a good job that we tipped him extra after he dropped us off in the shopping area.
We shopped around, I bough some Passoa liqueur that I was never able to enjoy (more on the liquor saga later). I got my hair braided (just a headband, not the whole head) for $40 (this is the cheapest I've ever been quoted since I have a lot of hair). After that we headed back to the port and walked around Havensight Mall, same stores that we saw in the downtown area with the same or higher prices, haggling is not as easy here. Just bought 2 mini bottles of alcohol, 1 Kahlua, 1 Tequila which I had no problem bringing onboard.
Tonight was the guest talent show, I didn't see it so I can't say anything about it other that it was constantly playing on the TV after that.
Friday, Day 6- Day at Sea
Finally another chance to just relax hanging out on the decks and reading on the lounge chairs on deck 3. Tonight was the second formal night but I wasn't in a formal mood. It is amazing how my boyfriend used to hate having to be all proper in the dining room and loved the lido actually insisted on going to the dining room so I tried to dress up a little just to go.
I completely missed the happy hour; we went to dinner and then headed to the Caribbean Lounge for the show. Although the actual show starts at 10:30pm, they play a video related to it from 10pm with a biker guy talking and several music videos. Being a biker myself I really liked the show, most of the songs were really good although they could have done better by removing a couple that were not too impressive. This show was much better than the first one.
We stayed for the comedy show with Marvin Bell at midnight. It took me about 20 minutes to start laughing. My boyfriend was having a blast from the beginning but it was harder for me to laugh since I already knew the jokes. I own a joke e-mail list and I was convinced that the guy got 97% of his jokes off the internet. That is why I prefer true stand-up comedians, it makes for more original humor. I finally started to enjoy some when he started talking more about himself instead of just making random jokes but I decided not to bother going to his next show the next day.
Saturday, Day 7- Nassau, Bahamas
Got up at around 11am, did the usual race to get ready and make it to Lido before they closed the breakfast line. Then we got ready for Nassau, it was pretty to watch us sail in and dock. We were next to the Majesty of the Seas, the Fascination and another small and rusty ship from one of those "luxurious" lines that I can't remember now. I really didn't want to be in that one. But my boyfriend and I were trying to figure out a way to get on the Fascination since we like that ship better.
We had been to Nassau not too long ago and we're not beach bums so we skipped the tours and just walked along Bay Street window-shopping. Stopped by the Pirates' Pub and bought a Bahama Mama and after seeing most of the shops headed back to the port. The shops on the port are not interesting but I got to satisfy my craving for popcorn and bought some roasted pecans that I love. Then we headed back to the ship.
After we set sail I attacked the gift shops and did all of my purchases, there weren't as many deals and those available were not as good as in previous cruises. Most of the deals were repeats from earlier in the week. Due to the lack of variety and high prices I didn't buy much. Then I headed to the Photo Gallery to buy our last sets of pictures and went to the cabin to start packing.
I had purchased 3 booklets of drink coupons from Carnival before our cruise and we still had quite a few left. My boyfriend doesn't drink much but he loves to get me tipsy so I had quite a few coupons to use before the end of the night. Needless to say I was quite tipsy.
I didn't really feel like going to dinner that night and I stuffed myself too much during the alternative dining at Lido so we decided to skip it. We showed up while they were handing out the desserts so we could say goodbye to our waiter and assistant waiter and took a picture with them then we started to look for our Maitre 'D to give him his tip and take a picture with him. We stayed for their last performance. The dining room staff sang "Leaving on a Fun Ship" to the tune of "Leaving on a Jet Plane" I don't know if all of the drinks that I had so far made me very sentimental but the lyrics were so emotional I had to try to keep myself from crying.
After the performance was over we headed to our cabin to finish up packing, we decided not to go to the last show since the juggler had been on the Fascination on our last cruise and although he was for the most part good, he did make several mistakes and the show was not that entertaining, the comedian that night was the same guy from the previous show and I didn't feel like listening to recycled jokes.
After our luggage was out, we decided to do a last walk around the ship, get our last slices of pizza, eat our last soft serve ice cream and drink my last Miami Vices. We spent a good deal of time on the Lido deck before heading back to our cabin to watch TV and try to sleep, not looking forward to the next day.
Sunday- Day 8, Debarkation
We left an order for Room Service breakfast on our door the previous night requesting delivery between 7:20 and 7:30am. We get up, shower, get dressed and leave the room at 8:30am with no word from room service so we decide to go to Lido instead. At 9:20am my boyfriend goes to our cabin to get the last of our stuff out and he gets a call from Room Service asking if they can deliver the order in the next 15 mins.!? I'm hypoglycemic (sp?), I would have passed out by the time room service arrived hadn't I gone to the Lido deck.
We just found a table on the Lido deck and sat down to wait for debarkation, I didn't like the fact that they closed the breakfast line at least 45 mins before debarkation started and everything else including the ice cream machines were unavailable. Debarkation was greatly delayed due to the fact that people would constantly be at the Lobby area even though they were constantly announcing over the PA that the process would be delayed as long as people were there. After a minimum of 5 identical announcements, debarkation started, it was slow going for the most part.
Our color was called at aprox. 10:40am and we proceeded to the terminal just to discover that the luggage for the 3 colors that had been called simultaneously was not ready yet. After waiting on the terminal for a couple of minutes, the luggage is finally ready and a stampede ensues barely knocking over the employee that was guiding the passengers. We didn't have much trouble locating our luggage, we handed out our customs declarations and were out to the parking lot in no time just to find out that the car had decided that it liked sitting there and refused to move. We decided to take a taxi home and just worry about the car the next day.
Many people look forward to cruising with Carnival because the President's Butter that they offer is to die for. Although this is not a reason why I cruise, I definitely look forward to it so I was sad to discover that they completely ran out of it after the embarkation lunch. We had plain butter after that.
Alternative Dining- B+
The pizza was ok, but the garlic bread would take absolutely forever and they would serve very little. Carnival shouldn't offer garlic bread if they dread it so much that it becomes such a hassle.
They would close breakfast lines even though the place was full of people in line and would leave just one line for aprox. 50 hungry guests, many of which were holding up the line waiting for an omelet since many would not let people go around them. With so many people, the staff was a little slow in replenishing certain items.
Room Service- D-
This is the most boring cruise as far as activities go. (I was never really bored because I like relaxing but..) The capers didn't seem to have as many activities as it used to, we actually found ourselves with plenty of time during the day and went some nights trying to figure out why there was nothing interesting going on as a result this is the most TV I have ever watched on a cruise.
The Cabin: A
The ship: B+
The layout is not as well planned as in Fantasy class ships. The public areas are smaller or at least felt more cramped (except for the Caribbean Lounge) and many of the lounges were too crowded for our tastes. I was surprised that with such a big ship there were only 2 main decks (5 and 9 with 4 and 3 being partially useful) it seemed like almost every deck was a passenger one. Neptune's way in deck 5 is too narrow for being the main area to get anywhere on the ship, I had to hold my breath every time I walked by because the place was full of smokers.
A word about the public restrooms, either they were not cleaned often enough or the passengers were just pigs because they were always nasty. Some of the bathrooms were so small and cramped that if somebody was drying their hands in the air dryer, nobody could walk through. They are not designed for overweight people. I watched this very heavyset woman squeezing herself through the space between the counter and the stalls, she could barely fit and it was very uncomfortable, I felt very bad for her.
The more cruises I travel on, the more commercial they become. The constant sales pitches were just background noise for me but I was actually amazed at how much they pushed "Super shopper Donna's" shopping maps. She was on the TV at all hours in the morning preaching on how you should only buy on these stores or you would suffer for eternity if you bought from anybody else. That was a little too much for me. I appreciate the advice, but it is my problem if I want to take the risk and buy from somebody that is not "Carnival certified", she was really pushy on this aspect.
I didn't purchase any pay per view movies since I didn't find something I hadn't already seen or that I preferred to pay $3.99 in Blockbuster instead of $8.99 onboard. My boyfriend and I considered the adult movies but with a $13.99 price tag we got picky enough not to choose any of the cheesy titles.
In the Fascination they have boxes with slots to discard the pictures, on the Victory they had regular trashcans, on more than one occasion I found people just scanning through the trashcans laughing at other people. This is not fair for those that don't think they came out good and don't want anybody else to see them.
In general I really enjoyed the trip but I think that I will stick with the Fantasy class ships unless I get a really good deal on a Destiny class.