Our Carnival Cruise 2017

 

d6d6dc6f48d9c0ff96d827a177030f45-2We have cruised lots of times but this cruise was the most “memorable”! Yes, we will not forget this one! It began innocently enough – we booked in June and got our cabins together on the Upper Deck of Carnival Glory: one for the 3 kids, one for us and one for my parents, Nana and Poppy. We read the packing lists, packed our bags, checked in for both the cruise and the airlines, found people to watch the dogs (yes, our dog sitter backed out 5 days before the cruise leaving me frantically searching but fortunately a kind friend said she would love to watch my sweet girl) and found rides to and from the airport (again, thanks wonderful friends!).

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Our sweet girl Sally

So, on January 6, the day before our cruise (we like to go the day before so we have a day to “acclimatize” to vacation and warm weather), we eagerly set off for the airport! On our arrival, we found out that our plane had been delayed by 2 hours but no problem – we would go and wait at the lovely, tiny, located-miles-from-most-gates-USO lounge Reagan airport has. But wait, an hour after being there we discover that no, our flight is no longer delayed but on time so we rush off to get through security and get to our flight!  As we are walking on the gangway to our plane, our daughter calls us. She flew a different airlines and arrived at Fort Lauderdale a few hours before us. She has just left the airport and is calling to say that our flight might be delayed because there has just been a shooting at the airport and it is currently closed. However, our flight continues as scheduled and we watch the disturbing newscasts as we fly to Fort Lauderdale. About halfway through our flight, now over South Carolina, the pilot announces that we cannot land at Fort Lauderdale so we are returning to DC. What?? No!! We have a cruise to get on! (Don’t get me wrong – we are horrified for the people at Fort Lauderdale and so grateful our daughter called so we know she is safe – but we need to get to her and our ship!)

 

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We arrive in DC and like the other 100 plus people on the flight try to contact JetBlue to make new flight arrangements. After a good 30 minutes we are set! We have all 6 of us on the 8pm flight to Fort Lauderdale! Whew! We just need to get our bags and recheck them. Unfortunately, the bags have already come through the carousel and have now been put back in the back as “unclaimed luggage” so we need our claim tags to get our luggage. But, mine has disappeared and the lady only thinks they might be able to find it. As we wait for the bags to show, I get a text from JetBlue – our flight has been cancelled! So, back to customer service again! Only now ALL flights to FLORIDA for that night and the next day have been FILLED! There is nothing left but they will refund our money for that flight!!! Yes, I confess – I had a meltdown! What would we do???  Another airline had flights for the next day at double the price and, with a layover and the chance of snow, the possibility of still missing the cruise. We called Carnival and found out that although we had requested travel insurance, it had only gone through for the 3 kids, not us the parents! ACK!

 

At this point daughter Rachel had an idea – a train is out because it took too long (24 hours so we’d still miss the boat!) but we could rent a van and drive – 15 hours would get us there in time. So HERTZ to the rescue! We rented a minivan for the 6 of us and piled in. Mind you, it is cold outside – a snow storm is coming – and we have no coats, gloves, blankets, pillows, – you know, the things you pack for a LONG drive. But we have our phones with Google maps and we set off for Miami or Bust –  1054 miles! Actually we do have 1 blanket that Rachel travels with and since the Nana is cold, we put her in the back, wrap a blanket and a hammock around her and hope she doesn’t get sick! After an hour and a half, the driver is feeling the caffeine we have pumped him with so he needs a potty break. As soon as he stops, he leaps out of the car and runs for the restroom. The rest of us, feeling the cold air, decide to follow. When John comes out of the bathroom he asks me if I have the van key – oops! The key is still in the van and the van is running – even with no one in it. Fortunately, it is still there and all is well! John continues driving until 1 when he needs a break so I started driving at that point and drive until we need gas at 4am. (This is about the 4th stop – all of which have been very quick!) John takes over the driving again, Rachel and David switch places so now David navigates and keeps the driver alert, and I lie down on the floor and get some sleep. (Yes, on the floor – I lowered myself down, slid my legs under my Dad’s legs and put my head where my feet should go and turned sideways – During the night my family would turn to look at me and wonder where’d I’d gone or if I’d been left at the last pitstop – but I was exhausted enough to really sleep!)

After 16 hours and 20 minutes we arrive at the Miami airport and turn in our Joshua – our minivan who got us to the Promised Land (just in case you want to know, even with our breaks we averaged 64mph through the snow and pouring rain). We change into cruise clothes, (ironically, at this point we discover that Nana had a sweater in her carryon bag but never thought to get it out and put it on!) and grab a taxi to get to the Port of Miami! We arrive there just before Kate does so we are all able to check in together. The nightmare is behind us as we board the ship! Or is it?

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Look who’s awake!!

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Yes, it really is – but there are still some more glitches to be endured! The first is the letter we get upon walking into the check in – Our first port, Half Moon Cay, has been cancelled due to the weather. Oh, well, we still have 3 more ports!

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That evening we go to dinner in the dining room – only to realize that Nana and Poppy’s table is upstairs and ours is downstairs! The maître d’ tries to fix it but says we’ll have to wait until the next night. The next night we discover we are now at a table for 12 in the middle of the dining room so we can’t hear each other speak – so that doesn’t work. The maître d’ says we’ll have to go to the other dining room, show up 15 minutes early, and hope they can seat us each night. Not exactly what we requested, but we are still together and having fun!

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Our first port is St. Thomas – we go to the beach and swim and have a wonderful day! 20170111_103633a

The next day finds us in San Juan, Puerto Rico where we have a friend who graciously picks us up and takes us to El Yunque, the only US rainforest! There is almost no one there when we arrive – maybe it’s because it is going to pour rain in just a few minutes and the fun-to-swim-in waterfall is now raging dangerously! No swimming in the falls – but are glad we had our swimsuits on because we got soaked! But the day is awesome because we hiked in the rainforest and then wandered around Old San Juan and caught up with longtime friends and again, we are together and having fun!

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The next morning we all watched from the deck as the ship prepared to dock. We could see the beach and couldn’t wait to get on it as the day was beautiful! But, alas, the wind was too strong and the captain just could not safely dock the massive ship. We got closer and closer to the dock and then started going backwards. When the horn sounded we knew the port had been cancelled! What a disappointment! Yes, a disappointment to not go on the beautiful beaches but grateful that the ship was not harmed – others on the ship did not feel the same way. They began to protest and riot and got quite nasty towards the ship personnel. We think some of them might have needed some time to cool down in a quiet place below, otherwise known as the Brig!

The rest of our trip was uneventful – we didn’t even need to go through customs when we arrived in Miami since we’d never left the US! And our flight was on time, the ice storm didn’t come and our friend had no problems picking us up at the airport!

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Five in the bed is a little crowded but fun!

So, to wrap up – we had a wonderful cruise! We love spending time together and that was great! Our food was fabulous – lobster, prime rib, pizza, chocolate melting cake and ice cream were some favorites. We even got little birthday cakes for John and Kate who celebrate their birthdays at the end of this month.  The Carnival crew was friendly, professional and entertaining – even when they were losing their day off!  Our cruise Director Eric even had a military appreciation event!

 

Will we cruise with Carnival again – ABSOLUTELY!

Will we fly the day before – ALWAYS!

Will we make sure we have cruise insurance – DEFINITELY!

And we can’t wait to cruise again!

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Cruise Hacks

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Some ideas on how to make your cruise a little less stressful and a little more cost effective:

1. Bring your Own Dramamine.

You don’t get motion sickness? Bring your own Dramamine. You don’t like taking medicine? Bring your own Dramamine. You were fine on a prior cruise? Bring your own Dramamine. The ship will sell you a 12-hour dose for the low price of $3.75, or you can buy enough Dramamine for your whole family for the whole week for that same price. You can’t tell what the waters will be like when you board the ship. Do yourself a favor, pack your own sea sickness medicine and you will be prepared to enjoy the full duration of your sea days.

2. Bottom Middle of the Boat.

If you know you have a tendency to get motion sickness, book a room in the bottom of the middle of the ship. It will be the least rocky and will also probably be the cheapest. Extra bonus: There isn’t a window so you can take a nap easily if sea sickness becomes an issue (also read number one).

3. Go to the Orientation.

On the first night the ship will likely have an orientation. Go! You won’t have anything better to do, and chances are high that you’ll win something, like a bottle of champagne!

4. Need an Extra Outlet? Call Your Steward!

Your cabin will likely have only one or two outlets, which can be problematic if you have four people with four phones, 2 iPods, a camera, a kindle, and a C-Pap machine. You have two options: You can bring your own power strip if you think ahead, or call your steward. They usually have some on stock (in addition to extension cords – especially helpful with a C-pap) and are very willing to provide you with one.

5. Free Lanyard at the Casino!

Did you forget to bring a hole punch for your sail and sign card? Are you wishing that you had thought to bring a lanyard from home to carry your sail and sign card? Skip the pursers desk which has long lines, and don’t wait until you set sail to buy one from the gift shop; Stop by the casino! They will likely have both a hole punch for your card and a free lanyard to put it on so that you can conveniently play the slots without losing your card. Casino participation is optional (and there’s no pressure since most of the games have to be closed while the ship is at port)

6. BYOS (Bring Your Own Soda)

Most cruise lines will allow you to board the ship with a “reasonable” amount of soda, and up to two bottles of wine. If you aren’t an avid drinker consider purchasing a case or two of soda when you get to Miami (or wherever your ship is docked) and carry it on board. This way you don’t have to pay the extra for a soda card, drink too much soda, or worry that you won’t get your money’s worth of soda that week. If you want to bring your own wine take note of two things: 1. Be aware that some places won’t sell you wine on a Sunday before noon (namely Florida), so that could be a problem if you leave on a Sunday and were planning on buying some at your ship’s location. 2. If you choose to have your wine served in the dining room they will probably charge you a “nominal” corkage fee. You can decide if it’s worth it to you.

7. “Private” Balcony

Assuming you booked yourself for the bottom middle of the ship, you may feel a little disappointed that you didn’t get your own private balcony. Fear not, the next best thing lies on deck 6 and 7 forward on a Carnival ship. It’s a little deck that anyone can access but few actually do, so you can get an unobstructed view of your ship leaving/arriving at the port of call.

8. Consider Booking Your Own Excusions

I’m not going to tell you to ONLY book your own excursions, but at least consider it. You will be able to save a significant amount of money (especially if you’re cruising with your family) for starters. You also have more options of what you do (and you can almost always find the same excursions that the cruise line will – often it will even be at the same venue!) and you’re guaranteed to have more adventure along the way. You just have to do your research, either via google or getting travel books which are often available at your local library, to figure out what is available to you at each port of call. On our last cruise we were able to swim with manatees in Cozumel, Mexico. Our cruise ship didn’t offer that excursion, although they did offer swimming with the dolphins at the same venue for a higher price. The only real “con” to booking your own excursion is if your ship can’t dock at your port of call you may not be able to get a full refund like the cruise line will. Your cruise line will often tell you that it is “dangerous” to book an excursion with outside parties because if the trip gets delayed the cruise ship will leave you behind, but if it’s through the cruise ship they will wait for you; all you have to do is do your homework and make sure that there’s wiggle room between the estimated end time of the excursion and the departure of your ship (keep in mind that you are required to board the ship about a half hour before the ship sets sail).

9. Bring a Watch

Most likely you won’t want to carry around your cell phone on the ship because it won’t be able to make calls, send texts, or browse the web (unless you’re into paying a lot of extra money), and you need to be able to know what time it is so you can get to dinner on time.

10. Eat Up!

While you are aboard the ship you are free to eat as much or little as you would like. Do two main courses sound really good to you? Order both! Not sure if you will like something but want to be adventurous? Order it with something else! Or if you realize two bites in that you just don’t care for those frog legs tell your waiter! They can easily grab you something else from the kitchen. Remember, you’re on a cruise and if you don’t love something, don’t eat all of it! Now is not the time to be determined to “clean your plate”

You are also free to order as many desserts as you would like, sometimes I had three in one night.

11. Smile!

While you are on the ship you are free to have as many pictures taken of you as you would like. Need a family portrait? Want some senior pictures? Want proof that your family cleans up nicely? The cruise is a perfect time to get your pictures taken – theoretically you have less stress, you don’t have anywhere else to be, you’re already wearing nice clothes, why not? That being said, if you do not want to (or do not have the money to) purchase the pictures, do not look at them. The photographers are paid to take good pictures. The more you take the more good pictures you will want to purchase. At $20 a pop you may want to limit yourself before hand, or just plan to not buy anything else aboard aside from pictures.

12. Photo Store

One “Secret” of the photo shop is that if you find that your formal pictures are absolutely perfect except for the extra softening that was added, fear not, they can remove it! All you have to do is ask, sometimes they’ll make you purchase the new picture before you see it and have you pick it up the next day. They really do aim to please

13. You Don’t Have to go to Every Show

While some people do that and have a blast, it’s not for everyone. You can do whatever you feel like doing. Go to bed early. Watch a movie by the pool. Go to the gym. Read a book. Play a game in the library. Listen to the music in the atrium. Get your picture taken. Take your own pictures. Grab some free cards by the pursers desk. Watch the stars from a balcony. Explore the ship. Eat extra desserts from the buffet. Go to the hot tub/pool.Whatever floats your boat.

14. Hot Tubs are all Full? Try the Gym

We found that even when all the hot tubs on the upper decks of the ship were full, the one in the gym was empty, quiet, clean, well decorated and most importantly, covered during the many rain storms. When you’re done just grab a towel from the locker room and walk back to your state room!

15. Wear Sunscreen

You don’t burn? Wear sunscreen. It’s 3pm? Wear sunscreen. You’re only going shopping? Wear sunscreen. It’s raining. Wear sunscreen. You put some on two hours ago? Reapply. The Caribbean sun has a mind of it’s own. Wear the sunscreen and you’ll be so glad you did when you see everyone else is as red as a lobster on the second formal night.

Enjoy Your Cruise!

Enjoy the 21+ gourmet meals that they feed you because on Monday morning you’re going to have to make your own.

~R