Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cruise Photo Op ~

Mar Caribe ~ the finale

Mar Caribe = Caribbean here's the last blog post of our trip!

No cruise journal would be complete without some talk of food. So here you go, but don't blame me if you get hungry...

Everything you've heard is true - there's food, and lots of it. Starting with dinner - we were assigned to the Renoir for dinner, with open seating, so we got to decide when we'd go. There were two elegant nights, when you dress up a bit and put on some bling and get your picture taken. Here's a few of the entrees I had: Pan-Seared Grilled Tilapia, Lobster & Shrimp, Chateaubriand Tenderloin, Pork Loin with Jerk Sauce, Fried Shrimp. Some nights we'd have two entrees (most portions are small). We mostly started with a salad or soup, shrimp cocktail or other. On the last night, I had crab cakes, which were delicious. I didn't have any but all around me people were enjoying the Prime Rib and the Braised Shortribs too.

For dessert, Lou Ellen and I got the same thing every...single...night. Warm Melting Chocolate Cake!!! Carnival is famous for it. It's a warm, fudgy dessert, soft in the center, served in a ramekin. They bring some ice cream on the side but I'd ditch that any night, just to concentrate on the WMCC! Don always had Butter Pecan ice cream, and Charles had different desserts every night, but he was our cheesecake guru for sure.

There are recipes for it all over the internet and even videos on YouTube, just search for Warm Melting Chocolate Cake. Not only is it featured every night for dinner, but you can also get it if you eat on the buffet on the Lido deck.

Lunch had many options, of course you could go to the MDR (main dining room) but we never did. The Cezanne (lido deck) has two sections – the regular buffet has salads, breads, entrees and desserts and the other buffet is called “Nation of the Day” with cuisine from a different nation everyday. They had Italian, French, Indian, Mexican, American, and Chocolate. Yes, there is a chocolate day...on the last day, that buffet was dedicated to chocolate!! People were going nuts and walking around in a chocoholic haze.

Besides that, you could also choose from Sur Mer (seafood bistro upstairs, a fish & chips place) the Deli, the Pizzeria (open around the clock) the Grill (hamburgers etc) and the Mongolian Grill. We never had any pizza but between the four of us, we hit all the others at some point.

For breakfast, you could also go to the MDR, but again, we didn't. The breakfast buffet was so good and we became very fond of our omelette guy! You had to wait in line for him, but I didn't mind, I loved watching him cook. Also, the ice cream and yogurt machines were open 24 hours a day, and the Hot Chocolate too. For those who want something even fancier (we didn't) there is a steak house restaurant onboard, but there's an upcharge there of $30 pp. And, although we only used it once, there's room service available too. They have a limited menu, but it's fun to do if you want to hole up in your cabin.

OK, moving on from the food. The entertainment was sometimes good, sometimes average, sometimes lame - one night we were falling asleep during the show so we left. Each night there was some big show in the Toulouse Lautrec and dance shows, though the first night there was a decent comic too. Our favorite performer was a singer/dancer named Jason Dowty who reminded us of the Osmonds. He was very talented. We took a picture with him on the final night. Other music: well, not Keith, not Kenny, not Carrie, not Taylor Swift, but music still...think foreigners singing american songs. Old ones, mostly. ;)

They had other activities going on too...talks on shopping, seminars on healthful eating, tours of the ship, bingo, group contests, karaoke, and The Marriage Game. There was a full service spa (pricey) and a full gym as well as a sauna and steam bath. There was also a track for walking outdoors, which we used a few times. But nothing felt as good as sitting in the hot tub, talking.

We dipped in the pool once but it felt too cool for me, or maybe it was because I was still all pink and warm from the hot tub. Don got a kick out of the towel animals our steward left for us each night.

Another thing I enjoyed about this cruise was the big outdoor movie theatre. One night we watched "This Is It" (Michael Jackson) and another night, "Up". There's just something about sitting out on the deck at night, under a sea of stars, and watching a movie as the ship glides through the water. It was just fun!!!

On my first post I mentioned some of the people we met on the cruise. The thing I want to say about that is, that overall - most people were nice and friendly, some wanted to keep to themselves, but most were happy to chat. I never felt threatened or in any way worried about my safety except in Jamaica where it was dicey, but that's the extent of it.

The other good stuff:

* We loved going with Lou Ellen & Charles! We always have a ball together, and it was nice that sometimes the guys could go their way, while we girls went ours. And anyone who wanted a nap got one. :)

* I loved cruising out of easy two hour ride and some embarkation processing and just like that, we're on vacation!!!

* I really thought it was a great idea to have an adults only hot tub and pool area.

* I liked not having to deal with traffic, and the Captain did the navigating.

* It was amazing leaving here with the weather freezing and knowing that soon we'd be warm and sitting in the sun. I know not all cruises have spectacular weather or such smooth seas, but when you get that, it's gold!!

* I kind of fell in love with the beaches. And the islands. And the jewelry. I don't know that I'd want to go in the summer, but in February it was paradise.

* I loved being out to sea...stunningly beautiful.

We loved it, and we're going to do this again!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cozumel ~

Our last port to visit was Cozumel, Mexico. Our planned excursion was the Sail, Snorkel and Beach Party. I'm not a water person...but hey, the beach thing sounded good. We were on The Fury, one of several catamarans run by a tour company. I intended to just get in the water a bit and call it good, but it got rough and the whole salt water in my mouth thing didn't help. So my dip in the sea was short. Don went in, went down, came back up and got out too. If we had to do this again, we'd probably opt for something else...maybe four-wheeling on the beach or jet skis.

These excursions are popular, in part because they serve free refreshments - beer, margaritas and soda. After the snorkeling was over, the Fury headed for the beach. They came within about 15 yds or so and we walked the rest of the way in. At the beach we relaxed and people watched.

Ah, life is good....

This is Don's happy case you can't tell, he's smiling inside.

Lou Ellen and I relaxed on the beach beds. I was studying my Cozumel paper, with a map of all the shops.

Don & Charles got up close and personal with a pair of iguanas who wanted some privacy.

Soon we loaded up on the Fury to take us back to Cozumel.

By the time we got back the weather had turned bad and rain was starting to fall. The guys knew that The Conquest held an abundance of wondrous food just waiting for them, so they headed back to the ship, with a wave to us saying, "Don't miss the boat."

Lou Ellen and I wanted to do some looking around, which was fun even though we didn't buy much. We were able to get from one shop to the other without getting too wet. We went in one store and looked at all the drugs you can buy - prescription drugs, that is, only no script needed...amoxicillin, Z-paks, pretty much anything. We walked back to the ship in the rain. We had to be back onboard by 5:30 (we beat that by 20 minutes) and as we walked up the dock, we were sure the guys would be on the balcony watching for us.

Bet your life on it. Absolutely.

And.......they were. Do we know our husbands or what??

Our last view of Cozumel, in the rain.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grand Cayman ~

Our second 'port of call' (that just sounds cool) was Grand Cayman. I have wanted to go there for a long time, especially since reading The Firm, by John Grisham. I couldn't wait - our onboard shopping expert was absolutely bubbling with enthusiasm for Grand Cayman shopping. Hey, I'm a believer! My motto (and I do have one) is - get nice things at a good price. And no tax, please. By the way, customs is no problem...when you reenter the United States, you are allowed about $1600 per couple of duty free merchandise. But much of the jewelry is exempt, since it is hand-crafted and considered a work of art.

Grand Cayman was just absolutely gorgeous!! We didn't plan an excursion and I'm glad because we wouldn't have had time for anything else if we had. The Conquest doesn't dock there, this is a tender port, where the ships have to stop out in the bay and you are brought to shore on tender boats. It took a little longer than just walking off, but it was well worth it. You can see the tendering process here:

On the way to the island we passed some fun looking pirate ships. These would be great for families with children, since I think they stage an attack and all. And plenty of people walk the plank.

We got on a minibus to take us to Seven Mile Beach, about a 10 min. drive away. As we started down the road, our driver kept honking over and over but I couldn't figure out why. A few minutes later the mystery was cleared up when a friendly American med student got on. She told me that you hail minibuses that shuttle passengers along the main road by waving when the driver toots his horn at you. So our driver was tooting at other pedestrians to see if they needed a lift. OK, good to know.

Seven Mile Beach was just stunning. It's a lush tropical island, and the ocean was sparkling!! When you looked at it from the beach, it changed from pale green to rich turquoise, then to blue and finally a deep navy. And the sand on the shore was like sugar!! It was a gorgeous sun-kissed beach and I wish I was there right now.

We saw lots of interesting people on the beach. There was a busload of middle school girls there en masse, they were cute and seemed well-behaved. We also saw lots of families and others enjoying the beautiful day. One guy and gal who were near us saw no need to head to the changing rooms to get into their bathing suits, they employed the use of towels, held strategically, to get changed. It was all so smooth and seamless...this wasn't their first rodeo.

Don & I left the beach while Lou Ellen & Charles were waiting for their lunch. I knew we didn't have much time, and I wanted to go to town. Carnival gives you a layout of the shops, which helps so much. I was too excited even to eat until Don reminded me that we missed lunch and we stopped for a quick bite. The merchants were cordial, and many gave out free trinkets to cruise ship passengers (there were several ships there that day). Lou Ellen and I agree - our favorite free item was a small white topaz pendant. And although the clerks were attentive, there was no pressure to buy. So, exquisite jewelry + duty-free shopping + gorgeous weather = o' happy day! Don bought me a ring, a round sterling filigree setting with a Larimar (light blue) stone. Love my ring, love my husband! ♥

Then we met up with Lou Ellen and Charles and went to some more shops. Lou Ellen bought a lovely pearl necklace, and I got some fun bracelets that wrap around your wrist with magnetized beads. But all too soon, it was time to head for the ship. The last free tender left the pier at 3:30 and we had to be on it.

We didn't have nearly long enough on Grand Cayman. But we're going back. Not sure when, but we will. And you can take that to the bank...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Jamaica ~

Montego Bay, Jamaica was our first port of call on this cruise. I wasn't quite so excited, mostly because when we went to the Shopping Talks onboard, the speaker never even mentioned Jamaica. We heard it was a rather rough place, wide-spread poverty, not so safe to navigate around town. And I'm shopping...not so, check please!! But oh well, it would be my first steps out of the country, so I might was well go. We had to just walk off the ship since The Conquest docked there. A few formalities, and we were...not in America anymore.

Our excursion for the day was Jungle River Tubing. I had seen a segment on the travel channel where the host did this, and it did look easy enough. We rode a bus through town and around to the river. Then we got ready to tube. Our 2 Jamaican guides were interesting, big strong guys. I did feel fairly secure with them. One tried mightily to get a spider that dropped onto Lou Ellen, but it got away. We think. She's still here, so it's all good.

They talked to us all the way down the river, mostly about life there. They called me and all of the women, M'lady. I rather liked that. And they sang...of course Lou Ellen & I picked up the lyrics and sang a few bars too ("You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille..."). They asked about our life back here. One offered to let me adopt him. They said their dream was to have a house made of bricks, so when the hurricane comes, it will not blow away. After the tubing, we went back to the Outpost and had lunch on picnic tables. That's when I discovered that I love, LOVE Jerk Chicken!!! All in all, the tubing adventure was fun!

We left for a very rough ride back to town, and then headed to the beach. We'd been told that the nicest beach was Doctor's Cave Beach. And it was beautiful!!! Not free, but beautiful. And the weather was perfect, 80° and sunny, in February. Forget the snow, forget the cold...if I go somewhere in winter, I want Jamaica weather. ;)

These two tried hard to stay out of trouble. Wasn't easy.

Lou Ellen and I in our sunglasses. We got bling, yes we do...

We walked through town a little and we were OK, but without Don & Charles, I might not have. I bought some Jerk Seasoning at the terminal and then we were back at sea. And looking for the yogurt machine. That was our deal...get in, go get some diet coke and yogurt for me & Lou Ellen and ice cream for Don & Charles. Oh yea, mon.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Carnival Conquest ~

The last couple of years we've considered doing a cruise, but for various reasons, didn't. About Christmas time, we decided that yes, the time had come, we were gonna give it a whirl. So on January 31, Don & I and Charles & Lou Ellen sailed away from Galveston for a 7 day cruise aboard the Carnival Conquest, headed for the Western Caribbean!!!

First, the Conquest is a fantastic ship!! It was nicer than I had imagined. And bigger (952 ft long). We sailed full, which is a good indication of popularity. I had been warned about motion sickness but it wasn't a factor in this cruise, it was all smooth sailing. And I was so relieved to find that the cabins are NOT broom-closet sized. We had an Oceanview Cabin on level 2, Main. Everything about the bed was so comfortable and you know, I am not easy to please. But the mattress, pillows, sheets, comforter and all were just perfect. I'm going to order some of their pillows. Here's a pic of an Oceanview room from the website, but ours looked exactly the same:

After Mustering (ship-talk for safety drill) we were off! It was a cold day in Galveston but we weren't worried at all. Here we are watching the sail away from the balcony of Charles & Lou Ellen's room (they were on level 8, Verandah). The white robes we were covering up with are there in every room. I could not believe that we were going on a one week vacation without our children...together! And for me & Don, it was our first time leaving the United States. My heart was doing the happy dance! Adventure, here we come...

We met lots of interesting people. Many were Texans, but there were also people from Lake Charles, other states, and even Canada. And when I say "met" I mean some we talked to, some we didn't...but they were people we'd see over and over and finally figured out their story. Here's a few:

** Dewa, our cabin steward. He did our room twice a day, replacing our wet towels, beach towels, white robes, anything we needed. He did turn-down service every night, and always filled the ice bucket!! With Carnival, you have the tips charged to your Sail & Sign card, so the steward is taken care of, but we had to give Dewa some extra cash, he was awesome!!

** Teeny-Tiny and her man. She was a young black girl, maybe 17 or 18, very short, with a prominent, uh...rear end. She was a wild thing and must have imagined she was on MTV. Both she and her guy (who wore a T-shirt that said, Just Do Me) were mentally challenged, but suffice it to say - they were not wall-flowers. There is a video somewhere buried deep on my camera card, but you must be in the circle of trust to see. ;)

** Maude and Jim. I called her Maude since she reminded me of the TV character. And his name really was Jim....we know this b/c we were in the hot tub with her and she would talk pleasantly enough to us and then turn around and growl at her husband (on the deck) and say "Jim, get in here right now!" She did this at least 3 times. Finally, Jim obeyed.

** Our best photographer, "Hy" from the first elegant night. Now, you have to know - we had no fewer than 30 people taking our picture during this cruise, but Hy is the one I'll always remember. He was a character!! Not sure where he was from, but he spoke English well. In fact, it was like listening to a comedian...he was a bit racy, but he had lightning fast delivery, so that we were like...what did he just say??? We were laughing so hard we were crying. He called Don, "James" (which is his real middle name!) and he called Charles "Francois". I bought a cute photo he took of us that night.

** Joe and his wife. We never talked to Joe, but he was the unofficial star of this cruise. He was a little man, 75 or so, with silky gray hair that he pulled back in a short ponytail, very neatly. He and his wife had been married 57 years. When he was on stage for the opening night show, the Cruise Director asked, "Joe, you've been married for 57 YEARS! What is your SECRET, to what do you owe this long and happy marriage???" And Joe, after a few seconds of careful thought, said, "She didn't die..." And there ya' go, the secret of life, marriage is a breeze...just do NOT die!!

I could go on, but you get the picture. At dinner, our first night at sea:

There was a whole lotta kissing going on....

And a lot of laughing! I was trying to hold it together, in the interest of decorum and all, but you gotta cut loose sometime. And we did. ;)

Stay tuned, more cruise stories to come.