Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cruise Review Day 4 - "Fun Day at Sea"

So now we come to Sunday, our first full day on the Carnival Dream, and our first of 2 "Fun Days at Sea".  That means that we are on the boat all day, and not stopping anywhere.  These days are often reserved for relaxation, lots of eating, and getting to use all the services of the ship!

We started our day in the Scarlett Diningroom for the Punchliner Comedy Brunch, which started at 9am.  I'm not sure when the comedy portion started, but we were in and out before it started.  We were seated at a table with a few other folks, and had a great view off the back of the ship
The breakfast menu is well laid out, with normal items every day, and then special items as well.  I tried the Huevos Rancheros, a favorite of mine, and it was delicious!
Breakfast is different from Dinner in that you don't have a normal table, nor the same wait staff.
As well, since we were seated with others not from our group, we got to meet some new people and the conversation was nice!

After breakfast, B went to Camp Carnival for the first time.  Drop off was simple.  Just show your sign-and-sail card, they check your phone....

wait, I don't think I ever talked about the phone, so lets do that.

Parents of kids under a certain age who are registered for Camp Carnival are issued a phone to carry around when the kid is at Camp Carnival.  Its a Cisco IP Phone, and works anywhere on the ship.  I had heard a little complaining about the "Cell Phone" they give you on Cruise Critic, but I don't understand the complaints, now that I've been there.  Carnival does call it a cell phone, but its not, and it will not work offline.  Its connected to the other ship phones, and you can use it to call your room, or the purser, or any other ship phone, and anyone can call you.  This ended up being VERY convenient!  The stated purpose for it is that if there is a problem with your child, they will call you to come deal with it.  It provided a piece of mind, and was not a big deal at all.

back to your regularly scheduled review of day 4

.... and send you on your way.  My suggestion is, despite any fits or tantrums, get in and get out!! The more time you spend there, the more difficult it will be for your little one to let go and go have some fun.  And trust me, they WILL have fun!

N and her friend headed off to the shops to check out jewelry sales and such, and I hit the Casino for some mindless gaming.  It was a very laid back morning on the ship, doing whatever we wanted.  Eventually, one of our friends and I decided we needed to "Pre Lunch" and headed to the BBQ on the Lanai on Deck 5. 

The BBQ is an open air area on the deck where they were grilling and making all kinds of food.  I had quesedillas, tacos, and some slider burgers.  The food was quite good, but the wait line was a little smokey due to the grills.  Probably just bad luck with wind direction.

This was one of the first times I waited in line for ANYTHING.  Long lines are a common complaint on these big ships, and other than the general buffet, and only occasionally with that, there were never lines that were more than just a few minutes!

After our "Pre Lunch" we went and caught up with the Girls and decided to go get REAL lunch.  We collected B from Camp Carnival and headed to the buffet and pasta place for lunch.  I snuck off to the Indian Tandoor to get mine, and it was YUMMY!

The rest of the afternoon was tied up with naps and relaxation and finally preparing for the evening meal.  On this cruise, Sunday was the first "Elegant Night" in the dining room.  We decided it was time to clean up and Dress up!

A couple of handsome guys there!!  And, any time your hanging with a 2.5 year old... there has to be goofyness!

N, as most wives do, wanted some family pictures.  And on a cruise ship, there is PLENTY of opportunity to do that!  We headed dpwn to Deck 5 where the army of photographers had set up their backgrounds and stations.  You pick which you want, they scan your card, take your pictures, and you go check them out later.  B did GREAT!!  And, despite the sock situation, this is N's favorite of the night.

I'll go into more detail about buying and finding pictures in its own post!

After taking a ton of pics, we headed toward the sounds of a lounge band doing some great smooth jazz, and a meet-and-greet with the captain.   We actually got to spend more time with him later in the week, but we will get to that!
After meeting the Captain, we went to check out the band, and little B had to dance and charm the singer!
At this point, B was getting uncomfortable, and it was very apparent that his teeth were bothering him, so N went back to the room to get some medicine, and (as is our way) B and I got a little goofy with the appetizers.

Eventually, we made it up to the dining room and sat down.  On the menu this evening for B is a fav of his... PIZZA!!
This evening also turned out to be one of my favorites of any cruise... LOBSTER NIGHT!!!  On our first cruise I learned something very important about the dining room... ORDER WHAT YOU WANT... you are not limited to one serving, or one item, or one from each section, you get what you want!

In fact, one our plates was missing its shrimp, so in answer to that... we got, as N said, "Another Round of Lobsters".. and another round came... I eventually put down 3!

I love me some lobster, and it was very very very good!
After the main course, and just before desert, it came time to be entertained by our dining room staff.  Shane, our Maitre Di, welcomed us to the dining room with his signature "Heellooooooooo".  B loved this and chimed it right back at him.  The staff then serenaded us with a beautiful Italian song!
Dinner ended, and B went back to Camp Carnival for an evening of playing.  I snuck out to the deck to catch a little Sunday Night Football!

You'll notice the big 1 in the screen... it was a broken area, and was fixed before Thursday Night Football!

We saw the show in the theater that evening, did more shopping (we did a lot of this) and eventually picked up B from Camp and headed to bed, dreaming of our next days activities in Cozumel Mexico!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cruise Review Day 3 - Getting on the boat!

Its time to get on the boat!

Saturday was finally here, and we were finally going to start the actual cruise.  The day started out pretty easy, we all had pre-packed and were ready to throw the last things in a box and go.  We got the van loaded up and headed out from the Hotel.

We had to stop and fill the gas tank for the rental van, and then drop it off.  There was a gas station next door to the AVIS rental place, so we stopped there, and then pulled into the return section.  There was quite a crowd of people, and a shuttle was dropping off more.

N went in and completed the paperwork while we arranged all our bags and kept B entertained.  It was about 10am, and it was already HOT HOT HOT!  We got word that the port wasn't letting the shuttles in until Debarkation was complete...   Honestly, I'm not sure 100% what that means, but it ended up being a problem for me.

Finally, we got settled into a shuttle and headed toward the port.  We finally got our first glimpse of the boat!
Finally getting to the port we were greeted with a MASSIVE line of shuttles that were just not moving at all.  I never actually figured out what the hold up was, but there were few, if any, porters helping in either direction, and very few people heading toward the ship. 

We ended up in line for over an hour waiting to get off the shuttle.  Once we were finally off, and the porters tipped, we headed in.  Since we had Faster To The Fun, we hit the priority security check, and after a bathroom and diaper change stop, we headed to the priority checkin as well!
(I apologies for the blurry picture)
This picture shows the Priority Boarding area.  To the right was the regular check-in.  There was a carnival person directing traffic to both sides of the regular counter, and looking for Faster to the Fun and Priority folks and directing them to the right line as well.

We headed to our check in area, and only had to wait about 3 minutes before we were completely checked in and headed to the ship!

I will say that Carnival was very efficient here.  Our friends who were not Priority were able to get checked in and were sitting waiting for their zone to be called by the time we got the diaper changed and made it through our check in.  We heard their Zone get called about 5 minutes after we made it through all the embarkation photos.  

There was the normal security pictures to be taken, and an embarkation photo or two along the hallway, but otherwise it was clear sailing to the ship.  I will say that it was a VERY long walk down the hall, and through the ramp.  We, of course, had to stop and snap a picture or two.

The candy that B is holding was a gift from a Security Agent who didn't want him to be upset... that made his day!

One thing I noticed AFTER the cruise was that tugging along a toddler caused me to FORGET to take a bunch of pictures I would have normally taken, like the initial Atrium photo.  I had even considered strapping on the Go-Pro for the walk, but completely forgot.. oh well.  I guess I'll have to take another trip!

We made it onto the Ship and our first stop was the Shore Excursion desk to book the "Behind the Fun" tour.  Just as we were headed there, our friends boarded and joined us in line to book the same thing.  We then headed to our room.

Being Faster to the Fun, our room was ready for us.. and I will say, this was AMAZING!!  We dropped off our bags (and our friends bags) and got settled in comfort right away.  Our room:

It was then time to head to lunch, and we were all hungry.  We headed to the buffet, but we had to stop and sit on these huge chairs!
The buffet was PACKED, but I had done my research.  I knew there was a build-your-own-pasta place above the back of the Gathering, so we made our way there.  For some reason (and this was the case the entire cruise) the direct path from the gathering up there was blocked off, you had to go to the back staircase by the pool.  We headed up there and ordered our pasta.  There were only maybe 2 other tables of people up there and DOZENS of open tables.  
The way this place works, you fill out a little slip with pasta type, sauce, add-ons, and give it to the waiter.  He gives you a number and you stay put while they prepare it for you.  It was yummy, and we were eating and almost done before our friends made it through the buffet line.
Of course, we had to stop on the way to the buffet to get our first fruity drinks, and we enjoyed them with our meal.
We did note that this particular part of the ship vibrated a LOT, both at sea, and docked.  It wasn't a bother, but it was noticeable.  We finished our lunch and headed to the back pool for the Cruise Critic Meet-And-Greet.  Everyone going wore beads to identify us.
We met a few folks and chatted.  I started to smell amazing aromas from the Indian Tandoor which is right there on the back deck, and ducked over there for a sample.  The food from this place was amazing and I enjoyed it often during the entire cruise.
Eventually, I headed back to the room before muster, and the decorations I had ordered had been put up.  The crew member who does it actually arrived while we were dropping bags, but N didn't figure it out.
We had a little time before the Muster Drill, so B took a nap, and N and I enjoyed the balcony, eventually joining him in a nap.

We then headed to the Muster Drill. Since our last cruise, Carnival has changed the way they do this.  You used to have to gather at your muster station, which was on the lifeboat deck outside by your lifeboat.  This was cramped and uncomfortable.  NOW, your muster station is in a lounge or, in our case, the Encore Theater.  Note that its not just anywhere in the theater, and you NEED to be in the right spot.  They then go over the basics, and show a video about where to go to.  I thought it was much better organised, and much more comfortable.

I'll highlight part of our muster drill, because I think its an example of what NOT to do.  These things may not be fun, but they are IMPORTANT in case there was ever a problem.  Don't think it can't happen to you... the Costa Concordia travelers thought that....
Anyway, there was a family in the row in front of us who eventually the staff member discovered they were in the wrong spot.  In fact, they were supposed to be on the OTHER SIDE OF THE SHIP!  The crew member tried to give them directions and asked them to head to the right spot, even explaining that the directions given here would be different than for their muster station.  These people FLAT OUT REFUSED to move.  The staff member eventually gave up.  The audacity of these people to be so flipant and rude was astounding.  Not to mention, as always, that the muster drill started LATE because people were trying to avoid it. 
PEOPLE, if you just GO, it will be over quicker!

At the muster drill is when we were introduced to the wrist bands for kids.  Children under a certain age (I don't remember what it was) had to wear a wrist band that had their muster station on it.  The purpose here is that in the event of an emergency, the staff will bring your child to YOU at your muster station if they are at Camp Carnival or elsewhere without you.
Honestly, I was worried about this, but once we got one that was tight enough to fit properly, B ignored it the rest of the cruise!

After the muster drill, and before Camp Carnival registration, we did a little ship exploring.  This was the first time B discovered dancing, and boy did he like this.  For the Sail Away party (and other parties) they cleared out loungers on the Lido deck by the mid pool for dancing.  There was party music playing and B ran out and started boogieing!

We then walked through the rest of the ship seeing where things were.

We visited the put put course (which had a pirate ship)
And the back pool with a great view of the LONG wake from this huge ship!

Just before dinner, we headed back to the Encore Lounge to register for Camp Carnival.  I had filled this out online and printed it, but forgot it in the room, so I filled out a new one.  We met Lisle, one of the councilors, and she answered questions, got us all setup, and chatted with B and I.  They became friends during the cruise and there were lots of hugs as we were leaving the ship.  Camp Carnival ended up being an amazing place!

Next came dinner.. and we met our Wait Staff.  Jose, Katrina, and Marlon.  They were great, and all LOVED B and doted over him.  Here is Me and one of our friends posing for a picture

I intended to take pictures of all my food, but I didn't meet that goal... I did get some though. Starting with the Mac And Cheese that B DEVOURED!

Then mine, including sweet-and-sour shrimp and, of course, warm chocolate melting cake!!
After dinner we were greeted with our first towel animal, and all of B's stuffed animals lined up!  As you can see, B got a FunShip Fredy as part of his trip!
We had arranged to have a Crib setup in the room, and we placed it in front of the couch for the entire trip.  It did limit the usage of the couch, but it was out of the way and didn't really cause any problems.  B slept VERY well in it

The rest of the evening was spent exploring and shopping.  We visited Camp Carnival for the "open house" so B could see what toys there were and what the space looked like.  This place is NEAT!! He was quite excited to play with the Fire Truck (that wasn't a fire truck)!
We did a little shopping (N needed a watch) and eventually made our way back to our Stateroom to get some sleep.  I did sneak down to the Casino after everyone got settled, but not for long.  The bed's are very comfortable, so sleep was quick and easy... AND... we were on a CRUISE!!!

More Tomorrow!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Cruise Review Day 2 - In Florida, at Kennedy!

Day 2

Day 2 of our Cruise was not actually on the cruise yet.  It was the Friday before, and we had some neat plans!!

We had tickets to the Kennedy Space Center.  And BOY were we excited.  I was like a kid who was going to Disney....  seriously.

We had scored a pretty good deal on tickets, and the secret was to "like" Kennedy Space Center on facebook.  Through their facebook page, I found a deal on 4 adult tickets for $160 bucks.  Not bad when the normal price is $50 each!  AND, B was free since was under 3.

Kennedy Space Center opens for visitors at 9am, and it was about a 20 minute drive from our hotel in Cocoa Beach.  We arrived just minutes before 9, and from the moment I got out of the van, I was in heaven!

We, of course, had to stop for the family picture, and we were not the only ones doing exactly that.. ha!

We then headed through the gate and into the complex itself.  The ticket price included entrance to all the exibits, and the bus ride to the actual space center and tour if you wanted to do that. 

Honestly, I only had one thing on my mind... ATLANTIS!!!  I HAD to go see a space shuttle.  

Entering the complex, my first impression was that we would hit Atlantis, be in and out, hit a few other things and be done, that it wouldn't really be an all day event.... BOY WAS I WRONG!  I'll tell you right now, plan the ENTIRE day, and if you can, plan 2!

We made a bee-line for the Atlantis Exibit, and were greeted by this full size wonderment

I purposely made this picture "Xtra-Large" to give you more of the idea of how HUGE this thing is.  Its a replica, but very very impressive! We stopped and took all the cheezy pictures and marveled, and then into the building we went.

My initial impression as you walk up a ramp to the 2nd floor, was that I was feeling very patriotic.  That was perpetuated by the music selections, and the myriad of photos of space missions.  It really set the scene VERY well, and made me even more excited.

Once at the top of the ramp, you wait a few minutes for a crowd to form, and a staff memeber then leads you into a small theater to watch a movie.  The movie is all about the design staff and how they came up with the idea and built the shuttle.  After about 10 or so minutes, your led from that room into a more immersive theater with an almost IMAXish setup.  Fully 3 dimensional with video all around you.  It goes through launches, and images of being in space, and culminates with an amazing video image of the shuttle Atlantis.  The best part then happened... the lights start to shift and you realize that your not looking at a video image of the shuttle, but your looking through a transparent screen at the ACTUAL ATLANTIS SHUTTLE!!!  They then raise that screen and you walk forward into the exhibit itself.... this was THRILLING!!  I wanted to clap and cheer, and make a fool out of myself.  The view was spectacular
Not the best picture, I know (I hope to get a better from a friend) but what an amazing site!! In front of you is the ACTUAL space shuttle!

There is an opportunity for a staff member to take and try to sell you a photo, ours didn't come out well.  You move forward to an full 360 degree view of this amazing space craft

Around behind the shuttle was a mockup of the inter living areas of the shuttle, and you could crawl through them... B LOVED it!

Even I got in on the fun... the end of the exhibit is a long clear acrylic tube, and your suspended 15-20 ft over the bottom floor... it was a little intimidating, but fun

There were tons of other exhibits including cockpit mockups, telescopes, the CANADA Arm, space suits, and LOTS of stuff to see!

You then have the option of walking down a big ramp... OR sliding down a HUGE slide designed to give you a concept of landing/touchdown.  B was to small to go, but I didn't pass it up... it was FUN!
The lower floor has exhibits about crew living quarters such as sleeping, bathroom, food, and more, and they even have, on display, the prototype model featured in the video.

The other BIG thing to do down there is the Launch Simulator.  Unfortunately, B was to small to go on this one as well, but if you are big enough... GO!!!! Its an amazing experience and the simulator does a great job of giving you the feeling!

Finally, after everyone saw everything they wanted, we spent money in the gift shop, and purchased pictures, we headed out of the Atlantis Exibit... realizing we had spent almost 4 HOURS in there!  B was hungry, as were all of us, so we headed to one of the Cafe's to get lunch.  They had a good selection of foods, and even some beer to quench your thirst.

One word of advice... DON'T LOOSE YOUR FOOD RECIEPT.. its worth 10% off in the gift shop!
After lunch, N and our friends wanted to go to a hubble picture exibit.  I knew B wouldn't care much for that, so he and I headed to the kids play area and he got some good play time!

We eventually made our way over to the Rocket Garden.. Its an impressive place, and even had a few mocked up capsules you could sit in and get a feel for pre-shuttle space flight... very neat!

That was basically it, we hit the Gift shop, and a small exhibit about the nature around the space center (mostly just go cool off, it was HOT) and then headed back to the van.   

Kennedy Space Center is a MUST VISIT place, and I really really want to go back!  We headed back to the Hotel and everyone laid down for a short nap before dinner.  Naps for little ones and big ones became an ongoing theme on this vacation, and it was glorious!

After a nap, and a quick Wal-Mart run, we were off to dinner.  But before that, let me mention the primary reason for the trip to Wal-Mart.  At home, we cloth diaper little B, but we decided 10 days worth of diapers and no good place to wash them was a recipe for disaster, so we decided to use disposables for the trip.  Our severe weight limits with Allegiant combined with not wanting to deal with extra stuff, we brought just enough diapers to get through to Florida, and then bought diapers in Florida.

We decided to take 2 cases of diapers with us.. not because we thought we would need them, but if anything happened and our cruise got delayed or lengthened, we didn't want to run out!! We ended up with MORE than a case left, but I'll talk about that later!

Now, post Wal-Mart, we went in search of food, and ended up at Thai Thai in Cape Caneveral.  I did a review on, and I'll just link to that... HERE.  Just quickly, the food was GREAT!  The service was a bit slow, but we enjoyed ourselves.

Post dinner, we grabbed a bite of dessert at I dream of Yogurt (again with trip advisor) and enjoyed that as well.  After a stop at the huge 24 hour Ron Jon's we headed back to the hotel to re-pack bags and get some sleep before starting our cruise the next day! 

Florida treated us well pre-cruise!

More Monday!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ok, Lets Get Started - Cruise Review Day 1 - Travel Day!

I know, its been a while since we've gotten back, but its taking me more time than I thought to organize my thoughts.. not to mention PICTURES AND VIDEO!!

But here we go.  Lets start with Day 1 Travel Time!

Traveling To Florida

Our adventure started after leaving work and getting B from the sitter.  We had everything packed and in the van, so we headed straight to the Airport.  

We flew out of Central Illinois Regional Airport.  This is a small airport, and we have used them in the past and been very satisfied with our service.  However, this time was a little difference. 

We dropped off our luggage and B and I at the curb and N went to park the car.  CIRA has free long-term parking.  That part went well, and into the terminal we went.  We were immediately greeted by a line.  This was the first unusual thing for this airport.  Part of it was because there was a "Make A Wish" family traveling on our flight, and the pomp and circumstance around that did slow things down a bit.  No grudge toward them, as its amazing to see that family get their wish granted!  And really, we were early, so a line is not a big deal.
We get about half way through the line when we encounter our first Allegiant Air employee.  She asked us about our bags, and then ZEROED in on our Car Seat.  She was only going to be satisfied if we showed her the sticker showing it was air travel rated, and we needed to do it NOW!  The really odd part is I finally found it, turned around and she was gone....  Why wasn't the "we've flown with this seat already" enough for her?  And why did she disappear?
Anyway...  We make it to the counter and get checked in.  The ticket agent was quite pleasant, and smiled at Bryan.  Without further ado we were checked in and our luggage was off to the airplane.
We headed toward the gates, pausing to take the picture you see above, and then off to security.  Security is the only part of travel that actually makes me anxious... Its a lot to juggle with a toddler.... (and without getting into it, I don't like the invasion of privacy)  The TSA agent checking boarding passes was pleasant enough, though an off hand comment about not needing a passport for B to fly was unnecessary... its what we had, look at it.
Getting through the screening was simple enough... they hand checked the car seat (it doesn't fit) and through we go.  They re-scanned N's bag for some reason, and that slowed us down... but soon enough we were through security and up to the gate.  It was a VERY short walk.. and our gate was FULL.. lots of folks headed to Florida!
We grabbed some food for B (mac and cheese and a fruit bowl) and settled in.  We had a good friend flying on the same flight so we waited for him.  Once the gate agent appeared, N went up to see if we could get an early boarding for one of us with the car seat.  She was greeted with a snotty attitude and a summary dismissal of her question.  "You will board in your zone ma'am". 
Now, we have gotten the "no" before, but never this rudely.  
Our friend showed up and we enjoyed our time catching up and playing with B.  N went back up to inquire about a gate check tag for the Britax Carseat Travel Cart after the umteenth announcement about limited carryons, and again a snotty attitude and she was told there were no tags.  Well, We are not going to gate check something without a tag! (though some people did).
Finally we began boarding and the snotty announcements started, chiding us all, harassing us about the size of our carry-ons, and generally having an attitude of someone herding cattle.
THEN, to top it all off, they decided to board BACKWARDS!  By the time my zone was called (I had the carry-on and our car seat) the plane was mostly full, and there was a line behind me.  AND... AND... they never checked the size of a SINGLE carry-on despite harassing us about it over and over.
So, getting on the plane, I was greeted with a very nice flight attendant, who asked about the seat (and took my "its got the sticker" at my word, and reminded me to have it in the window seat.  We were in row 4, which is the 2nd from the front, so since I had to get a carry on in the bin, and the carseat in the seats, I held up the line.  Luckily, everyone was gracious and it went well.  I stuffed the cart and the carry-on in the overhead and set to installing the car seat.  
That went without problem, and shortly after, N and B joined me.
The flight itself was great, we purchased some snacks on board, and they were good.  N and I both were impressed at the use of iPads to take credit cards on board.
We had a beautiful sunset to watch as we flew east as well...

And B enjoyed himself as well... playing on the ipad, and getting tickled by the 3 year old daughter of the family in front of us... it was a fun flight!

We landed in Florida and our baggage was waiting for us by the time we got down there.  We also discovered that the family in front of us was flying back the same time we were, and both B and their daughter were excited that they would get to see each other again... and have another game of chase and tag in the terminal!
Our car rental from Avis was quick and without much harassment about upsells, and our Town and Country Minivan was quite nice!  We got loaded up and headed to Orlando International Airport to pick up our other friend.  Our initial impression of Sanford/Orlando Airport was VERY VERY positive!
A quick trip around Orlando Airport, and the drive to Cocoa Beach took about an hour, and we were STARVING!!  A midnight stop at McDonalds fixed that issue, and off we went to the Cocoa Beach Courtyard Marriott for the night.
There was a slight boo-boo at the desk, but N got it all worked out and up to our room we went, and crashed out!

All in all, it was not the easiest travel we've ever experienced, but it wasn't BAD, and we were in FLORIDA!!!

Day 2 tomorrow!