Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cruise Review Day 9 - Fun Day At Sea

Our Last Day, a day at sea, was scheduled to begin with breakfast in buffet, and then the "Behind the Fun" tour. We headed to grab a quick breakfast, and after eating, I headed up with B to Camp Carnival to drop him off.

The Behind the Fun tour is a 4ish hour tour of the ship.. but not the passenger space, no, its of the crew space and all the inner workings. Kids B's age (I think under 12) are not allowed, hence why I was taking him to Camp Carnival.

Here was the biggest hiccup of the entire trip... in an example of brilliantly stupid scheduling, the Behind the Fun tour started at 9am, and Camp Carnival didn't open till 10am! My wife was BEYOND upset... This day was our actual 10th anniversary and she wanted to spend all day with me. I offered to stay with the boy so she could go, and that was not acceptable.

In tears, she stormed down to the Shore Excursion desk. They apologized and began to work to solve the problem. It turns out there were 2 tours, one at 9am and one at 9:30. They offered to move us to the 9:30 as 2 people showed up early and could do the 9am. They also offered to have them come get me after I got Bryan to Camp Carnival. Both the Shore Excursion staff, and the Camp Carnival staff told us to make sure to mention this in our survey, and that it needed to be communicated somehow to the Cruise Director in order to get this fixed.. that it was an ongoing problem with Adult Only Events and closed Camp Carnival.

So, shortly before the 9:30 tour left, I went down with B and got my access pass, and gathered the number to call to catch up, then went back to the cabin to wait.
At 10 am I dropped B off and took the elevator down to deck 1 and called the number I was given. Shortly thereafter the tour guide appeared and took me down into the bowels of the ship to meet the group. I missed the Galley, but that was it.

In case your curious, this was the pass they gave us:


We had to give it back at the end, but we did get a drawstring bag, a ball cap, a lanyard, and a bar of soap carved by the steakhouse chef.

The tour was fantastic!! We saw the garbage disposal area, engine control room, the Galley (at least the wife did), Crew Lounge, Crew Cafeterias, the Training Center, Crew Cabins, Behind Stage in the theater, and the steakhouse kitchen. However, the highlight of the tour for me was getting to go up on the Bridge. We were escorted up there and greeted by the Captain. After some pictures were taken, he showed us around the bridge, and in particular gave us a run down of how stuff worked on the fly bridge that sticks out on the side of the ship. It was an AMAZING view ahead of us, and the equipment was very very interesting.

The end of the tour was in the Steakhouse, and we were provided complementary Champagne and a little snack, and had a chance to provide feedback. It was a great tour!

After the tour, we grabbed lunch (one last stab at the Indian Tandoor!) and hit the chocolate buffet. The afternoon was uneventful with time spent napping and relaxing on the ship, savoring our last minutes. One thing we did do was gather the final clues for the Murder Mystery and turned in our sheet.

Dinner time came and we headed to the dining room for our last dinner on board. I know tipping is an oft-discussed topic, and we handle it by not only keeping the tips added to the sign and sail, but we also give some cash to those who deserve it. We personally delivered that money to each of our 3 wait staff for their OUTSTANDING work. Jose, our head water, kept saying that the worst thing about being a waiter on the ship is that just as you get to know someone, they leave.

B headed to Camp Carnival after dinner, and got signed in for the after-10 babysitting as we wanted to go to the final show and pack our bags and do some shopping.

My wife and her friend headed to the shops and I ran to start doing the initial packing, I got it about 90% done and headed down to make sure they weren't spending all our money... realized we left something in the room and ran back up to be greeted by this on the bed:


You have never seen a 35 year old man more happy about a cheap piece of plastic!! I GOT A SHIP ON A STICK!!!! And, its happily displayed on our mantle in the living room!!

The show that evening was great, we got everything packed and set out for luggage pick up. We took a few moments without the little one to honor our anniversary, and then went and picked up our little bundle from Camp Carnival.

The entire week B had not slept at Camp at all. He's the kinda kid that when presented with something to do, he will go go go and not stop. Heck, even gained a reputation for helping clean up when the other kids moved on. Well, but the time we got to pick him up, it was after midnight, and he was curled up under a blanket FAST asleep. He was WORE OUT!! We turned in our phone, said bye to the staff and headed back to the room, with a last stop at the ice cream machine.

B went right back to sleep, and the Wife and I sat out on the balcony and finished our icecream and enjoyed the AMAZING full moon sparkle over the water. Shortly after, we climbed in to bed and off to sleep for the last time in our little slice of heaven.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cruise Review Day 8 - Costa Maya

The next morning... Costa Maya!

Not only was it Costa Maya day, but it was international Talk Like a Pirate Day.. and the Cruise Director got into it!! The atrium was also decorated... sorry for the blurry pic:


We ran down to get breakfast before heading on shore. We were scheduled to go visit Almplena Eco Beach Resort for a day of sun and beach time, but didn't have a schedule. The arrival in Costa Maya was 7am, but we did decide to push back getting off till 8am...

I'm glad we did, because by the time 8am rolled around, we were hearing announcements about the delay in docking. The seas were quite rough and the Captain was having trouble getting us docked.... IT took over 3 hours (some before the 7am schedule) for him to get us tied up and docked. Because of this they extended our time by one hour.

We made our way down to the gangway and really got a taste of how bad it was... the plank was moving back and forth 2-3 feet as the ship rocked and rolled! I've got a crazy video of it, I'll share later. Here is a pic to give you an idea:


We got off the ship and headed through the cruise port and all its shops, headed to our instructed taxi stand. I will say, this was quite a walk, and not well marked, but we made it, got a taxi, and headed tword Almplena. About 10 minutes into the 20 minute drive, our driver (who spoke no english) stopped to talk to another driver going the other way with a full load of people. The other driver spoke english, and told us that the road was flooded and we would not be able to get there.
Our driver took us back to the port, quite dissapointed. We paid him and headed back onto the ship to regroup. We dropped B off at Camp Carnival as they were providing lunch that day, and I headed down to the Fun Zone to log on and email Almplena.
We then decided to go back out and do some shopping.

I was still pretty tired, and quite sunburnt, so I'll say I wasn't enthusiastic about shopping, but I went along. I would have been content to lounge in the huge pool and stay cool. While shopping in a jewlery store, I noticed the sky starting to get VERY dark. I warned the group, and they barely acknowledged me.... and I wish they did.
Finally it got dark enough they noticed, and we took off for the ship, just after the checkpoint on the pier (with about a 3-400 yard walk still) the skies OPENED UP!! It rained hard enough to be painful and we ran along the pier just in time to wait in line... ugh. We finally got back on board, headed up to change clothes and ran down to grab lunch in the dining room. Oh well, a bit of a disappointing day on shore, but at least we had a GORGEOUS ship to spend time on!

At lunch we had a great view of the port as the sun came out (DOH!):


I learned later via email that Almplena Eco Resort refunded our deposits, but indicated that they tried to work with the taxi company to get us there. Aparently, mini vans and trucks had no problem getting around the ONE bad spot, and she even offered to pick up travelers at the flooded section in her truck, but the taxi company didn't want to play nice.
I guess I'll just have to go back to Costa Maya and visit in nicer weather!

Continuing with the review!!

After a late lunch, we picked up B and headed back to the room for a nap. This was the 2nd Formal Night, but we opted to dress down a bit. Collared shirts and a dress, but much less formal. We got all dressed and headed to an uneventful dinner. I was feeling much better after drinking a TON of water and getting rest.
There was a football game on the lido after dinner, so B went back to Camp Carnival and we headed to do some more shopping (cheap watch sets and other stuff). I ran back to the room, and got the first glance at our "Towel Animal" for the day:


One of our friends and I then headed out on deck, secured some Beers and free Popcorn, and settled in to watch some football:


As you can see, they got the screen fixed. This is a great way to watch the game!

At half time, I decided to call it quits, we went and got B and headed back to our room to get some sleep!

The next day would be our last Day.. a "Fun Day at Sea" and we had a big plan for the morning!!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cruise Review Day 7 - Belize


And so we come to Wednesday, a day my Wife was very much looking forward to. BELIZE!!

10 years ago, on our honeymoon, we came to Belize. We took a carnival based excursion to Goff's Caye, and despite TERRIBLE weather and us both getting sea sick, we enjoyed ourselves... SO.. we decided to go back.

Carnival no longer offers this excursion, but we were able to book a trip to the Caye through Island Marketing.

Since we had FTTF, we had priority tender, so as soon as we were ready, we headed down to the lounge where they were meeting. We were on a tender within 20 minutes:



A short 20 minute ride and we were on shore. As there was at each port, there is a little cruise terminal setup with shops and a bar, and stuff. We walked around a bit, we checked in with Island Marketing, and eventually made our way to Diamonds International to do a little watch shopping while we waiting for our tour to start.

A short while later, we were on a motor boat headed out to Paradise!

We passed by the Dream on our way out to Goff's Caye:


B was sporting his own stylish life vest:



Shortly before getting to the island, we noticed a dolphin swimming with us and had to stop and watch it. I swear I got pictures, but I can't find one!

Oh well, after the 30ish minute ride, we arrived, and it was just like I remember it!:



After getting settled, the Wife and Son headed to the beach, and the rest of us went on the snorkeling tour. I've got video of that as well!

It was a great snorkeling tour, and just as everyone was getting back on the boat to head back to the island for the "beach time", the guide I was closest to gathered a group to swim back to the island instead of go back via boat.

I decided to stay, not knowing it was the long way around the island.. and the other side was a HUGE current... I was exhausted!

Back on Goff's Caye, we settled down for lunch of grilled lobster for the adults, and a hot dog in a tortilla for the little one.. it was all VERY yummy!



The food was not included, however Rum Punch was, and it was quite potent!

Goff's Caye a TINY place, with a small bathroom, and a small pavilion where they cook food and a local sells some jewlery and other hand crafted items.





We had about an hour or so left, so we hit the beach and started playing!





Eventually, it was time to go, and we had to wave good by to the little slice of Paradise!



The 30ish minute ride back to Belize City was uneventful, and B was WORE OUT!



We got off the boat, heard the usual blurb about tipping, but even more than that, the Guides SPECIFICALLY asked us to submit a review on TripAdvisor and Cruise Critic! They are quite aware of the online community.

Island Marketing did a great job with the entire excursion. I would HIGHLY recommend this company if you want to visit Goff's Caye, and they offered trips to other places as well!

We had a little bit of time, left, and I REALLY wanted a Belkin Beer. I had heard about it, and I am a bit of a beer aficionado (wife would say snob). The Wet Lizard right there at the pier was selling Belkins 2 for $5. I ordered a light lager, and a dark lager. After a HOT day on an island, they were GREAT! I also asked if I could keep the bottle (they poured them in a glass), and they said it would be an extra dollar... no problem!! Bottle Secured (for a friend's collection).

After grabbing our beers, we headed back to Diamonds International to look at watches. I fell in love with one and it hopped onto my wrist! While completing the sale, the sales staff noticed I had finished my beer and shortly thereafter a fresh bottle of Belkin was placed in my hand!! GOOD SERVICE!!

Our time in Belize was done, so we headed back to the ship via the tender, and we actually ended up on the LAST tender back. B was awake at this point, but still very tried and content to snuggle!






Here is the Dream waiting to greet us back "home"





IT really is a BIG ship!





And soon we were back in our staterooms changing and showering for the evening's activities!

So, getting back to our rooms, we started to realize that I had gotten a TERRIBLE sunburn! Showering hurt, changing hurt, everything hurt, but we had dinner to go to!

Honestly, I didn't make it long at dinner, but I did snap a pic of some delicious enchiladas:



Even before dinner was done, I wasn't feeling well at all... my back hurt from the sunburn, and I had completely lost my apetite. Our nurse friend who was with us said I was probably experiencing a minor "sun stroke", or basic over exposure! I have to remember to drink LOTS of water when out in the sun.

I headed back before desert to get some rest and layed down. I got a couple of hours of sleep and woke to the wife bringing me some Tiramisu from the dining room (my fav). I got up and we hung out a little around the ship while B played at Camp Carnival.

The Moon tried to peek out this evening, and this was the best picture I could get of it:



Still not feeling well, and in pain, we actually hit the bed pretty early this evening.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Cruise Review Day 6 - Roatan!!

Roatan was our first NEW port for this cruise, and we were quite excited about it.  We had booked a tour through Victor Bodden Tours.  We selected the Best of Roatan Private tour, and our friends decided to join us.

Basically, this tour was a private tour guide and Air Conditioned van for the entire day on the island to do WHATEVER we wanted.  And this proved to be AMAZING!

We got off the boat and headed up toward the cruise "village" area.  This is a bit of a hike, but really not to bad, and it was very pretty.  We didn't stop and look at much at this point, put I had read ahead of time that there was a booth that would stamp passports, so we went and searched for it.  Its right under a huge map of Roatan.



The booth is staffed by volunteers for the local Rotary Club, and they stamp passports for free, but accept donations to help schools on the Island, and I was happy to leave a nice donation, and had a very nice chat with the young lady working the booth.  Roatan was off to a good start!

From there, we headed out of the "village" and started making our way to meet our tour guide.  Victor's instructions were very clear, and we knew it would be bit of a walk to get to the meeting point.  Basically, you exit the cruise terminal area, go through the gate, down a hill, and at the bottom of the hill, Victor's guides will meet you.

The walk was more difficult than I anticipated... its a steep hill climbing up and walking down, and there was some construction going on with the sidewalks, so I ended up walking on the road (being directed there by a security guard) since I had the stroller.  Traffic at this time was VERY light, but it did make me a little nervous.

We were also warned by Victor that there are some that try to impersonate his tour guides, and you will get LOTS of offers for other tours.  We said he had one pre-booked and people left us alone.

Once we got to the right spot, we checked in and were introduced to our Guide, Kenny.  We were taken to a nice LARGE van and Kenny helped us get the car seat installed and our baggage settled.  Once the van got started, the A/C kicked in, and it was amazing!!  It was relatively early in the morning at this point, but already 90+ degrees with high humidity, so it was very much a relief to be in comfort!




Off we go on our tour.  Kenny said he liked to start with a short tour of the island on the way to Victor's place, and we thought that would be perfect.






The Island is gorgeous, and we saw some amazing things.  A few things struck me, most of all was the laid back and friendly nature of the people.  Even in what little traffic there was, people were content to just get out of the way, no one seemed in a hurry.

The other thing that struck me was the garbage along quite a bit of the coastline.  Kenny told us that its primarily on the side of the island that faces Honduras, and it all comes from there.  They do a good job of keeping the public / tourist beaches clean, but the other areas is staggering how much trash collects.

This first part of our tour ended at Victor Bodden's place, where we were to pay for our tour, as well as do one of our add-on activities, Victor Bodden's Monkey Business.  This costs a WHOPPING 5 dollars and is an AMAZING experience.  The best part... seeing the JOY in the eyes of B in getting to interact with Monkeys!





After visiting Victor Bodden's place, We asked Kenny to take us someplace local to eat.  He took us not far away to a little place along the road



After lunch, and after the restraunt owner packed a little something for Kenny, we headed out again, asking Kenny to take us to some good picture taking spots.   B napped a little and played a little while we saw some AMAZING vistas and views!





One of my fav's was this view of a Sunken Ship with the Carnival Dream behind it.  Kenny told us the story of the ship wrecking and how it was salvaged in place.  While he was pulled over on the road doing so, some locals tried to sell us Conch shells through a fence despite closed windows on the Van.... I'm guessing people pull over at that spot quite a bit.



Finally, our day was over, and Kenny took us back to the Cruise Terminal.  Independant Tour Operators are not allowed to pick up people in the terminal, but they are allowed to drop them off, and I was quite thankful for that!

We paused for a quick picture with Kenny (well, one of our friends and B did)



We gave Kenny a nice tip for doing a great job and headed into the terminal/"village".  We had a little time, so we took some silly pictures





And then did some shopping.  N ended up with a beautiful Tanzinite pendant, and one of our friends got some great deals as well.  N is notoriously difficult to shop for jewlery with, because she HATES big stones, and gaudy settings, and of course, thats what the salesmen want to sell you!  In the end she got what she wanted, and we were able to haggle enough to make it seem like a deal, and still leave a LITTLE (tiny bit) of meat on the bone for the salesman!

By this point, B was in the carrier and was PASSED OUT!! After wrapping up our shopping, we headed back to the boat, stopping to get a group pic



Roatan was an amazing place, and our visit was awesome.



Once we got back to our room, I had to snap a picture of the shipwreck from another perspecitve... our window!!



N had to run to a spa appointment to get her nails "did", so B and I joined our friends at the water slides, and we had a BLAST!!

I've got some video, I'll try to get it on youtube and posted here.  AMAZING views of Mahogany Bay from way up there!

Soon enough, we were at dinner, and this evening, I remembered to photog the deserts





And after dinner... another towel animal



The rest of the evening was filled with Camp Carnival time for B, and a show in the theater for N and I, then off to bed.

ROATAN WAS AMAZING!! I'd love to go back.  We learned that there are hotels on the island where you can stay for like $35 bucks a night for a good suite.  It wouldn't be a bad place to just spend a week!