Monday, April 6, 2015

Thoughts about Carnival Cruiseline

So, this cruise was our fourth cruise (third for the boys), but first on a cruiseline other than Royal Caribbean. We were a little leery of booking on Carnival because of its reputation as a party cruiseline, but we did it anyway. The price was right! We had also never been on a cruise and stayed in a stateroom that didn't have a balcony. Lastly, we had always had an assigned dining time and we chose YourChoice Dining this go around. So lots of new experiences to compare to our previous ones.

Carnival vs RCI
Overall, I think we preferred RCI over Carnival; however, there wasn't anything wrong with Carnival. And we would cruise Carnival again. We just thought the RCI ships (at least the ones we've been on) were a little nicer, the food was a little better, and there were more activities that we were interested in. The service was great on both cruiselines. The rooms were fine on both. I can't really compare apples to apples since we didn't have a veranda stateroom on this Carnival cruise.

Balcony vs No Balcony
I didn't mind not having a balcony. At all. We are rarely in the room. Hubby missed it though. He does sit out there at night after everyone goes to bed, and when everyone is getting ready for dinner. I would book a stateroom with no balcony again without hesitation. I don't know that I'd want one with no window, however. I think I have to draw the line there.

Assigned Dining vs YourChoice Dining
This is a hard one. We talked about it at dinner the last night of the cruise. And we all decided that the pros and cons were kind of equal. With assigned dining, you go to dinner at the same time every night and you develop a rapor with your wait staff. Really the only downside to this is that if you're not ready at your assigned time, you might feel rushed to get ready. Or if you have a late seating and you're hungry earlier, you either have to go to the casual buffet or wait until your assigned time.

With the YourChoice, the benefit was that we were able to eat whenever we wanted to, between 5:45 and 9:30, depending on what we had done that day. And we did... we went to the dining room as early as 5:45 and as late as 8:45 on the four nights we ate in the dining room. I'm not sure how it works on other cruise lines, but on Carnival, the YourChoice diners were seated on one side of the dining room. If all of those tables were full, people were given pagers that would alert you when a table was ready. Kind of like at a restaurant (except these worked all over the ship, other than in your stateroom). The two nights we ate later, there was no line and we didn't need a pager.

Within that area of set-aside tables, the same waiters worked the same group of tables each night. So, in theory, I think we could've requested a specific waiter (knowing that it could affect our wait time). We didn't do that because we didn't think of it until the last night when we were talking about it. We really liked out waiter the first night. We LOVED our waiter the second night. Didn't like the waiter much the third night (but liked the assistant waiter). We got the same waiter the last night as the third night, but he was much more on the ball, so we didn't mind him that last night. :)

We would not be adverse to doing the YourChoice Dining again in the future.

The evening shows were good on this cruise, but we found that there wasn't much going on during the day that we were interested in. I don't really remember if that was the case on the other cruises we went on to be honest. I feel like we were busier on the others, but I could be remembering wrong. There wasn't a ton for the kids to do since neither was interested in going to his respective kids club. They played ping pong a lot. They played mini golf. J-Mav did the water slide once. But I feel like there was more to entertain them on the RCI ship. Again, I could be remembering wrong.

Overall Experience
It had been seven years since our last cruise. This was a very different experience as the boys are 17 and almost 12 (as opposed to just 10 and almost 5). They were old enough to go off on their own on the ship, and on the at-sea days, we didn't see much of them. We told them when to be back at the stateroom to get ready for dinner, and then they went off and we went to find some sun. They checked in every so often, but only because they happened to be walking by and see us. They didn't even always stay together. And that was fine. It was the best of both worlds... a family vacation but time alone, too. While I go through periods of nostalgia for when the boys were younger, at times like that, it's nice that they're old enough to be independent. :)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Spring Break 2015 - Days 8 & 9 - Family

Friday & Saturday, April 3 & 4, 2015

We spent these days with Jenrie and the kids -- Spidey, Princess P, C-Man, and Miss M. We didn't do a lot, just hung out and visited. The kids all jumped on the trampoline. We walked to a playground by the school on Friday and the older boys played soccer while Princess P and C-Man climbed around on the playground stuff. Hubby stayed home with Miss M. We just ordered pizza for dinner, and Hubby and the three older boys when ice skating after dinner. Jenrie dropped them off as Hubby wouldn't have been able to get on base without her. I stayed at home with the three youngest. I got them all in the bathtub and clean, and then got them all in bed. I felt very accomplished! ;)


Saturday morning we went to IHOP -- Jenrie's request. She doesn't go out to eat because it would be a major ordeal to do so alone with all four kids. We had a nice late breakfast with no incidents and then headed home. We gave the kids their Easter baskets from us and then we blew bubbles in the backyard for awhile. Hubby and I stayed with all of the kids while Jenrie went to get the oil changed in her car and ran to the store. When she got home, we took a bunch of pictures of all of the kids together and thenwe made dinner and Skyped with Uncle Hooter. That was really nice!! He will be home in about three weeks. WOO HOO!! After dinner, we packed up and headed home. :(  We wanted a day to recover before Hubby and I had to go back to work.

It was a great vacation, and a bonus to be able to spend some time with family at the end of it. :)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Spring Break 2015 - Day 7 - Charleston/Family

Thursday, April 2, 2015

We were up bright and early this morning... much earlier than any other day on this vacation! John showered and the rest of us got ready so we could get our last breakfast. We headed up about 7:30 and were back in the room about 8:15. Our assigned debarkation time was 8:40, so we headed out to the hallway at that time. There was a line in the hall to get on the elevators. Didn't take long. No problem clearing customs, though apparently you're only supposed to have one bottle of alcohol per person in your traveling party (regardless of their age, apparently, because the lady told us we should've had a maximum of four). We had six, but she said she would let us through. Woo hoo! We had gotten a four-pack of Crown Royal (good for gift giving at Christmas time) and two bottles of coconut rum.

After we got out of the parking lot, we drove to Liberty Square and parked. We had 12pm tickets for the ferry to Fort Sumpter. Unfortunately, it was only about 10:15. So we looked at the exhibits and then sat for an hour and waited. We caught up on social media. :) When it came in, we got on the ferry for a 30 minute ride over to Fort Sumpter. It was windy... we were sitting on the top deck of the ferry and Hubby and I were actually chilly, even with sweatshirts on! Once we got there, we had a little over an hour at the fort and then another 30 minute ferry ride back over to Liberty Square. We agreed that we could've used some more time at the fort because we felt like we didn't get to read everything. But it was interesting and the boys liked it. Both of them just studied the Civil War in History class, so that was cool.
Approaching Fort Sumpter

Inside Fort Sumpter

Flags above Fort Sumpter
The Carnival Fantasy from the ferry to Fort Sumpter

After Fort Sumpter, we drove around Charleston a little bit and Hubby and I pointed out some stuff that we'd learned about/seen when we were there over the summer. We drove down Battery Row, pointed out the Four Corners of Justice, drove past the Customs House, and pointed out some cool houses and features of those houses. Then we took off to Uncle Hooter and Jenrie's house to see Jenrie and the kids. (Uncle Hooter is still deployed.) Stopped for dinner at a Chili's (I guess they aren't ALL closed... just the ones around here) as we hadn't eaten since breakfast, and got here around 8. The kids were waiting for us on the porch as I had texted Jenrie when we were at the gate getting our pass. They were excited!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spring Break 2015 - Day 6 - At Sea

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Slept in a little this morning. Hubby was up first, showered, went to eat, and then found some lounge chairs for us. J-Mav and I went to eat about 9:30. I think Keeper Boy slept until 11 or so! Hubby and I parked in the sun all day. No idea, really, what the boys did. Saw them both playing ping pong a lot. J-Mav also went to a towel folding demonstration and made his very own towel dog, which he got to bring back to the stateroom to show us. Pretty cool. We have, of course, had an animal every night.
J-Mav's dog (I think his was better than the cabin steward's!)
Night 1 - Dog

Night 2 - Elephant
Night 3 - Gorilla

Night 4 - Frog

Night 5 - Stingray

We just packed up our stuff (except Keeper Boy's because he's up on the deck reading) and got organized. We will be disembarking at 8:40 tomorrow morning. :( But still another dinner in the dining room and a couple shows to see...


Longest wait for dinner tonight, but only about 30 minutes. Still not bad at all. Had Dennis again (the same waiter we had on Monday night). Our least favorite of the three we've had, but way better tonight than on Monday! Tonight for dinner, J-Mav had crab cake, bacon macaroni & cheese, and vanilla ice cream. Keeper Boy had mahi-mahi, bacon macaroni &cheese, and lava cake. Hubby had caesar salad, crab cake, fried shrimp, and some kind of souffle. I had caesar salad, shrimp cocktail, prime rib, and apple pie.

We made some purchases in the duty free store (looked up prices when we got home and woud've paid $60 more for what we got than what we paid on the ship!), got an ornament of the ship, and bought a picture from elegant night. Will be going to The Brits show at 10:15 and Hubby and I are going to another 18+ comedy show at 11. Can't believe it's almost over already!

Still Later...

The Brits show was very good! Great music!! The boys liked it, too. Same singer and dancers as the Motown show. After the show, the boys went back to the room and we went to the 18+ comedy show. I was very funny. Not as vulgar as last night, but very non-politically-correct. Afterward, we met the boys upstairs for our late night pizza snack. Now off to sleep for the last time on the ship. We've decided to carry our own luggage off, rather than putting it out in the hall for pick-up.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Spring Break 2015 - Day 5 - Nassau

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Today we spent the day at RIU Palace. It's an all-inclusive resort. We bought day passes and had access to all of the perks of staying there... private beach, pool, bars, food, towels, etc. We arrived at 10, but had some issues checking in (to get wrist bands and pay the balance... they only took a deposit when we reserved the passes). Turns out the resort doesn't take AMEX and that's the only credit card I'd brought with me. I did have my bank card with me, so I gave the woman that. It was denied, I guess because I didn't tell the bank we were traveling. Weird because I'd just used it the day before to get money out of the ATM on the ship. Anyway, she tried three times and it was denied all three times. Keeper Boy said we could try his. He happened to have his wallet with him because he wanted to shop while we were in Nassau. His card went through, so he ended up paying the balance and we will pay him back when we are back in Charleston and I can get online to transfer the money.

Once that was taken care of, we spent the first hour and a half on the beach. John and I parked in lounge chairs (do you sense a theme here?) and the boys went down to the water. They did some body surfing.
Keeper Boy catching a wave

Then we grabbed some lounge chairs up on the pool deck once the sun was up enough that they were in the sun (they weren't when we walked through to the beach). The boys played ping pong ALL DAY. They made friends with a boy from Argentina who didn't speak any English. Somehow they managed to communicate. Keeper Boy said his Spanish helped a little. We got in the pool, sat by the pool, lounged on the lounges that were built into the pool, got drinks from the swim-up bar, ate lunch. The boys learned some line dances -- The Cupid Shuffle, the Wobble, and a couple others -- from the activities staff. They also played a rousing game of hot potato, which J-Mav actually won. They Hubby was recruited to play a game where everyone held a plastic cup (by the bottom of the cup) in their teeth and they had to pass a ping pong ball down the row, cup to cup. Keeper Boy and Hubby participated in that and their team won. I got out of it by taking pictures. Thinking we might need to look into an all-inclusive resort for a vacation sometime.

The built-in lounges in the pool

Got a taxi back to the port a little after 5. Realized when I paid the driver her $4/person that I had shorted the driver this morning. Totally unintentional. I feel horrible. Gah!

Did some shopping at the straw market, and now we are back on board and showering for dinner.


Went to dinner, but decided nothing looked fabulous enough on the menu to miss the comedy show we wanted to see, so we just ate in the Lido deck buffet. Then we all went to a comedy show that was family friendly. After that, John and I went to an 18+ comedy show and the boys watched a movie in our stateroom. We fetched them afterward and went to the midnight Mexican buffet and now we are hitting the sack.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Spring Break 2015 - Day 4 - Freeport, Bahamas

Monday, March 30, 2015

Up at 8. Breakfast. Out and about. Took a taxi bus to the Grand Lacayan Resort. Took us a bit to figure out where we needed to be, but once we did, we were ferried out to a platform boat and were in the water snorkeling by 10. We saw so many cool fish! And Keeper Boy and I saw a nurse shark! Then Hubby and I saw a sting ray. We were out there for about 3 hours. J-Mav lasted a little over an hour in the water. He was just unable to stay warm. He was physically shivering in the water. He had fun, though, even just hanging out on the deck of the boat with Timmy (the guide) and the other people who were out there with us. The shark was small... probably 2 -3 feet long. And apparently nurse sharks have no teeth, so I guess had we/he gotten close enough, it wouldn't have eaten too much. It was very graceful swimming along. Hubby was bummed that he didn't see it. We didn't get too close to the ray, either. It had a long barb! We saw so many cool fish... one was blue and yellow striped. Another was black with two thin white lines. Another was black with bright purple polka dots. And there was one that was black, white, and red. We saw a HUGE school of fish that we think were like the ones in Finding Nemo that make the shapes. I mean, hundreds of them just bobbing in place in a pack. Hubby dove down into the pack and they scattered, and then came right back into formation. Pretty neat.
That's Keeper Boy waving, and Hubby to the left snorkeling

After we were done snorkeling, we hung out on the beach for about an hour. Hubby and I laid on our towels, while the boys walked down the beach a bit. The excursion that we got (which was through, not through the ship), was an unlimited snorkeling pass that was good from 9am - 5pm. And we could go back and forth on the little ferry boat as many times as we wanted to. While we didn't do that, it was cool that we had the ability to.

After we were done hanging on the beach, we walked up an alley to the main road and headed to the shops for about an hour. While the houses were nice, they were all gated in and there are bars on the windows of all houses. Tells you about the safety of the area. Although, in our experience, much of the Caribbean is like that for some reason. Anyway, we got a new mask for the wall, AND we got it for $10 because there was a piece of wood chipped out of it. Hubby "fixed" it when we got home with the filler pen we got with our hardwood floors, and you can't even tell unless you really look closely. Score! Our taxi back to the terminal was a limousine. While that sounds cool, this one had seen better days! It had a mostly flat front tire and was full of dents. But it did the job. The family we shared the limo with was cruising on another Carnival ship that was in port that day. They were from Columbus, OH and had been on a banana boat ride. Their boat driver spied a star fish and told the dad that if he could get it, he could have it! So he did! Of course, they charged him $10 to gut it and dry it out, but still. What a cool souvenir!! It was huge! Great day!!


Another yummy dinner! For appetizers, Hubby had sushi and French onion soup; Keeper Boy had sushi; J-Mav had shrimp cocktail again; I had caesar salad and prosciutto. For dinner, Hubby, Keeper Boy, and J-Mav all had penne with clams, scallops, shrimp, and calamari. The boys had theirs specially prepared with no sauce, so they took longer. As a result, theirs' had no clams. Keeper Boy didn't eat any of his calamari. J-Mav ate most of his calamari, but there was a lot on there (must have been the cheapest seafood of all of the ones included). I had steak. I didn't write down what we had for dessert that night... I know Keeper Boy had lava cake and J-Mav had vanilla ice cream because that's what they had every night. I think Hubby had creme brule. I truly have no idea what I had...

After dinner, we wandered in the shops while the boys played ping pong. Then we went to the Hasbro show. It was billed as oversized Hasbro games. While we were waiting for the show to start, they showed video of the TV version (who knew?), which included variations on Connect Four, Yahtzee, Monopoly, Simon, Operation, and others. During the show, they did Yahtzee and Operation, with the Monopoly being the finale for those who won the other two. Jack tried to get picked, but he wasn't. The little girl that was on the snorkeling boat with us yesterday was picked. We keep seeing that family everywhere now!

Now we are killing time until the 10:00 show--The Game of Love. Like the Newlywed Game. Should be fun.

Still Later...

Hilarious!! They chose the couple in the audience who had been married the longest (48 years), shortest (3 days), and middle (24 years). They were all great. The boys enjoyed the show, too. Jacques (the Cruise Director) was a good host for both shows. As I said, we ran into the couple we had snorkeled with at the Hasbro show and again at The Game of Love. Nice people. No idea what their names are, though, other than the Dad is Adam and the youngest daughter (of three) is Haven.

Went for pizza after the show. Well, Hubby and Keeper Boy had pizza. J-Mav and I just walked along.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spring Break 2015 - Day 3 - At Sea

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I can't remember the last time I did absolutely NOTHING all day. And while sitting in the sun, too! We slept until 9 and then ate breakfast. J-Mav and I went up first. Hubby and Keeper Boy weren't quite ready (Keeper Boy was still asleep, actually), and J-Mav had been up since 8 and was itching to go eat. In his defense, he did occupy himself quietly and let the rest of us sleep. 

After breakfast, Hubby and I went in search of lounge chairs. Wow. Note to self: stake chairs out early on the next sea day! We finally found two that were about half in the sun. Hubby promptly went to sleep. I read. After a bit, the chairs in front of us (in the sun) opened up, so I moved to a chair, which was all the way in the sun. I read some more. Hubby slept some more. We also people-watched. Cruises are very good for that. Keeper Boy and J-Mav checked in periodically. We grabbed some lunch about 1:30. J-Mav kept cruising by asking if either of us wanted to play shuffleboard, so Hubby finally went. Then he came back a bit later and told me to come with him because J-Mav was saving two chairs for us on the upper deck. Yay! We were up there for about 45 minutes before we headed back here to the room to get ready for dinner as we had told the boys to meet us here at 4. Hubby and I are going to a show at 5. It's a high school band that's on board. Then dinner. It's elegant night.

Oh! The boys had some excitement this afternoon. There had been a call over the intercom for the medical team to go to a stateroom. The boys apparently walked by that very room before the announcement was made and said there was a man calling 9-1-1 because there was a woman who wouldn't wake up. Keeper Boy saw there was a problem and asked if he and J-Mav could run and get someone. The man said thank you but that he had called for assistance. The boys thought the woman might be dead. We never heard anything about or what happened to her.


Didn't hear anything else about the lady. Hope she's okay.

The high school band was really good. They are from Bethlehem, PA. Small world. Freedom High School.

We got all fancied up for dinner and had pictures taken. Hopefully they're good. :) We all had lobster tail and shrimp for dinner. Keeper Boy and Hubby had alligator fritters for an appetizer. J-Mav and I tried them, as well. But he had the shrimp a his appetizer and I had spring rolls. For dessert, Keeper Boy had the lava cake again. I had an apple thing. Hubby had cherries jubilee. J-Mav had vanilla ice cream.
Alligator fritters!

After dinner, Hubby, J-Mav and I went to a motown show, which was very good. Then we all went for a late night snack... pizza and ice cream.

Freeport tomorrow!