||Home | Archive | Travel | Videos | About|
The Lido deck. But where's Isaac and Gopher?
Nigel, the Catamaran photographer.
Swimming with dolphins.
Working off the buffet on the Olympic size running track.
|story and photos Maureen Scott
Mention to anyone that you are going on your first cruise and the unanimous reaction is “You will just love it!”
Cruising seems to be the way to vacation these days. Why? You dine like royalty for a price any average Joe can afford, depending on the cruise. Plus planning is a no brainer - just book your transportation to the port, board the ship and then prepare to be entertained for the duration of your holiday! The cruise folks will even entertain your kids while you go sing Karaoke. Unlike driving vacations, you’ll never hear, “are we there yet”? And you can’t get lost.
My 78-year-old “Snow Bird” Mom and my 57-year-old sister and two of her best friends have been cruising for years. Each January, they sign up for a group cruise organized by the social committee at my Mom’s mobile home park in Florida. This year, I decided to join the group.
The 5-day Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Inspiration with stops in Grand Cayman and Cozumel cost $430 U.S. per person for an outside cabin (meaning you have a window). The price seems incredibly low, but that was the group rate for the two busloads of seniors from The Three World’s Mobile Resort in Davenport, Florida. Our airfare from Buffalo to Orlando was about $89 U.S. each way, and it cost $85 U.S. to leave our car at the Buffalo airport for 12 days.
You won’t find rock climbing on this ship, but there is an outdoor pool, hot tub, giant waterslide for the kids, an Olympic running track, a gym, a spa, an outdoor stage, several bars and lounges, two dining rooms and a theatre called the Paris Lounge. No wonder it’s called “The Fun Ship!”
Sometimes I just want to lie by the pool on the Lido deck, but I am dragged away by the girls wanting to go line dance in the middle of the afternoon. Then it’s off to have afternoon tea, and hit the sushi bar, and cocktails at the piano bar, which leads to dinner in the dining room followed by the nightly show, gambling, then the Midnight Adult Only Comedy show, before retiring to our rooms, completely exhausted and totally satisfied.
The rooms are very comfortable and immaculately clean - my sister’s room with three twin beds reminded me of an upscale university dorm (before the students arrived). Each evening when we came back to our room, we discovered a uniquely folded towel of a dolphin or stingray, some chocolates and a “daily guide to FUN” for the following day.
The words cruise and food just seem to go hand in hand. With round the clock access to pizza, ice cream, and room service, you could eat 24 hours a day if your waistline would allow it. For breakfast, you could order room service, go to the buffet, or go to the dining room and order from their extensive menu, which also included items like Eggbeaters and lighter fare.
At lunch, we mostly ate poolside on the Lido deck, often entertained by a live band. Name almost any food and you could have it at lunch on the extensive buffet or at the many cooking stations - pizza station, deli sandwich station, salad bar, there were hamburgers, hotdogs, stir fries.... my Weight Watchers points just rang up and off the page!
Dinner in the dining room was a highlight of the day. Tuxedo-clad staff waited on us hand and foot. Nino, our wonderful headwaiter greeted us by name each evening with a warm hug and a glowing smile. He hails from the Philippines where his wife and his five children look forward to seeing him home after seven months at sea. He works seven days a week from morning to night, with a few hours off between meals. He has been with Carnival for 14 years!
Nino, his assistant Romeo and all of the staff are professionally trained to provide five star service with a smile for the 2,193 passengers on this cruise. Most entrees change nightly but you will also see a selection of steaks, seafood, chicken dishes, vegetarian selections and even spa choices. Lobster tails are the featured item on Formal Night.
There are Kodak moments aplenty on Formal Night when guests look forward to “putting on the Ritz.” Women are glittering in jewelry, wearing full-length gowns or cocktail dresses. Men are mostly wearing dark suits but we admire the occasional gentleman wearing a tux. In typical red carpet style, the paparazzi are out (okay the Carnival professional photographers) snapping photos of each couple or group as they enter the dining room. We should mention that the photographers snap every occasion and the photos are available for sale each day in the ship’s Photo Gallery.
There was a lot of buzz one day about the Midnight Buffet. My thought was, “oh great another buffet,” but this isn’t just any buffet. It looked like Boxing Day at the Brick with people waiting in line, (including us) for a half an hour or so just to photograph this truly amazing culinary collage. Once everyone has taken his or her photos, you rejoin the line and dig in.
The displays are almost too beautiful to eat...notice I say almost! Maitre d' “George the Greek” led us on a tour of the gleaming stainless steel kitchen. George has been with Carnival over 30 years and says he has been around the world 27 times and will not trade his job for anything! Of the 920 employees on board, 440 of them are involved with food preparation. And what a grocery list: 1,400 lb. of sugar, 4,500 lbs. of flour, 1,200 gallons of milk, 48,000 eggs, 1,000 gallons of ice cream, 10,000 lbs. of beef, 8,000 lbs. of chicken, 6,000 lbs. of fish and 3,000 lbs. or pork for each cruise. Good thing George doesn’t keep track of how many lbs. the passengers gain while on board!
While in port, there is plenty to do and see. You can shop (using Joanna’s handy map), take a sight-seeing tour or trek to the ruins, go snorkeling, scuba dive, para-sail, swim with the dolphins, go on a submarine, ride horseback on the beach and so on. Excursions range from about $40.00 U.S. for the Reef, Wreck & Snorkel Tour to the 3 1/2 hour Family & Friends Private Swim with the Dolphins for $1,938.00! We took the Trolley Roger sightseeing cruise in Grand Cayman with our pirate guide Steve Harris, from Ottawa! He’s been working in the Caymans for three years now. “I am a middle-aged man getting to live my dream every day,” says “Captain Splash.”
The highlight of the entire trip was the day Carol and I took the Deluxe Sail, Snorkel & Swim Catamaran expedition in Cozumel. Captain Jose and Sail Director Charlie instructed some of the passengers to hoist the sail so we could catch the wind en route to the reef. Charlie showed us how to properly inflate the life jackets and use the snorkel equipment. Carol, who can’t swim, felt perfectly safe jumping into the turquoise blue waters. Donning the dive mask and snorkel, I immersed my face into the warm Caribbean Sea. You could see clearly to the bottom, some 20 feet below, and oh my... dozens of beautiful, colourful fish are swimming all around you, unfazed by the presence of about 45 sea humans.
The ship’s photographer Nigel (who could be Johnny Depp’s twin brother) plunges beneath the surface and snaps underwater photos. The 45 minutes flashes by, before we are instructed to get back on board to enjoy the free margaritas and beer (and the company of “Nigel Depp”) as we head off to our own private beach where you can swim, use the sea kayaks, play beach volleyball or take an optional horseback ride along the brown-sugar-like beach. Or just enjoy more free margaritas! The $57 excursion was worth every penny.
Back on the mother ship, we attended a reception for “gold” card cruisers. When Cruise Director Risa asked for a show of hands of people who had cruised more than 10 times (platinum members), about half of the room raised their hands. One elderly man traveling alone told us this was his 36th cruise. People discussed which cruise line offered the best food or the best entertainment.
Like hotels, there can be a wide range of prices and service levels in the cruise business. Several people boasted about how much they paid. These folks are cruise crazy! My Mom and sister are cruise crazy! Is it hereditary? Well, let’s just say I told them to sign me up for next year. Maybe I’ll start working on my gold membership! GL