Previously: we flew to Miami and got on a cruise ship…
Sunday, December 8 – Sea Day #1
Our first sea day started with some relaxing on the cove balcony – and spotting a few of those flying fish. After the hubby woke up, we headed up to the Blush dining room for the Sea Day Brunch – no mention of Punchliner, no comedian.
Following brunch, we changed for some activities and headed up to the sports deck – Byron to play in the volleyball tournament, and me to go for a run. We’ve got a half marathon coming up in mid-January, and I wanted to make sure I got in at least a couple of short runs during the vacation. I hate treadmills, so I attempted to run on the SkyTrack (7 laps = 1 mile), but it was pretty frustrating. Despite the track being clearly delineated with one-way arrows, people were walking every which way, running/walking two- or three-people abreast and blocking the entire width of the track so it was difficult to pass, stepping onto the track from the mini golf course and not paying attention to where their clubs were sticking out, stopping to take group photos on the track, et cetera. I’m a stickler for running etiquette at the best of times, so this was not my natural environment. 🙂
Byron fared a bit better with the volleyball tournament, but did comment that he wished Carnival would offer separate games for people who have some volleyball skills/experience separate versus just want to try the sport for the first time. There were a lot of people wanting to play on this cruise, but I do recall it being hard to get enough people for a game on past trips.
After a shower and change, we headed to the Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse for the cooking demo. I tried to heed the advice from CruiseCritic and get there early for a good seat, but failed – although we weren’t too far back in the initial lineup, the set-up of the steakhouse for the cooking demo meant that only the first few rows (maybe a dozen people) would have a decent view of the cooking itself. The room just didn’t seem appropriate for the activity, with a lot of blocked sightlines (not to mention the lady in the second rowing holding her full-size iPad up to take photos of the chefs, further blocking the view), and it actually seemed surprisingly disorganized, e.g. half the people in the room received misprinted recipe booklets with pages missing and had to exchange them. Also wasn’t impressed with the member of the entertainment staff who hosted the cooking demo. The food itself, however, was pretty good, especially that mushroom cappuccino. Glad I did this once, but wouldn’t bother again.
[An aside: it was while we were in line for the cooking demonstration that I learned that a Russian dental conference was taking place on board. I’ve been trying to learn Russian for the past year, in preparation for a month-long trip in February. It was very neat hearing snippets of the language in the buffet line or by the pool – especially when I could understand a few words – but I never worked up the courage to actually strike up a conversation with anyone in Russian.]
For lunch, I headed to the C-Side BBQ and Byron went up for his first (of many) Guy’s Burger. Even on the first Sea Day, there was a long line for the BBQ right at noon.
The afternoon was spent around the aft pool. I really wish the Breeze had an adults-only pool – I absolutely loved that feature on the Glory. Afternoon drinks (a Rum Jumper and a Hurricane Wave) were accompanied by a mushroom pizza to soak up all that alcohol – thought the pizza was delicious, great crust. When the splashy kids got too much for me, we headed up to Serenity for a (windy) nap in one of the clamshells until it was time to get ready for the first elegant night.
Before heading to the Sapphire dining room (we had Anytime Dining), we dropped by the Taste Bar for a bite of short rib croquette and pumpkin bisque; very good. I think the Taste Bar remains a hidden gem on the ship, as it was never busy.
That evening’s meal in the Sapphire dining room was probably my least favourite of the cruise, not due to the food but due to the layout of the table we were seated at. We asked for a two-top, and were seated at the same time next to two ladies (both very nice) whose table was probably less than an inch from ours – we might as well been sitting at the same table. Fine, it’s a big ship, they have to squeeze in a lot of tables, I’ll deal. BUT a couple of inches to our other side was one of the serving islands – where the waitstaff would pile up not just the dishes about to be served but all of the dirty plates. They would scrape leftovers from one plate to another and leave them uncovered a foot from my husband’s head – it wasn’t exactly appetizing. Okay, rant over.
Foodwise, I had the spring rolls (meh – wish there was a proper plum sauce instead of tomato sauce) and the lobster (very nice). For dessert, I’d asked for the rumoured side dish of peanut butter to stir into my Warm Chocolate Melting Cake, but I think I just confused the poor waiter, who brought me two ice creams instead.
We had received a $5 match-play for the casino by buying some drink special, and bet that on roulette and won – but kept playing until we were out $20. We wrapped up the night at the comedy club – Jason Blanchard was very funny, one of the better comedians I’ve seen on a cruise ship.
And then it was early to bed, since we had an early start the next morning in Grand Turk!
Monday, December 9 – Grand Turk
I woke up just in time to pop out onto the cove balcony as the ship came into dock at Grand Turk. This was our first visit to Grand Turk, although we spent a week on Providenciales in Turks & Caicos this past March — and loved it!
Quick breakfast in the Lido deck before disembarking – two passengers were taken off in an ambulance, but we hadn’t heard anything about why or what happened. We walked down to the beach and up a bit to see where Oceanscapes Spa was located – I’d heard good things but didn’t want to book an appointment in advance in case my excursion was late getting back.
Byron headed off to find a cab to take him to Blue Water Divers for his scuba trip, and I spent an hour on a beach chair, reading and watching the Westerdam dock behind us. It really is neat being able to dock so close to a beach.
At 9am (ship time), I headed back up to meet my excursion group for some Power Snorkeling. We had a short ride in a little bus to the “Beach-In”. A quick briefing, then we got our fins and inflatable vests, and into the boat. It was literally a one minute boat ride out to the drop, and into the water we all jumped. After a few minutes getting used to the three-speed power snorkel thingy (that’s the technical term), the guides signaled us to follow. The drop-off itself was pretty cool – given that you’re really looking at nothingness. Saw lots of fish, one small stingray. Someone claimed to have seen a very large stingray closer to shore. The coral was okay, but not in great condition; I’m becoming a bit of a coral snob. We followed the guide from site to site, slowly making our way back to shore.
In total, I think we spent about 40 minutes in the water – but unlike some snorkel excursions where you’re tired after from swimming against the current, the power snorkel lets you toodle around without any effort. Overall, I liked it but wouldn’t rush to power snorkel again. I’m not a super strong swimmer and don’t tend to snorkel on my own when my husband is diving, but having the power snorkel gave me an extra comfort level.
After the bus tide back to the port (during which the driver gave some insight into life on the island and pointed out interesting buildings and attractions, such as the NASA capsule monument), I walked over to Oceanscapes and was happy to find that they had availability for a 30 minute massage ($40). Partway through, the skies opened and rain poured down for about five minutes – we were under cover, but caught a bit of the spray and loved the sound. Refreshing! Following the massage, I walked up to Jack’s Shack to meet up with my husband, who had finished his dive and was awaiting his order of jerk chicken.
We hustled back to the ship, and were back on board by 1:30pm – but the jerk chicken hadn’t filled us up, so it was straight to Guy’s Burgers for a ringer and an Iguana Iced Tea. Once again, we watched sailaway from Serenity before heading over to the sport deck for the foosball tournament.
My husband loves foosball – when I had mentioned that there might be a foosball tournament during this cruise, he got very excited. He was paired up with another passenger, and they crushed their first opponents, and then eked out a come-from-behind victory over the second team. Medal!
[An aside: while I’m watching the foosball, a group of three boys playing mini golf starting goofing off, and swinging their golf clubs around pretty wildly. One of them accidentally whacks me on the ankle with his golf club – and doesn’t apologize or even acknowledge it. I’m not good at confrontation, so I basically just swear under my breath and try to ignore them. They continued to ‘threaten’ to hit each other with their clubs, and finally the staff member running the foosball tournament notices, yells at them to cut it out, and made them put away the golf clubs, and sent them on their way. Was really glad that the staff felt comfortable enough to call them out for their behaviour.]
In the late afternoon, we hit up the Taste Bar again, this time for chicken tortilla soup and a bite of roast pork. Again, really good. We ate dinner in the buffet before heading to the Red Frog Pub for the adult pub quiz – the trivia theme that night was alcohol, something don’t know enough about to make the quiz fun. I like to have a fighting chance.
Finally, we went back to the comedy club to see Tommy Drake – again, very funny. I feel like the comedians were much better this time around compared to previous Carnival cruises. This was also where I discovered my new favourite drink – the BBC, with banana, Baileys and coconut (pina colada). To die for!
Tuesday, December 10 – San Juan
Slept in until 8:30am! For me, that’s impressive. I grabbed an iced coffee and a breakfast burrito from the Blue Iguana Cantina and brought it back down to enjoy on the cove balcony – and I enjoyed it so much that I didn’t notice that I was dripping pico de gallo all over my brand new white shirt. Oops.
We had a late-ish arrival into San Juan, and I stayed on the balcony reading until I started to see land. Woke up the hubby, and headed back up to the Lido Deck. While he got his own breakfast burrito, I played a quick game of bingo by the pool – no luck this time. And the bad luck continued, as a gust of wind blew Byron’s hat right into the harbor as we were taking the stairs up to the top deck for a better view of San Juan.
Officially, this was our second time in San Juan, but last time we rushed straight from the airport to the cruise port – leaving on the Caribbean Princess for our honeymoon cruise – and didn’t see anything of the city.
We were off the ship by 11:30am, and after a quick stop at the CVS across the street to buy a replacement hat, we hopped onto the free trolley at stop number 14. We stayed on the trolley for one full loop (about an hour), just checking out the buildings and views. By the time we were back at stop number 1, there was a HUGE lineup of cruiseship passengers trying to get on the trolley – so huge, that maybe three or four people got on while another 30 were left behind; so turn left instead of right when exiting the port and get on the trolley at its last stop (14) instead. View the trolley map.
We stayed on trolley and continued on to Castillo San Felipe del Morro. We spent an hour or two exploring the fort, and then meandered back through Old San Juan.
There was a sudden downpour, and we took refuge in Bad Ass Coffee – good guavaberry turnover. When the rain stopped, we continued on to the cathedral, then had a light snack at a tapas bar – sheep’s milk cheese with honey, and pork empanadas. Saw a lot of feral cats along the city walls, and watched the sunset from the end of Paseo de la Princesa.
We were back on the ship by 5:30pm, and went for a quick hot-tub pre-dinner. Back in the room, we discovered that our planned excursion for the following day in St Maarten had been cancelled due to low numbers, so we spent some time picking a new one, then headed to dinner – I would have gladly skipped the dining room in favour of the buffet, but tonight was Bitter and Blanc, so…
Another $5 match play for the casino brought us some luck in roulette, but I lost at bingo in the Ovation Theatre. That night’s show was ‘The Edge’ juggling – it was okay, some interesting moments, but again, the lack of production value was noticeable.
Coming up in Part 3: St Maarten, St Thomas, and the final two Sea Days.