Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What I did over Christmas Vacation

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I'd arranged with our neighbor, Deb, to take us to the airport, we really didn't want to leave a car in a lot for 9 days. We had a 5:50 flight and since I didn't know how long the security lines would be, we loaded up Deb's van and left home about 3:30. I thought about it later, when you go to the airport, you usually have to allow for the whole parking the car and shuttling to the terminal part, but getting a ride automatically gives you a bigger buffer for the security lines.

Kevin's bag of magnetic alphabet letters was searched, and while I watched from my own line unable to help, Dan tried to reassure him he'd get everything back.

Curb-side check-in told us we were departing from gate B-8 but when we got there, it was B-4. Then they announced a change to B-6 and the plane was delayed. Our departure time was 7:10. Then they moved us again to B-2 and we got off the ground close to 7:30.

When we landed in Ft. Lauderdale I panicked momentarily because I couldn't remember which hotel I'd booked for the night. I knew where it was on a map so I used the "Maps" feature on my phone to figure it out. I called for their shuttle before our luggage came out, figuring we'd have less time to wait. They told me to call back, the driver was already in route and won't wait for us if we didn't have luggage yet and there were other guests.

We checked four pieces. Three came out. The large red bag, containing Dan's and Kevin's clothes was missing. The same bag with Dan's and Kevin's clothes got lost in Venice back in March at spring break. My mind did the race thing, can the airline find it and deliver it to Miami before sailing time, but before the baggage clerk could even determine which claim number to write up, a man wheeled it out from the back. We couldn't figure out where it'd been, why it didn't come out with the rest.

We got to the waiting area and just missed the shuttle to the hotel then had to wait for about a half hour until it looped back around for us. Oh well. When we checked in I asked about shuttles to the ports. The hotel ran complementary runs to Port Everglades and the massive crowds in the lobby the next morning demonstrated why the hotel was popular for that reason. They didn't go to Port of Miami so our private taxi was bout $61. Not bad really, the cruise line wants $120 for one-way transfers for a Ft Lauderdale-Miami trip.

Sunday, December 21, 2008, Fort Lauderdale

I asked for a divine wake-up at 7:00 then asked for a snooze until 8. The family was still sleeping, so I got up do to my 3-mile walk that ended up being 3.39 miles. The family was stirring when I returned and after a shower I took the kids down for breakfast.

Our taxi showed up at 11:00 and we were at the ship before noon. Checking in didn't take too long, but our staterooms were not ready until 1:30 so we headed up to Lido for lunch. Along with everyone else on board. I found out later there were 3544 passengers on board with 1100 crew members.

If you've been on one Carnival Ship, you know the general layout of most of them. You know lunch is always served up on the Lido deck and the sushi bar is always on Promenade and it always opens at 5:00; the Spa has over-priced services and is on the Spa Deck and there is an "adult" area on the Sky deck but no one goes topless there anymore. Then names of the spaces change from ship to ship, and on the Carnival Valor the spaces have valorous (is that even a word?) names like Ivanhoe Theater and Washington Dining Room, One Small Step Disco and Rosie's Restaurant. There's just the learning curve to match the new names with the things you already know.

Several cruises ago we have adopted a family "chill" place on Promenade deck in one of the banquets by the windows. This cruise was no different. We enjoy taking a break there, reading, eating sushi, having a cappuccino, or watching the other passengers parade by dressed for early-seating dinner in sequins and bow ties.

We see passengers with blue keycards, they are newbies, we have gold keycards. Sometimes you see platinum keycards, it takes 10 cruises to acquire that status.I'm torn between wanting the platinum keycards and wanting to move up to another cruise line. Only time will tell.

After lunch we found our staterooms and unpacked our carry-ons. The crew gets all the checked luggage on board before departure, but getting it sorted and delivered can take all afternoon. They have the same size x-ray machines as airports so you can't hand carry your big pieces with you. The swimming pools are open so you have to remember to put a suit in your carry-on or you're stuck in your traveling clothes all afternoon.

At 4:00 we had a mandatory lifeboat drill, donning our lifejackets and convening at our appointed muster station. Kevin didn't do too badly this time, sometimes he really goes nuts during the drill. The signal is seven short blasts on the ship's horn followed by a long one. It's disconcerting for non-autistic persons, I can never imagine what it's like for Kevin, the loud whistle blasts and the tight organized crowds on the decks.

After the drill, we set sail at 4:30. This shot taken as we left Miami shows the pools decks and the big screen TV. The band, when they're on duty sets up shop right under the screen on the deck below. I think I heard "Buffalo Soldier" about 3 times in 24 hours.

You're allowed to dress ultra casual the first night at dinner in case your luggage hadn't arrived yet, so I wore capris and a sleeveless polo shirt. I realized I didn't plan well. I brought one long sleeve shirt and two sweatshirts, but nothing dressy with sleeves, nothing to keep me warm in an overly air-conditioned dining room after sunset. Dernit.

Every night during dinner the room steward made up our rooms leaving chocolate mints and the listing of the following day's activities. I hid the mints from my roommate.

Monday, December 22, 2008, "Fun Day at Sea"

The boys are in the stateroom diagonally across the hall from the girls. I would've like to be able to sleep next to my husband, but I'm not sure we're ready to let the kids truly have their own room that wasn't connected to ours. It baffles me why cruise ships are not built with more connecting rooms. If you have very young children, then one room would suffice, but as they get bigger, you need more room, but not too far away. But yet, connecting cabins on cruise ships are like hen's teeth.

I woke up and went up to the track on the Sun deck for my walk. I took my gps thing with me expecting to see my laps mapped out in overlapping ovals, like a spirograph, but instead the line was long and straight with a slight jog to the left or right depending on which side of the ship I was on. The ship was moving faster than I could walk so the line didn't fold back on itself; it did say I went over 16 miles in 40 minutes. The thing about walking every morning in the neighborhood is the the view is mostly the same day to day, varying on trash days, but different in each part of the route. The thing about walking for 27 laps on the ship is the view is always the same, water and occasional ship on the starboard side, water, an occasional ship, and Cuba on the port side. Very boring indeed. And windy.

Kevin spent a good part of the day on the water slide, and I got tanned even with sunscreen on.

We like the late seating for dinner because you don't have to hurry back on port days to get cleaned up for dinner on time. Also, you can have sushi without it ruining your dinner. Dinners in the dining room are three courses, but you can have as many of anything as you want. Most of the menu changes daily with a few staples always available.

Most nights there are photography stations set up on the Promenade deck will all different kinds of backgrounds. Fern and her shipboard friends got their pictures taken at a lot of them and the photographers would have Fern sit for pictures of just herself, too. She's so beautiful, they loved to take her picture. I'm glad she's not arrogant about it. I ended up buying one of the glam shots as well as one of Fern and Kevin together. He's gotten so tall and she's so pretty, I can't believe my babies are growing up.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008 Grand Cayman, BWI

I got up and walked again. This time our ship was anchored in the harbor and could still move around a bit so the laps on my gps showed up like an inebriated path.

Originally I wanted to do a snorkel trip to Stingray City, a shallow sandbar area where the stingrays are docile if not provoked, but all the ship's snorkel trips were canceled because of weather. My idea then was to rent a jeep and drive around the island, or at least to 7 Mile Beach. The plan didn't work out so well when there weren't the hoards of vendors to offer us deals on rental cars. We started walking after I had gotten verbal directions to a rental place and it proved farther away than the "six blocks" I was told. After we walked about a mile I flagged down an empty taxi and got a ride to the beach.

Our taxi driver took us to the public area of 7 Mile Beach. We were there with everyone else who got there on their own from the five ships that were in port. A while after we got to the beach it started raining, not heavily, but enough to drive the fair-weather folks back to town. From the beach you can see the town where the cruise ships were anchored and how heavily it was raining there. I just moved our stuff under a picnic table shelter and went back in the water for the duration. I rented two snorkel sets. Kevin used to be afraid of things on his head, but now he tries to snorkel like a champ.

When we got back into town, Dan and Kevin went to get in the tender line and Fern and I ran a mini "Amazing Race" collecting all the free things available if you had obtained the right coupons from the shopping talks given on the ship. Diamonds International has an agreement with Carnival, and probably the other cruise lines, too. Carnival promotes their stores, the stores give the passengers extra discounts. One of the promotions they have now is the free charm bracelet and charms available in the Diamonds International stores at each port. We also got an opal and a 1 caret loose sapphire stone. We had fun. Today's charm: beach chair with umbrella. I managed to slip and fall in the middle of the wet street because my flip flops had long ago lost any traction they might have had. I found a pharmacy and bought a tube of "Germolene," which is a pink antibiotic/pain killer cream that smells like Pepto-Bismol.

We had more sushi from the sushi bar and chilled at the "chill spot."

There's a large picture of Scarlet O'Hara on the landing between the third and fourth decks near the dining room.

The first two nights the table adjacent to our booth in the dining room had been empty. Tonight, it had occupants, a blond family of five. Well, the dad was bald, but the wife and kids were all blond. They certainly didn't dress for dinner, either. I didn't like them.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 Roatan Island, Honduras

We got off the ship and got a taxi to take us to Tabyana beach. Our driver spoke very little English and Fern was too shy at first to try her Spanish so the ride was very quiet. The view wonderful, it reminded me of the scenery on Lost. Our driver stopped a couple times on the way so we could take photos. He was charging us $20 per person for the round trip but we didn't have to pay him until he brought us back.

The afternoon at the beach was pleasant, we rented chairs at a resort so we had shower and changing room privileges. The resort was lovely and Dan and I talked about coming back there some time. I later found out there is no golf on Roatan, which puts a cramp on the idea of coming back. This man and his son roamed the beach playing for tips. Our driver found us at the appointed time and place and got us back to the ship with no problems.

Today's charm: a sand dollar.

Our dining neighbors dressed better for dinner tonight. I could overhear their conversations about trying to pick an excursion for the next day. We'd already decided to do an excursion because there's not much to do on your own in Belize City and I knew several trips they mentioned were already sold out. Ha.

Thursday, December 25, 2008 Belize City, Belize

The four of us are in two staterooms, they are diagonally across the hall from each other. Before breakfast we gathered in the bigger one, the one with a window, to open presents. Fern got her iPod she's been asking for, Kevin got a couple K'nex kits, and I had already given Dan a new camera to replace the previous one that had gotten ruined in Vegas.

Belize City doesn't have a cruise ship pier so passengers need to be tendered in from their ships. The journey takes about 20-25 minutes from ship to shore and the wait for a tender can take up to an hour. So we paid for the excursion to avoid all that. That and the fact I already mentioned, there's not much to do in town. We boarded a tender bound for Barrister Caye. It only took less that 15 minutes to get there, which was a bonus, but the island itself was very small and add the passengers from six other tenders from other ships, it was crowed. More crowded than my liking. And you were stuck, couldn't go back early. The actual beach area was small and the water was cloudy. The price of the excursion included a punch or a rum punch, but didn't include lunch or the other activities available. I bought three tickets so we could do the other things at a cost of $30. Yikes.

Later in the day before we were tendered back to the ship Kevin and I got in a Kayak and paddled around in the mangrove islands across the channel from the caye. Then I took Fern out and let her sit in the back so she could steer. The wind was pretty strong and you had to paddle hard to get across the channel, and after that she was pretty much finished. I looked down at my arms, my tiny little muscles more pronounced through my polarized sunglasses while I rowed my kids around. Not bad.

It felt like we were prisoners on the island and we were all anxious to go back. There was a tender at the ship ready to go into town when we got back from our little island so I went through security to get on the ship and then right back through to go back out. I putzed around town for a while, collected our charms and bought a pair of topaz earrings. I think the stones are so pretty, but I'm not crazy about the setting. I tried to play my regret game: Will I regret not buying X from somewhere when I get back home. I left the store and wandered around more, then decided to go back to buy the earrings. I hope I still like them when I get back home.

I got in line for the tenders back to the ship. I was about 10 people shy of making the second-to-last boat so I got on the last one. I speculated to the guys next to me that they (the ship's they) were going to wait to send the last tender back until the one before it got to the ship and the passengers got checked in. That way they knew how many folks were still outstanding and how many folks should be on the last boat. Meanwhile, the ship is supposed to sail at 5, it was 10 after, I'm not on the ship yet and Dan's worried I'm not making it back at all.

I kept having to remind myself it was Christmas. It was weird. First it was hot, we were spending Christmas in a tropical location. I'm not used to hot Christmases. Second, no Christmas service. I checked the schedule of daily ship activities for one but didn't see it. There were menorah lightings every night at 5:30, but no Christmas service. Fern was very depressed for a long time while we were out on the little island. All the Christmas build-up, then a bigger let-down after.

Today's charm: binoculars.

The blond family is talking in French tonight at dinner. Fluent French. I can't eavesdrop. I really want to dislike them. Some nights after dinner the waiters sing a song, show style with flashing lights. It's usually kind of funny because all the different accents they sing with and the way they pronounce words in American songs. Tonight they sang "Hey Baby." Blond Family sang and danced right along, too. I really want to hate them, they are just so darn cute. After dinner Mrs. Blond stops me and introduces her brood, she's sorry she hadn't done it earlier. I said I'd noticed they'd missed dinner the first two nights. Mr. Blond explains they are from Montreal and had missed their flight to the ship because of snow. Totally impossible to hate them now.

Friday, December 26, 2008, Cozumel, Mexico

Dan bought two excursion tickets for the Segway/Snorkel trip, and Kevin and I were to meet for departure at 9:30 and Dan and Fern were were going to an adventure park with a zip line. At 7:30 Dan calls me: Kevin's throwing up. I canceled the tour tickets and to my pleasure, we got a full refund even though it's posted you only get a 75% refund for cancellations. I was looking forward to riding on a Segway, Oh well.

Dan and Fern took a taxi to Mayan ruins and shopping while I hung out with Kevin. When they got back Dan and I had lunch in Rosie's in the upstairs part by the window with a view of the ship docked next to us.

"Daniel, Daniel, Daniel," I said in a mock exasperated voice when he returned to our table with dessert.
"We are parked next an Italian cruise ship, with Italian passengers who sunbathe topless."
"And I missed it?"

After lunch I went in to the little shopping area by the pier just to get off the boat. I scored some vanilla and the charms of the day: sombrero and a clock.

Dan and I ate dinner at Rosie's instead of in the dining room, we didn't want to be away from Kevin too long. Rosie's is theoretically named for Rosie the Riveter, and there is a two-story tile mosaic of the famous "We can do it" picture.

Saturday, December 27, 2008, "Fun Day at Sea"

The day is pretty much a blur to me. Kevin's demeanor was very quiet since he'd been sick the day before and was still recovering. He didn't even want to go swimming. We spent a lot of time in the "chill place." Fern hung out with her shipboard friends all day and we hardly saw her except at dinner. Mr. and Mrs. Blond greeted us at dinner and I wished them a safe trip home afterward.

Sunday, December 28, 2008,

Dan and I decided to book a shore excursion for Miami which dropped us off at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. Our flight home wasn't leaving until 6:40 so we had pretty much all day to kill. They want everyone off the ship by about 9:30 so they can turn it over for the next batch of sun seekers. We left the ship at 7:30, was through Customs and Immigration and on the tour bus by 8. We got a bus tour of South Beach and about two hours to ourselves to shop and have lunch. It was a bit of culture shock to pay almost $30 for lunch. We got to the airport a little after 1:30 and had to wait an hour before we could even check in for our flight.

The flight home was uneventful and our neighbor Deb and her son came to the airport to pick us up.

I really didn't write much about the food because there's not much to write about. It was fine, but not to die for. It was better this time than on past cruises.


VE said...

The important thing I took away from your adventure was to book my next cruise on the Italian cruise line! ha ha

Sounds like a great vacation. I'm planning something for the spring...perhaps the Carribean, not sure yet.

greeny said...

sigh. sounds very nice except for the newbies having to be ostracized with blue key cards and Kevin turning ill. i like the freebie idea and boy don't you know your way around a cruise ship and the islands?! i know who to call if i ever need info.
glad you made it home safely- not that it's bloody likely.

Anne said...

Here's my cruise agent's number, tell her I sent you:


John said...

Do I understand then that you don't pay for any food on the ship, even the sushi? That would be so cool. I could clean up on the sushi.

Anne said...

John, Your cruise price covers all meals, coffee, tea, juice, etc. Carbonated beverages and hard stuff are extra. Some ships have specialty cafes and restaurants and those are extra too. But, yes, the sushi bar was included in the base fare, so "free."

Lorraine said...

I had an aunt, uncle & cousins who used to live on Roatan! (He was a teacher there for a while).