I think I’m getting a little stir-crazy around here because after spending a good hour this evening browsing random Google Maps of one of the cities I almost ended up in before moving to Florida, I did the math and realized that it’s been almost two years since I’ve left Central Florida for anything … and even then the event in question was an unexpected trip up to snowy Michigan in January 2014 for my Grandpa’s funeral.
Before that was only six months earlier when we went up during the summer of 2013 to celebrate his 90th birthday.
And don’t get me wrong, we’ve most certainly had a busy couple of years!!!
Between IVF and having the baby, and then the last year of learning how to be parents from scratch, and I’m sure lots of other stuff in between. We’ve also had lots … I guess just about everyone … come down to visit either for the holidays last year or to meet Christopher between last year and his first birthday. And part of that’s my fault because Sara was more eager to travel the baby around right after he was born when I didn’t want to…
But regardless, I guess it’s a little weird to think that we really haven’t traveled outside of 90 miles from home in the last couple of years because in our younger years we were a lot more adventurous! We’d gone on a couple of cruises, and our ginormous, month-long road trip, and yet now even if we can wrangle up a sitter it still seems prohibitively expensive trying to sneak away for the weekend after we factor in boarding the dog, coordinating time off, money, etc, etc…
I mean, Disney World is great and all, but I think I’m kind of itching to see something different for a change.
Clearly I’m not the only one who’s gotten more than a little frustrated with how the media has been covering the Carnival Triumph incident over the last week, so I was pretty intrigued to come across this interview with a staff member from a popular cruise review site who happened to be on that very cruise and sure enough, most of what was being reported was greatly exaggerated or just blatantly made up.
It astounds me that in this technological age of cell phones and iPads that while you’ve got people on the ship who are able to call loved ones and do interviews with the media, nobody ever managed to actually produce pictures of sewage flooding the halls like so many accounts cried about. That one in particular stands out to me because it’s a pretty graphic statement – a hallway FILLED with shit and piss – and yet as much as the Internet loves a grotesque picture … nothing.
We’ve seen photos of less than savory conditions like mattresses out on the open decks and tents made out of towels and red bio-hazard bags for human waste, but bags to dispose of your poop is still a far cry from just shitting right in the middle of the hallway like some have tried to make it sound.
The thing is, I’m sure it hasn’t been fun to experience all that these folks have had to experience over the last 7 days, but let’s keep it in perspective…
- It’s not like the Titanic because the ship didn’t sink to the bottom of the sea and nobody died.
- It’s not like when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans because although they may not have always been as informed as they may have liked, nobody watched their homes get washed away and lost members of their family.
The best quote I read was from a guest in The Huffington Post – “It’s a disastrous vacation – it’s not a disaster.”
At the end of the day I actually have to hand it to Carnival for making the best of a bad situation … they kept everybody fed, they managed to get everyone home safe, the boat didn’t sink, and the compensation that’s being offered essentially gives everyone either a second chance at another Carnival cruise for free and then some (once you consider a full refund for this cruise plus a credit equal to what was paid for the next one plus $500 per passenger) or even another vacation with someone who isn’t Carnival, should passengers choose to walk away. Some people probably think that they’re owed the moon & the stars and no doubt there will be lawsuits that arise from this, as lawyers have already come forward eager to fight for disgruntled passengers, but nobody died and when you go back and read the menus mentioned in that first link that I posted, it really could’ve been a whole lot worse!
P.S. Here’s an interesting Reddit AMA that started while the boat was still at sea and continued answering questions once they all got back to dry land…
…and here are some delicious cookies from the Carnival cruise that I went on last fall…
Maybe it’s just my body’s way of saying, “Be on vacation just a little bit longer!” but here we are almost four days back on land and my legs are still feeling all wobbly like I’m out cruising the seven seas instead of cruising the Internet from the “comforts” of my computer desk back home!
According to this random forum thread, which really is the best source for any information – especially related to health issues – I could either be perfectly fine, just need to give it more time, should take some over-the-counter medicine, should go see an Ear/Nose/Throat doctor, or should high tail it back to port and just get back on the boat to live the remainder of my life at sea as soon as humanly possible.
My reaction is very varied – sometimes it’s kinda fun, sometimes it’s mildly obnoxious when I’m trying to focus on actual work, and sometimes I guess I’m just concerned that random people who pass me by might mistakenly think that I’m drunk or something, which I’d prefer to only happen when I actually am drunk if at all possible. The half-empty glass in my hand usually gives it away…
I guess for the time being I’ll just give it a few more days and try to wait it out, but if we get to Saturday and I’m still bobbing to and fro, don’t be surprised if I start pushing book sales a little harder to fund me getting back out on that water where everything’s more normal and I fit in with all of the other bobbing fools! 😉
A few final thoughts that I’ve been kicking around in my head before I put that lovely cruise to bed and reluctantly float back into reality. I try to be one who both compliments and criticizes when I offer up my critiques of a particular whatever, so here are just a small number of random points where I think Carnival did particularly awesome, and also some where I think that they could stand to improve…
Service at Sea
Just like our last cruise, I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better staff while we were out at sea – our room steward was great and I’m still impressed how she remembered our names to greet us each day in the hall, all of the various waitstaff around the dining room were for the most part prompt, friendly, and knowledgeable (we did anytime dining, so it changed every meal), and the entertainment staff was just a riot. Carnival really hires great people to run its ships, and it shows through and through. 😀
We only made it to two shows, but frankly I wish we could’ve seen a few more because I really like how they’re starting to put more of an emphasis with dedicated comedy clubs and more comedians booked and all of that. Clearly a lot of other guests enjoyed this as well because both shows that we attended were almost completely packed, and as I mentioned in my other post, my only complaint is that I wish the shows we had attended would’ve been just a little bit longer.
Carnival’s Seaside Theater
The Carnival Legend didn’t have one of these, so the big screen was new to us on this cruise and I thought it was a really nice addition to the Lido Deck’s pool area because it gave everyone something else to do while laying about. We ended up watching two movies during the course of our stay – Goldfinger and Spider-Man – and both were a nice way to spend a relaxing evening. And again, my one critique is that if anything, I guess I would’ve liked to see even more shows on the big screen because it felt too often during the day like they just had the Carnival logo up on it half the time…
Maybe one or two more recent movies, too – while it was fun to watch The Avengers on demand in the room, it would’ve been a lot cooler watching Earth’s Greatest Superheroes put to the test poolside!
Room for Improvement…
Touch Screens & Other Interfaces
Specifically the touch screens on the machines in the gym, and also the remote control for our room’s TV – both were pretty terrible! For the touch screens, sometimes they just didn’t work at all and others you had to find the right spot a couple inches to the left of whatever button you wanted to press; and as for the TV remote, you pretty much had to hold your arm three feet in the air at a very specific angle to get the thing to respond – bad for changing channels, and even worse for trying to use the interactive features!
The High Cost of Photography at Sea
We took a lot of photos with the professional photographers that are out in troves during the elegant nights, and an impressive number of them actually turned out pretty nice! But that said, $22 a piece for 8x10s of the elegant night photos is simply ridiculous, and it kind of makes me sad to think that so many of those get thrown away simply because they’re overpriced (we did a tour last cruise and the photo manager cited somewhere between 80-90% of photos taken are trashed).
And the worst thing is, most we wouldn’t have wanted necessarily to hang on the wall or send to Grandma, but they would’ve been nice to post online and share with Facebook friends and whatnot … but Carnival doesn’t have an option like that. Well, they technically do, but you have to first purchase the original print for $22 and then you can get a digital copy for another $10!
We had about 20 photos that we liked, so that would’ve been $640 for 20 photos to post to Facebook … ha!!! 😯
Something like what Disney does at the parks with Photopass would be nice – pay $150 upfront and then get digital copies of everything, or maybe just cheaper per picture options instead. Again, it’s just sad to see all of that hard work and those nice memories go to waste, and yes, if 80-90% of photos are getting tossed, then they’re just not priced correctly.
Lost & Found (Back Home Again)
And lastly, while Carnival’s service was pretty much impeccable the whole time that we were at sea, I’ve got to say that it left something to be desired only hours after we had returned back home again. Fun story – not long after we got back home, I realized that all of our credit cards had disappeared. They had been in my pocket and somewhere between our room and our car, they must’ve fallen out. I first tried calling the bus company that carried us from the terminal to where our car was parked, but after they never answered the phone (not Carnival’s fault), I tried calling Carnival, thinking that maybe somebody could run and check in our room real quick before the boat went back out to sea again…
…and I was told that it would be 2-3 weeks before they could come up with anything! The lady I spoke with on the phone told me that “they were just too busy trying to get the boat back out” and “they couldn’t just stop to look for one person’s credit card,” which for me just reaffirmed what I read from a lot of forum posts online when I looked into their lost & found – Carnival’s customer service on land kinda sucks compared to their service out at sea!
I mean, I get that everybody is scrambling at that time because they literally have to turn over the entire ship in a matter of hours, but still – I wasn’t asking them to scour the ship, but simply have someone check in our room real quick to see if the cards were still on the desk or in the drawer where I thought I’d left them. I figured that someone on land would call a housekeeping manager on the ship, who’d then radio to our room steward to ask if she’d cleaned room 12201 yet and if so, had she found anything. And it wasn’t like I’d forgotten my sunglasses or something – we’d basically lost all of our access to money, and were trying to figure out how we were going to eat for the next couple of days!
But the lady on the phone calmly explained that they didn’t have time, and that their procedure was for the housekeeping staff to bag and catalog anything they’d found and turn it in to the terminal the next time it was in port (a week from then), and then everything would be shipped down to Carnival headquarters in Miami, where they have a lost & found that guests can call in to ask for.
At that point, knowing that I wasn’t even 100% sure that they were on the boat, I finally gave up and explained in less calm words that their procedure didn’t help me in the slightest, and that instead I’d just call my providers to report the cards lost and get new ones issued long before their process could ever have a chance to play out. I guess it was just a little disappointing – to be back on land and then realize that you don’t have people willing to bend over backwards to help you anymore.
Another random comment – when we were working our way to baggage claim after disembarking from the boat, I overheard a Carnival employee tell a guest, “The fun’s over now…” while we were waiting in line, so yeah – in general, Carnival’s service at land could stand to learn a thing or two from its service at sea. 😳
Still a fantastic vacation all in all, though, and I look forward to our next cruise just as soon as we can fit it into our budget and schedules! Not sure if it’ll be another trip on the Carnival Dream or a new ship & itinerary – the wife has already expressed an interest in exploring the other side of the Caribbean next time – but make no mistake about it … we’ll be back!
So … a bit about the awesome vacation that I just two days ago returned from!
My wife and I took a seven day cruise on the Carnival Dream out of Port Canaveral down to the Western Caribbean (Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Mexico – Pt. 2). It was a bit different than our last cruise of 3 years ago – bigger boat (almost twice as many passengers as the Carnival Legend!), bigger port (though a farther drive for us from Tampa) – but easily just as much fun … I won’t get into playing favorites because both were pretty great trips!
…was pretty awesome! We ended up splurging for a room up on the spa deck (#12), which is the highest deck with guest rooms on the ship and also considerably smaller than any of the main areas, so for the most part it was a little bit quieter and secluded. Plus, it was literally right around the corner from the gym & spa, which made it a little easier to actually go on a regular basis! Also, for whatever reason, we kind of had two bathrooms in our room – or at least two showers & sinks, anyways, which made it a lot easier for us both to get ready at the same time!!!
I still hardly believe it myself, but I actually exercised multiple times throughout the course of this trip!!! It kind of became our morning routine to get up and knock out 30 minutes on the elliptical down in the gym before laying around in the spa and then proceeding to gorge ourselves on food the rest of the day. …but hey, those 330 calories burned still … helped, I’m sure! 😯
Albeit a little intimidating for a guy who A) knows nothing about this kind of stuff, and B) is a guy, having access to some of the spa amenities as part of our room package was another nice way to relax away from all of the hustle bustle of the rest of the ship – it’s nice to know a place where there’s typically only half a dozen people present at the same at the same time that you are! 😀
I used the Thalassotherapy Pool (basically a giant hot tub with mineral salts and revitalizing blah blah blah) pretty much every day after my workout, and then worked my way over to the saunas to lay around a little more, though some of the more intense steam rooms were a bit much for me. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up having enough money to do any of the massages or anything – we’d really been looking forward to doing a couple’s massage – but we did do this Mud Room Therapy which involved green mud and covering each other in it and I’ll stop now… 😉
Another particularly interesting thing that we did this week was drink – there was a lot of wine consumed by the both of us, but at least we got something at least partially educational out of it by attending a wine tasting & pairing seminar that one of the wine stewards hosted. I think we’ve both been curious about wine for a while, but we never really know what to buy and typically just end up sticking to the one or two kinds that we know for sure that we both like, so this was super interesting to not only get a chance to sample five different types of wine, but also see just how dramatically different wine can taste depending on the foods that you’re eating with it – a simple bite of cheese or fish changed a bitter wine into something much more desirable, which we both found kind of fascinating! It ultimately encouraged us to buy two different bottles in the dining room to have with our meals, plus we had actually brought two bottles with us, so yeah, it’s safe to say that we did a fair amount of drinking on this trip, but at least this time it was sophisticated drinking… 😉
More alcohol! Honestly, neither of us really drink martinis, but this seemed kinda neat anyways and we figured what better way to find out if we like martinis than by drinking eight of them in one sitting?! Our bartender was amazing, as dully noted in the photo below as he pours four different drinks at the same time! They are mini glasses, mind you, and we each had about half of each one, which we figured worked out to about two full-sized drinks a piece, but I myself was still a bit tipsy making my way to the dining room after that! I think my own personal favorites were the Spicy Chipolte, followed by the Sea Blue, which should be numbers 2 & 8 in the picture below…
Bond, James Bond
And what goes better with martinis than a little James Bond?! One of the nights they had a Bond marathon on the 22′ big screen out by the main pool, so after dinner and all of the other festivities I convinced Sara to sit out with me and watch Goldfinger for a little bit. Awesome way to spend an evening, if I do say so myself!
I remember hearing the announcement not too long ago that Carnival had chosen George Lopez as the sort of celebrity sponsor of the new comedy clubs on their ships, so I was pretty curious to see how it all turned out. Apparently there’s sort of a bad stigma that comedians who work the cruise ship circuit get, though I’ve never really noticed any difference in “quality” myself on either of the two cruises that I’ve personally been on.
We only made it to two shows this cruise – their schedule was kind of confusing because when we first heard them boasting about “20 shows this week,” I guess I just assumed that it translated to shows every night, when in fact they did 3 shows a night on select nights at the beginning and end of the cruise, and sadly, the shows that we ended up going to were only 30-40 minutes long. They also did a “Comedy Brunch” that was basically a teaser to get you to come to the full show that night, but even those only featured maybe 5-10 minutes of material during your meal.
I detail this out only because it was actually a lot of fun and I would’ve liked more! Of the two shows that we hit, one was kinda so-so but the other was absolutely hilarious – it was a lot of improv acts with some comedians and some of the entertainment staff, and they just really went all out and it was pretty great. As opposed to my wife wanting to see all of the stage shows just about every night, I think next time I’d make more of an effort to get over to the comedy club because this really was a hidden gem and the place was packed to show it!
From sunrise to sunset, I think they speak for themselves… 😉
Rest & Relaxation
In summary, I guess you could say that all in all it was a very lazy vacation – lots of laying around, napping, relaxing, very little schedule-following, and generally just a chance to take a break from reality for a while and instead focus a little more time on each other, and also a little dedicated time to really and truly unwind, which frankly has felt long overdue!!! We actually didn’t go on a single shore excursion and really only even got off the boat in two of our four ports of call, and even those were just to wander around and shop for souvenirs for maybe an hour each time. We spent a lot of time laying around on the Serenity Deck (adults only!) and even just a lot of time laying around our stateroom, and it was great. 🙂
Things we didn’t do that we would’ve liked to – I wanted to spend just a little time losing money in the casino, as mentioned above – massage!, we would’ve liked to fit in a dinner at the steak house, oddly enough never quite made it on the water slides right outside our own deck, and even a nice and quiet shore excursion involving a beach, maybe some snorkeling right off said beach would’ve been nice. I definitely wouldn’t want to do too much because I can’t tell you how valuable all of that nothing time was for my sanity in hindsight, but I suppose that just gives us another excuse to go back again!
More Photos Here…
Don’t get me wrong – it’s definitely good to be back on solid ground, in my own house that I just bought two months ago, with a happy puppy and plenty of creative projects to finish out the year on, but I’d be a fool if I still wouldn’t rather be 751 nautical miles away down bobbing around in the tropics somewhere with chefs to prepare my meals and a spa for my relaxing fancy and a full bar to keep me entertained poolside in between!
Pictures will go up in the next couple of days – shouldn’t be too long because I didn’t take nearly as many as before. This was definitely much more of a lay around and relax-kind of vacation than the run around and do lots of stuff-kind, and I think it’s going to be particularly hard to get back into real life come Monday when I have to start doing things for other people once again instead of everybody waiting on me hand and foot as I most certainly enjoyed over the last week… 😉
Well, I may not have lost the weight that I was hoping to lose, and I’ve still got about a brazillion writing stuffs that I had wanted to get done before today, but I really need a break!
Leaving for a 7-day cruise down to somewhere distant and exotic with the wife today – surprisingly not even bringing along a computer this time, so it should be nothing but the open sea, a relaxing atmosphere, and plenty of coconut rum to help recharge the old batteries.
Try to be good, Internet – see you in a week or so!
Drove back from Michigan with just me and the dog, as the wife departed mid-trip for a business excursion out west. I think the last time I drove all the way from Michigan to Florida – by myself, in 2 days – was probably sometime in 2005, and needless to say, I didn’t miss it!
Next time Cleo is gonna have to learn how to fly… 😉
(Michigan) It was only about 15 minutes into the drive that I realized I had forgotten to download any new podcasts for the 22-hour journey which was now underway. Damn you, Apple/Verizon, for requiring a wifi connection for downloads over 20 MB – what part of Unlimited Data Plan don’t you understand?!
(Michigan) On the upside, at least it wasn’t snowing.
(Ohio) For some reason I always think of Ohio as being a really long state, akin to driving the 4 hours through Michigan, but I guess it actually goes by pretty quick when you cut corners across the state! Also, most spacious. rest area. ever.
(Kentucky) I wonder if semis can get ticketed for not merging over when there’s a disabled vehicle on the side of the road. I mean, it’s a nice gesture and all, but after several hours of watching their ping-pong games, it makes me curious as to how many new accidents are caused by semis merging over into other cars to leave room for accidents that have already transpired!
(Tennessee) Why in the world doesn’t this state have a rest area along I-75 anywhere before Knoxville?!?!?! I ask because my bladder really needed one at that point… 😛
(Tennessee) P.S. Thank god this was my stopping place for the night because 12 hours is a lot of driving for one guy (and one dog)!
(Georgia) Butts county.
(Georgia) Also, the more I got in and out of the car by this point, the more I felt like an incredibly old man. Exercise – yoga – I need something!
(Florida) Left Michigan at noon on Friday, layover in Tennessee, and pulled into our driveway back home just after 9:00pm. Whew…
- There really aren’t any good options for a man by himself to use the rest room when he’s traveling with puppy.
- Likewise with good places to eat, but I’m also getting incredibly picky about fast food these days.
- Believe it or not, Cleo will eventually get to the point where she’ll refuse peanut butter even when the jar is thrust into her face, though as far as I can tell it requires quite the upset/carsick belly to get her there. 🙁
- Cheddar Cheese Bagels from Tim Hortons make for pretty much the most fantastic road trip treats ever.
One last stop before hitting the road back on home to Florida – it makes me very happy to see all that Mom has done to keep Lisa’s resting place a happy one. It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s already been almost 2 years since we moved her from the original site to one closer to where we grew up so that Mom would be able to come visit more often, but needless to say, it’s very clear that she’s done a great job and has put a lot of time into keeping the place tidy and also making sure there’s plenty of color, just as Lisa would’ve liked.
Time to hit the road now – I’ve got 1,386 miles to cover over the next two days and Cleo’s not likely to do much of the driving herself!
Until next time – stay colorful, Northern Michigan… 🙂