Posted by: sdallnct | December 12, 2009

Vacation Day 1 – Travel Day

We flew from Dallas to Miami today. We wanted to get to Miami a day early just in case any travel issues.

Since I travel a lot I pick up quickly on little things that seem to indicate how a trip will go. Well right off the bat I we had a nice little surprise. No longer being a Gold level flyer I expected to pay $20 per bag at check in (2 bags = $40), which is annoying.  Yet when we checked in, it was “only” $30 total. Yes, I know, no big deal over $10. But every sign, everything we saw, everything on line showed it should have been $40. I took this as an sign that we will have a great trip!

I wore boots and a Western Hat for the trip. I’ll wear the boots on the cruise, but I wanted a hat for Halloween down on South Beach (and ended up wearing during the cruise as well). No problem getting through security. I figure wearing what we normally wear in Texas will be a great costume in South Beach!

We spent the nearly three hour flight reading reviews of the Valor and reading about tips and “tricks”. You know, important stuff like where to find the ice cream and good pizza!

South Beach Halloween!

There are some things that are just great things to do. Corrected Scott in CostumeI’d love to be in New York for New Years Eve. If you have such a “things to do list” add Halloween in South Beach to it. I expected some wildness, but was unprepared for the sites. There was great food, great drink and of course great outfits! And even those not in costume were dressed to impress. I had my picture taken with an Angel of sorts. Maybe it was Halloween but everyone was fun and friendly. We stayed out till about 2:00am and had a blast!

Tip of the day: Get in early enough to stop and pick up drinks. It is Carnival policy that allows you to carry on one bottle of wine per person and a “reasonable” amount of cola or other non-alcoholic drinks. I recommend this. You may also want to “sneak” aboard some rum or vodka. I’ll try to talk more about this later, but I packed in my check in bags a 1/2 bottle (375ml) of Captain Morgan’s and 1/2 bottle of Absolute Vodka. I wish I had taken full bottles!

Note we did get a soda card, wife and I “shared” it. Even with both of us I do not believe it is a good value. Especially considering Carnival allows you to bring on soda. Excellent lemonade and sometimes punch is available free of charge. The water on board is obviously filtered, fresh, readily available along with ice.

Posted by: sdallnct | November 9, 2009

Vacation, Day 2 (11/1), 1st day aboard

We are doing a seven day cruise aboard the Carnival Valor. This is a big ship at 110,000 gross ton’s. We boarded the ship early to eat lunch and explore. What a beautiful ship. And big! This is by far the largest ship we have been on.

We had read a lot about the Fish and Chips place up stairs Cath Fish & Chipfrom Rosie’s, so we immediately went there.  My wife got the fish and chips which was very good.  I was trying to stay with the healthy stuff for as long as possible. so  I got the seared Ahi tuna on water melon and octopus Ahi Tuna & Octopus saladsalad. It was yummy. I also walked downstairs and got some fruit and veggies to go with it.

We had picked up some cheap travel mugs while in South Beach and they immediately were put to good use. I like them because of the lids. Lemonade was very good. I couldn’t wait to unpack and dig out the Vodka and Rum I brought.

We took a quick look around. While a big ship it is easy to get around and never felt overwhelming. Took a look at the gym (free of charge to use) and it is very nice. It appears to be set up by the same folks that set up the gyms at the nice Hyatt and nice Marriott hotel. Plenty for everyone including treadmills, elliptical and bikes. Also machine weights as well as free weights. Took a peak in the spinning room and that looked nice though all classes are an extra charge. They had posted a few free seminars such has how to maintain a flat belly and places to sign up for the per charge classes. One minor disappointment was that the gym did not provide water bottles. Usually at hotels I’ll grab a bottle or two out of the gym. My goal is to work out at five times during our eight day vacation (seven day cruise). Will see how that works out for me!

Bungy cord at workOur luggage arrived no problem and the bungee cord that others have recommended worked perfectly to keep the balcony door open.

Oddly we are three hours past departure time. They announced technical difficulties. Muster was uneventful. You do NOT need to bring your life vest with you. This was clearly announced several times. In our area one couple did bring their life vest. Looking slightly embarrassed, the man went and stood by the crew as they demonstrated the life vest and acted very dramatic as if it was just part of his job to assist. It was funny and the crew were happy to play along.

First night dinner was good. Wife and another tablemate (we were at a table of six) had a perfectly cooked flat iron steak. The other two guys got the BBQ Ribs, which looked like a lot of food! The third women got the grilled chicken which she noted was a little dry. I ordered from the SPA selection and got the Tilapia. It was cooked well and covered in a salsa. But not what I consider a typical Mexican Salsa. It could have have more taste, but was not bad at all.

Wife and I split the melted chocolate cake and talked one Melting cakeof the other other couples into into it who also loved it.  Though truth be told I ate most of the one wife and I got. This is not a “fancy” desert. Lots of chocolate and good ice cream. But it is a signature desert of sorts for Carnival and recommend everyone getting at least once.

Dress for the night was “cruise casual”. And while it specifically said no jeans, many did wear them and no one was turned away. I only saw a couple of people (not that I was counting or looking) that I thought were inappropriate. I’d say a good 50% had on Docker type pants and polo’s and the women wore equivalent. And most who where jeans wore trendy or nice jeans and nice tops. Some were in shorts and polo type shirts.

Only real disappointment was one of our tablemates. He was from New Jersey and was abrasive. He used language I’m not use to anywhere let alone a formal dinner. He also asked for a manager and used similar language with him. I never did get what he was upset about. Something about butter. Of course we had a table full of butter. Hopefully things will be better tomorrow night during elegant night and it was just a long travel day for him. (Note, a couple of nights later he mentioned they he had a little to much to drink that first day/night).

To end the evening we watched the show. Only one show tonight and I’d give it a C+. The main portion was a comedian (Percy Crews) who had a lot of energy, worked the room well and had some funny stuff. But the last part of his act was based only on toilet humor. Almost literally. He seemed to good to have to resort to that. In fact I saw several people walk out. I didn’t think it it was that bad, but it did make me curious as to his “adult” show.

We headed back to the room. We sat out on the balcony and called it an evening.

A note about our room. We had 8225 and was a perfect location. I thought the room was ok in size and plenty of storage. We brought extra hangers and glad we did. We brought the wire hangers from the dry cleaners and just left them at the end of the trip (others have reported that you can ask for all the hangers you need. So might not need to bring extras). Balcony was nice if small. In addition to the glass door, there is also a large  window. With the drapes open a lot of light is available to the room.

We couldn’t get our balcony light to come on, but this was never an issue for us, so we never said anything. We later found out (from our NJ tablemate) that the crew had disabled several of the balcony lights on purpose. This had to do with visibility from the the bridge and glare. So evidently there are several cabins where balcony lights do not work. I don’t know how to confirm this or if you are booking how you can confirm this. Like I say I never found it an issue, but it really bothered our tablemate because they didn’t tell him the reason why the light didn’t work till the end of the trip.

It is my understanding that there are no non-smoking cabins. We forgot to take Fabriz, but our cabin did not smell at all and was clean. We did not see or meet our cabin steward for a day or two, but always had everything we needed.

Speaking of smoke there were really only a couple of places we noticed it; the casino and the cigar bar. We are non-smokers but I’m not overly sensitive to it. Wife does not like it and she preferred not sitting on the smoking side on deck, but I went for some walks on that side and really didn’t notice.

The hair dryer was evidently the worse every made! Per complaints from my wife every day!  So much so, on our anniversary dinner in the Super Club, my wife had her hair done in the salon.  If you use a hair dryer, I suggest you bring your own!

Tip of the day: While the airline restricts how and/or charges for how many bags you check in, you can check as many as you want at curb side at the port. So I’d recommend checking everything you can (and giving an appropriate tip) so that you can walk the ship freely. I saw several people struggling with luggage as you are not allowed to your cabin before 1:30 pm. We boarded at 11:00 only hanging on to a back pack. First we explored the entire ship making sure to “find” every place we wanted to see, than having lunch out by the pool. Keep in mind it may take a couple of hours after departure before you get your luggage.

Posted by: sdallnct | November 9, 2009

Vacation Day 3 (11/2), day at sea!

First full day at sea. What a beautiful day! It was a little warm in the sun, but you could sit outside in the shade all day long. Just beautiful!

Wife wanted to go the shopping and excursion talks. So I went to the “Flat Belly” talk and then worked out in the gym. The talk was ok, but I ended up thinking it was a not so subtle sales pitch to buy their testing for water retention. Their lecture was mainly about detox, and while I didn’t have the testing done, my guess is that their $35 test would find something that you needed to do and they probably had “supplements” to sell you to do it.

I hit the treadmill for a 5k run. I’ll tell you, running on a treadmill on a moving boat was somewhat interesting. I’d find myself landing in a different spot on the treadmill than from where I took off. I don’t think I could have done it if the ship was really rocking. I was surprised by how busy the gym was. In fact I had to wait about five minutes for a treadmill to free up. Most of the elliptical and bikes were in use and some rather large guys were tackling the free weights.

Wife and I met back at the cabin. She mentioned the shopping lecture was the same old thing. Diamonds International…Carnival Guarantee…blah, blah…she did not stay for the excursion talk. Wife did pick up a few of the free things which will make nice gifts for daughter.

We had Burrito’s for lunch! I thought they were good. They offer a variety of fillings and I went with shrimp, black bean, lettuce, tomato, hot sauce, grilled onions, and grilled peppers on a wheat tortilla. Wife had what she called a good Bloody Mary, and I had a Bass Ale. After the Bass, I took the opportunity to crack open the Captain Morgans and mix it with Lemonade. It was really good! Better than the vodka.

Next we took our drinks and went to the Art Auction. Yes, we know all the stories of the how they are a rip off. But we have bought a few pieces on past cruises that we have enjoyed. We have also framed and hung up some of the free pieces they occasionally give. We don’t buy for investment nor do we buy anything expensive. We didn’t bid or buy this time (prices seemed higher). There was not near the amount of free art they have given in the past. But it was fun to watch.

We then went for a walk through the shops. I was surprised how few shops there were on board. Nothing exciting, but I noticed the two for $20 t-shirts didn’t seem like a terrible deal.

We than decided a nap would be good and may carry us through till we needed to get ready for elegant night. Carnival no longer does formal nights but calls them “elegant” nights. In reality I don’t know how different it really is, as they never seemed to enforce things on formal nights anyway. I’m very curious as to how people will dress. We also have the Captains reception tonight.

We never made the Captains Reception, though we did have a brief talk with Cruise Director Big Tex. And I was glad I saw him on day one in a suit and his boots. Since tonight was formal night (cruise elegant) I decided I’d go in my boots as well.

There is a lot of discussion about dress policy and such. Some don’t like having to dress up, while others enjoy the experience. Of course both groups think the other infringes on their comfort levels. I admit to falling into the camp of liking to dress up. Yes I dress up at home for meetings, presentations, interviews, and such. I was pleasantly surprised that most people were dressed formal. Without taking a a full roll call, I’d estimate that at least 60% to maybe 70% had suits/sport coats and ties. I even saw more tuxedos than I had imagined I would. I wore a dark suit with black tie and did not seem over dressed at all. Yes I saw one person in jeans but even they had a dress shirt and tie. There were a few people in dress pants and dress shirt with no tie or jacket.  I saw no one turned away, but then I was watching all that close or trying to count. I was just trying to make a general note for future reference. I was not at all judging anyone on what they wore. I just wanted to get a feel. I do this for business meetings as well. I dress a little nicer than I think is needed the first day and than evaluate for the future.

LobsterDinner on the 1st elegant night was of course lobster.   While the lobster was good it certainly was not great. How can it be with preparing that many and sitting out for that long? Truth be told the Lobster was served with lightly grilled large plump shrimp that were better in every way to the lobster. In fact, I ordered a second lobster just so I could get additional shrimp. Wife ordered the lobster and also prime rib. I had a bit and was very tender with an excellent horse radish sauce. Yes, ate way to much tonight.

The show Nightclub Express was energetic if a little long. I so far have enjoyed the male lead singer, Trent Webb voice the best. Since I graded last nights show, I’ll give this one a B-. I’d probably go with the solid B if not for the annoying talking couch (don’t ask).

We were planning on seeing Percy Crews for the adult show, but decided to call it a night. Which was fine with me as wife found him funnier than I did.

Tomorrow? Costa Maya!

Tip of the day: The lightly grilled shrimp that comes with the lobster is some of the best I have had. Even if your not into lobster, you might get it for the shrimp alone and give the lobster to a tablemate. I’m sure someone will take it off your hands!

Posted by: sdallnct | November 9, 2009

Vacation Day 4 (11/3), Costa Maya!

It must have rained at some point as the balcony was all wet. Scott Costa Mayo Must not have been very hard or long as my gym clothing I left outside to dry was dry and we had left the balcony door open all night and was not wet.

We did go into Costa Maya. But only to walk the shops and have a beer off the ship. We also wanted to pick up our free charm bracelet as we think this will be nice for daughter. We also bought the $5.00 charm that represents Costa Maya. Evidently there is a different charm for each port at Diamonds International that is free. At this initial port the bracelet itself is free and $5.00 for the charm. This bracelet is inexpensive and probably not worth doing anything special to get. But if your going into port anyway and have a youngster at home, it might be nice.

It wasn’t overly hot in Costa Maya, but very humid. In the shade with a breeze was nice. We just walked the pier from and back to the ship, it really isn’t that long. They have a nice looking pool available with swim up bar. So you might consider wearing a swim suit as shorts and taking a towel in case you decide to partake!

We Turkey Sandwich w-veggies returned to the ship for lunch around 1:00pm. I had a “healthy” lunch from the deli that included a Turkey sandwich on wheat bread veggies and grabbed fruit and veggies from Rosie’s. I say “healthy” as I couldn’t resist the cheese cake and some low fat soft serve yogurt for desert!

Wife napped and I hit the gym. Somewhat interestingly it appeared some of the crew had time off while we were in port as they were the vast majority present at the gym.

Show for the late dinner seating was at 7:00 pm. Showtime is basically two acts, a juggler and comedian. Cruise Director Big Tex did a short dancing routine which seemed rather obvious to fill time. Could have done without the juggler though was entertaining. I enjoyed this comedian (Jim Brick) much better and will make more of an effort to catch his adult midnight show tomorrow night. Oh, since I rated the other shows, I’d give this one a B- mainly being carried by the Jim Brick.

Dinner was uneventful. Though the staff did dance which was fun. For dinner I got the Mahi Mahi which is available every night. It was good, but watch out for the small bones! Wife got the pasta which she thought was ok, but not great as the sauce was to rich for her.

After dinner we made a short tour of the clubs/bars. Paris Hot was pretty full and music not really our style. They had a Karaoke contest going on in the Eagles Lounge called Carnival Legends. We watched a few. It was fun for a bit, but after a few “bad” singers it did get old. They are brave for trying and I give them credit. We moved over to the piano bar. Piano guy was better at the piano than at singing. Well let me say I didn’t like his voice. Others may have liked. But it just rubbed me wrong. We had a couple of drinks. We stopped for a bit at Rockin The Promenade at the Casino Bar. That was fun and entertaining.

Under our door was a confirmation for the Super Club reservation we made for tomorrow. A little more time on our balcony and called it a night. Tomorrow? Belize!

Tip of the day: Already have net withdraw? As soon as you get into port there is a little bar that is a shack looking place. You can pick up free WiFi there.

Posted by: sdallnct | November 9, 2009

Vacation day 5 (11/4), Belize City!

During the night it rained so we must have gone through Belize in the morninga storm cell. It was enough to wake me up which was a good thing. I shut the balcony door and pulled in my gym clothing I had out there to dry. The morning was overcast, but with the breeze felt cool and nice. Also noticed two other ships in port with us, a RCL and HAL.

We had no excursions planed so we woke at our  leisure and had breakfast. I realize I have commented on lunches and dinners but not breakfast. Breakfast was always the the typical fare (eggs, fruit and such) at Rosie’s. We have not yet made breakfast in the main dinning room. I thought the scrambled eggs at the buffet were good, not dried out, but soft and yummy. For those concerned, they also do made to order omelets, thought in my opinion they put to much stuff in them. But they are good, I just got in the habit of always asking for “light” fillings.

We did go into Belize. But only to get the free stuff for our daughter and walk around. We ended up with a t-shirt for son as well. Belize is all about the excursions. If you don’t have an excursion, this might be a port to skip. I didn’t think prices were all that great or there was anything really unique. There were a couple of places to grab a beer or margarita. We only stayed in port an hour or so before heading back. One word of warning; at the time we were in port there were two other cruise ships there. I stopped one of the cruise guys and asked how my ships they have in at once. He said the max they can have is seven and they have had that many before! I thought three brought a crowded. If there are more than three ships in port I would not go ashore unless you were doing an excursion. I can only imagine how packed every shop would be.

Back aboard weTomatos & Cheese grabbed lunch. I had the seared tuna and octopus salad again from the Fish and Chips place. I also grabbed some very good tomatoes  with mozzarella, fruit and veggies from Rosie’s. So far my favorite food eaten is the seared tuna from Fish and Chips and the shrimp that came with the lobster in the main dining room last night.

Having noted my favorite food so far, tonight we do eat at the Super Club for our anniversary meal. Wife is already planning on the surf and turf, I’m still deciding. I’m thinking just “turf”. but will see.

After a short nap, I hit the gym while wife had her hair done in the salon. Again I was surprised at how busy the gym was. Also as the we left port, there were several “sharp” turns needed. This made running on the treadmill interesting, but not really an issue.

I’m having trouble coming up with what to say about dinner at the Supper Club. Fabulous just doesn’t seem to do it justice. I also say that Sushi my overall favorite meal ever (not just favorite thing eaten, but entire meal, the experience, presentation, etc) has been Email’s Las Vegas. In total experience, this may have surpassed that. Wife did get the surf and turf and I got the Lobster lobster. This was significantly better than the lobster from the main dining room. Not only in size, but in taste and how it was cooked. Here the lobster was grilled and it had a subtle smokiness to it that added but did not overpower the delicate full taste. And I’m not sure the lobster was the best think I ate there! The escargot was very good, and instead of salad I got the sushi which was excellent. Finally there was the desert. While my wife smartly stuck to the fruit, I just had to get the Chocolate Tart chocolate tart. The presentation was only surpassed by the flavor.

Note that this is known as a steak restaurant. I had a bite of my wife’s file mignon, which was incredibly tender. I very seriously thought of getting the NY Strip which is my favorite steak  and one I cook at home with some regularity. But I just didn’t want to stuff myself. Keep in mind that stuffing oneself takes on a different definition on a cruise ship! All steak in the Super Club is US certified Prime. And a presentation by one of the chef’s along with my wife’s steak left little doubt this to be the case.

Service at the Super Club was again at another level. Without being intrusive we were checked on several times including by the head chef who took the time to describe how the lobster was cooked when I asked. The Super Club is $30 per person. This is no doubt worth it. Tip is included in this $30 per person charge, so I chose not to tip additional. I later felt slightly guilty at this. If you include the free chef’s tastings of a couple of items (we had an small extra appetizer each and extra desert), I would venture to guess this was a $100-$150 meal per person! Perhaps more.

After dinner we looked found many of our photos and “threw out” the one’s we knew we did not want. Since we wanted to see photos coming up, we did not buy the two we did like at this time. We will wait and compare to future pictures and/or buy all once.

The show was good. Arguably the best so far. I suppose that depends if you are into magicians (Rand Woodbury). The show was more than magic combining a fun attitude and some comedy with more traditional mysterious big tricks. I very much enjoyed it and would rate it a solid B. One or two more tricks and a little faster pace and I would have given an A.

We had planned to see the midnight adult show and went to the Eagles Lounge at 11:40. It was already standing room only. We hoped some of the people left over from the karaoke would depart, but it appeared all were staying for the late show. Having had a full day, we decided not to stand and headed back to room for a night cap and look forward to Cozumel tomorrow!

A quick note about tenders. If you are at a port where you need atender, you must have a tender ticket (at least early on, in port). If you are on a Carnival excursion, this is your tender ticket so just listen for the announcement. If you are on a private excursion or no excursion, then you must get a ticket. To do so you go to the designated area with your entire party, get a separate ticket for each of your party and wait there till your ticket number is called. This went relatively quickly. Your Capers will tell you where to go to get a tender ticket if needed.

Tip of the day: Do not miss the Super Club. Some may think with the good food in the main dinning room and other great selections on board it is not worth it. Well it is! Even if you were disciplined enough to only eat half of everything they brought you, it would easily be worth the cost.

Bonus Tip of the day: Check your camera for a “close up” mode. Usually identified by a flower. I did not realize my camera had this (or maybe I forget it did) until after taking a bunch of close up.

Double Bonus Tip of the day: If you find the made to order omelet guys busy in Rosie’s there is also a guy out by the pool that makes them. He was rarely busy (least when I went) and I thought he made a better omelet then the in door guys. He also continued making omelet’s later in the morning. At least once I saw him still doing it at 11:00 am.

Posted by: sdallnct | November 9, 2009

Vacation day 6 (11/5), Cozumel!

We arrived to an overcast day in Cozumel. We had been to Coming off in Cozamel Cozumel on previous cruises. This time they dropped us off at a different location and it was a good three+ miles to downtown. At this drop off spot was the usual shopping we have observed everywhere else. Again we took advantage of the free charm and did some quick looking around before heading downtown.

We Jimmy's placestarted to walk and then decided a taxi was a better Made at your table!idea. Again we walked and shopped, and just before the rains came we settled in at  Margaretville. Sure touristy, but always fins…err always fun! Also free internet access. I do recommend the made to order at your table guacamole (tip suggested).  And don’t leave without at least one It's 5 O'clock Margarita!

We tried to wait out the rain, but it didn’t Heavy Rains!seem to be slowing down. So we put on our rain ponchos and hailed a taxi back to our ship. Taxi was $7.00 each way. On board we had lunch, wife took a nap and I relaxed and got caught up with the blogging and hit the gym. Tonight  is the second Cruise Elegant night.

Dinner in the main dinning room was a bit disappointing. One of my least favorite so far. Though maybe after last nights Super Club, the comparison wasn’t fair. Oh the escargot was excellent (I got a 2nd order instead of a salad). But the shrimp was disappointing. A pleasant surprise was the staff singing wife and I “Happy Anniversary” and providing a yummy piece of chocolate cake with a candle. Again dancing by the staff.

The after dinner show, Far From Over, was the best by far. This was the Valor singers and dancers at their best. The show was energetic, fast paced, creative and well done. No doubt I’d have to give this one an A. This show is fun and enjoyable for adults who will recognize all the 80’s music and fast paced enough to keep the kids entertained. There was a group of women behind us trying to play “name that song/artist” with all the 80’s music. I had to help them out on a few. Not sure if that showed my knowledge or age.

Weather took a turn for the worse. It stopped raining, but very windy and get the feeling it is slowing us down. This will be the 2nd night we won’t be able to sleep with the balcony door open. We have enjoyed listening to the ocean as we sleep.

With Grand Cayman in the morning, we went to bed right after the show. We are swimming with the stingrays tomorrow. We booked outside the cruise ship, based on recommendations over at Cruise Critic.

Tip of the day: Be sure and pack some inexpensive packable rain poncho’s. Walmart has the really cheap one’s in the camping section and some $6.00 one’s in the women’s section (I also got a note/comment from someone that you can pick poncho’s up at the Dollar Stores). These can come in handy at any travel destination!

Posted by: sdallnct | November 9, 2009

Vacation day 7 (11/6), Grand Cayman!

High winds (announced at 30+ MPR) had us into Grand Cayman nearly two hours late. This was troubling as our only excursion we planned the entire trip was to swim with the Stingrays that we booked privately. To the credit of Valor’s crew and I’m sure permission from Carnival, they pushed back our departure time right at an hour and half. I wish they would have pushed it back a full two hours, but with the continued forecast of high winds I suppose it was understandable.

Since we booked a private tour, we were required to wait in the Ivanhoe Theater to get a tender number. Again credit goes to the Valor staff as being late into port most everyone was up and wanting to get off the ship. Yet getting a number, than to the tender and on the island was quick and easy (once we finally did drop anchor).

Being late into port we had no time to walk around or look around. Even with the change in departure getting in a excursion would be tight. We booked our excursion through Sting Ray Sailings ( I cannot say enough about this husband and wife team. My wife was hesitant to book outside the ship, but I had read such good things about this company I really wanted to. However, this was one of those things we just didn’t get to. So on Sunday, while delayed in Miami port, I had wife call them thinking there would be no answer and we would have to book through Carnival. To my wife’s surprise, “Mrs. Chip” answered, they had room and e-mailed us all information needed (thank you iPhone). This sold my wife!

In addition, for me, part of the excursion is the trip itself.  I didn’t want to be on some double decker “boat bus”. Sting Ray Sailings utilizes a beautiful catamaran that is owner operated (Chip). They have a strict policy on limiting the number of guests. This made for a friendly, fun experience. We met others, we talked to Chip and his partner (who are both native to the island) and enjoyed the ride immensely.

A short bus ride (about 15 minutes) and we boarded the beautiful Far-Tortuga. Then about a 40 minute sale to the sandbar where the stingrays are. There were several other boats there (today only one cruise ship was in port, I can only image how crowded it would be with multiple ships) and Chip was masterful in finding a place to anchor that was safe (was getting very windy) and gave everyone room to move.

The stingrays Cathy Stingray 1 are friendly and only looking for food. Cathy Stingray 2 However they are wild animals and one “sucked” on the hip of one of the young ladies in our group. The result was a rather large hickey. She chose to go back to the boat. I did swim with the rays and handled one a bit. The bodies of the stingrays are slimy and they are very friendly looking for food. But watch out for their tails. They are very rough. The waters were rough, I would say about 4-6 foot swells. Very  noticeable, but manageable. I grew tired of not the rays but of the people who either initially freaked out by the friendly rays  or could not handle the waves and just bounced off each other despite only being in a few feet of water. I retreated to the comfort of the Far-Tortuga and sat on the edge of the boat while taking a few pictured. I did not take a water proof camera or protective bag. I’ll talk more about camera’s and such later perhaps. But I was able to get a few nice pictures from the boat and relaxed.

The rays are very friendly and come right up to you looking for food. If you are freaked a little, just put your hands to your side and hold still. They will move on quickly to someone else to look for food. Also until you get use to them, stay away from the floating buckets that hold the food, again until you get use to them. I did not feed any, but wife did. The rays have no teeth and sort of suck the food out of your hand.

As mentioned, I found the sandbar to be rather crowded. I could only imagine how it would be with multiple ships in port. SandbarBut Chip did explain that normally the excursions are naturally staggered, but with the ship in port later than normal everyone came here here first so it was crowded. But there were plenty of stingrays to go around. This picture gives you and idea of the people, waves and such. Chip is in the lower part of the picture (hope he doesn’t mind me using it).

After about 35 minutes with the rays, we all got back on board and Chip took us less than five minutes away to the edge of a reef for a little snorkeling. If anything the swells were picking up and Chip warned that this was not a good time to learn to snorkel. That if you are moderately experienced snorkeler or very strong swimmer you should be fine. Other wise, staying on the boat would probably be best.  This was just due to the weather today! Normally he says it is a non-issue. This scared most of our group into staying on board. My wife really wanted to snorkel but she was a little concerned with Chips warning. When I saw most staying on board I told my wife to go for it and I’d go with (wife has snorkeled many times, and I felt I was strong enough swimmer to handle the waves and help her if needed.) StingRay Sailings provides everything you need for snorkeling including snorkel vests which we did not use, but do recommend if you have any concerns at all. The current was very, very strong in spots (again due to the weather) but Chip had positioned us so that worse case the current pushed us back towards the boat. The water was clear and it took me quite a bit of effort against the current to get over the first, initial reef. And the minute I stopped kicking the current would push me back. Wife did not venture that far and I stayed fairly close to her most of the time. Only a few of us were in the water. Chip was in as well and helped keep an eye on everyone including one of the kids that gave it a go with their dad. I think only four or five of the 16-18 people gave this a go which made for a wide open experience. No other boats were anchored nearby for this snorkeling.

The snorkeling was very good. As you got closer to the reef you could see a great variety of fish. Many were hiding or staying close to reef and sort riding the currents. This was an enjoyable experience. After snorkeling we sailed back. With sails and motor Chip was really flying. We got back in, in about half the time it took us to get out there.  He also opened the “bar” which amounted to grabbing a beer out of a cooler which was just awesome. I had a local, Caybrew beer that was good.

Despite all the cheap t-shirts available everywhere, the only t-shirt I bought for myself the entire trip was from this excursion. Not only a cool shirt, but a reminder of a great time.

There is a restroom on board. So if you want you can bring a change of clothing. Though I just let my swimsuit air dry on me. I did bring an extra shirt so that after I got out of the water I could put one on, and let that dry me off, and then I changed into the dry one.

I feel I need to say a few words about kids on this excursion. There was one extended family on board and a couple of kids were very small though all could walk. There were about six kids in this group and one or two that were clearly not having a good time. Unfortunately on a boat like this, there is really is no where to go or nothing for them to be distracted. And for safety concerns they shouldn’t be moving about. As I mentioned earlier, to me much of the fun of the excursion is in feeling the wind of an open vessel. I could see this being fun for them for the first 10 minutes, but then getting board. On the way back to shore one of the small one’s just was having a hissy fit from hell. Nothing the parents or grandparents could do would appease him. This went on for a good 10 minutes, when it appeared to me that the kid was hungry, but the parents had no food or had ran out. Luckily I had brought some snacks as I thought wife or I may need something. My wife’s dear friend had sent a fruit basket and wine for our anniversary, so before leaving the Valor I had loaded up a large zip lock back with a banana, apple, couple of pears, crackers and some dried fruit mix and put in my backpack.  I offered the entire bag to the parents who I’m sure were apprehensive of taking food from a stranger. But I think they put two and two together and realized we were all on Valor and took the bag, letting the small boy who was still screaming and pitching a fit take a look. He took an apple and this immediately put him at ease. Some of the other kids took the banana, crackers and one of the mothers a pear. I’m sure the late arrival into Grand Cayman and thus later time of the excursion threw everyone off. I’m just glad I had something that helped. However, I’m not sure this is an excursion for the small kids. There is really no where to go, and nothing to entertain the small one’s. Or if you do bring small kids you might want to make sure and have their portable games or games on your iPhone or whatever so they can be entertained. And of course have plenty of healthy snacks. Chip did offer up some fresh fruit, but again this is not the type of vessel that would have a galley. I would consider anything that Chip was to off in the way of food or drink as a very nice bonus.

Last tender back was at 4:45 and I think we were on one about 4:30. NOTE: THIS IS LATER THAN NORMAL AS IT WAS ADJUSTED TO OUR LATE ARRIVAL. Be sure and listen for tender times and watch the Capers for normal times. Wife wanted a nap before dinner so I hit the gym. I think the added food and deserts was catching up as I had a rougher time than normal to finish my 5k. I managed to finish and headed back to shower for dinner.

They had a past guest reception with free drinks from 5:00-5:45, but because we got back from the island so late, and wife really wanted a nap, we did not make it.

The show tonight was again a 7:00pm show for the late dinner seating. Another comedian (Hank McGauley) who I only thought was mildly funny at best. It was the worse show we saw so far. I’d give it a D. He had to look at his notes the entire time. At first I thought it was part of the routine, but soon realized, it was not.  Also, while some of the comedians were better than others, I wish they would compare notes. Every one of them had in their routine about raising kids now verse when they were kids. I’m not overly PC but I got a little tired of how beating kids “back in the day” was good and maybe we need more of that now. We had a drink at the casino bar and then off to dinner. While we were getting ready for dinner I had opened a bottle of wine in our cabin and just carried it to the table to finish off. Our waiter was happy to keep it cool and pour for us. I ended up having the SPA salmon which was actually very good. I had the tiramisu for desert which was yummy.

We walked around a little, but with the swimming and rushed day, we called it an evening. Even with the high winds we left the balcony door open.

Tip of the day: You can carry any type of food food off the ship and into port. “We” took food and snacks off the ship. It is my understand you cannot bring the fresh stuff back aboard. I had even considered making sandwiches and bringing them (they have ham, cheese and bread at breakfast), but figured the fruits and crackers would be enough. And it was. Obviously since you can’t bring back don’t take so much as to waste, but a few things can be nice if you need a little something till you get back to the ship.

UPDATE: Note about my tip of the day: I have received two comments/emails that it is against the law/ship policy/the bible to remove food from the ship and take into port. Someone mentioned that “they” use dogs and you could be fined “or worse” for taking food off the ship. While I hardly think they would do anything other than make you throw it away or take it back to your cabin, I want to be fair in my reporting and certainly don’t want to report inaccurate information.

I have been on about 10 cruises and regularly have taken things off the ship. We have never been searched, had dogs sniff  us or had food police check us out while getting off the ship and going into port. I honestly do not recall ever reading warnings in the CAPERS or hearing about such things on shopping or excursion talks on board. However, I do recommend and always suggest you check for yourself and make an informed decision.

We have been searched and there have been trash cans near by when returning to the ship. And I have had to toss a few small things when getting back on the ship. But again, I’ve never had or observed an issue on taking things off the ship.

I didn’t think I needed to put a disclaimer in my blog, however I guess I will. I’m reporting what we did and our experiences. I’m not trying to cite policy, laws or tell you what we did is always the best for everyone every time. Everyone should have the responsibility and accountability to do what is right for them and of course per local laws and ship policy.

Blogging is new to me. I can see how my wording may have made it sound like I was stating policy. I’ll try to be more careful with that and clean up as I note it.

I’d also like to thank those that gave honest feedback and noted some different experiences than I have/did. I’ve tried to incorporate some of them so that it can be a reference of sort. Not the end all be all of course, but just a point of reference.

Seas really kicking up. We were again unable to sleep the with the balcony door open. The Captain announced swells of 10-12 feet early in the morning, but as the day went on they clearly got bigger. I’d say maybe double that up to 20 foot swells. You could tell they were big as very regularly the Valor (which is a large ship) would shutter from the jolts. Many remarked that they felt uneasy hearing the slight creaking of the ship.

I have been on about 10 cruises. On the first six or seven I always got sick on the third day. Always. After talking to my Dr. he suggested taking the non-drowsy Dramamine starting the day before the cruise and every day regardless of how I felt. Since doing this regiment the last three or four cruises I have never been sick or even felt a hit of the being nauseous. While Dramamine is available over the counter without a prescription, I would still recommend you checking with your Dr. Some may recommend the patch or something else. But even with the ship really rocking, I never felt bad. If anything, I enjoyed watching the rough waves.

As the waves got so big they had to close the main pool. This had the result Lunchof more kids running around on deck. So wife and I ventured to the adult pool area to eat our lunch (had a very good fish and some fruit/veggies). While no kids, I didn’t like this area as well as it felt more confined to me and of course no big screen. One cool thing is as it started raining, we saw the overhead roof close so those in the adult pool (it stayed open) could still swim and not be in the rain. The overhead roof has glass panels so it didn’t effect the sun coming in and took only a minute or two to close.Chocolate

Today one full buffet line was devoted to chocolate! Well there goes all my running for the week! They had chocolate everything!  Chocolate cake, chocolate cheese cake, chocolate shakes, fresh dipped chocolate fruit, oh me oh my!

We took one last look at the photos. One word of warning about the pictures. If you find some early in the cruise you want, go ahead and buy them. We found one we wanted early but thought we would wait and buy all we wanted at the end of the cruise. Problem is they are constantly moving the pictures and end up putting some of the older one’s from the beginning of the cruise in large stacks that take forever to go through. We ended up with one pictured and frame for about $18.00 (the studio type pictures are $21.99 and the Captaingetting off the ship at ports are $11.99 I believe).

Both wife and I attended the debark talk. In addition the Captain had a few words to say.  He passed out some awards to the crew (employee of the month I believe) I do recommend this. I think we last cruised three years ago and things have changed. I won’t go over everything, but basically there are four ways to get off the ship;

  1. With an excursion in Miami
  2. Express check out where you pay an additional $20 per bag and Carnival takes your bags and checks them in with your air carrier so you won’t see them again till you land at your final destination. You have to sign up for this by midnight FRIDAY, but you keep your bags till Saturday night.
  3. “Carry off”. This is where you walk off the ship where you carry every bag yourself. This is the fastest way to get off the ship, but no doubt the hardest. There are no carts or anyone to help you. You must physically hand carry every bag you have.
  4. “Regular”. This where you receive luggage tags in your room on Saturday, tag your luggage and leave them in the hall Saturday night. You then retrieve your bags in the port terminal to go through customs and take a shuttle, taxi or whatever to the airport.

Dinner was nice. I brought down the Champagne I had bought for wife and I for our anniversary to the table to share with everyone. Again service was excellent. I had forgotten I was going to bring the Champaign down and put it on ice in our room only 30 minutes or so before dinner. When I told our wonderful waiter that I wanted this shared with everyone, he felt the bottle and said “let me get you a chilled one” and swapped the bottles out. This was very nice of him.

There was singing and dancing again by the staff. I really appreciate this effort and I’m sure a lot of work goes into it. But in my opinion they over did it. I think they did this four times witch for me, once or twice is enough. I do suppose it is an entertainment for the kids.

We did not attend the after dinner show. It was the Legends show which is the passenger winners from the karaoke contests earlier in the week. I’m sure there were some good sings and I guess it would be fun to see your fellow passengers up there. But I don’t watch reality shows on TV because I’d rather watch professionals. Same with this show. Wife gambled a little bit and I watched some college football in the Bronx bar and used my last few drink coupons.

We went back to our room to finish packing. We actually had started packing Wednesday night, loading up all our dirty clothing into our carry on as it appeared we would not need to do laundry. This helped speed packing up. Wife and I both did double and triple checks to be sure we were not leaving anything behind and called it a night.

Tip of the day: If you have absolutely anything you want to clear through guest services, this is the day/evening to do it. It will be a zoo tomorrow morning.

Posted by: sdallnct | November 1, 2009

Vacation day 9 (11/8), travel home day :(

What a wonderful week! It was just fantastic! Sure there are some “wish list” things I would change (I might comment on that somewhere else) but absolutely nothing I would complain about.

Weather in Miami was windy, Miami but nothing like the previous two days at sea. Being in port wife checked her iPhone and saw that the hurricane was now near Cozumel! We had managed to stay ahead of it. There were already talks that next weeks itinerary was being changed due to the hurricane. At the time we left the ship, I only heard that from other passengers.

We did the carry off and we did get off the ship quickly. It did require some muscle to do it. I had a backpack and pulled our Scott Miami large rolling duffel and large rolling suitcase, while wife had her purse and our two carryon’s. Personally, I would recommend booking an early afternoon flight and just doing regular or express check out. It wasn’t terribly doing the carry off, but if you got big or heavy stuff, it is certainly work.

We took a shuttle from the port to the airport ($9.00 per person, negotiable) and by the time we go through security and all, we were still three hours before our flight. Ah well. It put wife at ease. We ended up talking to another couple on the Valor, compared experiences and previous cruises.

So there you have it. A daily blog/review/summary of our trip. I’m not sure what else I’ll do here. I think I’ll eventually add some areas to talk more about certain topics such as the ship, food/entertainment, healthy eating/working out, etc. Will see!

Posted by: sdallnct | October 29, 2009

Scott & Cathy 20 Year Anniversary Cruise.

As as way to try out this whole “blogging” thing, I thought it would be fun to start it with our Anniversary Cruise. I’ll be trying to keep up with blogging while on the cruise by using Windows Live offline. My hope is to be able to continue to update, add photos, etc then upload it to the blog when I get home. Well that is the plan anyway. We all know about plans, it is usually the execution that trips us up!

We head to Miami Saturday 10/31. Yes that means Halloween in South Beach! And our cruise departs Sunday 11/1. Yes again! That means we will be on our cruise during our actual anniversary of 11/4.