OK, I'm finally getting around to posting about our cruise. I put pictures up on Facebook already, but don't worry, I'll include a few here too. :)
Saturday was a little difficult for me to leave the kids. The previous times we left for week long holidays we left really early while they were still sleeping, which was a lot easier. This time, it was Jacob's nap time when we had to leave, so I put him down for a nap and we left. I have to admit to being a bit teary eyed. But once we were gone I was fine. Once we're actually on our holiday, Nathan always misses the kids more than I do - probably because I appreciate the break so much more!
Our flights were very smooth. All our airport connections served to remind us just how bad our City airport is - the restaurant selection especially leaves much to be desired! Our first flight was slightly delayed so we thought we'd be pretty rushed to catch our connecting one, if it was going to be ontime. And we checked the boards and sure enough it was on time - so we quickly went to Domino's and wolfed down some personal sized pizzas, raced to the bathrooms - only to find out that our flight was delayed by an hour.
Our hotel in Tampa was excellent! We stayed at the Mainsail Suites - I managed to get it at a steal of $100! The week before we left the price had gone up to $250, so yeah, good deal! It had a 24hr airport shuttle and an amazing "continental" breakfast, with custom-order omelettes and everything.
Sunday morning after our delicious breakfast we took the shuttle back to the airport and caught a taxi from there to the port. (Our hotel was the opposite direction from the airport so it would've been more expensive to take a taxi directly from there, so we took the free shuttle back to the airport first - yes, I am Mennonite:).
Tampa is a pretty small port - our ship (Carnival Legend) was the only one leaving that day. It took approximately 30 - 45 mins to go through the line to get onboard the ship. We tried requesting a complimentary room upgrade (hey - the worst they can say is "no" right?!), but all the rooms in the ship were booked. The ship can hold over 2600 people, this time it was 2200 (depends how many people are in each cabin).
Last time we cruised with Royal Caribbean and we were expecting a lot more young people on this ship due to Carnival's "party ship" reputation. However, it was the exact opposite! I'd say on our RC ship approx 65% of the guests were seniors, on this ship it was probably closer to 85%! On one of the tours we took we were literally the only non-seniors on the bus! That's ok though - we're not partyers anyway so it was just fine with us. We spoke to one couple and found out this was their 23rd cruise - crazy!
Anyway, this time we had booked a balcony room and we are so glad we did - it was wonderful! The room itself was bigger, we had a huge balcony (more than 12'x5' I'm sure), and the room simply felt large because of the beautiful large patio doors looking out to the ocean! Instead of waking up to pitch darkness (like our previous cruise with the interior room we had - no window!) and having no idea what time it was - we could now wake up to the site of the ocean flowing past our window. Yes we left the curtains open - who's gonna look in? Here's a picture of our room (I know - forgot to open the shades!) and Nathan on our balcony.
Before we left port in Tampa everyone had to participate in the mandatory emergency procedure drill. After the ship set sail we explored the boat, ate dinner (ribs!) at the main dining room - Truffles, followed by a short welcome aboard show in the theatre - Follies Lounge.
The ship had 2 restaurants. There was the big buffet restaurant (The Unicorn Cafe) where you could eat at every meal if you wished, plus it had pizza and ice cream available 24/7, burgers and hotdogs poolside at lunchtime. It was up on Deck 9 with the pools - one loud pool (music blaring so loud you can hardly talk to each other) and one quieter pool (that's the one we hung out at:), and a kids one and waterslide. The main dining room was called Truffles and you could also eat every meal there if you wished, at certain set times. It was located on Deck 3 along with the stores, some lounges and the upper level of the theatre. We ate most breakfasts and suppers at Truffles and most lunches at the buffet.
For dinner they had a 6:00 seating, an 8:30 seating as well as Open Dining. We chose Open Dining which meant we could simply show up for dinner any time between 5:45 and 9:30 - pretty much like a restaurant. They always ask if you're willing to sit with someone - and we always said no. :) We really like the waiter we had the first night - Clive and his assistant Made (Maddy), so after that we always asked to be seated in their section. We ended up sitting at one of the same 2 tables every time. Every night the dining room staff put on a bit of a show - singing and dancing to a popular song. The last night they sang "Leaving on a fun ship" - a variation of Leaving on a Jet Plane of course!
Monday was an at sea day (no stopping at any ports of call). We had a great time exploring the ship and lying out in the sun ondeck. We had dinner at Truffles Restaurant. I had strawberry bisque for an appetizer (delicious!!) and for the main course I tried duck but it was gross, so they brought me chicken instead. Nathan had lobster tail. I had Warm Chocolate Melting Cake with ice cream for dessert - hmmmmm! The show in the evening was called "Jazz Hot" performed by the Legend's singers and dancers.
Tuesday was our first port of call - Grand Cayman! It's too shallow for the cruise ships to dock at the pier so we had to tender (take a smaller boat from the ship to the pier) in for our tour. We took the Best of Cayman Island Tour. This included touring the city with a stop and tour of the Turtle Farm. This was actually extremely interesting - we learned all sorts of neat things about them. Our tour guide was really pumped about turtles! People can actually control the sex of the turtles by keeping the eggs at specific temperatures. If the eggs are kept hot they will become females, if they are kept cold they will become males (or the other way around, I can't remember!), so they keep them at the middle temperature so that it ends up being a 50/50 split. Approx 10% of the turtles are for consumption, 20% for conservation (they release them back into the ocean) and 70% for reproduction. I even held a small turtle! The underside of the turtle was not as slimy as I expected it to be - but when it would move it's arms/legs, not only would those parts touch me, but I could feel it moving underneath it's "belly" - and that was kinda gross! After the turtles we went to the town called "Hell", named for the black coral formations that apparently look like hell. After our excursion we went back on the ship for lunch (burgers, chicken fingers, fries, pizza, ice cream cones!), lying around by the pool on the Lido Deck (9), dinner at Truffles and a show (a comedian) in Follies Lounge.
Wednesday we stopped in Cozumel, Mexico. We went on a zipline excursion!!! This was by far my favourite thing that we did on our cruise. It was soooo fun. The zipline was done using manmade towers - next time I'd like to zipline over the jungle instead - I bet that would be even better! After ziplining we went back to the ship for lunch, changed into swimwear, went back out to Cozumel to do some shopping, then went back aboard to swim and sunbathe. Later on we had dinner at Truffles (Nathan had steak, I had pork chop), we went back to our room and watched Law & Order, then we went to a show - it was a balancing act which is really quite amazing in itself, nevermind doing it on a moving ship!
Thursday our port of call was Belize City. We had to anchor offshore again and take a tender in - this time it was at least a 15 or 20 min boat ride - I think they said we were about 5 miles offshore. We took a City Tour - which is probably hit and miss depending on who you happen to get as your tourguide. We had 2 women tour guides - the first one was very hard to understand due to her accent being really thick, but the 2nd one was better. The city is a very poor city. The nice area is like a lower middle class area here. One thing that was neat - she was describing the different people that lived in Belize and all of a sudden she started talking about the Mennonites that lived there! There were two different groups of Mennonites - one very conservative (still using horse and buggy, etc), and the other more "liberal" - many of whom worked in construction and other trades. I wish I would've caught that on video tape! After our tour we did a little shopping, took the tender back to the ship, had lunch and then went out and sunbathed by the pool again. Dinner that night was also at Truffles where Nathan had steak and I had pork chop. For the show that night there was a juggling comedian - it was probably the best show!
Friday was our last port of call - Isla Roatan off the coast of Honduras. This was probably the most beautiful place we went. We had a beach day - which was quite the rip off price-wise, but it was very relaxing and we enjoyed a 20 minute drive of gorgeous scenery to get there. It was a private beach called Tabyana Beach - and for only $36 per person we got a ride there and back, the use of loungers and complimentary water, lemonade and iced tea. Snorkeling and the lunch buffet was extra! You'd think that would be included for $36. Oh well. We left at 12:30, shopped a bit (though there wasn't many options - apparently it's a pretty new port of call) and went back to the cruise ship for a free lunch, followed by more lying out in the sun! For dinner that night we went to The Golden Fleece - a classy steakhouse onboard (you had to pay extra) the ship. We both had steak of course! After dinner we took in another show - the Legend singers and dancers performed again and it was excellent!
Saturday was another at sea day. This was our only day of not great weather. It was extremely windy, clousy and therefore rather chilly. We spent most of the day in our cabin (thankful for the balcony!) where we read, watched a movie and napped. We went to Truffles for our last dinner - we both had ribs. I wasn't feeling overly well - I was a bit seasick from the bad weather but hadn't noticed due to all the lying around we did. I took one of their seasick pills and by the time supper was over I felt great again. Nathan's dad lived in India for 3 years before he got married and our waiter was from India, so we chatted with him a bit about that. The crew members onboard sign up for 6 to 8 month contracts - they literally work 24/7 for months on end without seeing their families. Our waiter Clive said he had a wife and 9yr old daughter waiting back home in India and he wouldn't be seeing them till the end of March. I can't even imagine! We missed our kids so much after 1 week, nevermind 6 months!
After dinner we were chatting with a couple we'd seen almost every day but hadn't talked to before - too bad for Nathan - he found out it was Bruce Hood! For those who don't know (myself included!), he was an NHL referee for about 20 years, so Nathan was happy to visit with him, and disappointed we hadn't ran into them earlier in the week. Oh the stories he could've been told!
The last show of the cruise was really good. I think it's a bit of a Carnival tradition or something. Earlier in the week the cruise guests had the opportunity to try out to sing in the show - there were 10 people picked to be 10 different famous singers (Elton John, Brittney Spears, Garth Brooks, Aretha Franklin, etc). It was very entertaining!! The Legend singers and dancers were the backups for them. The guy that did Garth Brooks actually did a very good job! Some of the others on the other hand...... seriously, were they the only ones that tried out for that person or how did they possibly get on stage?! We're talking brutal American Idol audition quality here people. But still - very entertaining!
Sunday we had to meet immigration onboard the ship at 6:15am!! After that we went for breakfast, finished getting ready and, because we had an early flight we were sent to wait in a lounge and were some of the first passengers off the ship. We had been concerned about making our flight in time - it was at noon so we needed to be at the airport by 10am. Yeah, we needn't have been worried - we were at the airport by about 8:45am already! The flights home were all good, with minimal delays. We actually arrived back in the City about 20 mins early - but then we had to wait 20 mins on the tarmac for a plane to leave the gate we were suppsoed to be using. So it all evened out in the end. The kids were not at the airport to meet us as originally planned because the weather wasn't overly great, so just Nathan's dad came to pick us up. I was a little nervous about how Jacob would react to seeing me again, as I've heard that at that age they can be mad at you for leaving them! So I had prepared myself, hoping not to dissolve into tears should that happen, but I was still very thankful that as soon as we walked in the door he had a huge grin on his face and held out his arms to come to us. The rest of the evening he was so cute - he would hold his arms out to me, then as soon as I was holding him he'd see Nathan and want to go to him, then as soon as he was holding him he'd want to come back to me - back and forth like that all evening!
We had an absolutely fabulous vacation!! We absolutely love cruising and highly recommend it! We've stayed at Mexican resorts twice and cruised twice, and we prefer cruising hands down - no contest! We find it to be the best of both worlds - you can be as relaxed as you want, or as busy as you want. You can eat amazing food, be entertained by amazingly diverse entertainers from onboard and flown in from Vegas. Pretty much anything you want to do can be done on a cruise. You can see several different countries and yet you only have to unpack once! So, if you're at all considering a cruise for your next vacation - go for it - you'll love it!
Isn't God's creation breathtakingly amazing? What a mighty God we serve!
"He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing. He wraps up the waters in his clouds, yet the clouds do not burst under their weight. He covers the face of the full moon, spreading his clouds over it. The pillars of the heavens quake, aghast at his rebuke. By his power he churned up the sea.... By his breath the skies become fair.... And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! How then can we understand the thunder of his power?" (Job 26:7-9, 11-14)