Our 4-Night Disney Dream Cruise

We’ve visited Disney World in Florida more times than I can count. After so many years of driving to Florida and visiting every theme park in Orlando, it was time for a change. Our bags and passports were ready to travel abroad.

We knew we wanted to go on cruise and we knew we wanted it to be on a Disney ship. After years of wonderful Disney experiences we felt loyalty to the brand and comfortable with their level of family entertainment. We began our research online and started laying out our plan. The first questions we answered were “Where and when are we going?”. Traveling with my my wife and two daughters, we wanted to make sure we had as much available without spending a small fortune. We decided on a four night Bahamian voyage from Cape Canaveral, Florida to the Bahamas. We decided to sail the second week of January to save on Disney’s off-season prices. The itinerary included a stop at Nassau, Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island in the Bahamas) and a full day at sea.

We drove from New York to Jacksonville on Saturday, Jan. 19th 2013. This 14 hour drive has become a yearly ritual for us, so it was just an ordinary occurrence. We departed Jacksonville at 9:00am the following morning in order to arrive at Cape Canaveral in time for our 1:30pm boarding hour. Cape Canaveral is incredibly easy to get to from I-95. We followed the signs to terminal B and before 1:00pm, we were already dropping off our bags and parking our vehicles.

Disney’s terminal at Cape Canaveral offers on-site parking at $15 per night rates. Higher rates apply for premium parking. I’ve read many reviews of families saving about $30 by parking off-site at private parking lots or hotels. Although this may seem like a bargain, I suggest parking at the terminal simply for the convenience. The parking lot is directly connected to the terminal via catwalk. This makes disembarking a breeze, too. Once you round up your bags, all you do is walk across the street and get in your car. No need to wait for any further transportation or taxi’s.

Check-in at the terminal was incredibly fast and easy. Be sure all occupants of your stateroom are together. You will need to sign some paperwork and take a picture that will be used for identification when boarding or disembarking. The entire check-in process, a few pictures, and waiting for our boarding number to be called took roughly twenty minutes. Once we walked into the gangway, we took some more pictures, then entered the ships atrium.

The Disney Dream’s atrium is a huge, rectangular, three-level gathering area adorned with an art-deco glass chandelier, marble steps, a grand piano, and a statue of Admiral Donald Duck. Once onboard, we hardly had a chance to take in the sights before we offered two dining options: option 1 would send us to deck 11 aft for a buffet lunch at Cabanas while option 2 led us down one level to the Enchanted Garden lunch buffet. We chose the Enchanted Garden. The buffet offered many seafood selections like shrimp and crab legs as well as a carving station, cold cuts, vegetables, salad, and grilled lamb chops.

Immediately after lunch, we headed to our stateroom. Our family had chosen a category 4A family verandah room on level 9. Once we entered the room, the first thing we did was figure out the lights. We had to insert a room key at all times in order to turn the power on in the room. Once we figured that out, we explored the balcony. Once we pulled the curtain and opened the sliding glass door, we knew this was the place we’d spend most of cabin time. The balcony added approximately 30 square feet of outdoor real estate. The glass wall offered unobstructed views of ocean while sitting or standing. The balcony had two chairs and a small coffee table that served as our breakfast table every morning.

Once we were acquainted with the room, it was time to head to our station for the mandatory drill. Once the drill was over, we headed to the pool deck for the sail away party. The kids liked the dancing Disney characters and the streamers flying everywhere. Definitely a good time if you have kids. Shortly after the party started, the ship pulled away from the terminal, sailed slowly down the jetty and into open ocean. We watched our first sunset from the deck 12 sports area. Our cruise was finally underway!

That evening we dined at Animator’s Palate. The Disney Cruise Line offers a rotational dining assignment which guarantees at least one meal will be served at each of their three main restaurants. Animator’s Palate is an homage to the artwork of Disney. It also features giant screens depicting characters from Pixar’s Finding Nemo. Our table was directly next to one of the screens. Before we knew it, we were being interviewed by Crush, the sea turtle. The girls really got a laugh when Crush called my glasses “sea goggles”. Our evening ended with chocolates and folded towel swan waiting for us in our room. It was a great way to finish off a very busy day.

We woke up the next morning at 8am knowing that room service will soon deliver our morning order of the day. The coffee, donuts, cookies, hot tea, juice and milk were delivered right on time! We poured our drinks, grabbed our snack and headed right for the balcony. Once outside, in the horizon, we could see some pilot boats approaching and land mass growing behind them. We were slowly approaching Nassau. Once we pulled into Prince Georges Wharf, the ship performed a 180 degree turn in the basin and backed into the port. Directly opposite of our ship was the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas (an Oasis-class ship – the biggest passenger cruise ship in the world). Directly behind this mammoth ship we could see the towers of Atlantis.

Atlantis is located on Paradise Island just north of Nassau. This resort island would be our destination for the day. We booked a tour of the Atlantis Resort through the cruise line. The $59 excursion granted us transportation to and from the terminal, a guided tour of the hotel, and full access to the aquarium and the predators lagoon. We gathered on the ship at D-Lounge to get our wrist bands, hand in our release forms and wait to be escorted to the buses. Once 11am rolled around, our excursion group disembarked the ship and walked about 5 minutes to the bus. The bus, which seated 20 passengers, was perfectly clean, air-conditioned, and proper working order. The bus driver also served as our tour guide of downtown Nassau. The drive took us through the government district as well as famous hotels and landmarks.

Once we reached Atlantis, we were greeted by our hotel tour guide. He first walked us through the stores and fashion boutiques in the hotels lobby. It’s very reminiscent of a Las Vegas-style hotel. We then walked across the hotel casino and main lobby. The tour then proceeded to the underground ruins area called “The Dig”. It’s suppose to mimic an archeological dig of Atlantis’ ruins. The main attraction here is the giant aquarium filled with tropical fish and huge manta rays. Afterwards we toured the main pool grounds of the resort which offered great views of the famous hotel towers. A bit more walking led us to the Predators Lagoon. Here you will walk through an underwater tube surrounded by sand sharks, sting rays, barracuda, and colorful tropical fish. Once the tour ended, we were free to explore any of the grounds we had previously visited including the casino. Around 4pm, we boarded our bus and headed back to downtown Nassau.

Downtown Nassau is full of souvenir shops, retail, and jewelry stores catering to the cruising tourists. The area is very popular and can seem very crowded at times. Despite the crowd, we always felt safe walking around and wish we had more time to explore the area. We did manage to stop by the local Tortuga Rum store for some excellent rum cake!

Once we headed back to the terminal, we walked directly to the immigration office for a passport stamp. The attendant stamped all our passports in no time and with no questions asked. Afterwards, we went through the security check-in and boarded the ship.

Our second evening featured a dinner at the Enchanted Garden. The a la carte menu featured seafood options but also chicken and pork entree’s. If you’re a picky eater you can always order from the kids menu which includes more familiar selections such as burgers, hot dogs, pizza, pasta, and chicken fingers. Every meal also includes an appetizer and dessert. Our evening ended once again with chocolates and a folded towel puppy wishing us a good night.

The third day started with a knock on our door as room service was being delivered Our morning coffee and tea led us once again to the balcony and beautiful view of Castaway Cay! The parasailing and glass-bottom boats were sailing by as we walked out. We could also see the workers on the shore prepping the jet-ski and boat rental areas. The line of cabanas and colorful buildings served as a backdrop to the sparkling blue waters of the Cay. We only had one thing in mind: let’s hit the beach!

Once we left the ship we were greeted by Lilo and Stitch posing for pictures. We also took some pictures of the Dream before boarding the tram car to the beach. Once we reached the beach we picked up three floating tubes, changed into our bathing suits, and hit the water. The beach was gorgeous and offered picture-perfect views of the Disney Dream. This was mid-January so the water was about 70 degrees. It wasn’t ideal swimming temperatures but the sun was hot enough to keep us warm.

Around 1pm we decided to eat at the nearby restaurant, Cookies II, an outdoor grill-style eatery. Cookies II served up burgers, hot dogs, ribs, chicken, as well as a variety of salads and sides. Endless drinks and an ice cream are also available. Dining at these restaurants is included in the price of the cruise so no extra money is required on the island. If you wish to rent any beach equipment once there, you simply swipe your room key and the charge will added to your room.

After lunch, we decided this was perfect time to head back to the ship and hit the Aqua-Duck ride. We boarded in a flash and headed straight to deck 12. There was a very short waiting line for the ride, much shorter than we had seen previously. We rode the Aqua-Duck several times before finally heading back to our stateroom. When we did arrive at our room we had pirate bandana’s waiting for us on our bed. It was pirate night!

Our third dinner was at the Royal Palace. It was also pirate night on the Disney Dream. The entire staff is dressed in the pirate garb and a surprisingly large amount of guests wore full pirate costumes! The menu also featured a pirate theme with selections such as Jolly Roger’s salad, and Jack Sparrow braised short ribs. The evenings festivities also included the “Pirates IN the Caribbean” live-action show followed by the “Buccaneer’s Blast” fireworks! At the time, the Disney Dream was the only vessel featuring fireworks at sea. They were a real treat! We we retreated to our stateroom we were greeted by a folded towel monkey hanging from the ceiling and a handful of chocolates spread out on the bed.

Our fourth day was a full day at sea. With no set plans in mind, we knew this would be our only chance to sleep in late. We also knew this would be our only chance to explore the ship. We had our room service delivered at 9am this morning. We spent a good amount of time just relaxing and enjoying the view from our verandah. We then headed out on our ship exploration campaign. Our first stop on the ship was the outdoor promenade on level 4. After walking around the promenade, we headed indoors to the shutters photo studio. After a quick review of the family pictures, we decided to buy the DVD package which includes every printed 8×10 along with a digital copy for future printings.

We then headed to level 3 forward to visit the retail stores. Here we picked up all our souvenirs including Disney Cruise sweatshirts, shot glasses, and resin models of the ship. We then decided to walk the three levels of the atrium where we encountered a photo-op with none other than Captain Mickey Mouse himself! Immediately afterwards, we headed to the Walt Disney Theater to see the musical show “Believe”. “Believe” is a tale of father who’s so busy with his work to realize the real important things in life are not things, it’s people. The show is must-see for all families and I highly recommend it.

Further exploration of the ship took us around the multiple lounges and clubs in decks 4 and 5. We then headed to deck 11 aft for lunch at Cabanas buffet. After lunch we trekked across the 11th and 12th decks exploring the pool areas, sunbathing lounges and sports complex. Seeing all the fun had us rushing back to our staterooms and changing into our bathing suits for a few more rides on Aqua-Duck. My wife also had time to take in a few rounds of Bingo while we spent our time outdoors.

Our last dinner on the Disney Dream was once again at the Royal Palace. The menu featured a French theme with appetizers like French Onion soup, and crème brulee desserts. Entrees included beef tenderloin, baked salmon, organic chicken breast, and others. Our final evening also featured a folded towel rabbit, some more chocolates and a customer satisfaction survey. They’ll also give you a brochure for booking future sailings which includes an onboard discount of 10%. After dinner, we packed our bags and placed them outside our door for pick-up. It was our final night on the Disney Dream and our final view of the starry sky from our balcony. Our Dream vacation was coming to an end and much sooner than we’d like.

Our final morning on the Disney Dream offered a sit-down breakfast at the Royal Palace. It was the final chance to exchange pleasantries and well-wishes with our dining staff. Our waiters, which had been with us throughout the entire voyage, were cordial and incredibly attentive. For those four evenings and final morning, they were part of the family. It’s all part of the Disney charm that keeps everyone exclaiming how wonderful Disney destinations can be.

After our breakfast, it was time to disembark. It was bitter-sweet to step off the Dream and back to the cool Florida winter weather. We rounded up our bags, walked to the parking deck, and hit the road to New York once more: an experience we hope to repeat soon!

Disney Baltic Cruise

I would like to explain what my family and I did each day as we enjoyed our family vacation aboard the Disney Magic;

Day 1; We arrived at the port in Copenhagen, Denmark around 1:00pm, though you can board as early as 11am. We gave ourselves 3 hours to board (the ship sets sail at 4pm) so that we could explore Copenhagen before we left on our vacation. This day included us exploring the boat and signing up for kids clubs. One of the amazing things about Disney, is their kids clubs. They have rooms for different aged kids to go hang out in, participate in activities and make new friends. This gives parents a chance to have some time alone and know their children are safe and having fun. After exploring the boat, everyone came together at Deck 9 to set sail and have fun during “Mickey’s Sailing Away Party.” During this, everyone waves to the passengers staying in Copenhagen & dances along with Mickey & his friends on stage. Once this is over, we headed to the 6:30pm theater show. Depending on the dinner time you request (6:00pm or 8:30pm) you will either watch the theater show at 6:30pm or 8:30pm, the opposite time that your eating dinner. I absolutely love the shows. Disney does an amazing job coming up with themes and special acts to entertain their audience.

Day 2 was a “Day at Sea”, so that means we didn’t stop anywhere. We enjoyed our day watching Disney movies at Buena Vista Theater, participating in games at Vibe (a teen club), eating lunch at Cabanas (the buffet at deck 9), enjoying yet another theater show, & eating dinner at one of the three rotational dining restaurants (Lumiere’s, Animators Palate, or Cariocas.) Depending on your room card, you will rotate between these three different yummy restaurants. This night included Formal Dinner. This means we were encouraged to dress fancy (like dresses & skirts or suits for men.) Day’s at sea are, in my opinion, one of the best days on the boat. Disney provides their guests with the option of either Cabanas (the buffet on deck 9), Lumiere’s (one of the 3 rotational dining restaurants), or one of the quick service restaurants on deck 9. The quick service restaurants include Daisy’s Delights (a sandwich, salad, fruit, and cookie stand), Pete’s Boiler Bites (a hamburger, hotdog, taco, etc… american fare type of stand), and Pinocchio’s Pizza (a pizza stand where you can build any pizza you prefer.) Disney Magic does a fantastic job creating grade A food all day and making sure to cook the food in a fast manner, but keeping the flavor incredible. Now, the food is not the only reason I absolutely love day’s at sea. Though food is a key factor, Disney also provides their guests with a news article every night, allowing them to see what activities are brewing for them the next day (you also have the option of using their Disney Cruise Line app to see the activities and menus for each day.) This activities sheet is always filled with karaoke, newly released movies, workout games, and more during the days at sea. Disney makes sure their guests always have something fun and new to do on the boat, knowing some might get bored not having anywhere to dock.

Day 3 we stopped in Tallinn, Estonia. We arrived and walked Tallinn Old Town, which gave us a real idea of their culture. We also explored the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, The Estonian Maritime Museum (an old prison), and Fat Margarets Tower (a large building next to the ship.) Like most of you know, northern Europe has very sketchy weather. Knowing this, I packed a range of different clothes and layers. Tallinn stayed in the 60 degree F area during most of our visit, which was amazing. I wore leggings (lululemon), a tank top (lululemon), a long sweater (Madewell), and tennis shoes (New Balance.) My dad and brother were able to wear just shorts and a t shirt, so it really depends on your tolerance for cool weather. I am a small girl, so the wind was a little chilly for me, explaining the long sweater.

Day 4 we stopped in St. Petersburg, Russia. On this day, we decided to get a bus driver and a tour guide (Alla Tours.) St. Petersburg had multiple churches (Church of the Spilled Blood for example) and palaces (Catherine’s Palace), so we needed someone to help us find our way around. I recommend finding yourself a tour guide you trust (like Alla Tours), because during our visit to Catherine’s Palace (and a few other city monuments), the line wrapped around the building to get in, but our tour guide found a way to skip the line and sneak us in, in only 15 minutes. Like Tallinn, St. Petersburg’s weather was very strange. The morning was chilly and forced me to wear a scarf (Madewell) and a thick jacket (Madewell), but later in the day the temperature got warmer (maybe 67 degrees F) which allowed me to wear just a light rain jacket (Spice), because St. Petersburg did tend to sprinkle every so often. On this night, there was no theater show due to all aboard being at 11:30pm. This means, you had the option of staying out in Russia till 11:30pm or coming early and having dinner but no show.

Day 5 we stopped in Helsinki, Finland. This day was a bit shorter because all aboard was around 5pm. We decided to ride a carousel to see the town & take a boat ride to explore a small island with history about Finland (Suomenlinna.) We did not realize how large and historic Suomenlinna was, so we were unable to see all of its rich history. I recommend spending multiple hours here, if you decide to visit this location in Finland. This night included the Semi Formal Dinner. This means we had to dress up a little nicer than usual for our dinner, to take pictures. Disney does not require you to dress up any of the nights on cruise, but during these special nights, it is highly encouraged. I wore a mini skirt (Abercrombie & Fitch), a tank top (American Eagle), and sandals (Tory Burch.)

Day 6 we stopped in Stockholm, Sweden. This day was even shorter because all aboard was 3:30pm. We decided to visit the Armory & the Royal Palace next to it. If you are traveling with any boys or men, I recommend visiting the Armory. It was very cool for my brother and dad to see all of the military armor, weaponry, and royal carriages. We also purchased tickets for the Hop on Hop off bus, but it was very busy and packed (due to all the ships docked in Stockholm that day), I would not recommend buying a ticket for this bus in this town. This night Disney included “Anna & Elsa’s Frozen Deck Party”, which meant we all went up on Deck 9 before dinner to watch the Frozen characters dance and sing on stage. Disney also changed up their theater show on this night. Unlike their normal broadway style show, they provided us with a comedian show.

Day 7 was our final day, which means it was another “Day at Sea.” This day was a lot like Day 2, except that the cruise included activities like scrap booking all your memories & jack jack’s diaper dash (a race between babies who can crawl.) Usually my family and I prefer to eat lunch at Cabanas (the unlimited buffet is always nice), but on this day, my dad and I decided to try out Lumieres for lunch. I had the cuban sandwich and parmesan veal with pasta (two entrees were a must on this day) and my dad had the shrimp and pad thai noodles. Both meals were fantastic! Disney once again found a way to blow us away. Once the day was nearly to an end, we enjoyed the final show (Disney Dreams) & a dinner at Animators Palate (one of the three rotational restaurants.) After all was finished, the cruise wrapped up the day by having a “See you real soon” party in the Lobby Atrium on Deck 3. This show included a wave good bye to all the characters on board and a pin trading session (all the guests on board came together to trade their Disney pins.)

Day 8 was our final morning on the boat, which meant you went to breakfast at the place you had dinner at the night before or eat at Cabanas (the buffet on Deck 9.) For my family and I, we ate at Animators Palate once more. After eating the final meal on the ship, everyone disembarked and headed to the airport to fly home. Disney allows all of their guests to eat and explore the ship before leaving, which was nice because we didn’t feel rushed to get off the boat and let the new guests begin their vacation.

Crystal Cruise Lines (The Symphony)

Luxury Cruising at its best, with an on board Golf Driving Range, a full service Fitness Facility, two Swimming Pools ,and an elegant Lavish Spa. Elegant staterooms to make into your own private sanctuary if you wish, after all this is your time and your space It’s your time to relax and enjoy the comforts of a Crystal Cruise known on the high seas for serving the finest foods from around the world.

Meals are prepared by hand selected chefs using high quality meats and ingredients which makes dining on board these vessels an epicureans delight.

From the lavish Crystal Dining Room to any of the other restaurants on board you will never be disappointed. Shipboard entertainment can rival that of any in show in Las Vegas with the casino appropriately called Ceasers’ Palace on the High Seas.

The Vista Lounge on the Observation Deck is for the smokers. The ship also has smaller bars which include a Sports Bar and a Piano Bar for quiet evenings with larger bars and lounges for dancing and cocktails. Upon boarding you’ll see the two story Atrium with its sculpture and Cascading Waterfall. If you chose to opt for one of the luxurious Penthouse Suites or one of the Elegant Staterooms a Crystal Cruise will never be a disappointment.

Lido Café: indoor and outdoor seating for breakfast and lunch

Palm Court: afternoon tea or coffee served with sandwiches and pastries

Trident Snack Bar: poolside buffet

Prego: authentic Mediterranean style dishes with a true flavor of Italy

Jade Garden: delectably delicious Asian specialties

Bistro Café; Parisian styled coffee bar

Accommodations:

Penthouse Suite: sizeable living quarters with a large private veranda,, mini bar, T.V., VCR, a large separate bedroom with a queen size bed and a seating area that has a picture window view. Your bathroom has a Jacuzzi tub and a separate shower, a toilet and a bidet, walk – in closets, refrigerator and a safe.

Balcony and Ocean View Staterooms: These staterooms have twin beds that can be made into a queen, sitting area, mini bar T.V., VCR, refrigerator, desk, full bathroom with a shower. Ocean View Staterooms have a picture window and Balcony Suites have a veranda

Nightlife:

Nightly entertainment rivals that of Broadway or Las Vegas with the Galaxy Show Lounge:

Galaxy Show Lounge: Live Broadway shows and Live Music

Avenue Saloon: Perfect for relaxing with an after dinner cocktail

Vista Lounge: (for smokers) on the Observation Deck

The ship also has a small Piano Bar for quiet evenings and a small cozy lounge when you want to be alone with that special someone

Caesers Palace on the Sea: lavish floating resort styled casino on the high seas

A Most Pimped Cruise! – How I Learned to Love Long Lines, Open My Wallet & Get With the Program

The Setup – Although veterans of many cruises, we had never had the “Drive Port” experience. Just throwing everything but the dog into the SUV – bypassing the hassle and inconvenience of airports, airlines and transfers – seemed like a good idea. From Memphis the logical choice was Carnival’s Triumph sailing to the Eastern Caribbean out of New Orleans. (7 days-July 24 to 31)

Embarkation – Docs we printed out online indicated boarding was from 12:30p to 2:30p with ship sailing at 4:00pm. So, we got in line for pier-side unloading and parking at 12:20p. Once parked and out of the SUV we stood in line for about 45 minutes – outdoors – in 95 degree mid-summer New Orleans heat and humidity. (What logistical genius arranged for that little bit of torture?) From parking to boarding the ship took a total of 80 minutes – during which long lines with many switch backs were the norm.

We were told at the parking/unloading point that, yes, we could schlep our own bags aboard if so inclined. But, just before entering the blessedly air conditioned terminal building, we were singled out from the herd by Colonel Klink and told that three of our bags were oversized and must be checked. He pointed to a little airline type “carry-on-bags-must-fit-in-here-or-we-stab-your-mother” warning sign with size testing receptacle, the volume of which was just big enough to hold a medium sized lunch box. I’m thinking, “they have overhead bins on cruise ships now? So why wasn’t that sign positioned back at the unloading point?”

Accommodations – Once on board we were directed to our ocean view cabins on Deck One. The cabins were very spacious and quite comfortable – larger than on most ships – something for which Carnival is noted. Our decision not to splurge on balcony cabins was justified. Overall ambiance of the ship seemed spacious.

Our room steward was Jorge from Peru – a very gracious man who seemed eager to please – as did most of the staff.

Waiting in our cabins were bon voyage gifts from the Hotel Manager and our local Business Development Manager, fruit baskets, wine, etc. They were greatly appreciated and quickly consumed.

Departure – Noticing at 5pm that the gangway had been retracted but we had not yet sailed, an announcement by the captain explained that due to weather – tropical depression Bonnie – and heavy traffic at the river’s mouth, sailing would be delayed until 3am Sunday morning. But, we were reassured that the ship would still reach ports on time. And it did.

Dining – Even though we had officially requested a large table for eight or more, we were seated in a booth for four. The booth was comfortable and cozy, but this was still a disappointment for us – we cruise to meet people. The maitre ‘d was apologetic and said he’d try to remedy the situation, but did not. Understandably, most people want tables reserved for just their group of family and friends, especially during the summer months when traveling with kids. My theory? They probably originally had us booked for a large table… then they saw me tripping and stumbling my way up the gangway sporting a lime green Vampires Suck! tank top with “Bite Me” tattooed over my jugular. I’m sure they decided then and there that it was best to isolate us from the other diners.

The food ranged from average to very, very good. The biggest improvement to Carnival’s food service is in the presentation. Main dining room offerings were stylish and gourmet in appearance. However, in actual taste most dishes were about a half star short of deserving of that sobriquet. Some exceptions: the Chilled Avocado Soup, Mongolian Steak Salad, New Zealand Lamb Chops and the Chocolate Souffle were to die for.

Fish dishes, while well spiced and elegantly presented, were consistently served dry and overcooked. Thinking that it might be due to only frozen supplies being available rather than fresh, I embarked on a test. When the security guard at the Atlantis Aquarium was looking the other way I scooped up a rare Triggerfish… smuggled it back in my camera case… gave it to ship’s chef fifteen minutes before dinner. Yep, served dry and overcooked.

Just when I was about to give up on the Over-Cooked Fish issue, a ray of hope appeared. There on deck five… just around the corner from the casino… the Sushi Cart! But even here the delicacies are tweaked for southern tastes. The Chicken Fried Tuna’Cado Rolls were fabulous!

Entertainment – We took in most of the shows and most were quite good, especially the big production shows. Carnival is one of the few remaining cruise lines to still utilize full live orchestras rather than recorded tracks for these complex shows. Sound quality in all venues was excellent. Stage effects and mechanics, such as hydraulically manipulated stage sections and (nearly invisible) cable lifts enabling performers to “fly” were effective and not overly exploited. Site lines in all venues were good. Smoke machines, flash pots and laser strobes were used sparingly and not overdone. Well, maybe the smoke machine didn’t add much to bingo… the caller was new and couldn’t find the off button.

The Big Easy Show was one of the best production shows I’ve seen on a cruise ship… and this coming from someone who worked ships as an entertainer for 12 years. Clearly crafted for a predominantly New Orleans centric audience, my first thought was “this is a cheap shot – like playing the Star Spangled Banner at a VFW meeting – a guaranteed standing ovation.” But as the show unfolded the choice of music, the performances, costuming and special effects were outstanding. A very enjoyable experience.

Comedian – Todd Justice started out strong but began to lose us half way through the show. Todd kept looking at his watch – a surefire momentum killer. Not a good idea unless it is part of the act. It was not.

Magic – A big production/illusion type magic show in the main showroom was a bit repetitive and just OK. A close-up magic show was scheduled for the Venezia Lounge. Although we arrived 20 minutes early there was not an empty seat to be found. It was already standing room only and many were sitting on the floor. This show needs to be in a larger venue. We did not stay.

Specialty Act – Funniest show of the week was Asad, the stage hypnotist. To audience volunteers who were deep under, he gave many of the old tried and true but still funny suggestions with a few novel twists such as… “you desperately want to kiss the person next to you but they have horribly bad breath”.

Asad had a very original closing. Just before dismissing the volunteers he gave them one final suggestion… “you will not remember anything you have done on stage tonight… until the next time you look in a mirror. Then you will suddenly remember everything in vivid detail.” Of course immediately following the show sadistic friends and family steered unsuspecting volunteers into the restrooms to “powder their noses”. Screams could be heard three decks away.

On-Board Ambiance – With beautiful ships, good food and staff eager to please, Carnival is still all about relentless on-board merchandising and sales promotion – as are all cruise lines in the mass market category. The trade-off is lower fares.

But Carnival can be a bit crass about it sometimes. You don’t have to be a cruise snob to feel a bit put out when, for the umpteenth time, you have to walk the length of the ship to find an unblocked stairway or un-mobbed elevator to get from one deck to another due to photographers having set up another half dozen Photo Op stations.

These always seemed to be positioned in the middle of a major staircase or thoroughfare during peak stroll-about-the-ship hours. One night about twelve such setups were in evidence, all at choke points with correspondingly backed up crowds spilling over into on-board shops… where silver tongued sales people lay in wait!

(Biz Op – Someone could make a fortune selling Photographer Repellant. It could be spray-on… colorless and odorless but making the wearer appear constantly out of focus.)

Also consider that for the two hours prior to departing from Key West, passengers had to stand in line for an average of 30 minutes to get back aboard the ship… and you begin to get my point.

Why can’t CCL take a cue from the good people at Disney? Disney has mastered both in-your-face merchandising and crowd control. Carnival execs, are you listening? Can you say Fastpass?

Ports & Shore Excursions – there were three stops on this itinerary.

Freeport – There is a reason why it is called “Freeport”. It is totally free of anything to do. Beaches and shopping are a long cab ride from the ship and nothing to write home about once you get there. We stayed on the ship.

Nassau – One mistake that we can only blame on our own procrastination – not buying tickets in advance to the Atlantis Aquarium & Water Park on Nassau’s Paradise Island. Unfortunately, we waited until the day of arrival and everywhere we went, the Shore Excursion Desk, the Atlantis hotel itself, other nearby Paradise Island hotels – the story was the same – sold out, sold out, sold out.

But our determined girls weren’t taking no for answer and gave the go-ahead to our cab driver to do whatever it took to find us Water Park passes.

Tito was the man… a fast talking and (apparently) connected guy. With a grin a mile wide, a mouth full of gold teeth and a cranked up boom box with sub-woofer in the back of his Toyota mini-van, he was an instant hit with our 18-year olds. Meanwhile, I’m testing the van doors to make sure they can be locked and unlocked from the inside.

To add to my nervousness, while careening through the backstreets of Nassau in Oddjob’s sub-woofed ride, my wife is flashing around hundreds of dollars in cash – slowly counting it all out – right there in the open for all to see – making sure we had enough to pay for these bootleg water park passes he is about to score for us. (Tito made it clear he didn’t take plastic.)

Meanwhile, I’m about to panic thinking “My God, he’s going to pull into a back alley where we’ll be stripped naked and robbed of everything… at gun point… and left stranded.” (Robbery would be survivable… but I wasn’t sufficiently medicated for walking back through the Straw Market… naked.)

After numerous furtive phone calls and a back alley rendezvous with local underground operatives, we had the passes… and Tito had our cash. Miraculously, we did not set off any fraud alarms at the entrance to the Aquarium / Water Park.

Key West – Arrival here meant more shopping, as well as cheap or free Internet and cell phone connectivity. You can connect via the ship’s system but it is a costly way to feed your Facebook habit.

We booked the parasailing excursion, which was a hoot. The departure point is just a short walk across the pier from the ship.

Sea Days – We enjoyed our time on deck, the pools, water slide and the JumboTron (giant outdoor video screen). Yes, Agnes, yours truly got in line with the kids and went down the giant water slide. It was a thrill. Especially the sudden stop in the water trough at the bottom. I was regular for three days afterward.

Question – Who gets to decide what is shown on the ship’s huge JumboTron? Sometimes it featured commercials for Carnival or playbacks of highbrow fare such as the Hairy Chest Contest – sometimes a movie or concert video – but each and every morning it was tuned to a local TV station out of Denver. (Denver?) I kept looking around for a giant remote control.

The Spa – On the last day of the cruise my wife booked me for the ultimate makeover – a hydrating facial with full body massage. Admittedly, it did make me look a good six to eight weeks younger for a few hours. But, like the poor victims of the hypnotist, when I looked in the mirror the next morning… there staring back at me was that familiar 63-year old catcher’s mitt with ears. I screamed too.

Conclusion – All in all it was a good cruise and a welcome change of pace. Would I cruise on Carnival again? Yes, definitely. Would I do anything differently next time? Yes, a couple of things. First, I’d insist on getting that large table for eight or more in the dining room – we just have too much fun swapping lies with new people we will never see again. Secondly, I’d make sure to book the two or three most desired shore excursions in advance. And lastly, we need to rein in our on-board profligacy a bit. Oh, I’d also bring along a case of that Photographer Repellant. – LEC

Princess Cruise Line Fleet: Sapphire Princess

The Sapphire Princess is one of the Princess Cruise Line Fleet that was manufactured in Japan, and fitted along with over 700 balconies wherein guests can experience the beautiful ocean view. Moreover, the hospitable crew members will ensure that you’ll have a quality time together with your family and friends.

Built in 2004, the Sapphire Princess is a freshly refurbished cruise ships and it travels in Alaska, Mexican Riviera, Hawaii, Tahiti, and South Pacific. Passengers will definitely love the off-shore excursions as well as the onboard activities.

Among the cruise ships highlight includes the Grand Casino, exquisite dining areas, state-of-the-art Spa & Fitness center, exclusive youth center, and many more.

Rest and Relaxation

Be pampered with the amazing relaxation centers onboard. Moreover, guests can definitely try out these features:

· Fully revitalize your mind and body at the Lotus Spa & Pool. Specialized treatments are available onboard including La Therapie HydraLift Facial, Aroma Stone Therapy, and many more.

· Outdoor Spa at the Sanctuary – Adults Only that offers signature beverages, massages, attentive services and many more.

· Want to get fit? Just visit the Fitness Center! It has state-of-the-arts equipment, and offers various trainings and courses for every guest onboard.

· Library Room and Writing Room, as well as 24-hour Internet Service.

· Wedding at Sea! At the Wedding Chapel.

· Magnificent whirlpools and pools including the beautiful Calypso Reef And Pool, Neptune’s Reef And Pool, Terrace Pool, and Oasis Hot Tubs.

· Beautiful Staterooms for splendid ocean view as well as offers 24-hour Room Service.

Action and Adventure

Enjoy the action-packed facilities as well as the exciting sporting events onboard.

· Swim-against-the-current lap pool

· 9-hole golf putting course

· Shuffleboard

· Jogging Tracks

· Other Sporting Events at the Center Court

Dining Information

Various dining options are available on board. Whether you are looking for buffet meals, specialty cuisine, or perhaps sumptuous snacks, you can easily found them in the Sapphire Princess.

· Looking for Formal dining Area? Then just drop by the International Dining Room.

· For Flexible dining option, just visit the Pacific Moon Dining Room, Santa Fe Dining Room, Savoy Dining Room, and Vivaldi Dining Room.

· Specialty Restaurants includes Sabatini’s (Italian Restaurant), Sterling Steakhouse, and Ultimate Balcony Dining.

· For a casual dining option, just visit these amazing establishments, Horizon Court Buffet, Alfredo’s Full-Service Pizzeria, International Café, Vines Wine Bar, Patisserie, Sundaes Ice Cream Bar, Sundaes Ice Cream Bar, Trident Grill (Burgers & Hot Dogs), and Afternoon Tea.

· 24 hour Room Service

Kids and Families

Your kids will definitely love the exclusive centers in this cruise ship. There are also educational courses and fun-packed activities offered onboard.

· The Fun Zone is great for your kids and youngsters to experience activities like karaoke, pizza parties, and many more.

· Teen Center is a great place for teens to socialize, dance, and enjoy fun-filled activities.

· Have fun at the Splash Pool!

· Other education courses and fun-filled activities are available onboard.

Entertainment and Shopping

Your travel getaway experience will not be complete by having an exhilarating nightlife, viewing entertainment shows, as well as purchasing souvenirs and memorabilia.

· Entertainment live show that’ll give life to your evening includes World-class Performances at the Princess Theater and Movies under the Stars.

· Bars and Lounges including Explorers Lounge (Nightclub-Style Performances), Skywalkers Nightclub (Top Deck Nightclub), Club Fusion, Wake View Bar, Wheelhouse Bar, Churchill Lounge, and Crooner’s Lounge & Bar.

· At the Grand Casino you can play your favorite games such as Roulette, Poker, and many more.

· The Future Cruise Sales, Gallery and Auction, and duty-free shops wherein you can purchase your favorite memorabilia or souvenirs, watches, jewelry, cosmetics and many more.

What more can you ask for? The Princess Cruise Line Fleet Sapphire Princess has it all! From first-class dining to entertainment, this cruise ship will definitely give elegance in your travel.