Cruising for Christmas, part 2

(See part 1 for the beginning of our Christmas cruise adventure. One note: I failed to mention how much we all loved the conch fritters at Caroline’s in Key West. I’d never had them before but look forward to having them again.)

Our at-sea day on Boxing Day was uneventful; the boys spent much of the day hanging out in their various clubs, while I parked myself with a good book on the fantail in the “Serenity” adults-only area. There were a lot of noisy young adults there, but it was quite a bit more pleasant than the high-noise, high-traffic area around the pool on the Lido deck, plus the view from the stern of the ship was stunning. For our elegant dinner that night, we had lobster and alligator fritters,  both of which were very, very popular with all four of us.

I actually forgot to mention the high point of our first sea day. David and I signed up for the “Behind the Fun” tour, a $55, 3-hour tour of several “backstage” areas on the ship. The tour includes the ship’s laundry (staffed exclusively by Indonesians, as are all Carnival ships; there’s sort of an unofficial Indonesian mafia that finds jobs for family members, fellow villagers, etc.), the kitchen (which is huge, spotless, and busy), the engine control room (crewed by a chief engineer who perfectly fit the stereotype of a brusque, grease-stained technophile), and the ship’s bridge, where we got to meet the captain and a couple of other deck officers. The whole thing was fascinating; we learned a ton about the operations that take place behind the scenes and that helped us better appreciate the largely invisible efforts that the staff has to make to keep everything running smoothly.

On the 27th, we made port in Nassau, which is where we’d booked two major activities: a Segway beach tour and a visit with the Bahamian Ministry of Tourism’s “People to People” program. I’d read about both of these on CruiseCritic, and the four of us were all excited about them both. Sadly, the People-to-People meeting never materialized. I registered on 11 December and never heard anything back until the 20th or so; I immediately answered the email I got from them but never heard back. We met the van from  Bahamas Segway and Beach Experience promptly at 0930 and were richly entertained by Meeks, our driver, on the 15-minute van ride to the nature preserve. This is a bit of a grandiose term; it’s really a nearly 200-acre plot that was originally supposed to be a resort before ownership and tax disputes put the land into a title dispute from which it hasn’t recovered. In any event, the property is gorgeous, with a number of nature trails and a gorgeous area where we stopped to recharge the Segways and learn how to plait palm fronds (seriously! one of the other tour attendees was from Jamaica and taught all 3 boys how to do it.)

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The four of us at the Segway beach area

The experience of riding the Segway itself was fantastic! My only complaint is that I was going too fast, hit a soft spot in the trail, overcorrected, and went flying– it is, in fact, possible to wreck a Segway. Fortunately the expensive Segway was undamaged; I wound up with a sore neck, a broken camera, and wounded pride, but nothing too serious. Despite that, the whole Segway experience was superb; the tour company did a great job, the weather could not have been nicer, and riding the Segway itself is a blast. I recommend this tour very, very highly.

People-to-People? Not so much. Despite all my efforts, I couldn’t get hold of an actual human until the morning of our arrival, and they had no record of our visit. The lady I spoke to was quite apologetic and tried really hard to find someone for us, but she didn’t succeed until nearly 1pm, when we were just sitting down to order lunch. With a requirement to be back aboard ship at 5pm, there was no way to make it work, which was really disappointing. Maybe next time.

We had lunch at the Fish Fry, a strip of restaurants right outside downtown Nassau. I don’t remember the name of the place where we ate, but the food– conch, shrimp, and grouper, all fried– was superb. After lunch, we walked the 1.5 miles or so back to the cruise ship pier, going past Junkanoo Beach. It was a beautiful walk along the water, as you can see from the two pictures below.

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The view from Junkanoo Beach out towards the water

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Another view, this one towards the cruise ship pier

Of course, these pics (and all the others from this point on) came from my iPhone, since my D40 wouldn’t admit that there was a lens connected to it. It is now on its way back to Nikon’s body and fender shop; if they can’t fix it for a reasonable cost I’ll pick up either a D3100 or a D5100.

On the 28th, we were due into Freeport at 0800. I woke up about 0735 and went forward but didn’t see land anywhere. What I did find was wind gusting 15-25 knots. Sure enough, the winds in Freeport were too high for us to safely dock, so we had another sea day instead. This was disappointing, as we’d booked a bottom-fishing expedition that promised barracuda, shark, and other fun sea life. However, we all had a good day playing Uno, drinking too much soda, and generally taking advantage of all the services aboard the ship.

Debarkation on the 29th was quite smooth. Our cabins were both on the Verandah deck inboard; we had V12 and V20, which were nicely appointed and very convenient to the observation area. Because we were first-time Carnival cruisers on a discount fare, we were assigned a debarkation number of 2 (out of 30 or so). This was great, since we wanted to get back to Pensacola, not linger on the ship like the long-time cruisers. After a delicious breakfast, they called our group and within 20 minutes we were out and waiting for the Avis shuttle van. The debarkation and customs process was flawless and quick.

Service and staffing, overall, were on a par with Disney and Princess. I thought that Princess had the best dining room staff and cabin stewards, but Carnival’s were quite good. For the price we paid, the accommodations and service were quite good, and I would happily cruise with Carnival again– hopefully soon!


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