Wednesday 16 November 2016

The Glory Days: Half Moon Cay

Half Moon Cay is one of the most beautiful islands I've seen in the Caribbean. With its fine, white sand and crystal clear turquoise coloured waters, there's no denying that this island is paradise.

Half Moon Cay was a tender port. We woke up pretty late that morning, but we still had to pick up a number to disembark. We were waiting around for a while but ended up just being able to go ahead without a number because everyone was already on the island! We headed straight for the island barbecue. They had chips and salsa, hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue chicken, couscous, coleslaw, salads, fruits and cookies. A good variety, and I pigged out.

During our first visit, we had gone on a horseback riding excursion. While it was a special experience, it was also unpleasant because the horses decided to empty their bowels when they got in the water. It was not fun having poop sloshed against your legs. This time around, we decided to relax on the beach. It was hot! The boyfriend and I were melting! We definitely envied those who had a cabana or beach villa. It's not cheap but the cabana and beach villa rentals are definitely worth it if you have a large group.

Such a beautiful island! Half Moon Cay was the first port of call on my very first cruise, which was on the Carnival Valor, so it has a very special place in my heart. It is now even more special, because the boyfriend became the fiancĂ© this time around! It was a surprise to me, and he couldn't have picked a more perfect place for the proposal. Nicely done, boyfriend, I mean, fiancĂ©!

When we got back onto the ship, we immediately cleaned up for our early dinner seating. We had a new table with no mates, not far away from our previous table.

Our dinner on day two... Bon appetit!

I love soup, so I always order soup to start every evening. The food was great, as was the service. Our serving team had three servers, Jimmy, Florina, and our head waiter... whose name I totally just blanked out on. Jimmy was very attentive early on and he always asked how we were doing. He loved hearing about what we did on land. Towards the end of the cruise, we saw Florina more. English wasn't her first language so she didn't make much conversation with us. We could definitely tell that both Jimmy and Florina were in-training. They had a lot of questions for our head waiter, and he was an impatient guy. He constantly berated the two of them, he didn't even wait until they were behind the partition! One of them would forget to bring the guest a fork or spoon for dessert and our head waiter would scold him for it. It made dinner very awkward for us. I hated seeing the two of them being scolded for such little things.

After dinner, we headed to the Amber Palace Theatre to watch the Playlist Production show, Getaway Island. The cast was amazing! The female and male lead both had strong voices. They got the entire theatre standing and dancing. It really shows when the cast has been together for a longer period of time, you can see the connection between each performer.

After the show, we headed to the comedy club for a good laugh. On stage were Chris Wiles and Jeff "Big Daddy" Wayne. Both comedians were funny, but I definitely laughed harder on the Vista.

We also stopped by the casino for a little while. I am happy to report the air in the casino is breathable on the Glory. I had difficulty being in the casino on the Vista due to poor air circulation. On the Glory, there were air purifiers (or maybe they were just fans) throughout the casino. There must have been at least 10-15 of them. It was a huge difference from the Vista! I wanted to be in the casino on the Glory!

There were so many things happening on the Glory - a deck party, dancing, and another deck party, but I was tired from the day's events. So off to bed it was for me... The next day will be spent at sea, stay tuned!

Wednesday 2 November 2016

The Glory Days: Embarkation

It's been a whirlwind of cruises for us these past twelve months. We've been lucky this past year. It's the most we've cruised within ten months - three cruises!

We came home with an offer for a free interior cabin on selecting sailings from the Vista, and we were ecstatic to to receive the offer - we had won a free cruise! We've never won anything before. So no sooner did we unpack from our European adventure, did it come time for us to pack up for our Caribbean cruise.

As we both work in the produce/grocery industry, we were only able to go during September, a slower time for the both of us. We had originally planned to sail on the Conquest, but the interiors were all booked up when we called to make our reservation. So, the Glory it was. The Glory is in the same class as the Conquest and the Valor, and the Valor was a ship we were familiar with - if you recall, our very first cruise was on the Carnival Valor.

We flew out on a red-eye, arriving in Miami on Saturday morning. We had been worried that Hurricane Hermine would get in our way, but luckily, she didn't, and we had no delays on the way to Miami. We took a cab straight from the airport to the port, a flat rate of $27, and headed straight for the terminal.

Carnival has this new thing called staggered check-in, now I'm not sure how "new" this system is (Note: We did not have staggered check-in on the Vista in May), but I had never been on a more disorganized embarkation in my life. This was worse than the Oasis last November. Basically, when you check-in online, you select an embarkation time. Passengers are advised not to arrive before their assigned time as they will not be allowed on board early. We chose a later time because we were worried our flight would be delayed. We arrived an hour early, and saw a huge line that wrapped around the terminal. We lined up immediately thinking it would take a while to get inside the terminal. There was no Carnival representatives to guide the passengers whatsoever. Our queue did not move for half an hour. When we decided to check out what was going on, we discovered that the queue was for passengers with a later embarkation time. It also meant we were not allowed inside the terminal prior to our assigned embarkation time. We all know how hot and humid it is at the Port of Miami in early September! Almost half the people standing in our queue had an earlier embarkation time, and could have just walked straight into the terminal. Needless to say, they were not happy about the lack of instructions. We were finally allowed inside the terminal at our assigned embarkation time. But we were not allowed to get our Sail & Sign cards just yet, we were asked to wait another half an hour in the seated area. Sigh. Hopefully, Carnival will get this sorted out for future cruises.

We finally made it onto the Glory at 2 PM. As usual, our first day was a write-off. We were tired; exhausted from the red-eye flight, sweaty from the Miami heat, and starving as we had not eaten since the morning during our layover - which was really "last night" for us due to the time difference. We headed straight to the buffet and we stuffed ourselves silly.

After our late lunch, we walked around the ship for bit. Two of my favourite things about the Glory was the Theatre and the Comedy Club. Plenty of seats! We certainly missed that on the Vista.

We eventually made our way up to the deck to take a few pictures of Miami. Miami is gorgeous!

While we were up on the deck, the captain announced that it was time for muster. Since we were already out, we decided to head straight to our station. Big mistake, we ended up waiting for forty minutes before it actually began. The Glory is an older boat, and the drill took place outside on the deck. It was stuffy and hot with no breeze, the crew was moving everyone back up against the wall, as they tried to fit more passengers in the front. An older lady almost had a heat stroke, and she had to be helped into the dining room during the drill. Unfortunately, it was a pretty unpleasant and frightening way to start the cruise.

After muster, we headed to our interior cabin to take a shower and a nap before dinner. This was our first cruise in an interior cabin, and certainly our last. Because the offer was for an interior cabin, we decided to stick with it as we didn't want to pay extra to upgrade (otherwise, it's not really "free"). The interior cabins are missing a couch, which is quite a bit of space. We also like to lay out our clothes on the couch, so we missed that. It wasn't enough space for the two of us to move around, and the lack of natural sunlight really got to us. We really missed being woken up by the sun.

We skipped the dining room that evening. We had visited the Maitre'D shortly after boarding, and requested for a table for two, which was to be sorted out on the second day. If you have any dining room requests, it's best to sort them out with the Maitre'D right when you get the ship. We've always had a pleasant time dealing with the Maitre'Ds on both Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships. As long as your requests are reasonable, they are very accommodating and understanding. We went up to the deck to watch the sunset for a few moments before suppertime. We knew we wouldn't have another opportunity during the week with our early dining arrangements. We ate a quick dinner at the buffet before heading back to the cabin to unpack, and catch up on our sleep.

That concludes our first day on board the Carnival Glory. Not a whole lot going on on the first day, but I assure you, there's a very exciting week to come! I apologize for the poor quality iPhone photos, our Canon Rebel T6S will come into play very soon! Stay tuned...

Tuesday 4 October 2016

A Day on the Island Princess

Working in the food industry has it perks. There are food shows, chef competitions, fundrasiers and customer appreciation events. My colleague works with cruise ship sales, and from time to time, our company gets invited to events. In August, we were invited by the Cruise Industry Association of BC to attend a luncheon hosted by the Island Princess. The luncheon was a fundraiser for the Mission to Seafarers, which provides help and support to the women and men who work at the port. It was for a good cause, and I have never been on a Princess ship so I jumped at the opportunity to do go.

The luncheon took place on the Island Princess. The Island Princess is a beautiful ship with a very elegant feel and classic look. It is slightly smaller than the Carnival Valor, the first ship we cruised on, or about half the size of the Oasis of the Seas. It was a small ship, but a cozy ship. Unfortunately, this luncheon took place about two months ago and since then I have gone on a cruise (!) so my memory is a bit fuzzy.

Embarkation went smoothly. Even though the procedures are the same (security, etc), it felt a little bit different going onto the ship with a Visitor's pass. Once we were on the ship, we were ushered into the Wheelhouse Bar for (non-alcoholic) drinks. We sat for a while before we were escorted to the dining room for our lunch. We walked through the beautiful atrium; I loved the classic look and the marble floors (below, right). I also took a quick peek in the casino (bottom, right)!

We had lunch in the dining room (above left), which was closed off to the cruise passengers for the meal. I ordered the all-time Princess favourite, fettuccine alfredo in a crisp parmesan basket. It was so delicious I ate the entire basket! For my entree, I ordered the trout amandine. It was a tad bit too sweet for me. For dessert, I had a milky chocolate-hazelnut souffle.  

After our meal, we were given some time to explore the ship before disembarkation. The indoor pool area is gorgeous. It smelled amazing. It was very zen and peaceful. I've never seen this Asian theme on any of the eight ships I've been on, so I was pleasantly surprised.

We headed up onto the deck to take a look at the outdoor pool as well. At this time, it was starting to get busy as the passengers who were actually going on a cruise on the Island Princess were starting to embark.

I love, love, love these lounge chairs with the plaid blankets. It gets cold cruising in the Pacific so the blankets are perfect. Also, the chairs are angled perfectly for a great ocean view in this particular corner - can you imagine watching the sunset on the deck wrapped up in your blanket with a cup of hot chocolate? Heaven!

Before we headed back down to disembark, we took a quick peek at the buffet as well. The dessert bar was huge, but it was very busy so I didn't get a chance to take any pictures. I grabbed a tart to go, and it was time for us to leave the ship.

Needless to say, a Princess cruise from Vancouver is now on my bucket list... one day! My colleague and I ended up being the last ones of the group to leave the ship. It was a wonderful experience and I'm so thankful I was able to experience this!

* Please note this event was a fundraiser. My workplace paid for our attendance.

Friday 26 August 2016

My Two Cents on the Carnival Vista

Cruising is my vice. I was first introduced to cruising in 2011 by the boyfriend and his family, you can read about my cruising history here in this super old post. Before my first cruise, I always thought cruising was for older folks, but boy, was I ever wrong! My very first cruise was on the Carnival Valor. Carnival is known as the family fun ship, and they really do live up to their reputation. I've been hooked ever since, searching for new ships with the newest features and new ports abroad.

I wanted to write this entry to share my final thoughts. I really enjoyed being the Vista, and knowing we were the third sailing on this brand new ship was a very special and privileged feeling. We booked this cruise quite early, about 15 months out, based on the European ports of call. With that being said, since we were the third sailing, there are a few tiny hiccups we noticed early on. However, it did not affect our overall positive cruise.

Let's jump right into the goodies the ship has to offer, the Vista had a noticeably smaller theatre compared to the other Carnival ships we've been on. My guess is that they were trying to be combine the nightclub and theatre into one space, but it took out a lot of seats. Every night, the theatre was full - and this was because the cast was fantastic! The performers were full of energy and very interactive with the audience. They all gave their best performances, and you can really tell by the genuine smiles on their faces.

We also made it to the comedy club every night. We love a good laugh, and the performers on the Vista were hilarious. The comedy club, on the other hand, was very spacious and we were always able to find seats, even if we came in late.

We gave the SkyRide a try one day after an early return from port. It was nearly an hour wait, but we enjoyed our little race around the aft of the ship. It was a thrilling experience, and the view is incredible. Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to make use of the waterslides. We're Caribbean cruisers and the European breeze was too cold for us! We did want to relax on the deck on our sea day but the deck was completely full. Actually, most deck chairs were always taken, we never once did find any free chairs. But during our walks in search of a chair, we did notice the pools were also smaller than the previous ships we'd been on so it was pretty crowded.

We also visited the spa on our sea day. You can read about it here, but overall, a very relaxing experience.

We have no serious complaints about the food - hey, as long as I don't have to cook, I'm happy! I do have a few notes to point out. There was a lack of variety on the menu, because as you know, I ended up having fish every night and I don't even like fish all that much. There were also some nights where I whined about overcooked fish but looking back, it did not affect my overall, positive experience in the dining room. They do have a different entree dedicated to every port of call every day, and the boyfriend ended up trying the featured entree a couple times. The nightly serenades were also a nice touch - although I am not sure if they did this every sailing. And no, the lack of tablecloths did not bother us - we actually didn't notice until someone mentioned it.

We chose late dining at 8:15 due to the long port days, but I found that the shows were poorly coordinated with this dining time. As I previously mentioned in another entry: The early show at 7:30 PM would cause us to be late for dinner, so we always had to leave the show early. The late showing at 9:30 PM started too early because we finished dinner between 9:45 - 10 PM. Unfortunately, we never watched a performance from beginning to end.

We ate at the Lido buffet quite a few times, and we were pleased with the food. It was busy during lunchtime! We didn't do any specialty dining, but we enjoyed the complimentary Guy's Burger Joint!

We booked a deluxe ocean view stateroom (Category 6M). We chose this cabin because it has two bathrooms (but one toilet)! We enjoyed the double bathrooms in our cabin. This type of cabin was a new discovery for us. The boyfriend and I always fought over mirror space, so it was perfect for us. We also thought we were being smart by choosing the last cabin on the deck. We were on deck 3, where Guest Services, the Shore Excursion Desk, the Atrium Bar and the Dining Room were all located. It was always busy and buzzing out on the floor, and we thought it was a great idea to be away from the noise. Well, we didn't account for the Liquid Lounge above us. Every night, I was woken up thanks to rehearsals, you can hear every chair being dragged and every step taken across the stage. Every morning, I was woken up by the vibrations of the ship pulling into the dock. I am a heavy sleeper so I was able to fall right back asleep, but I do not recommend this cabin for light sleepers!

Our stateroom attendant always eluded us. We rarely saw him, but when we did, he always greeted us by name and when we asked for something (soap, extra towel), he always came through.

We got a glimpse of the Family Harbour Lounge, and boy, were we jealous! The families staying in these staterooms have everything at their doorstep! I think the new Havana cabins and the Family Harbour Suites will be a big draw on the Vista. It's new, it's convenient and it's unique. Carnival is catering towards the right demographic.

Ports of Call
This was the big draw for us. It allowed us to explore Europe on a budget. Carnival had the best lineup of ports on our sailing. We also booked all our shore excursions with Carnival, because we didn't want to miss the ship due to a late excursion! While I wasn't a huge fan of the Top 10 excursions (too rushed), I enjoyed every excursion, and some of the tour companies Carnival chose had amazing tour guides. Needless to say, we had a very memorable time on land.

What's Next
Would I cruise on the Vista again? Probably not. But that is not because I didn't like the ship. I personally love exploring the ships, and I can't wait to cruise on a Carnival ship I haven't been on... It's never the same ship twice for me!

Oh and... Surprise! We're going to be on another Carnival cruise this coming September. I can't wait to write all about it. Stay tuned for the trip report, and please follow me on Instagram for live updates!

If you have any questions about our Vista cruise, feel free to ask me! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading along, and thank you for the comments on Facebook, it keeps me motivated to blog. I wish you all the best in your upcoming cruises... Happy Cruising!

Want to start from the beginning? Navigate through our trip here: 

Monday 22 August 2016

Post-Cruise: Braving Barcelona (Part II)

We had reservations for Sagrada Familia on our last full day in Barcelona. We had a sneak peak the day before, and we were very excited to see the interior of the basilica. We had one day left on the hop-on-hop-off bus, so we decided to take advantage of it. We walked to the Placa de Catalunya stop to see if everything in the centre of Barcelona was closed on Sunday, sure enough, everything was closed except for a few souvenir stands. It was still busy though, with lots of tourists wandering around. NB, everything really is closed on Sundays in Barcelona, with the exception most restaurants (I say this because La Boqueria is closed on Sundays), and Maremagnum, a mall at Port Vell, which is opened year round.

Our tickets had a time window for entry, so we wanted to get there early to check out the area. We arrived at Sagrada Familia an hour before our entrance time, so we had time to shop around. There are many street vendors in the area, and many of them were better priced than the actual souvenir shops in the area. I highly recommend purchasing tickets prior to arrival. We purchased our tickets about 6 days in advance, and there were still plenty of time slots to choose from. If you purchase them on the day of at the basilica, you may have to wait a minimum of two hours for your entry window. There are several types of tickets, you can choose from a basic ticket that just gets you inside, or you can choose to have a tour guide or there is the panoramic package that includes a walk up to the towers. I had purchased tickets for the self-guided tour (€24) so we can move at our own pace. On our way in, we picked up our headsets. The employees are very helpful, and they make sure you don't forget to pick up your headset when they scan your tickets on your way in. It was quite crowded but we managed to see everything mentioned on the tour, and get in a few good pictures as well. I don't want to give everything away, because Sagrada Familia is not to be missed. It's a marvellous work in progress with the completion date of 2026, but the basilica is stunningly beautiful. We will be back!

We ended up spending two hours marvelling at the basilica before we needed to get going for our next booking at Parc Guell. Our Sagrada Familia tickets included a tour of Gaudi House Museum at Parc Guell. We hopped back on the bus and made our way there. Unfortunately, the bus stop is nowhere near Parc Guell. After getting very sketchy directions from a few people, another tourist couple told my in-laws they knew where they were going, so we ended up following them. It was the longest and steepest hill I had ever climb in my life (well, maybe the second steepest). Halfway through, the couple decided it was not worth climbing and turned around! We kept on and after a very exhausting trek, we finally made it to the entrance of the park.

Everyone took a quick five minute break while I tried to figure out where the Gaudi House Museum was. We arrived just in time for our entry time. The museum had great air conditioning, which cooled us down from our sweaty trek, but the house was only two levels, and it did not have more than 50 pieces of Gaudi's work. It was interesting, but it wasn't worth it for us. I personally felt that we could have skipped this tour. We were in there for about fifteen minutes, and then we left to explore the park.

There are public areas in the park, as well as "monumental zones," which require an entrance fee of €8. We didn't know about this and due to time constraints and exhaustion, we didn't end up paying to go inside. Just so you know, the monumental zones include the Dragon Stairway, the famous Greek Theatre or Nature Square, the Austria Gardens and the Pavilions. I would have really liked to visit the famous Nature Square (second, right), but nobody else was really interested. However, it was also quite busy, so it would have been difficult to get a seat in the Square, so that made me feel a bit better about missing it.

On our way back down the hill to our bus stop, we took a much easier route. We noticed direction signs along the way down.. I guess we should have just been more aware of our surroundings!

From Parc Guell, we took the bus to our next stop: the Magic Fountain. By the time we arrived at Plaza de Espana, it was around 7:30 PM. We grabbed a snack inside Las Arenas Shopping Mall, which was down the street. Only the food court was opened. The mall also had a sky deck, which offered a 360 view of Montjuic, for the price of €1. We skipped it because it was getting dark. The light show started after 9 PM. The show was beautiful, but you have to stand by the fountain to hear the music, and that meant being in the wet zone. We crossed the busy road to watched and listen for a few minutes, but the winds were strong and we were getting pretty wet. Eventually, we ran back to the other side of the road. I must say, it is hard to enjoy the show, because there are hundreds of people watching it with you, so there is little room to move around. In other words, don't get comfortable! There is a lot of pushing and blocking. While it is a very magical feeling watching this beautiful light/water show, I like to call this to the poor man's version of the World of Colour in California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort. The Magic Fountain show runs for two hours on a loop, so after 45 minutes, we decided to get going. It was way past our dinnertime, and we were hungry... Note that the Magic Fountain performance is usually on weekends with varying hours throughout the year. Check the hours before going!

Hailing a taxi was a nightmare. There were hundreds of people leaving the area at the same time, and everyone was fighting for a taxi. We managed to get one after fifteen minutes, and we headed back towards our hotel. The taxi ride from Montjuic to Eixample was about €10. There was a restaurant, Cerveceria Catalana, we'd been walking past everyday that we wanted to try. It was especially busy at night when we walked back to the hotel at midnight so we figured the food must be good. I guess we should have anticipated for the wait! We ended up waiting for an hour for a table, but it was worth it. The food was delicious. I loved the fried green Padron peppers (second, right). Most are mild and sweet, but there can be a few hot and spicy ones! It was like playing Russian roulette, but with peppers! Perfect ending to our last night in Barcelona.

Our trip has finally come to an end. Needless to say, Barcelona was by far my favourite port. Catalan cuisine won me over.

Thank you so much for reading along. I will have one last entry with my final overall thoughts regarding this cruise (and the Vista!) at the end of the week. Stay tuned!