Carnival Triumph Western Caribbean Itinerary Feb. 8-15, 2003 Introduction This was my fourth cruise – all on Carnival – and was also the fourth for my girlfriend, Lauren, but her previous three cruises had been on Royal Caribbean. It was our first cruise together. The itinerary was familiar; I had sailed it almost one year ago to the day (also on the Carnival Triumph) and Lauren had sailed the itinerary in April 2001 on RCCL. I am 37; Lauren is 25. This review is rather lengthy, but I wanted to include as many details as possible in anticipation of some of the questions I will get. I have included costs and relative times as often as possible so that people can get an idea what things will cost and how long they will take. As far as costs go, I will always look for a bargain, but we are also willing to pay a premium for exceptional service or opportunities. Friday, Feb. 7 Since we live in different states, we took separate flights to Miami. We wanted to arrive the night before – since we didn’t book our air through Carnival – just to be sure we made it in time. I have found no real bargains by booking the air through Carnival (unless sailing from San Juan). Additionally, my girlfriend is a travel agent, and she often can fly for free. And Carnival would charge me extra if I wanted to use my frequent-flier miles to upgrade to first class. Anyway, we were scheduled to arrive within a few minutes of one another late Friday night. My flight was uneventful, and I was upgraded to first class, where at sat next to Ivan and Lisa from Las Vegas. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were also sailing on the Carnival Triumph. We kept running in to them, and they were a lot of fun. Lauren’s flight was about 45 minutes late, but that was OK. It gave me a few minutes to get my bags and get over to her terminal to meet her. We grabbed her bags at about 11:45, caught a cab to the Fairfield Inn in Miami Beach, and were checked into our room by 12:15. The cab fare was reasonable, but I forgot what I paid. The ride, in addition to the ride to the pier the next morning, certainly beat the cost and hassle of renting a car. We got the travel-agent rate at the Fairfield. It was an adequate room; we were there just to sleep, so we didn’t really explore the hotel. There was a pool, and the hotel is right on the beach at Collins and Arthur Godfrey, so the location is ideal, but we saw neither the pool nor the beach. Saturday, Feb. 8 – Embarkation Day We woke up to find that we had no hot water, so we had to wait about half an hour while the maintenance man fixed things. By about 9:15 a.m., we walked down to the breakfast buffet. It was standard fare, but they did have a waffle station where you could make your own waffles. The cost of breakfast was included in the room. After this we walked to Walgreen’s about two blocks away and picked up a couple of items we decided to just buy in Miami instead of pack – disposable cameras, a phone card, and the like. By 10:30 a.m., we had returned to the hotel, checked out, and loaded our things into a cab for the ride to the Pier. We asked our driver to stop at a liquor store, where we could pick up a gallon each of vodka and coconut rum. We didn’t smuggle this onto the ship because we are tight – we had a hefty bar bill on our Sign and Sail card at the end – but we do enjoy an occasional cocktail in our room while getting dressed for dinner or before bed. We just put the bottles in one of our suitcases, which we then locked. We arrived at the pier a little after 11 a.m. I will say that Carnival could do a better job of directing traffic at the Pier. There were six ships in port, but only the Carnival terminal looked like a circus. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian seemed to have things under control. We had a Category 11 cabin, so we checked in via the Skipper’s Lounge. There was not a whole lot of advantage to this, because we were there so early, but it was still very nice. What I mean by this is that there was no waiting at all to be processed versus waiting in a line of about 40 people for the initial check-in and document review. After this however, there was no advantage to the Skipper’s Lounge. We had to wait in the same line as everyone else to get on the ship, and there is no true “lounge” – or refreshments for that matter. We got upstairs in the waiting area around 11:30, and by 12:30 we were walking onto the ship. We were probably among the first 60-80 people on board the ship. We embarked at the third-floor lobby area, and Lauren was impressed with the lobby. We went straight to our room – a very spacious Category 11. It was Cabin 2720, immediately adjacent to the glass elevators on the port side. We were in awe! It was beautiful! The balcony was about 14-by-4½ feet, and the bathroom, dressing area, and storage areas were all spacious! After taking a couple minutes to admire and explore the room, we made a quick call to the spa to see if they needed any volunteer models for the 2 o’clock spa tour. Sure enough, they needed someone to get a facial, so Lauren got a free facial from about 2 to 3:30 p.m. Before her facial, we took an hour or so to explore the Lido and upper decks and get a bite to eat. While Lauren got her facial, I unpacked, unwound, and re-familiarized myself with the lounges and such on the Promenade Deck. I also booked one shore excursion on the FunVision, as the line was fairly long at the tour desk. This worked great and was very easy. Also at this time, a bouquet of flowers arrived from my travel agent, who was wonderful and got us a helluva deal on the cabin. (I should point out that while Lauren is a travel agent, she specializes in business travel, so I did not book the cruise through her. We used our local Cruise Planners representative.) Lauren and I met back at the room at about 3:30, and we enjoyed our deck until the 4 o’clock muster drill. The cattle call lasted for about 20 minutes, and by 4:30 we were up on Deck 9, above the bridge, to watch us sail. We were slightly delayed in our departure because three other ships had to go before us, and we had to go to the basin to turn around and head in the right direction. No matter how many times you’ve done it, the departure is always exciting. The Imagination and two Norwegian ships sailed past us, and by about 4:40, we were underway. We sailed twice past the two Royal Caribbean ships as we turned around. We went to the Lido deck for the sail-away party, which is really nothing more than a reggae band playing on stage. There were so-called drink specials, but $6.95 with $4.95 refills is hardly a bargain. We took a seat at the Continental Pool bar, where Lauren had a couple of Malibus on the rocks, and I bought a bucket of four Amstel Lights. A bucket of imported beer was $15.53 once the gratuity was added; a domestic bucket was $13.23. At $4.31 and $3.74, respectively, when sold individually, the bucket is a small bargain. (It was my intention to just put the extras in the refrigerator in our room.) It was at the Continental Pool bar that we met a guy who, by the end of the cruise, would affectionately be known as “Drunk Guy” by about everyone on the ship. He was a really nice guy and quite a character, and he seemed to be everywhere! One note about the Continental Pool bars: The one on the port side is non-smoking (as is the entire port side of open decks). I don’t smoke, but it doesn’t usually bother me if others do. I have heard others on this board complain about it, however; so I thought I would point that out. At around 6 o’clock, we went back to our cabin, and our bags began arriving one-by-one. This was great, and we had all of our bags by 6:30 – just in time for a shower before dinner. The best news is that the suitcase containing the liquor arrived first, so we had a pre-dinner cocktail in the room, as well. We stopped by the casino on the way to dinner. It was fairly busy, but there was some room at the Three-Card Poker table, where I quickly lost $100. I would try my luck again throughout the cruise, with not much better luck. I always set aside a specific amount to gamble with. Suffice it to say, there was nothing left in that fund by the end of the cruise. It was still fun, though. We were assigned late seating in the Paris Dining Room – our first choice, so we were very happy. We were seated at a table for four, and our table mates were already there when we arrived. They were a nice couple from California. In the end, we only were with them three nights, but we enjoyed sharing cruise stories with them when we were together. Following dinner, we roamed around the Promenade Deck for a while. This was the first time Lauren really got to look at it, and she loved it. We killed some time on the Promenade Deck until 11:30 p.m., the appointed time for the Cruise Critic/Cruisemates get together. We met some really nice people, and after a little small talk, we decided to explore one another’s cabins. We saw the Harts’, a Cat 12 that was lovely; people stopped by our Cat 11, which had the same amenities as the 12, but not as much floorspace; and then we went to the Kinneys’ cabin, a Cat 8 over the stern. The room may have been smaller, but their deck was great because it was deeper than the rest. I would definitely book this type of cabin any time if it were just two people. Following the cabin tours, the survivors headed down to the Big Easy piano bar for some drinks. It was about 1 a.m. I have always enjoyed the piano bars on my cruises in the past, but the entertainer at this one was not my favorite. He seemed to have a limited repertoire, and he wasn’t a very good singer. He also seemed cocky and would only take a request if he had a tip in advance. I’m all for tipping, and I am usually pretty generous, but I guess I feel tips should be given for a job well done, not beforehand. With all that said, we did return to the piano bar many times during the cruise, as it was usually hopping, and a number of the friends we made really enjoyed the entertainer. When the Big Easy closed at two, we had a drink with the entertainer (I bought his drink), and then we headed up by the New World Pool with the our friends Ken and Nancy and Joe and Jeanie, whom we had met at the Cruise Critic/Cruisemates party earlier. The New World Pool and Bar would become a favorite gathering spot. After a few drinks and a couple of slices of pizza from the nearby pizzeria, we headed to bed around 3:30 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 9 – Day at Sea After a late night, I decided to sleep in a little, but Lauren was up at 8:15 to go running. By 10 a.m., we went to breakfast on the Lido Deck. This would become a ritual, and we always chose to eat outside. The lines inside had a slightly larger selection (a few more fruits, cheeses, and cold cuts), but we just seemed to like being outside. I would say that the quality of the food was average. Some day the cut fruit was soggy; other days it was great but might not include a favorite. The eggs were usually runny. I loved the sausage, and the hash-browned potatoes were good, too. The omelets were good, but small. (You can always order two.) Ingredients include your choices of cheese, mushrooms, red and green peppers, and onions. At about 10:30 we were ready to lie out, but all of the chairs on the Lido and Verandah decks were taken. Only about a quarter were actually occupied, but the rest were reserved with towels or books or shoes or something. Carnival has a no-reservation policy, but they need to enforce it. I certainly understand the need to leave your spot for a few minutes from time to time, but I saw some chairs unoccupied for hours. With that said, you can always find a spot if you look hard enough, and we found ample room on what we called the “funnel deck.” It was the deck above the aft Spa Deck, accessible only by stairs. Tops are optional on that deck, but only a small fraction of the women up there chose to sunbathe topless. For the second day in a row, the weather was absolutely beautiful – mid-80s and sunny – so the breeze from being up so high was welcomed. We went down occasionally to get something from the cabin, and we grabbed lunch from the South Beach Club, but otherwise we spent most of the day up there. At about 3:30 we went to the room for a brief nap, and at about 5 I ran down to the New York Deli for a smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese and onions. The food at the New York Deli is exceptional. My only complaint with them is that they don’t seem to like it if you want a special order – such as no Thousand Island dressing on a rueben. Nonetheless, I was firm with them and usually got what I wanted. In the case of my salmon, I liked to add capers, which the deli does not have but can be found a few paces away at the pizzeria. A light sandwich before our late dinner became another routine for me. I should probably mention that at this point we had still not seen our cabin steward, and we were really disappointed in a number of minor issues with the room: the refrigerator was still locked; our beds were still separated; the soap dish and other parts of the bathroom and cabin were filthy; there was a light that wouldn’t stop flickering (which was very annoying at night); the light on our balcony didn’t work; glasses need to be replaced; etc. We called the Purser’s Desk and got some issues addressed, but not all. (Once they unlocked the refrigerator, we discovered that it didn’t work.) It was frustrating to deal with an elusive cabin steward and others, and by the end of the cruise not all of the issues had been addressed, but we didn’t sweat the little stuff. This night was formal night, so we got dressed early before going down to the Promenade Deck at about 6:30. I gave Lauren her St. Valentine’s Day gift a little early so that she could wear it with her dress. We stopped to get our photos taken by a number of the ship’s photographers and stopped by the casino, as well. The captain’s party began at 7:15 for our seating, and we got to the Club Rio Lounge about two minutes early and got a nice table for four. We were joined by our friends Joe and Jeanie. The captain’s party is actually held in the four aft lounges, but the captain and crew only come to the Club Rio Lounge. Waiters and waitresses walked around with trays of hors d’oeuvres and free drinks, but don’t be afraid to order a drink how you would like it from the bar. This is one of only two opportunities for free drinks, so take advantage of it! Lauren got her picture taken with the captain, and of course John Heald, our legendary cruise director was our host. Dinner that night included lobster tail. After dinner, we got a few more pictures taken and stopped by the World’s Way bar for a couple of drinks before going to the midnight comedy show. One very good performer on the cruise was a piano and guitar player named Julie, who performed every night across from the World’s Way bar and the casino. She sounds kind of like Jewel, and she is very good. She takes requests and even sings some songs she’s written herself. She has CDs available, but I never heard her trying to hawk them. The comedy show, on the other hand, was a disappointment, and we left a few minutes early – at about 12:35 – and went to bed. Monday, Feb. 10 – Cozumel We were up early, ate in our usual spot, and were off the ship by 8:30, as we had a day of snorkeling and scuba diving ahead of us. It was my first time scuba diving and Lauren’s first time snorkeling. I had booked the adventure with Eagle Ray Divers after reading many good reviews on the Web. After a quick $6 cab ride, we were at the Marina where we eventually found Eagle Ray Divers. There was some confusion in their instructions about where they were located and what time the tour would begin. They also seemed a little disorganized with the itinerary, equipment, and pricing. Putting all that aside, however, it was an incredible day! We finally left the marina at 11 o’clock (10 o’clock Cozumel time). We were waiting for a couple from the Coral Princess, which arrived late. During this time, Antonio, the owner, did an excellent job of teaching me the basics of scuba diving. In all, there were five passengers on the tour, two guides (one for the snorkelers and one for the divers), and one boat captain. We were amazed at the personal attention. The only other one to scuba dive with me was a nice girl from Toronto, who was previously certified. The other three people snorkeled. The first dive, just five minutes from the marina off Paradise Beach, lasted about 40 minutes, and we went down 45-50 feet. We saw lots of fish, as did the snorkelers. Following this, we made a 45-minute trek to Plankaar Reef for the next dive. Along the way we saw three dolphins – two adults and a calf – and they came right up to our boat. The guides said this was pretty rare. At the reef, we went down about 50 feet for another 40 minutes, and it was incredible. We saw a dolphin swim by so close that you could touch it. We saw all sorts of marine life, including a lobster. Then, when I was in an underwater tunnel – with nowhere to go but straight ahead – I saw a five-foot-long barracuda staring right at me from below. The guide said later that it was the largest he had ever seen! Scary, but fascinating! The snorkelers saw a king crab, which their guide picked up for them. On the way back, we stopped for lunch at a beach bar where we had the choice of club sandwich, cheese burger, or chicken enchiladas. Lunch was included in the price for snorkelers, but was $10 for the scuba divers. A bit odd – why not just add $10 to the cost for the scuba divers and include it for everyone? (The other scuba diver in our group chose not to pay the $10 and ordered off the menu instead.) The final stop took place about 10 minutes from the marina and was just a snorkel stop – no diving. It was great, too, and they fed the fish to attract lots of them. In all, the day was incredible and well worth the cost: $60 (plus tip) for the three-reef snorkel, including lunch. The three-reef dive (which was actually diving at two reefs and then snorkeling) cost $113 (plus tip), not including lunch. We returned to the marina at around 6 p.m. and took another $6 cab back to the ship, where we took a quick shower and changed clothes for a night at Carlos and Charlie’s. We left the ship at 7, were in a cab by 7:15, and – after another $6 cab ride – were at Carlos and Charlie’s by 7:25. What a night! It got pretty crazy with all the waitresses selling $3 shots! We were joined at our table by our friends from the ship – Joe and Jeanie, Ken and Nancy, and Eric, and we sat next to our friends from Las Vegas – Ivan and Lisa and their friends. The night was a lot of fun! We left C&C’s around 11 p.m. and were back on the ship by 11:30, where we watched from our balcony as a few drunks stumbled up the pier. The purser kept paging people to find out if they were back on the ship yet, and at about 11:55, some poor guy was running up the pier carrying his girlfriend. He made it, but the ship sailed promptly at midnight. The next day, John Heald said that some people had missed the ship and would have to fly to Grand Cayman and join us there. You never know if he is kidding, though, so it might have just been part of his schtickt. Lauren had had quite a bit to drink at Carlos and Charlie’s, so she was to bed quickly, and I wasn’t long behind her. One note: On Monday night they run a laundry special. All the clothes you can fit into one bag will be laundered and pressed for just $12. If you have a lot of laundry that needs pressing, this is a bargain, but it must be collected by your room steward (whom we were still yet to meet) by 9:30 Tuesday morning. Tuesday, Feb. 11 – Day at Sea After a 9 a.m. breakfast and a walk though the photo gallery (where we found two cute pictures out of eight), Lauren decided to lie down and take a nap. I did the same for a little while, then headed to the casino. She slept until about 12:30, and I was in the casino until 1:15. At about 2 o’clock, we headed to the aft Lido Deck, where we easily found two lounge chairs in the sun next to the pool. (By that time of day, a lot of the lounge chairs had become free.) On this day, they held the Past Cruisers’ Party at 3 to 3:45 p.m. – the second of two opportunities for free drinks – but since we were getting a late start on the day, we took a pass. Our table mates and Ken and Nancy said it was a nice party. Housekeeping asked if I could meet them around 4 so that I could finally meet our cabin steward and let them know what else needed to be done, so I did that while Lauren stayed up on deck. At about 5 o’clock, we went to the gym, where we spent a few minutes in the whirlpool, then we went back to our cabin at about 5:30 for showers. We sat out on the balcony for a while and worked on this journal before going down to dinner at around 7:30 – stopping along the way at the casino and to get a couple more photos taken. Our table mates weren’t at dinner that night, so we had a quiet dinner by ourselves. After dinner, we went to the 10 p.m. magic show, preceded by bingo, of course. The Magic Show was OK, but not great. We left at 10:35 and went to bed. Wednesday, Feb. 12 – Grand Cayman This was the one shore excursion we booked through Carnival – for the simple reason that it would give us priority debarkation from the ship. In Grand Cayman, you moor off shore and take a tender into Georgetown. The tenders are at a premium until about 10 a.m., and we wanted to be off the ship early, see the island, and then relax at the beach – so the Grand Cayman Island Tour was for us. At $33 per person, it was a bit pricey. You could probably arrange the same from a driver at the pier for about $20-22 per person if you didn’t care about the time, but due to the short time in the Caymans, we wanted the maximum time on the island. Therefore, we had a quick breakfast on the Lido Deck and met a few hundred others in the Club Rio Lounge at 8 a.m. Our tour was the second called, at about 8:15. As it turned out, there were probably about 30 people in our tour, divided into two buses, so it was pretty comfortable. We were on the buses by 8:35. Our driver spoke very clearly and repeated things a few times for people. We drove along Seven Mile Beach, and he pointed out a number of landmarks before we ended up in the little town of Hell. Hell in itself is not worth seeing, but it is a novelty and only would have taken a few minutes if not for a few inconsiderate members of our group who were late for the bus’ departure. If you want to mail a postcard from Hell, be sure to take it along, but you need to buy Caymanian stamps there. The next stop was the Turtle Farm, which I found fascinating. (I think Lauren could have done without it.) Adjacent to it is the Tortuga Rum Factory. Be sure to sample the free rum and rum cakes. On the way back, we stopped along the beach a couple of times and then drove through Georgetown for a few minutes. The tour concluded around 10:30, near the public phones. This seemed to be a good time to call home and check in, but Cable and Wireless does not allow for U.S. calling cards to work from the Cayman Islands. They are, however, more than happy to sell you their own eight-minute card for $12.50. After a quick check on things, we caught a cab for the Royal Palms Beach Club, where they allow the cruise passengers to use their beach. It was $3 per person for the cab (each way), and $3 per person to access the beach. They have a nice bar, but the beach was a bit busy. It was fun, nonetheless. If you want to walk about five minutes north (away from the ships) you can hang out at the much quieter Hyatt. We never made it, because we kept running into friends from the ship. If you do go to the Hyatt, say hello to Chevy the bartender. He will take good care of you. After a couple of drinks, we decided to try the parasailing. There are two boats that make regular trips up and down the beach looking for passengers. One (Professional Parasailing, I think it is called) charges $60 per person, $100 for a double. The other (I don’t remember the name) charges $45 per person regardless of how many people. The advantage of the latter, in addition to the price, is that they have a longer rope. We were nearly 500 feet high, and the view was spectacular! You could see the entire island! After the parasailing, we kept running into friends (Eric, the Impastatos, the sombrero boys from Windsor, and even a gal from Toledo who went parasailing with us) on the beach and at the bar, and we stayed there as long as we could. The last tender supposedly leaves at 3:45, and I think we left the beach at 3:10 for the five-minute ride back to the pier. In the end, we ended up standing in line for a tender for at least 20 minutes. The bottom line is that if you are back to the pier by 3:45, you will get a tender. (Be sure to go to the correct pier, however. There are north and south piers – not too far of a walk from one another. Both times I have sailed to Grand Cayman on Carnival we have used the north pier.) Once we were back on the ship, we went back to the cabin to change clothes, where we watched the Princess and Royal Caribbean ships sail. We sailed promptly at 4:30, behind them. After that, we went up to the aft Lido Deck for a sail-away drink with our friends Eric and Joe and Jeanie. We hadn’t eaten on the island, so I grabbed a sandwich from the deli. A few others had pizza. We watched the sun set at 6:23 and got ready to head down to get ready for dinner. As we did, we saw out friends Ken and Nancy below on their deck. We pounded on the window to get their attention, and then headed down to their cabin to share the photos from Cozumel that I had just picked up from the photo desk. One of the best bargains on the ship is their overnight photo developing. You can drop off a roll of 35mm film on Deck 4 and have it developed overnight for $8.88. (Charges are pro-rated for more or fewer shots.) At dinner, our friend Eric had been sitting at a table of eight, but only three others – three friends from Boston, who were great guys – had shown up each of the previous nights, so Eric convinced the Joe and Jeanie and us to join him. We had a great time, and the Long Island duck was out of this world! Joe and Jeanie were celebrating their 25th anniversary on this cruise, and they had a bottle of champagne that they wanted to share with some friends. We had also received a bottle from the purser in consideration of our issues with the cabin, so we and a number of other Cruise Critic/Cruisemate folks decided to get together after dinner in the piano bar for a glass of bubbly. It was a fun night, and members of the group seemed to move among the aft lounges – Big Easy Bar, Hollywood Disco, and World’s Way Bar to listen to Julie. We even went to the California Wine Bar and Venezia Lounge, which were generally dead throughout the cruise. I think we closed them all and retired for bed around 2:10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 13 – Ocho Rios We arrived in port before the appointed time of 8 a.m., but even so, Lauren and I were a little late in rising. Nonetheless, by 8:45 we had had our breakfast and were at the taxi area adjacent to the pier. After reading many excellent reviews, I booked a tour through Belinda at A-Z Jamaican Planners. She was great, and so was our guide, Oscar. After informing the agent on the pier that we were looking for Oscar, she paged him, and he picked us up at 9 a.m. in a very nice air-conditioned car. We were his only fare. He promptly took us to Dunn’s River Falls, which we had both climbed before, but never together. Oscar had pre-purchased our tickets, so we got right in. Lauren needed water shoes, and Oscar directed us to the most reputable dealer, who charged us only $10 for a pair. He waited for us until we went down to the beach and was there when we arrived at the top of the falls. My only complaint is that we were in a huge group, and it took us nearly 50 minutes to climb, but this was no fault of Oscar’s. We were the ones who woke up late; had we gotten there earlier, we would have climbed it in no time at all. (My only other complaint is the crazy woman who I helped up the falls. If you don’t know, you climb the falls hand-in-hand, pulling/helping/guiding the next person behind you. Lauren was first and I was second behind the guide. The next lady – a woman from Minnesota – kept whining about how cold the water was. It wasn’t that bad. Anyway, the guide would, from time-to-time, start a water fight by splashing us. Instead of splashing him back, this crazy woman kept turning and splashing me! Lauren said I should have given her the wrong directions and have her step in a hole. I was tempted.) Following the climb, Oscar was waiting for us while we went back to our lockers. One hint: They charge $8 for a locker, and you get a dollar back when you return the lock. There was a long line to return the lock, however, and it was mixed with people who were looking for a lock. In stead of returning my lock, I simply held it up and offered it for $5 to anyone who wanted a lock. It cost me a net $3 and the next person a net $4 (assuming they didn’t do the same thing as I). Either way, it saved time and money. As we exited, Oscar negotiated with the guard to let us exit through the entrance, which saved us from running the gauntlet of overly zealous vendors. It was not 10:30 yet, and we were on our way to go horseback riding on Heritage Beach. After about a 20-minute drive, we arrived at the Seville Plantation, where we were given basic riding instructions and took our mounts. We did some trail riding toward the ocean for about 40 minutes. Then, after a few-minute break, we remounted to ride our horses in the water. Another break, and we rode along the beach back to the plantation for another 40 minutes or so. During the breaks, a woman usually has refreshments available. She wasn’t there for us, however, as we were running late. The good news in all this was that it was just Lauren and me (and our guide) – which was kind of romantic. The guide was very good about taking pictures of us on our horses – even when we were in the water. Of course, the cost of all this was pre-paid by Oscar. After the two-hour experience with the horses, Oscar took us to a local place called Bi- bi-bips for some authentic jerk chicken. It was OK, not great, and a little pricey ($42 plus tip for two sandwiches, a shared appetizer, two Red Stripes and a margarita), but the view over Mahogany Beach was very nice. Oscar joined us for lunch (and got his meal comped by the management for bringing us). At first I thought this was a bit peculiar, but we really liked Oscar and enjoyed his company and conversation. Following lunch, Oscar dropped us off at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, which we wanted to see, if only for a few minutes. (The cost of our day with Oscar was $98 per person, plus tip and lunch.) It was about 2:15, so we had one drink and left there at about 2:45 for the relatively short walk back to the pier. By the time we arrived at the pier, the line was very long, and it was a 15-20 minute wait to get back on the ship. Nonetheless, the ship sailed at 3:30, and everyone seemed to be back on board. Since our balcony was facing away from the pier, we walked up to the forward Verandah Deck to watch us sail away, and then we went back to the aft Lido Deck for a while. I even went swimming for the first time. A little while later, Lauren went to the gym to work out, and I went to the sauna. We joined each other in the whirlpool. The whirlpools on deck seemed to maintain a constant 80.6 degrees, but the whirlpools in the gym were much hotter – and had no kids. Following this strenuous effort, we took a brief nap before getting ready for dinner. Dinner was formal night, and we again sat at Eric’s table with our other friends. This seemed to cause a little distress for the maitre’d, but it was the first time we had seen him in six nights. This was also about the only time we experienced any significant seas – and they weren’t that bad. Following dinner, Lauren went up on deck to relax and do some reading while I went to the casino, and then we joined one another at the disco, where we met some friends and stayed until about 3 a.m. When we went back to our room, we spent some time on the balcony looking at the lights from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The FunVision gives constant updates of the ship’s position, and it was nice to be able to confirm that we were actually looking at Cuba (which we were able to see for much of the next day). Friday, Feb. 14 – Day at Sea We woke up around 9:30, had breakfast at 10:15, and by 10:35 we were one of the first three or four couples up on the “Funnel Deck.” It quickly filled up after we arrived, but our experience has been that you can always find a lounge chair there until at least 11 a.m. We lay out in the sun for a while. I read a book, and even found some shade for a while. Six solid days of sun and mid-80s was starting to take its toll. In fact, the first overcast skies we experienced during the entire trip rolled in at exactly 2 o’clock, and by 4 they had given way to sunny skies again. At around 4:30, we went back to the cabin to do a little preliminary packing, work on this journal, take a shower, fill out the satisfaction survey, etc. We had a couple’s massage scheduled for 5:45. This was pretty pricey -- $198 plus tip, and not really worth the money, but it was St. Valentine’s Day, after all. The session lasted about 90 minutes, but we each received only a cursory massage. The session was mostly instruction. Following the massage, we showered and got ready for dinner. It was our final night on the cruise, and we decided to join our original tablemates, whom we had not seen in a couple of days. We filled each other in on our adventures. Following dinner, we went back to the room to complete our packing and put our bags outside our room. Carnival says they must be placed outside your room by 1 a.m. Keep in mind, though, that once they are placed outside they will be picked up – even if it’s hours before 1 a.m. At around 10 p.m. we began our final tour of the lounges. We saw a lot of our friends and took lots of photos, etc, as we said our good-byes. I ended up going to bed at 3 a.m.; I think Lauren stayed up talking until 5:15. She said when she saw us arrive at the Port of Miami she knew it was time to go to bed. Saturday, Feb. 15 – Debarkation Day We woke up around 8 and were out of our cabin right around 9 a.m. (the appointed time). We went up to the aft Lido deck for a little breakfast where we met Eric, Ken and Nancy, and their neighbors. They called tags by color beginning shortly after 10 a.m., and by 10:35 they had called our color. We waited a few minutes (but before the next color was called) to avoid the stampede. After a short wait, we were off the ship, located our bags, breezed through customs, and found the Hertz bus waiting to take us to the airport, where we had a rental car waiting. Our flights did not leave until after 6 p.m., so we spent the afternoon exploring Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Conclusion We had an awesome time and would gladly sail Carnival again. While there were some food and service issues, they were far outweighed by the sun, fun, and friends – not to mention the perfect itinerary. If you have any questions about this review, please feel free to e-mail me or post a question on this thread, and I will do my best to answer it.