February 16, 2016

Just Cruisin' For Travel

To temporarily shift the focus away from cycling, the next few posts will discuss the Caribbean cruise I went on with my dad on the first week in February, the excursions, and the ports of call. The cruise ship – Carnival Liberty – started its journey at San Juan (Puerto Rico) and stopped at the following five ports: St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands), Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and Sint Maarten. I will start off with the general cruise experience.

Check In
Carnival Liberty at San Juan Cruise Terminal
After spending a day and a half in San Juan (more on this later), we arrived at the Carnival cruise terminal situated next to a pirate ship. The check in was similar to that of an airport, but slightly more festive. When checking in, cruise cards were provided for making all on-board purchases – cleared by credit card at the end – and re-boarding the ship after enjoying an excursion or exploring the town. Before boarding, there was a duty free shop and a security check, where hard liquor such as rum had to be turned in and picked up after the cruise.

Amenities
Once inside and the luggage stowed in the simple but decently furnished cabin, it was time to explore the ship’s amenities. Starting at the upper decks, there were deck chairs everywhere to look out, relax, or watch movies on the big screen. There were two saltwater pools (in case you forgot the beach), hot tubs, waterslide, outdoor bars, jogging track, and sports like mini putt and basketball. To work off the food, a full gym with group classes, steam rooms, saunas, and showers was at your disposal; along with a spa, barber, and children’s activity centre. Below the Panorama deck chairs, there were the Lido buffet dining facilities with every kind of food imaginable, including a 24-hour pizza shack and soft ice cream machines.
After going down past three balcony stateroom decks, there were three decks for the Promenade entertainment facilities. These included two formal dining halls, theatre, casino, shops, art and photo galleries, guest services and excursion desks, and entertainment options satisfying every taste. My personal favourites were Victoria Lounge for comedy nights and Alchemy Bar for high end martinis, though the Piano Man Bar’s décor deserved an honourable mention. That area also contained the muster stations and lifeboats, where every guest must gather before setting sail. There are two stateroom decks below, while the bottom deck has the medical centre and exit to port.
Food

No cruise is complete without reviewing its culinary aspects and it’s safe to say they feed you well! For breakfast, I preferred the buffet, especially when there was an early shore excursion. They had omelettes made to your desire, fresh fruit, taters, eggs benedict, and all kinds of morning goodies. The formal dining was also open and good for mingling with other guests. Lunch was rarely eaten on board except for Sea Day, though Guy’s Burger Joint served excellent burgers with a station to pick your toppings.
Braised rabbit - one of the appetizers served
The evenings focused on formal dining, with a suit recommended for two “elegant” evenings including the Captain’s Celebration. The service provided by the waiters and chefs was top notch; ensuring every need was met. If you couldn’t decide what you wanted, you didn’t have to limit yourself to one entrée or one appetizer! One night, I had two entrées for a surf and turf affair as did others at my table. They came up with unique appetizers such as braised rabbit and frog legs, which were delicious. For dessert, the chocolate lava cake was always on the menu, so I had to try that once. While most food on the cruise was included, alcoholic beverages and specialty coffees cost extra.

Fun
One thing Carnival is best known for is providing a fun atmosphere! Guests received daily activity brochures and Cruise Director Cory (the Family Guy) provided reminders over the intercom. There were two deck parties – including on sail away night – where you were compelled to do Caribbean dance moves! Sea Day saw fun activities such as an ice sculpture demonstration and a drink mixing contest. There were also socials for women, singles, LGBTQ folks, and every demographic imaginable. The casino offered good music and there were many opportunities to have your picture taken on board or at shore. During certain formal dining nights, the waiters and chefs performed a flash mob to energize guests. The cleaning staff were also friendly by addressing you by your first name and leaving towel sea animals while you explored town.
The ice sculpture ended up being a swan
Final Thoughts

For my first cruise experience, I found it to be a great way to explore several Caribbean islands at once. Several final thoughts came to mind.
  1. No passport stamps were issued on the cruise.
  2. Sunscreen is needed 2-3 times daily to avoid getting burnt.
  3. While backpacking around Europe is fine solo, a Caribbean cruise is best done with friends, family, or a significant other.
  4. If travelling with only a carry on, only buy liquor at the airport duty free on the way home. Liquor at ports may appear cheap, but end up costing more than the local liquor store via checked luggage fees.
  5. Get waterproof cameras for taking pictures while scuba diving or snorkelling!
  6. SLR cameras can last the whole trip without recharging!
You can also check my posts discussing shore excursions, the ports of call, and Puerto Rico.

Sail away!
Rob Z (e-mail)

3 comments:

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    1. Thank you kindly! I focus most of the content here on bikes, but do write about travel whenever I get the chance to do some. Should have at least one trip in the works for the year ahead.

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