a gringo's take on fatherhood and other stuff

the clueless american


Day 5 – Grand Cayman 0

Posted on March 10, 2013 by TJ

Our best–and worst–port.

I have 66 pictures for this one but won’t flood this board with all of them.

We woke at 6 and opened the window to another beautiful morning as we tendered into Grand Cayman. We had a leisurely room service breakfast and then made our way to the tenders. We’re not sure why, but the front elevators to the 0 floor were disabled and the stairway was blocked. We were about to make our way to the aft gangway when a crewmember said “shhh” and let us downstairs. We must have totally missed the daily announcement while eating breakfast, so I’m not sure if the front deck was supposed to be shore excursions only or something.

The tender ride was uneventful. I got some good looks at the Conquest, Magic and Liberty although I wasn’t able to get all 3 in one shot.

We hadn’t booked an excursion with the ship, so I started looking for a tour operator for Stingray City. One inside the terminal area was asking for $40pp so we kept moving on. Once outside we found one offering the same tour for $40pp and “the baby” for free. That was great because Jack doesn’t swim and doesn’t particularly like being in deep water, even wearing the vest you see in the Montego Bay post above. We waited about 15 minutes while the guide tried to sell other tours before she gave up and just called the driver. A taxi picked us up near the terminal and stopped at a hotel before continuing to the dock. The place seemed almost residential, but I saw vans for other popular tour companies and wasn’t worried. The taxi driver passed us off to the real tour guide. We wound up with Carib Select Watersports (carib select dot com with no spaces). There were a total of 19 people on the boat including the captain, our guide and another American expat who was apparently learning the trade.

I won’t spend a ton of time on the ship vs 3rd party tour, but I will say this: every tour operator goes to the exact same sandbar for their Stingray City tours, and that’s ok. This picture should give you an idea of what the crowds and gorgeous water looked like:

Keep in mind some of the tours had people packed in like the tenders. In fact they looked like tenders. We had 16 or so guests on a decent-sized boat where we never felt cramped.

The SC tour is pretty standard among the companies: you get in and stand on the sandbar while stingrays swim all over and everyone tries not to act scared. The tour operator holds a stingray and each family takes turns holding and kissing it while another tour person takes pictures. Then you take another picture with the stingray “massaging” your back.

They also provided us with squid that I’m told the stingrays would suck right out of your hand. Mine never made it that far because a large, aggressive fish snatched my squid before a stingray could come along. The birds were pretty aggressive too:

After 20-30 minutes at the sandbar, the captain was supposed to take us to one of two snorkeling spots–his choice. Instead we did two. The snorkeling was great at both, but the second had a larger number of fish right near the boat. I took lots of pictures and videos with my new Canon Powershot D20 underwater camera. Here are a few examples:

At the first snorkeling stop, we tried to do it with Jack which turned out to be a bad idea. He was trying to hold on hard enough to penetrate flesh, which made it difficult to move around with him. The water was deep enough that I needed to tread water. It was easier with the fins but still work. Eventually I got him comfortable enough that I could hold him on one arm while I snorkled and took pictures with the other. At one point I was watching an eel under the coral, when it decided to come look at me. I wasn’t in a position to wait and see his intentions, so I took off while keeping Jack above water. It’s kind of amusing so I’ve linked a youtube video here: http://youtu.be/T-n1GRh8G_0

Overall we had a great day. The boat provided cold water and juice and was comfortable enough. We decided to buy the guide’s $60 CD with 17 pictures of us. The phone and email are on the envelope so that you can get a replacement if the disc breaks or doesn’t work when you get home.

After we got back to the terminal, the fun began. For some reason the Conquest’s line snaked all through the terminal while Magic guests were walking right on. We waited in line for about 45 minutes, occasionally sending one parent (ok, always Elle) to buy some snacks and cold drinks. The people around us were friendly and chatted with us from time to time. Every once in a while someone would try to enter the line in the middle, but they usually went to the back when we pointed out we weren’t the end of the line.

As we approached the gate, more and more people tried to cut the line. Several people were quite put out that the line applied to them. I don’t know if Carnival is supposed to offer platinum guests priority boarding, but they weren’t. A few crewmembers approached and asked if they could cut so that they could make their shift on the ship. The people in front of us let them go, and I was ok with that. Also a port security officer escorted a family with a young baby right in front of us. Again, no big deal here.

Then, just as the guard was about to allow our group to walk to the next tender, a large group of mostly employees rushed the gate. I saw Ram the magician among others. There were also regular passengers who decided to take advantage of the confusion and rush the line as well. I know they were regular pax because one group of these bags of d–I mean wonderful humans–wound up right in front of me. I saw their blue S&S cards same as mine. What made it more annoying to me was the way they kept loudly justifying it to themselves and all who could hear. They didn’t feel the least bit bad about cutting us off after our long wait in line. They kept looking back for their friends who were stopped to see if they managed to cut as well. They were also able to cut before we made it to the tender.

I don’t remember this being as much of an issue on other cruises, but we saw a fair amount of rudeness on this trip. We had people walk up when we were clearly waiting for an elevator and step between us and the door as soon as it opened, often not allowing those inside to leave. The next morning in Cozumel an old man cut in front of Elle when we were about 30 people back from the gangplank because she paused 10 seconds to get out her S&S card. We even had an older gentleman far in front of his family step right between Max and Elle as we were boarding the elevator in the parking garage on the way out. Elle said, “are you really going to jump in and break up my family?” The guy had no response.

With the day in the sun and water, the long wait and watching Jersey Shore board the tender, we weren’t in the best of moods when we got back to the ship. We took the elevator up to 9 and passed through the pool area on the way to our room. Elle and Max stopped to talk and I stepped to the side–outside of traffic I thought–and nearly smacked a lady with my backpack. Elle said loudly enough for her to hear “Ted, watch out, you almost ran into that lady.” As I was saying oops or something equally stupid, she felt the need to get in my face and say “You almost hit me with your backpack!” My witty reply was, “maybe you shouldn’t walk behind me then!” I sure showed her!!!

The thing is, I’m a pretty decent guy, and I try to be cognizant of my surroundings so I don’t do what I just did. But everyone was hot and sunburned and tired of the tender experience, so we let our tempers go. I am sorry I almost hit her, but ma’am, if you’re here, please realize I don’t have eyes back there and can’t help it if you walk so close a normal turn on my part almost hits you.

That just about finished me for the day, happy thought gone. I sulked for a bit and decided a Guy’s burger might cheer me up. It was pretty good, but I still didn’t feel like playing nice. As I came out of the restroom next to Guy’s, another man pushed past me through the door instead of waiting 1 second for me to get out. I snapped “don’t let me get in your way” and almost started my second fight of the afternoon. I was so tired and mad that my great day in Grand Cayman was now this, but I didn’t want to go to sleep at 4pm because I’m a big boy and don’t need a nap.

In the end I wound up staying in the pool area while Max went down the waterslide over and over. I got a couple of DotDs to relax a bit, but I was really too tired and cranky for that to work well. I brought my second drink in the hot tub right below the slide, and it was HOT! We own a hot tub at home, so I’m familiar with the US-mandated 104 degrees F tub. This was much hotter than that. As I sat down I could tell with great detail exactly where the sun had eaten through the sunblock.

I was there a few minutes before Elle came to get me. Camp Carnival had closed early before dinner because no kids were there, so she still had Jack with her. We went back to the room to shower and get ready for dinner. I was so whipped I couldn’t stomach the idea of putting on my suit again for elegant night #2. We also made the boys skip Camp Carnival that night. We decided on pizza and root beer floats (root beer from the bar, ice cream from Swirls). That was a nice, relaxing dinner, and Jack was sound asleep in the cabin by 8:15, with Max soon after. In closing, here are some more from gorgeous Grand Cayman.

Day 4 – Montego Bay 0

Posted on March 10, 2013 by TJ

Wherein we act like rookie tourists.

As was our tradition by now, we had room service breakfast on the deck. We kept messing with the arrival time to make sure it got there after everyone woke up but before we were starving. 6-7 usually worked, but the longer we cruised, the later Max stayed up and the later he wanted to sleep. The front blinds are required to be closed from sunset to sunrise to avoid glare on the bridge below. I usually opened them when we were ready to wake up, and that helped Max to stir.

After breakfast, we proceeded to our second tradition, second breakfast. The room service breakfast was pretty good and offered the opportunity to fill up, but it doesn’t have hot food. We usually had croissants with cream cheese and jelly, coffee and hot chocolate, chocolate milk for the boys. Then we’d put on clothes and walk over to the buffet to pick up some bacon and eggs to finish off the meal.

Today I spent a while on the deck watching us follow the Magic into port. After the Magic docked, we turned to park perpendicular to her. This is one of the shots I captured from the deck showing what a gorgeous day we had:

I took a few shots of the Magic as well as we docked.

The weather in Montego Bay was gorgeous as you can see from the pictures. We made our way off the ship and discovered we needed to shuttle over to the main terminal next to the Magic. There were two options right off the Conquest: the “free” shuttle and the purchase for the hop-on, hop-off bus. The HOHO allowed use of the sign and sail card but didn’t have a price displayed. We heard some others saying it was $19 per person, but I never got the price directly so YMMV.

We elected to use the “free” shuttle. I keep putting it in quotes because the driver spent the whole time reminding people to “take care of your drivers.” Like many, I’m tired of the tendency to turn any job into a tipping job. When my tips help cover the salary, such as the cabin steward or a waiter, it’s a lot more palatable. When someone is fully compensated for serving ice cream or driving a bus or whatever, I don’t see why they should put out a tip jar or practically demand a tip, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

We made it to the terminal and joined the crowds from the Magic making their way out. We intended to take a taxi to Doctor’s Cave Beach, spend a few hours, then taxi back for lunch and naps.

As we left the terminal, there were throngs of people being shuttled onto buses. I told several workers we we not on a tour and just wanted to go to Doctor’s Cave Beach. They kept saying no problem and herding us toward the next bus. I seem to remember small taxis at Falmouth 12 years ago, but there were none to be found here. As we were herded close to a bus, I told the driver we wanted to go to Doctor’s Cave Beach and get off. He of course said no problem and continued to pack people into the bus. Because I expected a short trip, I allowed him to direct me to the back while Elle and the boys sat up front.

After stuffing the bus to the limit and closing the door, the driver said, “I’m going to make you a deal. I’ll drive you around all day and show you the best beaches, take you to the best shopping, etc, and it will be just $15 per person. Does that sound good?”

I was hoping Elle would object, but when she didn’t I stupidly stayed silent amid the partyers on the bus saying yes. I figured Doctor’s Cave must be one of the best beaches and we could just duck out there. Naturally I was wrong. I knew we were in trouble when we passed right by DCB and turned away from the coastline. I didn’t want to be a jerk and stop the bus, but in hindsight I should have done just that. Not only is an all-day bus tour not a good option for my 5- and 8-year-old boys, the adults really didn’t want cranky kids hanging around them all day.

I kept expecting him to stop somewhere close where we could just walk back to DCB, but it didn’t happen. Before long we were far away on a highway and I figured it was safer to stick with him than get out on the side of the road. He took us all the way to the White Witch golf course and let us out at the top to take pictures. I went for the nearest golf club employee and set up a taxi to return to DCB. It took long enough that our original driver was ready to go just as we were walking away. He ran up to us and said if we were leaving we could just pay him now. I gave him some $ for the ride and he tried to get us to pay him $15pp. I told him my kids couldn’t do an all-day tour and there was no way I was paying all-day tour prices to strand me somewhere I didn’t want to be. He stopped arguing and left with the $ we’d already given him. The new driver tried to talk us into going somewhere else but backed down when I said we are getting off at DCB and nowhere else. He actually was trying to be helpful, but I was not going to get scammed twice in one morning.

The moral of the story, of course, is something I’ve learned all over the world, from Colombia to Germany to Thailand: don’t get in a taxi until you’ve agreed on the destination and the price. Now, The party people in the bus seemed like they were in for an enjoyable day, but it wasn’t what we needed for enjoyment, and I was stupid to let myself be bullied when I really know better.

After the 45-minute, $30 detour, we arrived at Doctor’s Cave Beach. Admission was $6 pp, but she gave us “the baby” free. By this time the chairs and umbrellas were all rented, so we threw one Carnival towel on the sand and piled our stuff on it.

Doctor’s Cave Beach is nice if all you’re looking for is sand and water. There are no fancy features except a trampoline that pretty much stayed full. It was just what we wanted, and gorgeous:

We saw some lucky AirTran folks getting ready to start a nice vacation:

With just adults, we probably would have stayed longer and eaten at a nearby restaurant, but with the boys a full day in the sun usually isn’t a great idea, as we found out the next day.

The sand there was weirdly coarse. I wound up sitting on the edge with Jack for about 30 minutes while the waves splashed us. He loved that. When I stood up I found a bunch of sand had entered my shorts in the waves and then coalesced. I had two big mounds stuck in the netting inside my drawers! I had to go out in the deeper water. If it wasn’t so crowded and so crystal clear, I would have take off my shorts and washed the sand out. As it was I had to keep shaking the blobs up so the sand would go back into the water.

Also the entrepreneurs didn’t leave us alone even while swimming. There were Jamaicans swimming around trying to get us to buy conch shells. I wasn’t the least bit interested, but another couple was. That was until another cruiser said they are illegal to bring back on the ship. I don’t know about the legality but thought I’d pass the info along.

We walked to the top of the DCB steps where several drivers waited. They wanted $5 pp back to the port which we gladly accepted. The guy asked us to wait awhile so he could fill the bus, but after 10 minutes there were no takers and we left.

Oddly, the driver asked if it was ok to buy gas before talking us back. Elle seemed amenable and I said OK. After all, we were now out of the sun although sweating a lot, and we weren’t in a hurry. We got back to the port in no time and packed into a shuttle for the Conquest side.

Again the driver emphasized the tips he needed to live, but honestly I wasn’t feeling so generous after the morning we had. We passed through the terminal where some but not all bags were checked, then got back on the Conquest.

We made a quick stop by the room to drop off towels, etc then headed to lunch. I had my daily Guy’s burger and the boys and Elle ate off the buffet. Elle tried to eat a taco from the Blue Iguana, but they closed at 2:30 and we got there at 2:40. He offered to make her one anyway, but we try to respect the crew’s working hours, especially when so many other options exist.

After lunch, we napped almost until dinner time and then dropped Jack at CC while Max ate with us. For the first 3 or so nights he asked to join us in the restaurant because he liked it. Later he said he was tired of restaurant manners and wanted to eat at CC.

Meet & Greet 0

Posted on March 10, 2013 by TJ

Before the ports I have to thank our Cruise Critic Roll Call leader, Fran aka peachcrek. She started the CC roll call and eventually organized a meet & greet and cocktail party the first day at sea as well as a group rate at a resort in Montego Bay.

It’s a good thing Fran didn’t come by plane either, because her bags must have been stuffed to the gills. She bought special presents for the 3 birthday ladies (Mrs. Thelma celebrating 100, Elle 40 and another I’ve forgotten). She also had at least 20 door prize bags that were given out. They were pretty significant considering she isn’t an employee and dragged them down from NJ for a bunch of people she’d never met. We really appreciated her hard work and friendliness.

We’d also like to thank Paul aka DeafDude for designing and printing door posters for everyone.

We didn’t stay for the cocktail party because it was time to pick up the boys from Camp Carnival. We thought the adults would appreciate us not bringing them there. It would have been fun to spend more time actually meeting and greeting everyone. We’ll have to try next time without the boys.

One Thing More 0

Posted on March 09, 2013 by TJ

Ok, the real last one for the night. As I re-read my posts, I realize it’s possible to think I’m complaining. Since you can’t read my tone over the internet, please understand we had a great cruise and would board tomorrow if circumstances allowed. I’m trying to be realistic and report on the good and bad, things I was wondering before the cruise and things I think you might be wondering. Thanks again for the encouraging words. I will try to post more tomorrow when my schedule allows.

First Days at Sea 0

Posted on March 09, 2013 by TJ

Last one for tonight:

After watching the Mississippi for a long time, we attended the Camp Carnival orientation and then it was time for dinner. We chose early dining and were assigned to the Renoir Dining Room on 4 mid. Our waiter Gede and his assistant Imade were excellent throughout. I was a little bit disappointed with the seating because when the crew entertains, most of the action is on the 3rd floor where the anytime diners sit and we didn’t have much to see. Also, the windows of 4 mid would look out onto the liferafts, so they are covered.

A little Carnival hiccup with dinner: somehow Carnival’s computer system decided we were travelling with a 70ish-year-old couple, presumably one of our parents. We weren’t, but that glitch got us assigned to a 6-person table with only 4 people at it, fewer when one or both boys ate with Camp Carnival. On the second night, the Maitre d’ came by to question us about our missing parents. We had to work to convince him we weren’t traveling with anyone else. He was then upset the mysterious couple had skipped dinner twice without bothering to notify him. If they showed up to dinner the first night, I can’t really fault them for seeing the two boys and quietly moving on without saying anything. After all, they were not related to us despite the insistence of the Maitre d’ :) Despite the troubles, Jan (Pronounced Ian) was super-friendly and gave a us a good recommendation for Doctor’s Cave Beach on Jamaica.

I’ve read a lot of lukewarm reviews about the food and I would tend to agree. Not bad considering how many people they’re feeding at once, but nothing spectacular either. In general, hot foods arrived slightly warm. The only steam I remember seeing at the table is when I had hot coffee. Although I should have expected it, I was surprised to see nearly everything from the dining room menu at the Lido buffet. Other than the friendly and attentive waiter service I don’t think there was a large benefit to choosing the dining room over the buffet. In fact the buffet items might be a little hotter since you can get them right off the heating tray.

As others have reported, the dress code was very loosely followed. I saw just about every “not permitted” item in the dining room and swimsuits in the Lido buffet. I honestly didn’t see the big deal with swimwear in the Lido buffet since it sits right between two pools. I think it’s a bit optimistic to expect a deck full of swimmers to run back to the room and change before stepping in the door to get an ice cream or a lemonade.

In an effort to finish this review sometime before the end of time, I’m going to try to speed along a bit. The two days at sea were fairly rough, enough that the crew kept promising it’s not usually like this. Starting right after we exited the Mississippi, the Captain’s Suite shuddered every time the ship hit a wave a certain way. If you’ve ever lived near an artillery range (I have), it was kind of like that: a loud boom like we hit something along with the whole cabin rattling and shuddering. Despite the roughness the days got better as we went along. The first sea day was warm enough to wear shorts with the sun up, and the second day was approaching hot.

I posted several questions on John Heald’s Facebook page before departure, and as a result Carnival surprised us with a ship on a stick and bottle of champagne on the first sea day. I honestly wasn’t posting asking for a gift, but I think the entertainment department must send something to everyone who posts there.

The first days sort of blurred together with lots of reading, a nap every day, and the occasional nip of rum in our cokes. The first sea day we attended the Brits show after dinner and were surprised to see Max and the others his age sitting two rows in front of us. By the by, for anyone who was there, Max was the “young man” trying to answer the question about the game conquers. He actually learned about that game in school and was trying to answer, but the senior citizen who thought he was the young man kept yelling over him ;)

From a musical standpoint the Brits seemed well done, but the whole live action and cartoon mix didn’t work for us. For large portions of the show we were sitting in the theater watching a cartoon sing a prerecorded track with no live people in sight. Even if there was someone backstage singing for the cartoon, it was strange. We’d attended every show of the other 3 cruises but decided the Carnival shows weren’t quite for us.

One thing that was very much for me was the Alchemy Bar. I wanted to try it after reading the menu on Zydecocruiser.net. We were lucky to get the “Master Mixologist” on our first visit. She made all her drinks without having to measure, and they tasted great. As someone who generally sticks to either beer or rum and coke, I appreciated that she could talk me into trying new things. I would have spent a lot more time there, but Elle doesn’t really drink so I try not to drag her to bars too much :) The Alchemy Bar was also one of the few places we wound up talking with fellow cruisers, something we enjoyed on our other cruises where we always sat with a group of strangers at dinners.

I realize I’ve been rambling the last two days, but it should be a bit more structured when I get to the three ports. Please post any specific questions you have and I’ll try to answer them. Thanks again for the encouragement, and the help identifying the Jackson Barracks and the Chalmette battlefield.

Down the Mighty Mississip’ 0

Posted on March 09, 2013 by TJ

Looking down the ship from the deck.

I don’t know what these ships do but they were about as big as us.

1x zoom again. That camera’s not too shabby!

My New Orleans knowledge level is very low, but this looks like some sort of military base. There were signs on both sides reading “US Revetment.”

Again, not sure, but this looked like a battlefield. I’m sure I could figure it out with Google but really, do you know how lazy I am?

More Day 1 0

Posted on March 09, 2013 by TJ

Please let me know if I’m breaking these up too much. I think after so many pictures it’s best to start a new post rather than making one monstrosity that someone will no doubt quote entirely to say “thx.”

Anyway, after lunch we briefly explored the aft outside deck. The Norwegian Star was parked right behind us. Coincidentally, we had already just about decided on a Baltic Capitals cruise someday, and the Star will be doing that duty for NCL next summer.

We walked back to the cabin and noticed the suitcases were outside. I was anxious to see if our, ahem, enhancements to plain soda, ahem, had made it through unharmed. Those ром бегунов sure did the trick!

While I had the suitcases open, I decided it was easy enough to just unpack. Elle usually puts all the hanging clothes right in with the hangers, so I was able to lift those out and be halfway done unpacking in about 30 seconds. I knew the safety drill was coming up, so I started looking for the life preservers. They were not in the designated closet but instead under the bed. I noticed we were short a child preserver and intended to ask our room steward when we met him.

The safety drill was the same as I always remember except life preservers are no longer required at the drills. That’s probably been going on for ages, but I haven’t cruised in 7 years. We had the usual long wait for the people who think they can get away with skipping the drill. During the wait, the carnival employee leading our section alternated between fussing at people for talking and carrying on a joking conversation with the closest guests. It was windy and a bit cold, but that didn’t stop Jack from passing out.

After the drill, I made the mistake of trying to rapidly carry Jack up 6 flights of stairs. I’m not in the same shape I was when I was 19 or even last year, and I had to stop and pant for awhile after the 4th flight of steps. The last 2 went much more slowly, but we made it back to the cabin just in time for Jack to wake up.

When we entered the room, a second child’s life jacket was sitting on the bed. It was cool to see even the smallest details taken care of without us having to ask.

While finishing unpacking, we noticed the ship start to move, and we alternated between the big front windows and the deck outside. It was too chilly for Elle and the boys to stay out there continuously, but I stayed out there the first 30-45 minutes. This post is seeming long again so I’ll break here and post my dreary Mississippi pics in the next one.
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Embarkation Part 3 0

Posted on March 09, 2013 by TJ

Jack enjoying a lounger in the cool, windy NO weather. IIRC, it sprinkled a bit on us too before we left.

Jack and Elle. He spends a lot more time with her since I work, but some days he’s a total Daddy’s boy.

At 12:30, Elle wanted to make a run for the cabin. I told her she could open it first since it was partially her b-day present, but she surprised me by disappearing into the 10th floor somewhere while Jack and I fought our way through the Lido deck crowds. After some waiting I finally met her and Max in our gorgeous cabin.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to leave most of the cabin pics and discussion in the Conquest Captain Suites thread. I took some quick pictures with the iPad and then we headed out for lunch.

Although in retrospect I should have just gone with my gut and ordered a Guy’s burger every day, Elle persuaded me not to overload since it was already later and she wanted everyone hungry for dinner. We chose sandwiches from the deli and were able to get a table with a good view. The Carnival staff’s friendliness impressed us right away. I’ve heard many of the employees do long contracts away from their families so they like playing with customers’ children. I’ve deployed enough times to understand that sentiment. It was sweet to see how they played with both boys, but honestly Jack usually winds up being the celebrity. Max has recently entered his teenage years about 5 years early and tries to be withdrawn and full of angst. We generally have to force him to talk to others, but the Carnival staff pulled him right out of his shell.

Embarkation continued 0

Posted on March 09, 2013 by TJ

I’m going to drop the DS/DH/DW lingo here because I’ve never been a huge fan of it and I always feel the need to nerd out about our DS being a DSer. Anyway, the family is:

Me: Ted, 42 yo
Wife: Elle, 40 the day before the cruise
#1 Son: Max, 8
#2 Son: Jack, 5

Jack and I posed for a quick pic with my phone. The caption on Facebook read “On the ship. Phone off.” I wasn’t brave enough to turn it off right that second. My top button stopped working over Christmas and the only was I can power on my phone is with a plug. I wanted to wait until we were in the cabin before turning it off.

Jack and I on the ship!

I couldn’t resist running to the railing to take a picture of what would become our deck, right over the bridge there.

9202 deck from the outside

Max and Elle were as excited as me.

Max and Elle

Day 1 – Embarkation 0

Posted on March 09, 2013 by TJ

After snoozing another few hours with DS5, we woke up. The first thing I did was check the static Erato St Terminal webcam, which wasn’t working :-( Some CC searching found me the streaming one from Zydecocruiser’s posts/website: http://wcerato.portno.com/view/viewer_index.shtml. For a mobile device, you can choose “Motion JPEG” from the streaming profile.

Everyone gathered around me in the bed to look at pictures of our ship. We could easily make out the Captain’s Suites since they stick out on the right and left sides.

I went back and forth over when to get to the terminal, fighting the urge to sit there at 7 am and wait for them to open the gates :-) My wife came up with a practical idea that made us slow down a bit: I don’t want to get on board and not be able to eat right away :-) I wasn’t sure precisely when the food would open, so we started looking for breakfast.

My wife wanted beignets, and I started looking for Cafe du Monde locations. There seemed to be one right near the terminal, but I knew 1) the traffic would be a bit crazy for we country dwellers and 2) I couldn’t be that close to the Conquest and not board.

So, we decided on a Metairie location that turned out to be in a mall. Approaching the mall it didn’t look good. At 9 on a Sunday there were hardly any cars. I know malls usually open late on Sundays, but this is New Orleans. I’m sure you could find drunk midgets having an animal orgy at this time of day in New Orleans, so why not a beignet? The mall was open for walking but the shops were all closed. A helpful gentleman suggested we should try the “original” beignet place, Morning Call Coffee Stand. It was right next to the mall and was in fact open 24/7.

We ordered 5 orders of beignets for the 4 of us, and in the end everyone walked out covered in powdered sugar. Just about everything on the menu is $1.85, apparently rounded up to $2 because of tax or something. Rather than a ticket, the server counted 2,4,6 etc for beignets and drinks, arriving at $18 for our meal of 5 orders and 4 drinks.

After brushing off, we hopped in the truck and made the final drive to the terminal with just a few detours. Google maps wanted to send us in the other end of the terminal that would have passed the Norwegian Star before getting to the Conquest. I didn’t think the road would be completely open, so we made our way down past the Morial convention center and entered the terminal per their directions. The traffic flow was well controlled by law enforcement and port employees. We entered the line for the parking garage, paid our $112, and wound our way up to level 3. There were porters waiting to stop us side-by-side. I was barely out of the truck before he had our two big suitcases out of the back and on a cart. FYI, we weren’t traveling by air and weren’t super careful on the weight. I’m pretty sure one or both bags were over 50 lbs, but Tony the porter made no complaints. I tipped him and proceeded to the car.

Another quick clarification: I’m sure I read either on CC or the Port website that the family unloads with the bags while the driver parks. They had us park together and enter the terminal together, which worked out great.

Although I wanted to run for the ship, we spent some time admiring it from the garage. We could see the front windows of the CS and couldn’t help remarking how excited we’d be to look the other direction in a few minutes.

We entered the elevator with other cruisers and headed down. FYI, there was a sign in the elevators when we returned I don’t remember seeing the day we departed. It told arriving cruisers to get off at 1R instead of 1. We didn’t see that sign, and when the doors opened on 1 the security guard was very perturbed as she told us we were doing it wrong and then pressed the 1R button.

We walked up into the security area where an employee tried to stop me from entering the VIP line. I showed him my Priority tag again and he let us go through; I think he must not have seen it the first time I showed it. The security wait was short, but the screener got very annoyed with me because I didn’t take the iPads out to be scanned individually. “Don’t you know I can’t see through them?” she sneered at me. Actually, I didn’t because I am not an X-ray technician and don’t remember seeing a sign. It’s *like* airport security, but not quite as stringent so I wasn’t going into full airline mode.

After getting through security, we walked right up to the VIP boarding area. The woman there didn’t have our name on the VIP list, but saw the priority boarding pass and CS. She said I should have been on the list but wasn’t for some reason. No worries, just wait in the lounge. The lounge looked exactly like Zydecocruiser’s photos, complete with drinks and small snacks. We had time for a quick glass of water before the VIP employee came back with whatever documents she needed. We waited maybe 2 more minutes before a friendly gentleman called us to his desk for check in.

After check in we took the obligatory embarkation picture and were gawking at the ship through the terminal windows. A helpful security guard advised us to get moving before the next large crowd from regular check-in got released to board. There wasn’t a huge crowd in the terminal, but having VIP check-in saved us some waiting in line. I wouldn’t book a suite again just for that small perk, but it’s probably worth the FTTF charge if it’s available for your cruise.

After winding our way up the gangplank, we took our security photos and entered the ship in the Lobby. There was a waiter standing there with a DotD, but our hands were full with kids and carry-ons. We made our way up to the Lido deck and found a spot to park while we waited for the cabins to open. We boarded at about 11:45 and they were ready by 12:30.

Once we got settled we got right on the Drink of the Day. I didn’t realize it was called the “Funship Special” and is the standard Carnival 1st day drink. We both liked it a lot and had more during the week when I found out the name. When I finally remembered to order it later, the waitress chuckled and said I could have just asked for the red drink from day 1 because that’s what we all do apparently Anyway, while enjoying our drinks we bought ourselves 3 Bottomless Bubbles stickers. We didn’t get little DS5 one because he doesn’t appreciate it yet or usually ask for it. Of course, during the cruise he asked for “bubble water” so I think he’s starting to get it.

Next post, Day 1 pics and a bit about the cabin.



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