Monday, January 21, 2008

January 3-14, 2008 – Cruisin’ by Cruise Ship

It was sometime back in October-November -- shortly after the several great grandparenting outings we had after our return from Fiji yet well before the holiday season was more than a glimmer on our social horizon -- when we got seduced into a booking a cruise. Tiffany was very gung ho about her association with YTB Travel and the money-making potential of her YTB Travel Website, so when an opportunity to book a short 4-day cruise to Cozumel at a big savings came up, we were easily persuaded that it would not only be a great family outing, but a sensible broadening of Tiffany's experience – cruises being the most lucrative travel to book.

By the time January rolled around – after a long holiday season, taxing both physically and financially -- we were somewhat less enthusiastic. Plus, we were booked on a Carnival Cruise. Carnival's slogan is "the Fun Ships", and while they have a reputation as good for families with kids, they also have a bit of a reputation as the cheap cruise line. So, as we headed south to Tampa to board our first every cruise, suffice it to say that our expectations for our "great deal" and slid hand in hand with our enthusiasm.

That said…we had a ball! From start to finish we can't say enough about the smooth organization of the operation out of the Port of Tampa or of the friendly international crew aboard the Carnival Inspiration. It may be that all cruise operations are this efficient. They would pretty much have to be, I suppose. Our cabin was far nicer than I imagined: a king-sized bed (with incredibly comfortable bedding!), in an attractive cheery room with a vanity/desk, TV, plenty of closet and drawer space, and very a nice bath and shower unit. As far as we could tell, even being down on the bottom deck back towards the stern was no compromise. In fact, we kind of enjoyed "doing watch' out our window the first and last nights as the pilot boat powered alongside.

Being neophytes in this sort of thing, we had a lot to learn about cruise-ship cruising. As the ship left port we wandered all the outside decks, checking out the pool and hot tubs (smaller than we'd imagined), the walking track and putt-putt course (with a driving cage for golf lessons with the pro) on the top deck forward, and the huge waterslides and park on the aft deck. Aft of the pool deck was a dance stage with a terrific calypso band (reggae by any other name) playing tunes that had us all grooving while lubricated by several of the departure cocktail specials. Tampa's skyline at sunset made for fine vistas, and Don and I were on the forward top observation deck as the ship drove under the Sunshine Skyway after dusk. Of course, all that exploring, dancing and back-seat driving caused us to miss our early dinner seating (hell, we'd only just had lunch!). It seemed like no loss as there were bountiful options available at the cafeteria style-Brasserie Restaurant. However, after catching dinner the next night, with gourmet menus and the attentive service (we had our own table!), we were sorry we'd missed even one meal in the Carnivale dining room!

Inside the ship were even more entertainment options. There were several bars, most with live music of some kind or another, a sushi bar, a coffee and pastry bar, a disco, a teen-only disco, a jazz nook, and of course the large lounge/theater for special Vegas-type extravaganzas. There was a library and a busy Casino we never set foot in. Likewise there was a Camp Carnival for little kids in which we registered Kai but of which never made use, plus a spa and a gym equally ignored. There was a game room in which Kai and Derek spent a lot of time (surpassed only by the putt-putt course and water park), and the peaceful Serenity Deck mid way up the stern that attracted Tiffany, Don and me. A major activity on board is the taking of portraits, not only at events, but against maybe a dozen prepared backdrops! All these photos are magically printed up and displayed for purchase, although with no obligation to buy, by far the majority are wasted. We only bought two, one of Kai alone against a backdrop of the ship and one of us all posed with a "Mayan Indian" as we exited the ship in Cozumel.

Our weather was perfect, with the exception of some wind the first evening and some sprinkles the last afternoon. Our Friday day at sea was hot and sunny and drew most everybody aboard out to one of the multiple decks to take some sun. That day was the most aware we were of the mass of humanity traveling with us on the ship. Somehow, the rest of the time it never seemed all that crowded. I suppose in part it is that half the passengers take their pleasure predominantly during the night hours.

We all four did make the two revues: one Friday night and one Sunday night. Kai was agog at the pulchritudinous dancers bedecked with spangles and feathers dancing and singing their hearts out. The first show featured a rock & roll theme and started with a cute motorcycle routine that caught his (and his grandparents') eye, and ended an hour or so later with a stunning modern dance with laser light by a Russian couple achieving unbelievable lifts and poses. It's hard not to wonder how they manage it when there is any sea running. The second revue, the last night, had a Latina theme which was fun but in my view, despite my fondness for Latin music, didn't measure up to the first. As international as the crew was, the cancers were pretty white bread (but for one very tall guy of some Asian extraction!)

As for our day in Cozumel the ship offered dozens of excursions that ranged from snorkeling and diving, to jeep expeditions to dolphin encounters to tours of Mayan ruins. They had a trip to a golf course, parasailing and even a treasure hunt and of course they had shopping. With a three-year-old in our five-some, we elected not to commit to anything. Quite honestly, never setting foot off the ship would have been fine with us, and, except for an early morning stroll through town to the Mercado, that's pretty much the option Kai and his Daddy elected. Stirred up by the incredibly clear water, I lobbied to take a snorkel trip we were able to book from the dock on which Don and Tiffany gamely joined me. Fortunately, we got a good price booking ourselves, because however you booked it, if snorkeling was your actual objective it was an utter waste of money. I should know better. Between heavy tourist traffic and recent hurricanes the chance of living coral existing at a depth accessible by snorkelers within reach of a day boat is totally unrealistic. To people with our experience, what we were shown was practically criminal! BUT, that said, the water was crystal clear and warm, and there were a few fish to see drawn by the leaders feeding them, PLUS the boat crew brought along iced Coronas and Tequila shots to create the mood (and cloud the mind?). By the time we got back to the dock, everybody was happy enough! And you KNOW that any afternoon on the water is better than almost anything else in the world.

After a quick shower and change, Don, Tiffer and I went back to town on the hunt for authentic tacos. Our lead from the snorkel crew took us to a nice restaurant that had everything but tacos; we made do good ceviche and excellent margaritas. From there we followed another lead for tacos to another restaurant (all names lost in the tequila haze). We three have a tradition of bonding over margaritas (see Bonaire 2000 & Puerto Vallarta 2003!), so if nothing else we had some good family time! Plus I got to exercise my Spanish which rose to the occasion with only a few French words sprinkled in, and Don found a deal on some black boots for Harley riding

The major activity of our return day at sea was the afternoon football match between the Indianapolis Colts and the San Diego Chargers. The ship was nicely equipped with large screen TVs distributed among its many bars on which the satellite pictures were distinctly better than on the TVs in the cabins. Don had previously zeroed in on the ship's Chopin Cigar Bar as his venue of choice and had bought himself a couple of Romeo & Julietta Cubans while ashore to go along with a bucket of cold beer. So he was all set up to watch the Colts victory. Unfortunately the team let him down. Losing is never fun, but by unfortunate chance the Chopin Bar had also drawn several obnoxious fans, a Greek from Boston who philosophized that Don had only to choose whether he wanted his team to lose this week or next because the Patriots were fated by the Gods to go all the way undefeated this year. This is a perfectly appropriate view for a loyal fan, but not over and over every few minutes! Then there was the loud group behind us generally cheering against the Colts, but bad-mouthing every body, every play and every call. Don was not in a good mood by the end. The chief redeeming development of the day was the victory by the Giants, Derek and Kai's team. Derek is a die-hard Giants fan, even though he rarely actually WATCHES!

By first light Monday morning, the Inspiration was back on the dock in Tampa. I can't in all honesty say that we woke up on the dock as the pilot boat at 0200 and the thrusters around 0500 did wake us. The kids ignored it all better than we did and were still snoozing when we went up for coffee. Of course since everybody had to be off the ship by 1000 so they could start taking on passengers for the next cruise by 1100, the captain was not likely to feel too bad about disturbing anyone's sleep that last morning! Still there was plenty of time for a last breakfast together before self-disembarking around 0930, at which time we all breezed through customs out to the parking garage and out of the Port of Tampa without any delays whatsoever.

Not a bad way to spend a long weekend!

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Blogger Sherry said...

Just think... how many cruises a year would your Tackless II maintenance budget support??

January 23, 2008 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger geodesic2 said...

Yes Sherry - but they don't let you steer the ship sooooo, where is the fun in that - besides too much food and booze - last but not least there is a schedule which means it is not really a cruise as we know it but a trip - LOL
Bill C
aboard s/v Geodesic2

January 24, 2008 at 8:51 AM  
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