Saturday, May 17, 2008

May 2008 Cruise -- Day 8, Carnival Glory


Before bed we put our large baggage out in the hall and in the morning it was gone. We woke at 6:30 and went for breakfast. Then we finished packing our hand carry items and waited for our debarkation number to be called. At some point we had to get out of our cabin so we went to the Amber Palace theater to wait.

Everything went well. One small glitch at Port Canaveral -- just before we could get the bags an escalator stopped working and waiting for the elevator slowed us down a bit. But soon we had our bags and a porter and were at the van. We picked up our car at the Hampton Inn and were on our way north to Florida's Turnpike and Interstate 10.

We drove as far as Quincy, just west of Tallahassee, and spent the night. Quincy has no restaurants. Only fast food. And not much of that.

On Sunday we got home early afternoon.

Distances cruised:
Port Canaveral to Nassau
279 Nautical miles, 321 land miles, 516 kilometers

Nassau to St. Thomas
870 Nautical miles, 1001 land miles, 1610 kilometers

St, Thomas to St. Maarten
114 Nautical miles, 131 land miles, 211 kilometers

St. Maarten to Port Canaveral
1157 Nautical miles, 1331 land miles, 2140 kilometers

Total for the cruise
2420 Nautical miles, 2783 land miles, 4477 kilometers

Note: 1 nautical mile = 1.15 land miles = 1.85 kilometers

Plus 1,100 miles by car round trip from Pensacola. So the total was 3883 statute miles for the whole trip.

Friday, May 16, 2008

May 2008 Cruise -- Days 6 & 7, Carnival Glory

Thursday & Friday
At sea

Carnival Glory, Panama, R.P.
We had a bumpy night, nearly as rough as we ever felt on the four other cruises we've taken. But the ship and the captain managed to get us through it all at 21 knots. That's pretty fast for a ship that's 952 feet (290 meters) long.

Thursday night is formal night again and we actually planned to crash it wearing casual clothes, but when we saw the menu on the cabin TV and decided we would brave the buffet. It wasn't good but it wasn't bad. And we had extra desserts. And didn't feel under-dressed.
Carnival Glory pool and live entertainment stage
As for the Golden Restaurant, the one with waiter service, we weren't pleased the other night when the maitre d', Mr. V, needed to liven things up by having the waiters stop serving us and go dancing around the room. All we wanted was our decaf and dessert.

I don't know why it bothered me but I didn't like seeing a waiter dancing on one of the tables for eight guests -- while the eight guests were sitting there. They didn't look too happy about it either. Last night he had all the waiters get in the aisles (and urged the guests to as well) to do a conga line through the dining room. And Mr. V led this while dancing on a dining table. On the final night his pitch for us to tip the maitre d' fell on at least two deaf ears.

Maitre D' tip envelope
By the way, passengers are told upfront that the management adds tips to your "Sign & Sail" account every day for the waiters and stewards you see, and many staff you never see. The maitre d's are not included in this group. So we got pre-printed envelopes from the maitre d's asking for tips. Wow.

There was a pile of these envelopes at the restaurant's front desk. Does the management know the maitre d's are doing this? Who's next, the Captain?
Carnival Glory's bridge
The final days on the ship were at sea and very restful if bumpy. I went to the high decks at the front of the ship and took some photos of the bridge and superstructure against the deep blue Caribbean sky.

We also spent some time in the computer room reading and sending emails. The computer room is just off a nightclub called the Ivory Room. They also have Tea there several afternoons during the cruise.

As you walk through the Ivory Room to the computer room there was a zone of bad smells. Certainly the sewage treatment plant must be isolated from the public areas of the ship? I noticed this in other parts of the ship but never in the same place every day. I also noticed cooking odors and fumes from engine exhaust in hallways far from kitchens and smoke stacks. This Carnival Glory problem is mentioned by other people on online cruise forums. Only once on a Princess ship did I smell anything bad. It was late in the cruise and in a hallway there was a stale walk-in cooler food smell.

Empress Deck 7, Carnival Glory
It is clear we didn't like much of the food we were served, especially in the Golden Restaurant. The buffet was better and there was always the side stations with fresh pizza, calzones, Caesar Salads, fish and chips, burgers, hot dogs, Chinese food and deli sandwiches. So, even if the prepared items on the buffet line seemed like bad elementary school cafeteria food in a wildly diverse neighborhood, you could always get a fresh sliced ham on rye sandwich. And all the soft serve ice cream you could eat.

As for service, at best it was grudging. I asked a waiter at tea (tea bags no less!) what a certain pink pastry was and he said, "I have no idea." End of conversation.

Carnival has some reputation as a fleet of party boats, "Hooters of the Sea", some unkind person once called them. That reputation is more likely on their three and four night cruises. The longer ones like this one may attract a slightly older crowd and the time of year for this cruise was long after spring break and well before summer vacations. So it didn't get too rowdy.

Perhaps Carnival needs a better level of service on their 7-night and longer cruises.

Day 6 towel sculpture
This was our final towel sculpture of the cruise. It is very good. Is it a baby or a ghost?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

May 2008 Cruise -- Room Safes, Carnival Glory

This is a rant about Carnival Glory's stateroom safes. Please pardon the interruption.

Here's a Carnival innovation so boneheadedly stupid one fears it may become the standard for all cruise ships and hotels: Carnival screwed with how one locks the room safe.

They took something simple and made it complicated. And inconvenient for the customer.

Carnival's Sail & Sign cardFirst you need to know about the "Sail & Sign" card, pictured at the left. You get it when you first arrive and use it to buy stuff on the ship, or even to give an extra tip to a helpful waiter. The stateroom info tells you, "All you need is your 'Sail & Sign' card."

Anything you buy and/or pay for on board, except for getting gaming money in the casino, is done with this card there's no need at to carry cash or credit cards. The point is, "There's no need to have anything else on you."

You can even bring a lanyard and have someone on the purser's office punch a hole in your "Sail & Sign" card. Just as this one was punched on middle of the right side. This way you can carry the card around even if you don't have any pockets. You never need a wallet or a purse except when you go ashore.


Unless -- you want to use your room safe. Say, for your passport, driver's license, cash, credit cards, FiloFax, jewels for formal night...

In recent years every room safe (yes, I remember long ago they sometimes had keys) uses a code that you make up and enter. You can give this code to anyone in your party who can be trusted with it. On Carnival, however, you have to use a credit card to lock the safe (there is no charge to the credit card involved, somehow it scans a code into the lock). No, you must not use your "Sail & Sign" card to lock/unlock the safe.

This means that you have to carry this credit card with you at all times, pockets or not. Should anyone else in your party need something from the safe they have to find you and get your credit card.

Hey Carnival! You took a simple system and ruined it.

May 2008 Cruise -- Day 5, Carnival Glory

Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antiles

Welcome to St. Maarten
When we woke up the Carnival Glory was just pulling up to the dock in St. Maarten. The island is pretty but not nearly as beautiful as St. Thomas. We noticed how dry and brown it looked, especially after seeing the lush green of St. Thomas. It must be the winds that bring one island rain and another a drought.

Today was balcony cleaning day and we were warned to stay off until 2:00. So, after breakfast in the buffet we walked to the tourist shops at the end of the pier and took the water taxi into downtown Philipsburg. For US$6.00 you get a wrist band and you can ride the boat as many times as you want, all day.The water taxi stops at the cruise ship pier, Bobby's Marina and downtown.

Many visitors rent a car and drive the eight miles to the French side of the island -- Saint Martin -- for French food and shopping for fashion items.
Carnival Glory at the dock in Philipsburg
The water taxi is fun and you get to see our ship from far away and from the waterline. Carnival Glory is the only ship in port today so there are no crowds at all.

The little village is very touristy but fun and very Dutch looking. We have visited other Dutch islands in the Caribbean -- Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao -- and they also look like tropical versions of Dutch seaside resorts and they are lots easier to pronounce. We shopped, bought t-shirts, had a Coke, watched people and took the water taxi back to the ship at 12:30.
Carnival Glory's main lobby
And then it was time for lunch and a nap.

Comparing Carnival and Princess -- Princess ships have a booth in the main lobby to promote future cruise sales. They display all the Princess Cruises brochures and offer shipboard credits on future cruises if you make a deposit right now. The booth is staffed for much of the day. On Carnival Glory there have been no mentions of booking future cruises and I haven't seen any brochures tempting us to sail on Carnival ever again.

Something Carnival does do well -- the toilets flush as soon as you push the button. Now and then this is a problem on Princess ships. The flush timing is determined by the water pressure in your area of the ship. Sometimes it takes a few seconds, and once in a while two minutes for the flushing to happen. Just thought you needed to know.

Another feature on the Glory that I never saw on a Princess ship -- ice machines. The first time I called room service for some ice I was told there were two ice machines on our deck, in the hallway on each end. This is a wonderful convenience. Now if they could just add some vending machines for soft drinks!

It is windy out and all evening the sea has been getting rougher. Lots of swells and the ship is doing its best to keep us stable.

The cruise so far:
Port Canaveral to Nassau
279 Nautical miles, 321 land miles, 516 kilometers

Nassau to St. Thomas
870 Nautical miles, 1001 land miles, 1610 kilometers

St, Thomas to St. Maarten
114 Nautical miles, 131 land miles, 211 kilometers

Total so far from Port Canaveral to St. Maarten
1263 Nautical miles, 1452 land miles, 2337 kilometers

Note: 1 nautical mile = 1.15 land miles = 1.85 kilometers

Wednesday's towel sculptureWe weren't quite sure what tonight's towel animal is. Some kind of sea bird, perhaps?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

May 2008 Cruise -- Day 4, Carnival Glory

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

We could feel the sea a little through the night. Nothing serious but we were going through some choppy water.

As we approached the island of St. Thomas and the dock in Charlotte Amalie, capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands we saw two other Carnival ships already there.
Charlotte Amalie Harbor
At the north end of the dock was Carnival Triumph. At the south end leaving just enough room for our ship to squeeze in between was Carnival Miracle. Captain Rassello cleverly used the ship's side thrusters and we managed to slip in between the other ships with very little room to spare. In the photo above you can just make out the forward ship and the space our ship will occupy (look for Carnival's trademark whale's tail smokestack in the distance).
Carnival Miracle
Because we docked in Nassau before we got to St.Thomas and because the U.S. Virgin Islands are an "organized, unincorporated United States territory" -- we have to go through U.S. customs here. Even if we are not getting off the ship! The ship's computer is so good that after an hour or so of long lines of passengers getting checked by customs there was an announcement that about 60 people still had not passed the check point. A few minutes late they started reading names.
Carnival Glory towering over Havensite Mall
After lunch we got off the ship and walked to the Havensite Mall to get duty-free goodies. The temperature was quite mild. We expected humid, tropical heat. The port and the hillside homes are very beautiful. And you can use your U.S. cellphone, if you stand in the right spot.
The view from our balcony.
The cruise so far:
Port Canaveral to Nassau
279 Nautical miles, 321 land miles, 516 kilometers

Nassau to St. Thomas
870 Nautical miles, 1001 land miles, 1610 kilometers

Total so far from Port Canaveral to St. Thomas
1149 Nautical miles, 1321 land miles, 2126 kilometers

Note: 1 nautical mile = 1.15 land miles = 1.85 kilometers

This frog was sitting on the bed tonight.

Monday, May 12, 2008

May 2008 Cruise -- Day 3, Carnival Glory

At sea

We decided to have breakfast in the "formal" dining room this morning, the Platinum Restaurant. It is formal only because it has waiter-service and table linens. You can wear anything you want except cutoffs, tank tops and bare feet. Or wet swimsuits.

They were serving breakfast from 8:00 to 10:00. We got there a little before 9:00. The service was grudging and slow. The food was poorly cooked and the poached eggs were like hard rubber -- no runny yolks at all. Too hard to eat; too soft to play hockey with.

I wanted another croissant and noticed our waiters, a head waiter and his assistant, were clearing the breakfast service off tables in a far corner of the room and setting up for lunch. And ignoring waves from their customers. This was nearly an hour before the breakfast service was supposed to be over. It took 20 minutes to get another roll. We had breakfast at the buffet the rest of the cruise.

We each bought some minutes in the internet cafe -- 100 minutes for $59.00 plus some bonus minutes as an incentive. This is the same as on Princess ships. Oh well, you have to stay in touch.

Lunch in the Redsails buffet. Jack had fresh cooked chinese food from the wok station and Indian food from the buffet line. He said it was OK. I had hand-carved turkey breast from the buffet and it was the best slice of turkey I have ever had. The desserts and pastries on the buffet are better by far than what they serve in the formal dining room. Yes, better too than on Princess.

I spent some time reading in the ship's library. It's a very pleasant room. However, the bookcases were tiny and locked. The librarian was there for one hour in the morning and one in the late afternoon. No honor system for the library like they have on another cruise line I won't mention again for a while.

Dinner in the Golden Restaurant was better than the first night, they cooked Jack's steak this time and the cold cucumber soup was a hit. I had polenta with over-salted sauteed mushrooms and stringy spinach. Ice cream for dessert made us wish we were having Princess' ice cream.

Towel elephant This was waiting for us when we came back to the room Monday evening.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

May 2008 Cruise -- Day 2, Carnival Glory

Nassau, Bahamas

Approaching the dock, Nassau, BahamasWe arrived in Nassau around 7:30 a.m. Passengers could go ashore at 8:30 and we left shortly before the scheduled departure of 2:30 p.m. A short stay in port.

The room is small but comfortable. The arrangement of closets isn't quite as useful as on Princess ships but the bathroom arrangement is better. There is plenty of shelf and storage space throughout and there was room under the beds for all our luggage. We brought our coffee maker and a small Brita water filter so our morning New Orleans blend coffee tasted just right. As with Princess, Carnival Glory's tap water has some strange flavors and odors. The Brita took care of that.

The balcony is fine and the usual size -- and the way the door locks means you cannot lock yourself out on the balcony, unlike on Princess.

Majesty of the Seas and the dock at NassauIt was a pretty day and there were lovely sights to see from the ship. We didn't get off but enjoyed the views from our balcony. Also in port were Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas, Imperial Majesty Cruise Line's Regal Empress and University of Virginia's MV Explorer, used for their Semester at Sea.

We had breakfast in the buffet. There is an omelette station but the lines were long and slow. So we used the buffet line and the food was fine. The breakfast pastries were freshly baked and particularly good. We had lunch in the buffet too and as this was formal night and we don't take dress up clothes on cruises, we had dinner in the buffet as well.

Atlantis and Paradise IslandLeaving Nassau we saw Atlantis and Paradise Island in the distance.

After dinner we went to see the evening's stage show, "Livin' in America," in the Amber Palace. Great costumes and sets. Excellent dancers, wonderful band, but singers so over-amplified that the distortion was hard to take and you could barely hear the band. It is strange that management would spend so much on technical equipment, rehearsals and salaries and not demand a professional sound system staffed by professionals. And I thought the sound design was bad on Princess!

A health note, there's been no mention of norovirus and its prevention on this Carnival ship. On Princess there was a notice in the welcome information package and there were bottles of hand sanitizers at the entrance to every dining room. Before you could board the ship you had to fill out a health form from the Centers for Disease Control. We brought the usual Purell, Handiwipes, and antibacterial soap. And used them all, often.

Towel animalApparently years ago all cabin stewards made towel animals when they did the evening turndown service. A few years ago Princess stopped doing this. There were lots of complaints about it in the passenger reviews on Cruise Critic. Carnival still provides towel animals several nights on each cruise. Some nights were better than others. This pig was among the best.

Towel pigThe cruise so far:
Port Canaveral to Nassau
279 Nautical miles, 321 land miles, 516 kilometers

Note: 1 nautical mile = 1.15 land miles = 1.85 kilometers

Saturday, May 10, 2008

May 2008 Cruise -- Day 1, Carnival Glory


There was no need to hurry at all in the morning at the Cocoa Beach Hampton Inn. We only had a little bit of re-packing to do. So we brought all the luggage to the room on the fourth floor so we could decide which items needed to go with us on the cruise and which would stay in the car for the trip home.

A little before 8:00 we went to the elevator to go to the free breakfast provided by Hampton Inn. Just before the elevator got to us the power went off. So we went back to our room to wait. We still had no time worries but we did have a lot of bags to get downstairs. The van would be here for us at 11:00.

At 8:30 I walked down the hot and dim stairs to get some coffee and to see what was up with the electricity. There was no real coffee only decaf. The front desk people said they heard the power would be back on around 9:30. Happily it came back at 9:15 and stayed on.

The van from TraveLynx Transportation Services came to pick us up shortly before 11:00 and we were in line at the ship by 11:40. Embarkation however was a trial with long (empty) queue lines to walk and long periods of having to stand and wait. I found this the most uncomfortable embarkations I have experienced.

This was our fifth cruise and the previous four were on Princess ships, so there will be some comparisons now and then.

At 12:05 we were on the ship and soon were having a snack at the buffet in the Red Sails Restaurant (every location on the ship is named for a color). There are standard buffet lines plus a grill for burgers and hot dogs, a seafood station with great fish 'n' chips, an Asian food counter with a chef and a wok, a pasta station with a chef and a deli counter for fresh sandwiches. I had a wonderful smoked salmon sandwich with tomatoes and onions on rye. Jack had a burger and fries.

At 1:00 we went to the Golden Restaurant, the evening sit-down restaurant, so Jack could ask the maitre d' to reserve us a table for two. By 1:30 we were in the cabin, immediately two of our bags arrived. Fifteen minutes later two more were delivered and the fifth one came a few minutes later. This was as good as the best luggage delivery we ever had on Princess.

Muster was a pain and was long and uncomfortable. On Princess there are always places to sit and the venues are not so crowded and hot. The way Carnival's crew handled muster was a indication of things to come throughout the cruise -- an attitude of "we don't give a hoot." Actually, stronger words than "hoot" come to mind but this is a family blog.

Muster dragged on so long that we were under way before it ended. Lots of grumbling over this as most passengers like to watch as the ship pulls away from the dock.

Nothing on Carnival Glory was so bad that it ruined the cruise experience but in dozens of ways we were reminded how considerate Princess can be of the passenger's comfort and well being. Apparently Carnival's corporate culture toward passengers is not particularly considerate or caring and the staff has picked up on this.

Dinner in the Golden Restaurant was particularly strange. The Golden and the Platinium Restaurants are the two assigned-seating dining rooms with waiter service. Another restaurant, the Emerald, is styled as a supper club and charges $30 extra per person for better food and service.

The Golden is a garish nightmare of clashing colors -- explosion in a crayon factory! The meal service was slow and impersonal. Our waiters were over-worked. We felt, and were, neglected. But so was everybody else.

Back in the room there's lots of ice, as we requested. We brought a cooler since, unlike Princess, Carnival doesn't have refrigerators in the room -- just mini-bars.

We still haven't met out cabin steward. Well, he did knock on the door earlier, I guess to introduce himself, but we were changing and he said he would be back in a minute. He never did meet us.

Now a word about the beds. On Princess you have to request a special mattress pad to soften the pitiful, thin mattress. A mattress that's not only thin but is so short my feet sick out the bottom end -- and I am only 5'10". Carnival's beds are extra long and the firm but comfy mattress is thick and wonderful. Certainly Princess will upgrade their beds soon. Even Holiday Inn Express is installing Tempur-Pedic beds throughout the chain!

Friday, May 09, 2008

May 2008 Cruise -- Getting to Port Canaveral

Thursday & Friday

On Thursday morning we set out from Pensacola and headed to Cocoa Beach for our cruise on Carnival Glory. We had lunch in Chipley at Gary's Flamin' Grill, a local favorite.
Gary's card
Mid-afternoon we arrived in Gainesville -- 340 miles -- and spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express there. We had dinner next door at the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store®. As they say: "Half Restaurant. Half Store. All Country.®"

Our drive on Friday was much shorter than Thursday's and we had lots of time. This was good because we got into a long traffic jam on Interstate 75 in the middle of nowhere just south of Gainesville -- in a huge expanse of lakes, swamps and bogs called Paynes Prairie. A bus had caught on fire and was totally consumed. It had happened hours before and the traffic problem was due to the cleanup operation.

As soon as we got going again it was clear we needed to stop in Ocala for windshield cleaning supplies. It was love bug season in Central Florida and the windshield was covered with them. The weather was nice and we were in no hurry so we decided to get off Interstate 75 and not take the dreaded Florida's Turnpike. We headed on country roads for the coast and Daytona Beach. With a clean windshield.

Lunch was overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on New Smyrna Beach (World leader in shark attacks) at the Breakers Restaurant & Lounge. From there it was a short trip to Cocoa Beach and the Hampton Inn where we would spend the night and park the car for free until we returned from our cruise.

Florida's Seafood GrillOur dinner was at Florida's Seafood Bar & Grill in Cocoa Beach. Very nice. And popular with the locals.

Todays drive was 160 miles.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

May 2008 Cruise -- Book List

Departure for our next cruise, this time on Carnival Glory, is coming soon. Here are some of the books we'll be taking with us to read while sitting on our cabin's balcony.

Books for the cruise

In the land of the Magic Pudding, A gastronomic miscellany, a history of what Australians eat, edited by Barbara Santich

Kitchen Confidential, Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain

Licks of Love, Short Stories and a Sequel, "Rabbit Remembered," by John Updike

The Letters of Noël Coward, edited by Barry Day

Permanent Passenger, My Life on a Cruise Ship (Assistant Cruise Director, Carnival Ecstasy), by Micha Berman

Something from the Oven, Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America, by Laura Shapiro

4 Privet Drive, Little Whingeing, SurreyWe will also take several Harry Potter books. Right now we are re-reading the whole series and we're finding there are lot of details of the characters and story we missed in the first reading. J.K.Rowling's writing is so compelling that the first read is a race to get to the next plot point. The second reading is a treat.

And there's always the ship's library for more things to read on board.