Carnival Breeze Cruise Review
Carnival Breeze docked in Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Our 14-day cruise on the Carnival Breeze was actually two cruises: an 8-day cruise to St Maarten, St Kitts, San Juan, and Grand Turk... followed by a 6-day cruise to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. We were in the same cabin for all 14 days, so to us it just felt like one 14-day cruise with a brief stop in Miami to change out all the other passengers after the first 8 days!
Before I get in to the full story of our vacation on the Carnival
I should probably start with a little introduction...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I always cruise with my wife, Kellyn. (Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.) We're from Grover Beach, California... a little beach town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. We've been cruising since 1996... and have now taken 32 cruises on 20 different cruise ships. While we've done a few cruises with Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Norwegian cruise lines, most of our cruises have been with Carnival... because they seem to offer the biggest bang for the buck. All together, we've spent 212 days at sea on cruise ships... and 166 of those have been with Carnival.
An Introduction to the Carnival Breeze
Carnival Breeze is a Dream-class ship who made her debut in June of 2012. At the time of our September 2015 cruise, she was still the newest ship in the Carnival fleet... with the new Carnival Vista still under construction. We've sailed on Carnival Breeze once before, in April of 2013, and we enjoyed that cruise so much that we thought it was about time to make a return visit. The Carnival Breeze has several features that her sister ships, the Carnival Dream and the Carnival Magic, don't have... so she's truly the state-of-the-art when it comes to cruising with Carnival... although the Carnival Sunshine, completely refurbished in 2013, has a few tweaks on the Carnival design that I hope Breeze gets some day. More about that, later.
Carnival ships are somewhat infamous for a loud Vegas style of interior decoration that is very visible in the Fantasy, Spirit, and Conquest-class ships... courtesy of their former interior designer, Joe Farcus. The interior decorating scheme of those ships looks very 1980s to me now. Starting with the Dream-class, Carnival started to get away from it... and with the Carnival Breeze they really came up with a beautiful decoration scheme. When you first walk onboard, the interior design does jump out at you just a bit... with some bold colors in the atrium which towers over the lobby:
The atrium, as seen from deck four
Looking down, from deck ten
Once you get away from the atrium, the colors soften to soothing earth tones...
Elevator lobby, deck eight
Beautiful wood tones in the library on deck 4
and there's a self-serve wine dispenser in there, too!
Kathie Lee Gifford would be so proud.
Inside the cabins, you can see that Carnival has gotten away from the orange theme they used in the cabins on most of their other ships. We stayed in a "spa cabin" on deck 12. Spa cabins use a soothing light-green color palette, with a lot of beige earth tones and just a bit of orange in the carpet...
I'll talk more about our cabin later, including telling you all about that cute stuffed animal on the bed... and why you shouldn't expect to find one if you ever cruise on the Carnival Breeze.
Interior spaces are great... but on a Caribbean cruise, it's really all about the outdoor spaces. So, let's take a look...
The main pool, located on Lido deck in the middle of the ship
The heart and soul of the ship is the main pool area. On a sea day, it's a popular place to be... with lots of sunshine, plenty of loungers, and a Caribbean band playing island music to put you in to that vacation mood. Good luck getting a lounger, though! Unless you go there really early in the morning, or at the very end of the afternoon, you'll find all of those loungers will either have a body in them or a towel on them. Experienced cruisers know that the towels belong to the people known as "chair hogs"... people that lay a towel or a beach bag on a lounger so that no one else will sit there. They act like the lounger is their personal possession for the whole day... even if they may only use it for a few hours. It's rude and an inefficient use of what should be a shared resource... but unfortunately for the rest of us, that's what some people do.
Here's a photo of that same area, on a less busy day... and shot from under the big TV, looking in the other direction...
The main pool area is a popular place, but you generally won't find me there! Too noisy for me. There's always loud music playing there during the day, either from the Caribbean band or from some very trendy DJ that plays music that is mostly unknown to this middle aged white guy. Have they not ever heard of Jimmy Buffett? Sometimes the music takes a break for events like the hairy chest competition or the mixology challenge. In any case, it's not my thing. I like it far better at the aft pool, where it's a lot more quiet.
It occurs to me that I failed to get a picture of the Serenity Retreat on Carnival Breeze. Oops. Well, I just don't spend much time there... because in spite of the name, it's not serene. It's located too close to the mid ship pool, and those big speakers on either side of the big screen TV. While the outdoor furniture in the Serenity Retreat is some of the most comfortable you'll find on the ship, including quite a few big daybeds that are great for romantic couples, it's just too loud up there on the Serenity deck for me. And WAY too windy! Big mistake, in my opinion, to put the Serenity Retreat at the front of the ship... a very windy area. On some of the Royal Caribbean ships, they have a similar area on the top deck at the front of the ship... but they were smart enough to enclose it with glass that blocks the wind. Smart design by Royal Caribbean... which Carnival should copy for their future ships. Or, just put the Serenity retreat at the aft pool, like they do on Carnival's Spirit-class ships. Very smart design. The other problem with the Serenity Retreat on the Carnival Breeze is that -- in spite of the wind and the noise from the big speakers at the pool -- it's just too popular. Except at 8 AM or 6 PM, good luck finding an available lounger or daybed. I find that the aft pool works much better for me.
One of two whirlpool tubs adjacent to the aft pool
A beautiful sunset, as seen from the aft pool
At night, the main pool in the middle of the ship becomes Carnival's "Seaside Theater" where they show movies on the outdoor big screen. Because you can literally watch the movies from the swimming pool, they call their evening movies "dive-in movies"...
Most people watch the movies from those loungers around the pool. A few kids watch from inside the pool. But the best seats in the house, in my opinion, are the ones one deck above, on deck 11. Up there on deck 11 they've got a bunch of couches and loungers with thick, comfortable cushions... a much nicer place to sit for a two-hour movie than on those stiff loungers on Lido deck.
Very comfortable seating on deck 11, with a view of the big TV screen
One other thing about the movies they show on the outdoor big screen at night: there's free popcorn! You don't even have to stay and watch the movie to enjoy the popcorn. Sometimes I'll go up to Lido deck and grab a box of the free popcorn and bring it with me to an event elsewhere on the ship... such as to a comedy show, or a musical performance. Or sometimes I'll just bring it back to my cabin for a quiet evening there. It's great that Carnival gave up on nickel-and-diming the passengers on the popcorn. Years ago, they used to charge for it. Now, it's free and abundant. Good move, Carnival... and thank you.
One morning, about 4:30 AM, I was woken up by the sound of a very intense thunderstorm outside. It motivated me to get out of bed and see if I could get a good picture of a lightning bolt... something I've never done before. (We don't get a lot of thunder and lightning where I live!) I didn't do a very good job on my first attempt, but here's what I got...
Look carefully above the stairwell on the right, and you can barely see the bolt of lightning
Even if I didn't get a perfect picture of the lightning storm, I was glad that I had gotten out of bed and come out on deck to see it! It was really intense. Definitely something we don't see at home very often. The lightning storm caused a really weird thing to happen, too! We were close enough to land that there were hundreds of birds flying in our vicinity. The lightning must have scared them, and I think the lights of the ship looked like some kind of safe haven, so as I was out on deck there were hundreds of birds flying above and around the ship. It was weird! They weren't sea gulls, either... which was strange. They were much smaller birds that looked like they belonged on land... something similar to sparrows or robins in size. At one point, a bolt of lightning struck very very near the ship. The sound of the thunder was so intense, I had never felt or heard an explosion that loud before. It literally shook me, not to mention scaring the hell out of me! And it actually knocked one of those birds right out of the sky! I guess that was the weirdest thing I saw during the whole cruise. And because it all happened at 4:30 in the morning, there were only a very small number of other passengers who probably saw it... although I imagine almost everybody heard it from the comfort of their bed!
One other story about the weird things you see if you get up early enough...
One morning Kellyn and I got up pretty early and walked to the aft pool to watch the sunrise. From the aft pool area, we could hear the sound of a very upset woman yelling at a man, who was trying to make excuses for himself, but it didn't sound like it was going well. At first we could just hear it, but as we walked out past the pool a little further we could see the man and the woman up on the public deck one floor above the aft pool. We didn't hear actual words, only the tone of the argument. Clearly, the wife was upset at something the husband had done. And when the wife finally stormed off, we saw what the wife was upset about... a very attractive woman who had been sitting next to the husband, out of our view, got up and walked away. It looked to me like he had been up all night talking with her, and finally around sunrise the wife went out looking for him and found him with another woman! The things you see if you get up early enough...
Now, on to happier things!
A nice feature of the Dream-class ships is the "Lanai Promenade"... an open deck which goes all the way around the ship on deck five. Here's a shot I took from my balcony, which shows the Lanai Promenade sticking out six floors below our balcony:
Because the ship tends to travel in a north/south direction and the sun tends to travel in an east/west direction, the Lanai Promenade on one side of the ship is usually sunny and hot while the one on the other side of the ship will be shady and just right. Of course, which side that will be depends on what way the ship is travelling and what time of the day it is. The point is, find the shady side of the ship and go to the Lanai Promenade on that side. It will be a great place to relax, and is usually not crowded.
There are two whirlpool tubs on each side of the ship on the Lanai Promenade... plus hundreds of those blue loungers, several comfortable daybeds, a lunchtime barbecue joint (on sea days, only), and a giant chessboard.
I'm proud of this chess board shot!
Not only did I catch it with beautiful lighting, right at sunset...
but it looks like I got it at the exact moment when the girl kicked that guy's ass at chess!
Here's another photo that I like... and I didn't even take this one! Kellyn did. Since I'm a big Carnival fan, I thought it would be a good idea to pose for a photo with the iconic whale tail smokestack in the background.
As I'm sure you know, Carnival ships are known as the fun ships... and one of the most fun places on Carnival Breeze is up on deck 12, where you'll find Carnival's "WaterWorks" play area, also known as the splash zone...
Even a nearly-sixty-year-old guy like me can't resist riding the waterslides and splashing around in the Waterworks play area! There are two full-sized waterslides onboard, plus a mini-slide for the youngest kids. The most popular of the two big slides is the yellow slide, known as the "twister". It provides the longest rides, with a whole bunch of twisty turns. The orange slide, known as the drainpipe, is a shorter ride but it has kind of a surprising ending! Here's a POV (point of view) video I shot when I tried out the drainpipe waterslide, which lulls you in to a false sense of confidence by starting out slow... and then surprises you at the end by speeding up for a big finish. In the video, you can hear my spontaneous surprise reaction to the way the ride ends...
There's one other video I shot in the Waterworks area which you might find interesting. It's all about the Power Drencher, which is the big bucket of water that tips over approximately every 90 seconds... soaking everything below it with hundreds of gallons of water. The 15 year-old boy inside of me gets a big kick out of watching the Power Drencher in action, especially if there are girls in bikinis standing below it...
Now, I have a confession to make! The only reason I stood around shooting video of bikini babes under the Power Drencher was to see if I could create another viral video on YouTube. Three years ago, I posted a video of the amazing Green Thunder waterslide on the Carnival Spirit... and it totally surprised me by going viral! It's been viewed over 50 million times, and the advertising revenue I get from that video is an important part of my cruise fund. Let's take a look at that video that I shot on Carnival Spirit three years ago...
I spent a LOT of time over the last three years trying to figure out why that video went viral on YouTube. What is it about that video that has caused it to catch on? All I can figure out is that first off, it's just plain fun. Also, I think a lot of YouTube viewers are teenagers... and teenagers really like waterslides. I think it probably also helps that the still picture which is displayed to represent the video (a.k.a. the "thumbnail") is a picture of a girl in a bikini. YouTube people seems to really like bikinis. In watching the video, the girl in the bikini is so amazingly hyped up about the experience! It's just hilarious to see her excitement level, the terror on her face in anticipation of the start of the ride, and her shocked reaction (and scream!) when the floor of the waterslide falls out from below her. I also think my laughing reaction behind the camera to her terrified reaction on camera adds to the whole thing... kind of like the laugh track on a TV comedy.
After the advertising money started rolling in from that viral video about the Green Thunder waterslide, I started posting a lot more videos to YouTube... in hopes that lightning would strike twice and I'd come up with a second viral video which would pour even more ad revenue in to my vacation fund. As luck would have it, I've managed to do just that... and believe it or not, my second viral video is remarkably similar to my first one. It's a video I shot of another vertical-drop waterslide on a cruise ship... this time the "Free Fall" waterslide on the Norwegian Getaway. Take a look at that video...
With over two and a half million views so far, my second viral video is not quite in the league of the 50-million-view video from the Carnival Spirit... but two and a half million views is certainly nothing to sneeze at! And now you know the back story to why I spent time shooting video at the water park on Carnival Breeze, and why I made sure my video featured girls in bikinis! It will be interesting to see if the Power Drencher video catches on with the YouTube crowd. Regardless of the reaction, I'll keep trying to come up with a third viral video, for sure!
Cabin 12007, the James Bond Suite
I've learned over the course of 32 cruises that carefully choosing just the right cabin is one of the keys to a happy cruise. If you end up in the cabin above the disco, for example, you're going to hear a thumping bass sound all night long and you'll have a heck of a time getting to sleep. So, I take a lot of time to find just the right cabin before booking. We've tried a wide variety of cabins over the years, in order to find the type of cabin that offers the best combination of luxury and value. We've been in everything from interior cabins that don't even have a window, to ocean view cabins, balcony cabins, spa cabins, aft-wrap cabins with huge balconies, and even The Captain's Suite at three times the price of a regular balcony cabin.
We've decided that a standard balcony cabin is our minimum requirement. In other words, no more interior cabins without windows, and no more ocean view cabins without balconies. What we really like best, and are willing to pay a little extra for, are the aft-wrap balconies on the back corners of many Carnival ships. We like them because of the huge balconies that wrap all the way around from the side of the ship to the back of the ship... and also because of the beautiful view of the ship's trailing wake, and the unique layout of the corner room. On Carnival's Conquest-class and Dream-class ships, those aft-wrap cabins are not ridiculously priced because they're not considered suites... just premium balcony cabins. On Carnival's Spirit-class ships, and on almost all the other ships of the other major cruise lines, aft-wrap balcony cabins are priced tremendously higher than they are on Carnival... because they're considered suites. (And they often come with extras like butler service, which we don't really need.)
Unfortunately, by the time we got around to booking our Carnival Breeze vacation, all the aft-wrap balcony cabins had been spoken for. So, I had to go for the next best thing... which on a Dream-class ship is a spa balcony cabin. A spa balcony cabin is very similar to a standard balcony cabin, except it's located next to the ship's spa and it includes free access to some of the amenities of the spa, such as the steam rooms and the thalassotherapy pool.
Access to the spa, including this big, warm thalassotherapy pool, is free for guests staying in spa cabins.
It's $40 per person per day, or $159 per person for an 8-day cruise, for people in regular cabins.
However, if a cruise ship's spa is important to you, the ship you should cruise on is the Norwegian Getaway!
That's the most incredible spa I've ever seen. Book a Norwegian Getaway spa cabin, and you have free access.
Located directly next door to the thalassotherapy pool, these tile loungers are heated from inside!
It's very relaxing to sit on them and to feel the heat radiating up from the tiles.
Access to this room is free for guests staying in spa cabins.
All passengers (and crew) are welcome to use the gym! (Although I don't think many do...)
It's located on deck 12 forward, within the Cloud 9 Spa, and has a spectacular view ahead of the ship.
Each of the treadmills has a TV built in, but you need to bring headphones if you want to hear the sound.
In looking over the list of available spa cabins during the booking process, one jumped out at me... 12007. I thought it would be funny to stay in a cabin with 007 in the number. We did it once before on another Carnival cruise, and I had so much fun making jokes with the cabin steward about James Bond and Octopussy and secret agents. However, my wife didn't see the humor in being referred to as Octopussy, so for this cruise I decided that the joke would be that she was Moneypenny. So that all of my neighbors could share in the joke, I made up a little sign involving my face photoshopped on to a picture of James Bond... and taped it to our cabin door.
While cabin 12007 on the Carnival Breeze is not actually a suite, just a spa balcony cabin, I jokingly referred to it as "The James Bond Suite" for the entire cruise... and I had a good time making jokes with the cabin stewards about secret agents and driving my Aston Martin at each of our ports of call. An especially funny thing was that our main cabin steward spoke with an accent that sounded just like a classic Bond movie villain! When he would shout "Mister Bond!" down the hall to me, it sounded exactly like something the villain would say in a 007 movie. On the last night of our cruise, I laughed so loud when he said to me with his wonderful villainous accent: "Now Mister Bond, you must die!"
Here's one more picture of our spa balcony cabin, so you can see how the layout is basically identical to a regular balcony cabin...
Regarding the little stuffed animal in the picture... that's "Lady", from the 1955 Walt Disney movie "Lady & The Tramp". My wife and I bred American Cocker Spaniels for 15 years and "Lady" has always been our favorite Disney character. The night before our cruise, at the Bayside Marketplace in Miami, we stumbled upon the Disney Store and couldn't leave empty handed after spotting "Lady" among their collection of Disney characters. So, don't expect to find one in your room on a Carnival ship... unless you bring it along yourself!
Lady had plenty of company during the cruise... with a new towel animal appearing in our cabin every night.
Before I move on from the subject of our spa balcony cabin, I should probably mention what all the benefits of staying in a spa cabin are. I already mentioned that you get free access to the steam rooms and the thalassotherapy pool. You can see from the pictures that spa cabins are decorated in a very pleasing and relaxing green and beige color scheme... which is different from the way all the other cabins on the ship are decorated. The bathrooms are also supplied with special high-quality shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion that the other cabins don't get. There are two bathrobes and two pairs of slippers for you to use. You also get priority spa appointments for things such as massages and hair salon treatments, if you make them by 6 PM on embarkation day. Finally, you can sign up for two (per person) free fitness classes in the gym... including Pilates, Yoga, and Tai Chi.
There's an elevator up in the front of the ship, within the spa, that I bet some passengers never discover...
The Cloud 9 spa elevator only services decks 11, 12, 14, and 15. Carnival ships never have a deck 13, due to silly old superstitions... and black cats will be sacrificed and eaten by the crew. (Just kidding about that last part.)
Speaking of the Cloud 9 Spa...
There's a cool little place within the spa that I bet most passengers never see. It's a little relaxation room at the very front of the ship, on deck 14, right next to the thalassotherapy pool. It doesn't even show up on the deck plans. Here's a picture:
I honestly don't know which passengers are allowed to hang out here. It might be just for the passengers in spa cabins, or it might only be for people waiting for a spa treatment. In any case, it's got one heck of a view out those windows in the left of the photo... a beautiful view forward at what's ahead of the ship!
I mentioned earlier that we don't ever consider staying in anything less than a balcony cabin anymore. I have a picture that illustrates one of the reasons why! Here's a shot I took from our balcony one morning after we had just woken up, and before we went to breakfast. If we had been staying in an inside cabin, we never would have seen this!
Speaking of great places to enjoy the view... that's another benefit to the spa cabins. There's a really cool little viewing area that you can easily get to from the spa cabins. It's at the bow of the ship, on deck 11. From our spa cabin on deck 12, it was an easy one-minute walk down one flight of stairs to reach the viewing area on deck 11 forward...
Our cabin looked out to the starboard side of the ship. If there was something in front of the ship that I wanted to see, such as our arrival in to a port of call, I would take the one minute walk down to this little viewing area. It was usually empty... although one morning, during a spectacular sunrise, I ran in to three other people who had come to take pictures of the gorgeous scene... who you can see in the background of the photo above.
The Highlight Of Our Cruise
Something very unexpected happened to us during this cruise, and it was so great that I bet we never forget it. We got to meet and get to know Sarah Tweedle, her husband, Drew Webber, and quite a few of their family members. Sarah is the spunky lead singer, and Drew is the guitarist, for The Run For Cover Band... currently performing on Carnival Breeze, through December 5th, 2015.
The Run For Cover Band
Before I go any further, I have to give you the back story. As you know, I've been on a lot of Carnival cruises. On just about all of those cruises, there's been a cover band on the ship that plays familiar old pop songs. The number of those cover bands that left a lasting impression on me is probably one or two. As far as I recall, they've all been Filipino bands. Ship after ship... Carnival had a Filipino cover band onboard. Clearly, whoever was hiring cover bands for Carnival was doing their recruiting in the Philippines. My guess is that it probably boiled down to money... they could get Filipino musicians who would work for next to nothing... and they weren't willing to pay the kind of money that an American musician would expect. The problem with that whole practice is that listening to a Filipino cover band is great until the singing starts. The instrumental part is fine... they've all been good musicians. But hearing American pop songs sung with a Filipino accent just really doesn't do it for me. It always reminds me of a funny YouTube video where a woman who doesn't speak English tries to sing a Mariah Carey song... and it goes horribly badly!
So, on the first night onboard Carnival Breeze, when we went to hear The Run For Cover Band for the first time, it was such a delightful surprise to find that the musicians hailed from such far away places as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Branson, Missouri. And it sure didn't hurt that the lead singer was ridiculously good looking, and friendly, too.
Sarah Tweedle, lead singer of The Run For Cover Band
Before we go any further, I have to apologize for those last two pictures. The lighting was absolutely HORRIBLE in the two venues where The Run For Cover Band played. Carnival seems to think that pointing blue lights at the band makes them look cool. It really just makes them look blue! And it's impossible to color-correct for it when post-processing the photos! So, it took me a few days of getting consistently bad photos of Sarah and the band to figure out that maybe I better put the big external flash unit on top of my camera. The pictures got a lot better after that!
The delightfully spunky, and now very well-lit pop singer, Sarah Tweedle
OK... we've established that she's cute. Perhaps you're wondering if the girl can sing. I think so! You can see what I mean by checking out this video of The Run For Cover Band doing "I Love Rock 'N' Roll"...
So, have you ever heard the term "meet-cute"? It's a movie term. You typically have a meet-cute in the beginning of a romantic comedy. The female star of the movie goes in to the men's department of a department store and asks if it's possible to buy just the top half of a pair of men's pajamas. At the same time, the male star of the movie is in the same department store asking if it's possible to just buy the pajama bottoms. The two meet, the whole scene is cute, and the movie takes off from there. That's a meet-cute.
Sarah and I had a meet-cute on the gangway to the Carnival Breeze one day! It was hilarious. Here's what happened...
I had seen Sarah and The Run For Cover Band perform during the first couple of nights of our cruise. She mentioned during one of the shows that her parents and several other family members were onboard that week. (Cruise ship employees are at sea for long periods of time, often six or nine months straight... so it's not unusual for family members to take a cruise just to be able to spend some time with them.) I made a mental note that the family of the spunky lead singer was onboard.
In St Kitts, I headed off on my own on a snorkeling excursion while my wife stayed onboard to read a book. So, there I was... coming back to the ship after my snorkeling excursion. I'm on the gangway, in a long slow-moving line of people waiting to get through security. I turn around behind me and I see a girl that looks an awful lot like the lead singer for the band, only she looks a lot shorter, is wearing librarian glasses, and her face is more plain. I remember the mental note that the singer's family is onboard that week... and I notice behind the girl in the librarian glasses that there's several people that I recognized as the singer's family because I had seen them at the show. So, I turn to librarian glasses girl and I say "Are you the singer's family?" She smiles and says yes. Then I say "so you must be the singer's sister..." because she kind of looks like the singer, but not really. Must be the sister, right? She says "no, I'm the singer!" And then I spend the next two minutes clumsily trying to justify why I didn't recognize her. She seemed so much taller on stage! The singer doesn't wear glasses! And I pretty quickly realize that she just wears contacts, big heels, and some make up when she's on stage! OK, I admit it. I'm an idiot.
So, we met on the gangway, and I'm sure that I made a lasting impression on her... the idiot on the gangway that didn't recognize the star of The Run For Cover Band! But later that night, things got REALLY interesting.
That night, Kellyn and I took a seat at a table in the Red Frog Pub where The Run For Cover Band would be playing. Shortly after we took our seats, all of Sarah's family came in and sat down at the tables right next to us. And when I say all of Sarah's family, I mean her mother, her father, her grandparents, her brother, her mother-in-law, her father-in-law, and throughout the evening a few others who I never figured out who the heck they were! We were sitting so close that there was just no way that we could stay out of their business. And they were all such a friendly bunch (and by the way, we were in a pub, so we were all drinking!) that as the evening went on we just all started to get to know each other. It was an amazing night that started at 8 PM and literally went on until the management shut it down at 1 AM so the people in the cabins above could get some sleep! After spending five hours with Sarah's family that night, Kellyn and I were pretty much honorary members of the family by the end of the night. It was SO MUCH FUN!
Another little thrill for us was seeing the very first performances of The Run For Cover Band after Carnival decided to add a three-man horn section. Check out their version of "Proud Mary", and notice the horn section that wasn't there in the previous video...
Sarah and her dad, John Tweed, an amazing musician himself!
Check out a video of Sarah (with long hair!) and John performing in their own show in Branson, Missouri!
Sarah's husband, Drew Webber
Sometimes I would sit in one of the closest tables to his amplifier
just so I could hear his excellent guitar work a little louder!
Later in the cruise, I went out to the viewing area on deck 11 forward to take some sunset photos
and I ran in to Sarah's dad and her brother! They didn't know I was there when I snapped this photo.
After all, I am secret agent James Bond, remember?
After I blew my cover, I got them to pose for this photo.
So, if you ask me what was the highlight of my cruise, the answer is easy.
It was Sarah Tweedle, and The Run For Cover Band.
Sunrises and Sunsets
Perhaps by now you've figured out that I've got a pretty decent camera, and I know how to use it! Luckily, I'm also a morning person who gets up at 4:30 AM on a normal day... 6:00 on a cruise ship... and so I'm usually up in plenty of time to get a photo of all the spectacular sunrises. When my dinner plans cooperate, I'm available for sunset pictures, too.
Sunrise over Grand Cayman
Sunrise as seen from that viewing area on deck 11 forward, not far from our cabin
A beautiful Caribbean sunset
One morning there was an electrical storm in the distance, just as the sun was rising.
On the left of the photo, a bolt of lightning lights up a cloud... as the sun rises over to the right.
I had a really good view of it from that viewing area on deck 11 forward.
Yet another spectacular sunset at sea
One morning I decided to try out the viewing area on deck 5 forward, and was treated to this nice sunrise
Are you bored of sunrise and sunset yet? Me neither!
I have a couple more, which I'm saving for later.
If you're expecting pictures of beautifully prepared meals served in the main dining room... this ain't the review for you. Kellyn and I are very casual and prefer casual dining. When cruising on Carnival, we eat almost all of our meals in the buffet restaurant on Lido deck, never setting foot in one of the main dining rooms.
One of my favorite things about Carnival is their collaboration with Guy Fieri from the Food Network. When they started adding "Guy's Burger Joint" to Carnival ships, they really scored a big hit with me. Here's what I eat for lunch about every other day during a Carnival cruise...
"The Ringer" from Guy's Burger Joint
That's an onion ring in between the burger patty and the tomato,
and a delicious sauce they call "donkey sauce" on top of the cheese.
Guy's Burger Joint
On the Carnival Breeze, the casual buffet restaurant is known as the Lido Marketplace. I like the way they've decorated the place... even the fake trees! Kellyn and I actually have a favorite table that we sit at almost every time. It's on the left side of this next photo, against the fake brick wall.
Our favorite little corner table, next to the fake brick wall, has bench seating on the wall side... and a really cool view of the ocean. When we're sitting at our favorite little spot, here's what we see... including a beautiful view of the Caribbean Sea, right outside the window.
I really like the way they do breakfast in Carnival's Lido buffet restaurants, too. The breakfast buffet on Princess, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean is just not as good. Here's a typical Carnival buffet breakfast for me...
Carnival makes it fairly easy to get a good omelet in the morning. The other cruise lines I've been on... not so much! I like the potatoes, too. Also... is it my imagination, or have they recently started doing something to make the croissants better? I liked the croissants on this cruise more than I've liked them on previous Carnival cruises. One last thing about breakfast... notice the Lawry's Seasoned Salt. I bring that from home. It makes the eggs and the potatoes taste better than regular salt does.
While we're talking about the Lido Marketplace, I do have to bring up one
<Begin Rant>The background music they played in there during our cruise was absolutely horrible! Once again, I must ask the question... have they not ever heard of Jimmy Buffett? Clearly, they were trying to set a tropical mood with the music they played. But what they did was play some kind of Jamaican or Caribbean music. A lot of it was really bizarre. Most of it was horrible. None of it was anything you would ever hear on a radio station in the USA. I used to be a radio program director. I know a little bit about selecting music that will appeal to a wide audience. It's not actually all that difficult. When in doubt, consult the Billboard charts for the period from 1970 to 2000. Pick from the top 30 or 40 songs of each of those years. Your audience will know and love those songs. This is what cover bands play... and there's a reason for that! Heck, have The Run For Cover Band pick the music for the Lido Marketplace... because they sure know how to pick the right songs to play at their gigs. That's the music that should be playing in the background of every Carnival ship.</End Rant>
Kellyn and I keep it casual almost every day on a Carnival cruise. I'm in shorts, a tropical-themed short-sleeved shirt, and a pair of flip flops almost the entire time. If not in shorts... I'm in swim trunks!
But we did dress up a little bit nicer for one night of our 14-day cruise... the night we went to the steak house. I snapped this photo of Kellyn, just before our steaks arrived:
Kellyn dressed up for a nice meal at the steakhouse
Kellyn ordered the Surf-n-Turf (steak and lobster)
I skipped the seafood, and just went for a big steak with some mashed potatoes on the side.
The portion size of the mashed potatoes was ridiculously small for such a big steak,
but they were quite willing to bring me additional servings.
I mentioned earlier that we never set foot in to the main dining room during our entire cruise. OK, that's not 100% true. 99% true, yes, indeed. But I did step in for one brief minute to take this picture, just so you could see what it looks like...
Now let's talk about booze for a moment...
On a sea day, I brought back a pitcher of Margaritas to our cabin
and Kel and I had a private party, followed by a nap!
These were free drinks (and sushi) at the VIFP party.
VIFP stands for Very Important Fun Person, the Carnival term for someone who has cruised with Carnival before.
If you've done at least 75 days at sea with Carnival, you get invited to a VIFP party where they serve free drinks.
This drink was not free, it was $2.30... and I think they misspelled VIFP
Speaking of the VIFP party...
Because we did two cruises back-to-back (B2B in cruiser lingo) we got to attend two VIFP parties... one each week. It was especially interesting the second week, which was a 6-day cruise... as opposed to the first week, which was an 8-day cruise. I guess your frequent Carnival cruisers prefer to do an 8-day cruise over a 6-day, because there was a MUCH smaller crowd for the VIFP party during the 6-day cruise than there was during the 8-day. The first week, there were so many VIFPs with 75 or more days in their cruise history that the VIFP party had to be held in the Ovation Theater... the big showroom at the front of the ship. But the second week, it was such a small crowd that they held the VIFP party in the Limelight Lounge at the back of the ship... the intimate little room where they do the comedy shows.
The nice thing for us about having the VIFP party in the Limelight Lounge is that it's very easy to order a specific drink there. The bar is right there inside the lounge. We just literally sat at the bar in the limelight lounge, and asked the bartender to make us what we wanted... and because it was the VIFP party, there was never a charge for those drinks. We probably drank $50 worth of free drinks at that party! In the Ovation theater, the bar is hidden in a room passengers can't go in to. Roving drink servers carry trays of pre-made drinks around, and you pretty much have to take whatever they happen to have. Sure, you can ask them to bring you something in particular, but it may take a LONG time before they give away all the drinks on their tray, go back to the bar and request your special drink, and then bring it back to you. So, being able to sit at the bar in the Limelight Lounge and have free drinks on Carnival's tab was kind of fun!
On another day, we ended up with free champagne and chocolate covered strawberries, courtesy of Carnival's Senior Cruise Director, John Heald...
John has occasionally used some of my photos of Carnival cruise ships as his Facebook cover photo. In fact, one day, he changed his Facebook cover photo three times and all three were photos from my web site! A few months ago, he asked me to let him know when I would be on a Carnival cruise again. I gave him the information about our Carnival Breeze B2B, and I guess he contacted the folks on the ship and had them deliver this little treat to our cabin. It was a nice surprise! By the way, that's my fourth solid gold plastic ship on a stick... so please do address me as "the four-time award winning cruiser, Jim Zim". Thank you.
Our Pre-Cruise Stay in Miami
I've been to Miami six times now, and I absolutely love it every time I'm there!
If we're getting in to Miami on a late flight and are leaving first thing in the morning on a cruise, we'll just stay in a hotel out by the airport... usually the Homewood Suites, Blue Lagoon, because they have nice rooms with free wi-fi and a halfway decent free breakfast in the morning. It's a LOT cheaper than staying at a hotel at or near the beach.
However, if we're going to have an extra day or two before the cruise, I've got no problem with paying the big bucks to stay out at the beach where the action is. Last year we stayed at a pricey hotel just across the street from Miami's famous South Beach. To keep the price from getting too outrageous, we stayed at an older hotel that itself was nothing spectacular... but whose location was amazing and right in the center of all the action.
For our September 2015 cruise on Carnival Breeze, I wanted to try somewhere new. I had read about the Bayside Marketplace in Miami... a tourist-oriented shopping/dining/entertainment complex that featured Hard Rock Cafe, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Hooters, Chili's, Five Guys Burgers, several other bars & restaurants, plus lots of shops and entertainment. Someone on CruiseCritic mentioned that they had stayed at the Holiday Inn across the street from the Bayside Marketplace, and that they had really liked it. So, I thought we'd give it a try. It turned out to be an EXCELLENT choice, and I've already made my reservations there again for my next visit to Miami.
Here's a shot of the Holiday Inn...
I mentioned to one of my friends that we were going to stay at a Holiday Inn, and she rolled her eyes when I said it... but really, this was a nice hotel. Whatever your preconceptions about Holiday Inn might be... fuhgetaboutit. They've come a long way since their days as a bare-bones budget-conscious chain 40 years ago. The room had everything I needed, the air conditioning worked great, and the bed was comfortable. Everything was modern and updated. There was a swimming pool on ground level, behind the hotel.
But the real selling point for me was the location across the street from the Bayside Marketplace, and the fantastic views of the Miami cruise port. We paid about $30 extra for a "Bay View" room, and requested that they put us up as high as possible. We ended up with a room on the top floor of the hotel, and with an amazing view of the cruise port and the turning basin where the ships turnaround in the morning. It was the perfect room for me. Here's a picture I shot through the window of our hotel room, of the Carnival Breeze as she spun around in the turning the basin about five or six hours before we got onboard...
Here's another shot from the window of our room at the Holiday Inn. Just beyond the trees and before the water, the red buildings with the gray roofing is the Bayside Marketplace. I took this at sunset, the night before our cruise...
The night before the cruise, we had a really nice dinner at the Bubba Gump Fish Company in the Bayside Marketplace. Here's the shrimp salad that Kellyn ordered...
After dinner, we enjoyed listening to a cover band that was playing in an outdoor patio area of the Marketplace. We also walked through the shops in the Marketplace, and spent some time in the Disney store buying a gift for the dear friend that was filling in for me at my real job during my vacation. That's also where we found the Lady & The Tramp stuffed animal that my wife simply could not resist. And on the first night of our vacation, I certainly wasn't going to say no to her!
I'm a California boy from a beach town where the only humidity we understand is a foggy 60 degree day. Things are a little different in Miami, especially during hurricane season. Note the "feels like" temperature in the Weather Channel graphic at 6:25 AM on embarkation day...
Embarkation day is fun, especially when you've reached Platinum status with Carnival! You get to skip a lot of the lines, and be among the first people on the ship! I didn't take a whole lot of pictures when we first got onboard, because our main goal was to get rid of all our carry-on luggage, find a cold drink, and do something to beat the heat.
When the ship finally sailed later in the afternoon, I got a kick out of seeing an old friend... the Norwegian Getaway. The most spectacular cruise we've ever taken was a luxurious week in The Haven, a truly VIP experience, on Norwegian Getaway. Here she is, colorful paint job and all.
There's a fairly boring video I shot of Norwegian Getaway as we sailed past her...
and it probably wouldn't mean as much to you as it does to me.
But if you want to see it for some reason, click here
I got a kick out of sailing past this big sign for the new Norwegian Escape, since we'll be sailing on her soon.
Look at the size of that sign... anchored by 16 giant shipping containers!
Miami is an incredible place to sail from. The views are spectacular! During previous cruises out of Miami, I've shot video that really shows what a Miami sailaway is like. I didn't really bother to shoot any video of it this time, since I've already gotten good video of it in the past... but if you'd like to see what it's all about, just take a look at some of my videos from previous visits. Here are the best ones:
The view from the back of the ship,
looking to the rear (Time-lapse format, 2 minutes long)
The view from the front of the ship, looking forward (In actual time, 16 minutes long)
Another view from the back of the ship, looking to the rear (Time-lapse format, 1 minute long)
The multi-million dollar mansions you see as you sail out of Miami (In actual time, 4 minutes long)
If you like cruising but you haven't sailed out of Miami yet, you absolutely MUST do it some time. My favorite part is when you get to the point where you can see the world-famous South Beach...
We stayed at a hotel on South Beach about a year ago, before a cruise on the Carnival Glory. The hotel we stayed at was somewhat older and just slightly funky, but what was amazing about it was the location. We were right in the middle of the action on South Beach. There were restaurants and bars and one of the world's best beaches all within a minute's walk of the hotel. It was pretty cool. You can read all about it here.
As we headed out to sea, I snapped this photo of another old friend who was right behind us: the Carnival Glory.
Our very first Caribbean cruise was on the Carnival Glory!
In the photo, she's just about to clear the breakwater at the entrance to Miami's harbor.
Our First Port Of Call: St Maarten
We've been to St Maarten several times before, and we always have a good time there. They have beautiful beaches, lovely weather, and I'm looking forward to going back there again on our next Caribbean cruise... on the brand new Norwegian Escape.
When we arrived in St Maarten, the Disney Fantasy was already there waiting for us.
For this visit, we decided to head over to downtown Philipsburg and spend some time at the beach. It's an easy excursion that you can do on your own without having to pay Carnival for an official ship-sponsored shore excursion. There's a water taxi that will take you from the cruise ship pier to a little pier in Philipsburg where I was standing to shoot this next photo...
You can't see the pier I was standing on, but it was there under my feet!
As you can see, there's a beautiful little beach right there next to the water taxi pier... and just behind the beach is a whole bunch of shops, restaurants, and bars. Basically, everything you need for a fun day at the beach is right there! The only challenge is to pick a restaurant that you'll eventually want to eat at, and then to rent a pair of loungers and an umbrella on the beach right in front of that restaurant.
We walked down the beach until we found a little restaurant that spoke to me. I have a sister-in-law named Lizzy, so when we got to Lizzy's restaurant in Philipsburg, I figured that was a good sign.
Once I looked over the menu, I knew we had found a perfect place to spend the day. A friendly Lizzy's server set me up with the right guy on the beach who set us up with a pair of loungers and an umbrella. We were set for the day!
Kellyn read a book on her Kindle while I spent most of the day in the wonderfully warm water!
There was an unusual thing that happened there at the beach in St Maarten that day. When we're on vacation, Kellyn and I are all about the beach. We don't go shopping, we don't tour historical sites, we don't do jungle zip lines... we just like to spend the day at the beach. But Kellyn doesn't generally go in the water! If she does, she goes in up to her ankles... and that's about it. I'm out in that warm Caribbean water all the time... but Kellyn just relaxes on a lounger with her Kindle and is happy as can be. So it says something about what a beautiful day it was, how soft the sand was, and how warm that water was... that Kellyn actually came out in to the water with me that day... until it was practically all the way up to her neck! It was the most beautiful Caribbean beach day you could imagine.
Later in the day, back onboard the ship, the sun started to set and the lights came on onboard the Disney Fantasy. I thought the red lights on deck and the yellow lights on the side of the ship were so pretty in the fading daylight that I snapped a picture of the scene...
The Disney Fantasy, docked next to us in St Maarten
I was particularly fascinated with an expensive suite up at the front of the Disney ship. I looked it up online, and it goes for $3000... a day! A one week cruise in a balcony cabin on Carnival will set you back about about $2000... and this guy in the big suite on Disney just shelled out $21,000 for his cabin. It was cool to see his butler set the table for dinner, though! And having his own whirlpool tub on his balcony is pretty cool, too.
This was the view about an hour before we docked at St Kitts
I've only been to St Kitts one time before, and it didn't impress me much. I'm all about the beach, but St Kitts is pretty rocky and doesn't have many nice beaches. So, this time I decided to take a snorkeling excursion. Kellyn has a bad foot and snorkeling is almost impossible for her... so she elected to stay back at our cabin and continue reading her Kindle while I headed off for my snorkeling excursion. Normally, we're pretty much joined at the hip during a cruise, so I thought it was interesting that she wanted me to get out there and have my fun without worrying about her for a few hours.
I packed my underwater camera and was surprised to discover that it was dead as a doorknob when I got in the water and tried to turn it on. I guess I'm getting old and stupid, but it didn't occur to me to charge it the night before! So, no snorkeling pictures for you.
However, I did have my big DSLR camera in my daypack, so once I got out of the water and back on to the snorkel boat, a friendly fellow passenger was kind enough to snap this photo to prove that I was actually there.
Having a bad hair day after snorkeling off the coast of St Kitts
As the snorkel excursion boat headed back to the cruise ship dock, I took this photo of the Carnival Breeze. In the photo, you can see that St Kitts is a mountainous island that's very green... which, of course, means they get a fair amount of rainfall. Both times I've been to St Kitts, the top of the mountain has been covered in clouds.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
The Carnival Breeze docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Kellyn and I have been to San Juan many times before. The thing we like about it the most is that there's a CVS drug store right across the street from the cruise ship pier! We always head over to CVS to pick up anything we may have forgotten to bring with us, or anything we've run out of, or anything that's just a little too expensive on the ship.
We felt like having a lazy day onboard the ship on this particular day. Cruise ships can be a bit crowded at times, especially the whirlpool tubs and swimming pools, so sometimes if you don't have anything you want to do on shore, it's a good idea to just stay on the ship and enjoy it being mostly empty. We made a quick trip to CVS and to Starbucks, and then got right back onboard. We had the whirlpool tub on the Serenity deck all to ourselves!
Earlier, I explained to you how Kellyn and I are all about the beach... and how we generally don't visit historical sites in the various ports of call. Well, San Juan is the one exception that comes to mind. The last time we were in San Juan, which was just earlier this year during a cruise on Royal Caribbean's Independence Of The Seas, we toured the old forts that were built hundreds of years ago at the entrance to the San Juan harbor. It was very cool. If you're ever in San Juan and don't know what to do, grab the free trolley across the street from the cruise ship pier and take it over to the historic forts known as Castillo de San Cristobal, and El Morro. I really got a kick out of walking all around the forts and imagining the days when they repelled an attack by Sir Francis Drake!
Here's a photo I snapped of El Morro on a previous visit...
"El Morro" guards the San Juan harbor entrance, and Castillo de San Cristobal can be seen in the background
Grand Turk is another one of those destinations we've been to many times. It's absolutely one of our favorite cruise ship destinations! We always have fun there.
From the beach at Grand Turk, you can truly see that cruise ships don't sit very deep in the water!
As you can see in the photo, the ship docks at a pier right next to a great beach in Grand Turk. You can literally walk out your cabin door and be on to the beach in five minutes. There's absolutely no charge to spend the day at the beach and even to use the loungers. However, if you want an umbrella or one of those big blue covers over your lounger, that'll cost you a small but reasonable charge.
Another free activity you can do at Grand Turk is to spend the day at the pool at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville. There's a gigantic swimming pool, surrounded by hundreds of loungers, and you can use them totally for free. The trick is to get there early enough to find one under the shade of an umbrella. As you can see in the next photo of the beautiful pool at Margaritaville, not many of the loungers are shaded by umbrellas. We try to be one of the first people off the ship in Grand Turk so that we can snag one.
A very cool thing about Margaritaville on Grand Turk is that they have a Flowrider surf simulator. I always enjoy watching people crash and burn on the Flowrider. Here's a video I shot of some of my fellow passengers doing just that! (Although the video starts with one amazing success!)
After a few hours by the pool, we gave up our choice spot and headed in to the Margaritaville restaurant for a nice lunch. I always enjoy the nachos...
There was an unfortunate incident at the pool at Margaritaville on this particular day, and it kind of ruined lunch for us, though. While I was shooting that video of kids on the Flowrider, some guy just a few feet from Kellyn got upset at his young daughter and simply beat the hell out of her right there in public. Kellyn saw the whole thing, as did quite a few other passengers. Kellyn yelled at the guy to stop, but of course, it didn't faze him. I missed the whole thing as I was at the other side of the pool, next to the Flowrider. But even though I didn't see the incident itself, I know it happened... because one of the other passengers came up to Kellyn later and talked to her about the whole thing they had witnessed. And when we got up to leave to go have our lunch, Kellyn stared down the child-beater as we walked by him... and he proceeded to give her the finger right there in front of me. Classy guy. Thanks for ruining our day.
As I've mentioned, our 14-day cruise was actually two cruises: an 8-day cruise followed by a 6-day cruise. So, at the end of 8-days, the ship returned to Miami. It was so beautiful as we docked in Miami and the sun came up...
Sunrise in Miami
Turning the camera in the opposite direction... with the wonderful lighting of sunrise, downtown Miami was a beautiful sight. Especially with another cruise ship docked on the other side of the island!
That's the Aida Luna cruise ship, which belongs to a German subsidiary of the Carnival Corporation.
With our ship docked in Miami, it was time for 99% of the passengers to head home. About 50 people were going to stay onboard for a B2B. Some of them elected to go in to Miami for the day and to come back onboard later. But most of them stayed on the ship, and posed for this picture...
Carnival gave each of us a free print of the photo!
I have to tell you that it's REALLY FUN to watch 4000 passengers get off the ship and to know that you get to stick around for another 6 days! It's also really fun to be able to walk around a nearly empty ship before all the new passengers are allowed onboard!
An almost-empty Lido deck before general boarding has begun. Nobody but us B2Bers here!
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
The first stop on the second leg of our B2B was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Here's the view as our ship tied up at the pier...
A peaceful scene just after sunrise as our ship docked in Ocho Rios
I am delighted to report that things have gotten a LOT better in Ocho Rios. It used to be kind of a scary place. We were here once before, and the local vendors were REALLY aggressive. During that previous visit, Kellyn and I walked off the ship and in to the downtown area... and got so scared during the first few minutes that we bought one thing at a local shop and then marched right back to the safety of the ship. And we were not the only ones that were made really uncomfortable in Ocho Rios. It was an infamous spot that people on CruiseCritic talked about never wanting to visit again. Well, the feedback finally got back to the right people... and this time around, we had a VERY different experience in Ocho Rios. The place was crawling with cops! They were everywhere, and not just one or two here or there. It was amazing. We noticed the difference from the minute we stepped outside of the cruise terminal.
Our plan for the day was to head over to Margaritaville (yeah, they have one in Ocho Rios, too!) and to enjoy the free beach they have and the nice swimming pool and waterslide. We had never been to this particular Margaritaville before, but I read good things about it.
Just like at the Margaritaville in Grand Turk, the plan was to get off the ship quickly so that we could be one of the first ones at Margaritaville... so that, hopefully, we could find a shady spot to sit for the day. As luck would have it, the place was empty when we arrived, and there was a gigantic shade tree where one of the friendly employees placed two lounge chairs for us, while three cops looked on from about 15 feet away. And those cops stayed there for the whole day, thank goodness!
Our two little loungers under the shade of a very big tree.
A few hours later, there would be dozens of other people all around us!
Compared to the gigantic swimming pool at the Margaritaville in Grand Turk,
the pool at the Ocho Rios Margaritaville was nothing to get excited about.
I tried the waterslide, but it was too short and too slow to even try a second time.
Young kids loved it, though... and we enjoyed sitting at the beach for quite a few hours.
The ocean water was wonderfully warm.
Here's the problem at Margaritaville in Ocho Rios, and the reason that the cops had a presence
See those five people at the property line, being watched over by the cop?
They're very aggressive vendors trying to sell stuff to the Margaritaville guests.
They're not allowed to cross the property line, and the cop makes sure they don't.
But nothing stops them from shouting at you all day long in an attempt to get you to come to them.
It was annoying. Bring noise cancelling headphones with you!
As our ship approached Grand Cayman, we saw another old friend anchored off shore: the Carnival Freedom. We did a really rare 12-day repositioning cruise on her in February, when Carnival moved her from Ft Lauderdale to her new home port of Galveston.
The Carnival Freedom at sunrise, off the coast of Grand Cayman
In Grand Cayman, we made a rookie mistake. With as many Carnival cruises as we've taken, you'd think we would know better. We did something that usually only a first-time cruiser does: we failed to fully read our shore excursion ticket, and we ended up missing the excursion! The ticket had two times listed on it. At the top of the ticket, it said that our shore excursion was at 10 AM. But in smaller print, a few lines below that, it said to meet in the Ovation theater at 9:15 AM. We missed the part about being in the Ovation theater at 9:15, and by the time we figured it out... it was too late. Our tour group had left already. Rookie mistake!
As soon as we realized our mistake, we headed down to the Guest Services desk... where there was a huge line. Luckily, one of my favorite Carnival perks for being platinum in their loyalty program is that they have a dedicated help desk for platinum guests... so we got to skip the whole line and get immediate help. They confirmed that we had missed our excursion and that there was no way to catch it. But they were totally willing to refund the cost of the excursion and book us on another... which I thought was a pretty great deal since it had been our mistake and not theirs. So, we booked ourselves on to an excursion a little later in the day to the stingray sandbar on the other side of the island.
The stingray excursion is one of the coolest excursions you can do on a Caribbean cruise. We've actually done it twice before in Grand Cayman, and I had no problem with doing it a third time. It's that cool. From the cruise ship pier, you take a small bus to the other side of the island, and then you get on a boat that takes you out to the sandbar where the stingrays hang out... known as Stingray City. It's pretty darned cool to stand in water that is about 2 or 3 feet deep, and to have stingrays swimming all around you. You can see the joy in Kellyn's face...
You are totally free to touch the stingrays and don't worry, they won't hurt you unless you do something stupid.
Our excursion used a much cooler boat than many of the other boats that visited Stingray City that
Look at the boats in the previous two pictures, and compare them to the boat that we were on:
The big staircase at the back of our boat made it super easy to get in the water.
Even Kellyn, with a goofy bad foot, had no problem at all.
Although this next photo is a little out of focus, I got a laugh out of her reaction to this guide's offer for her to kiss the stingray!
The final stop of our 14-day cruise was one of our favorite vacation destinations: Cozumel. I could go to Cozumel once a month for the next several years, and still not get bored with it. There's a lot of fun stuff to do there!
For this particular day in Cozumel, we decided to make a repeat visit to a place we've been to twice before. It's a shore excursion that is exclusive to Carnival, called La Casa En La Playa. Translated to English, that's the house at the beach. It's a little slice of paradise, as I think you'll see from the next few pictures!
This is the kind of thing my Caribbean vacation fantasies are made of!
Here's why they call this excursion La Casa En La Playa...
Under that thatched roof is the house at the beach. The guests stay out on the beach, under an umbrella, or under the shade of all those palm trees. Or, of course, the guests go play in the warm ocean water! Inside the house, there are bathrooms... and almost as importantly, there's a kitchen where they'll make you a delicious lunch!
Kellyn had Mexican-style chicken and a rum runner to drink.
I had chile relleno and a rum & coke.
Did I mention that it's an open bar?
And the wait staff quickly finds out what you like and keeps them coming as often as you like.
There's also a massage tent, and several ladies standing by to give massages, for an extra fee.
They also have a small reef just a few feet offshore, where you can go snorkeling and see quite a few fish. I got smart and charged my underwater camera the night before, and then was able to get this video of the fish I saw just a few feet offshore of La Casa En La Playa...
If you've got an upcoming Carnival cruise to Cozumel and you're interested in La Casa En La Playa, be aware that you have to book this excursion months in advance! It's not one of those excursions that you can wait to book until you get onboard the ship. It's limited to just 16 people, and it typically sells out months before the cruise. So, think ahead, and try to book it as soon as you can.
One Show Not To Miss: Motor City
If you only go to see one show in the Ovation theater during your cruise on Carnival Breeze, make sure you see "Motor City". It's a show featuring lots of great Motown music... everything from Diana Ross to Michael Jackson. It's one of Carnival's "Playlist Productions" shows... which means you'll be treated to some really cool production effects thanks to the electronic screens that are all part of the set. I wish Carnival allowed people to shoot video during the shows, so I could show you how cool it is when all the colorful stuff you see in this next picture is in motion.
In the still photo above, it just looks like a static set... colorful, but nothing that couldn't have been painted on to a backdrop 30 or 40 years ago. What the still picture doesn't reveal is that during the actual show, all those colorful items you see on the stage are moving, bouncing, gyrating, and dancing to the music! It's really FUN. If you're older than 30 years old and you haven't seen "Motor City" yet... do it, before Carnival moves on to something else!
I do have one little tip for you about Motor City... and that's not to miss the "pre-show". In the Fun Times newsletter, you'll see Motor City listed as starting at a certain time... let's say 8:15 PM. But what they don't bother to tell you, or they bury in a different part of the newsletter so you might not see it, is that there's a "pre-show" that starts 15 minutes earlier. So, if you waltz in to the theater at the last minute, thinking you're just in time for the 8:15 show, you'll find that the show is actually already in progress! They just call it the pre-show. Here's a few photos from the pre show...
A female volunteer from the audience is brought up on stage to be the star of the Motor City pre-show
Three male volunteers are brought up on stage, and outfitted with wigs during the pre-show
You can access the Internet from your own device, or use the "Fun Hub" computers available throughout the ship.
You may have heard that Carnival recently made some improvements to the Internet service that is provided on their ships. I'm happy to tell you that Carnival's Internet service really is a whole lot better than it used to be in the old days... and cheaper, too. Bravo to Carnival for realizing that in this day and age, having good Internet access while on a cruise is kind of a big deal for many of their passengers.
Carnival offers several different options for purchasing Internet access. First off, you don't have to pay by the minute anymore like you did in the old days. So, you're never rushing to quickly disconnect to save your minutes for later. Now you can either buy Internet access for an entire day, or for the entire cruise. Also, you can buy full Internet access or buy a very inexpensive plan that gives you access to only Facebook, Instagram, and What's App.
For the first of our back-to-back cruises, I purchased the most expensive Internet plan available. I figured that would allow me to see what the best case scenario was for Internet access. This set me back $99. The thing that totally surprised me about it -- something I've never experienced before on a Carnival cruise -- was that when the ship was docked in Miami, the Internet speeds were blazing fast. I did a quick test at Speedtest.net to see exactly what was going on, and the results clearly indicate that Carnival isn't using a satellite connection for Internet access when the ship is docked in Miami. When accessing the Internet on a cruise ship, via satellite, you typically get a ping test result of more than 600 milliseconds. But from my cabin on the Carnival Breeze, docked in Miami, I got a ping test result of just 9 milliseconds! That's BLAZING fast... like the kind of connection I would have at home, via cable modem. So, clearly, Carnival was either making some kind of wired connection in Miami, or using some other advanced connection technique (microwave?) rather than using the satellite system they use at sea. The two other important Speedtest metrics, upload and download speeds, were equally impressive: I measured download speeds as high as 8 mbps and upload speeds as high as 7 mbps. Of course, you can't expect a blazing fast connection like that when the ship is at sea! But it was impressive to see it when the ship was docked in Miami.
About an hour after the ship sailed out of Miami, I did another Speedtest and could tell immediately from the ping test that we were now using a satellite connection. The ping speed dropped down to 759 ms and the upload speed to .66 mbps. Surprisingly, though, I got a 10 mbps download speed.
I did quite a few other Speedtests during our cruise. Ping times were typically right around 700 ms every time I tested it, except for when we got back to Miami again. Download speeds were most often around 1 mbps... but went as high as 10 mbps on a couple of different occasions. Upload speeds were typically about .5 or .6 mbps. Now I know that doesn't sound particularly fast when you compare it to the kind of Speedtest results you would get at home. But the thing is, it worked reasonably well. Forgetting the numbers, and just sitting in front of my computer and going to various web sites, it really worked pretty well... especially compared to how bad Internet access used to be at sea just a few years ago. In the old days, there were times when trying to access the Internet was just an exercise in frustration and futility. But on the Carnival Breeze, it worked very consistently. There was never a point where I turned my computer off in frustration and had to come back later and try again. That used to happen a lot, back in the old days!
During the second leg of our back-to-back cruises, I thought it would be interesting to try the $60 "value" Internet access plan... and to see how it compared to the $99 "premium" plan I had used during the first week. The surprising result of my tests was that I could see no difference at all between the usability or the Speedtest results during the two weeks. The "value" plan seemed to work just as well as the more expensive "premium" plan... and the Speedtest results were all right in the same ballpark. The bottom line is that I won't be buying the premium plan in my future cruises with Carnival. I could detect no benefit to it whatsoever.
One last thing about Internet access:
If you want to experience the state-of-the-art in Internet connectivity at sea, you have to cruise on Royal Caribbean's newest ships, such as Allure Of The Seas or Anthem Of The Seas. They use a much more advanced system than Carnival does. Royal Caribbean uses the O3B Networks system of low-earth orbit satellites... and it provides a significantly better connection than you can get on Carnival. On Allure Of The Seas, I got a consistently fast Internet connection during the entire cruise, with a ping time of about 185 milliseconds, a download speed of about 4 Mbps, and an upload speed of about .9 Mbps. That's the fastest Internet connection I've ever experienced at sea.
Cruise Director: Matt Mitcham
For the first of our back-to-back cruises, our Cruise Director was Carnival's golden boy, Matt Mitcham. Carnival Cruise Line holds Matt in such high esteem that they've announced that he'll be the Cruise Director of Carnival's newest ship, the Carnival Vista, which is scheduled for delivery in April 2016. I haven't ever cruised with Matt before, so I was curious to see what it was about him that made Carnival consider him the top dog of Cruise Directors. Within the first 10 hours onboard, it was obvious to me. He's a real pro.
However, I still consider Carnival's Jaime Deitsch as my Cruise Director of choice. Both are fantastic hosts that come across very well on stage or over the public address system. But if I can be totally honest with you on this subject... Jaime has a manner that relates well to people of all ethnicities and age groups. Some of Matt's stuff seems aimed at a younger black audience... especially the way he does the social events out at the mid-ship pool. I'm a 55+ white guy, and Jaime's manner hits me just right. On stage, I had no problems with Matt... but at party time, the whole thing was just a bit too black for me. I know some will call me racist for saying that. But Carnival's passenger demographic is predominantly white and over the age of 40... and I don't think Matt comes off as well to that demographic as Jaime does.
I think you'll see what I mean if you watch a little video I shot of the sailaway party on the very first day of our cruise. Take a look at the video, and ask yourself if this is a party that a 55+ white guy is going to enjoy attending.
Now watch a video of Jaime Deitsch (on the Carnival Sunshine) hosting an event out at the mid-ship pool, and notice the completely different vibe... one which works with people of just about all ages and ethnicities.
Don't get me wrong... I totally see why Matt Mitcham was named Cruise Director of the year for 2015, and why Carnival picked him to be the CD of their new flagship. I'd just rather cruise with Jaime Deitsch.
During the second leg of our back-to-back cruises, Matt had to attend a Cruise Director conference at Carnival's head office... so one of his subordinates got the big chance to fill in as Cruise Director for 6 days. There seems to be a little confusion on what this guy's name is, though! In the Fun Times newsletter, they had him listed on one page as "Orlando Majic" and on another page as "Orlando Barrett". Clearly, the guy's first name is Orlando! I suspect that Barrett is his real last name, and that Majic is a stage name he uses. Here's a photo of him...
To be honest, Orlando was clearly not ready for prime time. Listening to him stumble through reading the scripted safety drill was painful. Reading from a script is definitely not his strong suit! I attended a couple of events that he hosted... but after the first couple of events, I tried to steer clear of this one for the rest of the cruise. I don't expect to see him promoted to full-time Cruise Director any time soon.
An Odd Photo
Imagine me and Kellyn walking down a hallway, when she suddenly asks for the camera and demands that I pose for a picture.... and I say to her: "You want a picture of me in a hallway? Why not somewhere a little more interesting?"
If you're researching the idea of taking a cruise on the Carnival Breeze,
here are a few documents you might want to download:
Carnival Breeze Deck Plans
Fun Times daily newsletter - 1st 8 days
Fun Times daily newsletter - Final 6 days
Entertainment schedule - 1st 8 days
Entertainment schedule - Final 6 days
"Good To Know" information (such as where the self-serve laundry facilities are)
Departure information for the last day of the cruise
Room Service Menu
These "mini deck plans" might help you visualize the layout of the ship...
If you click on the mini-deck plans, a larger more detailed version will open up in a new browser tab.
Our Previous Cruise on Carnival Breeze
If you've enjoyed this cruise review and you'd like to see even more pictures of the Carnival Breeze, you might want to take a look at the review I wrote about our 2013 cruise on the Carnival Breeze. Compare the pictures in the two reviews and see if you think my photography skills have improved at all over the last two years!
Our Future Cruises
Perhaps you're wondering what we've got coming up.
Later this year, we'll be returning to Carnival for a "Mexican Riviera" cruise to Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta. That's on the Carnival Miracle... a ship we've never been on before. It's a sister ship to the Carnival Spirit, a ship we've sailed on four different times and which we liked a LOT. So, we're looking forward to that. At the conclusion of that cruise, we will have spent a total of 47 days on cruise ships in 2015... a record for us!
Given the current state of the stock market, where our cruise money is invested, I'm pretty sure we won't be beating that record in 2016. Although we do have some really cool cruises planned! In the first quarter, we'll be cruising on Norwegian Cruise Line's brand new ship, the Norwegian Escape... and to make it even better, we'll be staying in The Haven! We did a cruise in The Haven on Norwegian Getaway last year, and it was the best cruise of all the ones we've ever been on. So I'm REALLY excited about getting back in to The Haven on Norwegian Escape. I'd actually cruise on NCL a lot more often... except for the fact that they offer very little variety in their itineraries. If Norwegian Getaway or Norwegian Escape did some different itineraries from time to time, I'd surely cruise with them more often. But it's pretty much just the same ports over and over, every week. Boring. Carnival does a much better job of offering a variety of Caribbean itineraries. Nevertheless, I can't wait to experience Norwegian Escape in 2016! I have no doubt that it will be the most amazing cruise we've ever been on.
In the second quarter of 2016, we'll be cruising with Royal Caribbean on their newest ship: Anthem Of The Seas. That's the one you may have read about with the robotic bartender, the bumper cars, and the skydiving simulator. After a great cruise earlier this year on one of Royal Caribbean's older ships, I'm really curious to see how the next generation of RCCL ships strikes me.
You may be wondering when we'll be sailing on the brand new Carnival ship, the Carnival Vista. It will probably surprise you to learn that we don't have a cruise on the Vista booked at this time. I'm sure we'll eventually do so, I just don't know when that's going to be possible yet. I think those Havana staterooms at the back of the ship, with their own private pool area, look pretty cool! I hope they're not all booked up by the time I'm finally ready to book.
Carnival Cruise Sounds
Have some fun with these! Listen to the Carnival Cruise theme, or play the sound of a Carnival ship horn.
If you're a true cruise junkie, download the audio files (by right-clicking, and saving) and then set your computer to play the ship horn when you get a new email, and to play the theme song when the computer boots up and/or shuts down!
A Great Series Of Books About Cruise Ships
After you've been on at least one cruise, there's a book that you really should read! It will give you a whole new perspective. It's a book that was written by a guy that worked on several Carnival ships... and he shares some funny stories about life on a cruise ship. To give you an idea of what kind of book this is... the story starts as he is staying in a hotel room in Miami, the night before his very first day working on a cruise ship. Even though it's the day before his first day onboard, he's basically "on the job", so Carnival is paying for the room. To save the company money, they don't give him a private room... he shares it with someone else. So, he checks in to the room, and the first thing he does is to take a nice long shower. And when he's finally done with his shower, he discovers that his roommate has shown up... and is in the middle of having sex with a woman right there in their shared hotel room! Does that give you an idea of the kind of book this is? Well, that's just the beginning... and things get even more interesting once he starts working on the ships!
If you've ever wondered what life is like for those people that work on cruise ships... what kind of hours they work... how much they're paid... and what they do when they're not working... this is the book for you. The overall plot of the story is that the author, Brian Bruns, meets a girl named Bianca in Las Vegas and quickly falls head over heels in love with her. It turns out that she's on vacation from her job as a waitress on the Carnival Conquest. Soon enough, the vacation is over and Bianca heads back to the ship... and Brian must make a decision about whether this was just a quick fling, or something more. He decides it was something more, and takes a job with Carnival in order to be with Bianca. Ship life is tough, and creates one roadblock after another between Brian and the girl he loves.
It's a huge love story that literally follows them all around the world. If you just want to hear Brian's best inside stories about life on a cruise ship, you don't even need to read all four books... just get the first one. But if you find yourself loving all the dirty details of life on a cruise ship, and want more... or if you get hooked on the love story and you want to find out whether ship life breaks up Brian and Bianca or whether there's a classic happy ending at the end... buy all four.
|Volume 1||Volume 2||Volume 3||Volume 4|
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Packing List & To-Do List
Here's my official packing list.
Perhaps this will help you think of things to pack for your cruise.
On a few of the unusual items, I'll provide a link to the exact version I recommend at Amazon.com
Airline boarding pass
Cruise boarding pass
If driving, printed directions to the hotel & cruise terminal
Wallet (I actually forgot this on one cruise!)
Waterproof beach shoes
Underwear & socks (incredibly, I actually forgot to bring socks on one cruise)
One dressy outfit
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Travel-size Kleenex for the airplane
Lawry's seasoning salt
Laptop computer or tablet computer, including charger
Digital SLR Camera
Camera tripod, or selfie-stick
Wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer
6-outlet power strip
Cell phone & charger
Waterproof wrist watch
My pre-cruise to-do list:
Stop newspaper and mail delivery
Book shore excursions
Send an email to family members with my travel plans & itinerary
Turn off water to the house to prevent the chance of a pipe break
Turn down (or turn off) the water heater to save energy
Make sure garden sprinklers are on
Make sure house is locked and alarm system is active
On the last day at work:
Update voice mail message to indicate my return date
Update out-of-office email message, and turn it on
Make sure my temporary replacement has an updated desk guide
Put a sign at my desk indicating my return date
What Camera Do I Use?
Whenever I post these cruise reviews, I always get questions about what camera I used to take the photos. I actually bring two cameras with me on a cruise, plus my cell phone.
One is just a fairly inexpensive waterproof camera, so I can shoot pictures and videos while snorkeling. The one I use is an Olympus TG-830. However, that's a slightly older model now... and if you're in the market for one, you should get the new version which is the Olympus TG-850.
Olympus TG-850 waterproof camera
For everything except the underwater stuff, the camera I use is a Canon EOS-70D digital SLR camera. I bring several different lenses with me on a cruise, too.
Canon EOS 70D
The 70D is probably too much camera for most people... so if you're in the market for a very high quality digital SLR camera, the one I actually recommend for most people is the Canon Digital Rebel T5i. If you get one, make sure you get the T5i with the 135mm lens, not the cheap version with the 55mm lens.
I also like to have a Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens with me when I'm on a cruise ship. This is a wide angle lens, which is extremely useful when trying to shoot in small spaces (for example, shooting a photo of a bathroom in a cruise ship cabin) or when shooting something very large (like a cruise ship, when you're standing on the pier next to it.)
Every now and then I see something photo-worthy when I don't have either of my camera's with me. When that happens, I'll shoot with my cell phone, as a last resort. I don't think I used any cell phone photos on this page, but if you notice any horrible looking photos on the rest of my site, you might be looking at a cell phone photo.
One important technique that I use with my Canon DSLR, since I'm looking to getting the highest quality photos possible, is to shoot in RAW format rather than JPG. This preserves the photos with the highest possible quality, and gives me the greatest ability to tweak them after shooting them. However, it does require a lot of extra work. Any photos which I want to share (via email, Facebook, or on this web site, for example) have to be converted from RAW to JPG. This takes some time and effort, but it's worth it to me in order to get the best end results. Just about all the photos you see on this page have been tweaked to some extent to give them the best finished look. For most photos, I do some sharpening and color correction. On some photos, I have to do even more tweaking than that to get them to look just right.
I also bring along a tripod with me, to allow me to shoot long-exposure shots in low-light situations. It's also handy to have for shooting "selfies". I've got a tripod that is just the right size to fit inside my big suitcase but which is heavy duty enough to be stable. It also has a fluid head, which is something that's very important to look for in a tripod if you intend to use it when shooting video.
This selfie was shot with the camera on a tripod and using a 10-second delay
The funny thing about posting pictures of myself here is that I do actually get recognized on the ships by people who have read my cruise reviews! During our September 2015 Carnival Breeze cruise it didn't actually happen on the ship, it happened at Margaritaville in Ocho Rios. I was shooting a photo of the beach at Margaritaville and a very pretty young woman came up to me and asked if my name is Jim. She said she thought so because she had read my cruise reviews. I got a kick out of it! And that was definitely not the first time it had happened to me.
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
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