I'd like to start things off by sharing a few of the best pictures I shot during our cruise...
(Most photos & videos taken with my Canon EOS 70D)
One of the best days of my entire life!
Relaxing in a private cabana at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.
One of my favorite cruise destinations: Grand Turk
From the balcony of our cabin, we had a beautiful view of the ship's wake
and quite often some beautiful sunsets and sunrises
My favorite place on the ship: the aft swimming pool and Jacuzzis.
During inclement weather, a glass dome slides closed to keep the weather out.
Of course, during most of the cruise it is open to take advantage of the warm Caribbean atmosphere.
Here's a great shot I'm very proud of... the Carnival Glory sailing out of the Port Of Miami.
Stop and think for a moment... how was I able to get this shot?!?
It's a simple answer, actually.
I shot this one year earlier, from a balcony on the Carnival Breeze.
It may surprise you to know that this was actually my favorite picture that I took during the cruise.
These Guy Fieri burgers are FANTASTIC, and I think I finally got a picture that does them justice.
We took some really enjoyable shore excursions
including a visit to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world,
Trunk Bay beach on St. John in the US Virgin Islands.
I'll give you the full rundown on all of our shore excursions a bit later
as we get further in to this story.
The Carnival Glory at anchor off the coast of Belize
In addition to still pictures, I also shot a lot of video.
This first video is kind of a "greatest hits" compilation of the highlights of the cruise.
Click the triangle in the center of the video screen below to start the video playing.
A tip about the videos on this page:
They default to playing at a resolution of 480p on this page, but you can watch them in high definition at resolutions of 720p or even 1080p if you want to. To do so, you have the click on the YouTube logo in the lower right-hand corner of the video screen to open the video up in a new window on YouTube, and then change the "settings" (also in the lower right corner of the screen) to the resolution of your choice. If you choose 720P or higher, it is recommended that you also set the video to play full screen.
Before we get any further in to this story, I guess I should introduce myself...
I'm Jim Zimmerlin (everyone calls me Jim Zim) and I cruise with my wife, Kellyn. (Pronunciation tip: it rhymes with Helen.) We're from Grover Beach, California... a little town on the California coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
These back-to-back Caribbean cruises on the Carnival Glory were our 21st and 22nd Carnival cruises. We've also cruised with Princess cruises and with Norwegian cruise line. We'll be giving Royal Caribbean a try later this year, and we're considering giving Disney a try next year. As you've probably figured out, we LOVE to cruise!
Carnival Glory cabin 7440
Over the years, we've done a lot of experimentation to find the type of cruise ship cabin that we like best. We have literally stayed in just about every kind of cabin that Carnival offers... from the cheapest interior cabin to ocean-view cabins, balcony cabins, spa cabins, suites, and even The Captain's Suite. For these two weeks on the Carnival Glory, we opted for what we think is "the sweet spot" in the balance between comfort and price: a Premium Vista Balcony cabin, commonly known as an "aft-wrap". These cabins are located at the extreme back end of the ship, on the corners... with huge balconies that wrap all the way around from the back of the ship to the side of the ship.
This portion of cabin 7440's balcony looks out behind the ship.
This part of the balcony is wind-blocked and usually warm to hot.
This photo was taken in Miami, with Carnival Conquest docked behind us.
This portion of cabin 7440's balcony is on the side of the ship,
and is covered, which provides some shade.
When it's 80+ degrees outside, this shady area with a bit of a breeze is quite comfy.
When the ship is at sea, this is the normal view from cabin 7440's balcony
Having a cabin with such a huge balcony gives me a quiet place to relax outdoors and still have some privacy. If I feel like being social, I'll go up two levels to the aft pool and chat with people there... but when I just want some quiet time outdoors, that big balcony is the place to be. My wife likes to sit out here and read books on her Kindle, and I like to just sit out here and enjoy the views... especially at sunrise, sunset, or right after an afternoon thundershower...
A rainbow appears after one of those afternoon thundershowers
Sunrise, as seen from our balcony
Still pictures don't do our cabin and balcony justice, though. The best way for me to show you what's so great about these "aft-wrap" balcony cabins is to give you a video tour...
Carnival Glory public areas
Carnival Glory is a Conquest-class ship... so if you've sailed on the Carnival Conquest, Carnival Liberty, Carnival Valor, or Carnival Freedom you'll be familiar with the layout.
She also is one of the lucky Carnival ships that has received the "Funship 2.0" upgrades such as Guy's Burger Joint, the Blue Iguana Cantina, and the Red Frog Rum Bar... which only about a third of the ships in Carnival's fleet have received so far.
Guy's Burger Joint
Created by Guy Fieri of the Food Network
"The Ringer" is my favorite hamburger at sea or on land!
During our 14 day cruise, I probably ate 10 of them.
The Red Frog Rum Bar
My wife loves those parrot glasses in the right side of the picture
(notice that my camera lens had fogged in the lower left corner due to the humidity of the air)
The casual buffet restaurant on Lido deck is called the Red Sail restaurant, and the interior decoration scheme features lots of red sails and sailboats...
There are two main dining rooms on the Carnival Glory...
The Golden Dining Room
features "Your Time Dining" on the lower level and conventional assigned dinner times on the upper level
The Platinum Dining Room
features traditional assigned dinner times on both levels
(please note I shot this picture early in the day before they had set the tables)
The Serenity Retreat is an adults-only area for relaxing
and features comfortable loungers, couches, and day beds with big, thick cushions
There are also two Jacuzzis on the upper level of the Serenity Retreat
Because the Serenity Retreat on Conquest-class ships is way up high and at the front of the ship, it's not a great place to hang out when the ship is in motion... because it can get very windy. When the ship is in port, it's a little slice of paradise up there... and typically quite empty because most passengers are ashore. We usually like to plan at least one day during the cruise when we will stay onboard and enjoy the Serenity deck while all the other passengers are off the ship. Another trick to getting some quiet time on the Serenity deck without it being crowded is to come back a little earlier than everyone else on port days.
When you're sailing on a ship with more than 3000 other passengers, you do have to accept that there are times when the ship will be a little crowded. Let me give you a visual...
The Lido deck at its most crowded... on a "fun day at sea".
When I shot this photo, there was some kind of contest happening in the center area by the pool
which is why people are lining the rails and looking towards that center area.
Here's the Lido deck at night, with a movie about to start on the big screen
A closer look at the mid-ship pool on a sea day
The mid-ship pool is "the party pool" because there is always something going on out there. There's quite frequently a DJ playing party music, or a concert playing on the outdoor big screen TV, or a musician playing live music. There are also games and contests, and later in the day there are movies... with free popcorn! This is not a quiet area, but it's a fun area. People in the under-30 age group seem quite happy here.
I'm in my mid-50s... so the mid-ship pool is not for me. Too loud and crazy! I prefer the aft pool, which is adults-only and which is much quieter.
Aft pool with overhead sliding dome open in good weather
Another favorite place of mine was the comedy club,
just two decks below our cabin.
Comedian Allyn Ball, one of four comedians we saw in the Punchliner comedy club
during the first week of our cruise. Because we stayed for a second week,
we got to see two other comedians, too.
If you'd like to work off a few cruise ship calories, there's a very nice fitness center...
Running on a Carnival treadmill is a lot easier than traditional jogging
because each treadmill has its own television that distracts you from the work of exercising.
But if you prefer to do it the traditional way...
...there's a jogging track up on deck 11
The Sports Bar
Carnival cruise ships are somewhat infamous for a loud (bordering-on-tacky) style of decoration thanks to interior designer, Joe Farcus. The Carnival Glory is not one of the worst offenders in the fleet, though. I'd say Carnival Splendor probably has the gaudiest interior design, and Carnival Breeze certainly has the most beautiful. Here's about as loud as the interior design of the Carnival Glory gets:
This is the game arcade on deck 5.
There is a lot more to the arcade than you can see in this picture.
The styling of the atrium lobby is also a bit wild, but most of the rest of the ship is fairly neutral.
Here's a look at one of the elevator foyers, which uses a lot of neutral earth tones,
with the exception of the colored lights at the top of the columns...
The lights on top of those elevator columns change color over time.
A little further down the page, I'll share a video where you can see it quite well.
Carnival Glory Secrets
There are a few places on the Carnival Glory that you might only discover with some serious exploring. Let me save you some time and point you to a few places on the ship that some passengers never even find.
Fish N' Chips Restaurant
Calling it the Fish N' Chips restaurant doesn't really do it justice, as there's more to it than that. Let's call it the seafood lover's restaurant. It's never busy, there's plenty of available seating, and the best part is that it's free. All you have to do is find it! Go to the Lido Buffet, find the dessert area they call "the sweet spot" with the big skylights letting lots of sun come in, and walk up the staircase to deck 10. Here's some Bouillabaisse soup that Kellyn got there one day...
The next secret place is a viewing area at the front of the ship... with a great view of where the ship is heading. If you want to take a picture of something ahead of the ship, this is the place to go! Or, if you just want to see what's coming up, or how far the ship is from some place it's heading to... this spot is for you. On CruiseCritic, these viewing areas at the front of the ship are known as the "secret decks". I don't actually have a photo of the secret viewing decks on the Carnival Glory, but I do have one of the Carnival Conquest... and they are sister ships with the exact same layout.
Notice the three decks directly below the bridge...
which is the all-glass area with the green-tinted reflections up at the top of the photo.
Those three "secret decks" below the bridge are accessible to passengers, but not many people know about them. They're very exposed to the wind, so sometimes during severely windy conditions the crew will lock the doors that lead out there... to prevent injuries caused by the wind slamming a door shut on someone. I suggest trying to get out there via the doors at the far front end of the cabin hallways on deck 7. The doors that lead from the hallways on the port and starboard sides of deck 7 were designed in such a way to be resistant to the wind. So, they usually only get locked in the most severe wind conditions. From the secret deck on deck 7, there's a little exterior stairway you can use to get to the secret viewing decks on the other levels.
To give you an idea of what a great spot the "secret decks" are for shooting photos,
here's a photo I shot from there as our ship headed in to the Port Of Miami before dawn...
It's a fact of cruise life that only a small percentage of guests ever set foot in the gym during their cruise. If you don't explore the gym on the Carnival Glory, though, you'll never find the secret pool and Jacuzzi that are hidden there!
The gym's pool and Jacuzzi are incredibly tricky to find! Three years ago, during our first cruise on the Carnival Glory, I saw them on the ship's deck plans and headed over to the gym to have a look. From the gym, I could see them through a glass wall, but I still couldn't figure out how to get to them! I had to go back to my cabin and look at the deck plans again to try to figure out where the entrance was.
The secret pool and Jacuzzi located behind a solid wall of glass (with no doors) in the gym.
To show you exactly how to access the Jacuzzi in the gym, I put together a little video that shows not just that, but all the other Carnival Glory secrets I could think of. Hit the play button and take a look...
(There is an important audio track, so please have your sound turned up when playing the video)
One little secret I forgot to add to the video is that one morning during your cruise, you're going to wake up and discover that the entire Lido deck has been taken over by towel animals! Here's a couple of photos...
One of the most exciting parts of any cruise is the sailaway from the ship's home port. Miami is an incredibly beautiful place, so sailing out of the port of Miami is always a great sight to see. I've got a couple of videos that show it two different ways.
The quick version is a time-lapse video shot with my cell phone, looking behind the ship:
The long version, shot with my Canon 70D, shows the sailaway in real-time, looking in front of the ship:
Getting off the ship and having some fun at a warm Caribbean beach is our idea of vacation fun. We have no interest in touring Mayan ruins or going downtown to do some shopping... just get us to the beach! That's why we've only done Caribbean cruises and Mexican Riviera cruises and have never done a Mediterranean, Panama Canal, or Alaska cruise. (At least not yet, we haven't.)
Kellyn loves the beach and sitting out in the sun.
This little sign, actually meant for beach towels, seemed appropriate for her.
A lot of cruise ships only stop at three ports of call during a seven day cruise. One of the reasons we picked the Carnival Glory out of all the possible cruise ships to sail on is that she visits four ports of call during the week. Because we did two cruises back-to-back, that meant we got to visit eight different ports of call during our two week cruise.
Let's go one by one through each of the places we visited...
Our first stop was Cozumel. The weather was quite cloudy all day long, but the upside was
that it created this beautiful sunrise as we pulled in to the Puerta Maya cruise terminal.
Not too long after we docked at the pier, an old friend pulled in right next to us...
I call the Carnival Magic an old friend because we did back-to-back Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises on her back in 2012. You can read about our 2012 Carnival Magic cruise here. The Magic is a Dream-class ship... the largest and newest ships in the Carnival fleet. At the time we cruised on her, the Carnival Magic was the best ship we had ever been on... featuring several innovations we had not seen in our previous cruises. It was only two years ago, but it seems like a long time ago because we've done a LOT of cruising since then!
Here's a little video of the Carnival Magic as she pulled in to the pier next to us...
One of the things that jumps out at you when you first arrive in Cozumel is that the color of the water is so beautiful!
Does this photo look phony to you... like I Photoshopped a boat on to a picture of water?
Nothing phony about it... that's the way the water looks in Cozumel.
Cozumel is a really fun place to visit, with all sorts of choices of ways you can spend your time. It's one of those places where if you didn't have fun, it was probably your own damned fault... because there are SO many fun things to do here. We've been to Cozumel many times in our previous cruises, and I still have quite a few things on my list of things I would like to do in future visits. I didn't make any progress on crossing things off that list during this visit, because this time we elected to do the exact same thing we did the last time we came here... that's how much fun we had last time! We went on a Carnival shore excursion called "La Case En La Playa"... which in English means "the house at the beach".
Here we are, inside La Casa En La Playa, where a chef works to prepare a meal for the approximately 32 guests.
While the chef prepared lunch, we enjoyed lounging around on the beach
Another view of the seating at the beach, from a different angle
When lunch was ready, it was served at a table under the palm trees.
I had beef fajitas, and Kellyn had fish tacos.
There were tortillas inside that colorful warming thing on the right.
Carnival's "La Casa En La Playa" shore excursion is one of the trickiest shore excursions to book. It's limited to just 16 people per ship, so it sells out way in advance of the cruise. (I mentioned earlier that the chef cooked for 32. There were 16 from Carnival Glory and 16 from Carnival Legend.) So, if you want to be one of the few to enjoy La Casa En La Playa, you had better book it at Carnival.com months in advance of your cruise.
Unfortunately, the weather really didn't cooperate for our La Casa En La Playa shore excursion this time around. During our previous visit, last December, we had outstanding weather and great ocean conditions. The water was clear and warm... perfect for snorkeling around the little reef just offshore, where there were LOTS of fish. This time around, though, skies were overcast and ocean conditions were not good at all. It was windy which made the surf rough, churning up all sorts of stuff in the water and killing the visibility. There was no point in snorkeling this time around, unfortunately. So, we just lounged around (first in the sun, and then later under the shade of the palm trees) and let the waiters bring us drinks and snacks. The drinks were unlimited, and they were happy to keep bringing them all afternoon long. I still had a great time, in spite of not being able to do any swimming or snorkeling.
Here's the scene when we got back to the ship
with Carnival Glory and Carnival Magic docked next to each other.
It was a busy day for cruise ships in Cozumel... with FIVE ships in port.
Royal Caribbean's Liberty Of The Seas was at the next dock
Disney Wonder was at a different cruise ship terminal, a few miles away
as was Carnival Legend.
Cozumel is full of cruise ships, as you can see, and there are also ferries, sailboats, power boats, and more.
I put a little video together of some of the fun stuff I could see from our balcony
while we were docked in Cozumel...
While we're sharing videos, take a look at this time-lapse video that I shot with my cell phone
as the Carnival Glory pulled away from the Puerta Maya pier and headed out to sea:
The second-largest barrier reef in the world lies just off the coast of Belize. This creates some great opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving, but does also present one problem for cruise ships... the reef blocks any big ships from being able to reach the dock in Belize city. So, the cruise ships have to anchor a few miles off shore, and passengers have to be ferried to land by an armada of small tenders.
To truly understand why we made the choices we did in Belize, I have to fill you in on our previous visits...
We've visited Belize on two previous cruises. The first time, we took the recommendation of a friend and went on the most famous of all Belize shore excursions: cave tubing. We absolutely hated it! It took almost three hours to get from our cruise ship cabin to the actual cave tubing site in the interior of Belize. Part of that was the tender ride to shore, but much of it was a long, uncomfortable bus ride to the cave tubing site... through some scary parts of town and some ugly countryside once we got out of town. The cave tubing itself, lasting perhaps one hour, wasn't all that bad... but it just took so darned long to get there. And after the cave tubing, of course, it took equally long to get back. So, we were away from our cabin for well over seven hours... and one hour of that was somewhat fun. That's not the kind of vacation day we shoot for.
By the way, when I got back home, I asked my friend why in the heck she had recommended Belize cave tubing so highly. It turns out that she had smuggled a bottle of booze on to the bus and was drinking the whole way. I guess that made it a lot more fun!
So, on our next visit to Belize, we got smart and went snorkeling at that big barrier reef. Much more enjoyable! And that brings us to this cruise... our third visit to Belize. Unfortunately, the weather was overcast and a bit cool... so it just didn't seem like a good day for snorkeling. So, we decided to create our own fun. After a very quick visit ashore to purchase some Coca-cola for the rest of our cruise at better-than-ship's-prices... we spent the rest of the day on the ship, which was quite empty while most of the passengers were ashore. As you know, in the Caribbean it's always five o'clock somewhere... so I headed over to the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar and ordered a pitcher of Margaritas, which I took back to the cabin so we could enjoy it out on the balcony.
I love the fact that you can buy margaritas by the pitcher at the Blue Iguana bar. It's about $25 for the pitcher... which is enough to give two people two margaritas each. It's much cheaper than buying four margaritas by the glass, and two margaritas is pretty much the right amount for each of us anyway. We don't drink a whole heck of a lot... we're certainly not the type of cruisers that racks up hundreds of dollars in bar bills during a cruise.
While we were enjoying those margaritas out on our balcony,
I had plenty of opportunities to snap photos of the other cruise ships
anchored off the coast of Belize that day:
Isla Roatan, Honduras
Roatan island is a fantastic cruise ship destination, at least if you're on a Carnival cruise. You see, there are two different cruise ship piers at different parts of Roatan. One is in a somewhat ugly third-world part of the island, but the other is owned by Carnival and sits in a beautifully developed complex that is literally fenced off from the rest of the island and has its own private beach. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the entire world... and you may have read about crimes to tourists on Roatan island. So, I really like the security of Carnival's private little area at Mahogany Bay on isla Roatan. If you visit Roatan on Royal Caribbean or Norwegian cruise lines... you'll have a much worse experience than you would on Carnival because you'll be docked at the other pier at the undeveloped part of the island.
As you walk off the pier and get your first look at the Mahogany Bay cruise complex
the beautiful landscaping is your first clue that this is a safe, modern, and well-maintained part of the island.
I love that Mahogany Bay has a really nice beach within easy walking distance of the cruise ship pier... with shops, restaurants and bars right next to it... and plenty of beach loungers which are free to use. It's all located right there within the safe fenced-off Mahogany Bay complex. With that nice beach and those free loungers, you can literally spend the day at Mahogany Bay and not spend a dime if you don't want to. The ship is so close that you could spend the morning at the beach, go back to the ship for a free lunch, and come back to the beach for the afternoon... if you wanted to.
I knew from my pre-cruise research that Carnival Legend would be joining us in Mahogany Bay. Having visited here several times before, I knew that with two cruise ships dropping off about 3,000 passengers each... the best places on the beach were going to get taken fast. So, Kellyn and I made a point to get ready as quickly as possible that morning and to be among the first off the ship. It totally paid off for us. When we walked off the ship and over to the beach, we had our choice of locations on the beach. We knew that after a short time in the sun, you can burn to a crisp in the Caribbean sun... so we snagged two loungers in an area shaded by some large trees. It was a great spot.
These shady loungers filled up quickly after we arrived in Mahogany Bay
Because Carnival Glory docked first and Carnival Legend came in next,
we couldn't see Glory from the beach but we had a great view of Legend...
One of the things we've learned after all the cruising we've done is that a good way to beat the crowds is to zig when everyone else zags. So, we got to the beach before a lot of our fellow passengers had even had breakfast... and then after spending a few great hours there, we headed back to the ship before lunch time. With almost all the other passengers on shore, we once again practically had the ship to ourselves for a few hours. We had a nice quiet lunch, and then headed to the Serenity retreat. It was the perfect time to hang out on the Serenity deck, because not only was the ship empty but it also wasn't moving. So it was warm and not at all windy while we relaxed in Serenity. We spent some time in one of the Jacuzzis, then moved to one of those shaded clam-shell day beds to stay out of the sun. I relaxed while listening to music in my noise-cancelling headphones, and Kellyn read a book on her Kindle. The weather was somewhat overcast, which provides good diffused lighting for photos of faces... so I posed for a picture with the hills of Roatan behind me.
See what looks like a crease in my skin on the left side of my neck?
That's a remnant of my brush with cancer 14 years ago.
I created a really interesting time-lapse video while we were in Mahogany Bay. We had a perfect vantage point as the Carnival Legend sailed away. The ship was waiting for a couple of tardy passengers ("pier runners") and sailed away as soon as those last two passengers got onboard. You can see it quite clearly in the video. Once the ship gets safely out of the harbor, you'll see a pilot boat bring the harbor pilot back to the pier... so that he can help guide our ship out next.
Before the Carnival Legend sailed away, I snapped a picture of the Legend's aft so that I could share it here with you and talk about a couple of things that are very interesting about Legend.
The first thing I want to point out about the Legend is the location of her Serenity deck... it's at the back of the ship and sunk down three decks below the funnel, which makes it somewhat wind protected. That's such a superior location for Serenity than on the Conquest-class and Dream-class vessels. If I were put in charge of Carnival, one of the first things I would do is to create a Serenity retreat at the aft pool on all of the Conquest-class ships. It's already an adults-only area... why not upgrade the loungers to the superior type used on the current Serenity deck? What I would actually do is just buy Serenity-style loungers and day beds and put them throughout the ENTIRE Lido deck from front to back... replacing all the current non-Serenity-style loungers.
The second thing I want to point out in that photo of the Carnival Legend is that green waterslide. That's the Green Thunder slide, and it's scary as heck! Notice that the beginning of the slide, the part at the top, is basically vertical. What you do is enter that green tube in a chamber at the top, they close a door around you, and a countdown begins. When the countdown gets to zero, the floor falls out from under you and you drop straight down for about two seconds before finally leveling out and finishing the ride in the manner of a conventional waterslide. It's the scariest two seconds of your life when that floor drops out from under you!
The reason that I know all that is that I had the pleasure of experiencing the Green Thunder waterslide during a March 2012 cruise on the one other ship in the fleet that has one: the Carnival Spirit... and there's an interesting story about that. I had so much fun on the Green Thunder waterslide that I decided to make a YouTube video about it. I shot lots of video of people on the Green Thunder slide... especially when they entered that chamber up at the top, the door closed, the countdown began, and then the floor suddenly dropped out from under them. Some of the people's reactions were priceless!
When I got home from that cruise on the Carnival Spirit... I edited together my little Green Thunder waterslide video, uploaded it to YouTube, and didn't give it another thought. To me, it was just another in a series of many cruise ship related videos I've posted to YouTube over the years. I literally forgot all about it and went on with my life for the next couple of months. Completely unknown to me at that time... the video went viral on YouTube! And I didn't even realize it.
One day, a couple of months later, I was just goofing off at my computer and I decided to take a look at the statistics on my YouTube channel to see how many people had been watching my videos. Up until that point, 1,000 or 2,000 views would have been really good for one of my videos. Imagine my surprise -- no, that's not a strong enough word -- imagine my total SHOCK when I discovered that my Green Thunder waterslide video had over 2,000,000 views at that point! That's two million... and that's a LOT of views for a YouTube video.
The first thing I did was to call my son, Jeff, to share the news. Because Jeff is Internet savvy... I knew that he, of all people, would appreciate how amazing it is for a YouTube video to get two million views. If I told my wife about it, she'd just say "that's nice, dear". But Jeff would totally get it. His reaction, upon hearing the news, was that I absolutely must monetize it.
Monetization on YouTube is the process of allowing them to run ads along with your videos. It can be either those ads, similar to a TV commercial, that run before your video plays... or it can be those little text or banner ads that are superimposed over the video as it runs. By allowing YouTube to run ads with your video... you earn a portion of the advertising revenue if someone watches a TV-style ad all the way through without skipping it, or if someone clicks on one of those text or banner ads. That's what monetization is.
So, Jeff's immediate advice was that I had to monetize the video... and I had actually realized that same thing for myself before I had even called him. Hearing him say it, too, gave me even more motivation. I didn't really have a clue what kind of advertising revenue we might be talking about... and I knew that I had really blown it by not monetizing it BEFORE the first two million views... but all I could do was to monetize it at that point and hope that two million views was just the beginning. And that's exactly what it was.
Before I go any further with this story... let's take a look at my Green Thunder waterslide video... the one that went viral on YouTube.
As it turns out, the first two million views were indeed just the tip of the iceberg. It boggles my mind to be able to say that my little video has now been viewed over 37 MILLION times on YouTube! Is that crazy, or what? Just to put that in to perspective... if you go to YouTube and do a search for "Carnival Cruise" and then sort them by the number of views, you'll find that my video is -- by a wide margin -- the most viewed YouTube video about a Carnival cruise that there is. In fact, don't just limit it to Carnival. Do a search for "cruise ship" and sort by number of views and you'll find that my little Green Thunder video is the #1 YouTube cruise ship video of them all!
Now, let's discuss this a little, shall we?
First off, you're probably wondering... have I made a ton of money off of it? The terms of my the monetization contract with YouTube forbid me from discussing the specifics of that aspect. Let's just say that I'm very happy with the advertising revenue. And yes, the IRS is, too.
Second, you might be wondering WHY the heck that video has had so many views. I honestly don't know! You wouldn't really think that a video like that would be anywhere near that popular. It would make sense if something hilarious happened in the video... like at the end of the ride, the water slide dumps the people out in to the ocean. Hey... wait a minute... that's a great idea for a second version of the video! Take a look...
I'm certainly wondering if lightning can strike twice. In other words, can I come up with a second viral video? I keep trying! You just never know what's going to catch on. I personally think the second version of the water slide video is funnier than the first... so maybe it will get 30 million views!
I keep shooting videos during my vacations and posting the interesting ones to YouTube. As of this writing, I've got over 140 videos on my YouTube channel. But none of the others have come close to matching the popularity of the Green Thunder video. At least, not yet!
One more thing about the Green Thunder vertical-drop waterslide...
At the time I shot my viral video, it was the only slide of its kind on a cruise ship. But it's been so successful that Carnival added a Green Thunder slide to another one of their ships in 2014, and Norwegian Cruise Lines put vertical-drop waterslides of two of their ships. I'm looking forward to trying the Norwegian cruise line version later this year.
Grand Cayman is another Caribbean port-of-call that we have been fortunate enough to have visited several times before. We've had a lot of fun there! Each time we've visited, we've done something different... but this time we decided to repeat a shore excursion that we really enjoyed on a previous visit. We took one of the Stingray city shore excursions. There are actually many Cayman island shore excursions that visit Stingray city plus one or two other Cayman tourist spots all in one big tour. We opted for a shore excursion that just visited Stingray city and nowhere else.
As you can see in the photo, the colors in this part of the Caribbean are just amazing. Not just the water, but the sky, too. Blue, in all of its various shades, is my favorite color... so that photo just puts me over the moon because of all those beautiful shades of blue. I've got to blow that one up and put it on my office wall at "my real job".
Still photos only begin to tell the story at Stingray city, though. To really get the picture, it's going to take a video:
I almost forgot to mention something important that happened the night before our visit to Grand Cayman. I broke my prescription glasses...
So, for the entire rest of the cruise I had to wear my prescription sunglasses...
That was fine outdoors, but a little weird when I had to wear them indoors
at the shows, shops, and restaurants!
On future cruises, I'm definitely going to be packing an emergency backup pair.
Here are a few pictures of what I saw from the secret viewing deck at the front of the ship
as the Carnival Glory returned back to Miami after the first week of our back-to-back cruises
Carnival Glory arrives at the entrance to the channel which leads to the Port Of Miami
Carnival Breeze and Carnival Conquest are waiting as Carnival Glory arrives in the Port Of Miami
Here's a video I shot of the ship arriving in Miami:
As I've mentioned, we were doing back-to-back cruises. So, for most passengers onboard, as the ship pulled in to Miami at the end of seven days, it was the end of their cruise. For about a dozen of us who were doing a B2B, though, it was only the half-way point!
I always see a lot of questions on Cruise Critic about the details of doing back-to-back cruises. So, let's talk about it here.
Let's start with the question of "why do a B2B?" My joking reply is "why do a one-week cruise when you can do two weeks for twice the price?!?" The real answer, though, lies in the fact that we live in California and it costs pretty close to $1000 to fly to Florida and back to do a Caribbean cruise. So, it makes absolutely no sense at all to fly out to Florida to do a Western Caribbean cruise and then to fly back again a few months later to do an Eastern Caribbean cruise. It makes a lot more sense to combine those two cruises in to one two-week cruise with only $1000 in airfare rather than do two one-week cruises with $2000 in airfare. The other thing is that, for people like us who love cruising, one week just isn't enough!
The first step to planning a great B2B is to find ships that do alternating itineraries rather than the same itinerary every week. So, for example, the Carnival Legend is a bad choice for a B2B because it just does the same basic Western Caribbean cruise week after week from Tampa... and the Carnival Glory out of Miami is a great choice because it does the Western Caribbean one week and the Eastern Caribbean the next.
Another important part of the planning stage is to plan this all far enough in advance that you have an easy time finding a cabin that is available for both weeks. Sure, you can do B2Bs with a cabin switch at the halfway point, or even a change of ships... but that means you have to pack up all your stuff for the move. It's a LOT more convenient if you can find a cabin that's available both weeks. This usually involves planning the whole thing quite a few months in advance. The closer you are to the sail date when you start your planning, the less likely you will be able to find one cabin available both weeks.
On Miami day, half way through the B2B, you have a choice: you can get off the ship and have fun in Miami, and then be back on the ship in time for sailaway... or you can just stay on the ship and enjoy a lazy day. From what I've seen after doing five B2Bs so far, most B2Bers opt for the lazy day onboard the ship.
At 10:30 AM, all the B2Bers (there were about 12 of us) met in the atrium lobby and waited while the last of the regular passengers walked off the ship. It's kind of fun sitting in the lobby watching everybody leave and knowing that we get to stay for another week! It's also interesting seeing what Carnival goes through to get the last passengers off the ship. There's always a scramble to locate the last few passengers and to let them know that they can't stay on board any longer... it's time to go NOW! There are increasingly urgent PA announcements made... starting with general announcements that it's time for all remaining passengers to disembark... and ramping up to announcing specific passenger names with the demand that they contact guest services immediately.
Finally, somewhere around 11 AM, the final passengers casually walk off (they never seem to realize how much of a commotion they've caused while everyone waits for them to leave) and at that point the ship officially transitions to the next cruise. All of the B2Bers are given new sail & sign cards for the second week, and the group is escorted by someone from guest services off the ship and down to the US customs facility. The B2Bers go through customs just as you would at the end of any cruise, and then the group is escorted through the terminal and on to the gangway to board the ship again. This is the part I especially enjoy, because you get to see all the people waiting in the terminal... anxious to board the ship. They all see you boarding first, and they're all jealous!
So, the B2Bers are literally the first to board the ship. You ding in with your new sail & sign card in the lobby, and then you're free to get cruise #2 started any way you want. Go back to your cabin, go to serenity, hop in the pool or a Jacuzzi, have the first Guy Burger... anything you want.
Kellyn and I made a quick stop at our cabin to grab my camera, and then we headed up to Lido deck to get some photos of something that only a few lucky people ever get to see: a completely empty ship!
I was the first customer at Guy's Burger Joint that day...
While I was eating my burger, the Diamond & Platinum level guests and the Zone 1 boarding group started to trickle onboard. Week #2 had officially begun!
Later in the afternoon, I shot some video of a seaplane taking off from the seaplane base... right next to the ship.
There was one thing about the B2B transition process that I forgot to mention. The B2B group had something like 30-45 minutes of sitting down in the lobby while we waited for everyone else to get off the ship. During this time, we all had a chance to chat... and it was a fantastic chat! This was a group with something great in common: we all loved to cruise! So it was fun to chat with the other B2Bers and to hear their stories and to learn a few things from them.
There was one B2Ber in particular who fascinated me. He first popped up on my radar screen when they introduced him at the VIFP party as being the guest with the most number of days at sea... over 200, which meant he was Diamond level in Carnival's VIFP program. He was also travelling alone, which is unusual for someone with that many cruises to their credit. So I made a point to chat with him, because with 200+ days at sea he's kind of my role model! We had a very interesting chat. The thing that he said that really stuck with me was that he makes an effort to really get to know the crew members that he meets... the cabin stewards, bartenders, and restaurant waiters. He says he makes an effort to view them not as people there to serve him, but simply as people... with lives and stories and families back home. He said he likes to talk to them and ask them questions about their lives and really get to know them. And he said he's made some true friends that way, people that he stays in contact with even when he's not cruising. That struck a chord with me... and later that evening it began to change the tone of our entire cruise.
Before I can tell you the story of how the second week was so different from the first week, and how that little pep talk about getting to know the crew made a difference for me... I have to back up and explain something unusual about the way my wife and I cruise. Some of you reading this may even be appalled at our style of cruising!
The first thing you have to understand is that my wife and I are very casual. I hate to dress up! I'm happiest in shorts, flip flops, and a Caribbean shirt. Dressed up for me means I'm wearing a new pair of Wranglers. Formal night on a cruise ship is our least favorite night... and we've gotten to the point, after 24 cruises, where we simply boycott it. We just eat in the buffet on formal night, so that we don't have to get all dressed up. Sometimes it gets a little awkward later in the evening when we go to a show or simply walk around the ship and everyone else is still in formal wear and we're just in regular clothes... but it's better than being dressed up.
On a side note, we found it kind of ironic that the most casual cruise we ever went on was a Princess cruise! I had this perception that Carnival was the most "fun" cruise line and therefore the most tolerant of casual dress... and that Princess was for older people and that it was all about the fancy meals and the formal wear. Then we got a deal we couldn't refuse and we took our first Princess cruise... a 4-day cruise out of Los Angeles. They didn't even have a formal night!
Over the years, as we did more and more cruises, we found ourselves enjoying the main dining room experience less and less. Sometimes the service in the MDR can be quite slow, and a meal can drag on for two hours. Kellyn and I have been married for 33 years now. We've said everything there is to say. There is no way we can find two hours of things to talk about at a dinner table for seven nights in a row! A two hour meal is just painfully slow and boring to us... not to mention that sometimes when the food arrives, the hot stuff is no longer hot and the cold stuff is no longer cold. And then there's the dancing waiters and the singing maitre D's... I know Carnival thinks it's fun, but we're just not in to it!
So, as we've continued to go on more and more cruises we've found ourselves going to the MDR less and to the casual Lido buffet restaurant more and more. Here's the thing that may appall some people about our cruise style: in our most recent cruises, we've just completely stopped eating at the MDR. Lately, we've eaten every single meal... every breakfast, lunch and dinner... on Lido deck. It's what is most comfortable for us. So, for the first week of our B2B, we never set foot in the main dining room. But that changed on day one of the second week.
A few months earlier, Carnival introduced a new dining concept called "American Table"... which involved some big changes to the food offered in the main dining rooms and the way it is served. The most visible changes were an entirely new menu and getting rid of the tablecloths on the tables. The first ship in the fleet to unveil this new dining concept was the Carnival Glory. I read a lot about it on the Carnival message board on CruiseCritic, and wanted to give it a try for myself. So, on the first day of the second week of our cruise, we headed off to the Golden dining room... and something happened that I sure didn't see coming... we had a great time!
I enjoyed the new menu and the changes they had made, but that wasn't what made our dining room experience so great. The thing that changed everything for us was the great experience we had with our MDR server, Snezana.
Kellyn with our favorite Carnival waitress, Snezana.
This is another one of those stories where, to really see it from our point of view, you have to understand what happened before this. Our most recent Carnival cruise was a 7-day cruise last December on the newly refurbished Carnival Sunshine. You can read all the details here. We were travelling with our son, Jeff, and he looks pretty darned good in a suit... so he likes to dress up and eat his dinners in the main dining room. To keep him happy, we skipped our usual practice of having all dinners in the Lido buffet and ate quite a few meals in the MDR that week. It was kind of a disaster! One night we had a table that was crammed so close to the table next to it that it was awkward and uncomfortable. One night we had a waiter that was so strange it was awkward and uncomfortable. And one night we just had the full combination of horrible dining elements... a bad table, a bad waiter, and bad food served way too slowly. We even had a bad meal in the steakhouse, which is really unusual... and because it was the steakhouse it cost us $35 each for three people. Talk about adding insult to injury!
So, with that being our most recent Carnival dinner experience outside of the buffet, we had fairly low expectations as we entered the Golden dining room on the Carnival Glory. But Snezana changed all that for us.
They begin serving dinner in the Golden dining room at 5:45 (for guests who have chosen anytime dining) and it doesn't really get busy in there until somewhere around 6:30 or 7:00... especially the very first night of a cruise. We walked in right at 5:45 and asked for a table for two that had a little privacy. Carnival offers a lot of tables for two in their MDRs, but most of them are crammed so close together that it's just like eating at a big table with a bunch of strangers. I hate making chit-chat with people I don't know over dinner! So, we've learned to specify that we want a table for two that's off by itself as much as possible. Since we were among the first to arrive and the dining room was completely empty, that was an easy request for them to fill... and they walked us right over to one of Snezana's tables... which was such a stroke of luck for us. Once in a while, life surprises you!
Since it was 5:45 and not at all busy in the dining room yet, we were Snezana's only guests at that point... and we had her full attention. She did all the right things as far as serving us, but most importantly there was something about her face, her body language, and her friendly demeanor that just totally put us at ease. It wasn't just me thinking this, either. Kellyn made comments to me privately several times during the dinner about how nice Snezana was. I've been married 33 years and I'm no dummy... no matter how much you like your female waitress at a restaurant, you keep it to yourself... UNLESS your wife likes her too! So with Kellyn in full agreement that there was something great about Snezana, I kept in mind the advice I had been given from the Diamond-level guest earlier in the day and I start chatting with Snezana to get to know her better as a person, not as a servant. She was from Serbia. 34 years old and not married. Had worked for Carnival for quite a few years and was thinking that this might be her last contract... that maybe it was time to go back home and start thinking about a normal life on land again and perhaps meeting someone and starting a family. We had a nice chat, off and on as time allowed while she did her job that evening... and the conversation continued over a couple of other evenings when we made our way back to the Golden dining room several more times during the week. We never would have done that if not for the friendly waitress, Snezana.
One last thing about our conversations with Snezana...
I've been fascinated by a series of books written by Brian David Bruns about his experiences working as a waiter (and later as an art auctioneer) on cruise ships. His story is told in a series of four books, starting with the first and best one which is called Cruise Confidential. It's a big story, which is why it takes four books, but it all boils down to a friend introducing him to a girl named Bianca, who was a waitress for Carnival cruise lines. Brian quickly falls in love with Bianca, and decides to take a job with Carnival in order to be able to spend time with her and see where the relationship goes. Over the course of four books, we learn all about Brian and Bianca and hear all sorts of inside dirt about what it's like to work on a cruise ship. As a cruise nut, it's a fascinating story to me... especially because it's non-fiction.
So, during my conversation with Snezana, I asked her (since she had been with Carnival for a long time, on many different ships) if she had ever worked with the waitress that was the subject of the book. She didn't know anything about it. So, I asked her if she had ever worked with a waitress named Bianca, from Romania. She had indeed. In my fantasy, I was really hoping that Snezana would say that not only did she know Bianca, but that Bianca was currently working on this very ship. But, unfortunately, that was just my fantasy. Snezana said that she didn't know exactly what ship Bianca was currently working on, but that she had heard that Bianca had worked her way up the ranks in to the position of Maitre D' or assistant Maitre D' or something along those lines. I asked if she had heard anything about the series of books that had been written about Bianca. She had not. So, I filled her in with the short version of Brian Bruns' story about working for Carnival and chasing Bianca. She said it sounded interesting, and asked me if I had a copy of the book with me. Unfortunately, I did not... although I had all four at home.
There's a tiny bit more about this story which I'll share with you later, but my point is that it was interesting to talk to someone who actually knew the girl in four of my favorite books!
|Volume 1||Volume 2||Volume 3||Volume 4|
Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
Our first port of call during the second week was Half Moon Cay... and that brings us to the story of one of the best days of my entire life! I already shared this photo at the top of the page, but I'm going to include it here one more time because it completely captures the happiness of Half Moon Cay for me and Kellyn.
Half Moon Cay is a private island that's owned by Holland American Lines. HAL is owned by the Carnival Corporation... so when HAL ships aren't using Half Moon Cay, Carnival ships are able to. We've been to HMC several times before and always enjoyed it. Since Kellyn and I are beach people, a private island in the Bahamas with a big beautiful beach, warm crystal-clear water, and a view of our cruise ship is our idea of paradise.
In our previous visits to HMC, we've either just kept it cheap and simple and used the (free) lounge chairs you see lined up near the water... or we've totally splurged (I think it was $15 or $20) and rented two of those on the left that have a little cover that pops up to provide shade. (Hopefully you detected my sarcasm about splurging.) The point is that HMC has previously been a cheap beach day for us. Carnival provides a barbecue lunch for free... so the only cost occurs if you want to buy drinks from the bar or if you want to do something adventurous like ride horses through the surf or rent bikes or kayaks.
I made some decent money in Biotechnology stocks last year, so this year I didn't feel the need to keep our expenses low at Half Moon Cay. I decided to surprise Kellyn by renting a private cabana.
Cabana #5 at Half Moon Cay
You rent a cabana just like booking a shore excursion... it can be booked online at Carnival.com well in advance of your cruise. If any are still available at the beginning of the actual cruise, you can book them at the shore excursion desk or by using the interactive system on the TV in your cabin. It's generally a good idea to do it months in advance of your cruise, though, because they're popular and they have a tendency to sell out.
The trick to getting the best cabana has nothing to do with how far in advance you book it... it's all about how soon you visit the shore excursion desk on the first day of your cruise. They make the cabana assignments on a first-come first-served basis at the shore excursion desk on embarkation day. So, since we were doing a B2B and were quite literally among the first 12 people to board the ship... we got first choice of the cabanas. I picked cabana #5 based on its proximity to the restrooms, pirate ship bar, and lunch barbecue. However, there was one factor I hadn't considered... and if I ever rent a cabana at HMC again I'm going to shoot for cabana #3 next time!
Take a look at that picture of cabana #5. You can't really see it in the picture, but set up on the patio out in front of that pirate ship bar is a DJ with a very loud music system pointed towards the water. There was no escaping that music in cabana #5. Luckily, he actually played a halfway decent mix of music, at least for a while. I'd say that I liked about 50% of what he played during the first couple of hours. But as the afternoon went on, the music seemed to get a little less "pop" and a lot more "urban". Luckily, I was feeling the rum by then... so it didn't really ruin my day. It was about the only part of the day that was less than perfect. Everything else was FANTASTIC! Anyway, cabana #3 is actually closer to the restrooms and the barbecue lunch... and far enough away from the DJ and his loud music... so next time (I sure hope there's a next time) it's cabana #3 for me.
From what I read on CruiseCritic, some people actually prefer the cabanas with the highest numbers... because they are the furthest down the beach... furthest from the crowds... and therefore the most private. But I just want to keep the walk to lunch and the restrooms down to as short a distance as possible... and I actually liked that there were a lot of people in the loungers in front of our cabana, because a lot of them were in bikinis! This was the view I had from our cabana all day...
There were several things that made the cost of the cabana ($230) totally worth it to me. First off, there are two super-comfortable loungers with thick soft cushions to relax on. Lounger may actually be the wrong term... as they were more like couches or day beds. The cabana itself provides shade, so you totally avoid a sun burn. Snorkel gear, and some large flotation mats are all provided. And then there's the food and drinks...
When you go to the shore excursion desk on embarkation day to pick out a specific cabana (from a map) they also find out how many people you'll have in the cabana and what kind of soft drinks each person would like. They provide bottled water for everyone, plus two cans of soft drinks of your choice for each person... up to a total of four people. They also provide a big bag of ice, and an insulated cooler to keep everything cold.
Even though the cabana is open to the outside air, there's an air conditioning unit mounted in the cabana to help keep things cool in that general area. There is also a big fan, equipped with a mister, which you can use if you want to. I can't recall if we brought the beach towels, or if those were there for us. I appreciated that they wrote my name up on the little chalkboard so that there would be no doubt that we had found the right cabana and that we belonged there.
It was just a great day at Half Moon Cay. The water was warm, and I spent a fair amount of time in it. The loungers were super comfortable and if I wasn't in the water, I was relaxing on my lounger. Lunch was good, and it was an easy walk from Cabana #5 to get to it. Having the big bag of ice and all those bottles of water and cans of soft drinks was absolutely perfect. I smuggled some rum with me and had a few rum & cokes over the course of the day. I totally loved having that big bag of tortilla chips... and it was such a big bag that we had plenty of leftovers to take back on the ship with us.
By the way... that's one odd thing about Carnival ships: you cannot get chips & salsa onboard! On a Princess cruise earlier this year, we were delighted to discover that we could not only get margaritas at the bar, but chips & salsa, too. Carnival should steal that idea.
When we got back onboard the ship after a fantastic day at Half Moon Cay, we got a good laugh out of this notice in the Fun Times newsletter...
Strange... Laura didn't strike me as an ass at all!
And while we're on the subject of funny things we saw on the ship...
I saw this sign on a coffee machine in one of the restaurants and snapped a photo of it to post to Facebook. Just a little reminder to my friends at Diablo Canyon that they were working and I wasn't!
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
I was surprised to see, as our ship pulled in to the harbor at Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, that we were not heading to the same dock Carnival ships had always used in my previous visits to St. Thomas. We had always docked at the Havensight pier in my previous visits, but this time we were heading to the other cruise ship pier, Crown Bay, just a few miles away. Previously, it appeared to me that Carnival ships always docked at Havensight and that Royal Caribbean ships always docked at Crown Bay. But this time there was a Royal Caribbean ship at Havensight, and we were headed to Crown Bay. So, I guess it all just depends on which company locks up the best spots first. Havensight is definitely the better of the two, for several reasons... so I consider myself lucky that I never ended up at Crown Bay until this one time.
I shot a time-lapse video with my cell phone as our ship arrived in St Thomas and docked at the Crown Bay pier next to Royal Caribbean's Independence Of The Seas. Take a look...
This turned out to be simply another great vacation day in the Caribbean. We went on a Carnival shore excursion to one of the world's most beautiful beaches, Trunk Bay, on the nearby island of St. John. To get there, we just walked off the cruise ship and boarded a ferry docked right around the corner at an adjacent pier. There was about a half hour ferry ride over to St. John, and then a 15-20 minute bus ride from the pier at Cruz bay to the beach at Trunk Bay. It probably would have been a 5-10 minute bus ride without stops, but the area is so beautiful that the bus driver would stop at several scenic overlooks along the way and let us all get out for a few minutes and take pictures. Here's a photo I got of Caneel Bay during one of those brief photo ops on the road to Trunk Bay...
See that big lawn area among the trees? You'd think that was a golf course, but you'd be wrong. The whole thing is a national park, and it's so totally gorgeous that you can certainly see why it achieved national park status. That's a United States national park, by the way... operated by the US National Park Service. It's weird to be travelling around the Caribbean, in and out of different countries, and then to enter a US national park. But St. John is part of the US Virgin islands, after all. But it's kind of odd because, due to the heritage of the island, they drive on the LEFT side of the road. So, you're in the Caribbean... you already feel like you're no longer in the good ol' USA... it's reinforced by the fact that everyone is driving on the left side of the road... and then you see all these US National Park Service signs like you're in Yosemite or Yellowstone. It definitely seems odd!
I shot video throughout the day, and edited it down to a little one-minute package with all the scenic highlights of getting to our Trunk Bay beach adventure. You know the old expression about how getting there is half the fun! Here you go...
Once we arrived at Trunk Bay, we had several hours to enjoy the beach... and it was simply delightful. Warm water, soft sand, next-to-no surf... and a nice reef to snorkel, if you wanted to. I totally loved it.
The beach at Trunk Bay in St. John
The trees provided excellent shade so we didn't get sunburned.
The only minor annoyance were all the leaves in the sand... but that was no big deal.
After a few great hours at Trunk Bay beach, we took the little bus back to Cruz bay (no stops for photos this time, so it was a quick ride) where we got back on the ferry which took us back to St. Thomas. On the way to the Crown Bay pier, we passed the Havensight pier and got a peek at a ship I'm really excited about... the Norwegian Getaway.
The Norwegian Getaway is the newest ship in the NCL fleet. It's based in Miami year-round, and (as you can see) it does Eastern Caribbean cruises. I'm pretty much a Carnival guy, especially after a not-very-good cruise on the Norwegian Star in 2008... so normally I wouldn't get all excited about a NCL ship. But this one's something special. So special, that we're going to give NCL another try later this year and see how they've improved since our sub-par experience with them six years ago. I put together a little video that very well explains why I'm so excited about our upcoming cruise on the Norwegian Getaway...
San Juan, Puerto Rico
You may remember that I mentioned earlier that we usually like to find one day during each 7-day cruise where we don't book any shore excursions so that we can enjoy an empty ship while all the other passengers are ashore. This was that day. I've never been all that impressed with the list of things to do in San Juan... so we figured we'd mostly just relax onboard today.
One super-convenient thing about cruising to San Juan is that there's a CVS pharmacy about two blocks away from where the cruise ships dock. It's a great store to visit if there are little things that you need... with prices way better than the shops onboard the ship. We usually pick up some bottled water and diet Coke there, to save a few bucks compared to ship prices. Being a pharmacy, it's also a great place if you need any kind of medicine... as those prices are really outrageous on a ship. Just as an example, if you're a little under the weather and need some Benadryl or some cough syrup... it costs about half as much at CVS as it would on the ship. We were feeling great and not in need of any medication at CVS on this particular cruise... I only mention it to plant the idea in your mind in case you ever need it in the future.
I shot some video of our arrival in San Juan, so you can get a glimpse of the historic fort at El Morro (there was a great Yanni concert there a few years ago!) and also to give you a feel for the architecture of old San Juan where the cruise ship terminal is. And if you look closely, you can even see the CVS pharmacy! By the way, this video, rather than being a time-lapse from my cell phone, is a full HD video shot in real time as the ship slowly made its way through the harbor to the terminal. Relax, and enjoy...
As I mentioned, the plan for the day was to just stay onboard an empty ship... except for a brief walk to CVS to get some bottled water and diet Coke. But at the last minute, I changed the plan!
Remember how I had been talking to our waitress, Snezana, about the Cruise Confidential book which detailed a couple of very romantic years in the life of another Carnival waitress, Bianca from Romania... and how Snezana asked if I happened to have a copy of the book with me? San Juan is a big city, and it occurred to me that perhaps there would be a bookstore large enough to actually have a copy of that book. It's not a new book... so it would have to be a fairly large bookstore to stock a book like that... but it was, after all, a book about cruise ships and San Juan was a big cruise ship town. So, although somewhat unlikely... it seemed worth a shot.
I always take my laptop computer with me on cruises, and so it was a simple matter to connect to the Internet and ask Google if there was a bookstore in old San Juan. Imagine my surprise when Google maps not only pointed me to a bookstore... but a BIG bookstore... a Borders bookstore, just a few blocks from the cruise ship terminal, according to Google maps. I was so excited... hoping to find a copy of Cruise Confidential there, which we would give to Snezana as a token of our appreciation for the great service. So, off we went, following the directions provided by Google maps.
Are you familiar with the word "Boondoggle"? Well, that's what this turned out to be!
It turns out that Google maps can occasionally be wrong! Apparently, there USED TO BE a Borders bookstore in a shopping mall in San Juan, but it went out of business years ago. Someone deleted the street address from its Google listing, but didn't delete the rest of the listing... so as far as Google knew there was a Borders bookstore in San Juan, but it didn't know the address. If you look something up in Google maps and it knows the city but not the street address, it will point you to what it considers the center of that city: the government center. So, our directions from Google maps, which we thought were leading us to a Borders bookstore, actually took us to the capitol of Puerto Rico... which is surprisingly close to the cruise ship terminal. So, we had a nice walking tour of San Juan that day. I didn't get a picture of the Senate building, even though I probably should have since we walked right by... but I did get this picture of a street scene that I thought was quite beautiful.
Puerto Rico has obviously spent a lot of money modernizing and beautifying the tourist area around where the cruise ships dock. Governments are always sure to spend lots of money beautifying their capitals. Old San Juan has a historic beauty of its own. So, we had a very beautiful walk before finally figuring out there was no bookstore... and heading over to CVS before finally returning to the ship.
Once back aboard, it was still morning... the ship was quite empty, and we had a nice time relaxing in a Jacuzzi. So, in spite of the boondoggle, not a bad day at all.
While Grand Turk was the last of 8 ports of call we would be visiting during our back-to-back cruises, I was in no mood to be sad about it. It had been a great cruise, and to wrap it up with a visit to Grand Turk would be a real pleasure... since it is one of my favorite cruise ship destinations.
Grand Turk is another one of those places, similar to Cozumel, where if you don't have any fun it's probably your own damned fault. There is fun everywhere you look in Grand Turk! As evidence of this point, I offer you this video I put together of some of the many ways to have fun in Grand Turk...
Kellyn and I love Grand Turk because there's not only a great beach to enjoy, but also one of Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurants with a HUGE swimming pool and a FlowRider surf simulator. We've been here many times before and it's always a pleasure to hang out at the pool, watch people fail on the Flowrider, and also to spend a little time at the beach. The coolest part is that none of that costs any additional money. Even use of the pool at Margaritaville is free.
The thing we've learned from our previous visits here is that there are only a few places by the pool that offer any shade. There are loungers everywhere, but almost all of them are just sitting out in the direct sun. Only a small few have umbrellas next to them to keep you from getting a sunburn. So, our goal when visiting Grand Turk is always to be among the first off the ship... so that we can snag two of those rare loungers with an adjacent umbrella. There are two in particular, with a fantastic view of the FlowRider and the ship, that I consider to be the best possible loungers. The trick is to get them before someone else does... and we're pretty good at it! The last two times we've been here, we got those two best loungers. The time before that, we missed them by about one minute. So, we've learned to have a quick breakfast and to get ready fast when the ship is arriving at Grand Turk.
What you DON'T want to do is to be those people who go down to the disembarkation area at deck 0 before the ship has even docked or put out the gangway. If you annoy the crew that way, they might just tell you to go back to your cabin. You need to time it so that you show up down there right after the gangway is set up, and BEFORE the Cruise Director announces over the PA system that people can go ashore. The key is to be able to see when the gangway is set up.
If you have a balcony cabin on the correct side of the ship (where the pier is) that's an easy thing to see. But if you don't, there's another easy way. Head to the atrium lobby on deck 3 and go through the doors that lead to the exterior deck on the side of the ship where the pier is. From the deck railing on deck 3, you'll have a fantastic view of the pier and you'll see exactly when the gangway is put in place. Once the gangway is set up, and you see the first passenger get off the ship... just take the stairs down to deck 0 and you'll be on your way.
That's exactly what we did when the ship docked in Grand Turk, and it was like being a VIP invited to disembark before everyone else. We walked down the pier, with no one in front of us and no one behind us. It was quite a sight. Here's a photo as we got about half way down the pier and turned around to see if the masses were coming along behind us yet.
When we got over to the pool at Margaritaville,
we were the first ones there and we had our choice of loungers...
You can see Kellyn setting up our place under the umbrella with the view of the FlowRider.
Here's the view from our loungers, about an hour later, when they fired up the FlowRider...
Still pictures of the FlowRider don't do it any justice. I'm sure you've probably figured out that I have video! I present to you 31 FlowRider crashes, edited down to 3 minutes of video. Enjoy!
On the Carnival forum on CruiseCritic, people like to post pictures of the food from their Carnival cruise. The slang term used to describe these type of posts is "food porn"... since, like real porn, people tend to look at the pictures on the Internet and fantasize about how yummy it must be. I already posted the best food porn from the cruise, my close-up picture of a Guy Fieri burger... but here are a few other yummy dishes we enjoyed during our B2B:
from the main dining room
from the main dining room
from the main dining room
Buffet lunch (for two)
from the Red Sail restaurant on Lido deck
Ham & cheese omelet, with potatoes and apple pastries
from the Red Sail restaurant on Lido deck
Notice the Lawry's seasoned salt. I bring that from home. It makes the eggs and potatoes better!
Carnival Glory's Cruise Director
Up until this point, it's been a fairly glowing review of our cruise, wouldn't you say? It was simply one of the best cruises we've been on... and we've been on 24 cruises, so far! But I'm afraid that the only things we truly disliked on this cruise were the PA announcements made by Eversen, the Cruise Director. He was great on stage... an excellent host of the various shows in the Amber Palace show lounge and of the adults-only Quest show in the Ebony Cabaret. He even did a fine job giving the safety briefing over the PA system. But when it came to all the other PA announcements during the week... we'd sooner listen to Roseann Barr singing the national anthem.
This guy must have some gigantic ego! Not only does he like to hear himself talk on the PA system... he likes to SING. Just about every PA announcement would start with Eversen singing. It got old REALLY fast. After a day or two, we were ready for ear plugs. After two weeks of it, I could have strangled the guy.
My advice is to locate the Cruise Director schedule on John Heald's blog before booking your next Carnival cruise and to avoid all cruises where Eversen is the Cruise Director. I know I will.
The End Of Our Cruise
We had a 10:10 AM flight out of Miami International Airport. I was a little worried that this might be too early, and that it didn't leave much wiggle room in case things went wrong. But we're platinum with Carnival, so I thought we could get away with it since we would be among the first off the ship. It turned out to be no problem at all. It was the smoothest disembarkation we've ever experienced.
The instructions given to platinum guests who wanted to do self-disembarkation and get off the ship early was to meet at the Golden restaurant at 7:15 AM with all your luggage. The Golden restaurant is located just off the atrium lobby on deck 3, right next to where the gangway attaches to the ship. So it's the perfect meeting spot for Platinum guests that want to make a quick escape at the end of the cruise.
We headed down the elevator to deck 3 exactly at 7:15. Disembarkation of the platinum guests was already underway at that time. We went right from the elevator to a small line of guests who were disembarking... and we just rolled our luggage right down the gangway, through a very brief check at customs, and off towards the line to get a taxi to the airport. Before very long, we were sitting at MIA with lots of time to kill until our 10:10 flight.
When our American airlines flight (non-stop to LAX) took off from MIA, I shot a video out the window as we flew right past the Port Of Miami with a clear view of the Carnival Glory and a few other ships.
Before Our Cruise
We had some fun in Miami before the cruise... spending two nights in a hotel right on South Beach... and shooting pictures and videos of the cruise ships leaving the Port of Miami on Saturday afternoon. You can read about it here.
Need A Travel Agent?
Booking a cruise can be confusing, especially if you haven't been on many cruises before. There are lots of first-time cruiser mistakes that a travel agent can keep you from making.
If you're interested in booking a cruise with any cruise line... please feel free to use the services of my travel agent, Caitlin Gallagher. She's extremely pleasant to deal with, easy to talk to since she lives in the United States and speaks without any kind of an accent, and quite experienced and knowledgeable about different types of cruising. Caitlin is the owner of Ambren Travel. Visit her web site, check out the Ambren Travel Facebook page, or contact her using the information below.
The Cruise Ships We've Been On
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