carnivalship

First time on a cruise which has been postponed for many years, for many reasons. Then the “oh, never on Carnival” comments we heard/read from many, put a stop to our wishes to experience a cruise to the destinations we would love to go to.

If you’re impatient, or bored of reading long reports you can move to the next one, because this is long!!!

Although we are beach people, we do many of the “cultural” and exhausting sightseeing vacations too, or sometimes the two together. But, a cruise! Ten years ago it was a straight “no”, then it was a “maybe”, for the last 3-4 years “yes, but can we really do it”?…

Let me tell you: it’s a fact that we’re all getting old, and we all want our peace and quiet when vacationing, but, as much as I am not sociable, no more parties etc in my life, I thought I’d rather be on a party cruise than on a cruise where there is only elegant and quiet dining with high profile businessmen & women! And, this is what we heard about Carnival, only the partiers go on this one!!

Finally with my vacation period from work  settled (Henry works for himself, so no concerns with his schedule), we only had one option for the destinations we wanted to visit, and that was on Carnival Fascination. Reading cruisecritic.com and many other websites, I was expecting a little boat, with lots of noise, a small room, terrible food, terrible staff, terrible service, and only drunk customers around…

Well …

It was about 3 weeks before the departure date, and I was able to get my work schedule, and plan/book the trip.

Arranging and organizing everything around it, we arrived at our lovely hotel in Barbados about 5 days in advance … Yes you can call it a “Vacation before vacation”.

This was not our first time visit to our little heaven Coconut Court Beach Hotel, and returning somewhere we knew, felt awesome (check my report about this place from several years ago on tripadvisor.com, but now it is even better than the last time).

Having this card waiting for us in our room upon check-in was another reason to come back to home away from home!

welcomeback

But the real worry on our minds was if in 7 days, were we going to find ourselves getting bored on the cruise, or really enjoying it!…

We were at the Barbados port right at 11am on the embarkation day, with some other passengers who were staying at Coconut Court as well.

The first observation: the employees at the port, who were lovely, fun & helpful, directed us to a shuttle bus between the port and the ship.

When we stepped on the ship we were in awe! My first reaction getting out of the elevator was “OMG… This is like visiting a classic Las Vegas hotel”. … So, it was a love at first sight for me! Yup, I love classic Vegas …new too…but, you know what I mean. That feel of a well established business is always cool ☺

Then we waited for our official check in, when we got our keys in our hands with tons of info, we got kind of nervous… Are we now really trapped in here? By the way, there were many employees everywhere wearing a red t-shirt, with large text on them “JUST ASK”. This was a really nice arrangement and comforting welcome.

While heading towards our room, we bumped into many other employees on duty, and all were smiling, working and welcoming us. And the second we opened our room door… Haaaaaa… Shock, a pleasant shock. The size of the room, the balcony, the view from our balcony, and the way our room was prepared.

Let me provide this info before we go on: if one finds these rooms small, and complains about them, one should never travel to Japan (my favorite, my #1 destination). The room & bathroom size together is 3 times bigger than any room in Shinjuku (except Hilton & Westin etc with CAD350+ price tags per night). The cleanliness of the room was better than many hotels anywhere in the world including Canada. I travel for work, and stay at different hotels frequently, so I have a slight idea of hotel room cleanliness.

Right after our arrival we met our room steward Tri … He and his team took care of us for the whole 7 days. Because of him specifically, I used the headline I used. Aladdin’s Lamp! Every time we walked into or out of our room, Tri showed up to make sure we were ok. If we needed anything, he was available all the time. Every night when we returned back to our room, he had already turned our bed with a magical towel ornament on it!!!! It was different every night, which put a big smile on our faces.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the first impression of all this, we attended an orientation & mandatory safety briefing. We even won a St. Kitts zip-lining voucher but at our age we are not into it, and also we had other plans there (the details are below).

So, we showed up at the shore excursion desk to ask an employee if we could exchange the voucher for anything else that was available, at any of the other destinations. Well, the one and only disappointment was this lady, who just shrugged her shoulders, and took the voucher folded up, possibly for recycling. However, her shrugging shoulders behavior has been recovered by ALL THE OTHER Carnival employees that were on the ship. So I will not belabor this point.

I, of course, left a little note with the customer service desk suggesting they look into these situations, as the girl at the excursion desk didn’t seem to care, and didn’t attempt to do anything (not even a “sorry”!).

We’re not sure if my note was the reason or not, but on day 2 there was a (1 week early) birthday card for Henry with some wonderful gift vouchers. A spa gift card for USD50, another gift card for a bottle of wine (value USD25), and a voucher to be used towards a photo! So, no matter how this happened, this was an elegant way to engage the customers by the Carnival management. Bravo!

Because we are very early risers (6-7am even with the time difference – for us it’s 3-4am), we had our breakfast at the buffet except 3 mornings… Also many of the mornings we were either the first to leave the ship, or within the first 5-6 people as per security….

OK, back to the breakfast! The buffet breakfast is for everyone… If you can’t find a breakfast item you like or you can’t eat at this buffet, you must carry your own food. Fruits, eggs, omelette made to order, cereals, yogurts, sausages, bacon, pastries, cheese, toast, French-toast, pancakes and many more … They are all available. The dining room breakfast was with selected items, which were amazing. I also like my coffee in a porcelain mug, and this was available only at the dining room. They are not available at the buffet. Only plastic (reusable kind) cups… But the reasoning behind is understandable.

Pretty much each day we left the ship at around 8 am and returned back at around 230-330 pm. Either we ate our lunch at the shore, or we had a snack on board. Then we hit the “million dollar” view gym! The gym/spa area was so attractive we basically wanted to go to the gym. I know, I know! Magical stuff happens on board ☺

Our dinner was “your time” dinner, which we loved. We didn’t have to sit with other people at all. It was at the dining room called Sensation. The staff at Sensation worked also at the buffet with different uniforms.

So, I have to say the head-waiters/head-waitress, Elias, William, Ayu are rockstars … We enjoyed their service immensely. Also, Hendra, Richy, Milagres, Ireneo, I Made and many others who work there every single night are fantastic people, fantastic characters, fantastic workers who knew us by name and gave the best service that can be given to the customers.

Although, when we were seated in their section, each one of them introduced themselves and their team for the night, Ayu really stood out with her conversation opening introduction. “Hello, good evening! Welcome, my name is Ayu, I’m from Indonesia, and I’ll be serving you tonight with my colleagues … (and she says the names of her team mates)”. After this kind of a welcome, only one thing happens, your heart warms up … and after the first time, she welcomes people (for example us) “Hello Idil, hello Henry, welcome back … how was your day today?”.

I have never had such an experience in my whole life. I’m almost 50 and travelled almost around the world.

And, the little music/dance break during the dinner is a fantastic idea. So, the music starts and the whole service team stops what they’re doing and starts singing and dancing (all synchronized!). Sometimes they dance with the customers too. What fun every night! Great choice of music too.

Check the video here (not the best video but I was singing & dancing too!)

Service is one thing that we see and judge … but I cannot NOT mention the kitchen folks… the food quality (taste & presentation), the menu choices… Oh my god … It’s 20 out of 10!!!

There is an everyday menu filled with fantastic appetizers, main courses (and there is a choice for vegetarians too), then the second page menu changes every day. Again everyday there would be a choice of a vegetarian meal. I am not vegetarian but I read the menu everyday very, very carefully! For sure you will find something that will tickle your fancy, or something you were always curious about would be showing up, and you’d try! Your taste buds will have a major feast!

In the end, whoever prepared that menu did one fine job. I’d say the person who suggested and made the final decision to keep the warm melting chocolate cake on the everyday dessert menu should be the President of the Food and Beverage department (perhaps s/he has already been promoted!). It’s just out of this world!

amazemelt

Almost every night after midnight, I heard my name being called at the buffet area while Henry was having his “before bed” ice-cream treat at the 24-hour self-serve machines… It was always Ayu finishing her shift at the buffet clean up. It is such a casual environment, but, there is always that knowledge & professionalism. I simply loved the style, mentality and the customer approach of this company, and Ayu for being so personable.

It is a pure vacation & pure relaxation! Having said all this, hats off to the trainers who train these people all the same: respectful, knowledgeable, very professional, yet very friendly and genuine.

Who are the direct & indirect supervisors and managers of these frontline workers? They have to be commended as well. Obviously, there are some people behind the scenes who are doing their jobs just perfectly! Congratulations!

And now the Cruise Directors… Always available, always fun, always laughing, mingling with the passengers (customers).

So, good looking Felipe is funny, confident (rightfully so!), knows what he is doing (aka Mr. Woohoo!!!), and very comfortable on the stage. I honestly don’t know what other responsibilities he would have, but I’m sure he is good at what he is doing.

The Assistant Cruise Director… “Kris with a K” is a very special, solid guy with a great smile. Oh my god, he is so charming, he has such a positive disposition (how? I need tips!). He is fun, he FOR SURE is one of the BEST dancers out there (along with the headwaiter William -video above-) and his name tag “Kris with a K” is more than brilliant. And, yes, his charm made me spend “a lot of” money at the bingo games he held. I never thought I’d like bingo this much, and we simply can’t wait to be on one of his future cruises.

All these guys have their own personalities that reflect to their jobs & positions to make them perfect at what they are doing. My compliments to the hiring department to hand pick these wonderful people.

Way to go!

So, overall, those who rated this cruise line poorly must have seen something we haven’t. But for us, if/when we are booking our next cruise, Carnival will get the first choice, and if “Kris with a K”, Ayu, William, Tri etc are there, I’ll be on board before anyone.

In summary:

Food – more than excellent +++++++ and at the Sensation dining room, our waiting time was usually 15 to 55 seconds to get in. Very fast, very efficient service!

Drinks – (to the Carnival food and beverage department – please do not read this part of the report!) – As we were waiting for our check-in on day 1, we were offered the alcohol drink package. For us, it was not a necessary purchase, as we wouldn’t drink more than 1 to 2 glasses of wine or beer at any time and to be honest, unless you’re a heavy drinker, the bar prices are very affordable and/or they were not any different than any bar/pub (if not cheaper) for a drink or two every night. Also, we were advised that we were allowed to bring a bottle of wine or champagne on board if we wanted. We took 2 bottles of wine (one each), and we couldn’t even finish it all!

Bogart’s coffee shop was one of the most affordable coffee shops I’ve seen lately (only comparing to Europe/Asia/N. America/Australia) … and the desserts they sell there ….drooooooollll ….

Service – more than excellent +++++++

Staff – more than excellent +++++++ Outstanding … Note: Can you believe Tri thanked us coming to his home, and giving him the opportunity to serve us! Yes, I can imagine living on the ship for 6-7 months at a time makes it their home … but thanking us for the visit made me almost cry!

Carnival Fascination – for us it was a perfect size floating hotel as this was our first cruise, we felt extremely comfortable navigating around. And, during this vacation, we simply couldn’t sleep as we were so excited all week, we simply didn’t want to waste our time sleeping! It’s one of those things in life.

Also, we were not forced to purchase anything on board (as some people commented on that). We were given the information, opportunity, but never felt the high stress sales tactics etc (which would have irritated me)… that was a perfect customer service.

The sea day – I thought we’d be bored out of our skulls, but the day went so fast (even though we woke up at 7!). They kept us busy all day long, they really should have had 2 sea days not just one!

On board entertainment – I can’t comment much or compare to anything, as this was our first cruise, but we had a fantastic/fun time. There was almost no time to get bored while on board. Production shows, comedy clubs, music, BINGO and if you don’t like any of that stuff, there is the gym/casino/bar/romantic hang out deck “Serenity” etc. And, “Kris with a K” popped out from every corner & made everything even more fun! (I told you Fascination is the Aladdin’s Lamp!)… you see him running up the stairs, then you turn around and he is in the elevator waiving … you turn around again, he is at the Atrium Bar area chit chatting with people or dancing!

The one of a kind majestic itinerary by Carnival –

Boarding in Barbados > always amazing, always magical (Coconut Court is the place for us to stay, Barbados Blue is the company to go for a snorkeling/scuba diving tour to swim with the turtles!)

St. Lucia > such a pretty place … such a lush, green island! We didn’t have any plans other than going to Vigie Beach right by the airport (we love airports). It was a quiet airport, but the setting while swimming and sunbathing was fantastic.

When we first got off the ship we were stopped by many cab drivers quoting USD15-20 to go to the Vigie Beach.

But one guy asked me “lady, how much do you want to pay?”, I asked back “how long does it take to get to there?” the answer was “5 minutes”, I added “then USD5 it is!” … He looked at me, he told me we were the first getting off the ship, so it would be ok for him to take us for USD5!… Then as we were approaching the beach he asked if we wanted to see the city and a beautiful view from the highest point and perhaps we would take some pictures. So, back and forth, we agreed for USD20, and that also had to include a pick up from the airport beach.

Overall, he gave us about 1,5-2 hour touring, on the way he showed us the school he attended to obtain a certificate to be able to drive the tourists around. Then he stopped at different areas in St. Lucia to have us take pictures, look around, and look at the breathtaking views of the island!

When we got back to the city centre we picked up his girlfriend in the market area (she was going to some kind of school enrolment process). Then we got dropped off at the Vigie beach.

We were not sure if he was going to come back and pick us up, as we paid him the whole amount, but he did show up to pick us up to take us to the city centre where we had to have our Piton Beers and I had to do a little shopping!

By the way, while we were at Vigie beach, we walked to the airport terminal building. Facilities are spotless ☺ And, the terminal is just so cute ☺ If you’re there, go see it!

Driver Winston’s contact info: Winston’s Taxi Service / Cell: (1-758) 486-0397 or (1-758) 284-2187 (no email contact on his card)

IMG_1614

St. Kitts > The only place we thought we’d make an arrangement to get around.

First of all, do not believe every negative comment you read. But, obviously we did believe what we read, that’s why we booked a cab to take us around.

And, I believe everything is for a good reason as we met with this fantastic lady, Rose, who we found reading comments about her on tripadvisor.com

You will see many people mentioning little monkeys thrown at you and get asked USD20 for it and you get in trouble if you don’t pay them etc etc … It’s not true! There are many people holding the monkeys (unfortunately some monkeys are even dressed up!), if you want, you can go get your photo taken with them, and pay the fee/tip. Personally, I would rather see the animals at their own habitat, and on the way to the beach we saw tons of them running in and around the bushes by the side of the road. They are everywhere, they are every size!

Anyway … Our pick up was at 930 at the port, we the early risers, couldn’t sit on the ship, so we decided we’d go out early to look/walk around the port and see if Rose was there a little earlier than 930, so we could get going.

As we were walking out, I saw and recognized Rose with her husband (it was a little after 8 am!). It was great … we were able to start our day early. Rose took us to the famous Cockleshell Beach via fantastic wilderness stopping every now and then to take pictures, and we got to listen to her telling us all the story about the area (although she is from the UK, she’s been living there very happily for the last 33 years!).

We ended up staying at the Reggae Beach Bar area, which again was poorly rated by many online, but for us they were amazing, courteous, friendly and welcoming … we were one of the first ones at the beach … it was incredible! So peaceful, so lovely. Later they put the music on but nothing disturbing! And, at around 1130 we got a very quick rain (3-4 minutes) then the guys from the bar came out to flatten the sand! I also treated myself to a nice beach-view massage by Shona. She was good, really good ☺

Then we were picked up at 130 pm by Rose who took us back to the port area stopping again at the most magical spots to take some pictures.

And, of course after the beach time, it was the shopping and looking around time … The local vendors at the shopping stalls were really nice, but I felt like they were not in a great financial situation.

I purchased a handmade all natural soap made by the vendor herself (I should have bought all the supply she had, but I didn’t! Another reason to go back). After I paid her, she made a very sensitive & kind comment “this is me who is making these, one by one, not your usual made in China product, thank you for supporting us” … I’m glad I was able to help a little!

Rose’s contact info: http://roseandjimstaxi.com/
You can send them an e-mail via their website and you will not regret you did!

 

St. Maartin > This one destination has been on our list for a long time which we were not able to get to. Actually this was Henry’s one reason to choose this cruise (remember, I said we love airports!).

We took the cab from the port as Henry had to visit Maho Beach asap and add more airplane photos onto his photo collection 😀 No cab bargaining was possible as all the prices were listed on a board at the taxi stand.

But, the famous Maho beach got so crowded after 1130-1200 noon, it made us literally gag … the heat, the noise from the people, the crowd at the Sunset Beach Bar area where we rented chairs and an umbrella (the nice guy there provided 3 umbrellas which was great, but also he charged a whooping USD17 for 2 chairs and an umbrella … rip off? Yup … clearly… but we were at his mercy as there was no shade around).

It was nice and quiet between 830 and 1130, it was disgusting after that and we left just after 1pm. Would I ever go back to Maho Beach? Absolutely NO… would I go back to St, Maartin? Absolutely YES … the beaches in the town are out of this world. The colour of the sea, the sand, and long and large beaches …

Also, with our luck, I think it was the hottest day during that 7 day cruise.

By the way, we took the water taxi from the city to the port, which was nice and pleasant. I wish it was a little longer journey though.

San Juan > The one and only destination I’ve never thought I’d go! What a mistake! A wonderful place. I should say, a wonderful place, filled with wonderful people.

It was one of those things, you disembark, and don’t know what to expect (especially going through the US customs there and it’s not a fast process). We planned to take a cab to the beach called Escambron. But then when we were quoted the fares we were quoted, we gave up on cabs, and looked for a public transport.

We met a couple out of the blue on the street from Florida visiting San Juan (they had been there for the last 6-7 days) and told us that there are two routes for two different trams which are free and they run every 15 mins or so.

We decided we would take the tram first to find out the lay of the land. Later we hopped on the other one with a different route, as this was really fun way to go around the old city and the historical points of interest. On one of those tram rides there was a couple from our cruise ship, who wanted to go to the beach as well… so sharing a cab with them to the beach which made it more affordable, less than USD4 per person. We took a cab from the Sheraton Hotel, and we asked the cab driver to come and pick us up at 130 pm as we wanted to walk around the old town. However, the couple from our ship no-showed for the return journey from the beach. Either they left earlier, or they decided to stay longer. Never saw them on the ship after that …

Back to our journey…. As it was the Father’s day, the beach was packed with families … and apparently almost everything was closed (good that I didn’t have to do shopping for anything particular!). Although it was crowded, and the music was going on from each family’s shed, it was not disturbing at all. Huge beach … enough room for everyone.

When Henry decided to go buy some food, a nearby family kindly offered us sandwiches and bbq chicken which of course we declined. But I thought that was the nicest offer ever at a beach! Really nice, really human, really kind …

And the “helado” guy! Go find him, he rings a bell, so there is no way not to see where he is! He sells 3 kinds of gelatos. I asked him how much it was, and he told me “una copa” (one cup) 2 dollares … so my thinking, ok one cup per flavor. And, took 6 dollars to pay, as we thought we’d try all three … well … my mistake … He said as long as it’s in the same cup, it’s 2 bucks. Was it my Spanish that failed, or I’ve never purchased such a cheap gelato here in Vancouver, I don’t know ☺ And, I must add, it was delicious. (flavours: rainbow, coconut, and passion fruit)

Our cab driver came to pick us up right on time … but we waited for the British couple for a while. Since the driver had to go for a dinner party, he wanted to leave. We had no choice but leave after waiting for about 15 mins … then we asked him to leave us at one of the highest points in old San Juan, so we could walk down to the bottom and see around before we go to the ship.

Our walk was amazing! The architecture reminded us very much of old Havana (where we stayed for a week last year) but way cleaner and very well taken care of. The people are similar, happy looking, talkative but more in English than in Spanish (I was hoping to practice my Spanish, but it was almost impossible).

We found a little hidden bar in the end of a dark alley and had some punchy mojitos and tasty empanadas. Café El Punto with live music either in an air-conditioned seating area or patio seating. And, we continued walking from one street to another seeing many historical buildings, churches etc …

At the end of this little sampling of San Juan, I think I want to go back there to spend more time ☺

Cab driver Bryan’s contact info: Bryan Jimenez (787) 383-6777
vsjchauffeur@hotmail.com

St. Thomas > And, this was the destination I wanted to see the most and my reason to go on this cruise! They saved the best for the last. It’s like a little town in the Mediterranean, be it Italy, or Turkey, or France.. it’s like out of the movies … the cobblestone old streets with steep hills … and the most beautiful views from those street tops. It’s like the history is bursting out of each and every corner.

But as every other destination we have been to, our plan was to go to a beach. We chose the beach that was by the airport (I know! Please don’t think we’re crazy!). As per our cab driver it was called the Emerald Beach!… It was so beautiful, so peaceful it should have been called the Zen Beach.

We took the cab again from the port. Apparently, the cab prices are dictated by the government, so no negotiating was possible. And, it was a bit expensive for the drive (USD7 per person), perhaps for a no more than 10 minute ride. He also told us he’s been living there for the last 30+ years, and absolutely loving it. Also, he mentioned there are “only” 32 beaches in St. Thomas, and he doesn’t have one favorite one, as that changes as per his mood of the day.

After our beach morning, we took a cab from the beach area to the downtown area where I wanted to stay for at least a month or even forever ☺

In one of the little streets we found a cool place to sit down and have some drinks (Greengos Cantina)… It was nice, good food, refreshing drinks (more expensive than the ship!), and awesome ambiance.

This was our very last stop on the itinerary. But we were so pleased with everything on our cruise, I think it was in St. Maartin, we checked online if we could book for another week (also because I had my schedule published for July and I happened to get a great surprise having the first week of July off), but the websites I checked showed this cruise was sold out!…

I guess, we’ll have to wait for another vacation period to do this all over again.

In my opinion the crew on this cruise won our hearts, the itinerary took us to our dream destinations that we couldn’t have afforded otherwise.

Until next time we’ll keep dreaming of what we had … Peace!

Ps- I will try to post more pictures/videos here on imaginairie.wordpress.com and Henry will post his videos on youtube.com (search for account airlinehobby.com DVDs) if you want to see these places and cruise from our point of view …

Advertisements