Sunday, January 13, 2008

Carnival Fascination Cruise (& Cocoa Beach)

Saturday, Jan. 5, 2008. We left Ft. Myers to spend the weekend at a Holiday Inn in Sunrise, FL (outside Ft. Lauderdale). This was part of a timeshare presentation package and cruise. Jon and Becky Hurwitz were getting in on the same special deal. By the time we checked into the timeshare Welcome Center and had lunch half the afternoon was gone. So we just hung around the motel, walked, and read until dinner at the Shrimp Shack. It was about a 40 minute wait but was excellent food. What an eclectic interior. It looked like they went to a tag sale, bought everything and hung it on the walls. It was obviously a popular family place.

Sunday, Jan. 6. We all attended the timeshare presentation. Since we already own a timeshare we went to a different presentation than the Hurwitz's. None of us intended to buy. We were given options to upgrade ours but we weren't willing to spend extra money to do that. We saw no real advantages and after 2 ours we were done. The Hurwitz's 90 minute presentation turned into a 3 hour one - not fun! After that we really felt we needed to deprogram so had an enjoyable lunch. The Hurwitz's had been to Ft. Lauderdale before so took us to the beach. It was beautiful and relaxing. On the drive and the walk from the parking lot we admired the yachts. We took a long walk on the sidewalk and then read for a bit. It was a fun, leisurely afternoon. (It was about 82 degrees.)

Monday through Friday. It was the first time we were on a cruise ship. Just getting to the port was an experience. We first drove to a parking lot to leave our cars. They then shuttled us to the Port of Miami, Carnival building - a huge building. The check-in process was short and smooth. We walked on the huge ship and were awed by the interior lobby with its glass elevators, shiny walls and multi-storied atrium. (The ship picture is actually when we were docked in Cozumel.)

We had about an hour or more before our luggage would arrive in our rooms so we took ourselves on a tour of the ship. On the top level there was a mini golf course surrounded by a spongy walking track. The next level down had a basketball half court, volleyball court and a golf cage made of netting. There was a main pool with twisting slide and 2 other smaller pools, one specifically for kids. The view of Miami from the ship was gorgeous with all the homes and yachts and palm trees.

Our rooms were on the bottom deck but were really roomy. They have twin beds but they can make them up into King beds. (No balcony rooms for us at our rock bottom price!) It was fun to come back to the room after the nightly show to see what towel animal the room steward had left on our bed (along with chocolate candy).

Right before the ship left Miami everyone had to grab their life jackets and go to a specific meeting area (Muster Area) to receive instructions in case of an emergency. When the ship starting moving (about 4:30) we definitely felt the movement of the ship and hoped that we wouldn't always feel it. Well, we did always feel it but it didn't bother us, thank goodness. We saw a number of people with seasick patches behind their ears but didn't hear of anyone getting sick.

The entertainment every night was excellent, better than what Club Med offers. They have a huge theater with comfortable seats and little tables for your drinks.

They had people all day and night asking if they could get you a drink. Drinks are really expensive and many people spend as much or more on drinks as they do on the price of the cruise!

The food was very good although from movies and TV we expected long buffet tables with ice sculptures. Maybe there was one at the midnight buffet which they had only one night. We didn't make it to that! For breakfast you could get served in the dining room and have nicer food or you could go to the grill, still have lots of choices and eat outside. We really enjoyed eating outside and watching the water. Lunch was from the grill and there were always lots of options. For dinner you could go either to an assigned table in the dining room or to the grill. We went to the dining room every night except when we missed our seating one night because of our Cozumel excursion. We enjoyed meeting these people but are not sure we'd really like to sit with them for 7 nights. The Hurwitz's were at a different table so we all met other people. The husband of one couple they met is from Watertown, NY and knew our sister-in-law's (Amy) father! Small world!

They have games and activities all day long and in the evening before the show. There is no lack for things to do if you want. Sandy played a Trivial Pursuit type of game and won a "Ship on a Stick." Now, who do you know who has one of those? He also played a Family Feud type game (men vs. women) and won. So now he is also proud owner of a Carnival medal.

When Sandy went onto the stage to play the first game he said he was from Amherst, MA. Later, a woman in the audience came up to us in the hall and said she had lived in Amherst and gotten a PhD at UMass. Not only that, she worked with Ron Moyer at the junior high! Another small world happening!

Key West was really picturesque with some beautiful and unusual homes. We were going to be docked there from 7:30 - 2 on Tuesday so we all decided to do a Bike Tour of Key West (a Carnival excursion). It turned out to be informative but it was really hard to ride so slow with 11 others. (Won't do that again.) A walking tour with a printout from the internet would have been just as good. Live and learn (hopefully). We rode through the historic area and learned about the arrival of the Cubans (to roll cigars after the embargo of cigars from Cuba) and the Bahamians (to dive for sponges since they could hold their breath for a long time). We also saw Hemingway's home and rode through a low rent district where low-income people lived in 2 story cinder block housing. Real estate is incredibly expensive here and low-income housing is non-existent and not really desired (according to the tour guide).

When we had a stop at the beach the tour guide mentioned that about 6 months of the year there is a problem with red tide and no one can swim. That also really affects the air quality. One thing we didn't like learning was that the ships dump their waste in the ocean (a certain number of miles out). I can't imagine that it just doesn't affect the ocean. (I looked online for more info and there will be an EPA report out in February.)

After the tour Becky and Jon did there own thing and we checked out the "Audubon House", the "Truman Annex", and the "Key West Heritage House Museum and Robert Frost Cottage" where he lived in the winter later in life. In this house there were numerous beautiful orchids in the garden.

The Truman Annex was purchased from the Truman Navy Base by a developer. He did a beautiful job creating varied housing of single family and condos with green spaces.

We were in Cozumel from 1 to 10PM. We knew that there was good snorkeling so we signed up for a catamaran tour with snorkeling and time at a beach. Before the excursion we walked around town near the dock. It looked nice on Front Street and deteriorated a block back. It was a little annoying having all the employees trying to sell you things.

The trip was fun but not as good as we had hoped. The ride on the cat was really nice. The snorkeling was not very good. The water was cloudy, there was very little coral and only a few kinds of fish. The beach was nice. You could use kayaks or floats or just sit on a chaise lounge. We just sat and enjoyed the scenery. On the ride back there were free drinks and some nice music, much of it with group dancing. Becky was really cold since we had to go into the water up to our waist to get back onto the boat and it was getting a little cool. Fortunately we had humongous Carnival towels that covered her up completely for the ride back. The Hurwitz's walked around the town and visited the Cozumel museum which we would have enjoyed.

The shows consisted of the dancers, two soloists and one or two other acts. We saw comedians, a balancing act, break dancers, and Las Vegas type shows. We really enjoyed them.

The air temperature was in the low 80's everyday on land and sea. The last day when we only at sea it was really windy, so much so that we couldn't play mini golf or walk on the track on the top deck. We used the treadmills that day.

We used this cruise as a trial run to help us decide whether or not to cruise again. Yes, all the food and desserts and ice cream at lunch and dinner were tempting. (We haven't had a weigh-in yet!) We think it really is a good value if you think of it as an all inclusive resort which includes entertainment. But one thing we'd like is to be on land for at least 10-12 hours. And it definitely is more fun to go with friends! Both of the couples at our dining table had cruised numerous times. They got great deals online and felt it was a very good value. As one good deal they mentioned repositioning cruises in the spring and fall where you just cruise one way and fly the other. M-m-m, something to check out! So, I think the answer to whether we'll cruise again is, yes!

We drove up to Cocoa Beach on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend visiting Ron Moyer and Karen de Pasquale. We really enjoyed our time together. Ron and Sandy got a round of golf in on Saturday and we watched to Patriots beat Jacksonville. On Monday morning we drove over to New Port Richey to June's.

Next trip: Belize. We'll be heading for Belize on Friday, January 18. We won't have our cell phones with us and e-mail contact could be sketchy. We'll be back in Florida on the 12th of February.

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