Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season
It's been a horrible year for hurricanes this year. Since 2003, when we started in business, we've dealt with storms especially since 2005 which was the most active season during which 28 tropical cyclones formed, of which a record 15 became hurricanes. Since then, the Weather Channel would scare the bejsus about of everyone by announcing on June 1st that it was officially "Hurricane Season" (which officially ends on November 30th). This year, however, has been the exception.
Rule #1: if you're going to travel from August 15th through September 30th, you have to get Travel Insurance. It might not be your cruise or resort destination that's affected, it might be getting there. Even driving to a cruise port, can be an issue. Plus, even if it's not your cruise port or your cruise or during Hurricane season, you can be affected. I remember getting a call from a group leader after Katrina who was going to cruise in the following January. She was distraught because their cruise ship had been repositioned to help out housing people in New Orleans. These storms can affect people who have no idea they're going to get affected.
Rule #2: Book with a Travel Agent. A good one. We're just coming down on DEFCON 4 making sure our clients are informed, taken care of, and properly advised. Without a Travel Agent, you're travelling alone. Sometimes it ends really well (although as of today we're not out of the woods yet), sometimes it doesn't because of circumstances out of everyone's control. But at least, with a TA, you have a person vs. a huge supplier as a go to.
Stay safe, everyone.
Port of Call: Curacao
Didn't know quite what to expect from this port of call. Figured, as it was the fourth in four days, that we would want a chillaxing time on a beach. Got just what we wanted.
If you're going to take the taxi from the cruise terminal, find another couple FIRST that's going to Mambo Beach. It's $20 per cab, so $10/couple is a great price. It's $3pp to enter the beach and $3.50pp for a chair at Chill Bar & Grill. Very, relaxing. Cab let us out at Mambo Beach, which was a little hectic. This beach bar is more towards the Aquarium side. No slides, inflatables, etc. in the water. Just a nice place to relax.
Again, the cab ride will take you through a lot of the island and give you a pretty good flavor of the island.
Port of Call: Aruba
Aruba has been a bucket list port of call for many years. It's now checked, and we were very happy with the experience.
We did a Carnival Shore Excursion here, that didn't start until 4:30p (ship docked at 1:30p), so we headed out first and checked out the town and shops in the port.
We ended up at The Paddock Bar, which had a great view of the harbor and our ship, plus cold beer. Menu looked OK, but we didn't sample. Would definitely recommend it if you're wanting to stay around the ship.
Went back to the ship terminal to pick up our shore excursion, the Kukoo Kunuku Party Bus, which was the #1 rated excursion. We really enjoyed it. Stopped at five different bars, a rum punch drink at each, and dinner and a drink at one. The drive from bar to bar was a hoot. Maracas for each passenger, music blaring and at most round abouts, we went 360 at possibly more than the proper speed. Bars were a little more for the "younger than us" age group, but the trips through the neighborhoods let us see quite a bit of the island. Would definitely recommend this excursion which was $89 per person.
Port of Call: La Romana (Dominican Republic)
The Port of Roatan had always been my least favorite port. Then, Carnival built "Mahogany Bay". Loved it. Instantly climbed into my top ten ports of calls.
When I heard that Carnival was going to build "Amber Cove" in the Domincan Republic, I was equally excited. It looked great. Unfortunately, the Vista called on La Romana, which is now down where Roatan once was.
Asking crew members (something you should ALWAYS do to get recommendations), word was to NOT take the bus downtown, but take the one to Altos De Chavon. $8 one way, so let's do it.
Awful. Nice bus ride through some golf course villas, but that's the end of it. Cobblestone, uneven walkways was a pain with a wheelchair. Everything was closed. Guy that was there in maintenance told me things don't usually open till 5p (back on ship was 4p). Was a neat ampitheatre, nice architecutre, a beautiful view of a river. Ends there.
If you're visiting La Romana, hop off, do a little shopping there in port, then enjoy your privacy on the ship.
Port of Call: Gran Turk
This was our third time to Gran Turk. It's a terrific private beach and pool party. We were looking for more, so we decided to rent a golf cart and see the rest of the island.
Prior to arriving, I reserved a golf cart from Karib Golf Carts. They had good ratings, and I found dealing with "Boogie" and his wife once we got there to be pleasant. The cart we rode had some "oomph", so that was a bonus.
(A note if you're going to go this way, you will reserve a cart for $45 via PayPal; you'll need $51 USD (the balance of the reservation and $6 for fuel costs) in cash once you get there.)
It's "just outside the gate", so it's a bit of a hike if you have someone in a chair. Take the chair, and they'll store it for you.
Renting a golf cart and buzzing around the place isn't for everyone, and it definitely isn't something I would recommend at certain ports of call. Having been to Gran Turk before, we felt pretty comfortable doing it.
Our first run was out to the lighthouse. $3 admission if you want to go in. Didn't seem like much, so we passed on it.
On the way out and the way back, we noticed they had stray, wild donkeys. Not something you see everywhere. Chickens, yes. Donkeys? Not so much.
We were told at the golf cart place to go to the big radio tower, which was the highest point on the island. We did that on the way back. The island is filled with beautiful homes, homes that have either been destroyed by storms or never finished, or homes that are a bit impoverished. We never felt "unsafe".
Met some people in golf carts at one of the stops and asked them where they stopped for lunch. They mentioned Conchy Joe's and Barbie's, which was also the two places that a tour guide at the light house mentioned. We went to Conchy Joe's and it was a bit of a let down. Two tour busses had just stopped there and they were pretty overwhelmed. Changed our minds and just tried to get two local beers which we accomplished. The view was very good.
Drove around a bit more, then headed back to the party at Margaritaville outside the ship. After a couple of Landsharks and a little shopping, we hopped back aboard the Carnival Vista and had lunch.
If you've visited Gran Turk more than once, I would recommend going the golf cart (over one of the tour busses for sure) route. However, now that we've done it, I probably wouldn't do it again. Opt for the beach.
Review of the Carnival Vista
The Carnival Vista is a terrific ship. Continues to build on the things Carnival does well, and improve some of the new implentations that have proven to be very popular on other ships.
Our stateroom was 7214. As you can see from the deck plans, it was one away from being the furthest forward on the port side. Incredibly smooth ride. Higher is better than lower, midship is the best, forward is better than aft. Still my recommendation.
We liked the improvements to the layout, specifically the location of the Sports Bar, Havana Bar, Punchliner Comedy Club, Club O2, Pixels Photos, and the Casino. The enlarging of the sushi bar, the iMax Theater, the enlarging of Guy's Pig and Anchor, the Havana "section" of rooms, and the layout of the Promenades on 4 & 5 were all very well done. The preshow line for the Punchliner was in the hallway and not snaking through the Piano Bar.
While the Red Frog Pub and the Cucina Del Capitano are still hidden treasures of the ship, pasta lunch in the Cucina Del Capitano is a pain with the basketball court right above you. Everybody raves about Guy's Burgers, for me, the Pig and Anchor is the true gem.
My wife was in a wheelchair, so we had a lot of interaction with the elevators. We didn't like that the forward elevators went to either deck 3 and up, as high as 11, as high as 12, or one that went to 15. Too much thinking and the three different controls didn't interact with each other. Too much thinking and pressing every controller just to go up or down a few floors. No question, we miss the atrium elevators with the glass looking over the atrium.
There were revolving doors at the Ocean Plaza that were motion operated that were fantastic for someone in a wheelchair, and also for those seated close to them. When the motion operation didn't work, though (like starting on day 3), it was the biggest pain in the world to go out there with someone in a wheelchair. Those things were heavy.
I wasn't crazy about the "hallway of hawkers" from the forward elevators to the pool on Lido. Spa, Art Gallery, Steakhouse, Photos, Future Cruise all had a table through there. I just wanted to go to eat or the pool. I didn't want to be constantly solicited.
My wife and I were split on the atrium on deck 3. We both agreed that the traffic pattern was better. I just didn't like the set up, she was OK with it.
The Liquid theater we both agreed was less than desirable. There wasn't much "pitch" to the rows, very flat. If you were in the upper bowl, unless you sat at a high top along the back, you were looking through plexiglass. While the middle seats were all modular letting the performers take advantage of a larger floor space, there was no place for your drinks. None. Even the permament seats in the lower bowl had a little, itty bitty piece of wood that wasn't level and was in the most inconvenient place to set a drink even if it wouldn't slide off. Really disappointing.
There was almost always at least a half hour wait for the Carnival SkyRide. You must wear closed toe shoes and it has a minimum height requirement of 54 inches and a weight limit of 300 pounds.
The Waterworks was out of this world. The Serenity Deck was much improved, although as with other ships, tough to get to and navigate if you're in a wheelchair.
We'll be excited to return to the Carnival Vista and are looking forward to the new Carnival Horizon.
Review of the New Features on Carnival Cruise Line
Just got back from a cruise aboard the Carnival Vista doing an 8 night sailing from Miami (calling on Gran Turk, La Romana, Aruba and Curacao) and thought I'd review a few of things that are new on Carnival Cruise Line.
As the Vista is considered the "flagship" of the fleet since she's the newest, these features might be just on her, or they might be implemented fleet wide.
First, we liked that our room steward not only met us on the first day, but gave us a business card with her name and direct number. Understand why, but we weren't crazy about them offering EITHER morning or evening room cleaning. Yes, we could (and chose) both.
We liked the Carnival Hub interactive app. It could do a little more (like be a little more interactive with the deck plans and your current location), but if you're familiar with the Carnival product, it's a welcome addition to having to carry around the torn off page of the Carnival Capers. The Hub is free, but must be connected to Carnival's on ship wi-fi. (On our iPhones, don't go to full airplane mode. Turn off cellular data, and leave on bluetooth and wi-fi.) We didn't use it, but if you're traveling with another couple, kids who have a smart phone, the $5 one time charge to text back and forth was very popular.
We did like the prepaid internet plan. We prepaid (and saved 15%) for the Value plan which more than satisfied our needs. I wore it out posting pics to Instagram. The internet is still slow (to do our business research, anyway), but 24/7 email was a big improvement for us over the old timed minutes plans. For only $4.63 more a day, I might try the premium plan next time to see HOW much faster (they claim up to 3x) the internet connection is.
They've finally arrived at a place we feel they should have been to a few years ago with regards to pictures. All digital. You can view them on your cabin TV, the Carnival Hub I referenced earlier, and at the Pixels store on the ship. Amusement parks have been doing this for years, but I'm glad CCL is catching up to the times. It wasn't exactly seamless. You give your room number to the photographer. Not sure on the first couple of days everyone knew their room number because we got a LOT of pictures in our feed that wasn't us. Apparently the system has some sort of facial recognition for those photos that get misplaced.
Not sure if it's something they're doing, but we saw the photographer on the first night at dinner, declined pictures and never saw her again. That's fine with us.
Another GREAT feature Carnival is offering is signing up for a time and a CCL photographer takes you around the ship for photos. Liked this idea. No obligation to buy, but all of your pics are put in a really nice booklet. Really beats the roll out backdrops.
Finally, the pools. We've always whined about parents who don't discipline, or are no where to be found, their kids in the pool. Very noticeable to us was a crew member with a white "Team Member" shirt watching at all the pools. They weren't afraid to be seen or say something. It was noticeable on the first day. I could see the eyes of the kids watching to see if the team member was paying attention. Made the pools a much calmer place for us old kids.