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Carnival Trip Report: Day 3 on The Fascination

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It’s day 3 of our Carnival trip report, coming to you live from the Fascination. This morning I had a hard time getting up at 5 a.m., but I hauled myself out of bed, because I didn’t want to miss sailing into Nassau. If you’ve ever sailed in or out of the port, you’ll understand why. Unlike some of the more industrial-feeling ports (I’m looking at you, Port Canaveral), the path ships follow into Nassau is picture perfect.

Instead of going to the gym, I decided to go for a jog on the track. Like on most cruise ships, the track isn’t very large: You have to do 12 laps to go a single mile! When the clouds began to change color, I made my way to the very front of the ship to take pictures of the sunrise.

Carnival trip report

We made our way into Nassau around 6:45 a.m. It was a busy day in Nassau, with five ships in port. Besides us, there was the Carnival Liberty, Carnival Elation, Disney Dream and Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas.

 

Carnival trip report

Ready to be jealous? While in port, I got off the Fascination to get on another Carnival ship, if only for a while. With the newly-renovated Carnival Elation right down the dock, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to board her long enough to do a little exploring and take photos, which I’ll be sharing with you guys down the line.  The fact that Elation will be sailing out of my homeport, Jacksonville, is awesome, as it means I’ll be able to jump on a ship with a Guy’s Burger Joint (dangerous), RedFrog Rum Bar and a BlueIguana Tequila Bar. The ship looks fantastic and even has that new-ship smell. (Is that a thing? I know people talk about new-car smell… )

Since I was on the Elation and it now has a Guy’s Burger Joint, I think we all know I had to swing by there for lunch. I may also have grabbed a taco… all in the name of research, of course. And I can happily tell you that both were up to snuff.

Carnival trip report

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I didn’t really do much in Nassau other than walk around and take photos of the ship. It was a beautiful day, but not beautiful enough for me to feel like diving into the sea of 20,000 tourists who’d gotten off those five ships I mentioned earlier.

The last time I was in Nassau, I went to Breezes Bahamas resort, and if I was traveling with someone on this trip, I probably would’ve gone somewhere like that. I’m not anti-Nassau like some people, but I do think the time is right for the area to undergo a facelift… which might go a long way toward changing the perception some cruisers have of this being a “skippable” port.

Carnival trip report

Back on board, it was a low-key sail away. People were mostly lounging by the pool or enjoying the water slide. We were the first of five ships to leave, with the Disney Dream right behind us.

Speaking of the Disney Dream, last weekend they hit the pier in Nassau, and it would appear that they just painted over the dent on the stern of the ship. Looking at it from the dock, it seems pretty clear that it’s gonna take a drydock to repair the damage. Obviously it could have been worse… they’re lucky they didn’t actually tear a gash into the hull of the ship!

Dinner was at 6 p.m.  and I made up for my calorie-heavy lunch by going healthier with the salmon and broccoli. That said, I’m seriously considering ordering off the steakhouse menu tomorrow night just to see what it’s really like. Fingers crossed they’ll have escargot (AKA snails) tomorrow night, too.

Carnival trip report

They had a nice loyalty party event after dinner, after which came the Love and Marriage show. Having seen that more than a few times, I opted to hit the casino. I spent a little time on the craps table and while I did okay, I’m pretty sure I’ll be returning to the roulette table tomorrow night, after our day in Freeport.

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NORWEGIAN GEM

Norwegian Gem Trip Report, Day 1

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My last few trips have been on board the Norwegian Breakaway, and I have a completely different embarkation process for that ship than the Norwegian Gem, which I’m sailing on this week. On the Breakaway, it’s important for me to be on the ship ASAP in order to get a pass for the Vibe Beach Club, which they only sell a limited number of. But the Gem doesn’t have that for-fee, adult’s-only area, so I wasn’t in a big hurry to get on board… which was a good thing, given that as of midnight the night before, I hadn’t finished packing! When finally I arrived at the pier in midtown Manhattan, it was around 11:30 a.m., and the place was a madhouse.

Welcome To The Good Life!

Fortunately, as a Casino At Seas cruiser, I was ushered to a dedicated line and was being check in about 15 minutes later. And that, my friends, is where the fun started. After checking my ID and tapping on her keyboard, the very friendly lady behind the counter said, “Mr. Simms, would you come with me please?”

Ruh-roh. “Am I in trouble?” I asked.

With a reassuring smile, she said, “I’m afraid I’m taking you to where all the naughty people go,” before escorting me to… the VIP lounge! It turns out that because I’m hosting the Meet & Greet on this sailing, I was being given the VIP treatment. One of the very nice ladies in the VIP Lounge explained that while many of the ships no longer offer this perk for meet-and-greet planners, the Gem generally does. This meant that I got to hang in the priority lounge (where they have snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, and where friends of mine who were on this same sailing were already sitting, as they were staying in the Haven). I also was one of the first people on board. In the lounge, they had my keycard as well as my Casino At Seas info, so I was all set to go!

Ready, Set… Eat!

Before they’d even announced that embarkation was beginning, the VIP folks — including little ol’ me — were being escorted on board. The second we were on the ship, we headed straight to Norwegian’s signature steakhouse, Cagney’s. This is another perk that comes with being a Haven guest (or, in my case, a very lucky person): Rather than fight the crowds at the buffet or even enjoying a sit-down meal in the main dining room upon boarding, we had lunch at the steakhouse. Joining my friends Dianne and Aldo, we had a delicious lunch (I went with the French Dip and, of course, the infamous Cagney fries), as well as my first cocktail of the trip.

 

We were off to an excellent start. (And as it turned out, my VIP status would allow me to have breakfast each morning in Moderno and lunch in Cagney’s, if I so desired. This turned out to be a pretty awesome perk which I took advantage of on a regular basis over the coming days!) 

After lunch, I wandered down to my room, which was on the 8th deck, forward and was what they call a “cove” balcony. For those who don’t know, cove balconies are basically partially enclosed. Some dislike them because they cut off the view on the sides, but I loved it as it offers additional privacy and a lot of protection from the wind. Having my priorities straight, I decided to test the bed. A two-hour nap proved that it was pretty darn comfortable.

A cove balcony gives your view a frame while cutting down on the wind.

After the muster drill, which was pretty standard, I went back for another nap. Turns out, planning a cruise is tiring work! Around 5:30 p.m., I headed to Dianne and Aldo’s aft-facing balcony for sailaway, chatting with friends they’d cruised with before as we had a few drinks and a lot of laughs. While my past trips out of New York City tended to depart around 4 p.m., this sailing on the Gem didn’t depart until 6 p.m. And if sailing out of New York City in the afternoon is a great experience, doing so after dark is indescribable. Sure, it being February, it was cold as heck on the balcony, but that didn’t stop me from going out there to grab a few pictures and enjoy the moment. 

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Wandering the ship a bit, I wound up grabbing a drink at O’Sheehan’s and listening to the live music drifting up from the atrium. Over the course of this first evening, I heard snippets of Ariel the piano player/singer and a jazz band, and I looked forward to hearing more from both. Deciding I needed to unpack, I went back to my room and encountered my room steward, Alvin. 

The Guy You Want Taking Care Of You!

Sometimes, you wind up barely interacting with your room steward, while on other trips, you feel like you’ve found a new best friend. I immediately bonded with Alvin, who explained that his wife was also working on board (as a server in one of the restaurants). Alvin is everything Norwegian could possibly want from an employee. Not only is he friendly and helpful, but he explained that no matter what ship he’s working on, he makes a point of getting to know its layout very well from Day 1. Why? “The housekeeping staff,” he explained, “are the people guests interact with the most. They see us every day. And not just their own cabin attendant, but they encounter us in the hallways and are constantly asking where things are. I think it’s part of my job to be able to tell them, no matter what they are looking for.”

I had an 8 p.m. reservation at Cagney’s for dinner, but decided to blow it off. Instead, I wandered down to Magnums, one of the bars, where there was a great band playing. Because I swore to myself that I’d try the drink of the day every day, no matter what it is, I ordered it blindly. Turned out it was something called the Daydreamer’s Daiquiri and, while not something I’d normally drink, it was pretty tasty.

The drink of the day was great. The napkin — which reads ”It doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty. There is room in the glass for more wine.” — is awesome.

 

Diamonds Are A Guy’s Best Friend

Since the casino was right next to Magnums, I wandered in and wound up playing for a while… especially once I saw that they had the Lock & Link Diamonds game I’d wanted to play on Breakaway, but could never get near because it was so popular. (If you’ve passed through a casino and seen the game where red, diamond-lines heart link together, that’s the one!) 

When I gamble, I have a little rule: If I put in, say, $20 and get it up to $50, I cash out and put fresh money in. The ticket goes into the safe in my room and at the end of the week, I cash them out so I go home with at least something. I’m one of those people who says, “If I come on board with $500, and leave with $100… I won!” After playing for a while, I cashed out my winnings and stuck a $65 ticket into the safe. If nothing else, I’d be going home with that!

Deciding it was probably a good idea to grab something to eat, I headed to Orchid Garden, the complimentary restaurant that serves a limited but really delicious selection of Asian foods. I had the fried pot stickers, salt-and-pepper calamari, Kung Pao chicken and a fried rice with pork, chicken and shrimp. It sounds like more food than it is… or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself. It was all good (although the chicken was maybe a little tough), and the service was top-notch.

Kung Pao chicken and fried rice at Orchid Garden.

After doing a little more gambling (which did not see any tickets added to my collection, sadly), I decided to call it an early night. I’d be hosting the meet-and-greet the next day, and I wanted to be peppy. (Anyone who knows me will tell you “peppy” is definitely not my default setting, but I was gonna try!)

DRINK OF THE DAY: Daydreamer’s Daquiri
HIGH POINT: Bumped-up to the VIP Lounge
LOW POINT: Baby, it’s cold outside!

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CARNIVAL MAGIC

Trip Report: Carnival Magic Debarkation Day

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If you’ve been reading my daily Carnival Magic trip reports, you’ll remember that last night before hitting the sack, I ordered room service. I placed my order at 11:00 p.m. and it arrived at 11:50 p.m. and while it wasn’t the quickest of deliveries, it sure hit the spot. I also didn’t mind waiting for the food because this was the final night and that meant that once I ate and went to sleep, it would be time to wake up and get off the ship. On the other hand, I really probably shouldn’t have had a food orgy right before going to bed.

Last Night’s Room Service

So how was everything? The chicken wings ($5) were good and not too spicy, although they would’ve been better served hot. They were lukewarm at best.

The chicken quesadilla ($5) was also good (although it didn’t have much kick to it), and it was served with sides of guacamole and salsa.

And then there was the doughnut sandwich ($3). To be honest, I thought it was going to be something completely different from what it turned out to be. I was picturing meat in the middle of it, although in hindsight, that would probably have been weird… especially for something listed on the dessert menu! Instead, it was a strawberry glazed doughnut cut in half and stuffed with sliced strawberries, chocolate, and vanilla ice cream, served with a side of strawberry glaze.  I wound up licking the icing off and eating the strawberries but didn’t actually eat the doughnut.

When you order room service on Carnival, the receipt gives you the option of adding a tip, which comes in handy if you don’t happen to have a couple bucks to slip the delivery person. I considered only tipping a buck since it took quite a while for the food to arrive, but I know how hard these guys work and how understaffed their departments can sometimes be. Plus, I always feel like you kind of have to be generous with the people who are literally bringing food directly to your door.

This morning I woke up just as we were pulling into port. We wound up docking next to the Disney Fantasy and Norwegian Epic. By the next time I looked out the window, the Carnival Sunshine had also arrived. And that was when it hit me… the cruise was over. No more Fun Days at Sea. No more awesome excursions, nothing. Pretty much the only thing I had to look forward to was the fact that before leaving home, I’d made my bed.

When it comes to embarkation, you can either do self-assist (meaning you can walk off with all your bags and as the name implies, no assistance from the staff) or have them pick up your bags the night before and you reunite with them once off the ship. I almost always opt for self-assist and this was no different… although I wasn’t about to leave the ship without grabbing one last breakfast.

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Heading To Breakfast

My long-standing ritual is to hit the main dining room before disembarking, if only so I can take advantage of one final opportunity to have someone else make and present me with breakfast. So when the dining room opened at 6:30 a.m. — an hour before self-assist debarkation was set to begin — I was pretty much the first one in line. (On my way to breakfast, I noticed my room steward in the hallway and told him if he wanted to go in and strip the cabin, I was done in there. Sure enough, by the time I returned to pick up my bag, he’d done his thing. It’s incredible how quickly they are able to turn the ship over for the next group of passengers, isn’t it?)

See Carnival Magic Deck Plans 

I strayed from my usual cracked egg sandwich off the port day menu, instead going with salmon on a bagel and a cup of coffee. One thing I forgot to do on this cruise was use the free drink coupon they offer returning guests. I don’t even know if you can use it on debarkation morning, but I wasn’t going to try since I’d be driving in less than an hour.

Breakfast service was fast. It’s funny how on top of their game the wait staff is on debarkation morning, because they know it’s all about the turn-and-burn. By 11 a.m., they need to have the dining room ready for the 4,000 guests anxious to start their vacations!

After breakfast, I ran up to my stateroom on deck six to grab my bag and headed downstairs. Props to the debarkation team, because it was flawless. I carried my luggage down to deck three and joined the quickly-moving line. A quick swipe of my sail and sign card and I was making my way down to the customs area. Just that quickly, my sail-and-sign card went from my all-access pass to a very expensive souvenir.

We didn’t need to fill out a blue customs form, so all we needed was our passport and luggage when we got to the customs agent. A few questions later, and you’re on your way.

In total, it took me 26 minutes to get off the ship and to my car. The parking situation has changed since last I sailed out of Port Canaveral. At that time — last fall —  I prepaid for parking at the gate before I was allowed into the lot. They have reversed the process now, so you have to wait until after your cruise before paying. Frankly, that seems like a bad idea. Do they realize that ships have casinos and bars and all sorts of other places in which a passenger could really easily spend all their money? Get that cash up front, rather than risk them coming off with empty pockets. Parking for a seven-night cruise was $136.

More To Come

While there’s a lot more Carnival Magic coverage coming — including interviews I conducted over the past week, answers to some of your burning questions, additional reviews and more. But for now, this is where I say goodbye and thank you for joining me, if only vicariously, on this journey.  I also want to send a shout-out and a “thank you” to Carnival’s brand ambassador John Heald, comedian Al Ernst and the folks who so graciously put up with me as I tagged along on John Heald’s FFS Cruise.

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CARNIVAL MAGIC

Trip Report: Carnival Magic Heads Home

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Well, it’s our last day on the Carnival Magic and, as it happens, it’s what Carnival calls a Fun Day at Sea. Wanting to make sure I didn’t sleep this whole day away, I went to bed with the curtains open so that the sun would serve as my alarm clock. As a result, I woke up around 8 a.m., just in time to head for one of my favorite meals: the Sea Day Brunch. During the week’s previous sea day’s, I’d missed the brunches because I was attending events hosted by John Heald. So this was my big chance to dive in and make up for it.

Aboard the Magic, brunch is held on the first floor of the Southern Lights dining room toward the aft of the ship. While there was a line when I arrived, it moved pretty quickly. Once seated, I went with the flaming tomato soup as a starter and the steak-and-eggs main course. Although the banana cream pie (and possibly the cheesecake) were calling my name, I decided that, given how much I’ve eaten this week — and how many more opportunities to do so were still ahead —  I should skip dessert.

Brunch was only barely over when I began facing the next great food conundrum: What would I have for lunch? (As you can see, I spend a lot of time on ships dealing with self-created food-centric crises.) Did I want a Guy’s Burger? Maybe something from Mongolian Wok? Oh, and what about the always delicious BlueIguana Cantina? While each of these options was viable, I think any longtime reader knows that in the end, BBQ was going to win out.

Time For Another Meal

 

Because the Welcome Back party — Carnival’s way of thanking platinum and diamond-level cruisers for their loyalty — was at 11:45 a.m.,  I wanted to be the first in line at Guy’s Pig & Anchor so I could eat my food and get to the theater for the big event. As it happens, there were only a few people in line at Guy’s, so I needn’t have worry. I can only assume that either everyone was upstairs chowing down on one of the food options I’d rejected, or maybe they’d eaten so much this week that they were easing into the afternoon/evening. Either way, it worked out well for me, because there was virtually no line at all.

Fun fact: Although deck five wraps around the whole ship, no one ever hangs out at the very back. Occasionally you’ll see a jogger go by, but during the day the only time people are really on deck five is if they’re enjoying the hot tubs, sitting outside the RedFrog Pub or Ocean Plaza, or in line for Guy’s Pig & Anchor. So this is a great place to spend a little time if you’re looking to escape the more crowded areas of the ship… or just hide out from the loved ones you need a break from.

Welcome, Welcome

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At the Welcome Back reception, I learned a couple of things. The most important: You don’t have to drink the Fun Ship special, or the red and white wine offered. You can basically order two of whatever it is you prefer to drink. Armed with this new (and extremely valuable) information, I ordered a Tito’s and vodka (and then another!). I suspect the servers actually prefer people opting to order at the bar, as it means they aren’t mobbed every time they walk in with a tray filled with glasses! They also had various appetizers at the party, including sushi, shrimp tarts and pork sliders. All of it was amazing… and yes, I tried it all.

Next up was a 2 p.m. interview I had scheduled with comedian Al Ernst. We got together in the piano bar, thinking it would probably be empty. But there were a few too many people hanging out there, so we went to the back lounge. What I thought would be a quick interview turned into a 45-minute chat during which Al told a lot of great stories and answered some questions from listeners. Look for the interview to be posted soon.

At 3 p.m. was afternoon tea time and I thought that I would be able to make it but by the time I did, people were leaving. I did get there just in time to hear to a guy freak out because he was, as he obnoxiously and repeatedly pointed out, a diamond-level cruiser and yet could not pick his own table. He vowed to write “a strongly-worded letter.” Good luck with that, sir.

Wanting to pack since we’d be getting off the ship tomorrow, I headed back to my room, where I quickly came to a few conclusions. The first? I packed way too much. The second? Despite my having packed more than I could possibly have needed, my stateroom easily accommodated all of it. There was plenty of storage space. Yes, I was traveling solo, but there was a ton of storage space. Also, I realized that I never once turned on the television. Actually, strike that… I did turn it on once, but only to check out our location on the navigational map.

John Heald’s Farewell Party was very similar to the Welcome Aboard Party held a few days earlier… although this time there was a group photo taken, and they announced that next year’s John Heald FFS Cruise will be held on the Carnival Breeze on February 9, 2019.

Food, Food & More Food

I headed to the main dining room for dinner or — as we dubbed it at our table — The Last Supper. I went with the salmon, although to be fair, calling it a final meal wasn’t exactly fair. Why? Well, after the show I went to catch Al Ernst’s show and, after doing a bit more wandering around, went to my room. But if you think once there I called it an early night, you’d be mistaken because I decided there was time — and room — for at least a little bit more food. Dialing up room service, I ordered a donut sandwich ($3), wings ($5), and a quesadilla ($5). Stuffed to the gills, I headed down to the casino to cash out my (not-so-big) winnings before heading to bed for one last peaceful slumber. I’ll show you the room service tomorrow, I really need to finish packing!

Until tomorrow’s dreaded d-word (disembarkation), good-night.

 

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