1. The Crew on the Carnival Elation
When we boarded the Elation after sailing on the Voyager of the Seas for a week, we were slightly let down. It's not that the ship isn't nice, it's that it is so much smaller and less impressive than what we had become accustomed to. Our room had an 80's feel to it, the decor seemed somewhat over the top and garish, and we were afraid that perhaps we had outgrown Carnival. Then we met the crew. First, we encountered the sensational bartender, John from the Phillipines who remembered our first and last names, just from us buying the Coke card. From that point on, we had a friend on board who always remembered our drinks and took the time to talk with us. We had great experiences with guest services who always took care of our questions quickly and efficiently, while providing a personal touch and debated the pros and cons of the Kindle Fire vs the iPad with me (there were no other guests in line). Our dining room waiter, John from India, never got an order wrong and went over and above to make sure we had a great time from really selling out on the dances to chatting with us and a million other little things that make a great server. The entertainment staff made sure we had a blast, and took great care of James when he ended up in a production show (more about that later). By the end of the cruise, we were certain that not only had we NOT outgrown Carnival, but it was probably our favorite cruise line. The crew is a large part of the reason.
I've never been much of a beach person, but after practically being in a Corona commercial, I have to admit that for a relaxing vacation, it is hard to beat the calm, clear waters of the Caribbean. I read more books than I have ever read on a vacation. I sat around and chatted with strangers who became friends more than anywhere else. I've always touted a cruise vacation as the best for relaxation, but I think that you can take that even further with a Caribbean cruise vacation. Less to do does not mean boring...
While the ship's food was fine, the best food we had was on shore in Mexico and Jamaica. Most of it was so good that I chowed down before getting pictures (I'm sorry!). There is certainly something to be said for excellent, authentic versions of favorites like tacos, grilled shrimp, quesadillas, jerk chicken, salsa, beans and rice, flan... oh the list goes on. If you are in the Caribbean, don't forget to eat. Sure, you pay a little extra because it isn't covered by the cruise, but it is sooo worth it. And folks, Margaritaville doesn't count.
In my humble opinion, there is no better way to experience the Caribbean than from the shade of an umbrella at an all-inclusive resort. Your food and drinks are included and usually come to you in your comfy chair. You can swim... or not. You can read... or not. The two resorts we discovered on this trip were very different from each other, but each were totally satisfying and worth the money. Pictured above is the lazy river at Hilton Rose Hall in Jamaica, bookable through jamaicaforaday.com and the "Corona" picture further up in the blog is from Nachi Cocom in Cozumel. I highly recommend both, and hope to return in the future.
On our Carnival cruise, something really cool happened. We met some amazing people that quickly became great friends. I know, you are thinking, well, we always meet great people on cruises and enjoy that. What makes this so special? Honestly, I am not sure. But, for some reason we four couples clicked and ended up on excursions together, and spent almost the entire last 2 days of the cruise together. I have never met people that I wanted to be part of my vacation as much as these people, and the fact that the feeling was reciprocal and that they wanted to hang with all of us as well is truly rare. Our honeymoon couple (on the far right) even said that they are hesitant to cruise again because they are afraid it won't be as good regarding table mates and friends on the ship. Truthfully Kyle, it isn't always as good, but you have to keep cruising in hopes that it might be like that again. Thank you Carnival for seating like people together at dinner. Thank you John, our server, for letting us be as crazy as we were. And most of all, thank you Joe, Sally, Matt, Lisa, Kyle and Robyn for making this cruise the best. I hope we get to cruise together again in the future.
Well, that is it. We have many, many more things to share about the cruises, ports and ships, but these are the things that will have set these cruises apart for me when I think back in the future. Stay tuned for much more, including how James ended up doing an Elvis dance in a show.