Tag Archives: Shore Excursions

Carnival Cruise Review – Boston to Canada, July 7-12, 2012

23 Feb

Although this is a Boston to Bermuda Cruise Blog, I think it’s relevant to post this review of a cruise from Boston to Canada. A lot of readers are from the New England area, and I’d like to promote Cruiseport Boston as much as I can because it is so wonderful to have the opportunity to cruise so close to home. One of the other cruises you can take out of Boston (during 2012 and 2013)  is a Carnival Cruise to Canada. It is my hope that Carnival and NCL will continue to make Boston a home port, but only time will tell. Here is my review:

PREFACE:
What a pleasant surprise! I had low expectations for this cruise. This was a last minute getaway for me, and since I live less than an hour from Boston, I figured it was worth a chance. Over the years, I’ve heard about Carnival’s party ship atmosphere and was prepared to be surrounded by unruly 20-somethings and disinterested staff. I am happy to report my first Carnival Cruise was fun, relaxing, elegant, and unassuming all at the same time.  It will be my first of many more Carnival cruises.

ABOUT ME:
I’m a woman in my 30’s and this is my 7th cruise, but my first on Carnival. For this cruise I travelled with my dad, but we each had our own interior cabin. I’ve been on 4 NCL cruises, 1 Celebrity, and 1 Renaissance (now Oceania) cruise.

EMBARKATION:  5 out of 5 Stars
Cruiseport Boston is very organized and hassle-free. We arrived at 10:05AM and were on the ship having lunch an hour later. For more details please read the “DAY 1” section below. Noteworthy – we received an email warning us not to arrive until 1:30PM, but I went early anyway.

STATEROOM: 5 out of 5 Stars
I had room 7247 an interior room that was in the forward section of the ship. The rooms were ready promptly at 1:30PM. Impeccably clean, and everything looks brand new. Nicest standard interior room I’ve seen yet (not including the Studio Rooms on the Epic). My Steward, Rodel, cheerfully introduced himself and would have a warm smile and sincere greeting every time I saw him throughout the cruise. At 3PM, I noticed that the luggage had arrived. It may have gotten there even earlier, but I was not in the room at the time. The bed was firm, but comfortable and the shower had an endless supply of hot water with good water pressure. There were even samples of shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste in a bowl on the sink.

FOOD: 5 out of 5 Stars
Outstanding! The best food out of all my past cruises. I ate dinner strictly in the main dining room. The service, the quality, and the presentation were excellent. There was a small snafu with my seating arrangement that I felt could have been handled better by one member of the crew, Andrea. My father and I signed up for the “Your Time Dining.” However, only he got it, and somehow I was assigned to the late seating. I went to speak to the dining staff to ask if I could be switched to “Your Time” so my father and I could dine together. The answer was no. So I asked, “Well perhaps I can be my father’s guest and sit with him because he will be alone at a table for two?” The woman, Andrea, said very abruptly and sternly, “No, the ship is sold out.  He will have to sit alone and you have to eat when and where you are told.” But two hours later, when dinner time came, I showed up with my father at his “Your Time Dining” and no one stopped me from sitting with him.

OVERALL SHIP APPEARANCE: 4 out of 5 Stars
The lobby area feels closed in. It is dark and small. Although, it still is enjoyable. It is distinctly different than any other ship I’ve been on, and that adds to its charm. Getting to the Platinum main dining room and to the Internet Cafe can be challenging as there is only limited Aft access on the mid/lower levels. Ask the crew or bring a map and within a day you’ll be all set. The Serenity Adults Only deck is worth its weight in gold. The hammocks are Heaven on Earth. There are only 4 so try to get there very early or during dinner hours if you want to enjoy them without fighting over them.

ENTERTAINMENT: 3 out of 5 Stars
Carnival fell short in the entertainment area. Of course, this is subjective.  The theatre was beautiful, but the Broadway-type shows were ordinary. The costuming was PG13 – a bit risque for a family show. The only show that was better than average was the Illusionist. He was very good. The poolside enterainment was disappointing. There was a Caribbean duo (signer and keyboarist) that played occasionally. They seemed rather disinterested and did not engage the crowd. There was no poolside DJ.

DETAILED DAY-BY-DAY REVIEW:

DAY 1 – July 7, 2012 – Embarkation Day
We arrived to Cruiseport Boston at 10:05 arrived at pier, and there were several porters standing by to take luggage. I noticed that there were other passengers getting off the ship. It appeared to be an equal number of people arriving as there were passengers departing from the previous cruise.

10:15 returned from parking car in lot. Shuttled by bus. Unloaded a bus full of departing passengers. However was the only one on the bus going by go pier.

10:30 Completed security scan and check in. Very friendly and cheerful employees stationed along the way. Check in was very quick. Issued key card then were ushered over to sit down and wait. We were assigned to Zone 2. We were told that VIP, special needs, and Zone 1 would go first. There were about 50 people in the waiting area. Peggy was overseeing things and kept reminding us all to have card ready for boarding. She was very cheerful and kept us up to date.

11AM – Boarding begins. VIP and special needs were first. Then zone 1 and 2 followed a minute or so afterward

11:05AM – On board and running around the ship, and had lunch from the buffet on Deck 9.

Muster drill – Hot and crowded. This was the least pleasant of all the muster drills I’ve been on. It was out on the deck and everyone was squished together. It also took a lot longer than the musters I’m used to. Thankfully no life jackets were required..

Dinner – Chicken a la grecque, cream of tomato soup, and warm chocolate melting cake. By far THE best dinner on a cruise that I have ever had. The service, the presentation, the taste – all were impeccable.

Second Impression – This has the potential to be one of the best cruises I’ve ever been on. With the exception of that one woman.

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Day 2 – Sea Day
7AM – Shower was great. Good water pressure, nice and hot. Went up to Serenity Deck relaxed in hammock. It was a wonderful meditative experience.

Breakfast 8AM – It was open seating in the Platinum Dining Room, and we were seated with 4 other people. At first I was annoyed. I’ve never liked the idea of sitting with strangers, but they turned out to be nice company. Carnival may turn me into a traditional cruiser after all. We’ll see. If all of a sudden I start enjoying formal night then they have succeeded. Food review – cheese omelet and corn beef hash. Delicious. Service was slow. Took 15 minutes for food to arrive.

Chair Hogs – Carnival is not immune. At 7AM chairs were already reserved. However, there were still plenty of unoccupied chairs at 9:30.

Day 2 Lunch – Open seating Platinum. Fair bordering on poor. Steak cooked rare and waiter never came back to check on us. Mixed field greens salad was iceberg lettuce and pale tomatoes. One of our soups arrived 5 minutes after the other’s.

Food and Wine Pairing Event – At the Emerald Restaurant. Nice to spend an hour there. Sample steak and salmon – DELISH! Very informative. $15.

Day 2 – High Tea. Not bad. Not great. Bigelow bagged tea. Vanilla scones, chocolate torte, chocolate fruit with glaze, lemon cake, and chocolate scone. The High Tea I went on during my last Celebrity cruise put this one on Carnival to shame. However, there was a cover charge for the one on Celebrity, so it should be better.

Cruise Critic Meet and Greet – informal no officers came and no refreshments were served. It lasted 30 minutes. We didn’t really hit it off, and I never ended up seeing those people again.

Elegant Night – not as strict as I thought. Some people were in tuxedos and evening gowns, but most were country club casual – sundress and heels for the ladies, and for the men a nice shirt and tie. Dinner was Maine lobster tail, shrimp, and mashed potatoes. Delicious. Service was very good but not as outstanding as the night before.

Show 8:15 – Rated PG13 due to thongs. Should say g-string. Don’t understand why the dancers had to have bare bottoms. Why not bikini bottoms? Also very loud. It was a patriotic, American-themed show.

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Day 3 – Saint Johns
Breakfast – omelet and corn beef. Delicious. Excellent service – quick and waiter was cheerful and funny

Reminds me of Duluth, MN – hills, old shipping city, delightfully friendly residents, proud of their city although it is a bit dilapidated and depressed. However, it has a charm of its own.

Excursion Top 10 – Exceeded expectation. Disembarkation was quick and we received the warmest and most sincere welcome out of any port I’ve ever been to. Roses and lapel pins with NO expectation to tip – jars or baskets were not present. Tradition goes back to 1989 when first cruise ship arrived because Boston-Bermuda was diverted at the last minute, and mayor wanted a grand welcoming. Now the port welcomes 77 ships this year. Guide – Doreen (retired elementary teacher) and the Driver was John. We stopped at:

  1. Reversing Falls – Beautiful to look at and fascinating how they change direction everyday with the tide.
  2. Saint Johns City Market – A fun, indoor market. It’s like a small Quincy Market in Boston.
  3. Dome-Fortress-Lookout tower
  4. Garden with wooden sculptures
  5. St. Martin Sea Caves
  6. St. Martin Covered Bridges and fishing village
  7. Watched the tide changes
  8. Learned how to do a Moose Call
  9. Museum
  10. Reversing rapids again

Lunch – while on excursion. A bit of a fiasco. There were 100’s of people there. 3 bus loads plus 2 dozen cars and unknown number of taxis.  Stood in line for 10 minutes. Ordered 2 fish and chips for $11 – great price. Waited 20 minutes for it to arrive. We only had 40 minutes and that included seeing the caves. Luckily we were the 1st in line. This stop was extended by 10 minutes. However the next stop was shortened and we were late for the bus, lol. Food was the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. Been to England twice and I live in New England with Legal Seafood less than an hour away as well as the Cape and the Coast of Maine, so I am a bit snobby about my fish and chips. So, yeah, it means a LOT when I say it’s the best I’ve ever had.

Dinner – Delicious. 5 out of 5 stars. Penne with scallops, mussels, shrimp, and calamari with tomato cream sauce.

Show – Justin Illusion – excellent. Goth-type illusion and dance show.

Late Night Room Service – 45 min wait but was really only 20. Grilled cheese 4 out of 5 stars.

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Day 4 – Halifax, Nova Scotia
Excursion – 10 Best
Overall – It was excellent and the sites were wonderful.

  1. Public Gardens – pretty
  2. Drive around city – Cunard House, Universities, hospitals, churches
  3. Citadel – Witnessed the cannon fire at noon. Boy was it LOUD!!
  4. Waterfront – Charming. Typical Northern Atlantic seaport. Shops inside historic buildings filled with all the lobster-themed, salt water taffy, and maple sugar souvenirs.
  5. Bridge
  6. Site of the Halifax Explosion – a deadly maritime explosion
  7. Fairview Cemetery – One of the Titanic burial grounds. Nicely maintained memorial to the dead. The Nova Scotians are very dedicated to preserving the victims’ memories.
  8. Peggy’s Cove – Absolutely stunning. Words cannot adequately describe the beautiful of the tiny seaside village. Lighthouse, expansive rocks to climb on, cute shops, friendly locals.
  9. Plane crash site – Swissair Flight 111
  10. Acadia Shop – Maple syrup gifts. Nice is you’re not from the North East. If you are from MA, NH, VT, ME then save your money for something else. Nice, clean bathrooms, though.

Dinner – very good as I’ve come to expect. Seafood again and Warm Chocolate Melting Cake.

Movie by the Pool – every night they play a movie on the giant screen by the pool. They have plenty of warm blankets and freshly popped popcorn. There is a movie at 8 and another at 10. What a great way to end the night.

Helicopter – Tonight something unusual happened. At about 7:55PM ship time, right as the sun began to set, a helicopter began circling the starboard side of the ship then went around aft and back up the portside of the ship. We had left port about 2 hours earlier and the shoreline was just barely visible in the horizon. There was another ship off in the distance, but other than that we were alone in the water. I also noticed that the ship slowed down signifantly and two security guards were patrolling the outisde decks. This continued on for 45 minutes until it was pitch black darkness. The other passengers didn’t seem to notice. A few kids ran over to the railing to wave, a few adults stopped to take a photo, but only about 2 of us stayed to watch what was going on. During this 45 minute period where the sun was setting the helicopter would come down low and hover above a spot for a minute then go back up and begin circling again.

During this time to cruise director, Josh, came over the intercom to make his usual cheerful evening announcements, and the crew and passengers carried on as if the helicopter and its search-grid flying pattern did not exist.

I worry that they were looking for someone in the water. I did not notice any rescue boats in the water, but then again I did not explore the stern or the port side very thoroughly. I spent most of the time observing from the starboard side.

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Day 5 – Sea Day
Weather was cold in the morning, and the chair hogs present anyway. I took a chair that was empty. A woman nearby said it was for someone else that is coming so I said, “Fine I’ll use it until then.”  She was angry about it, but oh well. Guess what? No one ever arrived and about 15 minutes later, she left. We enjoyed a relaxing day at sea and prepared to go home the next day.

Final Dinner – It was wonderful, but an alarming thing happened right in the middle of dessert. All of a sudden the lights went out and the crew took out flashlights from their pockets. A bunch of us gasped, one woman burst into tears, and I was ready to grab a life vest. Keep in mind this was not too long after the Costa Concordia accident. However… The waiters and waitresses began to dance and sing and use their flashlights as spotlights. It was their farewell to us, only most of us had never been on a Carnival cruise so we didn’t know that was going to happen.

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Disembarkation
We had an early breakfast then got ready to go. Was easy and quick. We walked off with our luggage when our floor was called.

Cruising to Bermuda on the NCL Dawn from Boston

15 Jul

My husband and I have been on NCL’s Boston to Bermuda cruise several times on both the Spirit and the Dawn. We’d like to share some advice from our past experience. Remember the golden rule of cruising – you have to try very hard to have a bad cruise. It’s a given, no matter what cruiseline you’re on, occasionally there will certain be things that annoy you  – such as rude passengers, bad weather, a meal that doesn’t suit your liking, or not being able to find a chair by the pool – but you, and only you, are in control of whether or not it ruins your vacation. There is truth in the old adage that ‘a bad day at sea is better than a good day at work!’ So without further ado, here are my suggestions for a fun, trouble-free cruise to Bermuda:

  • Arrive Early – to the Black Falcon Terminal in Boston. Any later than 11:30 mean long lines to board. We usually arrive between 10:30-11.
  • Staterooms and Luggage – Rooms are usually never ready until 2pm and luggage is rarely delivered until late afternoon, so keep anything you cannot live without for a few hours with you. I’m terribly neurotic about this and bring a backpack filled with all medications, jewelery, valuable electronics, and at least one change of clothes. Of course I’m stuck lugging it around with me all afternoon, but it gives me piece of mind, lol.
  • Staying in Touch – It can be very costly to keep in touch with family back home. Cell phones work but there are hefty roaming charges while on the ship and on the island (for example, with ATT it’s $2.50/min depending on the plan you have). The ship has Internet access. You pay by the minute to use the ship’s computers or to access their wifi with your own device. The web is very slow (it’s almost like the old dial-up days, lol) because it’s using a satellite connection. If you’re going to be using it frequently, you might want to buy one of the packages they sell on board. Be careful if you have a smartphone because they are always fetching data from apps even when no messages are coming through. I keep my phone in flight-mode which means the radio signal is off so that calls, emails, and messages from Facebook, Google+ and Twitter don’t make their way through, but I can still access my music, ebooks, and camera. While on the island, if you plan to make local calls, it’s cheapest to use a pay phone (bring some quarters), and if you plan to call home frequently check with your cell phone provider about an international roaming package. Bermuda installed island-wide wifi hotspots in 2013. You can get more info on their packages on the TBI website. You can buy the internet cards once you get off the ship at Island Outfitters which is next to The Bone Fish Bar and Grill. It’s hard to miss.
  • Breakfast – We start the day off by ordering a carafe of coffee for room service (use order form and leave it on your doorknob before you go to bed the night before) and then leisurely get ready to go to The Venetian main dining room for breakfast. There can be some ridiculously long lines at the buffet for breakfast – especially later in the morning.
  • Lunch – My favorite place is to go to the Bimini Bar above the pool for a quick burger and a ‘drink of the day’ then lounge around and listen to the band play.
  • Dinner – If you want a reservation at Teppanyaki or Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse, make a reservation as soon as you embark in Boston – these restaurants fill up quickly. We usually stick to the main dining rooms and go around 5:45 so we can beat the crowd and get a table by the window. We’ll skip dessert and get something up at buffet later in the night.
  • On Board Activities – I love to go to the wine tastings and the martini tastings. They’re well worth the $15 charge. They give you decent sized samples and they are very informative. While I’m off doing that, my husband likes to go to the casino. There’s also bingo, scrapbooking workshops, quiet time in the library, Broadway-quality shows, night clubs, gem stone seminars, live music playing at various places around the ship, and many other activities to keep you busy. The ship has a decent gym. It’s got ellipticals, treadmills, one rowing machine, free weights (up to at least 60lbs if I remember correctly), benches include – incline, decline, and flat,  machines include – lat pulldown, leg curl, leg press, chest press, abs, triceps, biceps, shoulder press. There is a room for TRX, mats, and a few bands and balls. There are no barbells so forget about squats, bench press, and deadlifts for the week. I also did not see any kettlebells.
  • Portraits – Some say the portraits taken on the ship are expensive, but I think they’re worth it. Usually there is a sale where you buy x-amount of prints and get one free. For us it’s the only time we get to have our photo taken together. Keep your eye on the daily newsletter for photo sessions offered throughout the ship.
  • First Day in Bermuda (Sunday) – The ship arrives on Sunday and many things in Bermuda are closed, but the beaches are open. We usually hop on the bus to Horseshoe Bay and spend the day there then catch the bus back in the late afternoon. The buses have a different schedule on Sundays so be sure you know when the last bus leaves so you’re not suck with a $40 cab ride back to the boat. In the evening we like to go to The Bone Fish Bar and Grill to listen to Randy Lambert play Spanish guitar. He’s known as the Bermudian Jimi Hendrix and he’s an amazing musician. Our friend Livio owns The Bone Fish – so be sure to tell him Lorinda and Carlos sent you. Also say hi to our friends behind the bar – Phillip, Matteo, and Gary, and the wonderful staff including Luca and Bernard.
  • Buses and Ferries – We’ve always taken public transportation while in Bermuda. It’s safe, reliable, and inexpensive. You can buy a 1, 2, 0r 3-day pass that includes the bus and ferry. Note: There is often a long line for the bus/ferry at the Dockyard on Sunday when passengers first disembark and on Monday when the Royal Caribbean ship arrives in the morning. So plan accordingly – either be one of the first off the ship or wait until the lines thin out. The ferry schedules (including info on 1, 2, and 3-day passes) can be found on the Bermuda Department of Marine and Port Services website.
  • Taxis – They are expensive, but a good driver will also serve as a tour guide and give you information about the island that you will not hear anywhere else. My good friend, Donovan, is a taxi driver. I can give you his number if you’re interested in a private tour.
  • Scooters – I would not recommend renting one unless you’re a seasoned rider. It looks easy in the Dockyard area because the roads are wide and straight, but it is misleading. Not only do they drive on the left in Bermuda, but the roads get very narrow and windy. Buses and cars will pass dangerously close the scooters forcing nervous riders suddenly off the road. There are also rotaries and they go clockwise rather than counterclockwise in the USA.
  • Second Day in Bermuda (Monday) – We like to hop on the Ferry to St. Georges first thing in the  morning. It’s the farthest away so we head there first. In St. Georges there are cute little shops, Fort St. Catherine to explore, and Tobacco Bay to relax at. On the way back, take the bus and stop at The Swizzle Inn or Crystal Caves. You may also want to take the Ferry to Hamilton instead to shop some more (be aware that the stores close early around 5pm). Be sure to get back to the Dockyard in the evening to enjoy Salsa Night at the The Bone Fish Bar and Grill.
  • Third Day in Bermuda (Tuesday) – We like to stick close to the ship because it leaves in the afternoon. So we explore the Dockyard. Top picks are the Clocktower Mall (we love the Lisa Rego Art Gallery – we have 5 of her paintings and look forward to collecting more), The Bermuda Rum Cake Company to sample their delicious cakes (they make great souvenirs), Dockyard Glassworks to watch them make beautiful pieces of art, and the Bermuda Craft Market for some unique handmade items, cases of Barritt’s Ginger Beer (our favorite), and jars of Gombey Pepper Jam by the Bermuda Jam Factory. Some people venture off to Hamilton, but be careful to leave plenty of time to return to the ship. The ferries fill up fast soon after noontime. Worse case scenario you’ll need to take a taxi back and it could cost you $50 or more. People always gather out on their balconies to cheer ‘Go! Go! Go!’ to people that come running down the pier just in the nick of time to board the ship so don’t let yourself be one of them.
  • Back On Board – It’s time to enjoy the ship again. Take advantage of the events they have to offer – wine tastings, poolside activities, bingo, casino, workshops, duty free shopping (but don’t forget about those U.S. Customs regulations).
  • Duty-Free Limits – U.S. Customs has very strict regulations for what you are and aren’t allowed to bring back. If you’ve bought expensive art or jewelery be sure you’re aware of the limits imposed (for example $800 worth of items per person). If you’re planning on buying alcohol or cigarettes on board, be aware to the current U.S. Customs regulations regarding the maximum amount allowed. At the time I’m writing this the max is 200 cigarettes per person and one liter of alcohol per person. Check here for updates: http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/vacation/kbyg/.
  • White Hot Party – It’s usually one of the last nights on the ship. Everyone dresses up in white and heads down to the Spinnaker Lounge for music and drinks.
  • Disembarkation – Be sure to review the information and plan accordingly – especially if you have an early flight to catch. The lines can be really long – for both the elevators and to be scanned out. This past year it took us an hour to get off the ship.

For more tips check out:

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