Here is our trip report from our free Carnival cruise to the Western Caribbean, we sure enjoyed it.
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February 6 – 12, 2012
We decided to go on our first cruise to take advantage of the schools’ Winter Break. After some research we got a great deal on a 7 night on the Carnival Dream ship to Western Caribbean! The cruise cost was $2,262 and was paid by 226,200 Capital One Venture Reward points from the mega credit card promo they ran in 2011, thank you Capital One! Some details will be given here how Dad makes his hobby of frequent flyer miles and hotel point collection (addiction?) come…alive to create travel memories and enhance world peace and understanding by bringing us all together…Wow, that just sounded good:-)
We left on a Friday evening. Here is the obligatory pic at the Detroit airport!
After hanging out at the Delta Sky Club Lounge, we rode the terminal train to our gate:
We flew to Atlanta and then Tampa. When we booked the tickets prices to Orlando were over $400 per ticket. Therefore, we flew to Tampa for $300 each, total cost $1,200. Of course we have plenty of miles to use but we like to save them for international flights or domestic tickets costing over $400 (or over $500 preferably). Flights were full and crammed. Dad did not get upgrade to First Class as a Delta Platinum Elite flyer! Of course Mom did not get the upgrade as Sliver Elite (and we never expected it anyway!) Boo to Delta! Flying coach after a long time was…fine. We blew a chance at a total $2k bump ($500 times 4) from Atlanta to Tampa as we were slowed down by Mom…who had to have some chinese food…Still can’t get over that, oh well. We did not want to risk it flying into Tampa the next day and somehow miss our ship!
Our Thai friends T and K from Ann Arbor with their two boys joined us in the cruise. Dad’s friend D and his family from Ann Arbor also decided to join us in this cruise with his wife, three kids and mother.
We got a one way rental car from Budget (Tampa to Port Canaveral) at the Tampa airport (cost $65 plus gas…darn Florida February one ways!) and started driving around 11 pm to Orlando. We checked in after midnight at the same Radisson hotel on International Drive Dad had stayed in earlier this month during his conference. Cost was just 9,000 Club Carlson points, whatabargain! Nice comfortable suite for a Radisson!
The princess thanking Club Carlson for the mega 50k promo a few months ago that made a free night stay possible!
Off to Port Canaveral in the morning.
Note: Son K was starting to get sick early on Friday. We kept him home from school. By the time we got into Tampa he must have had 104 fever and just looked like total crap. Visions of not making it on the cruise were running rampant, thoughts of tracking down pharmacies/doctors were very uncomfortable. Got him some medicine from a Walgreens and some orange juice and we all slept praying he will get better. He was feeling a little better on Saturday morning and kept getting progressively better through the day….phew!!
The ride to Port Canaveral was very nice, here us driving into the port area with cruise ships in the horizon
This was one of the Disney cruise ships
Returning the car to Budget was a …zoo. They were bombarded by other cruise passengers wanting to pick up cars. An employee was heard saying “how can we be 100 cars short?”. Thank God we were dropping off and not picking up a car!
The lines to the shuttle van were long but only waited for about a half hour, not bad.
We dropped off our four carry on bags with our baggage tags and started towards to enter the ship
The check in process was VERY smooth, many Carnival employees to check in passengers. It was at best a 10 minute thing, quite impressive!
Here we come leaving the land!
First day was a day at sea. Every night we sat at the assigned table in the Crimson Room. Here is one of our lovely servers. She is from Thailand. The other two were from Colombia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Most employees were form the Far East (Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia). Many from Eastern Europe too. I wonder if we will start seeing Greeks soon!
Food was very good, excellent variety and you could order whatever and how many things you wanted….Definitely one of the best cruise features and one you feel at the end as you likely gained some pounds…darn buffets!!!
Yes, give me one of those too please, thank you!
We had an inside cabin as we wanted to not give Carnival a dime…no, the reasoning was, we are first time cruisers, we want to experience the ship and the ports and we don’t plan to spend much time in the room anyway (we did not, only for sleep primarily!). We heard cabins are small….they were not kidding!!!! VERY cozy indeed. Beds are very comfortable, we all slept good as we were so tired every night!
Kids got involved with the kid activities Carnival has.
First night welcome party for the younger kids. Dad took Sophia
and we danced till the cows, no whales, came home!
We enjoyed some of the night shows on the main Encore stage, here is from opening night
to the beat y’ all
Two pics of the main atrium
This is one looking up…14 stories…or something like that.
Near sail time we had a meeting with some other fellow cruisers we met online at cruisecritic.com website. Some of them are veteran cruisers and we learned a lot about cruising.
We also did a cabin crawl tour and got a chance to see how the other cabins are. I can see now that our inside cabin was….looked down upon as some of the balconies (you pay for that view!) were magnificent!
From the honeymoon couple…wow!
Club activities for Sophia and younger kids
This was one of the things I always wanted to do since I was a kid. I remember going on a boat with my parents to a Greek Island when I was very young and just loved the sailing, the sound of the waves, the rocking, everything about it and…for some reason…I wanted to get a chance to shoot some hoops on a ship!!! “Bucket” list item accomplished, scratch it off the list! Extremely windy, my shooting percentage probably never entered double digits, yikes!
N, D’s son…he can shoot the ball!
This is the room where we spent a lot of evenings…the Comedy Club!
The comics were surprisingly good! And the presenter was “Jeff the Fun Dude”. That dude looked just like Rod Stewart!
Some pics around the ship. Back of the ship
Dad participated in the Hairy Chest competition. The rest of the pics will not be posted to preserve his pristine reputation 🙂 Made it to the final round by the way!
Kids enjoyed the water slides, nothing spectacular
What we loved about cruising was being cut off from the world (off the grid!) with no cell phones, laptops and internet. It was very weird and we were not going to pay the outrageous rates for wifi! But we got used to it and REALLY enjoyed just reading a nice book (Dad finally read “The Ascent of Money” by Niall Ferguson, amazing book!) and just relaxed….that’s the point right?
Cozumel, Mexico was our first stop
Nice parking from our Italian captain
A Royal Caribbean ship docked next to us
We decided to get a van for a local beach
Beach was okay…Nothing like the Greek beaches!!
Here is D’s wife C, her daughters Z and S and our daughter S. Z and S got along very well and became good friends and hanged out together a lot in the cruise!
And the three boys stuck together…again. Here is son K goofing around
Two families pic
Z, S and S
After spending some hours on the beach, we got a van back to the port. A third cruise ship came
Walking on the pier back to our ship. I LOVE this pic of our kids!
L and the Dream
Daughter S Diva
Us…Dad is not photogenic…we mentioned that before in another blog post….takes several takes to find the least bad one:-)
Next stop was in Belize. We needed to take a small boat to the port as the waters are not deep enough to dock! Love these small boats, you feel the rocking!
George and D thanking Capital One Bank for paying for our cruise!
D had arranged an excursion for all of us. We went cave tubing. Here is the guy in the yellow shirt who owns the company leading us to our van
Always enjoy some shots of the local scene. Here are a few guys cutting some grass?
Belize has lots of jungles and Mayan Ruins….people come here for outdoor fun…you will see.
We got to the national park area
We all received our tubes
Entering the national park now
Jungles and caves!
Learning about the area
Amazing tree formations!
S, D’s mother, Z, S, N
More on the caves
And this is where we will enter the caves with our tubes and ride them for quite a while back to the area near the park entrance
Darn life jacket, makes me look even fatter!!!!
The tube ride through the dark caves was…fantastic! This is the end of the ride. Total cost for the four of us (with lunch) was $150, well worth the experience.
After a wonderful lunch provided by the owner’s wife and sister, we got back on the van and drove back to Belize City. Some shots from the city
On the small boat back to the ship
The ship has several food stations. This is the sushi station, we spent some time here:-)
The room stewards did a fantastic job taking care of our room every day. At night they left a folding towel surprise.
Mardi Gras at the atrium area. There was a lot of dancing!
Stop number 3: Mahogany Bay at Roatan Island, Honduras.
This stop is designed to stay on the very nice beach here, we can walk to it. There were excursions but we decided to stay on the beach in the horizon
We played several mini golf games on the ship
Another food station
Nice beach, the water does not compare to the water you find in Greek beaches…not even close!
Wow, great shot of our little princess
Discussing the Middle East situation with Dave
Reminds me the movie Top Gun,the female Tom Cruise?
Z and S
We all voted that this was THE best pic of the trip!
In the dining room…before we ate too much…again
Every night during dinner there was some type of dancing celebration…and oh so we needed it to get up and walk around a bit!
K and L dancing
More dancing on Lido deck
Always played movies every night on Lido deck. One night they had a pretty good laser show
More dancing…led by the professional dancers crew
4th and final stop: Costa Maya, Mexico. Again, we just walked around the pier. Shortest stop of all four stops.
Little port area…very touristy
Swim with the dolphins…poor dolphins!
This is what the cabin hallway looks like
Barbecue time at Alani deck
Kids having fun with the Fun Force break dance crew
Staff singing to us in the dining room
Main stage area
Last day was another day at sea. It went really fast. We enjoyed the cruise. We got a good feel about what cruising is all about. We are not signing up for another cruise in the near future but we will definitely cruise again. Loved how we did not have to decide where to eat every day, loved being cut off and relaxing, loved the comedians and some shows, loved cave tubing and relaxing on the beaches.Loved the food….and hated it for being so plentiful and available! We missed having that local connection immersion we enjoy….It is just a very different way to travel. Dad is very good in the airlines and hotels…this was a new experience for us and we are glad we did it! Final bill for gratuities and some drinks we had was $389. Paid by 38,900 Capital One points. #BOOM!
We woke up early and we were one of the first passengers off the ship. We wanted to make it to the Budget rental car office fast to avoid long delays. We got in our car and off we were driving to Tampa at about 8.40 am! Two day rental cost $90 plus gas. We made it straight to the hotel Dad reserved. Sheraton Sands Key Resort in Clearwater, FL for 10,000 Starwood points. The hotel was picked because of its incredible beach but the weather did not cooperate at all as it was too windy and cold to go on the beach! We had a very sub par stay in this hotel. We were given a standard room by the elevators where it got very loud. View was awful, bricks and more bricks! There was a local IT company annual meeting happening, drunk people being loud and stupid. Housekeeping staff person gave us a warm wake up call at 8 am the next morning without knocking…Dad emailed the Starwood folks and the hotel General Manager and expressed the issues we had with this stay with the IT company rowdy behavior. Starwood refunded all the 10,000 Starpoints back to our account! Appreciated it but we will never stay here again!
Driving out of the Clearwater area to the Tampa airport
Spent some time in the Tampa Skyclub Lounge
Flights were to Memphis and then on to Detroit. Dad got upgraded on MEM-DTW. 1 out of 4 upgrades as Platinum. Sad! Promptly offered the FC seat to the Queen who passed on it. Son expressed interest for it and was told to take a hike. Flights were nothing special. And just like that we were back home to reality!
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