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Ted Blank

Age: 52

Occupation:Computer Performance Consultant

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Legend

Sailing Date: December 13th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean


Departure

My wife and I and my brother and his wife (all in our 50’s or close to it) took this cruise with my father to celebrate his 90th birthday in January. Others from Dad’s Florida condo village (some we knew, some we didn’t and some we were even related to) made our group total about 25. Departure was orderly but lines were long. Get there as early as you can, the sooner you are through the lines the sooner you can get on board and relax. If you have Skipper Class privileges (i.e. Deck 11 suite etc.) watch for the escalator on your right as you weave through the lines immediately after the metal detector check. Take it up one flight to bypass most of the additional lines at check in. We did not have such lofty status this trip, so it took about 2.5 hours total from bus arrival and offloading luggage to walking up the gangway to the ship.

Once on board, it was the typical first day out. The ship is new and clean, and decorated simultaneously in 12 different styles, any one of which would have been quite sufficient. Dad got off to a great start by winning the “get 10 signatures on a form before 10pm on Day 1” contest. This included 100 minutes of Internet time, a free video at the end of the cruise, some Spa treatments and a bottle of Mango Rum, along with several very classy foam “beer coolers”, some photo albums, etc. He was also an instant celebrity as he was called up to the stage to receive his prize and was on replay TV.

Departure was close to on-time, which was really not of great importance because we had 2 days of steaming ahead of us before reaching our first port of call in Belize so there would have been plenty of time to make up an hour or two. However we diverted to Cozumel on the way down to disembark two passengers who developed heart problems on board the second night out. As a result we arrived in Belize about five hours late, causing some excursions to be cancelled and long lines at the Excursions desk that morning. The ship stayed two extra hours in Belize to make up for the delay.

Internet


I planned to stay away from email this week but since our group shared Dad’s prize minutes of connection time I learned something about the various packages available. Although you are paying at high-speed rates you will only get dial-up performance… actually worse than dial-up since all 15 or so computers are sharing about one dial-up line’s worth of bandwidth on the ship’s satellite link. You have the choice of several plans, for example 250 minutes for $100 down to Pay as you Go for $0.75 per minute. However the computers provided by Carnival support only browser-based e-mail like Hotmail and Yahoo, and it is slooooooow. Worse still, you are required to stay connected in order to read or compose your email, even if it is a long message and you just want to page up and down to read through it. If you try to save money and disconnect to read your mail, or to compose a new mail message, your browser is closed and the machine goes back to its startup configuration. So read fast and put your fastest typist on the keyboard. AIM is pre-installed on the machine, just log on. Printing costs $0.50 per page on a local color printer shared by all machines.

If you want to use your own laptop for client-based email like Outlook or Eudora, bring a wireless card (or rent theirs for $10 per day) and you can get 33 minutes for $25 or several other plans for more minutes. I did this on the last day but wireless performance was abysmally slow during my 33 minutes. According to my monitor software there was no data transfer taking place for about 3 seconds out of every 4, so wait until you get home to upload those pictures of the trip. And even though I pointed this out to the Internet room guy he would not provide me with any refund or credit, so off goes a letter to Carnival. PS – the wireless plan minutes are not sharable or convertible with the Carnival computer plan minutes, to use both you have to buy two plans. Laptop rental is $20 per day. Charges incurred prior to purchasing a plan cannot be credited or transferred. No credit for unused time. Upgrading plans is not available. A one-time charge of $3.95 applies the first time you log on. However if you don’t even have a Hotmail account and want to use the ship’s own CruisE-mail ISP there is an additional charge of $3.95 for each outgoing message sent. Ouch.

Food

Food (not service, but the food itself) in the dining room was the biggest disappointment on this cruise. We ate all dinners and most breakfasts in the dining room and while everything tasted fine we did not really have one memorable-tasting dish the whole cruise with the exception of the chocolate cake (regular) and the chocolate cake (flourless) we had a couple of nights for dessert. That’s pretty sad given all the effort that is put into food presentation and appearance. Those who had Lobster Tails (three and even four per person in some cases) were in heaven on day 3 though. Those who ordered from the low salt menu found considerable salt in their entrees so beware.

In spite of the lackluster food, our waiters Gerardo and Antonio were actually the highlight of the trip. Friendly, warm and caring but not pushy, interested in nothing more than taking care of your every need. It was the best wait staff service I can recall anywhere including some pretty fancy places. It’s just a shame the kitchen didn’t give them more to work with but there was absolutely nothing more we could have asked for from these two hard-working gentlemen. Well done.

We did not pay the extra swindle of $25 per person to experience the Golden Fleece restaurant on deck 10. Set aside two and one half hours for this “experience” or so I’m told. Maybe the food tastes better up there but I figure we paid enough already to get good food.

The Unicorn Café on Lido deck is the other place to get food at all hours, and it’s your typical buffet fare. Juices and coffee always available and taste good. Sushi was good. The deli made fresh sandwiches in a flash with several slicing machines going all the time. I never saw long lines in the Lido area all week other than the first day before departure when all everyone wants to do is drop bags in rooms and go eat. Lots of fresh salad stuff too.

Ice cream machines make super-sweet ice milk, and the best they can do for topping is Hershey’s chocolate sauce. Where’s the real hot fudge? Oh, you have to pay for that at the Legends Café. That also appeared to be the only place to find desserts with actual taste. Am I seeing a pattern here?

Excursions

If you call Carnival in advance they will send you a PDF file which you can browse or print at home which describes all the tours (without prices though). This is the same document you will get on board, and by reading in advance you can make your tour purchases from the television in your stateroom the moment you come on board. Since some tours sell out quickly you can drop your bags, purchase your tickets, and relax the rest of day One without standing in line at the Excursion desk.

In Belize we could not take our planned snorkeling excursion (refund was automatic, avoiding any arguments) due to our late arrival from the medical emergency so we just went into town with Dad and had a beer (hot even in December!) and shared a dessert at the Harborview Restaurant, about 2-3 blocks to the right after you exit the gates at the port. Upstairs you can sit on the deck or inside and look out over the water, very relaxing, good service, highly recommended. So what if a bunch of guys all want to give you a taxi ride as you walk around, just ignore them, they are all very well behaved. Get your hair braided or something, you’re on vacation!

Souvenirs in Belize City were a disappointment, even the shops that sold locally produced crafts, mostly just lots of dark polished wood carvings. My brother and his wife did get on the remaining tour to Goff’s Caye for snorkeling and had a great time. They will drop you on the beach so you can wade in, or you can hop off the boat out by the reef. I had brought along two “real” diving masks which they used and appreciated because the local rental masks are pretty beat up. Why snorkel if you can’t see? Bring your own diving mask and snorkel if you have them. (New rule – no more rental snorkels, have to buy a new one for $5 which you get to keep.)

In Limon, Costa Rica we took the “Sloth Sanctuary / Canoe Trip” which was well worth it. A couple has built up a Sloth rehab and study center at their B&B, and now have about 5 good size buildings and a nice physical plant. You see a video about Sloths in a big open room and then meet some adult and orphaned baby Sloths. Very nice creatures (both the sloths and the owners) and the atmosphere was positive and friendly. What you see is what you get, simple and nice. The canoe trip is along a couple of canals that pass by the site, nice wide stable 5-person models. A local fellow paddles you around for about half an hour and you can see monkeys and sloths in the trees along side. It’s not “real” jungle (the road is just 50 feet away) but I was happy. We were treated to a rain storm but there are umbrellas in the canoes and even in December it is warm. For better protection bring along a disposable poncho from home (we paid a buck at the Dollar Store back home) to combine the umbrella and you will be nice and dry. I love canoe rides and this was just right, gliding along quietly and enjoying the sights and sounds. Dad came too, but the loading is done right at waters edge and they’ve gotten it just right with no problems at all, just step in and sit down. When you get back, your bus tour guide walks you along a jungle nature path with signs identifying some of the trees. More monkeys, sloths and termite nests in the trees. Finally back to the sanctuary and a snack of fruit and fruit juice, soda and beer available, with an opportunity to pick up a few things in the gift shop. Even this was nicer than it probably sounds here. (Note to collectors: may be the only place to get real Ty sloth beanie babies. These are the two-toed versions.) The owners were both there the whole time and are very dedicated to the Sloth recovery issue. I think you can see the whole deal at http://www.ogphoto.com/aviarios/. Sadly our bus tour guide stuck to the standard list of topics… “Now I will cover the main exports of Costa Rica…” but she had a good attitude and the bus tour is only 40 minutes each way. Bring earplugs. They do stop at a local hotel on the way back for the obligatory shopping tour, but the shop is open air and quite rustic and you of course don’t have to buy anything. Highly recommended.

In Panama we bit the bullet and paid $175 each for the Panama Canal tour. Once you get over the price, it’s a treat all the way. The Isthmus snakes around so much that the sun rises over the Pacific Ocean and sets over the Caribbean, and the canal that connects the east and west oceans actually runs almost north to south. (Check your Atlas, it’s still got me confused). We docked in Limon, board about sixteen buses for a 50 minute run down south to the Panama City end of the canal, then board an excursion boat that holds several hundred people for a trip back northward to Gamboa, about 90 minutes or half way back to Limon. (Hint for winter cruisers: after boarding go up one deck to the middle of three, and walk around the wheelhouse to the bow deck in front of the wheelhouse. Take the seats toward the rear and you will be shaded by the wheelhouse all the way as the boat is pointed North and the sun is behind you. On the top deck there are tables along both sides that are shaded. Otherwise you’ll sit in the middle under shade cover but you’ll have to stand out in the sun to see the whole view. For summer cruisers, I don’t imagine any open seat will be shaded for long.) Turkey sandwiches are passed out free about 11am, water and soda are free too. In Gamboa the buses are waiting for you to take you back to the ship. We left at 7am and were back to the ship by 1:30pm for a 3:30 departure. Earplug time again, the sound system is painfully loud but the guides know their stuff. Our guide Frank had been in the Canal Zone area for forty years and he stuck to the offbeat topics that make you feel you’ve learned something really special. (Each bus has its own guide and they all come along for the boat ride and mingle with the passengers the whole way, which gives you plenty of time to think of that question you forgot to ask on the bus.) The Canal is a wonder, and you will appreciate it much more if you check out “The Path Between the Seas” from your local library and bring it along to read on board ship before reaching Panama. Bring it on the tour as well, you can see how the Gaylord Cut through the Continental Divide looked before it was filled with water so you could sail through it. Several guides told me this is their bible and everything they tell tourists comes from this book. Well written and a fun read too. On this tour you go through 3 locks from Panama City to Gamboa and end up at the level of Lake Gatun, 85’ above sea level. Lots of freighter traffic coming the other way made for interesting sights. Carnival is saving a bundle by not taking the ship through the canal, locking fees are over $200,000 for passage by a ship of our size.

If you don’t want to actually go on the canal there are tours which just visit it by bus and there is a new museum built along the canal from which we saw people waving to us. I was told there is a good display of canal history and a scale model, photos, etc. If you take a non-water tour, make sure this place is on the itinerary.

Three hours out from Panama on the way home we had to return to port to off-load a Carnival employee who was feared to have Appendicitis, so six hours lost but still plenty of time to make it up for an on-time arrival… until 12 hours later when we had to divert east to Grand Cayman for yet another passenger medical emergency offload in the middle of the night. That was more than the poor engines could make up for even running at 26 knots the rest of the way home, which is a full 3-4 knots over listed maximum cruising speed. (Our dining table was over the engines at the far back end of the dining room and our plates were shaking around the table…the whole was shaking as a result of the Captain trying to make up time by pushing the engines to their limits to avoid too many passengers missing their airplane connections tomorrow after we arrive.) Thanks, Cap’n. Note to Chief Engineer – lube, oil and filter before next departure.

Entertainment

Follies Lounge is forward in the bow, deck 2 for main house and deck 3 for balcony. No saving seats, so skip dessert (except for chocolate cake) and get there early – full house for every performance. One game of Bingo at 8, early show at 8:30. (Same at 10 and 10:30 for late diners). The sound system is LOUD so bring those earplugs again and enjoy yourself (or just turn off the hearing aids like my cousin Betty.)

Shows are generally good and entertaining, but the new revue “Take II” was awful, too loud, all glitz and little plot or theme. They also had technical difficulties with raising the screens between acts that stopped the show twice for almost 5 minutes each time. I can’t blame them for this, except to say that the show is so full of technical challenges like mixing live singing and dancing with recorded video clips that I’m surprised that more did not go wrong. The entire stage setup is truly state of the art including rising orchestra pit. Otherwise, orchestra was great, singing was in tune, dancing was energetic and well done to my inexperienced eye. 22 year old keyboard whiz “Ian” must be heard to be believed.

Live music around the ship (other than in the bars) was almost always too loud for the small spaces in which they play. Jazz combo with grand piano, full drum set and electric bass in a bar area that seats about 30? Not unless you don’t care to talk to anyone in your party all night.

Mike Lawless in Billie’s Bar was a treat – all request all the time with a book of about 500 songs and some original pieces now and then. Just go and enjoy an honest entertainer with a good voice, an energetic piano style and a pleasant personality. No idea how he slipped past the boobs at Carnival who think everything has to be Disneyland-on-the-Water.

Highlight of the entertainment by FAR was Christopher Allen Graves and his revue, “Singin’ with the Big Band,” a tribute to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. This guy is the real deal, warm, sincere, great voice, great dancer. Sixteen years on ships for Carnival. I like good singing with dancing that supports the main act (instead of being the main act) and this show was just perfect. We just stayed for both shows and didn’t regret a minute, the casino will get your money tomorrow. Jaw-droppingly good. Buy his CD after the show, he’ll autograph it for you.

Casino

We are not gamblers or big casino visitors but on board you play your $10 or $20 per day and have some fun. Everyone complained that the Slots were stingy, and I’d have to agree based on limited experience in Vegas and Tahoe. There are half a dozen nickel machines, and even 6 or 8 penny machines. Hard to get a seat in front of one though. If you like to gamble you’ll have lots of company.

Miscellaneous

I can’t remember a ship or hotel where the elevator service made me smile, but this ship has the best elevator service I have ever seen. Quick and quiet. You could ride the interior glass elevators up and down the Colossus for10 decks all day just for the view.

There’s step aerobics at 7:30am about every other day, but it should be a regular thing. The equipment in the exercise room was top notch and it’s up high with glass wrap-around windows. $10 charge for Yoga (why?).

Liezl the Golf Pro is stuck up on Deck 10 outdoors in a cage, but with her digital video cam and some really great video software she helped me a lot in just one lesson. I signed up for a package of three but high winds last two days closed deck 10. Hey Carnival, give this gal an inside room and a Golf Simulator.

There seemed to be plenty of deck chairs, but it was not a summer cruise so not as much demand I’m sure. The aft deck was almost always deserted but it has its own spa, bar and deck chair set up. They never turned on the water slide due to temperature, so that would bring the kids back I’m sure but during our cruise it was a great little getaway corner.

It might seem silly, but dividing up the passengers at dinner on the first night into three ‘teams’ (red, white and blue) gives you something in common right away. And they award points for everything you do to contribute to the festivities, like dancing at the karaoke bar during the numbers. So it helps people over their inhibitions.

We visited the Firebird Lounge once to watch the Karaoke and it was very professionally done, with an MC running the equipment and scheduling the singers. Lots of people apparently made this their evening home and had a great time. Dancing is welcome during the performances as well, which makes for an informal atmosphere. Nice job.

Our impression of Carnival’s attitude toward educating their guests about the places they are about to visit can be summed up in six words: “Check your brain at the door.” Do your research before you get on board, you won’t find any literature, background info, lectures, slide shows, or anything else that might help you appreciate or understand the places you are about to go. Why not … well, you get the idea…do other cruise lines do this?

In the same vein, there was no respite from Carnival’s incessant flogging of merchandise, art, jewelry, photos, etc. at every opportunity. A cynic might view all those “Fun Days at Sea” as nothing more than a plan to bore you into gambling and spending money in the gift shops while they run you around the Caribbean on an itinerary that gives you about 20 hours on shore out of a total cruise of 8 days. But hey, a lot of folks just like being on a ship, so enjoy!

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