Douglas L. Jones
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Celebration
Sailing Date: July 1st, 2002
Itinerary: Cozumel and Calica
Wow, what a trip! We had a blast every step of the way! Since we live in Houston, I had my dad drop us off at the terminal on Monday morning. We arrived about 12 noon and on the ship by 1 PM. This embarkation process is very smooth all in all, getting through the lines is the easy part, actually getting onto the ship AFTER you have made it through security, sign n’ sail, is the bummer. We waited in line about 30 minutes for that in a somewhat stuffy and warm gangway. But, we were excited and not to much could have ruined our spirits.
Once on board, we quickly found our cabin (more on that later) and headed for lunch on the Lido Deck’s Wheelhouse Bar and Grill. The buffet was an assortment of dishes, including hamburgers and fries, pizza, salads, fruits, desserts, etc. I opted for something a little classier and had a fish entrée that was out of this world. Don’t bother taking a diet on board, you will just break it. After lunch it was time to explore the ship and get our bearings.
The first major event is the muster drill. It was well organized and proceeded smoothly. It was odd sitting with a large number of strangers with life preservers around your neck and having thoughts of disaster run through your mind, but it quickly passed and I’m glad that clear instructions are given in the event of an emergency. As soon as the drill was over, the ship takes off. If you want to see the ship depart you have to dash down to your cabin, put up your lifejackets and zoom back up on deck with your camera. We departed Galveston right on time and you could really feel the electricity in the air as everyone was excited to be going on a grand adventure or just getting away from it all.
Now that the engines were running and the ship was moving, you really got your first taste of what it would be like at sea. The entire ship vibrated constantly and you could feel her swaying from time to time, although it was minimal. In some areas of the ship, the vibration was pronounced, especially toward the front, it seemed to me, and less in the middle aft sections. Engine noise is prominent in the aft cabins. Ours was the last cabin on the Main Deck M177. I specifically asked the Carnival booking agent about engine noise in this particular area of the ship. She reassured me that the engines were 7 decks below and we wouldn’t hear them. Nonsense!! There was a constant thumping noise from the engines/props and of course the room went up and down with every turn of the screw at about 120 beats per minute. I didn’t think I would be able to tolerate this and the first night was a little rough. However, I actually got used to it and ended up sleeping fairly well the rest of the trip. After a while, the rhythmic up and down vibration had a somewhat calming effect. The worst noise is created whenever the engines are slowed while moving into port. The screws begin cavatating and the noise level and shaking increases dramatically. Unfortunately, you get into port at 6 in the morning. Arriving in Calica I could swear there was an engineer beating the hell out of the engines with a bar every so often. It is very disrupting to hear a loud metallic wham at 5 AM. I inquired with several people about the ship noise level and movement. I asked the seasoned cruisers about noise level, since I have not had any previous experience, and the general consensus was that it was “normal” (at least on this ship). Other ships they had experienced were less inclined to vibrate and be noisy. Nonetheless, I really didn’t hear anyone complain about it so I assumed it was just all a part of being on the tub. The previous cruise was canceled due to engine problems and so I am not sure if that contributed or not to the overall level of vibration. I can say that I would cruise this ship again, but try to get a cabin amid ship rather than the front or back. Our cabin steward was very efficient but not overly friendly. He simply did his job and left us alone for the most part.
We choose the Main dinner service and were assigned to the Vista Dinning Room. We found our table and began meeting our dinner mates. This was a mixed bag of people to say the least. Our first mates were a couple and their mother (in law). They were thoroughly unpleasant individuals who bitched about every aspect of the experience. We introduced ourselves and were not returned the favor. We never learned their names. The wife must have said “This is all to elegant for me” about 10 times to her husband during dinner. They were very unhappy, angry and out of place. The mother in law was a prune and an emotional vacuum. We affectionately dubbed her (and the others) “The Black Holes.” Fortunately, they left early and the rest of us breathed a sigh of grateful relief. They only showed up to the formal night meal but by then, we had other dinner mates who were friendly conversationalists. We basically ignored “The Holes” and enjoyed the dinner.
The overall dining experience was superb. There were a few dishes here and there that were somewhat bland, but the vast majority of my meals were fantastic. Of course, I like airline food too, so.... Our waiters were efficient but not overly friendly. The head waiter came by from time to time to say “hi” and give us updates on ship activities. As a Texan, I would have liked to see our wait staff be a little more engaged with us, but they were busy with their many duties I suppose. The midnight buffets were equally well prepared and delicious. The Midnight Gala was worth seeing but the food/dessert was somewhat blah (at least to me).
After dinner, we headed for the casino. There are lots of games and slots to play. We had a blast just playing cards and nickel and quarter slots. I won several hundred dollars on nickel slots. Don’t play the slots on the last day, the odds are changed and you WILL loose money! If you still want to gamble, go for the card games. Drinks are what you would expect them to be at a bar (expensive), but there are happy hours and the prices do come down about half and there are daily drink specials. Soda is about $1.79. If you don’t gamble or drink, you will have a very inexpensive cruise.
We didn’t make it to the first nights “Welcome Aboard Show” because we were gambling and having a good time there. We did go to all the other shows and found them to be very entertaining and well done. They last about an hour each. There are gobs of activities for everyone on board. These are all listed in the daily Carnival Caper’s Newsletter. There are also daily drawings, contests, bingo, and other activities from dawn until the wee hours. You won’t have a chance to be bored. The kids seemed to be well supervised and they also had lots of fun things to do. We choose to book a separate shore excursion through TarzanTours.Com for our first shore day. I highly recommend this activity but it is not for everyone. Basically, it is a jeep tour (you drive!!) completely across Cozumel (to the opposite side of the island). The guides then take you north along the coastline and through very rough terrain to view Mayan Ruins, Scuba and lunch on the beach. You get all the drinks you can put down and the lunch was out of this world. The snorkel part was OK, but the reef is about 70 meters offshore which is a significant swim. If you are a big snorkel fan, I understand from friends that the Xcaret Eco Park excursion is wonderful because it is in a sheltered lagoon. That is offered on the second day. We arrived back on board around 5:30 PM and got rested and ready for dinner with friends. Then we headed into Cozumel. We ate at Pancho’s Backyard. The atmosphere is wonderful and the food is fantastic. Highly recommended. One of our party met a local and invited him to dinner with us. After dinner, we wandered around shopping and finally back to Carlos and Charlie’s for a couple of late night drinks. Lots of fun there. The shopping seemed good but prices were steep. I was interested in a stone mask that was priced $180 in one store. We talked them down to $80 but then didn’t buy. I bought the mask the next day in Playa del Carmen for $30. The next day we took it easy and just went on our own to Playa to shop and hang out. The taxi fares are fixed prices so there is no haggling involved and they are clearly marked. Most of them locals speak English. When you shop at the open markets, haggling over price is EXPECTED!!! Marked prices are EXTREMELY inflated. Expect to pay about a third of the marked price. Vendors can be pushy. Be careful what you express an interest in and NEVER allow them to put something in your hands. If you see an item you are interested in, you can certainly inquire about it, but you should expect them to try to sell you the item. They do this day in and out and are experts at shortsheeting tourists. Cash talks, especially dollars. You do not need pesos, but insist on receiving US dollars as change if you pay with dollars. Ask the vendor before you buy if he or she can make change in dollars for you. If they are reluctant, walk away and watch how fast the dollars magically appear. A few pesos are handy as tips. Expect to be asked for a tip by the person who sells you an item at these open air markets. Playa is a very nice little village with a beautiful beach. We ate at one of the open air cafes Don Escamillios (or something like that). We paid in pesos for this meal (about $20). The ship leaves promptly at 4 PM to head back to Galveston. Don’t be late! A pair of girls almost missed the ship. Don’t take a chance with this. Be on time. Take a credit card, driver’s license and/or passport with you when you leave the ship. You never know what could happen and you need to be prepared in case you do get stuck. Also, take a backpack for carrying your stuff. Lugging a bag around is no fun.
The last sea day was very relaxing and lots of fun. We hung out with friends we met on board and partied late into the evening (a little too late really). Embarkation was very smooth and orderly and we were off the ship by 9:15 or so. Attend the debarkation talk if this is all new to you (as it was to us). Lots of good information and a little fun too. The staff worked very well together and made the trip enjoyable. We met lots of very nice people from all over the world. Would that all the countries of the world could work and get along as well as these folks do. The Cruise Director (Trevor) and Social Director (Jeff) really worked well together and made the whole trip a wonderful experience.
All in all it was the best vacation we have ever had. We learned some do’s and dont’s and next time will be even better. Happy Cruising!