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Randal Hunhf

Age: 48

Occupation:copy editor

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Holiday

Sailing Date: January 18th,2003

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

I recently took my first cruise with trepidation. Since I appreciated the information I had gleaned from online cruise reviews, I?m going to contribute my experiences on Carnival?s Holiday in mid-January.

I drove from Little Rock to New Orleans a day before the cruise and found I-10 clogged as usual and the Big Easy in the midst of a cold snap. The banner headline on the Times-Picayune said ?Big Freeze.?

The next day I found the Julia Street terminal without any problem and dropped off my luggage around 1:30 p.m. after about 10 minutes in line. I must have misheard the porter?s directions to the garage (it?s left, left, right) and spent about an hour finding it. When I got back to the terminal, the lines seemed long, but I was on the ship in 35 minutes (I timed it). The clerk I dealt with was superb. My inside cabin was within 200 feet from the ramp and I found it within minutes. It was the size of a small bedroom and I found it comfortable for one person. The bed seemed tiny but I slept well every night of the cruise. It was a little noisy. The neighbors moaned a lot, and the ship gave off a sound not unlike that of a large airliner. I was surprised that the TV carried no news channels, only three movies playing in loops. The movies changed daily. I?m not sure if this is normal (no ESPN, CNN, etc.) or if something technical was wrong. I got varying vague answers from the information desk.

The steward was a hardworking man named Clarence who always seemed nearby, which was useful, because I tended to lock my key inside the room.
For the record, I?m married but my wife has long been leery of cruising. I usually take a scuba diving vacation the first quarter of the year, and since the Holiday?s itinerary included Cozumel, a diving paradise, I decided to give it a go. More later about how this panned out.

Having missed lunch, I made my way to the Lido deck and had a plate of seafood something over rice. It was very satisfactory. There were many other eating choices. The coffee was very good, though not as good as you get in most New Orleans cafes, but that?s asking a lot.

After eating I checked out the ship?s layout. It wasn?t hard to get around, and I quickly abandoned the elevators. By the end of the cruise I was bounding up the stairs and I think the exercise kept me from gaining any weight. That, and I rarely ate between meals, although at meal time I pulled no punches.

I was disappointed to find the ship didn?t have a jogging path. I had fantasized about jogging around the edge of the ship, gazing at the ocean and leaping dolphins. No such luck. One can run on the Verandah deck at dusk when the sunbathers have left, but the circuit is about 150 yards at most. I did this on the two sea days. I also used the treadmills in the fitness center, although I generally detest treadmills. They make me feel like a hamster.

I like to play golf and signed up for a golf lesson and the Saturday evening putting contest. The golf pro was an amiable Scotsman named Tom. The lessons are a good deal. I?ll spare you all the details, but you can essentially get lengthy lessons on both sea days for less than $50 total. Tom was quite good and helped me out.

As for the putting contest, I went third and posted the low score and it held up for an hour. Then an elderly woman walked down the stairs, asked what was going on and wanted to participate. She quickly matched my score and then dispatched me with ease in the playoff. Fortunately, my disappointment quickly disappeared in the Four Winds Dining Room.

Everything I?m going to say about the dining room I?m going to say here. I was expecting the food to be good after all I?d read about the Holiday in other reviews, but I was still surprised by the excellence of the food and staff. I rarely ate in the Wharf Restaurant on the Lido deck and missed only one scheduled meal in the dining room. It was never crowded, no waiting in line, and the service was perfect. I like seafood and ordered mostly the fish of the day or the shrimp dishes. the soups and salads were top notch, and I often doubled up on the desserts. Exceptionally good French bread was served at most meals. It wasn?t unusual for my table-mates to order two entrees, and they seemed pretty happy with the steaks and prime rib and such. Breakfast and lunch were similarly outstanding.

On the first sea day, Sunday, I got up late, had breakfast and looked for some kind of news. I work for a newspaper and am a news junkie. I found the options are these: You can go online in the library, although I considered this option too expensive, or you can read the free NY Times briefs downloaded, printed and distributed on the Main deck. I was worried that we might go to war with Iraq, or that N. Korea might start lobbing nuclear-tipped long-dong missiles at us, but no one on the ship?s crew seemed to share my concern. I listened closely to the ship?s announcements hoping that in between the casino promos cruise director Riza would inform us if the Ist Cavalry was halfway to Baghdad. After that I frittered the day away in the hot tub, exercising, taking a golf lesson and watching the ocean.

I took in the shows every evening and found them entertaining. The dance troupe, singers and orchestra are on the same professional level you might find in a good theater in Branson, Mo. If you?ve never been there, that?s a compliment. The comedians recycled some jokes, but I laughed anyway. I thought the ventriloquist was a riot.

The main reasons I chose the Holiday was the cost (I thought the rate was a steal), I could drive to the port, and because it was going to dock in two excellent scuba diving locations, Playa and Cozumel. I had arranged via the Internet to dive with a dive shop in Playa on Monday, believing I would be off the ship by 10 a.m. or so. However, the Holiday didn?t link up with the tenders in Playa. The captain decided it was too choppy and he docked the ship in Calica. I didn?t get off the ship until after 10:30. I was a long way from Playa and knew I wasn?t going to make the dive shop?s 11 a.m. boat.

But I got a break. Walking off the boat carrying my dive equipment, a bus driver spotted me and advised me to take a taxi to Pal Mul. He said the dive shop there would be my best bet. Pal Mul turned out to be close to Calica (10 miles), and there is an excellent dive shop there. They signed me up for their 2 p.m. trip (very reasonable fee). I spent the next hour snorkeling off the beach, then ate lunch at the adjacent restaurant. To my surprise, while I ate lunch, two groups from the Holiday, a snorkel group and a beginner?s scuba group, showed up and played off the beach. At 2 p.m., I had an hour-long dive with a nice bunch of guys. The highlight was swimming along with a large, lethargic sea turtle. All in all, not a bad day, although if the ship had stuck to its itinerary, I would have gotten two dives in at Playa.

The next day the ship pulled into Cozumel. I had signed up for the ship?s diving excursion. I?ve dived before in Cozumel, and the ship?s deal is fairly priced. The dive operator was well-organized, and they had an excellent dive boat. The weather was perfect: sunny, cloudless, little breeze. We dived the Santa Rosa Wall, where the ocean drops off for about 2,000 feet on one side. The wall contains extraordinary coral. Mexico is taking very good care of its reefs in Cozumel. They are in much better shape than the reefs in the Florida Keys. The second dive was shallow and easy with lots of fish and other creatures to see.

As an aside to divers, I know 3 dives in two days is a pitiful dive trip. My first priority on this trip was to dip my toe in cruising to see if my high-strung personality could enjoy it. I did.

The dive boat dropped us off at the Holiday with plenty of time to spare. I took a quick shower, had lunch on board, and then disembarked to buy some gifts. I found an Internet cafe by the dock that charged only $2 an hour, so I sent a few e-mails.

I passed Wednesday?s sea day much like Sunday?s: Lounging, exercising, eating, took a golf lesson, and watched the shows. Do not skip the talent show. I stayed out of the casino. I?m not a gambler. I hate to lose, and when I do, I feel foolish for taking on a system that I know is rigged against me.

Thursday morning went smooth. After breakfast, I drank coffee and ate pastries on the Lido deck until my color was called, and then quickly gathered my bags. A helpful porter carted them to just the right spot out front, and I was on the shuttle back to the garage within minutes. It took me awhile to find my truck, as I had forgotten which floor it was on. I drove back to Little Rock feeling very refreshed and well-fed. I miss the dining room.

I?m quite sure I?ll go on another cruise, though not alone. Since it was my first cruise, I have nothing to compare the Holiday to, but I can say this. It was clean, didn?t seem crowded, and it?s staffed with highly personable people. I don?t know how they can keep up their cheerful, friendly attitudes day after day, cruise after cruise, but they do. I thank them.

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