Thursday, May 26, 2016

Life is a breeze.....on the Carnival Breeze

This past Sunday (5/22) Cindy and I finished another stellar cruise, this time on the Carnival Breeze. Our friends and fellow Bay Area Divers members, Keith and Barbara Seiser joined us on this western Caribbean itinerary. We’ve never had a “bad” cruise, and this was no exception. I firmly believe a cruise is what you make of it. This trip was nearly perfect. We had great weather and generally mild seas the whole time.

Carnival Breeze

We first sailed the Breeze when she was in Miami back in 2013. We booked this as part of a “back to back” cruise. We spent the first week on the Carnival Liberty (also now homeported in Galveston), sailing to Cozumel, Belize, Roatan and Grand Cayman. We debarked the Liberty, went through customs and after a very short walk dropped our bags off with the porter for the second part of our trip. We barely slowed down long enough to send our carryon bags through security, checked into the Breeze and boarded her for an 8-day cruise stopping in Grand Turk, San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.

Fast forward a few years and now both the Liberty and Breeze call Galveston home. That makes three Carnival ships sailing year round from Galveston, with the Freedom rounding out the trio. Both the Freedom and Liberty are Conquest class ships, so have the same basic layout. The biggest difference between them is the d├ęcor.

We’ve done this particular itinerary (Montego Bay, Jamaica; Grand Cayman; Cozumel) several times before, but I picked it again specifically to have a chance to dive the USS Kittiwake. She was sunk to make an artificial reef, and configured for divers of all levels to enjoy, much like the C-53 in Cozumel. I’ll write in more detail about these stops when I get to them.

Shortly after our first cruise in 2007, I wrote a day-by-day blog of the trip at the request of some of my friends who have never cruised before. They wanted a taste of what the whole cruise was like, not just the highlights of the ports. I thought I’d do this again, but this time I’ll make each day a unique post. This will let those who aren’t that interested in the day to day minutiae skip to the parts they are most interested in. On the past several cruises, I’ve kept a day to day journal mainly for my own entertainment, but haven’t posted them in any public forum. I do this for many reasons, such as helping me determine where certain photos were taken if not obvious, dinner menu selections, and times on and off the ship. I’ll use the notes I took from this cruise to write each day’s entries.

Let’s kick off this “cruise log,” starting with embarkation day, shall we?

Sunday, 5/15, Embarkation - Galveston

Keith and Barbara Seiser stayed the night with us, so we could all board the ship together. Since they live almost two hours away, it was more efficient for them to stay with us and be able to sleep a little later. All of our checked luggage was already packed, so other than a few last minute items for our carryons, we were ready to go. Obviously we didn’t want to eat a big breakfast, with lunch on the Lido being just a few hours away. I had some breakfast pastries, coffee and hot water for tea ready for everyone’s breakfast. I helped Keith and Barbara tag their checked luggage and we loaded the car. Normally Cindy and I have someone drop us off at the cruise terminal, but since there were four of us, we reserved a spot at one of the nearby cruise parking facilities. We managed to cram everyone and everything into the car and we were on the road shortly after 10.

We got to EZ Cruise Parking around 10:50 and luckily a shuttle bus was just unloading people who were disembarking the Breeze. We got loaded up and dropped off at the terminal a few minutes later. A porter was there to take our checked luggage and a short walk later we were being checked in. On this cruise, our VIFP status changed from “gold” to “platinum,” so we got priority checkin. Boarding was already in progress, so once we got our sail and sign cards, we had just a short wait before we boarded. We walked onto the ship at 11:45.

A quick note here, about the “sail and sign” (“S&S”) card I just mentioned. The cruise ship is a cashless experience. When checking in, you pay either a cash or credit card deposit for your shipboard account. Your S&S card is used to pay for items purchased in the shops, alcohol, soft drinks and other specialty items. It’s also your room key and boarding pass when getting off and on the ship at the various ports of call. Your photo is electronically embedded in the card so when it is scanned, your photo will pop up on the screen. For security purposes, your cabin number is not printed on your S&S card. Basically, you keep this card with you at all times while cruising.

Another benefit to priority boarding is that our cabins are guaranteed to be ready upon our arrival. Otherwise, without this priority boarding or another program called “Faster to the Fun,” you might have to wait until 1 pm before your cabin is ready. We dropped off our carryon bags and headed up to the Lido deck for some lunch.

Our home for the next 7 days

[Note: on most modern cruise ships, the Lido (pronounced “LEE-doh”) deck is the open deck containing one or more pools and contains many public areas like buffets, bars, etc.]

Lido deck

I will be referring to several different decks and locations on the Breeze, so to make it easier to visualize what I’m writing about, you can find an interactive deck map of the Breeze here.
Since very few people were on the ship, there were no lines to contend with. We selected the Tandoor Grill on the aft Lido for some savory Indian food. I’m not as big a fan of Indian food as Cindy is, but I can generally find something tasty. I’ll usually select either the butter chicken or the tandoori chicken, or both.

Cindy, Keith and Barbara filling their plates

We gave Keith and Barbara a brief tour of the ship, mainly the Lido deck and Promenade deck (deck 5), as that is where the biggest majority of events and activities take place on the ship. We introduced them to the RedFrog Pub, one of my favorite hangouts on the Carnival ships that have it. If I’m not hanging out somewhere on Lido, chances are you’ll find me at the RedFrog Pub (“RFP”). I don’t know what it is about the RFP staff, but they seem to be a cut above the rest. Now, please don’t get me wrong. ALL of the staff I’ve ever encountered on Carnival ships are gracious and friendly and want to help. It’s just that the RFP staff seem to always take it to the next level.

Our mandatory safety briefing was held at 3:30, and about an hour later we were underway for our first port of call in Jamaica. Normally I like to stay on deck for sailaway, but with a light drizzle, I stayed out for about half an hour. Thanks to a very active Facebook group, we had a cocktail hour from 5 – 6 in the Liquid Nightclub lounge. We paid $19 per person (it was Ka, I tell you, for all you fans of Sai King) for unlimited drinks. Dinner was at 6, so we went directly from the cocktail party to the main dining room (“MDR”).

Another thing I tend to emphasize on these “cruise logs” is the food! I’ve described myself as a “finicky foodie,” but the operative word here is still foodie. I’m telling you right now that each day will include at least my dinner selections, if not lunch. I tell people all the time, “if you are hungry or bored on a cruise ship, it’s your fault.” Many people don’t realize just how good some of the dining on board is. Hopefully my descriptions and photos will show just how easy it is to put on some pounds while cruising. So, what did I have that first night?

Appetizer: Jalapeno poppers – very tasty but totally NOT spicy

Main: Honey glazed pork loin with carrot cinnamon puree – excellent

Dessert: Apple pie a la mode - I'd have more if I wasn't so full already

Dinner usually takes about an hour and a half, from start to finish. After our first dinner, we headed back to the cabin to change into our “comfortable clothes” and relax for the evening. Not that what we were wearing for dinner was “uncomfortable,” but it’s hard to beat shorts and a t-shirt for ultimate relaxation. On a 7-day cruise, there are two “formal” nights in which one can expect to see people dressed in everything from slacks and a long sleeved shirt to a tuxedo, with a business suit for men and a cocktail dress for women being most common. The other nights are “cruise casual” and almost anything is allowed except for shorts and swimwear. I normally wear some “Dockers” and a nice button down shirt. So, in order to keep them somewhat clean and unwrinkled, I’ll wear that only for dinner. Otherwise, I’m in shorts, a t-shirt and my Tevas.

This cruise was one of the few times we didn’t do too much after dinner. Normally we are in our room just long enough to change clothes and we are back out the door. I always take my GPS receiver with me on any trip, and anytime I’m on an open deck I’ll keep it going to record a track log. I then download this track log, including dive sites, onto Google Earth. It makes for some really cool data. Typically the last thing I do before retiring for the evening is go out onto the open deck and take a waypoint and just watch the waves and listen to the water as it flows down the hull for a while. It’s incredibly relaxing to do this.

Coming up next, our first “fun day at sea.”

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