CARNIVAL GLORY REVIEW
DEC 27th – JAN 3rd (New Year’s sailing)
My wife and I decided to take our fourth cruise with Carnival, this time on the Carnival Glory over New Year’s 2014/2015. The big difference this time being that we were able to take our teenage children along with us: 18-yr-old college freshman son and 15-yr-old high school sophomore daughter. We actually didn’t tell the kids until Christmas Day. “Pack your bags, we leave tomorrow!”
Day 0, Dec 26 (pre-cruise)
We left Knoxville, TN by car at 9am on Friday, December 26th headed to Miami, FL. Our intent was to drive the 9 hours to Orlando, visit some of the public Disney or Universal attractions like Downtown Disney or CityWalk but massive construction traffic south of Atlanta (Walking Dead country) kept our schedule tight. We did make it to our pre-arranged hotel in Orlando but only had time for a quick bite and then to bed, ready to make it the rest of the way tomorrow.
Day 1, Dec 27 (Embarkation)
We made the 3-1/2 hour drive from Orlando to Miami without incident, and parked in the Port of Miami parking garages. There was a lot of back and forth between us on whether to use off-site, cheaper port parking, but due to many negative reviews online we decided to go the safer and more convenient route of parking at the port.
Being accustomed to the process, plus carrying all our luggage and backpacks ourselves made getting on board the ship very easy. We were lucky enough to have received a very low-cost cabin upgrade to a Promenade deck balcony cabin just behind the bridge which was a big bonus.
|We have a balcony? We have a balcony!!|
|View From the Bridge. Or View OF the Bridge, rather, from the balcony of our cabin on Deck 8, Forward Starboard (8211)|
|Our daughter gazes at the water from our balcony, as the wind and setting sun catch her hair in a frenzy.|
|Beautiful Miami shoreline|
|Sunset behind us and the trailing Celebrity Reflection|
|A Sail-away drink!|
|What have we gotten ourselves into?|
After a couple hours relaxing on the deck and enjoying the sail-away from Miami, we had our first early seating dinner in the Platinum Dining Room. I’ll go ahead at this point and make a few remarks about the main dining room experience. I was a bit disappointed to have a table for four by ourselves – not that our family doesn’t enjoy eating together (our meals can become legendary for their comedy, music and general silliness) but that a big highlight of our previous cruises was the novelty of having great tablemates from around the country and world to share each evening’s stories with, as well as have familiar faces in the various ports and friends to keep in contact with after the cruise is over. We would have gladly shared a large table with other couples or families, but were never given that option when choosing our dinner time and location. However, other than that the dinner meals were quite good and there was a nice variety of dishes to satisfy our generally picky family. Ok, I’m the picky one, but we never wanted for a good meal to end the day. Our waiter and his staff were warm and pleasant (and learned each of our names from the very beginning). The main waiter was from the Philippines and was looking forward to returning there in a few weeks for a visit. The opportunity to meet and get to know people from all over the world has always been an enjoyable part of our cruises.
We visited the Piano Bar briefly, and enjoyed a little sing-a-long with the pianist, but everyone was tired so we moved back to the cabin for the night.
Oh, I almost forgot the bane of every cruiser’s experience: the safety briefing. Mind-numbingly boring typically, although I’ll just say on this trip we got to view the aftereffects of those fine gentlemen who waste no time plunging into the alcohol the moment they come on board. One in particular made the normally low-key necessary event quite tedious with his raucous and disrespectful attitude toward the well-meaning crew assistants. My daughter in particular was very tempted to whack the guy on the back of the head after one of his (too him and his buddies only) hilariously inebriated comments, but cooler heads prevailed. I told her our only consolation was if the ship did go down, we’d be safe in the lifeboats and he’d still plastered to a barstool somewhere, wondering what happened to the bartender and why was it getting so wet?
Day 2, Dec 28 (First Sea Day)
The day began a little rough, as my wife who was battling the trailing edge of a chest cold was affected by the motion of the ship more than usual and needed some down time to adjust. My daughter, as well, needed some time to get her sea legs so the morning and afternoon was spent by them adjusting while my son and I explored the ship.
I’d like to give a big shout-out to “Guy’s Burger Joint” onboard the Glory – actually one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, especially without all the spicy fixings that were offered as options on the menu. The décor of the corner eatery on the Lido deck was Guy Fieri-California surfer chic, which quite fits the Food Network Star’s persona. It was a big hit once we all got our stomachs under control, and I looked forward to having another in a few days.
Each Carnival ship has a “theme” that sets it apart from the other ships in the fleet, reflected in the décor, lounge and club names and other aspects of the interior design. Glory’s was “color” and each of the main areas of the ship had a “colorful” name, such as the Amber Palace Theatre, the Ebony Lounge, Ivory Club, Blue Room (smoking bar), Gold and Platinum Dining Rooms, the White Heat Dance Club, and more. Many were connected by the “Kaleidoscope Way”, a long promenade below decks that was the main commercial and social thoroughfare of the ship. Our last cruise on the Carnival Valor had patriotic themes, and I enjoy the way Carnival decides how to differentiate its ships and make each cruise experience unique.
It was interesting cruising with an 18-yr-old – he was old enough to get into any of the 18+ areas or activities, such as the casino or the Adult Comedy shows, but too young to drink and there weren’t too many people his own age on board. But he’s adaptable and not one who feels lost without constant social activity so he was fine. In fact, he met up with a couple of young ladies near his age during the course of the trip and enjoyed himself in that regard.
Similarly, cruising with a 15-yr-old girl has its own challenges in making sure she is occupied and finds interesting things to do. Carnival has a lounge for 15-17 yr-olds but after checking them out a couple of times she declined to participate. It would be nice for Carnival to spend as much energy providing activities for teens as they do for children, but I suppose you can’t have everything!
Most of the rest of the day was spent relaxing on deck. My wife and I camped out in a hammock on the Serenity (21+) Deck, and enjoyed some hot tub time. I understand the reasoning behind an adults-only sunning area, as it’s nice to have an area with no kids running around screaming, but I think 21 is maybe too old a cut-off. Neither of our kids could enjoy it, but I guess I understand it.
We all attended the evening “Playlist Productions” show in the Amber Palace Theatre, a Motown revue performed by eight talented entertainers. This evening’s show was enjoyable, but I’ll have more to say about this aspect of the cruise’s entertainment later on.
|Gotta love the towel animals....|
Day 3, Dec 29 (Second Sea Day)
December in the Caribbean is something new to us, the weather is not quite as hot but the humidity is still evident. Nevertheless, the 2nd day at sea was hit or miss with the sun and a few squalls came through during the evening hours. Nothing too terrible.
I must say I enjoy the Trivia Contests and always seem to place fairly high in Star Wars Trivia. Yet another solid gold plastic ship-on-a-stick to add to my collection!
It was spa day for my wife and daughter – facials, massages, exfoliations, dishing about guys – whatever women do in the spas.
The evening’s entertainment was “Hasbro, The Game Show” which was decent if a little juvenile. I was able to get up on stage and participate after answering a trivia question (thank you, Superman and the Daily Planet!) and got to play a Skee-ball type game based on the kid’s game, “Operation.” I won an electronic Simon game!
I have started to wish that Carnival would put their collective heads together and think up some new on-board activities that didn’t involve either, a) trivia, b) drinking and carousing, or c) an interest in self-improvement lectures like acupuncture and yoga. Other than these things and wandering about the ship/laying out on deck, there’s not much to do on a sea day when you’re on a ship that doesn’t have a skydive simulator, interactive video scavenger hunts or water skiing off the back of the ship (my kids’ idea).
Day 4, Dec 30 (Saint Martin)
|Five different ships in the Saint Martin Philipsburg port that day. That's a lot of ship.|
Ah, the meat of the trip finally arrives – the ports and excursions! On the Valor, my wife and I participated in the America’s Cup yacht race when we were in “Sint Maartin” (which is my all-time favorite shore excursion) but this trip we opted to give the kids their first ocean-based snorkeling experience. There’s truly nothing like sailing through the Philipsburg, SM’s Great Bay in a catamaran on a beautiful Caribbean day that makes you want to move there forever… After the cruise was over, both kids proclaimed the snorkeling in Little Bay, our first destination that day, to be their favorite part of the cruise. Unfortunately for me, even though this day happened to also be my birthday, my luck didn’t prevent me from carving several gashes in my lower right leg on some of the rocks while I tried to clean out my diving mask. Only when I got back to the boat and my wife noticed me about to bleed all over the deck did I notice anything amiss. However, the good folks crewing the catamaran patched me up and I was none the worse. After snorkeling was finished, they continued on around the southern tip of the island past Cay Bay to Cole Bay for some beach time.
|Great Bay of Philipsburg, Saint Martin. Or is that Little Bay? Hard to tell.|
|I'm going to buy one of these someday and live here. Just you watch me...|
|....if the rocks and coral don't kill me first.|
|Man, those planes land....|
|...and fly really, really close to you.|
|Vantage point from my resting spot on the catamaran. Not too shabby for what would have been a workday, huh?|
After returning to the marina, we took a water taxi over to Philipsburg proper for a little exploration of the town-front area. The MAC store was a hit with our 15 year old daughter! Sadly, time was short and it was time to return to the Glory. I love wandering Philipsburg and wish we had had more time there. We were told the noon excursion was about 2-1/2 hours, so we figured we’d have plenty of time afterward before having to head back, but in reality it lasted almost 3-1/2 hours, so the rest was cut short.
|Just another colorful day on the island!|
|Map of the island. I think I may see some Dharma Stations...|
|Even Santa likes a nice island break after the holidays.|
One thing we noticed during each of our port visits, was that during the months after the time returns to Standard Time in the US, most ports stay on Daylight Savings Time (or the local equivalent). We were never really told to make sure we stayed on “ship time”, the time all excursions were based on. It was consistently different than the actual local time on the islands. While my son did wear a watch on occasion, cell phones synch to local time and we were never quite sure what the real, true ship time was. When you have a constant fear of stranding your family in a strange island country while sadly waving goodbye as your cruise ship sails away without you, this can be a nagging worry… Luckily we never actually had that problem.
Back on the ship, one of the highlights of the cruise was “Superstar Live,” the live band karaoke in the Ebony Lounge. Both my son and daughter, who are excellent singers, made their parents proud by performing for an extremely appreciative audience. Karaoke is a cruise ship standard entertainment, and I’m very glad Carnival chooses to use this unique live style of musical performance rather than standard recorded tunes.
My son and I stayed for the adult comedy show later that evening at George Lopez’s Punchliner Comedy Club, which was another step in my transition of parent of a kid to parent of a young adult. Not to get too much into personal family dynamics, but he’s been through a lot of changes in his relationship to his mom and me over the past year, and sharing adult humor with him was an interesting step I hadn’t thought to take. Regardless, the comedian was a self-proclaimed “nerd/rap” comedian named who used numerous pop culture and kid game references in his act. Being an “adult” act, the language got raw at times but not too bad. However, as is the case with most comic acts out there, the language often gets in the way of the comedy and prevents a normally great show from being accessible to all ages. That’s a long-standing rant of mine and has nothing to do with Carnival, really, although I suppose from a marketing standpoint, “adult” shows draw bigger, older crowds and sell more drinks than family-friendly shows, so take that as you will.
Day 5, Dec 31 (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
|Today there were at least six ships in port, not to mention one that left and another that docked while we were there. Busy, busy, busy....|
This was a day of good intentions gone slightly bad. In 2012 on the Valor, we were in San Juan during early October, which seems to be a fairly low key time of year for visitors. Visiting the old city of San Juan was a breeze, as the free trolleys came along every 5-10 minutes and could whisk you away to wherever you wanted to go. We thought it might be fun for the kids to show them some of the same sights and save money on a short excursion. However, it wasn’t exactly the same situation this time on New Year’s Eve. There were six – count’em, six! – other cruise ships in port with us, including the Carnival Sunshine and the Disney Fantasy, traffic was jammed up all over and people were everywhere. While the day wasn’t terribly hot, walking the length and breadth of Old San Juan is not for the faint of heart. After exploring a bit of Fort San Cristobal in the northeast corner, visiting with some sunning iguanas in an old walled area, and trying to walk to the Fort Felipe del Morro and the old cemetery, we did finally catch a free trolley and rode it for a visual tour of the town. Heavy traffic and New Year’s Eve revelers kept progress slow and we eventually made it to Senor Frog’s near the cruise port. Senor Frog’s is a Margaritaville-wannabe restaurant that is family-friendly with balloon animals for the kiddies in the front, and loud, drunken frat party in the back. Guess where we were seated?
|Beautiful battlements and other fort relics in Old San Juan|
|Me, wife and son why daughter takes the photo...|
|Christmas decorations still up in many locations.|
|A scaly native suns himself on a battlement.|
|I kid you not, we overheard someone on a cell phone walk by and tell the other person this was some "chick with a baby and three weird looking guys."|
Nonetheless, after a visit with numerous street vendors we returned to the Glory for New Year’s Eve fun. While the visit to Old San Juan wasn’t a total loss, it was probably the low point of our trip.
|Panoramic shot of several of the ships in port together|
|These poor folks' friend apparently got raptured and they never even noticed...|
|Life-size bobblehead guy. Apparently they were all over town that day. This one kept putting on and taking off his head as he walked. Very disconcerting....|
|Don't you have a giant seahorse statue in your town?|
|The city is very colorful.|
|Backside of the Disney Fantasy, with Dumbo and Timothy. Ah...someday.|
The night’s show in the Amber Theatre was “Divas”, of which the less said, the better. Again, more on that later.
A few words about the ship band, The Regulators. As mentioned before, they played for Superstar Live twice during the trip as well as playing numerous times on the Casino stage in a variety of styles and genres. I thought they were a decent cover band, not too remarkable, although I wasn’t a big fan of the female vocalist. That evening they started playing for the New Year’s Eve celebration at 8:30 and apparently played straight until almost 11:45 on the Lido Deck stage as more and more passengers poured onto the deck for the coming celebration. My daughter elected to bypass the festivities and turn in early but my son and wife and I found a spot on deck and enjoyed the excitement. The poor girl singer’s voice was obviously about shot by that time of the evening and I felt bad for her – as a vocalist and sometimes vocal coach, I hate to see someone pushing themselves too hard.
One of the trip highlights for me was seeing all the seemingly thousands of passengers crammed on Lido and all the surrounding open areas of the Glory, celebrating, drinking champagne, and toasting as the countdown reached 2015.
|Mr. Towel Froggy is ready for New Year's revelries.|
|But my son decided to appropriate the glasses for himself. Ok, actually I did, and I put them on him myself.|
|Happy New Year 2015!|
Watch the Video
Day 6, Jan 1 (Grand Turk)
Another familiar port, Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos was a lot of fun. We arranged beforehand to rent a golf cart so the four of us could tool around the island at our leisure. Being a relatively small island, and having visited there before, we were easily able to navigate and find our way around. Even driving on the left-hand side of the road was much easier in a golf cart! In fact, I would recommend taking a golf cart rather than a regular tour if you’ve been to the island before, as it truly does have a good bit of charm when you view the historic spots up close and in person rather than from a bus window.
|These little fellows were everywhere we went, and seem to roam free around the island. They were quite tame and friendly.|
|Waters were several different amazing shades of blue...|
|Still in the Christmas spirit|
We visited the lighthouse on the northern point, the History Museum which was a kick because the lady working there was an ex-pat from the States. Also the John Glenn Friendship 7 memorial and the Grand Turk Inn were all charming. The architecture and street design reminded me a lot of some of the Florida Gulf Coastal communities that I’ve visited (accounting for a difference in income levels).
|Recreation of John Glenn's Friendship 7 capsule that splashed down just off shore in 1962|
|The island's History Museum houses a working model of the lighthouse searchlight|
|Lighthouse at the northern edge of the island.|
|One of the beaches features this rusting shipwreck hulk. Is it haunted? Could be!|
The Grand Turk cruise port was built specifically by and for Carnival, and includes a giant Margaritaville restaurant that features a pool and swim-up bar as well as large outdoor dining area. We relaxed, grabbed a couple Cheeseburgers in Paradise and swam in the beach area near the ship before returning onboard.
The Carnival Sunshine followed us from San Juan, and was parked right across the pier from the Glory. Walking between two hulking cruise ships makes you feel like you’re walking down a street in Manhattan sometimes, but as Glory pulled away before the Sunshine, it was fun watching the large sister ship slip by and their passengers wave at us.
The show in the Amber Palace Theatre that night had an unremarkable theme (we’re almost there! Be patient!) so we decided to visit the Punchliner Comedy Club again, this time for the family show from a Paula Deen-like comedienne whose name escapes me. She was funny, but some of her material, while not actually lifted from other comedians, was of the “old groaner” type variety. I mean, I don’t know who first said it – maybe it was her! – but I’ve heard the bit about how “in the South, you can say anything you want about someone as long as you follow it up with, ‘ bless their heart’”. It’s an overused comedy cliché nowadays, and I’m surprised it’s being used in current material. It’s the modern equivalent of “Take my wife, please” and “A guy walked up to me and said he hadn’t had a belt in days. So I hit him.” My wife decided to turn in early, and my daughter used her magic daughter powers to talk me into letting her attend the next “Adults Only 18+” comedy show with her brother. Ah, the things we do for our kids…. That comedian’s language was very blue, but he was really funny and definitely the best of the three we saw that week. After he was finished, she went back to the room, my son went exploring and I stayed and heard the Paula Deen clone do her adult set. It was better than her family act, actually, and while her language wasn’t quite as salty the subject matter was definitely more adult. Overall I would rate the comics I saw onboard the Glory as about a B.
After her act was over, I joined my son at the Seaside Theatre on the Lido Deck to watch the second half of the Ohio State-Alabama playoff game. Being a Tennessee fan first and a fan of the SEC, it nonetheless was great fun watching the Tide get bumped off by the Buckeyes.
Day 7, Jan 2 (Third Sea Day)
This was a day of mostly sunning on the Lido Deck and general relaxation. Not a whole lot remarkable to report on this final full day on the Carnival Glory, although I did get another Guy’s Burger Joint meal. Here’s a tip, don’t outsmart yourself and get one with all the fixing’s, like BBQ sauce, onion rings and five heads of lettuce worth of shavings. Go for the basics and let the burger taste shine through with a minimum of toppings. (I never did figure out what the “donkey sauce” they offered was, and I’m not sure I wanted to).
Very, very, very good middle of the day as we all watched my beloved Tennessee Volunteer football team demolish the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Gator Bowl/Taxslayer Bowl. We watched with a number of other UT fans in the EA Sports Bar, which I hadn’t been in before to that point. About halfway through the game, a crew girl came in and abruptly changed the big screens to a Sports Trivia game that had been ongoing throughout the week. We were able to continue watching the game on one of the big screens after asking the bartender to switch one of them back, but it would have been nice if she had come in and at least acknowledged people were watching a game. But it’s funny, because she was probably the last crew member who should have been hosting Sports Trivia. Let’s just say she didn’t know how to pronounce “Lasorda” and leave it at that.
Ok, the final Amber Palace show was “Epic Rock” and we all actually enjoyed this one a good deal. Here’s my gripe about this semi-nightly entertainment venue. Carnival has installed an amazing, state-of-the-art video projection screen that moves on and off stage, and displays a number of gorgeous backgrounds that support the singers onstage. The special effects, combined with the lighting, that they were able to create was fantastic. Unfortunately, the overall vocal talent of the eight singers was really nothing to write home about. There were four guys and four ladies, two of each had the bulk of the solo works and the other four were mostly back-up. Maybe it was the sound mix (the instrumental music was often way too hot), maybe it was the song selection – especially in the truly bad “Divas” show, maybe it was the excessive choreography and over-the-top staging, maybe it was a number of other factors, but when I go to see a show, and especially a revue, I want to hear top-notch singing. Everything else (unless there’s a live band) should be secondary. But for the three shows we saw, it was more about the spectacle and less about the actual performance. I want to be fair and give them every chance, and truly the final Epic Rock show was above average, but the others were average or below, and I don’t pay for that kind of entertainment on a cruise ship.
A suggestion to Carnival: use your video projections to create beautiful vistas, stunning backgrounds and effects that supplement the performers, not overshadow them, and make sure you have top-notch arrangers and singers with adequate rehearsal to really make the songs shine. Ok, off my performer’s soap box!
My son and I revisited the Piano Bar for a while. I think the performer’s name was Kyle. The Piano Bar, a staple on board cruise ships, is called the Cinn-a-Bar on the Glory (I supposed cinnamon is a color?). Kyle was much more upbeat and personable than the pianist on the Valor two years ago - he was a bit of a grouch and it looked like that was the last place in the world he wanted to be…
I took my customary last walk around the deck of the ship, came back to the cabin and packed and went to bed.
One last thing before the end of the day – there were probably about five other cruise ships in the waters around us all day, and at night with lights blazing it was a magnificent sight.
Day 8, Jan 3 (Debarkation Day)
Getting off the Glory in Miami was even easier than getting onboard. If you can at all carry your own luggage, and don’t have to wait for a transfer to the airport or another type of non-personal transportation, I would highly recommend it. We got into Miami overnight, and they actually started letting people debark around 7:30. We got up, had a light breakfast, and blew the multi-colored popsicle stand to return to our car, unscathed, by around 8:30.
The 12-hour drive from Miami to Knoxville – non-stop this time – was marred once again by inexplicable construction traffic slowdowns south of Atlanta and some torrential rain, and we didn’t end up making it back in town until 12:30 am the next morning. But it was worth it!
Some Final Random Observations and Stuff I Forgot:· The Cruise Director was a fun guy named Dr. E. I often wonder how much the Cruise Director really does except to be the entertainment face and voice on the ship, as he was a good singer and even better partier with the guests. I’d love to see an interview with one of these guys sometime and learn how much they’re actually like Julie from The Love Boat.
· It’s very odd how Carnival can be so efficient with their serving lines and other food services, and yet there’s always a line ten people deep for the 24-hour-a-day pizza and the popcorn at the Seaside Theatre on movie nights. Here’s a hint: put more than one or two guys making pizzas, or maybe install more ovens so I don’t have to wait 20 minutes for a slice of pepperoni, and fill up the popcorn popper with popcorn before you start serving it out, so people don’t always have to wait in line for each separate batch to pop. I know, I know, first world problems…
· How fun would it have been to have a live band on New Year’s Eve that was maybe not a headliner, or one that might show up on one of the Carnival Live! cruises, but is still fairly well known. How about Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra or the Tonight Show band? Or the Tower of Power horns? Ok, I’m dreaming, but it’s such a big special occasion it might even sell more cabins for a NYE cruise.
· Can’t say enough about the friendliness of the cabin stewards (who also learned our first names), the waiters and the restaurant staff, and all the folks working hard to keep the ship clean and safe the whole week. And the day we debark, they get to do it all over again for another week.
· I miss the midnight buffets, and the big end-of-the-cruise dessert buffets with the decorative pastries and ice carvings L Whatever happened to those? Also whatever happened to the Bridge Tours? Maybe I missed it, but I never saw it offered like it used to be…
· The balcony outside the cabin is el primo and was greatly enjoyed at all hours of the day and evening. It is so choice….if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
· One of the movies shown during movie night at the Seaside Theatre was the tearjerker, “The Fault in Our Stars”. Half the audience was sniffling and sobbing and I decided to leave early because (*SPOILER*) once they guy’s cancer came back and his girlfriend didn’t have much longer to live, I knew it wasn’t going to turn out well. But was that really a great choice for a happy cruise movie? *sniff*
· Speaking of happy, I finally learned all about the song, “Happy”, and we determined what everyone knows, that “YMCA” is played w-a-a-a-a-y too much.
The dynamic is very different cruising with two kids when you’re used to cruising with just your spouse. It wasn’t bad at all, and I wouldn’t have changed the experience for anything, but it’s just different. You have to start thinking what’s best for everyone, and as a dad I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone is happy, well fed, well rested, and all with a minimum of bloodshed (including my own). Less opportunity for spontaneity, and with two kids who are young adults you aren’t able to just tell them where we’re all going next, you have to have buy-in to keep a respectful attitude. Again, not bad at all, just different.
Overall, the cruise was a lot of fun and although my wife and I visited all ports we’d been to before everything was new and different in its own way.
Carnival continues to give us pretty much everything we could hope for and at an overall great price. We’re looking forward to our next trip, whenever that may be.