Carnival Splendor Cruise- Bahamas, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Mexico
Updated: Feb 28, 2019
I am going to preface saying this post will be *extra* long (you can see current read time up on top!) as it goes into great detail how we ended up on our first cruise and tips and mistakes we made and other helpful stuff- please feel free to skip as much as you need && remember questions are always welcome! It's been a bit (2017) since this cruise but will do my best to go back and share as many details as I possibly can- some things could have changed!
Gabriel and I got back from a birthday trip to Saint Petersburg, FL in March 2017 and high from vacay bliss knew we wanted to go somewhere at the end of the year. We looked into many inclusive resorts but nothing really "spoke out" to my wanderlust feelings.
I am not one who can sit there on a beach and tan and drink for 8 days straight. That sounds like more work than actual work. Plus I feel like I'm missing out on the cultural experiences of the locals and land!
I came across a blog talking about a cruise, I started researching cruise lines and destination locations and was shown a whole new world of vacationing. I gathered enough facts and presented it to G who was instantly hooked on the idea.
I couldn't figure out what would be the best starter cruise line for first time cruisers so I found these Facebook groups and did as much post digging and reading as I could-
I quickly learned about Carnival cruises- I had a friend who I often saw post photos on social media on Carnival and figured if she has been on that specific line and was a repeat loyal customer- it's worth a try!
I looked directly at the Carnival website but found prices to be much cheaper on Costco Travel and was being offered a $25 onboard cruise credit and a $75 Costco Cash gift card upon completing the cruise. Carnival has a 110% guarantee price match policy, meaning if you find a cheaper cruise price they will match that price + give you 10% of the difference in an onboard cruise credit. But after calculating, I realized the Costco gift card we would be receiving was a better deal therefore booked with Costco and got 2% rewards back on my Costco card and an additional 2% on the Costco credit card. I quickly learned from my groups to purchase travel insurance (and NOT from the Carnival website) and went ahead with the group most people recommended, Allianz. I paid $110 to insure our entire trip and this included much beyond what protection our credit card gave. I once skipped travel insurance on our first ever trip with Gabriel and something major ended up happening and it cost over $550 to rebook tickets- so the idea of paying $110 and having trip protection, trip interruption, missed flight connection, emergency medical coverage, and more was beyond worth it (and I read enough horror stories in the cruise groups I joined). The cost of the cruise (for both of us) was $1300 for 9 days and 8 nights out of Ft Lauderdale, Florida.
I should note we originally booked on a much different itinerary but because we cruised during hurricane season (August- October) Hurricane Irma did so much damage to our original ports (Puerto Rico/ Turks and Caicos/ St Marteen) we were rerouted. It was so nerve wreaking to wait to see where we were going to go and we were finally told one week before we left. It was a little scary to have to rebook absolutely everything. (excursions/ taxis) I had spent months planning on to come up with new things to do at our new destination ports- but nothing in comparison to the pain and damage the people on the islands experienced. So I put myself to work.
We booked our flights on Jetblue ($450 for both roundtrip) and flew in a day early to be safe. We Uber-ed from the airport ($16) and stayed at this Airbnb (use this link to sign up as a first time user and receive $40 off a home booking of $75 or more and $15 toward an experience of $50 or more) We took a nap after our flight and took an Uber (sign up with my link/ code anetab47ue to get your first ride free!) down to downtown Ft Lauderdale to eat and walk by the water before our departure the next day. We also picked up some last minute supplies we didn't want to fly from Chicago with (each person is allowed a 12 pack case of soda onboard- NO plastic bottles, cans only! and a 750 ml bottle of sealed wine or champagne per person- must be brought on as a carryon) The Uber from Airbnb the next day was $9 to ship port. To see a massive cruise ship for the first time in port is something I don't have the words to explain- it's absolutely amazing and just such a "WOW" moment.
We booked the earliest check in time, left our big suitcases at the pier to get scanned, and with our carry on suitcases and soda cans/ wine went through security, bag scanning, passport checks, and got our pictures taken for o ship ID. We had to wait about a hour to board the ship. When we finally walked on, our luggage was already onboard and room was ready for us (sometimes it's not so just be patient). We waited for the muster drill (a safety drill/lifeboat assignment you are assigned to and MUST show up before a ship sails- your folio card (your ship ID) is scanned and it doesn't matter how many times you cruised- you MUST show up- please don't be the a**hole who makes a 5 minute drill a 30 minute because you couldn't show up) Then the send off party happens!
We quickly grabbed drinks and went to go explore our home for the next week! I feel like this is a good time to talk about what's included in your cruise price.
On the ship, your food (NOT speciality restaurants) are included in your total. That includes the main dining room, lido buffet, other little free "restaurants" on board like Guy's burgers, pizza, tacos & burritos, and etc (every ship is different and they do not all have same restaurants and amenities) Any speciality restaurant such as the Steakhouse, JiJi Asian Kitchen and it is advised you make reservations weeks prior to boarding to request a reservation from your Carnival online "manage" profile (even if you book a 3rd party like Costco/ travel agent you will still need to have a Carnival page log-in to fill out paperwork and manage your booking) and hope your reservations get accepted (same for spa services and YES they are cheaper prior to pre-cruise)
Also- soda (bubbles!) and alcoholic drinks (cheers!) are all extra unless you buy a package.... and everyone in your cabin MUST buy one (unless you can prove with a doctors note you are pregnant- so sorry no sharing!) and you must buy it for all your cruise days- an 8 day cruise is $490.41 extra a person for alcoholic drinks- I will attach rules and more info on costs here to answer your questions as we ourselves do not participate and just buy are drinks individually.
For the package to make sense, they say you have to order 15 drinks a day to reach to reach a break even in costs ... and if you actually know me, I'm rolling after one glass of wine being the lightweight I am and just purchase my drinks individually on my folio card (you pay an itemized tab at the end of the cruise). Between our own wine we bring onboard and a few drinks by pool and with dinner- we spent about $60 on drinks on this cruise (not counting what we spent in port because its cheaper on land in restaurants).
Also with mentioning, island excursions! You choose to do whether they be hosted by Carnival or a 3rd party- they all cost extra. I know a lot of people will tell you to book through ship as the ship will wait for you if you are running behind (yes the ship can leave you and pier runners ARE a real thing!) but I always prefer to give me $ directly to the locals of whose country I am coming to visit versus the cruise ship itself. Do your research and make your own decisions! Everything I am about to talk about below were 3rd party excursions.
We decided to splurge and book a $500 ELEMIS Aroma Spa Seaweed full body couples massage on our first night and made our way down to the Cloud 9 Spa around 830pm. We filled out a questioner in the lounge and when I stood up I stepped on a broken wine glass and cut my foot. I asked for a bandaid but was told to just go to the room-- so I was already annoyed. We met our masseuses and got undressed and covered in a seaweed scrub and then covered in foil, like burritos. I started to feel so itchy but told it was okay, they did a head massage on us and then we were sent to shower off the scrub. We came back to receive another layer of scrub and were foiled again and then were given a foot massage and once again told to shower off after. When we came back we received a full body massage. I was dying I was so itchy from the seaweed and G started getting little bumps on his arm.
We were right across from the front desk and could hear everything going on as they turned the music off in our room. I told my lady I would really love for her to give me a heads up to what she was going to be doing since I'd consider myself an anxious person when strangers touch me and she would- of course never did so I had one eye constantly open and it was so incredibly UN-relaxing! When it was all done, The girls came with the bill and tips already written in. It really rubbed me the wrong way and I went to talk to the front desk about our experience. I wanted to see if there was anything we could do, or at least talk about what was wrong so they could fix for future customers. Turns out the Carnival has a 100% satisfaction guarantee and they just refunded us all the money. We still wanted to tip but if they cancel out a treatment, you cannot tip. Know this, but don't abuse this! I was so pleasantly happy with how they handled that! We still gave Cloud 9 another chance on another cruise and were very happy so clearly this was just a fluke in their usual top notch service. Try it for yourself. And people will tell you they run the the best promos during port days- not true. I compared all the pricing- pre booking prior to getting on board was the cheapest!
DAY TWO- PRINCESS CAYS, BAHAMAS
Our first day we landed at Carnival's private port, Princess Cays in the Bahamas. This section of the port has no life until a cruise ship comes in and all the cooks, entertainment, food and drinks come off the ship as well.
To access the "city" you need to get permission and sign out to pass the guarded gate.
The beach is absolutely beyond
beautiful, there are these unreal little colorful cabanas, and the palm trees are so lush- it's a little piece of heaven. This is a tender port, meaning there are little boats that come up to the ship to take you to the island because the ship is too big and can't get close enough to prevent from damaging the wild life. Your folio card works here to pay for your drinks since this is a Carnival owned portion of the island.
I didnt want to just sit around and tan, as knew we would be doing that on sea days so before we left home I researched this island and came across a picture with swimming pigs- I inquired but learned they are up in the Spanish Wells and due to our limited time, there would be no way to see them. I then found a place called Eleuthera that has pink sand beaches and I knew that's what I wanted to go see.
Researching, I found taxis were scarce in the area and we could possibly be stranded trying to get back to the ship after being dropped off in Eluthera and the road was difficult to drive to that beach. I found Eleuthera Tours on Trip Advisor and learned they provided a tour called "Discover Lighthouse Beach"- I reached out and learned it was run by a Bahamian man, Donald, and his Floridian wife, Kristel, and they would pick us up and take us 25 minute down to Eleuthera. Gabriel was scared out of his mind about the prospect of being kidnapped and killed and thrown into the water by going off with random people... I happen to be a little more trusting. While waiting for them to arrive, I made friends with the security guards who took us in a golf cart to the furthest part of the private beach to take pictures and they came out spectacular with the ship in the distance (see below!!) Donald came with his teenage daughter and signed us out and we were off. He told us about life on the island and when we arrived he got busy making lunch and a fire for us. His daughter took us on a walk and helped us collect and name shells and gave us historical facts on the area we were in. We were the ONLY ones who showed up on the tour and it was so magical. After, Donald sent us to the opposite side of the island while he finished cooking. We stripped and and ditched our suits and jumped in the ocean until we had to go back and met them for the local cultural lunch and rum punch he had prepared. It was so incredibly beautiful and breath taking and to this day one of my absolute fondest travel memories.
We made it back with still an hour and half to spend on the private beach before we had to tender back. Gabriel found a gigantic conch shell and rocks he planned to bring back on the boat to put in his salt water aquarium at home and I sat on the beach eating exotic grapes a security guard pointed out to me.
To leave to have to walk back through "customs" which is a tiny booth with a metal detector and x-ray machine scanner and you put all your stuff through. Whenever you buy alcohol in port, the ship takes it and gives it back to you on departure day so you cannot buy liquor and sneak it on and drink on the boat.
Anyways, G's rocks and shells all got taken all with a huge piles of others- it was explained that there is wildlife living on and in the shells and there can be bacteria in them. If brought onboard, as shells dry they will smell in your room. A small ziplock bag of sand, if okay if you collect for yourself- but you will be asked to leave anything else.
We spent the next two days at sea at the pool tanning, gambling, watching shows, listening to steel drums, visiting the onboard shops, drinking, reading and relaxing. We had elegant night for dinner one day in the main dining room (we chose to do your time dining in order to avoid being seated with the same strangers nightly at dinner and being forced to make small talk this way we were free to eat whenever we wanted with the company of each other. We didn't care about not having the same waiter nightly like some people do) They have such fun foods to try and you can order as many "orders" of something as you wish... you want 4 steaks and 3 lobsters.... you got it! Every night they have "port specials" from the port place you visited and "rare finds" that is "crazy" foods you probably have never tried- what an experience! The Bahamas introduced us to conch fritters... but later on the trip we had frog legs and escargot along with ox tail and rabbit! G was often too scared to try but I am more adventurous and I am still thinking about that escargot!
DAY FIVE- OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA
In my head, I always believed Jamaica was this lush, beautiful and prosperous tourist island and was so happy we were routed there... until I read the reviews on my FB groups and saw most people didn't even get off the ship at this port due to the amount of crime and violence. It was VERY highly suggested not to go off on your own here and stick to a VERY well known travel group for any excursions. Nothing prepared me for the heartbreaking clearcut division of poverty and wealth- it was absolutely sicking. When we were riding in our bus, we saw so many poor people living in absolutely awful conditions, animals were everywhere, and then you would take a look to your other side and there where these huge resorts with very very tall walls to block out the sights of the city- while they themselves were full of money and wealth. Although I enjoyed my time in Jamaica, I will have a very hard time reasoning to go back again.
This port is a pier port so you dock and walk off right past Margaritaville and into the city where you can eat and grab a taxi to explore or meet your tour group. We booked the Dunn's River Falls, Sky Explorer, Bobsled Ride & River Tubing Excursion from Ocho Rios with Karandas Tours at $120 a person with transportation included. There was a group of 6 of us and our driver. Our first stop was the Calyspo Falls (linking you to my Instagram video of it!) where we grabbed the jankiest float tubes I've ever seen in my life- but they worked! Our tour guide came with us singing Jamaican songs down the hour long river trip. The river itself was calm with a few "dips" so nothing scary until I drifted off to the side and ended up hitting a wall filled with tiny crabs and about 100 fell off- I nearly sh*t my pants right there out of fear, I definitely can laugh about it now- but not so much then!
We stopped at a midway point and hung out on a tire swing and splashing in the water. There was a platform you could climb up to with a ladder and jump in- the other guys from my group did and being someone who chases danger and adrenaline- I was right up there with them. I got to the top and the guide yelled at me to JUMP FAR since it goes from a shallow to a deep incline, when I got to the edge and saw the rocks I froze and did this tiny little jump and just saw the guide's face turn in horror. I felt something snap and when I floated up, I wanted to cry. I could feel my ankle turn hot and the pain was so awful I couldn't stand. The guide said to take a few minutes but I hate being a bother and didnt want to slow anyone down and I said no we should keep going. We finished the tubing excursion and got on the bus to go climb the Dunn's River Fall waterfall. I felt my ankle swelling but refused to acknowledge it and pushed through-- and you bet I climbed those Falls without a single complaint and still one of the fastest in our group.
When you arrive at the falls, you are assigned a guide (later we learned you can do it on your own but we didn't have that option as they wanted to keep our tour group together) and added 20 other walk up people to our group. We had to walk down the stairs next to the Falls to reach the bottom to climb back up through the rocks and water. You need water shoes, if not will have to purchase/ rent on site (expensive!) We found it to be an "easy" climb (but then again we do a lot of climbing) and were helping "drag" our group members in a "human chain" to prevent people from slipping. The water was cold and its constant rush on my foot felt like an ice pack and made the climb manageable. It's a beautiful climb but many people in our group (mostly elders and children) complained it was a little too difficult- I really wish we could have done the climb ourselves, the complaints of other people really ruined the beauty you are around. There are "exit points" during the walk up if you feel it is too difficult and can just climb along side the falls (same way you get down to the falls). We made it up to the famous "you made it" sign and made our way through the the gift shops to get back to our bus.
Word of caution- everyone will tell you the shopkeepers in Jamaica are very pushy and rude... they are pushy (as every shopkeeper trying to make a living and completing with everyone round them is!) but will only be rude if you ignore them or say dont say "no thank you" if you are nice, you won't have a problem but it is best you walk with your hands behind your back and dont touch anything unless you are trying to buy something. They are notorious for trying to tell you once you pick it up, it's yours. You are allowed to price haggle but will have better luck if you are not near a place where they have to pay a higher rent to set up their shoppe.
There is a camera guy along with your tour guide who climbs the falls with you and records your group and then you can purchase your DVD to show everyone back home. We did, at first they started out asking for $40 but we got it down to $15. I have yet to watch it though and its been 2 years, but I just might after I finish typing this post!
I will add one thing, you will always see us carry around our orange backpack on vacation. When I found out we were going to Ocho Rios and climbing these falls, I wanted to bring our camera and valuables along and spent quite a bit of time researching a waterproof "back pack" where I could throw my "real" camera in and not worry about it getting wet in the waterfall. I kept getting shown drypacks at Dicks Sporting Goods and REI but that wasn't what I needed. I finally found the company Dry Pack and found a 20L waterproof backpack that fit our needs. You roll it up like a dry pack but it has a few pockets (not waterproof) and the capability of holding water (for drinking or becoming a portable shower) and the straps are cushioned and if it were to ever fall into the water, it will not sink which was one of the most important things for me. Here is one from Amazon that is very similar and is $90. We did go through beyond waist deep water climbing the falls and the bag was perfectly okay and everything stayed dry. Oh, I will add- our guide made us take off our hats and sunglasses thinking if we fell climbing we would lose them, we were definitely ok and I wish we hadn't had listened because we needed our sunglasses!
We got back on the bus and headed to our final excursion of bobsledding (linking you to my video on instagram!) at the eco-friendly Mystic Mountain park. There you can zip-line, go to the water park, or bobsled down part of the mountain, and since G has a fear of heights -we opted for the sled. You wait in line to ride to the top of the mountain (about 15/ 20 minutes up) in a chair lift. It's very pretty going through the trees and the jungle and seeing the water and cruise ship on the opposite side. BRING BUG SPRAY you are in a jungle!
Once you get to the top, you are greeted by local dancers and can wander through the little museum that talks about the bobsled/ Jamaica connection, water park, or go to the restaurant. When you are ready you go stand in the bobsled line. "The Jamaican Bobsled ride is a custom built one of a kind 10 minute ride through 1500-meters or tropical rain forest terrain at 28 mph downhill on a track." It took about 45 minutes to get to our turn. I ran to the restaurant and got us jerk chicken and plantain bananas while G waited in line. When we finally got to the front, they asked if we wanted to go together, we said yes and they buckled 2 sleds together and they let us go. The front person controls the speed of the ride and in retrospect I honestly wish I didn't let Gabriel be in charge as he was riding the break so hard out of fear (he was being melodramatic...seriously) when he finally let go, we picked up speed and zoomed down until we hit mid mountain and were put on a magnetic track to take up back to the start point to take the chair lift back down.
I thought it was one of the most fun and exhilarating things I've ever done, G was scared out of his mind and to this day reminds me how much he hated that ride (he's standing over my shoulder while I am typing this and is saying to "save yourself" and not go and you shouldn't listen to me- ha!)
We got back down and waited for our driver to pick us up and take us back to port. We still had an hour and half before we had to board ship and stopped at Maragaritaville (free to get in and use pools and hang out- but not world's cleanest place just FYI) and to access the free Wi-Fi since it was so spotty and barley existent on ship (and we paid for the $40 internet plan...never again!)
I asked for ice, to put on my foot and got to work checking emails and to see if credit cards were okay, as well as purchase Carnival gift cards. When Verizon had their (WAY better older) loyalty program, you were able to use points to purchase gift cards at a discounted price. We bought two $500 gift cards for $450 each and two $50 gift cards for $40 each and were able to apply that to our sign and sail account (on ship spending account) in the end...but I'll get to that in a minute.
We we had to board, we went back through security and x-ray machines, I was basically on my hands and knees crawling my way back to the boat I was in so much pain. The lady at customs was super skeptical and started questioning Gabriel if everything was ok. We were finally let go and I took so much Tylenol we brought from home and fell asleep. When I woke up, I wasn't able to stand. I thought my foot was broken. It was 3 times its size and I've never been in that much pain in my life. If you recall on my welcome page, I talked about posting on my sailing specific date cruise Facebook group if anyone had something stronger on board, we didnt have any more sea days left and I couldn't imagine even getting off the boat at this point to go on another excursion ---I was close to going to the ship's doctor (last resort you DON'T want to do this $$$$$$$$$$). After hours of trying to get my message to post, it finally did and I was able to connect with another traveler who loaded me up with some *heavy duty* painkillers and lidocaine patches.
When we got home, I spent waayyy too much $$ trying to figure out what was wrong for months until finally a fracture was found and diagnosed on an MRI image and then I was in a fracture boot for months. I hated what it looked like so a friend inspired me to paint it- of course I chose a Lilly Pulitzer theme! Now Gabriel teases me if I learned my lesson, I say "yeah, jump further"- he's still not amused.
DAY SIX- GRAND CAYMAN, CAYMAN ISLANDS
Cayman is another tender port so we were sure to get off the ship early to meet our guide for a jetski trip we booked to go to stingray city and starfish beach ($300 for the both of us- I jetski). We had an hour before we had to meet him so when we got off the ship we took the opportunity to go find our Christmas ornament (we set up a special "travelers tree" in our office which has an ornament hanging from every place we've ever been together and clear ornaments filled with sand from the beaches we've been to) we walked a few streets away from the main port and prices were almost half for the exact same items that were being sold near the pier. We made a stop at a medical stand, G developed a cold sore from all the sun and bought an Abreva for $50 (it's an island, import prices are crazy-- it costs like $20 back home!) and made our way to the meeting place with Ebanks. We couldn't find our guide and I finally had to turn on my phone to make an "international call" (which later REGRETTED when I got my phone bill!) to find him.
We we finally met up he said he was going to need to cancel our trip because the people who were coming with us showed up drunk and for safety they were turned away and the weather wasn't certain... and I went into hysterics, think crazy toddler tantrum mode. It must have made quite an impact because he said if we could sign a waiver we were okay with the weather he would let us go... and in the grand scheme of things, I am so happy I did that as the weather and excursion was out of this world.
The owner of Ebanks Watersports drove us to his dock where we got on one jetski- G was too scared to drive once he realized we were going to be driving 25 minutes on the ocean (where creatures live) and told drive. He once in Door County, WI was trying to show off with me on the back, and tipped the jetski and we both fell off. I ended up saving him as he went in full panic mode and getting the 'ski, he lost a $300 pair of sunglasses (I warned him not to wear) and since then he's been traumatized.
He was screaming at me for riding too fast, I was screaming beacuse I thought it was fun. My foot was still in pain but I didn't need to use my legs for this so it was okay. When we reached stingray city, it was filled with hundreds and hundreds of people and MANY catamarans- everyone was in the water trying to pet the stingrays and get a picture and with that many people-- it was close to impossible... Gabriel and I on the other hand had THE best time. Our guide got us squid as feed and coaxed some stingrays over. I've never seen Gabriel grip the jetski harder and refused to get into the water once he realized how big the stingrays were.
After I kissed one (its good luck!) he finally got in and gave the ray a pat (but no kiss!). I recoded it all on on my GoPro and when we reviewed the footage at home and saw the under water footage, G nearly fainted seeing a pointy nose 3 foot long fish swimming right next to his legs.
We then hopped back on the jet skis and took a 10 minute drive to starfish beach- G drove! Just FYI, when you take a stingray out of the water, it will spit water at you!
We had about 20 minutes at starfish bay, there was so many you had to honestly watch our where you stepped. We parked, hoped off and took a few pictures with our starfish. I wasn't scared of the stingrays but I wasn't the least bit prepared if you take a starfish out of the water it will start sucking you and was startled when I had a hard time pulling it off! The water wasn't as pretty here, but we grabbed some sand for our ornament and made our way back to the dock.
Anywhere you go, it is custom and almost expected you tip your guide. When the owner came back to the dock to pick us up and take us back to the pier, he noticed we hadn't left anything in the jar and questioned us about it on the ride back. To be fair, the excursion was great... our guide? Sucked! He had a very rude and nasty attitude, he was pissed we still had to go out even though the other people were cancelled, and constantly kept riding away faster from us when we were heading up to stingray city. G was scared so I wanted to take his worries into consideration, and slowed down a little drove at 35/ 45 while our guide was at 60/75 and there was a point we lost him between the boats and had to stop and just wait for him to come back. Waves were a little choppy getting there and I didn't want to tip us over. He was just trying to finish the tour as fast as possible. When G was scared to get into the water he made some pretty snide remarks about being a "real man" and facing your fears, why would he let a woman drive and it rubbed us the wrong way and as great as tour was, a tip's definition is "a sum of money given to someone as a reward for their services" and quite frankly, after paying $300 and being treated like that, we just didn't feel it was appropriate to reward such behavior. It was SO awkward telling the owner this and he apologize on behalf of the guide and explained the attitude of the Cayman people in general is very abrasive. There are laws that state businesses must employ people from the island to receive proper permits and there was no way around it since he was from Egypt. I just wish we weren't made to explain our reasoning for forgoing the tip. Regardless, I would still do the tour again and would recommended it over a catamaran as long as you are not scared of driving through the water yourself! We stopped for fresh coconuts and Caribbean rum cakes to take home before heading back to the boat.
DAY SEVEN- COZUMEL MEXICO
We knew after so many "active" port days, we should spend a day enjoying the beach. We prebooked our tickets with a $5 per person deposit as they have a limited entry and if there is multiple ships at port, it is difficult to get in at Mr. Sanchos beach club. We paid $55 a person after a 15 minute shared cab ride ($17).
Every time I come to Mexico I am just amazed/ terrified how they drive, so just be aware!
Mexico is a pier port, but there were 5 ships at port that day and it took awhile to get through the welcome center and to our destination. When we got to Mr. Sanchos they were already turning people around but since we prebooked, we were let in. We found chairs at the end of the beach and ordered almost every single drink off the menu. We went over to the grill and ordered fajitas and the best coconut and mango shrimp we had ever had. We hung out in the water a bit, but the weather wasn't great with one again/ off again light rain. We skipped the climbing and jumping structures in the water because of my foot, and ended up in the hammocks with more drinks, reading and relaxing and tanning. .We had to cut our visit short because we were scheduled to be back on board at 5 pm for Chefs Table. which I will get into in a second.
Overall, I don't think I would go back or recommend the beach club. The drinks were very weak, as to be expected with an all inclusive, but there was just SO many people. Cozumel had the most disappointing beach out of all the locations, though still fun... because you know... its a beach? But for $110 I felt like I could have done way better. A lotof people also recommend Nachi Cocom beach club so do your own research- I just wish we did something to experience the culture and the island better.
BOAT LIFE/ DEBARKING/ CHEFS TABLE / COMING HOME
In my Carnival cruise groups I kept seeing "Chefs Table" (pictured above!) mentioned over and over again and how lucky you were to be accepted and get a seat (and you had a better chance of being chosen if you celebrating a special occasion... that's why we were "honey- mooning!" it's $75 a person) You and your group start off by taking a trip to the galley kitchen and seeing where all the food magic happens. We talked to many chefs and had a table side food presentation and were offered 4 amazing foods during the "reception" (I will include the menu so you can see what exactly we ate!) and then proceeded down to our private dining room where we were met with 7 courses and and a magic show halfway. To do something like this, you definitely need to be adventurous. There was a woman in our group who kept exclaiming "eww that sounds gross" (bone marrow soufflé', lobster foam, passion caviar, wagyu) and finally the chef snapped and told her she was taking the seat of someone who wanted to be there and if she couldn't control herself to just leave (THANK GOD WAY TO GO CHEF!!!!) and it finally brightened the mood.
I thought it was absolutely remarkable as I LOVE LOVE LOVE new foods, textures, and finding out the process of how things were made. Gabriel on the other hand was too overwhelmed and after an all inclusive all you could eat in Mexico and the Chef's Table eleven dishes and wine pairings he thought he was just going to throw up. I thought it was one of the best things I've ever been to in my life and would do it again in a heart beat.. without my husband! It took over three hours and I felt the price was fair. Afterwards, we received our group picture, recipes, and a dessert sent to our room from the chef!
When you first get onboard, you are introduced to your cabin steward. They ask if you prefer service in the mornings or afternoons and give your their card and phone number if you need anything. Ours was so great and got out a kick out of the fact I wouldn't let him take apart my towel animal "zoo." People often decorate their doors (like we did our lockers back in high school!) and when you are drunk trying to make your way back to the cabin... its not a bad idea.
I had bought an Amazon porthole sticker and was so thankful I did because even when sober it so so easy to confuse what is the front and the back of the ship. There is a Carnival Cruisers...Decorate Your Door Facebook group if you wanted to find out dimensions and rules for decorating. For my next cruise I did end up buying a vinyl from signs.com and plan to reuse it in the future. It was $26 upfront with a coupon code I found but it really was such a help the cost didn't bother me.
I know this is a lot of information but I am just sharing with you what I wish I knew before my first cruise. You are in the middle of the ocean, if you don't come prepared... well you're kind of our of luck,
Every morning you will have the "FUN TIMES" delivered to your door that has all the important information of what is going on, when and where, and the hours of restaurants and shops. It has important port info and other things you should be aware of as things change daily. (Dont look at this one too much its off the Vista I did not bring the one from the Splendor home.
Now to the folio card/ sign and sail account, I made mentioned there is no cash on board besides tips during the cruise. All your purchases get swiped to your sign and sail card and you either leave a credit card on file or you can pay with cash at guest services the day before you disembark. We paid a portion of our balance with the gift cards I had purchased while in Jamaica and then the rest with a credit card.
We came on this cruise without a budget. We had just finished renovating our house and never had taken a "big" vacation together so we didn't mind splurging. I'm uploading our bill with some personal blocked off info so you can get a better idea of what I mean. Many people pay their cruise and don't do anything on board and spend absolutely nothing extra. It's up to you how cheap/ expensive your trip becomes.
The one thing everyone will agree to disagree on is gratuities for your team members. On your last day your sign and sail card is charged $103.60 per person as "tips" to be shared among 8 staff workers. To remove you will need to go to guest services and fill out a form. It's YOUR decision what you decide to do- just be aware there is a list posted that staff can see after you disembark who chose to remove gratuities. We paid for them during our first cruise and since then have removed them and I will get dragged for this but I absolutely disagree with the fact and especially having "anytime dining" to give tips to people who I am not consistent with. We have had better dinner nights and worse, and I completely realize some things are beyond a staff members control but I REALLY dont like and disgree with Carnival's system and wish they would just pay their employees a fair working wage. These people are away from their family for 6- 8 months at a time and never know how much they are getting paid to do the same work each week is so unfair. The people who get most of the cash tips directly from guests are the people you see- room stewards, waiters, bartenders- but what about everyone else? Why should they be "punished" because you can't see them? What gives them motivation to work hard? I know this post has made us sound like we are awful tippers, but I am the type of person who will take care of the people who take care of me. My $80 haircut received a $30 tip, beyond 20%- so i's not that money is the issue, it's the whole philosophy of the way Carnival does it.
Anyways, we ended spending an additional $2,131.41 on board because we went nuts at the Effy Jewely store with 2 things for me, and 2 things for G. We drank, we gambled, we spent waaaaaaay too much money at the Pixels gallery. There are photographers EVERYWHERE and all the time and you are constantly giving your room # and they connect your photos to your room and you can purchase anywhere they range from $15-$22 and we spent $88--They are free to take and view- so do it!S ome of our best pictures have been from cruises. since then I only buy 1 or 2 and just rely on other people to take them for us on my phone. But we have gotten some pretty cute pictures! Like I said, we really went all out by choice.
On debark day, we chose to carry out our own suitcases. Our flight back to Chicago wasn't until 930pm so we had the whole day in Florida left. We rented a car for $15 for the day and made our way down to Ft Lauderdale beach. G was so sunburned he opted to stay on the car on his phone catching up on emails and Facebook and I tanned and relaxed a little more. When we got bored and hungry, we made our way down for lunch at Coconuts (was okay, not spectacular) and cried when our bill came since the "all- inclusive" life we just had no longer existed. Afterwards we went down to Ft Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science and quickly went through the exhibits. A lot of things were old and broken and it was run down by children. I would definitely skip it though the kids play area was pretty nice. We went down to Kilwins for ice cream and then returned our car and made our way to airport. Our flight ended up being delayed until 2am and were given meal and $$ vouchers for our next flight (which we ended up using to go on another cruise). The flight home was easy but we were so tired we vowed if we had a late flight out again we would rent a dayroom and just catchup on sleep preflight which is what we did next time and I will put that info in my next post!
All in all, we had a complete blast on this vacation and absolutely loved the islands we visited, even if they weren't the ones we planned! We met so many great people, and people we still talk to today! Cruising is not for everyone, but we were totally hooked and I cant wait to see what other adventures we end up on!
Please if you have any questions whatsoever, reach out! I am more than happy to help anyway I can! I want to hear from you!
The Everyday Girl
PS- Here are some more pictures from our trip!