Paris Tips – Internet Access – Free and Not – For unfortunate souls like me

So… in the nonstop sitcom that is my life (minus the laugh track and the ability to change the channel quickly) I currently am with out electricity at home for an extended period of time. This means no internet as well. Which is definitely not the first time I have encountered a long period of no internet since moving here due to my many apartment moves.

But you get to profit from these experiences with my list of suggestions for: If you are traveling in Paris or live in Paris and need that sweet sweet internets.

Free Internet in Paris

That’s a keyword phrase for ya!

Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
Your potential view as you use the free city offered Wifi at Parc de la Tour Saint Jacques.
  1. Libraries – You do not have to be a resident to enjoy the perks of libraries. Not only can you get a library card without live in Paris but also there is free good internet access, desks, serenity, power outlets and the ability to brag you were in the library all day. If possible, always check the opening hours as they can vary (usually closed sundays and mondays and open afternoons only during the summer).
    Library Locations (in French)
  2. Parks and other Public Places- You heard it. Free wifi in the what seems to be most the public parks in Paris plus some other spots. No power outlets but lots of basking in the grass like a vrai Parisian.
    – Parks such as: Buttes Chaumont, Parc de Belleville and Tour de Saint Jacques – Full Park Listing Here (in French)
    – Listing of all Free Wifi Spots and Instructions thanks to the Marie Here (English)
  3. McDonalds – Okay, not free as you SHOULD purchase something but you can always sneak in there and show it to the man if need be. I hate to admit it but McDonalds has saved my life as a traveler several times.  Toilets, food, cheap coffee (actually not too bad espresso in Paris), a rare power outlet and internet is nice.
  4. Apple Stores – Rumor has it offer free internet and computer use… if you can squeeze your way into one.  They are always crowded so no porn perusing!

Free (with purchase) Internet in Paris

Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
Café at my favorite bar/café which happens to have free wifi.
  1. Some Cafés – You gotta keep an eye out but some cafés and brassieries advertise free wifi (usually posted on a small sticker on their door) like my favorite café L’Assassin in the 11ème. Be sure to buy something though! Also power outlets will not always be available.  If you are only going to buy a drink, be sure not to sit at a table with dish settings as to not raise their ire. The best perk if you come there enough you may reach the coveted “regular” status.
  2. Starbucks – Depending on the branch, you need to use a code on your receipt to activate an hour or more internet use.  Power outlets sometimes are available. While not as common as in the US, you also can find Starbucks in Paris, mostly in the center of the city a.k.a. the business arrondissements/quarters.
  3. FreeWifi and Other Citywide Wifi Telecom Providers – FreeWifi is not free. It is woefully/trick-fully the name of a company. You in fact need to have an account or a very nice friend with an account, BUT if you can score one, these providers do give city/country wide wireless codes with most telecom accounts. Let’s say you actually live in Paris but are awaiting or internet carrier to hook things up, ask them what your citywide Wifi login details are to get a jump on things.  In fact that is how I am typing/saving this article. right. now.
    You can also connect to their services “SFR”, “Orange”, “FreeWifi”, etc and see if you have the ability to buy a day pass.
  4. Internet Cafés – All around the city you can find internet cafés with computer/internet booths, usually indicated by a neon glowing @. In addition there is the chain called Mlik which is open 24/7. These places are also useful if you need to print, fax, scan something (paperworrrrkkkk?) or call someone. I tend to price shop (walk and look at the menus of several I pass) before I decide who to patronize as prices will vary.
  5. Coffee Shops with Work Stations or Internet Access – I do not know many but I do see them starting to pop up, like Craft.  There is sometimes a minimum order or fee, such as, 9EUR at Craft.
  6. Coworking Spaces  – Coworking spaces or labs are where you can collaborate with other professionals or work on your own personal projects privately at a big person desk or on a cool person comfy couch.  They include places like Super Belleville, La Mutinerie and La Tank,  La Cantina and La Rouche. Some do require a pre-application or monthly signup.  While others you can rent hourly or use the space for free during certain periods and networking events.
    – You can find a list of coworking spaces on the TechList for Paris – here.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.
Blurry picture from my last yummy productive visit to Craft.

Rewind a bit… why does Sheila have no electricity?

Even this little dog has internet - Paris Subway Add
Even this little dog has internet and electricity – Paris Subway Ad

So in my recent move to a new apartment I messed up in signing up for electricity. They shut it off August 1st… and the first appointment we could make because our neighborhood/arrondisement’s office is on vacation is August 16th. No joke. August in Paris is the worse.

Let’s take this as a learning lesson. When you move into an apartment you have two months to change it to your name after the old tenant has cancelled it and be sure to VALIDATE our contract.  I messed up the steps and did not reply to a text that was sent to me to validate the contract (EDF is the carrier), hence the shut off.

C’est la vie. – S

The relaxation amongst the nonrelaxation and a typical French dinner

A quick update

The last four months have been hectic stressful to put it mildly.  I must say the 2nd year is proving to be harder than the first, luckily I feel we are emerging from the worse of it. Or as Austin and I joke… “Presque y la ‘.  Almost there…  (That is the joke. Also that is improper French…)

 

Almost there… this time.

 

Now as the smoke clears so does my vision and I realize I am stronger and more resistant than ever (like a flu strain ;p).  The first year it was a funny dream not a reality.  Second year you realize the work you really have to establish yourself.  And you get to it! Though sometimes round about…

We are more in love with this city than ever and determined to make it work.  Our french has drastically improved.  And so has life. 🙂

The importance of just sitting

So part of what I have learned in my time in Europe…

Learning to just sit… and relax… quality time.   Sure during the day all is crazy and chaos. But especially at night I have spent more hours than ever in my life around a table… drinking, laughing, talking, eating and eating some more. No TV, no computer, just each other.

Tartiflette… this be mountain food

Especially in Paris, the café culture of sitting on a terrasse (café patio) and philosophizing with an apèro (pre drink) is amazing, though not always great on the wallet. ;p  Luckily “happy-hour” borrowing from the english term is also popular.

Or in the case of summer time: “pique-nique” and laughter on a bridge, along the seine, in the park.

Picnic on the Seine
Paris Shoreside à la Seine with a good friend and one legged man

This is where relationships are formed, movements made (impressionism for example) and smoking habits are procured!  Plus, odds are it’s a bit too tiny in your apartment for guests… In a way this is the Parisian form of the American sitting on your porch with a beer, chewing the fat and watching the grass grow (if we had a porch or grass).

The Average French Diner

Is long.

I have gotten used to scheduling at least an hour and a half for dinner, but have surpassed this up to three plus drinks.  This is something that I got so used to that upon returning to the US, I was stressing over having a 1 hour dinner with friends before an event as I thought it just wouldn’t be long enough.

  1. Apèros – a Kir (sweet wine), a martini rouge, a small beer or perhaps a Ricard (licorice old man drink).  Sometimes drinks come with some olives or peanuts so you don’t pass out.
  2. Ordering – Order all in one go (barring digestif and dessert).  Most places offer a formule or formula where you get a better price on the culinary gauntlet you are about to run. At this point you order a carafe or bottle of wine.
  3. Entrées – A small dish such as a hard boiled egg and mayo, some paté with bread or escargots
  4. Plats – Main dish usually soaked in butter plus some raw protein
    Austin ready to eat a whole lot of cheese… This is Raclette a main dish from the mountainous regions. Yes, that is a big melting slab of cheese.

    Yes… he and our friend whimped out at the end. But still… he ate his head’s weight’s worth.
  5. Cheese platter? – It could happen.  Cheese is for afterwards to nibble on.  Just be sure to cut the cheese correctly and respect the rind to cheese ratio!
  6. Digestif – a shot of liquor or coffee.. or both

    Digestif after math
    Digestif aftermath
  7. Dessert – Usually combined with the last step
Follow up drinks are possible… See a pattern here?
Aftermath from one of my favorite French family dinners I had.

Dinners in Italy can be even longer…

I am not the best but getting better

I can’t say that I am the best at relaxing… A constant planner with wheels always turning am I!

But with the help of long dinners and new found friends I am learning to sit back and laugh at the day.

And this is the essence of Expat-hood.  

No one country or person has it all figured out.  But often it takes a move and a new perspective to really learn more about yourself, where you come from and where you are setting out next to explore (because seriously who actually knows where they are going?)

To the moon next! Or Mars… In Vars Summer 2012

Strong Better Slower Frencher – S

Life in Paris Season 3 – Living the American Dream in Paris

 

On the Seine - Picture by My Wonderful Mother
Us - Season 3

So here we are!

Parisian life Part/Year Deux.. but we in the Suarez-Flores household call it Season 3, as far as Parisian life changes go.  We have been back around a month now, after our trip to the US, but with the flourish of guests… our work schedule… and settling back in, I have barely had a moment to breath let a lone write.

Season 1 was our first job. Season 2 was the move to unemployment and then quickly luckily into new employment.  Season 3… is what I shall call… actually settling into Parisian life.

But first some reflection and advice… Primarily: Learn the language.

So what is life like?

  • We work a lot.
  • We eat a lot.
  • We walk everywhere.
  • We teach dance weekly.
  • We travel when we can.
  • We fumble around with French.

Really not much different from Season 2… but it feels different.

The Difference

Well, the big difference is where my head is at. I am fed up.

Before, with so much uncertainty, it was okay to be confused at all times… It was okay to frown but accept weird charges on my phone bill.  It was okay, to be at odds at all times. It was okay, to accidentally order three soups instead of two. Why? Because we were new here and this is what we took as the cost of being an expat in a country where the language was not our native one.

My mother and I sont les ignorants.
"Les ignorants voyagent à Paris!" - My Mother and I posing for our favorite inside joke.

In fact, being back in the US for those 3 weeks it felt WEIRD to finally not be uncomfortable at all times  (which is a post for another time).  Not a complaint… but it made me laugh how used I had gotten to being uncomfortable.

And now I am back.. and I no longer want to be uncomfortable… I am sick of being apologetic and akward. I want a “normal” Parisian life (which will always include apology and formality I realize, as is their way).  I want my old confidence back in my surroundings… I want..

I want the American Dream!

The American Dream in Paris is to blend in.  To order wine with ease.  To meld with your sometimes bewildering French colleagues (because trust me… working in a different country is well, different). To be able to complain about the weather with your fellow boulangerie patrons. Perhaps, it is not the dream for some of the famed ugly american tourists, but it truly is for us Expats that have fallen in love, figured out how to move here and now call this mystical/sometimes mythical place home.

We want to be French.

Karma.. Karma... Chinese Lion
Me, as the social chameleon.

Or at least succeed at becoming French for our time here.

And right now, despite the support of my French and international friends I have yet to achieve that comfortability.

And its my fault.

Í have yet to achieve it because I do not know the language fluently.

There are jaded and not so jaded expatriates that will tell you otherwise about achieving this dream of fitting in… They will tell you that Paris is for the French.  That you will never fit in. I have heard this on several occasions.

Well, first of all I do not want to fit in with those types of exclusive Parisians, which I know those exist.  I just want to be able to live my life normally and interact with them if need to but otherwise interact with the awesome accepting/welcoming/funny French/Parisians that I have met.

But I will never feel at ease here until I learn the language…

Until I see a charge on my phone bill and then can call up and speak in French and explain and get although probably begrudging… but at least palpable… assistance to fix it. Or at least understand what they say when they hang up on me.

My cable has been on and off broken now for a year… And I live in fear of speaking to a human to fix it.

This is not I!

So I must learn French… I want to… I always have… but with not working in French, I have not made the effort enough outside of work to become fluent.  I am fine… I can mumble out some food words… or talk to a foreign french speaker.

But that is not enough.  As I live in fear of probably 95% of potential interactions I may have with the populace on a given day.  I need to get this down to at least a solid 25%.  Because it is isolating and damned uncomfortable.

SO THAT IS MY VOW.

So young... so strong...
Us on our Honeymoon 1.5 years ago at Place Saint-Michel - Ready to conquer... So young.

I will conquer you Paris… and your beautiful mystifying and sometimes odd sounding but beautiful language.  I will gnaw on the metaphorical skull that is your language.

And how! No really… how?

I have some tools I want to share in detail later but basically:

  1. Devouring all culture possible in French only.  Bought us an unlimited movie pass for two people for 35EUR a month!
  2. Only French spoken now at home (no joke).
  3. Flashcards… lots of digital flashcards.
  4. Reading fun stuff in French on my kindle, thanks to the help of a french dictionary I installed on it. Should probably switch to a French to French dictionary…
  5. Actually talking to people in French. Like a real person!
  6. Listening to podcasts as much as humanely possible, all in french.
  7. Hope to start journaling in French soon.
  8. Finishing my grammar lessons at home… (also a pending todo)
Really just making myself do it.. And already only a week into it.  There is a difference.
Any way here I go…

Allons !- S

Pre-Travel: Have You Talked to Your Bank?

As family has been asking for travel financial advice, I thought I would share what I have been sending them.  I assume this advice can go for any destination you are traveling too.
The question is: What is the best way financially to go about money conversion/banking overseas?

Ask the right questions to your bank.

There are no pictures that will make talking to your bank fun... SO HERE IS A BIG PHONE!
As all banks differ, I suggest you call your bank and do the following:
    1. Tell them the exact days you are going to be overseas and any countries you will be in.  This will not keep them from shutting off your card… as we have found but makes it less likely.  Ensure they put this note on every card that you might use.  Be sure to bring back up cards.
    2. Ask them if they have any sister banks in your countries of travel.  I know in France there is BNP which is a sister bank of Bank of America, so they do not charge BOA travelers there a fee to take out money.  BNL is the BOA sister bank in Italy. There are more…
    3. Ask about the different fees on your different cards in different situations.  For example, if we needed cash we used our debit as our credit card charges a big premium.  BUT, if we went out to eat, our credit card was cheaper (probably has more security on it too).
      Fees could include:

      1. Conversion fee 1-3%
      2. ATM retrieval fee $5-40ish per take out from an atm.

      In our experience, we found it best to go to an ATM of our sister bank and take out as much cash as possible.  If it is a sister bank, there is no fee per take out but still we were afraid of taking money out too many times, in turn making them freeze our cards.  We then stashed most of it in our hotel.  This also means we can take a certain amount per day and keep us on a budget.  Cash is accepted everywhere (more places than credit card) in most countries.

    4. Ask what your limit for taking out is in 24h, then see what that is in the local currency.  That lets you know how much you can take out in a day.  You may want to raise it if its super small (less than 300).  Also, this way you know not to request more than this limit, that way you lower your risk of getting your card frozen.  Couples with joint accounts know that your limits are separate, yay!

Get Currency Pre-Trip

See if you can order currency ahead of time from your bank!
 This will be your best conversion rate also it ensures you have some local currency before you come here.  You may have to do this in person at the bank, where the above you could just call about.
You need some lead up to this because the bank will have to mail away for the currency and you come pick it up.
Be sure to not store the money though in your baggage and put them several places on your person, in case of theft or baggage loss on your trip overseas.

What else?: Other financial todos/notes…

  • Take at least two photocopies of your passports, drivers license and credit cards you are taking with you. Store these in two different places in your luggage or on your person.  This way if something gets lost you have copies and can report them lost with the exact information.
  • If you have a credit/debit pin code over 4 digits, go and change it to 4.  They do not accept more than 4 digits in most countries (especially Europe).
  • For Americans in Europe, your card will not be usable at all places as European cards have a chip.  So notabley at the train/metro station, unless you go to a person teller.  So when ordering train tickets online, make sure you can go to a teller as you will not be able to get them from the machine (also allow time to do this before your train leaves).
  • Do not get money from the airport/mall money exchange people.  And if you do, make sure they charge you what they advertise as they will tack on fees and not tell you.  Really  just avoid any conversion shop.  Comes down these people make their money on urgency… so try not to put yourself in a place where things are urgent.

Feel free to comment if you have further suggestions or questions!

And now for something completely different:

 

Bank on it – S

The French are nice

I always cringe when I am asked/told, “Oh you moved to Paris? Aren’t the French rude?” Honestly… no they aren’t!

Maybe I’m lucky, maybe I’m naive but in the four months since we’ve been here I’ve only had one “rude” experience.  I’ve had more random acts of kindness than I remember having in a long time. Though to be fair I’m often in need… Takes a village to move an expat.

Talk the Talk

I hear from travelers or worse case people who have never been to France boldly stating their belief that the French are rude and I should be careful.

It’s funny because I have a feeling that most of these people if a foreigner came into their work, didn’t speak a lick of their language and demanded service, they would not be so keen.

What is important, to have a good experience, NO MATTER where you go is: Learn some of the language.

To be honest I made the same error in the Czech Republic.  At first I thought the inhabitants were rude and gruff.  But once I at least learned thank you in Czech, “De-koo-yah”.  People opened up much more.  It’s making that effort.

Just try to think of it from their point of view, though maybe not always correct, if you were rushing to work (which people are apt to do in big cities like Paris) and some one stopped you and started speaking [Insert foreign language you don’t understand here], you might be abrupt.  Hence why the French in the country are considered nicer.

Why do I think the French get a bad rap?

Just my observations…

  • Mocking – They may mock you when you try to speak French.  But honestly, if we can’t laugh at our horrible butchering of their language, they might as well  But usually its just a bemused repeating of what you just said, and they are still helpful in the end.
  • They are called “serveurs” for a reason, not “waiter” – Just looking at the word itself shows the cultural belief and difference between the role of a server in France vs. let’s say America.  They serve you your food, true.  But they don’t wait on you.  You order in one go, they bring it to you.  And then they leave you be until you wave your finger in the air.  You could sit for hours.
    It’s not necessarily BETTER, though I do prefer it.  It’s just different.  To each their own!  And when you are among their own, try to appreciate it for your stay.
  • They love their language – The French really fully truly love the ins and outs of their national language.  They are proud of its poetry.  They are one of the few countries that speak a romance language that strictly stick with the formality and semi archaicness of vous vs. tous.  They love their heritage and they are conscious as to what is proper to say or not and have a million ways to say it.  So yes, maybe, they COULD scrounge up the English they learned in highschool to help you out.  But if they are able to do it via pantomime and french, they might prefer it.
    THOUGH I have found, especially young French people are super enthusiastic to try out their English on you.
  • They are “proper” – Etiquette is important to them.  No feet on the chair.  Eat with a knife and fork.  Don’t shove the whole quiche down your neck hole.  And let’s face it, people on vacation are not always proper.
  • That whole pushing out air thing they do with their mouths – To put it not so politely, its kinda a fart noise.  The French seem to do it when they are asked a question ( like directions for a confused tourist) and they are not sure, as to say, “Hmmm let me think… not sure I know.”  But it kinda put me off guard when I first got here as its not a sound I’m used to.  Until I realized they were just thinking…

On the contrary:

  • They are extremely welcoming.  They will say “Bonjour” to their neighbors several times a day.  Not something I’m used to.
  • When they say goodbye they must say it at least 3-5 times. Especially at the super market. “C’est moi.  Merci ! Bonne journée ! Bientôt ! Au revoir, merci !”
  • They kiss random strangers and loved ones alike.  Bisous is a strange at first but kinda awesome tradition.  One that has gotten Austin and I in trouble a couple of times, but nice.  He learned the hard way that guys don’t kiss male strangers.  And we have started to like it so much that when we have American visitors we find ourselves going in for the kiss… which then usually turns into an awkward hug on each side for good measure.
  • The people that work in A. a Frommerie (cheese shop) or B. a Boulangerie (bakery) might be the happiest people in the world.  Might be the fumes.  They are just ECSTATIC and not pushy in any way.  Sometimes makes me want to run away and sell cheese until an old age amongst the smiles.

Cultural Karma Chameleon

 

It comes down to that believe it or not the French are human.  And I’m sure their jerk ratio is the same as the American jerk ratio.

I really feel uncomfortable when Americans are assumed to be uncultured French haters. ;p  And now I feel uncomfortable when Americans assume the French are rude.  This is not an anti anything post… this is a pro people post!

So I suppose I am espousing the principal of “Laissez faire”.  Barring they are not kicking babies, try to blend in as much as possible when you visit a foreign country.  Do as the Romans do in Rome, etc.

You might just be surprised how nice our fellow humans can be, when you just open up.

Enough of the hippy talk – S

Life is a Carnival… when on a cruise.

Ready to embrace deadly sin #3 and #7? Take a cruise! Food, food, food, food, food, food, laying around, lots of fatness, red neon burns and food. People say they want to lose weight for a cruise but honestly as long as you take neck up pictures, cruises are the safest fat zones ever. Because there will always be someone fatter than you, redder than you & wearing less clothes than you.

But enough of the pithiness.  I enjoy cruises. Though they make me feel slightly guilty in their extravagance.  They are pound for pound (literally) the best value you can get from a vacation and a nice departure from the usual hectic, you have to remember to do stuff vacations.  Because the beauty about the cruise is, other than liquor, souvenirs and some tipping, everything is paid for up front.  So all you have to do is show up.  Then you can meander the ship, either taking advantage of the onslaught of onboard activities (karaoke, mini golf, wall climbing, etc) or just catch some sun with a drink.  And I don’t even like sun.  Then all of a sudden you arrive in an exciting location for 8 hours but even then you could stay on the boat.  If you do get off the boat, you can meander around that exciting location and then meander back on boat.  I say this with great love for my fiance but our first cruise we fought for exactly zero percent of the time.  And that’s not to say we fight a lot but usually with vacations/site seeing there’s bound to be at least a small tiff.  With cruises they take out the messy part of “having to be responsible for yourself” in order to enjoy yourself or get somewhere.  That leads to a very stress free vacation.  Especially if you don’t have the internet so can’t check work email.  I’m sure there were ways to get to it but I did not look…

My History With Ships

Austin and I have taken two cruises in the last year:

  1. Royal Caribbean  – Monarch of the Seas – 3 days – Bahamas & Coco Cay – for our 4 year anniversary.
  2. Carnival – Inspiration – 5 days – Grand Caymens & Couzumel – took our mom’s as their christmas present

We were frightened about trying Carnival after a SUPER awesome first cruise with Royal Caribbean.  We heard that it just wouldn’t be up to snuff.  To be honest we found ourselves constantly and sometimes obnoxiously comparing Carnival to Royal Caribbean (“Well you know on Royal Cariiibbeaaannn…”) BUT the difference was not that stark.  And while we liked Royal Caribbean better, Carnival was still VERY good and we would take a cruise with them again, especially since they are cheaper.  You get what you pay for but you still get a pretty good deal!

Royal Caribbean vs. Carnival: Sudden Death

Some key comparisons and tips (sorry for the table style… you’ll have to imagine the borders):

Criteria Royal Caribbean Carnival Stuff To Know
Food Pretty Impressed! Wasn’t as impressed but still delectable. Good selection on both. Pretty much unending food. Carnival might have had more nonstop food.  Pace yourself… its not going anywhere.
Dining Methods If you pay your tips when buying your tickets (there’s an obligatory $7-$10 per person per day tip) you can get “My Time Dining”. Which means you have to select a time block (early or late) but each day you can go to the Maitre De and select a specific time and server depending on your mood. We got to know our server (Tony!) so we always asked for him. You then can show up at that time and get sat straight away rather then waiting. It’s European style though, as in, you get sat possibly with other groups. But we enjoyed the chance to meet other people and on our anniversary celebration date they sat us alone on request. We really enjoyed this method of dining. They also have the option of sit down breakfast. Carnival once again you choose Early or Late but there is only one seating time. Though they would still sit you if you come late. You also get an assigned table which is nice but we missed meeting random people at dinner. One thing nice which Royal Caribbean may have had but perhaps we didn’t take advantage of was you could have sit down dining for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. We preferred this rather than buffet style, very relaxing. For Breakfast and Lunch you get sat randomly sometimes with others groups.  Tip per day is paid at the end. Cruise sit down dining is certainly an experience… an extravagance. I just never truly was able to sit down and order five entrees if I wanted without one single care of the bill. Because there is no bill. In fact, on Royal Carribean since we were the last dining group they PUSHED us to order more, because it was going to go to waste anyway. Both also offer free room service. Which we never took advantage of.   Bring extra cash if you want to reward your favorite servers.  Which they will become your chums and you will want to.
Service Amazing!! Very good. Very close to Royal Caribbean. Maybe not as lavish though? It’s AMAZING what good service you get even though your servers aren’t asking for a tip. I was expecting to have crappy service but cruise service is the best I’ve ever had. Both cruiselines employ people from allll over the world and they take their job seriously and with pride. It was very interesting and fun to meet such diverse and happy people. I still remember everyone who served us as they really become part of our vacation experience. Thanks Tony, Slavko, Rado & Aslam! But honestly I found overall that service is better over seas, so perhaps its the “take your time and dine” mentality of europe and aisa I like. I could sit for hours in a Parisian bistro/cafe with only a cup a coffee without any dirty looks from the server…. not so much in the US. But then again servers more have to rely on tips in the states it seems. Tipping is not obligatory overseas. Hence why foreigners get a bad rap when they come to the US, as they are not used to tipping.
Onboard Activities Rock climbing, dance shows, trivia gameshows, gambling, gamboling, karoake, ping pong, live music, weird old people grinding night clubs, meetups & lots of sun. Same stuff only not as good dance shows and minigolf and water slides instead of Rock Climbing. We did less on this cruise but the quality seemed fine and they were better about announcing things coming up. Do as little or as much as you want. Most activities are free, some have fees like wine tastings. Both will have a daily newsletter keeping you up to date.
Cabin Nice, clean, small, dark. Bigger! I suppose this depends on the ship but we were very impressed on the size and cleanliness. People were constantly cleaning and tje rooms were immaculate. For a cheaper cruise we were impressed. They also had this feature which was a fake window (pictures to follow/really it was a curtain with a light behind it) which at first I laughed at but was pretty nice, made it feel less like a closet. The fake window did not follow daylight outside so you could keep it dark if you wanted. Surprisingly enough though Carnival’s rooms were not as dark as Royal Caribbean’s so it wasn’t as disorientatingly tomb like. I think the door wasn’t as tight? You can take that as a plus or minus. I like to be buried. Bring a watch… your cellphone will not be reliable and while they have wake up calls you will want to not TOTALLY lose your sense of time. Our first cruise we forgot and ended up buying one on the boat. Water proof is best.  This is also useful for when you are off the boat and need to know when to return.
Alcohol We were to scared to sneak on alcohol though we heard of many people successful on the ship (disguising it as soda or just checking it). We ended up spending quite a bit on alcohol, but the drinks were priced at a reasonable bar price and well mixed and strong. Tipping was appreciated and you could choose the amount. Mixed drinks sucked. And seemed more expensive. Also, the tip was included. BUT Carnival allows you to bring on a 750ml bottle of wine per person for the departure day. We filled the bottles with colored vodka and corked them. It was excellent. So we ended up saving money on that. Still spent a lot of money though… Great thing about Cruises is that you can buy cheap alcohol to take home after the cruise. Sometimes buy one get one! We always stock up. They do not let you have it until you leave so that’s not an option for drinking on the boat. One thing to note is that if you want to buy alcohol off the ship, lets say Grand Caymans you have to do it as much as 2 hours before departure so they can deliver it to the ship. We got burned on this. But at Couzumel you could carry it on and check it! So you’ll want to check on this at each port of call, as ships don’t really advertise it as they want you to buy on board. Also, both cruiselines allow you to take on soda in your checked baggage. You can use this as a trojan horse just to ensure your alcohol doesn’t get confiscated. I heard some stories of that. Or you could use it to bring on soda/water/juice… Soda you have to pay for. But you can get a soda pass which makes it cheaper. Side note: on Royal Caribbean cappuccinos at dinner you had to pay for (Carnival it was free).
Decor Very nice. Very crazy disco casino (perhaps to encourage you to go to the casino). But it was an older ship. My mom was not drinking and claimed that looking at the main atrium lights for more then 15 minutes made her feel drunk. Also really dark in the main atrium… rather then light and airy. Just strange. But not tooo obnoxious. You’ll see in the pictures to follow… Also the main buffet room looked like the inside of an alien that swallowed you.
Off the Boat/Excursions Did one snorkel trip in Bahamas. Was nice! Did none. Found a local excursion to do. Both cruiselines seem to offer a variety of excursions. But two things to note: 1. Will be more expensive then going on a tour given by the locals. 2. They will leave you if you get delayed by your tour if you are on a tour that is noncruiseline affiliated. So its up to you. Pay more but be secure? Or pay less and risk being left? But to be honest, if you just take tours with buffer time, you will most likely be fine. In Grand Caymans, we took a 3 hour Sting ray petting/snorkeling excursion and it ROCKED and was at least $60 cheaper per person then the boat one. Technically you don’t even have to plan that far ahead though we made reservations. Just walk off the boat, peruse the different signs for local tours bombarding you as you get off the boat and go! Don’t get robbed. ;p I would say, if you are interested in snorkeling, bring your own gear for islands you can snorkel right off the beach (Coco Cay, Couzumel). Otherwise you have to pay $40 to rent them. In Couzumel we just rented a jeep and drove around stopping and ruins and beach side bars. It was only $70 with insurance and a lot of fun! Though potentially nerve wracking of the place has bad traffic.

So overall both good.

Picture Recap

Just a few pictures from our last Carnival cruise. A few more here….

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Austin with our corked vodka. You could probably get screw top and glue it to look like its sealed.

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Carnival Room. It’s roomy! We have a window!

It's a lie!
Or its a terrible lie…

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Dress up night with our lovely mothers.

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Tattoo’d and white.

Dancing with Aslam
Dancing with Aslam our Waiter

Dance and you Will be Their God
Man dance a little in the crazy disco atrium and you become a cruise star. Old people love to see swing dancing.

So I guess that’s it! Try a cruise even if you hate the sun like me! Because some sun is good. And relaxation is even better. Also check out: http://www.vacationstogo.com/. Never have done me wrong.  Though a travel agent helped us find a single for cheaper on our last cruise.

Next I review Tom Cruise – S