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….

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

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

It's a lie!
Or its a terrible lie…

Dress up night with our lovely mothers.

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: 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