Two Majestic Trips…One Review!

Because I spend quite a bit of time in the casino when I cruise…and because I don’t often win…Royal Caribbean sometimes takes pity on me and gives me certificates for free cruises.  These are not big, fancy week long cruises on their big, fancy ships.  They are usually 3 or 4 day cruises on the older, smaller ships…but hey! They’re free!!

I had booked a cruise for February and wanted to take my father for his birthday (his birthday is really in October, and I made him a really cool card!) See:

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But then…In January, he found out that his work would not give him the time off so my brother got the spot instead.  (Dad gets a much better cruise later on, but you’ll have to wait for that one!)  So that is the first Majesty cruise.  A three night trip to Nassau and Cococay.  Certainly a quick trip, but Port Canaveral is not too bad a drive so easy enough for a weekend get-away

Then, I got another certificate in the mail for a free cruise so I hatched a plan to use this one for bribery!  I needed to pick up my son from college in Ft. Lauderdale and move him back home for the summer.  I drive a SUV, but my BIL drives a BIG SUV!  So I thought, “If I take him on the cruise, he will go with me the rest of the way from Port Canaveral to Ft. Lauderdale, help me move the kid out of the dorm, then we can split the drive back home!” It was a genius idea!  But that’s not how it worked out…It was even better than that!

You see, while we were on that first Majesty cruise, my brother earned a certificate for money off a future cruise so we decided to book a second cabin for the May four night cruise and bring Katie along as well!  Then I was able to get Jarod to convince a local college buddy to store some of his stuff over the summer, so now I didn’t need the big SUV.  It all worked out really well, mostly!

So since both cruises went to the same places, on the same ship I am going to combine them into one review…that may or may not work but we’ll see how it goes!

First up, a quick pit stop at Grills Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar. Why? Because boarding doesn’t start until 11am so what else are you supposed to do?  Everyone needs a pre-boarding drink!  And a quick picture!

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The Majesty of the Seas is an older, smaller ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet.  But they have made some upgrades, most notably on the pool deck where the addition of water slides was a big hit with the Under Six member of our party!

Another big hit with the Pre-K crowd was our stateroom attendant’s mastery of the famed “Towel Animal” left in the room after evening turndown service.  I am lucky that I have always had really good stateroom attendants and these two cruises were no different!  Here is one of our nightly visitors!

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As a quick side note…I left those sunglasses on the plane ride to Barcelona so if you flew American Airlines last month and found those awesome Minnie Mouse glasses in the seat pocket, can I have them back please?

But back to the Majesty.  Our itinerary was the same on both cruises but in different order.  In addition, the four day cruise also had a day at sea, while the three day cruise just had the port stops.  So first up…Cococay, Bahamas.  Royal Caribbean’s private island.  This is a tender port, which means you have to get off your big ship, onto a smaller ship in order to get to the island.  Really like a water taxi service.  Because of this, tender ports are susceptible to weather disruptions and are often missed.  We had amazing weather on both cruises so we were able to visit twice.

Here is what the Majesty looks like from the tender boat.  The water around the island is not deep enough for her to pull closer so she really does have to park a bit away.

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And that little boat by her side that looks like a barnacle is one of the tenders.  But they really are a nice little ride, provided the water is not choppy.  You can see our seas looked like glass. Nice and smooth!

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And here is a little part of the island.  This has been totally built by Royal Caribbean so everything and everyone on the island works for the cruise line.  This makes for a nice sanitized day at the beach, which is great and I really like Cococay, but sometimes I miss local flavors and stuff like that.  Still, it is beautiful.

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We had some cloud cover as you can see, but it never rained.  A newer addition to the island is the floating bar.  Basically a tiki hut that floats by the shore.  It is connected by a giant chain so if the water gets rough, they can reel it in.

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It does have a limit on how many people can be on it at one time…presumably so it doesn’t sink…so they kind of do a “one off, one on” scenario once it gets full.  I haven’t actually been out there yet, but it certainly looks cool!

Next up, we headed to Nassau.  If you have read my previous review of Nassau, you may grasp that I have not had the best of luck there! So sometimes I don’t even get off the ship anymore, but this May I had a goal…Pirate Republic Brewery.  It is right by the port and I love tasting local beers so that was my mission.  In addition, the beach soccer world cup was going on that week and while the day we were there was the rest day, so no games, I did want to see if I could find a t-shirt or something from the event…It is Soccer Mom Travels after all!

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Looks like we got the best parking spot!  And look!!! Right there!!  Pirate Republic Brewery!!  How close is that!!

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Off we headed to find soccer stuff then stop for a nice frosty local beer…ah the best laid plans.  Seems I have no luck in Nassau at all.  We tried to get a taxi over to the stadium since the vendors were telling us that the only place that would sell t-shirts like that were over at the stadium, but then the taxi driver said that the vendors wouldn’t even be open because there were no games.  Sigh.  Okay so that plan is shot…at least I still have my frosty local beer to look forward to, right??

Um. No.

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While I heartily applaud the policy of not drinking and voting, this would once again add to my luck in Nassau.  So once again I am leaving Nassau without doing any of the things I actually planned to do.  Lucky I still have two more trips scheduled with stops in Nassau.  I will get to you yet Pirate Republic!

Overall, I really do like these short cruises on the smaller ships.  I am very lucky to live within driving distance which makes it possible to do these.  Next up?  Freedom of the Seas in the Western Mediterranean.  Spoiler…Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds!

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Conquest in the Caribbean…6 (and last!)

After our two new cool ports, we have a sea day on our way back to Ft. Lauderdale.  We have already discussed that I really like sea days, both for relaxing and because they always have kinda corny, but usually fun activities for people to take part in if they choose.  My activity du jour is the famed Mixology class with the AMAZING bartenders at the Alchemy Bar.

This class was run by Kat, our bartender from Belarus.  I originally had not signed up for the class because I’ve been a bartender, do I really need a mixology class?  As it turns out…maybe.

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Arriving at class, I am greeted by these three little, tiny martini glasses…DON’T BE FOOLED!!! Kat (shown here looking deceptively innocent) will fill those glasses up at least 17 times before you leave.

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First up is the Mint Martini…there was quite a bit of technical information given about gin and I am positive that Kat thoroughly discusses the intricacies of muddling and straining and all that important stuff.  But the biggest lie I tell myself is “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember that!” And then 17 martinis (small ones…don’t judge) later I need one of those stickers with my name on it so I don’t forget that!

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That was followed by the Cucumber Sunrise…As you can see, my straining skills need work! But I had already finished a full glass (the pint glass in the back, not the little martini ones) of the gin mint thing and was partway through the pint of the cucumber vodka one so my real goal was to not fall off the barstool.

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Oh!  I know what will help!! Caffeine!  So Kat graciously provided us with espresso bean infused vodka…hmmm…maybe I didn’t think this all the way through.

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Alright…real talk between friends?  I have no idea what this one was.  The only reason I know I was still there are the pictures!  But I am going to hazard a guess and say that I liked this one…I usually like pink drinks!

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And finally, the green one I don’t remember!  At some point we learned about infusing the cocktail with bubbles instead of adding a carbonated mixer…that was cool.  And  I must have survived all the way to the end because I came home with this:

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So I am clearly competent to mix you a drink…or drink what you mix…or something!  All said and done it was really a fun class, great instructor in Kat, great group of other participants, and believe it or not, I did learn new stuff too!

After this class, however, I had to go back to the cabin a take a nap before dinner!  Our last dinner on board was in the Main Dining Room and then it was time to leave.

Overall, I really enjoyed this cruise.  There were things that Carnival does better than Royal Caribbean and things that Royal does better.  At the end of the day, I have added a new cruise line to my sailing options!  In fact, I already have two more cruises booked on Carnival.  But next up is my favorite Royal Caribbean ship, Freedom of the Seas in the Mediterranean!!!!

Trying Something New…

As you know, I cruise a lot.  And up until now, I have only cruised with Royal Caribbean.  But thanks to a series of amusing events, I am leaving on Saturday to fly to Ft. Lauderdale to have dinner with my Dear Son and then hop on board the Carnival Conquest on Sunday for a 6 Night cruise that will visit Nassau, Bahamas; Amber Cove, Dominican Republic; and Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos.

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With the exception of Nassau, I have not been to any of the other stops.  I have nothing planned at any of the ports this time, I am just going to wing it.  I do have reservations at the Conquest Steakhouse and Chef’s Table so I will be able to compare those venues to the similar and much beloved venues on Royal Caribbean ships.

I will be trying to give live updates as my wifi access allows, so if you follow me on social media, you will hopefully be able to travel vicariously with me!  Feel free to ask questions or comment as we go along!

 

 

Part 7 (Thessaloniki, Greece) – Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

Well, I am back from my Disney vacation and I will write more about that later, but let me tell you…I thought the Mediterranean in July was hot, it was NOTHING compared to Orlando in September!  But!  That’s a story for another day.  Onward and upward (or not) to Thessaloniki, Greece.

Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece.  Having just come from the largest city (Athens) I can tell you that it may indeed be the 2nd largest, but it is as different from Athens as night to day.

I had not planned anything in this port, and hindsight 20/20 I should have.  There are many cool things to see, just not super close to the port.

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Here is the Rhapsody docked at the port.  All those buildings on the dock area are shipping and industrial.  No shopping or eating.  I needed to find a pharmacy, which shouldn’t have been too difficult.  In Europe all of the pharmacies have big green plus signs out front so we walked along this front street for a while.  We could see the famous White Tower of Thessaloniki in the distance, but it was certainly not a walkable distance for us (maybe for me, but my family often accuses me of trying to walk them to death!).

Along the way, there were some cafes, most with outdoor seating which already had plenty of locals sitting with their coffee.  Also along the way, we were accosted by a man trying to get us to buy his bracelets by striking up a conversation with my son, then just putting the bracelet on his wrist.  This was the only time we encountered something like this on this trip.  I am used to it in the Caribbean, and in fact this man was Jamaican, but I had not come across it on this trip.  However, just like in the Caribbean, a very firm “NO!” sent him on his way.

We passed some very pretty areas:

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I loved this tree!  We still had not found a pharmacy though.  We finally cut through a square and low and behold we found what we were looking for…we also found that we had been passing the really cute shopping district nearly the whole time, we were just two blocks off it.  Huh…see why I should have done more research?  At any rate, after our quick stop, we decided to head back to the ship, but this time along the populated streets!

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See?? Cute stuff.  But, it was hot, really hot.  And, as you may have guessed from my frantic search for a pharmacy, I was not feeling my best so back to the ship and its glorious air conditioning we went.  Plus!  We have Chef’s Table dinner tonight!!!  My favorite! So I wanted to be well rested!

Here is a picture of the Port Authority building…pretty impressive but it could use some shops!!!

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Back on board and looking forward to my favorite meal of the whole trip!!  The Chef’s Table!

You may remember that I have done the Chef’s table before on other cruises and have LOVED it both times!  I knew from past cruisers that the menu was the same as my meal aboard the Enchantment, but that one was super yummy so I was happy to have it again!  Plus, the pairings were really good so I was not concerned at all…until I sat down and looked at the menu.

Yes, the menu was the same, but the wines were totally different.  And not in a good way.  I am all about trying new wines, in fact I have another blog I write that details my standard selection method of picking wine just by the cool looking label so I am all for trying new things.  And I will agree that dry rosès are all the rage right now.  But lets all agree that Berringer White Zinfandel is not one of these, can we? Please?

What was fantastic about this particular Chef’s Table was the company.  Some times you get a good crowd and some times you do not.  We dined with a family from Texas that was absolutely spectacular and I am so happy we got to meet them.  The food was still great, the Braised Short Rib Ravioli is still one of the best things I have ever eaten.  I will continue to attend Chef’s Table on every cruise I go on, hopefully these wines were a one off!

Up next?  Kusadasi, Turkey.  Another surprising port…in more ways than one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 4 (Katakolon) – Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

After a fairly uneventful, yet totally relaxing sea day, our first port of call was Katakolon.  Until I started planning, I was not familiar with this area at all.

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Of course, once I did a bit of digging and realized that this area was the site of the first Olympic Games, I knew that I needed to find a tour to Olympia.  After reading probably thousands of TripAdvisor reviews, I decided to go with The Travel Insiders – Ultimate Olympia Experience.  From first contact to the last minute, these people were a joy to work with.  I really liked the small group setting and Despina and Elana were both amazing at what they do.  If I am ever lucky enough to make it back to Katakolon, I am pretty sure I will be stalking these women, they know their stuff and I cannot imagine a better time in and around Olympia.

The tour began with Despina meeting us as we got off the ship and leading us to the very comfy minivan that was to be our transportation for the day.  After the rest of the group showed up (a total of 11 people) we set off for our first stop: a tasting of Greek specialties.

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So as you can see, we were treated to an in depth presentation of some of the more famous Greek products: olive oil, desserts, olives, honey and of course wine.  The gentleman that led the demonstration was clearly proud of what he was presenting and he had every right to be.  The honey was delicious, the olives fresh, the desserts were unique and delicious, the wine was lovely and the olive oil was some of the best I have ever tasted.  We were given some time to shop (I brought home honey and spices) and then we were off to the ruins at Olympia.

The first stop at Olympia was the Archaeological Museum.  This is where they display the artifacts that have been unearthed at the site of the ruins, which we will visit later.  The detail and craftsmanship in these artifacts is absolutely amazing.

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Nike of Paeonius (420 BC)

If you think about the fact that some of these pieces were made nearly 2500 years ago, it is really awe inspiring.

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Pediment from the Temple of Zeus (472-456 BC)

There is WAY more I could show you but we still have a few more stops before we head back to the ship so we had better move on to the ruins outside.

A short walk from the museum is the actual site of Olympia, the sanctuary and the site of the first ever Olympic Games in 776 BC.  If you have been to any other archaeological site of importance (Stonehenge, Acropolis,etc.) you have seen some pretty amazing things, albeit from a distance, behind ropes or fences.  This is not Olympia.  Here you walk among the ruins.  You can touch them, run your fingers along the same inscriptions that people touched nearly three thousand years ago.  For a Western Civilization and mythology fan like me, it was heaven on earth.

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There were, of course some places that were roped off, mostly for safety reasons I would imagine, but the size and scale of these ruins and what they stood for was nearly overwhelming to me.

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This is the entrance to the fields where the games were held. If you were caught cheating at the games, you had to have your name inscribed on one of the blocks along the walkway you were banned for life from the games.  It was a big deal.

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This is where Nero stayed when he would come for the games.  Yep, Nero. The Emperor.  He and I hung out in the same house.  It is almost beyond imagination.  And yes, for a big history buff like I am, I was totally like a pre-teen girl at a 5SOS (or whatever pre-teen girls are squealing over these days) concert the entire time .

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The Gymnasion (2nd c. BC)

This is where the athletes would train for things like javelin and discus.

Since we still have one more stop to go, it is getting close to time to meet the bus.  On our way out of Olympia, we stopped to get a couple bottles of water and ran into an impromptu Grappa tasting!!!  This was the coolest Grappa I have ever tasted, it was cinnamon!  Of course I bought a small bottle!!  Our next stop was a beach break and lunch.  Perfect timing for that, we were starving!!

We arrived at Agios Andreas.  A beach settlement situated on the site of ancient Pheia and mentioned by Homer a couple of times in the Iliad.  It’s kinda pretty…I can see why he may have thought to mention it.

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This was our view from the restaurant we stopped at for lunch.  I believe it is called Kastro.  If you eat and/or get a drink from there, the sunbeds and umbrellas are complimentary.  They also have restrooms/showers for changing.  We tried some pretty cool local dishes: fried local cheese, meatballs with tzatziki dipping sauce, a gigantic greek salad with halloumi and this:

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Octopus.  It was pretty darn good!  The tomatoes are so fresh there and really so is the octopus so how can you go wrong!

After a quick dip in the Ionian Sea, we got back in the van and headed back to port.  The entire day was one of the most amazing days of my life.  Katakolon ended up being our favorite of the Greek stops in no small part to Despina and Elana’s brilliant tour.  If you have a chance to tour with them, I suggest you do it…don’t hesitate, just do it.  You will not regret it at all.

Up next for us?  Chania, Crete.