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!!!!

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Conquest in the Caribbean…5

As I mentioned in my previous post, I do love the relaxation of sea days.  However, we have two new port stops on this cruise and I am pretty excited about them!

First up, Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic.  Amber Cove is a port built by and for Carnival Cruise Lines.  It opened in 2015 and has made this part of the DR a pretty cool stop!

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Entry to Amber Cove – beware, its a long walk!

The port area is 25 acres, with a 4 acre waterpark that is free to use.  In addition, there are shops, restaurants, a zip line, and a really cool 360 degree hill top bar that came about when Carnival found a giant piece of granite right where they wanted to build…with a twisty water slide way to get down!!

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Waterslide down from the Hilltop Bar

One major thing that I think Carnival did right was to play up the untouched, amazing landscape, so amazing in fact, it was used for scenery in the original Jurassic Park movie.  It is easy to imagine this place as a habitat for dinos!!

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And of course plenty of references to the port’s namesake, Amber.

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There is the usual shopping available, and also a nod to the Dominican culture and a little office that will stamp your passport!

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I thought this was a really neat little port, it has some room to grow, and when it does, it will probably lose some of its charm.  Until then, enjoy the charm!

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My second new port is Grand Turk Island, Turks and Caicos.  This port was also built to be a cruise ship destination and it is a bit more established than Amber Cove, but still similar.

Here there is a Margaritaville, well established beaches, a huge pool complex, several restaurants and bars along the beach, and a Flow Rider surf simulator!!

Grand Turk also has the most amazing clear water, and plenty of it near the dock.  Unlike Amber Cove, there is plenty of beach real estate for swimming, water sports, beach massage, and of course tanning!

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A quick (okay, not quick) walk down the beach takes you to Jack’s Shack Grand Turk.  A local institution and absolute must see!  If your not tempted by the beach fare (try the Jerk Chicken!), or the icy cold cocktails (who doesn’t need a Reef Recker at 9am?) then swing by and say hi to Topher, the most amazing beach dog you will ever meet!! Oh!  Did I mention they will give you a free shot of local rum just for showing up?? Just sign in and print the coupon before you leave!

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Jack’s Shack – Cause you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning!

Another GT legend is the Splashdown Park.  The story is that astronaut John Glenn splashed down his space capsule off Grand Turk’s shoreline in 1962.  There is a tribute to that right at the port, and its kinda fun!

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This is a great selfie spot…but I’ll spare you those!

And of course there is Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.  And actually having been to several different ones, in several different ports, this on is my favorite so far.  I had lunch here and a couple of local beers…both pretty good!

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Add to that, the swim up bar and this is pretty much a great beach day!

Back on board for one more sea day…and I’ve signed up for the Alchemy Bar Mixology Class…Stay tuned!!!

Conquest in the Caribbean…3

The first night of the cruise we had made reservations at the Steakhouse restaurant, the Point.  We have had varying degrees of success with the same style restaurant at Royal Caribbean’s Chops steakhouse so I was interested to see how this compared.  Of course, Carnival sweetens the deal by offering a free bottle of wine if you book the first night…I know what you’re thinking: I have the drink package, I  don’t need a free bottle of wine.  Well you would be wrong.  Totally wrong!  That is, until I saw what wine they were offering as the free bottle…blech!  The other option Carnival offers is that you can purchase any bottle of wine on their list at 50% off…see!!  I still get my bottle of wine!!

The Point Steakhouse on the Conquest is on Deck 10.  I was there a bit earlier than our reservation or our dining companions so I sat down at the bar to wait.  This turned out to be a GREAT idea as this was where I met one of my favorite bartenders, Javorka (it only took me until day 3 to get her name right…sorry!!) from Serbia.  Javorka worked at the Steakhouse in the evening, but at the Serenity Pool Bar during the day so naturally I spent most of my days with her!!   But back to the Point…hehehe I mean the steakhouse.

We were seated promptly at a table by the window, since it was January, it was already dark outside by 7pm, but I am sure that the view would be spectacular at other times of the year.  My first thought after sitting down was…”Look at these plates!!!!”  I mean really…Look at them:

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They’re spectacular!  And everyone’s was different.  All of them pretty, but mine was the best!  For real, if I could have fit it in my purse, I would be eating dinner off this plate every night!

But now lets talk about what goes on the plate.  As an appetizer I chose the Escargots.  I love snails and cruise ships are the only place I know I can get them prepared well, and not crazy expensive!

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Escargot Two Ways

Moving on to the entrees, two of us had the Filet, one had lamb and one had the Tomahawk Ribeye.  All of the dishes were cooked perfectly, and served with three sauces for the table: Peppercorn, Wild Mushroom, and Bearnaise.   We also had an assortment of side dishes, served family style for all of us to share.

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9oz Filet Mignon
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Grilled Double Cut Lamb Chops
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18oz Rib Chop

If that didn’t fill you up, we still have dessert!!!  There is always room for dessert!!  I know one of us had the fresh fruit plate (well, its actually served in a martini glass but you get the idea), one of us had the cheesecake and I had the Chocolate Sampler.  I am not really a dessert person so I usually get samplers.

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Fresh Fruit Martini
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The Famous Cheesecake
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Chocolate Sampler

In addition, you can see my espresso and Frangelico in the background…I may not be a big dessert fan, but coffee and cordials are my jam!

Needless to say, after a meal like this, the best plan of action is to very carefully roll yourself into bed.  BUT!  See that little cup of caffeine?  Yep, I’m headed to the Casino!!!

Mom headed to bed like a normal human, but down to the casino I went where I managed to close the place down, then stumble back to my cabin and fall into my bed (sorry mom!).

Next, we were headed to Nassau.  I didn’t even get off the ship and spent most of the day chatting with Javorka at the Serenity Bar.  Pretty sure I was hoping some of that “Serenity” would seep into me after the night before!

Our next day was a sea day, so really more Serenity, but in my next post I will introduce you to my other favorite bartender and tell you all about the Chef’s Table experience.  Then, eventually, we do get to some ports!

Conquest in the Caribbean…2

So now is is boarding day (if you need to catch up click here)!!  Having never cruised Carnival before I was not familiar with their boarding process, but really how different could it be…show your ID, hand over your credit card, get your card, easy enough.  And it was.  With the possible exception of me having no “status” with Carnival so I stood in line with all the other newbie (to Carnival) cruisers.  Still, the line moved fairly quickly and soon I was looking for my mother, who had already checked in, instead of waiting for me!  That turned out to be a lucky move as she was assigned Group 1 boarding and I had been assigned Group 4.  I guess that is a timing thing as she had never been on Carnival before either.  At any rate, we still had quite a bit of waiting to do as boarding was delayed for some unknown reason, but eventually we were called to begin boarding.

Our itinerary for this trip includes two islands I have never been to before so I was super excited for those.  Here is how the week would go:

Sunday – Board
Monday – Nassau
Tuesday – At Sea
Wednesday – Amber Cove, Dominican Republic
Thursday – Grand Turk
Friday – At Sea
Saturday – Get off…go home.

I had also made reservations for the Steakhouse and Chefs Table, both of which I love on Royal so I was interested to see the differences. But first?? A drink!!

I had purchased the drink package (like I always do!) and since Carnival rules are different, so had mom, even though she usually barely breaks even on that.  So up to the pool bar to grab a drink.  And there we came to a screeching halt. You see, mom’s card worked fine, but mine declined.  What? How can you decline a prepurchased drink package?  Well…down to Customer Service…fortunately with a drink because the bartender took pity on my, although I did promise to come back and show him I had gotten it fixed.

The line at Customer Service went fairly quickly and soon Katie from Ireland had gotten us (me) all fixed up!  Back up to the pool deck we headed to take a look around.

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Water Slides!!!  I do love me some water slides…but I hadn’t quite had enough to drink yet!   So back down to the Red Frog Bar to show my now working card to the bartender and while I was there, refresh my drink!

Mom and I wandered around looking at things for a while, and then went to check out our cabin.  We were in an Oceanview cabin on Deck 1.  Remember that by the time I added mom, the only Oceanview’s were “guarantee.”  That means that Carnival assigns you a cabin based on what’s left…and we were the last cabin aft.  As far back as you can go on Deck 1.  The size and decor of the cabin were a pleasant surprise, but we did have a bit of an unpleasant surprise on port days.

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See? Nice enough cabin.  There is also a full size sofa, three closets and a “cruise-ship standard” bathroom.  For mom and I, there was plenty of room.  In fact it is bigger than the same type of stateroom on Royal’s ships!

After unpacking, it was time for Muster Drill…the mandatory safety drill required by the Coast Guard for all cruise ship passengers.  This, I think Royal does a bit better as they scan your room key to make sure everyone is accounted for.  This cruise, they just did a head count, and if the count didn’t match, we waited.  Now, its not too hot in January in Ft. Lauderdale, but I can only imagine how unpleasant this is in August!  Eventually everyone got counted, and the safety drill commenced.

When we were released from Muster, it was nearly time to get dressed for dinner.  We would be dining at the Steakhouse restaurant and taking advantage of Carnival’s first night special.  If you choose to dine in a specialty restaurant on either the first night or formal night, you get a free bottle of wine with dinner or 50% off any wine on the list.

More on that (and our Chef’s Table experience) next!!

 

Conquest in the Caribbean

Yay!!  A cruise with five great friends!  Wait…you’re all cancelling??  Okay…Yay!! A cruise all by myself!  Wait…Mom, you wanna go?? Okay…Yay!!! Me and Mom are going on a cruise!!  Yes…Me and Mom are going on a cruise!  No more changes!!

So to back up a bit, some dear friends of mine were talking on Facebook about going on this cruise.  Since we all know how I feel about cruising, I invited myself along.  Plus, I’d never been on a Carnival cruise, plus it would be over my birthday, plus the people that were going are totally awesome and it would be a blast to be on a cruise ship with them!  Add in the fact that I could use miles for my airfare and points for my hotel and Carnival has these single cabins that do not incur the usual 200% single supplement and it seemed like a perfect opportunity!  BUT then two of those awesome, dear friends got engaged (yay!) and being responsible adults they decided to cancel their cruise plans so that they could save money for their wedding.

If there is one thing I have never been accused of it is being a responsible adult. So. Since airfare and hotel were already done deals, and I had already paid the cruise fare, and it was still my birthday I decided to go anyway.  I actually didn’t know for sure if everyone else was going to cancel or not, but I decided that I was going…even if it meant I was going by myself.

Then, at Thanksgiving dinner, Mom said that she would go with me if that was okay with me and since I think it is well documented that I enjoy travelling with my mother, that was fine.  Now I just needed to adjust the reservation.

The room I had booked was technically a double, however it was one single bed and one Pullman bed.  If you don’t know, Pullman beds are beds that pull down from the ceiling and you need to use a ladder to climb up.  Well, I knew I wasn’t climbing up a ladder to get into bed after a day on a cruise ship (with the drink package) and I was pretty sure that Mom, as spry as she is for her age, had no desire to climb either so I needed to change cabins.

After a super easy phone call to Carnival, we now had an ocean-view guarantee cabin.   Because the change was made so late, there were very few options left, but I don’t spend a whole lot of time in my cabin anyway so I wasn’t worried.  I should have been, but we’ll get to that!

Since I was flying on points, I had to take a roundabout way to get the flights to work so I was flying into Miami, renting a car and driving to Ft. Lauderdale.  Then I would stay the night at the Renaissance Ft. Lauderdale (on points) and return the car to the Ft. Lauderdale airport the next morning after dropping Mom off at the port with all the luggage.  I would then grab a taxi back to the port and meet Mom to get on the ship.

I am happy to say that this pretty much worked just fine.  I got to the airport super early (habit), made it through security and sat down at the bar near my gate for a birthday morning adult beverage.

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Mom showed up soon after, she got a ride to the airport, but since our flight schedules were different we didn’t ride together.  And soon enough we were both away.  Her directly to Ft. Lauderdale, me to Miami.  In Miami, I got my bag and my rental with nothing more troubling than how huge the airport is…truly I felt like I was halfway to Ft. Lauderdale before I even left the airport.

Then, after a harrowing ride from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale (seriously, the drivers there are crazy!) I pulled into the Renaissance to meet Mom.  Quick trip up to the room to drop bags, then off to meet Jarod for dinner and to show Mom his college campus.  We ended up eating at some hole in the wall British Pub near the campus.  Total dive, but the food was actually fantastic.  Then, we ran the gauntlet back to the hotel.

Up the next morning to start the luggage, rental car, check in shuffle.  Seemed like everything went well, up until we were waiting to board and there was some kind of delay, I never knew what it was.  But by noontime we were onboard and I was headed for customer service to find out why my drink package didn’t work!!??!!

Next…The cruise begins…I know, I know…finally!!  And I really do have pictures!  You won’t have to just listen to me ramble, I promise!