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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Carnival Freedom -- 6-night Western Caribbean Cruise

Ship view from shore excursion
This was one of the smoothest check-in processes we have experienced. We took a cab from a cruise port hotel around noon. Our driver was able to pull right up to the luggage drop off spot, and we walked inside after leaving our bags with the porters. We wove through a couple of line mazes, went through security, and were on board in about an hour. I noticed that the line had become quite long shortly after we boarded, although it still moved along quickly.

Interior cabin 1021, category 4H
We usually book a balcony room; however, this was an extra cruise for us, so we went for the lowest category inside cabin--at a rock bottom rate. We booked the Early Saver rate, and saw two price drops before our cruise. One price drop was showing all inside cabins for the same price, so we were able to move up to the 10th/Panorama deck. This was still an inside cabin, but better than the bottom of the ship! There is a front balcony on this floor, which can only be accessed through the cabin hallway, so many guests do not know about it. It's not a place to hang out, since there were not any chairs or anything, although it was a great place to view the port as the ship was arriving and leaving.

The room was quite small. In fact, our son's room, #2212, was much larger than our room. Our cabin had the basic storage space and bathroom; there just wasn't any sitting room. The foot of the bed almost hit the vanity, and there was barely room to sit on a chair in front of the vanity. We could not walk by the foot of the bed, if someone was sitting in the chair.

Food & Beverage
The food and beverages were very good, as always. I think the free champagne Carnival serves at events is lower quality than what we received on prior cruises. They used to serve Korbel, which I like. I did not like the complimentary champagne served on this cruise. For dinner, the three of us were seated at a table by ourselves in the dining room, which we found disappointing. This happened to us last time we cruised together after Thanksgiving too. The Maitre'd says this is because there are so many families cruising this time of year. We like each other; however, we also like to meet new people. We think the dining experience is part of the fun. We ate breakfast in the dining room almost every morning, so we did get to meet and socialize with some guests this way. I prefer the dining room menu for breakfast, although my husband likes being able to get special order omelets at the buffet. The dining room breakfast menu only offers a ham and cheese omelet. The dining room is open for lunch on sea days with open seating. We ate lunch in the dining room one day, and it was very good. Lobster was served in the dining room for dinner on the first formal night.

One of the days that we were in port, we arrived back at the ship around noon, and ate at the Mongolian Wok, which is similar to BD's Mongolian Barbeque. The flavors were great, and the line wasn't too long. We ate at the Deli when we returned to the ship ahead of most of the guests on another port day. We are early risers, and are often done on shore before the crowds. There is a menu to order from at the Deli, and you can also make special requests to add or remove an item--such as cheese, or ask for a cold sandwich to be grilled. I requested Swiss cheese for the turkey wrap I ordered. The wrap was jalapeno flavored and wasn't very spicy, which was fine with me. I thought the sandwich was very good.

Many guests are not aware of Fish & Chips on the 10th deck at the back of the ship, so we dined there for lunch on a sea day because there was never a line. Other seafood is available, along with the fish and chips.

Another often unknown dining spot, is Meji Sushi on the Promenade deck by Viennese Cafe (additional cost at the cafe). The sushi bar is only open a few days, and opens at 5:00 p.m. On the days that it's open, the hours are posted in the Fun Times (formerly Carnival Capers). The sushi bar serves appetizer type food, and we had a small sample plate on two days--excellent! You can also purchase additional items.

Other dining options are: buffets on the pool deck for all meal times, two Grilles (at the main and back pools), Pizzeria, Room Service, and Sun King Steakhouse (additional cost). We had room service for breakfast one morning, and it was very prompt.

Serenity deck during sea day
Pool & outside areas
We loved the serenity deck area! We never had a problem finding a lounge chair, although the cabana seats were hard to come by. We were able to get a cabana seat for a couple hours one of the days that the ship was in port. There were four hammocks, and the two hot tubs were actually hot tubs and not lukewarm water. The bar service was great, and there is a nice seating area by the bar. Most of the area is non-smoking, which we liked.

The water slide was fun! None of the pool areas were every crowded. There is a pool and bar at the back of the ship, and two pools and bars at the front of the ship. One of the front pools is the main pool where all the activity was, and the other one is a small pool next to where the water slide comes down. We never had a problem finding a seat when we wanted to change locations.

The jogging track only goes around the back half of the ship on the top floor, so it's not real big, but it served its purpose. It goes around the mini golf and sports deck areas, which were never busy in the morning.

We always like the entertainment on cruises, and this cruise was no exception. The Carnival dancers put on great shows, as did the two comedians. Both comedians also put on adult shows. The "Fun Patrol" was a great group. We ran into them a few times in different areas of the ship. We even played games with them one evening--we did not win, although we received points for our team.

seaside theater
We were disappointed that the band we liked the best (mostly oldies rock music) played mostly in the Cigar Bar. You could not walk by the entrance of this lounge without feeling and smelling like you'd been smoking yourself. It's too bad there was not better ventilation, or that the bands did not alternate where they were located. There are a couple non-smoking lounges; however, we did not like any of the music in those areas. The band we liked played at one of the outside parties one evening, so we were able to enjoy their music that evening.

Other activities were: bingo, game shows in the lounge, pool games, seaside theater (evening movies and/or live concerts on the screen most nights), art shows and auction, liquor taste testing at the gift shop, murder mystery activity, and more.

Ports of Call & Shore Excursions
Our first port of call was Key West. We have been to Key West a few times--by ship and by land--so we hung out on board most of the day. We got off to walk around the shops and such for a short time.

The next port was Grand Cayman, where we have also been several times, so we did the same thing at this port. The famous seven-mile beach is beautiful, if you have not been to Grand Cayman before. You can get there by taxi or bus, if you do not want to book a shore excursion. The public beach is free, and there is a small charge if you want to rent a chair and use the facilities at one of the resorts. At Grand Cayman, you need to ride a tender boat in, which was a smooth process when we went ashore around 10:00 a.m. after most of the guests had already departed. 
Cool Runnings Sail

We booked a shore excursion at our next port of call in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

We have also been to this port; however, it was our son's first visit, so we booked the Cool Runnings Sail and Dunn's River Falls excursion through Carnival for under $60. We thought this was a great trip. It was a short boat ride/sail to the falls (about 20 minutes). Guests could then climb the actual falls or go up by land next to the falls, or hang out on the beach. Since my husband and I have climbed the falls before, I decided to relax on the beach and take pictures while my husband and our son climbed the falls. After the climb, rum drinks and rum punch were included, while we leisurely sailed back to the ship.
Dunn's River Falls

We loved our cruise, and already have two more planned! We definitely prefer a balcony room; however, for only $300 per person, we have no complaints. Carnival sells a future cruise certificate on board for $100, which is worth $200 toward a seven-day cruise. We bought a certificate and applied it to our next cruise. We got $100 off the purchase price, and a $100 on board credit.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Merrillville, Indiana / Hilton Garden Inn

Status perks
I was initially downgraded at this hotel. I had reserved a suite because the rate was good, and I was staying three nights. I had written in my comments that if I could be upgraded to a Jacuzzi suite, that would be great. (My husband was coming to visit over the weekend, and he likes having a Jacuzzi). When I checked in, the agent told me I had been upgraded to a Jacuzzi room, and I said great. I asked him if this was also a one bedroom suite, like I had reserved, and he said yes. I received two bottles of water as well.

When I got to my room, it looked like a regular size hotel room with a tub in the sleeping area--there was no living room. I looked at the room diagram on the back of the door, and saw that the room I was in was indeed a regular sized room, and that the suites were larger rooms. I returned to the front desk, and the agent told me that there are no Jacuzzi tubs in the suites; only in the hotel rooms. He said they are the same size rooms anyway. I told him I had reserved and paid for a suite, so I wanted a suite instead. After looking on the computer, he was able to give me a handicap suite, which was much larger than the first hotel room I had been in! When I looked at the hotel rooms more closely online after getting settled in my room, I saw that the hotel rents a standard room, Jacuzzi room, and suite--with pricing from low to high, in that order. So, the hotel was actually "upgrading" me to a lower priced room, which I had been told was the same size as a suite. I'm glad I was paying attention that day!

There was not an actual door separating the bedroom from the living area, although there was a short hall with the bathroom between the two rooms. I wish there had been a bedroom door because the guestroom doors in the hallway slammed loudly, if the guest did not slow the door down when entering or exiting a room. I thought the hallway noise was very distracting and annoying. There was a couch and soft chair in the living room as well as a desk and chair. I did not think the couch was comfortable, although the Sleep Number bed was great.

Food & Beverage
We had dinner in the restaurant one evening and did not end up paying for one of the meals because they were not cooked right. My medium steak was served tough and well done. I had already eaten my salad and did not feel confident that a second steak would be any better, so I just sent the steak back. My husband's burger was also overcooked; however, we decided to share it since we were hungry and didn't feel like going out that evening. The menu prices and options  on the menu in the guestroom did not match the menu in the dining room. Our server told us the room menus were supposed to have been replaced. The service was acceptable and nothing more.

Business center
The business center was a typical HGI center with "on demand" printing available and miscellaneous office supplies.

Fitness center
The fitness center contained several working cardio machines. There was a TV, although the remote was missing both times that I used the center.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lafayette, Indiana -- Holiday Inn

Status perks
At check-in I was told that I was the "guest of the day." When I asked what that meant, I was told that I had been upgraded to a suite. I have been upgraded to a suite at other properties without the "guest of the day" title. I have also been guest of the day at properties where I did not receive an upgrade, but received extra perks, like breakfast and bonus points. 

I received a room on the top floor at the end of the hall. The room I received was the only room in the wing. This was one of the largest hotel rooms I have ever stayed in. It was comfortable; however,  it was not the nicest room I have stayed in. There was a large closet by the double door entrance, and then a large living/dining room combination. The room contained a couch, soft chairs, coffee and end tables, a TV, a small table with four chairs, a microwave, small fridge, and sink. The bathroom was behind the closet by the entrance door, rather than off the bedroom. I liked the large walk in shower; however, I did not like that I needed to walk through the kitchen area to get to the bathroom during the night.

The bedroom was just as large as the living area room that I just described. In addition to the bed and end tables, it contained a soft chair, desk and chair, armoire, and TV. One reason I stated that this hotel room was not as nice as others I have been in is because it showed signs that it had been rented to large groups for parties or social events. There were many stains on the carpet and other minor damage in the room. I was happy with the room for the most part, although I did not like the fact that the double entrance door was not equipped with a door latch or chain. I rigged my own hillbilly/redneck door alarm before I went to bed that evening.

Food & Beverage
I ate lunch/early dinner in the dining room when I arrived, and I had a snack in the lounge that evening. I would not recommend dining at this hotel. Although I would not classify the food and service as awful, it left a lot to be desired. I waited for service in both areas, and none of the food was worth waiting for.

I was happy with the room upgrade, and the bed was comfortable. I'm not sure if I would stay at this hotel next time I'm in the area. I think I would look at the Staybridge Suites and the Hilton Garden Inn a little closer before making that decision. 

I had noticed blue, gold, and platinum colored bags behind the front desk when I went to the lounge in the evening, so when I dropped off my key the next morning, I asked if the bags were PCR member bags. They were! The agent asked if I had received one, and I said no. She gave me a bag, which contained a bottle of water and two snacks. I guess my "guest of the day" status did not remind the employee to give me a bag at check-in.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fishers, Indiana/Uptown Indy -- Hotel Indigo

I stayed at this hotel for two nights in December 2010.

Status perks
I received a coupon for one free Starbucks beverage or a beverage in the bar, and one bottle of water. I did not receive a room upgrade, although I did receive a top floor corner room as requested.

The room was a good size with wood floors, and it was comfortable. The large walk-in shower was similar to what I have experienced at other Hotel Indigos with a glass enclosure. I was glad I had received a room at the end of the hall because the door was not real soundproof--I could hear occasional hallway noise, although not so bad that it disrupted my work or sleep.

Food & Beverage
Free appetizers were served in the lounge both nights of my stay (I stayed on a Monday & Tuesday). I ordered salmon salad one evening, which was excellent. Breakfast in the morning was just as good. I was impressed with the food quality and service at this hotel. I was immediately greeted both times that I entered the lounge in the evening as well as in the morning. Every employee I encountered was attentive and made me feel like a valued guest. I had called to order breakfast to-go from my room, and then walked to the front desk with my free bottled water coupon in my hand, before going to the cafe to get my order. The front desk agent was busy with another guest, and the cafe employee saw the coupon in my hand. She immediately walked to the back room and got me a bottle of water. This was the type of service I received my entire stay.

Business center
The business center consisted of a couple of computers, printer, and miscellaneous office supplies in an area by the front desk. I was able to print a couple documents without any trouble.

Fitness center
The fitness center was a large room with a few cardio machines and weights. Cardio theater worked on one of the tread mills, and there was also a working TV in the room.

I was very happy at this hotel. I thought the attentiveness of all staff members was excellent. I arrived without my luggage (Delta's fault), and staff members helped make this inconvenience more tolerable. They offered me the use of a cell phone charger and other items that I needed. When my luggage did arrive the next morning, the front desk agent offered to bring it to my room before I even had a chance to say I would be right down. I felt that the service I received was genuine and attentive. I would definitely stay at this hotel again!