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Friday, March 1, 2013

Carnival Breeze ~ 8-day Exotic Southern Caribbean, February 2013


Carnival Breeze in Aruba


Check-in

Our check-in at the Port of Miami was the smoothest we have experienced since becoming Platinum guests. We arrived around 11:30 a.m., and were quickly routed through the Priority lines. We got held up briefly at the check-in counter because our son was with us, and he is not a Platinum guest. Our PVP had told us that if we tied his account to ours with the same credit card, he would be able to board with us. We did this online a couple of weeks before the cruise; however, when we got to the check-in counter, his sail and sign card was not ready with ours. The employee helping us had to ask another employee for assistance, and then they made his card right then.

The VIP lounge area was fairly full; we found the last two seats together, and our son stood. Coffee was available on a table in the room, although there were no restrooms in the lounge. We had passed the restrooms outside the lounge and around the corner before we entered. When I went out to use the restroom a few minutes later, there was a wait for the single room. All of the priority guests were already boarding and gone from the VIP lounge when I returned (except for my family members who were waiting for me!). If I had realized we were going to board that soon, I would not have left the lounge.


Priority guests starting boarding before "Faster to the Fun" guests who paid $50 for this perk. Posts I had read online before our cruise said that Faster to the Fun guests boarded first. On this cruise, they were called next, before we had reached the escalator to go up to the boarding level.

Security did not pay attention to any of the wine or unopened soda bottles that we carried on; however, an agent made me toss an entire soda bottle, which had just been opened. Apparently, this guideline is somewhat loose because I have carried on open drink containers before, and a guest in front of me carried his open soda bottle on board.

Balcony cabin 7455, category 8B

This cabin is located near the back of the ship on the starboard side. If you look at the Breeze deck plan, you can see that the shape is different than the other balcony rooms. We like this room type because the balcony is larger, and the bed faces the outside window rather than an inside wall. It does not cost more for these features, because the inside sitting area is smaller. There is a hall into the room, and then there is no room for a couch in the cabin. The cabin had one chair, and two stool type seats. There were two closets with hangers, a closet with shelves, and a table in the hallway area.

Our room was ready before 1 p.m., and our luggage was delivered within an hour or so. Again, this was the quickest that we have ever been able to enter our room, and it was the quickest that we have received our luggage. Our son did not receive his luggage until shortly before dinner, around 5 p.m. He was in cabin 6466 (one floor down, inside cabin), and his guest status is Gold.

Our cabin was very cold when we entered, so I turned the temperature up a little. I did not initially turn the thermostat up all of the way, and at the beginning of our trip, I kept thinking it was going to get warmer in our cabin since we were traveling farther south. It was several days later before I realized that something was wrong with the thermostat/temperature in this cabin. By the 4th day, I had the temperature on the highest setting, and we left the balcony door open whenever we could. The A/C unit does not turn off when the door is open as some guests have stated.

When we visited our son's cabin, and a friend's spa cabin, I noticed that the temperature in their rooms was much warmer than ours, even though their thermostat was set colder than ours. We have a travel alarm clock with the temperature on it, and our room never got warmer than 66 degrees. It was usually 64 degrees. I did not call maintenance about the problem because about the time I thought about doing that, I noticed that this entire area of the ship was cold. We could feel the temperature drop when we entered our hallway from the stairs. I figured it was a temperature location problem that probably could not be easily fixed. They may have been able to turn off the HVAC unit in the cabin, which probably would have been fine. On the other hand, it may have gotten too stuffy that way. We could not leave our balcony door open all of the time because our neighbors often smoked on their balcony. Carnival does not allow smoking in the cabins, although smoking is allowed on all of the balconies except the spa rooms. This was the 10th time we have had a balcony cruise room, and only the 2nd time we have not been able to fully enjoy our balcony because we had neighbors who smoked frequently.

We noticed a couple of new guestroom features on this ship. The safe could be locked with a 4-digit code (yay!), or a card with a strip (I always use my driver's license when I need to use a card), and there was a slot by the entrance where a card needed to be inserted for the electricity to work. The HVAC unit does not turn off when there is not a card in the slot, but the electricity does. We thought this was a nice feature when we were both leaving the cabin because we did not need to worry about turning the lights off. However, I did not think it was a nice feature when I was in the cabin during daylight, and then needed to find a card for the slot in order to use the hairdryer. It was also not great when I was in the shower, and my husband left the cabin with his key! That only happened once, and we got used to using the key card slot. At least we did not have an inside cabin when the lights went out.

I requested individual serving size Korbel for our mini-bar from our room steward. He initially told me that I could not get these since this cabin is not a suite. I told him that I have always been able to get them before, and eventually, he said he would check for me. Later that day, he said that his manager had approved it, and he asked how many I wanted. I said 4 to 6, and he brought me a 4-pack. The charge was added to our account right away, before I drank them. When we were charged for a couple sodas that we had from the mini-bar, we were also charged for a small Bacardi that had been missing when we arrived. Our cabin steward corrected this after we told him we did not have that; however, the empty slot was never refilled. I would guess that the next guests in this cabin were probably also charged for that missing Bacardi.

Food & Beverage

The following dining venues were open for lunch when we boarded: Lido Marketplace buffet, BlueIguana Cantina, Guy's Burger Joint, and Cucina del Capitano. I thought the fish tacos at BlueIguana were excellent, and my husband liked the lunch and breakfast burritos. My husband and our son both thought that the breakfast burritos at BlueIguana were better than the ones at the Punchliner Comedy Brunch. They also liked the burgers at Guy's Burger Joint. I thought they were pretty good as well, although I did not think they were raveably good, like they did. The fries with the burgers are large potato wedges. There is a $12 charge to dine at Cucina del Capitano for dinner, and there is no charge for lunch. The only thing served at lunch is pasta, bread, and Caesar salad. You can sit down for lunch or order items to go. A greeter provides an order number, order slips, and directs guests to an open table. Guests then mark pasta type, sauce flavor, and add-on choices (like shrimp, arugula, spinach, etc.) on the papers, which are then taken up to the counter. A server brings beverages and the food items when they are ready. I thought the tomato basil pasta sauce was excellent, although I did not like the clam sauce.

There is a deli in the Lido Marketplace, which was open from 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.. I do not know if it was open the day we boarded, because I did not see it right away. It was not noticeably listed in the Fun Times, so I think others may not have known about it at first either. It replaces the omelet station after breakfast. The food was fresh and delicious. We tried the turkey wrap and the Rueben sandwich. I thought the 24-hour pizzeria on this ship was excellent, and I am not a huge pizza fan. Many of the standard American toppings and calzones were not available, which my husband missed. The pizza was delicious authentic italian pizza. My husband's favorite lunch choice was Fat Jimmy's C-side BBQ. This location was open on sea days. We had one half sea day, and it was not open that day. The line was always long at Jimmy's. I did not time my husband when he went to get his food, although I would guess he was in line around 20 minutes both times. The first time he went was a little quicker because he went before 12:30.

We went to the Punchliner Comedy Brunch in the Sapphire Dining room twice. It opened at 8:30 a.m., and the first show was at 10:00. Dining is the same as the sit down breakfast concept, and guests could choose to sit with other guests or by themselves. Both of our brunch visits took almost an hour and a half. When we visited the same dining room for a regular breakfast visit, it was a typical, less than an hour, meal. The breakfast menu was the same as other Carnival cruises we have been on. The Comedy Brunch menu was excellent! I highly recommend one of George's Specials: huevos rancheros--Delicious! The Eggs Benedict with salmon would have been good too, except that my eggs were overcooked, and they were more like hard boiled. I thought about requesting a reorder, except that I really didn't want to spend the day in the dining room. My husband must have really liked the carne y huevos (filet mignon) because he got the same dish both times.

Blush dining room
Although complimentary sushi is no longer offered, there was a new included food venue called The Taste Bar. This was setup in the Ocean Plaza from 5:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.. It was not open everyday, and it was not promoted, so a lot of people did not know about it. They served a small plate/tasting from a different restaurant each day that it was open--Red Frog Pub, the SteakhouseCucina del Capitano, and Bonsai Sushi.

Blush dining room
The food in the Blush dining room at dinner was good, and we had great table mates. The dining room was comfortable and beautiful. We enjoyed Ken, the signing maitre d'. The menu choices were similar to past Carnival cruises, although there seemed to be more and different starter choices. There were a lot of soup choices, and a few items I had not seen before, such as spring rolls and beefsteak tomatoes with fresh mozzarella.

I am disappointed that we missed a stop at Bonsai Sushi, because I heard that it was excellent. Everyone I spoke with said it was the best sushi they ever had.


Pool & outside areas

There was a lot of outside seating on Promenade deck 5. There were lounge chairs, tables with umbrellas and chairs, and a hot tub extended over the side of the ship on each side. The smoking area on the port side outside the Red Frog Pub also had a table and bench swing, and unique lounge seats. The non-smoking area on the other side was outside the Ocean Plaza.

serenity deck
I was surprised that we were able to get a cabana on Serenity deck on two days. My husband is an early riser, so he got us a chair quite early one of the days; however, there were still a few available cabanas after 9 a.m..

starboard side whirlpool tub on lanai
deck 5 - view from cabin 7455
I went down both of the water slides. The yellow slide was fabulous--fast and wet! The orange slide was slower and does not end in water. The second time I waited in line to go down the yellow slide (a different day), we (me and 2 more adults after me) were told that the yellow slide is only for children! I was not told this when I went down the slide a couple of days earlier. It would have been nice if we had known this before we had waited in line.

sports square and bar
 There was a movie or a concert show on the Seaside theater each evening. The Sports Square area was pretty cool. We played pool, miniature golf, chess, and the boys did the ropes course. There was a bar on this level, and plenty of chairs. The jogging track went around the perimeter on this level, and there was exercise equipment outside too. A court at the other end could be used for basketball, volleyball, or soccer. We only saw it used for soccer during our trip.



Entertainment and lounges

showroom
We went to two evening shows in the showroom--the Beatles show, and a juggling comedian. Both were excellent. We also went to the marriage show, and our son went to one of the Hasbro shows. The showroom was comfortable, and it was not crowded any of the times that we visited.

We were disappointed with the comedy show setup. All the shows were first come, first serve, and the room was cleared and closed after each show. We tried several times to get a seat for the comedy show without any luck. If we wanted a seat, we needed to line up at the door before it opened, and wait in line. If we did not do this, and entered after the club opened, it was standing room only. The first time that we got in and then stood, the announcer asked how many guests were first timers or repeat guests, and most of the guests seated had already been to other shows! Near the end of the cruise, we ran into some friends we had made, when we were all near the comedy show entrance. We decided to wait in line together and visit with each other. When we did this, we got a seat inside after the room opened. Another time, different friends told us to follow them inside even though the "full" sign was up. We were able to get a not-very-good seat that night when some other guests decided to slide together and let us in. There were two sets of comedians. We did not get to see either of the first two comedians, although we saw both of the second two. If you do not have early dinner, I heard that it was easiest to get a seat at the first show. Or, if you stay up late, I heard that it was also easy to get a seat at the midnight show. We had early dinner seating, and we don't usually stay up late, so neither of those options worked well for us.
seats overlooking lobby bar

Three guitar players rotated and played in the Red Frog pub. There was a fuse ball table, shuffleboard table, and dominos in the seating areas just outside of the bar music area. There was usually a trivia game in the Ocean Plaza in the afternoons, although I did not think that there were as many "Fun patrol" activities and events on this ship as usual. There are more bars and sports activities on this ship, so it kind of felt like guests were expected to entertain themselves. This was different than what we usually experience.

lobby bar
The library bar and wine dispensing machine was kind of cool. I liked the lobby bar setup on this ship. There were seats on the floors above the bar overlooking the bar, which was nice. Usually, people just stop and stand in these areas. I even observed a server getting drinks for guests on the higher floors one time. There was a female singer in the lobby bar, a male piano player in the piano bar, music in the casino, and a DJ in Liquid Nightclub. Free champagne for the women was served in Liquid Nightclub one of the first nights.

Carnival did not host a last night guest thank you party on this ship. Usually complimentary cocktails are served this night, and the event notice is kind of hidden. On previous ships, we would see this event listed in the Fun Times under "looking ahead," and then on the day of the event, only the title would be listed so many guests did not know about it. This cruise, the Looking Ahead section was only in the Fun Times the first day. Our son received a grid with his Fun Times at the beginning of the week, which showed the entertainment schedule; however, we did not receive one of these, and they were not out with the papers at the bars. I called Guest Services near the end of the cruise, and asked about the farewell guest party. I was told that this event has been eliminated.

Ports of Call and Shore Excursions

Our first port of call was Grand Turk. We have never been to Grand Turk, so we were excited about this stop. Unfortunately, it was rough this day, and we were not able to dock. This was one of the days that we got a cabana on Serenity deck. We only had the cabana for a couple of hours, because they closed Serenity deck before lunch because of the strong winds.

Our next port of call was La Romana, DR. We booked the Seavis Tour to Saona Island directly through the tour company. The excursion took up almost the entire time we were in port, so I considered booking the same tour through Carnival just for the peace of mind. The Carnival tour had bad reviews though, and I had read good things about the tour company tour, so we did not go through Carnival for this tour.
Seavis tour mangroves

This tour was a good tour, although the time went very fast. We also had a couple minor glitches on our trip. First, after we pulled away from shore and took off, our driver said that he had to go back because we were missing passengers. After several minutes of wasted time (on shore and stopping at another boat), we were off again without any more passengers. Then when we got to the beach, a few things were held up because a vehicle that was supposed to deliver supplies had broken down or run out of gas. There was no ice or water at the start (there was rum though!), and our meal was delayed because they did not have the supplies. The timing was still okay, although I did not think the food was that great. There wasn't anything terrible about the food (pork and chicken), although I had expected better after all the great reviews I had read. It is possible that our meal had been impacted by the late arrival of the supplies to cook things. The rum was plentiful, and as it says online, beer was served during the meal. You would not know this unless you walked up to get a beverage though, because no one informed us that beer was available. Non-alcoholic beverages served were regular sprite and coke.

beach at Saona Island
I thought the boat ride was pretty smooth, and the view was beautiful. There was not a lot of room between the seats, so large people may have a problem with comfort. We did not see any birds when we went through the mangroves. The beach was beautiful, although the shore is quite stony. The beach would have been more enjoyable if I had been wearing water shoes. We stopped at the spot where the starfish are for a short time. My husband did not bring his snorkel equipment this trip. Friends we met went snorkeling with equipment from Seavis, and they said that the snorkeling was disappointing.

Just before we got back to shore, our tour guide stopped and walked through the boat with a hat for tips. We were planning to tip; however, I want to mention this because of reviews I read before this trip. Many of the negative comments about this Carnival excursion were about crew soliciting tips at the end. And, the comments from people who booked directly through Seavis, did not mention this. Our experience sounds like it was the same as what people had complained about on the Carnival excursion.


Our next port of call was Curacao. Before we arrived, we had been trying to decide between renting a car or hiring a local cab driver after we arrived. Another choice we had considered was walking into town for shopping and across the floating bridge. We were not scheduled to arrive in Curacao until 1 p.m. (2 p.m. their time), and it got dark around 5 p.m., so we only had about 4 hours of daylight. I had email contact with Avis beforehand to confirm where the rental car lot is located, and to ask about the car pickup process (I had read online that it takes FOREVER!). The Avis email I received said that their office is located at the Mega Pier, which is where the Carnival Breeze docks, and that our car would be ready. When we arrived that day, we got off very quickly. We had been watching over the side of the ship, and as soon as we saw passengers getting off, we went down to disembark, even though the announcement had not been made yet to say that we could. Cruise Director Butch made the announcement when we were on our way down the stairs.


We were the first to arrive at Avis; however, a staff member was not present. By the time we located her in the car lot, there were several more people lined up after us. Even though I am an Avis preferred member with all my profile information filled in, it still took over 10 minutes to get our car--add this up, if you are in line behind 10 people! The agent had to see all my cards that are on my profile, and then she gave me paperwork with insurance coverage on it without asking me if I wanted this (my profile says decline). I found this out when she said the cost of the rental as she was giving me the paperwork. I told her that was more than my quote, and I showed her my reservation quote. She said it was for insurance coverage. I told her that I did not want the insurance coverage because my credit card covers it. She then had to print me new documents, and she had to run my AmEx card for a $500 deposit because I was declining the insurance. After this, she took us out to our car, which was blocked in by the curb and a line of cabs! Fortunately, she asked the cab drivers to move, and we were able to get out with a bit of maneuvering and curb driving. If we had not been the first customers to Avis, we would have ended up canceling before waiting in that line.


The route that we took went up the northeast side of the island, and back down the southwest side. We stopped at several beaches, took photos, went swimming, and had beverages. The beaches on this island are just like the beach was at Saona Island--beautiful in color, but stony. We did not see any flamingos when we drove through flamingo ally, although we did see some on the way to Kokomo beach. They were not as pink as the ones we had seen in Aruba a few years prior to this visit. I think renting a car would be a great way to spend the day on this island, if you have all day. Since this cruise did not arrive until 1 p.m., I do not suggest renting a car with only 4 hours of daylight left.

When we got back to the Avis lot, it was closed. We had not been told this, so we did not know what to do. I spoke with a woman in the area, who must have been a worker behind security, and she told me to leave the keys in the console of the car, with the car unlocked. I was somewhat worried about doing this after the harried start, but things worked out okay.

Aruba was our next and last port of call. We stayed in Aruba for over a week recently, so we did not book any excursions on this island. Our son did the Natural Pool Off-road Adventure at my suggestion. If you have never been to Aruba, this is the excursion I would recommend. He got some excellent photos, although he did not get to swim in the natural pool because it was so rough the day of our visit.

It was also very hot this day, so my husband and I did a little shopping, and then we got back on the ship for some swimming. I think this was the day I went down the yellow water slide that I was later told was for the children. A great resort by the cruise ship is the Renaissance by Marriott. This is one of the resorts we stayed in when we were on the island. If I had thought of it beforehand, I would have had us wear our swimsuits when we went shopping. We could have stopped at the Renaissance marina pool bar for a beverage and a swim.

Debarkation

This was the fastest debarkation ever for us. We were at our post cruise hotel before 8 a.m., and we did not rush! Every port we stopped in was also a smooth process when we got off and when we boarded. I had been worried about that with so many guests on this cruise, and did not need to be concerned.

Overall and Platinum Perks

Platinum gifts
As Platinum guests we received the following on board: a plate of chocolate and strawberries on one of our first sea days, two insulated Carnival glasses with lids, two Carnival Breeze pins, invitations to the past guest party, and laundry service.

We thought that this was a beautiful ship with many nice additions. We liked the additional self-entertaining activities (bars with gaming tables, more outside seating, sports level games...), although we also missed the Fun Patrol and ship scheduled events.

Other than the comedy club issue, we did not experience too much of a problem with waiting in line. There were a few other instances, although nothing extreme. We had early assigned dinner seating, and there was no wait, if we arrived just a couple minutes after the dining room opened. We had to wait in line to be seated for the comedy brunch, but it was less than 15 minutes. When we walked by the anytime dining guests at dinner, the line was often very long. Since we did not choose that dining option, I do not know how long guests had to wait for a table. We also did not visit the Marketplace buffet at any time, so I can not comment on how long those lines were. The one time that my husband visited the Marketplace omelet station, he waited a long time--over 20 minutes. This was the morning of the Aruba port day, which may have contributed to the long lines.

This was our first cruise on a ship this size. Although this ship is impressive, and the crowd control was handled well, we have decided we prefer the smaller ships.
one of our beautiful sunrises at sea