Okay, up front warning, this is a REALLY LONG post, but I wanted to put down all the details of our cruise while I can still remember it all!
Hands down, the best vacation I've ever had! Eatin, soakin up the rays, eatin some more, strollin on the deck in the great breeze, eatin some more, watchin the parade of beautiful and not so beautiful people, eatin some more, shoppin for jools, eatin some more, swing dance lessons (what a fun and humiliating experience), eatin some more, snorkeling, (ohhh that turquoise sea), eatin some more, singing karaoke, and again, eatin some more. Yep, that's pretty much a cruise for ya.
If you have not been on a cruise, I cannot recommend highly enough that you go. Preferably with some really fun friends like Big Pete, Tiffany, Big Daddy James and Ange! (and of course Andy, the coolest son a person could want!) I have never had so much fun in my life, or laughed so much in one week! Or eaten so much food . . . BECAUSE I CAN!!!!! That was our motto for the week - I think I'll have some (insert delicious food item here) BECAUSE I CAN!!!! The coolest perk of a cruise is the food - I'm sure you've heard that, but I just have to repeat it. Can you say 24 hour pizza and ice cream? Yummmmmm. And many tasty, foofy umbrella drinks as well. Not that I had a lot in a row, just tried a variety over the course of the week. I felt so pampered and rich!
So I'll start at the beginning. We arrived in Galveston, parked down on the Strand and went to a shop so Tiffany, Andy and I could get our temporary henna tattoos for the cruise! That's right, we're cool! (And Andy also wanted to go to Captain Bubbie's Army Surplus Store since he missed out on mission trip. He bought a goofy hat.) So we are walking around sweating because it's mid-afternoon in July in Galveston, need I say more? And the tattoo lady cannot put the one across the top of my shoulders that I want because I'M TOO DANG SWEATY! Gross. Anyway, I got a cool butterfly on my shoulder. Tiffany got a little flower thing on her shoulder blade, and Andy got barbed wire on his bicep and a Chinese symbol on his forearm. Now I would never get a real tattoo for several reasons, but the temporary ones look real for a while and it was fun for a trip like this. For $10.00 . . . So, our ship leaves at 4:00pm, and it's a about 3pm by the time we finish all this and we have to drop us and our luggage off, take the cars to the lot and the guys must catch the shuttle back. Now the cruise terminal is about two blocks away, so I'm not worried at all, but Jay (I love you honey) is in full stress-out freak mode, afraid we'll miss the boat. So they drop us off, unload all our luggage and he and Pete speed away to the lots. Very nice porters load our luggage on these big carts to take them to the entrance door. Mine was nicer than Tiffany and Ange's. He put all my stuff on, then started for the entrance and then I asked him to wait until they were coming too, and for some reason their guy was taking forever (probably because Tiffany had so much luggage (I love you too Tiff). She was struggling under the weight of her carry on bags and my porter offered to go back to where she was and he put her carry on things on my cart (her guy was just going to let her carry them). Anyway, we went in the terminal and as soon as Peter and Jay got back we got in the line to get on board. It all went pretty quickly and smoothly, and before you know it we were walking up the gangway to the ship! Woooo hooooo!
We walked in to the large atrium with the ceiling that goes all the way to the top with glass elevators, a bar, a spiral staircase, etc., which is the required "oooooh, ahhhh" moment. Then we went to our rooms, which were all right next to each other, another cool thing. They tell you that your luggage may not get to your room until midnight, but it was all there except on of James's bags I think by the time we got to our rooms, sitting right by the door! (That $20 tip did the trick all right!) The cabins are small but very comfy. Ours of course had an extra bed for Andy but the ones with just the king bed weren't too bad. You don't spend much time in there anyway. But the sheets were high quality, and there was a very nice, silky soft down comforter and fluffy pillows and nice fluffy towels. Very nice. One of the neatest things on a cruise is that every evening when they make up your room, they make the cute towel animals and leave them on your turned down bed with your little mints. Every night a different animal - we couldn't wait to get back and see what we had. I am going to try to post my pictures of my animals and some others when Jay gets home and can show me how. We had an elephant, a monkey, a dog and a pair of seals! I bought a book on how to do them and a little beanie baby size one in the gift shop (it's a dog and he's on my bed).
We had a dinner time of 8pm in the fancy dining room every night, and ate there most nights except one I think. Our headwaiter for our table, Clifford, was from Jamaica and he was really nice and funny and gave us great service. At dinner, they have starters, salads, entrees and desserts and you can order as many of each thing as you want! On formal night, we all had steak AND lobster (except Jay). If you don't like something, just order something else. It was very gourmet and fancy, and sometimes we weren't sure what the items were, but hey it's all paid for so you might as well try stuff! Andy only ate dinner with us once, and the rest of the time I think he just ate pizza (the pizza was really good!) On the last night the waiters were dancing and the guests were dancing with them, so Peter and Jay got up and danced a little - yeah baby, yeah! Jay did his church lady dance and his newest addition, the Kevin James "can't stop it" moves from Hitch.
One interesting note, nearly every crew member we met was from somewhere other than the US. Lots of folks from Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union countries, including Macedonia! Lots from Australia and New Zealand, Jamaica, Dominica, Indonesia, etc. Some spoke English, many did not speak much which made for some interesting exchanges. The Cruise Director, Rebecca, was Canadian and sounded like a DJ or a newscaster or someone else with much professional speaking experience. Very polished, very attractive, very efficient and nice. She made all of the announcements heard around the ship every day. The Captain and much of his crew were Italian, and the head chef was from India. Quite the international crew, for sure!
Speaking of Andy, after the first night we didn't see him but once or twice a day, except for random sightings around the ship. They have a dance club just for teens and he met a group of kids there and they pretty much roamed around the ship hanging out, eating, playing ping pong and basketball, dancing, and just having lots of fun. He came in about 3 each morning, slept in (except the two excursion days) till who knows when. He said it was the most fun vacation he'd ever had too. I'm so happy that he had a good time. It was pretty funny when he would walk and not see us so we could just observe him in his natural habitat, if you will. He's pretty easy to spot in a crowd. . . We tried hard not to embarrass him by talking to him unless we had to.
We went to the karaoke bar three nights after dinner and that was hilarious! Pete, Tiffany, Ange and I did Love Shack, and Tiffany did Sin Wagon (great job too!), and Pete and Tiffany did Summer Nights from Grease, and James did a You Never Even Called Me By My Name. Big Paul and Mike were the highlights of the regular performers. Also the DJ would make you get up and sing if he caught you not clapping, and he got to pick the song. Yeah, those were funny . . . Of course the fun part is singing along with everyone. The trick with karaoke is to pick a fun song everyone knows, so then they sing along and don't worry if you don't sing it very well. It's kind of a group interactive experience. Much fun!
We didn't go to any of the shows, except one comedian who was just raunchy, not too funny. But we did do a swing dance lesson. Okay, that was really fun but very humiliating. I just haven't danced in so long that I've totally lost all coordination. Jay was such a good sport and was doing okay, but he was just so funny, and I was laughing so hard I could never get the turn right. Pete and Tiffany and James and Ange did much better. Pete got to be the model for our instructor, a stunning English brunette, and he got a little tongue tied when she asked where he was from. Pretty cute . . .
Our first port was Progreso, which was a detour since the port at Playa del Carmen was damaged. We pretty much felt gypped, but it couldn't be helped. They only offered a handful of excursions, and all but one involved a long bus ride and hiking and climbing stairs at ruins, etc. Of course the beach one filled up fast, so we opted to just go to town, shop a bit and walk over to the beach. The guys told us later that "wow, I would have enjoyed seeing those ruins," or "gee, I would have enjoyed touring those historic haciendas." Grrrr. But where were they when we were trying to make decisions about our excursions? Not interested, that's where. Oh well. The market at Progreso was about the size of the square at Granbury, maybe smaller, and all OUTSIDE, in the unbelievably humid, hot, thick, sticky heat. At one point while Angela was getting her hair braided, some of our group went across the street to get Cokes, and it was a pollieria (a chicken butcher shop for those of you who don't speak Spanish). Apparently it was quite fragrant with warm chicken guts and blood smells. Yum. And to think I missed it all! So we bought hats and a couple of other things and then walked to the beach, just a couple of blocks. It was okay, but the water was kind of murky greenish, not the beautiful blue we expected. The girls went in the water, and the guys sat under a little thatched umbrella sipping their Cokes. Then we caught a taxi van back to the ship to avoid the lines for the shuttle bus from the market. $15 well spent, and we ended up double tipping the guy so he made a nice income. Fortunately we had James along who speaks really good Spanish to help us with taxis, etc. Most of the drivers speak a little bit of English but not much.
Next day we ported at Cozumel. We had signed up for a snorkeling excursion that started at 11am, so we had some time to shop at the stores right at the pier. I have never in my life seen so many jewelry stores. The little shopping area there is a couple of blocks long and very, very clean and nice, with colorful storefronts and nice brick paved streets (no cars). It's pretty much tailored to the cruise tourists. I must mention here our great Super Shopper on the ship, Kayleen. She was from New Zealand, and I want her job. She just goes to the different stores in port and negotiates discounts and great deals and free stuff, etc. for Carnival travelers, and she gives a great and very entertaining shopping talk on the ship, telling you specifically which stores to go to for the best deals, etc. She gave away some stuff and James won a bottle of some liquor which they call Mexican Viagra (it has some long Aztec name). So anyway, while we were in the pier shops, Jay was looking at a Caribbean topaz ring that he really liked and was waffling and Kayleen came in the store and got him another $100 off the price! It's really pretty - Caribbean topaz has many different colors - pink, purple, dark blue, orange, it's just gorgeous.
Then it was time for our snorkel adventure. We were in a large group and basically just broke up into small groups in taxis to the beach, which was not too far away. They gave us basic instructions and our equipment, and they had a nice locker room where we could change. I have never snorkeled before, nor had Jay or Andy. The hardest part was getting in the water, because instead of sand like I expected, it was limestone because we were at a reef, so me with my wimpy tender feet had a hard time walking out to where it was deep enough to put on my fins (which appeared to be about 4 feet long!). Then the guide had to hold me up as the tide bounced me around and I struggled my fins on. But once I got them on (by the way it's nearly impossible to actually walk in those things, but they are quite nifty for swimming at a brisk pace), I went out to the drop off and was able to float (we had life jackets of course) and then it was great. I quickly figured out the whole breathe only through your mouth thing and off I went! The water is just otherworldly - it's the color of a brilliant turquoise stone or a deep blue topaz stone. Just really unreal - clear and just the most beautiful thing you've ever seen! Even looking down off the ship in port, the deep water was a sapphire blue and the foam even had a bluish tint! Have to see it to really believe it. I didn't have my glasses on but I could still see the fish pretty well so it was fine. I only had one drink of Mexican margarita (which is what our instructor called the salt water). He was very funny. Jay and Andy fell behind as we were snorkeling and going out deeper, so I went back to look for them, since from a distance all the heads bobbing in the water looked the same. I ended up missing some of the larger groups of fish that everyone else saw because the guide threw out some food, and I didn't try holding my breath and going deeper, but I will next time. All in all, it was loads of fun but I would have liked to have more time. We could have stayed as long as we wanted, but we wanted to shop also.
Andy didn't want to shop, so he and Jay went on back to the ship and the rest of us went to the recommended shopping area. James and Angela wanted to shop first, and Pete and Tiffany and I were hungry so we walked about a mile down to the Shrimp Bucket (it's a long story but needless to say we would have been smarter to get the taxi to drop us at that end instead of the other, but we didn't plan ahead too well). Anyway, we had the most delicious fresh beer battered and coconut shrimp lunch! It was just the best. And our margaritas were large and tasty, doubly so since we had walked almost a mile at a good clip in the heat and humidity) and then our very nice waiter brought us complimentary Kahlua shots at the end of our meal. Very very good. Now I don't drink very often, pretty much only on special occasions, so don't get the wrong idea, but a nice frosty margarita sure tastes great on a vacation on a very hot day! Yessireee!
Then we trekked back to find a couple of shops we wanted to hit, realizing it was about 3pm and we had to be back on the ship no later than 4:30. About the middle of the strip which was almost a mile long, I wanted to stop at the loose gemstone shop, so I told Pete and Tiffany I'd catch up with them. Well I found some Caribbean topaz stones at a great price and they said they could mount them in some earrings for me right away. So I was pacing around worrying that they'd think something happened to me, and the sales girl suggested that I go find them and then come back. So I race walked about five blocks I think, maybe more, past all the guys hawking their stuff, etc., melting with sweat, and my legs were aching so bad. About a block and a half to the end I saw Peter go into a store, so I finally caught up with them. It was kind of creepy, all the tourists were gone, headed back to the ship, so we really kicked it into gear then. They paid for their stuff and then we all three race-walked back to my store (by this time it's close to 4pm and we are rushing!). When we got to the store, the sweet sales girl was standing on the steps outside holding my bag with my earrings! I should have given her a tip, but we were in such a rush! Pete hailed a cab immediately and we got in and headed back toward the pier, but the traffic was so heavy. Our driver was chatting on his CB with one of his friends the whole time, and now and then we'd catch an English word. We got back to the pier about 4:15, and I could just imagine Jay sitting on the ship tapping his watch and saying "they're gonna miss the boat and get left behind . . ." We started walking through the long corridor of duty free shops right at the end of the pier and this really, really drunk woman and her friend staggering through, and this woman was hollering, really loud, "How you doin?" to literally EVERY person in her path! All the way to the gangway of the ship! She was so loud and drunk and obnoxious!
We went to the shorter gangway line, got back on the ship and I went immediately to our cabin to find Jay and let him know I had not gotten left on shore or kidnapped, but he wasn't there. I then proceeded to spend about 45 minutes looking for him, to no avail. (By the way, this happened to us enough times that next time we are taking walkie talkies - the ships are so big you could spend all day passing each other and never find each other). So I went back to the room to take a shower, and later when we met up I found out that he had been waiting for us at the OTHER gangway and didn't see us pass by.
I'm backing up here but we had great fun on formal night too. We all dressed up and went to the Captain's Cocktail party and then dinner and took some really great pictures. We spent a lot of time just walking around the ship, sitting on the deck people watching or laying in the sun, just talking and laughing, etc. The non-duty shops on the board put new stuff out every day so we looked there a lot.
Jay bought me the most gorgeous tanzanite and diamond wide band from the ship gift shop. They had some incredible jewelry at great prices and they have a one year guarantee. I was just looking while Angela was trying on rings, and I saw this one and just thought I'd try it on, and "Waaaaaaaaaa" it was love at first sight! I told Jay he didn't have to get me an anniversary present for several years since this ring is so awesome. We found out that tanzanite has tripled in value in the last few years since they can only get it from one mine in Africa. The value goes up with the size and depth of blue of the stone. Then Peter bought Tiffany this gorgeous earring, necklace and bracelet set of blue topaz and peridot, and surprised her with it. And James came back and bought Angela the tanzanite ring she had wanted, but then it was too big and they traded it for another, and then while in Cozumel found an even prettier ring with a larger stone and a better bargain, so they got that one and returned the one on the ship. We girls all got lucky with some beautiful bling from our great hubbies!
The last night we toasted our wonderful trip with some champagne that Peter had won earlier in the week. Clifford iced it down for us and brought us glasses and strawberries! Then later in the night we had some excitement. Andy had been coming in about 3 and for some reason I was having trouble sleeping, and about 3 I was awake, and he was still not back at 3:30 and I was a little concerned. Then a little before 4am an announcement saying "Attention all crew Operation Bright Star Empress Deck starboard side." Well I knew that was some kind of emergency and my son was not back in the cabin, so I did what any mother would do and threw on a denim jacket and flip flops with my gown and made a beeline for that location. It was the big atrium area, and as I walked down the hall I could see people milling around and my anxiety level was rising, but as I came into the atrium area I saw Andy standing over by the staircase, and he pointed up. He said that some guy fell, and at first I thought he meant one of his friends had fallen over the rail into the atrium. But what happened was a really really drunk guy fell between the stair railings in the corridor behind the atrium, about four decks down to a carpeted area. Andy and his friend we walking down the corridor to come back to their rooms and they heard a thud, and walked around the corner and saw this guy lying there with a huge gash in his head, and Andy said he was unconscious and gurgling. The people who had been with him were standing there and they had called the doctor and brought a stretcher, and the crew shooed everyone away and that's when I found him. He was a little shaken up, because the guy was clearly in a bad way. On the way back to our cabin we met two other moms who were looking for their sons because they had heard the announcement and their kid wasn't back yet. We assured them the person who fell was an adult, so I'm sure they found their kids. We had a bit of a time getting back to sleep after that, needless to say. But of course the next day we heard nothing about it and I've seen nothing on the news so I assume he recovered, hope so anyway.
The journey home was kind of rocky because the captain was dodging storms in the Gulf, so we noticed the movement of the ship quite a bit more, but it never really bothered me much. We arrived in Galveston early Saturday morning, but they let you off by decks, so we had plenty of time to eat breakfast, etc. and got off the boat about 10:30am. We didn't want to leave!!! Can't wait to go back again . . .
So, inside jokes . . . look at those nostrils . . . mmmmmmm hmmmmmm . . . BECAUSE I CAN! . . . HOW YOU DOIN? . . . do they have pancakes? . . . there goes the Shrub . . . are we leaning? . . . let's have some pizza/ice cream/dessert . . .what happens on the ship STAYS on the ship (or in Mexico). Great memories, great friends, great times . . . let's do it again!