Hola Y’all! February in Kentucky is cold and it is generally gray and overcast. It seems like most of the snows with any accumulation come in late January or February and the coldest temps always follow suit. So we decided to take a cruise and get away from the frozen hills here and head to the Caribbean. We booked a 5 day Bahamas Cruise out of Charleston SC on the Carnival Ecstasy. Being one of the cruise line’s smaller ships on a shorter itinerary, I thought it would be a good introduction to cruising for my wife Dawn. This would be her virgin voyage as well as our make-up honeymoon, so I planned it all and tried to make it as special as possible. Booking on your own is a lot easier nowadays and I booked the cruise directly through Carnival’s website.
Prior to our trip, I booked Excursions and a few other treats and surprises. I will cover the shore excursions in a later blog about our two days in the Bahamas, though I did invest in the Faster to the Fun (FTTF) excursion that allowed us to take advantage of Carnival’s VIP treatment. At the port alone we saved an hour by bypassing the long lines to the parking area with our sticker. You get to board the ship earlier, just after the Platinum and Diamond Members, and your cabin is ready at embarkation instead of 1:30pm. If you carry on anything, believe me this alone is worth the price. Also, your bags get to your room quicker so you can be sure you can change for dinner. Unfortunately, on this trip, I didn’t know we could actually bypass the closed doors and get to our room, so we just sat around and waited with everyone else. Not a big deal since the bar was open and we had the CHEERS package. I highly suggest you get FTTF if you can and we always get the CHEERS package. Who wants to worry about the bar bill? I will touch more on these and other Carnival offerings later down the road.
Now, we always book a balcony room. My wife is slightly claustrophobic, so having the ability to step out and get some fresh air is a huge benefit. I myself spend most of my balcony time out there waiting for her to get ready (she doesn’t take long, but it beats watching tv). Coffee at sunrise in the Caribbean is best viewed from the privacy of your own balcony too in my opinion. Otherwise, we are rarely even there. The cabins are spacious and have ample storage for the two of us. I hear tales of as many as five guests in a room, but I would not want to try it. Bring extra outlets or a charging station as there aren’t an abundance of outlets in any cabin we have been in to date.
I also ordered the Honeymoon sail away package so our cabin was decorated when we walked in. This was a complete surprise to my wife and it brought to her eyes the first tears of the trip. She cries easily so that will be a recurring theme and I can be sure I did good when she does. The package included a beach towel and picture frame as well. Honestly, it was well worth the expense to see the look on my wife’s face. That smile will be forever etched in my mind. And since no honeymoon trip would be complete without a surprise mani/pedi from the spa, I booked in advance and a tradition was started there as well. She gets to go to the spa on the first sea day and I get to visit the Casino.
For dinner, our preference is always the Main Dining Room (MDR). You can eat at the buffet for every meal if you don’t feel like being served, but we enjoy the atmosphere and camaraderie that can only be found in the MDR. We have always been sat with strangers and we have always left as friends. The Sea Day Brunch is another dining room offering you will not want to miss. I almost always opt for a Spicy Bloody Mary and the Filet Mignon and Eggs, while Dawn prefers the Eggs Benedict and usually opts for something sweet as well. Our waiter found out I loved Smoked Salmon and brought me a special plate covered in the delicious treat. I even took some to go and kept it in my fridge for snacking.
Our first night on board, we sat alone at dinner at a large round table for 8. We probably looked a little funny, but it didn’t really bother us at all. But, in true cruising fashion, a large group next to us invited us to take their extra seats, though I wasn’t feeling great that night so we declined. I honestly regret dismissing the invite simply because we could have made even more new friends. After that first night the rest of our table showed up. We can’t remember their names anymore, but they mostly hailed from South Carolina and were very friendly. The matriarch of the foursome to our right was apparently quite a gambler and on the last night of our trip she shared, with the entire table, coupons given to her by the Casino Manager for Steakhouse additions. I thought that was awesome of her and I thoroughly enjoyed my Surf and Turf on her dime! The couple to our left were in a long distance relationship and took the trip from different parts of the country. It was very cool getting to know them however briefly. I never understand the people that want to sit alone for fear of sitting with strangers, but everyone has their preferences and meeting new people can admittedly be daunting sometimes.
Carnival Cruise Lines offers a dining experience unlike anything we had experienced prior to our evening at the Chef’s Table. We made reservations online months prior to our trip and I was not sure what exactly to expect. Room service actually handles your confirmation after you board and tells you the date and time. We met the rest of the group for complimentary Champagne in the Grand Atrium followed by an extensive tour of the galley by one of the executive chefs. A brief cooking demonstration of Carnival’s famous melting cake is worth getting up close. The recipe works well at home and Dawn has made it for us several times. We also tasted some hors d’oeuvres that you are not likely to find in most restaurants. The Mango Sphere is awesome in presentation and it does not disappoint the taste buds. It literally bursts in your mouth. There is also Chocolate Bacon. Chocolate. Bacon. Need I say more? After our tour we dined in the library with the Chef describing each of our seven courses, each paired with wine chosen by the ship’s sommelier, in great detail. The highlight for me was the Wagyu Bone Marrow Souffle. The phrase “melts in your mouth” is insufficient, but I am at a loss for how to describe it otherwise. From starters thru dessert we were treated to something wonderful, and the service from Alexandra and her team was perfection. Overall, this was one of the highlights of our trip and we have done the experience on every other ship since.
The Carnival Ecstasy sports lots of Neon and Chrome. The Grand Atrium is great for listening to music and having a drink while waiting for dinner or the variety of shows and activities. Strolling through the promenade transports you back to the time of diners and soda joints and the birth of Rock-n-Roll. Throw in old Harleys and a classic Rolls Royce to have your picture taken with and the overall feel is kitschy cool. Speaking of pictures, one of our favorite perks is all the free professional photo ops available. Take your pick from a variety of changing backdrops nightly and pick your favorites later on in the gallery. We try to get our pics taken at each stop, and really enjoy finding them for review, we trash more than we keep, but that’s part of the fun. I suggest you stack your favorites and then make your purchases at the end. It’s probably true that we spend too much on all of these pictures, but my wife loves photographs more than digital, and I love to make her happy! We also collect a frame from each ship and put one our favorite shots in it for our trophy wall at home. We have a couple of canvases that came as part of a package, but they have yet to be framed, so I am not sure we will do that again.
It has been a couple of years since this trip as I write this, so some of the memories of the ship have been blurred and blended with our subsequent trips on the Dream and Triumph. So we will wrap this up by saying we were instantly addicted to cruising after this trip and it has only gotten better since. Click on the video below to see some of the highlights and join us next for our shore excursions in the Bahamas!