The Family Cruise
Our cruise addiction had caught on and now it was our parents turn to join us for their inaugural Cruise. Dawn and I had booked this trip while still on board the Carnival Dream in 2018, so we were super excited to be back on this beautiful ship. Our itinerary would take us to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and back to Cozumel. Puerta Maya at Cozumel is one of my favorite ports and we had just visited Mr. Sanchos Beach Club in October. On this trip we were set to visit Nachi Cocum, which is very similar to Sanchos, but more exclusive. For Montego Bay in Jamaica I had planned an all-inclusive beach day at Sunplash Resort, so that the parents could relax and see the beach, a little of the Jamaican countryside and the culture. However, as I have said before and I am sure you are well aware, even the best laid plans can go awry.
Now, my parents have what seems to be the worst travel luck in the history of family vacations. Some of their adventures make the Griswold Family look like professional tour guides, and my dad’s driving adventures would rival Clark any day of the week. In fact, during the late 70 and early 80s we even had a green station wagon with wood panel siding that my dad regularly backed into trees and other vehicles. My folk’s dream trip to Hawaii ended with my mother’s broken ankle. Even the great expanse of Alaska’s frontier fared no better against their foul luck, as my father suffered a kidney stone attack and spent most of his time there in a hospital bed. My mother was robbed on the way to Virginia. They have had countless breakdowns and flat tires. They have been lost on the way to Delaware, Florida, Myrtle Beach…the list is endless…and usually on the way home too. My parents have also been blessed and have made it home with their lives generally intact, so we thought it would be safe to take them along for a trip with us hoping our good luck would counter their bad. And for the most part, it worked…
We have blogged previously about the Carnival Dream, and the embarkation process at NOLA, so I will mostly focus on this trip with the parents and traveling with a passenger that has mobility issues. Hopefully you can get a little insight and prepare yourself should you need to travel in a wheelchair. My mother is not permanently bound to a chair and can walk short distances, but these last few years it has become more challenging for her than I had realized. In retrospect, I highly recommend a motorized wheelchair if you can, and booking an accessible stateroom so that you can drive right into the room, motorized buggy or not.
Once again we were hitting the road to the Port of New Orleans, and since we were taking the parents with us, we decided to break the drive south into two parts. I booked rooms near the midway point, at the Comfort Inn in Bessemer, AL. We have had great experiences at the Comfort Inn and Suites and this was no exception. The drive down was fairly easy since we left after Nashville traffic would be cleared and we made pretty good time through the construction zones as most folks were home and off the roads. Check in, even at our late arrival time, was quick and easy and our rooms were, as usual, very comfortable. The breakfast buffet that is included is fantastic in my country boy opinion. You are away from home and you have to eat somewhere, but instead of driving off to a McDonalds or worse, you can stop in the lobby and get, among other things, biscuits and gravy, eggs, sausage links, coffee, orange juice, cereal, bagels, creams cheese and even two styles of waffles that you can make yourself. The manager was on point making sure the food was hot and the area clean. The entire staff was very friendly and I will definitely go back again instead of driving straight through on our next trip to New Orleans.
The rest of the drive on to NOLA was very easy and the day was beautiful. I managed to get lost on the way to the hotel even though we had just been there a couple of months earlier, but eventually we made it back to the right road, down to the hotel and checked into our rooms. Once again I had reserved the Park and Cruise Package since it had gone so well the time before. Since we had just done this in October, we knew the lay of the land and what to expect. Once again, we were not disappointed with the hotel and overall experience. Our rooms were ready upon arrival and as always were clean and comfortable. We dropped off our bags and headed across the street to Copeland’s where we had eaten a couple of times our last time in town.
The parents were ready for a nice long nap, so we took advantage of that for a bit of one on one time back at Copelands Bar. We noticed their signature drink on the board and what started as “just a couple of drinks, let’s not get wasted in New Orleans again” turned into “man I am glad the hotel is just across the road”. I am not sure how big the Punch Bowl is, but when it is filled with the Crash and Burn, it is quite a formidable cocktail, even for two. We only had three, or maybe just two, but we had certainly had enough, so we headed back to rehydrate and sleep for a while before embarkation day. I was actually excited about breakfast the next morning and went to bed with visions of biscuit boats on a gravy river.
Embarkation Day – New Orleans
After another fantastic complimentary breakfast, we had the desk order the shuttle service and about 30 minutes later, we were dropped off at the curb for porter service. NOTE: I learned something here as my parents had several smaller less conventional bags along with their standard luggage. Those bags did not show up until late in the afternoon which caused some stress for my father who had medicine and other toiletries he needed. I would say logistically, bags that are the usual rectangular shape all fit nicely together on a luggage cart, but when you have oddly shaped luggage that doesn’t stack neatly it is probably going to be set aside for later. My advice is pack all your stuff in normal luggage, and carry on your meds. Our first cruise was with mismatched luggage and we had the same issues with delivery.
While booking my parents trip I also made sure to note that they would need assistance in boarding. We also had FTTF so we would be able to get on board and to our rooms quickly. Once again the FTTF stamp on our boarding passes saved us time and a lot of standing around as we passed the bulk of the people that arrived before us and were sat at the front of the waiting area to be boarded after the Diamond and Platinum cruisers. We were eventually ushered toward to gangway and off we went to board our 2nd sailing on the Carnival Dream.
The Carnival Dream is a fairly big ship so there is usually ample room for maneuvering a wheelchair. What I found most frustrating were the people that would jump on an elevator you had been waiting for when they could just as easily take the stairs, or maybe even wait their turn like a civilized human being. The social contract breaks down at the elevator queue for quite a few folks, and the youngest were some of the worst offenders. Parents should teach their children some manners when it comes to such things, but that is a pretty big stretch nowadays. If they are running wild on the ship, the parents are likely passed out on the lido or heckling a karaoke hero, but I digress. My point is, I will never leave a family waiting with wheelchair while I take an elevator as long as I am physically able. Unfortunately, I am guessing this is the norm for those that are challenged with mobility issues and I could probably do better to be aware of their needs around me.
Per our embarkation ritual, we stopped at the lobby bar for our first cocktail of the cruise and to get our CHEERS package rolling. I started with a pina colada and Dawn got her Miami Vice and then we were off again. The lobby bar area of the Dream can cause sensory overload the first time you board her, so my parents were trying to take it all in while we rushed them around. We made our way over to the elevators and up to find our rooms, and as promised by the FTTF purchase, they were ready. That’s a huge perk you get with FTTF or any of the VIP levels. Not having to sit around and wait for your room to be ready is worth the cost to me. I see folks on every trip rolling around bags strapped with 12 packs of soda and all other kinds of nonsense while they wait for the rooms to open. Carnival’s new embarkation process with keys makes it impossible to enter your room without having the perk, so I highly suggest the upgrade if you can swing it.
My folks were booked on the lido deck, and I did so hoping to ease them into cruising without having to work too hard to find food. They were able to roll right out of their hallway, pass Reds Rum Bar and grab Guys Burgers, or crossover for the Blue Iguana Cantina and Tequila Bar. The Grand Buffet is also just there and if it was late they could keep going aft and go grab pizza at Pizzeria del Capitano without having to deal with the elevators or stairs. They had the movies on the big screen right out their door, so the room location was ideal. However, to eat with our friends Drew and Shannon, and their family that had joined them, we were assigned the aft dining room on the third floor. Logistically from the front of the ship on the 10th floor in a wheelchair, this was not ideal. We found the best option was to take the hallway all the way to the back of the ship and then use the aft bank of elevators. It kept us from having to navigate the promenade with a wheelchair and saved time in the end.
Like a cartoon character being drug by their nostrils by the scent of a pie cooling in the window, my pop’s head was on a swivel and he was being drawn to Guy’s Burgers. The man pretty much only eats ground beef. He could subsist solely on cheeseburgers and be a happy man. I had filled his head with an abundance of hype about what I think is a fantastic offering from Carnival, and he was ready to find out for himself. Thankfully the crew did not disappoint and they nailed it again and again. We have found that on embarkation day it is easier to grab food from some of the less popular options, but for Dad it was always going to be a burger and fries.
Having already sailed on the Dream we were familiar with her layout and so after the muster drill we posted up to watch the sail away party on the 11th deck overlooking the main pool area where all the action takes place. There are couches that line this walkway and my folks were able to find comfortable seats to enjoy some of the fun. Our room was actually just thru the glass doors past the elevators and I loved this location since it is more convenient to most of the adult themed activities.
Dawn and I had not been so close to the action on previous cruises, and as we were usually trying to find our way around, or recovering from outings that went far too late in the French Quarter, we usually missed the sail away party too. This time however, we were up front and had a great view, and it was a blast. Dawn wants to learn some of the line dances so that we can join in next time and we will let you know how that goes down the road. For now, we watched the more experienced steppers have a great time. My wife struck up a conversation around some perfume with Bridgette from NYC and they had a ball. The perfume incidentally ended up making it’s way into Dawn’s collection. Another trend with cruising lately – we come home with new perfume for the wife – but who can complain about a wife that smells good?
After the sail away party the folks took a nap and Dawn and I walked around seeing what there was to be seen. We spent a brief minute in the casino and I made my $40 contribution to the slot machine and moved on. We had a little coffee drink to wake us up and then headed up to get ready for dinner. We always prefer to dine in the Main Dining Room and so we collected the parents and headed down. It was just the four of us the first night, and there would never be a night on this trip when all of us made it to the table even though we tried. Eventually Drew and family would join us, but for much of the trip, someone would be missing. The last several nights it was me, but we will get to that.
Our wait staff were incredible as always, and the first night they surprised us with a cake for our anniversary. My dad would go on to tell stories again and again about Ketut, about how the whole staff knew his name and that they knew what he wanted nightly. Pops loved the option of ordering his burger and fries ‘off menu’ and was delighted that Ketut knew he would be ordering it most nights. My mother is slightly more adventurous in her eating habits, but didn’t get too far out of her comfort level. I doubt she tried many of the rare finds, but I did when I could, and they were wonderful as always. The folks thoroughly enjoyed their dinner in the MDR every night of the cruise, and absolutely raved about the service. I was glad to know that the waiters were there for my parents even when I was laid up in my cabin. Carnival locked down our future business by taking care of my folks when they were on their own. I wasn’t always able to help them out, but the staff was and I will be forever grateful!
So about that – I got SICK on this trip. It started slowly and hit me full force about four nights in. It was a full force bunch of yuck and I was miserable and so starting that night I was pretty much on lock down, or self-quarantine if you will. I will tell you about our good sea days and then we will blog about our one excursion and two ports in a later installment. I want to try and get as much detail on this trip as possible, because it was probably one of my last with my mom and dad, so this entry may get a little long. Please indulge me, or skip to the video. Either one works since I am already finished writing, and it is your time now, so let’s get back to the trip.
Sea Day 1 – Gulf of Mexico
Come sunrise after a great night of sleep, we were ready for some food, sun and fun. All three are available in abundance on the Carnival Dream. There is plenty of deck space and we have never had too much trouble finding a place to lay out and relax. For this day, Seaday Brunch was first on the list, but when I rang my parent’s cabin, they were already out and about. Dawn and I headed on down to the Scarlet Restaurant to enjoy what has become one of our favorites meals on Carnival. I love starting off with the flaming tomato soup. The only tomato soup I have ever enjoyed. Then I order a nice Filet Mignon w/ Eggs and a spicy bloody mary. Don’t judge. I am on vacation and I don’t use a clock to tell me when it is ok to drink. Dawn went with her recently found favorite, Eggs Benedict, and had a fresh Mimosa to keep me from feeling like the only person drinking. She is a great partner that way. The SeaDay Brunch is an excellent way to start any day at sea, but especially the first one when it is still less known and folks are still getting used to the ship.
After we finished eating we went upstairs and rang the parents again and this time we connected. So we changed and went to pick them up for a little time out on deck. The Serenity Adults Only area is the perfect place to start the morning and get some time relaxing sun. It gets crowded pretty quickly, so I suggest getting their early, especially if you want a clam shell. But the overall experience is always relaxing since there are no kids and the party is going on far from here. Also, you can get something to drink at the Serenity Bar, or cool off at the splash area. With plenty of shaded areas, I easily managed to find my folks a nice couch to kick back on after they had had enough.
Tradition now dictates that I book a visit to the spa for Dawn on the first day at sea. It is not the surprise that it used to be, but it is a treat that she really enjoys. Dad treated mom to a mani/pedi too, and so we dropped them off at the Cloud 9 Spa and he and I headed off to tour the ship. I had an inkling of where to find the ship’s coin and thought that would be a fun search. So we strolled the upper decks and kept our eyes peeled. There is a lot to see and do on the Dream and the coin is tucked away in the middle of all of it. You have to pay attention, but we found it hidden in plain sight. We wound our way around just about every deck and took in most of what there was to see. I made my way by the fun shops to get that Chanel perfume as a surprise for Dawn. We had a great afternoon and so did the girls at the spa. After a couple of hours of them being pampered we picked them up and got ready for formal night.
We had hoped to get some pictures taken on the first formal night with all of us together, but the lines were unusually long. It was nice to see so many folks took part and dressed to impress, but we don’t judge the others who don’t care to dress up. To each their own. We just strolled around the promenade instead of standing in lines and we slowly made our way aft towards dinner. Elegant night Prime Rib and Lobster was a big hit, but Dawn and my dad but went with the pasta options. Pops had a lasagna that would keep him up the rest of the night, and Dawn had a lighter pasta that filled her to the gills and just about put her to sleep. We also met Andre and finally had confirmation that Drew and Shannon and the rest of his family were indeed aboard.
After dinner we made our way back to the promenade to enjoy the live music and to sip on a couple of after dinner cocktails. The Cruise Director, Simon, came strolling by in his kilt, just in time to catch a quick picture with Dawn and I and then we moved on forward towards the Dream Atrium where the Celestial Strings perform nightly. This is always a surefire way to relax and wind down before heading off to the cabin where you will be rocked to sleep by the sea. I love to cruise!!!
Sea Day 2 – Caribbean Sea
Our second day at sea started with breakfast from the Blue Iguana Cantina. I love this option on Carnival. The Huevos Rancheros and breakfast burritos are awesome. I overdid it a little bit when I poured on the Habanero Salsa from the Salsa Bar without trying it first. This salsa has REAL heat and I am no stranger to spicy eating. Shamelessly I returned and ordered more tacos, got some sour cream and left the hell sauce alone. I added a couple of pieces of fresh watermelon to my plate to help douse some of the remaining flames. Might I also suggest getting potatoes in your burrito? They are crispy and add a little crunch to your breakfast.
We spent the rest of the morning chilling out and enjoying some cocktails from the Red Frog Rum Bar. Two of the bartenders were from St. Lucia and both were finishing their contracts, so the mood was high and they were out to have fun! Some of the drinks here a pretty tasty! The menu is full of refreshing frozen libations and a couple of fairly stout drinks too. The Frog Island Iced Tea is a knockout punch for sure. It is pretty, it is tasty and it has several alcohols laying in wait for your brain cells. Dawn likes the Twilight Zone for it is both frozen and swirly and that makes it fun.
Carnival solidified my loyalty with another one of their fantastic presentations. The Military Appreciation Gathering was one of the most touching tributes I personally have attended, or taken part in. They honored each and every branch by having us stand with our song playing loud and proud. I hadn’t heard the AF fight song in many years and it seemed to take me back to my basic training flight at Lackland AFB back in the late ’80s. Simon the CD did a fantastic job of getting folks involved and many shared stories of struggles and how they overcame them. I thought it extremely poignant that the spouses of those who served were also honored for their sacrifices. Not all scars are visible, but those closest to the pain can see them clearly. Thank you Simon, thank you Carnival and many thanks to the men and women that served our great nation!
Now, the lido deck is always a great place to hang out on sea days as anyone knows, so after getting our emotions in check from the military appreciation event, it was time for some fun. This would be Dawn’s first time catching the Hairy Chest Contest. She has always been in the spa when they have held the contest, so I was excited that she could partake this time. As always it was a great time, but the talent level on this trip was exceptional. A big shout out to the judges who could have sent their friend to the finals, but instead booted him out in the first round to keep it fair. They earned their medals for sure and the commentary was fantastic. Borderline family appropriate, but I have seen worse in cartoons. It’s a great show and it gets a lot of folks involved. If I had more than five hairs on my chest I would give it a go, but I am not a hairy fellow and that’s fine by me.
Before dinner, Dawn and I took advantage of the short or mostly non-existent lines at the photo ops. We were dressed for a Hawaiian Luau and the colors mixed perfectly with some of the backgrounds. I love to dress up on the ships. Loud colorful shirts, or linen pants, hats and tank tops. There are a lot of fashion faux pas I can embrace when away from home. My wife loves to pick out new dresses and rompers for the trips, but we usually end up buying more in port. I told her to just bring an empty suitcase next time and it would be easier to pack for the return trip, but strangely packages have been showing up on a regular basis with new clothes for the next cruise. Oh well, as they say, Happy Wife = Happy Life.
At dinner the whole table minus Drew finally made an appearance. Drew was sick the first few days, but Andre rallied the rest of the family and we got to dine with Shannon, Veronica, Victoria, and Elizabeth. It was great to finally sit down and catch up, but there was so little time that I wish we could go back and do it all again. They kept my parents company after I fell ill and I thank them for it! Though it might have been Drew that got me sick the next night, I would not change a thing and wish we could have spent more time together!
After dinner it was time to take the parents to see the Love and Marriage Show and boy did we have fun. My parents laughed as much as I have ever seen and just loved the whole presentation. It is always hilarious, but once again the couple that had been married the longest had the best answers. These times will forever be etched in my memory. Those full hearty laughs can’t be replaced and those moments together meant the world to me. We moved back to the atrium for the Celestial Strings and Dawn and I took our leave as I was beginning to get a headache and we had a port day ahead. After getting off the elevator I looked down and saw my folks still seated and holding hands while they enjoyed the music. Fifty-three years of marriage and still holding hands…beautiful. We had to sneak back down a few flights of stairs to capture the moment, but it was well worth it.
Finishing it off
The next few days were port days, followed by one more day at sea. I spent the last sea day in bed mostly, though I did try to hang out a little. My wife has become quite familiar at this point with cruising and is very comfortable on her own aboard the ships. She did some shopping and spent some time by the lido pool. She brought me food and drinks of all sorts, though I was mostly drinking water at this point. I even used the Carnival HUB APP to order pizza to the room. That service is easily worth the $5 per pizza delivery fee!
During my self-imposed quarantine, the staff and crew of the Carnival Dream took care of my parents like their own. On the last day of the cruise, I managed to get us all down to the lido buffet for breakfast before debarkation. After getting my parent’s seated I started to go collect their food, but before I could Sherrylle was at their side. She had been taking care of them at breakfast every day since I had left them on their own. She and the other servers would gather drinks, omelets and coffees, or whatever they needed and she did this all with a smile like she was taking care of her own family. I was deeply touched by this! I will forever be indebted to the folks that took the time to help my mom and dad into an elevator, or at the buffet, or the countless other small acts of kindness that took place on our voyage. What could have been a challenging end to our trip, was just a minor hiccup thanks to some pretty great people.