Thursday, March 19, 2015

NOLA & Cruise #2

(I've been working on filling in summaries of our past vacations on my travel page.  This is the only extra one I've done so far.  It's slow going.)

Going on our honeymoon cruise made us fall in love...with cruising.  I mean, we were obviously already in love with each other, duh.  That's a really corny opening to this.  I'm sorry. After that first cruise we knew we wanted to go on another one but I was also pretty set on going to Hawaii.  Like super set on it ever since I learned that it existed.  That our vacation #2 for us and then a quick, cheap winter trip to Vegas was #3.

Then, when we were ready for another big summer vacation it was back on a cruise ship. Since we knew nothing about flying or cruising when we were planning our honeymoon, we decided to book it through a travel agent.  We also booked our flight through Carnival which was probably much more expensive but we had no idea what we were doing.  I remember sitting in the AAA office while the agent explained to us how airports work, the order you have to do things.  Neither of us had ever flown before.  By this cruise we had flown to both Hawaii and Vegas and had cruised before which gave us (me) the confidence to book it all ourselves (myself).  We also decided that we didn't want to pay to fly to a port.  I did research and New Orleans was our nearest port at about a 16 hour drive.  That sounded good to me, seemed like an interesting enough place to visit for a few days before getting on a boat.  It would be the exact same cruise, on the same line, to the same ports as our honeymoon cruise but oh well.  Cruising is about the experience not the destination.  I booked it in February, 6+ months early.

Fast-forward a few months and Matt was, again, accepted to the radiation therapist program and this time was able to get a local hospital to do his clinicals which meant he was scheduled to start online school the day our cruise was to depart.  I freaked out a little since we didn't buy trip insurance and thought there was no way we'd be able to move it.  Ok, I freaked out a lot.  But then Matt called and moved our cruise up 2 weeks and we just had to pay a small difference in the cost.  And we lost our previously booked room which was the exact same room number as our honeymoon cruise (but on a different boat).  I don't know why this was so important to me.  All the rooms are pretty much the same (at the level we were willing to pay).

Finally it was August.  We left home late, around midnight, on a Friday after Matt got home from working his second shift.  We had never done a trip nearly this length together and it started exciting.  That got old pretty fast.  We took turns driving 3 hours at a time, roughly a half a tank of gas.  We stopped in Arkansas for breakfast at McDonalds (the only time we ever get fast food breakfast is occasionally on some vacations.  I really look forward to it until I eat it.  Then immediate regret.).  We got into New Orleans at 3:15 on a Saturday afternoon.  We had both barely slept and New Orleans is a crazy place to drive.  We kept getting stuck behind people stopping and parking their cars for no reason in the road and then had to navigate the French Quarter on a Saturday afternoon.  That's not an area known for it's sobriety.  We were both really relieved to finally be to our hotel, dump our stuff, stumble around for supper (we fit right in), find Mass times for the next morning, and then were in bed by 8:40, local time. 

Even with a super early bedtime we couldn't make 9am Mass.  That's what driving all night will do to you.  After 13 hours of sleep we made it to 11am Mass at St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square.  (Blessed) Pope John Paul II said Mass there once.

After changing we spent a lovely afternoon and evening wandering around the French Quarter.  If you've never been I'm not sure I would recommend it but it was interesting.
Just so you know that this sign exists in the world.
It was only 3 years since Katrina and we still saw damages from it, not too many blocks from where we were staying on Bourbon Street.
Wandering around the French Quarter in the evening is another strange experience.  It was like one big college party.  We went to an incredible piano bar and watched some street performers.  I had gotten a huge strawberry daiquiri earlier in the day.  We took one of my favorite "taking in the local traditions" vacation pictures:
The beer Matt is holding wasn't his but a drunk guy who offered to take our picture.  This picture is now framed in our house.

Of course, just wandering the streets we saw other things I am not going to talk about on this blog.  It's not the most family friendly area.  At least after dark.  It was a strange place to say but I'm glad we visited.  I just never plan to do it again.

Monday morning was cruise time.  Oh how we had been waiting for this.  We drove to the port (less than 10 minutes), got really confused about the whole process, dropped our luggage (slightly terrifying, we really didn't know if we'd see it again), parked the car, and then found out that there was some problem with the New Orleans port and we'd have to be bused to Mobile, Alabama.  That put a bit of a damper on things.  We had checked out of the hotel at 11:30 but didn't get on the ship until close to 4:30 due to all that.  Frustrating but then it was worry free for 5 days!

Since we were cruise veterans, we knew the first thing to do.  Food.  That's basically the point of cruises.  Eat.  Sleep.  Eat. Sleep.  That really sums up most of our days.  It's awesome.

Second lunch?  We had lunch in New Orleans and this definitely wasn't supper.

A cruise ship made out of Legos.  Two of our favorite things.

sunset from the ship, while leaving Mobile.
Dressed up for supper on night #1
We had signed up for the later supper (8:15 which now seems ridiculously late to eat).  We went to the fancy, sit-down dinner every night of both cruises.  They give you a set menu (no prices, it's all included) and you can order as much as you want.  Matt frequently had 2 entrees.  I pretty much always had 2 desserts.  On one of our cruises Matt got the surf (whole lobster) and turf (a steak) and ate both PLUS my lobster I didn't like.  This cruise we knew to premptively diet before going.  Our cruise also had assigned dinner tables which was nice because the waiters would really get to know us by the end.  They knew I always had iced tea with supper and which bread I wanted from the bread basket.  They also rearranged all the silverware between courses because we were probably using the wrong ones (I know, start from the outside and work in but somehow we still screwed it up most nights).  We had lovely dining experiences all 10 nights we've spent on a cruise ship.

Oh and our luggage did eventually show up, sometime before dinner, obviously by the change of clothes.

Both times we've booked rooms near the bottom (because it's cheapest) but I think the boat swaying is also less down there.  Neither of us really have motion sickness problems and never did on the cruises either.  No real problems walking, the ship was never swaying too much.  And they rock you right to sleep on the waves.  It's really good sleeping on a cruise ship (which they the last day we got a brochure selling the bedding).

Our first full day was a day at sea.  The views are always incredible:

There are various activities to do throughout the day but we didn't do any organized ones besides an evening show (which were different every night).  We ate breakfast in the nice dining room, laid out on the back deck, went down the water slide, ate lunch in the nice dining room (as opposed to the serve yourself cafeteria), took a nap, walked around.  Went to the Captain's Cocktail party (free booze) and nice supper. 
dancing at the cocktail party
Then. because we had only eaten about 5 times already that day, we went to the midnight buffet.  We didn't do this on our first cruise and mainly wanted to see what it was about since we had heard about the ice sculptures and everything.  I don't think I ate a bite (see: 5 times eating already that day) but we did take some fruit back to our room to eat later. 
midnight buffet
It was a perfectly relaxing, perfectly wonderful day upon the ship.  Probably the most relaxing vacation days we've ever had are "Fun Days at Sea".

The next day was our first port: Progreso.  I never heard of it either until our itinerary got switched for our honeymoon cruise (too much hurricane damage to our original stop).  We got off the boat and were pleasantly surprised to see we were docked right next to the Escasty: the ship we cruised on the first time.  It was like seeing an old friend you never thought you would again.  Maybe not quite like that but it was strange to see again. 
these ships are huge, fyi
We didn't do the cruise sponsored excursions because they are pricy (low was about $75 each).  Instead we took the free shuttle into "town" and went back to Flamingos - a restaurant we had visited on our first stop.  Another place I never ever expected to visit again.  Here we are in 2006 and 2008 in the same random locations in Mexico.  The top one is right off the ship and very close to each other, you just can't tell. 
Even though we had semi-recently eaten breakfast we shared some nachos and had some drinks.  Someone tried to sell us some bootleg DVDs, one being Wall-E which we had seen in the theater just weeks before leaving.
not a bad view at the restaurant
Matt's mojito
This stop was also the second of three this trip that I somehow was double fisting.  I meant to order one margarita (what else do you drink in Mexico at 10am?) and somehow got two.  I didn't argue too much.  I mean, vacation and all.   The first was the Captain's Cocktail party (gotta grab the good drinks when they come around!) and the third was at the returning guest cocktail party (again, gotta get drinks when you see the waiters).  You can draw your own conclusions from this but really, free alcohol and super cheap drinks in Mexico are the only times we drank.  They are pricey on the boat! 
I don't know why there are pictures of each time...

So, we finished our second breakfast and walked along the beach.  I'm pretty sure I found the palm tree we laid under on our honeymoon.  I obviously took a picture of it.

We finished our 3 hours off the boat by taking pictures with both ships.  You know, our past and present all together.  Then, naturally, we went and got lunch. 

Then it was some AC time, naps, and watching the ship depart.  That's always impressive.  We also had a snack.  I said most of what we do on cruises is eat and sleep.  But really, our lunch was around noon and supper wasn't until 8:15!  That is a long time!

We watched the sunset over the Gulf, something I try to do every night on-board.  It's always amazing.  We finished the day with the guest talent show and a nighttime walk around the ship.  It feels like a commercial with the lights strung all over and being out in the open.  I love it. 

Our second port was Cozumel which we actually had heard of.  This is where we did our infamous Segwaying but did not splurge for that this time around.  We were docked in a completely different place so nothing looked familiar when we disembarked.  We basically got off, took some pictures, walked around, and were back on the ship within 90 minutes.  There wasn't much to see or do for free.
Off the boat
The plus side to this is that we basically had the whole ship to ourselves then!  It was pretty nice walking around, laying out, using the hot tub & pool with pretty much no other people.  I would highly recommend that if you are too cheap to pay for the excursions.
on the boat
Besides the empty ship, the other plus side to stopping in Cozumel was the crazy gorgeous blue water.  Seriously gorgeous and unbelievably clear.  This picture looks fake but it 100% how it looked in real life:

Eventually we had to share the ship again.  We went to the returning guest cocktail party that evening which meant more free drinks.  Then supper.  We did a little (we each got $3.50) slot machine playing and ended with the same $7 we started with.  Not bad.  Their slots weren't as nice as the Vegas ones, only cashing out in quarter increments here.  Then we joined the Deck party for some running around the ship and a dance party under the stars. One of those pretty random but fun life experiences.  We finished the night with the midnight Mexican Buffet because why not eat free Mexican food in the middle of the night?

Our last day on board, last Fun Day at Sea.  Sigh...I hate when cruising is over.  We played some mini golf on the top deck in wind so strong you could practically lean into it and have it hold you up.  Then the Debarkation Talk.  Our last nice lunch.  The Newlywed Game.  Laying out with smoothies. 

View from our stateroom
The main atrium
Walked around the ship for the last time in daylight.  Went to a Beatles tribute show before our last dinner.  Last night dinner.  Late-night comedy show.  Walking around the deck at night.  Sat in the piano bar for a bit (not as good as the one in the French Quarter). 
This picture is also framed in our house.
Then it was bedtime.  Things I miss about cruising:
1) Turn down service every night, with chocolates and towel animals:
2) Being cut off from everything (no internet, no smart phones, which we didn't own at the time anyways) and just enjoying each other and relaxing for 5 days.
3) The constant beautiful views from everywhere on the ship.
4) Delicious food whenever and how much we wanted (I know we could not eat like that all the time.  A week was enough!).
5) Being completely relaxed with no plans and no pressure to do anything really.  I think our most relaxing vacations have been our cruises.

The next morning we were up at 6 so we could eat breakfast before getting ourselves and our luggage off the ship (the other option is to leave your luggage outside your door before bed and they would take it off and have it waiting for you when you disembarked.  The self-assist disembarking got us off earlier).  It only took 30 minutes to get off the boat, through customs, and on the bus back to New Orleans where our car was.  With the busing we didn't get on the road until 11:30 and home at 2:30am, with just 3 gas stops.  It was a long day driving and got us out of vacation mode pretty darn quick.  The previous 5 days were so relaxing though.

I would love to cruise again.  Love to.  The only part we're not big fans of is the expense. =)  Someday. 

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