I know, six posts for this one trip is a bit absurd. This is the last one, I promise.
We needed to be out of our room by 8:30 AM on Friday. We didn't know though when we would be let off the ship - that depended on room status (more expensive rooms get to leave first) and whether you chose to carry your own bags (you get off quicker, but have to shlep your bags around) or let the Carnival people take them to the terminal for you (which is what Mrs Notthat and I chose to do).
Our flight out of Ft Lauderdale was not until 1:25 - not enough time to really do anything in Miami, but not urgent enough for us to want to be in a rush. For the others, their flights were much later and they chose to carry their own bags to get out faster and spend some time exploring Miami.
We met with the others for breakfast at 7 AM at the sit down restaurant. This was much more pleasant than the chaos of the main buffet area, although it took a bit longer.
This is what the sunrise looked like from our room.
We were finally allowed to wander off the ship at 9:30. We collected our bags and waded through customs and found our tour bus to take us to the airport. And this is what we saw.
Actually, it was much worse than that. There must have been over a hundred giggly, hyper kids all leaving on some sort or summer camp trip. And they were all lined up at Southwest. I was able to sneak a peek at one of their boarding passes and was hugely relieved to see it was for some other flight.
Our flight was a bit delayed, but the airport had free WiFi, so we were able to catch up a bit with emails and such. (We had WiFi on the ship, but it was pretty expensive. It was $25 for 60 minutes, plus another $4 initial connection fee. We actually ended up using exactly 60 minutes - every minute past that was going to be 75 cents! So we would quickly check to see if anything important was happening and then disconnect.)
We flew from there to Austin, from Austin to Los Angeles, and finally from there to San Jose, where we ended up getting in about 30 minutes late. All the flights were full except the last one, but naturally someone chose our row to sit in, meaning we never did get an empty seat to spread out in.
It was great to finally get home though. (We have both been struggling a bit with getting rid of our sea legs - the floor still feels like its swaying a bit.)
It was a good first cruise. Some specific points (that are going to sound like whining, mostly because they are):
• The price of the cruise has little to do with how expensive the cruise will be. The food is free (although there were options you could pay extra for if you wanted to). As long as you drink water, tea, coffee, and lemonade, the drinks are free too. If you want sodas or any adult beverages, you will pay (a lot) for those. And not just the price they list - there is always a 15% gratuity added.
• We paid nearly $200 for the two of us to take the Key West trolley tour and Cozumel snorkel excursions. Which was fine, although some tips get tossed in there too. I suspect you could save a fair amount by not booking these through Carnival, but being our first time I felt better doing it their way this time.
• A $40 per day charge was added for general tips. That alone was $200. You are able to adjust this amount somehow, but we just left it as it was.
• I don't understand the way they handle the pictures. Pictures are taken every night at dinner (sometimes twice), every time you leave the ship (always with actors dressed up as some sort of character, and sometimes twice), and any other time they can ambush you. They print up all the pictures and display them in a large area. You can spend a lot of time searching through them to find the ones you might want, but most of them you won't care about. Especially once you hear the price - some are around $10 but most are more like $20. It would cost you probably $200 to buy all your pictures if you wanted. If they are going to go through the trouble of printing them anyway, why not price them a bit more reasonably - had they been half the price we probably would have bought well over twice the number that we did, and there would be a LOT less waste that they just end up throwing away. Here are the pictures we bought:
Those were about $50 altogether (although the fish one was not from Carnival). It kills me to think of the massive waste. It would be interesting though if they offered you an option to buy a disc with digital versions of all your pictures at the end of the cruise. The hassle would be figuring out who everyone was, but if they could work that out, that would be cool. Alternatively, you could call up your pictures, view them on a digital display, and print just those you liked. (Ironically, we wanted to buy the group picture when we all boarded, but couldn't find it. It turned out that Tap had beat us to it. We were able to take their copy and ask for an additional print of it. It's weird they don't have a better way to do this.
• Speaking of massive waste, I rarely go to buffets any more for a couple of reasons: 1) I will grossly overeat while trying to get my money's worth and 2) it kills me to see what people waste. Especially when it's free. We would walk by tables with plates filled with food that people had left. It was really depressing.
• The crowds could get overwhelming. This is something I would get better at with time. I almost always just ate salads for lunch because the other buffet areas were so crowded. Timing this better and avoiding the buffet area would help with this a lot. The other place that was always so crowded was the pool area. It seemed to always be filled with strutting teenagers or guys in their early 20s (or pathetically trying hard to pretend they were that age), all trying to be cool for the girls sunning themselves. This picture was from the last day, when the weather was not that nice, and yet the pool was still pretty full.
You could pretty much always find some quiet corner on a deck somewhere to read and relax, and I expect with experience, you could get really good at that.
• It's a pain not to have a way to contact people. The ship is really big. If someone is not in their room, your chances of running into them randomly are not good. It would have been useful to have been able to just call them on their cellphone, but wow is that expensive. Maybe taking a bunch of walkie-talkies would work, but I suspect that would not be allowed - it would certainly be more annoying for others.
• On the plus side, almost every crew member we dealt with was great. I can't imagine working on a ship like that - apparently they sign on for a nine month contract. We got into port at 8 AM and the ship was set to go back out at 4 PM for a three day cruise to the Bahamas. You are always on, and I can imagine you have to deal with some difficult people.
• Also, our room was better than I had expected. We got the cheapest room with a window they had, and it was not much different than the more expensive rooms, other than being a floor or two further from the action. This was not all bad - the extra exercise climbing the stairs worked to our favor. There was a TV with Colorado TV stations (weird) plus a few cable channels plus three movie channels, showing reasonably new movies. The window was worth it - I wouldn't get a room without one (thank you Eiluj for talking us into that!). The shower was fine and there was enough closet space.
• For the most part, the food was great. I was surprised at how good the pizza was - I expected something bordering on frozen quality, but it was really pretty good. You just had to wait in line for it. The food in the non-buffet restaurants was great. The buffet food was fine, but always had a long line. And I always got behind the woman that needed to pick through all the whatevers to find exactly the right one.
• There was a wide variety of shipboard entertainment. Most was free (although you might get hounded by waiters wanting to sell you beverages), and it was not hard to find something interesting to do most of the time. The two evening shows we went to were really good (if you like that kind of thing). And there is always bingo and the casino.
• The weather was pretty good for us, but I can see how an unlucky storm or two would really cramp a short cruise like this.
And I think that's about it. Let me know if you have any specific questions. It's an interesting way to vacation, and I was hugely relieved that I never had any seasickness issues.
That's it - move along...