Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why this would make it hit home, I have no idea

Two nights ago, I got my husband signed up for his golf excursion online, and then followed his verbal instructions to reserve equipment for him and my brother-in-law (our normal baggage is bad enough; we don't need to add golf clubs). Yesterday morning, he forwarded this e-mail to me:

Hello Mr. XXX:

Thank you for choosing Elite Golf Cruises. Please accept this email as
confirmation for the following information:

Name(s): XXX and YYY
Sail date: June 8, 2008 on the Carnival Conquest
Course(s): White Witch Golf Resort
Rentals: one set men's right handed, one set men's left handed*

Please meet your golf professional, Stuart Perry, at the Shore Tours Desk,
Atrium Lobby, Deck 3, Mid Ship, from 1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. and then again
from 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. the day you board. At that time he will give you the
information you need for your tee time(s) as well as where and when to meet
for priority debarkation. As this is a shore excursion, payment will be
accepted through your Sail and Sign Card.

Once the ship has sailed, all cancellations are subject to a 25%
cancellation fee. Excursions cancelled within 24 hours of port arrival are

*All of the NIKE Slingshots are cavity back!

Have a wonderful time!

I don't golf. I've tried, and it just doesn't work for me. And I am not all that excited about going to Jamaica. But I read this e-mail, and it hit me -



Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Added a Ticker

Just found the Cruise Clocks site, and added a ticker to this page, so I can always tell how long we have until sailing!

Plans are proceeding!

We had nearly my entire family over for Easter dinner this weekend (my brother was in Japan on business, eating live baby squid, poor guy), so we took advantage of the fact to try to coordinate our shore excursions. The idea was that no one under the age of 18 should go off on an excursion alone.

But it's pretty obvious - my family tends to like the same things. So a large group of us (including me) are going parasailing in Grand Cayman, and another large group is leaning toward horseback riding on the beach in Jamaica, and a third group are interested in something the cruise line refers to as "Sea Trek".

Sea Trek is a sort of modern version of old-style deep-sea diving. They give you a helmet connected to a hose, and you walk around, wearing this contraption, on the bottom of the ocean looking at fish. You emerge with your hair dry and your jaw unclenched, and no headache (at least, in theory) from wearing a too-tight mask so that it wouldn't leak. Could be cool. Although the picture of it on the shore excursions site shows a bunch of people in helmets standing around with nary a fish in sight.

Jamaica has been a bit problematic for all of us. I was reading reviews of our proposed cruise on Cruise Critic (, and saw references to armed gunmen and scary-crazy drivers, and we've really been struggling to decide if we should do anything there or just take advantage of in-port-day spa sales. I'm still leaning toward the latter, but the horseback riding has to happen there (the age limit is lower there than in Cozumel, which means everyone could go), and my husband and brother-in-law are already booked to play golf there.

My sister was more daring than I - she signed up on the Cruise Reviews forums and asked everyone there about it. Here's her question and all the answers, in case you're similarly concerned:

On the wardrobe front, I'm making only marginal progress. At the moment, I'm thinking that I'll just take existing formal-night dresses, rather than buy new ones (especially after I realized that the TravelSmith reversible tank and skirt that I like only has the tank available in size S), but I think I might have found some shoes - Zappos is a wonderful site. They list 983 (I think) different pairs of sandals in the mythical size 10-1/2 (which is my mythical size), and there are a couple there that could do double duty for casual and formal nights.

I think we're well under 80 days - I haven't had an e-mail from Carnival in at least a week, telling me what the countdown is.

And the weather around here is starting to act more like spring, finally (yes, I know it's only been officially spring since Friday).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Luggage. Our goal: to reduce it this time!

If you scroll down a bit, you'll find an entry from our last cruise about the self-serve debarcation and what we had to do in order to manage it. Here's the list of luggage items that we brought onboard for 3 people for 1 week last year:
  • 4 standard rolling suitcases of various sizes
  • 1 rolling garment bag (which I didn't realize was a rolling bag until this morning)
  • 2 canvas duffel bags
  • 1 really heavy backpack (storage for the laptop, the DVD collection, and the physics book)

This trip, I, for one, am not going to contribute my 2-2/3 bags to the total. I want to put my entire cruise wardrobe into a single bag.

There are a couple of good reasons for this. First, I want to fly down without
luggage. That means that my bag has to fit (along with everyone else's) in whatever my husband and parents end up driving to Houston.

Second, somehow, 9 of the 14 of us have to get back to the airport, without leaving our luggage at the cruise terminal. That means it has to fit back into that same car/truck/SUV/bus. I don't think we'll all be traveling at once, and our flight back isn't until evening, but still - if the bags outnumber the people, that has to mean more trips to get everyone where they need to go.

Finally, I want to drag off again. It's less confusing, and we don't have to worry about our luggage taking another trip through the Western Caribbean without us.

Future posts about how the minimalism works out. For starters: can I really go a week on only 3 pairs of shoes?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Snorkeling, wonderful snorkeling!

I gather that the snorkeling is pretty good in Cozumel.  Not because I've heard that from my friends.  Not because I've read it anywhere on a travel website.  Certainly not from personal experience, since I've never been there.
It's just that every ship-sponsored shore excursion in Cozumel involves snorkeling.  Catamaran sail and snorkeling.  Jeep safari and snorkeling.  Zip line and snorkeling.  Horseback riding and snorkeling.  Dolphin encounter and snorkeling.  Kayaking and snorkeling.  Segway tour and snorkeling.  Fun day at the beach and snorkeling.  Tour of Mayan ruins and snorkeling.  Diamonds, tanzanites, and snorkeling.  Learn Mexican cuisine and snorkeling.  Parasail and snorkeling.  Two-tank scuba and snorkeling.  Snorkeling and snorkeling.
I might be exaggerating a bit, but not much.  The word "snorkeling" is starting to produce echoes of "Spam (spam-spam-spam)". 
Anyway, I'm sure it will be fabulous - at least, it would if I liked snorkeling.  It's just that I really stink at it.  Keeping my face in the water feels unnatural, so I lift my head to breathe.  And get a lungful of saltwater.  Apparently, when I take pictures, I close my mouth and breathe through my nose.  Try that when snorkeling with a waterproof camera.  Camera to face, close mouth, breathe through nose.  Mask suctions onto face, breathing fails, head jerks up, mouth opens, lungs gasp - and another lungful of saltwater.  It's just too hard.
So I'm looking for the excursion with "just a little bit of spam in it".  And then I'll stay on the boat and drink beer.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Getting on and off cruise ships

This is from an e-mail I sent my sister explaining the embarcation/debarcation rituals (mostly the latter) associated with cruising. Thought it might be generally useful.

Cruise times work something like this:

The ship will leave Sunday evening, but you should be able to start the boarding process (you thought airlines were a pain!) around noon. Anticipate lines. Do your paperwork online before leaving home, and bring copies with you. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring a book.

The crowds fluctuate, and the earlier you can be at the port, the better. If you get there at the exact right moment (you'll need a crystal ball to nail it exactly), you will breeze through with no waiting. It's really not all that bad, though - at least, it hasn't been for us, yet. And once you've handed in your paperwork and provided the all important credit card number for onboard charges, you'll be herded into the final waiting area and boarded by groups. Then, it's generally a matter of working your way through one last incomprehensible maze and you'll be greeted by the photography staff, ready to provide you with the first of many pictures that prove you really did go on a cruise. And then they let you get on the ship.

On the following Sunday, the ship will be in port docked just about at dawn. Two options exist for getting off: let them deal with the luggage, or drag it off yourself.

Let them deal with the luggage:

Depending on the poshness of your final cabin, and earliness of airline reservations (if Carnival knows about it), you will be allotted leaving groups, and you will get luggage tags to fill out. Everything except minor carryons gets packed, locked, and tagged by midnight Saturday (I think), and overnight the stewards will come and make all the bags vanish (you leave them in the corridors). Then, on Sunday morning, you gather with your group somewhere on the ship (auditorium, casino, lounge X, etc) and wait for them to call your tag color. At that point, you file off the ship, go through customs and immigration, and are shepherded to a barn where all the bags from the ship are laid out. This is where strategic tagging or luggage selection becomes important. Everyone in the US has a black, wheeled, carryon. If you bring yours, and you have a black luggage tag on it, you will be spending quality time in the barn finding which one's yours. On the other hand, if I'd held on to my hot pink Samsonite set from college graduation and used it, I could be out of there in about 15 seconds. So bring non-black luggage, and invest in the fluorescent (go with the ugly color - everyone has heard this tip too) nametags for each one. Once you have your bags, you're golden, and can get moving toward home. It will be before noon, but you shouldn't plan on flying out early-early on Sunday.

Drag it off yourself:

We did this last year on Princess, and Carnival has it too. You will still group/assemble somewhere, but you are responsible for dragging your own stuff off, and I think the customs/immigration process is a bit longer while they make sure you haven't brought back half of Mexico's liquor output for the year or something. Anyway, since you have everything with you, you don't get to visit the barn-o-luggage, and you can stick with basic black. On the other hand, since you have everything with you, juggling all of it can be a tad challenging. When we did it, we actually did some weird re-packing to allow us to stuff one entire suitcase into another, so we didn't have more than 2 per person. This option probably gets you off earlier than you might otherwise, especially if you don't have urgent flight issues or didn't stay in the "CEO sup er-deluxe VIP suite".

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Here we go again!

Can't leave well enough alone...

We're scheduled to leave Galveston on June 8th on the Carnival Conquest, in a party of 14, I think it is (at the moment, anyway - it could get bigger). A triple occasion: my parents' 50th anniversary, our 20th, and my daughter's high school graduation. So my entire side of our extended family is booked on the cruise, along with a friend of my daughter's. 8 adults, two 18-year-olds, a 15-year-old, a 13-year-old, and two 11-year-olds. Could be a blast, could be utter chaos. I think I feel sorry for our waiters already - my family has an honored mealtime tradition of trying to get at least one person at the table to laugh so hard that milk comes out their nose. (Note to self - avoid red wine. That could be painful and expensive.)

This cruise is from a warm(ish) climate to a warm(er) climate, for a change. Maybe we won't need so many bags (luggage, not ziplocs; gotta have the ziplocs). Maybe we can leave home without worrying about dodging blizzards.

Not that the lack of local weather nastiness means clear sailing for all of us. Our travel plans break down like this:
  • My husband, parents, daughter, and her friend are driving down to Galveston, starting on the 5th.
  • I'm flying down with my sister and her family on the 7th.
  • My brother's family are flying down on the morning of the 8th.
The ship sails at 4 or 5 pm on the 8th.
How many interesting things could happen? Guess we'll find out.

In the meantime, I'll post things about preparations: what I'm packing, how we get the myriad shore excursions organized so no one under 21 goes anywhere alone, stuff like that. Maybe it'll actually be helpful. If nothing else, it might keep me off the cruise advice websites. And it will be a nice balance to the stinky weather we're having here in March (it was 15 degrees this morning as I was gouging ice off my windshield - I'm SO done with Winter already!).

Cruise Clock ticker