As mentioned in the last post, we're booked again for another trip on Spirit after her itinerary changes. So - even though she's no Splendor - planning another trip on Spirit is perhaps the best testimony we can give to this class of ship.
If you're just now joining us, perhaps via the Google Express, the first part of this cruise report is here.
We won't be on Spirit again until 2011, so I guess this is it for cruise reflections, at least for awhile. Unless people want to hear about how I reload the cruise fare page every hour to see if our Early Saver fare is eligible for a rebate? Every. Hour. Since we've already gotten $60 off the bill in the past four days of checking, you can't imagine what kind of planning candy this is to a person like myself.
The Early Saver fare isn't for everyone, but we seem like good candidates for the ES requirements.
(If we cancel before final payment, our deposit is applied to a new cruise instead of refunded. That's fine - we hope to cruise again many times. We also can't downgrade our room. Again, fine - part of the reason we've booked this cruise is so we can have this one particular cabin. Club 7258! Can't wait! We can't change the names on the booking. Like either of us would cruise with other people? Or other people would cruise with us, more like? We have to pay $50 per person to make changes. If we're making changes, $50 is the least of our worries. We also have to monitor price drops for ourselves and submit the form ourselves online. Once again, fine. Like I said, reloading the rate page is like taking free spins on a slot machine. Plus, we booked the cruise ourselves, so we don't have to pester some poor travel agent then hope the TA submits the form before the rate changes again. Um, can you tell that whether to book ES is a highly contentious issue?)
Anyway, I'm just sooo glad that we've booked early enough to request Your Time Dining and won't have to make that harried scoot to the maitre d' on embarkation day like the last two cruises... oops, speaking of that last cruise...
On previous days, I zipped down the hall and up two floors to grab a breakfast tray for the room. We were lucky to seldom have much traffic on our floor, and I could be down the length of the ship and back again with scrambled eggs and buttered bagel in tow in under ten minutes. People complain about breakfast lines, but if you know what you want - and it's not an omelette - and you know where to get it (eggs and such are available in at least two places), you may find that you can Frogger your way in and out while people are still milling around the silverware rolls.
(Just be careful to not go too fast, or you may spill orange juice all over the lovely atrium elevator floor when trying to press the floor button while carrying a tray. Theoretically.)
Today, though, I was going to Arts and Crafts first then would collect Mr. Sleepyhead with his strange lack of interest in yarn and needles for breakfast.
Arts and Crafts was at 9 a.m., again in the Fountain Cafe.
We were making magnetic fabric-covered bookmarks on this last day. You can kind of see Krin in the background. It's a bit of a blurry photo because I'd decided to take some macro shots while Mike slept, and I wasn't paying attention for this wider shot. (Excuses, as always.)
Walking past the elevators, I saw that one was reserved for a priority call on Deck 6. Hope everyone was okay.
My fave chairs, in the Artist's (or Artists') Lobby, have portholes in the sides:
As incongruous as the steakhouse's location is, right above the Lido buffet chaos, the clear stairs between the two are quite lovely:
Breakfast was pleasant, one of our few outside of the room. Knowing that the chocolate buffet started at noon and that we wanted to go to three trivia games, starting at 12:30, we thought we better get in some exercise so there'd be room for treats in a couple of hours. We decided to walk around the top deck, where the sunbathers usually were.
Not today, though. The promenade (on Atlantic deck, not Promenade deck) had closed a few times that week due to wind, and after staggering around on the now-empty Sun and Spa decks, we were surprised these weren't as well.
Even the Lido was fairly bare:
As was the area about the aft deck pool:
Any tots in the kiddie pool, on the very top of the ship, would've simply blown away.
Mike took shelter under the funnel, lest his fate be the same.
The deck chairs must be heavier than they look:
The golf clinic runs behind a windbreak:
Mini-golfers are not so lucky.
Zephyrous constitutional over, on to the chocolate buffet!
Now, on Carnival Elation, this was so delicious. On Carnival Splendor, it was crowded and unpleasant, especially because by the time I got to the one thing I wanted - chocolate pear cake - the woman standing behind it said that I needed to ask for it at the start of the line. What?
On Carnival Spirit? I wish we hadn't bothered. Pushy. Shovey. Not tasty. The actual fare was the worst of the three cruises, and the queueing up took ages. Part of the delay was surely because you couldn't dip the fruit in the chocolate fountain yourself, so you had to hand your plate to a staff member who would slowly.... dip... one... piece.... of... fruit.... at... a... time. Now picture twenty people in front of you getting this done, and you have an unexpected period of vertical contemplation.
One thing Spirit does well, though, is to have some of the sweets in a different area, so check ahead of time and see if you even want to wait in the fountain queue.
Being forced to wait in this long, still line meant I had nothing to do but load my plates up. Oh, sure, I like doing that anyway, but on Elation we took two items each and called it good. Now, bored, we were in "let's own ALL the food" mode.
Trays full, we walked to the quieter part of the midship Lido deck and plunked into a table where we could take in the sea.
And that's how the table still looked a half hour later, except one small bite - only one - was taken out of everything and the hot chocolate mug had been drained twice. Even as carefree as I am about food waste while on a cruise, I felt bad to have all of this leftover without even the pleasure of a delicious meal to balance the shame. Oh well. As first world problems go, this is one of the better ones.
(It's just as well that most of this went untouched. My super-fluffy hips found those metal seats quite pinchy!)
The hot chocolate was nice, though. But it's always available.
Because of the long wait, we missed Know It and Show It Grumble-pumble. At 1 p.m., we caught up with things and gathered in the Fountain Cafe for something called Majority Rules.
Next to the Fountain Cafe is the Monarch Room, where cards and games can be found:
The sign says not to remove the games from the Monarch Room, but as the MR only has four tables, more than once we saw people playing just outside at the Fountain Cafe. Hopefully this honor system works. It's a very pleasant area, and hopefully on the next cruise - when we're on the opposite end of the ship - we won't miss being a straight shot down from this atmosphere.
When the Carnival Capers changed to the Carnival Fun Times, opinions were divided. Me, I love the new layout - so clear and well-formatted with far fewer typos - but I do wish they'd kept the old name. Ironically, "Fun Times" is far less fun.
However, a problem that remains in the FT is that some activities are under-explained while others are over-repeated. So, amidst two identical reminders to check out of the your casino account, and two identical blurbs on Groove for St. Jude (a very worthy cause, but the blurbs are about six inches apart and, as I said, identical in wording), and eight lines are given to a spa special that also was presented as a page-wide insert to the Fun Times the night before, plus all of the other shopping "reminders," and there is no space left to tell anyone what Majority Rules is.
Shari, you might say, why can't people just go and find out? Because sometimes you don't know whether to do one thing or another thing, and said things are a ship length's apart, and by the time you reject one, the other is well under way. Why can't whoever designs the Fun Times just do it better?
The middle page I'm looking at has a whole plus-inch of whitespace at the bottom that's not on the first page (which looks fine without it). Why not mention it there?
Okay, I'm getting all crotchety - sorry - although that is an appropriate mood for describing Majority Rules, which was quite fun, despite the efforts of others.
You know what's bad? When you would swear that you'd saved your work, would swear it, then your stupid reinstall of Windows that causes the cursor to wander and open or close random windows if you breathe too hard suddenly moves you out of the editing window and...
All gone. With about one paragraph left to go. I came back to this post late this morning (22 July) and it is now 2 p.m., and I think I very much need some chocolate hazelnut gelato.
I don't mind rewriting. I mind that when I rewrite I'll no longer be sure of what I've already written. Argh.
Whatever happened to auto-save? Or "Are you sure you want to leave this window with unsaved changes?" You know, all of those things that normally annoy me? Cry.
Okay! Here we go again, much abbreviated, which I suppose will gather no complaints. :)
Majority Rules is a game where you are given categories, like "something no one wants to eat," and you try to write down the answer that you think the most people in the room will pick. Like Family Feud, or a sort of reverse Scattergories, not that I knew that S-word yet.
Next to me were five people who were obviously a bit drunk. One, let's call her Madame Obnoxious, led the way in loudness and oblivion. The five of them write their answers then eagerly show them to each other, discussing them out loud. The whole point of the game is to guess other people's answers. Idiots.
I wouldn't care beyond the principle of the thing, except I couldn't think with all of their noise. I moved closer to Mike with one hand clamped over my ear, but I was still distracted. Not just by the noise, but by the information. Should I stick with my answer, or take into account what these guys were writing down? I didn't want that information, but I couldn't help hearing it. Finally, I put on a big smile and said to Madame, "We're not supposed to be sharing answers yet."
"It doesn't matter!" she laughed, like her little group was the entire universe.
Neither Mike nor I won, which probably would have happened regardless of the chaos to our left. This was a fun game, but Madame and friends were hard to suffer. Unfortunately, the high winds seemed to have driven everyone indoors and we had nowhere else to move.
Next up, Scattergories! We'd never played it before, but now I'm a big fan. (It's not a bad classroom game, either.) Sam read the categories, and individually we had to write answers that we thought no one else would guess, plus, all answers had to start with the letter D. (Sam asked a passenger for her name and a number between one and ten. Then he counted through the letters of her name until we got to D.)
Madame's group quieted down, relatively, for the actual composing of answers, but once we came to comparing answers as a group, the volume of her distracting comments returned to eleven. Several times Sam had to ask someone to repeat their answer so we all could hear. If someone else had the same answer, they would call "neutral." Inappropriate answers could also be disputed, then the whole group would vote.
I was having fun, but I had a pounding headache from Madame Can't-STFU. I accidentally let a Maggie Griffin-style "Jeezus Christ!" escape at normal volume, which earned me a startled glance from Pam who was sitting across from us.
Okay, in this kind of situation, you can't change other people. You can only change your reaction.
And my reaction turned out to be to... cheat.
I know I know I know. I don't even want to admit it, but if I don't write it down (and now have to write my shame twice, argh), I may someday forget.
Here's what happened. Madame wasn't winning overall, but she'd narrowly won a dispute over one of her answers, this outcome helped along by having four friends to vote on her side, of course. I know that's all kosher, but it wasn't improving my disposition toward her, either. A little later, she called out an answer that no one neutralized nor disputed. Given how vocally self-congratulatory she was over her responses, you'd think most of her answers were original, but actually it was a rare thing.
A rare thing that vanished when I said, "Neutral."
That's right. I sacrificed my own point to take away hers. In a moment of hot brooding I decided I'd rather take a swipe at her than try to win the game.
I'm not proud of what I did. It wasn't right. But I'm not sorry, either.
When it came time to see who scored highest, Madame was out quickly. Mike was one of the last to go. And so it came down to two people: me, and an eight-year-old girl.
A tie! Internally I begged Sam to not make us do a tiebreaker. Nobody wants to be the meanie who goes up against a third grader. (Still, it would've been pretty cool if she'd won against all of the grownups.)
Sam kept it at a tie and gave us both ships on a stick (Number Eight!) and had us announce our names and hometowns into the microphone. Whew. I couldn't help but feel like some people thought I should step down and let the young girl have all of the glory, but - my obvious love of plastic golden trophies aside - why would I cheapen her victory like that? Later, when she replays the moment, she'll only recall that she and I beat the room, not that some lady gave up so she could win.
Or am I overjustifying? Now that I'm exposed as a cheatypants, I can't even trust myself.
(Of course, if I hadn't sabotaged my own score to smite a foe, I would've been the sole winner. So, maybe my poor handling of Madame worked out for the best? I'm just saying. And shutting up now.)
We took the trophy back to the cabin. I decided to check out the dance class and told Mike to meet me in the showroom in half an hour for The Game of Love, which was hilarious on Splendor.
The dance class was couples-oriented, so I just enjoyed watching. Pharaoh's Palace began to fill up all the way back for The Game of Love. They have one of these on every cruise, a sort of Newlywed's Game ripoff where the most recently married couple, the longest married couple, and a couple inbetween is chosen to come on stage and compete, and it's very popular.
About ten minutes in, Mike still wasn't there. Furthermore, well, I don't want to rag on Stephanie Meads again. Every cruise director has his or her own style and it's not going to please every single passenger. If Stephanie Googles herself and finds this, I hope she'll just write me off as one goober on the Internet and not worry too much that I found her game hosting style so off-putting that when she mentioned in passing that Carnival Splendor could be seen portside, I took that as an excuse to bolt back to the room.
Carnival Splendor?! Carnival Splendor?! Our ship!
I found Mike in the room, lounging around, waiting for me to come collect him for The Game of Love. Looks like I have my own faults as a cruise director. "Carnival Splendor! It's outside!" We scrambled over each other to get to the balcony.
That's zoomed and cropped. It was really more like this:
Goodbye, beautiful Splendor. Goodbye, spa cabins.
We continued to enjoy the balcony, forgetting tea time, forgetting the farewell party. I made silly videos and photos.
What we did not forget was the final British Pub Quiz. The Shanghai Bar was buzzing this night - all of the regulars plus some others, including some new Brits. Ooo - an extra-worthy competition tonight!
Our usual booth was taken, so we ended up in the corner booth, across from the bar. The room was filling up, so tonight we had others join us, a mother and her pre-teen son.
As Sam began to read the questions, this young man would unfailingly yell out a joke answer. "CHEWBACCA!" Then he'd chortle himself almost to death. Almost, but not close enough.
This happened for every question. The mother gave me a half-smile with a "Kids!" shrug. If Mike and I hadn't been so busy trying to ignore this distraction and work on (and, thanks to the company, hide) our answers, I would have returned her look with a "Sort out your hollering example of fucking bad parenting."
Alas, Sam was keeping us busy. Some were very easy. Some weren't Some Mike knew with Commonwealth confidence while I hemmed and hawed. One in particular I once knew but couldn't remember and, after much joint brainstorming, Mike came up with an answer that we both knew was wrong, but it was so plausible that to this day I have to keep reminding myself that it doesn't exist. Haha!
I know that my being vague here is irritating, but I don't want to share the questions Sam asked and give someone an unfair heads-up for their next cruise.
Do you ever compose an answer with confidence then look at the question incorrectly later and doubt yourself? Then, duh, you realize what you did and you were right all along? Mike and I had some heated, don't-give-it-away whispering at the last minute when I misread the Cockney rhyming question when giving everything a final look, and the Cockney was usually the easiest part of the evening. We often wrote phrases or clues down as Sam read questions, just in case we had to come back. This almost cost us a point until Mike managed to show me what I was misreading. Whew!
I was particularly proud of two of my contributions. One was something I'd only read recently, and I would argue that the answer was more alleged than fact, like Anne Boleyn's sixth finger. The other answer required considering a bit of high school French and some English etymology, and what I came up with didn't sound right. Hmm. Hmmm.
When Sam finished rereading the questions and the answers were about to begin, it certainly felt like anybody's game. I knew we had one of the toughies, but there were enough easy ones that some sloppy thinking or bad guessing on the medium ones could slash our score.
Everyone was in high spirits as we shouted the answers. We were right there yay'ing and darn'ing with the rest. However it all ended, this had been a good game, a perfect sendoff to a week of happy mental churning. I was going to miss this group.
Dang! Someone else knew the toughie! Oh well, we were making a good show, even if we didn't win.
And now we came to the phrase I had worked out. Silent room. A couple of people shakily volunteered their answers. Nope. Close, but... nope. I hesitated. "__________________?"
A woman at another table turned around, looking incredulous and even a little cross. "How did you know that?"
"Well," I started to explain. "I wondered if the etymology of the last word might be similar to that of..." but she had already turned back around.
(At least she wasn't one of the regulars. I like to think they would've geeked out with me.)
Now it came time to tally the scores. Twenty questions, with a few extra points here and there. Who would win this, the last game?
"Who has one right?" "Two?" "Five?" "Six?" Ten?" Sam kept counting up.
As hands went down, only the regulars remained... and a new person. A young English woman. Hmmm.
Out went the Temecula couple. Out went Mr. Colorado and friends.
It was just us.
And the English woman.
In the late afternoons, near dusk, the last light of the day casts a shadow into the curve of our apartment stairwell. The silhouette comes from the shelf at the top of the stairs, and it only lasts minutes. Look up at the right time, though, and you will see nine ships sailing the walls in a duckling row.
Mike offered the English woman's team the Boddingtons beer for second place, and we carted the trophy, the medallion, and of course the champagne back to our room. What had started as a Customs problem was now becoming a luggage problem as well!
The Empire Room was a bittersweet place to be that night as we said our farewells to Zoltan and Mile and tried not to sniffle too much during "Leaving on a Fun Ship," but the fatoush salad was particularly excellent:
Afterwards we went to the $1199 bingo with a $20 triple-card. "How're you doing there, Mike" called Sam from the Pharaoh stage. "Okay," Mike called back, but not okay enough to win this one. Nor did we win the free cruise raffle right afterward. I guess our luck had run its course, but I think we'll always buy a raffle ticket and a bingo card on the last night. I know many people on the boards point out that what they've spent on bingo and raffles over the years would buy a new cruise outright, but there's just something fun about trying to win that offsets the math.
Immediately following this was the Legends show. We'd already seen our man Carlos, of the great mannerisms and spirit of Sinatra, lose out to a more placid, but smoother singer in the auditions, but it was a pretty good show all of the same. I could sit through the modern country ^%## like the song about friends in low places, knowing someone else was probably similarly yawning over the Elton John. In other words, there was a little something for everyone, and mostly it was nifty to see each performer - so recently just another passenger's face in the karaoke crowd - kitted out with costumes and accompanying dancers. I should look up some firsthand reports of being part of the show; I bet it's an amazing experience.
All that was left to do was go to return to the last bit of moonlight on the balcony, get a night's sleep, send Mike off to his early morning immigration meeting, then hope Customs wouldn't hassle us for toting off five bottles of champagne, which I'd dutifully recorded at zero value on the Customs form. (They didn't. The man took our card, didn't look at it at all, and on we walked, luggage unopened. A far cry from the baby powder interrogation in the special resident alien line in Long Beach.)
Oh, and of course there was Mike running down to the cafe five minutes before closing to fetch me a chocolate milkshake with hazelnut. Always the hero.
But otherwise, that was it. That was our Spring Break cruise to the Acapulco, Zijuatanejo, and Manzanillo on the Carnival Spirit.
And it was just great.