Cruisin’ by the Seat of our Pants

Just for Fun

I am a planner. I like to research, analyze, and organize my life as much as possible. Not because I don’t like surprises (or not just because I don’t like surprises), but so that I can handle the inevitable hiccups when they occur. And I doubt anyone reading this is at all surprised by that statement.

But you might be surprised that a little over a month ago Todd and I booked an anniversary trip with no planning other than our travel dates!

Questions had come up about travelling for Thanksgiving, but I only had enough vacation days left to do one trip before the end of the year, and one of the few goals I set at the beginning of the year was that we would take a trip for our anniversary, even if it was just a small weekend getaway. That was on a Tuesday, I believe, and by Friday Todd booked us into a suite on the Carnival Sensation for 3 nights leaving out of Cape Canaveral and heading to Nassau, Bahamas.

Have monkey, will travel. She was impatient waiting for us to get to the car...

Have monkey, will travel. She was impatient waiting for us to get to the car…

We left Wednesday night after work, the plan being (and I use that term loosely) to drive as far as Todd was comfortable and then get a hotel room for the night. It’s not a terribly long drive from Thomasville to Cape Canaveral–only about 4 1/2 hours–but to leave our successful arrival in the hands of us waking up on time early on Thursday and no major traffic snarls didn’t sound like a great idea. Around 11ish we were getting ready to stop, but before we settled on an exit we were already on SR-528E and there didn’t seem like any place to stop by that point. So we drove the whole way down, after all, and pulled into the first hotel we saw once we passed the Welcome to Cape Canaveral sign: Country Inn & Suites.

Apparently all my room "pictures" are in video format and that hasn't been edited yet. Instead, have some breakfast pics and a monkey posing with an astronaut.

Apparently all my room “pictures” are in video format and that hasn’t been edited yet. Instead, have some breakfast pics and a monkey posing with an astronaut.

It was late, but we still had time to be pretty impressed with the pretty first-floor room with very high ceilings and the next morning we enjoyed a very tasty breakfast (including omelets) before heading to Park Port Canaveral. Parking at the ports is usually around $20 a day, but I heard about Park Port Canaveral on one of the cruise boards (I did do some post-booking research) and it was far cheaper, a little over $20 total, and just a quick shuttle ride to the port. Definitely recommend looking into port parking alternatives in the future!

Our first glimpse of the Sensation on the parking shuttle (with various marina bits in the way).

I see the funnel!!!

One of the perks of booking a suite was that it qualified us for priority check-in and the Captain’s Lounge waiting area. Before you get the wrong idea, it wasn’t all that. We did get to sit in cushy chairs to check in and not have to wait in line, but the waiting area was just one end of the larger waiting area cordoned off from the rest. (No pictures allowed in the terminal.) Still, we got to board the ship in the first wave of guests and it was kind of eerie to walk around the Lido deck when there was no one else around. Definitely a first. We picked a table with a nice view and had an early lunch from the buffet.

Some highlights of our meals on the Carnival Sensation.

Some highlights of our meals on the Carnival Sensation.

Rather than do a day-by-day play-by-play, I’ll just highlight the different bits of our trip. First, the food. The menu selections were a little less elaborate than our last cruise, 6 years ago, but the food was fine and plentiful. I don’t think there was anything I was absolutely floored by, but we didn’t have a bad meal on the ship. Over the course of the 4 days we dined in the buffet, the main dining room, at the poolside grill, and in the alternate dining room for the SeaDay Brunch. We never made use of the pizzeria, the deli, or room service on this trip, but I did grab a mochachino from the coffee shop on the sea day and we did the afternoon tea in the piano lounge. Again, nothing bad to say about any of the dining amenities available.

Suite V3, Carnival Sensation

Suite V3, Carnival Sensation

After a couple hours exploring the common areas on deck, we headed up to our stateroom on the Verandah deck (deck 11 of 12). We were just over the bridge and just behind the observation deck on the starboard side. When Todd booked the suite, be booked by category, meaning he didn’t choose the specific room himself. About a week later our online registration showed our stateroom assignment and I was happy to see we were not in one of the obstructed-view suites (those are parallel to the lifeboats, a little farther back). Our steward left a sweet note on the mirror wishing us a happy anniversary and we came back from dinner the first night to a couple of gift cards–$25 off a bottle of wine and $50 for the spa–as anniversary gifts.

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I used the spa card for a shellac manicure after we got back from touring Nassau. I called that morning and they were already pretty full for the day, but thanks to our late dinner seating I was able to snag a spot after our excursion with plenty of time to clean up for supper. We wandered through the gym and the Serenity pool area on our first day, but aside from a seminar that Todd attended before we got to Nassau (which ended in a $600 sales pitch, to the surprise of no one), we didn’t end up using those areas much. A) We were here to relax and b) we had our own balcony if we wanted some sun. Todd had wanted to play mini golf one day, but the sea day was overcast and very windy, so we never made it up

There's plenty to do on the ship, even if you're not interested in gambling or pool antics.

There’s plenty to do on the ship, even if you’re not interested in gambling or pool antics.

We’re not really one for poolside activities (that would require us being at the pool, after all), but we generally enjoy the shows on the ship. The first night was a show called 88 Keys and it featured an ensemble singing and dancing their way through all sorts of music. I was particularly impressed with Come Sail Away (fitting, no?) and that they included one of my favorite Barry Manilow tunes as well. The second night we skipped the Love & Marriage game show in favor of an early night (though it was replayed on the ship’s television channel the following day and was pretty funny) and opted for the late night comedy show after dinner on the third night. We’d hoped to meet up with our tablemates from dinner but the Polo Lounge was standing room only when we arrived, so we just hung out in the back.

The fun 66% of our dinner table.

The fun 66% of our dinner table.

Speaking of our tablemates, we were assigned to a 10-top in the main dining room with 4 other couples. One couple was celebrating the husband’s birthday on this trip, two couples were on their honeymoon, and the other couple… well, there was a misunderstanding. The birthday couple was travelling with another couple, but they didn’t make it to dinner the first night. So, on the second night, when the missing couple turned up, we thought it was the aforementioned friends and acted like they knew what was going on (though we thought it strange that they didn’t engage with their friends or us much during supper). Turns out that, no, the missing friends were at another table entirely and those folks probably didn’t know what hit them. The other honeymooners weren’t quite as chatty as the rest of us, left early the first night, and didn’t even show up the last. But that was okay, the rest of us had more than enough fun for 10!

Highlights from our Nassau Excursion

Highlights from our Nassau Excursion

Another last-minute decision was our plan for Nassau. We’ve scheduled excursions in some ports and gone off on our own in others, and I can usually take or leave a Caribbean port–I just like being on the ship. Todd definitely wanted to get onto dry land for a bit, though, so we booked the Nassau Top 10 Tour, a bus tour that took us a good way around the island and featured stops at the Bahamas Rum Cake Factory for a tasting, Atlantis resort for pictures, Fort Fincastle, John Watling’s Distillery, Frankie Gone Bananas Fish Fry for a conch demonstration, and ending up at the Straw Market, among other stops. We bought rum cakes, rum, and sugar cane-based vodka, had a late lunch of conch chowder, fritters, and salad, and made a cursory pass through the Straw Market so Todd could see it (and see why I wasn’t crazy about going to it in the first place). It was a fun 3.5 hours (more like 4, thanks to a slight delay at Frankie’s), and we’re glad we did it.

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And with this last, cheesey picture of us from “Cruise Elegant” night in the dining room (the same day as our Nassau excursion), I’ll wrap up our unplanned cruise vacation highlight reel. We took over 600 pictures and I’ve got probably an hour or more of video to go through and edit. It was a fabulous anniversary trip and I’m so grateful to Todd for just going ahead and booking it, research be damned! I’m not sure I’d always opt for this sort of loosey-goosey vacationing, but it definitely paid off this time.

Honeymoon Dreaming

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

About a year and a bit out from the wedding many of the big to-dos had been taken care of (venue/catering/lodging/DoC and my dress), my DIYs were coming along, but a lot of the fiddly details couldn’t really be started on yet. So I started dreaming about the honeymoon.

Yup, I’m totally obsessed about where we’re going and what we’ll be doing on the day after the wedding, and the day after that, and the day after that… You get the idea.

And the worst part of it? It’s not even my decision.

We decided from the beginning that Mr. Road Trip would be in charge of the honeymoon–budget, decisions, etc.–and I would happily take a back seat. That lasted about a year, apparently, when suddenly a switch flipped in my brain and I started stalking cruise schedules.

Because that’s what we figured we’d be doing: floating in the middle of the ocean, somewhere, with nothing to do or no where to go that we didn’t want to. We’ve done one cruise together, just before we started cohabitating, and to say it was bliss would be an understatement. So a cruise seemed the logical, wonderful choice.

Only thing is, we’re getting married on a Saturday morning and when do the best cruises leave? Riiiiight, on Saturday mornings. So that was out. There were a handful of Sunday embarkations, but that would mean driving all night or getting up REALLY early our first married morning and, well, that wasn’t ticking too many boxes on the appealing chart.

In fact, the best cruising options–aside from waiting a week to honeymoon, something neither of us were too keen on–hit on the Thursday after the wedding, out of the Tampa port. On the up side, we could take our time on Sunday getting up and getting going, but oh what would we ever do in Central Florida for 3 or 4 days.

That’s when I realized it’s been an awfully long time since I’d been to Disney World–and even longer for T.

So the wheels began to turn, 3 days in the parks, then off to a cruise for 4 or 5 days. Then I wandered over to the Disney Cruise site, just for kicks, to see if there was a similar cruise on the Disney Dream we could take instead of the Carnival option. And there was. And it seemed comparable.

But was it really?

Yes and no–the Disney cruise was 1 night shorter than the Carnival cruise, but gave us 2 ports instead of 1 (not that I give 2 pins about the ports, though Castaway Cay does sound like fun). There seem to be more activities on Carnival, but we didn’t do many of those anyway. Disney is a heavily-kid-oriented brand, but we’re kids at heart. We’ve cruised Carnival before, so there might be additional discounts available.

Oh, the decisions!

And then, when we started pricing out the Disney World side of things, the original wish-list was pushing things out of the budget comfort zone. Not good! Next thing you know we’re back to looking at Carnival, or maybe skipping the cruise and just doing a longer WDW stay as Mr. RT made an excellent point: we’ve done a cruise together, we haven’t done Walt Disney World.

So the obsession continued. I’ve renewed all my old Disney forum accounts (as many as I could remember) and pulled out my old guidebooks–most of which are from 2004 (my last trip was 2006). So much has changed, though, that there are tons of options to consider: Fl Resident’s Pass, 3  or 4 day passes, Weekday Pass? Value or Moderate? ADRs or go with the flow? Dining Plan or not? It’s enough to make your head spin, but to tell the truth I love it!

Still,  it was super-early and I managed to restrain myself from investing in current guidebooks until the 2013 Passporter was published because we could decide to do something completely different. As much as I’m dreaming of a relaxed, Disney-fied honeymoon complete with bride and groom mouse ears, the decision is still T’s. And I’m going to hold to that.

Bride Ears complete with tiara and veil | image via DisneyStore.com

Bride Ears complete with tiara and veil | image via DisneyStore.com

groomears

Tuxedo’d grooms ears | image via DisneyStore.com

All I ask is that he not “surprise” me with our destination at the last minute. A girls gotta know what to pack!

Did you leave the honeymoon decision to the groom?
How would you feel about a surprise destination?