Mardi Gras Cruises September and December 2021
The original "Mardi Gras" in 1972 and the new ship we were cruising on
We decided to take a cruise on the brand new Mardi Gras as a way to just "get away" after not travelling for so long. Although Carnival is known as "cheap and cheerful" we hoped that being a brand new ship, the advantages would outweigh the disadvantages. One of the big advantages was that the ship left from Port Canaveral, only a ten minute drive from our Cocoa Beach condo.
In order to take the cruise, we had to be fully vaccinated against Covid (which we were) and we had to have a negative Covid test not less than 48 hours before departing. We took our tests on Thursday morning and on Friday evening (the day before we were leaving) we got the results - Kris was negative, Paul was POSITIVE. What a shock. I had no symptoms, but it didn't look as though we would be going anywhere!
Next morning, I walked to a small clinic near the condo which advertised "while you wait" Covid tests - for a price ($179.00). I took the test and to my relief, it was negative, so now we could go!
Day 1 and 2 (September 18 and 19)
The first two days were "at sea" so we had a chance to explore the boat. Of course, it was huge! Fortunately, it wasn't full. It can carry up to 6,465 passengers, but when we were boarding, they said there just under 4,000 in total, so 62% capacity. The ship was busy, but not unpleasantly so. The cabin was very pleasant and of course, brand new. Having a balcony was an added extra.
The first night (my birthday) we ate at Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse. The food was actually very good and made better because the ship threw in a free bottle of red wine. Not at all like Carnival, where everything is usually extra.
Next day, we really got to see the ship.
In the middle of the ship was The Central Atrium, used for entertainment and various presentations.
And at night
The great "novelty" on this ship was the first rollercoaster on a ship. In the end we never did try it and in all honesty, it looked pretty tame. And you had to pay extra !
Of course eating, is always a big part of any cruise. Besides the more formal "sit down" restaurants, there were many options for casual grazing. We never did get to all of them. Some were indoor and some were outdoor.
Fish and chips at this restaurant
Day 3 (September 20) - Cozumel
Our first port was Cozumel, which we had visited before.
The view from our balcony. The town is in the distance
On the dock
We took a taxi into town and stopped at a restaurant for a couple of Margaritas (for me) and a beer for Kris. That turned out to be enough for both of us and he headed back to the ship.
That night, we dined at the Chinese / Mexican restaurant "ChiBang".
We wanted to try the specialty item, "Golden Duck" but we were told they only prepare two per night and we were out of luck ! Fortunately, the Manager came to our table and promised to save a duck for us later in the trip, so eventually, we had our duck, which was really Peking Duck by a different name.
Day 4 - September 21 - Costa Maya
Costa Maya was another port we had visited before. There was a small shopping village at the port, so we got off the ship and had a look around.
Of course, we didn't buy anything but we enjoyed wandering around and people watching. After about an hour, we took the trolley back to the ship.
Day 5 - September 22 - Roatan, Honduras
We had never visited the island of Roatan before, so we wanted to get out and see something of the island on our own. We took our time and finally left the ship around 10:00am - ship time. Again, there was a nice shopping area near the port, which we had a look around before taking a taxi.
There was also a very nice private beach next to the village, but we didn't make use of it.
This picture was taken from our balcony on deck 16, which gives a good idea how high we were !
We headed for the "West End" but along the way, we stopped for gas and across the road was a small "market" selling local art.
We bought a couple of steel "fish" (made from old oil drums) which now adorn our bedroom wall in Cocoa Beach.
When we got to the "West End", which is a small village, everything seemed to be closed. Although by now it was about 11:00am "ship time", local time was 9:00am and most people were still asleep.
Fortunately, a couple of stores and restaurants were open, so we managed to have a cup of coffee and as we walked around, things were slowly opening up.
Back on the ship, that night we dined at another specialty restaurant, Rudi's Seagrill, which was, of course, primarily a seafood restaurant.
This was dessert !
Day 6 & 7 - Sea Days
Once we left Roatan, we were headed home and had a chance to enjoy some of the other features on the boat, such a show - something like "The Best of Broadway"
We also found a favorite bar, the Havana Bar, which featured an excellent Latin band.
On our last night, we tried the "Chef's Table" which was a small group of 24 people in a private dining room. The menu consisted of four small "starters" served before we even sat down and then eight courses served over about a two hour period.
This was the "Slow Poached "Sabayon" which had a bubble over what amounted to a liquid strawberry soup. When the bubble burst "smoke" came out.
This was the duck course
The celery root pastrami
The beef (sirloin) course
And finally Patisserie Art
So with full tummies, we spent our last night on the Mardi Gras and early next morning, we left the ship (very quickly, I might add) and headed home.
After our first cruise on the Mardi Gras in September, as you might expect, Carnival followed up with offers for us to cruise again. As we are now "VIFPs" (Very Important Fun Person) some of the offers were actually quite attractive. The one that caught my eye was an eight day Christmas cruise for substantially less than we had paid for our first cruise. After some discussion, we decided to go for it.
As before, we both had to take Covid tests two days before and this time, thankfully, both were negative. So off we went.
December 18 and 19
The lines seemed longer at check-in this time around but somehow we managed to bypass the longest of the lines and check-in went quite smoothly. The only problem we had the first day was that our room was made up for three people, so the couch was a bed! We weren't expecting a guest, so we asked the housekeeper to put it back to normal and this she did almost immediately.
That night, we ate at Chibang - the Chinese / Mexican restaurant. No duck this time - just straight from the menu. The service wasn't great, but the meal went OK, even though I had to order a second entrée because the first one was so small !
December 19 was a sea day
December 20 - Nassau
The first port was originally going to be Grand Turk, but a couple of weeks before, we had been notified that we would be going to Nassau instead. No reason was given, but Covid may have had something to do with it.
We got off the ship and wandered around the downtown area. We had company. There were four other ships in Nassau that day - there's one more you can't see anchored in front of our ship.
Nassau seems to be undergoing some major expansion - more cruise ships perhaps? It's fast losing it's colonial feel - much more American than British. It was Christmas, of course, so there was the inevitable tree.
We didn't spend a lot of time on land, although we did find time for a beer. Then back to the ship.
That night, we dined at our only "premium" restaurant this trip- the Steakhouse. The service was appallingly slow. It took forever to bring us a bottle of wine, with repeated promises that "it's coming". Weirdly, when the bill arrived, they had given us a 50% discount, although nothing was ever said. Whether it was because of the poor service, or for some other reason, we will never know.
I also ordered "Wagyu beef". Now, I have never had "Wagyu beef" before so I didn't know what to expect, but the one thing I DID know is that it's supposed to VERY tender. Mine wasn't - more like London Broil. It was tasty, but chewy - not at all what I had expected. Oh well !
December 21 and 22 - San Juan, PR
December 21 was a cruising day so we enjoyed relaxing, reading and wandering around the ship. We ate in the main restaurant, The Palm, that night and the meal was fine. Even the service was pretty good.
The next day we arrived in San Juan.
San Juan from our balcony
We had only booked one organized tour on the cruise and this was the day. It was a walking tour of downtown and the old fort "the Castillo San Cristobal" (so technically a castle). San Juan was founded in either 1521 or 1522 depending on who you believe, but either way, it's been here for five hundred years. It was an important way-point for ships travelling between Mexico, Panama and Spain and of course, many of the ships were treasure ships, so some of the money stayed in the city.
We passed some nice old buildings on the way to the fort, not necessarily 500 years old.
The Casa de Espana (The Spanish House), owned by a private social organization for those with a connection to Spain
The State House of Puerto Rico
Across from the State House, the statue of John The Baptist, for whom San Juan is named, shakes an angry finger at the politicians across the street
Kristine managed a quick photo with President Obama
Finally, we made it to the Castillo San Cristobal, where construction started in 1533. It was designed to stop the English and the Dutch from attacking the city from the east and proved to be successful as the city was never captured.
The guns are long gone, but it's easy to see how they would have been placed
The view from the top of the ramparts was quite impressive. In this picture, the other fortification, "El Morro" is visible in the distance.
After our walking tour, we wandered back to the ship through the old town and did a little shopping along the way. We left San Juan after dark, with the other cruise ships still in port.
December 23 - St Thomas USVI
It's only a short distance from San Juan to St Thomas. This was the view of St. Thomas from our balcony.
Our plan was to rent a car and drive around the island. However, for various reasons, hiring a car proved impossible, so we took a taxi to the ferry for Honeymoon Bay.
The Honeymoon Bay ferry
Then a free shuttle takes you from the ferry to the bay. When we arrived, it was nice and quiet.
Soon after we arrived, three boat loads of tourists arrived, but we sat at the far end of the beach and enjoyed people watching as they struggled off and on the boats.
We spent the morning and part of the afternoon at the beach, our only beach on this trip, before heading back to the boat.
December 24 & 25
Both these days were sea days as we made our way back to Port Canaveral. We enjoyed just relaxing on the ship and of course, December 25th was Christmas Day, but it was really just like any other day, except they served turkey for dinner.
We arrived back in Port Canaveral at just after 4:00am but things didn't really get going until about 7:00am and we left the ship just before 8:00 am. There were five ships unloading in the port that day - presumably because the port had been closed on Christmas Day, so we had to pay over the odds for a taxi, but we were home by 8:30.
Post Script (January 2nd)
While swimming at Honeymoon Bay, I scraped my leg against a rock. It wasn't severe and it didn't bleed, so I didn't give it much thought. However, a week after we got home, my leg came out in a bumpy, itchy rash.
Apparently, there are all kinds of bugs and things in the water in the Caribbean which can cause this kind of thing and I assume scraping my leg gave them a way in.
As of today, January 2, the rash seems to be going down, so I'm hopeful there won't be any long term effects.