Thanks to a wonderful holiday surprise from my awesome husband, we’re just back from our latest adventure…. another cruise (this time on the Carnival Magic), great for exploring AND relaxing… here we go.
Day 1 – As per usual, a flight out of here in the wee hours of the morning. F’ton to Montreal uneventful, fast-tracked through Montreal because we had a tight connection, and get to the gate for flight #2 to find it missing a plane. Oh well, time for breakfast and coffee! Late leaving Montreal, but we make up most of the time in the air. Arrive in Houston around noon their time, but Mich (our wonderful chauffeur, tour guide, and hostess for our brief time in Houston – thanks Mich!) is trapped in traffic on the interstate. I’m sure this is the only reason there wasn’t a marching band, parade, and/or giant banner there to announce our arrival 🙂 She gets there about an hour later (while I disappointingly note the complete lack of cowboy boots and hats in the airport and we get our fill of country music), and we’re off to find some lunch. Tex Mex at a place called Canyon Cafe – it was fine, but nothing exciting. Back to her place, where we all veg/nap/watch football playoffs for the afternoon. Good Company Texas BBQ for supper (mmm brisket, jalapeno bread etc), and then off to Ginger Man (pub with oodles and oodles of beer) to meet some peeps Mich knows (some transplanted Canadians and a couple from Colombia – they all seemed really nice) for beer – which we drank outside, in January. Hooray! I tried some Wells Banana Bread beer (not great, but I had to give it a go… it has an awful aftertaste of those faux banana candies that look like packing peanuts) and then I tried a pecan porter, which wasn’t that great either. Oh well. Back to Mich’s and to bed around midnight – pretty tired from travelling all day.
Day 2 – After reports of there being recent fog problems in Galveston, we checked that before leaving. iHop for breakfast (mmm multigrain pancakes) and some Starbucks to go (mentally prepared for cruise ship coffee sucking). Mich drove us the hour or so to Galveston – pretty uneventful, and we had a good time making fun of random Texas stuff en route – like the giant churches (seriously, we have shopping centers smaller than those churches here) and the same fast food restaurants over and over only minutes apart from each other. The Port of Galveston is easy to get to, Mich dropped us off right to the “door” – bags to the porters, and and off we went. We didn’t park there, but there seemed to be loads. There was a RC ship in with us as well. Lines and that went fine and we were on the ship by noon (about a 30-40 min process in total). We weren’t hungry, so our first stop was the Red Frog Pub (we weren’t the first, but we did make the picture screen and we did spend a lot of time there!… about half way through the cruise, they stopped showing pictures on the screens at all because someone complained they could see someone’s panties or something in one of the pictures… yes, cruising can be a whole other planet). We had a beer on the outside deck (Carnival’s own Thirsty Frog Red – it’s decent – but I think Bud Lite was the “beer” of choice on this sailing… and I’m being generous referring to it as a “beer”), and then wandered around the ship for a bit. Had a few more drinks and watched the rest of the Texans game at the casino bar… and also watched the already drunk Texans watching the game, which was a hoot! Yes, I just said hoot. I can’t remember the last time I saw grown men out in public in overalls at a bar (if ever)! There was a brave family wandering around the ship all decked out in Ravens gear (Texans were playing and lost to the Ravens), and during the game, the three little girls from that family came in and jumped on the little stage at the casino bar and chanted “Ravens” over and over. Had they been adults, they may have been killed. I’m pretty sure people were considering it anyways.
Rooms were ready by 2, so we dumped off our stuff and wandered off some more. We didn’t meet our steward Ariel until the next day, and we’re pretty easy to deal with and didn’t ask for anything but to have the mini bar unlocked. Found some sandwiches at the deli (the deli is handy on day 1, since the hordes generally haven’t found it yet), and wandered around a bit more. The Magic was easy for me to navigate, since it was the same layout as the Dream – very handy. Muster started around 3:30, and didn’t finish in time for sail-away – I hate when that happens, but it was pretty overcast and the oil stuff isn’t that interesting to look at. But Greg likes to see all the other vessels out there, and there was loads. Considering the news about the Costa Concordia we saw just before we left for the airport on Saturday, I thought people might actually take muster a bit more seriously – but no dice. Ours was in the dining room, no life jackets, took over an hour, and happened only in English. First of the luggage arrived right after muster, the other one about an hour later.
Nap time before dinner… because naps are your friend (and I only ever manage to swing them on vacation). Greg had requested early dinner and a table for 2, but we ended up with late dinner at a table for 8. Two couples were already there when we arrived – Brad and Michelle and the other couple that only came the first two nights and whose names we didn’t ever catch. Brad and Michelle were great – we had a fun time talking to them every night, we’ll definitely try to keep in touch, and maybe we’ll even get them out on a group cruise with us sometime! Our head waiter was Lalu from Indonesia (aka Oh La La, because he said that about just about everything), and his assistants were Mattel from India and Norbert from Hungary. We had a great time with them as well… some of the best servers we’ve ever had, and really fun to talk to. Mattel always reminded us when we saw him to ask to be in their section at breakfast and lunch, and even on the days we didn’t get in their section, they stopped by to check that we were being taken care of. Norbert worked Lido during the day I think, and we avoid Lido for the most part, so we didn’t see him much during the day. Lalu is hoping to move to the Breeze, so maybe we’ll see him again. We were at table 517 on the bottom floor of the aft dining room, in a section with one other table for 8 – so we could never see what was going on in the main part of the dining room, we could only hear it (and with Ken Byrne as the Maitre’d, there was a lot of hearing… I know most people love him, but I prefer to be able to talk to my dinner companions)… an interesting tidbit for that section – when they lower the lights in the main dining room, it means they go off completely over there. Likely not so handy if you are a waiter, and a bit weird when you are sitting with complete strangers 🙂
If you’re a food porn lover from cruise reviews, this is the part where I warn you that you will be mostly disappointed (and if you like punctuation, you’ll also notice I lose interest in that during these reviews too). I didn’t take a single picture at dinner, and not very many others of food besides. The menus don’t seem to change much to me – they just seem to have a bit less variety each time we cruise. The Indian vegetarian dinner that I adored has moved to the everyday menu, but on the Magic it wasn’t nearly as good… but that’s what I had the first night. I don’t recall what dessert went with it – so it can’t have been all that interesting. After dinner, we parked our asses in the pub and listened to some music (Timmy Pierce) and drank some beer. And then at some point we went to bed.
Day 3 – SEA DAY!!! I love visiting all the amazing ports we have been lucky enough to have visited so far, but you can’t go wrong with sea days. Breakfast in the dining room, and then the once and only jaunt around the entire ship to take some pictures. It was pretty windy and chilly (well, not Canada chilly, but chilly for heading to the Caribbean) early this day, so there wasn’t all that many people out and about early (making it the perfect time for taking pictures). I have to say, I was pretty much indifferent on the overall decor of the Magic, and I more took the pictures this time because I knew some friends would want to see them. It was fine, and there were certain things I liked (like the new pub, in case you didn’t catch that yet), but not really all that memorable to be honest. There was lots of stuff kids would like (and they say there was about 1000 of them onboard that week… they don’t really bother me, though I did wonder why they weren’t all in school) up on Lido (ropes course, waterslides, outdoor sports stuff, and that kind of thing. I’m sure adults used them too, but not really my thing.
After wandering, there was likely some coffee involved, lunch (something with fish and a delicious sundae with proper macaroons), reading, probably more beer, and some napping. Dinner had just 6 of us at our table for 8 again, and our nameless table mates told us they won a grand playing craps in the casino. This was the last night they came to dinner, though we did run into them at Margaritaville in Grand Cayman and chatted for a few minutes there. I don’t remember what I had for dinner – likely something vegetably… and maybe Bitter and Blanc for dessert if that was the night… I don’t have a good memory when it comes to cruise ship dining apparently. After dinner, more pub (note the trend) – same guitar player again, though there were two on the ship that alternated spots (Will Marion was the other). Both were quite entertaining (and watching the old ladies flirt with these 2 young fellows was also entertaining), and we always had a good time in the pub (since the piano bar was dead and the player wasn’t our style for sure, yet again… I think his name was Imani)… but it did tend to get a little too country in there some nights. It’s not so much that it was bad, but more than we didn’t know the songs… we drank beer and chatted with people instead. At some point, we went to bed.
Day 4 – Cozumel, Mexico – if you follow along this blog at all, know us, or have travelled with us, you’ll know we’re not big on cruise ship-sponsored excursions. They are usually too crowded, too expensive, and full of idiots who have to pee/shop a lot. Since we were travelling just the two of us, and booked this during a time of year we’re just too busy to spend time researching stuff, we did ship ones this time. Sometimes they are ok and suprise you, more often than not, you wish you could have your time, money, or both back. We got off the ship an hour or so before we had to meet our tour in Cozumel and just wandered around the port a bit. I spent a whopping $1 on a bottle of water, and with the exception of a few tips and a drink at the end of the day – that’s the extent of the money we left in Cozumel. We amused ourselves watching “Mayans” in what may or may not be traditional dress wrangle tourists for pictures and enjoyed the warm weather. Met the tour, bus ride was maybe 15 minutes to Playa Mia Grand Beach Resort, and then we were off to our cooking class. The class was probably a couple of hours, and we had access to open bar the entire time we were there. Greg had some beers and I had some girly drinks while we did our cooking. Each station had four people (which is not the “you will each have your own station” that the excursion guide mentions, but it was fine… but FYI)… our class was with Chef Luis, who had a great personality for this kind of thing, and helped by Moises and Jaime. We did our dessert first – caramelized plantains with tequila chocolate sauce – yum! Then on to the main – tamarind grouper filet with veg, and then the starter of devil style shrimp sopes (my favourite of the three). Everything was tasty, and we ate what we prepared. Luis showed us a few tricks, and spent a fair bit of time coveting my camera and/or flirting with people. After the class, we all went upstairs and ate our dishes and had some drinks. We talked a bit more with the chefs and the other people there. Much like everywhere, they take a picture, put it in a cheap ugly frame, and hope you buy it… which we didn’t. After that, we had the rest of the day with open bar and beach time (including the use of whatever beachy stuff you wanted to play with). We laid around for a while, soaked up the sun, had some drinks, and then checked out the rest of the place. Back on the bus late afternoon and back to the ship. Had a drink at Fat Tuesdays and then got back on board.
We watched sail-away from various locations around the ship (Greg always scouts out the places, since he gets up earlier than me and walks around the open decks in the morning), and then napped before dinner. Dinner was just us, so we had a good time chatting with Lalu, Mattel, and Norbert. Carnival also apparently decided it was our anniversary and birthday, even though it was none of the above… but our wait staff sang us a nice song and brought us an extra dessert. Pub time after that.
Day 5 – Grand Cayman – This is the second time I’ve been to Grand Cayman, and they haven’t gotten any better at tendering people off the ship (to paraphrase JH, build a pier). We went down to the theatre the suggested 45 minutes before our excursion tickets said to be there… and proceeded to sit on our asses and wait and wait and wait. Really, I’m on vacation and I don’t generally have anywhere better to be… but by the time we actually left to get our tender, we had probably been there over an hour and a half, which is a bit ridiculous (though we did fare better than than the group that was waiting for theirs to get called, only to be told it was cancelled and not really leaving them time to go figure out something else)… water was a bit rough, so they were having problems loading the tenders (build a pier). A company called Cayman Explorer (well, that was the name on the boat, and I don’t remember anything more) did our tour to Stingray Sandbar. Playing around in the water with the stingrays was wicked, and the boat ride was nice, but I wouldn’t do this one again. We were late leaving, weren’t there as long as we were supposed to be, and if I were to head out that way again, I would book with a private company. There wasn’t as many people on the boat as there could have been though, so that was good… and we had fun all the same.
Back in Georgetown, we didn’t want to get into the crazy effing long line for the tender back to the ship, so we went over to Margaritaville for some overpriced drinks and food instead. Yum! Havana Banana!! And then we braved the line. It took probably an hour waiting in line to get a tender (each tender being able to take about 300 people) – and there was 4 ships in port that day I think… maybe 5… but the other Carnival one (Valor I think) had left by the time we got in the line). They were pulling people with small kids out of the line and bumping them ahead of everyone. Back on the ship, we watched sail-away, wandered around, probably had a drink, had a nap, and then went to dinner. Dinner was just us and Brad and Michelle and stayed that way for the rest of the week (with the exception of when a couple was at our table one day, didn’t speak to any of us, ate a few bites of their food, and then left… Lalu told us they were celebrating their anniversary… eesh). Too bad, so sad 🙂 Pub after supper.
Day 5 – Montego Bay, Jamaica – Another ship-sponsored excursion here. We went out to the Appleton Estate Rum factory. If you are considering this excursion, and you get carsick at all, drug up or don’t do it. I have guts of steal and I was barely hanging on for this one… and it didn’t get better after some mister puked up his breakfast in a bag and the guide got him to throw it out the window – gross. I got through with loads of ginger. Our driver, who they were calling Speedy (and because of this, I forget his real name) should drive Nascar or something. The roads are windy, up, down, narrow, along ledges, etc – and they drive FAST there. The scenary throughout the drive was nice, but I don’t tend to take pictures from moving vehicles… so I’ll just go back sometime and explore for real (and eat jerk). Our guides name was Paula. She lost interest in the tour towards the end of the day. But that’s ok – I did too.
We met in the terminal, full of people selling crap no one wants (well, likely someone wants it since it’s there), and then loaded onto a couple of small buses (that held no more than 20). It’s about 2 hours to the factory, and they stop once about half way there (for beer/drinks/bathroom/souvenirs – the usual). I couldn’t see the driver from my horrible spot near the back of the bus, so when we stopped, there was this mister having a shot of rum with ginger beer, and I thought he was the driver and laughed. It wasn’t apparantly, which is likely best, but it amused me all the same. Once at the factory, you get a complimentary rum punch or coffee (blue mountain coffee is awesome, so I had coffee, or at least tried to until they started the tour already… so I had another one later). The tour itself is what you would expect… you go through a few buildings and around the grounds – some places you can take pictures and some you can’t. Afterwards, you come back, there’s a big lunch spread (we had some cabbage salad thing, chicken, rice and beans, and pumpkin with greens – and then rum cake with rum sauce for dessert… and finally my COFFEE!) After you put some food in your belly, you’re welcome to sample away from 13 different rums they have there (I don’t recall them all, but there was coconut, mango, spiced, blue mountain coffee, a berry one, over proof – they called it white lightening because it burns like hell going down and clears your sinuses with a sniff… something along the lines of one shot of it and you close your eyes, second shot you open them, and the third shot you see Jesus – there was a rum cream as well… we brought a few home with us, and they gave us each a wee one at the end of the tour). It started to rain just before we got back on the buses to head back to the port, but it was sunny again by the time we got back – or I guess it hadn’t rained at all in that section. So, the tour was fine, but I wouldn’t do it again since the bus ride was too long.
So… the bus rides. Statistically speaking, I guess it’s impossible for us to be able to get on a bus with that many people and not have there be a moron or two there… and such was the case of course. During most of the time from the port to Appleton, the guide was explaining this and that about Jamaica, and then people were asking questions. We were the only non-Americans on the bus (except the guide and driver from Jamaica, obviously), and that’s not really relevant to the story except in that the guide kept telling us facts that were specific to Jamaica’s relationship with Canada, which was nice. The bus itself sucked because I got a seat over a wheel well, and while I am not super tall, I am tall enough that for 4 hours, that was super effing uncomfortable. Greg is a good 10 inches taller than me, so I certainly wasn’t going to make him sit there. Anyways, back to the stupid people. While the guide was explaining something or another, out of the blue this girl wants to know if Jamaica has any rats. Seriously? When I go to a country where I have never been before, I don’t inquire about rodents first thing (or ever really… well, maybe if they had some super interesting rodents or something that I wanted to take pictures of). And it all went down hill from there. There was a couple sitting behind us… the mister likely didn’t make a peep the whole time, but the misses made up for it. She (well, it wasn’t just her, but it was mostly her) asked stupid question after stupid question (to the point with the pukey mister from earlier asked her mister if he lets her out of the house much)… how come the houses are abandoned? (they were being built) why do you drive on the wrong side of the road? (it’s not wrong because it’s not how YOU do it) what’s that crazy English you guys talk? (seriously? could you be more ignorant?) are the streets paved? (we were driving on pavement) do you have street lights? (we could see them) do you have police? … at one point, I cracked up laughing and couldn’t stop and the guide thought I was laughing at her for some reason, but I made sure she knew I wasn’t. The misses also waved at every single person we drove by… forced some Jamaican school children to pose for her AND with her in photos, and mistook a goat for deer. I am absolutely positive both goats and deer exist in the US, so her screaming DEER! DEER! every time we passed a goat (and Jamaica has a lot of goats) got old quick. Eventually the guide told her Jamaica doesn’t have deer. Still has rats though! And now that I may have offended at least someone (and if you are one of these stupid question people who think every country but your own is a third world country, you deserve it … and if you happen to be any of the people I am referring to, you needed to hear this), let me just stop and say I have no problem whatsoever with people asking questions about places you haven’t been before. Questions are how we learn… but maybe think for a second before opening your mouth. The people who are asking these questions to LIVE IN THESE COUNTRIES… and they likely don’t appreciate your foolishness, and tipping them a dollar at the end of the day doesn’t make up for it. And for those of you who ask smart and interesting questions – keep up the good work!
Once back to port, we stopped in the little shopping village for a sec to get some coffee to bring home… and if you are planning to go to Montego Bay and just walk around the shopping village, plan again. It’s mostly empty. There’s some duty free stuff in the terminal building, and I think there’s a bus that goes around to a few different spots – but I’m no Montego Bay expert for sure. It was about sundown when we got back on the ship in Jamaica. We were asked to check booze we bought coming back on, and we waited in the line and did it, since we weren’t planning to drink it on the ship anyways, but you could have easily just walked on with it. It was dark when we sailed away, but we watched it all the same. Had a rest, dinner, and then the pub.
Day 6 & 7 – More sea days!!!!!! These all blend together for me, so I’ll ramble about them all at once. Some time over the span of these days (or maybe more, time lined gets skewed after a while), we went to three comedy shows (Just June, Steve Caouette, and Mark Simmons – there was one other we missed… ), and their burlesque Kiss Goodnight show (that wasn’t really interesting and we couldn’t see much of from the back of the lounge anyways), spent a lot of time in the pub, including some fun conversations with the bartenders (Dinesh is the best – we miss him, and hope he will be on the Breeze… thanks for the M&Ms Dinesh!), listened to Will and Timmy play guitar, ate, spent a bit of time near Lido reading (the deck above, with the comfy chairs – though 3 old people smushed 3 chairs in beside Greg when there really wasn’t room for any… Greg called it cozy), watched Groove for St Jude (the concept is good, the charity is certainly worthwhile, but the actual event was pathetic), wandered around to walk off some of the food we had been eating, had some naps, coffee etc. I bought my FCC, so I’m ready to rock another cruise. During one of our lunches, we sat in the dining room beside a group of people that ordered enough food for a group of 20, with the full intention of just trying one bite of each thing to see if they liked it and just leaving it after that. And they wanted their ceasar salads with thousand island dressing and jalapenos… which is a bit odd… and they were mad their soda in a full glass of ice wasn’t cold enough. So strange. Oh, we also got a geography lesson in the pub one afternoon… did you know Hawaii was next to Canada in the Southern Ocean?
During these days, we did not go to any of the shows in the theatre, spend money in the casino, go to the gym, do much of anything on Lido, go to any of the pay restaurants, buy anything in the shops, use the spa, play trivia, etc. etc. – so I have no comment on any of those.
Day 8 – Back to Galveston – better late than never. At the pub the night before, we speculated with Dinesh on whether we would be able to dock in the morning and he thought no… and he was right. We opted for self-assist debarkation (you lug all your own shit off the ship), so we were up early. Had some breakfast, but were well aware of how foggy it was and the fact that we weren’t already docked. James (CD) announced en route to breakfast that the port of Galveston was closed and then we wouldn’t be able to dock until they opened it. So we had our final meal with Lalu and Mattel, grabbed a drink (just coffee, for now) and went back to our room. Watched some TV for a bit, and there was still no sign of us moving. In the picture I included here, there’s actually a RC ship at anchor very near us that you can barely make out in the picture. Carnival did their best to entertain people…they put a bunch of musicians back to work much earlier in the day than they are likely used to, put lots of games out for people to play, showed some movies in the theatre and on Lido, and let people stay in their cabins when you normally have to be out much earlier. And even better, the pub opened up… so we went there to hang out, have a bite (it was around lunch time at this point – we had grouper fingers and pulled pork – not bad) and some beer, and listen to Timmy play some more. Farewell conversations with our new friends, and then it was finally time to start getting off the ship. This would be about 1:30.
We were in the second self-assist group called, even though people were pretty much just ignoring the crew and getting off with self-assist even when they had zones and had to wait for their luggage anyways. Got off fine, and only the first few groups of luggage has been unloaded by then… and then comes the only bad part of our trip. Port of Galveston – EPIC F’ING FAIL… so much so that we would have to think very long and hard about sailing out of there again. I’m a patient person, I have no problem waiting in lines at ports and airports and that… it’s all part of travelling and it doesn’t bother me. But this was f’ing ridiculous. It took us TWO HOURS to get through customs there and we were some of the first people off the ship. This port (unlike any other we’ve been to yet) has one line for people with US passports (which then splits to 4 lines when you get closer to customs) and one line for everyone else… Americans too cheap to buy passports, people with weird Visa stuff, and everyone who’s not an American. This splits to three lines near the end… two more for Americans, and then one for the rest of us. So 6 lines for Americans, 1 for the rest. And even this wouldn’t be that bad, if they would just let us “foreigners” GO TO THAT LINE. But no, we have to wait behind all the Americans that don’t have passports (why do people travel without passports?) and then eventually (like 1.5 hours later) we can get to our line… where we have to wait for people to get fingerprinted and scanned and everything else. It took Greg and I literally 1 minute to clear customs (no finger prints for Canadians). I know the cruise ship companies don’t have a lot of say in what customs wants to do, but those signs are Carnival branded signs and it’s Carnival’s people pointing people to those lines… so having a third one so that the rest of the world doesn’t have to wait for Americans without passports would certainly go a long way… or tell us on the ship that we’re going to be treated like second-class citizens at least, and then we’ll just wait there for the line to go away. So about 2 hours after getting off the ship (which has never been more than 30 mins before, even with helping a friend locate lost luggage), we finally get over to meet up with Mich who was picking us up. I kept her in the loop as best I could, but she still ended up having to wait for us a long time. Back to Houston after that.
We had thought about going to the zoo in Houston that day, or doing some other stuff… but it was nearly supper time by the time we got to Mich’s, so we grabbed some beer (some Texas stuff – St. Arnolds and Shinner) and coffee 🙂 Ordered in some pizza, and spent the night drinking and watching football.
Day 9 – Headed home – Today was pretty much uneventful… just the normal travel-related stuff. At the Houston airport, every terminal had Continental flights, so it took a bit of doing to find ours, but we did. Had some breakfast in Houston and off to Cleveland. A bit of a wait in Cleveland and got the rest of our flights sorted out, and then off to Toronto. Quick and easy breeze through customs in Toronto, and then some more delay. We were supposed to leave at 2, but left closer to 4 because the plane needed a new tire. Likely a good thing to have, so not the end of the world… wandered off and found coffee and played on the ninnernet, since I had been avoiding it for a week… on purpose (the only exception being congratulating a good friend on her new baby and touching base with Mich about picking us up). Back home around 7:30, and fortunately it wasn’t 60 degrees colder than where we left.
I don’t think I have much for closing arguments this time. This was cruise #7 for me, and some stuff I just don’t notice anymore. People don’t really bother me (in fact, I love people and meeting new ones, unlike most of my regular travel companions… you know who you are) and people watching provides infinite hours of entertainment (Texans sure party hard, but they are definitely friendly and fun… and I don’t know why people complain about sailing with them… but people complain about Puerto Ricans as well, and we loved sailing from there)… I’ll take a ship full of fun party people anyday over stuffy old dodgers that they think are better than other people or people so self-absorbed that it somehow matters in their universe if I wear jeans and they wear a tuxedo. Ship was fine, ports were fine, and we had a wicked time.
For people who care about cruise specifics: the CD was James and his ACD was TJ – I was indifferent to both and didn’t notice if they were around much or not. James made announcements 3-4 times a day, and I found them a bit long – but I know what his job entails, and selling stuff on the ship has got to be included). I find these bigger ships to be less soundproof than the smaller ones. We could hear EVERY word when our neighbours had the TV on – whether that was because they listen to the TV really loud, or because we were in a cabin that had a connecting door to theirs, I don’t know. Not the end of the world – we don’t spend scads of time in our cabin anyways. I don’t smoke, but you could smoke in part of the casino, at part of the casino bar, in the night club, outside the Red Frog, and outside in some spots up top – it was listed in the Fun Times and I didn’t really pay attention. Sometimes I noticed smoke walking around, sometimes I didn’t. The smoke smelled different when we sailed from Jamaica 😉 Outside the Red Frog, they also frequently blocked off the walkway (deck 5 lets you walk all the way around the ship outside, which is a great feature) to play bean bag. And Texans love their bean bags! I’m refusing to refer to it by other names, but we had a funny conversation at dinner about it. You can save a bit of beer money buying it buy the pitcher or tube in the Red Frog (and they still have buckets)… and they had giant fishbowl drinks that were LOADED with booze – they cost like $20. The bartenders ring a bell at the pub any time they sell a tube or a fish bowl. I didn’t notice much of a difference in how people dressed for dinner on this ship versus any others, but our view of the dining room wasn’t prime. There were some cowboy hats on the ship for sure (love it!), and some of them even wear them in the water at the beach and stuff (again, love it!). I thought all the staff we dealt with were great. The lobby bar was never busy. A blue drink won master mixology yet again. We avoid the photographers like the plague, so we didn’t see if the face/photo recognition stuff worked on the ship. The same problem people report about not being able to get a seat in the comedy club exists on this one as well. And we didn’t see loads in terms of chair hogs… but there were some, don’t worry! Serenity deck is missing the excellent couches that it has on other ships. Some uncomfortable wooden ones are there instead.