Once upon a time, a girl with chronic wanderlust and a boy who hates the snow decided to go on a little adventure (er, another adventure). With a dirty look or two for the snow that started to fall as they headed to the airport, the adventure begins…
Cheapest flights out of our province were out of Moncton this time (this was a proper holiday for relaxing, so we didn’t want to drive to and from the US before/after flying), so off we went on a 2 hour drive to the airport. It started to snow about the last 30 minutes of the drive, but I think somehow that just makes leaving the snow more rewarding. Checked in in Moncton and waited for a bit at the gate before getting called up to see the agent – without any prompting, asking, begging, threatening, or even attempts at mind control on our part, they had switched our seats on the first flight so that we could sit together. Hooray for Air Canada (and I can’t believe I said that). Flight to Toronto was uneventful, and we hit the US customs line there at a perfect time (i.e. no line up of people who can’t figure out how to queue, even with ropes guiding them). Grabbed some status quo airport food, waited a bit, and then on to the plane for Miami.
Plane to Miami has movies. Score. Plane to Miami also has a broken cargo net. Arg! So wait for a while for them to move all the luggage into containers. And then we wait for a while for them to find another cargo net to throw in the hold because they are going to need it on the next flight. Watched movies. Also the nice lady in Moncton gave us the exit row. Hooray for leg room. I watched Chronicle (stupid) and The Campaign (also stupid)… translation, I wouldn’t have watched these if I wasn’t on a plane. I had seen most everything else. Once we took off, the flight was uneventful and we got to Miami about an hour later than planned. Luggage appeared with no issues and then off to the taxi line. Took about 30 mins to get a cab, but who cares because it was Miami where it was warm and I was no longer stuck sitting on a plane. Pretty quick ride to our hotel downtown – Hampton Inn and Suites Miami/Brickell-Downtown. This hotel was awesome… it’s pretty new, so it still looks all nice. Room was great. Free breakfast/coffee/tea/water and they gave us a free drink each for the pool bar that we never did get around to using. Stayed here long enough to change our shoes and wash our faces maybe, and then off to find something to eat. Opted for beer and burgers at the Beer and Burger Joint (about 5 mins down the road at the Shoppes at Mary Brickell Village. All of this area was a pretty happening spot on a Saturday night, and the heals of my Birkenstocks are definitely not in line with the Miami night life… but I’ll still be able to walk when I’m older 🙂 Actually, there was quite a mix… but they definitely wear a lot more form-fitting clothes there, regardless of body type. That was a pretty nice way to put that, right? Anyways, I don’t give a shit about clothes…
Burger was yum (I forget the details, didn’t eat the fries, but it had guacamole… yum!). Beer was also yum – it was a new to me (and second choice since they were out of the one I wanted)… Milk Stout Nitro from the Left Hand Brewing Company. Greg, who is a much less fussy beer drinker than me, had a few of something he said was good. Back to the hotel.
Woke up to another beautiful and warm day in Miami and headed over to South Beach to wander around and do a food tour. We had some breakfast and fresh squeezed juice at a cafe on Washington, and then wandered off to check out Miami Beach. No matter where we go, there always seems to be some kind of festival/event being set up (which we love), and it was the same here then. The Orange Bowl was happening on Monday, so there was fan festival stuff going on at Miami Beach all weekend. We wandered around on the beach for a bit, passed where they were setting up the stage for a concert (Flo Rida and someone else… not something I would care about, for sure). But some of the other stuff they were setting up was pretty impressive… they looked to have set up a full Nike store for the weekend, as well as several other stages and merch and games and food vendors. Pretty impressive. A few blocks worth of streets were shut down as well, and there were red and green wearing fans everywhere we went (including two drunk Notre Dame fan ladies who just kept popping up all over the place and cheering as we walked around).
Met for the food tour around 12:00, and waited around for a bit for that one couple that is late – there’s always one… but again, didn’t really care since it was beautiful out. We started the tour at the The Angler’s (boutique resort) with scallop tiradito (raw scallop, passion fruit, cilantro, avocado, and pepper)… this was my fave dish of the day that we tried… yum!! From here, we walked to Bolivar (essentially across the street) and tried an empenada and plantain dish with a drink made of cream soda and Aguila (Colombian beer)… surprisingly refreshing, but I’m still not a big fan of soda. Next up, a bit of an architectural tour of Ocean Drive… including the pop culture references that I couldn’t possibly care less about… but they were brief (something something Miami Vice something a couple of movies I forget something Versace mansion). Then on to Serafina (restaurant at the Dream hotel) for tomato and cucumber gazpacho and some tasty bread. They apparently import most everything from Italy so it’s authentic (albeit a bit wasteful), but it was pretty tasty. Across the road to David’s Cafe to drink Cuban coffee. I was pretty excited about this idea, until I tried it and it’s pretty gross. I love really strong coffee, but I don’t like sugar in my coffee, and this was crazy sweet. We also tried a pastry here and it was fine. Next was Jerry’s Famous Deli for another sweet treat (not the one I would have picked from the case, since they all looked awesome, but still tasty… had we stayed in that area longer, we would have probably had a meal here). Charlotte Bakery next for another empenada (this place used to be a hole in the wall apparently, but it’s been featured on the Food Network at least a couple of times now)… food was delish though… terrific cilantro sauce. Then off to have some bubble tea at momoCHA Bubble Tea House… I like bubble tea and this one was refreshing, but it had a bit of a perfumey taste to it that I didn’t love. And then the final stop – GELATO!!! Somebody somewhere voted this the best gelato in Miami, and while I can’t really make a call on that, it was freaking delicous (better than many I’ve had in other places, including Italy). This was at Milani Gelateria – we tried the coconut, pistachio, and lemon – all excellent. The company we used was Miami Culinary Tours. Our guide was fine, the group was small (only 8 that day – 6 Americans, 4 from Florida, and us), and not too annoying 🙂 We paid about $50 each, and the tour was 2.5 hours plus. We definitely weren’t hungry once we finished.
Wandered a wee bit more after this, and then grabbed a cab back to the downtown – it was starting to get a bit mad over that way with all the football stuff going on. Our cabbie didn’t speak English, and my Spanish is pretty broken these days, but we made an effort and managed to have a couple of laughs in the process. Relaxed at the hotel for a bit, and then wandered over to Publix and grabbed a few beers to drink while watching the football game and before going back out to explore some more. We went to D-Dogg House for supper… nothing fancy – essentially suped up hot dogs and stuff. Their claim to fame seems to be that you order your meal using a iPad and their tables light up. Food was fine for what it was and that was that… Starbucks and then back to the hotel to lazily watch some tv.
Monday morning was uber lazy… hooray. Lackluster free hotel breakfast in the morning, vegging around, and then off to the port around 11:00. I have to give the port of Miami points for being pretty awesome. We were through the line and on the ship within 30 minutes at the most. I think we ended up being zone 8. Had a quick bite on the ship, found some drinks and waited for our room to be ready.
First impressions of the Destiny weren’t the best… it’s definitely showing signs of wear throughout, and I have my doubts that that decor was cool even in the 90s when it was built. I liked our room though… it seems a bit smaller than the balconies on other ships, but I like the different layout of the shelves and that. Stuff for cruisers who care: There’s no mini fridge/cooler thing in the balcony cabins on that ship currently. We didn’t have an ice bucket (I’m sure we could have asked for one). You also can’t do any of the cruise-related stuff you normally would with the TV. The shower was actually bigger than normal… so that was pretty exciting, being able to shave my legs without being a gymnast!! Muster was fairly quick and painless (still outside on deck, no life jackets)… got a good laugh from a girl freaking out that her steward busted in when she was naked. Off to watch sailaway… sailing out of Miami is ok interesting, but the top decks were packed full of people who wanted to watch. Lots of blue cards on this sailing, and we figure that was why… but who knows. Had a nice chat with a gal from Brazil and off to find our luggage.
Luggage was there when we got back from sailaway… met our stewart (Dharmayasa, who was impressed I could say his name… not a horribly hard one, but he seemed pretty excited about it… he was great by the way – always greated us by name in the hallways and stuff… we never really needed anything, but I’m sure he would have been right there if we did). Unpacked and relaxed until dinner (relax was the theme of this holiday, so if the blog gets dull, sorry… but it was awesome, so I don’t really feel bad :P)
For the first time ever, we had dinner in the middle dining room on a ship instead of the aft one. The dining room is ugly as shit. Service was fast though. Not fun or interesting, but efficient. We were in a corner off to the side, so it was nice to be able to have a conversation… and Greg and I had a table to ourselves, which was also nice. The late seating where we were wasn’t that busy, so our wait staff wasn’t swamped or anything. The head waiter seemed checked out… he made a minimal effort to talk to us, so we returned the favour. The assistant guy was pretty old, but super friendly, so we talked to him whenever we saw him around the ship. The third guy we barely talked to or interacted with at all… he was either running for food (demanding table beside us) or flirting with the bar waiter. He also had BO in a major way… I think he was pretty nervous, so I’m guessing he was newish. She (bar waiter) was also fine, but not amazing. She figured out that Greg drinks beer with supper, and always brought him one, but she never once asked if he wanted another. We got the feeling that the Destiny might be a training ship. The staff was always nice and frendly, but they didn’t seem to have a clue what they were doing. They weren’t all jaded yet either.
Our favourite part of Carnival ships is the Red Frog pub, which this ship doesn’t have (we’ve been spoiled sailing only the newest ships the last few years). So we didn’t have a good pub to hang out in, but that’s certainly not the end of the world. We went and watched some Superstar Live after dinner (this is karaoke with a live band backing the singer). It was entertaining enough for a few minutes (and crazy popular on this sailing), but I have to wonder if the people in that band lose a bit of their soul every time someone who really, truly sucks steps up to the mic. I think I would. Anyways, we only caught a couple of songs (which was enough, for sure) and then there was a couple of comedian shows. The first guy, John Wesley Austin, was actually pretty funny (and it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen someone funny on a cruise ship… I prefer UK comedians and people with dry, sarcastic wit… fart jokes and jokes about their “wives” tend to bore me)… anyways, he was funny. The second guy (Johnny Millwater) wasn’t really, though he did have a good bit about weed, Chick-fil-A, and God. You had to be there.
Next day of the cruise was a sea day. Repeat after me. Sea days are awesome. We did very little. We had some breakfast in the dining room, vegged around the ship, had some lunch (and our shiny free drink) in the dining room, vegged on our balcony in the sun, walked around the ship, had some drinks (at the atrium bar – where another staff person who was new and didn’t know how to do anything was working… the guy that did know how to mix drinks and pour beer from a tap kept wandering off, and she had to wait for him to come back to do anything even remotely complicated), ate some dinner (this was elegant night), and I think we went to be a bit more Superstar Live. Proceed to next day.
First port on the cruise was Grand Turk. We’d never been there before, so hooray for somewhere new. We rented a golf cart from Nathan for the day and drove around the island. Picking up the cart was a bit of a clusterf$#k because I’m more of a go with the flow kind of person, instead of a “I’m more important than you and therefore I don’t care if you were here first” kind of person… it’s not worth the stress and the weather was lovely, so doesn’t bother me to stand around a bit. (Note for cruisers: Pick up was just outside the gate for the cruise port, it cost us $80 for the day, and if we didn’t bring it back with the same level of fuel as we took it, there was a $20 charge. Carts can seat four (but two will be facing backwards the whole time). There’s 2 gas stations on the island, and fuel was $5 something a gallon.) Anyways, we got that sorted, they gave us our map, and off we went. The map wasn’t great, but it’s hard to get really lost in Grand Turk I figure… it’s only 7 miles long and a mile across. We immediately headed to the other side of the island to check out the lighthouse. The cart was fine, but it had definitely done the tour around the island a few (hundred/thousand) times. We took a wrong turn at a roundabout and ended up across the water from the lighthouse initially, but that it’s part of the adventure. It was a cool area we found, and off-roading in a golf cart is pretty fun! Then on to the lighthouse… there’s not much going on up in that area of Grand Turk… there looks to have previously been an oil pipeline and stuff up there, but it’s all been abandoned. The lighthouse area is nice. There’s a wee gift shop (of course) and lots of trails along the cliffs with great views. It was crazy windy up there, so much so that the water was sloshing in the toilets in the restrooms. Lots of wild donkies and horses and dogs wandering around. After exploring here for a while, back to the cartmobile and down to the downtown area.
The downtown area is really nice, except for (or probably because of) the fact that it’s nearly deserted at this point. There were some vendors set up down there selling the typical Caribbean tour items, and there’s not much for business down there. There was a couple of shops and a cafe… but who cares about those. On the other side of the street, there was a crazy beautiful beach and barely no one there. There was a long wharf into shiny green water – just what you would think of in the Caribbean… it’s a bit busted up in places (missing boards, nothing major) and unlike in North America where someone would have closed it off because someone would sue them or something stupid, there you could walk out and do whatever you want. Had a piece of coconut cake from the bakery down there, walked on the beach, bought a piece of art (part of the whopping $40 in total we brought home between us). Back to the cartmobile – drove around a bit more, and then headed back to the port to return the cart. It was starting to rain a bit and we figured we’d just spend the rest of the day at the beach/bar. Stopped on the way to see some piece of US space history near their airport (Google tells me that it’s a replica of John Glenn’s space capsule from 1962).
We spent some time at Jack’s Shack (a long walk down the beach and not really the least bit interesting – overpriced drinks, long wait for food unless you wanted a cheeseburger) and at another beach bar before we got back on the ship. The MSC Poesia was in port with us that day (unrelated: people decorate their balconies on that ship – there was hammocks, xmas lights, flags, etc), and I expect most of the people off both ships didn’t go any further than the beach at the end of the pier. There’s shopping at the pier, and then the big call seems to be Margaritaville. We didn’t bother with any of that. We didn’t find anywhere that was open to try some local food, but we tried the Turk’s Head beer – which tastes like pretty much every other Caribbean beer. There was a long line to get back on the ship well past when we were supposed to have left, and there’s not much to see sailing in and out of this place. The island is pretty flat, and more dry than lush. The few people we dealt with were all very friendly.
After this, we probably had drinks/nap (that was pretty much the pattern)… watched Jeopardy like oldies (I love that show… I need to use all this useless knowledge for something) while getting ready for dinner… had dinner, and then we sat around watching the acoustic guitar guy – his name is Grant. We only really caught him one night (two other nights he was playing “party tunes” – no thanks). You could tell he had mad skills and wasn’t using them while playing covers of the same 12 songs cruisers request over and over. There was a couple of other music options this cruise – music power or whatever they were called where normally in the casino area, and the piano bar was a ghost town every time we walked by.
Next up, paradise (aka Half Moon Cay – Carnival Corporation’s private island in the Bahamas). I’ve always wanted to check this out because the pictures always look so awesome, so I was pretty excited about this one… and it did not disappoint. This place is beautiful. There’s very little shopping (because no one lives there and they have to lug everything to the island – or so we were told… including loads of stuff off the ship)… there’s a few kiosks set up in the area right when you get off the ship, but pretty much this place is beach, beach, and more beach with a few bars, bathrooms, and cabanas sprinkled in for good measure. We had to tender here and we were late getting in due to rough seas. (We were late getting into and leaving most places). We got in line early and ended up with tender tickets in group 7. The first tender took crew and supplies (and likely people on Carnival excursions) and then they started loading. We ended up on the third one – it was fine, the wait wasn’t too bad. The tenders (three of them) ran back and forth the whole time we were there. We were on the island by 11:30 I would think.
The key to HMC for me was to find a place with a bit of shade and to not be in the part of the beach right at the start where the hordes would be, and that was easy. We walked down to just past the end of the cabanas and pulled a couple of chairs into the shade. Camped out for the day… hooray!! It rained a wee bit in the morning, but who cares when you are at the beach. We relaxed and had some drinks in the morning (I had a really good one from the pirate bar called Hukilau that had rum, amaretto, ginger, and citrus), got some lunch around 1, relaxed a bit more, played in the water for a long while, relaxed some more, and then begrudgingly went and stood in line for a tender back to the ship (a really long line I might add). We waited until about the end… with about half the ship.
Note for cruisers: HMC has loads of deck chairs and you can easily find a nice shady spot if you just walk down the beach some. There’s lots of trees you can use. I didn’t see the point of renting a cabana (I don’t remember the price, but I know it was more than free) and I didn’t need a clamshell or anything either. There’s a bar right when you get off the tender in the little starting area, and then there’s another by the BBQ area, another a bit further down the beach (or along the path, which is much easier than walking in the sand), and then the pirate ship looking one. Bar servers also come down the beach. You don’t have to go back to the ship to eat – they set up a big BBQ area … it had burgers, hot dogs, chicken, sides, and fruit/desserts when we were there… and a water/juice area. Lots of covered areas with picnic tables to eat at. You use your Sign and Said card for anything Carnival-related on the island, but if you want to buy from the few handiworks vendors, you need cash. I’m pretty sure there’s towel stands somewhere, but we just brought our beach towels from the ship. There’s 3-4 new cabanas currently going up… they were painting some of them and they looked nearly ready, and one was just being framed out – they are in amongst the cabanas that are already there and not further down the beach at the end. There’s water sport/activities stuff you can rent there as well – we just vegged. We were there as the sun was going down – also awesome.
Back to the ship for nap time and then dinner. After dinner (complete with the wait staff doing a dance to Gangnam Style) we went to the show – the one where some of the other guests perform. We’ve never gone to one of these before. I likely wouldn’t go again. There’s always that one person who is HORRIBLE, and likely someone has always told them they were good or something. I’m fine with being confident in your own skin and all that kind of stuff, but when you suck, you suck… do it for fun on your own time or something. One of the performers (only three cruisers performed) sucked – and we had already gotten to witness her sucking at karaoke another night… and twice was too much for sure. The other two were pretty good, but with boring songs. Tex (the CD) did a few little skit type thingies too, and he was pretty funny, so at least there’s that. Apparently this was his last sailing on the Destiny.
Last day – Nassau. We’d been here before on the Freedom a few years before and did a lot of walking around. This time we didn’t rush to get off… we walked around a bit, braved one aisle of the straw market (horrible, as expected, and every kiosk looks exactly the same), and then headed down to Arawak Cay to the Fish Fry area. We sat and watched the Norwegian Epic sail in to the Carnival party (there was three Carnival ships already – Dream, Destiny, and Fantasy- and another came while we were eating – Sensation) and then found some lunch. Most of the restaurants down that way open around 11:00. We went to Twin Brothers for some conch fritters (along with a sour sop daquiri for me, beer for Greg, snapper and grouper)… we left way too full and definitely needed to walk it off. I bought a t-shirt for my niece on the way back, and that was about the extent of our day in Nassau. We checked out some of the other ships at the pier (man the Epic is big and ugly) and a yacht and then back onto the ship. Relaxed on the balcony for a while, had some ice cream, walked around, watched sailaway. Nap time, dinner, vegging, and packing and we call it a trip.
We did self assist debark off the ship and were off the ship in about 15 mins after we got in the line (though there was some clusterf#%k there too, since one Carnival employee was trying to incorrectly route people through the theatre), and through customs in about 2 minutes, and to the airport shortly after that. Five ships in port in Miami, and we expected the airport to be a zoo, but it was fine. We had to sit around for a while before we could check in (only 3 hours before your flight so they aren’t overwhelmed with luggage) and the check in system is a clusterf$#k). The machines to check in don’t bother me, but put them before the stupid lines and then just get people to drop their bags off. We, of course, ALWAYS end up with a machine that doesn’t print the luggage tags and then have to wait around some more. Was fine after that. Ate some shitty airport food, flew to Newark (in shiny exit row seats), got there early. No movies on United – had a nap instead.
I am generally pretty indifferent on airports… if they have a Starbucks, I’m happy. But I have to say, the airport in Newark (the United section anyway) is effing awesome. They have real food items, like fresh squeezed juice and smoothies and a bakery. Had a burger, 2 things of carrot/OJ and a smoothie (we had over a four hour wait) and read a book while Greg watched the football game. I do miss free WiFi when we get to the major airports though. It’s irritating to pay for it at this point (Greg did in Miami since we had a lot of time there), but we didn’t bother at Newark. Flight to Moncton was fine (cramped little plane though, and way too hot), and we got in to Moncton on time at 11. We cleared customs in Moncton (and were shocked to see three agents there for our one plane of maybe 40 people)… was a breeze (especially since we don’t buy much), paid the overpriced parking fee ($100 for a week, seriously!?!) and drove home. And that’s a wrap.
Up next, Europe in July…