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When the Universe Gives You a Mostly Free Cruise…

So back in September, at a Carnival Cruise Line event, I won a free cruise! So when the universe gives you a free cruise, and the window you have to use it in includes your birthday, you take it. So we did.

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A mostly uneventful travel day (can’t say I really enjoyed the chaos that is Air Canada pulling 5 flights worth of passengers out of security line, leaving us to stand there for an hour… but I’ve been on the receiving side of getting pulled out of that line, so I get it… I did enjoy the no-nonsense security person telling the Air Canada rep to piss off eventually though).. Got to Houston by noon… Uber to Galveston (complete with 90 minutes of the vocal stylings of Phil Collins and other terrible easy listening) and away we go.

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We stayed at Homewood Suites on the Seawall… nice place, super friendly staff, location is ok… right across from the beach, but there’s not a lot more nearby (there’s a Walgreens). They have a shuttle that will take you anywhere in a 5 mile radius and it was totally fine for one night.

We headed out to explore the Strand area (we Ubered, with an annoying driver asking for tips with a sob story about how it’s hard in Galveston to make money because everything is close together)… Stopped for some beer and eats at Brews Brothers… craft beer selection was good, food was OK. Had some more drinks at Yaga’s Cafe (they don’t skimp on the booze here… I tried for 2 hours and my drink never managed to become empty… because every time the bartenders made one of the same for someone else, they poured the leftovers in my glass) and their staff is outstanding (regardless of the refilling of my drink). Then we walked around for a bit and stumbled across Stuttgarten beer garden, so of course we had to check it out… and eat a giant pretzel to soak up some of the mass amounts of sugar drink I am not used to imbibing. Back to the hotel after that… since we’d been up a very long time already, even though it was early in Texas. I managed to make it to 9, half-watching Lego Batman.

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Had some breakfast at the hotel (Texas waffle!) and then we decided to go for a walk on the beach, since it was nice out, we had lots of time before we had to head to the ship, and it was across the street. This was an amazing beach for running! We walked, but the sand was all nice and packed down and flat… we walked for a couple of hours and enjoyed the views.

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We took the hotel shuttle to the port. They had said it would only be able to take us to the Starbucks across the street, which was totally fine – we travel with backpacks… but the mister ended up dropping us right at the port. We were out of the van and onto the ship in like 15 minutes probably. Check in was a breeze – very organized.

So, to the pub. (Check that, we went to our cabin first to get our key cards – because in Galveston, Carnival is doing that now… then pub). Because that’s pretty much where we hang at least part of the time. The Red Frog pub is pretty much my favourite addition to the Carnival ships. Had a few drinks, met a few people, and generally relaxed.

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Did all the usual stuff involved with the first day… got our luggage, unpacked it, drank some, muster drill, etc. etc. Day drinking may have prompted a nap, and all in all, it was a nice and uneventful day. (Get ready for this, because the only goal of this cruise was to relax.)

Monday was a sea day… we got up early so Greg could run and I could walk before the track was too busy… had some breakfast and wandered around the ship a bit. We’ve sailed this ship twice before (it’s our favourite) and we already knew where everything was, so we didn’t have to find it. Spent some time chilling in the adults only area (there was loads of free deck chairs all the time on this ship), found the beer for the week (Angel City IPA for the win), played a bit of trivia (people still take that shit way too seriously), spent some time on our balcony… yay, relaxing!

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Oh wait!!! Monday was my birthday! Our cabin steward Romel left me a big Happy Birthday message on our cabin mirror. It was also formal night, and we opted to skip those altogether this time around. We had some sushi for supper, cake from the cafe (because birthday), played pub trivia and won some beer (which we shared, because I hate the kind you win), and just generally wandered around and hung out (including listening to a violin trio who were AMAZING!). Romel also left me a $50 spa gift certificate, and while I don’t spa and nothing would be that cheap in the spa, it was an appreciated nice touch. Unfortunately I couldn’t just give it to someone who might use it.

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Tuesday we landed in Cozumel…. more walking/running to start the day… and food (because cruising), and then we headed off to our tacos, tequila, and chocolate tour. This was a fun one (and if you want me to use my mad skills as a travel agent to hook you up with this very tour, contact me any time). There was only four of us on our tour. We started with a bit of free time to explore and some tequila (I may have also found some delicious iced coffee). We toured through a bit of an art gallery and then outdoors through a bunch of replicas of famous Mexican structures. Then it was chocolate time… we had some hot chocolate, taste-tested some various chocolates, made our own chocolate circles to bring home, and had a frozen chocolate drink.

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Then it was off to taste some Jose Cuervo (though we stopped to watch some acrobatics on the way, danging from a high pole with ropes… in the rain). I’m not a tequila expert, but I learned a lot from this tasting… well, and we got to drink tequila. We tried three different styles of Jose Cuervo, and then a few others (same brand) for comparison. After the tasting, we had a delicious buffet of tacos and sides, and then they made some delicious star fruit margaritas for us.

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Back to the port after our tour, and we wandered off to find some more margaritas. And guacamole. We’re not shoppers, so after that, we headed back to the ship. There was another couple of ships in port with us that day, but Cozumel is well-appointed to handle many ships. The rest of the day was a blur – though I am quite sure we played and won pub trivia again.

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Next up, Belize. But first, walking/running and breakfast. I caved and booked a cruise-ship excursion for this one. We just wanted a lazy beach day and the area of Belize (near Belize City) isn’t a “beach near the pier” kind of place… and this cruise got planned pretty quickly. We’d both been here before and we’ve done tours and visited ruins and I just didn’t want to spend a lot of time sitting on a bus. So we spent the day at Starfish Island. The boat to the island picked us up at the ship (Belize is a tender port to protect the reef system) and the ride to the island was maybe 30 minutes. The island was nice – it’s at least partially man made and it’s not overly sandy in spots… but it has everything you need for a nice beach day – loungers, shade, equipment rentals, eats, a bar, facilities, etc.

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It’s a good place for water shoes if you have them for sure, and the sand is pretty sinky… water was nice, weather was great, food was fine, drinks were tasty. Greg getting sneak-attacked by a jelly fish wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t affect his beer consumption, so he must have been fine (they gave us some vinegar to pour on it… and there was a handful of others who had the same fate that day). Boat ride back to the ship was more fun (on the upper level for a dance party). Back on board, we spent some time chilling in the pub, etc. The adult Quest game was this night as well… it was fun/funny – not nearly as much naked as we’ve seen on other ships, and I’m ok with that.

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And onto Roatan (Honduras)… more running/walking/eating to start the day… we didn’t miss a day. And then off to Little French Key for the day. They picked us up from the port (outside of it because they aren’t cruise-ship approved) and took us to the barge that goes back and forth to the key. Our admission included lunch, 2 drinks each, use of all the facilities (though there was some stuff that cost extra and different admission packages you would purchase), as well as transportation back to the port whenever we wanted to go. So what I didn’t like about this place was that they have a bunch of animals in cages (and they tour you through them at the start while they show you were everything is)… they looked to be well cared for, their cages were spotless, but I’m just not into that kind of thing.

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Again, this place had everything you could need for a lazy day at the beach… and then some. Our waitress Kelly was outstanding and took great care of us all day. There was much relaxing, floating, drinking, and maybe even some napping. The food was fine, the drinks were tasty (and reasonably priced), and the facilities were clean. If you’re into shopping, there was a little gift shop… and then there was also options to go snorkel with them, take pictures with the animals, and that kind of thing. There’s even a spa. We headed back to the port mid afternoon, wandered around there for a bit, and then back to the ship for the rest of the week.

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We did some activities on the ship this evening… which is not like us at all, but the Cruise Director on this one (Mike Pack, who is moving to the Horizon next) was AMAZING. He really has a knack for making what could be tired cruise activities very fun… and he’s incredibly funny. I think we checked out the Hasbro Game Show and the Love and Marriage show (and various other events around the ship throughout the week).

A couple of sea days rounded out the cruise… so more relaxing! We played some trivia (and won pub trivia a couple more times… because all this useless knowledge is my head sometimes equates to free drinks… and Greg’s knowledge too)… went to some more ship activities, chilled in the sun. Past guest party (translation, free drinks for an hour) was on the last night, and even that was a lot of fun with this CD. Greg won some shiny, plastic ships on sticks for playing sports trivia. We skipped another formal night and opted to eat at the deli. By the end of the week, all the usual pub trivia players just made a super team since we were sharing the beer anyways.

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General stuff. Service on the Breeze out of Galveston was outstanding. The best we’ve had on any ship, out of any port, in a long time. The food was hot and better than normal. The staff and crew were friendly. Apparently people on ships out of Texas are the least likely to remove their gratuities, so a lot of the staff really want to work on those ships. Our sailing was 95% Americans and 60% Texans. There were people on our sailing who have been on that ship 30 times and have spent more than 1000 days at sea – bonkers! The CD and entertainment staff were fun.

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Debarkation was smoother than last time we sailed from there (it helps not being fogged out and stuck at sea). Though all week it felt like there was a lot of new cruisers on the ship, our platinum area of self-debarkation was jam-packed. A staff member tried to organize it, but people were getting pretty fed up at some rude passengers sitting near the front of the waiting area yelling at people to go to the back. We’re all getting off… no need to be a dick. Customs was better – there was three lines for us to leave through as non-US passport holders, so that was an improvement from last time.

We grabbed an Uber back to Houston and were able to check in to our hotel (Fairfield Inn) at 9am, which was pretty amazing. Wandered around downtown (ghost town on a Sunday), got some breakfast at Mkt Bar, found some coffee, and came back to plot out our day. There was a street art festival (Via Colori) going on, so we checked that out for a couple of hours (tons of amazing artists, live music, some vendors, food trucks, beer) and then we found a BBQ place for supper (that took some doing – most of the BBQ places and breweries are closed on Sundays). Wandered around downtown to find a coffee (most of the coffee shops closed early or super early on Sunday) and found a Starbucks in the lobby of a Hilton. And then back to the hotel to watch football and call it a trip.

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Flights home were uneventful… had some tasty food at Breakfast Klub in the Houston airport (with the best waitress ever in the history of the universe), watched some movies on the flight (despite some people fighting across the aisle from me about putting their seats back), customs in Montreal was a breeze (they’ve made it WAYYYY easier for people with connections), walked around YUL for a bit since we had some time to kill (don’t get me started on the nice area flights to Halifax go to from YUL versus the ghetto flights to NB and PEI leave from), and back home by midnight. And that’s a wrap.

Ange out.

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Our week on the Oasis of the Seas

Last winter we took our first Royal Caribbean cruise. Carnival is starting to run out of Caribbean itineraries that aren’t full of repeats for us and RC had some new ports. If you’ve read the blog or talked to me about it at all, you’ll know it was not my favourite. We had a lot of fun – thanks to great friends and fun ports. But we had a hard time getting most things sorted in advance for our group. I didn’t love the ship, I didn’t love the food, and I wasn’t in a rush to try another one.

And then Greg won a cruise with them… and having paid entirely for all of our travelling ourselves, of course we wanted something free! We thought booking a cruise we were paying for was hard with them. Booking a cruise we won was a lot harder… but you’ll have to skip ahead to the end for that rant.

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7 Day Western Caribbean on the Carnival Magic – Oh La La!

magicThanks 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, titansbut 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. Continue reading


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Western Caribbean on the Carnival Legend

1I tend to ramble, so this will be long… but for those who like that kind of thing, enjoy. I’ve copied this over from what I’ve sent around to family and friends, so I’ll try and remember to remove anything inappropriate 🙂

A bit of background – there were 11 of us in our group, all women, aged 29 to 60. We had 5 cabins – 3 inside, 1 oceanview, and 1 balcony. Only one of us had ever cruised before, and it had been over a decade since she had cruised. Several of us are well travelled outside of cruising.

Day 1: Saturday, January 17th… 8am …minus 30 Celsius… time to rock… 3 cars and 11 gals set off on our first cruise adventure (well, 1 of 11 had cruised once before over a decade ago)… Continue reading