Thursday, March 30, 2017

Living the Dream- Freeport

Our First to the Worst
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
As we anxiously awaited arrival in Freeport, we quickly noticed this was not a port high on the Caribbean wish list of many cruisers. This port turned out to be much more industrious than we would have thought and the whole day was a big flop. We still made the best of it and had a good time for sure but I can now see why Freeport is often voted the "worst port in the Caribbean".

We woke up early on this day and decide to go out and enjoy a nice cool breeze before getting ready for our day in this new port. We grabbed our usual breakfast quickly so we could go to the Lanai and watch the approach into Freeport. It was very cold, windy and the temperature was about 60*. It was here that we realized that Freeport was not a "beach destination" at all but more of an industrial area. In fact, we were able to see the Grand Bahama Dock where most cruise ships go to have dry-dock work done. The Norwegian Jade was there getting refurbished and it was fascinating to see all of the cranes moving to get stuff on and off of her. The Grand Bahama Celebration cruise ship was also in port with us on this day. This was an old Carnival cruise ship that had been sold to a 3rd party and revamped into a 2-3 night ship. This is also the ship that is typically offered for the $199/ couple cruises offered on sites like Groupon.

Our 1st view of Freeport as we approached from the harbor. 

The Norwegian Jade in dry-dock. 

The entrance to the harbor... now THAT is gorgeous! 

The actual cruise ship terminal. 

The Grand Bahamas Celebration cruise ship out of Miami!

We heard the all clear announcement and made our way to the gangway to get off. This turned out to be the easiest we have ever gotten off a ship in all 10 cruises as we literally just walked right off (again, most cruises who have been here already know to just stay on the ship, that should have been our 1st clue).

We got off the ship and made our way to the end of the pier for our excursion: "All Inclusive Beach Getaway". TIP- This was an excursion offered through Carnival and provided us with transportation to Port Lucaya beach outside of Freeport, all you can drink sodas and cocktails, lunch buffet and use of facilities at the beach. It is priced at $79/ per person and is WAY over priced, see below!

Welcome to Freeport, Bahamas!

We were some of the last to load the bus to get to our beach and oddly enough we got prime seats at the top of the open air bus. As we were leaving the terminal area our bus driver hit a fellow Bahamian man with what turned out to be the side mirror on the bus. Chris and I could not see anything but we felt and heard a thud. That made for a pretty interesting and scary ride through the streets of Freeport for the next 30 minutes.

We're on the bus and ready to go!

As we got to the beach it was very organized as this was the beach that not only housed the "all inclusive" option but other excursions such as snorkeling, SCUBA and more. The hostess explained the facilities to us and how the "all inclusive" would work and within minutes we were situated with a gorgeous view of the Bahamian waters.

The view of the beach area from the bus! 

I've got my chair and it is time to soak up some... sun? Well, soak up the view at least! 

Let's get this party started... with KOOL-AID?!

The beach area and "clubhouse". 

More beach and lounge area. 

This beach did offer an obstacle course FREE of charge with entry.
Unfortuneatly, it was so cold we did not venture out there! 

The temperature was still hovering around 60* and the water was freezing cold so we opted to stay in our beach chairs, enjoy some drinks and soak up the view. The chairs were not "chaise loungers" which quickly became uncomfortable. Our waitress, Keisha, was exceptional and kept the drinks coming but unfortunately they tasted like kool-aid and were VERY watered down. These drinks left us feeling bloated and tired instead of happy and go-lucky. And at $79/ per person we should have walked away feeling like a million bucks! 

I eventually made it into the frigid waters but not for long as the sun was not out and it was just too cold. Looking back I wish I would have just taken the plunge and enjoyed the water but we did have a great time just relaxing and enjoying the view for a few hours.

Greetings from Port Lucaya Beach! 

The water was "refreshing" (COLD)! 

Beach selfie #1!

I love you Chris Davis! 

Happy Anniversary Chris! I love you! 

The lunch buffet was the best part of this excursion and it was still just sub-par. TIP-It offered a very large variety of items including locally caught fried fish and conch fritters. They also offered salad, local side dishes like red beans and rice as well as cheese quesadillas for the kids. They opened this buffet around 11AM and oddly enough there was not a fight to get to it like we have seen in the past. For the most part these cruise ship passengers were very polite and civilized which made the whole experience better for everyone.

After many shore excursion meals in the Caribbean, this one was not "too" bad! 

We enjoyed our lunch and then laid out some more before getting ready to go back to the port. I made a pit stop at the "straw market" section of the Port Lucaya beach area and it was nice but very over-priced compared to the actual straw market in Nassau. TIP- Do not waste your money here... shop at the Straw Market in Nassau just outside of Senor Frogs.  Our bus ride back to the terminal was much less eventful but we did get to see some of the scenery of Freeport from the recent September 2016 Hurricane Matthew. There were parts of the island we passed that were still completely torn to shreds. Roofs and walls had not been replaced and the landscaping was just terrible. It was a great reminder of how good I have it and what a blessing it is to tour a place like this and not live in it. The entire cold and windy drive back to the pier I was saying prayers of Thanksgiving and mercy for these Bahamian community.

Even the beach area was still torn up and dismayed becasue of Hurricane Matthew.
In fact, it was closed for nearly 8 weeks during the aftermath. 

One of hundreds of "homes" we saw with roof and structural damage from the storm.
God have mercy on this community! 

The video is not the best but it gives you an idea.

TIP- The Freeport terminal and harbor itself is not very large or well kept but there are a few shops and the locals will try to push you to buy things, we just ignored them. We got back on the ship around 2:30PM and quickly went and dropped off our stuff before settling in at the Serenity Area in the only HOT hot tub on the ship. We met several other cruise passengers and oddly enough they were teachers and from Oklahoma so we had some great conversations to pass the time.

Freeport- Our first and THE worst! 

This pretty much sums up not just my "cruising life" but my life.
When I am on a ship, I truly feel AT HOME! 

We sat in the hot tubs for nearly 3 hours before getting out and going back to the room. We showered and once again sat down to review our plans for the evening and fell asleep to the sounds of the ocean. Our room steward, Arnold, woke us up by accidentally knocking on the door but I am glad he did as we were out cold and could have slept until the following morning. Tip- If you want an uninterrupted sleep or nap, be sure to put out your SNOOZING sign as to not be disturbed.

We recovered from our late afternoon nap and got ready for dinner. We made a pit stop out on the Lido deck to watch the sunset over the Caribbean. This was a cruise for the record books as far as sunsets go. Each and every one was beautiful and took our breath away.

Chris doing his "I'm ready" dance in his Caribbean attire!

Another GORGEOUS sunset over the ATLANTIC waters heading towards Nassau! 

Oddly enough, we had to travel north just to go south towards Nassau. 

Once again we ate in the Main Dining Room with our excellent server, Selvin. This particular menu is the one we wanted to miss but it didn't work out that way. However, we had a feast on the appetizers as they were the hit of the menu. In fact, Chris ended up eating 5 appetizers. That is one for the record books. TIP- Keep in mind that in the MDR you can order as many items as you would like. We often order multiple appetizers and even entrees sometimes. You are on vacation so the calories don't count, right? (Ha... as I sit here typing this post sipping on my protein shake trying to get rid of the 10 pounds I must have gained).

The rest of the evening was jam packed with great entertainment brought to us by our cruise director, The Flying Scotsman. We absolutely LOVED the Michael Jackson (MJ) showdown in the atrium with the cruise director. Then we went to the late show of "80's Pop Tribute" which was entertaining to say the least. I think we sang nearly every word. We were tired so called it a night early at 11:15PM.

Our GOLD pins from this Cruise! 

Trying to stay awake tonight after dinner! 

MJ Showdown was AWESOME! 

My favorite after dinner drink... A Kiss on the Lips! 

Despite the lack-luster port of Freeport and the disappointing over-priced shore excursion we still had a great time on this day. Our experience in Freeport may not have been optimal but our time on board was once again excellent.

Thanks for following along! Be sure to check back for tomorrow's post! 

Living the Dream- Key West

Sharks and Steaks
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

We LOVE Key West! 

This day entailed one of the most exhilarating and exciting things Chris and I have ever experienced... Shark feeding! We got to feed the sharks, see other ocean wildlife, explore Key West and our night ended with an exceptional meal at sea celebrating our 11th anniversary in the Carnival Chef's Art Steakhouse!

After a good night's sleep we woke up at 7:45AM ships time. This is unheard of for us as we are almost always up hours before this on land and even at sea. What can I say, we are just morning people!  We pondered going back to sleep but then Chris jumped up and said "Is our 11AM tour based on central or eastern time?" We laughed and then got up real quick to get the day started as we knew that since this tour was booked outside of Carnival it was going to EASTERN time and we had to be at the meeting spot no later than 10:30AM. I am glad Chris thought of this as we would have surely missed our tour. TIP- Be sure to plan for this is you are using OUTSIDE booking agents for your shore excursion. The ship stays in the time zone of the departure port (usually) so plan accordingly!

We quickly got ready and grabbed our stuff for the rest of the day. We ran up to the Lido for our usually Blue Iguana breakfast before getting off the ship at 9:25AM (Ship/ central time). Luckily the meeting location was just steps away from the ship. We met our tour guide and got everything squared away and then went to explore Mallory Square while we waited for the rest of the passengers to arrive then we boarded the specially built Tiger Cat for our shark feeding adventure.

A view of Mallory Square from the ship. 

The western part of the island looking towards Duval street. 

Greetings from Key West, FL!

The Key West Extreme Adventures booth near Mallory Square! 

The Carnival Dream docked in Key West March 14, 2017!

The boat was catamaran-like with long extensions for the captain and crew to actually feed the sharks. It was VERY windy this day and the waters in the marina of the pier were ROUGH. We sat at the front of the boat for good viewing but we got wet... VERY WET! In fact I moved the 2nd row about 15 minutes into the trip and got drenched from head to toe (poor camera included) on some of the waves. It was only 65* at the time of sailing so we were a little "chilly".

We are ready to feed some sharks!
#livingthedream #cruiselikeadavis #sharkfeeding

We arrived at our shark feeding location about 3-4 miles from the ship and saw some local fishing groups trying to catch the sharks but these sharks were smart. They knew where the REAL food was! The captain and his uncle loaded up the line with large bait fish and then threw it out in the water attached to the pole. Within minutes we had 5-7 large nurse and lemon sharks feeding off the bait. It was absolutely incredible. This went on for nearly 30 minutes and 5-6 fish before we made our way back to the marina area.

This one is the money shot... Just incredible!

This was an AMAZING excursion! These sharks were HUNGRY!

The captain said they have trained the sharks to know when and where to come! 

Nom Nom NOM

Shark feeding video #4

Shark Feeding Video #5


Shark Video #6

After feeding the sharks we went to the northwest side of the island and looked for other ocean wildlife. We found a few dolphins, one of whom had a broken dorsal fin, as well as a giant sea turtle.

The shark feeding is over... time to find some dolphins! 

The captain of our tour said this dolphin has had the messed up dorsal fin for a long time. 

It still was a beautiful sight to watch! 

If you look closely you can see the sea turtle's head! 

Our home away from home, the Carnival Dream, docked in Key West. 

Time to sail back to the marina! 

TIP- This tour was operated by Key West Extreme Adventures. It is a locally and family operated business right out of Key West. The tour was $79/per person and offered shark feeding, ocean wildlife viewing and free snacks and non-alcholic drinks. The tour last 2 hours but they usually only run 1-2 tours a day so book ahead of time. This was WELL WORTH the ticket price and would and will go back again the next time we visit Key West.

After feeding the sharks and viewing the wildlife we made our way back to the cruise terminal with great memories and a loaded camera card! Afterwards we made our way down to Duval street and explored this wild and historically fascinating part of Key West.

We stopped at the original Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville and ate lunch before exploring more of this unique city. We also stopped at a few other local hot spots, enjoyed a few drinks and shopped for lovely souvenirs before making our way back towards the ship.

The "blender" as they called it... Wow, so good! 

Wasting away again in Margaritaville! 

These Caribbean nachos were MUCH BETTER than those we had in Costa Maya on the Valor

The one and only... Original Margaritaville!

The Flying Monkey- Duval St
TIP- Tf you like frozen drinks... it is a MUST stop! 

Once we got back to Mallory Square we got a Chocolate Dipped Key Lime pie to celebrate "Pi Day" (3.14- think MATH) since all of Chris's math teacher friends kept texting him about how they were celebrating! Trust me... our celebration was better than yours!

Happy PI day! 

We crawled back to the ship and had a 20 minute wait before getting back on around 2:30PM ship time. We had already eaten lunch at Margaritaville so we dropped our stuff and headed towards the WaterWorks area. Each Carnival ship has some type of water slide so it is always a goal of ours to go down each one at least once. It was cold, rainy and chilly so we did just that... We went down each slide JUST ONCE! TIP- This WaterWorks area was very similar to the Carnival Magic but was not as detailed. It had 2 large water slides, the Twister and the Drainpipe, as well as 2 Lane Racers. It did not have as many toddler and children toys or splash-pad like things but it was still a great place for kids to hang out.

Time for the TWISTER!
It was AWESOME... even adults should try it out at least once!

The Twister water-slide... as ridden by Kellie!
I absolutely LOVE being able to "be a kid again" on a cruise ship! 

The Drainpipe water-slide.
This one was fun too! 

We were freezing with the wind and the cold temperatures so we opted to go to the Serenity area to get warm in a hot tub. We spent the remainder of the afternoon here before we set sail. The sun came out and we were feeling a burn coming on so we got out and called our kids since we were still in the United States. They, of course, were having a BLAST with Gigi and Poppy and would barely talk to us because they were at the museum. This was exactly what I wanted to hear. Knowing they were having a great time and not thinking about us was perfect. Thank you Gigi Shirley and Poppy (my parents) and GiGi Jackie and Grandpa (Chris's parents who took the later shift). 

After our call we laid down on the bed to review the FunTimes and before you know it, we woke up and we missed sail away completely (I told you we were two VERY TIRED teachers). We got ready for our celebratory evening and made our way to The Chef's Art Steakhouse. TIP- The Chef's Art Steakhouse is an "additional fee" dining option aboard most Carnival ships. It is $35/ per person and allows you to have 1 appetizer, 1 salad, 1 entree and 1 dessert. The menu is full of high class options and prime cut meat. This ship allowed you to substitute the salad for a 2nd appetizer and both Chris and I did this. If you option to eat at the Steakhouse on the 1st night they will offer you a bottle of FREE house wine OR 50% off all of their other wines and we now know Carnival offers a HUGE selection of fine wines in the Steakhouse including our favorite, Caymus. It is a great deal if you are willing to dine in there on the 1st evening.

This was an incredible evening of some of the tastiest food we have had at sea. We have had the steakhouse on Royal Caribbean, Chops, and fell in love with it so we were constantly trying to do a side by side comparison. This was difficult as we had not eaten at Chops since the Serenade in 2015 but we still feel each are a great way to spend an evening at sea. The service was outstanding and the food was phenomenal. It was a great way to celebrate each other and 11 years together. They even treated us to a special dessert prepared by the chef as well as champagne. Again, Carnival's level of service has never ceased to amaze me but they went above and beyond on this trip!

Dragana, our waitress, was excellent and we enjoyed her so much! 
Easily the absolute BEST STEAK I have ever eaten!

Happy 11th Anniversary Chris Davis! I love you so much and I am so grateful for you and our marriage! Cheers to 11+ more years! 

After dinner we explored the aft of the ship and listened to the sounds of the waves before going back to the room to change into comfortable clothes as this is our, well really Chris's, style. We were able to catch the late night variety and illusionist act of Bobby Borgia and he was fantastic. We enjoyed him very much and if he were in Las Vegas we would actually pay to see the show again!

We ended the night back in the comedy lounge to hear Tommy Drake perform his final show for our voyage. Once again, this was an "adults only" show and he did a fantastic job of being funny without cursing every other word. We made our way back to the room shortly after midnight. The next morning we had an early shore excursion so we knew we had better rest up.

This remarkable day was spent feeding sharks and feeding ourselves but we wouldn't have had it any other way! We visit a new port of Freeport, Bahamas the next day and were excited to see what it has to offer!

Thanks for following along! Be sure to check back for tomorrow's post!