They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack.
-James Earl Jones "Field of Dreams"
and don't go mistaking paradise for that home across the road
-Bob Dylan "Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"
Thursday, July 26, 2007
My family and I just returned from the June 22 sailing of Carnival’s M/S Fascination. This is a review of that trip. This was my (our) first cruise. My wife and I are in our 40s and we were traveling with our two sons, aged 16 and 13. We chose a cruise over other vacation options since our boys were not interested in a lot of sightseeing. We figured that they could be busy on the ship while we checked out the ports. We chose Carnival over other cruise lines because of the informality, the emphasis on youth activities, the price and the size of the cabins. We chose the Fascination because of the itinerary. We had investigated a European cruise and ruled it out due to cost. At least with the Fascination stopping in
We wanted two cabins, this we knew. We looked at various combinations and settled on a category 11 and a category 7, together on the Verandah deck. The Fascination (and all of its Fantasy-class sister ships) has 4 main passenger decks, below the public rooms (from the bottom:
Since we would be flying from
I did a lot of research, became fairly obsessed with the whole thing. I read all of the cruise tourbooks that I could find. I recommend, in particular, Fodor’s (which I bought) and Fielding’s (the 96 edition). I have little use for the Frommer’s book. I checked daily with rec.travel.cruises and America Online’s cruise boards. I would like to thank all of the people who contribute to these groups, in particular to the people who answered my questions.
One issue that I spent time on was the
Another issue was passports. Carnival said that you did not need them. However, since we were not planning the ship’s excursion in
When the tickets finally arrived, there was a surprise. The ship was to leave on Saturday 6/22 and we had 2 hotel rooms booked for the night of 6/21. I assumed that we would leave early on 6/21. When the tickets arrived we learned that we would leave at on the night of 6/20, change planes in
We got to the airport early so that we could get reasonable seats and we were successful. After they started calling rows for boarding they announced that there was an equipment change and that everyone would have to wait through an interminable line to get new boarding passes. Grumble. I rarely have good luck with Delta. It worked out though and the plane was only half full. No food, movie was ‘Just Like Dad’, just awful from what I could see. Tried to sleep, couldn’t, landed in
Got out at the Sands, got our rooms, they faced the street, not the ocean. The desk would fix this problem for $40 a room. Didn’t seem worth it. Disappointing though. The Sands was a nice place with beachfront, pool, swim up bar, fake waterfalls, etc. It was a little past its prime but it added to the charm. One curious item was that one of its restaurants was Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, which is a chain that has two locations in
There was a supermarket across the street, got some fruit and juice for breakfast. An English language
Got to our cabins, some bags already there. The cabins were as expected. The inside cabin (for the boys) was orange in decor. Our cabin was a combination of gray, dark wood/Formica and mirrors. While larger by 25 square feet, it was actually more cramped than the standard cabins. It had a queen-sized bed, a small couch, chair and coffee table, just a little more furniture than it could support. It also had a mini-bar which consisted of an array of glasses of different varieties, and a refrigerator. I was relieved to find the fridge empty, i.e. not full of stuff that they wanted to sell me. The cabinetry also included a TV and
The early seating changed the afternoon plans since we had planned on going out to see Old San Juan and to pick up some pops, beer and liquor for the cruise. There was now not enough time. Old
After dinner, the boys got back in their shorts and headed down to the orientation party in the Diamonds are Forever Disco. About 15 minutes later we strolled by to see the younger one sitting at a table of boys his own age, having a fine time. No sign of the older one. I went back to the cabins to find him there. He had stopped in, found only younger kids and bailed out. He was heading back to see if anything changed. We snooped again about 20 minutes later. The older boy was leaving the Disco in a group of teenagers of mixed gender. The younger one was busily telling the DJ what to play. Success! We would not worry about them having a good time for the rest of the trip. If you are a teenager, or have teenagers, be aware that the orientation party is the key to whole thing. Don’t miss it! It turned out that the Teen Disco being closed was probably a blessing. The facilities that they used were much larger, more accessible to nosy parents and without the video games that would have cost us a small fortune.
This may have been our favorite night on the ship. There was a creditable calypso/reggae band that played primarily in the daytime by the pool. But tonight they were doing a night-time poolside party. Being out in the night air on deck, dancing, drinking, etc. was a lot of fun. Unfortunately there was very little on-deck activity at night during the rest of the cruise. When it came time for the ship to leave
Before I go on I should explain that we live in
I didn’t have real high hopes for
This was definitely a trip to
At dinner we were led to a table for 8 by a window. Our table mates were a couple from
Food. The dinners in the dining room were excellent. There were a few things that were not perfect, e.g. the escargot were basic rubber with garlic butter, but most was excellent. The rest of the food on the cruise was not that memorable. The lunch in the Coconut Grove restaurant (or on deck) was the same every day. Burgers, some kind of pasta, mediocre cole slaw and potato salad, a salad bar, soft serve ice cream, iced tea, and that was about it. I would have enjoyed more variety. There was an open seating buffet in the dining rooms for lunch that I did not try, probably should have. Breakfast was the same drill, steam table scrambled eggs, undercooked hash browns, bacon, toast, pastries, juice, coffee. We did do breakfast in the dining room a couple of times and it was much better. The late night buffets were a joke. Interminably long lines for forgettable food. On a couple of occasions my wife sent me out from our cabin for something only to have fallen asleep by the time I got back.
Lines. One must resist the temptation to suggest that the next Fantasy class ship will be called the Regimentation. Most lines could be avoided however. There is absolutely no point in standing in line for dinner when you have an assigned table. Come 10 minutes later and there is no line. I already talked about the late night buffets, not worth the trouble in my estimation. Other lines are encountered in getting into the shows, and getting on and off the ship. The show lines can be dealt with. There are upper and lower entrances and also two instances of the shows. My older son got front row seats at the second seating show by entering (on the upper level) when the first seating was leaving. There always seem to be seats if you are not picky about location. Other than in
Shows. I did not have high hopes for the shows. I have never been to a show in
Seasickness. This ship moved a
Port/Starboard. If you have an outside cabin you might be wondering what the optimum side of the ship is in terms of where the ship faces when in port. In
Pressure to buy: There were a couple of areas where Carnival should lighten up a bit. The single worst thing was the constant pressure to buy drinks while on deck. It was damn near impossible to go for more than a minute or two in a deck chair without being accosted by someone trying to sell you an overpriced cocktail. If you are trying to nap or read a book or do anything else remotely relaxing this is downright irritating. Ironically, there are other times, like in the Cocoanut Grove restaurant for lunch, where you can’t find someone to sell you a drink. If you don’t want iced tea you have to go find someone to sell you a Coke or a beer. Another annoyance is the inevitable guy who DOES approach your lunch table and tries to do an advance sale on wine for your dinner. There was also some heavy-handedness in the sale of excursions. They nearly implied that you would not be allowed to leave the ship in
On to the remaining ports:
Summary of ports: Our favorite places were
Cabin note. We really liked the cabin arrangement. The only thing that we would change is to stay a couple of cabins farther back on the same side. We were directly below the edge of the exercise room which once or twice yielded some excess noise. V16 might just be perfect.
Disembarkation. This is by definition a bad thing. You don’t want it to end, you
have to waste time packing. You have to say goodbye to the people that you met. The first real hassle was a money hassle. I had used the ATM next to the casino with no problem midway through the cruise. When I went to it on Friday to extract my tip money it was not working. I had no money for tips. The purser would be glad to do a cash advance on my credit card for $13 on the first hundred and 10% after that. To get the $210 in tip money that the guidelines suggested, it was going to cost me $24. Fortunately, they would cash a check if you had an AmEx card. I located a check and did so. It cost me two trips through the purser’s line on a day that I would have rather spent by the pool, though. The rest went fairly smoothly, other than the part about getting the kids to pack, etc. You put your bags out in the hallway after or so on the night before you get there. Then you and your carry-ons must be out of your cabin by . We and our table-mates managed to grab one of the large circular couch thingies in the Palace Lounge and sat there and waited for our deck to be called. As we had hoped, after the folks doing ship-sponsored excursions in
Would I do this again? Absolutely. This was probably the only opportunity to cruise with the boys. The next time we go on a cruise it will be by ourselves and I think that I would try one of the more upscale lines. I AM hooked on having a cabin with a verandah. Was I satisfied with Carnival? For the most part, yes. This was pretty much what I signed up for. Without my kids, I might have wanted a quieter, more sophisticated, more genteel crowd, but with them it would have been a disaster.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Saturday, July 14, 2007
We were on the corner of 14th Street and Oceanfront. Across 14th Street is the elementary school, and facing it is a playground. This makes it a fairly busy area, but no obnoxiously so. A block west (conceptually north, towards LA) is 15th Street, where there is a public bath house, the Stuffed Surfer Cafe, the 15th Street Surf Shop and a small convenience store called Fry's Market. Another 6 blocks down, at the 21st St. alignment, is the Newport Pier. 5 of our previous 9 stays had been spent in the range of 28th Street to 35th Street. That area is much busier, but one advantage is easy access to what was formerly a Lucky Store, now an Albertson's, is about two blocks off the beach at 31st Street. Going east from our rental, about 16 blocks, is the Balboa Pier.
We were able to see all of the places in which we previously stayed, with one exception. 1614 W. Oceanfront, just up the street a couple of blocks, had been torn down, along with its neighbor to the east, and replaced by a glass and chrome monstrosity that looked like it might be the mothership for an alien invasion. The others, including the apartment from 1989, which was on the corner by the Surf Shop and the site of the Mark McGwire encounter, were intact, although the '89 apartment and the '87 Balboa shack were no both now longer term rentals and the 95-97 place at 3310 W. Oceanfront was no longer a rental at all.
Many things were the same, most of the businesses like Blackie's, Charlie's Chili, the donut shop, the seashell shop, etc. were still in place. The Burger King was now some off brand equivalent. Surfside Sports, where we used to pump our bicycle tires, had lost their lease (it now cost a dollar at on the other bike rentals).
This was the first time since the early apartments that we could cook and eat on the patio, which was very cool. I rode my bike a lot. The surf was disappointing, though. The area by our rental is prone to rip-tides, it turns out, and the only time I attempted boogie boarding (with John on Thursday) was interrupted by the lifeguard on a bullhorn telling us not to. The plan was to go up to the other side of the pier on Friday but I got a sunburn that more or less killed that idea.
John and Agnieszka came in around 11:30 on Wednesday and stayed the rest of the week. Pat and Suzanne came later in the day, as did Jeff. Wednesday was the 4th of July, which turns the boardwalk into a zoo, populated by drunken 20somethings on bicycles that they should not have been operating. Other than the company, this was my least favorite day at the beach.
It was a good stay, too short as usual, and the sunburn at the end was a bummer, but this was probably the nicest place we have rented (and a little cheaper than the last two). If I have it to do over again I will figure out how to take a smaller vehicle and do something about getting a bike, then just plan a couple of walks up the boardwalk for boogieboarding.