Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hotel Review: Suburban Extended Stay of Charlotte

When I stayed at the Suburban Extended Stay Hotel of Charlotte, I chose it for the following reasons--it was the least expensive hotel, within ten miles of Lowe's Motor Speedway, that still had rooms available over Memorial Day Weekend. We were going to Charlotte for the NASCAR race and only staying one night, which I am more than thankful for now, as this hotel was overpriced and awful.

When we checked in, the front desk staff was friendly and the lobby and bathroom were clean. The outside of the hotel also looked very nice. We had to check in early (11:15 AM) and get over to the track, so they were nice enough to give us our keys even though our room wasn't ready. We were okay with that, but now I wish we had gotten a look at the room before leaving for the day!

By the time we got back to the hotel that night, we were tired and sweaty from a long day at the racetrack. It was warm out, but the room was so freezing we had to turn the heat on. It took us forever to figure out that for some reason, the bathroom light was wired to a switch by the door to the hallway, not to the switch in the bathroom itself, which was frustrating. Also, we were given a handicapped room. In my experience, if you are not handicapped, hotels will clarify that it is okay that they are giving you a handicapped room, but this was not the case at this hotel. We were too tired to deal with it, so we went right to bed, and the bed itself was awful. The floor would have been more comfortable, there were only two flat pillows in the entire room, and the "comforter" felt disgusting and grimy.

Memorial Day weekend or not, kitchenette or not, there is no way this hotel is worth $108/night. If I had booked a stay of more than one night or spent more than nine hours in the room, I would have complained.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hot Date #2: In Which We Go to the Dogs

Any dog owner should know how important it is that their significant other at least be okay with their dog—and what if you and the person you’re dating both have dogs? Isn’t it equally important to know that your dogs will get along with each other?

Of course, when Steve and I first started dating, the former was our only real issue. Steve had self-professed himself as apathetic to dogs and certainly never thought he would own one, let alone love one. Me, on the other hand? I’ve always been a dog lover and I brought my adopted Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever mix into the relationship. Steve only met her once before we moved in together; thankfully, Miss Wendy is a total lovebug and it didn’t take long for her to turn Steve into a dog person. So much so that he was the one who gave the go-ahead for us to adopt another pup in need, Rigby, earlier this year—and now we are two humans with two dogs. A nice round foursome!

That said, Steve and I agree that a doggie date is a great idea, especially for those who are still getting acquainted, and we set out to create a doggie date that would be fun for us as people and Wendy and Rigby as dogs. There are the usual ideas—a morning or afternoon at the doggie park; a stroll in one’s neighborhood or local public park; a few hours at a dog-friendly beach should there be one at a nearby lake or ocean shore.
Now, we are lucky enough to live in an extremely dog-friendly city, but as long as a person does his or her research, I’m sure other places have dog-friendly stores and restaurants just as Greenville does. You can either call or check out websites such as www.bringfido.com to find them—or simply explore your town or city and look for the universal signs of dog friendliness. The usual ones would be the obvious signs, bowls of water outside the door, etc.

Our doggie date began when we piled our pups in the car and headed downtown for “Yappy Hour”. This event is held several times a year by a locally-owned small pet product shop called the Barkery Bistro. They offer free snacks and drinks for both their doggie and human patrons, and this time they were highlighting a local rescue organization called Miss Alli’s.

We spent about an hour at the Bistro. Wendy and Rigby mingled with the other dogs and received free treats while Steve and I shared a beer and did a bit of shopping for our very spoiled pets. The representatives from Miss Alli’s Rescue gave a little presentation about the wonderful work they do and introduced us to some of their available dogs—and it was at this point that noticed a familiar glint in Steve’s eye. I immediately grabbed him by the hand and dragged him, Wendy, and Rigby out of the shop. “Not a dog person”, my foot!

Of course, at this point it was getting a bit late in the evening and time for dinner! Most of the restaurants on Main Street in Greenville have sidewalk seating, and as far as I know all of said sidewalk seating is dog friendly. We decided to check out a new restaurant, Kozani, which serves a variety of Greek and Italian dishes and has half-priced bottles of wine on certain weekdays—including this particular day! The waitress brought a bowl of ice water out for Wendy and Rigby, who we leashed to a nearby post and who behaved surprisingly well while we ate our skewers and gyros and enjoyed our $12 bottle of restaurant wine. (They really weren’t kidding about half price!) We had only one little snafu when another local strolled by with his dog and Wendy and Rigby nearly tore themselves away from their leashes trying to say hello. That was a bit nerve-wracking and soon after we polished off the wine, paid our check and headed home with our happy, tired dogs.

As romantic or sexy dates go, this one would probably rate only about a 2 out of 10. Our dogs are fairly well-behaved but I think just about any dog would be a bit over-excited to be in a new place, around other dogs, and if you want a more relaxing one-on-one type evening this probably isn’t what you’re looking for.

That said, as a “we’re still getting to know each other” or “we want to go out but our poor dogs have been stuck in the crate all day” evenings go, Steve and I give this one a solid 8 out of 10. It’s not relaxing, no—but it’s a great feeling to know that your best doggie friend(s) are having a good time, and again, it’s always good to make sure that if you are a dog lover, the person you’re dating is as well. Or on the other hand, if you both have dogs, it’s always a good idea to introduce them and make sure they get along as well as the two of you do!

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Original Pub Tour of Charleston

At the end of last year, Steve and I took a weekend trip to Charleston for my birthday. This was my second time there and I absolutely love this city, but we wanted something different than one of the usual walking or carriage tours. After several unsuccessful Google searches, I finally came across the website for the Lesesne Tour Company and their Original Pub Tour of Charleston. One quick phone call and we were in...because the Lesesnes run this tour year-round and it being off season, we were able to book just a day or two in advance. (Note that I would not suggest waiting until so late if you are traveling in the spring/summer/early fall)

Awesome courtyard bar at The Blind Tiger
We chose the 7 PM Saturday evening tour and met with our guide at Tommy Condon's Irish Pub. We had Becca, one of the founders/owners of the tour company and she was immediately friendly and welcoming. A few minutes later the other couple that had booked this tour joined us. At first I thought that it wouldn't be as fun with such a small group, but in hindsight I'm glad that we went during the off season and had such an intimate experience. After enjoying a drink and some appetizers between the five of us, we moved to our next stop, The Blind Tiger, with Becca giving us a few history lessons on the way. It was a bit chilly out (being December) but we couldn't pass up the idea of sitting outside in the amazing courtyard at the pub, as we enjoyed another drink and some good conversation.

Our third stop was The Griffon, another great Charleston pub that just oozes atmosphere. We enjoyed some more appetizers--
because by the way, appetizers are included in the $30 per person price tag! This is mainly because by South Carolina state law, the tour guides can't buy drinks for their patrons. Sad but true.
Our bill (the one that is placed vertically near the center of this picture) on the wall of The Griffon
While at The Griffon, Becca also brought us some Sharpies and insisted that we leave our signed dollar bills on the wall. Hey, what better way to leave your mark than to deface US currency and paper a pub with it? Kidding, it's a really cool tradition and of course we participated!

Our final stop (with more history, local myths, and jokes told along the way) was Big John's, a dive bar opened in 1954 by former Giants linebacker "Big John" Canady. It was here that we enjoyed our final drinks as a group and said goodbye to our fellow tourists, as well as Becca and her husband Daniel, who also finished the night at this bar. But don't worry--they didn't leave without chatting with us for a bit and giving us some suggestions of nearby bars to check out. It was only about 9:30 PM, after all!

After stops at The Brick, Squeeze, and Tommy Condon's (again), we ended the night with some live music at Wild Wing Cafe. Just FYI, our pub tour led to several silly pictures of us. Like this one.
I have perused some of the reviews on Trip Advisor and it appears that the Lesesne Tour Company is now popular enough that they need guides other than Becca and Daniel, and I am so happy for them! However, I definitely suggest that if possible, you request one of these people...simply because they are the ones I can vouch for being amazing tour guides. Their love for their home city and lust for life truly shines on this tour, and we couldn't have asked for a better time.

Also, it appears that groups tend to be much bigger (a) on weekend tours, (b) on the 7 PM vs. 4 PM tour, and (c) during the busy travel/tourist season. So if you tend to visit Charleston often, I think it's probably best to hit this tour up during the off season as we did.

Ahh yes, one more thing--the night we participated on this tour was the same night as the big Santa Claus pub crawl in Charleston, but Becca did an amazing job of weaving us around the dozens of guys dressed as Santa Claus and girls dressed in nothing much at all, and she really deserves credit for that. The Griffon was probably the only truly crowded bar that we had to deal with and the entire tour--even the having to avoid the Santa Clauses--was handled in a professional manner and still, obviously, a total blast. I would not hesitate to do this tour (or their new Martini Tour!) every time I return to Charleston.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vegas is for...Lovers???

Back in April 2009, my boyfriend (now fiance) Steve and I planned a trip to Las Vegas with my close friend Andy and his girlfriend Becky. The trip was basically my chance to meet Becky and Andy's chance to meet Steve; unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond their control, Andy and Becky had to postpone their trip.

Which meant that Steve and I went to Vegas...all by ourselves. And I feel that I have to write about this particular Vegas trip before I can write about my most recent one, because it was the third of my four very different Vegas experiences and did in a way quell my desire to go back any sooner than I did.

Not that it was a bad trip--it wasn't. And not that I didn't have a good time with Steve--in fact, I had an amazing time with him. Really, this trip not being one of the better Vegas experiences I've had was due to circumstances out of our control.

Enjoying a meal outside at La Salsa on the one nice day (weather wise) of our trip
One: It was cold. I mean, during the hottest part of the day one day it got to about 75...but other than that we faced temperatures as low as 50 degrees at night and an average of maybe 65 during the day. I was highly disappointed as I'd expected it to be a bit warmer than that, it being April and all.

Two: I got sick. I am unlucky enough to have some sort of aversion to shellfish. Not an allergy, really, because sometimes it doesn't bother me at all. I think that it depends on numerous things--the type of shellfish I eat, how stressed out I am when I eat said shellfish, whether there is alcohol involved, etc. So I guess it was sort of my own stupidity that led me to eat a giant meal of sushi and shellfish at the Grand Wok & Sushi Bar at the MGM Grand. The restaurant itself was exemplary so I hate that it became part of what made me feel ill later that night :/

Three: We forced ourselves to go out to a club--Tryst, to be exact--when I was already feeling ill. And we got in line too late (10:30, I think) and waited too long to get in (over an hour).

Four: We stayed at the Paris. I just wasn't at all impressed with this hotel, and that disappointed me because it does have a great location. But for the price you pay? Not worth it. I'll stay at the Mirage from now on.

Five: We got sucked in (or rather, as much as I love him, Steve got sucked in) to a timeshare presentation at Planet Hollywood. Shoot me in the foot. Please. Because that would have been less painful than this presentation/sales pitch was.

Six: Finally, we got screwed over by our cabbie on the way from the airport to the hotel, and then she actually tried to argue with me when I refused to give her a tip! As I told her, if she had taken the short way to the Paris (which would have resulted in a $15 max fare vs. a $25 fare), she would have gotten a tip. Plain and simple.

Now, as I said--things went wrong on this trip, but that doesn't mean that we didn't have fun :) And I wanted to get our mistakes/issues out of the way first before I dove into the great things that happened on this trip, those being:

Bananas Foster Crepe for dessert at Mon Ami Gabi
A) The shopping. I had never really been shopping in Vegas before, but for some reason, Steve and I felt little desire to gamble on this trip. In fact, I think he wanted to shop more than I did! We experienced The Grand Canal Shops at the Venetian, The Forum Shops at Caesar's, and the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. Of those, our favorites were definitely the Miracle Mile Shops, mainly because they offered the highest number of stores that were actually in our price range.

B) A romantic and amazing meal at Mon Ami Gabi. The only disappointment about this meal was having to eat inside because it was so chilly and windy outside.

C) Cirque du Soleil: LOVE at The Mirage. Cirque shows are amazing anyway, but we are huge Beatles fans and this show was simply breathtaking thanks to the practically perfect combination of music, acrobatics, and props.

Enjoying the North End of the Strip ;)
D) Seeing the North End of the Strip. Yes, it's a bit seedy. No, the hotels and casinos are nowhere near as amazing as the likes of Caesar's, Bellagio, etc. But we had a blast exploring the slightly-more-old-school areas of the Strip :)

E) Playing the marriage joke on our friends. That's right, while in Vegas we signed into Facebook. I changed my last name, we changed our relationship status so that it showed we were married to each other, and we both had our status updates say "Out Celebrating!" or something of the sort.

Steve showing off our blackjack winnings
F) We did gamble a little bit and won about $100 at Blackjack. What else is there to say about that?

G) Finally, we made up our own game. We call it "Hookermon" and the tag line is "Gotta catch 'em all, hooker cards!" For those of you who have been to Vegas...surely you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't been...well, whenever you make your way to Sin City, just keep an ear out for fingers flicking a certain type of business cards and you'll catch on ;)

So, can Vegas be a blast with a significant other (and no one else)? Well, it was for us, even when things didn't go quite as planned. So yes, Vegas can be for lovers!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer in Chamonix

Showing off the Aiguille de Midi sign--we did go to the top, after all!

Chamonix, France is a beautiful little ski town in the French Alps. And in a [slightly] unfortunate coincidence, this ski bunny found herself there in the middle of the summer! Of course, we had only one night there on our Contiki tour--but it was one hell of a night ;)

When we arrived in Chamonix we had just enough time to bring our bags up to our rooms before the Aiguille de Midi cable car excursion...which was unfortunately a waste of money because (a) it was so cloudy/foggy at the top of the mountain that we couldn't see more than a few feet in front of our faces, and (b) I, who have been to the tops of mountains in the Rockies, got extremely lightheaded. We were only up there for ten minutes or so before most of us decided to go back down.

Gorgeous view from our hotel room in Chamonix
The hotel in Chamonix was the second nicest hotel we stayed in our entire trip. My sister and I hit the Contiki hotel room jackpot--a room with not only a balcony, but a view of the glacier as well!

It was fairly large for a European hotel room, and we even had a third bed in our room, which was interesting (if not useful). There was also a heated towel rack in the bathroom--can't complain about that! The included dinner that night was probably the best included dinner of the trip, and after dinner (and a couple drinks at the hotel bar), our tour group headed to a bar down the street, where we played drinking games and generally just had fun, until finally ending up in the bar across the street from the first bar. There was a good live band playing and we drank the rest of the night away.

The town of Chamonix was a beautiful place. I can only imagine how fun it is in the height of ski season, and I certainly wouldn't mind going back!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hotel Review: Washington Plaza

I actually stayed at the Washington Plaza some years ago, for a Valentine's Day getaway. From the moment we checked in, our stay was a pleasant one. The room was large--much larger than one would expect for a downtown hotel--and spotlessly clean as well. The staff was friendly, the food in the hotel restaurant was amazing, and the Vodka Bar was perfect for a few Valentine's drinks--not too crowded, great bartender, great drinks, and they even gave us a complimentary fruit and chocolate plate! The only thing I was a little frustrated with was the high price of parking, because they had upped it right before our stay and didn't have the correct information on their website at the time. Of course, parking at a hotel in any city is going to be pricey, unfortunately.

Although it is a pretty long walk to the Mall from the Washington Plaza, there is a subway station right near the hotel, so even if you aren't up for the walk, it's still a great location! And if you're looking for great restaurants and nightlife as well as the usual museums and monuments, this hotel has great proximity to DuPont Circle as well. Overall, the Washington Plaza is a great value for the price and a nice alternative for those who prefer to avoid chain hotels.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hotel Review: Sheraton Columbia

I stayed in this hotel for a wedding a few years ago. We got the wedding group rate, but it was no bargain at $159/night--I feel bad for anyone who pays the full price. On top of that, I was left wondering if we were shoved off in the far end of the hotel because we paid less than everyone else. The ballroom was beautiful and the wedding reception was lovely, but our room was in an area of the hotel that was being renovated, so the area of the hotel that we stayed in was dirty and cold. Our friends who had the room next to us had problems with their sink water; thankfully we did not and after our friends decided to try some begging and pleading in the middle of the night on our last night, the front desk staff grudgingly agreed to move them and refund them one night's stay.

Although I would assume the renovations are long finished, the fact that the hotel stuck us in such an area doesn't say much for their customer service--especially when they obviously had rooms in the main tower where they could move complaining guests (but only after numerous complaints, mind you). Beyond the issues with the room, the bartenders in the hotel bar were extremely rude. When it comes down to it, I would not suggest this hotel to anyone for the simple reason that it is ridiculously overpriced for the level of service and general quality of stay that you get.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Best of the Best: NOLA Edition

This is the "best of the best" blog that I've been putting off on purpose. Because I honestly don' t know as if I could ever describe my New Orleans experience and actually do it justice with my description. Obviously it's a "best of the best" for good reason, but I have to be honest and admit that the main event that put it over the top will never happen again. At least, not exactly as it did when I was there--which was February 4-8, 2010.

Those dates don't ring a bell? Well, let me begin by saying that we chose February not only for Mardi Gras season, but because we took the trip for my sister Christy's 25th birthday. It ended up being the two of us, my [then-boyfriend, now-] fiance Steve, and our good friend Jonathan. Hotel prices were a bit too much to go over the actual Mardi Gras holiday, but by going the weekend before Mardi Gras weekend it was do-able. We booked the trip nearly six months in advance, and about two weeks prior to going found out that we would be there over Superbowl Sunday. And of course, the Saints would be playing.

Still, we didn't "get" it. We headed down to NOLA on a Thursday morning and spent the weekend eating, drinking, and sightseeing. I will try to be a bit more terse with the following reviews, because as you can probably guess, what I want to reflect on the most is how that one single event--the Superbowl--put our already amazing trip completely over the top.

The Hotel

View of the infamous Mississippi River "crescent" from our hotel room
We stayed at the New Orleans Marriott on Canal. I really have no complaints. It was right on the edge of the French Quarter--a quick walk to all the best stuff. A little farther from the Garden District, but that wouldn't have sucked so bad if the streetcar was keeping regular time (which was the "fault" of the numerous Mardi Gras parades). The room was actually a decent size, despite it being a downtown hotel and the fact that there were four of us sharing it. Although I don't understand why hotel bathrooms no longer having fans! The bathroom in our hotel in Charleston in December '09 (also a Marriott) didn't have one, and this hotel didn't either. Annoying, especially when, as previously mentioned, four people are sharing the room and therefore the bathroom.


We ate at Napoleon House on our first night. I loved the hot muffaletta and Christy and my friend Jonathan raved about the jambalaya and gumbo. Prices were decent and we all enjoyed the house drink, Pimm's cups. On Friday we had a big lunch at Landry's on Lake Pontchartrain. It's a chain, but mine and Christy's third cousin Shirley treated us all and the food was great. We ate dinner really late that night, at Coop's Place on Decatur. It was...okay. At best. The fried chicken was really good but the service SUCKED (we waited about an hour for a bunch of fried food--and the restaurant was small, so even though it was full there weren't many people there). I will admit that it probably didn't help that we were exhausted and hungover.

The menu(s) at the Corner Muse
Saturday, Steve, Jonathan and I wandered into a coffee shop on Magazine called The Corner Muse. My latte was good (and only $3 for a large--take that, Starbucks!) and I also had a Snowball, despite the cold. I had read about them in my guide and wanted one, but wasn't sure there was a place selling them anywhere near the areas we were visiting, so getting to try one was a pleasant surprise. It was flavored shaved ice, so not much to say other than that I enjoyed it :o) That helped tide me over until a late lunch at Mother's. I got their classic Ralph po' boy. It was good...but nothing amazing. I was slightly disappointed simply because I'd heard so many good things about the place.

Dinner that night was late and eaten at Angeli on Decatur. This was a gem suggested to us by a random bartender. We just had sandwiches but everything was great and reasonably priced, so no complaints!

Unfortunately, as I previously mentioned, many restaurants kept short hours or were outright closed on Sunday due to the Superbowl. While it was really neat to see the amazing spirit the city has for its football team, this was kind of frustrating.

Trying to eat a beignet without getting powdered sugar all over myself.
We were able to get into Cafe du Monde pretty quickly that morning. Yes, the beignets were amazing! Too bad the chicory coffee left something to be desired...neither Steve or I cared much for it, and we're coffee nuts. (or should I say beans? haha) We got stuck eating dinner at a place called Magnolia on Decatur. Prices were okay (what you would expect in a city, anyway) and my burger was AMAZING. Steve liked his jambalaya but Jonathan said his gumbo was crap and even though Christy ordered a Reuben sandwich, she got a ham and cheese sandwich. She just ate it and then made them change the bill. At least my drink was nice and strong...haha.


I went into a couple of clothing stores on Magazine on Saturday, but they were very overpriced and beyond that, nothing really caught my eye. Steve did some record and antique shopping and got some good buys, though, which was nice. I also bought some beads (gasp!)...but only because I wanted special Pirate ones, and only a few different strands. I went a bit nuts on the masks, though...oops ::sheepish grin::  The only other thing I bought was a painting at Jackson Square. This is a must-see if you enjoy art...there are some amazing pieces and most of it is very reasonably priced!


Now can you see how we ended up with so many beads
We saw 4 parades; 5 if you count Krewe of Barkus (the dog parade). They were neat. The ones at night were far better about throwing beads than the ones during the day, and I'm not even kidding you, we have a bag of beads at home that probably weighs 10 pounds. And that's after we picked out all the good ones that have the Krewe symbols on them!

People in New Orleans decorate for Mardi Gras like we decorate for Christmas; some of the houses had very simple decorations but there were many who obviously went all-out and trust me, I have plenty of pictures of those who did! My only question is...why doesn't every city go all-out for this holiday the way they do??? Come on...household decorations, costumes and crazy clothes, parades, drinking=fun fun fun!


We really didn't sightsee until Friday, as it was dark and raining by the time we arrived and checked into the hotel Thursday night. Cousin Shirley (I say "cousin" lightly, because she's actually our third cousin and is, well, a bit older than us--we'll just say she has lived in New Orleans for over forty years and leave it at that) picked us up and took us to the New Orleans Museum of Art. They were showing a Disney exhibit on the evolution of characters and stories from some of their most popular animated films, so as a Disney nut, this was a must for me! She also drove us by St. John's Bayou and through City Park, which was beautiful.

Where the levee broke...
We then drove through her old neighborhood (most of which was flooded because of Katrina). So many of the houses are still vacant and waiting to be torn down and replaced. You can even still see the X's from where they were checked for bodies. After some more personalized sightseeing (I have to admit that having a family member as a guide was a huge plus!) she drove us through some of the Garden District to get back to our hotel.

Saturday,  Jonathan, Steve and I walked down Magazine Street, shopped, and did a quick walk-through of some of the Garden District.

Ridiculous Garden District House
The houses are beautiful but some of them are just way too big. I would much prefer the type of neighborhood that Shirley lives in (quiet, smaller streets, average houses) or the French Quarter to the monstrosities that us Americans insisted on building. We had planned on taking the streetcar down St. Charles, in the direction of our hotel, but we ran into parade time and  had to walk the entire way. And while the walk up Magazine hadn't been bad, we were getting tired, and by the time I got back to the hotel I was ready to rest my feet for a bit.

Late that afternoon we had a tour scheduled--the New Orleans Cocktail Tour. I would not suggest this. To anyone. It wasn't super expensive--only $25--and we definitely visited some bars we wouldn't have discovered otherwise (Muriel's, Tujagues, some place that is famous for sazeracs but was way too crowded to be any fun, and the Bombay Club), but after having such an awesome time on a Pub Tour in Charleston (which I obviously push every chance I get, that's how great it was), I wasn't impressed. There were 16 people in our group, and that was too many. We also spent far too much time standing out in the cold listening to the tour guide (and don't get me wrong, she was fun and had a lot of great info, but I just wanted to scream "CAN'T WE DO THIS SOMEWHERE WARMER???" at her). We did get to see the old bordello apartments above Muriel's, though, and that was really cool.

Famous Bienville House Hotel in the French Quarter
Sunday we basically just spent all day walking around the French Quarter, checking out some of the famous sights (Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo, and all of the beautiful ironwork on the buildings)...things were really crazy because of the Superbowl, though, so we probably missed some stuff. Yet another reason to eventually go back!


Ahh yes...my favorite part...

Our first night, Thursday night, we got a couple drinks at a bar called the Krazy Korner on Bourbon, then listened to music at Preservation Hall for a while. The band took a break at one point, and we walked back to Bourbon and found a hole-in-the-wall bar that was much quieter and had far cheaper drinks than Krazy Korner... I wan to say it was called John's or Johnny's. The bartender was really cool and even gave us some restaurant suggestions, and was the first person to insist that we watch the Superbowl on Bourbon Street Sunday night...

Eventually, we went back to Preservation Hall for more live brass band/jazz, then had drinks at this place called Yo Mama's right across the street from the hall. The bartender there was a one of those "I hate all tourists and I'm going to be really obvious about it" people (seriously, why do you work at a bar just off Bourbon Street in New Orleans???), but it was quiet and not too expensive, so we stayed a while. After that, things get hazy. We definitely went to at least one club after that...but we may have gone to two or three...I just only remember one. And it was a club. Not usually my thing, but fun when you're drunk on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Me, Steve and Christy (and Lil' Wayne) in the "Party Elevator"

We were too hungover to do anything Friday night. End of story.

Saturday, after drinks during our cocktail tour, watching some parades back near our hotel, and then dinner, we stayed out, and again my memory is fuzzy. I remember The Funky Pirate on Bourbon. That's it. Oops. (Hey, I was already drunk from the cocktail tour.) All I know is that we had to drag Christy back to the hotel and put her to bed. Steve and I tried to go back out, but by the time we walked back up to Bourbon and found a bar that wasn't too insane, we had one drink and then decided we were also tired enough to get some sleep.

We all felt a little slow on Sunday and swore we weren't going to party too hard.

Yeah right.

It started with cocktails at dinner. Then we bought some liquor and soda and mixed drinks in our hotel while we dressed for the Superbowl. Then we went to Bourbon Street and found this place I'd wanted to see, The Olde Absinthe House. Christy and I made friends with a girl who was standing next to us. Turns out her sister was a bartender. I got a true-blue gin fizz (YUM!) and we didn't have to wait for drinks all night. Then the Saints won the Superbowl! And that, my friends, is when the insanity truly began.
Excuse the blurriness, I was being jostled--because this, folks, is Bourbon Street about a minute after the Saints won their first Superbowl on 2/7/2010
I'm not joking--within about ten seconds of the officials calling the game, nearly every single person that had been in a bar on Bourbon Street flooded outside. There was screaming, chanting of the "Who Dat!" anthem, and I can't even count how many times I was hugged by a random stranger. I'm sure that it's tons of fun to be at the Superbowl--but on Sunday, February 7th, 2010, we were in the perfect place at the perfect time. It's an experience that someone who wasn't there can't even imagine. Not just because they won the Superbowl, or just because they won it for the first time in the franchise's history. Because these people have such tremendous pride in, and love for, their city that it literally infected all of us. I was as ecstatic that night as I was back on October 27th, 2004 when the Red Sox won their first World Series in [about] 86 years. And we didn't feel unsafe, because despite being crazy and drunk and excited, the people of New Orleans (and Saints fans in general, apparently) know a little something about how to party, and party right.

(I was later reminded that New Orleans--even the touristy areas--isn't/aren't really "safe". I'm not an idiot. I've traveled all over the world. I know that this is a major city with a high crime rate. But the fact of the matter is, if you don't act like an idiot you'll be fine. Even late at night, even on Bourbon Street, etc. Keep that in mind.)

Final picture of the NOLA 4, not long after watching the Saints win the Superbowl

In Conclusion

What it all boils down to is that this is a place that has, and a people who have, been to hell and back...and they didn't just SURVIVE. They rebuilt, and with that rebuilding came a newfound love for this city that they call home. They know how to truly live, there...and I'm not just talking about the partying. I'm talking about the fact that they respect the past, but they don't cling to it. Everything about New Orleans is a perfect blend of new and old, life and death. I can't imagine how anyone can spend a lifetime on this Earth and not want to see such an amazing place.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Second Cruise: Learning to Love Carnival

Recently, I've faced some interesting expressions when revealing that my fiance and I have chosen Carnival Cruise Line as the carrier for our honeymoon later this year, and despite feeling that I have the ability to explain our choice, I find myself thinking that people still don't get it. Poor Carnival...they really do have a bad rap. They're the party cruise line, man. Stuffed to the brim with rednecks and rowdy teenagers/college students. Their ships are old and everything, everything is sub-par.

Umm, yeah, sure, maybe--if the only Carnival cruise you ever go on is their little 3- or 4-day Bahamas cruise. But what I did in 2005 was cruise on Carnival's 6-month-old Valor; a week-long cruise to the beautiful Western Caribbean. And what we're doing later this year is cruise on Carnival's year-old ship Dream, also to the Western Caribbean because as it happens, Carnival picks by far the best Western Caribbean itineraries. Mexico, Belize and Honduras? Yespleaseandthankyou.

Just as an FYI: the travelers were myself, my parents, my two younger sisters and my now-ex Jason...but only my parents and Jason and I were over 21 ;)

So without further ado, I bring to you a week on Carnival Cruise Line--maybe not the "best of the best", but certainly something I'd recommend...to an extent.


Thankfully, our flights and everything went smoothly, and we arrived in Miami with ourselves, and ALL of our luggage, intact. It took them forever to load everyone's stuff onto the bus (they really should have had someone helping the bus driver), but at least it was air conditioned. Once we got to the port, it took about one hour and fifteen minutes to check in...basically, our flight landed at 11:45 AM and we were on the ship by 2:30 PM. My suggestion at this point would definitely be to fly into your port city the day before your cruise, that way, if your luggage IS misplaced, you have more of a chance of recieving it before embarkation; and also because we were exhausted the whole day on Sunday from having to get up so early (I got up at 4:45 AM, because our flight was at 7:20 AM).

My first impression of the room was that it was much bigger than the room I had on Royal Caribbean's Monarch of the Seas in 2000. Granted, the Valor is a much newer ship, but the room was very nice...not too small, tastefully decorated, and the picture window was literally big enough to sit in (which I did many a-morning before actually getting up and doing anything worthwhile). The one complaint I have about the room...no clock! It was really frustrating having to locate my [now ex-]husband, Jason's, watch or turn on the TV every time I wanted to know what time it was...especially since the time on the TV didn't change when the ship's time did.

As for our luggage: my family had three cabins, and the luggage came piece by piece. Three of us had it before dinner, two had it right after dinner, and I didn't get mine until about 7:30-8:00 PM. Thankfully, we were all smart enough to pack a nice (as in, not shorts and a t-shirt) change of clothes in our carry-ons, so we all had clean, decent clothes for dinner. I would definitely suggest packing such a change of clothes :)

We all ate a quick lunch on the Lido deck...we had burgers and fries...the fries were really good and the burger was one of the best I have EVER had, and I'm not exaggerating...for the rest of the week, we were always hoping that the burger place was open.

Community burger! No kidding though, that burger was awesome.
Dinner (we had the 5:45 seating in the lower Washington Dining Room) was pretty good...Jason had the steak and I had the lamb, both of which were good, but nothing special. The sweet and sour shrimp, however (which my sister had, and I tried), were VERY good. I had the apple mousse cake for dessert, which was very light but almost tasteless...once again, not bad, but nothing to brag about. My parents really loved the carmelized lemon custard. After dinner, my only complaint about our waiter, Louie, was that he seemed to be very rushed toward the end of dinner and really wasn't paying much attention to what we might want or need...thankfully, this really did turn out to just be a first-night fluke, and by the end of the trip, I had absolutely no complaints about him...he was great!

We went to the show at 8:45 that night...it was okay. The comedian who was on right after the Valor Dancers was pretty funny, at least. After the show, we went to karaoke in the Paris Hot Lounge. We got there just before 9:30 and it didn't really get crowded until almost 10...it was tons of fun, especially after a few drinks! My parents actually stayed up until 12:30 AM (I have NEVER seen them up that late), and I sang a lot, because after singing by myself, my sister wanted to sing with me, and then I sang a [very sad] rendition of "Summer Nights" with a very drunk newlywed...his new wife didn't mind, because she knew I was married, and the whole thing was just very fun.


Surprisingly, we were up and at 'em by 9 AM (and thankfully, we didn't have hangovers) for breakfast at Rosie's. The lines actually weren't prohibitive, and the food (I just had eggs, bacon, and some fruit) was pretty good. We were at the pool before 9:30, and there were still a decent amount of chairs available. As always, there was a lot of chair-saving, but even after the Lido deck got crowded, there were plenty of chairs on the higher decks. My sisters and I went on the slide, which was a lot of fun, and the drink waiters were more than attentive all day long :) (which rendered Jason in need of a nap before dinner that night). The announcements did get kind of annoying when sitting outside by the pool for so long, but I suppose there isn't much one can do about that. The hairy chest contest was a lot of fun and I was even chosen to be one of the judges...which probably made it just a bit more fun for me.

I also did a bit of shopping, and was surprised at the selection in the shops. There were plenty of Carnival souvenirs, and even some shot glasses from the different ports of call...the alcohol selection wasn't the best, which is why I chose to buy my alcohol on Cozumel, but that's another story for later in this review ;) Jason bought the bingo cards (three for $20), and he said it was very worth the money to buy them earlier in the week, because you can play all week on that $20. If you don't buy them then, you can buy them mid-week at "El Cheapo" Bingo for $10 for a strip of three.

This night was the first formal dinner...Jason and I went to the Captain's Cocktail party in the Eagles Lounge prior to dinner, and sat with a very nice older couple from New York. After that, we headed straight down to our seating, and this dinner turned out to be the best of the week, in my opinion. The pumpkin soup was great, the Caesar salad was good (the dressing wasn't quite thick enough for my taste, but that's just me), the lobster was amazing, and the Riesling wine that they had on the dessert wine list was one of the best Rieslings I've ever had. I had the tiramisu for dessert, and although it was served very differently from any other tiramisu I've ever had (sort of like a custard with the lady finger on the side), it was delicious.

Trying to take nice formal night pictures on the top deck...too windy!
Unfortunately, we missed the show this night, but my parents (who are not exactly the easiest people to please) saw it and said that it was very good. We wandered over to karaoke around ten, and the place was packed, so we just sang a couple songs, and then went to the One Small Step dance club. The club had a great setup (the lighted dance floor was really cool), but the music they were playing wasn't that great, and there weren't many people there at all. There was a small midnight buffet this night, but it was just that--small--so my sister and I just grabbed some of those delicious cheeseburgers (it was just before midnight when we got up there, but this was the only night I saw the burger place open that late) and went to bed.


Welcome to Belize! We ate breakfast in the Washington Dining Room this morning...I had waffles, which were a bit dry, and when I ordered them with strawberries, I didn't expect the strawberries to be stewed (they tasted more like jam or jelly), which was disappointing. I kind of liked having the selection at Rosie's, which was right in front of me, better.

Beautiful Goff's Caye off the coast of Belize
I would suggest to any and everyone that they book a tour through Carnival for Belize. It is a tender port, and they have to tender pretty far out...about five miles, actually. I definitely would not have enjoyed having to get up and wait in line at about 8 AM for a tender sticker...thankfully, we did the Goff's Caye Snorkeling Tour, and they picked us up right at the boat, not to mention that we didn't even have to meet until just before noon, which made for a fairly relaxing morning. The tour was about $62 per person, and it was worth every penny. The "island", which was maybe the size of 2/3 of a football field, was very clean, and the water was beautiful. Jason went out on the boat and snorkeled on the reef, and said it was the best snorkeling he had ever done. I stayed on the island and snorkeled off the beach with my sisters, who had never been "deep water" snorkeling before and were a bit frightened of the concept. The water wasn't very deep and the snorkeling was pretty good, although I'm sure not as good as it was off the boat. There were a few vendors there, but they weren't TOO pushy, and we all had shrimp kebabs with homemade BBQ sauce and tortillas, which were quite tasty and only $6 each.

Swimming off Goff's Caye
By the time we got back to the boat, we were still a bit hungry, so I shared a tuna salad sandwich from the Deli with my sister. It was actually better than I expected it would be! Within a couple hours, we had to go to dinner. For a starter, I had lobster bisque, which was decent, but not the best I've ever had. I had the penne pasta with shrimp and scallops for dinner, and that was very good, and the cherry cheesecake was great (if you like the light, fluffy kind of cheesecake, which I do). The raspberry lemon creme brulee was also amazing.

For the shows that night, they had a different comedian, followed by a juggler. The comedian was pretty good, and the juggler was awesome...and actually funnier than the comedian. We went to bed soon after the show, as we were docking early the next morning and had another excursion to catch.

We had room service for breakfast this morning--just bagels and fruit, but it was good, and it came right on time. However, they did forget my danish, which was a bit upsetting, because their danish are one of their best breakfast items.
Snorkeling off Tabayana Beach
We were originally just going to take a taxi to West End Beach, but my mother overruled us; and in the end, I'm glad she did. We ended up doing the Tabayana Beach Break for $33 per person (just having reliable transportation was worth it). We did the 9:45 AM one, but if you want choice seats on the beach, and if you want to snorkel, I would suggest doing the earlier one. Snorkeling gear was $10 per set, but they were out of masks by the time we got there, so we had to wait about a half hour, and then we literally had to chase down people who were returning their equipment so that we could rent it. As for the beach, both it and the water were clean and beautiful. The changing rooms were also clean, and it was nice that they had freshwater showers. Lemonade, ice tea, and water were included, and they had a bar, burgers and hot dogs for sale, and a pretty decent live band. There were a few vendors--one of which was an amazing painter (I bought a medium-sized painting of a town scene from the island, framed and everything, for only $50)--but none of them were pushy. They also had hair braiding and massages for $25. As for the snorkeling--it was AMAZING, the best of the entire trip. There were huge cliffs of coral, and tons of fish large and small. My only complaint was that the beach was pretty crowded. Also, my dad and sister went parasailing, and the prices for that were pretty good--$50 per person or $75 total if you go tandem with someone else.

The Valor docked at Isla Roatan
Back on the ship, I had a hot turkey sandwich for lunch. I was certainly pleased with it--we didn't have one sub-par sandwich from the deli on this cruise. When dinner came around, I ordered the Alaskan King Crab meat for a starter...it was okay, but more of a crab meat salad than anything. For my meal, I had the shrimp with the cream sauce and pastry, which was amazing, and for dessert, I had the seasonal berries desert with the orange-cream-filled pastries. It was good, but VERY fruity...I also tasted the Bitter & Blanc, which in my opinion was MUCH better.

The show that night was a tribute to Frank Sinatra and Sammie Davis Jr...the singer and the band were certainly talented, but if you're not a big fan of Sinatra and Sammie Davis, this show probably isn't for you.

We had decided to go to karaoke again that night...thankfully, we got there early (9 PM) and were the second people in line. If we had arrived any later, we probably wouldn't have gotten seats for all six of us...so if you plan on going to karaoke any night besides the first night, get there before 9:15!


For breakfast, we went to the Washington Dining Room again. The service was a bit slow, and although the French toast was good, half of my pieces (I had a double order, which is four halves) were not cooked all the way through.

Hell, Grand Cayman
Today was Grand Cayman, and we tendered again. I have never seen water so amazingly blue! We were doing the Stingray Sandbar, Hell, and Turtle Farm tour, which cost $59 per person. Once again, it was nice that we had booked a tour through Carnival and didn't have to bother with getting a tender number or anything like that. The tour itself seemed worth the money to me...we got to see a decent amount of the island, including Seven Mile Beach and the Old Homestead (the oldest house on the island and one of the few that survived Hurricane Ivan in 2004). The island was about 95% destroyed by Hurricane Ivan, and when I visited on this cruise in June 2005 they were only about half done with fixing everything. Anyway, Hell wasn't much to see, but it's cool to say you've been there ;o). The turtle farm was really neat--they had some turtles as big as kitchen tables, and then they had medium-sized and small ones which you could hold if you wanted to. The stingray sandbar was also really cool, but I wouldn't swim with them if you get easily freaked out--they won't hurt you (yeah yeah, I know, tell that to Steve Irwin), but if you start jumping up and down and stirring things up and frightening them, it's not good.

Turtle "Farm" on Grand Cayman
We got back in time to do a little shopping, but I opted to just return to the ship so that I wouldn't be rushing to get ready for dinner that night--it was the second formal night. Food-wise, for a starter the crab cakes were AMAZING, and the broccoli soup was pretty good too (a little too chunky for my taste, though). The tiger shrimp dish for the main course was good, and for dessert I had this chocolate thing with a French-sounding name, which was also good--and the caramel ice cream that came with it was even better!

Look at that blue water!
Later that night we went to the show, which was called "Far From Over". It was an 80s tribute, and it was absolutely amazing!!! I don't want to give anything away, so I won't say any more, but I will say that if it's still playing on the Valor (or in slightly different form on any other Carnival ship) it is a must-see! From 10-11 PM we went to 80s hour in the dance club, and that was also a lot of fun. There were more people there than had been there Monday night, but it was still obvious that it wasn't "the" place to be. After a few drinks, we went to check out the Gala Midnight Buffet. The first part of it wasn't that impressive, but at the end they had some really cool stuff. I didn't try any of the food (to me, it looked a little too fancy for midnight drunk munchies); instead, I went and grabbed some pizza. The pizza is actually more similar to the actual Italian style of pizza (for instance, their cheese pizza is called "Margarhita", which is the name of real Italian cheese pizza)...suffice it to say, the deck of a Carnival cruise ship sailing the Caribbean is no Italy, but drunk munchy wise, I wasn't complaining.

"80s" night at the club


We ordered breakfast in our room again this morning (yes, I have my lazy moments, even on vacation). We had put on the room service card that we would like it between 9:20 and 9:40 AM, and it came about 9:30 AM. Just bagels and fruit again, but it was good--they did, however, forget the honey for my hot tea. (Sad to say that there's a bit of a pattern developing here...)

My sisters and I at Chankanaab on Cozumel
We didn't do a tour through the ship on this day, because I had heard enough about Cozumel to know that we would be plenty safe doing something on our own. Therefore, we took a taxi to Chankanaab ($10 for a one-way taxi ride, and it was $12 per person for admission into the park). The botanical gardens were okay (nothing to brag about), and the snorkeling was nowhere near as good as Roatan or even Belize, but it only cost $8 for a set of snorkeling gear, which wasn't too bad. There were lots of huge lizards, which was neat to see, and the beach was nice, but the entrance to the water was rocky. I didn't mind that, but it probably wouldn't be the best beach to bring small children to. It was also nice that you could walk over and see the dolphins that they used for the dolphin encounter. The whole park was very clean, and I even got my hair braided there ($25 for half of the head, and I got mine done with a design).

The Valor docked in Cozumel
We got back from Chankanaab just before a rainstorm, so we did some shopping and ate at a Mexican (obviously) restaurant. I can't remember the name of it, but it was in this old warehouse and was closer to the taxi area than to the pier. The nachos were good, if a bit dry, and the quesadillas were excellent. My sister and I shared a Mango Margarita, which was not only good, but strong. After lunch, the rainstorm was over, so we did some more shopping. The shopping here is pretty good; the vendors are of course willing to bargain, and only a few of them were fairly pushy, but none of them were anywhere near as bad as some other islands I've been to (such as St. Lucia and Jamaica).

Back on the ship for some dinner...
Although we had planned on doing a sit-down dinner, we decided that we would rather do something quick, so that we could get back out and party at Fat Tuesdays. So we ate at Rosie's...the selection wasn't the best, but the fried chicken was good, and the soft serve ice cream was also really good, which surprised me (the ice cream on my previous cruise, which was a Royal Caribbean Cruise, was really grainy and not good at all). After dinner, we headed right out to Fat Tuesday's...the daiquiries were your average touristy-bar price ($11 for a yard glass and $9 for a tube glass...and just to let you know, they hold about the same amount of alcohol, so the tube glass is the better deal). The bar was really crazy, and REALLY fun...my sisters and I even ended up dancing on the little stage with the pole :) If you are going to go here for the evening, I would suggest getting there by 7, because by 8 PM it was insanely crowded and you never would have found a table close to the bar.

With our yard drinks at Fat Tuesday's

Yeah...we had fun ;)
Once back on the ship, we went to the party on the Lido deck, which was also a lot of fun. We got there just before 10:30, but if we had gotten there any later, we wouldn't have gotten a seat at the bar. It was still hoppin' when we headed to bed around 12:30 (at least, I think it was 12:30). We actually got room service that night, because the lines were so long for the buffets and everything--both the roast beef and brie sandwich and the shrimp salad sandwich were delicious!


It's hard to believe a week can pass so fast! We had breakfast in Rosie's this morning, and as always, the bacon and eggs and fresh fruit were good. We arrived at the pool about 10:00-10:15 AM and there were still plenty of chairs available; however, all the "good ones" were filled by 11 AM. It was a nice, lazy day. For lunch, I finally got to try to fish and chips upstairs in Rosie's, and all the reviews I have read were right--they were some of the best fish and chips I have ever had (and that's a lot to say from someone who grew up going to Cape Cod and Maine every summer). The chocolate buffet was amazing--I have never seen so much chocolate in one place! I tried the banana fritters, the chocolate cheesecake, and the chocolate-covered doughnuts, all of which were delicious.

Being silly on the Lido. That's the only explanation I have for this ridiculousness.
When it came time for dinner, I wasn't sure how I was going to eat any more, but I did. The chicken quesadillas were good (if you like black beans and don't mind the severe lack of sour cream, you would really love them); the Newburgh seafood plate was good (but not great--the sauce was a little strong for a seafood plate, in my opinion). I also tried Jason's prime rib, and it was delicious--very tender! For dessert, the Grand Marnier souffle was divine. And after a week with our waiter, Louie (I think he was from the Philippines), I must say that he was great--very fun and very attentive.

That night, we spent some money in the casino (not a bad selection of slot machines, I must say, although Jason was very disappointed that they didn't have Texas Hold 'em as one of their card games). I also have to wonder if Carnival, or at least, the people who designed the theme of the casino, know what a geisha is...Anyway, we also stopped by the Lindy Hop, which was pretty fun and not too crowded (we got there around 10:30, I have a feeling it might have gotten a little more crowded as the night went on). The piano man was not the best singer, but he was better than some of the piano men I've seen play in the past.

Enjoying our last night on the cruise! (Big sis and baby sis)
Our attempt to order room service this night completely backfired. If I were you, I would just plan on making your way up to the buffet on the Lido deck--we should have just gone there, but I suppose this is what you get for being lazy, because we waited over an hour and a half for the food we ordered from room service, and when it finally did arrive, it was cold.

Now, for some things we learned throughout the week:

-"Laws", the pool band, sounded good, but seriously only seemed to know about ten songs.

-If you drink a decent amount, here is some good-to-know info: it's cheaper to buy wine and champagne by the bottle if you want more than one glass; it is cheaper to buy buckets of beer if you are going to have four or more; also, it is a good deal to buy the daily special in the refill cup on your first day and remember to cart it around with you and use it for the drinks of the day for the rest of the week.

-I found it weird that many of the bartenders did not know how to make a Rum Runner on the rocks...


For breakfast, we once again went to the Washington Dining Room, where I learned that either baked apples are served cold, or the baked apple I had was just a really bad one. However, I also had the buttermilk pancakes, and those were just fine.

For debarkation, we did the "relaxation debarkation". This meant we had to have our baggage (except for our carry-ons) outside of our cabin by midnight on Saturday. We had to be out of the room by 9 AM, but after that, we were able to just laze around on the couches near the Java coffee place for about an hour or so. We got in line to disembark around 10:20 AM and eventually got to the airport at about 12:15 PM. Just FYI, the Port of Miami has no air conditioning, and most of the time we were waiting in line to go through customs was pretty hot and miserable, although once we got down into the main area, the line was almost constantly moving. Thankfully, we had a late flight and were able to check in, get through security, eat a sit-down lunch, and still have time left over. In conclusion, the debarkation was long and hot--when I went on my Royal Caribbean cruise, they did it by flight number and it was much easier, so in my opinion, Carnival really should work on their debarkation process. Due to weather issues and the usual incompetency of US Air, we didn't get home until about 4:30 AM Monday morning, but that is not Carnival's fault, so it is a different story for a different time, I suppose.

Now for my major complaint--I bought a bottle of tequila (a brand that is not sold in the U.S.) and a bottle of Cruzan banana rum (which at the time, I had never seen at any liquor store I'd been to in the U.S.) in Cozumel. I had to hand it over to Carnival when I boarded the ship Friday afternoon, as did everyone else who bought alcohol in the ports. They said it would be delivered to my room by noon the next day (Saturday).

Well, when it wasn't there by 3 PM on Saturday, I called the front desk. They told me that they still had a lot of alcohol to deliver, and that I would get it by 8 PM that night. When it still wasn't there by about 9 PM, I went to the purser's desk. The person I spoke to told me it would be there by midnight, but when I went to bed at 1 AM, it still wasn't there, and when I got up at 7 AM the next morning, guess what, STILL no alcohol. At this point, when I called front board services, they said I had to go to the purser's desk.  However, the purser's desk tried to tell me that they had no record of me ever handing over my alcohol to them, and then said they would reimburse me the $25 I had spent.

Needless to say, you can't buy two bottles of decent liquor for $25 in the U.S., so I asked if they could replace it with liquor from their store. Apparently, all they had left was Absolut Vodka (of which Jason had already bought a bottle), Crown Royal, and Cruzan Vanilla Rum. I took a bottle of the Vanilla rum and a bottle of Crown in exchange, but I made it very clear that I was not happy with the situation. If they had not confiscated my liquor in the first place, this whole issue never would have happened. The woman kept saying "I don't know what happened, I don't know what happened"...I replied, "I'll tell you what happened--either one of your crew members stole it, or you delivered it to the wrong room and the people who received it didn't have the morals to return it".

I did end up writing a pretty nasty letter to Carnival regarding their ridiculous alcohol policy and the trouble it caused me. They were kind enough to send me a $25 on board credit voucher for a future cruise...to be used within twelve months. (yes, I'm being really sarcastic here)

Despite this ouchy on their part, in general I had a great time--obviously good enough to do it all again, anyway! The room and ship were beautiful, the food and service probably above average, and the entertainment top-notch. When one considers how much lower Carnival's prices usually are when compared to other cruise lines, the value for your money cannot be surpassed.