Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Our Dream Honeymoon Cruise, Part 2

Well, I've reviewed the cruise aspect of our trip, so now it's time to delve into the ports and excursions that we experienced! I've visited many different islands in the Caribbean and I still think that the Western Caribbean is my favorite general area, but every port has its problems (or at least, most of them do) and this is my unbiased opinion of the four ports we visited (Cozumel, Belize City, Roatan and Costa Maya) and the excursions we took (which were all through Carnival Cruise Line...spare me the eye rolls, please).

Cozumel

As a port, I rate Cozumel 3/5. This may be partly because I've never had an absolutely amazing shore excursion here. Sure, Fat Tuesday's is quite the party, but other than that my time here has been average at best.
Xcaret--the beach/lagoon/swimming area
We did the Xcaret excursion through Carnival, which I also rate a 3/5. Xcaret is beautiful. It's clean. And I was really excited to experience the cenotes. But I was just a bit disappointed at how man-made everything was--they had some natural cenotes, but they had taken away from those by combining them with a man-made underground river...so you never knew what was real and what was fake. That's just...not really our thing.

After the cenote swim, we did find a lovely sandy area with a lot of hammocks strung between palm trees, where we dried off. After relaxing for a while, we were starving and decided to get some lunch. And here is my other "issue" with Xcaret--unless you want a $30-ish per person buffet (and buffets also aren't our thing) or a burger, there really aren't that many food options there! We finally found a restaurant that offered some fajitas and a few other things, and prices were average (for an appetizer, a fajita meal, a burger and fries, two bottled waters and a big fun pineapple drink with rum plus tip it was maybe $45?), but the food was just okay. I've had better fajitas at local Mexican places here at home. Sad.

Once we were finished with lunch, we spent the rest of our afternoon wandering around the park, mostly to see the animals. It's not really a "zoo" per se, but it was neat to get VERY close to both wildlife (tons of lizards especially) and some of the friendlier animals (we were literally a foot or less away from tapirs, baby deer, and parrots). Also really neat was that in the gift shop they had incubators hatching quail eggs...although to be completely honest I'm not sure how humane this was!

Lastly, our Xcaret excursion was that it was just a bit too long. The cenotes took an hour at most and we had over four hours in the park. Even with laying in the hammocks for a while, eating a sit down lunch and wandering around the park, we ended up with a good 45 minutes to kill and not much to do other than wander around the gift shop or go back out into the park to see things we'd, well, already seen. Personally I think this excursion could have been an hour shorter, which would have gotten us back to the Cozumel port in time for a bit of shopping rather than getting off the ferry and rushing right back onto the ship as the whistle was blowing.

Belize City

Belize as a whole rates a 4/5 on my scale! Again, a lot of this probably has to do with the tours I've taken, but it's been pretty rare that I've heard complaints about Belize from other travelers, period. What's not to love? The jungles are beautiful, the snorkeling and scuba diving are great, the people are friendly :o) I only wish that there was a little more to the port or to Belize City itself...I know that the tourism industry there really didn't get a kick in the butt until the last decade or so, but I feel as if there should be more than just a couple restaurants and those awful Diamonds International and other tourist trap stores at the port by now :-/

This time in Belize, I finally got to go cave tubing! We did the Carnival cave tubing excursion and give it a 5/5! I know that the Carnival excursion is more expensive than the do-it-yourself ones, and I've heard that those are "better", but our tour as a whole was great. Our guide, Saul, was extremely knowledgeable, pretty well-spoken, and a great guide on the river itself. And floating through those amazing caves was an experience I'm happy to have had!

Our bus ride was not quite an hour and a half. Once we arrived we were given time to rent lockers ($5) and change before being outfitted with the usual cave tubing gear--life vest (pfft), helmet with light, and tube. After this we hiked through the woods for about 30 minutes. I think they told us it would take longer, and we weren't wearing watches but it didn't even feel like a full 30 minutes, let alone 35-45 or whatever they told us. And other than having to wade across the river and walk up a flight of steps at the beginning, it was an easy hike. Of course...I'm 27 and very fit, so I may not be the best judge. Still, the path was pretty flat, worn, and clear...I wasn't uncomfortable, even with just wearing water shoes, a bikini with a tank top over it, and of course the life vest and helmet. Yes, carrying the tube got annoying...but never extremely uncomfortable. Our group of 8 consisted of mostly people 20+ years our seniors and none of them seemed bothered by the hike, either.


And in the end...it was so very worth it. This excursion was topped only by the one we did in Roatan, IMO. Saul continued to regale us with stories of Mayan culture, the area, the river, the caves themselves. The float was pretty tame...but the couple of times we hit little patches of "rapids" were definitely fun :o) And the caves and scenery were all beautiful.

It was a five minute walk back up to the locker/bathroom area. We dropped off our gear, got free samples of cashew, pineapple, and blush wine, and then purchased some yummy local taco-type things for a few bucks each to stave off hunger. As we were boarding the bus, they also gave us granola bars to munch on.

Roatan

I think this cruise cemented Roatan as my favorite Caribbean port so far. 5/5! Seriously though, the beaches, snorkeling, the island itself...they're just unmatchable in my opinion.

Our excursion today was "Clear Kayak, Snorkeling & Gumbalimba Park", again through Carnival, and I guess I'll rate this excursion a "mere" 4/5. My reasoning for this (because we really did love the excursion and the park) is as follows:

We met for this excursion in the Mahogany Bay shopping area just before 10 AM, and here comes the one complaint of the day--we must have sat there for 20 minutes or more before we were led to a bus. There was no communication as to what was going on or why we were waiting, and yes, I was impatient to get the day started!

After a 20-25 minute ride, we arrived at Gumbalimba. The park was spotlessly clean, but admittedly the beach/sunning area was small. (Not that it ever even got crowded while we were there) They had lockers available for free, but you had to pay $3 for the lock and key (man, they know how to get you!) After about 10-15 minutes of "free time" to use the restroom, change, get your locker situated, etc. we went kayaking. We did this (with guides) for about 30-45 minutes. The clear kayaks were actually a bit wider than regular kayaks, and to be honest I'm not sure if it was the fact that it was cloudy when we arrived or if the kayaks were scratched or if it was the material they were made out of, but there was really no seeing through the bottoms of them...which to me was the point of "clear kayaking", so I'm not sure if I would do this portion of the activities again. 

When kayaking was over, we returned our paddles, gathered up snorkel gear and were assigned to a guide. I was a bit surprised at this portion of the operation--(a) because they insisted we wear life vest and (b) because I've never had a completely guided snorkel "tour" before. To be completely honest, the life vest was an annoyance and burden and I think they should give you the choice of not wearing it and maybe just make you sign a waiver if you choose not to do so.

Having a guide had pros and cons to it. Pros: He pointed out fish to us and gave us their names; he kept us on track so that there was no looking up from the water and having a mini panic attack at the realization that you were half a mile or more from the beach and didn't know the best way to get back over the reef (which happened to me at Tabayana in 2005). Cons: The snorkeling portion of the day was very much timed and not long enough! And if you enjoy kind of "wandering" while snorkeling (as we do), obviously a guide does more harm than good.

The snorkeling was still some of the best I've experienced, but it also wasn't as great as that off Tabayana Beach in Roatan. There weren't the 50 (or more) foot cliffs of coral dropping into crystal clear waters with dozens of huge, colorful parrot fish swimming around.

The walk through Gumbalimba park passed a hummingbird area (they were buzzing *so* close to us--within inches of our heads!) and included a silly little touristy cave and a rope-type bridge that I seriously wish they'd warned me about (I'm not one for heights, especially ones with water underneath them i.e. any sort of bridge). We saw an area where there are usually plenty of lizards hanging around, but it was still cloudy and therefore most of the lizards were hiding. (We'd seen plenty of those at Xcaret, anyway) From there we visited some birds...lots of parrots and a couple other types of colorful local birds. They let us take pictures with the parrots with our own cameras...no forcing you to buy a $13 8x10 here!

And then, FINALLY, we headed to the monkey area, and the monkeys here were GREAT! They had one on a leash that they put in your arms...and man, they are not kidding about these little guys liking shiny things. I had a dull, light brownish bobby pin in my hair and it ended up in [I think his name was} Sopa's mouth! Even better was when we were standing off to the side, and lo and behold two more monkeys jumped down onto our heads/shoulders (and crawled all over us for quite some time) :o)

Once our allotted monkey time was up, we went back down toward the beach and meandered around the tables of wares for sale before grabbing a bus back to Mahogany Bay (which we had to wait about 10 minutes for). Once we arrived back at the port, we did some more shopping, but nothing available there was as nice or as well-priced as what the people at Gumbalimba had out.

Costa Maya

This was the only port I'd never been to for this cruise, but I think I'd rate Costa Maya a 4/5 and not mind a second trip there someday :o) The port area was beautiful. (a) we could dock, not tender (b) it was clean and obviously pretty new (c) there seemed to be some great shopping available (d) there was even a pool and beaches right nearby if you wanted to just relax right there!
On the steps of one of the three temples (or were there more?) at Chacchoben
However, we chose to do a Mayan Ruins excursion--Chacchoben to be exact--which I'll give a 3.5/5 or so.

Basically, Costa Maya day wasn't too early for us, but in hindsight we should have made it so. Basically, our tour (Chacchoben Mayan ruins) met at 9:30 AM and was supposed to be...I think four or four and a half hours long? We boarded the bus and it was a ride of about an hour and twenty minutes or so to the ruins, which by the way were great. These ruins were discovered more "recently" (in the 1970s to be exact) and haven't been re-built as much as some other ruins in Mexico. Our guide (I think his name was Venizio? I could be seriously wrong there, though) was very knowledgeable, though his accent was very heavy and you had to pay a lot of attention in order to understand him. He also kept us at the ruins a lot longer than I think we should have been there...a lot of standing in one spot and listening to him talk, so much so that we pretty much missed two of the three main/major pyramids at the site.

And of course, silly me had put off shopping for anyone until our last day. I figured, hey, we have a short day in Costa Maya, but our tour is only a few hours long. We'll have plenty of time!

That would be a resounding NO.

We overstayed our time at the ruins by close to an hour. When we arrived back at port it was 2:25 and we were technically supposed to be back on board by 2:30 (for I think a 3 PM departure). And darnit, we wanted tequila! We literally ran into the first Tequileria (sp?) we saw, grabbed two bottles that were quickly suggested to us by one of the employees, and hightailed it back to the ship. We boarded at about 2:45...oops.

I suppose other than hoping that someday Cozumel won't be one of those places that every.single.Western.Caribbean.cruise. stops at, the Western Caribbean was and is extremely pleasing and at the very least, I hope to return to Roatan again some day...maybe just to go there, rather than on a cruise ;o)

Monday, November 29, 2010

An Epic Thanksgiving Weekend: Black[out] Wednesday

Last Wednesday, we received the news we had been waiting for--our friends Adrian and Melissa were coming for Thanksgiving! They had been planning on doing so for weeks, but thanks to some confusion regarding his job we weren't sure until then that it would definitely happen. Needless to say, we were excited--since we moved to Greenville, our house guests have been few and far between...and Adrian had never been here at all.

This meant that of course we went out for "Black Wednesday", and we did a nice little tour of some downtown bars. Our first stop was Wild Wing Cafe, to check out the 80s cover band that was playing. The music was great, there were a few drink specials, and Adrian even got up on stage and danced! Still, after an hour and a half or so we were ready for other options and Melissa suggested City Tavern, which had been one of our stops during my bachelorette party. At this point our friends Nick and Annie had come 'round as well, and we all paraded over to City Tavern for more drinks and live music.

Unfortunately, the "live music" there was just a guy on a guitar and he wasn't playing anything of note. We had one drink each, Nick and Annie called it a night, and Steve, myself, Adrian and Melissa decided to try one more place--a bar that is named "The Gathering Spot" but called "The G-Spot".

Yeah. I know.

I'm still not sure how I feel about their, err, "head dresses"
Anyway, I've only ever been to the G-Spot when they've had a DJ, so I was a bit unsure of the fact that tonight they had--you guessed it--live music! ;o) The band was...well, they weren't anything special, but they weren't awful, and after downing some red-headed sluts and ordering some beers we made the best of it. We ended up staying almost until closing time, but despite getting home sometime around 2 AM we didn't go to bed until a few hours later. After all, first there were the much-needed drunk munchies (Steve makes some amazing late-night snacks that at times include eggs in a window or omelets, but this night turned out to be scrambled eggs mixed with a variety of cheeses and spices as well as capers) and then there was the usual catching up with people we only see every few months at best.

All I know is that when we collapsed into bed I thought, "damn, I'm only getting five hours of sleep tonight."

To be continued...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Dream Honeymoon Cruise, Part 1

The Ship: 4/5

The Carnival Dream (docked at Costa Maya)
The Carnival Dream was right at a year old when we sailed on her, which meant that she would still be squeaky clean...or at least she should be. And she was. Although we'd read many reviews mentioning "the dreaded smell", I don't recall more than once even thinking that I smelled said stench. And even that time, it could have been something else--it was faint and short-lived, not the lingering odor that many swore they experienced.


As per the usual Carnival Standards, patterns and colors were a bit bright and garish in the common areas--but the hallways were more muted, with a sort of 1940's or '50s cartoonish mural on the walls. The design is classy and will stand the test of time. I also enjoyed the animal-print-esque curtains, carpeting and seating in the Encore Theater--it was very refreshing.

The Dream is definitely big--the largest ship I've been on so far, and during the first few days it was a bit overwhelming at times playing the "am I going the right way? am I on the right floor? how many times will I have to double back to get to where I need to be?" game. But as on all ships, one just had to remember which portions of which decks were closed off and by the third day we had no issues. By the end of the week, as is usually the case, we knew the ship like the backs of our hands ;o)

The common areas did get quite crowded on our first day at sea, as is to be expected. By about 11 AM there was nary a lounge chair to be found--at least not in the sun. We didn't really venture near the pools as the music was just too loud for our tastes. We did however check out the water slides--neither one had more than a ten minute wait and both were fun, although the hubby did get a scrape on his elbow from the rough seams inside the main slide.

We spent some time in the Serenity adults-only area, but unfortunately the chair saving there is as rampant as it is everywhere else. The most comfy options--the couches, the hammocks and the big round chairs--were pretty much always filled or saved with towels and books and the like. At one point I actually took the initiative and asked a couple who was taking up an entire huge couch on their own if we could have two cushions at the end of it. They grudgingly obliged, thankfully. ::rolls eyes::

The Stateroom: 4.5/5
Stateroom 11242, Inside Spa room on the Carnival Dream
We got a great rate on an inside spa stateroom--the entire cruise cost us right about $1300 for two people, and our room was on deck 11, at the end of the hallway closest to the stairs and elevators. The room itself was honestly smaller than I'd expected--when I cruised with Carnival in 2005, I had an oceanview stateroom on the lowest passenger deck and the room was quite large compared to staterooms I experienced on Royal Caribbean (porthole oceanview on the lowest passenger deck) and Princess (balcony stateroom on deck 6--I think). We apparently got a bit spoiled with our decent-sized inside stateroom on the Disney Wonder this past May :-/

Thankfully, our stateroom location was impeccable and the spa package was worth every extra penny. It consisted of unlimited access to the steam rooms, glassed-in rooms with heated loungers, VIP relaxation rooms (with constant supply of hot teas, fresh fruit and iced water), VIP locker rooms (which appeared to have actual real hairdryers--or at least better ones than they have in the staterooms), and the Thalasso Pool (which was as hot as the jacuzzis and probably a lot better for your bathing suit/hair/skin). Also, we had special robes and slippers in the room, as well as Elemis brand bath products. I heard we were also supposed to have upgraded linens, and while the towels and sheets were good quality considering, I'm not sure they were actually better than what anyone else had...as I have nothing to compare them to.

I was pleased with the amount of storage. Although more drawers would have been nice, there was a lot of closet space (including shelves) and being able to slide the empty suitcases under the bed was great as well.

The Food: 3.5/5
Showing off my TWO desserts! (Tiramisu and Bitter & Blanc)
Obviously you get what you pay for, so I don't expect amazing gourmet meals from Carnival. However, hearing so many negative things about the food on the Dream did have me a bit concerned. Thankfully, my worries were all for naught, The food on this cruise was as good if not better than what I experienced on Princess, which is supposedly a higher-end line (at least when compared to Carnival). We avoided the buffet for the most part, although on our first afternoon we did try out the Mongolian Wok. The food was good, but honestly it was mostly spice and lacked real flavor.


We also had burgers and fries from the Lido Deck on the first sea day, and I was thankful to find that they were still the same delicious burgers and fries that I remembered from over five years ago :o)

The dinner food in the dining room ranged from the plain old "good" (the French Onion Soup and escargots) to absolutely delicious (the pumpkin soup appetizer, the Grand Marnier Souffle). Nothing was bad and many meals were stellar. Again, though, I'm comparing these meals not to eating at, say, Shula's Steak House, but rather maybe a slightly higher-end chain restaurant than, say, TGI Friday's.

We ate breakfast in the dining room three mornings as well. The eggs benedict were decent and the French toast was really good. If we'd had time I would have eaten here every morning and tried a few other things, but we got room service most mornings. Obviously this was mostly just fruit, yogurt, cereal, bagels and the like--the milk and yogurts were rarely cold and the fruit was half rotted on a couple mornings. Nighttime room service was a bit better--I had an absolutely delicious hot veggie sandwich before bed one night and worth the approximate hour it took to get it.

A note on the pasta bar: it's really a must, the food is delicious and worth the wait. But make sure you know how it works, which is as follows: you enter, they give you a number and an order card. You find a table (hopefully), fill out your order card and bring it up to the cook station. When your food is ready (we waited about 40 minutes) a waiter brings it to you.

The Employees (3/5)
One of my favorite towel animals of the week, courtesy of our great stateroom steward!
The employees that we had contact with on a regular basis--our server and stateroom steward, mainly--were good. Our room steward always greeted us by name, our room was always made up in a timely manner, and his towel animals were exceptional! I did find it a bit weird that he never officially introduced himself, but that's more of an observation than a complaint :o) Our server, while not necessarily friendly, was very good at her job and no worse than any server I've had on a cruise.

Other employees that we encountered throughout the week were for the most part friendly, helpful, and the like, but to be honest we did meet with a couple bartenders who were polite but certainly not more so than they had to be, which was a bit annoying.

The Entertainment/Nightlife (3.5/5)
Sam's Piano Bar
We cruised over Halloween and to be completely honest, I've never seen nightlife on a cruise better than that one night on the Dream! Every bar and club was packed 'till the wee hours of the morning, and it was great. Other than that, the disco was actually something more of a hot spot than I've seen it be on other cruises, and the music was more current top 40 than I was expecting.

We did everything from salsa dancing in The Song, to karaoke in the Burgundy Lounge (which was actually kind of dead, a big change from it being the most popular nightlife option on my last Carnival cruise), to singing along at Sam's (the piano bar). I would say that our favorite spot was probably the piano bar--the player was extremely talented and had a huge repertoire of Beatles songs, which was perfect for us.

The entertainment options that we partook in were fairly varied. We played in the casino a bit, and whereas the dealers were no Vegas dealers I suppose they could have been worse. We watched some of the break dancing demonstration in the Atrium, went to the Dancing in the Streets show, and even watched part of a comedy show late one night. We enjoyed most of what we experienced, although the Dancing in the Streets show would have been improved by some sort of story- or time line and the comedian simply wasn't that funny (disappointing as I'd heard the ship comedians were great). Our favorite entertainment option, however, was probably watching movies on the Lido Deck, which we did three nights out of the week. The movies were forgettable but the experience was decidedly not :o)

To be continued with information on the ports and excursions we enjoyed!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vegas Playlist FTW!

A month from today I'll be on my final full day of yet another Vegas trip (my fifth) and this isn't the first time I've made a pre-Vegas playlist...however, this particular list so far surpasses the last one I made that I feel it necessary to share.

I actually did some research on this playlist, and it's mostly upbeat songs. I know that there are plenty of other Vegas songs ("Vegas Nights" by The Cab, "Vegas" by Sara Bareilles, "Leaving Las Vegas" by Sheryl Crow, to name a few), but here's the deal: I think it's important to cap this playlist at 21 songs, and some numbers--especially slower ones--just simply didn't make the cut.

So whether you're making a mix to pump you up for an upcoming Vegas trip, or to play while you're there, or even better both those options, here are my picks for some great Vegas tunes! (Note that the order IS important! You want to mix it up and not play ten hip-hop/pop songs in a row.)

  1. Viva Las Vegas - Elvis (Self-explanatory!)
  2. Waking Up In Vegas - Katy Perry (Self-explanatory as well)
  3. Time of My Life - Toploader (I included this for personal reasons, but it is a great song about partying)
  4. Make it Rain - Fat Joe feat. Lil Wayne (they're singing about throwing bills at strippers, what's more Vegas than that?)
  5. Luck be a Lady Tonight - Frank Sinatra (Again, self-explanatory)
  6. Poker Face - Lady GaGa (ditto)
  7. Last Name - Carrie Underwood (upbeat country song about a girl who goes to Vegas on a one-night stand and doesn't know if her last name has changed? yes please!)
  8. Live your Life - T.I. feat. Rihanna (great hip hop song for partying, but also in the movie The Hangover)
  9. Clair de Lune - Debussy (from the end of the movie Ocean's 11)
  10. Shots - LMFAO (really, if you don't think you'll do shots in Vegas, something may be wrong with you)
  11. Time to Pretend - MGMT (a song about parachuting heroine, being famous, etc. and also in the movie 21)
  12. That's Not My Name - The Ting Tings (somehow I always end up hearing this in Vegas, so it's on the list)
  13. Three Best Friends - Zack Galifianakis (personally I'm including this because there are four of us rooming together on our upcoming trip, but also, it's from The Hangover, so yeah)
  14. Tik Tok - Ke$ha (a song about brushing your teeth with Jack Daniels and staying up all night? perfect Vegas material)
  15. Devil's Dance Floor - Flogging Molly (the song title says it all)
  16. Like a G6 - Far East Movement feat. Pitbull (poppin' bottles? gettin' slizzard? something about a blizzard? duh)
  17. A Little Less Conversation - Elvis (theme song from the TV show Las Vegas)
  18. DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love - Usher (great club song, right?)
  19. In the Air Tonight - Phil Collins (it was in the movie The Hangover...that's quite enough reason to be on this list IMO)
  20. Dynamite - Taio Cruz (I came to dance dance dance dance...and Vegas is perfect for letting go!)
  21. I'm in Las Vegas B*tch - DJ Chuckie + LMFAO (lets not lie, the song sucks, but it's perfect for this list)
~Life is like Vegas~

Friday, November 19, 2010

The "Rebirth" of Disney's Pleasure Island?

Disney finally revealed their plans for the area formerly known as Pleasure Island, and I must say...I'm not too keen on the ideas they're pitching. Sure, the concept drawings of Hyperion Wharf are pretty, but I think it's wrong of Disney to believe that they don't need to provide any sort of real nightlife for their 18+ guests.

Maybe some of my feelings on this derive from the fact that I remember PI in its hayday. Even before I worked at Disney, I remember walking through PI on family trips and being in awe of the scantily dressed young adults with drinks in hand, the fake tattoo booths, the place where you could make and buy a recording of yourself singing...

At 18, PI didn't hold as much of a draw for me as those crazy Vista Way parties, for sure. But in the post-21 era, it was a great place to go and drink and dance. Shoot, in early 2006 I guarantee you I was there with my friend Mia nearly every Thursday night!

All the same, I understand why they had to shut down PI. In the end, it was simply too big of an undertaking, even for Disney. Too many clubs, for one. They put too much focus on the number of options and not enough on the quality of those options. I truly believe that had they stuck with three places--a comedy club, a rock & roll club (with mainly live music), and a top 40/techno combo club--they would have survived. If they really wanted, they could have worked other aspects (i.e. 80s music) into simple theme nights rather than entire clubs.

Another part of the PI downfall was Disney making it 21 and up. Orlando has plenty of nightlife, and most of it is 21 and up--so PI was great for both tourists and locals. I know that they did this because it was easier for them--less employees needed to check IDs and police underage drinking and all--but if they'd had fewer clubs, this probably never would have been an issue in the first place.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that "Hyperion Wharf" will feature at least one decent 18+ nightclub for those of us who want to keep the party going past 11 PM...but I'm not going to hold my breath. Le sigh.

August 2004
February 2006
Pleasure Island in happier times...


                         




July 2006

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hotel Review: Disney's All Star Sports Resort

source
Let me preface this by saying that I stayed at the All Star Music years ago and had no problems with it. I have also stayed at the Pop Century three times and never had anything short of a good stay. The All Star Sports, however, was a different story.

Let me advise any and all of you who might be planning a trip to Disney (and planning to stay at a Disney resort) to avoid the All Star Sports at ALL costs. Between nasty unidentifiable stuff floating in the pool, backs missing off chairs, table tops not attached to the tables, the grassy and shrub areas being completely overgrown, puddles of nasty standing water EVERYWHERE even though it didn't rain once the whole time we were there, having to wait longer in line for the bus back from Animal Kingdom then I did for any of the rides at Animal Kingdom (no, I'm not kidding)--this resort was absolutely not up to Disney standards. You can stay at the much newer Pop Century for the same price or pay a little extra and stay at one of the moderate resorts, which, trust me, is more than worth it.

Admittedly, the check-in process at the All Star Sports was quick and easy and the cast members we encountered were all friendly and what not; unfortunately this simply did not override the terrible appearance of this resort.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday Funday: Soby's & Bailey's

The Urban Dictionary defines Sunday Funday as "By celebrating the "Sunday Funday" you can extend your weekend festivities just a little longer before hanging up your party pants. This day typically starts out with mimosas or bloody marys aka hair of the dog. It then typically continues through out the day until you find yourself wasted by about 6:30ish. Since the "Funday" ends early enough, you can rest assured that you will go to bed aka pass out early enough to be perfectly refreshed for work on monday morning."

Let me be very clear about one thing: it is very rare that Steve and I participate in Sunday Funday festivities. Because we're old and junk, and drinking on a Sunday while on vacation or having Monday off due to holiday doesn't count.

That said, yesterday was one of those few-and-far-betweens for us. I had tickets to the Lady Antebellum concert at Furman University, and we had a gift certificate for Soby's downtown that was begging to be used. Brunch and mimosas? Yes please, and it was all delicious :)

We returned home and followed brunch with more mimosas, a couple episodes of X Files, and a brisk walk with the dogs before leaving for the concert. And trust me on this, we hadn't had enough mimosas to be by any means drunk--but yes, I was looking forward to having a beer or two while listening to some great newfangled country music!

Only...no can do. Furman was, for a very long time, a dry campus. Supposedly as of more recent times, it is a wet campus...but apparently the concessions at Timmons haven't caught on, because there was no beer in sight. And although Steve and I certainly don't have to get drunk to enjoy a concert (most times I've gone completely dry at the concerts I've attended; since we've been together the highest number of beers either one of us has had at a show is three)...yes, I was severely disappointed that I didn't have a cold one to sip while listening to Lady A.

That said, we arrived for the last two or three songs by the opening act--a kid named David Nail, never heard of him but he wasn't half bad--and stayed through just over an hour of Lady A's set. The only song I missed that I wanted to hear was "Need You Now", but no big deal--I could tell that by quarter to ten, Steve was getting a bit antsy. Plus, having skipped any sort of dinner, I was hungry and so it was that we ended up at Bailey's on Laurens Road, just around the corner from our house!

We had stopped into Bailey's for beers once before, but it was late at night and pretty dead at the time...it was a whole different world last night, thanks to the Pats vs. Steelers game! We ordered some brews (from a surprisingly decent selection) and an appetizer sampler (which was surprisingly delicious) while we watched the end of the second quarter and the entire third quarter of the game. By 10:45 we were ready to go, but our waitress had taken to spending her evening flirting with the Most Eligible Bachelors in the room (neither of whom I would have given a second glance even in my most pudgy and unattractive days, but I digress) and it took us forever to flag her down. I was none too pleased with this, as all I wanted was home and bed...this situation and the scarcity of beer at the concert added up to the somewhat disappointing end of our Sunday Funday. I tried to stay up to finish the game, but once my head hit that pillow and Steve climbed into bed next to me just before midnight, we were out.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Carnival Splendor Debacle

Having returned from a Carnival cruise just last Saturday, I'm definitely hearing plenty of not-so-funny jokes about how happy I must be that we weren't on the Carnival Splendor. Of course it gets a bit tiring explaining that these things happen. It's unfortunate. Maybe it was preventable. But personally, I believe that Carnival has done everything in their power to rectify the situation.

Not that this is quite comparable, but on my 2007 Contiki tour our bus broke down somewhere between Paris, France, and Lucerne, Switzerland. We were stuck for a couple of hours. It made an already very long bus ride that much longer. But what can you do, right? This situation was definitely frustrating, uncomfortable, and a waste of time...but shit happens. Pardon my language.

Per the article linked above, I can only imagine how awful days stuck on a boat without air conditioning, ways to cook food or keep refrigerated food from spoiling, etc. were. Especially during the period of time when the toilets weren't working! But Carnival obviously tried. They allowed people to sleep on the decks. They had activities--live music, scavenger hunts, trivia contests. They offered free alcohol (although I'm not sure how much alcohol it would take to make me forget about the smell of rotting food, haha).

But what is more important to me is what they are doing for these guests once they arrive safely back in San Diego. Having dealt with the absolute hell that is Norwegian Cruise Line when I was a travel agent (a ship that lost the majority of its power on a Charleston/Bermuda cruise, leaving passengers without air conditioning and the ship without enough propulsion to get the guests to Bermuda on time to actually enjoy the island; also, NCL canceling all but one of the three ships they had in Hawaii and refusing practically any help or compensation for those guests booked who then had to re-book flights and end up with less than stellar rooms on a "similar" cruise), I sincerely applaud Carnival's offer to these poor guests. Basically, not only are they getting a complete refund and help with getting back to their respective homes--but they are getting an entirely free future cruise as well!

On top of that, because the Splendor's next cruise had to be canceled as well, Carnival is refunding those passengers--including airfare/transportation costs--and offering them 25% off a future cruise.

I'm sure there will be people  out there--notably the ones that got stuck on the Splendor in the first place, and the ones who have had their upcoming vacation canceled--who will stomp their feet and say that this is not enough. I may not be one of those people, but I respectfully disagree. According to the cruise contract these people signed, Carnival really doesn't have to do anything. But they are doing something--at least what they should, and in my opinion more--and that's what counts.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Friendliest City in the Nation

Turns out that the friendliest city in the nation is Charleston, SC!

This is according to Travel + Leisure Magazine, but I couldn't agree more :)

For some personalized Charleston info from yours truly, check out my blog about The Original Pub Tour of Charleston.