The days are short. The nights are long. The weather stinks, and your boss won't let you have another week off until summer. You just have to get away, even for a few days, to some place warm and relaxing. Surely, you can wrangle a Friday and Monday off? There must be SOME kind of virus with your name on it spreading around the office? How about a 3-Night Bahamas cruise aboard Carnival's Ecstasy?
So you DO have some vacation days leftover from that trip to Walt Disney World a few months ago when the car broke down and you had to cut that vacation short. Your better half has been bugging you for years to take a cruise but you've never been on one and you are just sure you will hate it. You'll feel confined and bored wandering around a floating hotel with nothing to do all day. You'll miss your computer, your daily aerobics and work-out, checking just how far down in the standings the Mets have sunk today, and what dastardly news from Washington is creating havoc with your stock portfolio. You'll never last for 7 days. But, wait - maybe you COULD last for FOUR days? Especially if there is a casino on board and a port where you can shop for cheap Christmas presents for Aunt Millie and Uncle Earl. How about a 4-Night Baja Mexico cruise aboard Carnival's Holiday?
I was fortunate enough to be able to take both of these cruises during the past two months. I was aboard Carnival Cruise Line's Holiday for a 4 night cruise to Santa Catalina Island and Ensenada during the week of February 24th and then Bob and I sailed aboard Carnival's Ecstasy for a 3 night cruise to Nassau over the March 14th-17th weekend. Carnival is the "old kid on the block" when it comes to these cruises, offering a consistently fine short cruise product week in and week out. The Ecstasy and Holiday, while vastly different in size, are amazingly similar in many respects.
The Holiday is a mid-sized ship, vintage mid-80s, and in September, after the Tropicale is moved to Carnival Asia, will be the oldest ship in the huge US Carnival fleet. While this ship does not have all the glitz, glamour and 20-deck high atriums of her huge sisters, she does have that "smaller ship" charm and intimacy that is usually lacking in the mega-ships. Our cruise was sold out, but the ship rarely felt crowded. But then the weather was particularly atrocious during the week, so the Lido Deck did not attract many "takers" and the incredibly high seas on the last day sent many cruisers and crew members to their bunks with various degrees of Mal-de-Mer. Fortunately for me, I never have been seasick and this cruise was no exception. Our dinner table of 8 "ladies" was loudly lauded by the dining room staff for being the only "complete" table to show up for dinner on Thursday night. No doubt much to the disgust of you folks who suffer from seasickness, we ate like piggies that night before bounding off to the Americana Lounge for the Broadway Show , Win-A-Free-Cruise Bingo, the passenger talent show and "Bedtime Story."
The Holiday's Greg Kneale may be the finest Cruise Director I have ever run across. There were supposed to be seven acts featured in the passenger talent show, but by showtime, 4 of them were in their cabins overdosed on Dramamine and only 3 acts showed up: a middle-aged female hula dancer who was very graceful and charming, a middle-aged male singer who sang "The Shadow of Your Smile" just about as GREAT as I've ever heard it, and a semi-aged male hula dancer who should never quit his day job. What was supposed to be an hour-long "Broadway Show" had to be cut to 20 minutes because of the high seas (no way the dancers could do their lifts and jumps THAT night!). With the bingo players cut to probably less than 50, bingo card sales went very quickly. Mr. Kneale was left mostly alone on stage to try to "fill" the time for those brave souls who sparesely populated the Americana Lounge.
Can you imagine gazing out at a bunch of folks who don't know they're supposed to be down in their bunks moaning and writhing, couldn't go ashore in Catalina, haven't seen the sun in 4 days, and all-but-one have just LOST at Win-A-Free-Cruise Bingo? Well, Mr. Kneale had us all in stitches that evening. His comic timing and double-takes were so good that even "old schtick" like "crazy questions asked by first-time cruisers" (Does the crew sleep on board?) took on a whole new comic meaning. His most brilliant move of the evening was to cast the male hula dancer as the "hero" of the Bedtime Story, a 6'5" "hunk" as the villain, and my cruising buddy and one of my agents, Vanisse, as "Screaming Mary", the heroine. I haven't laughed that hard in years and can't wait to see the "Video Diary" which Vanisse ordered.
The Holiday is laid out in similar fashion to most Carnival ships with one long promenade deck housing most of the public entertainment rooms. The enclosed promenade, entitled Broadway on the Holiday, is lined with picture windows for gazing out and ample seating. Broadway extends fore to aft on the starboard side of the ship between the upper level of the Americana Lounge, a two story show lounge with good sightlines and comfortable bench and banquette seating, and the Blue Lagoon Lounge, basically the "kids" area featuring a TON of video and virtual reality games, and lots of seating and play areas to divide the Camp Carnival age groups. The Blue Lagoon Lounge is the largest area I have ever seen dedicated to "kids of all ages" and served to keep the young ones busy, happy and NOT "under foot" for the entire 4 days. The children's pool is outside at the rear of the Blue Lagoon Lounge.
From the Americana Lounge, heading aft along Broadway, you will pass a good sized Casino featuring the usual slots, blackjack, poker and craps tables and a roulette wheel. Each 3 and 4 day cruise features at least one blackjack, slots and poker tournament. In deference to a passenger base made up of a large contingent from southern California where poker clubs are legal, there are a number of different poker games played here.
The Bus Stop Cafe and Bar, literally laid out around a vintage bus, is an all day to wee hours lounge serving up a lot of light rock music as well as 1:30 AM mini-breakfast buffets and some of the best bartending on the ship. Further along Broadway is a very comfortable area filled with booths and banquettes called Capuccino's where coffees, liqueurs and chocolates are served. The Tahiti Lounge, decorated with South Pacific "totems", features a combo nightly for dancing to something a bit softer than the Reflections Disco offers next door.
The America Deck, one below the Promenade deck, houses the two dining rooms separated by the Galley. As on all of Carnival's Holiday and Fantasy Class ships, as well as on the Carnival Destiny, the rear dining room (Seven Seas Dining Room on the Holiday) is accessible only from the rear stairs or elevators. You must go up to the Promenade Deck from this dining room and forward to the mid-ship elevators and stairway to go down to the Four Winds Dining Room. Both dining rooms span the width of the ship and are lined with windows on both port and starboard sides, have comfortable large "round" tables in the center, some "booths" which can seat up to 6 guests and many rectangular tables for 8 along the windows. While larger, both the Wind Song and Wind Star Dining Rooms on the Ecstasy are similarly laid out and positioned.
You CAN go forward of the Four Winds Dining Room on the America Deck and when you do you will come to a central hallway with the Carnegie Library on the starboard side and Rick's American Cafe and Piano Bar on the port side. If you are assigned to dine in the Four Winds, Rick's is a great place to meet for a cocktail before dinner. It's a very comfortable lounge and the pianist, Anselmo, is quite good. On the Ecstasy, The Neon Bar, and the Explorer's Club library fan out off from the Atrium in similar positions to their counterparts on the Holiday.
Continue forward and you'll pass through Union Square - another lobby area similar to and directly under Times Square. There are huge oval planters on either side of this lobby which are full of live plants and trees. Over each is an oval cutout which allows light from the promenade deck above to filter through to the plant life. The Galleria Shopping Mall, housing the duty-free and logo shops, the beauty salon and a game room, is located between Union Square and the lower level of the Americana Lounge.
One deck above the Promenade deck is the Lido Deck which contains the Wharf Bar and Grill, the typical buffet/pizza/light dining area, which also provides country music entertainment on most nights. To get to the "hot food" and the pizzeria in here, one must pass through one of three openings into what appears to be a small metal "room". Back outside with your tray in hand, you will see that you have just passed through something that looks like the hull of a ship. A clever idea - a "wharf" with three ships docked, but claustrophobic while being served in those hot food lines. You can eat your food inside or outside by the Patio Pool and two-deck-high slide. There is another pool aft of the Wharf Bar and Grill. Deck space appears very limited on Lido Deck but there is plenty of sunning space up on both the Verandah Deck, which also houses the Nautica Spa and Gymnasium as well as the verandah suites, and the Sun Deck, which also has a private topless sunning area.
The overall decor of the Holiday is rather plain compared to other Carnival ships, but it is not unattractive. A LOT of wood was used in this ship along with solid shades of brown, red and blue. Much of the flooring along Broadway resembles a cobblestone street of days gone by. This area is brighter and appears wider than a lot of the enclosed Promenades on other Carnival Ships.
For instance, The Ecstasy's Promenade Deck is very dark with lots of neon signs flashing overhead and a very dark metal ceiling filled with tiny little white Christmas tree mini-lights. What is called "Broadway" on the Holiday is called City Lights Boulevard on the Ecstasy. The layout is almost identical, but the 23,000 extra tons of the Ecstasy results in larger public rooms, an extra bar and a huge atrium to replace Times Square. The Ecstasy's Atrium is 7 decks high, is accessible from each of the 7 decks and tops off at a skylight on Sun Deck. It is surrounded by neon which changes color every 15 minutes or so from red to blue to green to purple. Matching "neon" areas all along City Lights Boulevard change accordingly. I don't know why, but these "neon shows" on Carnival's Fantasy Class vessels really intrigue me. I actually like these atriums better than the Carnival Destiny's Rotunda which is really only "lighted" on three decks.
A popular "photo opportunity" is near the center of City Lights Boulevard: the Rolls Royce Cafe. Yes, a fully restored two-tone blue example of the British luxury car sits right outside Chinatown ("the sun never sets on the British Empire," maybe?). I'm no expert on automobiles, but I'll guess it's a 1930-something, and it's a beauty! All day and night you can watch people lining themselves up for the perfect shot with "that car." The boulevard is lined with round tables near large picture windows and is a perfect place to relax, have that quiet refresher, gaze out at the ocean or "people watch" all the folks who had agreed to "meet at the Rolls."
The Ecstasy is one ship that gives you the opportunity to tour the Galley, and a LOT of people decided to do just that. We were two of them, and we snaked our way through what seemed like canyons of stainless steel, watching (and smelling!) the bread and rolls being baked right there. Bob saw a "name brand" mixer with a bowl that he THINKS he could have crawled into and hidden (to sneak out later and sample the pastries, perhaps). And speaking of pastries, there they were: the tortes and tarts, the eclairs, the mousses, the ... the ... oh, my. All that walking gave us healthy appetites.
Another added feature on the Ecstasy, as well as the other Fantasy class vessels, is a bar lounge near the stern between the Stripes Disco and Starlight Lounge. Tabbed the Society Bar on the Ecstasy, this is the before-dinner gathering place for those dining in the Wind Song Dining Room. For those of you who think Carnival has "no class", this is a lovely lounge and even served "High Tea" on Sunday afternoon.
For those who think they will be bored on one of these cruises, first take a look at all the shore excursions offered in Catalina, Ensenada and Nassau. You'll find a complete listing of the Holiday's Catalina and Ensenada tours in the article Holiday Shore Excursions. These include everything from city tours to glass bottom boat tours to snorkeling and scuba tours to horseback riding and golf opportunities to kayaking. As I mentioned, we were unable to go ashore in Catalina due to high seas and so I cannot comment on the available activities there except to say that there are TONS of excursions offered. I do recall from previous trips to Catalina that I enjoyed walking around the town and pier area , shopping and the Glass Bottom Boat Tour. In Ensenada, we took a taxi into town and spent the day walking around and shopping. I got some great bargains on leather items and Vanisse picked up some silver jewelry and stained glass art at excellent prices.
The 3 Day Ecstasy cruise docks in Nassau, Bahamas overnight on Saturday. You'll find dozens of both "daylight" and "evening" tours listed in the article Nassau Shore Excursions. We did something a bit different in Nassau. We were lucky enough to have a private tour of the Atlantis Resort & Casino on Paradise Island. Formerly Merv Griffin's Paradise Island Resort & Casino, currently the casino and hotel are the same, but the grounds are entirely different, and there is a lot of new building going on. At present, there are a total of six man-made lagoons which you can explore from underwater viewing "tubes", through caves, from overhanging rope bridges and from other walkways. The lagoons are teaming with tropical fish, sharks, turtles and other interesting marine life. The facilities include one of the nicest beaches in Nassau; a huge swimming pool complex which is more like a lagoon than a "pool"; and a meandering "river" where you can be either carried along on an inner tube, cooling off with the minimum expenditure of energy, or swim to the waterslide where you can be plummetted down two or three levels of waterfalls. There is a children's area with swimming pools and playground paraphenalia and youth "counselors" leading the fray. Places to eat and drink abound. We had an excellent lunch in the Seagrapes buffet with our only complaint being that there was just TOO MUCH food to choose from.
When the hotel is not full to capacity, Atlantis will sell you a "day pass" which includes use of all the facilities for the day. At this time, the cost is $30 per person and there is no discount for children. The pass does not include the cost of food and drink or equipment rental.
As to onboard activities, it's hard to know where to begin. Carnival probably provides more shipboard activities and "entertainment possibilities" than any other cruise line. The Discos are perfect places to dance and meet people. The first night out, there is usually a "singles party" in the mid-evening so that those who are cruising "solo" have the opportunity to get to meet others. Life-long friendships and even a few more serious relationships have had their start at these singles' parties. You can expect "ice-breaking" games like passing an orange down a line of folks without the use of any limbs, ladies trying to pop balloons against a gentleman's chest or lap, and dance and lip-sinking contests.
Lido Deck games and contests include a multitude of daily "trivia quizzes", Ping Pong tournaments, hairy chest contests, frog-races and who knows what else. Of course, you are not obliged to compete in anything. Feel free to grab a lounger near the pool or off by yourself on one of the upper decks and do nothing but take in the rays or read a book. For the more adventurous types, both ships have a waterslide which will plummet you into a pool at the bottom. For the truly daring, there is a topless sunbathing area on the top deck near the funnel.
For those of you who just can't sit still for a minute, the Nautica Spa may be the place for you. Here's a sample schedule from the Sunday "Fun Day At Sea" aboard the Ecstasy:
8:00 am Step Aerobics
For those in-between times, the facilities include a massage studio, beauty salon, aerobics studio, jacuzzi, sauna and a full gym where you can exercise to your heart's content while gazing out at the ocean. If that's not enough, there is always the "jogging track". But, please don't knock me over if I happen to be vegetating in a lounge chair nearby.
If we haven't kept you amused enough yet, there are the nightly production shows in the two story showrooms, a Midnight Special Show in the secondary show lounge, bingo one or more times daily, galley tours, ice-carving demonstrations, the passengers' talent show, daily art auctions, a food and beverage demonstration by the chefs, lots of stuff to buy in the gift shops, the Grandparents & Honeymooners party, and the always funny Newlywed, Not-so-Newlywed game. Don't forget to check the Photo Gallery to make sure someone hasn't purchased your Bon Voyage photo by mistake.
For those whose gambling interests extend beyond "bingo", there is horse racing, a full casino with blackjack, slots and poker tournaments, and even a daily "lottery" game where you can win up to $50,000.
If you enjoy dancing to different types of music, besides the Disco you will find live rock and roll and/or pop entertainment in the Tahiti Lounge on the Holiday and in Chinatown on the Ecstasy, big band dance music in the show lounges, and even a bit of Country-Western in some of the other smaller lounges on board.
Movie buffs can watch free recent releases from 8:00 am until 3:00 am on their Cabin TVs. For purists, you'll find a large screen TV in the Ecstasy's Society Bar.
And, heck, if you're still bored, then EAT. Again from the Ecstasy's Sunday schedule:
6:30 am Continental Breakfast
If you're still hungry, the Pizzeria is open 20 to 24 hours a day and Room Service is available 24 hours a day. The Holiday even had an additional mini-breakfast buffet in the Bus Stop Lounge at 1:30 am.
And, don't forget you can find at least one bar open somewhere from 9:00 am until 4:00 am. If you close the bar at 4:00 am, then I'm afraid you're stuck with "room service" until Continental Breakfast at 6:30am. However, you could use this time to sleep if you are so inclined.
If you still haven't managed to entertain yourself, you can always watch ALL of the action on the "Video Diary" which Carnival shoots constantly and shows continuously the next day on the cabin TVs. You can purchase all or any part of this video so you can see just what you DID or DIDN'T do on your Carnival Mini Cruise!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please