They say time flies when you’re having fun, and that’s so true. John Heald’s 10th annual Blogger Cruise went by in a flash. It seemed as if one minute, we were flying into Miami as I described in Part One of this review, and the next, I looked up and it was almost over. Sailing with John is always a treat, but if I had to name the one thing that made this a special cruise, it would be our little group of cruisers (which, of course, included Kniki).
Day Six: Having a Grand (Turk) Time
Thursday was our last port day, and it was a short one. We weren’t scheduled to dock in Grand Turk until 11:00 a.m. This was actually a good thing, because it gave us time to grab breakfast and then attend the military appreciation event in the main theater at 9:30.
I always try to go to this, but having my career Navy daughter with me this time made it special for me. This program differs a little from ship to ship and depending on who the cruise director is. Eric, our CD, did a really good job with this one, starting off the proceedings with a touching story of his own regarding his best friend’s military service.
We went through the usual salute to each of the branches of the armed forces, but instead of having the members of each stand up, Eric brought them all up on stage, one branch at a time, and had them introduce themselves. Now this was where Kniki looked at me accusingly and said “You didn’t tell me about this.” That’s because I hadn’t seen it done that way before; I really didn’t deliberately ambush her.
Despite being unprepared, she dutifully took the stage with the rest of the Navy veterans, and after introducing herself as a plank owner of the USS Coronado and stating that she had just retired with 20 years of service, she added, “Yes, I joined up at the age of seven.” That got a good laugh.
The event was touching, as usual, with a few older vets who served before I was even born, and a few stories that brought tears to everyone’s eyes.
After the event, we went up to Lido for a light lunch, and soon we had arrived in the Turks and Caicos Islands and were docking at Grand Turk. From our balcony, we had a great view of the beautiful clear water, the beach, and our destination: Jack’s Shack, a bar that was a good walk down the beach.
One of our Carnival sister ships, Sunshine, got there before us, and these two seafaring ladies made a pretty pair (and made for some good photo opps) as we made our way down the pier.
Our mission was simple: to get to Jack’s, have a drink and hang out a little with Topher, the curly-haired dog who has earned a reputation as the most famous canine on Grand Turk. I’m not sure of his breed – possibly some sort of poodle mix – but he’s funny and friendly and many a tourist has made the trek through the sand specifically to meet him.
The walk down the beach isn’t really a long one, but it’s more challenging than it appears at first glance. This is because the sand is very deep and you sink into it, and walking through it feels like trudging forward on a planet with a heavy gravitational pull – especially if you have shoes on. We quickly shed ours, which helped but also exposed our feet to the heated grains of sand.
It seemed to take forever, but finally we’d left the ship in the distance and Jack’s was in sight, like an oasis in the desert. All we had to do was navigate our way through the volleyball game that was taking place on the beach without being hit in the head by a wayward ball – which we managed to do, if not necessarily with finesse.
The oasis analogy was apt, given how hot and thirsty we were after our sandy journey in the full sun. We checked out the souvenirs inside (being careful not to disturb the sleeping kitty), ordered drinks (a piña colada for me, which – although it was overpriced and overiced, tasted heavenly in my liquid-deprived state). We then ventured out onto the patio to sit in the shade and relax and get a picture with Topher, who was also busy quenching his thirst after a busy session of digging in the sand.
Too soon, it was time to make the return trip down the beach, so we bid the famous pup farewell and headed out. For whatever reason – maybe once again the drink was stronger than I thought, or maybe we had mastered the secret to maneuvering in sand up to our ankles – this time seemed less difficult and seemed to go faster than before.
Back at the port area, we walked around a little and then returned to the ship well before our 5:00 p.m. “back on board” time. There wasn’t much going on as far as Blogger activities; our schedule showed a magic seminar with the same magician who had put on such a dismal show on Tuesday. For some reason, neither of us was interested in attending that.
Sunshine had arrived earlier and so was also leaving earlier, and I got some beautiful shots of her on the water as she left us.
That night was our second elegant night, which always means taking a little more time than usual to get dressed up.
One of my favorite dishes, spanakopita, was on the menu so it was another great dinner (and I was glad I’d gotten so much walking in that day to at least partially offset the extra calories). We had a variety of different dishes at the table, providing more excellent food porn for my collection and the online enjoyment of my family and friends.
When we got back to the cabin, we found that our sweet cabin steward, Arvin, had not only created the special hanging monkey towel animal for us (making a mommy for Kniki’s stuffed monkey!) but had also left a Happy Birthday greeting on the mirror – even though her birthday wasn’t until later in the month.
I want to take a moment out here to say again that the service we received, both from Arvin and his assistants in taking care of our cabin, and from all of the waiters in the MDR, was superb. Anyone who follows the Carnival Facebook pages, the comments on John Heald’s page, Cruise Critic and other cruise-related discussions knows there have been many complaints recently about cutbacks and deterioration in quality of service. I have seen that on some cruises but definitely not on this one. Every staff and crew member I dealt with was friendly and professional and many went above and beyond expectations.
By the way, I really like the fairly new practice that I’ve noticed on the last couple of cruises. The stateroom stewards now give you a business card with their names and phone extension, which is really helpful. There have been a few times in the past (not many) when I hardly ever saw my cabin steward and was never even sure of his/her name. The card makes you feel a little more connected to the person who’s taking care of your needs throughout the cruise.
It had been a long but lovely day. The only little fly in the ointment was the invitation that was left in the cabin for us that evening. It was the standard invite to the Platinum/Diamond appreciation party.
There was just one not-so-little problem: it was scheduled for the next day (our final day at sea) from 5:00 to 5:45 p.m. The Bloggers group’s farewell party, which is also where all of those in the group wear their matching BC10 tee shirts for a big group photo with John, was scheduled for an overlapping time: 4:30 to 6:00 p.m.
That meant those of us who are Platinum or Diamond and were also registered as Bloggers would have to make a choice, or run back and forth between the Platinum/Diamond party (in the Ebony Cabaret Lounge at the very back of the ship on deck 5) to the Amber Palace theater (at the very front of the ship on deck 3).
I had a feeling there were going to be some people who would be very unhappy about that, and I wasn’t wrong. As for me, I was a little disappointed but it wasn’t a difficult decision. There’s a Platinum/Diamond party on every cruise. The Blogger party only comes around once a year. Besides, I was presenting our plaques to John and Mischelle, so there was no doubt I’d be going to the Blogger party.
On that note, I went to bed relatively early – didn’t even go out for my nightly walk around the ship – so I could be up early to enjoy the last day of the cruise.
Day Seven: Parting is such Sweet Sorrow
Friday morning we woke up to a beautiful day on the ocean, a little sad because we knew that this fantastic voyage would soon be over and it would be time to say so long to the old friends and new ones with whom we had shared the past fun-filled week.
A plethora of presents
The first order of the day was to get down to the Ebony Cabaret Lounge to collect our BC10 tee shirts, which were one of the “perks” of registering as a member of the Blogger group.
We also each got a special Blogger gift, a nice insulated 20 oz. stainless steel cup with the Carnival whale tail logo and “Bloggers’ Cruise Hot – 2017” engraved on it. I actually consider this one of the best of the many Carnival gifts I’ve received over the year, and I started using it immediately as it keeps my coffee hot for much longer than a standard ceramic cup.
I heard some people comment that they didn’t like the gift, which surprised me. I guess there’s no way to please everyone.
While we’re on the subject of gifts, I’d say we came away from this cruise with quite a haul, and I appreciate all of the freebies (or as we call giveaways in the tech industry, swag). First were the tee shirts and our awesome “VIB” ID cards, which I know confused at least a few of the non-Bloggers on this cruise. I saw some of them look at us as we walked through the ship proudly wearing them, and I even heard one lady asked a Blogger, “Do you work for Carnival?”
The cards came on a blue nylon lanyard but Kniki and I wore ours on the absolutely gorgeous special lanyard/necklaces that my sweet friend Nancy gave us at the beginning of the cruise, along with a pair of beautiful tee shirts. One of the many reasons I love cruising is meeting so many wonderful, generous people who do things like this, just out of the blue and the kindness of their hearts. (For those who are remembering the raffle: yes, this is the same Nancy who bought $1500 of tickets to benefit St. Jude’s. Told you she was generous).
As for Carnival, in addition to the Blogger gift, earlier in the cruise I came back to the cabin one evening to find the gift that Carnival gives Platinum and Diamond level customers on each cruise. The gift itself changes every few months, and the one we got this time was a very nice little night light with the Carnival logo. We used it in the cabin and I’m using it now at home. As you can see, it came in a very nice box and it lights up in a soothing blue color.
Along with the night light came the standard plate of chocolate covered strawberries – which unfortunately I can’t eat because I’m allergic to strawberries. But it’s the thought that counts.
John also sent me a bottle of champagne and a Glory “ship on a stick” (affectionately known to the Carnival “in crowd” as an SoaS), which he said was thanks for the countdown graphics that I posted on his page as BC10 drew near (Remember those? I posted some of them in Part One of this review).
Nice; I didn’t have to go play trivia to try to win a Glory SoaS for my collection, which now consists of Magic, Triumph, Freedom, Breeze, Miracle, Legend, Vista and Glory. Although I’ve sailed on many of these multiple times and have won or been given duplicate Ships on Sticks, whenever I get an SoaS for a ship that I already have, I give it away to a first-time cruiser or a kid who doesn’t have one. My goal is to eventually collect one for each ship in the fleet.
I’m less than halfway there and might not ever reach that goal, especially since I seem to keep repeating my favorite ships, but it’s fun to try.
Now back to this cruise and our last day on board.
The breakfast club
The night before, we had prearranged with our little group of friends to meet up after the tee shirt pickup for sea day brunch in the dining room. The brunch is one of my favorite parts of the cruise. We got a table in the aft and placed our orders, but I had forgotten to bring my coupon for a free drink (another Platinum/Diamond benefit that I generally don’t use because it has to be redeemed before 1:00 p.m. and I don’t drink that early). Kniki wanted a Bloody Mary so I went back to the cabin to retrieve it for her, and by the time I got back, the food had arrived.
I usually get chocolate chip pancakes on the last sea day, but I wasn’t really in the mood for chocolate this morning so instead I went semi-healthy and got the fruit plate and a cheese omelet. While the others enjoyed their free drinks, I enjoyed my coffee, and the company. As always on the last day, there was a little tinge of sadness as we realized this was the last breakfast we’d share – at least for a while.
It was also the last breakfast food porn that I’d be sharing with Tom from this cruise, I thought, so I made the most of it.
Bye, bye, Bloggers
After breakfast, we went back to the cabin to start packing. Luckily, that didn’t take too long, although fitting in all my new swag presented a slight challenge. Kniki travels light – one carry-on bag and that’s it – so she didn’t have room to take her metal cup. I didn’t want to just leave it, so I found a way to get both in my bag, by packing some of my smaller toiletry items inside them.
Soon we had most of our stuff packed up. We had a quick bite to eat on Lido – one of the very few times we ate on Lido during this cruise – and decided to skip tea this time, since the Bloggers’ farewell party was scheduled to start at 4:30. I knew from experience that people would start lining up early, and sure enough, even though I got there by 4:00, there were already several people waiting.
We visited while standing in line, and had a few minor incidents when someone decided to try to shove to the front, but finally the doors opened up and we were in. Thanks to the fact that many of the Bloggers are slow, or were in large unwieldy groups, or were looking around for their lost friends, we were able to take advantage of our agility and get seats on the front row.
As we all waited for John to show up and get the show on the road, drinks and small appetizers were served and the sea of light blue shirts grew. Finally John appeared and unlike last year, when he invited people from the audience to talk at the end, this time he opened the party with the open mic session. Since I was sitting right in front of the microphone on the starboard side of the stage, it was easy for me to get the first spot in line.
I had told John that I was planning to make a presentation to Mischelle, but hadn’t let on that I would also have something for him. Elaine came up with me to serve as my “assistant” (she got left holding the bag – LOL – that contained the plaques and gifts).
Along with the signed plaques, we “crowned” Mischelle with a tiara, making her the reigning queen of BC10 – a title she had certainly earned, along with the Wonder Woman moniker, by working tirelessly both before and during the cruise to make the event run smoothly. Then I proclaimed John a quasi-official honorary Texas Ranger and presented him with a badge, which he immediately pinned to his shirt and told the group that “there’s a new sheriff in town.” It was fun and they both seemed genuinely touched by our little gesture.
A few other folks (surprisingly few), stepped up to the mic afterward and said their own thank you’s and comments, and then John took the stage to give his recap of the cruise and say his goodbyes.
His talk was mostly upbeat, but he also seemed genuinely perplexed and a little hurt by the complaints he’d gotten. Some hadn’t liked the gift (the thermal cups). Someone apparently had asked if they could trade the Blogger tee shirt for one from the Fun Shops (FFS). Others had expressed disappointment that it had been “just another BC,” pretty much like the past nine Bloggers’ cruises. They had expected something a little more special for the tenth anniversary.
I’d heard the same complaints from fellow passengers (except for the tee shirt trade request) so I knew he wasn’t making it up. I understand why people thought number 10 was a big milestone, but I also understand the realities of operating within a set budget. I do think John does the best he can with what he has, and puts a lot of himself into it.
Now that we were at the end, did BC10 meet my expectations? Honestly, I have to say that it did. I wasn’t anticipating anything more than the previous year, and there were more than enough Blogger activities for me. In fact, I wasn’t able to make it to all of them. The only things I’d change, as mentioned earlier, would be to a) let us order whatever type of drink we wanted at the parties, b) start breakfast events a little later, and c) don’t schedule the Blogger farewell party at the same time as the Platinum/Diamond party. It feels too much like an attempt to cut down on attendance at the latter (and thus save money on drinks).
Speaking of the Platinum/Diamond party, despite the listed timeframe, when I made my way to the aft of the ship after John’s party was over, it was still in progress. So I slipped into the lounge and got in on the last ten minutes or so, and got a photo of those being honored (most cruises, oldest cruiser, youngest cruiser, etc.) up on the stage.
Then it was up to the cabin to make a quick change before meeting my friends for dinner for the last time.
The food was, once again, delicious – but the evening was bittersweet. It always is on that last night, as the wait staff sings “Leaving on a Cruise Ship” and we bid them goodbye and hope we’ll see them again one day. The six of us toasted our friendships and the bonds that had grown closer during this cruise.
Out of endings, new beginnings
I woke up on debarkation morning with a drippy nose that signaled the beginning of a nasty rhino virus. I laughingly blamed John – who had been posting all week about having a cold – for giving me a hug at the goodbye party.
Kniki and I both had late flights, so we were able to relax and take it easy as those who needed to get to the airport or on the road early frantically waited in long lines to get off the ship. We enjoyed the views of Miami from our balcony until we had to leave the cabin, and then went to the dining room for our final breakfast (waffles and omelet for me).
After that, we settled in on deck 5 to wait for them to kick us off the ship. As they called the last numbers, we made our way – in no hurry – down to the lobby where the line to exit the ship had dwindled and there was almost no wait at all.
We proceeded through the terminal to the baggage claim area – and that’s where things bogged down. My bags had Zone 1 tags, which normally would mean they’d have come out first and would have been sitting there, waiting for me, for a long time already. But they were nowhere to be found. Others with Zone 1 were walking around, hunting for their bags, as well. It turned out the baggage carousel delivering Zone 1 had broken, and wasn’t moving at all (unlike the rest of the carousels).
There was some confusion and consternation, which I blame on the Miami port personnel. There was one man in particular who was adamantly insisting to all who were asking questions that “all the bags for that Zone are gone” and “that’s all there is,” pointing to a small stack of bags (which I’d examined twice already) on the floor in front of the carousel. Finally a lady who knew what she was going went to the back, came back and told us that “there are a ton of bags back there” and that they were working on getting the carousel fixed.
After a total of around half an hour, the carousel finally started moving again and we were able to get our bags. We got through customs quickly with no problems and had no trouble finding a cab to take us to the airport. There we had to split up because I was flying on AA and Kniki was on Delta. I got my bag checked in at the curb and then proceeded to the Admiral’s Club lounge – which was handily located right near my departure gate – and collapsed. By then, my cold was in full force and I felt awful.
I had three and half hours until my flight. Luckily, they were serving a couple of types of soup: green chile chicken and black bean soup. Despite the old axiom that chicken soup is the best cure for a cold, it didn’t cure mine, but it did taste good, and a decent Internet connection helped to pass the time until my flight was called, and most important of all: there was plenty of coffee.
I got lucky on the flight home. I was in an aisle seat in a row of three, and not only was the guy in the window seat small and not talkative, but nobody showed up to take the middle seat. I was able to get somewhat comfortable, and finally landed at DFW around 5:30 p.m., almost half an hour ahead of schedule.
I was very happy to see Kris at the baggage claim, and this time my bag was one of the first out (thanks to the Miami AA staffer who put a bright orange first class PRIORITY tag on it even though I wasn’t flying in first). Home to Tom, three wildly spinning dogs, and my own bed. Bloggers’ Cruise was officially over. Until next time.
Usually, John announces the details of the next BC at the end of the current one. This year, we got only partial information – that it will probably be on the Magic out of Port Canaveral (Orlando) sometime in February 2018 – but no firm date; thus at the time of this writing (Feb. 23), we’re still unable to book it. There are a few Facebook groups full of “Bloggers” who are waiting impatiently for the news.
Will I go again next year? That depends on a few factors. My cruise time is limited and getting more so, which means I have to pick my cruises carefully. There are a lot of good choices out there. So many cruises, so little time.
In a perfect world, I’d be on every BC – hot, cold or in between. I’ve loved all my cruises, but Bloggers is a special kind of special.
What I do know for sure is that this was one of my best cruises yet – and I’ve been lucky enough to go on many really fantastic cruises. The people, the ports, the activities, all came together to make it a wonderful week. So I want to close with a special “thank you” to all the friends with whom I shared the ship, to all the Carnival staff and crew who worked so hard to make it happen, and for those who stayed home and held down the fort while I was gone. Oh, and these guys, who I’m missing a lot this week:
Thanks for reading and thereby reliving this week of fun and frolicking with me.