PART FOUR: Sparkling Diamonds, a spot o’ tea, and a table for 14
Our second sea day started on a better note, although it didn’t end that way. When I woke up, though, I was cautiously optimistic despite the previous day’s frustrations and discouraging email from home. On paper, the day ahead certainly looked like a good one: the Diamond luncheon, afternoon tea (for which I had brought my fancy hat) and dinner with much of “the gang” from our Freedom Repo cruise.
The morning began with a knock on the door from room service, bringing our coffee. I got dressed and went upstairs in search of a wi-fi connection so I could deal with some email, then came back to the cabin to get ready leisurely before the Diamond luncheon. Somehow, though, we managed to get the time mixed up and went down to the dining room a hour early.
No one was there, of course, so we went back to the cabin to wait, got busy, and then ended up being the last of our group to arrive – which meant the table was full and we were relegated to the “kid’s table” with strangers. Obviously the bad luck wasn’t finished with me. On the bright side, the food was very good. The mushroom soup was delicious, and so was the sea bass.
So we made do, and the tiramisu martinis helped. Normally I don’t drink alcohol until later in the day but hey, this cruise I needed it.
There were almost a hundred Diamond guests on this cruise (97, to be precise), so I was a little surprised that they did the full sit-down luncheon rather than just having a less formal party with finger foods and drinks, as they had done on the Freedom Repo (which also had a large number of Diamonds).
But this was, after all, a Journeys cruise, so it made sense that they would go all-out, especially in rewarding their most long-term and loyal customers.
In my opinion, the efforts that I saw on this cruise to provide some little extras to enhance the Diamond experience is not only a good move but a necessary one – especially with other cruise lines now offering pricing competitive to Carnival’s, and some matching loyalty status and/or providing more/better perks to their top-tier than Carnival does.
Anyway, the luncheon rocked along and it got better as time went on. To be honest, I was feeling a tad down in the dumps when we were first seated at a table away from our big group of friends. It was Emma Nixon, the cruise director, who really turned it around for me that day. This was my first time to sail with her, and the Diamond party was my first time to meet her up close and personal.
I was already impressed at the way she had saved the day for me on the first sea day, at Bob’s behest, when Vlad the Guest Services Impaler wasn’t in the least interested in helping us get what John Heald had promised for our Meet & Greet, and I was glad to have the opportunity to thank her myself.
She turned out to be delightfully friendly, and she brought the first genuine smile of the day to my face when she greeted me like an old friend and told me that she had the same vintage dress that I was wearing, and planned to wear it at one of the shows later on in the cruise. I wish she’d been wearing it that day so I could have gotten a photo of us as “twins.”
Whatever criticisms I have of the Sunshine – and I have quite a few – none of them should be taken as a reflection on Emma. She did a fantastic job, as did 99% of the crew and staff members I encountered. I would rate her right up there with my favorite CDs: Matt Mitchum, Malcolm Burns, Chloe Loddo and Jen Baxter.
Even though we didn’t get to sit with them, as dinner wound down we did get to visit with the rest of the gang, and take some pictures to preserve the memories.
Since the last part of the party was better than the beginning, and the “after party” was even better, we lingered for a while, then relaxed in the cabin for a short while before getting ready to go to tea.
Tea at 3:00
Many passengers don’t know it, but Carnival generally serves afternoon tea on sea days in keeping with British tradition. Even if you don’t like tea (I don’t), it’s a fun little diversion between lunch and dinner, a chance to dress up (many of the ladies wear hats) and enjoy pastries and finger sandwiches (and usually you can get coffee if you want it, although this being the Sunshine, that proved to be more of a challenge than usual).
We met up with a few of our friends at the aft dining room at 3:00 p.m. and although we had a nice time chatting, as with a number of other aspects of this cruise, it was a little bit of a disappointment in comparison to previous experiences.
The cart with the goodies finally came around, but only once. The offerings were sparse compared to other cruises. On BC10, there was a huge spread at tea with carved fruit and an ice sculpture, with at least a dozen different sweets and perhaps half that many types of finger sandwiches. I know Blogger cruises are “special” and they get a little fancier than on the average cruise but Journeys are supposed to be special, too.
There were a couple of types of sandwiches – I had cucumber – and the servings were tiny. There were a few cookies and maybe 4 kinds of pastries. Not that I was starving, after that Diamond luncheon. All I really wanted was to have a leisurely cup of coffee and talk to my friends. I had to settle for one out of two. Despite asking four times, of three different waiters, I never got any coffee. I got “I’ll check.” Wish I’d known it was a BYOC affair; I’d have brought a cup from Lido.
But hey, I did get to wear my hat. 🙂
Dinner is served – at a table for fourteen
By dinner time, I was starting to feel lousy, but I thought it was just the lingering aftereffects of too many tiramisu martinis at lunch. I would soon find out differently. Our group of fourteen (the BCFFs who had opted for Your Time Dining) met in front of the dining room at 6:30 pm. With so many Diamonds in the group, there was no need to go “check in” on deck 5 as everyone else had to do, so that was good.
Still, they don’t have a lot of tables that will seat that many people. We ended up waiting approximately 25 minutes – but when we were seated, we got good news; the hostess told us if we could show up at 7:15 every evening, our big table would be ready for us.
Now that’s service – and once again it bears saying that despite the things I don’t like about the Sunshine, I can’t praise the dining room staff enough. They all treated us like royalty.
“Our” table was the huge round one in the front center of the room – the one the captain sits at on elegant night with his invited guests. The down side of this was that on the captain’s formal night later in the cruise, we had to give it up – for the captain. But it was a great location and we were lucky to get it for the rest of the time.
We were seated just in time for the entertainment, and our waiters were very much into it and performed beautifully.
I still wasn’t feeling well, and probably should have skipped dinner, but the Port O’ Call choice sounded good and unfortunately I tend to gravitate toward comfort food when I feel lousy, so I finished it off. Later I wished I hadn’t, although it was delicious. At least I had the sense to forego dessert that night.
I was also smart enough to not have a drink with (or after) dinner, which probably saved me from having an utterly miserable night instead of just an uncomfortable one.
I went back to the cabin to read a while and then fell asleep relatively early (for me). I woke up in the middle of the night with a queasy stomach (never been seasick in my life) and oddly, a raging sore throat. No regurgitation, thank goodness, and the stomach calmed after an hour or so, leading me to think maybe all those sweet drinks earlier did have something to do with it. My throat, however, was destined to get worse before it got better.
Stay tuned for Part 5, Sick at Sea, where I’ll recount what it’s like to spend several days self-quarantined in your cabin because even though you were previously walking 15,000 steps and climbing dozens of floors of stairs a day, suddenly you don’t have the energy to talk down the corridor.