My latest travel adventure took me aboard the Carnival Ecstasy. I chose a five day cruise to hit a few different islands while keeping in mind I did not know if I wanted to be on a ship for too long. This cruise ship departed for the Bahamas from Orlando, Florida, and stopped at Little Stirrup Cay, Nassau and Freeport, before making its way back to Port Canaveral on day 5.
Five days may have been too long for me. I think a brief three day adventure where island number one was touched on day number one and island number two by the second morning may be a better option, personally. I found the first day to be quite exciting and enjoyable, but by day number three, realized the attack of indigestion I was having may not go away until I found my land legs again. I was right.
Needless to say, there was food a-plenty. From the moment we boarded the ship, the buffets were ready and available on the Lido deck. We had three or four options for buffet style meals – a grill, a sandwich station and a pizza station. There were also a couple of turnstiles with breads, fruits and pastries. There was always some tid-bit available morning, noon or night. If eating is your vice of choice, a cruise is where you want to be. Now, if drinking is your game, there were many options to get your drink on. We chose a drink package which allowed us unlimited drinks (15) per day for the low price of $49.95 plus a pre-paid gratuity of 15%.
Now, cocktails were priced between $7 and $12, with bottle service available, so after about five drinks per day, you would have reached the price point of the package, so we figured, “why not?” A Bloody Mary or mimosa at breakfast, followed by a couple beers at the pool after lunch, then wine at dinner – then there were the nights we hit the nightclub. If we were not on the plan, we would have easily topped out at four drinks per day.
There were advertised morning specials every day – a breakfast Bloody Mary which ran about $8.95 per drink. There were “Specials of the day” which were presented around the pool every day which were theme based; Bahama Mama’s for $8.95, etc. So keeping this in mind, with the auto-gratuity that was added to all purchases $49.95 seemed like a bargain.
We were allowed to bring one bottle of wine onboard which could be opened at dinner for the wee corking fee of $10.
If entertainment is your draw to a cruise ship, there were a few options to choose from, but they repeated themselves throughout the cruise leaving those of us who decided we would hit all three venues on the first night, something to be desired. We saw two comedy shows, a Motown musical and hit THE nightclub, all on night number one. Luckily (some would say), on night number two we were convinced we could make the fifteen drink maximum and went straight to the nightclub after dinner and passed out promptly after signing for drinks number fourteen and fifteen. By night number three, we were bored. Night number four we went back to the nightclub, but departed early after realized the same twelve people that we had been dancing with for three days straight were as bored with us as we were of them. We packed and waited for morning, hardly able to sleep because the acid reflux was attacking both of us with the veracity of the waves against the side of the boat. It was relentless.
Little Stirrup Cay is the private island owned by Carnival cruise lines. It is nestled in the Bahamas and although a treat to take a ferry from the ship to the island, that was about the extent of the day’s excitement. The only inhabitants of the island are the same passengers you are on the cruise with and the same cruise ship employees, who seem less than thrilled to spend their day off the boat serving you. Oh, and we quickly found out, our drink program did not work on the Carnival cruise ship island – even though, we had to use our room key to purchase the drinks, the drinks were the same, as were the employees. That fancy cocktail cost $14.95, a third of what would have been considered a bargain under my Cheers program.
The island itself is fashioned somewhat like an amusement park with different stations to participate in different activities.
We brought our own snorkel equipment, which we always do – you never know when you will find yourself in a snorkel-friendly bay with nothing but the sun at your back and fish to watch. There were palm trees and shops, and looked very similar to all the ports on every island we have ever visited.
Then at 11:30a lunch was served – buffet style, with the same items from the ship’s daily buffet.
Nassau features Atlantis and ship sponsored activities to participate in, so the ease of traveling from ship to island activities is taken up by the cruise line itself. Or, you can venture out on your own and be inundated with locals trying to make money for themselves. The typical island wares are available for purchase, as well as the common knockoff bags and accessories. The shopping plaza is very aggressive and almost too distracting to want to find a good deal. It is what it is – for those used to fighting crowds to haggle – this is your spot!!
Then there are the hi-end shops which line the main streets of downtown Nassau. No bargains, but the same types of shops one will find in Vegas at Caesars, or Miami on Oceanview Drive.
Atlantis is a wonderful place to take your children to see a fantastic aquarium – keep in mind it is on a resort and very costly.
Nassau itself has some interesting historical highlights – we did venture past Parliament, and some great historical statues. But even better, we found an amazing restaurant, Café Matisse which served Italian fare and was probably one of the best meals I have had in the past year. The food was amazing and fresh, and the service was impeccable - the highlight of our adventure to say the least.
Freeport was deserted, as we found out, from the devastation of the tropical storm which took place in 2011. Why this is still a port stop for a cruise ship is beyond me. We ventured out, were told by locals that the international marketplace no longer existed, but to go downtown instead. The downtown area was desolate and the restaurant we chose to eat at did not have the beer or food which we wanted to eat – feeling sympathetic, we chose other items, but wondered, “why? Why are we here”?
The bottom line is; I am not a cruiser.
I wanted to see more than one island, get a little taste of something from each spot, but the reality is, even if the islands had been fascinating to me, there was not enough time to really delve into each one for my personal taste. A cruise is like a drive by. Hang on to your hat, through money out the window, and remember the phrase your dad used to tell you as a kid, “You get what you get, and don’t pitch a fit”.
If you truly want to get the most of any destination as a traveler and not a tourist, research your destination, take your time, get off the beaten path and really enjoy each moment. If you do not know the difference between a traveler and a tourist – Take a cruise! It’s the most food you’ve ever eaten!