Cruising over Christmas 2021

On Friday Dec 17, we left Clermont with Acey’s mileage at 80,094.5, Thor has 97,065 miles and we have put 1606.4 miles on our bicycles (1002.5 for 2021)! Our first stop was at Walmart to pick up Christopher – he flew in from Nashville and took a Lyft from the Orlando airport to meet us there; Acey is too big to maneuver in airport traffic especially with Thor (the toad) trailing behind!

So, we arrived at the WalMart parking lot about 11:20, met up with Christopher and made lunch. We were on the road again by noon, heading to Mimms where Acey will stay while we go on the cruise. We disconnected Thor – the “toad”…

…and Jim backed Acey into the driveway where she will stay for the week.

Then off to Melbourne to meet up with Chuck who flew in from Baton Rouge with a stop in Atlanta. He took a Lyft to Intracoastal Brewing where we met up.

Here is the four of us on the afternoon before the cruise!

John at the next table photo-bombed this one!

We had dinner at Sonny’s BBQ in Titusville – this sign indicates that the first Sonny’s was in Gainesville – Linda went there several times while in college – and we stopped there a time or 2 as we have passed by Gainesville over the years. We enjoyed our dinner but alas – no photos!

This will be our 33rd cruise – 9 of which were 3-4 night cruises out of Mobile for a quick long weekend getaway to seek out warm weather during the winter! Our very first cruise was a 4-night cruise out of Miami on Royal Caribbean’s Nordic Empress in March of 1991. We took the boys on their first cruise – a 7 night cruise with Linda’s parents on the Majesty of the Seas in December of 1994. One of our most memorable cruises was when Linda’s parents, after they sold their last home that they built in North Carolina, took the whole family on a week long cruise out of Tampa on the Carnival Miracle in 2005 – 13 of us were onboard!

Saturday Dec 18 – cruise day! Jim and Linda stayed overnight in Titusville at a Best Western – the boys stayed at Holiday Inn – we all had breakfast at our respective hotels; picked up the guys around 9:15 and headed to Port Canaveral for our 10:00 -10:30 check-in time to get boarded on Carnival’s Mardi Gras! Traffic was a bit heavy and there was some congestion at the parking garage, but we dropped our bags with a porter, got parked and thru security by 10:15. Then we waited a short time to board. Supposedly 95% of the passengers are to be vaccinated; everyone had to show proof of a negative COVID test taken in the last 48 hours and we all have to wear masks unless outside or while eating or drinking. The crew is to wear masks regardless which must be especially difficult in the heat outside.

We had a short meeting at our muster station – the Mandatory Safety Briefing – and saw how to put on the lifejacket. Then we went up to the Lido deck to have lunch. It is mostly buffet on Lido but a few venues will fix food to order. The Mardi Gras is a HUGE ship – Maximum capacity is 6,500 guests and about 2,000 team members – and we are told the ship is has 5,315 guests and 1,742 crew – this is the most ever to sail on a Carnival ship! There are 20 decks – our room is on deck 5, Chuck is down the hall from us and Chris is up on deck 9. Our room includes a few bonuses; 2 yoga classes access to the thermal spa, and a few other amenities. Linda decorated our doorway!

The couple across the hall mentioned they appreciated our hanging that helped them find THEIR room!

We walked around to explore the ship.

Another photobomber! That was Dawn….

There are a lot of elaborate Christmas trees and decorations – this gingerbread village was well done!

We went to check out Pig & Anchor – where there is a brewery on board!

And we ran into Danni who we met on the Horizon when we last cruised 2 years ago!

The natural gas barge left after it finished refueling the Mardi Gras.

Sail away was at 4pm; we left Port Canaveral and waved goodbye to the USA

There was an RV resort right by the port!

We could barely make out the VAB at the Kennedy Space Center (below orange dot)

Chris got a shot of the launch pad as we headed out!

We have a few dining options for dinner: the main dining room; the Palm – Cucina del Capitano; an Italian restaurant – or Chibang; a Chinese/Mexican restaurant, there is buffet served on Lido, BBQ at Pig and Anchor… and about 9 other places that serve food!

There is an optional “outdoor” patio at the Cucina where we dined a couple of times.

Pizza – and ice cream – is available 24 hours a day! No one will go hungry…

 Our first night, for dinner we chose Chibang, since it sounded so interesting! We all enjoyed our dinner and then stopped by Center Stage to watch a bit of the Trop Rocking Music Set – live music with a beachy theme.  Afterwards we headed to the Punchliner Comedy Club where Derrick Eason had a pretty funny set and got us all laughing. The “big show” was Rock Revolution in the Mardi Gras Theatre with “music from summer of ’69 with a contemporary twist.” The singers and dancers were very good and the music was LOUD! Afterwards we stopped off at the Piano Bar where Mike Mac played and sang requests from the audience.

We (Jim and Linda) called it a night after that! Chris knew there was a SpaceX launch scheduled for around 11pm that night (Turksat 5B), and he got some nice shots of the rocket going up up and away! (And – Yes – it was dark out)

Sunday it seemed unusual not to be having a church service. We met up with the boys on Lido for breakfast – we had omelets made to order and the boys both had breakfast burritos. The port of call today was Nassau; this was our view at breakfast!

We have been to Nassau before and did NOT book a shore excursion this time. Our original Itinerary had us going to Grand Turk after a day at sea, but we were notified last week that we would be going to Nassau instead. Our very first cruise in March of 1991 was a 4 day cruise (without our sons) on the Royal Caribbean Nordic Empress, sailing out of Miami and we stopped at Freeport and Nassau. In Nassau we visited Coral Island – which is no longer in operation. A few years later, we cruised another time with our sons and booked a snorkel excursion that was a bust. The boat was PACKED. We went about 30 minutes to the snorkel site; they gave us 45 minutes to snorkel after the first person hit the water. That gave us about 20 minutes to snorkel – which was probably all we really needed because the water was not clear, there was no reef and the only fish we saw were the ones the excursion crew lured to the area by feeding them. Not exactly what we had hoped for! Back on board the boat, they had a small buffet, served rum punch and blasted a boom box with some jams — it was fun, but again, not what we thought we signed up for! So, on this cruise we planned to walk off the ship and do our own exploring, as we did the last time we came here. We visited Pirate Republic Brewing and enjoyed some tasty Bahamian brews along with an order of conch fritters! We had stopped there with Linda’s brother Rob when he sailed with us in 2019 on Carnival Horizon.

Some of the beer names had a fun play on words…

the pirate portrait was our photobomber….

Afterwards, Chris headed back to the ship.  Chuck, Jim and Linda walked another mile or so, past all sorts of storefronts that were closed (due to the hurricanes that have ravaged the area – and COVID may have been a contibuting factor). A brewery Chuck had read about, Rip Ty’d, opened last October and had 5 craft brews to choose from. Chuck and Jim got a sampler and Linda had a pint. All very good!

As we walked back to the ship, there were several other ships at the port – Disney Magic, Celebrity Apex, a Royal Caribbean ship, our Mardi Gras and Carnival Conquest. The population of Nassau probably doubled for the few hours we were in port!

Our big ship truly is a floating resort!  Gross tonnage: 180,000 · Length: 1,130 · Beam: 137 feet · Maximum Draft: 28 feet · Cruising Speed: 17 knots – First ship in North America to be powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) –

We had a little bite to eat – it was already after 2 and we planned to have dinner about 5:30. We got showered and changed and watched as the Disney Magic was pulling out.

 We chose to eat dinner at the Palm Dining Room – they had leg of lamb on the menu, which is what we all ordered!

Monday 12/20 was our first full day at sea. Chuck, Jim and Linda rode the BOLT – a roller coaster on top of the ship! The BOLT Ultimate Speed Coaster, the first-ever roller coaster at sea, and we rode the course twice!

  • The track is nearly 800 feet long
  • Elevated track is 187 feet above sea level
  • Maximum ride speed nearly 40 miles per hour

There was a light rainfall followed by a beautiful rainbow!

That was the only rain we experienced during the day – it also rained overnight one or maybe 2 nights. Great weather was a real blessing! Since this was a “sea day” it was a dress up night for dinner and lobster was on the menu!

12/21 – Tuesday our port of call was Amber Cove in the Dominican Republic.

This was also a stop on our 2019 cruise with our boys, Linda’s brothers Rob and Ted (and Nancy of course!) They had these silly statues we passed by as we met up with our excursion group to go to Playa Bachata for the day

Here’s Chuck and Ted at the same spot – having a little fun in 2019!

We had a nice day at the “all inclusive resort” which included lunch and beverages – there was a large pool and a nice beach. Chris chilled out in the shade.

Chuck sat closer to us enjoying the sun by the pool

We went for a walk along the beach

Chuck walked out to the gazebo at the end of the peninsula

You can see windmills and our big ship on the back side!

Here’s looking back to the resort

A beautiful view from the gazebo captured in a panorama! Nice job Chuck!

The Carnival Liberty was docked next to our Mardi Gras! Carnival has changed their paint scheme to a blue hull – they are “America’s Cruise Line”!

We had dinner at the Cucina – we didn’t yet know we could eat on the on the “patio”

…yet another photobomber!

The room steward left us a towel animal on our bed each day! We had an elephant…

and other creative critters – nice job Ryan!

There was an explosion of towel animals on Thursday morning on the Lido deck! Christopher took some great photos of the area.

Happy Birthday Jesus!

Chris had a neighboring door decorated with stockings that had towel animals added to them – and he got a rabbit on his bed!

12/22 – Wednesday, Chris was up early and got several shots of the sunrise and Old San Juan as we approached the port. He was an early bird! Thanks Chris!

And before long, the fort was visible as we headed closer to the port.

Great shot of the city wall around Old San Juan

After breakfast, the four of us headed out to explore Old San Juan – and the forts there. We have been here at least twice before, but Castillo San Felipe del Morro is a really interesting fort and worth checking out again! An interesting article about El Morro can be found here! “…construction commenced in 1539 and finished in 1790”

The fort was built in the 1500’s — were people a lot shorter then? Well Chris is 6′ 7″ – a bit taller than your average man!

A lighthouse was built in the 1800s to guide ships into the San Juan harbor, it has been modified from the original version.

There were a couple of ways to get between the 6 levels – this ramp with stairs along the side was the easiest way to go up and down here. There was no handrail…

There was a cicular and a triangular stairway – both of them looked a bit adventurous!

Walking around the grounds of the fort, we saw several iguanas – this guy was BIG!

The fort looks quite impressive from down by the water!

Columbus sailed near here in 1493, Ponce de Leon in 1508, Sir Francis Drake – 1595

“Through the channel in front of you and into the harbor to your left sailed explorers and traders, soldiers and slaves, colonists and craftsmen, pirates and privateers. Later arrivals included immigrants and merchants, and today tourists and sightseerers from around the world.”
“…wall constuction began around 1630 and was not completed until 1790. …three miles long and completely encircled Old San Juan.”

The red gate, called the San Juan Gate, was once the city’s official entrance.

There is a second fort; Castillo San Cristóbal. Built from 1634 until 1765, for centuries it has been standing guard at the eastern gate of Old San Juan. The three flags are also flown over this fort.

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From this fort, we got a clear view of the 4 cruise ships in port: Carnival Sunshine and Mardi Gras, Holland America Nieuw Statendam and Celebrity Apex

We could also see El Morro and Old San Juan from this spot!

After several hours exploring on a warm day, it was time for a beer; wouldn’t you know there was a brewery in Old San Juan – Cervecería del Callejón – we each had a pint and headed back to this ship for a late lunch.

Thursday we woke up in St Thomas and a steel drum orchestra was playing as we went out on the deck!

As we came ashore, we got a better look. Steel drums definitely have a unique sound!

We had a snorkel expedition scheduled in the afternoon, so we went ashore to walk around and shop before we had lunch. Chuck bought some sunscreen and we visited a brewery (of course!) Leatherback has a brewery here and at St Croix.

We had lunch on the ship and headed back out to go snorkeling. We walked past the Carnival Sunshine and Holland America Nieuw Statendam as we made our way to the excursion boat.

Notice the elaborate water slide on the Sunshine!

With our underwater cameras, Chris and Jim got some nice shots while snorkeling by Christmas Island!

It was a nice place to snorkel – saw lots of sea life here!

On the way to our second stop, we passed by our ship

And passed by the Royal Carribbean Harmony of the Seas and Celebrity Apex.

There was a nice beach and a place to swim, but really nothing to see when snorkelling here.

Just before we left to head back to the ship, this cute little “tiki” boat passed by – it looked to be solar powered!

Chuck took a great photo of the sunset over St Thomas.

On Christmas Eve, we had our second Sea Day — Robert (who we met on the 2019 Horizon cruise) brewed a dark beer – it will be ready to drink in a couple of weeks.

Jim and Linda enjoyed some time on the back of the ship relaxing in the sun.

Chuck rode the Bolt roller coaster again and Chris was ready to take pics!

After that, Jim and Chuck did the Ropes Course, and Chris got some photos!

We enjoyed another dinner at the Cucina – becoming our favorite venue for dinner!

There was a midnight Christmas Eve service in the Mardi Gras Theatre – we were glad to see it was well attended. We sang several Christmas Carols about the nativity, the Christmas story was read – a paraphrase of Matthew and Luke’s account – and a story about how Santa was sad as he pondered how important it is to teach the children the true meaning of Christmas. Read about it here!

Christmas Day was our last full day on Mardi Gras – and another “Sea Day” They do a “morning show” at Center Stage – you can see this stage from 3 different floors, and at night, they pull the screens up to cover the entire window and it looks pretty cool – never did get a photo of it…

There was a beautiful sunset on this our last evening on the ship.

Chris was up early again, before the sun rose; our ship was docked and the Carnival Elation was coming into Port Canaveral. You can see part of the rollercoaster track on the Mardi Gras!

We disembarked just after 7am and were at the car by 7:45. We picked up Acey in Mimms, drove to the Orlando RV Resort and got her parked and hooked up to water and electric. We stopped for lunch at Jersey Mikes and dropped Chris off at the Orlando airport. We got some groceries and headed back to the RV park. Chuck will be staying with us for a few days. What a wonderful time we have had!

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15 thoughts on “Cruising over Christmas 2021”

  1. THANKS for letting us follow along on your awesome cruise. ALL of the pictures are great. Both Bill and I really enjoyed, and laughed at, the photo bombed pictures…..too funny! Fun seeing you guys on the BOLT and enjoyed Christopher’s SpaceX pictures. Happy New Year!!!

    1. Yeah – it was really funny in the dining room – we had 4-5 shots taken and the couple behind us cracked up as they looked at the camera… I guess that photobombing is getting more common?! We had a great cruise, but WOW that ship was huge! Not sure I want to go on such a big ship again.

    1. Thanks for reading and keeping up with us! We had a lot of fun and the service was fantastic – cruising is a fun way to vacation, now we are back to land-cruising!

  2. Wow, that’s quite a journal, despite all that Dawn and I did during the cruise, seeing your pics and descriptions there’s also a lot we didn’t see. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks for reading! We like to “see it all” if we can! This was the first cruise we had been on where you had to rely on your phone using the Carnival Hub Ap to know what was happening on the ship AND to see the menu at the restaurants! No “Fun Times” paper delivered to our room the night before – about the 4th day we found they had a sheet availale at Guest Services with a schedule of activities (Which is easier to follow than the tiny screen on the phone!). Carnival is REALLY cutting costs, which is undderstandable since the cruising industry had been shut down for so long. Now it looks like the CDC is advising folks not to cruise AGAIN – but folks can fly and go to sporting events, etc without proof of vaccination or a negative test, both of which we had to have to board the ship.

    1. We did have a great time! Hope we can catch up with you and Lou while we are in Florida – we are hopping around the state till April!

  3. Thanks for sharing. Neat adding previous visits to post, well done! Happy to avoid seeing masks being worn, don’t need any reminders. Y’all are so well traveled. Nice to cruise and have others taking you around, preparing eats and helping with needs. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I have a Christmas card for y’all next time I see you travelers.

    1. Hey Bro! As you know, we have enjoyed cruising over the years, but this one was definitely different with the conditions regarding the pandemic – we had to be masked up inside the ship unless in our own room or eating and drinking. (“Sip and cover” in the lounges) We love the great service afforded to us on a cruise – no cooking and cleanup – and this ship had so many dining options included! We will be in Vero Beach 2/26-3/12 so maybe we can meet up then!

  4. You do meet up with some great photographers taking shots of the four of you. The Mardi Gras fueled by LNG. Ingenious. Looks like you had a great time. Enjoy!

  5. What a fun Christmas you guys had !!! Looked as if the cruise business is alive and well !!! Ship traffic jam ! Lobster and leg of Lamb; you made me right hungry. Love both of them. Can’t do the Lobster any more, but sure can the Lamb !!! You are very brave or an idiot riding that rail thing on the top of the ship. Sorry, that is not my idea of fun. Like my feet on the ground !! Your pictures are wonderful and totally loved the sun rise/set pics that were taken. Sure you are somewhere warm, it is snowing here 🙂 Kinda cold too. Happy New Year, you all stay safe and careful. Blessings.

    1. Our little family has always enjoyed roller coasters! It had been a few years since we had been on one, but it seemed to be the thing to do… It was a great cruise and we were blessed with great weather too! Chris was a bit bummed that he couldn’t ride – the height restriction was 6’5″ so Chuck barely made it since he is 6’5″ but Chris is 6’7″ and also over the weight limit. Mardi Gras is a beautiful ship and had so many different options from other ships we had sailed on – plenty to do to keep you entertained!

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