Saturday, January 10, 2015

2014 Dec. 6 night Carnival Freedom cruise: Key West; Grand Cayman; Cozumel

One day my sister-in-law, Jane, told me that my brother said she could go on a cruise with me.  He pretty much had to say that since he was going to Vegas with "the guys".  So I didn't hesitate to start checking on cruises.  I looked for the best deal I could find with the most interesting itinerary leaving out of Ft. Lauderdale.  So after some searching, I came up with this 6 night cruise on Carnival Freedom going to Key West, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel.   The rate was only something like $700 for the 2 of us for the beginning of Dec.  It wasn't too long before my sister heard about our cruise and wanted to join us.  At that point I wasn't too thrilled with the idea of sleeping on a bunk, so found an inside category with fold down couch (it even had portholes) for just a bit more.  Then I started working on talking my daughter into going.  Even took a Halloween special that let me book an inside room for myself for something like $580---with the hopes of talking Angie into joining us.  I even caught another special to upgrade to an ocean view room for about $50 more and it included a $100 obc, so I took it.  I was also able to get $50 obc for owning CCL stock.  My sister had sent in for the credit for her room, so this way we both got our stock obc.  Wasn't until after Thanksgiving that I finally talked Angie into going and added her to my room.  With all that settled, all we had to do was wait until Dec. 3rd to roll around and meet up with Angie in Ft. Lauderdale.  The cruise wasn't until the 7th, but airfare was cheaper going in the middle of the week and Angie lives there so we figured we could freeload off of them for a few days.  That almost worked out.  Unfortunately, or fortunately considering how you look at it, Josh got really sick right before we arrived, so I booked us 4 nights at the Wyndham Palm Aire.

The 3rd finally came.  Jane and I flew out together.  My sister, Carolyn, was to arrive about 30 minutes later.  Jane and I arrived on time and were picked up by Angie, then we waited and waited and waited for Carolyn---the first of the "fun" times to come.  Turns out, you can't call someone when they don't have their phone on!  Go figure!  To make it worse, she didn't know her phone was off and didn't bother to try and call us!  Instead, we drove around the arrivals area and happened to find her randomly walking from one terminal to another.   So we yelled at her, picked her up, yelled at her some more, and were on our way to Palm Aire.  I know we would have still been welcomed at Angie and Josh's house, but didn't want to risk getting sick right before our cruise.  We did go to their house, though, and borrowed one of their cars.  A couple big advantages to staying at the resort were the hot tubs and heated pools!  We took advantage of them.
A couple pictures of our Palm Aire living space.
One of the pools from our lanai.

The first 4 days went really fast.  We drove to Angie's every day and went to lunch with her.  Usually had dinner with them, too.  Josh seemed to recover pretty quickly!  Went to Deerfield Beach one day.
Even did the "owner's update" for the $150 compensation.  I told the gals if they wanted to do it and get the free brunch, I'd split the money with them.  That went quickly and painlessly.  When you're Wyndham platinum, they don't harass you too much.

Dec. 7th finally came.  Josh drove us to the Everglades cruise port and dropped us off.  We thought by going later in the afternoon---after 2, we'd get in right away.  That back fired!  Not only did we still wait over an hour, but all the food venues on board were closed by the time we got on (except 24 hour room service).  We walked our luggage on board, so unpacked and waited for the muster drill. Angie and I had room 1256.  It was a good sized room and pretty quiet.

cabin 1256

Turns out the porthole room my sister and Jane had (1217) was very noisy.  They would hear very loud bangs most of the night.  We figured it was from the bulbous bow slapping the water.  Angie and I could barely hear it, but we were 5 or 6 cabins towards the center.  We both could hear the thrusters in the morning when we were coming into ports, but that was ok with me.

Angie and I were on the port forward side of level 1 and Carolyn and Jane were on the starboard forward side of level 1, so we had different muster stations.  We couldn't find them after the muster drill --- called, went by their room---so just wandered around a bit and watched as we pulled away from Fort Lauderdale.

 Bye Bye Fort Lauderdale!
By now we were really hungry.  Again we tried to find the other gals.  Finally did, but they had already eaten!  They went with us to the restaurant anyway.  We had anytime dining and lucked into a great wait staff the first night.  The head waiter, Andrew, even showed us a couple magic tricks.  His team was very friendly, efficient and quick.  After having dinner in another section the next night and service taking forever, we asked for Andrew's section from then on and always got it.
Ahhh---our table awaits!
 Did I mention the ship was decorated for Christmas?  This was by the entrance to the restaurant.
After dinner it was time to head to the main theatre and check out the show.  First the cruise director introduced himself----Weeee Jimmy.  A very different kind of cruise director then I've seen before, but a good one.
 The singers and dancers were very good! 
 Only thing missing was the live band that was there last year when Angie and I were on the Freedom for a 4 night cruise.  Missed that band!
I'm a sucker for laser shows!

 The backgrounds thrown up on the screens were really interesting, too.
 After the main show, we checked out the movie playing on the big screen by the family lido pool.  I forget what it was, but it was the only one that we cared to watch the whole 6 nights.  But we did stop by there many nights for the free popcorn!
Cutting past the new Guy's Burger joint.  We ate there one lunch and found the burgers to be quite good.
 Seating area of Guy's Burgers---I love how they put pic nic tables there.
We also wandered through the Lido area.  Here's where we had breakfast most days.
Dec. 8:  Key West---
The next morning we woke up in Key West.  I had been there for about an hour or 2 a few years ago with my sister when we drove there from Pompono for a day trip.  I looked forward to checking it out a little more thoroughly.
As we were walking along the pier.
 walking around by the port
 One of the many statues around Key West.
another statue
 I had found a Groupon for a hop-on hop-off bus tour and bought it for Angie and myself.  Carolyn and Jane decided to do it too.  The operators of the tour even let them get it for the Groupon rate of something like $12@.
I liked the big grouper above the door here.
 We were told this was a famous bar.
Apparently the tour normally goes down Duval Street, but had to detour because of the road work.
Decorative trims were a big thing here in Key West.
a view inside our bus.
The Coast Guard ship the Icarus which had sunk a U-boat in WW II.
 The end of Highway 1
 Cool looking old style cinema.
 donut shop that Angie said had great donuts.  She and Josh have stayed in Key West a few times.
 Statue in front of the old theatre.
 a famous hotel.
More interesting decorative touches.
 a neat Art Deco looking Denny's.
 another street in Key West.
 area where a lot of Bahamians settled.
 More decorative carvings.
 an interesting sounding restaurant
Loved the carved accents with the modern design below the numbers.
 another modern touch amongst all the old
 Christmas decorations around Key West.
 Back near the port. 
We were also told how in 1982 road blocks were put up in Key West, so the residents decided to call themselves the Conch Republic since most of the residents were referred to as conchs.
 another statue
A free range chicken?
Big old oak tree.
 Beginning of Highway 1.
Some of the decorative shingles on the houses.  We were also told that all the roofs were made of metal to help protect them from hurricanes.
beach on the far side of Key West.  
The Butterfly House.  
 Southernmost point.  We thought of getting off, but the bus was full and we were afraid we'd get stuck on the other side of the island and not be able to get a bus back, so we just rode it twice---2 different drivers---and learned different interesting stuff from both drivers.
art for sale on the sidewalk by Hemmingway's house
 Hemmingway's house.
metal roof and more decorative house accents.
 Looks like a German good luck sign like we saw all over Tillimook, Oregon.
 We were told that if a house wasn't painted, it wasn't considered finished so the taxes were less.  This was one of the few unpainted buildings we saw.

Real gingerbread trim!
We even saw the old Flagler Train station.  The road to Key West was originally a train route built by Flagler.  Unfortunately, the weather was too bad for train travel and after 4 years train service was done.
After riding the full route twice, it was time to walk a bit.  So we went in search of cigars and Key Lime Pie.  Ended up here at The Key Lime Pie Company.  I forget how much a piece of pie was, but 4 pieces was about the equivalent of a whole pie---so we bought a whole pie.  Ate half of it then and took half back to the ship for another day.  It held up well in our little cooler/fridge in our room.
Back at the port, Jane kissing a carving for good luck.
 Another interesting looking tour.
Angie taking a selfie with a statue
 a sculpture of a painter painting another sculpture.
 Back to our home for the week.
We made it back in time to check out the Fish and Chips restaurant above the Lido buffet.  
 Looking down at the Lido desserts.
 getting our fish and chips---which turned out to be extremely greasy and inedible. 
Looking out over one of the islands by Key West.
The Icarus as we were leaving.
a neat little beach area near the Coast Guard ship.  Will have to remember this if I ever get back there!
 So long to Key West and the Disney ship that followed us.
Another evening, another sunset.
Our little towel buddy this evening.
Dec. 9th: Sea Day ---
A day to wander around the ship and check out some more places.  
Like the Serenity Deck for adults. 
and the towel animal station.
even uncorked one of our 4 bottles of wine.
 After dinner it was off to another show in the main theatre.  I was surprised they didn't have one on Key West night.

 Then we found this twosome (two-tones) and really liked them.  We stopped by to listen to them many evening.
 We tried to listen to karaoke a few times, but it was too painful!
 Angie and I also checked out the Red Frog Bar.  Really enjoyed the acoustic guitar and singing of Tom.  Unfortunately he caught a cold and the rest of the cruise his voice was really squeaky.
 Loved my Mango Madness drink.
the free plantain chips were  really good, too.
 Dec. 10:  Grand Cayman ---
I really looked forward to going here again.  Angie, my son Tim and his wife (then girlfriend) Faith and I spent a week here back in 2001 and had a great time.  Possibly the best snorkeling I'd ever done.  We had done the stingray adventure, turtle farm, and Hell back then.  We also had snorkeled by a dive shop right in Georgetown.  So planning our day here was easy---Angie and I were going to snorkel and Jane and Carolyn were going to shop right around the port.  Unfortunately, for some reason we couldn't tender there, so we went to another side of the island and tendered in.  I did find it interesting that the Disney ship did tender into Georgetown.  Anyway---there wasn't much where we tendered, so we decided to take a bus to 7 Mile Beach.  Carolyn elected to stay on board the ship.  Such a shame with such a neat island.  The bus ride was $7@ (about $1/mile).   They made sure the bus was totally packed---including middle jump seats!
Where we tendered into.  
Jam packed bus! Note the happy people in the jump seats.
Lots of banks.
the Public Park at 7 Mile Beach.
 Snorkeling there wasn't good at all.
the typical beach floor.
The surf was a little high, too.
Plus the land area got VERY crowded very quickly.  
So after about an hour, we took a selfie and headed back to the bus.
 Jane posing with her new pirate friend.
driving through Georgetown---all the necessities of life.
 typical downtown.

David Yurman!
 government building
 scenery away from town.
We noticed some people were snorkeling by the tender area.  So Angie and I decided to give it a try.  Not bad!
 huge needle fish
 fair amount of fish and the water was really calm and clear --- unlike at 7 mile.
no beach, though.
 could have swam back to the ship.
but we didn't.
 another surgeonfish

some nice coral
Flamingo Tongue Snail on a fan coral.
more coral 

 ring tail surgeonfish and a hogfish.
 looking at the area we snorkeled from the tender boat.
 the incredibly clear beautiful water.
Back to our ship.
back on board, we got ready for dinner and headed to the restaurant.  We had to wait a little while for Andrews team, but that just gave us more time to listen to the two-tones, again, in the Atrium.   
 After dinner we headed to the main theatre and participated in the Game Show Wee Jimmie was directing.  Here's Carolyn incorrectly answering how many checkers on each side of a checker board.
Here's Angie correctly answering the name of Calvin's stuffed tiger---Hobs.
That made her the captain of her team.
 Angie's team.  They didn't win, but they did each get a cute little portable Yahtzee game.
 Later it was time for more refreshments.
 Dec. 11:  Cozumel ---

While eating breakfast, we got a kick out of this tiny barge.  Kept watching it to see if it was going to sink.
This is a port Angie and I had been to many years ago on her Graduation reward cruise.  The port didn't look anything like I remembered.  I thought we were right by town instead of in a boarded off port area.  It did have a lot of duty free shops.
Loved the cigarette machine with all the warnings on it.
 Restaurant by the docks.
more shops
 even fake Aztec buildings.
 nicely landscaped
and lots of colorful things.
Even Christmas decorations.
 Jane posing with the Christmas tree.
 Near the taxi stand.
 Carolyn and Jane wanted to shop around.  Angie and I were looking to get out and find some real Mexican food.  We found the taxi stand and listened to their offer to take us on an island tour and to a restaurant for $25@.  Another couple was interested, too, so the 4 of us went.  I was a bit surprised and annoyed when he drove about 5 minutes and took us to a Tequila distillery.  The tour did turn out to be pretty interesting, though, even though I had been to a much bigger one in Puerto Vallarta a few years ago.
 Back on our ride through town.
 Love the colorful buildings
and the Christmas decorations.
They even have a Sam's Club.
typical side street in Cozumel.
sculpture in a round-about.
 on the other side of the island.
 We asked him to take us to a real Mexican restaurant for lunch.  Even asked him if this was the kind of place he'd take his family to.  He, of course, said yes.  Imagine our surprise when we got in there and saw Mac and cheese, fish sticks, chicken wings, pizza, bagels and cream cheese, ... !  A bus pulled up then and we quickly snuck out.  Then we had to find the driver---who was apparently with the other bus drivers probably laughing about us stupid tourists. 
He was pretty quiet from then on.  Not much of a talking tour, but  the sights were pretty---all taken while riding in the car.

 Should have gone to Coconuts.
 Another tourist trap.
Wouldn't mind snorkeling here.
 Looked like these places would be easy to reach by rental car.
more beautiful shoreline.
took a picture of this sign to remind me of the area in case I'm back here on another cruise someday.
Even inland had interesting views.  Reminded me of the Everglades.

 I liked how they had a "highway" and an outer road.

Where Angie and I had gone when we were here before.  A beautiful beach.  Snorkeling was so-so, but there were a lot of purple fan coral.

Originally I had wanted to go to Chankanaab National Park, but taxi ride and entrance fee probably would have been about $40@ and I knew Jane wouldn't let us pay for her and Carolyn probably wouldn't have wanted to pay that much.  Sounded like a really neat place to hang out at a beautiful beach, walk around some gardens, snorkel, get some refreshments. 
Our driver finally took us to a nice restaurant back in town and said he'd be back for us in an hour.  The place was really nice, not too expensive, food was good, but our service was terrible.  We got the distinct impression we weren't too welcome.  Even after we finally got waited on and ate, we waited forever to get our bill.   By then, we were anxious to pay and leave so we just split the cost with the other couple.  Without thinking, I gave them cash for our half .
Neat scene they had set up by the door.
 the Restaurant from the street.  Yes, our taxi driver was there and none too happy.  I guess he'd been waiting for awhile.    Then came the panic!  I realized I used most of cash for lunch (had planned to charge it) and didn't have enough cash for the taxi (no charge allowed).  Here we were begging the other couple to float us a loan and being so embarrassed!  They were very nice about it and fortunately had enough cash for us, too. 
 We went straight back to the ship and Angie ran the cash up to their cabin.  We then spent about an hour watching people come back on the ship.  It was rather interesting!  Our room was directly one floor above one of the walkways back onto the ship.  Great location to people watch.  Occassionally someone would see us and wave wildly.
on the side of the ship next to us.
Then we headed up to watch the sail away.
another beautiful evening.
 another beautiful sunset.
 We had a little convoy with this Royal Caribbean ship and a Disney ship.
 back inside we headed to the atrium for Christmas carols.
 another view down the Atrium
decorations on the railing.
 and snow!!!!
Jane and I even entered the "ugly sweater" contest.
but we didn't win.
Dec. 12:  Sea Day --- 
Today was another day to wander around the ship and see what was going on.  Got a kick out of the towel animals around the pool.
 We had brunch in the restaurant and used our free drink coupons.  
 another angle of the Atrium.  This is about the time Jane discovered her credit wasn't any good.  She tried to buy something and it was denied.  So off to the front desk to find out why.  Even though I had put all her info in and printed out boarding passes for both of them, Carolyn used the boarding pass she had printed out before Jane was registered.  Don't know if that was the reason for the mess up, but I'm assuming it was.  At least it was an easy, albeit annoying, thing to fix. 
A really cool little place we found last year.  Got a really great hand dipped milkshake from it.  The desserts looked great, too, for a small charge, but we were always too full to try any of them.
the Red Frog Bar again.
 another Red Frog bar.  This one was by the big screen and was the place to get free popcorn at night.
 a concert shown on the big screen.
another towel creation.
Our time went rather quickly.  We also went to a few art auctions.  Carolyn even bought a painting---which she actually paid for, then later went and rescinded her payment.  But we had a good time visiting.  I live in St. Louis, Jane in Illinois, Carolyn in Oregon, and Angie in Florida; so it was nice having a chance to catch up.  It looked like it was going to end wonderfully and we would go back to our merry little lives.  ----Until Ken tried to check Carolyn and Jane in for their flights.  Jane's went ok, but Carolyn's said call the airlines.  She first called it from the ship.  That's when she found out her flight was changed --- to a 7am flight---obviously she missed that flight!  Josh picked us up and we went back to their house.  Carolyn spent the next 2 or 3 hours on the phone yelling at Cheap O air, USAir, AAmerican air, the whole state of Florida?!, and us.  I was happy to have the break to drive Jane to the airport for her early evening flight.  Carolyn had to buy a new flight for the next morning leaving at 7am for about $280 more dollars.  Sounds like they actually used her fare for the flight she missed and waved the change fee, but she was still demanding she shouldn't have to pay since she wasn't notified.  At this point, I was astounded that she hadn't actually checked her flights before the trip!  I assumed everyone who's flown more then once knows to do that now!  She was still on the phone when I got back.  Fortunately Angie and Josh had a Christmas party to go to so they got to escape a lot of the turmoil.   I was staying there for a few more days, so got up at 5am and took Carolyn to the airport.   Then I needed those extra days to decompress!   

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