Cruising the Caribbean Sea

I know for a fact that more and more people, especially millennials prefer independent traveling to all inclusive resorts. Of course, all i...

I know for a fact that more and more people, especially millennials prefer independent traveling to all inclusive resorts. Of course, all inclusive ones have some cool and often unbeatable advantages such as unlimited food and drinks any time of day or night, decent accommodations, airport shuttle, etc. And yet people like me and, in fact, many of my readers get bored to stay in one place for the whole vacation, so they look for other travel options which can give them flexibility and chance to see different places. And while I'm a big fan of independent traveling, today I'm going to tell you about a sea cruise that gives the best of two worlds - all inclusive package with an option to see different places. 

In April 2015 we took a cruise with Carnival Cruises from Florida which was recommended by one of my friends. I purchased the package on Cyber Monday almost 5 months in advance, so the cost per passenger for 7 nights was about USD $400. If you compare that with all inclusive packages to the most popular destinations in North America and Caribbean such as Dominican Republic or Mexico, you'll see that even with a return flight ticket to Florida purchased separately the price is still reasonable. 
Carnival Cruises is incorporated in the US and is one of the biggest and most affordable cruise companies in the world. We took their Carnival Conquest ship which was built by the Italian manufacturer Fincantieri for "only" 500 million US dollars. The ship has been in use since 2002 and goes to different islands in the Caribbean under the Panama flag (I wonder why though). The departure port for Carnival Conquest is Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I really liked the way Carnival Cruises handled the check-in process. It was very efficient given the number of passengers - 3000. Once again, the North American efficiency exceeded my expectations. In fact, the check-in started a couple of days before the embarkation (the proper term for cruise ship departure), so if you did your 'homework', your check-in could go as smoothly as possible. Everyone had on option to print their tickets, customs forms and bag tags ahead of time. It allowed you to drop your bags at the parking lot as you get off a cab or a bus, so they can be taken right at the door of your stateroom. Once you've dropped your bags, you proceed to the registration desk where they give you stateroom keys (plastic cards, one per passenger) which are also used as your identification and your charge card to make all on-board purchases (in bars, stores, casino, etc.). Actually the key is very convenient as it's linked to your credit card, so you don't have to carry cash. 
The ship has 13 decks (floors), ten of them have staterooms for passengers. 
For the duration of the cruise, our ship never deviated from the schedule for more than 10-15 minutes. It's 5 o'clock in the afternoon and Miami is already disappearing beyond the horizon. 
On the deck 10, there are two areas with pools, hot tubs and loungers. The first and the biggest one (pictured below) is open for everyone, while the second one is for adults only. The water in the pools is salty, likely from the ocean. The water in hot tubs is fresh and chlorinated. There is a water slide working during the day, but it never got busy due to the fact that it's so easy to get stuck there if you're not in a fully horizontal position. This deck is the most crowded place on the ship where you can hang out and listen to the music, watch or participate in different entertainments. 
This deck pictured below is for 18+ only. Honestly, I didn't see much difference though except, maybe, this one was a bit more quiet. People here and there had drinks right in the pools and on sunbeds. By the way, alcoholic drinks are not included and quite pricey (around $10 per drink). As a result, we almost didn't see any drunk people. For those not imagining their vacation without alcoholic drinks, there is an all-inclusive option for $50 a day. I'm wondering if it's possible to buy such a package for one person, but use it for two or more?..
Navigation system is right above the captain bridge. For $95 you can take a 3-hour tour to see how the ship operates inside out. Interesting? Yes. But too expensive. 
It's too busy here during the day. Maybe I just don't like to sunbath? 
Let's get inside, under A/C.
French impressionism is the official style of the ship. At least, according to Wikipedia. Design and decoration were done in New Orleans, Louisiana. 
Can you see those bags all over the hallway? There is an option for passengers to leave them outside their staterooms with proper labels, so they can be collected and delivered ashore by the crew. No one looks after them yet no bag got stolen either. North America does not stop surprising me in a good way with its honesty system.
Each passenger gets assigned a seat at a table (like this one on the picture) for a dinner every night. This is considered to be a fine dining restaurant where you'll get the best food from a fixed (à la carte) menu and will be served at the highest standard. You can also have a breakfast in one of those restaurants if you're not in hurry as it usually takes more time to get food than in a buffet restaurant. I would not recommend this option if there is an early arrival in one of the ports of call and you want to maximize your time ashore.  
Twice per trip there is an elegant dinner. You'll know when from a booklet which is distributed in each stateroom by stewards every day. Elegant dinner implies that men wear shirts and pants or even suites with ties while women wear formal or cocktail dresses. Of course, no one is going to tell to leave a restaurant if you show up in slippers and shorts, but it's considered disrespectful. First time we did not pay attention to a booklet, so we didn't know about the dress code. When we realized that it was the elegant dinner, I had to iron my shirt and pants super fast. On those days, the crew usually holds a mini-concert for guests. Songs do not have much effect on me, but waitresses dancing on tables do. A minute ago she brought you a plate with an entree, and right now she's dancing on a table next to you. It was so much fun!
One important aspect is tips. Cruise ships have gone a long way figuring out how to best manage them in order to reduce hassle for passengers. It turned out that tips are fix-priced ($12 a day for each passenger) and are paid at the end of the trip. $12 are distributed in the following way: $6 - for waiters, $4 - for stewards (maids)  and $2 - for the rest of the passenger-facing crew members such as entertainers, children camp workers, etc. I just loved this system as you don't have to carry cash and tip every time someone serves you. Yet they do their job and still get their well-deserved tips from you. Of yes, the crew was amazing and deserved every penny paid!  
And food... Usually I prefer not to show pictures about it. But I just could not resist this time. The food was amazing, especially dinners at the restaurant! Lobster tails - my favourite one. 
Meat balls from alligators. Not the most delicious dish I've ever tried, but definitely the most exotic one. One night there were flog legs. It tasted like chicken. 
Your usual lunch would be in one of those buffet restaurants. You could also have a breakfast or a dinner here in case you didn't want to eat in a restaurant. 
Hungry between breakfast and lunch or between lunch and dinner? Not a problem. You can have sandwiches any time during the day. What I did not understand though is when people would eat sandwiches instead of a really great food from the buffet restaurants. 
Stateroom is quite small, yet very clean and comfortable. As we have never cruised before, I decided to take the cheapest stateroom option - without windows, as we had nothing to compare it with. Honestly, we didn't regret at all as we didn't spend much time in our stateroom. And the best views are from upper decks anyway.  
Promenade which takes you to the casino where smoking is traditionally permitted.
Every night lots of guests got together in the main lobby to participate in different contests and games.
Big concert room for different animations, concerts, etc. We attended no more than 10% of all the activities on the ship, but concluded that there were plenty of them for different tastes and audiences. 
Mandatory security training is held on the first day upon the embarkation. Each crew member (1,150) no matter what their primary role is on the ship, has a secondary role in case of an emergency. Our stateroom keys indicated a zone we should arrive to during an evacuation. Each zone has a dedicated lifeboat which is supposed to fit all guests from that zone. I really liked the training as I was convinced after it that I'm safe on this big ship and if anything happens there is a chance I can survive. 
Daily auctions and master-classes were held for those interested in art.
The cruise ship had a camp for children 2-17 with a variety of activities to keep them busy from 10 am to 10 pm.  
Have you tried a dive-in movie? It's when you can watch a movie sitting in a hot tub or a pool. Very cool experience. 
The ocean is indeed blue.
The master class that teaches you to make towel animals.
As I said at the beginning, a sea cruise is an excellent way to combine all inclusive package with a chance to see different places. In the next few articles I'll show you the places we have visited on the cruise. Stay tuned!

My other posts about the Caribbean Cruise:

Key West - Home of the Sunset
Cayman Islands - Financial Offshore With White-Sand Beaches
Chankanaab Park In Cozumel

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