Day 1 - Saturday 15 February 2014 - Galveston, Texas, USA

After a four (plus) hour drive from Austin to Galveston, some of it through nasty traffic in Houston, we arrived at the pier, dropped off our bags. (In addition to nasty traffic, Houston appears to lack any good radio stations; everything was either in Spanish or was evangelical in content. Okay, we did find a classical station, but we wanted something peppier.) Carnival really should tell you when you book a cruise that you will be handing your bags over before even entering the cruise terminal, and before you park your car, if you've driven yourself - it's a bit odd to just hand your bags over to an only somewhat official-looking man. However, we were less alarmed than we had been in Boston, where we encountered this procedure for the first time and the luggage-takers were even less official-looking than in Galveston, possibly because they were wearing more clothing and that clothing was less coordinated. In Galveston, they all appeared to be wearing Hawaiian shirts. In both places, though, they have lanyards with ID, which I did ask to see in Boston.)

After parking the car (we'd prepaid for parking online and brought the printed receipt as instructed) and noting its location as best we could (there are no labels for the rows! so we used landmarks), we took a shuttle to the cruise terminal. The boarding process was easy, probably taking less than fifteen minutes. Once on the ship, we found our room, which was far foreward starboard, our first non-interior cabin. Since we knew this ship had had some trouble last February, we hoped that some features would have been recently upgraded as a result of having been damaged. While that appears to be the case, this ship is not as ship-shape as the Conquest or Glory were. The hall lighting is comparatively dim, and there are fewer design features both in and out of the rooms. The doors are all flush, for one, whereas on the other two ships the doors were in little recessed bays, providing more room for detritus such as half-eaten (and some less than half-eaten, sadly) room service meals on their trays (that is actually the proper place to put them for collection). The halls smell a bit musty, the result of the decks (it's not just on our deck, which is the lowest passenger deck) having been flooded from, say, an overflowing shower, which apparently has happened even since the most recent upgrade, which one would assume included new carpet since there were many reports of sewage overflowing during the Triumph's troubled sailing last year.

A had had only very minimal sleep in the days leading up to the trip, so after attending the mandatory safety briefing (all passengers report to their muster stations for this), we returned to the room. While A napped, J went to the gym both to get some exercise (felt good to counteract the inactivity of the car ride) and to enter into the drawing for free spa services. The gym is part of the spa, all of which is at the far foreward part of deck 11, one of the best places on the ship for looking out at the big ocean. J didn't win anything in the drawing, but the odds were diminished by the large attendance at the drawing; during those twenty minutes or so, the gym sees many times more visitors than at any other time during the cruise. During regular (i.e. non-raffle) hours, I've never seen more than twenty people or so in the ship's gym. There are 3127 paying passengers. (I have seen, on the last cruise, the dancers doing their workout - those people are in great shape, which makes sense. On this cruise, I have also seen the gym's personal trainers using the gym; they still had their nametags on, so I don't think they were completely off-duty.) After a shower and some tea/snacks to bolster us through til dinner, we went to the opening show of the cruise, in the main theater, which takes up three decks' worth of the foreward part of the ship. The dancing and singing were quite entertaining. I did notice that the troupe of twelve dancers and two singers (who also dance some) appears to be all Caucasian, and more women than men. At dinner - we chose the 8:15pm seating again, as on our two previous cruises - we met our tablemates, Brandy and Amy, who were here with a brewery with which they do some work (Rahr & Co., IIRC). They warned us that they don't like dressing up and that they usually don't come to the formal dinner much on their cruises. This did turn out to be the case. They were closer to us demographically than any of our previous tablemates, which I commented on, and B told me that the maitre d' is the one who makes the seating assignments; I suppose he has access to some data to help with this. Or maybe it's just random. I was glad to be at a smaller table this time, a booth with only four places. Our main waitress is Indonesian, named Agustini, and she's really great, the best waitperson I've met so far on a cruise. I think she gets that we don't want fanciness or pretension, and she's linguistically flexible, quick-witted and sweet. After dinner, we went to a double-feature comedy show, and really liked both the comedians. They really don't hold back with the adult-only comedy, and we love that. By this time, it was midnight, and we were tired.

Sunday 16 February 2014 - Day At Sea

The first night on the ship, J didn't sleep well, as there were lots of ship noises audible from our room, even through ear plugs (damn you, long waves!) and also some mysterious snoring... we got up and had breakfast, a leisurely time over probably two hours. This was a day-at-sea, and we were tired, so we pretty much took it easy. We found something called 'Super Trivia on the schedule at 4:30pm, and having had a good experience at a trivia session on our last cruise, decided to check it out. There we learned that Super Trivia would meet each day at the same time, and that teams would compete for the winning slot, with awards given on the final day. The theme for this first day was Science and Nature, and Alex and I really cleaned up (we found out the next day that our score, 56, had been the highest that day, and that, despite the fact that there was a NASA guy on one of the other teams!). After trivia, J visited the gym while A got a head start on soaking in the aftward hottub at sunset. Then it was time for the formal dinner. As per their warning, our table companions were not there. We enjoyed each other's company and some interesting offerings (A tried the alligator croquettes, for example) before moving on to the comedy club, where we were well-entertained.

Monday 17 February 2014 - Progreso, Mexico

No, we did not go on the 7 hour excursion to see Chichen Itza, the Mayan ruins. It involved a 2.25 hour drive each way, for one, which sounded unappealing. Also, it departed at 7:45am. This may sound like a lame excuse for not seeing the wonders of the world, but (1) I have never been particularly interested in anything Mayan, and I don't even know all the other WotW; and (2) our mistrust of goings-on in Mexico may have skewed our decision (I'll take that on solidly myself). We got up super-late (10:40am?) as J had taken desperate measures (sleeping pill, 1.5!) due to extreme fatigue and snoring and loud ship noises. On our way up to breakfast, around 11:30am, we met our neighbors, whom we asked if they'd yet been off the ship. They had, and they gave us advice echoed later by some other fellow cruisers in the dining hall: not worth it. (Our neighbors had actually encountered a pickpocket! He, a child, was, thankfully, not successful in his venture.) The dock is a three-mile bus ride (free shuttle provided by Carnival), down a very long pier, from the center of town. We didn't leave the ship until 1:30pm, and what we found outside the ship was as described: a flea market. The center of town was described as featuring the same thing; I'm sure that the town has other things to offer once one leaves the beaten path, but we weren't about to do that. After thirty minutes of near constant heckling ("Amiga! Amigo!", followed by some note about whatever wares the store sold), we returned to the ship. (A side note here: they had those woven bracelets with names, and they had a very wide range of names available, which I found interesting. Also, their silly touristy t-shirts leaned heavily toward sexual silliness; I learned that Mayan men are famously well-endowed. One shop sold an apron showing a fat, dark-skinned couple (man, woman) belly to belly, with the text 'Mission Impossible' above. The proprietor saw me looking at it and wanted to ensure that I saw the real punchline: he lifted the apron up to show an underlayer complete with huge, pop-up penis! Apparently Mayan men's dicks can overcome the penetration challenge caused by their rotundity! I was pretty amused, and also just found interesting that the Mexicans seem to have a very different acceptance around sex in their culture. Or it could be that they just wanted to sell me stuff and were through being genteel or polite.) After we reboarded the ship (BTW, at no time when entering or leaving Mexico did we have to show our passports - just our ship cards, no photo), we decided to rest in our room (headache, lingering fatigue) for a while before some afternoon tea and snacks. Then it was time for round two of Super Trivia, the theme for which was People and Places. Team 'Can Has' did fairly well, 33 points, and we overheard someone asking what the highest score had been the first day: 56! Since Kevin didn't say that there had been more than one with that score, we are confident in thinking that we were the only team with that score. Yay, us!

After trivia, J went to the gym (tried recumbent bike in hopes of putting less pressure on feet, which were really tired) while A explored the ship, finding an exciting (read: very windy, such that he had to remove his glasses for fear of losing them in a gust) area on deck 9. J was about to move on to weights when A returned, earlier than the appointed time, so we chatted while J did some weights. After returning to the cabin (they call them staterooms, but I can't get used to saying that) for a shower and to dress for dinner, we skipped the dining room in favor of DIY dinner at 7:30p: pizza, salad, red wine (from our bottle in the room).

The evening was spent seeing three consecutive shows in a row at Rome Lounge, the ship's large-capacity theater: Battle of the Sexes, Liars' Club, and Showcase of the Stars. Interesting convo with emo-hair Luke and his girlfriend Megan; together, J and this pair were a triumverate of asymmetric hairstyles! After the Liars' Club, cruise director Jen Baxter shared with us a list of the top ten stupid questions from cruisers, which was hilarious; as is her wont, Jen delivered these sometimes horrifying questions/comments with warmth and humor. I took videos of this segment, and will get it up on YouTube (only one of the vids is there now). At the end of the segment, Jen asked the audience to share their own stupid questions/comments with her sometime. In preparation for sharing my very own stupid comment with Jen, we found and took a photo of the pie icon. In case I haven't told you the pie icon story, here goes: On my very first cruise, in my very first hour aboard the ship, suffering from a dangerous lack of sleep (overnight drive to New Orleans) and being quite overwhelmed with the new environment, A and I were exploring the ship. This was all so interesting and novel. We knew that the mandatory safety briefing would be happening soon, and we were looking for our muster station, which was near the lifeboats on deck three. We saw what I now refer to as the [apple] pie icon, and then ended up going through some corridor with the kinds of metal doors one sometimes sees in kitchens. The air was warm and steamy, and redolent of food. Given that I did not know my way around the ship *at all* and hadn't even realized yet that the food was way up on deck 9, my brain made sense of all of this in its own special way, and I decided that the icon was an apple pie, and that this denoted that the cooking facility was nigh. My defenses were down, and I even shared this false realization with a family we encountered shortly thereafter. When I realized that the icon was depicting *life boats*, I was pretty mortified; I think I even cried, though it was mostly out of frustration that I was so deeply tired.

[sign with icon denoting lifeboats, but which strongly resembles an apple pie]
The lower of the two signs depicts a life-saving apple pie. Seriously!

After the show binge, we visited the Lido deck, where we saw and briefly participated in the dance party. We tried to get to bed early-ish, as we had a big day ahead of us in Cozumel.

Tuesday 18 February 2014 - Cozumel, Mexico (and A's birthday!)

We woke early, at 8am, and went right to breakfast, since we had to be out of the boat and on our excursion at 10am. Now we know when *not* to go to breakfast! The lines were super long so we went for the low-hanging fruit (a separate buffet with a limited selection), and even that was glacially slow. I'm sure I've been guilty of some of the same behaviors, but really, someone should brief buffet-dining enthusiasts (and drivers, while they're at it) about particle motion or something, so that we can, as a society, do better at driving and DIY plate-filling (especially salad-making OMG). We still had plenty of time, and after applying copious amounts of sunscreen, we disembarked. We were parked alongside another Carnival ship, the Carnival Legend. Two other cruise ships were parked at the pier, one of which was called the Liberty of the Seas (don't know what cruise line). After walking the full length of the very long Duty Free shop, we easily found our excursion leader. (Only later, close to departure time around 4pm, did I see them open up the non-retail route to the ship along the pier... sneaky!) I could say a whole lot about the excursion, but I will try to summarize more succintly. It was called 12 Meter America's Cup Sailing, and was a participatory (with an option for inactive role) sailing race on two equally-sized sailboats. The local guide gave us a very nice briefing about the history of America's Cup (which had its origins in England. The English do a cold start, whereas the Americans do a running start to the race (already moving). A team from NYC was the only US team to respond to the invitation to sail in the first race (then called something else, of course), and crossed the Atlantic to do so. They were late, but made up the eight hours (???) and ended up winning; as such, it seems they felt justified in their cockiness, and took over the race. Okay, there. I may have misspoken but that's what I remember!) A and I chose active roles, and ended up with a guy from another Carnival ship in the port that day, all three of us cranking to move the Genoa (sp?) sail, which is the forewardmost sail and redirects the wind into the main sail (the one on the big boom). There was a "winch wench" (it's amazing how quaint that phrase sounds when uttered by a diminutive Australian skipper), and some other semi-active positions, and also a few inactive positions. There were, I think, eleven on our boat, plus the three crew members (in addition to the skipper, there were two Mexican dudes, Rabbit and Miguel). Rabbit was the one calling the shots for our role, and I observed that despite almost no accent in his quick, casual bro-style English, his command of the language was suspect; he'd tell us something, and then in clarification, whether self-propelled or to answer one of our questions, seem to contradict himself in some subtle way. I was chosen (quite randomly, I think, or maybe because I was chatty) as the team's captain, and discovered that my creativity (in coming up with a chant, in this case) might rely on feeling comfortable with my cohorts (i.e. Alex brings this out in me, big-time) before really shining. Anyway, it was fun to be given license to be a wee bit bossy (I was encouraged to 'command' Randy and his wife to take a photo of me and A with their camera and later email it to us; we'd left all but our ship IDs and passports on the ship). Our boat was the True North IV, which flew the Canadian flag. We were ahead for most of the race, but in the end, the other ship (the Stars and Stripes) won. The rules and regulations of sailing seem pretty complicated, but in sum: we made five legs between two endpoints: A, B, A, B, A. Leg A consisted of five (no more or less, I think) zigs/zags between the markers, and leg B was a straight shot back to the first marker. Repeat A and B, and then the last A was to a slightly farther post. The S&S got us on the last two legs, I think. One of the times we circumnavigated the end post/marker, we were sort of guaranteed to maintain our lead, because we had the right of way. A recalls that that same right of way thing might have been what kept us from being able to overtake the S&S in the penultimate and final legs. Oh, and the objective of Not Hitting the Other Boat. It was active, exciting (we got pretty close to the other boat a few times - less than a boatlength), and I'm really glad that we did it. The little motorized bus-raft that ha dbrought us out to the boat came to pick us up, and we were dropped at a location a few minutes' walk from the pier, where we could look at the tour company's souvenirs, drink bright red rum punch (we declined) and then exit the little building only to find more proprietors wanting to sell us their stuff.

There's no other way to say it: being out in the sun makes me cranky. And so when the excursion was done, all I wanted to do was get back to the ship. We had to navigate through the streets of very-touristy Cozumel, but we did eventually find some of the places to redeem the coupons for free stuff we'd been given: bamboo necklaces (is there a source of bamboo in Mexico? We got them mostly out of curiosity, and they're so crappy as to not be worth taking home. The bamboo-stuff store did have some soft shirts and sheets, though), and margaritas (birthday boy downed two small Solo cups' worth). We also sampled some Mayan rum cake (not sure how authentic it is), which was actually delicious, so A bought two, one Mexican Vanilla flavor (I know that 'vainilla' grows in Mexico) and the other chocolate chip. Back on the boat around 1:30pm or so, we showered and had lunch, camping out for at least an hour or so on the upper level of the dining hall. Then it was trivia time, so we went to the lounge for that. The theme was Music, and we did fairly well again, mostly due to the bonus question (the trivia guy, so congenial, has been adding bonus questions about himself to every round, and this day we guessed his favorite artist, whose career has spanned decades. It was Madonna.)

I needed a nap, so A left me for 1.5 hours to explore the ship. We went to the restaurant, dressing up a little even though it was 'casual' night, in honor of Alex's birthday. Our waitress and a few other crew members led in singing to him, and many others joined in. They even brought him cake with a candle in it (they should've asked me which type, as they unfortunately chose a cappucino pie, and A really dislikes coffee).

[Alex and Jenny in Paris Restaurant]
Birthday boy, bowtie, bonny lass!

After dinner, it was time for a magic show in the main theater, and that was great. The magician is a Danish guy named Anders, who is quite charismatic and showman-like, and amongst the tricks there's lots of dancing by beautiful women (I think the same ones on the ship's entertainment staff, but I'm not sure. If they are the same women, and even if they're not, these women have to know a *lot* of choreography. But, then, they probably excel at that, being professional dancers and all.)

Dancer sandwich.
[J and A with dancer in costume]

After the show we had our photo taken with one of the dancers and bought a CD of the soundtrack of the show; I asked, before buying, whether the CD contained the full length versions of the tracks from the show, and the guy (Anders' assistant) appeared to understand me, and answered in the affirmative, but reading the notes inside (only after purchase), a note encouraging us to support the artists by buying the full versions, available on iTunes, made it clear that this was not the case. Next up was a burlesque show, which was billed as adults-only. It was pretty spicy, and both of us were rather impressed. The lounge was, as one would expect, jam-packed. After the show we explored the upper decks by moonlight (and enthusiastic artificial deck illumination). I was pleased (well, mortified, too) to find another photo for my collection of Extraneous Apostrophes: "Powder Fire Extinguisher". Why does this need to be in quotes? Every such fire extinguisher on the ship, it turns out, is labeled in this exact way. Then I was feeling just naughty, and this happened:

Bad editing!
[sign depicting powder fire extinguisher] [J
        climbing a ladder next to sign instructing
Bad girl?!

Wednesday - 19 February 2014 - Day At Sea

After sleeping in til after 10am, we made our way to the *actual* dining room for brunch. Our status with Carnival now provides us with one drink ticket apiece, to be redeemed during brunch in the actual restaurant (as opposed to the buffet upstairs, which is what we usually use, and what I prefer; being waited on makes me feel trapped rather than pampered). Despite my reluctance, however, we had a pretty fun hour and a half or so in the dining room. A couple from San Antonio (Carlos, with a motorcycle-related t-shirt, and Christine, an RN working at Methodist Hospital, with three grown kids, the oldest of which is 30!) sat next to us, along with two young women from Texas with whom we didn't talk quite as much, and another couple, Oksana and Mike. A and I discussed our conversational styles after the brunch, exchanging constructive criticism about our respective tendencies. Christine and Alex had a fun exchange after I mentioned that he had celebrated his birthday the previous day. She asked his age, and he told her: 48. She didn't believe him, and asked, sort of jokingly, what year he was born: 1966. She said, I'm confused. I was born in 1966, too, but I'm 29! She went on to say something about not liking his math. It was really funny. C&C were on their first cruise, and I think O&M hadn't been on as many cruises as A and I, so we talked some about logistics and stuff (the thread might have gotten started by questions about the drink tickets we were redeeming - which, btw, the young women were also using). A drank both of the alcoholic beverages we got: a chocolate martini, and a mimosa. The former was actually quite tasty, with more sweet chocolate flavor than booziness, though the alcohol was definitely present. The service at brunch is pretty slow (see note re: feeling trapped above), and they'll only bring you verywarmwater in one of those little metal carafes for your tea, which I, of course, think is gross (even crappy teabag tea should be brewed with boiling water; otherwise it tastes nasty, to me, anyway. The water spigot at the buffet is pretty hot, though not quite boiling, but it makes passable tea, with doubled or tripled-up teabags), so I was still in need of my caffeine fix. So after brunch, we found a place to camp out on the upper level of the buffet for about 90 min or so. Then, after exploring outside (the jogging track, shuffleboard area) we returned inside for the Newlywed Game, which was funny as usual. We had an hour or so left before trivia, so while A rested in the room, I took my daily exercise. When A came to retrieve me in the gym, he found me doing this:

        drinking from wine bottle in gym]
Crazy combo, right? Read on.
[Jenny drinking wine while on elliptical bike]
What happens on Deck 11, stays on Deck 11!

Now we know how long it takes for things to *really* get crazy! (Full disclosure: the wine bottle contained vitamin water transferred from one of the twelve bottles we'd brought aboard as part of the allowance. We'd needed to empty a water bottle the previous evening to use to transport some of other other wine bottle's contents easily. I don't think alcohol and exercise mix, though beach volleyball enthusiasts may disagree!) Trivia time came, and we found two women sitting at the table I'd come to think of as ours. They invited us to sit with them, which was... interesting. They assured us that they were not competing, but just liked to listen/watch. They were drinking alcohol and one was quite boisterous (whispering came as a challenge to her, so there was some shushing); they did help out on one or two clues. The other teams were much larger than ours, which was just me and A. We did fairly well (theme was the 1980s) even though some of the questions made us wonder why we hadn't paid more attention during that decade (though I'm not too upset at being ignorant of the names of boy band members). After the round was done, our trivia host, Kevin, tallied all the scores and we had an awards ceremony: Team Can Has won third place! We were so proud, especially since the other teams had many more minds from which to cull their knowledge. We were given a bottle of K-Mart champagne (this is actually what they call it, being very honest about its quality :-) and medals bearing a cruise ship's prow and the name Carnival. A group of three thirty-something guys congratulated us, and we got to chatting. They were from Austin, and two live within two miles or so of A and me. They go to trivia at one of the area pubs, and I might just join them sometime (I'm pretty sure that trivia is much more competitive than the ship's trivia, and some teams take it quite seriously, drinking all the while, of course).

[Jenny and Alex in victorious pose, wearing trivia medals]
We are victorious.

Just as trivia was wrapping up, the captain came over the PA with an announcement that the Port of Galveston was closed due to dense fog; we should be prepared for the possibility of a delayed arrival the next morning.

This evening, we skipped the dining room again, in favor of pizza supplemented by buffet stuff (broiled salmon, salad, olives, meatloaf), along with the last of our red wine. Despite having brought more dressy clothes, there were scheduled things we would have had to miss to make our regular dinner seating. We watched the Katy Perry concert on the megatron on the main deck, under the moon and stars (she's a good performer, and her songs are so catchy), then went to the family-friendly comedy of one of the two comedians. It's interesting to see how the normally-crude comics have to restrict themselves to PG humor. Following the family-friendly comedy show, we stayed camped out in the comedy club and read (Alex read one of the books I gave him for his birthday, Vampire Academy, which I also intend to read, before we go see the movie together) and knitted (I've almost reached my objective, which was to finish the second of a set of wrist warmers. I've been calling them cloth bracers. Even though my main WoW characters were not co-called clothies, it amuses me (and A) to call them bracers, such as what a magic-user might wear as armor (not good physical armor but they can carry powerful protective enchantments). Two adults-only comedy shows followed, IIRC, the third round for us (in case I haven't mentioned it in this log, I'll explain that the adults-only comedy sets are not identical; the comics' family shows, however, are static). One of the comedians openly used notes toward the end of his set, and even joked about it: I've got six minutes left. Any questions? I wondered whether he might be at the end of his contract (he mentioned not knowing if he'd be asked back on the ship, but I think the Punchliner Comedy Club is such a huge commodity that the planning is pretty far in advance); I also wondered whether comics are allowed to, on certain nights, use some of their more experimental material, using us as test audience. Some of the funny lines I remember include I didn't know where to start... I was like a mosquito in nudist colony. There was a joke about his eight-year old daughter being sort of a smart ass, a quality she might get from him. He described her sitting on the floor of the barber shop eating a Twinkie; when warned You're gonna get hair on your Twinkie., her response was Yeah, I know, and I'm gonna get boobs, too! After the comedy was done, we returned to our cabin, around midnight. It was time to pack, and after that was done, we were nibblish, so we returned to the buffet area to use the 24-hour soft-serve machine. I also allowed us to use the elevator, since we probably wouldn't be able to use it in the morning due to the place being mobbed with people less able-bodied than us (and their luggage), and since there was no wait, as we were among very few people still up (it was nearly 2am). After a few hours of sleep...

Thursday 20 February 2014 - return to Galveston... maybe...

As I write this, we are anchored outside of the Port of Galveston, which was closed almost all day yesterday due to fog, a condition that has persisted and now prevents us docking. The captain just came on and said in his thick Italian accent (oh, but he's quite intelligible compared to our previous captain, also Italian) that as soon as the fog lifts enough for the pilot boats to launch, we'll be allowed in, but that there is no ETA for that. I did think it a bit odd that we heard loud ship activity (well, now we know what unfurling the anchor line sounds like!) and it was only 6:52am, much earlier than the expected arrival time of 8:30am. We're trying to see this as an adventure, but it's hard to know how much we can do if there's no ETA. Do I take my bathing suit out and get in a hot tub? Do a bonus workout? So far, this unique opportunity has been used for more tea and one more delicious morning glory muffin, one of the baked goods the ship does really well. (They also have nice croissants and good biscotti. And lots of cheese cubes.) The view from the upper deck was pretty interesting, if dense fog and limited visibility can be interesting (it can... and the moon above was a nice juxtaposition). As you can see, I'm using the extra time - and forced wakefulness - to update this log with yesterday's activities.