In the early afternoon of Labor Day, September 1, after two very fun days in Princeton visiting with some of our oldest and dearest friends, and a morning trip via commuter train and subway to midtown Manhattan, we boarded the Carnival Victory. Though we have sold many cruise packages over the years, this was our first time on a cruise ship at sea. After a long hard-working summer, we both felt the need to relax and pamper ourselves for a few days. This cruise, featuring a travel agent seminar, and stopping in only two ports, seemed ideal to us.
The giant ship has 12 decks and while on-board feels more like a luxury resort hotel than a floating vessel. On our way out of the Hudson River, we saw a similar Cunard Lines mega-ship sail by (photo, another cruise ship). We sailed beneath the long shadows of Manhattan skyscrapers (photo, skyline) and the Statue of Liberty. watched as we left her behind (photo, statue). It was quite an impressive scene.
Once settled into our ocean view cabin, we started to examined our habitat for the next 5 days. The cabis is just like a hotel room with TV, desk, sofa, and telephone, though it costs $10 a minute to call anywhere outside the ship. The bathroom is equipped with hairdryer, nonstop fan and shower, on top of the regular amenities. The whole ship seemed like a big maze to us, so we had to carry the ship map with us at all times in order to get to where we are going.
We met other agents at our dinner table, three couples who live within 30 miles of each other yet never met before, were with us. The wives are the agents and husbands are tag-alongs. We shared women's frustration about the travel industry, while enjoying some nice four-course dinner and dessert (photo, fancy dinners).Day Two is a "fun day" at sea, sailing all day long. The sky was gray and it was relaxing time. Richard read his book while Barbara checked out the spa, the steam bath and the library. The fact that we were stuck on the ship and you could not do anything about it certainly took the guilty feeling of not working away. I heard inmates in prison had the same feeling sometimes while "doing hard time". We are doing our time when the only activity left to do is relax. It was a strange feeling for us working people, while food and drinks were available 24 hours a day. There were large Asian groups on the ship, occupying the card room and library with their Mah-Jiang games. It seemed to be a wonderful choice for friends and families doing cruise together. Kids can play in their camp while adults chat away and play their games. Dressed up like everybody else on the ship, Night Two is the formal night with Capitain's Cocktail Party and Lobster Dinner.
We arrived at Saint John in New Brunswick, Canada (not to be confused with St. John in Caribbean), on the third morning. The day was bright with sunshine. We did not join the six-hour bike tour the ship offered, thinking we could go rent our own bikes to ride around on our own for a couple of hours. It turned out for the whole city, there is only one bike rental shop and it was completely swamped by our ship contract. There was not a single bike we could rent. Luckily, the town is small enough to be covered by foot in a few hours. We visited a cemetery and a couple of parks, some old churches (photo, Saint John church) and a nice old city market where people sell their produce and crafts, much like Seattle's Pike Market. Back on the boat, Richard agreed to sign up for the Karaoke Competition. In the final, he sang the much-loved "Somewhere over the Rainbow." But the championship was won by a powerful tenor. Just having sung the competition, however, conferred some notoriety, if not exactly celebrity status, throughout the ship.
Day Four we arrived in Halifax in the morning. The sky was grey and there was a light but persistent rain. The tourist office offered us a nice bus tour, where we boarded the double decker (proudly imported from UK) to go through the city's major attractions. We enjoyed the city view, an old fortress, local brewery, sea port (one of the oldest in North America) (photo, Port of Halifax). We stopped at Canada's only crystal maker - Nova Scotia Crystal. We watched as the craftsmen did their trick of blowing crystal from the burning sand, curving them by hand with incredible accuracy into lovely vases (photo, blowing crystal). We were so taken that we ended up buying a set of whiskey tumblers to take home. Back on the ship, we enjoyed a Jazz Trio made up of three young talented musicians in the "Ionian Lounge." It though it surprising to find their avant guard style of improvised jazz on a cruise ship. Perhaps it works because the ship is packed with New Yorkers, or maybe the just get away with it. Richard of course had dragged his sopranino sax all the way from home, so this was the golden opportunity to jam with the trio. They were very nice and allowed Richard to play some tunes with them.
Day Five is another "fun day at sea" sailing all the way back to New York. Again it is a totally relaxing day. We attended an art auction show, at first halfheartedly, but we ended up buying a piece by Russian painter Zamy Steynovitz - Honeymoon at Sea, very appropriate for our ten-year anniversary. We thought this cruise was a bargain because of the agency discount. It turned out to be the most expensive trip we ever took, counting the painting purchase.
Overall the cruise was a good experience for us, considering we are usually rather more adventurous travelers. The cabin staff were beyond merely helpful and pleasant. Every night they left a cute animal twisted out of a towel, on our bed at turn down time (photo, towel Lambchop). There are a few unexpected things we might like to mention. Though most of the drinks such as coffee, tea and fruit juice are complementary, soda is not and alcoholic drinks are usually pretty weak and quite expensive. The gratuity was charged to your cabin automatically. If we ate at the self service buffet, we were still subject to the dinning room tips of $11 a day. To adjust that, you would have to stand in the line at the purser's office to ask the dining room gratuity taken off.
We survived our virgin cruise of a somewhat slow paced, and maybe we'll look forward to more cruising into unknown territories.