January 2013 Cruise – A Quick and Fun Getaway (Part 2)

Boarding the Carnival Elation at New Orleans was a breeze and we were onboard just minutes after parking the car. Once onboard, you have to get a ceremonial drink to start your cruise. I chose a Bloody Mary since it was before noon.

bloody mary

Carnival Elation is the 7th in the series of 8 Fantasy Class ships of Carnival. It was built in 1998 at a cost of $350 million dollars and was the first cruise ship to ever use “Azipods” for propulsion. If you are wondering what an Azipod is, CLICK HERE.

The Elation and its sisters are considered small ships by today’s standards at 855′ in length, carrying 2052 passengers and 920 crew. No matter what they say, it is still a damn big boat!

We were last on Elation in October of 2011 for its final sailing from Mobile, Alabama. When we returned, it went to dry dock for refurbishment of certain areas and general maintenance. Although it did not get additional balconies or the water park, it still emerged as a new ship and you could notice the improvements on our sailing.

Elation Atrium Bar

Elation Mikado Lounge Balcony

Elation Mikado Lounge Main Floor

Elation Golf Course

ElationLidoDeck

At 1:30 pm, our rooms were ready. It is amazing to me just how quick the ship can be “made new” after each voyage. Off we go to Cabin M22.

Elation Cabin M22

Before we knew it, the ship was setting sail.  What a relief – no Homeland Security issues this time!   (READ THIS and you’ll know what I am talking about)

The closer we got to the Gulf of Mexico, the foggier it got.  When you can’t see, just blow the horn and they’ll move right?  Notice the ever-changing lighting effects of the pool.

Carnival just recently introduced the Punchliner Comedy Club on all ships and it is going over quite well.  Comedian Russ Nagel was beyond terrific as you can see from the standing room only crowd!

Another cool event recently introduced is “Superstar Live.”  This is just like karaoke, except you sing with a live band – which happened to be the Carnival Elation show band.  Here is the group “Sexual Chocolate” performing at “Superstar Live.”

I won’t bore you with all the details about the great meals except to say the famous Chocolate Melting Cake has not changed a bit!

Chocolate Melting Cake

The first Port of Call (formal term for ship stop) was Progreso, Mexico, which to many is a “shit hole.”    For whatever reason, I like this stop because it is the closest you will ever get to “real life” in Mexico from a cruise ship.  It is worth the free bus ride from the pier into town to check things out.   They now have a “bus port” complete with a new straw market, and its even closer to the beach.

EntryToProgreso

Progreso Bus Port

Progreso Tourist Village

ProgresoBeachfront

Inflation has struck the beach in Progreso.  A massage that used to be $10 is now $20.  Don’t choke – they will still negotiate!

The locals are on this beach in full force trying to sell everything you can think of…. and a few things you would never imagine.   Don’t let it annoy you.  They are just trying to feed their families and a boat load of tourists are “easy pickings!”

I have found it best to tip the “cold beer on the beach guy” and ask him to keep the other vendors away while you sit on the beach with your cold beer.   That works.

Marinas MasssageProgreso

Many musicians stroll the beach at Progreso for tips.

ProgresoBeachMusicians

It is especially fun to tip them to play for the people getting a massage.  Thats what I always do.

Musica Massage

And you can tip them to ride back to the ship with you.  I did that too.

Bus Music

And once back to the Port, there are several bars with a great atmosphere.  Don’t get back on board just yet!

Progreso Beach Bar

Elation at Progreso

The Port of Progreso is a huge industrial port and cruise ship visits are relatively new in comparison.  Each visit, I can see more and more tourism developing this third world town into what will one day be a thriving resort location.  Just wait and see!

MexicanMilitaryShip

Part 3 finds the Carnival Elation in Cozumel.  Join us there, and also as we head back home on what would become “the drive home from hell!”

Janaury 2013 Cruise – A Quick and Fun Getaway! (Part 1)

There is never a good time to plan a vacation, even a short one. When times are slow, we’re out there hammering pennies from the pavement. When times are busier, as they thankfully are now, there are just not enough hours in the day!

Sometimes, everyone is better served if you take just a few days to recharge yourself – and that is what 26 of us just did!

We headed out at 7:00 Friday morning, January 11th for New Orleans. Sometimes, I would rather drive to New Orleans rather than fly. One reason is this “drive-thru daiquiri joint” in Pearl River, just outside of New Orleans.

Drive-Thru Daiquiri Joint

We arrived at the Drury Inn Suites at Carondelet and Poydras Street around 3:00 pm. Several in our group chose to fly down and we all arrived at the same time. The Drury is convenient to everything – Carondelet turns into Bourbon Street one block over, Harrahs Casino is 3 blocks down, and they have a complimentary happy hour and hot breakfast included with your room. They also have a rooftop pool.

Drury Inn New Orleans Rooftop Pool

It had rained the entire day, but the skies cleared just in time for us to enjoy a night on Bourbon Street. First a visit to Harrah’s, where Beth picked up a quick $100. After dinner at Pat O’Briens, we joined all the other tourists and freaks on Bourbon Street.

I ran across these two girls. They said they were doing this to pay off their student loans. I believed them.

Glitter Girls

This cat was just a freak and couldn’t possibly have had a student loan, and probably wouldn’t pay it if he/she did.

guess

Regardless of your level of social tolerance, Bourbon Street really is something to experience.

The cruise ships normally arrive in New Orleans before sunrise, and you can usually see them from the roof top of the Drury Inn. Not today!

NOLA Fog

The Carnival Elation had arrived, so after breakfast, we loaded up the car and headed to the Erato Street Cruise Terminal. Normally we would have left our car at the Drury Inn, which usually includes parking in their cruise special. This year, they are adding on to the hotel and building a parking garage. In other words, we had no choice but to park at the cruise terminal ($75), where we arrived at 11:15 am and were on the ship having the first drink at 11:40. The Port of New Orleans and Carnival Shoreside staff have mastered the process here!

This cruise was my 20th sailing, the 14th with Carnival and the other six with Royal Caribbean and Princess. I keep returning to Carnival quite frankly because I have had more fun on their ships. Damien Smart, my Carnival Vacation Planner, has always taken great care of us, and everyone that sails with us. People may think I get rewards or kickbacks for these cruises, but I don’t. I just recommend people that I have good experiences with. Give Damien a call at 1-800-819-3902, ext 82885.

Meanwhile, up on Lido Deck, you can see just how busy the Mississippi River is at New Orleans.

Nashville’s own Ingram Barge Lines has a huge presence here and the boats they have here make the ones we see on the Cumberland look like toys. Years ago, Ingram Barge’s main office was located in the Shell Building in New Orleans prior to Mr. Bronson Ingram moving it to Nashville.

Ingram on Mississippi River

And then there are numerous freighters like these all around.

Freighter</a

Most people don't realize that the Port of New Orleans is over 100 miles away from the mouth of the Mississippi at the Gulf of Mexico. The nice thing about cruising from New Orleans, no matter what the weather is on the high seas, your first and last 8 hours of cruising will be smooth!

Map NOLA to GULF>

Check back for Part 2 and find out all about the Carnival Elation and the ports of Progreso and Cozumel, Mexico.

“Give me back my bullet.” Part 2

While within the confines of the Homeland Security office, David Hartley called me from Lido deck to see what the problem was.  I quickly told him “they found a bullet in Beth’s bag….gotta go.”   As I hung up , all I could hear was his laughter coming from the phone.   “Whats so funny about a bullet?” 

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this ordeal, here is the link:   https://nashvillehomesblog.com/2011/03/25/give-me-back-my-bullet-part-1/

OK, we’re back on board and found the group up on the bridge deck, just in time for a sail-away picture.

 

Then the questions and comments started flowing.  “Why is a silver bullet a security concern?  How embarrasing!”   

I am almost “over-the-hill” and sometimes slow to catch on.   Then,  it hit me.  They thought the fuss was all about one of those battery-operated bullet things that are made for women to play with.  Poor Beth.  This will be a cruise joke for ages to come.

On Monday morning, we arrive at the port of Progreso, Mexico.   If you want to see what real life is like in Mexico, you must ride the bus into downtown Progreso and check things out.  This was our sixth time to visit Progreso, so we decided to make a quick run through the “tourist village” at the pier and then enjoy the day relaxing onboard Triumph.

The “tourist village” has grown considerably since our last visit.  I found a neat sling shot in one of the stores that I plan to use at the lake this summer to shoot rubber balls and stuff at friends.  Beth bought a Mexican pottery thing.  There is a neat little bar on the beach with an excellent view of the pier, and they have gotten real creative with their marketing:

From the looks of the bras and panties they have gotten, they probably had to give away more drinks to whoever was there to watch.

The view looking outside of the bar was a bit better!

After a few cold ones, we headed back to the ship, jumped on board, and went through the security scanners.  They pulled Beth aside …. “Maam…pleese open yoor bag… look like weapon.”  (You should have seen the look on her face.) 

She opened her bag and there was my sling shot!   “Pleese go there to security.”   She was not about to… and made me go instead!  I guess that is fair.  It was my sling-shot.   Now, it looks like we both are now on “the list.”  LOL  

The harbor pilot “gig” has always intrigued me.  Someone from the port has to be on the ship when it is in a particular country’s port area.  When you are clear, they jump off on the Pilot Boat.  This happens in every port, arriving and departing.   I know there is a good reason, and I’ve heard them all…but it still sounds like a scam to me.  What a neat job!

The next day we were in Cozumel, where there are a zillion things to do.  Margaritaville appears to be the new hot spot, although Carlos & Charlies still takes the cake for being wild.  Panchos Backyard is a must if you are hungry, and if you are not, stop there for a drink anyway!    Enjoy a few scenes from the rest of the day.

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The highlight of cruising is getting to know people from all over the world.  This cruise was no exception.  Our head-waiter, Nolan Villamor from Phillipines, along with Alejandro his assistant, made each evening meal very special.

Another highlight of dinner is the entertainment.  After the meal, all of the dining staff dances and sings for the crowd.  Some may think this is “hokey” but we have always enjoy it.  Perhaps we are “hokey” too!

 The morning of debarkation, they had a lounge set up to return everyone’s “contraband.”  I was comforted to see I was not the only one that bought a sling shot!  On the way out of the cruise terminal, I almost stopped by the Homeland Security office just to see if they would “give me back my bullet!”  My better judgement prevailed…this time.

Our next cruise will be aboard Carnival Elation – its last cruise from Mobile, Alabama, October 15 – October 22, to Belize, Roatan, and Cozumel.  We’ve already got a great group going and more are planning to go.  You should join us too.  Just leave your bullet at home!

 

Trey Lewis is a licensed Real Estate Broker in the State of Tennessee with Ole South Realty, 615.896.0019  direct 615.593.6340.  Specializing in new home sales in the Greater Nashville area to include Nashville, Murfreesboro, Smyrna, and Spring Hill, Tennessee

“Give me back my bullet.” Part 1

Last Saturday, we left Nashville around 3:30 am for New Orleans for another cruise on the Carnival Triumph.  Its really not a bad drive, and you can use the money you saved on airfare in the ship’s casino too!   To set the mood for the cruise, we always stop in Pearl River, on the outskirts of New Orleans, and visit the “drive-thru dacquiri” joint.  Only in Louisiana will you see drive-thru drinks, along with open container laws!

We parked the car at the terminal at 11:45 am and were having our first drink on board the Triumph less than 20 minutes later.  This had been the smoothest boarding ever and the afternoon was off to a great start… for a while anyway.

Several hours later, I was on Lido Deck waiting for the “Muster Drill” to start when I heard our names being called over the public address system.  This was around 3:15 pm, and the ship was to sail at 4:00.  The announcement said to contact guest services immediately on Deck 3, or by dialing 7777.  Beth was roaming the ship with others, so I happily skipped down to our cabin to make the call.

Several weeks before, I had hinted on John Heald’s blog (www.johnhealdsblog.com) about the possibility of getting a cabin upgrade for this cruise.  I just knew that was what this was about!  But what were we getting – suite upgrade perhaps? 

When I arrived at the room, Beth had already called guest services, who told her to proceed immediately to Deck 3 with her passport because she would be “exiting the sheep.”   I went ahead and called also and was told not to worry, they had already talked to her.  They confirmed that she would be “exiting the sheep” so I thought I probably should tag along, just incase it really was about a cabin upgrade.

Thoughts were spinning through my mind like a hamster on a wheel.   My buzz-investment, starting at the drive-thru joint, was now gone.  We were escorted off the “sheep” and taken to the Homeland Security office.   All hopes of the cabin upgrade vanished when they asked Beth if she owned a gun. 

I unfairly lashed out at her; “you brought a damn gun?  What the hell….”  No, she really didn’t.  Did someone plant a gun in her bag?  I now had gas building up and wasn’t about to “trust a fart.”  Pure tension. 

We were then informed that scanners picked up what appeared to be a bullet in her travel make up case at 11:59 am.  They had been calling our cabin continously and could not use the public address system because of a damn onboard wedding.  The ship was ready to leave, and here we are at Homeland Security.  Naturally, we gave them permission to open the bag.   There it was.  A 38 caliber bullet.   WTF?

“Maam, why do you have a bullet in your bag?”    I then tried to bring some Barney Fife humor into the situation.  No one cracked a smile.  This really was serious.  Beth quickly remembered why the bullet was there. 

Two years ago, we went on a river trip with some friends, and having a gun when traveling remote areas on a boat is a must.  They had a gun on their boat, but did not have any bullets.  We did, and Beth stuck them in her make up bag to take to them.  Apparently, there was one leftover and it has been in that bag ever since.  Beth pointed out that the same bag had already been on Triumph TWICE since then.  (Beth, shut up….don’t make them look bad).  They took no offense.  Thank God.  (It turns out they have brand new equipment, and it works!)

They accepted the explanation and asked her to sign an affidavit.  Then, they would have to perform complete background checks with 1) Homeland Security, 2) State of Tennessee, 3) Harbor Police, 4) US Coast Guard.  If all clear, she would be released to board the ship.  All they needed now was her driver’s license….and it was in the cabin!   They escorted her to the cabin and started the background check after she returned.  They told me I was free to board the “sheep” but in the interest of world peace, I chose to stay with her.

The Triumph’s Chief Security Officer was waiting patiently, and it was very obvious the ship was being held for us.  He was most polite and made certain we got back on board safely after the lengthly background checks proved Beth’s innocence.   When we boarded the ship, a few words on the walkie-talkie and the gangway was removed.  WHEW!

Down the Mississippi River we go.

We cruise a lot and get asked questions all the time about what you can, and cannot bring aboard.  Let me tell you from experience that whatever you have in your luggage will be seen by many experts trained to recognize weaponry.  I bet they can even recognize a mouthwash bottle filled with vodka.

 This is a very good thing and makes me feel much better that the possibility of terrorism onboard a ship or plane has been greatly reduced.  Hats off to Homeland Security!    And, thank you Carnival Cruise Lines and Captain Angelo Los for waiting for us!  It won’t happen again.

Well…… not until we get to Progreso.  Stay tuned for Part 2!

Trey Lewis is a licensed Real Estate Broker in the State of Tennessee with Ole South Realty, 615.896.0019  direct 615.593.6340.  Specializing in new home sales in the Greater Nashville area to include Nashville, Murfreesboro, Smyrna, and Spring Hill, Tennessee