Friday, August 12, 2011

Hey, who switched off the Fun Button?

There isn’t anything sadder than waking up on Debarkation Day.

So, the night before we were given the option to pack and place our bags outside the door for Carnival to carry our bags off or keep our bags and self-debark. Given the time we finished with Chef’s Table (and all that free-flowing wine) the decision really was no longer up to us ... we would keep all our bags and self-debark. Which would have been fine if I had at least started packing the bags that day.

It was the crack of 7 a.m. when that annoying noise came over the P.A. system (I don’t remember announcements being annoying during the cruise). “Those choosing to Self-Debark are requested to do so at this time ... blah, blah, blah” I got up and was immediately hot (where did all the air conditioning go?). I walked through the cabin and felt the first pang of stress (where is that happy, warm fuzzy feeling?).

I honestly believe there is some large lever or button down at the bottom of the ship that is labeled ‘FUN’ and it’s one crewmembers job to switch it ON at Embarkation and switch it OFF at Debarkation. Clearly it is held in a highly classified area because I didn’t spot it at all during the Behind the Fun Tour ... and I looked.

Enter frenzied shower and packing and somehow we were off the ship within the hour.

Goodbye Towel Animal friends ... I will miss you!

Final Thoughts 

This was a cruise of firsts. Our first Port Hole Cabin ... I would book it again. The best part (besides the price) was being on the Empress Deck. I would book an Ocean View over the Port Hole if that was the only way to get on that deck. I liked the location that much.

Our first try at Your Time Dining ... I will do it again, depending on the type of cruise we are taking. For example, our Alaska cruise next May will find us with Your Time Dining because we don’t want to miss a thing from our balcony (I wouldn’t be surprised if some dinners were from the Lido that trip!) But, I will do Traditional Dining again. I just really love the pomp & circumstance of it all ... and the singing waiters!

Our first Behind the Fun Tour ... DH wants to see the Bridge from every class ship, so we now have a checklist. I enjoyed the tour a lot and am humbled by the inner workings of our great cruise.

Our first Chef’s Table ... What an extraordinary experience! Yes, we will absolutely do Chef’s Table again. In fact, hubby wants to reserve it for every cruise.

Our first cruise together without kids ... Rod and I had a great time this cruise. We love the kids (please don’t get us wrong) but we needed this time away together. Thank you, hubby!

And one last first ... this has been my first cruise review! I had a great time sharing our cruise with you. I hope you have enjoyed it and I hope I have answered some questions you may have about the Carnival Paradise. The Paradise is leaving Long Beach and relocating to Tampa. To those of you in Tampa ... you are getting a beautiful ship. We look forward to the Inspiration coming to Long Beach to take her place. Thank you all again for following!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chef's Table

We already felt like VIPs with Chef Jorg’s visit to our table in the Main Dining Room on Elegant Night. Then we had the pleasure of meeting him again during the Behind the Fun Tour earlier and he acknowledged us and our Chef’s Table reservation for later in the evening. Chef Jorg also spotted us at the Lido Buffet as we were getting lunch and reminded us not to eat too much because he had a special meal planned for us. Wow, that’s special!

We all met at the Atrium Bar - our home away from home - and at 6:15 p.m. Chef Jorg came to whisk us away for an evening we soon wouldn’t forget.

Want to feel like a VIP AND a Celebrity?

Simple, just participate in the Behind the Fun Tour prior to Chef’s Table!

The Chef’s Table experience began in the Galley with Chef Jorg giving us a tour and enticing our palettes with Starters and Champagne. Because we had been there earlier in the day, Chef Jorg made it a point to confirm with Rod everything he was saying, including asking him if the food was to his liking. Well, by the end of this (as well as throughout dinner) some of the other participants were convinced hubby was some kind of food critic. Yes, we were VIPs among the VIPs ... LOL!

No Seafood ... No Problem!

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t care for seafood and Chef Jorg made sure not a stitch of it came my way. We were seated at a beautifully set table in the Blue Riband Library ... the boys on one side and the girls on the other. At our place setting was a Place Card and a Menu Scroll.

I unscrolled my menu and got a peek at the tantalizing dishes I would be eating that evening. Yummy! There wasn’t a piece of fish anywhere. I had already eaten a substitute dish as a Starter. The Tomato Mozzarella was delicious. But, now I spotted my other substitutes. In place of Fried Calamari I would be eating Fried Vegetable Tempura (delicious!) and in place of Filet of Chilean Sea Bass I would be eating Roasted Apple Stuffed Chicken Breast (again, delicious!).

The regular menu is quite spectacular and I believe hubby enjoyed his seafood dishes a lot. I do have to say that probably the best dish was the Fire Roasted Tomato and Poblano Chile Bisque ... yummmmmmmy! I didn’t know any one thing could taste that good.

Chef presented each course and there were a number of waiters being very attentive to us all. It was a fun meal and getting to know the people around us helped make the experience even more memorable. Throughout dinner there was free-flowing wine ... watch out for that though, it sneaks up on you! ‘Nuff said. LOL!

So, how was the whole Chef’s Table experience? I will give you hubby (you know, the food critique)'s review, “It was the coolest four hours I have ever spent eating dinner.”

Yes, I am sure we will be reserving Chef’s Table again.

Behind the Fun Tour

We booked the Behind the Fun Tour when we embarked the ship on Monday. It’s a ‘first-come, first serve’ type situation so we made sure to sign-up at the Shore Excursion desk right when we got onto the ship. It was here we were told that we weren’t allowed to bring any cameras, cell phones or other recording devices and that we needed to wear closed-toed shoes. It pays to be a member of a cruise forum (Cruise Critic) to get the heads up on this!

We met in the Blue Riband Library at 9 a.m. where we were offered coffee, juices and pastries. Once everyone arrived we were asked to give up any cell phones we may have on us, we were wanded by Security and then the tour began.

We were led through the Elation Dining Room, through the large revolving waiter doors and then we entered one of the coolest parts of the ship ... the Galley. Chef Jorg Schneider met us and gave us a tour of the kitchen, explaining how they make meals and how much food they order each week.

Just think (being Chef Jorg) if you had to run to the store for the basics - bread, milk and eggs - you would be buying 45,000 eggs, 850 gallons of milk and enough loaves to give you 16,000 slices of bread. And for those keeping an eye on the Bacon Police ... here is some ammunition for you. Each week the Paradise has on hand 35,000 slices of bacon!

Once leaving the Galley it was as if someone turned off the glitz light and opened a reality window. It was about then we realized ‘we weren’t in Kansas anymore.’

The famous I-95 passageway runs the length of the ship and was a lot wider than I expected (there were crewmembers moving some palettes using a forklift!). The walls are painted white and it’s brightly lit down there. It was also pointed out that you could see both port and starboard sides of the ship. So, while I-95 was wider than expected, it was also smaller than I imagined ... if that makes any sense at all.

We were led into a storage area that held many of the drinks for the ship. In a week on the Carnival Paradise, guests would go through 12,500 cans of soda and 11,950 bottles of beer. Wouldn’t if be fun to have a key to that room!

We visited the Laundry Room and saw all of the large industrial machines used to clean everything. There were crew feeding wet sheets into this long machine that both dried, then pressed the sheets flat. Then came the folding machine where the sheets were folding into nice sized rectangles, easy enough to handle ... fascinating!

We also went into the Engine Control Room and spoke with the Chief Engineer. There were so many knobs, buttons, lights and schematics on the walls I felt like I was on a Star Trek episode.

Next we were led up some stairs (steeper than stairs but not quite ladders) and before we knew it we were heading toward the Bridge. The first impression was the incredible panoramic view of the world and the reverent quiet that surrounded us. My father was in the Navy and worked on the Bridge of aircraft carriers, so this was an immediate familiar sight for me. However, the instant change of atmosphere was very surreal.

We learned we had a new Captain onboard. Captain Domenico Cilento arrived from Miami the night before to take over so Captain Pierluigi Lanaro could go on vacation ... even the Captains need a vacay sometimes! Captain Cilento was very accommodating and patient as he spoke with us and fielded questions about what he does. We learned Carnival employs 35 Captains, some of which stay with specific ships while others rotate around.

A Ship Photographer showed up and Captain Cilento graced us with a photo on the Bridge with him. This really was a highlight of the tour.

Next we went down to the Bow of the ship, saw the ship’s bell and then we toured some of the Crew areas. We saw the Crew Training Room, the Crew Bar, the Crew Dining rooms (there are three!) and the Exercise Room. This part was particularly comforting for me because my oldest daughter, Holly, just started working on the Carnival Valor. As a mom, seeing the types of areas below the passenger decks and learning how Carnival provides a variety of options for the crew’s off times, really has helped me in knowing my daughter has made a good choice.

And finally, we were led backstage of the Normandie Theater where we had the opportunity to speak with the head Lighting guy and the Dance Captain. The interesting thing I learned here was that the 12 people in the cast stay together throughout an entire contract.

After about 3.5 hours, the tour was over and we were led through the backstage curtains back into the comforting and glitzy world of the audience.

This tour was well-worth the $55 per person it cost. On other class ships, the tour is more ($95) and maybe lasts a bit longer. Although I don’t know what more we could possible see, it seemed like we saw everything! We received some gifts after the tour ... hats, lanyards and a delicious plate of chocolate-covered strawberries, compliments of Chef Jorg, himself.