Thanksgiving Recap

Figured while we wait for more college activity, I’d post a mini-review of our Thanksgiving cruise on the Carnival Breeze. First, a short background:

We’ve cruised a handful of times over the past 12 years. Most of those came as a result of my wife’s former boss (a dentist) generously paying for his staff to go on one after they met the annual office goal. The last one of those we did was in mid-2008, right before he retired. From then until mid-2011, all “vacations” basically revolved around cheer competition trips. During the summer of 2011, we realized that we really hadn’t done a non-sports vacation in a few years, and were in a position to be able to take one. After much debate, we settled on the three of us going on a cruise over the Thanksgiving break. We had an absolute blast, as I wrote in my review after we returned. We enjoyed it so much, we decided to do it again in 2012. Not quite as good as the year before, but any day on vacation is generally better than a day at work, right?

Fast forward to this year. Because of the college hunting trip, we didn’t think we’d be in a position to do anything else resembling travel, as we knew she had a couple of “away” competitions we had to spend money on as well. In late spring, my mom and step-dad came to visit, and had a proposition. They wanted to do one last family vacation with us before our daughter went off to college, so they were willing to pay a good portion of our cost of whatever we all decided to do. From that moment on, I don’t think there was any question we’d be doing a cruise over Thanksgiving again. We all sat down, looked at the options, and came to a decision: Thanksgiving aboard the Carnival Breeze.

I know people love to bash Carnival these days, and having sailed other lines there are pluses and minuses to all. Our first trip with them in 2003 was nothing to write home about, but for the money, it’s hard to beat them. Our itinerary for this trip was:

  • Sea day
  • Grand Turk
  • Dominican Republic
  • Curacao
  • Aruba
  • Sea day
  • Sea day

The three of us absolutely love sea days, and there’s nothing better than having two at the end of the trip. One full day of relaxation before you have to worry about packing :). While 2012 was a slight letdown, this one was outstanding once again. Calm seas through 95% of the trip, only a couple of short bursts of rain in Grand Turk (while my parents and daughter and I were on a helicopter tour), and one or two in Curacao. I’ll refrain from repeating what I’ve already written in my full review, so feel free to check it out here. If you’re interested, you can also check out my reviews of each port here.

The one thing we rarely do is book excursions through the cruise line, and on this trip, we didn’t book anything with Carnival. You can almost always get better, more personal. and cheaper tours by booking directly, or even just booking a local taxi for the day to take you around the island. My favorite excursions are ones we booked on our own, and this trip was no exception.

In Grand Turk, we planned on just hanging out on the beach right by the boat, but 4 of us (my wife doesn’t fly well and skipped this) decided to do a helicopter tour after finding out we could do it for $45/pp, and it was well worth the money. In DR, the dune buggy excursion we took through Pro Excursions was awesome. Yea, we came back covered in mud, but we knew that going in, and dressed accordingly. It was well worth the sacrifice of a few shirts and shorts :). In Aruba, we’d booked a local guide in advance, and the 5 of us got a private tour of the island, including stops at a donkey preserve, and Phillip’s Animal Garden. We basically had the van and guide all day for $65/pp. Well worth it, and our guide was great! Leading up to this trip, my dream retirement island was Roatan, Honduras, based on past visits, as well as a friend who lived there and ran a business for a few years. After our stop in Aruba, I may have a new dream retirement location 🙂

This ship itself is one of the better ones we’ve been on (between 3 RCL, 1 NCL, and now 4 CCL). It’s Carnival’s newest, and while it’s classified as a mega-ship, it never felt like one. Yea, there were lines in a few places (usually for pizza), but we really liked the layout. This was also the second time we’ve booked a room on the deck above Lido, and we all agree that up top at the front of the boat is our favorite location, as it’s very easy to get out on deck when leaving the room (allows us to get to the sun faster :-)). It’s also right there next to the “secret decks” that some Carnival ships have, which provide some awesome views. Add to that the water slides (yes, I rode them) and the ropes course (yep, did that too, awesome view while at sea!) and it really is a great boat.

All in all, a great vacation, and for my daughter it was a welcome break from the college application stress. She also once again made several new friends (two of whom drove 4+ hours to see her competition in ATL last weekend), and was even reunited with a couple of friends she’d met on past cruises. I can’t thank my parents enough for making it possible this year, as it once again provided memories none of us will ever forget.

Here are just a few of the shots I took, in addition to a couple of the ones the guides took of us on the dune buggy tour.

Enjoy, and I hope those who are getting EA/ED responses are all getting good news!

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