A Cruise to Nova Scotia

A week or so ago I wrote an email…tongue in cheek…that Lila and I were taking a freighter trip up to Canada with the boys.   I was really teasing, because Lila and I had booked our trip on a large cruise ship with all the trimmings.   We anticipated a very special trip with great food and a large stateroom with a balcony.   The ship was the Carnival Destiny leaving from New York City …a rather large ship with about 2,500 passengers plus maybe 1,100 crew…. certainly a lot of people.  Our travels would take us to St John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

We did spend just a few days in New York City with the boys to show them the Big Apple and play tourist in the city where I grew up.  Unfortunately, with so little time and having the boys, it prevented us from spending any quality time with family and/or friends that live in or around the city.   Our mode of transportation from Washington to New York was via Amtrak and we were blessed with great weather for the time we were visiting the tourist sites.   The boys were thrilled from the start…the first evening in town we went the Empire State Building to watch the late afternoon sun depart and dusk descend over the city.   And the boys wanted to know when we are going back to the hotel.  Kevin, Jan and I hiked back from The Empire State Building to our hotel (39th Street to 63rd Street) that night right through Times Square…it was a great walk.

Early the next day we headed off to the NBC Studio tour where we had an opportunity to learn about the history of NBC and visited some of the sets for various talk shows, like Saturday Night Live and Dateline.   And the boys were thrilled again, they wanted to know when we are going back to the hotel.  After lunch we headed into Central Park for a while and that evening went to Astoria in Queens for dinner at an authentic Greek restaurant with my niece, Shari.  Great time and lovely evening, with an opportunity to use the local subway trains in the city…it has been a long time …many years ago I used the trains to commute to school.

Early the next day we headed off to Statute of Liberty…train down to Battery Park…boat to the island and then walked around the statue, really getting a true sense of its size and magnificence.   Need I tell you that we were not alone?  It seems that there were many people that wanted to be with us when we visited the Statute of Liberty, so while we did not have to wait very long for the boat, there were many “friends” on board with us.   And the boys were thrilled again; they wanted to know when we are going back to the hotel.  Could never understand their infatuation with the hotel…maybe it was something in the water.

After returning to Battery Park (the southern tip of Manhattan Island, where the Hudson River meets the East River), we took a bus to Seaport Village.  It was crowded there, but the place was jumping.  Performers in the central area and all the shops around were packed with people trying to spend money.  Since we had little money to spend, we stayed for a while and then headed off into the small streets in lower Manhattan.  An interesting phenomenon was the ever-present sidewalk vendor selling T-shirts (with “I love New York” imprinted in bright red colors) among other items of little interest.   We started seeing T-shirts selling for as much as $7.00 each near Central Park where we were staying, but then passed some vendors where they were priced at $5.00 each.   Even latter we passed a vendor selling T-shirts with a three for $10.00 sign.  At the Statue of Liberty it was back up to $5.00 each.

Why am I telling you this bit of inconsequential information …I am not sure?   Oh yes; now I remember…it brought out the bargaining instinct that is bred in us New Yorkers.  Since I had been away for so long it took about ninety minutes to resurface.  So, when we left the Statue of Liberty, I tried to get three T-shirts for ten dollars…I was certainly not going to pay $5.00 each. But then there we were walking away from the Seaport Village along Fulton Street and my eye struck this sign offering four T-shirts for $10.00.  Now this was a real find…of major proportion.  This was a real bargain…imagine $2.50 a T-shirt.   I hasten to add that a New Yorker would not get caught dead wearing such a T-shirt…these were for the tourists, but what the hell, that was what I was just then.  Anyway, we consummated our purchase, happy in the realization that we purchased a bargain.  Now that I have the shirts home…well, does anyone want to purchase some T-shirts real cheap? 

 And the boys were thrilled yet once again; they wanted to know when we are going back to the hotel.  So we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, a good night’s rest and the anticipation that tomorrow we will board our ship for the journey north to Canada.  On Monday we headed to the passenger terminal just about a mile from the hotel and there was this big beautiful ship waiting to take us to some faraway places.   And was it ever big, for inside the terminal we caught the first glimpse of the thousands of people that we would be alone with for the next five days.   Imagine going away with all the people from a small town in Iowa, except there you would probably know most of the people or you would want to know most of the people.

 So we finally make it onto the ship…now we can relax, enjoy our large cabin, and walk out onto the balcony and look at the New York skyline.   Oops, Lila is calling me -- we need to unpack...get more hangers, where are we going to put the empty suitcases, need to have the bed set up as a queen double, who will use the lower draws…oh well, these are easy problems to take care of.   Lets go for lunch on the Lido deck…well, there are just a few hundred people in line ahead of me.  No problem, we’ll wait, but the people are coming faster than the line is shrinking.  And can these people eat…it was like horses at a trough.  The plates were not big enough and their appetites not small enough.

 When we finally got to the buffet, we wondered what the excitement was, for it seemed that in their haste to feed us the ship’s kitchen staff left something out of the food…taste.   But at dinner we found that this was not the problem, for there was no taste in that food either.  Well, it was the first day and while our daughter was traveling with the boys and Lila and I, we were seated at separate tables.  No problem, we could have stopped by each other’s table during the meal if we had something important to say to each other.  But with a little coaxing they did put us together at one table. 

 This ship was pretty neat…it had a twenty-four hour pizza place (Greg and Kevin loved this facet of this big and beautiful ship).  Who gets up and eats pizza at 3:00am…I guess it must have been all those people that tried to eat at the buffet during the day and never did make it.  And there was the place that offered up chicken and steak sandwiches as well as hot dogs most of the day…again there was always people waiting in line there also.   I guess all those people in the little town of Iowa are always hungry.  I was beginning to feel like I could just not get away from all these crowds…they were everywhere.  The ship had an atrium or Centrum that extended up about nine or ten decks and it was always full of people.  There where shops in this atrium and they would put tables outside in the walkways “hawking” their goodies…wanted to make the people feel at home.  

 This is the first ship that I was on that seemed to focus on taking photographs of the guests.   There were twelve photographers and they would be everywhere…even had showgirls ready to take pictures with the guests…. Greg and Kevin took them up on that offer.  Asked the boys if they wanted the picture…they said no, they already enjoyed themselves.  With the smile on their faces I could understand why.  It seemed that everything this cruise company does is focused on making money...not to make you feel good about the trip…just to sell.  By the way, Carnival is in fact doing very well…and buying up many of the other cruise companies.  So I guess it was working for them…it just was not working for us.

 Meals in the dining room was almost good, except that the waiter had to make notes when taking the order and then referring regularly to these notes when bringing the correct dish to the table.  Now, since he was taking care of multiple tables, he would bring all the meals out to the serving area and then delivering them correspondingly as he took them from his tray.  It would have been a special day if we at our table received all our dishes at the same time.  But wandering Juan, our waiter was a nice guy.  Sometimes I would see Juan wandering with one of our meals and I would rein him in so we could all eat. 

 The most amazing part of this trip was the uniformed security guards…never experienced that before.   They seemed to focus in on the children being in the Jacuzzi pools…chasing out those that were 13 years of age or younger.  (There was a sign with that policy statement located at each Jacuzzi.) The problem was that the water in the three pools was quite cold and children being children readily migrated to the warmer water, even though this water was not very hot to begin with.  So regularly, these guards would force the kids to get out of the Jacuzzi, even if the parents were with the children.  When they would come to Greg and Kevin, I told the “Pool Police” that they were my children and they are staying in the Jacuzzi.  We would go back and forth many times with the “pool Police” telling me that the boys would have to leave the Jacuzzi, and then with me telling the Pool Police that they will stay.  Then, the Security Guards pulled out the big guns…their notepad…the Pool Police asked me my stateroom number, my name, etc.  At this point I told them to back off and that I do not provide this type of information and if they do not like my action to put me off at the next port.   Well, I never heard from them again, but the people around the pool applauded and one child asked if I could be her father.

Now is Carnival Destiny not a “FUN” ship? …How can anyone argue with that fact?   While my morbid sense of values seem to belabor the negative, let me tell you about the positives.   Wait…let me think…hold on, I am thinking…. Oh yes, I remember now…first of all the port stops in St John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia were just perfect.   I am rather biased because I think the Canadians are wonderful people and wherever we travel in Canada we have always had a fantastic time.  With that said, I believe everyone would enjoy visiting these cities with the historic sites, picturesque scenery and great food. 

In addition the ship had an impressive gym which I used a number of times.  Excellent machines and the views were great…not the women…the ocean.  Also on the upper deck was a water slide used by all the children that takes you down two decks into a pool.  After I got up enough nerve to deal with the cool air and the cool water, I took my first run, had an exciting experience and just continued to ride the slide.  Had to keep pushing the kids on line out of my way, they just kept slowing me down.  It was really a kick especially when I hit the bottom pool, and I also made a lot of friends too.  But Lila did not want me to hang out with the six and seven year olds.

I guess the most fun that we experienced on the Carnival Destiny was when we were leaving the ship ….all 2,500 of us…. at once.   There was no organization or order imposed on the process of our disembarking the ship.   Getting an elevator to take our luggage down, the endless lines to reach the gangway and the crowds at every turn were just unwarranted and unnecessary.  Where was the “Pool Police” when you need them? 

So what does all this tell you…. do not travel with Carnival Cruise Lines.  The prices may be attractive, but the reality is not.  The staff is certainly not motivated to provide customer satisfaction and the quality of service and food should be below almost anyone’s expectation.  Now with that expressed, we really did have a great time, because we did look beyond the problems and enjoyed the nice places and our time together.