Mobile cruise ship offers great value for vacation
Published 12:00 am Monday, October 9, 2006
Once upon a time traveling comfortably by an ocean liner across the sea was an experience reserved for the wealthy and privileged among us. The working class folks who traveled via such ships were cramped in steerage and strictly forbidden to mix with the upper crust on the upper decks.
What a difference the past 25 years or so (and the popularity of a show called &uot;The Love Boat&uot;) has made.
Few of us have not seen the TV commercials for major cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean (&uot;Get out there!&uot;), Celebrity (&uot;Expect the unexpected&uot;) and of course, Carnival (&uot;The FUN ship!&uot;). There’s also the &uot;real&uot; Love Boat, Princess Cruise Lines, Norwegian, Holland America, Costa, and dozens of smaller lines, with ships embarking from ports through the world.
Whether you want to take a rowdy three-day &uot;cruise to nowhere&uot; in the Gulf of Mexico, an elegant two-week cruise to the historic ports of Europe or something in between, there will likely be something to satisfy your personal interests, tastes and budget.
The popularity of the cruise experience has come directly to L.A. (Lower Alabama) since Carnival positioned the venerable &uot;MS Holiday&uot; at the Port of Mobile, taking passengers on four and five-day cruises to the Western Caribbean.
Instead of having to catch a plane or drive for many hours to reach their embarkation point, Holiday passengers from Alabama can simply head down I-65 and park their vehicles in the parking garage adjacent to the cruise terminal. It doesn’t get much easier.
With frequent specials offered to travelers, particularly those who can plan a getaway on short notice, this cruise is also less likely to hurt your wallet.
Aboard the Holiday
Cruises on the Carnival Holiday are among the most affordable you can find, but there are trade-offs.
Keep in mind this ship, built in 1985, is now the oldest and the smallest of the fleet’s 21 ships. The &uot;old girl&uot; of the Carnival fleet has been refurbished since serving as housing for Katrina evacuees for several months last year. New carpets, paint and other cosmetic improvements can be seen throughout the ship.
Its public areas feature some of the glitz (neon signs, for example) associated with the Carnival line.
Be advised this is not one of the mega-ships that have taken over the cruise industry in the past 15 years. There is no rock climbing wall, ice-skating rink, or swim-in theater onboard the Holiday.
Don’t expect to walk onto the ship and have your jaw drop open at the sight of the huge central atrium, gleaming spiral staircase and see-through elevator. Those accouterments are reserved for newer, bigger ships.
However, the Holiday’s Italian captain, Guiseppe Donato and his 800 international staff and crew members happen to be the most highly rated of the cruise line.
The ship is scrupulously clean with crew members constantly polishing brass railing, vacuuming carpets, washing off decks, cleaning food service areas, etc. al throughout the cruise.
Wait staff personnel continually circulate through the public areas to clean up any discarded glasses and plates. Rest assured, you will never have to go thirsty aboard the Holiday. There is always a member of the bar staff nearby, ready to deliver beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic to passengers in all public areas.
Cruise director Skip Lyons and his troops (many of whom are the show dancers doubling as entertainment and activity staffers) work hard to provide a variety of games and activities for the passengers’ enjoyment, often getting the travelers themselves into the act.
The Holiday features a casino, spa/salon, Internet caf\u00E9, several gift shops and seven different bars and lounges. Among them are Rick’s Caf\u00E9 American Piano Bar and Doc Holliday’s, a Western-themed lounge featuring the versatile Highlights Band playing dance and party tunes from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. The Reflections Disco offers a glitzy spot to trip the light fantastic. Two pools plus a kiddie pool and hot tubs allow aquatic fun.
Cruises have been called a continual moving feast and it’s no different onboard the Holiday. As Skip Lyons explained, &uot;You really can eat 20 meals a day on this ship.&uot;
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in both the formal dining rooms, the Seven Seas and Four Winds, with open seating for the first two meals each day. Be advised no shorts, tank tops or bathing suits are allowed in these dining rooms.
If you prefer a casual option for your meals, the Wharf Grill on the Lido Deck offers three buffet meals with a different theme each day, including Caribbean, Italian and American among them.
There is access to some very tasty pizza, soft-serve ice cream and yogurt, and iced tea, fruit punch and juices 24/7 here. Room service will also deliver 24 hours a day. And don’t forget the midnight buffet, which varies from burgers, hot dogs and cookies the first night of the cruise to the lavish gala buffet featuring gourmet delicacies.
The food onboard the ship is certainly plentiful and tasty, though it lacks the standards of more upscale cruise lines such as RCL or Celebrity. Since the Holiday’s head chef is Jamaican, it’s not surprising such dishes as jerked chicken and Caribbean pepper pot soup are particularly good. The Wharf’s tirasimu is also not to be missed.
What to wear?
The Holiday’s air conditioning is rather uneven. Passengers may find their cabins warm (they seem to cool off after the first two days) and the Wharf Grill stuffy in spots. The temperatures seem to hover near freezing in the formal dining rooms and the Americana show lounge throughout the cruise.
Keeping a light jacket or shawl handy (you will find some bargains on pashima style wraps in the ship’s gift shop) will help keep the goose bumps at bay.
T-shirts and shorts work fine for shopping, shore excursions, casual dinning and hanging out around the pool, but nicer &uot;resort casual wear&uot; is recommended for nights in the dining room.
There is only one true &uot;formal&uot; night on the five-day cruise from Mobile with tuxes, suits, cocktail dresses, gowns and other dressier attire strongly suggested.
A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for daytime are also suggested, since it can get very, very hot in the beautiful blue-green waters of the Caribbean.
What to do?
Do you wants lots of activities on your vacation?
Sign up for shore excursions at the two ports of call, Cozumel and Calica, or, better yet, strike out on your own on foot or by rented jeep. Take advantage of the games and classes offered onboard (most at no extra charge) during the two days at sea. Play bingo, strain your brain at the &uot;Millionaire&uot; game, visit the casino, do some duty-free shopping, take a country line dancing class or participate in the Hairy Chest Contest (men only, please).
Or…grab a good book and a deck chair and find yourself a spot with a sea breeze and a gorgeous view of the turquoise waters. Simply sit back and relax. It’s all up to you!
Go to www.carnival.com or call 1.888.carnival to learn more about the Holiday and other Carnival cruise ships.