Friday, May 23, 2014

The KMart of Cruises

When Chris first asked if I wanted to go on this cruise I thought it would be a nice break after a long and hard semester and would be interesting to compare it to the high-end cruises I've done with my father.  While Carnival is called the "Walmart of Cruises," I think a better comparison would be to Kmart or Sears (when Sears was still popular).  It's less a luxury cruise and more what lower middle class and middle middle class people imagine luxury to be.

We booked an interior stateroom (there just wall behind the curtains), but it was pleasant.  I think it was a little smaller than the staterooms we had on either the AMALotus or Celebrity Xpedition and the amenities weren't as nice, but it was comfortable.

We had our safety briefing in the Dynasty Lounge, led by someone who appeared to be Vanilla Ice.

 Afterwards, we met a very nice couple on deck: Jane (from Lodi) and Eli (from Santa Cruz).  As it happened we all signed up for the late seating and they were seated at the table behind us.  Their table was very full and ours was empty, so we invited them to join us.

Every evening, our steward Rama (from Bali in Indonesia), put little towel animals on our beds.  The glasses, however, are mine.

Our first port of call was Avalon, in Catalina, which we reached by tender.

We spent an hour and a half on the island, mostly using the Wifi to check our email and facebook pages.

Avalon beach with our ship, the Carnival Imagination, in the far distance.

 The Lido deck was mostly small kids in the pool, with their parents or college students drinking in the bar (this is colloquially known as "the booze cruise").

When I saw the people lined up for open seating (it stretched around the atrium) I was particularly glad we signed up for a specified seating.

The second night's dinner was the "formal night."

The second port of call was Ensenada.  I took the two winery tour in Valle de Guadelupe, while Chris stayed on board and had a massage.

We drove 45 minutes out of  Ensenada to Valle de Guadalupe, which is the main wine-growing region in Mexico, stopping first at L.A. Cette wineries.

We visited the fermenting rooms, and then the aging rooms, which had a mix of French and American oak barrels.

Afterwards was the moment everyone had come for:  the tastings.  We tried about six wines - one sparkling, two whites and three reds.  Since no one had lunch, they had bread, cheese, olives and olive oil out for us.  I had a lot of bread and cheese so I didn't get too snookered by the wine (you will note the absence of anything resembling a spit bucket).  In the end, I did buy a bottle, but of the olive oil, not the wine.

Afterwards we went to a small, organic winery across the street, where we had tastes of four more bottles of wine, as well as some  local pizza.  After everyone was good and toasted we got back on the bus.

 In the late afternoon, we set sail, heading out to sea.

The last day was the sea day.  In the afternoon, they at "tea time" at 3 pm.  As you can see, people didn't really dress up for it.

They had what you would basically expect, but it was not nearly as nice as it looks.  The worst part was the tea. The water was luke warm and since they were reusing a thermos that previously had contained coffee, the water had a bitter, burnt coffee after taste.  The cucumber sandwiches were alright, but the macarons were overbaked.  Only the crumpet was good.

The last evening we took the "chef's table" event.  We had tried to sign up for it the first day, but were told that it was booked even before the cruise (which we had tried to do but were told that wasn't possible).  The maitre d' came over and after I recognized his name as Hungarian I did my best to charm him into getting us a table.  I used the few words of Hungarian I knew, talked about favorite spas and restaurants in Budapest.  For the next three nights there was no luck, but finally on the last day we got the call.

The tour begins in the galley and is led by the chef.

We try several appetizers and then we have a demonstration of how they make their most popular dessert: the Carnival melting chocolate cake.

Then they took us to the line where the hot and cold foods are prepared.  These re the cold shrimp salads ready to go out.

Finally, we went out to the ship's library, which had been transformed into our private dining room.  Here's our menu.

There was a large  party of six, including one girl who had only graduated from CSULB's business school the year before.

The dishes they served  us were the best we had on the ship.  Many showed the influence of molecular gastronomy.  For example, this brined cornish game hen was accompanied by balsamic vinegar "caviar" and parmesan "caviar," which involved dropping the liquids into another solution until the formed the small caviar-sized "pearls."

This was their version of "soup and salad," with various greens in a "warm apple and turnip soup."  Except the soup was more luke than warm.

This salmon was still pretty moist (unlike the overcook piece I had been served at lunch) but the carrots and beet strips standing upright brought to a vegetarian recipe for something called "the enchanted broccoli forest" from the old vegetarian cookbook of the same name.

By dessert I was ready to burst, but I did very much enjoy this dark chocolate, truffle cake.

 Thursday morning we awoke back in Long Beach.

They tied the ship to the dock around 7 am.

 After that it was just time to disembark and go home.