As we booked a cruise aboard the Carnival Breeze, the prospect of mingling with 4,000 or so other passengers on a confined ship made us a bit antsy. But as it turned out, being on a megasize 1,004-foot ship with a 122-foot width and 15 decks spread out the crowd remarkably well via a multitude of simultaneous events and things to do.
Amenities include the 5-D cinema Thrill Theater, several swimming pools and cantilevered whirlpools, a 300-foot corkscrew water slide called the Twister and another named the Drainpipe, a giant outdoor movie screen on the pool deck, a nine-hole miniature golf course, a monstrous full-service casino and the Cloud 9 Spa, which rivals any on-land spa for pampered offerings.
And all that doesn't even include the plethora of bars, lounges, pubs, gift shops, restaurants and themed eateries. Indeed, we seldom felt squeezed or rushed aboard the Breeze.
Cruises continue to grow in popularity worldwide because of the inescapable value of utilizing a conveyance that's at once your mode of transportation, your place of accommodations and a high-level source of entertainment and food — especially the latter.
Based in Miami, Carnival Cruise Line owns the largest fleet of cruise ships in the world. This past spring saw the launch of yet another crown jewel of the fleet: the Carnival Vista, with a gross tonnage of 135,000 (5,000 more than the Breeze).
On our trip, the Breeze carried 4,093 guests and a crew of 1,406. Feeding them all breakfast, lunch and dinner equaled 16,398 meals per day. On a typical day, the kitchen goes through 9,000 pounds of tomatoes, 20,000 pounds of potatoes and 3,600 dozen eggs. Over 600 servers cover the restaurants with 166 chefs doing the cooking and 60 cleaners keeping dishes and utensils sanitary. The kitchen staff alone aboard the Breeze represented 88 nationalities.
We could only imagine the mess and disarray of our home kitchen if it were anywhere close to that busy, and yet when we did a walk-through of the ship's massive kitchen we found it to be clean, orderly and immaculate. Amazing.
We were pleased with the culinary quality on the Breeze, particularly the main dining room. Assigned to Blush, one of two elegant double-tiered dining rooms, we came away impressed by the food considering the daunting number of soups, salads, appetizers, entrees and desserts served each table by a waiter and an assistant. In particular, after tasting the signature Carnival Melting Chocolate Cake we were tempted to knee-walk into the kitchen and beg for more.
Other dining options anchored by the Marketplace Buffet on the Lido Deck include Guy's Burger Joint, juicy burgers made to order in a cool poolside locale; the BlueIguana Cantina, a Mexican hot spot for tacos and burritos in homemade tortillas; and Fat Jimmy's C-Side BBQ, a haven for Q lovers.
Stuffed yet? If not, and if somehow you've saved room for more, you can pick up the cabin phone and order anything from a PB&J sandwich and a slice of cheesecake to Spicy Fried Firecracker Shrimp from the ship's 24-hour room service. The cabin selections are a mix of free and for-a-fee items.
Besides all the free foodie opportunities, the ship boasts three extra-fee venues: Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, Bonsai Sushi and Cucina del Capitano. (The latter has a complimentary pasta bar, where you choose your ingredients, at lunchtime.) In addition, youngsters can enjoy the world of Dr. Seuss at the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast for $5 per person, featuring none other than the Cat in the Hat.
Considering the typical daily intake of calories aboard a cruise ship, here's a practical tip: Wear your tightest-fitting clothes at the beginning of the cruise.
For those who appreciate liquid refreshments and tropical cocktails, the Breeze presents 11 themed bars to suit all age groups and music genres.
Ports of call
Our eight-day cruise departed from Miami and ran through the southern portion of the Bahamas to the Southern Caribbean and back. While shipboard fun is a compelling reason to cruise, port calls offer a wide choice of tours, such as helicopter rides, diving, bus sightseeing excursions, sailing, four-wheel-drive adventures and island zip lines.
We decided to enjoy a variety of those experiences during the trip's four port stops at Grand Turk, British West Indies; La Romana, Dominican Republic; and Aruba and Curacao in the Lower Antilles.
In Grand Turk, we joined Captain Stumpy, who has worked for 17 years on the Reef & Rays adventure. Our group snorkeled a reef laden with tropical fish before visiting an island beach frequented by stingrays. Supervised by crew members experienced in handling stingrays, we discovered that the animals loved snuggling into our arms, looking directly into our eyes and lifting their noses to accept a quick kiss.
Our guided tour in La Romana found each of us steering four-wheel ATVs down dirt roads pocked with mud puddles amid sugarcane fields. We also carefully steered through villages and suburbs, the children cheering and high-fiving us.
In Aruba we chose a party boat cruise at sunset along the coast. It included unlimited tropical drinks and ogling passengers dancing to reggae tunes as the sailboat rocked and rolled.
Curacao presented a safari truck ride through an ostrich farm, one of the largest outside Africa. Afterward, a visit to Serena's Art Factory presented well-rounded female figurines called chichis, made from plaster and hand-painted in bright colors.
We also had ample time on our stops for duty-free shopping for liquor, gems and jewelry.
And while out and about at a port, it's mighty picturesque to behold your cruise ship peacefully at anchor in a cove, particularly in the tropics when coconut trees and a sandy beach frame that view. Carnival ships are easy to distinguish with their signature red, white and blue "whale tail" funnels on the smokestack.
Doug and Kelly S. Kelly are Florida-based travel writers. He is an author and field editor for Florida Sportsman magazine; she was president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association.