By P.J. Thomas
Over the past decade, cruise ship companies like Carnival Cruise Lines have expanded the number of U.S. ports in which they dock and convenient places to board now include New York City, Baltimore, Norfolk, Va., New Orleans, Galveston, Texas and Mobile, Alabama.
These locations allow travelers the opportunity to simply drive to the nearest port, park their cars in designated lots and step aboard the cruise ship, eliminating the additional expense of airfare.
In 2011, the Carnival Glory featured New England/Canadian cruises that are popular with travelers on both sides of the border.
Hector and Karyn Leyva of Fresno, California celebrated their 30th cruise in October aboard the Carnival Glory out of New York. Though the couple has been cruising for years, this particular itinerary from New York, to Boston, Portland, Maine, St. John and Halifax, Nova Scotia provided a perfect chance to see the eastern part of the country and the glorious fall colors.
On this trip aboard The Glory that I took with my husband Weller, the ship was filled with mature cruisers, both in age and number of times cruising, and few children because it was the fall.
Passengers like the Leyvas had chosen the cruise because of the itinerary, while others, like the members of a Canadian genealogy society, chose the Glory because they wanted to visit the Canadian Museum of Immigration in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“I’ve sailed this itinerary many times,” said Vance Guillian a spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines. “It is extremely popular as it offers a terrific mix of interesting ports with a variety of historical landmarks, excellent shopping, dining and sightseeing opportunities.”
Passengers love the experience of sailing out of New York City past the Statue of Liberty.
The Carnival Glory, which received a multi-million dollar renovation in 2010, can accommodate 2,974-passengers spread over 13 decks. More balconies were installed during the refurbish, and a two-level, Serenity adults-only retreat was added with rattan-inspired lounges and even hammocks.
New, too, is the 270-square-foot Seaside Theatre which airs sporting events, musical performances of stars such as Tina Turner or Cher in Vegas, and movies. (There is nothing more romantic than cuddling up in a blanket under the stars to watch a movie on the deck of the Seaside Theater).
Guests sign up for port tours either on line prior to the cruise or at the Excursion Desk once on board. My husband, Weller, and I had visited Boston before, so we simply took a seven-dollar taxi ride to the nearest metro station and headed about five minutes to downtown where we explored on our own. We noticed other passengers hopping aboard the city bus, which was less than a five-minute walk from the ship.
We repeated the on-our-own approach in Portland (all we wanted was a Maine lobster dinner) and Halifax where we walked about 15 minutes along the gorgeous waterfront to tour the extensive exhibit on the sinking of the Titanic at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
There are several restaurants located along the dock as well and the vendor marketplace in front of the ship offers excellent shopping, with plenty of handcrafted items including clothing, woodworks and jewelry.
Back on board, the casinos are busy from morning to late evening, and there is some sort of activity-taking place nearly every hour of the day. We took a Salsa dance class, but passed on Karaoke night, preferring to spend a lazy evening watching a movie in our cabin.
We’ve traveled on several cruise lines and have found the service aboard Carnival to be comparable to most, though the service aboard the Carnival Glory was sorely lacking during mornings in the dining room.
Breakfast choices range from casual, self-service dining on the upper Lido deck, meals in the large dining rooms, or for those who prefer to ease into mornings, there is room service..
Cruise lines are raising the bar on food and beverage options with the addition of celebrity chef-inspired themed eateries, premium coffee and desserts cafes, and wine tastings and food pairings.
Specialty, reservation-required restaurants such as the Glory’s Steak House required an additional fee of about $30 per person. This one is intimate, elegantly decorated and features prime cuts of beef cooked over a flame in an open kitchen. Soft music and attentive service provide a special treat for anyone celebrating a special occasion or who simply want a more leisurely evening.
So, the next time you need a getaway that includes accommodations, unlimited dining, entertainment and the mesmerizing tranquility provided by the ocean waves, drive to the nearest port and take a cruise that fits your budget, schedule, and especially your lifestyle.