Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports
Just after seven this morning, Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Breeze came alongside the pier on the island of Grand Turk in the Turks & Caicos.
If you’ve ever picked up a cruise brochure before and have seen a photograph of a cruise ship docked tantalizingly close to a beach, chances are you’re looking at Grand Turk – or, more precisely, the $40-million Cruise Ship Center that opened in early 2006 at the southern tip of the island.
The United States used to have an Air Force Base not far from where the cruise ship terminal is today, and the island was also utilised by NASA as one of their so-called “splash-down” sites during the Apollo rocket phase of space exploration.
The island’s main settlement is a place called Cockburn Town, situated a few miles up the road from the Cruise Center. There are a few good beaches near Cockburn Town, but with the pristine expanse of Governor’s Beach immediately visible from the decks of the Carnival Breeze, chances are most guests will just opt to stay within sight of their fun ship.
Grand Turk is very much a manufactured cruise port of call, but it’s a beautiful one at that. While history buffs might like the interesting NASA Splashdown gift shop, Grand Turk is not the place for an authentic cultural experience of any kind. Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville dominates the waterfront, and the usual lineup of diamond, ammolite, tanzanite, and precious gem dealers make up the remainder of the retail outlets on-site, in addition to several duty-free boutiques.
In short, this is the place to grab a beer and settle down on the beach. And in this respect, Grand Turk doesn’t disappoint.
Disembarking Carnival Breeze this morning was a snap. The gangway went out promptly after we had arrived, and closed only for 15 minutes as Holland America’s sleek Westerdam came alongside just after 8am. Carnival has placed two separate gangways out on Deck 0 to facilitate the flow of guests; one is utilised for disembarking passengers, while the other welcomes guests back onboard. Bottled water was available for purchase on Deck 1, to avoid crowding Deck 0 – an area of the ship normally off-limits to guests.
Once pierside, Grand Turk is set up very much like Cozumel, Mexico, with an L-shaped finger pier that juts out a few thousand feet into the ocean. It also makes for some striking photo opportunities.
Upon reaching the end of the pier, all guests are shuttled through the Dufry Duty Free Shop. Much like the international terminal of an airport, there’s no bypassing it. Once you exit, about two dozen shops are spread around an attractive enclosed shopping area that is reminiscent of the one in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, where we will dock a few days from now.
Here’s what you need to know about me: the standard assortment of shops that you see everywhere in the Caribbean and Alaska (Diamonds International! Del Sol! Ron Jon Surf Shop!) do nothing for me. It’s the same crap you can get in dozens of other ports in North America. But, I also have to admit that I am clearly the minority here, because the shops were busy, busy!
I took a short stroll along the beach, which is gorgeous and bordered by soft sand and some of the most gorgeously-coloured waters in the Caribbean. This is all bookended by row after row of deck chairs and a line of attractive palm trees that really set the mood.
Eventually, I ended up at Margaritaville – mainly to use their Wi-Fi signal. It was only ten in the morning, but the place was packed and doing an excellent business. Their slogan says “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”, and while that ‘somewhere’ was Athens, Greece, it didn’t stop me from enjoying a local Turks & Caicos beer called Turk’s Head.
The beer was very refreshing given the heat of the sun beating down on me, but if you’re getting off the ship looking for a bargain on booze, you won’t find it at Margaritaville: my one beer cost $6.79.
Still, I enjoyed a nice hour with a good beer in a tropical paradise with a great view of the palm trees and the Carnival Breeze and Westerdam – on a Monday morning. It was enjoyable and certainly beautiful, but I can’t say I’d go out of my way to pick an itinerary that stops in Grand Turk again.
Should you find yourself here, however, Carnival offers 27 different shore excursions in Grand Turk that range from snorkeling adventures to ATV and dune buggy tours, to deluxe Cabana poolside rentals for those looking to kick back and relax in style.
Re-embarking the Carnival Breeze was just as easy as disembarking. Carnival even had dual water stations out with Dixie cups filled with ice-cold water for guests waiting in the small line that had formed on the gangway, which was a nice and unexpected touch.
I’m attempting to try something new each day for lunch, so today I headed up to Deck 10 for a hamburger at Guy’s Burger Joint. Part of Carnival’s FunShip 2.0 enhancements, Guy’s Burger Joint came about out of a partnership between Carnival and Food Network star and restaurateur Guy Fieri.
While the idea of a burger joint isn’t particularly new or noteworthy, what is worth talking about is the fact that Carnival has included this alternative restaurant gratis. Similar burger-themed venues are available on other ships, but at an additional charge. Even if a hamburger and fries at sea isn’t your thing, you have to applaud Carnival for not charging its passengers a dime to eat here.
However, Carnival and Guy’s Burger Joint officially win the prize for the best shipboard hamburger I’ve ever eaten. Hands down, no contest. They’re delicious. Special mention for the French fries, which have the capacity to be ridiculously addictive. I don’t think it’s the kind of thing I could eat every day for lunch (they’re pretty heavy), but I do foresee another one before this cruise is over.
To chase – or wash – the burger down, I ambled over to the RedFrog Rum Bar for an adult libation infused with – surprise – ample rum! Another one of Carnival’s recent innovations, the RedFrog Rum Bar is only available on select vessels at the moment, but its presence is slowly being expanded throughout the fleet. It’s a good thing, too: the drinks here are unique and tasty.
Which brings me to one of the things I like most about the Carnival Breeze: themed bar menus. Each bar or lounge has a few select signature items that are unique to that specific location. In the case of the RedFrog Rum Bar or the BlueIguana Tequila Bar, the entire menu is unique to that venue. Hopefully, that encourages guests to get out there and rotate through the bars, too.
Tonight is our first Formal Night aboard Carnival Breeze. According to the Fun Times daily program, “shorts, t-shirts, beach flip-flops, bathing suit attire, jeans, cut-off jeans, sleeveless shirts for men, sportswear and baseball hats” are not to be worn in either of the ship’s two main restaurants for dinner tonight.
I wore a full suit and tie because that’s what ‘formal’ means to me. But I was super-impressed to see that most of the men onboard were also in suits and ties, and those who weren’t were in slacks and nice collared shirts. Combined with my fixed-seating dinner at 6pm, it reminded me of the cruises I used to take a decade ago – and that’s a good thing.
Of course, if you didn’t feel like dressing up, that was fine, too. This is, after all, a Fun Ship. Casual dining venues open for dinner tonight included the Italian-themed Cucina del Capitano on Deck 11; the Asian-inspired Bonsai Sushi on Deck 5; the Marketplace Lido Buffet on Deck 10; and of course, the Red Frog Pub on Deck 5.
The latter has been one of the real finds aboard the Carnival Breeze; I enjoyed over two hours in there this evening listening to two separate musicians play some terrific guitar music. The place was packed, and both artists even humoured the guests by taking requests. Have you ever heard an acoustic version of a Backstreet Boys song played in a pub aboard a ship? As of tonight, I have!
In fact, there’s plenty of live music to be enjoyed aboard the Carnival Breeze:
- Music on deck with the DJ’s: 1:00pm – 4:00pm; Lido Deck 10 Mid
- Karaoke Party: 5:00pm – 7:30pm; Ocean Plaza, Deck 5 Mid
- Dancing with the Mambo Kings: 5:00pm, 7:15pm, 8:45pm, 9:45pm; Atrium Lobby, Deck 3 Fwd
- Pub Guitar with J.J.: 6:15pm, 7:15pm, 8:45pm, 9:30pm; Red Frog Pub, Deck 5 Mid
- Piano Bar Party with Brad: 7:30-8:15pm, 9:30pm-late; Piano Bar 88; Deck 5 Aft
- Motown with #Rhythmnation: 9:00pm, 10:00pm, & 11:00pm; Ocean Plaza, Deck 5 Mid
- Liquid Nightclub with DJ Joncarlos & DJ DBIZ: 11:00pm – Late. Liquid Nightclub, Deck 5 Mid.
As our third full evening aboard the Carnival Breeze comes to a close, I’m still finding new and interesting things to do onboard – all without ever repeating anything. Tomorrow, Carnival Breeze will spend her morning at sea before arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico around 11:00am. Guests seem to be taking advantage of that; it’s nearly midnight as I write this. I’ve just returned from a short run around Deck 5 to snap some ‘night shots’ of the ship.
The place is still hopping!
For me though, I like to end nearly every evening onboard a ship with a stroll around the Promenade Deck. I leave you tonight with this shot of the cool blue lighting that illuminates the forward half of the Carnival Breeze. It’s designed to not interfere with the navigation bridge high above the deck, where the ship’s Officers gaze out into the darkness at the stars and ocean that surround us as we sail to our next port of call.
Carnival Breeze - 8 Night Eastern Caribbean
DAY PORT ARRIVE DEPART January 31, 2014 Prepping our Fun Ship Journey February 1, 2014 Miami, Florida Embark Carnival Breeze 4:00 PM February 2 Fun Day at Sea February 3 Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos 7:00 AM 3:00 PM February 4 San Juan, Puerto Rico 11:00 AM 7:00 PM February 5 Philipsburg, St. Maarten 8:00 AM 6:00 PM February 6 St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands 7:00 AM 5:00 PM February 7 Fun Day at Sea February 8 Fun Day at Sea February 9 Miami, Florida 8:00 AM Disembark