2016 Cruise to Mexico - Boarding the Ship

In the previous portions of our 2016 Cruise to Mexico Trip Report, we had made our plans and driven to Texas. But it was finally time to board the ship, and that is where we pick up for this part.

Saturday, July 16, 2016 - Boarding the Ship

We were up and at ‘em relatively early, considering that we were on vacation. But who can sleep late when you have a cruise to go on? Plus, we had some shopping to do before boarding.

The breakfast offering at the Super 8 was somewhat light, but you can’t really complain all that much when breakfast is “free,” can you? There was a good crowd of people sitting at the tables eating, so Laura and I sat at one of the couches at the side of the room. And instead of showing the weather or the news, as televisions in most hotel breakfast rooms we have stayed in have done, this television was showing Law and Order, which was on TNT, I think. Nice that it was something different. And besides, lately whenever the weather has been on in a hotel we are staying at, the weather people always seem to be forecasting impending doom for where we are going. And who wants to hear that? Okay, so I did check the tropical outlook on my phone while we were sitting there, just to be on the safe side, but they weren’t expecting any bad tropical weather for at least the next five days, which was fine with me.

After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel, making sure to pack some swimming clothes in our carry-on bag for the cruise, just in case we wanted to swim when we got on the ship. Then, we took a trip to Walmart to get some of the things we had forgotten, but fortunately none of them were anything terribly major. We also stopped by a few other stores in the area for some other items that Walmart didn’t have.

But after all of that shopping, we still had some time to kill, so we started looking for things to do. Laura had seen the night before while looking at her phone that there was a Del Sol store in Galveston, and since that has always been one of our favorite shops in Nassau on our previous cruises, we decided to go there to pass the time. Besides, we knew that we probably wouldn’t have much time for shopping on our port days thanks to our scheduled shore excursions, so even if there were a Del Sol store where we were going, chances are good we wouldn’t get to shop there.

We found the shop pretty easily in the historic part of the town, which is also very near the cruise terminal, by the way. We also found that to park you pay with an app on your phone instead of putting money in a meter. It took a couple of minutes to get it set up on Laura’s phone, but after that it was pretty easy. It would also send you a reminder when your time was also up, and you could easily extend the time right from your phone without having to walk back over and feed the meter again. Isn’t today’s technology wonderful?

If you aren’t familiar with Del Sol, everything they have changes color in sunlight, which is pretty cool. But apparently, we have more Del Sol shirts and such than we need, because we didn’t find much. Laura did find a beach cover-up on sale, and I got a surfboard keychain to replace my old palm tree keychain that doesn’t change color much any more due to its age. That was rather small shopping for us compared to some of our other Del Sol visits!

As we walked out of the store, we looked down the street and saw the ship sitting right there. A great view of the Carnival Freedom. Wait, what? Wasn’t our cruise supposed to be on the Carnival Liberty? True, the names were similar, but had I messed up somewhere, or had they switched ships on us? As we walked down the street to check out some of the other shops, I started checking on my phone. Yes, I had the right date and the right location, so that was all good. And I knew I had a reservation, so everything would be okay. But I still couldn’t quite figure out the different name.

Anyway, we walked up and down the street a little more, partly to get our money out of the parking app and partly to use up a little more time until we were to go to the ship. After booking our cruise, I was able to select a port arrival time, and I selected 11:00 to 11:30, which was the earliest time available. Nothing like getting there as soon as possible and being one of the first ones on the ship, right? Except that I learned later that they don’t actually start calling for boarding groups until 12:30, so we might have a little bit of a wait when we got there. No big deal, though.

As we left our parking spot and started to approach the ship, the ship’s name mystery was suddenly solved. Because docked right behind the Carnival Freedom was the Carnival Liberty. Two ships! And one was the one we were trying to get to. I was relieved. Laura thought I worry too much about things. But either way, we were in the right place.

Apparently, everyone else in the entire Western Hemisphere had the same idea about getting there early, because the street in front of the terminal was crazy crowded. Of course, that is probably to be expected with two ships in the port. And of course, ours was the second one so that once we got inside the port gates, we still had to make our way down to our ship. It really wasn’t that much of a problem, but it was more people than I was expecting to be there that early in the day.

We drove up and dropped off our luggage with a porter, who would take it to be checked in for our cruise. And then we made our way to the parking lot to give our car a vacation for a few days. Parking at Galveston was much cheaper than parking at Port Canaveral in Florida for our last two cruises, $50 for 5 days instead of $75 for 4 days. However, at Port Canaveral we were able to park in a garage, while here there was just a surface lot. But it was fenced and patrolled, so I figured our car would be okay, unless a hailstorm or a hurricane came through, but then everyone would be in trouble with us.

Because of the distance back to the terminal, shuttle buses were available to get everyone back to the cruise ships. And when we got out of the car, there was a bus waiting right there for us. We boarded the bus, and we were warmly greeted by the bus driver. And because we were sitting in the front seats of the bus, we had a nice conversation with the bus driver for the entire short drive. He was happy, he would sing with the radio, he laughed a lot. That’s how all bus drivers should be. I’ll make a note of that in case I ever get a job as a bus driver. Or any other job that deals with a lot of people regularly. Everyone on our bus was going to the Liberty, which made it easy on the friendly bus driver. He wished us all a happy cruise as we exited the bus, and then he drove off happily to pick up more passengers.

We went inside the building and were directed where to go to check in, since there was a special line for those in the exclusive club, and I am guessing those are the people who have cruised with Carnival before. So if we go on another Carnival cruise, maybe we will be exclusive, too. Maybe.

We stood in a relatively short, quick moving line, holding our backpacks and our case of Coca-Cola. Fortunately, I had seen ahead of time that soft drinks aren’t free on these cruises as they are on Disney cruises. Each person is allowed to bring a maximum of 12 cans of soft drinks, but we decided to just bring one case to share between us. After all, if we each drank 12 Cokes on a 5 night cruise, by the end of it we could probably get out and run along beside the ship from all the caffeine. However, I did look around and see others with many more soft drinks. And some people even had little carts they were pulling them on. I was thinking that was a little silly until we had stood there for a little while, and then I started thinking more and more that the cart might not be a bad idea after all.

Anyway, we were soon at the first check-in desk. The lady welcomed us, looked at our boarding passes, and then scanned Laura’s passport. My passport, however, wouldn’t scan on her machine. I wasn’t entirely surprised by that, since my passport often causes problems. It seems that they printed it so that the number at the bottom of the page is right at the edge of the page, and most machines don’t seem to like that. She said that it wasn’t a problem, but that they would have to take care of that at the next check-in stop where they had full computers, since all she had was a scanner. So we got our backpacks and Cokes and moved on along.

But before we got to the next check-in stop, we had to stop to have our Cokes examined. Apparently, this whole prohibition on drinks came about because of people trying to sneak in alcohol in water bottles. So now no bottles of any kind can be brought on board, and only soft drinks in cans are allowed. The examiner lady opened our box of drinks and looked at each one to make sure that it hadn’t been opened before or tampered with. They really take this seriously.

We then proceeded to the line for the full check-in. Once again, the lady there had problems with my passport, but she was able to get it taken care of, which means that I didn’t have to stay home after all. That was a relief. Although Laura may have been secretly looking forward to some alone time. But I doubt it.

I thought it was interesting that this appeared to be just a general cruise terminal and not a dedicated Carnival terminal, and I got the feeling that all of the terminals at Galveston are that way. That’s a change from what we were used to with the Disney Cruise Line and their dedicated terminal just for them at Port Canaveral. Here, everything was done with laptops instead of full computers. They had already printed out the room key cards, and the check-in person would then have to go find the envelope with your cards, instead of the Disney Cruise where they would print cards on demand. I would imagine that Disney has to do the same thing when their ships sail from Galveston, too.

We were assigned to boarding group 7, and we were directed to go upstairs to wait for our group to be called. We were almost there! However, Laura did get a little bit of alone time, because as we approached the escalator I was stopped by a large security lady who pointed at my box of Cokes and said, “You can’t bring those.” I was about to protest and say that they had already been inspected, but she pointed and said, “You have to ride the elevator with those.” Um, okay. I couldn’t take our Cokes on the escalator. I had to ride the elevator instead. Seriously. I’m not really sure what the difference would be, but that’s what she said. And because Laura was already on the escalator, she had to wait for me at the top, as I rode the elevator with a few other people and all their Cokes. I felt like we were a pretty dangerous bunch, armed with our soft drinks and threatening the safety of escalators everywhere, but we survived our elevator ride everywhere. Soft drink felons watch each other’s backs, you know.

Once Laura and I were reunited and it felt so good, we heard them call boarding group 5. That meant only two more groups before ours. We took turns visiting the restroom facilities nearby, with one going while the other watched our backpacks and those dangerous soft drinks. And then, they called our number!

This was it! We were on our way! We pushed and shoved past all of those with higher numbers than ours who were still for some reason crowding the path. Note: They don’t call your number sooner if you are standing right there blocking everyone else’s way. We then stopped for the customary “Welcome aboard!” photo, figuring it would be the first of many cruise photos, if our past cruising experience was any indication.

We then walked out onto the promenade and then into the ship. That was a little different, because on our previous cruises we just walked directly into the lobby of the ship from the gangway, but not a big deal. They also didn’t announce our name as we walked in, but that wasn’t that big of a loss, either, because we were on the ship.

We were immediately in the main lobby of the ship, part of which appeared to be open most of the way to the top of the ship, while other areas had stairs up to the levels above where we were. There was a large chandelier which constantly changed colors, and there were also matching color-changing lights on the wall. There was music playing, and there were people milling around, most of them having just come aboard as we had.

The latest part of our 2016 Cruise to Mexico trip report is all about boarding the ship. Read all about it at Burnsland!

Looking down on the main lobby of the ship. Nice sunny space!

We weren’t actually looking for the theater at this time, but we found it anyway. So I took a picture since no one was in there.

We weren’t actually looking for the theater at this time, but we found it anyway. So I took a picture since no one was in there.

We are on a boat!

We are on a boat!

But with all of that excitement, we had one main thing on our minds: lunch. Actually, I also had on my mind putting down my backpack and the box of Cokes that seemed to get increasingly heavy the more I carried them. But because it was only 12:45 and rooms wouldn’t be ready until 1:30, putting our things down wasn’t much of an option. So off to lunch we went.

I thought I could figure out how to get to the restaurant upstairs that I had read about, and so we started to make our way there. But then a crew member asked if he could help us, and so we told him where we were going and he pointed us in the right way. Once we got up to the Lido deck (deck 9), we went past one of the pools and the sun deck, where many people were already out enjoying the sun and the water. How did they get out there so quickly? And what had they done about eating lunch? First things first, you know.

The buffet offerings for lunch looked pretty good, and Laura decided on something from the Italian buffet line. But I noticed that a sign said, “Fish and Chips,” and pointed upstairs. So up I went to check it out. Sure enough, there was a fish and chips window there, so I got some fish and chips and headed back down to where Laura was. We were fortunate to find a table for two, because the tables were getting pretty crowded already. With our dangerous Cokes on the table and our backpacks at our feet, we tried to take up as little room as possible for those walking past us.

Our food was delicious, and the drinking water was welcome as well. I had thought about going for some Italian as my second course, but the fish and chips filled me up pretty good. Once we were finished eating, we moved on to make way for others who might be looking for a table for two, although I had noticed that there were several more tables available by the fish and chips place upstairs for those who didn’t mind the climb.

Laura enjoys some ice cream after lunch.

Laura enjoys some ice cream after lunch.

It wasn’t quite 1:30 yet, but we decided to ahead and give our room a try. When we got there to deck 8, only one deck below where we had eaten (how convenient!), we found that the hallways weren’t blocked off or anything. So we went and tried our room, and it looked to be ready for us. We were happy to put our things down, but I was surprised to find that we couldn’t get to the refrigerator, since the door to it was locked. We would have to ask the room steward about that. Also already in the room was the 12-pack of bottled water that we had ordered. When I read about the soft drinks, I also read that you could order bottled water for your room and pay for it ahead of time, or you could order it while on the cruise and also pay a gratuity. I decided on ordering early, because I knew some of the places we were going to visit in the next few days were going to be hot, and several of the reviews mentioned bringing your own water. Since we couldn’t bring water bottles on the ship (thanks, people who ruined that for us), we ordered some to be sure that we had some.

We then started to leave our room, but before we got out into the hallway very far, we ran into our room steward, whose name was Iketut. I asked him to say that again so that I would know how to pronounce it, and he said, “It is eye-key-tut. But most everyone just calls me Tut.” He asked our names, and I told him that my name is Steve, even though on all of the paperwork I am listed by my first name of James. He remembered that and called me Steve for the rest of the cruise, and he also called Laura by her name, which isn’t as tricky because she goes by her first name.

Iketut asked if there was anything that he could do for us, and I asked him about the refrigerator. He said, “You mean the mini-bar? I can unlock it.” And sure enough, he did. And sure enough, it was filled with all kinds of soft drinks, water, and alcoholic things of some sort, none of which we would drink. He took a quick inventory to make sure that everything was there that was supposed to be there, and then he said it was fine for us to put our drinks in there as well. Not that there was that much room for our drinks with everything else in there, but I didn’t want to take the risk of taking some of their stuff out and then having to pay for it. So we stuffed a couple of our Cokes and bottles of water in there, figuring we could put more in when we drank those.

We then set out to explore the ship, hoping to familiarize ourselves with where everything is so that we wouldn’t be so confused for the rest of the cruise. We found the theater, which was empty at the moment, and then we went back up through the central lobby and past the closed shops, eventually making our way back upstairs to the top decks. We saw more of the pools, and we checked out the adults only Serenity area. There were some nice chairs, a couple of hammocks, and some hot tubs there, and we figured we would be back up there more during the cruise. We also had a great view of the docks of Galveston and the surrounding area.

Laura checked out one of the hammocks, which because of its stiffness was actually harder to get into than you might imagine.

Laura checked out one of the hammocks, which because of its stiffness was actually harder to get into than you might imagine.

I can see our car from here! Can you tell which one it is?

I can see our car from here! Can you tell which one it is?

Next time, we actually sail away! Check back soon for more of the 2016 Cruise to Mexico Trip Report!

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Burnsland is Steve Burns, with generous help from his lovely wife Laura. Steve is a husband, father, photographer, webmaster, writer, podcaster, artist, Christian. Steve enjoys sharing his photography, art, and stories through Burnsland.com, from the Burnsland World Headquarters in Tennessee.