The Big Red Boat

Background

Cruisers: Debbie and David Presley, ages 40ish. We had taken three other cruises together: the Dawn Princess on a 7-day Southern Caribbean Explorer route in November 1998; Carnival’s Jubilee on the 7-day Pacific coast swing in April 1997; and Carnival’s Ecstasy on the 3-night New Year’s Bahamas cruise in December 1995. David has also taken his daughter on the Big Red Boat once before, in conjunction with a Walt Disney World vacation in August 1994, and a 4-night Bahamas cruise on the old Emerald Seas back in June 1974. We were very active cruisers, typically first-off and last-on in each port.

Postcard view of The Big Red Boat Debbie & David Boarding the S/S Oceanic (The Big Red Boat)

When considering the array of choices for cruising, the Big Red Boat wouldn't have been our normal first, second, third... well, you get the picture. Premier ran a promotion where each of us could go on this excursion for $298 per person INCLUSIVE of port charges.   Combined with driving to Port Canaveral to further reduce costs, we would have been hard-pressed to duplicate a weekend getaway of this caliber for less money.  Plus, if the children get too annoying, they always make great chum for my shark diving(JOKE...THAT'S A JOKE - PLEASE DO NOT SEND ME EMAIL ABOUT MY SICK SENSE OF HUMOR!)

 

Friday, October 8, 1999 - En Route to Port Canaveral, Florida;
Ship Embarkation & Departure

MapQuest suggested that the portal-to-portal distance for us was 509 miles - so, we guestimated this would take about 8 hours and departed the eastern suburbs of Atlanta around 4:45am.  It ended-up taking about 7:45 and 522 miles, so we were parking adjacent to Terminal 4 right at 12:30pm.  Carrying only a 29" rolling bag, my abbreviated dive kit, and Debbie's makeup bag, we elected to just carry everything aboard and therefore bypassed the curbside baggage handlers.  Check-in took about 20min, followed by about a 10min wait in the metal detector line.  Walking aboard the entrance amidships on Atlantic Deck we were greeted by Opal from Jamaica(our Social Hostess), then handed-off to a Cabin Steward greeter who wheeled our luggage to the elevator, up two decks, and showed us to our stateroom Continental #38.

A View of The Big Red Boat's Continental Stateroom #38 Another View of The Big Red Boat's Continental Stateroom #38

For the $298pp price tag, we were very pleasantly surprised with this room.  It measured approximately 16' x 7'; entering a little right of center, a double-sized bed (not two twins jammed together but a real double!) was on our right with a comfortable gray mock leather chair alongside.   Facing forward, to the left was a five-drawer dresser (very thin, 3"-4" thick drawers), with a freshly-filled ice chest and selection of water and colas on top (each cost $1.50 in an honor bar format).  Left of the dresser was the entrance to the small but functional bath, consisting of a 2' x 2' shower, sink, and head (there was plenty of storage in the medicine cabinet as well as hanging space for wet items).   On the opposite wall of the cabin were two large closets with plenty of space for hanging items, luggage, etc.  A 13" TV, controlled by a remote kept near the bed, offered a variety of DirectTV channels including CNN, Headline News, TNT, USA, TBS, and several HBO channels.  Lastly, a large sofa resided on the hallway wall, which would convert to a single were it needed(which it wasn't).  Colors, size, and arrangement are pretty accurately depicted in the photos above.

The Pool Deck, shot through the Moveable Roof, of The Big Red Boat The Pool Deck just prior to Port Canaveral Departure on The Big Red Boat

After 20-25min unpacking and settling, we wandered three decks up to Pool Deck for a buffet lunch in the Satellite Cafe.  Food included hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza (remember, it is a kid boat), plus a good selection of cold cuts, freshly-carved roast beef, chilled fruits, breads, and desserts.   Coffee, tea, and juices are available gratis; anything else is procured at the bar or from a waiter.  All was tasty, except for the desserts which ranged from mediocre to abominable!  For example, the blueberry cheesecake tasted like it was Jello brand; pound cake dusted with confectioner's sugar was stale enough to have been served on the prior week's cruise; and what we think was a chocolate cheesecake seemed to lack both chocolate and sweetener.  AVOID THE BUFFET DESSERTS!

The Starlight Cabaret on The Big Red Boat The Heroes and Legends Pub of The Big Red Boat The Broadway Showroom of The Big Red Boat

We set about exploring the ship - while she is a little aged, she is well kept, and small-enough to learn your way around pretty quickly.  Shown above is the bar area in the Starlight Cabaret (left); the Heroes & Legend's Pub (center) and the Broadway Showroom(right).  We came back to our stateroom to get our life preservers for the 4:30pm-5:00pm Muster Drill, whereupon we met our Cabin Steward, Pradeep, and were presented with our complimentary Premier bathrobes.   The ship was supposed to depart at 5pm, but ever-increasing winds had delayed the arrival of some air passengers, which delayed our departure until about 6:45pm.  At that time, we were having 35mph gusts and 10'-15' swells (as the evening progressed, barf bags were placed every few feet in the elevator landings, and the ship's doctor had all of the business he could handle - poking my head outside at about 10pm, I would describe the ocean as looking like the film you see of the North Sea when it's angry).  We spent 45min or so in the Heroes Pub watching Game 3 between the Astros and the Braves, then headed-back to the cabin to get cleaned-up for our Late-seating Dinner.  NOTE:  Smoking is permitted everywhere on the Oceanic except the dining room, your stateroom, and the Broadway Showroom - everywhere else the smoking is intense and nauseating.  If you abhor smoking, you may want to consider taking another cruise vessel - the casino and lounges were almost intolerable to us and, therefore, didn't get a lot of our business over the weekend.  For a kid-based boat, we thought they would control this type of behavior a bit more.  We were wrong.

The Muster Drill prior to Sailing on The Big Red Boat Tarek (Busboy), Piotr (Waiter), and ? (Headwaiter)

Seated at a table for 10, we met three other couples who would be our dinner companions, as well as our waiter Piotr (pronounced Peter, he's from Poland) and our busboy Tarek (who never said much... we're not sure he understood English very well... so we don't know where he hails from).  It was Italian night - we started with Antipasto Salad (both), Chilled Potato & Scampi Soup (David), Caesar Salad (Debbie) and Marinated Artichoke Hearts & Mushrooms served on a bed of greens with Sherry Vinaigrette (David), Breast of Chicken with a Sausage/Tomato sauce, angelhair pasta, a slice of zucchini and a slice of carrot (both), and extremely strong iced tea(it looked like flat cola).  Dessert was Tiramisu (Debbie) and Sabayon (David) - at least these were better than the buffet, but nothing served could be described as stellar, wonderful, even great... average is about the best review we can muster.

We attended a fashion show at 10pm in the Broadway Showroom, showing all of the brand items that could now be purchased in the Gift Shop.  This was followed by the evening's entertainment "The Comedy and Juggling of Peter Sasso" - we've had our fill of those on other cruise ships, so we took as pass.  Although there was a big Mexican Buffet in store at midnight, having been awake since 3am took it's toll and we retired around 11pm (and were rocked quickly to sleep by the motion of the boat - the seas were just too high for the stabilizers to compensate).  A nice finishing touch were four strawberries - two dipped in dark chocolate, two dipped in white chocolate - as our nighty-night treat.

 

Saturday, October 9, 1999 - Nassau, Bahamas

We awoke about 9am to a warm, humid, windy, partly cloudy day at sea, but with only 4-6' swells (which, while causing some motion, seemed quite tame compared with the prior night's adventures).  The breakfast buffet was good, consisting of a variety of melons, pineapple, banana, cereals, juices, scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage links, bacon, corned-beef hash, and omelets made to order.  Afterwards, we walked-about as Nassau slowly approached off our starboard bow (slowly because the high wind had cut our true speed down, delaying our arrival by about 30min to 12:30pm).   We backed into the last available berth, to keep company with the OceanBreeze, the Ecstasy, the Disney Magic, and the Sovereign of the Seas (see photo below).  The wind was still strong enough to cancel those holding tickets for the glass-bottomed boat tour.  Debbie and I debarked about 1pm for almost three hours of shopping: she stocked-up on a variety of lotions and scents from The Perfume Bar (who we believe have the best prices in Nassau, shown below); I shopped for a Citizen Hyper Aqualand Dive watch, but was dismayed to find pricing about $80 than the best found stateside - so I took as pass (I did pick-up four liters of alcohol and a Nassau diving t-shirt).  We debated taking the water taxi over to explore Atlantis on Paradise Island, but opted against it so as to not compress our day too terribly.  Once back on board, we ordered a Chicken Salad and a Tuna Salad sandwich from room service (having missed lunch).  ANOTHER NOTE:  If you take this cruise, order two of everything you want on the room service menu - quantities are small enough that a double order is the only way to get a regular-sized meal.

A View of Silver Cay while entering Nassau Harbour The OceanBreeze, Ecstasy, Magic, and Sovereign of the Seas docked in Nassau The Perfume Bar, Bay Street, Downtown Nassau (Debbie's favorite place to "stock up")

It was Formal Night, so Debbie donned her black cocktail dress and me a dark suit, and both headed up one level to Lounge Deck for the obligatory formal portraits.  Although arriving 15min after starting, we were the only ones there to meet Capt. Antonellos (whom I recognized as the Captain from the Atlantic incarnation of the Big Red Boat from five years earlier).  Entering the Broadway Showroom, we found only about two dozen passengers (where was everybody?) and felt glad we'd elected to come here in lieu of Paradise Island.  The House Band, Brilliant Corners, played a variety of Tommy Dorsey / Bennie Goodman / Louis Armstrong / Glenn Miller tunes and wondered why the youngish crowd couldn't relate to their musical selections (a swing-based jazz tune at the conclusion drew pretty rousing applause).   With some more people now present, the House Magician, Mark Young, came-out to do some rope and ring tricks.  He was pretty good.  I had 7-8 champagnes plus a variety of hors d'oeuvres including canapés, small cocktail wieners, small egg rolls, and meatballs.  The Captain introduced his crew (most of which also hail from his home of Greece).  Concluding at 8:10pm, we headed down to dinner.

Tonight, we had a new couple seated with us, but who chose to never speak, even when spoken to.  Weird.  We both began with a "Sun & Surf" appetizer (their fancy term for six boiled shrimp), French Onion Soup (Debbie, who complained that it only had one, puny, cheese crouton) and Chilled Berry Soup (David), Fruit & Lettuce Salad (Debbie) and Bean Sprout Salad (David), Boiled Lobster with a small clump of rice, carrots, and asparagus (both), and a sampling of Cherries Jubilee, Lemon Cake, Chocolate Soufflé, and Vanilla Custard for both of us.  The food, while better than the prior evening, still missed the mark.   The lobster was tough, as though it had been frozen a bit too long.  The salads were both bland and unimaginative, as were most of the desserts (but, they still were better than those damn buffet sweets!).  For some reason, tonight's coffee was the best we would have on the cruise.  We finished dining and headed to the Broadway Showroom to be entertained by Emmy- Award-winning comedian/impressionist Jeff Allen (he's one of David Letterman's two dozen writers and, therefore, has won an Emmy with his other writing cohorts).  He was pretty good, although some of the humor bordered on too racy given the ignorant parents who brought their rug rats to a late night comedy show (maybe they got what they deserved?).  Concluding about 11:30pm, I opted against the Tropical Midnight Buffet in favor of hitting the bed, to rest up for tomorrow morning's Shark Diving.  Four petit fours awaited for our goodnight snack.

 

Sunday, October 10, 1999 - Nassau, Bahamas

I awoke quickly at 7am, dressed, grabbed my dive bag and walked to the Tourist Information Center just outside of the Prince George Wharf.  While waiting for the van to take me to Dive Dive Dive, one of my dinner companions, Larry, also walked up to go dive with Stuart Cove's.  We were both picked-up a little before 8am for the 30min drive to the west side of the island (stopping along the way at the Crystal Palace to get three other divers).  At my behest, the normal Saturday afternoon shark dive had been postponed to Sunday morning so that I could participate.  Suffice to say it was the most exciting dive I have ever made, and may well qualify in the top-five most exciting things I've ever done in my life.  

I arrived back on the Oceanic at 1:40pm and found a very tanned Debbie cooling-off in the stateroom and a little bummed out.   Seemed that Premier thinks that everyone goes to their private island, Salt Cay, on Sunday.  For those left behind there was no buffet service, and she didn't want to have to get cleaned-up to eat in the dining room, then change back to resume sunning.  Plus, all but one of the bars onboard closed down, causing her to wander about looking for something to drink.  On the positive side, she was ecstatic to nearly have the entire ship to herself - not only were there few passengers remaining, but an equally small number of crew members as well.  And nobody using the gym from 8:30-9:30am.  We ordered room service (this time ordering two of everything, which produced the right quantity of food - BTW, the pizza tasted like reheated Domino's pepperoni) and finished eating around 3pm(whereupon the first wave of sunburned cruisers began returning from Salt Cay).  We went aft to watch the rather rapid sailaway at 4:35pm(see photos below), then headed down below to clean-up for the last meal.

Departing Nassau with the Sea Princess in the Background The Lighthouse on the end of Paradise Island Nassau fades into the Distance...

The evening's American fare began with Grilled polenta with mixed greens, wild mushrooms and shrimp (both), Louisiana Chicken Gumbo (Debbie) and Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup (David), Hawaiian Fruit Salad (both), Roast Prime Rib with Baked Potato (Debbie)and Roast Duckling with Berry Sauce and Wild Rice (David), Baked Alaska (Debbie) and Flambé (David) plus coffee for dessert.  We photographed our wait staff (a tradition) and headed-up to the Broadway Showroom for the big "Legends In Concert" show at 10:30pm that Premier touts so highly.  It was very entertaining having extremely competent mimics appearing as Neil Diamond, Madonna, and Elvis (we thought Madonna did the best job, but many others were heard to say the Neil Diamond impersonator did best).  Concluding a little before midnight, we headed down to the Seven Continents Restaurant to look at the culinary pageantry known as the Gala Buffet.  Since we couldn't begin eating this great looking spread until 12:30am, we went back to our stateroom to finish packing our big bag, for placing outside the stateroom for pickup.

We came back down about 12:40am and sampled a wide assortment of foods including liver pate, seafood pate, boiled shrimp, crab, roast beef, roast turkey, cheeses, veges, and a huge variety of cakes and pies.  Big disappointment!  The only really good item was the liver pate with cranberry relish.   The turkey was dry, the roast beef was tough, one cake was watery, the next was dry, the pies lacked taste.  All-in-all, everything looked a lot better than it tasted.  We moved food around a bit, each had a cup of coffee, and made a hasty retreat for the upper decks.  We enjoy walking the decks late on the last night for the solitude and to reminisce about the vacation we've almost concluded.  Good thing we didn't want to do anything else, because the pools and hot tubs were drained, most bars were closed, and the cleaning crews were finishing getting ready for the next day's new passengers.  We did see the Carnival Fantasy pass us about a half mile to starboard on it's way to Freeport.  We finished with a little time in the disco before retiring about 2:30am.  Two Godiva Dark Chocolates topped off the final evening of our cruise aboard the Big Red Boat.

Your Basic Cabin Steward Critter ;-)

 

Monday, October 11, 1999 - Ship Debarkation in Port Canaveral;
Returh Home to Grayson, Georgia

Up at 6:45am, I retrieved some coffee from the buffet (which serves only croissants, juice and coffee on debarkation day) and noted that we were almost back in our Port Canaveral berth.  We showered, finished packing, completed and dropped-off our customer comments card, and vacated our room for an 8:15am omelet, sausage, & bacon breakfast in the restaurant.  We then waited in the Broadway Showroom until our deck was called at about 9:15am.  Customs was a breeze, we walked about 200' to our car, loaded-up, and headed-out at about 9:30am.   We took a quick diversion to the Holiday Inn at Cocoa Beach - it seems, in the most amazing instance of karma that we know, that Debbie and I met as kids vacationing there back in 1969 - it just took an entire generation for the two of us to meet again and marry (sure would have been nice had things gelled back then).  After some reminiscing around the swimming pool, we left at the stroke of 10, arriving back home shortly after 5:30pm.

 

Conclusion

In our view, Premier has a really great marketing concept going with their ideas about renovating older ships and taking them to less-traveled ports while providing top-notch service, quality entertainment, and world-class food (they term this seven-star service, and touted it throughout our voyage).   Unfortunately, they're missing on several counts:

Premier, please, PLEASE, PLEASE do something about the smoking!  While not militant anti-smokers, we simply couldn't tolerate the fumes that emanated from the various lounges, the casino, and the elevator landings.  Premier needs to confine this putrid practice to open decks and maybe one smoking lounge.  We wondered how much more drink and casino revenue they might derive were it easier to breathe in those areas.
Service was adequate at best.  Our Cabin Steward seemed mildly irritated if we didn't adjust our schedule to his.  Our Waiter, while enthusiastic, just had no real personality with which to work.  Our Busboy, besides the already mentioned language problems, could never discern the difference between regular and decaf coffee nor keep our drinks filled.  This was the first headwaiter who didn't introduce himself and who we still don't know his name (he also never inquired if we liked the meal or the service - strange!).  The lounge waiters & waitresses frequently had to be summoned to get a drink.
Except (possibly) for the "Legends In Concert" program, the entertainment was mundane.  While competent musicians, the House Band would have been better suited to HAL or another cruise line that attracts a more elderly clientele.  There is no capacity for a rock-n-roll or country band - only piped-in disco music.  The Cruise Director calls everything "smashing" and does little else.  The shore excursion list needs to be beefed-up a bit.
The food - here was perhaps the biggest disappointment.  After hearing that they use the same company that caters Crystal Cruise Lines, we were expecting a sumptuous feast at every turn.  While nothing was bad (except for the buffet desserts), nothing was at all remarkable or memorable.   Were this food to be served at a local land-based restaurant, we would just shrug that it was neither good nor bad, and never return.

Would we recommend this cruise?   Sure, but with some reservations:

If you're cruising with young children, it's a natural - I did this when my daughter was 7, and she didn't even want to get off the ship when in port as she was having so much fun.  The Looney Tune characters are everywhere and add a bit of whimsy to even the most hardened adult. 
If you've never cruised before and are wanting to know if you like cruising, it's a good, basic, starter, get-your-feet-wet cruise.
If you're looking for a lot of bang-for-your-buck, or for a fun, weekend getaway, it delivers on that count - it just is a case of "you're getting what you paid for".
If you don't smoke, be sure you have a high tolerance for smoky rooms.
   
 

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