A cruise line comparison

As we fly home from our first cruise on Norwegian, I’m reflecting on the differences – good and otherwise – between them and Carnival, with whom we’ve cruised a few times before.

Overall TL/DR summary: they’re different, not better, it just depends on what you like.

We liked the unlimited bar option that was pretty reasonably priced. While neither of us are heavy drinkers, it’s nice to know you can enjoy whatever you like (aside from some premium drinks that never were an issue) without worrying about the bar tab. I have no idea what Carnival charges for that, if they even offer it.

We did enjoy the option of eating on a dining room, rather than a buffet, whenever we wanted as long as they were open – typically 5 to 9 for dinner. That said, there were occasions when we were turned away from the main dining room or there were long lines for the smaller ones. We also missed the Carnival large tables with people we’d see nightly to swap stories and compare notes. On previous cruises we made friends that we kept in touch with for years afterward… not so much this cruise.

Buffet and dining room food seemed just slightly lower quality than what I recall from Carnival. I’ll temper that by saying it’s been several years since we sailed with them, so that may have changed. I’d love to have seen crab legs some time during the week. You could get lobster, but it was a $25 up charge even with the “free” dining nights in the extra-cost restaurants. The food overall was good, just not great. With over 4,000 passengers and another 1,700 plus crew to feed, one can’t really expect gourmet.

It’s not a big deal, and I’ll say the cabin steward did a stellar job of keeping the room clean and all, but the Carnival style evening turndown and the little towel animals were missed.

On Carnival we’d wake up, slip on our thick cushy robes, and enjoy our bagels with cream cheese and lox on the balcony – delivered with coffee and juice for either no charge or a very small tip. Norwegian charges $9.95, and you are limited to a pretty sparse room service menu. We missed Carnival in the morning, for sure.

I may be working from defective memories, but it seems like there were more entertainment options on Norwegian.

I think pretty much any cruise is going to be a pretty constant upsell. As a shareholder in both NCLH and CCL, I get that. These companies are awash with debt from keeping largely unoccupied ships afloat for a couple of years, and it’s going to be a long road back to profitability. o didn’t find the upsell irritating or distracting on Norwegian. We haven’t sailed with Carnival post-COVID, so I can’t speak to that.

I think we may actually try Disney next, depending on the cost. We got a glowing recommendation from our youngest after he, his wife, and their two kids took a cruise with them. He claims we wouldn’t to suffer little kids running around all the time. I don’t mind kids, just not 24 hours a day, please.


This trip has completely changed my views on:

  • Lamb. Done properly, it’s heavenly.
  • Guinness. Done properly, it’s amazingly good.

It has not changed my views on:

  • Driving on the wrong side of the damn road. Just say no. There’s a reason 99% of the world does it the right way.

2020 Vacation Trip (Yellowstone day 1)

I think we could have spent the entire week at Yellowstone and not seen everything. The first day saw limited visibility due to smoke from fires in CA and within Yellowstone itself. In fact, there were two roads closed due to wildfires. Still, the park was amazingly beautiful, and I’m sure we will be back again.

We spent part of the first day exploring the volcanic part of the park. We saw steam vents, geysers, boiling springs, boiling mud pots, and all kinds of things that you don’t see anywhere else. One of the things that surprised me was the life found everywhere. Even places where you would think nothing could survive have plants around them and microbes living around the edges.

2020 Vacation Trip (Days 1 & 2)

In late August we left on another road trip to the West. Our goal was to hit Yellowstone National Park, Devil’s Tower, and the Badlands including a stop at Mt. Rushmore. In all we were gone seven days and drove just a bit under 2,500 miles. Highway cruising in the Mercedes makes extended days of driving a pleasure.

We stopped in Powell, WY to visit with some of Lisa’s family. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Connie and Freddy and other family members before leaving for our first overnight stay in Cody, WY. The next morning it was on to Yellowstone.

A couple months of Mercedes ownership

I’ve been adjusting to “semi sort of exotic” V12 ownership.  Early May I bought a Mercedes S600 with under 48K miles on the odometer.  If you’re unfamiliar, it’s an exceptionally opulent luxury sedan with a 510 HP, twin-turbocharged 5.5 liter V12 and an active hydraulic suspension system, among other things. It hasn’t been trouble-free, but I don’t think anything new has broken since I bought it — it just had problems that weren’t obvious when I looked at it.  If I’d have had a proper dealer PPI done, I would have screwed the price down a few more thousand — but the logistics of doing that in a distant city are difficult to say the least.  Next time (and there will be a next time), I’ll do it differently.  

The real adjustment is in how these things are serviced.  Got a problem?  Unless it’s something mechanical that’s obviously broken, you’re going to absolutely need the Mercedes dealer level software (at the very least), on a dedicated laptop, and the hardware to get it to talk to the car.  Period.  Or, you take it to a dealer that charges a $160 “diagnostic fee” per symptom.  Or, you find an independent shop and hope they’re as good as they claim.  The mechanical systems are very complex.  The electronics are far, far more complex.  Just an example: You turn the thumbwheel on the dash air vent to control airflow.  It’s not a mechanical control.  It’s a potentiometer, which is read by a control unit that sits on the CAN bus, and talks to numerous other control units, and a decision is made how much to move the electrically actuated damper behind that vent.  Oh, the potentiometer went bad and can’t be read?  No A/C for you, pal.

I’ll be about $3K deep in repairs, parts, and vehicle-specific tools by the time I’m done, maybe a little less.  The good news is, half of that is the one thing that the dealer HAS to do — the rest I can do myself with parts sourced from Fleabay or a couple of dealers that sell factory original parts at a deep discount.  By the weekend I’ll be equipped to do anything the dealer can do diagnostic-wise, which will pay for itself quickly.  

On the plus side…  the thing is over-built, and the level of engineering and the build quality is fantastic.  Even at 13 years old, this car has features most new cars don’t.  You can cruise all day long in ridiculous comfort (the massaging seats help), and if the mood ever strikes you to see, for example, how long it takes to go from 40 to 130 MPH…  it will happily and very quickly do it, without drama, and you’re nowhere near the top end.  This model is limited to 157 MPH, and it will easily do it.  It’s not going to be as cheap to own and operate as my F150, for example, but once it’s fully sorted out I don’t think it will be punitively bad, either.  You don’t own a car like this (or a Ferrari, or a McLaren, or a Bentley, or whatever) because it’s cheap.  

2017 flying activity

Well, another year in the log book.  I made one of my goals, which was to fly over 50 hours in 2017.  I barely squeaked by that with 50.8 for the year.  However, I missed the other one – that was to pass the 200 hour mark for total hours.  I’m just short at 198.  I didn’t fly at all for most of October and November; I medically self-grounded due to some unplanned hospital time.  December went from too crappy (low clouds, rain, etc) to too cold; we finished the year with a week or two of sub-zero temps.  I would have flown a few more hours if I’d been able.  Still, there was some good flying in ’17.  I got my BFR done in November, so I’m good to go for two more years.

2017 started with the Harlan, IA chili feed for some cold-weather flying.  That was my second year for that, and I love the trip over and back.  Flying over the winter landscape is always beautiful, and the heat in teh RV-12 works quite well.  Next was a trip along the Missouri up to Mobridge, SD where a bunch of us enjoyed a nice lunch at a family-run restaurant up there.  An extended trip along that river is still on my to-do list.  I flew a couple of poker runs during the year, flew three Lorimers (well, two Lorimers and a former Lorimer) and as near as I can recall, sixteen Young Eagles.  I flew into Oshkosh solo (36L arrival and departure) and camped in Homebuilt Camping for the second time.  Lisa and I were able to use the plane twice during the year to do things that either we couldn’t have made it to by car, or would have been really tedious drives.  The first was Hastings for Tom’s retirement party, and the second was Carroll, IA for a family gathering.  I even managed to get Pete up for a couple of flights, after his amazing success in dropping nearly 100#.  I can only hope to have half as much success shedding excess baggage myself this year.

I’m very much looking forward to expanding my flying activity in 2018.  I haven’t decided whether to make Airventure or not this year, but I do want to take a couple of cross-country trips, log more hours, and get as many kids up in the air as possible.  After the flight review experience I had in November, I’ve also got a new appreciation for what the RV-12 is capable of and what I can handle.  I hope to expand my personal flying envelope this year.  I want to get more practice at slow flight and stalls to get more comfortable with a view of more green than blue.  I want to fly farther, fly higher, fly lower, and see more Gs than before.  We’ll see what 2018 has in store.

POA 2013 Gastons Fly-In

Last weekend Lisa and I flew down to Lakeview, AR for the annual fly-in for a bunch of people from the Pilots of America web board.  Naturally we had a stiff headwind both ways, so the trip was more flying than I had counted on.  We had a good time, met some good people, and I gained some valuable experience and learned a few things.  The trip down was uneventful if a bit slow due to the wind, but the real fun was the Gaston’s arrival.  We made a high pass over the runway just for me to get my bearings and figure out how to deal with the terrain on the base and final approach legs.  In the end it was a nice, soft, full-flap soft field landing, no drama.  The trip back was more of a challenge — we took off in the rain, waited on weather at Mountain Home, had a very stiff crosswind when landing to refuel in Lawrence (but still eased it in nicely, if I do say so myself) and made it into Omaha as the ceiling was dropping.  Another 9.4 hours in the log book!

Some of the highlights…

And some shots of the happy couple…

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We love Carnival

Lisa and I recently spent a week on the M/S Carnival Valor.  We visited Key West, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Key West was a lot of fun.  We did a little wandering around and shopping, then took a ride all the way around Key West — 27 miles — on a jet ski!  I believe it was the first time I have ever hit 50 MPH on the water.  What a rush.  We did a good part of the trip at full throttle, with a nice little stop for some “play time” in a place where there are a few miles of water that probably averaged less than 6 feet deep.  I actually stepped on a few sponges while walking on the ocean floor on the Gulf side.

Grand Cayman…  well, the beach was really nice.  We did some bumming around, sunning and swimming at Seven Mile Beach.  The rest of the place, though, is the most shamelessly overpriced tourist trap we’ve seen so far.  And avoid Margaritaville completely…  trust me.

Ocho Rios was its usual charming little place…  OK, it’s a little dumpy, but friendly and cheerful.  We got offered weed I don’t know how many times.  We did some shopping (not for weed) and stocked up on rum cream and cigars from my favorite little Communist paradise.

The real star of this cruise had to be our cabin, though.  We lucked into a cabin on the aft corner of the starboard side, with an enormous (by cruise ship standards) balcony that wrapped around the rear and side of the ship.  No searching for deck chairs or fighting 30 MPH winds on the upper decks; we got sun most of the day right outside the cabin.  You should see our tans.  😉

As usual the food, service and facilities were great.  I have noticed that the buffet food on the Lido deck is not quite as good as it was a few years ago, and there don’t seem to be as many wandering waiters delivering drinks as quickly.  And we did kind of miss the steel drum band.  But — it’s not enough to complain about, really.  It’s like saying it’s gone from a 10 to a 9.5.  We’ll do it again.


44 days to go!

Snow all you want, the wind can blow, I don’t care.  In a little under a month and a half, I’ll be laying on the deck of a Carnival cruise ship sipping a rum punch and starting work on my sunburn.  Take that, winter!


Fusion Hybrid, 3 months in

Well, we’ve had the Fusion Hybrid for roughly 3 months now, with a little under 3600 miles on the odometer as I recall.  This car continues to perform extremely well.

Saturday we took it to Hastings to watch the Broncos soundly defeat Briar Cliff (34-20, and the game was not as close as the score would indicate).  From Omaha to Lincoln we were in heavy Husker football traffic, moving at a steady 65 MPH.  I think we were in a pretty constant slipstream with the solid line of cars and trucks, we got 43 MPG between our Omaha fill-up and the far side of Lincoln!  Amazing.  Our overall mileage for the 299 mile round trip, including some in-town driving in Hastings after the game, was 38.6 MPG.

I wasn’t exactly nursing it along; we drove at the same speed we normally would have, other than the Omaha-Lincoln stretch.  There we drove as fast as possible, which was 65 MPH.  After we cleared Lincoln, I had the cruise control set for 70 for the rest of the trip out and back.  We stopped at the Stangs’ house to pick up Buddy on our way home.  I figure we used less than $19 worth of gasoline for the trip, and less than half of what my truck would have used.  In fact, we probably got almost the mileage we would have gotten on the Harley.

As for the features other than fuel economy, the car is still impressive.  Lisa likes the rear view camera and early warning system when backing out of places; it’s pretty nice that the car will pick up approaching vehicles and warn you before you’re able to see them in a crowded parking lot.  The sound system is great, and we’re even getting used to using the Sync system occasionally.  The hands-free Bluetooth is nice.  We’ve loaded several CDs into the car’s internal jukebox hard drive; my only gripe there is that while you can play music from a USB drive, you can’t transfer the files to the jukebox.  Oh well.

It’s a keeper.