Cruising the Western Carribean from Belize to the Cayman Islands
Exploring the Cruise Boat
Reservations about my first cruise slowly dissipated as we walked across the port bridge to the grandiose Carnival Legend ship to begin our 7-day Western Caribbean Cruise. We left from the Fort Lauderdale port and had four port stops; Cozumel, Mexico: Belize, Mahogany Bay: Island of Roatan, Honduras: Grand Cayman of the Cayman Islands.
Cruises to the western Caribbean from the New York port aren't frequent so it was well worth the flight to Florida for these destinations for less time at sea and more time at ports. We arrived at the dock by 11:00 am, which was the best decision as we were one of the first groups brought onto the boat. By 1:00 pm we were at the lunch buffet with a plate full of food, sitting by the pool enjoying the Caribbean music being played by the live stage band. Our room was ready by 4:00 pm and we were able to drop our bags off and relax the rest of the night. We gave ourselves a tour of the boat; scouting out the casino, dinner halls and entertainment venues. We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon by the pool before eating at the Truffles Restaurant for dinner. The idea of an all-inclusive menu was new to us and we were able to order anything off the menu with appetizers and desserts included (Note: soft drinks are extra). The dinners were surprisingly delicious and the service was professional and impeccable.
The next day was the day at sea and most of it was spent on the Serenity Deck. This deck is equipped with a pool and two Jacuzzis. And, best of all, it's off limits to kids. In this adult only area you’ll find hiding parents, couples and younger adult groups enjoying the peace and quiet; not to mention hammocks, lounges chairs and cushioned sofas.
The lunch buffets were open at their designated times but when we wanted a snack anytime, we just headed to the 24-hour pizzeria on the deck. A day of lounging and eating was a great start to our vacation but I was more than well rested for the next day when we were to begin our caribbean stops and booked excursions.
The Ports and Excursions
The first stop was Cozumel, Mexico to enjoy the pre-booked shore excursion to the ancient Coba Mayan ruins and temple. After departing the boat, a fast ferry ride to the mainland took us to where an air-conditioned bus was waiting to bring us to the ancient park. Compared to the more popular Tulum Temple Park, in this park you’re able to touch and climb the ruins, including to the top of one of the largest temples in Cozumel. Tulum is no longer accessible to climb or go inside since the early 1990's. At Coba, you have to climb up steep cobbled steps with the assistance of fastened rope to pull yourself, and the view at the top was breathtaking and well worth the tough trek. There are many other sights to see at Coba including ball parks, pebbled ancient roads on the site, as well as some other structures.
After getting our free drink and snack on the bus, we headed back to the boat. A quick nap was all that was needed before getting dinner at one of the many buffet stations on board. That night we enjoyed a show in the main room and headed to bed early as our day at the next stop, Belize, was to begin early the next day.
Our cave tubing excursion in Belize was booked through the Carnival site well before we arrived on the trip, and were told while preparing to depart that it's one of the more popular trips and does fill up fast. We arrived at the Eco Park after a 45-minute drive through the state of Belize’s city and countryside. Our belongings were put in lockers; we were given our life vests and headlamps before heading towards the cave. Our tubes were given to us as we made our way down cemented steps towards the dark caves. Stringed together, we made our way onto the waters of the flowing underground river, bats closely overhead. Our tour guide explained the history of the cave and stalagmites as we continued our journey and were able to stop for photos along the way. This excursion was much less intensive then I thought it would be. They allow for a time of free swim in the cool waters of the underground cave with only the sunshine just peaking through the dense canopy of the trees above. To give a small warning, there is a short moment where they turn off all the lights and are very quiet. It's pitch black and the sound of the bats fluttering above you are quite clear.
That night we still had some energy for dining at the on-board restaurant and enjoyed a full meal of steak, pasta, frogs legs and chocolate lava cake for dessert.
At our next stop, Roatan, an island of Honduras, our time was not spent typically. We did not book through Carnival for this day out. We decided to spend our day on a private beach at the one of the local luxury hotels where we spent most of our day sunbathing and snorkeling in their clear bay water. They also had non-motor water sports, lounge beds and an outdoor pool that we could use for the day. This was one of the shorter days at port and so we had to quickly make our way back by 3:00 pm. It was a much-needed day of relaxing after the two previous adventure excursions the days before.
The Grand Cayman of the Cayman Islands was the last port. The Grand Cayman is known for its clean beaches and beautiful waters but also as the island in the Caribbean with the least amount of crime. Our last excursion, booked through Carnival Cruise, was to the Turtle Farm for some swimming and snorkeling with the wildlife there. They had an artificial fish bay that you could snorkel in, along with a separate shark cove; also open to those willing to brave the waters in their gear. The tour began with a visit to the turtle tanks that separated the tortoises by their different life stages. The hatchlings could be held, no larger than my palm, along with the larger turtles if you had the strength. Otherwise, you were able to reach into the open tanks and brush your fingers along their hard shells. Smaller tanks can accommodate the younger children who can sit or swim with some of the turtles while under supervision.
The Turtle Farm had an air-conditioned lounge where you could break for a drink or snack and a giant swimming pool with a waterfall for a quick dip. There were small shops we perused right outside the turtle farm while waiting for our bus to head back to the ship. This place was by far the hardest to be pulled away from, though we were unsure if it was simply because it was our last day or because of the amazing time we had there.
That night on the boat we enjoyed all the offerings to the fullest, knowing tomorrow it was a full day at sea before landing back at Florida. We were able to enjoy a large sit-down dinner, followed by dancing at the main deck outdoor party, then a late night show at the comedy club followed by the rest of the night at the piano bar. Now following my first cruise, I'm a carnival member and already seeking out the next country-hopping trip to take next.
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© 2013 Catherine Stolfi