Cruise Port Destinations Review: Cozumel, Mexico; Grand Cayman; Ocho Rios, Jamaica;
We were aboard the Carnival Liberty
Cozumel, Mexico is an island in the Caribbean Sea located off the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. This was the first destination stop on my 7-day cruise vacation. From the moment I set foot off the ship, I was very excited to be in Mexico. Once off the cruise ship, you are immediately greeted with a vast array of gift shops and a few bar and grill-type restaurants. While we waited for our excursion time to arrive, we browsed several shops and were able to find all of the typical souvenirs one might look for on a vacation. There were stores for various price ranges and, personally, I wanted shirts for my family from each destination, so I decided go opt for inexpensive ones. I managed to find shirts for $5 for each of us. I can now say we have all worn ours several times and they have held up very well.
The excursion we selected was a tour of the highlights of Cozumel. Our first stop was a heritage museum at which we watched a historical video about Mexican culture. After the short video, we were taken to a small museum that had replicas of important artifacts. A few were genuine. We then moved outside to a short walking trail that held small replicas of Mayan temples and ruins. It was interesting to see the replicas, but otherwise, this stop was non-eventful for us.
Next, we stopped at a marketplace that had several more shops. These were similar and had much of what was available directly off of the ship's gangway. There was a donkey for children to ride and you could go peek at a small Mayan ruin, but the stop was almost too brief to provide ample opportunity to look in the shops and see the ruins. The ruins were by no means a breathtaking view. It was more of an archeological site.
Our next stop was a tequila factory. We were allowed to sample any and all varieties offered. I am not a big fan of tequila, but this stop was actually fun. After sampling, you have the option to purchase tequila without paying duties.
Our last stop was a beach. The view was gorgeous and there were rocks that you could stand on for a better view. There was a tent with some more souvenirs for sale. The items available at this stop were more unique than the others I had seen up until this point. There were items crafted from driftwood, seashells, leather and other things.
Our tour was good overall and obviously some stops were preferable over others. The shopping during the excursion was somewhat rushed. We had plenty of time at the conclusion of the tour to further explore the shops located off of the gangway. I would definitely recommend Cozumel, Mexico and would like to revisit some day.
Grand Cayman was the second destination on our cruise. According to Wikipedia, " Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands and the location of the territory's capital, George Town. In relation to the other two Cayman Islands, it is approximately 75 miles (121 km) southwest of Little Cayman and 90 miles (145 km) southwest of Cayman Brac". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Cayman) It was absolutely beautiful. The water was amazing and I think it may have been the most beautiful water I had ever seen up until that point. I have since been to other destinations with equally beautiful water. Upon arrival, we were transported from the cruise ship to the shore by smaller boats due to the number of coral reefs near shore. Large vessels damage delicate reefs. The ride from ship to shore went smoothly and was not a hassle as one may expect. I felt it actually gave us a closer, better view of the water.
Grand Cayman was so clean and many of the shops had an upscale appeal. One downfall is that I did not find any real bargains on shopping, although there was plenty to choose from if you are willing to pay the prices. Grand Cayman is a British territory and is known for its presence in the banking and investments industry. It is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean.
We selected the snorkeling excursion because I had heard Grand Cayman has great snorkeling spots. I decided on this excursion after our cruise began, but fortunately snorkeling masks, tubes, flippers, underwater camera, etc are all available onboard the ship and in gift shops. Once we boarded the boat, which reminded me of a larger pontoon-style boat, we were each given a flotation device and instructions for the tour.
We went to three different spots. I always elected to jump off the back of the boat as opposed to easing down the ladder. I also chose to hold my breath with my mask on instead of using my snorkeling tube. It allowed me more comfort and go go completely under water. The one I specifically remember the name of was the Callie (or Cali) Shipwreck. It was awesome to be swimming over an actual shipwreck, however, I didn't really see the ship that well. It looked more like ground hamburger. I could see some coral reefs. At one point, I looked down and found what looked to be a school of angel fish swimming a foot or two below me! Amazing!
After our snorkeling adventure, we walked down the main road in some shops and ended up in the Margaritaville. It was fun because the outside table we were seated at was in a little cabana. There was a small dipping pool with a little slide. It was very nice. I would love to visit Grand Cayman again and stay awhile!
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Our final destination on our 7-day cruise was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. According to Wikipedia, "Ocho Rios (Spanish for "Eight Rivers") is a town in the parish of Saint Ann on the north coast of Jamaica" and "It was once a fishing village but now caters to tourists. It is a port of call for cruise ships as well as for cargo ships loading sugar, limestone, and in the past, bauxite". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocho_Rios) Ocho Rios seemed to have the highest level of passport security.
For our excursion in Ocho Rios, we opted for a personal tour guide. There were seven people in our party and it was less expensive per person to go that route and we had the benefit of going wherever we wanted. There were two guides. One narrated and one drove. We just gave them the discretion to take us to all of the highlights. We passed through rainforest named "Fern Gully" and through the village to a pottery studio where we saw and made pottery. It was wet when we left, so it had to be left on cardboard to dry in the back of the van we were riding in. She stopped at Coyaba River Garden and Museum, where there was an additional charge for admission, and saw some beautiful native plants and trees. There is also a waterfall view. It was gorgeous.
We went by a roadside fruit and spice stand and took pictures of the landscapes. The views alternated between beautiful and less than desirable. We saw a great deal of "slum" area. In my cruise experience, I have noticed that anytime you go into the mainland, you see the "real" way people live. It is quite disappointing and sad in parts and also very beautiful at times. Our guides explained to us that people in Jamaica start building a home for their families and work on it as they can afford it, so homes remain unfinished for a long time or either they are always receiving upgrades.
We also stopped at a marketplace and were exposed to some of the disparity of the people. You can be talking and browsing in one person's stand and another seller will come over and hassle you to look at their merchandise. They will keep trying to price bargain with buyers in order to make a sale. I understand why this is done, but it is annoying nonetheless. Our final stop was at a liquor store and gift shop where you can purchase famous Jamaican rum without duties.
Overall, we did enjoy Jamaica, but it did have its moments. I would say that those who stay at a resort or who opt for an alternate excursion where they remain near the port may never seethe undesirable part, just the beauty.