Carnival Legend Western Caribbean Cruise Excursion Experiences
When it came to my first cruise, I knew I wanted to splurge on my excursion experiences so I could get the most out of this 8-day cruise in the Western Caribbean and Central America. I'll share the details on how to book the excursions as well as the details of the entire excursion experience, both good and bad, for each port. My excursions included cave tubing in Belize, visiting temples in Mexico, relaxing on a private beach in Roatan, and visiting a turtle farm on Grand Cayman.
Cozumel, Mexico: Temples of Coba Mayan
Our first excursion was one I planned the entire vacation around, seeing the ruins of ancient Mayan temples in Mexico. There are two temple excursions to choose from on Carnival, the visit to the more popular Tulum Temples and the less visited Coba Mayan ruins. I did some digging and didn’t like what I heard on the Chichen Itza tours. Many of the comments talked about being herded like sheep from one ruin to the next with hardly enough time to take pictures let alone get anywhere near some of the more fascinating structures. However, with the Coba Mayan ruins I knew that the highlight of this excursion was climbing the 138-foot-high pyramid structure, the Nohoch Mul. This was the clear front runner to me since I wanted to be able to touch and interact with the ruins I was traveling so far to see.
We left our room and made our way up to the breakfast buffet early. After our meal, and a stashed cereal box to snack on later, we went to the main theater room and received our tickets to disembark. Since we had carnival reservations for the Coba Mayan ruins, we had preferred early tickets handed to us.
We found our tour guide waiting on the pier with a giant sign that had the name of our excursion on it. He led us to an air-conditioned coach bus and we set out on our 45-minute ride to the temple park. One of the more tacky aspects of this trip is the gift shop stop made before we even get to the park. I did want to buy some souvenirs but I was also anticipating seeing my tour so this was a detour I was not ecstatic about.
The tour guide we had though was informative and part Mayan which made for a very interesting history lesson during our ride. A fun note is that when we went – October 2011 – our tour guide explained that every hotel in a 50 mile radius was sold out for the 12-21-12 Mayan Calendar end date.
When we arrived at the park we exited the bus and made our way straight into the park: no hassle of buying tickets. He was our private guide throughout the tour and was highly knowledgeable and humorous. He also gave us plenty of time to stop, climb and take pictures of various ruins throughout the park.
We then made our way to the highlight of the tour, the Nohoch Mul pyramid of Coba. The Nohoch Mul, or as it’s translated to in English, the “big mound,” is even higher than the more famous El Castillo in Chichen Itza. It also provides stunning views at the top. The climb is an interesting one: the steps are steep and not fully intact and there is a giant rope that aids in the walking – or crawling in my case – to the top of the temple. The view at the top is breathtaking and I tried to enjoy it as long as possible because I knew there was the climb down to tackle with next. We made it down safely and headed back to the tour bus.
The guide handed out our complimentary snacks once we got back on the bus: the Mexican version of lays potato chips, a moon pie and some chocolate treats. Overall, I enjoyed having the private guide. I think if I were to go again I would rent a car. You can simply park and buy your own tickets to most of these parks for a self-guided tour: you’ll also save some money but give-up the private tour experience that we had. For your first time here, it's best to go with an expert.
Mahogany Bay, Belize: Cave Tubing
We booked the cave tubing adventure excursion in advance before we left for the cruise. In hindsight this was a great idea since a few days before we left for the cruise I saw this excursion was already sold out. At this stop, the Carnival cruise ship anchors a few miles outside the shores of Belize City's harbor and you take a quick tender – a quick 15 minute small boat ride – to land.
Once we stepped off the boat we again found our Carnival guide with a large sign with the name of the excursion listed on it and he directed us to our air-conditioned coach bus. We drove through the main parts of the town and were able to see a great deal of Belize City while the tour guide gave us a history of the country. We finally made it to the Cave Tubing Park, found our lockers and made our way to receive our tubes and life vests. Note the lockers had a $2 charge but they're a must to get in order to keep your items safe and dry. This trek is not for the faint of heart. You are strapped up with a helmet and life vest and have to carry your own large tube down a few flights of steps to the beginning of the cave river. However, once you’re in your tube this is a calm ride – slower than the lazy rivers at big water parks. You’re also being pushed or pulled along by your tour guides who are happy to point out the bats flying directly overhead. It also gets very dark and cold in the caves but I never felt claustrophobic, as the ceilings are extremely high.
Halfway through, there is a point where you exit one river and walk down some steps to enter the other side of the cave river. We also stopped for photos and posed with the stalagmite walls behind us. Before we finished the river tour, we were able to free swim in the cool waters of the underground cave with only the sunshine peaking through the dense canopy of the trees.
You could do this swim or, if you preferred, could start to make your way back to the lockers and photo pick-up area. There was also a hut where we bought two tacos for 2 USD a piece, it was some authentic Central American cuisine and were delicious. This was an exhaustive but satisfying excursion, it's highly recommended if you are fit enough for the journey.
Roatan, Honduras: Relaxation & Snorkeling
Since our last two stops left us exhausted, as we knew they would, we decided to have a more relaxing time on the Island of Roatan, located a few miles off of Central America. I knew that this stop was the shortest one, having to be back at the boat by 3:00 pm. I booked, ahead of time, a stay at a local luxury hotel on the island. The hotel owned a private beach and allowed for sunbathing, snorkeling and swimming in their crystal clear waters. We could even book a massage through the hotel for both my boyfriend and I.
We were able to easily grab a cab at the port where the boat docked and took a 20-minute drive to the hotel. The water was pristine, the beach full of white, clean sand and an uncountable number of lounge chairs and outdoor beds we had all to ourselves as there were only eight other people that booked the same stop. This was a great option for us given our other two excursions but I do feel we may have missed out on seeing more of this island or doing something a bit more adventurous.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands: Turtle Farm
The largest island as part of a chain of islands in the Western Caribbean is Grand Cayman. Many of the excursion choices on this island included beach visits and water sports such as snorkeling, but we decided to visit the ecological park dedicated to marine sea turtles instead. Your entry fee goes towards the conservation efforts and research being dedicated at the farm so it’s money well spent. The tour begins the moment you enter as they give a short background on the farm and you can touch and see turtles in all different life stages, from hatchlings to 15 lb sea turtles.
The farm also has a man made pool that includes all kinds of tropical fish where you can snorkel and swim amongst them. At the far end of the pool you can snorkel up to a glass panel that has turtles on the other side, swimming right up to you. They also have a shark pool, where you can snorkel during specially supervised times, and a giant chlorine pool with a waterfall and lounge chairs. At the center of the facility is a large bar that offers alcoholic drinks, non-alcoholic drinks and some snack bar food.
The turtle farm takes up the time of the entire day on this Caribbean island. An air-conditioned bus takes you there, and back, from the cruise dock and you have about an hour to shop in some small tourist-type stores located right outside the entrance of the farm before needing to go back on the boat. For me, this was a day well spent because I enjoy these ecologically focused activities but we did pass others from our cruise that just spent a relaxing day at the beach instead. It's likely up to each person's preference but those we spoke to said they had a great time just enjoying the crystal clear beach waters.
No matter what excursion you choose, you’re ensured to have a good time. I had some conversations on the boat with other guests that took non-carnival excursions and they were definitely not as satisfied as we were with the experiences. It’s a little pricier but definitely worth the extra amount for a guaranteed great time. If you're making it all the way to these locations, you might as well book an excursion where you know you'll have expert guides and a guaranteed great experience.
© 2013 Catherine Stolfi