No need to track the temperature in Costa Maya – it’s always warm!
We didn’t set out to book three cruises, honest! It just sorta…happened. 🙂
We had previously booked two weeks on Royal Caribbean’s (RCCL) Freedom of the Seas out of San Juan in January. The ship was scheduled to go to drydock for extended renovations the week after we were due to get off. But due to lots of reasons irrelevant to my post, Royal Caribbean needed to move the drydock back one week and cancelled the second of the two weeks. We didn’t want to travel all the way to Puerto Rico for just a week (our preference – lots of people do it), so we decided to cancel the first week, too. We re-used the plane tickets to go to San Juan this past November instead.
Because of the cancellation of the first week, we ended up with a credit that needed to be used by February, so we found a 5-night cruise on Brilliance of the Seas, another RCCL ship sailing out of Tampa. We had never sailed out of Tampa before, and figured with our credit that this would be an inexpensive way to take a short cruise and check out Tampa.
Meanwhile, friends of ours had booked a Carnival cruise out of Port Canaveral for the following week and “suggested” that we might want to go along. It doesn’t take much “suggestion” to get us interested in a cruise! So, we booked a cruise on that ship for the next week.
Our son Kevin likes to cruise also, and he has been sailing with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). He mentioned that he wanted to take a cruise in February and suggested (there’s that word again!) that it might be fun if we went together. So we checked around and found a cruise on Norwegian Dawn out of Tampa. But the catch was that there was a week’s gap between the two cruises, so we would need to find something to do for a week. In Florida, in February? Not hard to do.
We have been working on visiting different National Parks, and had never been to The Everglades. So we decided to find a place to stay in South Florida for a week, where we visited Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park and drove through some of the Florida Keys. More on those later. Then we drove back to Tampa to meet our son and take the third cruise. When it was all done we had logged about 3,000 car miles, who knows how many cruise miles, and about 4,000 photos!
A few thoughts:
– People ask us about the different cruise lines, and although it sounds like a cop-out, they are all good. Different lines tend to cater to slightly different demographics, but things like ship size, home port and cruise length tend to make a bigger difference than the name of the cruise line.
– We tend to prefer smaller ships and this was borne out on these cruises. The RCCL and NCL ships were each about the same size – approximately 2,000 passengers, while the Carnival ship was about 4,000 passengers.
– We’ve always assumed that shorter cruises would attract more of a party crowd, but the 5-night RCCL cruise was one of the most laid-back we’ve done, and seemed to have a very high number of repeat cruisers. The Diamond Club, a lounge for passengers with a certain level of cruises with the line, had so many people that it overflowed into an adjacent lounge. The Carnival and Norwegian cruises each had a high number of first-timers – a very interesting contrast.
– Cruise line food is very good regardless of the line. Dining choices are either fixed, with the same table and waiter at the same time each night, or flexible, where you eat where ever you want each night, but with a different waiter and different table each time. We have always preferred fixed seating, as we like to establish a relationship with our waiter. But one of the disadvantages of fixed seating is that a lot of the food has to be prepared at once and can sometimes be overdone. Flexible seating tends to be more cook-to-order, so the food is often fresher, hotter and usually properly done. This is especially important with fish!
– We really liked cruising out of Tampa and did it twice. The city is nice – much like Charlotte in terms of age and size, but on the water. The port is very easy to get in and out of, and parking is a snap.
I’m sure that’s more than anyone wants to read about my vacation, so I’ll leave it at that for now!
One of the things I enjoy while cruising is checking out the huge yachts that appear in Caribbean ports. They can be seen year-around, but mostly during the winter when it’s too cold for the French Riviera or Monaco, I guess. They seem to gravitate toward St. Thomas, St. Martin and San Juan, probably because they have harbors and marinas large enough to handle ships their size, and airports to handle the private jets of the owners. My understanding is that the owners don’t actually sail on them, they just have crew to take the ship to whatever port they wish to sail from, then the owners hop in on the private jet for a long weekend or a week.
Here are two of the notable spottings from our recent cruise.
From Wikipedia: M/Y Eclipse is a superyacht built by Blohm+Voss of Hamburg, Germany. Her exterior and interior were designed by Terence Disdale. The yacht was delivered to Russian businessman Roman Abramovich on 9 December 2010. At 162.5 metres (533 ft 2 in) long Eclipse was the world’s largest private yacht until the Azzam was launched in April 2013, which was 17.3 metres (56 ft 9 in) longer. The yacht’s cost has been estimated at €340 million. (Note: the Carnival ship we were on was 306 meters or 1004 feet long, but carried 4000 passengers and 1400 crew!)
From Wikipedia: The 80m Excellence yacht was built in 2019 by Abeking & Rasmussen. She features an exterior design by Winch and an interior by Winch. She cruises at 14 knots and reaches a top speed of 17.0 kn. She can sleep up to 14 guests taken care of by a crew of 20.
Oh, and while not exactly a superyacht, a properly-equipped catamaran is always a pleasant sight. 🙂
One of the paradoxes of cruising is that while the ships visit beautiful islands, their very presence can detract from what makes the islands beautiful in the first place. Each day we were in Nassau, for instance, there were 5 ships in port, with total passengers of more than 18,000! The entire island of Roatan, Honduras has a population of 50,000. And when there are 3 ships in port, that can add another 8-12,000 people just to the area around the port. Many of those people buy stuff, which is great for the economy, but it can make it hard to enjoy being there.
It’s getting to the point where if you’ve seen one port you’ve seen them all. We joke about it here in the states – every strip mall has a Subway, a dry cleaner, a nail salon and either a CVS or Walgreen’s. Throw in a Chinese restaurant or pizza joint and they are the same everywhere. On cruises – in the event that you have money left over after all the spending opportunities on the ship – you get a “Port & Shopping Map” for every port, which directs you to the so-called “ship recommended” places to buy diamonds, tanzanite (which I think was invented for the cruise passenger!), fancy watches, color changing t-shirts and tote bags, booze, chocolates and on and on. But enough – I want to talk about something fun.
Kathy & I make a point of seeking out places in each port that are off the beaten path, locally-owned & operated and provide a flavor for the place itself. Sometimes it is a nice local restaurant, a beach or just a tour. Where we can, we like to find shops selling things that we are happy to bring home. We found such a place on Roatan, Honduras.
Roatan Island Art is a small craft shop located on the “main drag” of Roatan, about 200 yards from the cruise terminal. I found it on Google Maps and am glad I did, because it isn’t listed on the “Port and Shopping Map.” But it should be! Yeah, you have to walk past all of the “ship recommended” shops and actually leave the port area. Once you say “no, thank you!” to 300 taxi drivers wanting to take you on an island tour, you get to a part of the street with a number of restaurants and the straw market. Directly across the street from the straw market in a colorful and whimsically designed shop is Island Art.
Everything in the store is sourced and hand-crafted by Yourgin Levy, his wife and sons. Yourgin is a native Honduran and is intimately familiar with the indigenous wood, stone, shells and other materials he uses in his work. He speaks passionately about his island, his crafts and his family, and told us that he got his start selling his jewelry on the beach. With encouragement from his wife, family and others he worked hard to get a storefront to sell his goods. The items in the shop and the shop itself reflect the passion he has for his work and his island.
I was especially impressed by the different kinds of wood that Yourgin uses in his work. I don’t remember all the names now, but cedar, mahogany and rosewood were common. These woods are not easy to work with, even with power tools! And the results are just beautiful, with Yourgin’s passion for Roatan showing in each piece, and especially in his descriptions when he tells you about them.
Kathy and I ended up buying a couple small items, a sea jade necklace and a wood wall hanging, mostly because it was the first stop on our cruise and we didn’t want to chance running out of room in our luggage or breaking something on the way home. On a future cruise which stops in Roatan I would definitely plan on buying something larger, like one of the beautiful hand-carved sailboats, a cutting board or serving tray.
Whatever you choose to do on Roatan – and you should do something because it is beautiful – have your driver drop you off at Roatan Island Art. Or just walk there from the ship. And when you get there, take the time to talk with Yourgin and experience the passion and love he has for the island of Roatan and for Honduras. I’ve written this because in my own heart I feel strongly that this man and his shop deserve the publicity. Go there!
Spending a week (or two) aboard a cruise ship with 6000 or so of ones closest friends can be a little challenging, especially for someone who tends to be a little introverted. Yeah, that’s me. Kathy too.
We’ve been on enough cruises to know how to find our own space and can usually do so pretty reliably. During the day there are always a few spots on board that are out of the way and quiet. That usually involves a lounge or the library, but could also mean a sun deck away from the pool or the Promenade, where there is no food or bar service! Of course we could always retreat to the balcony of our own stateroom. We found such places on Symphony of the Seas, but there were also places where it was so noisy that individual voices pretty much disappeared. Those places were never our first choice, but sometimes finding a comfy seat in a noisy place was preferable!
We have come to really enjoy cruising. After this last cruise, which was actually two separate cruises that we sailed back to back, we’ve been on 25 cruises! And we have two more booked, one for later this year and one more in January next year. Needless to say it is an important part of our travel plans.
I’ll have more to say and photos to post about some of the specific ports and experiences from this recent cruise soon. And I still have some posts to write from our trip to Florida. I’d better hurry up though, because it won’t be long until we embark our our next adventure. Stay tuned!
New gallery on my website with some photos from our visits to the Caribbean. Wish we were there now! 🙂
Another highlight of our recent cruise and part of our chef tour was a tour of the galley. We have done galley tours before on numerous cruises, but ordinarily they are held in the morning, and the most exciting thing you see is someone making gravy! For this tour we were taken through the galley during dinner service, and it was quite an experience!
It’s been a long time since I worked in any kind of restaurant environment, and I’m not sure I actually qualify to say that I worked in any kind of restaurant! But the things we found most impressive were how clean and organized things were, and how friendly everyone was, especially while they were busy. I took a lot of photos on this tour, and these are just a few, to give you a “taste” of the experience!
Cedric commented on my last post about how the lack of people contributed to the “Tranquilidad” of the scenes. Of course not all of my photos were devoid of people, as the people are a large part of what makes San Juan special. Here are a few photos “with” people as a counterpoint against those without.
Kathy & I recently returned from a cruise to the Caribbean. We’re getting pretty good at the cruise thing – this was our 23rd cruise – but we’re still practicing!
This cruise was on Celebrity Summit. Celebrity has become our favorite cruise line, mostly because they just know how to do good food and good service. While all of the lines are good, we’ve come to really like Celebrity.
Summit is one of Celebrity’s older ships, but we chose it because it is one of their smallest, at just 2,000 passengers. The ship we were on last year was over 4,000 passengers, while we saw a ship this time that was over 6,000! While I would love to experience one of those ships, that’s just a shipload of too many people!
This cruise was supposed to stop at Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, but Punta Cana doesn’t have a dock for the cruise ships so it is one where they need to take passengers ashore using tenders. The seas were too rough there for tendering, so we ended up in San Juan, PR instead. While we looked forward to Punta Cana, we love San Juan and were not at all disappointed to end up there.
Kathy & I spent our time in port walking around Old San Juan. We had lunch (and Pina Coladas!) at a nice restaurant that claims to be the birthplace of the drink. More to come on that, but for now, here are a few random photos from our time walking the streets of the old city.
I haven’t been terribly motivated to process photos lately but forced myself to get a few done for this post. It’s a tough job and no one is going to do it but me! 🙂
Kathy & I spent the Memorial Day weekend at Half Moon, a resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Quiet and laid back, Half Moon was just the answer to a hectic spring and early summer. I went with only my lowly Olympus point & shoot, but still managed to come home with a few photos.