Cruisin’ the Caribbean

About two ago we ventured from the cold northeast to the warm state of Florida to embark on a cruise of the Western Caribbean.  I believe this is the fourth cruise the missus and I have been on. Previously we did a short Bahamas cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas, an Alaska cruise on Princess’ Star Princess, and an Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Princess’ Crown Princess. We love taking cruises feeling it is an almost ideal way to vacation. We’ve avoided Carnival cruises hearing bad stories, but a friend recently took a Carnival cruise and said he enjoyed it. After finding a good deal on a Carnival’s Valor, we decided to give them a try. We went with another couple who we meet in NY a couple years ago but who have since moved to Atlanta. Executive Summary: A really good time was had by all!

We arrived in sunny Miami on Saturday afternoon. We rented a car and drive to the hotel. The missus’ sister lived in the Miami area for a number of years and had a “favorite seafood place” that the missus wanted to try to locate. As a happy coincidence, that seafood place was actually connected to the hotel we were staying at. The missus and I had a late lunch there while we waited for our friends to arrive (flying in from Atlanta). Once our friends arrived, we all went to do a bit of “last minute shopping” at Walgreens and then it was back to the hotel. We shared a few drinks and some food but called it a night relatively early.

On Sunday morning, we all met up with our niece to have breakfast at a little Cuban diner. Our niece, who also currently lives in Atlanta, happened to be in Miami visiting a friend – what a great coincidence! While the food was just “OK”, we all really enjoyed the Cuban coffee. After breakfast, I took everybody to the ship and returned the rental car. I caught a taxi from the rental car agency back to the ship. Once back to the ship, boarding was quick and easy. The rest of Sunday was mostly just relaxing an unpacking.

Monday was an “at sea” day, so it was mostly just R&R. We spent time visiting with our friends, meeting people, sitting by the pool.

Tuesday we were at Grand Cayman.  We booked a day of snorkeling on the Barrier Reef with our friends. Before the snorkeling we did a bit of “tourist shopping” then took a boat ride out to the reef. The snorkeling was really nice, saw lots of coral and colorful fish.

Wednesday we were at Isla Roatan, Honduras. As we were planning to do scuba diving on the next two days, we decided to just walk around Roatan, do the “tourist” thing. While Isla Roatan has a fair bit of poverty, it wasn’t nearly as depressing as the day we walked around Ocho Rios, Jamaica a few years ago. We walked through many of the little shops and made a few small purchases, but our goal was mostly just to experience the local culture and take lots of pictures.

Thursday we were at Belize. I’ve wanted to dive in Belize since I started diving. The missus got certified, at least to a degree, because she wanted to dive in Belize. The diving operation picked us up with the dive boat right at the ship. We rode from the ship to the dive shop to get everybody geared up. From the dive shop we rode out to the first of the two dive sites. The ride out to the first dive site took about 45 minutes and it was pretty rough – the missus was turning a cute shade of green. We found out later that our dive excursion was the only water excursion that wasn’t cancelled. Once we got to the first dive site, everybody geared up and we went down in small groups of about 6. Our divemaster, William, was the best divemaster I’ve ever had. He was slow and patient. He had a magna-doodle-style slate that he used to name many of the fish. Although this was the missus’ first ocean dive, she performed like a veteran. The first dive lasted about 45 minutes then we had about a 45 minute surface interval during which we snacked, had our tanks changed, and moved to the second site. The dive at the second site went as smoothly as the first dive and also lasted about 45 minutes. In both dives we saw lots of beautiful coral and colorful fish. The colors probably weren’t quite as vivid as normal as the day was somewhat overcast, but we both greatly enjoyed the dives. It was so much fun for me to finally share scuba diving with the missus and I think she really enjoyed it, too. The ride back to the dive shop was also quite choppy, but everybody was having a lot of fun bouncing around and talking that nobody really felt the effects.

Friday we were in Cozumel. The missus and I had intended on doing two more dives, but the water didn’t agree and most of the water excursions were canceled. We opted to do the Fly High Zip Line excursion with our friends. The missus and I have always wanted to try zip lines and they are just as much fun to do as they appear to be when you see them on shows like The Amazing Race. After the zip line adventure, we spent some time doing the “tourist shopping” thing in Cozumel, buying a few t-shirts and such.

Saturday was the second “at sea” day and the last full day of the cruise. We mostly spent the day being lazy, enjoying the time with our friends.

We arrived back in Miami early on Sunday morning. We had breakfast, said goodbye to our friends, and waited for our time to debark (they were able to debark earlier because they had less luggage). The trip through customs took a bit of time, but not too bad. We caught a taxi to the airport and had to wait a few hours for our airplane, but the flight home was eventless.

All in all, it was a great week. We saw and did lots of things and got to spend time meeting new people and catching up with old friends. I think we’ve converted our friends (who had never cruised before) into “cruise lovers”. Now we all just need to save up some vacation and decide where to cruise to next.

One last thought to share. We have now cruised Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Carnival. Of the three, I would say, without hesitation, that Princess is my favorite. Most of the experience is about the same on all three, I think the Princess ships are easier to navigate and more tastefully decorated. We felt Carnival self-promoted a bit too much for our taste — the dancing “Freddy Fun-ship” character was kind of silly. We felt the Carnival Valor was laid out a bit more awkwardly and had fewer show theaters and lounges. While the fewer number of theaters and lounges is likely because of the side of the ship, the difficulty of navigation and the decorations are really a design choice. For our next cruise we will likely try Holland America or return to Princess.

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