First of all, we were a family reunion party of 13 - most from the Houston area, my family of four from Maryland and two from ABQ. We ranged in age from 87 (my mother-in-law was the oldest person who ever went with a Coral Breeze Limited excursion, or so they said, as well as the oldest who ever snorkeled with them - she's an amazing woman) to 16. Four cousins ranged from 16-20 with the rest of the adults in their 50s. Half were new to cruising, and this was our 3rd cruise, 2nd on Carnival: Paradise, Celebrity's Century, and now Elation. Even so, I want to extend my thanks to all our you. I still poured over all your posts and made copious notes.
Having so many together on the cruise allowed for different experiences, and I will try to relate most of them below.
Getting to the Pier: While six of us flew in, none of us stayed in Galveston, so I cannot offer hotel suggestions, but I can pass along my sister's strong recommendation to visit Moody Gardens and NASA if you arrive early for your cruise. We had reservations at EZ Cruise parking, saving money by booking online. The lot is an easy walk to the terminal; none of our drivers decided to wait for the shuttle. They dropped passengers and luggage at the terminal, drove cars to the lot, and walked back; reversing that procedure when we debarked. Traffic was not too bad; just be prepared to be patient.
Embarkation: We were at the terminal by noon, and the lines were minimal and moved quickly. We all had Fun Passes filled out online and were directed to our line which had maybe 50 people in it. Those without the online Fun Pass apparently had no line; go figure. Either that, or we were all directed to the same line anyway! Check in was a snap; we all had passports, and when my own Sail and Sign card was red, white, and blue whereas my family members had gold cards, I mentioned I, too, was a past cruiser, and the employee quickly changed that in the computer. After the obligatory "welcome aboard" photo, we headed to the gangway. While I missed the white-gloved waiters and complimentary champagne Celebrity offers, we were not disappointed with our initial view of the Grand Atrium. Everyone was excited. We decided to see if we could drop carry-ons in our rooms (we could), and we headed (where else?) for the Tiffany's buffet.
The Ship: Addicted to these boards, I expected to see the stained carpets, but truthfully, I did not notice any until at least halfway through the cruise. We were on the Upper deck (outside), and our floor appeared in great shape. I will say portions of the stairs carpets in all locations could stand replacing. We did see people cleaning the ship frequently, although I have to feel for them when they must pick up after thoughtless cruisers who leave cups on the stairs or drop a plate of French fries and deign to pick up after themselves. This I do not understand, and I saw it on Celebrity, too. I guess some guests feel they are there to do nothing for themselves. Anyway, owing to the constant upkeep, the ship really looks great. The atrium is lovely, the artwork hanging on the walls is very good, and the large murals on each floor are colorful and artwork in themselves.
I am not a sun worshiper, so I did not hang out by the pool. However, I did see lounge chairs available, albeit with plenty of "reserved" ones, too. Our biggest complaint was the lack of lounges on decks other than Lido and even on Lido outside of the pool area. We love to find a secluded corner, lounge, read, and watch the ocean. That was quite difficult. We lugged chairs more times than we liked, and my non-complainer husband even went to the desk about this.
Our Room: We had a room for 4, with two drop-down beds. Ours "kids" are 16 and 20, and it is getting harder to share one room the more clothes they bring :-) But we still managed, and honestly, the rooms are well-constructed. We found room for all our clothes - assigned drawers and shelves and hanging space to each of us. The biggest challenge is all getting ready for dinner at the same time. We made good use of each other's cabins for showers. We felt no ship movement until the day we picked up speed (we were on the cruise that turned around to search for the missing woman), and even then we felt the rocking movement to be pleasant.
Kudos to our room steward Angel for waiting for our late risers and for keeping our room very nice. We wrote him notes, and he always attended to our requests. Three suggestions: if you are pressed for space, ask the steward to remove the water and bottled sodas from the desk. If you want the twins pushed together, ask that they be made us as a queen. Otherwise (as with us), you'll get them pushed together, but made up individually. And be sure to bring a power strip. The bathroom outlet is only for shavers. And the room only has one outlet, and the kids had cell phone chargers, iPod chargers, and camera chargers.
Of course, the towel animals are such a treat. The elephant is the best. Carnival asks you to consider reusing towels (which we did), but I think we got our sheets changed every day. So nice: those crisp sheets. The beds are extremely comfortable. I don't know if the mattresses are new, but from reading these boards, I knew to expect new comforters and pillows. They were beautiful - but white? How long will they stay lovely? One comforter already had a stain.
The bathroom had a bowl of samples: razors (male and female), shampoo samples, small toothpaste, small bar of soap, and floss. We distributed the samples we would use to the medicine cabinet (very handy with 3 long shelves) and put the bowl in the cabin out of the way. The shower had dispensers for body wash and shampoo.
Entertainment: We went to every show. I recommend getting to the Mikado Lounge early. You're asked not to save seats, but with 13 of us, we tried -- we just sat a little spaced out, so that when others of our party arrived (never late - we wouldn't be "saving" any seats even 20 minutes before a performance), we could squeeze together. The balcony has more obstructed views, so we tried for the first floor - although the seat backs are uncomfortable; they only come halfway up your back. If you want fuller support, aim for one of the circular booths. They are very comfortable - just further back.
The two comedians were very funny, but if you have small children, beware that they (and even the cruise director) occasionally swear, even in the "family hour" shows. A few in our party went to the midnight R-rated comedy shows, and they had (according to my sources) enough vulgarity; coarse, suggestive jokes; and profanity to warrant the "R" rating. For myself, I just don't get that - I enjoyed both comedians and would have loved to see another show but not one that would definitely offend. Why not have two all-audience shows?
The entertainer who balances everything in sight is pretty amazing, but the one-trick-pony did get a little old after awhile. Still, he was impressive.
The two Las Vegas-style shows were just that: lots of singing, dancing, fancy costumes. As one of our group put it, be prepared for "thong city." Again, considering Carnival's reputation for family appeal, many of us in the group were surprised at the revealing costumes. Others in our group did not mind at all :-) The Latino singer is very good. His voice was showcased one evening.
The last night's act -- a variety performer - was (I'm sorry to say) a little long in the tooth. His Bobby Darin style seemed out of place, but when he played the sax and harmonica -- wow. He would have done better to leave out the really lame jokes and the singing and just stayed with the two instruments.
The lounges offered a variety of music in the evenings - some for dancing, some for listening (piano bar), some for laughing (Karaoke). The guest talent show was also enjoyable.
Day-time shows were also fun. The Newlywed show is always fun -- a bit racy at times, yes, but still hilarious -- and they have been on all 3 of our cruises. Don't miss the Liar's Club; that was a riot. Pool side games are a bit cheesy - hairy chest contest - but they're also part of the "Fun Ship" atmosphere. More kudos to the assistant cruise directors for making even a silly game such fun - especially the hairy chest contest (really! Go - you won't be disappointed) and synchronized swimming. A couple of the game shows involved the entire audience, which I thought was a nice touch, rather than just watching 3 contestants on stage.
On the last sea day, we went to country line dancing lessons. That was very fun, and I wish they had had more of those throughout the sea days. Actually, I would have liked to have had more activities that didn't involve games - short lectures perhaps, a galley tour, a cooking demonstration, that sort of thing. Even so, we all stayed as busy as we wanted throughout the day. The art auction was enjoyable. The cabins have 3 movies on each day, and twice during the week the Cole Port lounge showed a movie on their big screen.
Past Carnival cruisers are invited to a party. Complimentary drinks were served, as they were at the Captain's Happy Hour before the first formal night. Happy hour was for everyone, and we were impressed that an assortment of free drinks was available.
Finally, the cruise director Jorge is very funny.
Formal Dining Room: We are not culinary snobs. That is not to say, however, that none of us doesn't know how to appreciate a good, well-presented meal. And in that, the dining room did not disappoint. Is it 5-star dining? No, but how could it be with hundreds of diners to serve at a time? Our service was good, and we were all pleased with the variety in dining room selections - plenty of beef, chicken dishes, vegetarian offerings, seafood galore (the grouper was great). We never hesitated to order several starters or main courses, and even when we did order, say, two entrees, we were never discouraged or made to feel like gluttons :-) Desserts were not as consistent. Stay away from the cakes -- all (even in Tiffany's) were dry, except (of course) for the cake con leche and the last evening's decadent chocolate cake. Well, anything chocolate was delicious for me. We felt a bit rushed with the 5:45 seating. Each evening the waiters danced or sang; I loved this. Incidentally, espresso and cappuccino were free each meal. Additionally, you can order something even if it does not appear on the menu. We were informed by our waiter a filet mignon was available each evening if nothing else appealed. One night, my daughter didn't find anything to her liking, but since a spaghetti dish was offered, she asked if she could get it with just a tomato sauce. Yes. I also requested fresh fruit as a starter a couple of nights and got that. Don't be afraid to ask.
We ate breakfast in the formal dining room twice, once with very quick, attentive service. The second time was debarkation day. Service was not as quick, and they were out of many things. You might prefer Tiffany's, although a quick pass through there revealed much-reduced cereal box offerings, etc. Still, the dining room offers almost all the selections you can get in Tiffany's. We also ate formal lunch twice for a change and another chance for everyone to gather.
Tiffany's: The buffet lines were never too long; just be prepared to get behind the one cruiser who needs to fish through each pancake or riffle through the bacon pan for that perfect slice. The omelet line naturally gets a little long because they are individually prepared. While it is not mentioned on the menu there, you can ask for Egg Beaters, and I also requested he not use any oil in my omelet pan (it had enough residual oil to allow for ease of cooking and flipping). Both requested were handled graciously. On one day I really enjoyed the pasta bar -- choose between two pastas, and have the cook prepare your own sauce with add-ins such as mushrooms, red pepper flakes, garlic, etc. That was the best Tiffany's meal I had. Unfortunately, it was not available every day. Each day, Tiffany's offered one ethnic buffet. Plenty of hot foods there and in the other, more traditional buffet. Back of Tiffany's, you can make a green salad with any number of ingredients or a fruit plate with all fresh fruit. Sandwiches are also available. The pizza station stays open 24/7, and I liked the goat cheese and mushroom pizza. Service was attentive here and cleanup fairly prompt. One day, a waitress brought a tray and loaded my dishes on it (I was balancing a couple of dishes in line) and would not let me take it to my table. On the last sea day, Tiffany's hosts a chocolate buffet -- don't miss that! Also offered were sugared nuts; the pistachio clusters are excellent. In case you stay hungry,. Tiffany's reopens each night at 11:30. One night was a Mexican buffet, another a French crepe bar.
Midnight Buffet and Room Service: This was our third one, but they do not disappoint. Just amazing what these chefs can create and how decorative and inventive they are. Lines open at 11:15 for pictures. Only one in our group returned to eat, and she said it took an hour to get through the line. I was slightly hungry, though (must have been photographing all that food that did it), and ordered room service. That menu (find it in the leather portfolio in your stateroom) offers things not available anywhere else on the ship. I highly recommend the open-faced shrimp sandwich, the southwest wrap, and the refried beans/lettuce/cheese in a tortilla. Room service is free, but we tipped $1-2 each time. We ordered breakfast on port days; set out your menu selections the night before (again, find these in the same portfolio).
Ports of Call: While Carnival sells iced bottled water and underwater cameras as you go ashore, I highly recommend taking your own empty water bottles in your luggage and filling up with ice and water in Tiffany's the morning of your excursions; wrap the bottle in a towel, and it will stay cold for a good while. I also recommend buying your underwater cameras before you go, or be prepared to pay double the cost.
Progresso: Yes, it is hot. Still, do get off the ship, but take a hat, use sunscreen and take a water bottle. All but one of us went to Dzibulchaltoun (spelling?). Chichen Itza was a definite draw, but none of us wanted to spend 2-2.5 hours each way on a bus. From the Ports of Call board, I felt very prepared for this day's excursion, prepared enough to do it completely on our own (and save quite a bit of money over Carnival's tour). We decided to hire a taxi to get to the Dzib. ruins, return to the ship for anyone who was hot and tired, and then proceed to Merida.
Once off the ship, you will pass through a handful of stores as you make your way to the 7-mile long pier and the free shuttle into Progresso. I thought we would have to take the shuttle and then get a taxi to the ruins. Not so. A taxi service is right there, with posted priced to various sites of interest. Right there was the price I knew to expect from the Progresso board. But we were a party of 12, so we asked how much for us all to go together: $80. That included the 25 minute or so drive there, the driver waiting for two hours, and the return trip. Along the way, the driver stopped for a photo op - a very old church. He did not, however, speak much English, and when I asked "how old," he obviously did not understand. When I asked "vieja," he seemed to understand but said he didn't know. Still, it was a nice gesture for him to stop. Once at Dzib., he offered to take us to Merida afterward for an additional $40. We said we would hold off on deciding.
Lots of confusion at the entrance. You will pay $6, but nowhere in English is that posted, and the employees spoke very little English. If you want to take your camcorder, you'll pay just $3, but at first they said $30 -- turns out that was pesos. After we paid, it seemed we then needed wrist bands, and that took a while to sort out. We wasted a lot of time there -- well, it didn't seem like a lot of time, but remember, your driver is waiting just two hours
I also knew from these boards to hire a guide, and this I also recommend. Explanatory signs are not very plentiful, and a guide will also tell you much more. While I read the price could be anywhere from $15-25, we were a party of 12, and when the first guide we approached said $25, we didn't try to bargain. He was very informative, but I recommend telling your guide you only have two hours (if that is the case). He spent a long time in the sculpture gardens and the museum -- very interesting, but we finally told him our time constraints, and he fast-tracked the rest of the museum. On our approach to the ruins, he drew in the sand to explain the astronomy applications and calendar use of the ruins. Very interesting. Then we walked and were allowed to climb the main ruin. After that, he explained more of the buildings on the acreage as we walked toward the cenote. By now it was sunny (we had enjoyed lovely overcast skies up to then) and muggy, and some of our party went back to the museum. At the cenote, our guide talked more. Plenty of people were swimming, but we didn't. I walked to the water's edge and was surprised how warm it was. I figured it would be cooler than that. Plenty of water lilies dot the surface, and it is shady and very pretty there.
On our return walk, we all decided we were too hot to go on to Merida and do it any justice. I am sorry for that, for I was looking forward to the architecture. But walking around appreciating old buildings and the beautiful European style boulevard just wasn't going to happen -- the heat was just too intense. Sorry, hdawson!! But if we went again during cooler months, I would definitely work in both.
Cozumel: This was our second time there. Our party of 13 split up at this port. Four went to Chankanaab for the two cousins to swim with dolphins. Taxi was $10 for the 4 (one way), and entry to the park is $12 (maybe $12.50). We arranged the dolphin swim online though to save money and to be able to stay at Chankanaab afterward (which you can't do if you go with Carnival). It's a pricey excursion but well worth it. When Dolphin Discovery did bot have the time slot we wanted, we used www.shoretrips.com, but other sites sell the same tour -- all for $125 for the interactive swim. A CD of the swim is available afterward; you do not have to watch it, but you are given the opportunity. The gift shop needs to work on speeding up the process of getting photos, paying, etc. While cash is needed elsewhere in Chankanaab, you can use a credit card here. Before their dolphin swim, this party of 4 chose to snuba. $53 each, and just the 4 of them were with their guide. Everyone loved this. In fact, my sister said she almost wished to cancel the dolphin swim and snuba more. My daughter concurred, but then she had swum with dolphins before. The guide explained the workings of snuba well and was good to point out fish, coral, etc. He took video and still pictures (both of which are included on his CD to purchase) and also took pictures using our cameras. My sister bought the CD and intends to print out the still shots. Evidently, all four felt their guide went beyond their expectations, for they tipped him $25. Even after their Belize excursions, these four ranked snuba highest. Now that she's home, my 17 year old daughter continues to say this was the highlight of the trip.
Another foursome went to the two-reef snorkeling with Eagle Ray Divers. I'm sorry I cannot report on the cost of their taxi to the dive shop, but they were quite complimentary of Eagle Ray and very happy with the fish they saw. One of their party did a scuba dive at one of the reefs. You can book directly with Eagle Ray at their website.
The rest of us went to Dzul Ha. As my family had snorkeled at Chankanaab on a previous cruise, we wanted something different, and again the Ports of Call board was extremely helpful. Many concurred that Dzul Ha offers the best off-shore snorkeling, and I can say it is better than Chankanaab, not that Chankanaab doesn't offer good snorkeling. As per the Ports of Call board suggestion, we downloaded coupons for free entrance to the Palmar Estate Beach Club (www.cozumelinsider.com) which is directly across the road from Dzul Ha. Our taxi for 5 was $12 (one way - and be sure to confirm before you get in the taxi), and the ride is but 10 minutes or so. When the driver didn't seem to recognize the name "Palmar Beach Club," I said it was between Fiesta Americana and El Presidente Hotels. When he still seemed puzzled, I said "Dzul Ha," and off we went. He pulled directly into Palmar's driveway, so I guess he knew all along or recognized it the closer we got. Palmar Estate is just that - an estate with a beautiful, large white stucco mansion. We inquired and were given a card explaining it is a 5 bedroom "condominium" available for $4,000/week. I don't think anyone was a tenant at the time - maybe in the off season? Anyway, we gave our coupons to a friendly employee who, with limited English, showed us the "shower" (a hose), the bathrooms (large and immaculate), and the food counter/menu. Chairs were already set up at their section of Dzul Ha beach, and the sign on that spit of beach says "Palmar Estate Beach Club." Since we arrived early, we had the place to ourselves - another party of 8 showed up two hours later, and shortly after that, many excursion boats (glass bottom and snorkeling) started coming close by. So I guess it is popular. Anyway, it was wonderfully secluded for a couple of hours, so I suggest going early. We enjoyed Palmar's food. After the first spurt of snorkeling, we had their chips/guacamole, salsa platter ($5). Be patient. He makes the guacamole while you wait! If you do not like onions, be sure to ask him to make the guacamole without, or you will have almost as many onions and avocado! The two salsas (one pico de gallo) were good, too, and the portions were large. After snorkeling again, we ordered chicken taco platters ($7) and bottled water (small, $2 -- soda cans were also $2). Again, good portions. While the tacos were just tortillas with shredded chicken (tasty but needing salt and spice or salsa, to our tastes), they did come with - again - freshly made guacamole and salsas. Other items were on the menu: quesadillas, even a hot dog. Aside from the slightly overpriced drinks, I thought the prices were reasonable and the portions generous.
Now for the snorkeling: we saw plenty of colorful fish, and if you swim further out, lots of coral. Shore snorkeling is adequate, but truly, go out further for more variety. Just be prepared for a strong current. Foolishly, I did not rent fins (we had our own snorkels and masks). If you are not a strong swimmer (floating is extremely easy, so a vest is not mandatory), rent the fins. From the Ports of Call board, I had gotten the notion that if you drift with the current (as I did, and I was seeing great "stuff"), then just get out at Fiesta Americana's shore line and walk along the street back to Palmar's "beach." Well, easier said than done. While the hotel looks close, when you're tired, it starts to look pretty far. I started swimming closer to shore and lost the current, which was good and bad. Now I had to actually swim, not just drift, to get anywhere, and I got very tired. I knew I could not make it to Fiesta Amer., and while I wasn't exactly panicking, I was not comfortable. I was very close to shore, and the waves were breaking and splashing, so a look underwater revealed I would have a difficult time getting ashore there, so I continued to swim toward F.A. Well, soon I realized I would just have to risk scraped knees or whatever, and so I found a small ledge with not too much outcropping of rocks/coral under the water's surface, and I struggled but pulled myself out of the water. I hesitate to admit I stepped on some coral -- maybe it was just rocks at that point, I hope - to boost myself up and out. I then walked through some high grass (a large iguana started me by walking in front of my path) and followed the road back. I was reckless in not snorkeling with anyone else in our party, but I had gotten out to retrieve my camera, and when I returned to the water, my husband was too far away to catch up to. So, my advice -- do not snorkel alone (boy, was I foolish and had my party worried about me), and get those fins! Aside from that, you will not be disappointed in the abundance of fish and coral.
Our return taxi was $7 for 3, as two others had returned earlier to shop. Make sure to indicate exactly the pier you want. We said "downtown pier," which is exactly what the Carnival rep told me when we got off the ship, and the driver took us to the downtown shopping area. Since he had to turn around when we pointed to our ship, we gave him an extra dollar. The other two in our party returned for $5. Be prepared to stand on the street to hail a cab from Palmar - they do not call one for you. But cabs frequent the street - it's just when you're hot and ready to go that not a one seems to appear!
Belize: Again, we experienced three different excursions. Five went with Coral Breeze to snorkel, scuba dive, and fly fish. Coral Breeze gets excellent write-ups on the Ports of Call board, so check them out over there. Our party highly agrees with that estimation. This party had to get tender tickets, and my sister-in-law says just to be patient. If you think you're in a line to get a ticket, you probably will be annoyed at those who rush the stage to get tickets when someone does show up. She went at 8:15, and while she was told everyone in her party had to be present, she soon realized that wasn't true - just ask for the number of tickets you need. She said everyone around her got tickets for the first tender, and waiting in that line was the most tedious. Coral Breeze was waiting for them at the Wet Lizard right at the pier. They boated to Caye Caulker to drop off lunch orders as well as the scuba diver and fly fisherman. Both had almost private tours. High winds made fly fishing very difficult, unfortunately. The scuba diving was very good, "awesome" in my 16 year old nephew's words. Be prepared to go in a small boat and forge through potentially high waves to get to the scuba site, but apparently it is worth it. They go to the edge of the reef. The rest dropped off lunch orders and went to snorkel - excellent -- and then to the rays -- also an amazing experience. Coral Breeze was very attentive to my 87-year old mother-in-law, and she got her own private guide!
Four others went on the canopy tour. While this is well done -- sightseeing info. along the 1-1.5 hour drive, securely harnessed, etc. -- and the ziplines are exhilarating, this party saw no birds or animals but did marvel at the beauty of the jungle. If you want to take pictures, get in front of the other members of your party so you can stand on the platform and snap away as they come in for a landing. No professional photographers or videographers are there (imagine that). While this is definitely a unique experience, none in the group thought it was worth the $98 (we went through Carnival as I couldn't find any private operators who had been used by Cruise Critic members), and 3 wished they had snuba-ed again instead. The whole excursion lasts 5 hours or so, with a lot of waiting while others are tethered and put on the zipline. Take snacks as you will not be given anything but water and maybe fruit juice (I forgot to ask them). Also, take some money with you -- we assumed since it was a Carnival excursion (so they were picked up from the ship and did not have to tender with the masses), they would be brought back directly to the ship for security reasons. Not so - they are left at the pier. So, you can shop there before you head back to the ship. Only one in our party left with any money at all, so she became an ATM as well as an aunt.
The rest of us, myself included, went on Carnival's Goff's Caye snorkeling excursion. We met in one of the lounges, and our excursion boat picked us up right at the ship, which is a plus. We considered trying to get to Goff's Caye on our own, but we worried that we wouldn't figure out the water taxi well enough. I'm sure, though, you could save some money. We paid $65 each, and I think the water taxi is $17.50 (one way?). The excursion boat held 40-50 people, and while we motored to the reef, the guides talked a little, passed around laminated cards with fish, coral, and plant life we could expect to see (well, might see), and fitted us with fins. Here I did use fins :-) We all had to don a life vest, too, although they said we did not have to inflate them unless we wanted. They showed how to do that as well as how to deflate. Pay attention to how to tighten the crotch strap -- when they say it should feel like a "wedgie," believe them! Mine wasn't tight enough, and I was constantly trying to get the vest away from my neck. We spent an hour easily at the reef. Three guides were in the water with us, and we were told to periodically lift our heads and stay close to at least one guide. I recommend doing this - while we could always see a guide, I learned later that the guides dove and pointed out fish, coral, etc. I am sorry I missed that. This time, I stayed close -- hand-in-hand -- to my husband! We saw amazing fish - the deeply blue fish was our favorite - and lots of coral heads. Then we got back in the boat and went to the tiny Goff's Caye, and I mean tiny. You can walk tip to tip in a few minutes. But it is quite picturesque -- palm trees and white sand. There are two portapotties, but I didn't use them. There is a small shack to buy snacks and drinks - I saw a menu (they grill lobsters and chicken kabobs, too, which smelled wonderful) but no prices. We drank the provided water and really weren't hungry - we'd be back at the ship at 12:30 anyway. I did not like the island part of this excursion. Yes, you can snorkel from shore, but you have to wade through a lot of seagrass. It is very shallow, and I did snorkel -- saw brain coral and some fish, so it wasn't a complete waste. If you just want to relax on a white sand beach, then this would be good. Here is what I wished I had done: 1) When we had to leave the reef, I should have asked if some of could stay in the water with one of the guides (or be brought back after dropping others off at the island), and 2) Once at the island, I should have asked one of the guides where to go snorkeling off the little island. I do recommend going off the side the boats dock on; I saw more fish that way. Maybe then a guide would have taken some of us out. For $65, I wanted two hours of reef snorkeling, and I only got an hour. Do walk around the island, and take in all the views of the gorgeous Belizean water -- the shades of blue, aqua, turquoise are breathtaking.
Once back on Elation, we ate showered, ate lunch, and took a tender to the pier. Within the Tourism Village are many, many shops, and we stayed there, so I can't say what it is like outside that walled compound although my husband did go into a courtyard (with more shops/stalls) and could hear the people on the other side calling for business, saying they needed money for food, etc. He found that fascinating. Anyway, with the Village, the first shops you come to are outdoors, and they will barter with you, and we found the best prices there, too. I got great key chains for $2 (no bartering) which I saw for $3 further into the Village. I got a Mayan calendar plaque whittled down from $15 to $10 -- and they probably still made money, of course!! Be sure to ask for change in American dollars. The inside, air conditioned stores had higher prices, but I didn't see anything I needed to bargain on. My sweet husband, though, persuaded me to get the jade necklace I was eyeing at the Belize Museum store. It is a replica of a Mayan museum piece. I have no idea if I got a good price, although I am convinced I bought real jade. No bartering here, not that I even tried. They took a credit card, but I'm not sure how many of the stores do.
Debarkation: Since our cruise was the one with the rescue mission, we were not into port until 8:30. Then, from what I understand, the FBI came aboard. We were the 5th group to be called (did not attempt self-debarkation) -- well, 7th if you count self-debarking guests as well as special needs guests -- and didn't get off until 11 a.m. We just sat in chairs by the pool.
We enjoyed our cruise very much, and while it may not be as elegant as Celebrity or offer as many varied daily activities, we would still recommend the ship and itinerary.