This was our only excursion but it was a pricey one. Having said that I must say that it was worth every penny, I would do it again. Audra agrees. We met our tour group leader outside the gates at the port area where all the other tour groups were meeting as well. We boarded the bus at 9 am for the UNEXSO facility. Our bus driver was annoying however, he did give out some interesting facts about the area. Once we arrived at the UNEXSO facility we received our wrist bands and free tote bag with scratch off discount coupon for use in the gift shop. The dolphin encounter group road with us on the two boats to Sanctuary Bay. Then they split off to go do their excursion once we arrived. The boat ride over was beautiful through the bay area. The driver was cool and did not try to give us "tour talk" which was nice. He did point out an old pirate ship that had "GHOST" on the side when we passed it. Once we arrive at Sanctuary Bay they give you instructions on what will happen next, what not to do etc,, There are only twelve people in our group. Only six allowed in the water at a time. If you can not swim or if you are not a good swimmer you can use life jackets provided. Everyone must use the flippers. If you can swim in ten feet of water I do recommend that you bring a snorkel mask and skip the life jacket so that you can dive under the water. While the first group of six were in the water we took photos for them on the dock area. The trainers were very friendly, patient and informative. Three female dolphins were in the water in our area, Proballa, Coral and Cayla. Proballa was 8 months pregnant and weighed 600 lbs. Note: she does not like the color red. Two men in our group wore red t-shirts and she did not want to hug or kiss them. Cayla wanted the fish the trainers were rewarding the other two with so she would try to swim with the people in the water when it was not her turn. I thought this was too cute. She popped out of the water twice unexpectedly and surprised (scared) both Audra and I as well...we loved it. When it was our groups turn to enter the water for our free swim, Audra swam with Proballa and I swam with Coral. Only two people do the free swim at a time. The trainers told us that the dolphins enjoy diving. I dove under the water five times with Coral. Each time she swam right beside me within arms length distance and followed me back up to the surface. I could hear her making clicking noises underwater as well. This was just incredible to me. I forgot to mention "swimming with the dolphins" was on my bucket list and something I have been wanting to do for over 20 years. We were told to rub their sides to let them know they were doing well, while swimming next to them. They followed us around in a big circle right beside us the whole time. After our free swim, the six of us lined up a cross in a line. We patted the water in pairs to send the dolphins over to us and the trainers gave us a signal to give the dolphin to perform a trick. (talk, turn in circles, wave or splash). The second time we were able to pick our favorite trick when the dolphin came over. I picked talk because it was so cute to hear them talk. Audra picked splash. After the tricks we all took photos with the dolphins. One with the two of us swimming beside the dolphins together, one individually hugging the dolphin and one kissing the dolphin. When it was my turn to kiss the dolphin Coral was sent over to give me the kiss but Cayla (who is Coral's mom) decided to join her. I have a photo with both dolphins kissing me. This of course just put the icing on the cake for me (so to speak). After the photo session we got out of the water for our own little private dolphin show. All three dolphins flipped and did big tricks in the water together. Once that ended we were able to walk around the bay area to see the large Cockatoos and Parrots. A man brought two birds over to us and placed one on Audra's head and her arm. Then he moved the bird to my arm. They were beautiful birds. He said they could talk but they did not talk to us. Bathrooms and small snack bar area are available here if you need to purchase chips, hot dogs or bottled drinks etc., The boat ride back to the UNEXSO was outside the bay in the open water passing the beaches etc., Beautiful scenery. Once back at the UNEXSO facility you have the opportunity to shop in the gift shop and view & purchase your photos. I found the gift shop to be a little pricey but I did purchase a magnet which was $6 but I was able to use a 15 percent off coupon (the scratch off coupon they gave us). We were hungry by this time and decided to eat the Dive-In Marina Bar & Restaurant at UNEXSO. I ordered the conch fritters and Audra ordered a grilled chicken flat bread. They were both good. We also ordered a fruity beverage for $6.50 which was strong and relaxing. I did not think we were going to be able to walk very far afterward because we were about to fall asleep after that drink. (it was funny). we had told the bus driver we would not be returning to the ship with our group because we wanted to go to the beach. Someone told us where we could find the public access to the beach across from the police station. Well... we walked forever it seemed. I stopped to buy a straw fan that had "Bahamas" on it, as it was HOT! Then Audra and I got into a discussion about what time it was and what time we needed to be back at the ship. Long story short even though I knew we had two and half hours left before we needed to be back at the ship, we turned around and walked back to UNEXSO to find the bus driver. He had not left yet to take the second group back to port. We rode the bus back to port (as it was a free ride) and shopped around a bit in the port area. There was a shop that had $1 key chains and $1.99 shot glasses which I was looking for. Back on the boat after that because we were tired. I was disappointed we missed the beach in Freeport but, we still had Nassau left for that. We were very glad we made it back to the ship on time.
Let me start about saying that Audra and both have been to Key West before. On our previous trips (separately) we covered some of the major highlights such as the Conch Train and the Hemingway House. I also spent a lot of time researching all three ports online to insure we could do something we both enjoy within our budget. We really like to go to the beach, snorkel and shop. We decided to go to Ft Zachary Taylor Park for the first part of the day. We managed to catch a cab van with seven other people out there for only $5 pp including tip there and the same on the way back. The fee to enter the park is $2.50. (That is $12.50 per person for this little "on our own" excursion). It was overcast at the beach which was great as it was not too hot. The sand is rocky and as you enter the water it is also rocky. (swim shoes are a must here) We snorkeled near one area of big rocks. Audra taught me how to use the snorkel gear that I bought for the trip as I really had never snorkeled before but she has many times. I saw about ten different kinds of fish including a barracuda and parrot fish. This was very peaceful for me. I could have watched the fish all day. There is a vendor that rents chairs, umbrellas etc., We brought a beach mat and our own towels. Picnic tables are also under trees not far from the beach. While we were in the water we just left our things on a picnic table. The area was not crowded and most of the people there were from one of the two ships at docked at port. Restrooms, changing rooms, outside showers and a snack bar is also available near the beach.
Around 1:00 pm we called our cab to pick us back up. (he gave us his card). He was on his way to pick up a different group of seven people and we piled in with them. He dropped them off at a fudge place that smelled wonderful because they were cooking the fudge in a big pot. We ask him to drop us off at Garbo's Grill (#4 on tripadvisor.com) which is a tiny food truck stand on Greene's St. Audra and I both ordered the Mahi Mahi Mango fish tacos. They only have about two or three benches under some trees to sit on but, that is part of the experience. The food was delicious! (big pieces of fresh fish on our tacos)
After lunch we walked around to try to find the fudge place that smelled so wonderful. Audra loves fudge. It was during this time that it came a huge down pour even with the rain ponchos I packed ...we got very wet. We shopped at the Key Lime Pie Factory. I enjoyed the chocolate covered mango key lime pie bar very much. We purchased Mango Mango Salsa and Mango Key Lime Marmalade to take back home. Several fudge shops later we finally found the first one we were looking for which was Kilwins. We both enjoyed the free samples. Audra purchased some to take home as well. Another shop we stopped at was Mattheessen & Magilner's Candy Kitchen. I purchased a huge chocolate chip macadamia nut cookie that we finally finished off on our drive back to Texas. After taking photos in Mallory Square and in front of the aquarium we headed back to the ship.
The decision of what to do in Nassau was a difficult one. After hours of reading the forums and searching websites I did come up with a few options within our budget. Everything we really wanted to do seemed kinda pricey. I presented the options to Audra the night before however, we were still unsure when we walked off the ship. So, we stopped and ask one of the Carnival tour guides for their opinion. Safety for two females traveling alone was also a big issue for us. We decided to take the #10 bus out to the Sheraton Hotel on Cable beach and pay the $30 for the day pass. We walked though Festival Place and a band was playing Carribean music with bongo drums. A man motioned for us to come join them. Audra put on a straw hat and sat in front of the drums to play them while I took her photo. I should have taken the time to do this as well but I was anxious to get find the bus (van) and get to the beach. After asking several people where to catch the bus we finally found it the area. A very nice policeman helped us across the street and to the bus stop. The cost is $1.25 and it took about 20 minutes. The driver told us where to go to catch the bus back when he dropped us off in front of the Sheraton Hotel. It is a beautiful place by the way, very clean, very well taken care of. We ask the security guard where we needed to pay for the day pass and he said he thought the beach access was free. We should have ran to the beach at this very moment however, I am paranoid of getting arrested or something silly like that in a foreign country. I ask the lady at the front desk who promptly sold us a wrist band for $30 each. Let me note here that this was worth the money for our safety & security of our belongings, the beauty of the beach, the use of the lounge chairs, towels and umbrella. Plus a life guard is on duty, restrooms, an outside bar and a cafe is also all right there close. There were a few vendors on the beach but, all you had to do is say "no" and they left you alone. Non-motorized equipment was also suppose to be included in the price but it was windy when we got there so all we were able to use where big foam floats (which worked well). The beach and the water were gorgeous. The water is a pretty blue color from a far and clear when you are standing in it. After awhile it started to really get windy. I had been trying to use my float to get over to some rocks to snorkel but, it was just not happening. Audra suggested we get out for awhile. We were getting hungry anyway. So we ordered burgers and fries from the cafe which was pricey and they charge for refills on tea. The burgers were big and the fries were well seasoned. After lunch Audra took a nap on the lounge chair under the umbrella. I saw a man standing near some rocks in the water below his chest. I grabbed my snorkel gear and walked out to the rocks in the water to snorkel. I saw about fifteen different types of fish including Blue Tang, a Starfish and a beautiful black Angel fish. I used up my underwater camera in Key West and Freeport, so I could not take photos here. (next time I will take two underwater disposable cameras). A couple that were staying at the hotel swam over near me to snorkel and pointed out a LION fish and a school of squid. The squid were amazing and about the length of from my elbow to the tips of my fingers. There were five or six of them lined up like soldiers, daring me to come closer. Before too long Audra was calling me from the beach telling me it was after 2:00 pm. I made sure to verify with a crew member on the ship as we were leaving what time it was and what time we needed to be back so that we would not be having the same problem as the day before. (this was for Audra's benefit) We wanted to shop in town for awhile before getting back on the ship. We walked toward the bus stop and flagged down a bus (van) back to town. This driver however charged us $2.50 a piece. We did not mind because that was still very cheap for transportation. (and we tipped him too) We found the little grocery store I was looking for (Bayside Grocery I think is the name of it) to purchase Goombay Punch in a six pack for souvenirs. I was also looking for coconut jam or pina colado jelly but never did find any. We also stopped by the Tortuga Rum store and several other souvenir shops before returning to Festival place to finish our shopping. I purchased a dolphin shaped ornament made from Conch shell for $10 at Sterling Ann's Creations booth. I saw these pictured on one of the forums here on Cruise Critics. Another booth had some straw coin purses with "Bahamas" and "Nassau" sewn on them. I purchased two of these, one has a long strap attached. The last stop was a booth that had hand painted magnets and also some $1 key chains. I bought several key chains for gifts and one Nassau magnet for myself. The clerk gave me change in Bahamian coins. The one that looks like a penny has a starfish on it and the one that is the size of a nickle has a pineapple on it. I kept these for myself as well, Then back to the ship & on time. We really enjoyed the Bahamas.