Thursday, March 12 found us tendering in Belize City, Belize.
This was a MESS! We had room service breakfast at 6, watched the ship port, and, after yesterday's need of a tardy pass, we were in the lounge well before our appointed time today.
It went very well, although it was running about 10 minutes behind, until about the time our number (45) was called. Just about the time 45-47 were called those who had priority tendering from milestone status or FTTF were also released to go to the tenders from the area where they had been stationed. So, suddenly, the stairs were clogged with both sets of people vying for the same area and space. We were on the stairs for 45 minutes as we attempted to go down 3 flights of stairs to get to the tender. It was a mess! Members of our excursion were on 3 or 4 different tenders. We took the tender and then immediately got on another (tender size) boat to get to our excursion on Caye Caulker for the Sharks, Rays and Island Getaway, and, although it didn't take but about 10 minutes to gather everyone from the various tenders, by then we were an hour late getting started. Our excursion was supposed to be 5 1/2 hours and it was, we got back about the time the ship should have sailed. There were 3 other excursions later than us so we sailed about 30 minutes late. Pretty impressive, all in all, that it wasn't much later.
The excursion was wonderful. It takes about a hour to get to the island but there is some sightseeing involved on the way there. There is a brief stop to order lunch and change clothes/take a potty break before reboarding the boat and heading to the sandbar to find the nurse sharks and sting rays. We also saw Mangrove Forests and lots of cool islands and houses on the way to Caye Caulker. During that break a gentleman from the island brought a sea star (starfish) for us to see. Kristie is a biology major who teaches high school science. She was most intrigued with it as was her nephew. She reminded us that most sea stars can only live an hour or two out of water, this one was out of water about 10 minutes.
We saw lots of sting rays. I have "done" Sting Ray Alley in Grand Cayman. I liked it better from the point of view that I thought the guides were more interesting and explained things better. Our guide this time just kept saying, "Be careful where you step.". Well, Duh.
Our guides in Grand Cayman explained to "scoot" along the sea floor, never raising your feet, so as not to accidentally step on a ray. I showed that technique to Colton and he was good to go. We were in very shallow water so even he could touch the watery ground.
There were lots of rays of varying sizes. We also saw lots of conch shells.
It was a bit cloudy and Colton got cold. I took him back to the boat and the others went with our guide to the reef for some more snorkeling.
Although the excursion is billed as "Rays and Sharks" the nurse sharks were in low supply.
Colton and I saw two sharks. One small one as we got back on the boat and another (maybe the same one although it seemed larger?) as it swam under the boat and out the other side. Katie and Kristie saw one as they were swimming back from the reef.
After everyone was back on the boat we headed back to Caye Caulker for lunch. It was a tasty lunch, ready for us as soon as we got there since we had placed the order earlier. The price was good but I didn't have anything but 20 dollar bills so I needed change...which arrived in Belize money. I left part as a tip and gave the rest to our room steward. We ate at pre-assigned tables. Ours was next to a grill area that had tables and swings for chairs. Colton played on the swings as we were getting settled and our food was arriving and again after lunch.
Without the stops we made going to the Caye it was a shorter (and speedwise must speedier) ride back to the port.
The captain of our excursion boat said he used to tender his excursions directly to the ship but that Carnival has told him he can no longer do that so we got off one boat and onto a tender and then off that tender boat and onto the ship. We got back to the ship about the time it should have been sailing and there were 3 or 4 excursion groups still
In November when I told my daughters what I wanted to give them for Christmas Katie immediately sat down with Colton to show him photos and YouTubes of Carnival Ships, Sunshine in particular, and shore excursion ideas.
He saw a dolphin and, remembering a trip to Sea World two summers ago, asked if he could pet a dolphin. She laughed and told him maybe. When she told me what he'd said I decided to make certain it happened. On Christmas morning when he checked his stocking to see what Santa had left there was a photo of the Dolphin Swim and Lunch shore excursion and a note from Santa explaining that Colton would have to wait until Spring Break to get to use his gift. Almost as wonderful as his reaction? Children 5 and under are free with a paying adult. HavinsNest Family Motto? Never pay full price.
Friday in Cozumel was Colton's big day. We got up early, had breakfast and set out for our excursion, again making certain to arrive early at the meeting spot. When Santa booked this excursion it was for Chankanaab National Park but by the time Spring Break arrived it had moved to Dolphinaris. I can't rave enough about this excursion.
The downside was: Went to the Dolphin excursion and two tickets said Dolphin Swim and one said Dolphin Encounter. The guides put me in the Swim since they could see a mistake had been made. They explained to Carnival as I was listening. Should have been $38 difference but when we got back from the Dolphins to discover I had been charged another $129 for the Swim. Never have gotten my refund..
It was very well organized (although they do exit you through their photo sales area) and it was lots of fun. Life jackets are required, an all you can eat buffet lunch is included, the trainers are very knowledgeable (ours was quite passionate about the animals), and the 40 minutes in the water with the dolphins seems much longer. They run a lot of people through this place (I admit to wondering about the dolphins although they seemed in great health and appeared to be enjoying showing off - one of them kept nudging Kristie as though she wanted a "love"). There are 20 dolphins and I think I counted 8 pods of people, each with two dolphins. There is a separate area for Dolphin Encounter people so that is probably where the other 4 dolphins were. They do not allow you to use cameras in the water. Supposedly for the safety of the dolphins. Perhaps so but it certainly helps their bottom line since they sell a lot of photos and videos of their own that way.
We got our wrist bands and headed towards the lockers - rental was just a couple of bucks, as I recall. You can snorkel and swim after your dolphin time but we chose to eat, do a little shopping (had to buy The Boy a shirt and stuffed dolphin, doncha know?), and watch other groups in the water. The excursion is over at a set time - a 3 hour excursion. Taxis take you to the Dolphinaris and pick you up from there arriving about every 5 - 10 minutes so I got the impression you could stay a while longer if you were so inclined. We left just after the 3 hour point and did a little shopping in the terminal area as we wandered back to the ship.
I have a KYSS bag, purchased with this trip and our June cruise in mind. This excursion was when we test drove it. I love it. So did the girls. I will be purchasing one for each of them. I highly recommend it. It held everything we took with us (including 4 Carnival towels and Colton's Batman towel) and still had room. The lock was easy to use and it held fast. Don't know why I didn't invest in one before now.
We are rule followers (and I detest being late to anything) so we sat in our room and patiently waited to hear a "we have been cleared and you can leave the ship" announcement which we've had on past cruises. At about 9 o'clock, knowing our excursion was at 10) Kristie called to check with Guest Services to be told, "Oh, we didn't make an announcement today but you can leave at anytime.". O-Kay. Gathered up and headed out.
After checking ship's time with my watch (mine was a minute faster) left the ship, had our photos taken, and then we scurried to the meeting spot at the end of the pier for our tour... only to find we were late! Luckily only a few minutes late and they hadn't left yet so we hurried to the little boat we were taking and climbed on; we were not the last 4 passengers to arrive. It seems others had been waiting for an announcement, too. There were announcements the other two days, by the way.
I began investigating underwater cameras months ago. After lots of research and many recommendations I settled on the Olympus Tough - 820. This trip was our first experience underwater with it. It did so well I bought a second one during the cruise to give to Kristie to take to their new home on the Persian Gulf.
This excursion was great.from the moment we got on the boat until the moment we got off. The food, the beach, the snorkeling, the hospitality, everything. LOVED it and will do it again.