December 7-13, 2008
Our party consisted of 6 adults ~ 4 of whom had cruised before and 2 who were on their first cruise. Personally, this was my fourth cruise; my third on Royal Caribbean.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the Comfort Inn and Suites on South Federal Highway. All six of us shared a room and there was plenty of room. The hotel caters to cruisers and has a free shuttle to the port. You have to sign up for the shuttle so do this when you get first get there as they have a limited number of free seats available. The hotel offers a simple breakfast in the morning that's included. The hotel was sufficient for the one night we stayed. There are several restaurants within walking distance as well as drug stores and a shopping plaza with grocery and liquor stores.
We got to the port around 12:30 PM and walked right into the terminal. The embarkation process went smoothly and we were in our rooms around 1:00 PM. We had an outside cabin on the 2nd deck. We went up to the Windjammer Café to have lunch. The Windjammer/Jade area was well designed and the area was very neat. This was the only time it was difficult to find a table for six. We toured the ship and found it to be very clean and well maintained as would be expected of a newer ship.
The first day was a cruising day and we spent it on the deck in the sun. Since I don't drink soda, I didn't purchase a soda package and it was disappointing that the bars by the pool didn't serve water, lemonade or ice tea. Every time I wanted a drink I had to go to the Windjammer. We made good use of scoops, the self-serve frozen yogurt machine by the kids' water park.
We enjoyed all the entertainment on the ship especially the ice show, Once Upon a Time Show and the group singing Frankie Vallie. The parade on the promenade was nice, but try to be down at the guest services end of the promenade as there was much more action down there. Also, if you want to sit, you have to get a seat at one of the bars or café promenade very early. Don't forget you must have tickets for the ice show. Tickets are handed out on the promenade and the time and place is announced in your cruise newsletter. Get in line early as they go fast.
We had late seating for dinner and sat at a table for six in the MacBeth Dining Room. Our experience was okay. If I hadn't cruised before, I would have thought it was great, but it seemed like there wasn't enough servers. Our waiter did a great job, but some nights we weren't asked if we wanted anything from the bar and another night we didn't get served coffee with our desert. Minor issues, but they tarnished the overall dining experience. The food was great, we ordered as much or as many as we wanted, and by the end of the week our waiter anticipated our likes and dislikes and served us items before we even asked for them. A few comments about the dress code ~ this was by far the most casual cruise I have been on. There were people in jeans and shorts in the dining room most every night. Also, the smart casual night was replaced by a casual night, which really made the guys in our party angry as they had all specifically packed a blazer for this night. My DH also packed a pair of shoes for this night which he never wore. With airlines now charging all kinds of fees for luggage this was a real problem. We missed the Grand Buffet with all the sculptures and desserts, but enjoyed the midnight buffet out on the deck.
Our first port was Belize and four of us took the Cave Tubing and Aerial Trek offered by the cruise line. We had to tender into Belize so we had to congregate in the theater. This process was less than organized and could have used more staff and possibly some written instructions on a screen or even on a poster. Once at the pier we found our tour guide without trouble. The bus ride to get to the jungle was quite long, but also informative as our guide offered us history and information about Belize. The aerial trek was very well organized and we felt very safe. It was an awesome experience even though I was a bit anxious. We walked through the jungle for about 30 minutes to get to the entrance of the cave for the river tubing. The river had almost no current, so we had to paddle the whole time. I am 5 feet tall and my arms could hardly reach the water to paddle! For me the effort was not worth the scenery. I am sure this is a much better experience when there is a current.
The second port of call was Costa Maya. My DH and I had been here before so we decided not to take an organized tour but just to go into Mahahual to relax on the beach. Right outside the cruise port area you can buy a ticket for $3 for a bus that will drop you off in the village. The people are very friendly but are out to sell their wares. Having been without tourism for over 12 months after Hurricane Dean, we could understand their need for income. There is a row of buildings (mostly bars/restaurants & shops), then a nice brick walkway, then the beach and ocean. The Beach is sectioned off by different colored lounge chairs and each section is controlled by the various bars. All you need to do is buy food and drink from the bar and the lounge chairs/ beach area is free. We walked up and down the beach to see what kind of deal the different bars would give us. We settled on Charlie Brown (I think the bar was named Xtankah). We bought a bucket of Mexican beer for $10 ~ six bottles in the bucket. We also got a plate of chips and picante for free along with a couple of shots of Tequila. Massages were $20 for 30 minutes so some of us got a massage. The bathroom at our bar was very clean, which was not our experience in most places. Charlie Brown and the other staff waited on us hand & foot. They were absolutely phenomenal. While we hung out on the beach different people came up to us to sell us various items as well as play the guitar, take pictures with a huge iguana and various other things that cost money or tips. There were also several shops/booths all along the walk way, some of the merchandise was handmade, while others were typical souvenir quality. You could buy Margaritas for $1 at some of the bars. I would recommend that you bring cash to spend here as most of the merchants don't take credit cards, our bar did take a credit card. We took a taxi back to the cruise port that cost $2. I noticed that a Hard Rock Café was being built just outside the cruise port. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not as I like the authentic Mexican experience that you can get here.
The next day we were docked in Cozumel. The day was very windy and cloudy. All of the water tours were cancelled as there was a storm warning in effect. We had decided to again go to the beach on our own, so we found a tour company ~ I think it was Island Tours ~ that took us for the entire day all around the island in a van for $25. Our driver, Jorge, stayed with us the whole time and gave us a tour and history of the Island. The private beach clubs were not recommended that day because of the weather so we went to the other side of the Island where there are public beaches but no electricity. Our first stop was Chen Rio where there were quite a bit of rocks in the shallows. Since swimming was not recommended, we waded among the rocks exploring the sea life. We had some drinks and then went on to Playa Bonita. Here the waves were high enough to surf and again we had fun in the water and relaxed on the beach. After the beach Jorge took us into San Miguel to shop.
The last day was a cruising day, but was very windy with rough seas. It was so cold we had goose bumps while trying to lie in the sun. We had planned to play miniature golf and possibly try the flow rider, but the weather didn't cooperate.
Overall this was a great experience; however, personally, I'm not sure that bigger is always better.