Port and Shore Excursions
Belize: Tendering was an organizational nightmare. We woke up early to get tender tickets and were lucky enough to get Boat #1…which is actually like Boat #5 because they let all the passengers doing ship excursions off first (even though our tour left just as early). The tender ride was about 15 minutes and then we had a short walk to the Radisson hotel to meet our tour. We had booked a combo tour for zorbing/cave tubing/ziplining. Again, it was just my sister and I so we had a private ride to the start of the tour (just under an hour drive). When we arrived, we were informed that due to some sort of issues with private tour operators vs. ship operators, we were not allowed to use the ziplining and that instead our price would be reduced to the cost of the other two activities. I was stressed at this point because the price for the other two activities was barely discounted from our original three-activity price and we never would have chosen that tour given the new price. After some persistence, we were able to compromise that they would substitute repelling for the ziplining and we were happy with that arrangement. Our first activity was the zorbing, which is where you roll down a hill in an inflatable 11-foot ball. I was freaking out a little because I tend to get claustrophobic and being strapped to the inside of the ball made it even worse. Thankfully, the ride was only 45 seconds long. On the other hand, my sister loved it!! From there we had a fairly strenuous hike through the rainforest up to the top of a cliff. There, we geared up to begin our 180-foot descent down the cliff to the start of the cave system. This was a bit scary (and my sister dreaded every moment of it) but overall exhilarating. Lastly, we jumped in the river and swam around a bit before getting into our tubes for our trek through the caves. This was my favorite part of the whole trip. Since there were only 4 of us in our group (me, my sister, and 2 guides) it was very dark and quiet in the caves. I really think that added to the experience versus going in a group of 20+ people. We probably tubed about 45 minutes, but I wish we had time for more. Afterwards, we ate a delicious lunch and headed back to the port for some shopping.
Costa Maya: We were one of the first people off the ship in Costa Maya since we had to make the most of our time with only 8 hours in port. We had booked a combination tour of Chacchoben ruins and snorkeling with an independent operator. It ended up being only my sister & I on the tour, so we had a private tour. On the way, we stopped at a roadside stand to buy some fresh pineapple. It was served with a dried jalapeno powder and limon (similar to a key lime) and was the most delicious thing I ate all week. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and it was obvious that he was glad to take us. We learned about the local history and culture, the Mayan ruins themselves, and even a lot about the trees in the area, which my sister loved since she is a biology major and has taken several botany courses. We would highly recommend this portion of the tour. Afterwards, we were dropped off for our snorkel trip. The boat took us out much farther than you could swim so that we would be in the best section of the reef. The snorkeling was fun, but mostly unguided. We did, however, feel very safe and in good hands. To end the afternoon, we lounged at the beach in front of Maya Bar restaurant with some delicious tropical drinks and fresh ceviche. All in all, it was a very good day.
Santo Tomas de Castilla (Guatemala): We were off the ship right at 8:00 and walked to the port building at the far end of the docking area. The area was small with not much to do or shop for, but they had some musicians. There were many tour operators, all offering the same tours for essentially the same price. We had pre-booked an excursion to go to Las Escobas Waterfalls in the morning followed by an afternoon at Green Bay resort. The tour didn’t leave until 9:30 but we didn’t know that until we had found the tour guide so we had a lot of time to kill in the small port area. We bought some souvenirs and eventually went on our way to the waterfalls. There were only 10 of us in the group. It was a short, but bumpy ride to the waterfalls. Our guide pointed out a lot of the plants and some birds on the hike through the rainforest (actually, I use the term "hike" loosely – walk would probably be a better word) and we found it to be beautiful. We arrived at the waterfalls and a few of us got in the water to swim. It was a bit cool, but not too bad. The tour took about 2.5 hours and we’d highly recommend it. Afterwards, they dropped us off at the resort. The pool was VERY cold (much colder than the waterfalls water) so instead we played a little beach volleyball and canoed. The bay water was choppy so we didn’t canoe very long! There was a very limited and quite pricey menu at the hotel so we didn’t buy any lunch and instead snacked on some granola bars we had brought with us. Unfortunately our afternoon was ruined by the sheer amount of mosquitoes at the resort (there were none at the waterfalls), so if you go, be sure to bring bug spray!! We reboarded the ship around 3pm. I’d also recommend that you absolutely do not miss sailaway – the locals were dancing and playing music and it was fun to watch.
Cozumel: Friday was our last port day and that made it really feel like our cruise was coming to an end. We started the morning by our scuba/snorkel trip. My sister was recently PADI certified and couldn't wait to dive in a real reef. Since I don't dive but we weren't comfortable splitting up, I joined her on the boat to snorkel. Our trip was supposed to leave at 8:30 but for no apparent reason, we didn't leave until 9:15 L I was a little disappointed to waste 45 minutes but there wasn't much we could do about it. Our first stop was at Palancar Gardens, for about an hour. My sister said the diving was spectacular; from where I was closer to the surface it was by far the best snorkeling I have ever done. We saw an assortment of fishes, corals, and anemones and my sister saw turtles, stingrays, and eels as well. Afterwards, we had about a 40 minute surface interval at Playa Palancar, a less commercialized beach area. It was beautiful and I liked just walking along the shore. We then went to La Francesca reef, which apparently had great diving but the snorkeling was better at Palancar. We spent about another hour there. After our trip, we went to San Francisco beach club to spend about two hours soaking up the sun before returning to the ship. We had intended on going to Paradise Beach, but the chairs looked comfier at San Francisco, which is right next door. We spent very little time in the water since we had swam so much earlier in the day, but had a great time relaxing and drinking quite potent beverages.
New Orleans: We found the Riverwalk Streetcar easily and rode it into the French Quarter. We grabbed lunch at Johnny's Po-boys and everything was delicious! We then met up with our Voodoo & Cemetery Tour. Our tour guide had a lot of personality and was very knowledgeable about the cemetery. We learned a lot about the people and history of NOLA. Unfortunately, the voodoo portion of the tour was quite lacking. We'd recommend the tour to anyone interested in the cemetery but if you're looking for a voodoo experience, you need to find a different tour. Afterward, we did some exploring and shopping in the French Quarter before walking (15-20 min) to our hotel for a quick nap. We decided to go to Cajun Cabin on Bourbon Street for dinner. The food was good and the service was excellent. From there, we took the Canal Streetcar to and from City Park for the Celebration of the Oaks, a Christmas festival of sorts. The lights and decorations were phenomenal and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We were back at the hotel around 10:30 and went straight to bed after a long day and a lot of walking. Our plan for the next morning was to visit Mardi Gras World. We found the ferry to Algiers easily and from there were met with a shuttle. This was one of the highlights of our brief visit to NOLA. The tour was very informative, and we learned about the history of Mardi Gras, but our favorite part was seeing all the different floats. We also posed with tons of props and wore some outrageous costumes. The tour took about 2 hours. We returned to the French Quarter post-cruise for a guided history tour provided by the National Park Service. It was about an hour long and very informative, though I felt like walking added nothing to the tour since nothing was pointed out along our route - it was more like a lecture that we happened to walk during. Regardless, we liked it. Since we ended in Jackson Square, we thought we would grab some beignets for a snack but the line at Café du Monde was about 100 people long so we ditched that idea and instead bought coffee at another place to keep our hands warm as we walked to the St. Charles Ave Streetcar. We took the streetcar uptown to the Garden District. It was interesting to look at the mansions and the different architectural styles along the way. After about a 30 minute ride, we got off at Audubon Park to go to the zoo. My sister is a zoo-aholic so this was a must-see for her. I thought the zoo was nicely laid out and the swamp and jungle exhibits in particular were wonderfully designed. We spent about 2.5 hours there, and saw the place thoroughly. We walked through a bit of the park afterwards and then grabbed a late lunch before taking a cab to the airport.