Overall, this was a great experience, and we loved it so much, we put down a $250 deposit towards another cruise. The crew was over-the-top nice and very accommodating. They, to a person, were friendly, and they made us feel very pampered. The only annoyance were the constant sales pitches by "Ian" the shopping rep for Diamonds International! But...we totally ignored him, and all was good.
Here are my helpful hints:
Bring a bar of soap. The liquid shower gel is adequate, but it really doesn't make you feel like you cleaned anything! There is liquid shampoo, too, but I didn't use it. If you hate the smell of Lavender (like I do!), bring a second bar for use in the sink. If you forget, you can buy a bar at the Pharmacia in Costa Maya. :D
Bring mosquito repellent, and bring anti-itch gel or cream. (You can buy Caladryl in Cozumel, but it doesn't work as good as the Benedryl gel I have at home.)
Our stateroom, 9530, was forward on the port side of the ship. It was the first BE stateroom after the BD staterooms. We loved the location. It was very near the elevators, but not too close. It had much less wiggle than the aft rooms would have had. Also, deck 9 is very quiet - no restaurants or activities on this deck or the one above or below. Something we would not have known to consider, but which is really important if you are a light sleeper.
Our room was "cozy," but we had plenty of room for our stuff, and we never felt cramped. Since this was a first cruise, I didn't know what clothing would be appropriate, so I totally over-packed - two 28" suitcases, a 26", as well as two camera bags and a laptop bag. I had packed wire hangers and the closet had 15 wooden ones installed. There were plenty for our clothes. (Yay, Cruise Critic members for that suggestion!) Inside the closet, there were cubby holes for clothes as well as a top shelf and a small safe for valuables. There was a small set of drawers under the TV as well. MORE than enough room for everything we had with us! (I could have packed more, but a. I didn't need half of what I did pack and, b. my husband would have killed me!) After unpacking, I put the 26" inside a 28" and put both 28" suitcases under the bed, where they fit perfectly.
The bed was comfortable, and the couch and desk and chair were very useful. We LOVED our balcony! It was a peaceful retreat from the hustle & bustle, and we loved waking up and photographing sunrise in our pjs. It was a great spot to look at the stars, also. Opening the drapes and watching the ocean sail by was very soothing and a great way to unwind!
The bathroom was "cute." The toilet and shower are each behind sliding glass doors with a sink area in the middle. Again, cozy, but enough room to move comfortably. The only negative is the hair dryer. It is one of the Elisseo dryers which you find in most European hotels. They blow air, but if you have curly hair like mine and want to straighten any part of it (like my bangs), resign yourself to a week of bad hair. I had asked on many boards before we sailed about using my 1850 watt dryer, and I was told it would blow the circuits. I left it home, but I did bring my flattening iron. I was never brave enough to plug it in, though! The room only has a few outlets, and all except for one are 220. The one that is 110 clearly says "Not for Hair Dryers." My husband uses a CPAP, so, again, thanks to previous travelers posting, we knew to bring along an extension cord. It worked perfectly.
Whatever you budgeted, add 50%. My husband expected to spend about $500 on the ship. I expected $1,000. I was right for a change. (I usually totally underestimate what things will cost.) It is easy to forget they are billing you $12/per person/per day service charge, and those $6.50 & $7.50 drinks add up. We ate in the specialty restaurants three nights. We visited La Trattoria, Le Bistro, and Cagney's - and all were excellent. We also paid $100 for 250 minutes of Internet time - and we used all except for about 10 minutes. There are only three places on the ship where your wireless laptop can be used - Deck 12 Internet Cafe, Decks 7 & 8 (The Grand Centrum). If you just want to check email or Facebook, you should probably just use their computers in the Internet Cafe. There are about 10 terminals, and they rarely get used for extended periods. Most people would come in, check email or whatever for about 20 to 30 minutes, and then they would leave. I had a lot of digital photos I wanted to upload and share with family at home, so my laptop was the only way to do that - plus I needed it for storage of the images.
Bring some patience. There were 2,500 people on our cruise, but other than embarkation day and disembarkation day, it really never felt like there were that many people on board. If you do go to some of the shows, you might find it a bit crowded, but again, relax. Take a deep breathe and remember you are on vacation and not punching a clock.
Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala -
We had heard scary stories about banditos in Guatemala, and the cruise staff who had a briefing about the ports also cautioned against wandering off on your own. In retrospect, I would have skipped this excursion. We booked Amatique Bay and BBQ. You have to travel there by a small boat, and it is a little scary. The captain of the small boat and his helpers did not talk to us at all - even to explain why the motor kept cutting out (on our way back to the Spirit). We found out from another passenger that it appeared they were running out of fuel! It is hard to believe this tour is run by Gray Lines!
The resort is very pretty, the pool is great, but the water on the beach is muddy. One passenger we talked with said she took her snorkel mask and went to the beach but decided against going in. The pool is very free-form, and there is one end more suited to children with water slides, while the far end has a swim-up bar and is more adult oriented. The swim-up bar was a great place to hang-out and meet other cruisers. Make sure you have cash, though, since they do not take credit cards at the bar.
The all-you-can-eat buffet is very good and has great variety. The only negative are the bees. They look like yellow jackets, but are not aggressive stingers, although they are everywhere! Most annoying - especially when you are trying to eat. We had to fish them out of our food and drink repeatedly. Yuck!
The port at Santo Tomas is very industrial - lots of containers waiting to be loaded onto cargo ships. At the very far end, though, there is a building with shopping, which would be as far as I would want to travel if I did this port again. Again, make sure you have cash, because it is a real chore to use a credit card. In fact, I made one purchase, and then I gave up, which is a shame, because the merchandise is high-quality and desirable.
On our first day at sea, there was a presentation about the excursions, and if you wanted to visit Mayan ruins in Belize, they recommended the trip to Lamanai. They said it was the farthest site, but it was the most interesting. Rather than try to change, we stuck with our original choice - Altun Ha & The Olde Belize River excursion,.
Regardless of how it was described by the cruise staff, we had a great time. We saw lots of wildlife and learned a lot about Belize. Our guide, Simone, was funny and very passionate about her country. Her boat captain, Jerry, made sure everyone got a chance to see whatever wildlife was spotted by turning the boat around in all directions, so quietly, that the animals rarely felt the need to run off. We spent about 2 hours on the river and then pulled into Boom Town for lunch at a quaint little "tavern." Tavern may be too grand a term. It looked like someone found an income for their house! The food was tasty, if a bit skimpy. We had a small piece of chicken, a small portion of red beans and rice, and a small portion of lettuce and tomato salad with a drink. Seconds were not an option, and there wasn't anything to purchase to supplement your "meal." Next, we were loaded onto a motor-coach and taken to Altun Ha, which took about 30 minutes. The ruins are not the most elaborate, but they were good enough for a short visit. We took some photos, learned about Mayan history & the history of the site, and then we got to taste Cashew Wine. Cashew Wine, also known as the poor man's whiskey, is called this because if you drink some one day and then go in the sun the next day, you feel buzzed again. We didn't get to test out the theory, but it actually is very tasty, and we bought some as gifts for people back home. Very unique and only $12 a bottle.
After about an hour on the bus, we were returned to the dock where the tenders transported you back to the Spirit. There are shops at the port, and it is a good place to wander before tendering.
Thanks to a person on the roll-call board for our cruise, we learned of an excursion which was not listed under our cruise, but is findable if you just search for Cozumel. It was the Mexican Cuisine Workshop & Tasting at Playa Mia. Before we sailed, I tried to book the excursion, but was told it was sold out. The rep on the phone told me to check as soon as I got on the ship because they will sometimes add another section. We took her advice, and sure enough, enough people signed up to add at least one, possibly two, more sections of this excursion. Yay! The weather was a bit windy, so we were told all water activities were canceled, but the class would still go on, and we were able to spend time on the beach afterward. We traveled to Playa Mia by taxi (which was paid for by the excursion rep). Once there, we were taken into the kitchen building, where we met Luis and Moises, the chefs. Luis was the lead chef, and he was very funny and very knowledgeable. We made an appetizer (Huraches), and entree (either Grouper or chicken), and a dessert (rice tower), and there was an open bar. All the food was delicious - and the drinks were too!
In addition to the food you made yourself, you were invited to visit the buffet, which was included as part of your excursion price. The beach is very small, but there was a lot to do - assuming the weather cooperated. Regardless, there were people in small sailboats, kayaks, and on a floating trampoline. Everyone seemed to be having fun.
We were transported again in cabs back to the port, and there was time to wander and shop a bit, but you do leave this port an hour earlier than other ports, so you have to be time conscious.