HOTEL INFO We arrived in Miami a day earlier. We'd done this last year as the travel agency had recommended it, and found it was a nice idea. It gave us time to relax, as well as allow for any problems. Catherine, my girlfriend had called ahead to the hotel and they had reserved a room for us before the normal check-in. It was a lovely surprise when they did this, they had done this because we are Priority Club members. We went straight to our room on one of the top floors, which gave us a wonderful view. Bayside marketplace was directly across the street from us, so we had a view of that, as well as a great vantage point for the Port of Miami and the city. We stayed at Holiday Inn again, only this time closer in town. Last time we had stayed in South Beach and found it a bit remote. The hotel seemed nicer than the other one, better kept even though it's the same hotel and room rate. Getting our luggage into the hotel was a little effort. The front doors are not automatic and the only luggage-friendly entrance is a small ramp off on the left-most side. You have to prop open a door to use it. Other doors are the center revolving doors and another singular door on the right, which offers a step. Considering all the people staying there and most of them being travelers, it could have been better handled. We found it to be comfortable and the room spacious. It was not five-star, but it was a better location and offered us the convenience of being in the center of the city and all it offered. Internet services in the room were good and we had no problem with the connection. Catherine encountered a couple problems with Guest Services while there. The vending machines were broken on our floor, and they never fixed them while we were there. We only stayed one day, but she had to call a few times for things - one of them being the vending machine. A few of the washtowels in the bathroom were soiled and yet were overlooked by the room attendant. Room service as well offered a very meager offering. You can only order it when the restaurant is open - for dinner or lunch. So basically having just gotten off our plane we had to seek out nourishment on our own. And we were both very hungry until then, sating ourselves on a few snacks we had packed and then taking a nap until we felt like venturing out. We later found out that a majority of the people staying there were fellow cruisers just like us. People from Carnival and other Royal Caribbean trekkers were doing the same thing we were, checking in a day early to collect their senses for a bit and explore before getting on the ship the next day. Steve visited Bayside marketplace a lot while we were there. He enjoyed the entertainment and loved it. When it got dark, the place seemed to really come alive, with concerts and other events. Steve discovered there was an outdoor movie theatre there, which was playing current releases. Apocalypto was playing on a massive plasma screen. Bayside Park was really nice, filled with shops and restaurants. It was an outdoor mall by the water. In addition to the restaurants within the marketplace, there was Hard Rock Cafe and other places to eat. Steve wants to visit it again, and considering that the hotel is right across the street we would probably book there again. The only downside to Bayside is it got a bit loud at night if it was really busy. For this reason another hotel (of the many in this general area) may be a better idea if you have children, depending on the time of year.
TRAVEL TO PORT OF EMBARKATION The next day we got all our luggage together and trudged out to find a cab. These were not hard to find, and we only waited a few moments before hailing one to the port. The cabs were very efficient we found, and most of the drivers we had were very friendly. Many travelers are also cruisers, so they make sure you get to the port on time. Steve really appreciated that. So even though many other people were heading to the port, we didn't have to fight for a cab or deal with traffic. We checked out early and got to the Port of Miami about 11 am. Even though the ship does not leave dock until 5 pm, there were plenty of other people who opted to be early. The cruise line had no problem with boarding people that early, and are used to it. I would guess that ¼ of the travelers onboard were early boarders. These are regular cruisers who know that being early is the way to go. We handed off our luggage to a porter and went inside with our carry-ons. After getting in line, we didn't have to wait long before heading into the terminal. They're pretty efficient at getting everyone through safely. We went through a security check, and then inside for the main check-in process. We had done our check-in online, so all we had to do was get our picture taken and go to the counter for our seapasses. They gave us this, along with another little sheet of paper with some information on it and a map of the ship. This was new, and it had some pre-boarding information like, no irons are allowed onboard and other FAQ's. Together with waiting in lines and doing all this before actually stepping onboard the ship was probably another hour till we were on deck. After we ate lunch, we went straight to our stateroom to get settled. We got all our bags right away. Services in our stateroom was good as usual. They're extremely fast in cleaning your room and seem to know when you leave and when you're there, for we never saw them. That's supposed to be the sign of a good stateroom attendant. They operated on clockwork, they were a tightly run machine. Considering all the work that must be done on all floors, we very rarely ever saw the staff and they were non-intrusive. Our personal attendant was extremely pleasant and seemed to care about our stay being comfortable and adequate. She always asked me how our day was and greeted us, asking if everything was okay in our room. She was in my mind one of our best attendants so far. There was a small problem with our safe when we first got there and they fixed it in a jiffy. Another small problem we had was the shower door wasn't sealing and leaked onto the floor, but they fixed that promptly too. Our attendant had suggested what the problem was with it and had maintenance repair it, which it was the next time we came to our room. I have to admit that I was a slob since we're on vacation, but every time I came back things were put into neat piles! Kinda made things easier for me! There are no laundering centers aboard this ship. We had a few items that needed to be ironed or cleaned, and they were very efficient about doing this. Steve needed his jacket pressed for formal night, and he put it out in the morning and they brought it back to him - that afternoon. He was thrilled. I used this service more than him and they did a professional job with it. I had one issue with a silk shirt that seemed to have water stains on it, but I cannot be sure that it was their fault or if it was there already. This was very minor. We had a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom. I believe last time we had an upgraded room for that one was a bit larger than this one. At any rate, they design the rooms very well and have little cubbies and drawers everywhere so they are practically-minded and make efficient use of space. Me and Steve both shared closet space, and yet we had plenty of room to stow our souvenirs and shoes and everything. I found it to be very well organized. As with last time, they was RCTV in our stateroom. This is an interactive directory offered by the cruise line, where you can order shore excursions, check your account, and other things. It was a bit different this time because we couldn't order room service or wine. I didn't like this. Along with RCTV, there are a few channels offered with the regular channels where you can find out about things onboard and see taped events onboard. These are helpful and it's fun to see events you may have missed onboard. Every stateroom has a phone and you can use it as an alarm clock by setting a wake-up call on your phone. No one calls you it just rings to wake you up. So if you forgot your travel alarm, this is great! We never used this though because I used my Palm Pilot and it's pretty loud! Whenever we booked a reservation in one of the specialty restaurants, they called us ahead of time to remind us of our appointment. This is nice because you can't always keep track of these things when you're on vacation. Steve did not like the balcony as much as he did on the Voyager. He felt it lacked the privacy that it did last time. Navigator has more glass on the exterior of the ship, and the balconies are larger. I didn't see much of a difference in terms of size, and I felt it was private. But I agree that it did not have the same privacy as our old stateroom. The glass exposes the balcony much more. It opens it up so you have a full view, but it really doesn't make much of a difference aside from you see water. The only time it matters is when you're at a port. I felt you can see fine the way the balconies were last time. There's also a connecting door to our neighbor that's not completely sealed at the floor. So if your neighbor has their light on, you can see it and they can be somewhat intrusive. By leaning over just a little bit, you could see your neighbor so Steve didn't feel altogether comfortable with that. We did enjoy the upgraded bedding in the room. We found it to be more than accommodating. Steve slept al through the night and napped easily on it. We found it to be more comfortable than our bed at home, so this was great. It's a nice comfort when you're traveling afar. There was a pillowtop and duvet cover and it was like sleeping on a cloud. For this cruise, I had purchased the internet wi-fi package. I chose it because I thought I could use it in my stateroom. After all, it's that way in hotels. It would seem elementary. However, I could not use it in my stateroom. I never once got a connection from it and it irked me to no end. I needed it for some business that I had to finish onboard and I could not take full advantage of it. The only service that's offered in your stateroom in terms of internet is dial-up service, which is well behind the times by today's standards. If I had chosen dial-up, I could have used it but I probably could not use my webcam to communicate with others. I had bought a webcam earlier for one reason that I could use it on vacation, but this of course didn't become a possibility because the file transfer rate for dial-up with video services would have created a very poor connection, probably not one that supports video conferencing. Someone mentioned that they thought they say a network port in the room, but we didn't explore this. It may not have worked anyway since we did not have a wi-fi signal.
SERVICE Customer Service Altogether, service onboard was great. We found it however, not at the same exemplary level as Voyager. We sailed on Voyager last time and it was also our first cruise with Royal Caribbean. So it's our initial impression of Royal Caribbean. Navigator seemed to have a quieter feel than Voyager, even though it is a newer ship and also in the Voyager class. Service was not bad, everyone was friendly and such. But people were not as "on top" and out to do the best of Gold Anchor service as they seemed to be on Voyager. It seemed more relaxed. I don't know if anyone else felt this way. There were a few people who really stood out to us as ones who offered above-average service. In the dining room, the head waiter was extra attentive to me as a vegetarian making sure I had items I was satisfied with on the menu. He even had a meal specially prepared for me that he suggested. He had it custom-prepared and then, when we were not there at dining room to enjoy it, had it delivered to my stateroom for me. He seemed very dedicated, and we appreciated it. What he did was not anything extraordinary, he offered us service. But he did it professionally and made sure we were satisfied, and that's what good service is supposed to be. Another person was the attendant in the Connoisseur's Club (aka Cigar Bar) and she was very pleasant and personable and made sure we were comfortable while we were there, whether or not we bought anything or not. She seemed to make us feel "at home", like we were guests and not customers. And that made all the difference in the world. She was professional and did her job well, with a personal touch that made us remember her.
Other Services I was very disappointed with the internet service offered onboard. As I mentioned before, I used the wi-fi package and found it to be a waste of money just as I did on our last cruise. Except, for our last cruise I found it to be a waste of money because we did not use it. This time, I really did need it as I needed to complete some business while I was on vacation. I encountered service interruptions every time I tried to use it! I don't know if anyone else encountered problems. Someone else that I spoke with said they did not. My boyfriend Steve works in networking, in IT as a tech and he thought it was poor also and disappointed. There's a few reasons why I was disappointed. Not only because of the service problems. I was limited to wi-fi service areas onboard for using the internet, which was on certain decks in certain areas on those decks. I found the best signal to be on the top decks of the ship, probably because it's where it's most receptive. I went there most of the time. The other place was on Deck 5, which was available anywhere on that level. The only thing is, I could not plug in my laptop on Deck 5. My battery ran out if I used it anywhere else I wasn't able to plug it in. Because I was doing work, I wanted to find somewhere quiet to work. So this was a bit of a problem for me because I had to do that in areas that were designated "hotspots". I found the entire experience frustrating and sub-standard. Many times I found myself using it until my battery ran out and then calling it quits. I couldn't plug it in the Cigar Bar because for some reason, there was European outlets there. And not everywhere had outlets. Another thing I found was I couldn't find service in all the hotspot areas. The signal was either poor or failed at times. So even though it's a hotspot and I'm paying for it, I couldn't take advantage of it. Many times I found myself roaming about the ship trying to find a place with a good signal before actually getting any work done. Things would have been much easier for me, if I could have just been able to do work in the privacy and convenience of my stateroom. Our room was on Deck 7. On this floor was also the library, and directly above that the Internet Cafe. You would think I should be able to use the internet in the cafe. But it is not a hotspot. I would have really liked to just plug in my laptop somewhere in the cafe and do my work there on one of the comfy chairs. But I could not. I could have access to internet there of course, but I wanted to use my laptop since all my work was on it. So many times I found myself going to Deck 12 and using the wi-fi there. The lounge was fairly quiet there during the day, and I could plug it in and smoke. So I ended up using it there. At about the third day onboard after I had been using it, I had a real problem getting on and when I called Guest Services they told me there were limited licenses and I had to keep trying. Essentially, the max number of people were using it and it would not allow anyone else (ergo, me) to use it. So I had to wait. Apparently, there are limited resources at sea and so it was not the way service is on mainland, as it is on the normal basis. After a while of this, Steve told me to go to Guest Services personally and see if there was a problem with my account. We ended up just closing it and re-registering. Guess what? Good as new, and I was able to keep using it until our last day onboard. I still was not able to successfully do all the work I needed it do. It would have been better if the whole ship had wi-fi, I thought we were in the age where that could be possible but apparently that's a primary focus of the cruise line. It is not geared towards working professionals - thought it should consider them. I did not have to use the printer, but if I did I would have encountered more problems. I would have been limited to the internet cafe. I didn't even see one in the Conference Center. I was disappointed with photo services onboard. We took pictures on formal nights, and they were good. But we didn't like the posing they put us into and some of the photos didn't turn out good. I guess they took so many pictures they had to be mindful of time and could not be as focused on good photos as in an individual photo session. I think it would have been better if they had screens set up where you can see your photo before it's taken so you can be sure your photo will turn out good. This is minor really, but it would have helped. Another thing that I was disappointed with in terms of the photos is photo services in the Photo Gallery seemed minimal. They sold cameras in there, that was nice. But it would have been better if they had full photo and video services available there. They offer nothing for video. I think it would have been convenient if people could edit videos they'd taken while they were on vacation, perhaps have a couple stations where people can work. There's no file transfer or conversions. No way to set up a personal snapshot of your vacation with photo or video. They offered something called "Cruise in Review" which they were pushing, but it has nothing to do with you and seemed to be a waste of time. Basically, you are limited to what they take and what you can buy. If this is the case however, they should offer us some flexibility in this aspect. You could not have your photos (taken by cruise staff) burned to a CD. I thought this was silly. We just had to buy them individually - and there was no group packages available - where you could save money by buying more than 1. For this reason I thought it would have been better if you could see your photos before you have them taken, seeing as how you're limited to photos taken onboard. Me and Steve did buy some 5x7's - but all we are going to do with them is scan them into our computer and edit them. The excuse they gave us for not being able to have them put to a CD is copyright protection of the photos by the photographers. Even though - they are our photos. I thought this was very silly. We took part in Formal Night, and loved this. But we didn't buy all of them. It can be costly buying them individually, and we ended up paying a pretty penny for just the few photos that we ended up bringing home. I heard a few people complaining about the prices while we were there. I think it should be more advanced, considering all that Royal Caribbean is able to offer us. Last time we cruised I paid over $100 for photos. So we bought some photos, and later saw that there was a stupid logo and number on the photograph on the bottom. So even if we had ended up framing them they were destroyed. But other than these two mishaps, we enjoyed our service onboard.
ACTIVITIES/ENTERTAINMENT This time around, we didn't see any of the shows that were offered nightly or go see the musicians performing at various venues. But I heard them at times when they were rehearsing during the day and when I was out doing work. They were fantastic. Unfortunately, because I was engaged with my work we didn't take advantage of the entertainment too much. But we did take part in some onboard activities. Me and Steve participated in the "Battle of the Sexes" game show, and played Bingo together. It was fun, and seemed well organized. It wasn't shoddy or unprofessional. And we had a great time. We had fun playing bingo. The first time we didn't win, but it was fun. Steve later went back and played, and he won $257! So that was a boost. I watched a couple of movies onboard. It was a very small theater, but the movies were good and we enjoyed them. There was a couple onboard who we dined with and they won a lot of money in the casino playing Blackjack. Steve used the casino last time and won some money. The only time we used the casino this time was playing a few games on the slots.
FITNESS/SPA I didn't take advantage of the fitness room or spa while I was onboard, but Steve had a spa treatment and really enjoyed it. He had a calf and ankle massage and pedicure, and he thought they did a really good job and it was exactly what he was needed.
DINING ROOM SERVICE As with last time, I wasn’t impressed with room service. Seeing as how we couldn’t order room service through RCTV, the only way to check the menu for the day is to call Room Service from your phone. The menu for room service is advertised every day, at Guest Services on the Promenade Deck. I fail to see how this does anyone any good unless they are on the Promenade Deck. There aren’t many items for breakfast that you can order. There’s a slip you can fill out to put out on your door the night before for breakfast. But seeing as how I’m a vegetarian, I cannot have sausage or like omelettes so I would prefer pancakes or fruit. I wanted french toast and waffles too. But when I asked, they can only provide pancakes. When they arrived, there was two sad little mini-pancakes on my plate with no garnish either. I am the sort of person who wants a giant pile of pancakes drowned in syrup – so this did not please me very much. It seems to me, you should be able to order everything in your stateroom that’s being served in the dining room. I was led to believe this from our last cruise, but I seem to be mistaken. Room Service is completely separate. This is their way of rationing foods onboard I guess. I used room service a little bit, but wasn’t really impressed. They’re fast with bringing it you and everything, but I was disappointed. I would have liked to enjoy breakfasts in bed and stuff like that, but it’s not that flexible.
DINING ROOM We enjoyed service in the dining room and have no complaints. In the morning, it’s open seating and more about efficiency than a dining experience. At night, it’s different. More relaxed and you have the same wait staff. It’s a bit more personal. We had early sitting for dinner, and all the food was good. Steve had lobster and enjoyed it so much he had second helpings. We had chosen a table for two when we booked our cruise, but they sat us at a regular table. Steve decided not to make an issue of this so we didn’t pursue it, and ate at a larger table. We purchased the wine package this time, and really enjoyed it. We had the five bottle package, from the Diamond Selection. So every night we enjoyed a different bottle, and we can enjoy it anywhere not just in the dining room. If we didn’t finish our bottle in the dining room one night, they held onto it for us so we could enjoy it the next time. I enjoyed the food no problem, but would have enjoyed the personal table we’d desired. What also seemed different is they didn’t have a separate vegetarian menu that they had on Voyager. The regular dining menu had vegetarian options on it, but after I inquired about the vegetarian menu they said they didn’t have it. The waiter then referred me to the head waiter to see about choosing items for me, which is why he had pre-arranged a meal for me that time. This wasn’t that big a deal for me. I enjoyed the food. For breakfast, we ate in the dining room because I thought it was better than the room service options.
SPECIALTY DINING We dined at both Chops Grille and Portofino’s while we were onboard. But even though I am a vegetarian, I enjoyed Chops Grille more than Portofino’s the Italian restaurant. Steve also felt the same. He said the Filet Mignon he enjoyed in there was the best he’s had. I had vegetables and pasta. The grilled vegetables were so tender and delicate, the grill is just wonderful. They said it’s just a regular gas grill – but it seemed to be something special to me! The vegetables were marinated, and Steve loved his salad with the hearts of palm. It’s always nice to eat something new and you know you are somewhere special when you are asking about how it’s made or what a vegetable is. We marveled at something new and it was a pleasurable experience for us. We only ate there once but have a nice memory from it. They were professional and very efficient. I had a Crème Brulee dessert which I loved and Steve had it again and loved it too. It was five star dining, we will both agree with that. But aside from that, it was flavorful and a terrific meal. There was no tiny plates or any snootiness. We would dine there again if we have the chance. We ate at Portofino’s but thought it was not the same as the way we enjoyed it on Voyager. We enjoyed ourselves, but it lacked the special feeling that should go along with dining in one of the specialty restaurants. We didn’t have the great service we had from our last server, so it was us doing what we did last time hoping for the same thing but we didn’t enjoy it the same. So it wasn’t as special because we’re already done it. We knew what to expect, and were eating the same meal.
CAFÉ DINING Again, we felt the service was great in Windjammers. Everyone is willing to help you and there is something for everyone to eat. I went up there one day for breakfast at 11:30 and there was still lots of pancakes and stuff to eat. They’re extremely efficient. When one of the pans is empty, they fill it up right away. I saw that many times. They keep things well stocked. We ate there mostly for lunch and sometimes at breakfast, for convenience. The food is as good as what’s in the dining room and it’s buffet style. There’s no rush. Even if it’s busy, because they are so efficient they clear off the tables very quickly and there was always somewhere to sit. Steve was disappointed with Jade’s, which was supposed to be this Asian-fusion bar they were advertising on the website, like it was a specialty restaurant. They had Asian items there, but I didn’t eat much of it even though I am a vegetarian it didn’t seem like there was much for me to eat. I had rice, and they offered soups but I didn’t have it. There was so much for me to eat in Windjammers and the adjacent Island Grill that I didn’t eat it too much. Someone said that at night they have sushi, but we always ate in the dining room.
SHORE EXCURSIONS We did all our land excursions with Royal Caribbean. It seems like the shore excursions were better organized than last time. The only exception is Cozumel, our last port of call.
FIRST PORT OF CALL – LABADEE, HAITI – HISPANOLIA At Labadee, we enjoyed the Waverunner Experience. We went through a brief information session, showing us the safety signals used on the watercraft and watched a safety video. It was my second time doing this tour and Steve’s first. The guide assigned us numbers based on our assumed driving speeds and experience level. Then we headed out to the pier for our tour. Once we got in the water, there was a person assigned to our tour that accompanied us in the water. He stayed behind to make sure there were no stragglers and assist if there was problems in the water, and rode along with us. I thought the guide with SeaTrek did a better job than the last time I did the tour (last year). Me and Steve really enjoyed ourselves and I found it easier to maneuver the craft than last time. It had become easier. There was another lady in our group who I switched numbers with because she was struggling. It seemed like women had a harder time with it than the men in the group, and I found that last time I did it. It requires a certain athletic ability to smoothly master, as you’re fighting the chop of the water and the muscle control of dominating the watercraft (making turns, stability, etc). My boyfriend Steve compared it to riding a horse. The faster you go, the more bumpy the ride can be. Our guide did give us some tips in the water. He said if we ride directly in the wake of the person before us, we glide over the surf of the water and can drive fast. Me and Steve drove at the top speeds. It is not difficult to maneuver yourself, but I would definitely recommend if you have teenagers who are doing it, that you accompany them. It requires certain driving responsibility, and you need to consider safety. Afterward, we had a lunch on the island that was offered by the cruise staff. There was lunches served at various points on the island and at the one we ate at, I had plenty of things to eat. I was very happy with this, as it offered more than the standard BBQ or burger type lunch. Labadee is always nice because it is Royal Caribbean’s private island, and they do a little extra there to make it hospitable.
SECOND PORT OF CALL – OCHOS RIOS, JAMAICA We booked the “Ochos Rios Flavors” tour which gave us a tour of Shaw Park Gardens and the Ferngully as well as climbing Dunns Rivers Falls. Our tour “bus” was really a van, which was falling apart inside but seemed to still run pretty well. If someone is tall or something, they may find it uncomfortable. Shaw Park Gardens was lovely and our guide extremely pleasant. There was a videographer who took a visual portrait of our visit there. We ended up buying the DVD for $40. It was delivered to our stateroom that evening. I think I enjoyed Shaw Park Gardens more than Dunns Rivers Falls. It was my first time doing it and I was scared but my boyfriend said it’s a must-do so I acceded. The Falls were kind of slippery, aside from them being wet there was some moss or slime on the rocks. We both had water shoes but some others did not and had more trouble. There is an alternate bridge path which you can take if you don’t want to climb them, which is a solid wood staircase that simply provides you a safe vantage of the waterfall. There was a couple who stupidly brought their small infant with them on the tour. I was needless to say shocked by this and they provided a great disruption to us. Never mind that I was scared about walking up a waterfall, but there is a couple who put the whole group at risk! Thankfully the tour guides intercepted the kid but they were still taking pictures with the poor kid in the water and such. There are natural crevices and grooves in the rock which make it easy to do, and the current is not strong, flowing fairly gently over the rocks. Most of the rocks and surface terrain (mostly all natural rock of the mountain) is above the surface of the water, so it is all shallow but there are some points where you cannot see directly down to the rocks to find your footing. At these places, the current blurs your view and a lot of it is feeling your way around. The tour is based on a teamwork concept, everyone being responsible for the next person being safely pulled and guided along. But it’s easy to lose your footing so if you fall, the next person falls too! We can say we did it, but my boyfriend also commented that it was more slippery than the last time he did it. He struggled a bit as well getting up the falls.
THIRD PORT OF CALL – GRAND CAYMANS, BWI We booked the Grand Cayman Highlights and Turtle Farm Tour. We missed our 9 am booking, but luckily were able to reschedule at port for the noon tour. Since we had some time to burn before then, we wandered around town and did some shopping. We found the best shopping directly at the port shops. I was looking for some t-shirts to buy for people, but a lot of them were the cookie-cutter ridiculous tourist shirts variety that we found in Ochos Rios. I had to search a while and didn’t buy much. The price for an item seemed to be pretty consistent for other shops we browsed at as well. At noon, we boarded a van that took us through town a bit, giving us some town history as we arrived at the town of Hell. It’s a travel van, just as in Ochos Rios, cramped but tolerable. We stopped at Seven Mile Beach for a 5 minute break where we could take some pictures. There was not much here but it gave us the opportunity to enjoy the sand a bit and stretch our legs before leaving for our next stop. Next we were going to Hell township. They stopped at the post office for us to send a postcard, and next door was a couple of shops. We were given 20 minutes here before our next stop. Behind this were the rocks that notoriously are the reason why the town is given the namesake of Hell. We took a couple of photos and then got on the van to our way to a Tortuga Rum Cake shop. We were supposed to be there for 10 minutes, but had to wait a little while because part of our tour was missing. The bus driver went looking for them, and then we continued on our journey. Our last stop was at a Turtle Farm. It was a new building, and me and Steve loved it. We took pictures with the turtles and saw them in the hatcheries, able to see them at all stages of development. It was really interesting. Me and Steve took our pictures holding a live green sea turtle, and treasure this as one of our moments on land.
FOURTH PORT OF CALL – COZUMEL, MEXICO We took the Xel-Ha excursion, which was actually departing from Playa del Carmen. For this, they herded us all into the theatre to wait for the separate tours to leave. This was anyone going on Playa del Carmen tours, which was like 3 groups. We waited like 30 minutes or so, it wasn’t that painful but it was still arduous. Luckily, our ferry was departing directly from the ship, so that made it easy. It was a local water taxi, and we got to Playa del Carmen pretty quickly. We got off and waited a little while waiting for our tour guide. After everyone was ready to go, we had to walk like 10 or 15 minutes to this area where the tour bus was before we could leave for Xel-Ha. Walking on the cobblestone streets was not very comfortable, considering most people were just wearing sandals or water shoes. An elderly couple in our group complained about it. But the bus was parked in a lot closer in town. This was a bit of a pain. Our bus was pretty comfortable, actually a bus instead of a small van. More like a Greyhound or regular bus. I was grateful for it, and the AC was more powerful. The drive to Xel-Ha was like 45 minutes, on straight highway. We drove through the town of Playa del Carmen just a little bit before this, which is very small. They were telling us about how safe it is, and Steve mentioned how he might want to come back and visit. But it’s a poor area and looked pretty run down. I don’t. It was pretty calm though and quiet. Once we got to Xel-Ha, it’s a pretty big place. It was pretty clean and very cheery in atmosphere. The shops were nice and it was subdued which I like, noone really pushing you to buy anything. It was just a comfortable water park, and not nearly as loud or boisterous as somewhere you’d go to in the US. Everything was very relaxed with neatly groomed walks. In the background, you could hear music playing or water flowing. It was like a paradise. We didn’t have time to do all the things we’d like, as we spend a lot of time snorkeling. I rented a mask set that they had, and struggled with it a bit during this time. There was photogs in the water who took our picture, and they turned out really well. Snorkeling was nice, with beautiful lush varieties of fish. The water was neither warm nor cool generally, because the water was mixed by the dual flow of salt and fresh waters. The fresh waters being cool, and the salt waters warm. There was a Mayan cave that was off to one side, but we didn’t explore it because it ran so deep into the rock wall and I was afraid as I’m not an experienced snorkeler. But we got to see tons of fish. I wished they had more than just tropical fish but it was still beautiful and the best snorkeling we got to experience so far. I left Xel-Ha feeling very relaxed and kind of like I was at home, even home we were miles from it. We’d definitely go back. The only real drawback is that our actual time there is not the 8 hours that the tour lasts for, but a true 4 or 5 actually at the resort, since you have to account for traveling time.
We took part in the Early Departure and Baggage Valet service offered onboard by the cruise line. It was the first-time they offered it, and it was pretty cheap. Even though we booked late they still let us take advantage of it. I was grateful for that. We felt it made things a lot easier for us. It was pretty pain-free and took a lot of the work out of the equation for us. This service involved getting our boarding passes delivered directly to our stateroom, which bypassed a lot of the check-in needed at the airport. We put our bags outside our stateroom the final night onboard. The next morning, we grabbed a little breakfast in advance of our departure time. Once this came across, we really didn’t have much time to wait. They shuffled us all out in a pretty efficient and organized manner. Steve said it was “grossly efficient” and for an introductory service, they seemed to have it down pretty pat. I couldn’t find one of my bags on the carousel at the port terminal, but eventually found it and we headed out to our bus. We had made arrangements through our travel agency for the return transfer back to the airport. Therefore, we had everything taken care of and just had to sit back and relax. This aspect, of all the burden being taken off our shoulders, being handled by the cruise staff and already pre-handled; was a luxury we were much grateful for. Other people echoed our sentiments, so it will probably be more popular on future sailings. It was smooth sailing for the rest of the way back home. Read Less