So first of all let me say that I love being in the sun! I love the glow it gives me, the warmth it brings and the opportunity to wear shorts, t shirts and sandals everyday. Coming from the rainy west coast of Canada, where there is no guarantee of sunshine even in the summer, a Caribbean cruise is pure perfection. When an opportunity for a family vacation to cruise the Western Caribbean came up, I was definitely excited to go! We flew into Tampa the day before the cruise and spent a night at the wonderful Westin Harbour Island.
View from our hotel room at the Westin Harbour Island Tampa
The hotel was only a few minutes away from the port where we left the next afternoon for our 7 day round trip Western Caribbean cruise. I enjoyed being in Tampa for the short time we were there and would have loved to have spent more time exploring the city.
We were sailing with Carnival Cruises and when we arrived at the ship we got ourselves unpacked in our stateroom, and then explored before dinner. That night as we sailed south from Florida we were witness to a gorgeous sunset. Nothing compares to watching the sun go down as both the water and sky turn the most amazing colours of pink and purple.
The first full day on the ship was a day at sea. Time to check out the gym, lounge by the pool, and have a drink or two.
We had booked an excursion to the Coba ruins at our first port of call…Cozumel…so we got up early and watched the lights of the Mexican mainland sparkle as the ship docked.
Once we finished breakfast we headed off the ship and made our way by ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen. The 40 minute ferry ride was a bit bumpy, but nothing too bad. We hopped on our bus and after a quick half hour stop for a shopping/bathroom break, we made our way to Coba. The Mayan ruins of Coba are an archaeological site that is still being excavated to this day.
This former location of over 50,000 people has the largest number of raised stone pathways of any ancient Mayan site…
…ball courts where supposedly the losing team had to sacrifice players…
…and the largest pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula. This 138 feet high pyramid, called Nohoch Mul Pyramid, is a lot harder to climb down than it is to climb up!
Not for the faint of heart, but worth the view at the top that looks over the lush green jungle canopy below.
Oh, and I said I liked heat…well the heat and humidity here was intense! You couldn’t stay long at the top or you felt like you would melt.
The next day it was Belize. We had to tender to the dock here because the water depth is too shallow to accommodate larger ships.
This was a stop where many passengers had booked river rafting and cave tubing excursions, however because of the dangerously high water in the rivers they had to cancel these trips. Other excursions such as snorkelling, and exploring other Mayan ruins are also popular. I would suggest booking some kind of excursion here as the port itself is totally fenced in and you are highly discouraged from leaving unless you have a preplanned tour. We spent our morning in the port area, did some shopping and had a nice lunch here.
Going back to the ship early meant the outside deck areas were fairly peaceful and there was lots of space available to enjoy lying in a hammock or taking a dip in the pool.
Although it is tempting to book lots of excursions on cruises, there is something to be said for enjoying those quieter times when the ship is docked and most people are off exploring for the day. Take advantage of those times and you’ll find that the staff has more time to get to know you and the cruise experience becomes even better!
Next up was Roatan, an island off of Honduras known for its crystal clear water and white sand beaches. We woke up to the sun slowly rising above the bay area where we were docking.
There are two ports in Roatan and Carnival Cruises uses Mahogany Bay, a large dock area filled with souvenir stores. There is also a beach area on a private island just for the cruise passengers. It’s very convenient if you don’t want to go very far, but also very crowded.
If you want to really appreciate the beauty of Roatan take a tour or a taxi from the dock to West Bay Beach.
This beach is spectacular and you can wade into the water just off the shore and see all kinds of different coloured fish swimming around you. Our taxi driver actually took us to the Mayan Princess property where we could use their facilities, including the beach chairs, pool, and shower area. It did cost money, but it felt like paradise! If you want to go to the small town area at this beach, make sure and let the taxi driver know. After a perfect afternoon of enjoying this location our taxi driver returned to pick us up and we had a quick look around the shops before boarding the ship and sailing away from Roatan.
Our last port of call was Georgetown, Grand Cayman. There are lots of different tour excursion options here, and we decided on the tour to Stingray Cay. This port is also one where you need to take a tender to the dock. Georgetown has lots of shops, restaurants, and bars.
The Cayman Islands are a British Crown Colony and so be mindful of how you are dressed once you leave the ship or the beach areas. The tour to Stingray Cay meant getting a bus to the other side of the island and then a boat for about 25 minutes to where there is a sandbar where the stingrays come to.
Yes, it is crowded and yes, they do feed the stingrays, but it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity if you are in this area. You can easily stand in the water and touch the stingrays that approach you. As an adult I found this experience thrilling and I’m sure if you are travelling with children they would be overjoyed to be in the water with these gentle creatures. After the excursion we had time for a beer back at the dock and a photo-op with some new friends.
Our cruise was almost over. The last day was a day at sea so it gave us the opportunity to pack our suitcases, wander the deck areas, and relax with a book or work out at the gym.
The morning to leave the ship had come too soon. We had to be one of the first passengers to disembark to get our flights back to Canada. Cruising the Caribbean had been an amazing experience. There are so many options for itineraries and cruise-lines, with such a variety of ports of call, that there really is something for everyone!
Some cruise advice:
Look carefully at cruise-lines when booking any cruise. Some definitely cater more to families and younger people.
Yes, there are formal nights, but read the cruise brochure carefully as some cruise-lines are not as “formal” as others.
Some ports of call are easier to do tours from once you arrive there. Remember the cruise-lines are making money from these tours so do some research beforehand.
Cruises are a great way for families to travel. There are day-camps for the children and a variety of food options to please even the pickiest of eaters.
I’d recommend an outside cabin, however if you don’t mind taking your chances then book an inside one. as upgrades are almost always offered as the cruise date comes closer.
Make use of the hand sanitizer stations that are placed around the ship! You are in close contact with a lot of people so keep yourself healthy.
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