WELCOME BACK!!!! This next journey for me was a new experience as an adult. I have cruised before when I was 15. It was the first time I went somewhere out of the country (Bahamas). I feel like it happened so fast that I don’t have much memory about my experience. So with this trip I made sure to take as many pictures as possible and I’m certain I won’t forget the fun I had. So sit back and enjoy this journey as we Cruise The Caribbean (TAMPA FL, COZUMEL(TULUM) MEXICO, and BELIZE CITY BELIZE). Given the multiple stops there will be a part 2 to cover the other locations.
First things first, my sister is so awesome. This cruise was a gift from her for Christmas because she knows I love to travel. In addition we both haven’t experienced a cruise as adults. I am forever grateful for her sacrifice in gifting me something like this.
Next is, PLAN AHEAD!!! This is the best way to ensure you have a great experience with so many things happening at once. Once I found out we were going on the cruise, we sat down and figured out what was being offered at the ports we would be going to. Your cruise line will have everything laid out for you on their website after you have booked your trip. Planning excursions can be a bit time consuming. Get a pen and paper and look through them all and pick your top 3-4 and then go from there. Although we did one at each port, excursions are not necessary at every port. We just wanted to see as much as possible for the time we would be there. Excursions can be expensive!!! Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Plan to where you can enjoy each location, grab a souvenir, and still enjoy activities that may cost extra or a nice drink (if you don’t have the expensive liquor package) on the ship.
Next, I DONT LIKE closed quarters. I was a nervous wreck as I prepared for this trip, because all I could think about was being on this ship with no way to get off. I don’t really like being limited to not moving around freely. In addition I was worried about how my body would respond to rough waves and the boat rocking. So I prepared for everything. The first thing I packed was a medicine kit (ie. Dramamine, Pepto Bismol, Tylenol, Benadryl, First aid kit, Visine, Tums, Hydrocortisone Cream, burn relief gel, etc) that had everything I saw listed on a prepare for cruising list. I barely used any of it but was glad I had it just in case. Also please remember to pack all of your personal medication. There is a medical facility on board and doctors but its still good to have your own.
After getting those things out the way, I planned for ways to cut additional costs that occur when cruising. I’ve heard about the obscene pricing of beverages on ships and that was not an options for me. Yes I am a soda drinker (pepsi is my favorite), yes I enjoy wine, and yes a nice cocktails is relaxing. However, I will NEVER pay more than any of those things are worth, just to have them in abundance for one trip. Now some people may say, “Oh, live a little”, or ” it’s so worth it, because its unlimited blah blah blah”. If we were talking about $100 extra dollars (total) then I would say maybe. However, we are talking about almost $400 per person (stipulation is, if one person in your room has the package everyone has to have it). I am not doing that. I don’t drink enough for that. In addition, if you do an excursion everyday, then you won’t be on the ship long enough to even enjoy the “luxury” of drinking all day.
Furthermore, there is a beautiful thing called Pinterest that gives you ways to get around having to make such a purchase. I am not a “I have to be luxurious and spend recklessly woman.” I shop bargain and love alternative ways of achieving the same outcome for less. Don’t get me wrong I have my moments of wanting what I want, when I want it. However, I have a fine line to wasting money when there is another way to do it. So on Pinterest and via another friend who traveled using this method, I decided to use the TSA approved bottles to bring my liquor with me. The first test of doing this was my trip to Paris. I wanted to see if they would flag my bag for having one of the 3oz containers filled with something that wasn’t lotion or body wash. I was very pleased to see that as long as its within the guidelines of the 3oz, you keep on going. So of course I took advantage and packed what I felt would be enough. I’m glad to say I had more than enough (not all pictured here lol).
With Carnival Cruise each person in your party is able to bring one 750mL bottle of wine and a 12 pack of whatever beverage (ie. juice/soda/water etc). This worked out in our favor because even a bubble package was about $9 per day per person for unlimited juice and soda. Yes I can hear some people thoughts about how cheap it may sound, again there is no need to wastefully spend. If you got it and just want to then hey do you, I again didn’t feel the need to do such a thing. I don’t drink that much juice and soda at home, so no need to do so just because I’m on vacation. It worked in my favor the moment I heard a passenger complain about how the soda is in the heat most of the time and they were usually flat. I can’t stand a flat soda.
Anyway, we brought our own and it got to the point that we had to remind ourselves that we needed to drink them before heading back. Again, if you are on excursions all day you aren’t on the ship enough to indulge, even if you bring your own. In addition to the fact that ice tea, lemonade, juice at breakfast (apple, orange, and a tropical punch), hot tea, and coffee were unlimited to everyone all day. With just those two items (juice/soda and alcohol) I prevented spending an additional $500 per person. That’s another flight somewhere!!!
Next up in preparing for a cruise is food intake. I decided to do a three day cleanse before I left for the cruise. For me it was the best decision. My body had made room to enjoy some days of over indulgence. The food is there for you all day, everyday. Please don’t do your body the disservice of over indulging everyday. It sucks to go a full day feeling stuffed just because you wanted to try and taste everything all at once lol. The food is there for you to enjoy but it’s ok to not eat if you aren’t hungry. The waste on a ship in insane. I witnessed people pile food on a plate only to eat 2 or 3 things from it and leave the rest. My favorite was cheese burgers. They were delicious, but I eventually had to have a cut off. Oh and the ice cream was unlimited and they had my favorite chocolate and vanilla swirl. Now that I indulged every day and almost every time I walked past. I’m paying for it now, but it was soooo worth it lol.
After all that I will touch briefly on attire. The less the better. I am glad my parents had went on a cruise a few weeks before ours because this was the best information. Sometimes I tend to over pack and because I was going to be gone for a week of course I almost felt compelled to pack enough for two. Again less is better. I planned my days around excursions and just days we may have wanted to dress up for dinner or shows. Bring plenty of swimwear. I took about seven swimsuits with me and wore every one of them. It was great just lounging around in a bathing suit, throw a cover on and heading to a show, and just being free lol. Shorts are great, short flowy dresses, sandals and flip flops, and 2-3 nice dresses or formal dresses if you prefer, for the night designated as elegant dinner nights. Other than that, plan to relax.
Now time for the fun!!! We arrived in Tampa Fl, on Saturday April 20, 2019. This was great because it gave us time to pick up a few other things we wanted to take with us but not have to travel with them from NJ. Once we landed we got our lounge and rental car and headed to the hotel to relax. We pretty much had time to enjoy the evening since we arrived around 3pm. So we checked in and went to take in some of the city. Anytime I go somewhere, I like to check out the local spots vs the regular chain restaurants. Again this is where social media is the best. One hashtag can lead you anywhere. We landed on a place called Armature Works.
Armature Works is a location where food is in surplus but from different restaurants. You are able to choose from a greasy Barbeque pit to a Japanese cuisine. Everything is contained in one building with a nice outside landscape that is family friendly. In addition, there is plenty of parking. We chose a Barbeque place called BNB (Butcher and Barbeque). Originally when I saw the restaurant on Instagram I thought it was a sit down location. It’s not. The layout inside Armature is different food vendors next to each other. So for this one, you would walk up to their location and place your order. Once it was ready you would have to find seating that was arranged throughout the inside and outside of the venue.
Seating in the venue can be a bit difficult depending on how busy it is that day, but it didn’t take too long to find a spot. Due to the size and large variety there are people everywhere, but still easy to navigate through. For me I enjoyed the ambiance of the location. It was something I had never seen before based on layout. Usually I would see a food area where different restaurants and eateries are lined up on the same street, but in this environment everything is under one roof. In addition to the different restaurants, they have additional party space, a rooftop restaurant and club, and several out door restaurants that were attached. The outside is also beautifully designed for kids to play and run around while parents kick back with friends and have food and drinks, all while being able to still closely watch the kids. Definitely a great atmosphere for a spring and summer night. Check it out if you’re ever in Tampa. After enjoying dinner we just relaxed and prepared for our departure on Sunday.
The day has arrived!!!
Sunday April 21, 2019!! lol. This was finally departure day. What was this experience about to be like. We started the day off with a simple breakfast. Realized we forgot a few things so we headed back to Walmart. Afterwards, we returned the rental to the airport and hopped in an Uber headed to the port to board. Everyone had to be on board by 3:30pm. We weren’t sure what the process would be like or how long it would take so we arrived about 1:30pm. The process was quick and easy. We didn’t have any lines and was on board within 30 minutes of our arrival. After checking in and having our bags scanned, we were ushered over to where we received our boarding passes. After receiving those we made our way through the port to enter the ship. Of course you get to have your photo taken the moment you are about to board. I of course had to take pics of the ship and other things around me.
Once all pics were taken we boarded the ship and headed straight to our room. Thank God for the ability to read lol. The moment we got on, we were on our own. We had to look at the ship map to figure out where we were located and how to get to our room. Luckily we were already midship so the journey wasn’t too bad.
Upon arrival to our room, everything we would need during our stay was already there. At first glance of entering the room, I was in love. I’ve seen the layouts of the different room options on the ship and it was amazing having one with a balcony. I am an addict of fresh air. Whether its sleeping with my windows open or freezing out my coworkers at work with my office window open. I love fresh circulating air lol. This balcony gave me all of that with a gorgeous view every morning and night.
Upon arrival they also had our documents we would need throughout the week. They gave us our ship ID card which we had to carry everywhere and use to purchase everything. Whatever you do, keep your folio number safe. That card is directly linked to whatever credit card you have on file with the ship. You could not get on or off the ship without it. In addition, our tickets for our first excursion and a fun times book, that told us everything that would be happening on the ship the remainder of the day, and for our first day at sea.
Once we were settled we went and enjoyed the lunch that was already prepared for us prior to it ending at 3pm. After lunch we returned to the room and began to plan the evening a little. At about 3:45pm they began the safety drill. The drill is basically the practice run of what you should do and where to go in case of an emergency. The drill lasts about 30 minutes. During the drill you are to go to your assigned mustered station. This is the area where you would board a life boat. They will scan your ID to know if you participated in the drill. If you don’t, the first attempt will be to call your cabin number over the intercom, if you still don’t come, once its over, they will contact your cabin directly to tell you to come and have your own personal session. Just do it in the beginning and get it over with.
After the safety drill was over the first event was the sendoff party. It was a good time to tour the ship but also enjoy music and some dancing as you vacation begins. We enjoyed the music and atmosphere and then began our tour of the ship. I recommend doing this the first day you get on and throughout the day at sea. This will make navigating to different activities and areas of the ship easier throughout the week as timing comes into play.
After the tour we returned to the room to check on our luggage. They guaranteed delivery time was by 7pm. This is important to note because once you check your bags upon arrival at the port you wont have them right away after boarding the ship. We made sure to pack changing clothes in our bag just in case we wanted to change prior to them bringing our luggage up. Also make sure any medication or beverages you want are in your carry on also because you won’t have access to it until the luggage is delivered.
After getting our luggage we decided to stay in the room a bit an unpack and organize our things. This was good timing because nothing was going on yet and the welcome aboard show was later in the evening. That gave us time to plan a few things for the next day as well. The thing I liked most about Carnival is the app we were able to use while on the ship. On the Carnival app we were able to see all the events happening on the ship throughout the day and add the ones we wanted to participate in to our favorites. As the event approached you were sent an alert of what time it was starting.
Prior to the welcome show we decided to go have dinner at the restaurant on board versus the buffet. The restaurant for us was basically a more formal way of dining where you had the opportunity to order dinner from the menu. The menu is basically the same thing they offer at the buffet just in a formal style. The only thing is, it tasks a while to receive it in comparison to getting it yourself at the buffet. It was night one and I was disappointed with my meal because my salmon came to me a bit undercooked to my liking. Given the time (8:50pm) dinner service for buffet and restaurant would be coming to an end at 9:30pm. In effort to not waste more time we left the restaurant and went down to the buffet area. I enjoyed enough to hold me over until breakfast. After attending the welcome show we decided to call it a night. We figured we had a week to enjoy all the fun clubs and places on board and the next day was a day at sea which would give us time to do so.
Monday April 22, 2019. This was our Day at Sea. For me that meant ” Dear Lord, don’t let nothing go wrong on this ship while there is no land insight. Yes I can swim but I would prefer to do it for fun not to survive a shipwreck. AMEN.”
This was the day where the only thing you could see on every side of the ship was water. It was a beautiful sight. The ships entertainment team has every minute of this day laid out for you, from sun up to sun down. All you have to do is wake up and put some clothes on. Our first step was going to a presentation about things to do on board and at the port locations. This was great because although we had already chosen our excursions this presentation allowed us to see the history of different ones, which excursions were most popular and allowed us to see if we wanted to change ours. It also gave insight on the must attend events on the ship.
After the first presentation we decided to stay for another one about shopping. Now I had every intention to purchase souvenirs in every location. I thought this presentation would give me the inside scoop on the best souvenir locations at each port. I was wrong. It was more about buying diamonds. Now I understand they are a girls best friend. However, I’m not there yet. I am not on this cruise to go find the purest cut diamond, tanzanite, and no other stone. Long story short we wasted 2.5 hours of our day involving this presentation. Lesson learned. The bright side is I now know Cozumel is one of the best places to buy diamonds.
This was our first lesson in how fast the day will pass us by. Before we knew it our morning was gone. We went and quickly had lunch as we wanted to enjoy a game of BINGO that was happening at about 3pm. This is where “in case you have to pay extra for on board activities” come into play. For us BINGO was an additional cost but it was fun nonetheless. After the game we decided to go and soak up some sun for a bit and relax. After all that’s the point of the vacation.
This day was the first of two for an elegant dinner. It was nice to see everyone dressed up in beautiful dresses and gowns and men in suits and tuxedos. Yes some people go all out. Again we dined in the formal restaurant and the meal was a lot better than the previous evening. We even enjoyed a musical performance by the wait staff. Be on guard for the shot man. I call him that because he’s the one walking around the room with a tray of shot glasses ready to entice you to have one. I’m a sucker for blue and of course the shot glass was blue with the word carnival engraved on it. So yes I got one lol and considered it a ship souvenir lol. See, I killed two birds with one stone. A good tasting stone at that. 🙂
After dinner we went and enjoyed the sunset, prepared our backpacks for our excursion the next day, and then headed down to the comedy club for an evening of laughs. One thing I liked most about the comedy shows were they always had two sets. The first was considered their PG-13 show and the second was the adult show. Given that the show ran until about 10:30pm we decided to call it a night after it ended. Our meet up time for departure to our excursion in the morning was 7:30am. This time was not of God! I was on vacation and still had a work schedule. This is probably the only downfall to having excursions. THERE’S NO SLEEPING IN!!!!
Also, before I begin the excursion fun, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE take a watch that you can set as an alarm. Meaning one outside of your cell phone or apple watch or anything that will automatically switch time zones. This is important because the ship DOES NOT alter times. The entire time you are on your cruise the ship will remain on the time of the US port you left. Basically for us, we were on Tampa time at all times.
Why is this important? It’s important because even while you are on your excursion you have to abide by SHIP TIME. We had to rush on our first morning because my sister’s phone switched time zones while we were asleep, so what we thought was 5:30am was 6:30am ship time, thus her alarm did not go off. Our meeting time was 7:30am and we still wanted to get breakfast. Thank God my phone had not switched time zones and the 6:30am alarm I set went off. We would have completely missed our excursion. Also, your report time back to the ship is based on ship time. So even if it’s 3:30 in the location it may be 5:30pm ship time and you need to be back on the ship. YOU WILL BE LEFT BEHIND!!!
Also be sure to check with your service provider on if you have an international plan. I love Verizon. Our service in Mexico was free. Every where else we were charged $10 per day for service. For me that’s a decent price. I basically used it for contact with family and friends and some social media posting. Other than that you are enjoying your excursions. The cruise is a great time to disconnect from the world, so I enjoyed the limited access during the times when we were at sea.
Tuesday April 23, 2019. COZUMEL MEXICO. In our case TULUM MEXICO. We never stepped foot in Cozumel lol. Here’s why. When we went through the list of excursions being offered, we tried to pick the ones that offered the most historic points of the country. Ones that gave us scenes but also history of the land. Going to the Mayan Ruins in Tulum was what best fit that category for us and it was beautiful. The reason we never saw Cozumel was because in order to get to Tulum you have to take a tinder boat (water taxi) to the mainland which is about a 45 minutes ride away from the port in Cozumel. From the ship, you board the tinder, and after your excursion you are brought right back to the ship in time for the ship to depart.
I don’t regret picking this excursion because it was worth the views, learning, and seeing the ruins up close. In addition, we still had the opportunity to purchase souvenirs and enjoy the sites around the ruins. This excursion was 7 hours. As I said the first 45 minutes is the water ride to Playa Del Carmen. You then board a charter bus that takes you on the approximately 1 hour journey to the ruins. During the ride your tour guide gives you the history of the different areas and different landmarks. Upon arrival you are given an opportunity to use the restrooms and the rules of the ruins.
The restroom stop was quite interesting. First off the guide made sure to let us know where the best place to use the restrooms were, because in certain areas of the ruins they would charge tourists to use the restroom. In this one, the process was interesting. I learned something new within the first 10 minutes of arrival. When we go to the bathroom in the States, you are usually greeted with the ability to lock the door as well as having tissue already in the stall. Not here. Now I’ve used the restroom before with being able to lock it but I would prefer to have tissue in the stall. Luckily for me I carried some with me. It was only after I was finished that I noticed they had a roll of tissue hanging on the wall when you first come in, and you would take what you need with you into the stall.
For this tour, one thing to keep in mind you is, you will not be the only tour there, so it is important to identify faces in your group and remember who your guide is. During the first hour of the ruins tour the guide gave us the history of the Mayan people and how they developed their buildings and what they were used for. He went from different popular landmarks and explained its history and answered any questions. After he was finished we were allowed approximately 2.5 hours to explore on our own and take in the ruins independently with a time to be back at the bus. This is the best time to take in the ruins and capture your own piece of history up close.
I must say it was very hot at the ruins with little to no shade. Again this is where research comes into play. When booking excursions it gives you a list of things you should bring. We were smart and followed the list. We brought the bookbags we used back on our west coast explorations trip with us. This ensured we had enough water to remain cool and hydrated as we walked around the ruins. I would suggest if you want to do this type of excursion you have a similar source for hydration. It’s worth it. Also sunscreen is very important. Although he wore sunscreen we still had a bit of sunburn on our shoulders.
Once we had completed seeing everything in the ruins we headed to the gift shop areas. Our tour guide has previously given us a full disclosure of what stores were best for tourists. As everything is about marketing I understood why he gave us that heads up. After looking around for our perfect gifts and souvenirs we finally made our selections and headed to the bus. Upon arrival we were greeted with an ice cold towel to cool us off before getting back on. I still appreciate that towel lol. It was really hot. After everyone was on board we began the 1 hour journey back to Playa Del Carmen in order to catch the tinder back to the ship. In Mexico they have a saying ” After Fiesta is Siesta”. This was our time to relax and catch a nap during the ride back lol . Once we got back to the port we were boarded back onto the tinder and taken back to the ship in time to depart to our next location.
Once we were back on the ship we were ready to shower and head to dinner. This was one of the excursions that didn’t include a meal and unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to enjoy the local food near the ruins. After dinner I was ready to pass out but took time to enjoy the ship activities that included a mini deck party and another comedy show. Also the adult night in the serenity adult only area when I was able to enjoy the night air, a lovely breeze, a glass of wine, and a good book. God I wish for more nights like that. Once I started dozing I got up and went to my room lol. Again I had to get ready for another early rising.
Wednesday April 24, 2019. BELIZE CITY, BELIZE. This is the location where an excursion is a must. The port of Belize is not that big. If you don’t schedule an excursion you will be back on the ship for the remainder of the day after about 45 minutes to an hour. For us we chose to go cave tubing. This was a relaxing and cool water excursion. It also included lunch. Originally we had chosen to go snorkeling in the barrier reef but decided against it because we were doing it the next day in another location.
Similar to the previous day we had a departure time of about 8am. We were then water taxied over to the pier where we met up with our tour guide, that would take us to the caves. Similar to the excursion in Mexico the ride was about 45 minutes to get to the cave. During this time the tour guide gave us the history of different landmarks throughout the country. Upon arrival to the excursion location (Chukka – Jaguar Paw Park) you are greeted with the staff there who will review the rules and items you can bring on the excursion. Given that you are in a tube the entire time, they provided lockers for you to store your personal items (abut $5 – $15 depending on the size you need). Once you obtained your locker you were then separated into groups of eight and given a life vest, helmet and a tube to use while on the excursion.
During the excursion there is a little bit of walking. After crossing a small lake area, which will also be your exit point, there is still about another 15 minute walk and you will be carrying your tube the entire time. It’s not bad at all. Just switch arms each time one gets tired and keep going, no big deal. This is also the time to enjoy the scenic views that may pop up while walking. Be mindful of your surroundings because the ground is not paved and you can trip on rocks and fall. Other than that you’ll be at the entrance of the cave in no time.
Before you begin your journey into the cave remember to take pictures. The best thing I could have purchased was a waterproof case. I used it every day I had an excursion and was able to get great pictures. Also, be willing to share and take pictures for other people. When you go in large groups or even alone, it really means a lot when you offer to take a couples picture or even someone who came alone because everyone is there to make and capture memories. My group was great, we decided we wanted to have a memory of us together so we took a nice group pic. I linked up with a young couple and exchanged numbers with the wife and we shared the photo with every.
Once you reach the entrance your guide will now tie the 8 tubes together and allow everyone to get on. He has complete controlled of the joined tubes the entire time. All you have to do is lay back and relax. This sounds simple enough right. Well the only thing that will be a challenge is neck balancing. At times you will feel an overwhelming need to readjust in your tube because the way your body is position doesn’t provide the greatest support to your upper body, especially your shoulders and neck. No worries, you won’t fall out of the tube, so just readjust and keep enjoying the tour.
Now I have to warn you. The helmet you have will have a light on it so you can see the different crystal structures inside the cave, however there are moments when the tour guide will have everyone turn their light off and it is pitch black. If you don’t like darkness then this may not be for you. Also its a cave, so yes their are bats. They don’t bother you or fly around your head. If you aren’t looking you may even miss them. However you will hear them. It’s pretty cool actually. I’ve never experienced something like it, no real reason to until this excursion. So if you just want to enjoy something different I recommend this excursion.
The journey through the cave is about a mile long. Based on the people you are with you have the option to play with the water splashing each other. My group was a bit more relaxed. We wanted to hear about the cave structure and just enjoy the journey through. After we were done, we exited the cave where we entered and went to return all the gear. Once you return everything, you are able to go and change your clothes and then sit down and enjoy a nice lunch. Again, you are on some of these excursions for 4-5 hours. If you had to grab a quick breakfast before departing at 8am then you are ready to enjoy a nice lunch around 1-2pm. I highly recommend picking excursions that come with a lunch.
Remember just about everywhere you go will have an option to purchase souvenirs. However, sometimes its ok to be a bargain shopper. The excursion location had a little souvenir shop where we could pick out nice gifts, however I noticed prices seemed a bit high. Shot glasses were about $7-$8 each. Now I’m a shot glass collector and I know the details need to be great to pay that much. So we passed on purchasing there. Which is ok, because where you arrived from the water taxi has plenty of stores to shop. Once we returned back to the port, where we would catch the taxi back to the ship, we were able to purchase different souvenirs at a fairer price. I loved shopping in Belize. I found me a lovely colorful wallet that will be used all summer. It just reminds me of sunshine and looks like happiness lol. In addition, since Belize is none for their handcrafted items and bamboo, I got a nice bamboo mug to enjoy my tea out of.
Because we were enjoying shopping we landed the last water taxi back to the ship. It doesn’t matter which taxi you get on, just get back to the ship on time. Once we boarded we returned to the room and then we were off to the next port.
That night we did a little relaxing but enjoyed all the activities on the ship. First up was attending a game show which was so cute. The ship entertainment really gets creative with ways to put on a good show for the guests. After that we enjoyed dinner and then went back for another show called Love and Marriage. This was interesting to see a wide range of married couples show how well they know each other. The contestants ranged from newlyweds who were cruising as their honeymoon, a couple that had been married over 20 years, and another couple married for over 50 years. They were all entertaining, demonstrating the different levels of knowing one another over time. The last evening activity was an adults only “we can get weird” scavenger hunt. I’ll just say, if your ship has something like this, ATTEND lol.
After hanging out and enjoying the shows we played a little in the Mr. Lucky’s Casino and called it a night.
—–COME BACK AND ENJOY CRUISING THE CARIBBEAN PT 2—-
Next stop is Mahogany Bay Roatan, Honduras and Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands