Rather than analyze our two cruises to death, I thought I’d pass along some general observations and humorous anecdotal lessons learned.
Our second trip was on RC’s Mariner of the Seas, here shown
moored off the coast of Belize a few days ago.
I took this pic from a tender, but more on that further down in this
Carnival’s check-in process was an absolute nightmare, in my
opinion. There was no place to wait
indoors, so we stood outside in line for almost two hours before even making it
to the security screeners in the Port of Galveston Terminal 1 building. It was so cold outside that the terminal
staff had to pull families with babies and senior citizens out of the line and
cut them in front, because the very old and the very young simply couldn’t bear
the cold for that long. |
RC’s check-in process in Terminal 2 was much more humane, with easy access to a climate-controlled interior waiting area with comfortable seating. When you’re wrangling five children, these things are important. However, RC’s check-out process was an absolute nightmare (in my opinion). It took 1.5 hours of shuffling through the line simply to progress from our stateroom to the US Customs desk in the terminal. Whereas checking out of the Magic had been comparatively easy.
Sorry if font size and spacing issues are manifesting - that's Blogger's fault.
Here’s a pic of Magic’s central entertainment deck, shown at
night, obviously. I found the design to
be sleek and less cluttered than its RC counterpart. |
|Boarding and security processes aside, getting to the embarkation entails a mere 30 minute drive down the freeway for us! And a cruise ship offers a great vantage point for gawking at Galveston.|
|Galveston Ship Channel. I began my latest career phase on this waterway twenty years ago, so I am fond of its unique industrial beauty.|
Our Magic cruise last year visited three destinations on the
Yucatan peninsula of Mexico: Costa Maya,
Cozumel, and Progreso. I don’t recommend
this sequence because the activity options for two of those ports of call are so
limited (in my opinion). |
This is the stunning view upon approaching Costa Maya, but guess what?
Progreso is mostly an industrial port accessible by a long
man-made dike which extends to the mainland (analogous to the Texas City Dike). The only way out of there is by
motor vehicle. This is a pic of the port
at night. Once again, I have a
professional fondness for industrial ports, but I don’t necessarily wish to be
looking at one from my cruise ship balcony.
From Progreso, we did a cruise-sponsored excursion to the
Mayan ruins at Uxmal, which was definitely worth it. But holy crap, it was a long drive. Doesn’t look that way on this map, but it was grueling.|
I don’t know what any of the other regional Mayan ruins are
like, but the UNESCO World Heritage site Uxmal is wonderful. Worth the
discomfort of a local bus for a few hours (has there ever been any such thing
as a decent Mexican bus?!). Nota
bene: The prices in the Uxmal visitors’
center gift shop are in pesos, not dollars, and there are some really good
deals to be had in there. Actual arts
and crafts, not just tourist trinkets and mass-produced junk. |
|…and three or four more we couldn’t identify from a distance. Do the math on this one – that’s tens of thousands of cruisers all squeezed into this one small alcohol-ridden area at the same time – I personally see no sense in participating in the likes of that. If you don’t book a good excursion away from the crowds, you might not even want to bother disembarking at this port. |
Years ago, I traveled to Cozumel and at the recommendation of a close friend, spent the extra money to stay at the Presidente Intercontinental hotel. If I were doing a non-extended-family trip, that’s the only place to which I would return. Beautiful hotel, great service, private beach and extensive grounds, away from the crowd. I would rather go to a place like that one time than stay three times at some budget hotel swarming with party-pig tourists. When I was at the Presidente in 2000, they had guys with machine guns guarding the front entrance to it. And my child, at that time a toddler, had a section of the private beach to herself.
On our Mariner cruise into Cozumel, I booked a horseback riding excursion, but they moved it three hours earlier in the day without making the change clear, and as a result, we missed it. I confirmed multiple times with the sales agent that she booked the correct cruise, but she neglected to mention the rescheduling. They gave us a full refund because of the confusion that this caused, but we were still left without an excursion that day. Even if you go with a cruise-sponsored excursion, you can’t be too careful in booking these things because of the last-minute stuff that can pop up, I have learned.
Our first Mariner port of call was the island of Roatan, off
the coast of Honduras. We started with a
self-guided tour through the poverty-ridden local town. There were numerous vendors all selling
tourist trinkets and I was almost unsuccessful in locating the only thing I
intend to buy: authentic arts and crafts made by individuals to whom a fair sum
of money returns (to the extent that I can verify this in a third-world
country). I don't feel compelled to single-handedly save the world, but I believe that Fair Trade commerce is mutually beneficial. |
Well, I did buy this mass-produced little turned wooden
container from an old woman in the street.
It was not an authentic handicraft, but she seemed to be working hard and
asked for four dollars. I gave her five. |
I did find what I went into the town to look for: A Christian couple selling authentic local
craftwork for which the money went back to the craftspeople, each of whom had a
little shelf space in the tiny store. I
bought a hand-made bracelet for my daughter and a copy of this book, which I
highly recommend. It tells the real
story of poverty on Roatan, with no Walt Disney ending to it.|
See www.made-in-roatan.com for additional merchandise and the stories behind these artists and this writer.
We booked a canopy tour excursion for seven of us through
Caribe Sky, which did an excellent job.
It was my first time zip-lining and I did feel that their safety
standards were good. We had with us our
three oldest children ranging from eight to fourteen years old, and I was not
worried about them, even when they zipped alone. This is one of their promotional photos which
was on the photo CD that they sold us for ten bucks, which has to be the best
price in the Caribbean (you don’t want to know what the Costa Maya dolphin
encounter photo CD cost… well, maybe you do: I believe it was about $120, but
the dolphin-kissing photos were really well-done). |
Caribe Sky had ten or twelve lines, the longest of which was
almost two thousand feet. I myself
would be satisfied with a quiet observant walk through the jungle, but young
people today always expect more whiz-bang in everything they do. That’s the “new normal”, where the focus is
on somewhat passive entertainment (strapped like a ham shank to a glorified
clothesline??) rather than active interactional experience (walking under one’s
own power, contacting, discovering). This
jungle looked beautiful but I was struck by the eerie silence of the entire
place. I heard only one bird in about
three hours. I don’t know why this
was. Was it the depth of the winter
season? Or have Roatan's poorest
people eaten all the jungle creatures by now?
…and at ground level (this view being a view from outside
the secure area as the peddler is petitioning from beneath the gate). |
We ventured outside the envelope of cruise-sponsored
excursions and hired a randomly-encountered taxi vendor named Carlos Lopez to
take ten of us on a tour of the city and then to a small private man-made beach
/ bar / gift shop area called Cucumber Beach (again, not my choice of venue,
but we had small toddlers with us and they needed a small shallow area in which
to splash). We negotiated $80 for Mr. Lopez’s
services and he required only $20 of it up front, which made us comfortable
that we were not going to get stood up by him.
The beach itself cost about $10 for each adult to enter, less for each
I felt quite comfortable with Mr. Lopez. He was a good driver and an absolute walking encyclopedia of Belize’s history and culture. He pointed out all sorts of features that I would never have noticed and told many stories with humor. For me, that's what the experience of a place is all about. Not going ashore and sipping a margarita in yet another mindless bar. I want to learn something of the people and the place. Otherwise, I’ve traveled all that way for nothing.
Mr. Lopez asked us to recommend him on Cruise Critic, which I will. Here’s another example of the internet connecting people and empowering individuals – cutting out the middle men, who almost always take the lion’s share of the money. How many middle-class American families would jump off a cruise tender in Central America and put their lives in the hands of the first local van driver they encounter in the street? Not many – it’s arguably not the safest course of action. But if you can vet the guy on the internet, it’s a total game-changer.
|Mennonites in Belize. Reportedly, they have a corner on much of the local fruit and vegetable production.|
|“Umma rat on you, hah hah!!!” Isn’t this cool?? Who would have taken the time to selectively vandalize that government vehicle with such skill and cleverness??|
|I also spent $10 on this little basket which was allegedly made by a Mayan womens’ cooperative…|
Now, back to the RC Mariner of the Seas itself.
I did not partake of most onboard activities on either
cruise ship, but because I like ice skating, we took in this ice dancing show
on the Mariner, which was excellent…|
OK, now we need a few arty shots just to round things out before closing.
Sky as seen from the Belize tender. OMG, crushing cruise crowds or not, this view
simply never gets old.|
Near sunset, with a Carnival ship just for scale. Wow. |
“Mommy, there’s something glittering,” my child said. We know that our return sail is bringing us
closer to Galveston when we start seeing these shining in the night. |
Release of the balloons at midnight New Year’s Eve 2013,
interior promenade of the Mariner. |