An 11 night cruise on Celebrity Equinox was the next part of our grand adventure. Dubbed the “Ultimate Caribbean” cruise by the cruise line, we visited: Georgetown Grand Cayman; Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; Belize; Cozumel, Mexico.
This was only my 2nd real cruise experience-with the Holland America 7 night cruise as an earlier part of this trip being the 1st. Let me say this now-I don’t think I am a cruiser! Too many people in too small a space for me I think.
For us, this cruise was a way to get to some out of the way places, as well as a rest after weeks of travel decision making. For others on board, the cruise itself is the vacation and many we spoke to didn’t ever get off the ship! Leonie and I did a shore excursion in each location (well, we didn’t actually touch ground in Belize!).
Dining is an experience! We avoided the buffet as much as possible (although it was great for breakfast and lunch) and had dinners in the main restaurant. We learnt the first night that if you don’t want to wait for a table then you need to make a reservation. The first few nights we shared with others-but I got very sick very quickly of the same inane conversation. You can only explain why you are travelling for 12 weeks, and “no, kangaroos aren’t in the main streets” so many times! If the cruise was the beginning of my travels, I think I would have been more social-but after all our travels, I was running out of things to say (exclamations of disbelief!). There seemed to be a mix of Europeans and Americans on board. While I would say most were American, there must have been a lot of Germans as many announcements were made in both languages. We met 1 Australian couple but heard a few familiar accents every now and then.
The formal dining nights were an eye opener! Men in tuxes, women in long gowns, sequins, satin, etc. Leonie had brought a few nice things but I made do with a couple of dresses. It was lovely seeing some of the older couples dressed up, holding hands walking (slowly) through the ship.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Bus tour to a turtle breeding farm that has been going since the late 1960s. They breed turtles for commercial use and release some back into the wild- apparently over 30,000 hatchlings released so far (probably a higher success rate than mother nature provides).
The highlight of the day on Grand Cayman was the Stingray City sandbar-standing in chest to neck high water while very tame stingrays rub themselves over you looking for food! It was nice to be in the water, was a gorgeous day, and fun. My lycra suit starred in many photos!
We took a water taxi from the ship to the old city and a walking tour from there. Even at 9am it was hot and muggy. It was a public holiday so a bit quieter in town, not that I could tell! Brightly coloured buildings with upper balconies covered in lush greenery. Very picturesque. I couldn’t believe that the first store I saw was a Desigual!and they had a sale on! I kept on walking (no, I wasn’t strong willed-the guide wasn’t stopping for anyone!)
There were some very fancy boats moored near the city and I couldn’t help but think of the previous financial crops in Colombia! We passed near a fort used in filming ‘Romancing the Stone’ continuing the movie location aspects of this trip.
One thing with shore excursions-they don’t like you straying too far! We were all given numbers to wear to identify which group we were with- I couldn’t wear a number, it was just too much conformity for me! I had to keep showing it though.
Of course we had to see the Canal, so we did a tour that took as to Gatun Lock. We were lucky with our timing and there were 2 ships going through. I’ve seen locks before but this is Panama! They are building a new section to allow for larger ships- the one I saw go through was such a tight fit I I doubt there would have been room for another layer of paint! Apparently at around $300k a trip it is still heaps cheaper than going the long way!
We also did a cruise on a wildlife section of the canal, and visited a hotel (Melia) that used to be the American Military School of the Americas (or something like that). It was were the military elite of south and central america were sent to learn how to be good dictators. At least it seemed like graduating here was a pre requisite to becoming a dictator- Noriega being an alumni.
The place is huge and mainly empty-an enormous pool and swim up bar going to waste! It is in such an out of the way place in the former US military zone.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
While Costa Rica has been on my travel radar for years –it has been as a dive site off the western coast. This cruise took us to the caribbean side, so we headed off to the interior (a little bit!) for some of the famous Costa Rican rainforest. The shore trip agenda gave us a boat trip through a local canal system (Tortuguero Canal) then a bus trip to the Veragua rainforest centre. I’m always amazed at what local guides (be they dive guides or land guides) can see! Our guide on the canal kept pointing to the banks and it wasn’t until I looked at the photos that I could finally see what he was referring to! A leaf green lizard that looked exactly like a leaf! A male jesus lizard (as it is known locally for its apparent ability to walk on water!).
The Veragua rainforest centre was very well done with sections for snakes, butterflies, and frogs. There is a research campus of the Costa Rican universiry there doing a lot of research into frogs and their disappearance. They have even been having some success encouraging breeding conditions. I was very impressed with the set up. There was a cable car down the mountain for a boarded walkway along the rainforest floor. Very nice and tame for the cruisers (apart from having to run over a section taken over by biting ants!)
I decided to do a dive in Belize so didn’t actually touch Belizian soil (unless you count the sand on the dive aite!). We were supposed to dive the Turneffe Atoll which looked a bit interesting but ended up diving a local reef system. It was nice to get in the water, a pleasant 28C- so very comfy in my lycra suit. Let’s face it-not much can compare to Raja Ampat but it was good to be diving-it was the most normal I had felt the whole cruise!
We didn’t actually see any of Cozumel as we had decided on the Chichen Itza tour. I had been there in 2011 when travelling with Kare,n Chris, and Helen and diving the cenotes-but it was one of Leonie’s must dos-and who can say they have ever seen enough of Chichen Itza? As it turned out, the ball court was open this time so I dis get to see something new! It was over 6 hours of travelling for only 1.5 hours there mind you!
While there is an amazing array of things to do on board, most revolve around shopping, drinking, playing silly games (that you need to have been drinking to do!), exercise, gambling, or going to shows. I went to the gym a couple of times, listened to some of the music, and went to a few talks. There is a glassblowing set up on board and I went to that once-but I found myself being very lazy on the few at sea days we had; and of course I was avoiding the sun and heat as usual! I was very proud of myself for avoiding the Desigual store on board! In fact neither Leonie nor I bought anuything on the ship!
With all food included, it became very easy to have more than usual. A girl can refuse crème brulee only so many times before she gives in, after all! I was stunned to see some people order 2 starters before their main; and in 1 case 2 mains! It's easy if you aren't paying for it! There were at least 12 different restaurants /cafes on board and 15 bars. It took a day for Leonie and I to realise we had an inclusive drinks package-we got it for booking so far in advance, and we’d forgotten! Only when Leonie asked the price of something did she get told! So I got to have cappuccino and smoothies, and Leonie got to try a few fruity confections. There was a very nice slushy bar that did a mean virgin berry slushy!
Cruising is a soft way to travel, and there is lots of it that’s good. It was great not to have to worry about tipping, or where to eat or what to do. We had a great room with a verandah and the housekeeping was fantastic-fresh towels twice a day! Perfect for a total relaxation! But as I said, I don’t know that it will take over from diving or independent travel for me-at least for a while. The demographic on this trip was definitely tending to the 50s plus-and I mean plus! While there were young couples ( and almost everyone on board seemed to be in a couple!) there were very few children (thank goodness) and no teenagers that I could see. Wheelchairs and mobile scooters abounded-cruising is definitely a great way for the mobility impaired to get away. I started to get annoyed with the slow pace of some people though! When you couldn’t get out of a lift on your floor because they didn’t move and didn’t seem to hear you-it got a bit much. I think I need to learn to relax and slow down more!