This is a report from our recent cruise aboard the Carnival Valor the rest of the report may be found on the Carnival message board.
NOTE: Costa Maya is now closed due to damage from Hurricane Dean and may not reopen for up to one year.
We chose the Western Caribbean because we liked the idea of the Central American destinations. We have spent time in Costa Rica and enjoyed it so, for a cruise, this one seemed a good choice.
Grand Cayman: We could take it or leave it. It is a nice enough island but unless you are going to do some diving not much to distinguish it. The locals are friendly and very professional just as you would expect. We went down to seven mile beach – no excursion, just hopped in a van. Price for the ride was $5 each way – not too bad. If you want a chair its $10 each – so for 5 of us that would be $50.00 but it included a water – pretty pricy for a couple of hours on a crowded beach. Went back into town and shopped a bit, the stores are nice but I’m sorry to say the Caymans didn’t impress us much.
This is a pretty little island that is fast becoming a hot spot. The development that is going on is rapid and American or British. The local population seems to be starting to benefit from the incoming dollars. Went thru some pretty poor areas as you would expect in Honduras but you could see signs of improvements and when I talked to a few Hondurans (in Spanish) they confirmed that things were looking up for them. We booked our own ‘excursion’ to Bananarama on the West Bay Beach. This is a funky little hotel with a high PADY dive rating, we were hoping the mainstream crowd wouldn’t be there. Wrong. At least a hundred people from the ship showed up right after we did. The beach is beautiful and we swam out and did a nice long snorkel (our own masks/snorkels - their fins) over a nice shore line reef with a BIG drop on the other side. We snorkel a lot and this was a really nice reef for being so close to shore which made it easy. The staff at Bananrama was great – had a nice lunch which was reasonable. So for Roatan – get there soon because it will be built up before too long. The cost for the excursion was $25.00 per person which included transportation in a nice van with a good driver – Omar – snorkel equipment if you need it, use of the chairs, kayaks etc. Lunch not included. Seemed a fair price.
For the next two stops we booked our own excursions from www.caribbeanshoretours.com
(Island Marketing) which proved to be much cheaper than booking on board. Based on our experience I would recommend them without hesitation. They provided what they said, the guides were professional and the vehicles better than we experienced in Miami.
Belize has a good, stable economy and this shows. Like all C.A. countries there is a fair amount of poverty but the standard of living isn’t too bad and they have done a lot to make the waterfront and city very presentable. Don’t get me wrong because I will travel anywhere and actually like to get into the local scene, but I’m assuming that most people on a cruise don’t want to get typhus or malaria vaccines when they travel.
We were met on the dock by our guide after a nice long tender ride in from the ship. We did the Cave Tubing X-stream Tour. After a 45 minute ride we took a hike up to the caves thru a secondary rain forest. The girls jumped off the cliff into the pool – I did not - and our guide took us thru the first cave which was great – bats and tarantulas made it even better. We then came out of the first cave only to come upon 50 or so other tubers that couldn’t resist screaming at the top of their lungs as we entered the 2nd cave. The caves were also nice but suddenly crowded and noisy. Our guide Javier was terrific, very pleasant and well informed. He had a BS in Biology so could tell us a lot about the native flora and fauna which was great.
Costa Maya – Mexico
This is an entirely invented port – owned apparently by one man who has a monopoly – at least that is what I was told. There is a very crowded pool and shopping mall there. The best thing I could recommend to you is to pay the $3 to get the bus into the town of Mahahual. It is only $2 to get back. There is a nice beach there, lots of local bars, restaurants and our dinner companions said they got a nice one hour massage right on the beach for $20 – can’t beat that. Unfortunately it would now appear that both of these places were severely damaged byHurricane Dean which hit them dead on.
We took an excursion from there to the Chocchobean Maya ruins. It takes about an hour to drive inland to get there. The van driver was good, we spoke in Spanish, because his English was minimal. He was young and really enjoyed being with the girls, but he was respectful. It was really HOT inland so I was glad we brought lots of water and there was some on ice in the van. The ruins are just being excavated but were still pretty impressive. We were pretty tired by the time we got back to the dock so I was glad we didn’t have to line up for a tender and could simple walk on to the ship.
NOTE: We were at several of our destinations with the Carnival Legacy including this one.
I now consider this an excursion because the City of Miami was the worst part of the trip. Our first hotel the Ramada Inn Miami Airport North was disgusting – I have stayed in cleaner 1 star hotels in the heart of Central America and they didn’t have running water. If I had been in C.A. I wouldn’t have minded but at U.S. prices and with a brand name the place was seriously decrepit. The van ride they provided to us to the Port was hair raising. We had two drivers racing each other doing over 70 mph down city streets and playing chicken at the red lights.
On our return to Miami the taxi drivers at the docks tried to rip us off – the only time we experienced this on our entire trip. They tried to charge us $10 per person when it should have been a $32 flat rate to South Beach. We finally got a fair and legal price and the van had no AC (it was in the 90’s when we got off the ship) and one of the doors wouldn’t shut properly.
Thankfully our second hotel – The Catalina – in South Beach was funky and clean and we enjoyed an evening in the Lincoln Road mall which made Miami more palatable. Sorry to say but Miami needs to do a major education campaign with the tourist trade like NYC did several years back.