Uncharted Territory: A Western Caribbean Family Cruise Vacation

December 17, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

 

This has been quite the year for international travel for me what with Paris, Scotland, Iceland and now this cruise. I was excited about the trip and happily anticipated getting to experience another part of the world, but was a bit apprehensive of the style of trip as I'm really not very good at relaxing. As it turns out, I barely had the chance to relax! As we spent quite a bit of time on the boat playing cornhole and fusbol I have fewer pictures and anecdotes than from some of my other trips, but I couldn't help but document the vacation anyways. I've compiled the week into one blog post instead of a daily log.

Day 1: Traveling and Florida 

My schedule is either very easy to work with or prohibitively difficult - there's no in between - and in this instance I'd just happened to have a wedding scheduled for the Friday before our embarkation so Jeremy and I ended up leaving Asheville around 12:30am to make the 9 hour drive to Port Canavaral. As we saw very little traffic this turned out to almost be a blessing in disguise. 

Once we were finally through security and able to board (I like cruise security better than airline security because they'll let you have a bottle of wine in your carry-on!), the dulcet tones of club music greeting me, quickly followed by an amalgamation of burger, burrito and buffet smells that to my rumbling stomach were actually quite appealing. We enjoyed Guy (Fieri's) Burgers while sitting in what little shade we could find and then took a tour of the boat - me scoping out all of the spots where I wanted to quietly read - while waiting for my in-laws and in-law-in-laws to come aboard. 

Because its not a trip with me without at least a luggage scare, ours were some of the last bags to arrive at the rooms on our deck. I was fully prepared to have to live out of my carry-on once again. But arrive they did so we were able to dress nicely for dinner every night as planned. We had the late dinner slot (8:15) so I spent an enjoyable evening reading Reading Lolita in Tehran in a hammock on the adult Serenity Deck (the supposedly quiet one) before chowing down, contemplated burkas and chadors while in my sheer tank top and shorts.  

Day 2: At Sea

One of the things I was looking forward to most was getting an hour massage because boy did I need it! I scheduled one for the morning of our first full day at sea so that I might have a chance at relaxing during the week. That lady found knots in places I didn't even know had muscles! 

Our odd occurrence of trip happened just around lunch. As Jeremy and I sat down for a quick bite, I spied what I thought was a small boat but could easily have passed for a large buoy at that distance. As we got closer, a Coast Guard plane began circling overhead and through my zoom lens I could see that it was, in fact, a boat filled with people. Though we never heard their full story, our supposition is that this group was trying to sail from Cuba (which we were sailing by) to the US and looking at their ocean-colored boat were trying to do so unseen. We stopped and turned around quickly  - or as quickly as an enormous boat can turn - preparing to take the group on if need be, but the Coast Guard got the situation under control and we went on our merry way again. I must admit I was more than a little uncomfortable sailing by on a party boat while they were frantically signaling to us. 

That evening I walked on the 10-laps-to-the-mile "track" at sunset and enjoyed a beautiful breezy evening while listening to The Book Thief on audiobook. I could only chuckle at how starkly my literary choices contrasted my experiences while listening to them. 

Day 3: Costa Maya

This was our first port and my first time seeing water so crystal clear. I quickly learned that these ports were large touristy souvenir shopping centers more than anything else, but they did have their own local flair at each one. At this particular port after quickly giving up on shopping, we watched an ancient rain dance ritual wherein the "flyers" performed acrobatic feats in the air while chanting to the gods for rain. It was a little dizzying but made for cool photos. 

Afterwards, Jeremy and I spent the afternoon relaxing by a pool with a swim-up bar, enjoying frozen margaritas while people-watching our ship mates. Oh, and I did buy one thing in the shops: there was a small handcrafted chocolate store that I could not resist buying from. That $10 bar of locally-made dark chocolate with coffee was absolutely worth it! 

That evening the port of call menu had one of my favorites dishes - chile relleno - so naturally I had to get it. It could've used a side of good ole refried beans but who am I to complain. 

Day 4: Honduras

Honduras gave me a taste of the local culture that I was looking for, if only an amuse-bouche. As one of our excursions, Jeremy and I decided to zip line through the canopy so as to briskly see the sites and in order to get there we had to take a bus through the Island (we'd made port in Roatan.) What caught my eye at first was the clutter; houses on top of one another, junk yards dotting the side of the road with car parts everywhere, trash throughout. I knew the country was poor but reading about it in a textbook and seeing it in person are two vastly different things. The second thing that caught my attention were all the clothes lines with colorful apparel strung up from house to house. To me, this alluded to a simpler life, a romantic idea of drying the wash in the ocean breeze. 

I was nervous for zip lining as it was my first time but my fears were unfounded as the exhilarating rush of almost literally flying through the trees matched with the brief moments I could see views of sandy beaches or bright blue water made for quite the adventure. Our guides were hilarious too. All spoke English but often tried to get us to speak Spanish, giving confusingly bilingual directions to those who had little knowledge of the language. They either greatly enjoyed their jobs or had no fear of falling as they all liked to goof off while flying through the air, getting a running start on the next line or pretending they couldn't stop and were going to bowl into us. That was fun once I wasn't worried about falling to my death.

Apparently the excursion company thought we needed to lower our heart rates as the second half of our excursion solely involved relaxing on the beach. We snacked on hot dogs and fresh local fruit (the sweetest pineapple I've ever tasted!) while trying to avoid eye contact with pushy merchants then dipped our toes in the water to cool off. We even got to glimpse the wildlife as a seller of banana donuts (whose two word song about his goods is to this day stuck in my head) fed the iguanas and fish with bits of fried dough. I managed to fit a workout in by "pool" running back and forth in the deceptively deep clear water. 

Day 5: Belize

Belize was the opposite of Honduras in that by staying at the port, we only saw shops. However, I did get to feed my addiction by finding a bar with wifi and answering all my client emails. I know I'm fairly addicted to screen time but not having the ability to communicate with anyone outside of my small group on the cruise made me oddly claustrophobic. 

That evening did prove to have the most "exotic" food: the local favorite, "fry jacks" (kind of like crackers) with guacamole, chipotle mayo and deliciously sweet refried beans; ox tongue with onion marmalade; perscuitto-wrapped cantaloupe; pork tenderloin cooked in mango, plantain and local spices; and ending with a more normal s'mores parfait. If there's one thing I can say about food on the cruise its that there certainly was no shortage of it!

Day 6: Cozumel

Our last port proved to be the best overall day of the trip, though this only happened because two of our excursions got canceled. We'd initially planned to cave tube in Belize and I had a yoga retreat on schedule for Mexico but both were unfortunately canceled. As it happened, we booked a last minute snorkling excursion that turned out to have quite a few fun add-ons! 

The snorkling in itself was quite enjoyable - we went in the morning so it wasn't too hot (and I was wearing a long sleeve just in case!) and we got to see schools and schools of colorful fish and coral. Apparently a barracuda also made an appearance but I only saw the backside of a human being. 

Afterwards, we had a fajita lunch coupled with a guac-making demonstration which ended with us nomming on the delicious green snack while being serenaded by puns. The biggest surprise came in the form of 9 bottles of tequila. No, we did not drink them all, but we did taste each of them! A wine snob rather than a tequila fan myself, I was apprehensive of the hand-sanitizer-smelling liquid, but even the first of the batch went down smoothly. Naturally, the more aged the drink, the more full and smooth the taste so my favorite was probably the most aged. We also tried flavored options of blueberry, citrus, almond, coffee and something sweet that I don't now remember. 

Bellies full and heads just slightly buzzing, we headed back to the boat to prepare for the last formal dress night and an evening full of stiffly-posed photos. 

One thing I found really interesting was the sheer number of people from other countries who worked on the cruise. Our waiters for the week - Reymundo from the Phllipines, Putu from Indonesia and IWayan also from Indonesia - occasionally talked of home, how they would work non-stop for 6 months before a break and rarely saw their families, how Reymundo ate Chinese food in Cozumel because he was craving Asian food. We'd become such good friends that by the end of the week it was sad to have to leave them!

Overall, it was quite an enjoyable trip full of food and sites during the days and cornhole, fusbol and again food during the evenings. It was quite a pleasure to practice my vacation documenting and storytelling so as to hopefully one day document someone else's travels other than just my own. 

To see the full gallery of images from the cruise, click here


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