When choosing a cruise, you need to already have a couple of ideas in mind
1. What part of the world do I want to see? and
2. What style of holiday do I want?
Each cruise line and destination offers such different experiences. You can have the whole 5-star posh frocks and tiara deal or a family ship with waterslides, outdoor movie screens and loads of activities that are (almost) as much fun as the countries you visit.
When my sister Pip and I decided to go for a week’s cruise we chose Carnival Cruises around the Caribbean because our brother lives in the Cayman Islands, and we wanted to add a couple of days in Miami at the end of it with a few American friends.
To be honest, we didn’t mind whether the ship was going to be full of retirees and evening gowns for the captain’s dinner, we were more interested in visiting Cozumel Mexico, Ocho Rios Jamaica and the Caymans. But it turned out to be full of young people, couples and not a mobility scooter in sight!
We boarded the Carnival Liberty in Miami in a very slick operation of customs, luggage tagging (along with 3,500 others) and made our way to check out our cabin. Ours had a balcony and I’d totally recommend you do this to be able to relax in your own space. The Liberty is more party ship than stately. But don’t get me wrong, it has elevators if you don’t want to climb the stairs between decks (although this was our only form of exercise to allow us all the eating, so we staired it) and you can leave the clubbing to the uni students and tuck yourselves away in the theatre, casino, wine bar or have an early night.
What we loved about this cruise was the people we met who were just like us, space to sit on our own balcony, read a book and watch the endless Gulf of Mexico as flat as a millpond, and the (non naf) activities we could choose from. We went to an art auction onboard where original paintings and etchings went for thousand of dollars to collectors. We also got to know our cabin boy who brought us hors doerves and created crazy towel animals for our beds and our waiters who served us each night in the restaurant and gave us tips on what to do the next day. Oh and we quite enjoyed our self-imposed $20 per day limit to have a flutter at the casino …
First stop: Cozumel, Mexico – Day 2
I was a bit concerned that this port town might be a tourist trap and not really a taste of true Mexico, and while it is like that, there is great shopping! Cozumel has a reputation for good prices on diamonds and the new gemstone, Tanzanite, from Tanzania. Alas the prices are still a bit beyond our budgets, but I did manage to haul back a Mexican rug on which I plan to have picnics with nachos and margaritas, a handpainted plate and an enormously heavy coral chess set. I love chess sets and this now boosts my collection to 3. However I did not personally lift this one up until the man had wrapped it for my voyage home. It weighs as much as a small child. But it’s really cute, it has Mayan styled castles and its pawns are little Mexican men wearing sombreros.
Second stop: Georgetown, Cayman Islands – Day 4
The Cayman Islands are edged with hotels along pristine 7 Mile Beach, but only a few blocks back from the sea it is more typical of a Caribbean island with dilapidated houses and funny old cars. As Pip described it when our ship pulled away later in the afternoon, it’s less manicured than she expected it to be. Since our brother and his wife live here, we didn’t purchase one of the shore excursions to go out to Stingray City, they organised a mate and his boat to take us.
Stingray City is a sandbar in the middle of the bay where dozens of wild Southern rays flock to greet tourists who dive off the boats with squid for their lunch. They’re huge – about a metre in diametre and slimy like a wet mushroom. The younger ones are soft as silk and the old girls (boys are smaller than girls in the stingray world) have freckly, rough backs. We trepidaciously tiptoed around them being gingerly brave, but they’re as safe as houses really.
After about 20 mins we headed off to their favourite restaurant, Calypso Grill, right on the water and indulged in delicious crab cakes and a couple of wines.
Third stop: Ocho Rios, Jamaica – Day 5
Today most of the folks onboard headed up the stunning Dunn’s River Falls. And by that I mean 2000 people wading through the waters, climbing up and down these staircase-like falls. Decision time: shopping or holding hands in a human chain and climbing slippery rocks….
We chose shopping and contented ourselves with postcards of the falls and had no regrets. Of course you will get every vendor in the land calling at you to come and look ‘no pressure’. Yeah right. But we were up for it and nabbed some great bargains on paintings, rasta hats with dreads, porcelain, souvenirs. Ocean Village Shopping Centre, about 200m up the road, is a styly complex with fancy jewellery and watch shops and boutiques.
We found Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville where a man was busking out the front by turning his body inside out. (Check out the vid below).
Tip: bartering is expected
Offer about 50% below what they ask and work up. For the really intrepid, walk up the main road to Ocho Rios Craft Market where 135 vendors all have cubby’s the size of a phone booth invariably selling the same stuff that they buy in from Kingston. You will certainly be ‘cajoled’ here. We loved it. Just smile, look at their wares and tell them you’re from NZ – mon!
On the 7th day we arrived back in Miami and as we speak are trying to figure out when we can go cruising again!
I just came back from a week’s cruise to Cuba on Fathom, a Carnival-owned ship. Here’s my post on 20 things to know before you go to Cuba!