Sep 2006 – Western Caribbean Cruise
September 16, 2006 – Day 1
Oakland, CA to Fort Lauderdale, FL
We’re back! And this time we’re heading to Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize, and Costa Maya aboard the Carnival Valor. But, before all the fun can begin, we need to take that fun-filled flight cross country so we can meet our ship in Miami.
With an 8am flight out of Oakland, Aunt Mickey was kind enough to pick us up at 5:15am. Yes, the sun wasn’t even up yet. I guess that ended up being a good thing since there was little traffic and we arrived at the airport at 6am.
The lines at the American check-in counter were a little chaotic, but we made our way through, got the bags checked in, hit security, and ended up at Gate 8A at 6:30.
It seems that this is the norm these days. Prepare for the worst with airport security then wait at the gate for a while. Ninty minutes later, our flight to Dallas took off ontime from Oakland with a great view of Pac Bell Park, the San Francisco Waterfront, and the Golden Gate Bridge as we made our ascent to cruising altitude.
There is very little to see out the airplane window when flying from the Bay Area to Dallas. I mean NOTHING. As far as the eye could see there was mountains, desert, and a road here or there. That’s it. Fortunately, we had a fully-charged and music-filled iPod ready to entertain us, and listened our way into an on-time arrival in Dallas.
Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (DFW) has changed since the last time I remembered. It has gotten quieter and with the new train connecting the terminals, our connection was a breeze. We hopped on the SkyLink train for a 2 minute ride to our terminal, and headed for a quick lunch at Au Bon Pain. After that, we headed to our gate, and after a couple quick phone calls, we were boarding for the final leg of our cross-country trip.
American Airlines boasts these power slots on their planes that are compatible with our AC/DC Adapter, so I was planning on using the available power to work on the flight. Alas, after everything was plugged in… No Juice… Oh well, make the most of what we’ve got… The iPod still has hours of battery life, so it is time to plug back in and listen to some tunes…
As we made our way towards Fort Lauderdale, the captain informed us that there was a fair amount of thunderstorm activity in the area, so he took us on “the scenic route” into the airport. Even though we took a detour, we arrived on-time and I got some great camera shots of the “friendly skies” (oops, that’s United’s tagline).
We arrived into Fort Lauderdale Airport, made our way to baggage claim, picked up our luggage, and worked our way to the Rental Car Center to pick up our car.
With our Chevy Malibu in tow, we headed to the Hampton Inn, our evening stop tonight, before we make our way to the ship tomorrow. We checked in and went back downstairs to head out to dinner in the Los Olas Shopping District.
We were looking for a place called Cheeburger Cheeburger, a chain restaurant with great reviews on CitySearch. Unfortunately, after a little confusion, a quick phone call informed us that they shutdown the downtown location, so we made a quick substitution and headed into Cheesecake Factory.
After a great meal of Crusted Chicken Romano and Stuffed Chicken Tortillas, we were full. So, we headed back to the hotel to call it a night.
Tomorrow… Meeting up with Cortney, driving to Miami, getting onto the ship, and setting sail!
September 17, 2006 – Day 2
Fort Lauderdale, FL to Miami, FL
Our wake-up call came at 8am and we got ready for our day ahead. Because I (Natalie) didn’t think ahead pack everything we needed for the night in one suitcase, it took some time to go through all three suitcases to find what we needed. But, eventually we were ready to head down to Miami.
After picking up some drinks for our cruise, we drove down to Coral Gables to meet Cortney, a friend of mine from American University, for breakfast. We had a great breakfast at Gables Diner and enjoyed catching up with eachother. After a nice leisurely breakfast, we headed to the Miami Airport. Yes, I typed right, we had to go to the airport to return our rental car. The rental car company then shuttled us to our cruise terminal.
Upon arrival at the cruise terminal we waited in several lines (security, check-in, Sail & Sign pick-up, and gangway), before boarding the ship. We were immediately impressed with how new and well decorated the ship appeared. When we received our Sail & Sign cards we saw that we were assigned early seating dining. We went straight to the dining room to request a change to late seating. From there, we went to the room to drop off our carry-ons. From there we took a quick look around — the spa, gym, and lido dining. Again, the decor is great. The whole ship is done in an americana theme which was very well executed.
When we get back from our look around our bags were at our door so we unpacked and got settled. Off to the emergency drill before the ship sets sail.
Instead of joining the thousands of other passangers on lido and panorama decks to watch the sailing, Darin found a non-discript door that took us out to the bow right under the bridge. (Yes, it is legal…) We were the only ones out there and we had incredible views. We will be visiting this spot many times over the course of the week.
From there, we had to get ready for dinner as we had to keep our early seating dining reservation for the first night. We sat with two other nice couples in their 30s. It was a very pleasant dinner.
On our way out to dinner, we hadn’t yet met our Cabin Steward Kenish, so we left him a quick note with two small requests… 1. Please unlock and remove the contents of the mini-bar, and 2. Two extra towels for the shower. When we got back from dinner, we came back to find an empty and perfectly chilled refrigerator and wnough towels to keep most of the passenger deck dry… We’re all going to get along great!
After dinner, we went to the art gallery to meet Miguel, the Valor Art Auctioneer. We had a nice chat with Miguel then wondered around the ship until the evening show began. The show was great! The production singers and dancers did a short little diddy, the Cruise Director did her welcome spiel, and Mark Massey did his first comedy show. Everyone did a great job. We are looking forward to more!
From there, we headed to the back of the ship to spend the rest of the evening in the piano bar. Ron, the pianist, was VERY good. We were there from 10:00 when he started until 2:00 when he closed down the bar. We are looking forward to many more nights of his entertainment (if we can continue to handle the smoke).
It’s bed time … tomorrow a sea day.
September 18, 2006 – Day 3
Day At Sea – Enroute to Grand Cayman
This morning started around 9, as we made our way into the Ivanhoe Theatre to check out the Port and Shopping Talk for Grand Cayman and Roatan. As Natalie and I have been to Grand Cayman before, we were really looking forward to hearing about Roatan.
Andrew, the “Port Shopping Guy” proceeded to tell us about 49 stores in Grand Cayman, and a whopping 3 in Roatan… I guess in one way, this is a great thing because it means that Roatan is a much more laid back and non-commericalized place. We’re really looking forward to it! The only problem is that we had to spend about 45 minutes to get through the Grand Cayman part… The consolation prize: I was a t-shirt from DelSol in the giveaway.
After the talk, we headed up for breakfast in Rosie’s — the Lido deck restaurant. After the meal, Darin headed into the gym, and Natalie worked on the Web log.
Around 12:30, it was time to go be art collectors, and we headed to the Eagles Lounge to check out the nearly 1200 pieces of art that the Valor picked up. The only problem was that the computers went down, so it was not possible to actually do the auction, so they held an Art Seminar instead. We hung out for a while, and when completed, we headed out to a late lunch.
Grilled chicken and a little pizza made for a great 2:30pm lunch run. From then, it was time for a little nap.
We had gotten the word to switch our dining room table to the 8:30pm seating, so we took our time getting ready for dinner, and got ready for the Captain’s Welcome Party, then to dinner where we met our new tablemates, Glenn and Diane, and enjoyed some great dinner.
From here, we were informed that the stage production was being postponed due to technical difficulties, so we headed into the theatre and we found out that instead of the scheduled production, we got to watch the male production singer perform a “Variety Show” that was quite simply amazing. Singing, audience participation, and he was having tons of fun.
After that, we hung out for the late show with Mike Massey, the comedian. He did a great 18+ set that was a lot of laughs.
After that, it was time for bed, setting our clocks back, and tomorrow… Grand Cayman!
September 19, 2006 – Day 4
We arrived into Grand Cayman around 8am, though we were in no hurry to run into port… We have both had the opportunity to visit Grand Cayman in the past and, since it was a tender port, we decided to save up some energy and keep things mellow for the day.
We decided to have breakfast out by the pool and enjoyed more of the morning offerings of the Lido Deck Restaurant. After breakfast, we made our way down to Deck 0, where we boarded our tender and sped across the turquoise waters towards Georgetown.
Once we got there, we were hit with hot weather and plenty of humidity as we made our way from one air conditioned store to the next on the waterfront.
Natalie found a really impressive rainbow colored sapphire bracelet and it was pretty eye opening comparing prices from one vendor to the next for the exact same item. In fact, prices in Cayman weren’t that impressive, as we found watches and other items for much more than we have found them in the States… Didn’t seem to slow down any of the other passengers from our ship though.
After a few more stores, we walked along the waterfront, grabbed some pictures, and after shedding about a gallon of sweat a piece, we decided to grab some lunch at Jimmy Buffet’s Magaritaville, a theme restaurant that was pretty impressive! Each of the restaurants in the Caribbean has a different “attraction” and ours was the 2nd floor waterslide that dumped you off about 6 feet from the edge of the bar…
We agreed to skip the slide, but enjoyed some really good Caribbean Chicken dishes. All in all it was a nice, lazy day in port. That was something new for us, as generally we are non-stop from start to finish in each port we visit. It was a change of pace that we will definitely consider again in the future. For our next three ports, however, we will be right back to non-stop action and excitement.
Back onto the tenders and we zipped towards our ship, watching the Carnival Miracle and the Enchantment of the Seas all lined up in the ocean offshore. Reboarding our ship, the cold blast of air conditioning was welcome, but probably also contributed to the slow increase in sore throat pain Darin was starting to feel. Ignoring it to the best of his ability, we napped that afternoon and Darin got up to grab some pictures of the sunset off the front of the ship.
We headed over to the past guests cocktail party and saw the Carnival video. The Cruise Director introduced the Captain and he made is routine “thanks for keeping me employed” speech. After the reception, we headed to dinner and enjoyed another fine meal with our dining team of Natalija and Willy of Lithuania and the Phillipines, respectively.
From there, we headed to the evening’s show which was a combination of comedy and magic, which wasn’t too bad, though was a touch on the hokie side.
Allyn Ball was this evening’s comedian, and although he was no Mike Massey, we headed to his late show, and he did a fine job.
Back to our room, and off to bed… tomorrow is Roatan!
September 20, 2006 – Day 5
Our first big port day brought us to an island off of mainland Honduras called Roatan. Roatan is 45 miles long and 2 miles wide. It is very small but that meant we were looking forward to seeing the whole island in one day.
We didn’t arrived into port until around 11:00am in the morning. So we had a leisurely breakfast in the cabin before we headed out to explore Roatan. The ship was greated by native band and dancers entertaining the passangers as we disembarked the ship. There is not much in the town of Coxen Hole, where we dock, so it was highly recommended that you plan a tour in order to enjoy the visit. We arranged a indepentent tour of the island with Boaden Tours.
Upon exiting the ship, we met up with Teresa from Boaden Tours. She introduced us to our driver/tour guide, Ben. Ben has lived on Roatan for 25 years and was from the west side so he spoke beautiful English. Yes, a 45 mile island has two distinct sides: the west end where everyone speaks English and the east side where everyone speaks Spanish. Very interesting.
A short walk to Ben’s Toyota and we were off to explore. First stop: Roatan Jungle Canopy, where one traverses the jungle by 13 ziplines, 6 bridges, and a small rockwall. Natalie was extremely nervous but our guide, Pedro, was very patient and made sure we had fun. Half-way through she got the hang of it and we both had a blast!
From the Jungle Canopy, we headed to the Arch’s Iguana & Marine Park. Neither of us had any idea of what to expect and we were both pleasantly surprised. There were over 800 iguanas of all sizes that freely roamed the property. Ben found us some leaves to feed them and they swarmed to our feet. After a brief aclimation to this enviroment, Darin decided to hold his new friend. This park also has toucans, monkeys, and a marine area with sea turtles, baracuta and other fish large and small.
We continuted to head east to a resort called Fantasy Island. Tourists aren’t usually allowed out to this resort unless they are staying there. However, Ben had an in and was able to show us around. It was a simple but beautiful resort that was graced by a truely breath-taking beach. We enjoyed the solitude that this place provided, especially after being on-board a ship with 3,000 other passangers.
From Fantasy Island we drove back to Coxen Hole and headed to the west end of Roatan. The west end is blanketed with new construction. Everywhere you look a new condo complexes and houses are being erected. Many people from the United States are coming down to Roatan and buying homes and condos. Right now, the biggest industry in Roatan is construction. But, this isn’t the construction we are used to. They hand mix all of their concreate, use hammers instead of nail guns, and ceiling fan blades were hand made. A driveway that would be paved in one morning in the US, will take three weeks in Roatan.
After driving around the west end, we visited a couple more beautiful beaches and headed back to the cruise terminal. We both feel very grateful for the opportunity to experience Roatan the way it is now, because in 2-5 years it is going to be a completely different island.
Back on board, we showered and got ready for a nap. Before we could fall asleep, an announcement can over the load speaker that we were departing Roatan and there was a beautiful sunset. Natalie, still in her bathrobe, joined Darin out on the bow of Deck 10 (just a couple of feet from our cabin) to enjoy our sailing and the sunset. Once the sun had set, we went back to the cabin to start that nap.
The alarm woke us in time to get ready for dinner. After dinner, we went to see the evening show, a hypnotist. Bluring the lines between real hypnosis and entertainment, it was entertaining watching members of the audience acting like Michael Jackson, catwalking like Victoria Secret models, and stuffing balloons down their pants.
It was a long day and we have an early morning, so it’s bed time.
September 21, 2006 – Day 6
Arriving into Belize, we looked out towards land, and it was a long way away. Because of Belize’s coral reef off the coast, cruise ships can get no closer than 5 miles off shore. We will be tendering into port today, so Natalie and I were up early, had continental breakfast delivered to the stateroom, and made our way to the Eagles Lounge by 7:30 to get tender tickets.
Inside of the lounge, we ran into Duane and Aliza, some great folks we met on the first night in the dining room. They mentioned to us that they too were going Cave Tubing with Cave-Tubing.com, so they joined up with us, and we boarded the first tender out to the shore.
Natalie and I tendered into port in Grand Cayman, but the distance was much shorter and the boat was much smaller. This time around we were put onto this monster that was just short of a jetboat. We plowed through the water at no less than 50 miles per hour and made the trip into Belize City in just under 15 minutes.
Arriving into the port, we began to see many signs of Red, White, and Blue — Belize’s national colors, and t-shirts that read “Alive With Pride — Belize at 25!” Today was Belize’s Independence Day, and their 25th Anniversary of their independence from the UK.
Let me tell you, these people know how to party! We met up with our tour operator, Yhony, and all 14 of us boarded a bus. Here we met our guide and driver for the day, Keith and Tigrito. Both were fantastic and made our day in Belize a fun and memorable adventure.
Cave-Tubing.com started as an independent outfit about 14 months ago and has quickly gained popularity and a major following because of the success of their trips, value for the money, and the high caliber of their staff. This was evident from the start of our trip.
Keith and Tigrito made us feel at home immediately. Keith explained what would be happening today, talked about the safety elements of our trip, and got us ready for our adventure. He wanted to ensure we would stay warm in the “refreshing” water so he gave us all shots of cashew wine. Pretty potent stuff!
We made our way towards the central part of Belize (about an hour outside of Belize City), and arrived at our launch point. Here, we picked up our tubes, lifejackets, and miner lights, and began our hike to the river.
The hike took a bit of work, but walking through the Belize jungle was really neat. We were inside of a national park and jaguar preserve and Keith pointed out a number of trees, plants, fire ants, and other natural features.
When we arrived at the drop point, Duane and I jumped off of the rocks into the cool water and all of us linked our innertubes together as we approached the entrance to the caves.
It was dark, but very comfortable in the caves. Riding on the innertubes as the current slowly took us through the cave system, we admired the stalagmites and stalagtites, along with the waterfalls and other sights. Keith took good care of us and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip.
About 90 minutes later, we reached our final destination and it was time to begin our trip back to Belize City. What a great day!
As we made our way back to the port in our bus, Keith gave us all information on where the big Independence Day festivities will be taking place. When we arrived back to the cruise terminal, we headed to the city center to witness the festivitites. The parade was just finishing up but the street party was in full swing. The streets were full of people, music, and food.
After walking around the city center, we headed back to the cruise terminal and back onto the tender to our ship. Back on board, we took our daily nap before heading to dinner. After another wonderful meal, we went to the evening show: a hypnotist. The hypnotist was okay. Not the best entertainment we had experienced on board though.
Tomorrow we have another early morning so we are heading to bed. Until tomorrow…
September 22, 2006 – Day 7
Costa Maya, Mexico
Exiting our ship this morning, we were greeted by turquoise blue waters in the harbor of Costa Maya, the newest port on the Yucutan Peninsula in Eastern Mexico. It began operations after the hurricanes ripped apart Cozumel, and since then has been attracting more and more cruise passengers each and every month.
Natalie and I were fortunate to come to this port were there was little commericial development — in fact the only development is the port itself. A nearby fishing village Majahual is trying to cash in as well, but with fewer than 500 people, it is a sleepy little town that simply gets busy when the ships show up, and then returns to its former self once everyone leaves.
Aliza and Duane joined us for this excursion, and we exited our ship and headed for the pickup point, where we met up with David, one of the owners of “The Native Choice” our tour operator for the day. He paired our group up with Roxanna, who would accompany us out to Chacchoben, our destination for the day.
From Costa Maya, it was a one hour trip through the dense Mayan jungle to our destination. There is one two lane highway of gray concrete that cuts through this seemingly endless stretch of green. Right now, this is the connection for the rest of the world to Costa Maya — from Merida, Chetumel, Cancun, and other locations. In the future, our guide says it will be a super highway with 5 star resorts shooting towards the skies — we believe her.
Arriving in Chacchoben, we met up with Ivan, our tour guide for the ruins. As we made our way into the jungle, we came upon a clearing and took in the first of several temples and ruins sites that we would be seeing today. It was amazing to see what the Mayans were capable of so long ago, and their abilities were so far advanced at this point in history. Ivan introduced us to the Mayan people, their culture, and their traditions. Better understanding how these sites were utilized and how they incorporated entire societies and communities, Ivan painted a picture of how these people lived, worked, and survived so long ago.
Viewing these massive stone temples, you can only imagine how they could have been made. Ivan told us so much about these people, and how even today, there are Mayan villages deep within the Mexican jungle that still in many ways survive and thrive just as these early peoples did. How can he know all this? Well, the man that owned this land until just recently, and headed up the Archeological efforts of digging up these ruins was Ivan’s father. Ivan grew up playing hide and seek among these ruins, and learned the traditions of the people, as he is a Mayan, speaks Mayan, and continues to represent and support Mayan culture, even among such growth and expansion in the state of Quintana Roo.
While busload after busload of cruise ship passengers in groups of 40-50 people filed their way onto the grounds spending 45 minutes to an hour been read standard tourist spiel about the location, Ivan took our group on an expedition through the site. The 14 of us spent nearly 2 1/2 hours here, and learned more than we ever thought possible. He even went into the Mayan “Pharmacy” (the jungle) and began pulling leaves and other berries out of the jungle to explain to us how to cure headaches, diabetes, high blodd pressure and other maladies just as they have been for centuries. Truth is that many drugs these days are being created from plants and their extracts that have only recently been discovered by Western medicine. The Mayans and other ancient cultures have been using them since the beginning, so I guess they work pretty good.
After walking around the grounds, we made our way back to our van for the trip back to Costa Maya. We enjoyed some locally grown pineapple on the trip back, and enjoyed some great conversation with the other folks in our van. It was a fantastic day.
Upon arrival back at the ship, Darin went out to grab some more pictures, while Natalie was treated to a 2 hour full body massage and facial in the spa… Now that is a way to enjoy the afternoon!
Tonight’s dinner was our final formal night, along with the Gala buffet. We had a great meal with our tablemates, along with Nataliya and Willie and then headed up to the show.
A fantastic day in Costa Maya… Tomorrow, our final day at sea on our way back to Miami.
September 23, 2006 – Day 8
Day At Sea – Enroute to Miami, FL
Well, we were beginning our countdown towards the end of the trip, but we still one more great day at sea as we made our way towards Miami.
Natalie and I woke up and grabbed breakfast on the Lido Deck at Rosie’s and decided that we had to at least consider the possibility that packing our bags had to be done at some point today.
The first art auction of the cruise was cancelled due to a computer malfunction, so it was rescheduled to Belize. We were cave tubing that day, so we headed into the Eagles Lounge for the mother of all art auctions.
There were more than 1500 works in this lounge along with a whole lot of people that were all interested in something different. Natalie and I found some pieces that we were interested in and made our way to Miguel, the auctioneer to discuss if any of them could be in our future.
A few hours later (yes, it was a long session), we had acquired a couple of great new pieces and headed back to our room to pack. We had a few hours before our appointment at the Art Gallery to complete our transaction, so we packed the bags, and then headed down to see Miguel and his team.
After a quick set of signatures and paperwork being completed, we headed over to the Ivanhoe Theatre for the first of two unique shows this evening. The first was a production show that was solid, but nothing like the one earlier in the week.
From here, we headed to the dining room, where we shared our final meal with our tablemates and said our farewells to Nataliya and Willie. Before we got there, we had a chance to see Aliza and Duane and say good bye… We grabbed some photos and exchanged info, and hopefully they will get to see this log and the photo galleries very soon. Onto dinner… This was Nataliya’s last cruise on her contract, and then was headed to Lithuania for her vacation. She told us that she would be back on the ships in November, and if she was at our next table, it would make for a great reunion.
After dinner, and our final Flourless Chocolate Cake for dessert (we had a lot of these on the trip), we made our way back towards the Theatre for our second show.
The final show of the evening was a production called Carnival Legends… Consider it a cross between the production show and a passenger talent show. Passengers audition for roles on the show such as Britney Spears, Elvis, etc. and then they perform songs and perform on stage with the production singers and dancers. It wasn’t half bad!
It was late and we have a very early morning tomorrow and a long day of travel home, so it is time to say good night, and thanks for a great cruise to Roatan, Belize, and Costa Maya!
Tomorrow — Back in Miami, and the trip home.
September 24, 2006 – Day 9
Miami, FL to Fort Lauderdale, FL to Oakland, CA
We arrived back into Miami, and although we were sad to see the end of our vacation, we had an awesome trip aboard the Carnival Valor. It was a great ship and would have few if any hesitations about returning for another trip on this vessel soon.
For the first time on this cruise, we went to breakfast at the evil hour of 6:45 in the morning in the main dining room. French toast and belgian waffles later, we headed back to our room to prepare for the new “Self-Assist” disembarkation. It allows people under their own power to bring their own luggage to exit the ship as the first group. This program proved to be a good one with a single exception to those of us on the 10th floor of the ship. All the elevators were already full of people, so it took a while to finally get down to Deck 3 to exit.
Once we did though, our Alamo rental car shuttle was just a short walk away, and took us over to the Airport where we picked up our Buick Lacrosse, hooked up the GPS, and made our way slowly towards Fort Lauderdale Airport to head home. We had about 3 hours before we had to be at the airport, so Natalie headed us towards Cheeburger Cheeburger, a restaurant that CitySearch had recommended as the best burger and shakes. They were absolutely right. Natalie and I both had BBQ Cheeburgers with Onion Rings. Then to top things off, Natalie had a Mint Oreo shake, and I had an Orange Creamsicle shake. Given that all we would be getting on the flights were drinks, this would take good care of us for the day.
We had great service, great food, and it was very inexpensive, so full and ready for flight, we headed over to the airport. Boarding our flight at FLL was a breeze, and in fact, the airport seemed almost empty! We had plenty of time before boarding, so we used the free internet to check all of the email that had piled up on us, so it wouldn’t be a burden once we got home.
Our flight to Dallas was delayed a few minutes, but for the most part was uneventful. We arrived in Dallas to face a 3 hour layover, so we headed to the Reata Grill for a nice sitdown dinner, and then hung out at the gate for our flight.
We arrived home around 11:00pm and were thankful for Sophie to pick us up and bring us home. I have to be at work at 7:00am tomorrow morning, so we will close out the log here.
Another fantastic vacation — we’re looking forward to the next trip soon! Check back to the log for what’s coming next!