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Western Caribbean Cruise (PDF)

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					Pete Peterson, Cruise Specialist
Local Phone: 703-858-9898 Toll Free: 866-STORYBOOK (786-7986) Fax: 703-858-9047 Website: www.storybookcruises.com Where Dreams Come to Life! Email: dreams@storybookcruises.com

Western Caribbean Cruise
The Ship
We have been to the Western Caribbean before and have always enjoyed it. Mostly, this is due to the fact that we are scuba divers and Cozumel is one of the premier places in the world to go scuba diving. But I’ll talk more about that later. Although we have cruised a lot, our children (ages 18, 20, & 24) have never been on a cruise, so we decided it was time they went with us. They also invited some of their friends and we ended up with a party of 10; and it was definitely a non-stop party! For this trip, we chose the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas to the Western Caribbean. It is a wonderful ship and has our stamp of approval for families or first time cruisers. The Navigator of the Seas is Royal Caribbean’s fourth of the Voyager-class ships and began service in December 2002. We have been on the Voyager of the Seas a couple of years ago and they took a magnificent design and made it even better with the Navigator. There is much to do on this ship; enough to keep everyone of any age happy.

We were all from the Washington, DC area and two of our party drove down in their car while our three children along with 3 others drove down in our van. It takes about 15 – 17 hours to drive from DC to Miami, so they purchased a couple of small LCD screens and hooked them up to the Playstation and DVD player to keep themselves entertained. Our van had been transformed into a rolling video studio! My wife and I did not want to spend 30 hours in a van with the kids, so we decided to fly from Dulles to Ft. Lauderdale on Jet Blue. (It’s usually much cheaper to fly to Ft. Lauderdale and take a taxi to Miami than it is to fly directly into the Miami airport.) We purchased our tickets directly online for $146.50 roundtrip, which was a pretty good deal. (Spirit Air is another airline with great rates.) When we got to the Ft. Lauderdale airport, we found the taxi stand and requested to share a ride with someone to the Port of Miami. No sooner had he taken our name when two guys walked up and said they wanted to go to the Port of Miami. I asked them which ship they were headed to and they announced that they, too, were going onboard the Navigator. So, we got together in a cab and shared the ride for $15 per person for the 32 mile trip. (The really unbelievable coincidence was that these two guys were booked in the suite right next to ours! Figure the odds of that happening!!) Embarkation usually takes forever, but Royal Caribbean has taken strides to make this as painless and as quick as possible. Some cruise lines force everyone to go through their picture taking area in hopes you will buy them. Most people don’t know that this is not a mandatory stop and they can bypass the line and just board the ship. But Royal does not “push” this so it is very easy to just walk around the stop. This is very much appreciated by those of us who cruise on a regular basis. Anyway, we decided to take this particular trip as they offered us a good rate. We could not afford to book a cabin as Travel Agents because of the possibility of getting bumped and with our group, that would have created a major problem. So, we paid the same rate as everyone else. We normally cruise in a balcony cabin, but with 10 of us, we decided we would splurge and get a Grand Suite with Concierge Service. We are totally spoiled now as the suite was awesome! At 355 square feet, it was twice the size of a normal cabin and was very nicely appointed, with a dry-minibar, a small refrigerator, large TV with DVD/VCR/CD players, large bathroom with a bathtub, and a double-wide balcony (89 square feet). The suite
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has a fold-out couch so it could sleep 4 comfortably. The kids had oceanview rooms in the very front of the ship with large round windows. Hint to the guys: Plan ahead for some nice amenities to be in your cabin to surprise your partner. I had preordered champagne and flowers to be delivered to our cabin and they were there when we arrived, much to my wife’s approval. You can carry on one bottle of wine or champagne with you, so I also brought another bottle along with me for consumption later in the cruise. But you can also buy packages for your cabin that include bathrobes, hors d'oeuvres, champagne, pictures, etc. They add a very nice touch to the romance of the cruise. Ok, back to the ship; we were in cabin 1256 on Deck 10, which is slightly forward on the starboard side. The hallways on this deck run the entire length of the ship, making it easy to get around. But being close to the front of the ship with the all the restaurants in the back of the ship made for a very long walk for meals. We did not feel the ‘motion of the ocean’ during any part of our trip. The cabin was very quiet and our cabin attendant was great. When we first got on board, we went to the Guest Relations desk to take care of last minute details and while standing in line I noticed a young lady in a hard hat wearing a pair of bright orange coveralls. She was standing by a large bronze statue and I couldn’t help but watch her as she began to dust it. She then grabbed ahold of the arm and pulled herself up and was dusting under the arm, on top the head, etc. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing as she was not cleaning it in any normal manner. Others around me starting watching her and her routine became funnier by the minute. It wasn’t until later that we all realized it was just an act; there was a group of mimes all wearing the same outfits pretending to be janitors and they were entertaining the unsuspecting guests. It became mesmerizing watching them in the promenade. By the way, the promenade is unique to the Voyager-class ships. It’s over 100 yards long and houses the ship’s stores as well as serve as an indoor street for parades and concerts. There was always something going on during the evenings. The ship is said to hold 3,114 passengers when there are 2-to a room. Since our cruise was not sold out, there were not that many on board, making it very nice. There is one main dining room on this ship and it resembles the classic design of the Titantic with a huge chandelier, beautiful large staircase, and a grand piano. It is truly magnificent.
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Since the ship is so large, we never really felt crowded anywhere on the ship at any time except when we first got on board; we went to the Windjammer Café for lunch, along with everyone else. I won’t go into all the amenities on board, as I could fill a book talking about them. But they are as wonderful as the rest of the ship. The rock climbing wall was very popular and my kids even got me to give it a try. It’s not as easy as it looks, but fun was had by all. We also tried the miniature golf course, which needed some design work, but was still fun. We ate at Johnny’s Rockets and thoroughly enjoyed the burgers and fries. The 8 youngsters in the group all really enjoyed The Dungeon, which is a two story nightclub and didn’t close until about 3am. Our kids decided to find out about the 24-hour room service when they ordered hamburgers at 4am and had them promptly delivered 20 minutes later. We went to the ice show one night and having been a hockey family for 20 years, we weren’t really into figure skating shows. But all of us were extremely impressed with the show; it was great! The costumes, the choreography, and the skating were all wonderful. It was amazing to watch them perform on such a small ice surface. We also went to the Las Vegas-style show, which was done very well. The midnight comedian was really great; we all laughed until we cried! One of the highlights in the area of entertainment was the ventriloquist; Jay Johnson. He was absolutely fantastic!! His characters, the precocious Bob, and Darwin the monkey, were incredible. He is an extremely gifted performer and we were overjoyed and honored to have seen him perform. On the days at sea we had no desire to sit in the sun all day, but we did go by a few times to see how crowded the pool area was. On other cruises, there were always too many people and not enough lounge chairs. This was not the case on this cruise and it was very enjoyable. It also made using the spa, hot tubs, steam rooms, etc. much nicer as well. The one thing we always enjoy about Royal Caribbean is that they do not make a lot of announcements and this was true on this cruise as well. However, one thing that would have made this ship a lot nicer is for Royal Caribbean to have irons available for their guests. We had forgot to bring our trusty portable steamer, so we had to send several shirts, dresses, and my suit to be pressed. This can be costly when you figure the charge plus the gratuities. I also wish they had soda machines, so you could go buy a can whenever you had the urge, instead of having to call room service or find a bar. The food was very good. In fact, none of us had a bad meal during the entire cruise. Most of the time, we chose to eat in the formal dining room for all breakfasts and dinners, then would eat lunch on shore, in the Windjammer Café, or at Johnny Rockets, which had very good fresh made hamburgers – not those stamped out frozen hockey pucks you get at some places. At some meals, we would order two entrees, like steak and lobster, which our waiter readily accommodated. The desserts were very good and always extremely well presented. They laid out fantastic midnight buffets. We’d usually still be full from dinner, but would go just to look as it was worth the trip. We chose to spend our last dinner at Chops and as always, the food and service was impeccable. It is well worth the extra $20 to eat there. (The charge is for a gratuity and not for the food.) But we highly recommend both Chops and Portofino – the Italian restaurant. They are both outstanding and will not disappoint you.
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Since we had a suite that included entrance into the Concierge Club, we would usually go there for cocktails. They had a nice assortment of alcohol and hors d'oeuvres, and it made for a nice relaxing get together before dinner. They also had DVD, VHS tapes, and CD’s for loan, as well as providing assistance with reservations. There was an espresso machine in the Concierge Club, so my wife loved having fresh cappuccino in the morning. And speaking of morning, on our last day at sea I ordered a complete breakfast to be served on our balcony. It was a very romantic way to enjoy a beautiful day while watching the deep blue sea. Overall, this is an awesome ship and I would not hesitate going on it again. I would highly recommend it to my clients, especially to those with kids. I can provide additional information to you if needed, but this ship literally has something for everyone and if you find yourself bored, it’s only because you want to be.

Labadee, Haiti
Royal Caribbean calls this their ‘private island’ when in fact it’s actually a small peninsula located on the north side of the island of Haiti. Because there is no pier, all passengers must be tendered to the beach, which was handled relatively quickly since they have increased the number of tenders. Getting back on board took a while longer only because everyone waited until the last minute to get in line. There are three beaches, but most passengers park themselves in the first beach they come to, which leaves the second beach not as crowded and the third beach hardly used at all. If it had been just my wife and I, we would have opted for the third beach but the youngsters wanted to see and be seen, so we found some lounge chairs under a big tree and staked out our area for the day. It was a beautiful day and the water was very warm and clear – truly a lovely day at the beach to relax. I only had two complaints about our day; Royal Caribbean requires all snorkelers to rent an inflatable vest for $6 each. Although we understood the need to have these for some people, we all had our own snorkel gear since we are accomplished scuba divers and found them to be more of a gimmick to earn money than anything else. You could swim without one; you just couldn’t snorkel without one – go figure the logic. The other complaint centered around the environment. There were many small conch shells on the bottom and I saw several people picking them up and carrying them out of the water. I asked one of the lifeguards if this was permitted and he said it was not, yet there were no signs and no enforcement of the rule. Being a conscientious scuba diver, I found this to be rather disconcerting. The food was all brought over from the ship and is free of charge. It wasn’t all that great and the choices were few, but given the circumstances, they did a pretty good job of providing for everyone. The Haitian Market was filled with the usual island tourist wares and the locals were only slightly pushy, but you get that pretty much everywhere down there so it wasn’t a problem.

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For those more adventuresome, there were jet skis and parasailing available as well as a ‘water park’. I would not recommend the water park only because it had very little to offer and costs $15 for 50 minutes of use – something we all found ridiculously expensive. But overall, it was a nice day to relax and enjoy the sun, sand, and water.

Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Jamaica is a very poor country, so you will be hassled everywhere you go to buy from people hawking their wares. Unfortunately, there’s not much to do in Jamaica. Most people will take a shore excursion that includes a stop at Dunns River Falls. It’s a great place to cool off and take some wonderful pictures. However, it is usually very crowded and walking up the falls is more of a hassle than fun with all those people. If you want to go to the falls, I highly recommend you bypass the shore excursions and do it yourself. You can take a taxi to the falls as it only takes about 10 minutes to get there. There is also a new Jimmy Buffet’s Magaritiville right near the pier with some water activities, but you can only take so much of that. This is another one of our little-known secrets: When visiting Jamaica, we prefer to buy a day-pass at one of the local all-inclusive resorts. Jamaica is well known for an abundance of these resorts because of the warm water and white sandy beaches. It’s worth the price of admission, which will run anywhere from $65 to $85 per person. However, the price includes all water activities (sailing, water skiing, etc), lunch, and alcohol. It’ll cost about $30 for a roundtrip taxi ride to most of the resorts, but you can haggle the price. You can also choose between the nice resorts of Sandals or
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Couples, or you can go for the wicked, such as Hedonism, or perhaps the upscale resorts such as the Grand Lido Braco, or the Sans Souci Resort & Spa are more to your liking. We prefer the latter. Some are for families and others are for couples only. It’s best to contact them before your cruise and secure your reservations as often they get booked and will not allow day visitors. It also depends on whether your ship arrives in Ocho Rios or Montego Bay as to which resorts are available. On our last visit to Jamaica, we went to the Sans Souci Resort & Spa and it was wonderful. So we decided to take our group there for the day – price was $55 per person. The facilities are absolutely beautiful. It is a couples-only adult resort and therefore is very romantic. As with most of the resorts in Jamaica, there are two beaches; one for the normal folks, and the other is for clothing-optional enthusiasts. This area also has its own clothing-optional pool, bar, and snack bar. Since we were with the kids this trip, we stayed in the normal folks area. No one in the group had ever been sailing, so it became my job to take everyone, one at a time, out for a short sailboat ride. I love sailing, so spending the next several hours on a boat teaching novices how to sail was a labor of love for me. If they weren’t sailing, the youngsters spent their day kneeboarding, paddling around in various water craft, or enjoying themselves in the pool. However, the majority of the day, they spent drinking a wide variety of local concoctions with lots of rum. After sailing, my wife and I chose to get dressed and eat in the main dining room. It was classy and very nice. The buffet had a huge assortment and the food was superb. They also had the traditional Jamaican fare including beef jerky. We had an extremely relaxing day and highly recommend this option instead of the usual overcrowded shore excursions. Comparatively speaking, a typical excursion to the falls will run about $100 per couple, usually with a small lunch, a couple of drinks, and a crowd of people. A trip to Sans Souci will run about $150, including taxi, but will offer a variety of water sports, a beautiful beach, all the alcohol you want to drink, all the fantastic food you care to eat, a very small number of people, and a place to sun your buns, if you’re so inclined. In our opinion, there is no choice – not when you’re on vacation! Following a wonderful day at the resort, we had the taxi driver drop us off at the Taj Mahal shopping area. This is like a strip-mall full of small shops – all selling pretty much the same things. It’s gated, so only the cruise ship passengers are allowed inside. This way you don’t get hassled by the local beggars – of which there are a lot. This is a good place to buy some rum and, as with most alcohol, you can get cheap or expensive rum. The more you pay, the
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better it is, but they will allow you to try before you buy so you can decide the best for you. My recommendation is the 8-year old rum; it’s smooth, aromatic, and more flavorful, plus it’s less expensive than the 12-year old rum. One of the unfortunate sides of Jamaica is that people will try to sell you marijuana, or ganja as it’s locally called. It is grown everywhere on the island and is one of their biggest cash crops. Obviously, I do not recommend purchasing this illegal drug – and yes, it is illegal in Jamaica even though it’s sold and used openly. The Jamaican government uses undercover police to try and catch the unsuspecting tourist. So you are hereby forewarned as the consequences can be very severe and very expensive. Now for our best advice while in Jamaica: Buy some Jablum (Jamaican Blue Mountain) Coffee!!! In our opinion, it is one of THE best coffees in the world! For the best flavor, buy the whole bean and grind it yourself. The beans are grown in a small part of the island at an altitude of 4,200 feet above sea level and all the beans are still picked by hand. I can’t remember exactly what we paid for a pound, but I think it was around $12. In the U.S. it’ll cost you at least $25 per pound. If nothing else, you should buy at least two pounds; one to try for yourself and one to give me for telling you about it! If that doesn’t strike your fancy, then buy them anyway and I’ll pay you for both of them when you get back. But trust me when I say this is the best coffee you will ever taste.

Georgetown, Grand Cayman
There’s good news and bad news about Georgetown; it is a beautiful town with a beautiful harbor with crystal clear water. Unfortunately, there’s no pier and everyone has to be tendered to and from the ship. This can lead to some long waiting times both getting off and getting back on the ship. This is probably one of
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the only ports I would recommend a shore excursion and that is the one to see Stingray City. Some advice about this; first, make sure you go in the morning. When the stingrays hear the boats coming in the morning, it’s like someone ringing a dinner bell. However, because they feast in the morning, they are not as interactive in the afternoon and you miss out on all the fun. The stingrays are extremely docile and playful. Occasionally, they will actually adhere to your body with their mouths and suck on your skin, leaving big ‘hickies’. So if you handle pieces of squid to feed the stingrays, don’t touch other parts of your body. But it’s worth it just to see and pet them. There are usually several shore excursions that include a stop at Stingray City. I highly recommend that you take one that includes a stop there and Coral Gardens. Otherwise, after about 20-30 minutes, you’ll get bored with the stingrays and there’s nothing else to see since it’s a white sanding bottom. If you take the excursion that includes Coral Gardens, you also get to snorkel and see some fantastic coral and beautiful fish. Since we had a group of 10, we contacted Mark Sahagian at Absolute Divers and chartered his boat for our exclusive trip to Stingray City. Cost was $500 for the group and we spent about 3 hours snorkeling and scuba diving. It was an excellent way to spend the day and Mark was an outstanding host.

If you prefer, instead of taking a shore excursion, you can walk either north or south of the pier and find scuba shops. They offer snorkeling right there in the harbor in the crystal clear water.

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Of course, one of the tourist things to do is to go to Hell! That’s right, Grand Cayman is the home of the famous town of Hell. It’s the usual tourist trap, but with a unique twist. You can buy T-shirts saying you’ve been to Hell, or you can send postcards to family or friends letting them know that you finally made it. Following your morning adventure, you can walk around and do what most cruise ship passengers love to do: shop! Grand Cayman is not a cheap place. In fact, it’s one of the more expensive places in the Caribbean, so don’t expect to find any real bargains there. One of the more popular items you’ll see offered everywhere is their famous rum cake. They all offer free samples, so try before you buy as they all different. The Tortuga Rum Cake you see everywhere is not, in my opinion, all that good. There are some local brands that are much better. Another thing you’ll see offered a lot is Tortuga Rum. It’s okay, but I recommend you wait until your stop in Jamaica to buy your rum – better prices and better rum. One important note; you will see a lot of Cuban products for sale, such as the famous Cuban cigars and coffee. Be advised that contrary to what they tell you, you cannot bring Cuban cigars back into the United States! I know one guy who unfortunately listened to the untruths provided by the salesperson and bought a whole box of cigars only to find out after he got on the ship that Customs would confiscate them. He ended up passing them out to everyone on the last night of the cruise to smoke after dinner. Cost him a lot of money to learn that lesson. So, if you have to buy one, only buy one or two to smoke before your cruise ends. After the day is done and it’s time to board the ship, you’ll usually find a long line. Well, the good news is that cattycorner from the dock there is a very nice English pub upstairs. They not only offer excellent libations, but they have a great view of the dock so you can watch the line. Our group drank in air-conditioned comfort while watching this long line of hot sweating passengers wait their turn to board the tenders back to the ship. Gee, now there’s a tough choice: wait in line and sweat or sit in a cool bar and drink beer. The 10 of us were literally on the last tender back to the ship. There is a pier under construction in Grand Cayman, under much objection to the environmentalists. But embarking and disembarking may be much easier in the future.

Cozumel, Mexico
My wife and I spent a week in Cozumel about 12 years ago and we have visited it several times on various cruises, so we are familiar with the port. We love Cozumel for its laid-back atmosphere and beautiful blue water. We were eating breakfast while we arrived in port and as soon as the ship docked, we immediately grabbed our scuba and snorkel gear and headed for shore. We decided it would be cheaper four our group of 10 to rent a Suburban for $100 as a taxi ride into town was $10 per person each way. We had prearranged to charter a boat just for our group with Deep Blue Divers. We had 4 certified divers, 2 snorkelers, and 4 that wanted to learn how to scuba dive. So we drove into
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town, took care of paperwork, and then they drove us out to their boat, which was at the main pier in town. The boat was more than adequate for our group and the captain and crew were wonderful. Our first dive was just for the 4 of us who were certified; we went to Planacar Reef where we made a 93’ dive through coral formations. It was absolutely awesome! Cozumel is one of the premier diving locations in the world with water temperature around 84 degrees and visibility up to 200’ at times, and every time I dive there it just keeps getting better and better. While we were diving, everyone else was snorkeling. After we completed our dive, we all got on the boat and headed to a secluded sandy beach. The dive instructor took the 4 beginners, got them all suited up, and taught them the basics of scuba diving. This is called a Resort Course but does not count towards any certification; it’s more of an introduction to the sport. After completing the 45 minute course, we all changed out our tanks as the boat headed to Paradise Reef. The instructor took the 4 beginners to a debt of 35 feet while the 4 of us who were certified headed down to 45 feet for another incredible dive. After about 45 minutes, the beginners headed up, but the rest of us stayed down for about another 15 minutes as we did not want to leave such an amazing world. Reluctantly, we surfaced and the captain took us back to the pier. Note: scuba diving in Cozumel will run about $65 for a two-tank dive, while the Resort Course will cost about $75, plus the cost of a one-tank dive, which is another $35. After completing our diving excursion, we were all hungry, so we decided to head to Carlos’ ‘n Charlie’s. During the ride over, we were extremely disappointed to find that our all-time favorite restaurant, Santiago’s, had closed down. Don’t know if they’ll reopen, but this place was the best kept secret in the entire Caribbean. It’s not a very big place and is about 5 blocks off the beaten path, so it’s not crowded and most tourists don’t know it’s there, especially the cruise ship passengers. We can only hope they will reopen in the near future as it would be disheartening to see them closed forever as Santiago’s is truly the best restaurant I have ever eaten in and I’ve eaten in a lot of restaurants in my life. Note: I have to add here that the best hamburgers, steaks, seafood, fruits, and vegetables that we have ever had in our lives have all been while in Mexico. We lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico for 9 years and during that time we took an annual vacation in San Carlos, Mexico, which is about 6 hours south of Tucson. We spent 2-3 weeks down there every Summer, so trust me when I say that Mexico has fantastic food and should be savored at every opportunity without worry. Anyway, we drove over to the new Carlos’ ‘n Charlie’s, which is now on the main street a few blocks south of their old
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location. Anyone who’s ever been to Cancun or Cozumel knows that Carlos’ ‘n Charlie’s is THE place to p-a-r-t-y!!! While this new restaurant/bar is large and very nice, it lacks the ambiance of the old place, which was small, crowded, and dirty but it had a certain flair about it. The party is still there and all the cruise ship passengers still go there to have a few too many drinks and let it all hang out! The wife and I made a quick stop at a liquor store to pick up some tequila and when we got to the table, we found the other 8 in our party had already order Yard Long Margaritas! It does not take long to get into the party spirit in this place. After drinking a couple of Dos Equis and a couple of shots of tequila, nobody really cares about how good the food tastes. We ordered enchiladas, which were okay, but you don’t really go there for the food. After spending about $300 for drinks and lunch for 10 people and the obligatory group photo, we decided it was time to head back to the ship before we missed it. Cozumel is an easy island to get around; there’s only one main road that goes in a circle around the south end of the island and then cuts the island in half. You can rent a car for about $50-$85 per day or the preferred method for cruise ship passengers - motor-scooters for about $25 per day (no helmets or special license required). You can rent cars and scooters right at the pier. Compare these prices to $20 for a roundtrip taxi ride to town. But you’ll get the best prices if you reserve ahead of time. If you rent a car, the town of San Miguel is north. But if you head south, the road will take you to Chankanaab National Park. Snorkeling and scuba diving are very nice in the park. I had the best hamburger at the little restaurant. There’s also a wildlife refuge you can walk through. Further south is San Francisco Beach, where there are millions of conch shells on the sea bottom. There’s also a restaurant and bar. You can walk south of the restaurant if you want to find some privacy for topless sunbathing. A little further south, there are some all-inclusive resorts; some of which are very nice. The main road heads east towards the Atlantic Ocean. Once there, you can take a dirt road south to the Punta Celarain Lighthouse. There’s no charge to climb up, but there is usually someone there to convince you otherwise. Yes, it’s a scam, but it’s a great view and we didn’t mind haggling him down to a dollar. On the road down to the lighthouse, there are some beautiful hidden beaches, which are great places to skinny dip in the ocean.
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Unlike the western side of the island, which has calm sea, the ocean is a beautiful blue with white waves, making it a wonderful place to explore and take pictures. Heading north up the road, you’ll find the occasional restaurant/bar. I highly recommend stopping at all of them as they are usually quite a treat and most are pretty nice with great scenery, as you can see by this picture. We even got to pet a live iguana at the Naked Iguana Restaurant. Eventually, the main road will turn westward. However, there is another dirt road that heads north towards another lighthouse. We saw a sign for a bar ¼ mile up the road, so we ventured up the dirt road and came across a quaint little place. It was a big thatched-roof building with no sides. There was a sign on the post that said, “Air Conditioned.” We parked the car and went in to find Credence Clearwater Revival playing on the 8-track tape player. We sat on the beach, drank a couple of Dos Equis, enjoyed the magnificent view of the beautiful blue water, listened to the waves crashing, and talked with the owner for a while. We had wonderfully relaxing time. There are some Mayan ruins near Cerveza, but they are relatively small compared to the ones on the mainland and the entry fee is a bit overpriced. This brings me to shore excursions. I’m not a big proponent of shore excursions, as we’d rather explore on our own than pay the high prices for prearranged trips that are usually very crowded. For example, all the cruise ships offer trips to places like Tulum, which is a wonderful Mayan temple on the coast. However, they make it seem like it’s an easy and quick trip – it’s not. It takes about 8 hours to make the roundtrip of which only about 1-1/2 hours are actually at the site, the rest of the time is spent getting there and back. I’ve heard from many people who have done this tour and regretted it, so it’s not one I would recommend. A word here about alcohol: It’s generally cheaper than it is in the States, but you have to shop around. The highest prices are at the pier; the lowest prices are at the airport. However, when you board the ship, if you’re carrying any alcohol, they will confiscate the bottle and return it to you on the last night of the cruise. So, here’s a little secret; first, always carry a backpack with you. Second, buy a one liter bottle of water and drink it while you’re walking around town. Third, buy a one liter bottle of clear alcohol (I prefer tequila). Fourth, pour the alcohol in the empty water bottle and carry it out in plain site when you walk onboard. No one will question your bottle of “water”. By the way, just for informational purposes, I’ll offer you advice I got from an old Mexican bartender; the only difference between gold tequila and white tequila is caramel coloring! And there’s not much difference between the advertised brands and the local stuff except the price. But if you want a really good smooth tequila, make sure it says ‘reposado’ on the bottle, which means it’s aged, or ‘anejo’, which means aged even more. One of my personal
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favorites is Tres Generaciones (Three Generations). It is wonderfully smooth and mellow, but pricey. If you’re looking for a nice gift for someone, this has my highest recommendation. I can offer much more information about Cozumel, but overall it is very safe and is one of our favorite islands in the Caribbean. The Mexican people are friendly and helpful, especially if you at least try to speak some of their language with them.

Conclusion
As I said in the beginning, this was a wonderful ship for a family or a group; it has something for everybody and there’s always something going on. But then cruises are always what you make them to be. If you want to lay around and do nothing, there’s plenty of that available. On days at sea, I like to just lay on the balcony and read a good book while I smell the warm salt air and listen to the water beat against the hull. Doesn’t take long before naptime overtakes me. The 8 youngsters in our group ranged in age from 17 to 26 and they were never bored. But as we always tell our clients, a cruise is what you make it. Please contact me if you have any questions about anything in this review or if you are interested in taking a cruise.

Pete Peterson, Cruise Specialist
Local Phone: 703-858-9898 Toll Free: 866-STORYBOOK (786-7986) Fax: 703-858-9047 Website: www.storybookcruises.com Where Dreams Come to Life! Email: dreams@storybookcruises.com
Please note: This review and the accompanying pictures are my personal property and may not be copied or used in anyway without my written permission.

Cruise Planners 1-866-STORYBOOK www.storybookcruises.com

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