Archive for February 2012

Chacchoben   Leave a comment

Chacchoben by cubechick
Chacchoben, a photo by cubechick on Flickr.

Posted February 26, 2012 by cubechick in Western Caribbean Cruise on the NCL Spirit

Costa Maya   Leave a comment

For Costa Maya we had decided it was time to see some Mayan Ruins.  We chose the Chacchoben Ruins solely based on the fact that it was a four-hour tour to see them instead of six and a half hours for the Kohunlich Ruins.  Research indicated that the extra time on the other tour was bus time; no thank you!

Our instructions were to meet on the pier at 9:45 (yay, no tendering!), so we took our time in the morning, although we did have breakfast at the buffet (we ate there every morning we were in port).  This tour operated with efficiency.  When we arrived at the appointed place at 9:40, one group was already being lead to their bus.  After maybe ten minutes our group was taken to our waiting coach.  The large, comfy bus was such a pleasure after the school bus in Belize!

As promised the drive to the Chacchoben ruins took about an hour.  Our tour guide, Diana Garcia Reyes was excellent (it turned out she was the first guide to ever do this tour and she trains everyone who’s hired to do this tour).   We learned a lot about the Mayan culture and the Mexican culture as well.  The ruins were just wonderful.  I was really glad that we went to check them out, as this was a first for us!  The weather continued to bless us with a wonderful, sunny day.  No rainy season yet, so no bugs and little humidity.  YAY!

Costa Maya is only in existence as a port of call for the cruise ships, so there isn’t an actual town here.  There are plenty of shops and a Carlos and Charlie’s and a Senor Frogs of course.  All of these people come to work here just for the ships so how could we not spend some money?  Carlos and Charlie’s fit the bill with a big plate of nachos and a couple of cervesas (Dos XX this time).  There might have been a couple of tequila shots in there as well.  🙂

Posted February 26, 2012 by cubechick in Western Caribbean Cruise on the NCL Spirit

Roatan   Leave a comment

Roatan by cubechick
Roatan, a photo by cubechick on Flickr.

Posted February 25, 2012 by cubechick in Western Caribbean Cruise on the NCL Spirit

Roatan Honduras   Leave a comment

Roatan!  We loved Roatan!

We had to tender at this port (Captain Lars says the ships that call here rotate and it was our week to tender) and although they just used the ship’s life boats for this, it was only a five minute ride to the pier which wasn’t bad.

For this island we had booked with a private tour operator, Rony and had chosen his West End Kayak and Snorkel.  He is the same company used by the ship, but by booking with him directly we saved $10 pp and were in a group of ten people instead of the 27 that would arrive from the ship later in the day!  Rony met us as promised outside of gate number seven.  The trick though, since gate number seven has no signage facing the pier, is to keep walking past the buildings, past the shops until you arrive at the street.  That is gate number seven.  We were off of the ship before anyone as Belkys got us onto the first tender, and had to wait for two more people to arrive.  As soon as I saw them I recognized them as from our roll call.  Darn it!  If I’d remembered they were on our excursion I could have taken them off of the ship with us.  No matter.  They snuck onto a tender loaded with people taking a ship’s excursion and weren’t far behind us.

Rony speaks excellent, American accented English, although he insists he’s spent minimal time in the US.  He told us a great deal about his island as he drove us to the West End.  We arrived at the Cannibal Cafe (owned by Rony’s mom) which would be our base of operations for the day.  Our first activity was snorkeling and we were assigned to Quentin and the four people he’d picked up from another ship.  They provided snorkel gear (including vests) for anyone who needed it.  They also had lockers for you to put your gear in and had someone on the beach to watch small items (like glasses) while you snorkeled.  They took safety seriously, having one person in the water with us in addition to Quentin and a third guy in a kayak who could take anyone back to shore if needed (or just give a swimmer a rest).  As you didn’t take a boat out to a snorkel site, I could see that this precaution was necessary (and one of our group did need to hang on the to kayak toward the end of the snorkel).  It was also necessary because you did a lot of swimming.  I mean a lot of swimming as Quentin hollered, “Vamanos!” and lead you from one spot to the next.  I’m used to snorkel excursions being on boats that take you to a spot and you pretty much float around for an hour or so.  This was a full hour of swimming, so be forewarned if you take this excursion (one of our group did stay on shore as he wasn’t the best of swimmers).  I’m afraid that snorkeling in Hawaii spoiled me for snorkeling elsewhere as that was just so beautiful with it’s vibrant colors and tremendous amount of marine life.  But this was pretty good with many reefs for fish to congregate around.  The highlight was two turtles that we saw.

Back across the street at the Cannibal Cafe it was lunch time…although it was only 10:30 in the morning!  Actually I know I was pretty hungry after all of that swimming and judging from the silence as everyone chowed down, others felt the same.  Today, lunch was a huge platter of fresh fruit and, like Nachi,  chips and salsa and quesadillas, but OMG were they delicious!  The salsa was fresh and fruity, the chips fried to a turn, and the quesadillas loaded with fresh peppers and onions and melty cheese that stretched for a mile when you took a wedge from the platter.  YUM!  I’m salivating just thinking about it!

After lunch we grabbed our paddles and life preservers and walked across the street again to the waiting kayaks.  The kayaking was shorter than I expected.  We shot along the edge of West End Bay for maybe ten minutes and parked at a beach where we would spend forty-five minutes hanging out, drinking beer (Salva Vida!) and fantasizing about buying a party boat that we noticed was for sale.  (Quentin was all ready to go into business with us, LOL.)  If you wanted to continue to kayak around the bay you could, and some of our group chose to do so.  The weather was perfect this day without a cloud in the sky.  As I sat on a dock, soaking in the rays, I had to stop and actively think about it to remember that it was February!  Although we’re having a mild winter back home, it was sure nothing like this!

Rony was waiting for us at the Cannibal Cafe and those of us on the Spirit agreed that we wanted to walk around for thirty minutes or show and do a little shopping (thankfully no one in our group were big shoppers).  On the way back to the ship, Rony took us to a scenic overlook where we could see three ships at Coxen Hole where we tendered to.  There were of course vendors at the top of the hill, but what amused me was that while we were there, a guy pulled up on a moped to deliver Chinese food!  I wish I’d had my camera out for that one!

We were back at the ship by one, shopped a little at the many shops at the pier and decided to stop for another Salva Vida before we got back on board.  It was just too nice a day to rush back to the ship and we were really enjoying our visit in Roatan. It was just an excellent stop and for the most part a very pretty island.

 

Posted February 25, 2012 by cubechick in Western Caribbean Cruise on the NCL Spirit

Belize…entering the cave…   1 comment

DSCF0067 by cubechick
DSCF0067, a photo by cubechick on Flickr.

Posted February 23, 2012 by cubechick in Western Caribbean Cruise on the NCL Spirit

Belize   Leave a comment

Belize was our least favorite stop.  The island is rather swampy and depressed.  We booked a tube caving excursion via the ship and although it was fine, the timing seemed to be “off” for our group.  Not the fault of the tour operators, but it effected our experience.

Started out meeting at the Stardust Theater at 9:45 as instructed.  Our tour was called first and we were the first to follow the shore ex person to the tender.  There was a wait while the tender filled, a 20-minute ride to the port, then another wait once we arrived at the pier.  We boarded the bus, and yes, we waited.

The ride out to the river is about 75 minutes.  But several of those minutes are over some of the most rutted road I’ve ever seen, which slowed our progress considerably.  Not to mention being very uncomfortable as we were in an old school bus with the suspension being a thing of the past.  When we arrived at our destination, we were informed that we’d be eating lunch first (adequate…chicken wings, beans and rice, plantains, dried out hamburgers).  So we were over 2 hours into the excursion before we actually did anything.

Our bus load was divided into small groups of eight, and we picked out our tubes, helmets, and life jackets before beginning the walk to where we would finally start tubing.  It is about a 30 minute walk and fairly easy going (excepting the three river crossings which are a little tricky due to the current).  The guide stopped and pointed out several vegetative items of interest.  Unlike our trip to Hawaii last year, where most of the plants and bugs don’t have natural enemies, and everything seems to live in harmony, Belize was the land of “it’s poisonous”, “It bites”, “It’s like being bitten by 500 hundred fire ants all out once”, “Oh, we have a number of those snakes…highly venomous”, “That tree sap? It makes you feel like your skin is boiling and peeling off”.  Seriously. This was the tour of don’t touch a freakin’ thing.

At last, we arrived at the river and got onto our tubes.  We had to form a human chain, linking your feet under the armpits of the person in front of you.  Not anyone’s favorite, but effective at keeping us all together.

Floating through the cave was neat.  Extremely high ceilings, so no claustrophobia, and just interesting.  Rock that sparkled when light was shown on it, formations that took on human and animal form, areas where the cave ceiling had collapsed letting in plant life and vegetation.  Truly beautiful.

After we exited the caves, the guide let us free float down the river.  I didn’t see another guide do that, and before we reached the base of the river, he had us link up again, stating that the wind made things tricky.  I didn’t notice any wind to speak of which leads me to believe that he wasn’t supposed to let us go like that.  I’m glad he did though…even though I was steering challenged and kept bouncing off of things I was trying to avoid.  🙂

Back at the parking area, there were changing rooms and shops to check out.  As usual, we had to wait the longest as we were the first back to the bus.  And we also had “those people” on the bus.  You know them.  They see that a bus load of people are waiting, but they take their own sweet time, wiping off their feet, putting on sandals, chit-chatting, and generally just moving as slow as molasses.  I swear we are always on tours with “those people”.  Finally, they boarded the bus and we were able to leave.  Hallelujah!

Got to the pier about 45 minutes before the last tender and paused to have a local beer before leaving Belize behind us.  I did enjoy the cave tubing, but wished so much time hadn’t been spent standing around.  I have a feeling if we’d booked this independently the tour would have gone smoother because less people were involved.

We were beat by the time we returned to the ship and cleaned up, so it was the buffet for dinner.  No pizza!  I guess NCL wants you to spend the $5 on pizza delivery.  I was really disappointed as all I wanted was a couple of slices of pie and a salad for dinner.  I don’t think you should be forced to order an entire pizza when you only want a slice or two (I did notice pizza at the buffet for lunch one day, but it wasn’t available at snack time).

 

Posted February 23, 2012 by cubechick in Western Caribbean Cruise on the NCL Spirit

Final Thoughts on NOLA   1 comment

Well, it was a fun four days in total.

The Drury Inn was a nice hotel.  The staff very friendly, the rooms clean, the complimentary breakfast, popcorn, soda in the afternoon, and hot snacks (potatoes, chicken fingers, hot dogs) and drinks in the evening were nice.  Can’t decide if I would stay there again as I prefer a full-service hotel with a restaurant and bar (the free snacks and cocktails led me to believe this was the case).  On the other hand I probably would have spent more money if those services were available!  The location was pretty good. About five blocks from Canal St and on Carondelet, which turned into Bourbon and a block north of St. Charles.

Mardi Gras was a lot of fun and I’m glad I checked it off the Bucket List.  It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced!

We bought grandstand tickets and got to see the Bacchus Parade up close and personal.  It was great to see a parade in its entirety (and the grandstand seats gave you access to drinks and a bathroom).  That said if you can’t afford it (Bacchus was $40 pp due to its popularity) don’t sweat it.  We saw plenty of parades during our time there and caught plenty of throws.  Even on Canal Street which we were told to avoid (due to the number of people).

I am glad that we took a couple of tours while we were there (and that they were available every day except Mardi Gras itself) because it gave us a chance to learn a bit about the city and felt like we managed some “normal” stuff while we were there.

I do hope to go back to NOLA at another time to experience the city with a little less craziness.  I want some more of the amazing food we were able to sample (never thought I’d like oysters in a million years) and a chance to listen to more of the lovely music we heard while roaming the streets.

Oh, we encountered some of the friendliest people during our stay, which made the experience that much better.  Some great conversations were held while watching parades!

NOLA marching bands rock!  Especially the LSU band which performed during the Rex Parade.

I guess that’s about it.

Had a great time.  Thanks New Orleans!

 

Posted February 23, 2012 by cubechick in New Orleans

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