The fascination the world expresses with my travel plans and outcomes is, of course, an affectation put on solely for my benefit. I understand this. Against the possibility though, however remote, that people are genuinely interested in my experience both generically as a prototypical 20-something first-time-cruiser and specifically as Johnath, writer of long sentences, I will endeavour to be, if not precisely interesting, at least tiresome on new subjects.
The particulars of such things are rarely important but for your reference, our ship was the Legend of the Seas, our cruiseline Royal Caribbean, and our itinerary included Tampa, Grand Cayman, Belize, Costa Maya, and Cozumel. I will try to focus on the experience as a cruise, since I sense that many of my friends (dare I say, readers) have not cruised before.
Put succinctly, the trip was a blast, despite not being the vacation I would choose. Cruising has always seemed far too pre-canned for my tastes, and much as I suspected, the time you have on shore is barely enough to get your bearings and do some shopping; legitimate exploration and discovery, of the type I aim for with any vacation, is almost out of the question. Having said that though, the service on the ship was exceptional. One expects good. One might, indeed, expect great. But it is no word of a lie when I say that, particularly at dinner, I experienced some of the best service of my life. A knowledgeable and friendly waiter (Hi Wawan!) and assistant waiter (Hi Martin!), a good wine list, food prepared and presented deliciously, and an atmosphere that made you feel very much that you were the only people in the restaurant. I estimate that to receive that kind of service and food elsewhere, Amy and I would have to be eating $200-$300 dinners, and even then we might end up with good food and a snooty waiter. Wawan needs to get a bonus or something, he alone will drive revenue for Royal Caribbean because I will forever sing the praises of their service thanks to his work. I will write a letter to this effect.
The boat itself was a beast, of course, and at a displacement of 70,000 tonnes, is still one of the smallest in the fleet. There were at least 3 bars, 3 eateries, a coffee bar, an internet café, a series of shops, purser’s and shore excursions desk, a library, a good sized card and game room, a casino, two live theatres, satellite TVs, balconies, a quarter mile walking/running track, 2 pools and at least 2 hot tubs. With all of that, and despite there being 2000 people on board, there was a marked absence of line-ups anywhere. There was basically always a place to sit, and never more than a 5 minute wait for any service. The decor might not have been uber-modern, but neither was it offensively ancient, and in several places it was actually quite nice. The staterooms were quite spacious (disclaimer, we had one of the more expensive ones with a private balcony) and the suite occupied by the Burrowses was downright big, with its own bar. If you have harboured (ha! Nautical pun!) suspicions that life on a cruise ship is cramped, this paragraph is my way of saying it isn’t.
The ports of call were all interesting in their own way, and often not what I expected. To the extent that you hold similar assumptions, then, behold:
- Grand Cayman is much nicer than I thought it would be. Friendly people, beautiful beach, very built up. The Grand Cayman dollar is worth more than a US dollar, but I bought a watch there for $220US that lists for $550CDN in Canada, and about $300 through the deepest discount US online dealers. Having no taxes or duty rocks. And go see the turtles and hell. The turtles are bigger than you think they are, and Hell is not just a road sign, the rock formation there has to be seen to be understood.
- Costa Maya is nothing. Even though the Mayan Riviera is built up, Costa Maya is a tourist facade thrown over utterly undeveloped grass/jungle. The ruins at Chacchoben were beautiful, but they are halfway to Merida, the port itself is tiny.
- Belize is extremely poor. Extremely poor. The boardwalk is quite pretty and if you look around, you can buy things in the shops there that exceed the usual tourist pulp. We picked up some mixed wood bowls (Belize is all about the woodwork) that are quite beautiful. If you go any deeper than the boardwalk though, it’s like falling off a cliff.
- Cozumel is much more developed than I thought. Walking through Cozumel is like walking through the market section of Ottawa, or Kensington in Toronto, a million little shops each different and interesting, with tourists and locals shopping in the same places and buying the same things. Except along the waterfront, of course.
I don’t want to ramble on too long, I know this writeup has been very factual but adding my reactions to each event would explode the length — maybe I’ll write a part 2, but as a weak attempt to prove I have a soul, may I present…
8 things I will always remember from this cruise:
- Flamingos flying overhead in Tampa
- The rock wall
- The Germans
- Napkin folding class
- The whole (Lush) family, eating together and getting along famously, for 7 straight days and nights.
For those who are interested, we took some pictures.