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W. Caribbean Ports -- Ocho Rios, Cozumel, CaymansAuthor: Jennifer Granieri
Date of Trip: August 2005
My husband and I were married aboard the Caribbean Princess in August 2005. Our families traveled from Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Delaware, and Pennsylvania to attend our wedding. We honeymooned with our families so that our parents and relatives could spend a little time getting to know each other before going their separate ways. We visited Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel, as well as their private island, Princess Cays.
We flew in on US Air directly to Ft. Lauderdale. We had no issues with boarding/departing on time/baggage. Our hotel offered a free shuttle from airport, and then to the cruise port for embarkation. My future in-laws almost didn't make it to the wedding however. They flew USA 3000 ... the last flight out of Philly on Friday night, the night before the wedding (against the nervous bride's better judgement, but you don't argue with your in-laws before the wedding!). Of course, because it was the last flight out, something went wrong. The pilot had too many hours in, and the flight was cancelled. But they didn't tell the passengers until 9:30. My in-laws had to take the red-eye to Orlando, and then rent a car and drive 3 ours to Ft. Lauderdale ... they arrived at 6:30 am for a 10:30 boarding time (for the wedding on the ship) ... they were exhausted, but made it. I have learned that when you have a deadline (e.g. a ship leaving) it is best to leave yourself PLENTY of lead time ... others we have gottent to know while traveling have said that it never hurts to arrive in the port city a day early, just in case there is an issue with flights/connections...
It was a wonderful stopover if you're a beachlover. A few hints ... rent a cabana on the beach as soon as they become available for online bookings. They're only $10/day, and they go FAST. It's worth the $ if you're going to be spending all day out in the sun. Also, bring watershoes ... the sand is a little gritty (maybe coral?) and can be rough on your toes. We also rented a float ($5-8, I can't remember) so that our son (3 years) could come out a little deeper with us. The island was very nice and kept well ... lunch was the usual beach buffet ... a decent variety, there was something for everyone!
We booked an all day tour (horseback riding, river tubing, lunch, and hike) Our only disappointment was that the "hike" apparently never took place, not really sure why. We went river tubing on the White River, and it was beautiful ... the river is lined with limestone, and the water is a very pale crystal blue. It was gorgeous! At the dropoff were a few local stands. My husband and I were able to find Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee for $15/lb. By far much cheaper than it was avaiable for the other places we found it. We were then taken to Pinapple Stables for Horseback riding through the mountains/hills. The scenery was very pretty, lots of lush vegetation. My husband and I were at the back of the pack, so we basically had the "tail end" guide all to ourselves. He took really good care of us ... dismounting to run up the hill to get fresh, native fruit for us to try ... he really went out of his way for us. Lunch was very good ... Jamaican Jerk Chicken with beans and rice(available with or without the Jerk. It was so good, we went into their gift shop to buy the jerk sauce they had used! Luckily for us, it is available online, because we became addicted to the flavor and the spice, and cook with it at least once a week!
The only down-side to the day (and it was minor) was that our "hike" never materialized. The other thing you should keep in mind about Jamaica is thier dependance on tips/tourist dollars. The guides all mentioned their "expectation" if we had a good time, however, the young men who led us on the raft/horseback trip handled the situation with a little more tact and humor ... the guys on the tour got $10 per activity, 2 activities, $20...but we got very personal service because of our "status" as newlyweds the "guide" who described the culture/area/customs while on our way to/from the destination had NO class ... Kept mentioning her "tip" throughout the narrative ... we gave her $5 ... assuming she would share it with our dirver. We overheard them fighting as we were waiting to get back on the ship. She would not give him any money, telling him that if we wanted him to have any, we would have given it to him directly. We assumed that they were splitting everything ... had I known she was going to be so selfish, I would have given it to him instead ... he did all the driving! OF all the ports we visited, we really enjoyed our time spent in Jamaica. The people are very laid back for the most part...we enjoyed Jamaica so much that we have planned to spend our first anniversary in Negril. Don't believe what you hear about Jamaica being dangerous...everywhere is dangerous ... you have to take some precautions to avoid being victimized ANYWHERE (USA or not). Just remember to bring your street smarts with you when you travel, and get out and experience the true culture and interact with the people as much as possible!
We booked a Pirate Ship Cruise this day. We took my 11 year old cousin with us, who was our "program-passer-outer" for the wedding. 11 is a tough age when it comes to buying an appreciation gift for helping in the wedding, and since his parents were cruising with us, we though he would much rather enjoy being treated to an excursion! We had alot of fun ... the crew of 5-6 were very entertaining ... it's a popular tour for those with kids, or those looking for free rum punch!
First, we "attacked" our cruise ship, firing the cannons of as we made a pass around the ship. We even managed to catch my husband's parents out on their balcony! We were close enough to the ship that they were able to recognize us. The pirates gathered all of the kids together and made them swab the decks. Some of the adults were coerced into walking the plank for various offenses. We all enjoyed ourselves immensly.
After the pirate ship returned to port, my cousin returned to the ship, and my husband and I decided to do a little shopping and grab some lunch. I would have to say that the island itself was our biggest disappointment during the cruise. The exchange rate is HORRIBLE, and things seemed to cost more than they do in the states.
For exasmple, we went out to lunch ... we each had a drink (alcoholic), shared a fried conch appetizer, and had two lunch entrees (my husband had the turtle steak lunch special, and I honestly can't remembmer what I had...meaning it was nothing special.) Lunch with tip was $50 American ... we were on our honeymoon and out to have a good time, so the actual money wasn't an issue, it just suprised us a little that things were so steep there. I would definitely reccommend that you save your souvenir dollars for Mexico or Jamaica, where you can at least haggle over prices a little. We did not come across any sort of open air market ... all of the shops are in mini-malls near the port....not a very rustic or cultural experience. We picked up a few t-shirts and that was it.
Our last tour was an all day trip as well ... we traveled by ferry to Playa Del Carmen then by bus to Tulum to visit the ruins and then to Xel-Ha (Shell-Ha), which is a natural waterpark (animals, not waterslides). We really enjoyed ourselves, although, we did spend about 3 hours out of a 7-8 hour tour in the bus driving. Tulum was BEAUTIFUL. I had taken a Latin American history course in college, and we spent a lot of time studying the ancient Mexican cultures ... it was so neat to see a little of what I had learned about (almost) 10 years earlier.
Tulum is on the edge of a cliff, with probably the most beautiful view of our entire trip. Our guide was very knowledgable. One hint ... if you're travelling in the summer, make sure you bring water in your backpack. It was in the 90's and we were in the direct sunlight ... one young lady had to lie down in the shade because the heat go to her and her party had no water. (Everyone else shared with her!) They were young (late teens/early 20's)and obviously inexperienced travelers ... but don't assume that water/drinks will be available everywhere you are taken. (there were drinks provided on the bus, just not in the ruins themselves). After the ruins, we went to the eco-park and loved it! But we only had 2 hours there. Princess does offer an all day excursion to the park, and I would highly reccommend that, unless you're interested in visiting the ruins. We snorkeled with the biggest fish I have ever seen ... It was awesome. You could also swim with the dolphins (we did not). There was a bunch to do, we just didn't have enought time to do it all!
All in all it was a wonderful trip.....and everyone we traveled with enjoyed themselves immensly. I would highly reccommend Princess Cruises/the Caribbean Princess to ANYONE. Refer to my cruisecritic.com review of the wedding/ship itself....there was a serious glitch there, but Princess corrected the issue...in spite of our horriblely unprepared DJ at the reception, we had a wonderful time. We really enjoyed combining the idea of a traditional wedding with the sights of a destination wedding, without being limited to one destination! I think our biggest time saver was booking all of our excursions on Princess's website as soon as they open up the bookings (I think 90-120 days before the ship sails) This is especially helpful as some of the more popular excursions sell out before the ship departs.
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