What Could Be Better Than A Caribbean Cruise?
While most of our travels will feature Texas locations this trip takes place on the water. Ocean cruising has become somewhat of an American pasttime and continues to gain in popularity. With friends and family we've left from some of the big North American departure ports and have seen the glaciers in Alaska, squeezed through the Panama Canal and the Seaway passages of New England and Canada, and played in the sun in Hawaii. Being a resident of coastal east Texas, we've also made a few trips down to Mexico. They say that cruising is addictive, and I wouldn't deny that for one minute. What makes a cruise special enough to share with those you leave town with, and those you meet on the water, is obvious for those who have been before. Cruising on the open sea is simply an extremely relaxing way to travel. No traffic, no staying awake for long hours behind the wheel. Everything is done for you and of course, it's all been thought out to perfection. You aren't so much traveling as you are just enjoying being spoiled between ports of call.
The slow rise and fall of the waves can be mesmerizing. Freedom from cell phones, computers, and televisions with their intrusive nature has a liberating, even calming, effect. You go on a cruise to see new places but mostly you go to get away from it all. My personal preference for travel involves avoiding taking to the skies, so it was (country) music to my ears when watching the RFD-TV network, I heard that the winter 2018 Country Family Cruise was departing out of the Port of Galveston - just an hour down the road from my Houston home. While I've flown to meet most other ships, it was considerably more enjoyable not to have to rely on air travel back and forth.
On this travel adventure, I was being joined by my sister-in-law and niece on the Royal Caribbean, Liberty of the Seas. Our ship was waiting proudly at port for us and once welcomed aboard, we departed from Galveston on a dreary January day for a two day crossing of the Gulf of Mexico and onto the beautiful, azure waters of the Caribbean Sea. In all, 8 days and 7 nights awaited us with nothing to be done but dining well, sight-seeing at ports of call and enjoying the considerable roster of talent from Country's Family Reunion and Larry's Country Diner. It's worth noting that I have met some of the nicest people at the dinner tables of cruise ships and have maintained contact with some even years after our return to home port. This cruise was no exception; we introduced ourselves on the first night to our table mates and from the beginning, it was like dining with old friends. We even voted our table as "Best Table of the Cruise" and yes, most were graytrippers like ourselves.
(To see larger pictures, click on each image)
On the morning of the third day, we awoke to the historic island of Roatan. Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands of Honduras and is located about 40 miles off the coast. It is near the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean Sea and the second largest reef after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. We had scheduled an excursion that would take us to several locations and offer a good overview of the island. We started out early in the day and climbed inside the van that would take us to our stops along the east end of the island. The ride soon became a game of dodge the pot holes. Our driver was constantly swerving to miss a hole on the right and then swerving back again to miss a hole on the left. Sitting in the back of the van, my seat belt was the only thing that kept me from hitting the roof. I felt like I was on the back of the mechanical bull from the movie Urban Cowboy! Our first stop was for a boat tour on Mahogany Bay through the Mangrove Canal and around the various islands. While floating in the bay, we were able to get a close view of a couple of old shipwrecks that stood as rusted testaments to the dangers of earlier seafaring days.
Upon returning to the bus, we continued our bumpy tour by van and had a chance to view the different commercial and residential areas of Roatan before arriving at our second stop - the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Our vantage point high above the water and the waves breaking across the top of the reef made it easy to follow the path of the reef which stretches nearly 700 miles from the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula down to Nicaragua. The contrasting deep blue of the water past the reef and the pale turquoise waters closer to the beach were spectacular even on an overcast day. After taking our photos, we continued bumping to our last stop at Punta Gorda where we met descendants of Black Carib Indians and African slaves who have maintained their language, traditions, and lifestyle. We had a chance to shop for handcrafted souvenirs and then view a traditional dance of the Garifuna community before heading back to the ship and on to the next port.
The next morning we arrived at Costa Maya, Mexico. Costa Maya is a small tourist area in the state of Quintana Roo. The area was underdeveloped but with the construction of a large dock that can accommodate cruise ships, Costa Maya has become a favorite with the ships' travelers due to the beautiful beach and clear waters. The village consists mainly of a large, modern tourist trade shopping mall. There are various shore excursions offered to visiting tourists but our group elected to stay on the ship and not try our luck at kayaking or snorkeling. We did venture out to walk down the pier and take pictures of the tropical beach area and the cruise ships parked side-by-side at the dock. With the afternoon sun dipping down to the water, we watched from the deck as our ship slowly made its way through the channel and out to the open waters for an overnight cruise to Cozumel.
Cozumel is located along the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula about 50 miles south of Cancun. It is Mexico's largest Caribbean island and the largest permanently inhabited island. (Thank you Wikipedia.) Cozumel is famous for watersports activities along with a lot of well-known restaurants and bars. If you have ever visited Cozumel, then you are probably familiar with Senor Frog's or Carlos and Charlie's. Cozumel offers a large number of shore excursions, again mostly centered on snorkeling or diving. There are day-tours of the area including the ruins at Tulum, horseback riding on the beach, and ATV or Beach Buggy tours of the island. My niece took the beach horseback tour and had a great time viewing the beautiful Cozumel scenery from the back of a horse. I had been to Cozumel before so elected to stay on ship with my sister-in-law. While everyone else was outside baking in the sun, we were relaxing in air conditioned comfort playing games of trivia or watching shows put on by the Country's Family Reunion performers. We also found an all-day, all you can eat, ice cream kiosk, with our choice of vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry soft-serve ice cream, and we made very good use of our "find" while we watched the crew test the ship's lifeboats. Now, the ice cream alone was worth the price of the cruise!
All too soon, it was time to leave the beautiful Caribbean and return to the Galveston Port. Overall, the trip was a great success. We met wonderful people, saw beautiful places, and enjoyed all the talented performers that were part of shows put on for our enjoyment. If you have never cruised, I would whole-heartedly recommend the experience. Relaxing on a large, comfortable ship and enjoying the ocean panorama, or the full moon, provides the opportunity to watch your personal stress floating away on the waves and leaving a refreshing sense of calm in their wake.