Sunday, August 18, 2013


This year we decided to trade a vacation week for a cruise.  We booked a seven night cruise on the Carnival Liberty with four ports of call: Mexico, Belize, Honduras and the Cayman Islands.  This blog post will primarily talk about the ports of call.  I'm writing a different post about our time on the ship.

We got in to Miami early Thursday. Our hotel was directly across from MIA and as we drove in we noticed a 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant nearby.  It looked just like the one that used to be in STL so we had to go there for a glass of wine.  Inside was very similar to the one in STL and it reminded us of how much fun it was to take Mom and Dad there.

Afterwards, it was time to head to South Beach.  However, I-395 was blocked due to a drawbridge that wouldn't shut.  Time for a reroute!  We decided to take a detour through the back streets of Miami all the way from the airport to South Beach.  Boy, did we get an education…it’s totally different from the beautiful sky scrapers and multi-million dollar homes you associate with Miami.  Instead, it’s mile after mile of tiny houses with no front yard and with their cars parked up next to the house.  And, there was a big section of the trip where we saw virtually no signs in English.  We didn't feel threatened at any time, but it definitely wouldn’t be where we’d drive at night!

South Beach is South Beach….we've never encountered anything else quite like it.  There’s the beach, with thousands of people on it….then sand dunes, then parks/hotels, then Ocean Drive which is lined with restaurants and clubs catering primarily to tourists.  Lots of crazy-cool cars, wild neon, palm trees, hot looking people, and hawkers trying to get you to come into their place.  We were specifically looking for Cuban food and were disappointed that all the restaurants had virtually the same menu with only Cuban sandwiches.  Finally a guy told us we had to get off Ocean Drive to get real Cuban food and he directed us to Puerto Sagua….which was filled with Cubans eating great food….highly recommend it!

Leaving Miami, South Beach is in the background
After dinner it was time to stop by an outdoor club to listen to music.  However, we weren't out to see and be seen.  Instead we were more like “see, gawk and be innocuous”.  Great music and lots of people (median age of 25) but all too soon it was time to go back to our hotel and watch airplanes.

Beginning the Cruise:
We got to the port around 11:00 and quickly boarded, along with about 3500 others (and 1100 crew members).  Long lines, but everyone was quickly processed.  Of course Mona was starving so the first place we hit was a buffet.  It’s hard to describe how many offerings there were….you just have to see it to believe it.  We sated our hunger and then began exploring our ship, the Carnival Liberty.  The ship has 13 decks and is about 1000 feet long (not to mention it weighs 110,000 tons!).  There are lounges throughout the ship, along with several restaurants, cafes and coffee shops.   There is also an incredible list of over 350 activities you can do….games, shows, casino, pools, Jacuzzis, and on and on and on….

Mona and Friends
Our first port of call was Cozumel, Mexico.  This is an island about 30 miles off the coast of Mexico.  We decided this would be our casual day, nothing fancy, just walking and enjoying the city.  We shared a cab from the port to the town square.  From there we started geocaching, taking in the sights and sounds of the little town as we cached.  The shopkeepers were still opening up but they all managed to talk to us and ask us to come into their shop.  They didn't seem to mind if you didn't buy anything, they just wanted to ensure you came in to see what they had to offer. 

We stopped at an outside bar called Wet Willies for margaritas and guacamole.  Both were awesome.  Then stopped by a tequila store for free samples.  We got to talking with the store owner and ended up with lots and lots of samples.  Afterwards we somehow managed to grab another cab and make it back to port.  Time to hit the Jacuzzi!

Our second port of call was Belize City, Belize.  When we went to school this tiny country was called “British Honduras”  and it wasn't until 1981 that Belize gained independence from Britain.  This is the only country in Central America where they speak English…quite good English at that.  However, when locals talk to locals they speak Kriol….a blend of English, Spanish, Creole and home-grown words.

Two Wild Flowers
Howler Monkey
Our excursion began with a two hour boat ride into the jungle.  We left the port on an open boat that seated 30.  We cruised along the coast until we came to the River Wallace where we turned up river.  No sooner had we entered the river we saw a dolphin….and something else.  The dolphin was playing with a baby manatee, giving it rides on his nose!!!  Mama manatee was swimming alongside keeping a close eye on things!  Amazing!

We saw lots and lots of wildlife on this ride….howler monkeys (cross than one off the bucket list!), crocodiles, beautiful birds including ospreys, herons, frigate birds, cormorants and one yellow parrot.  We also saw lots of iguanas…in trees, in clearings, everywhere!  Some of these iguanas were six or seven feet long…the biggest iguanas we've ever seen!

Finally we came to a large clearing where there was a “resort”.  There we had lunch which consisted of jerk chicken accompanied by beans and rice cooked in coconut milk.  Delicious!  After lunch we boarded a bus and headed for the next part of the trip…an ancient Mayan site called Altun Ha.  This is a relatively small site, especially when compared to Chichen Itza, but it’s also where some of the most incredible finds of Mayan jade have been made, including the crown jewel of Belize, a skull made from jade.
Two of the Pyramids at Altun Ha

We explored the site for about an hour, including a climb to the top of one of the pyramids.  The heat here was intense and the air was swimming wet!  Our guide told us that the heat, along with the surrounding swamps and jungle helped keep the conquistadores from conquering this site.  I can believe it…I’d hate to wear armor in this jungle!

Roatan, Honduras
Our third port of call was Roatan, Honduras.  This was our beach day and we took a chair lift to the nearby beach. From the chairlift we could see lionfish in the shallows below…were we really going to get in the water here!?!?!   At the beach, we put our gear in our clamshell cabana and headed for the water, lionfish or not!  At the beach it was just us and about 2000 of our closest friends.  Luckily the beach was huge.  We floated for a while, I snorkeled for a while and then it was time to head back to the ship.  Jacuzzi time!

Cayman Islands:
This Ray is About 5 feet Wide.  
Our final port of call was the Grand Cayman island in the Cayman Islands.  Here we rode a bus to the far side of the island.  This island nation is known for its banking and it’s not nearly as poor as its neighbors.  Lots of nice middle class homes and businesses here.  But, lest you forget that you’re in the Caribbean, there are still iguanas everywhere!  Once we reached the far side of the island we boarded a boat for our final adventure, a visit to Stingray City!

Stingray City is a sandbar, two miles out in the ocean….yep, two miles!  Our boat anchored seemingly in the middle of the ocean and then they told us to get out!  If you know Mona, you know that she hates water deeper than her ankles.  I mean h.a.t.e.s!  Yet, here she was, getting off of a perfectly good boat into water that was up to her shoulders!  I don’t think she would have done this except it was my birthday.
Took this with my iPhone in a bag!

As we got off the boat we could see triangular shapes gliding through the water…stingrays!  These rays were four or five feet across and there must have been a hundred of them!  They would come right up to us and bump into us!  It was a little iffy at first, but then you get to liking it!  We waded to waist deep water and there our guide told us all about the rays and how they feed on life underneath our feet.  We got to hold a ray and then feed one.  The ray literally sucks the squid right out of your hand from several inches away!!!  (Note: You are warned not to wipe your hand on your body after the ray eats your squid.  That’s because rays LOVE squid, even squid juice and will suck the juice from your body leaving you with a giant hickey…right Virginia?)

We were out on the sandbar for an hour or so…feeding the rays, snorkeling with them….and just having a blast!  Our visit ended all too soon!!!

Afterwards, we shopped awhile in the port town and then made our way to waterside bar.  There, Mona made friends with some local women, celebrating a new job for one of them.  We met lots of fun people here in the Caymans, as well as everywhere we visited.
Mona and New Girlfriends

We had fun on all our excursions, but Stingray City was the best of all.  We would both love to do that again!  (And…we’d like to swim with dolphins, swim with turtles, ride horses on the beach, and, and, and!

Hard to see, but in this pic is a dolphin, a baby manatee and
a mama manatee.
Many thanks to Mary Ann and Randy for all the cruise excursion tips!  There are so so many excursion options and you were a big help in making our decisions.  We are ready to go again!

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