Friday, November 8, 2019

Family Cruise 2019--Day 4, Costa Maya

Costa Maya! I had booked a “two reef by boat” snorkel excursion through Shore Excursioneer for just mom and me. She, incredibly, had never snorkeled before! I’ve enjoyed it in the past, but on our last cruise, we had a semi-private snorkel excursion with a pro, in Bonaire.  Her little tips really helped improve my comfort in the water. I really thought Mom might enjoy this “once in a lifetime” experience of snorkeling on the Meso-America reef, the 2nd largest reef in the world. I had snorkeled in Cozumel but that wasn’t the greatest experience (I got sea sick, IN the water!).

We were up bright an early, there was a time zone change I believe, so I have no idea what time it was now. Mom's cabin had a view of the looooong pier. You can just barely see it here in the morning light.

I had recently watched Tony’s video of the Costa Maya port area, and knew it could take us 15 minutes to get to the taxis. We were able to take the tram ride down the pier and then we meandered through the port. Things were just starting to open up and store keepers were friendly. 

We couldn’t find our way out though. We met up with a young couple with a stroller who were also looking for the way out. We both thought the signs for “Emergency Exit” might be a lead, but no, they actually were for emergency exits. We asked a couple times and got very general hand waves, but eventually made it out. 

I knew we had to go to the taxi stand right outside the official area, and it was then easy to find. We quickly got a taxi, $8 for the two of us, into the town of Mahahual. The taxi driver was fine, but didn’t talk at all. Some speak good English, some speak none. He knew where “Doctor Dive” was though. We got out and weren’t too sure about his general hand wave. I saw a sign for “Ya Ya Beach Club” and knew Doctor Dive was “next to” it…but really, from the road, it’s through it and on the left side before you cross over to the beach area.

In the shop I let the lady know we were there. It was 25 minutes before our meeting time, and the meeting time was 30 minutes before departure. So, plenty of time! We saw a fine young man loading up a boat. I noticed what looked like a fence in the water, about 20 ft out from shore. There were boats in an area on the other side of the fence. My first thought was a shark fence. But would you have to battle sharks to get to the boats?!

We had some torrential rain while waiting .  It almost seemed chilly, at least by Mexican standards. It doesn't really look warm and tropical in the photo. The rain stopped but it was still quite breezy. Finally, the young man came over and introduced himself as Luca, our guide. He told my mom that she’d hang on to a rope attached to a ring buoy, and he’d pull her along. Not fair! He led us to the beach and into the water, towards the boats.

Then I remembered. Costa Maya had a seaweed problem. The fence stops the seaweed from coming up on shore. The boat we were going to…beyond the fence. Mom had her flop flops on, and I had my good “sport” sandals. I was able to keep them on, but I could still feel the icky. It’s too bad the Google Satellite map images are very washed out for this area. A quick Google search led to this  Costa Maya is a bit south of the areas in the article. Google “Sargassum Costa Maya” for some scary pictures! Wow. The fences really do help. I was worried though what it would be like out on the reef. It was fine.

And then we got to the boat. How to get in though?! Through pantomime and some English, we got the message. This was the first time I had this sort of experience. Usually we board a catamaran from a dock! Sometimes it goes to a beach and you can climb down a ladder into the water, sometimes you just jump off. I’ve never had to climb in the boat from thigh deep seaweedy water. It wasn't too bad--sit on the side, facing out, and swivel over. I didn't want to bend my knee that much but it seemed okay.

It was a short boat ride to the site, and during that time, Luca and his helpers got us suited up in life jackets, flippers and masks. He gave my mom some tips and instructions, and then we had to swivel over the side and jump in! What on earth had I brought my mom to?! LOL.

Within a few minutes she was complaining about the mask, and getting water inside. She kept trying the tips but she was getting really uncomfortable; the salt water was burning her eyes and nose. Finally, Luca gave her his mask. This made all the difference. She was able to relax and enjoy the underwater world!

 There weren't huge schools of fish like in Bonaire, but the lettuce coral was really vibrant! There were parrot fish and other fish. There must be some reason I took the picture below. Maybe something living in those rocks?

However, it was quite rough out. Large swells would raise me up and down a couple feet. I got some water down my snorkel and of course, started feeling sea sick! Like, retching, thinking I was going to throw up. Not again! I was ready to give in, but we were a distance from the boat, and Luca and mom were too far from me to say anything. Then I hear him yell and point down. I look down, and there’s a sea turtle!!!!
 It was so awesome. There were two or three in total.

 My first one!!! Mom’s first, and on her first snorkel!!! There were actually two or three in the area. It was so cool! They nibbled on the sea grass, and we saw them stick their head above the water too. Exciting! Then, he pointed again, and there was some sort of sting ray!! No way!! It really blended in!

And then a puffer fish, just to finish off the snorkel! As usual, later in the cruise I was exploring options and settings on the camera and found the "underwater" setting again! I should put a sticky note on the camera so I don't keep forgetting!

I was pretty much done. It was supposed to be 30 minutes at each location, with a short boat ride between them. That’s not what we got, but it was still worth it. We swam over to the boat. On the way there, I thought, how are we going to get in? From deep water?! When we got there, Luca told us to hold this rope and take off the flippers. Mom climbed a little ladder first. Where was this ladder when we first climbed in? While waiting for her, I bashed my knee against the boat when I got swooped up in a swell. The day before I bashed my shin on the pool ladder. Typical stuff for me LOL.

I got to use a little of my Spanish and say I was “poco cansada”. LOL. Luca asked where we were from and he was excited to hear Canada because he likes to see snow. He was from Argentina, so had seen snow there. It was kind of neat, because we go north to see snow, and he’d have to go south!

We got back to the seaweed fence and had to figure out how to get out. Turns out it’s similar to jumping over the side…but it’s not deep LOL. We made it back to the shop, where I gave the lady a tip for Luca, and we headed to the washroom and freshwater showers.

Rustic, Mexican charm!

We headed back out to the street, wondering how to properly hail a cab. A man saw us, asked “Taxi?” we said “Si” and could see some up the street. He pointed to them. Thanks! LOL. We walked to them and then saw all. A woman came to get us and we headed back. On the way back, there was a man standing at the curb with a suitcase. She pulled over and we thought she was going to let him in! She spoke to him in Spanish but I couldn't understand except it seemed like she was going to pick him up on her way back to town. 

Like other ports, the taxi could come right up to the actual buildings. There were some cool dune buggies in the parking lot. Next time?

We wondered around the port, keeping an eye out for the girls and Rob. We saw the flamingos

the parrots

the dolphins

No girls and Rob.  We walked all around the big pool (which the girls told us later that it was freezing).

We passed a shop and bottles of vanilla caught my eye. 

They were the ones the members of the cruise group recommended! Mom and I each got a bottle--she got clear though. The sign said $20USD. I had to follow a girl into the shop where she got a calculator and did some math showing me how much the peso is worth and something about what it would say on my credit card bill. I believe, in the end, the two bottles were $56Cdn. They are 500ml. I recently opened mine and oh man. It smells so good, and tastes really good too. 

We headed over to the pier and had a seat at the security booth to wait for the tram. There really should be actual seating. It came and Mom and I got on the first car. We waited a few minutes and then I saw the girls! They didn't notice us and actually climbed up and were sitting down before they clued in! Pretty crazy!!

They had had a good time in the port, but they said the pool was FREEZING. They really wanted to go to a beach. If I had known how the whole week would go, I would have had us all go into the town and the girls could have gone to the beach there. I really wanted to do something independent though, and show my Mom it's not all that scary if you're prepared.

I don't have many details for the evening! I have some random food and menu pictures--some from my kids--but no dates for them. This was the night of the '80s party and I remember trying to walk up the Royal Promenade with either Mom or Rob and it being a zoo. We probably went swimming. Maybe we went to bed early cause we were so tired from the early mornings? We did like to walk the upper decks and the jogging track in the evenings.

One thing I see, looking at the Cruise Compass, was that we went to Jazz on 4 to see the High C's Horns. That was at 10:15. We got down there just after 10 but needed to meet up with the girls. We peeked into Jazz on 4 to see if they were there, and were shocked! The place is tiny! Seats maybe 50 people, in these gorgeous massive chairs. It was totally full, and a lot of people were standing in the doorway because there was no where else to stand (the chairs went right to the back wall). The band started up and it was extremely loud. My ankle couldn't tolerate standing too long at that time of day, so we gave up. We sat in "The Entertainment Place", but we had to sit on the edge of a statue base. There was no where to just sit. I found that in many places around the ship. Waiting to go in the theater or the MDR? Be prepared to stand.

We were really disappointed to miss out on seeing this band. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Family Cruise 2019--Day 3, Roatan

There was artwork right outside the girls' cabin and we just had to get a picture of Lucy in the sky with diamonds. No, she was not named after the song. She was named after a dog. True story.

We got breakfast at the main dining room. I had thought we needed to be off the ship right away but it turns out the excursion was local time and the ship was on ship’s time. So we opted to go off a little early for our excursion, in case we had any troubles, and also with the hope they’d be there early too and we could get going early. Rob is always paranoid about making it back to the ship, especially if we’re doing a non-ship booked excursion.

Rob went for smoked salmon on a bagel. He thought it was good. Several people in our group got Eggs Benedict. However, they were disappointed. Mom's was not warm at all. We made her speak up and she got a fresh one, but it was still not "hot". I don't remember my eggs being all that great either--I think it was premixed scrambled eggs rather than done fresh. I think that was the Express Breakfast but there's an "Eggs done your way" breakfast that maybe is a better choice---but would they still give you the pre-mixed eggs if you asked for scrambled? Or did I get the omelet? The coffee actually wasn't too bad this day! Later in the week, it was terrible. 

 We headed up top to check out the port.
 Construction of a larger pier :(

This is the Coxen Hole port, not Mahogany Bay. This port is currently small--but that's really nice!! I'm sure it'll be nice when they can add a bit and spread out, but I really don't want to see more of the same stores that are at the big ports. The Port Shopping Guide only showed two "approved" stores and that was fine with me!

We headed through the shop area and through the “tunnel”. It’s not really a tunnel. Just a covered walkway between buildings. We kind of just followed the crowds. I believe it's just to the right of the long pink 2 storey building in the centre. If you look at Google Maps satellite image, you can see a greenish area between the two parking lots. That's this walkway with excursion operators running booths on each side.  We came to the end, but I couldn’t see anything saying “Gate 2”. The woman in the last booth was quite nice and pointed to where we needed to go. A little building with a green roof was the exit. We headed there and right across the street was two men with a Roatan Adventures sign. Pretty easy once we knew where to go.  Here's a tip--use Google Streetview! I never even thought of that. The Gate number signs are clearly visible from the road--not so much from the inside of the port. 

Our driver’s name was Jefri. A young man with very good English. We told him we wanted to see the island, the sloths, the chocolate and rum factories and perhaps a short dip at a beach. We didn’t want to spend hours at the beach, but we at least wanted to go to a beach. He had parked quite a ways away so he told us to wait in the shade on what seemed to be the only tree. Looking at the streetview, I think we were at Gate 4, where the sidewalk ends. We were just watching traffic, the motorcyclists (one with a helmet sitting ON his head, only as far as his forehead--it was obviously way too small. A woman walked up and started talking to us, and she told us the green area across the street was the oldest cemetery. We hadn't even realized it was a cemetery. It was a lot busier than in the Google Streetview!!

We headed out to a look out area with a view of the ship. I sent an email to the tour company and the response was that it was called Airport Lookout. However, if you enter Outdoor Craft Market, Roatan, into the Google Maps search bar, it will come up. Hard to believe you can get great cruise ship views there! 

There were many little shops there with souvenirs. We would have liked to bring back a hammock but there’s just no room in the suitcase. We did pick up a few things. We tried haggling but no luck. Watch out for the people selling vanilla. The bottles look recycled, they’re not security sealed, they're all different and the one they let us sniff was very alcohol scented.

We headed on out through the countryside. Jefri had a lot of info on Roatan in general and lots of personal stories. He came from an English speaking family and had a hard time in school because it’s done in Spanish. His friends would mock his Spanish and then they didn’t try too hard when they started to learn English. So he ended up pretty much bilingual, which has really helped him in the tourist industry. He has a tourist visa for the US and has been a few times. One time, in Lousiana while visiting family, he even got to see a rare snowfall. He went out for about 15 seconds and was sick the rest of the day.

Learning about the life on Roatan was interesting. Things like there’s only one electrical company on the island, so prices are high. He pays $200-$250 for one month rent, but electricity is $250-$350. Internet is pretty cheap though. There’s two cellular suppliers. The crime rate is low, and he attributes it to partly because the low population means everyone knows everyone and if you do something stupid, you have to face your elders, which is even worse than the court. If you do something really bad, you get sent back to Honduras to go to jail. We even talked about the helmet laws. 

We ended up at Manawakie Park, to see sloths. I thought we would automatically go to Daniel’s Monkey and Sloth Hangout. I had only recently read there was another place to see sloths so I didn’t know much about it. I had planned on w$10 per person at Daniel’s, paid by credit card. This place, was $15 pp and their credit machine was down. We had to pool money. We had a tour guide, with his arm in a sling. First up when he asked if we had questions, Mom asked about the sling. He laughed and paused. Mom asked if the sloths did it to him. He replied his wife did it and then laughed and blushed and said motorcycle. Jefri had told us that most of the accidents on the road are by motorcyclists. Helmets are mandatory and the fines can be quite steep. We got the rest of the story and it involved a group of young men, wheelies, and the police. 

First up was the little souvenir shop and a “museum”. It was interesting to learn a little of their island history. I’m sure the kids didn’t really care but at least they can say they learned something on the trip LOL. Then we went to see the sloths!

They were a little hard to see in the trees. One had a baby, so they keep her away from the people. The “sloth trainer” looked like she was 16, and had one female, pregnant sloth on her. She seemed much smaller than I thought she’d be! We all got to hold her. The fur is soft, but almost waxy feeling. Course, but soft. Does that make sense?
 Unfortunately, we were in a shaded area and it made for some dark photos. I did "enhance" these but I don't have the skills to do more. I got in trouble for using the flash for one shot.

 The guide took some photos and said their photo tech would fix them up and post them to their Instagram page.  Oh, if you go to Facebook, Sept 18, there's a photo album of our visit! Look in the Mobile Photos album.

She really liked Megan's hair!
 We posed for group shots. One has Rob's head totally cut off. This one, we were supposed to do funny faces.

Then we stopped at some bushes and a small garden and we got a lesson on plants and all their medicinal uses. It was interesting but very hot and no where to sit.

From there, we went to the monkeys. Two little monkeys who were more interested in playing with each other than with the girls. 

 No way was I getting in there. I'd probably trip on something and end up with an appendage in a monkey's mouth accidentally. The little screeches they made freaked me out.

The guide kept encouraging the girls to “play with them, wrestle” but the monkeys seemed rather rough. See the monkey on the guide's foot?!

Next cage over were a bunch of large rabbits. The girls enjoyed petting them for a few minutes. There was a white one with thin black circle around the eyes and Grandma thought he looked really creepy (the eyes looked way too big because of the black).

The last cage area was the birds. A bird trainer came over and got one of them, “George”, the most social of the birds, because he was a “yellow” one. 

 Even Grandma held George! I was surprised! I was also really impressed with the girls though they've held lots of different animals over the years!

He didn’t really talk, but he did love to laugh. Then the guide had to step away so our tour guide took over, and put the bird on Megan’s head. 

Then he placed George on Lucy’s head. After a minute he got a funny expression and said “Oh no…George is um…leaving a mess….” I didn’t see anything, Mom didn’t see anything but the others realized it was a prank. Lucy was a good sport and headed to the bathroom where they let her in on the prank. It was really funny!

Mom bought a gift for her friend and then we headed out. We were pretty hot but Jeffery’s van was air conditioned. As we drove along, Jefri pointed out things like the local dump. It recently had a huge fire and they had to cover it with the red dirt/clay. There was quite a few people and children sorting through the garbage. I hope the girls saw them. You can see the dump in the satellite image of Roatan, at the Y of the road between Sundancer and Col Los Maestros.

Jefri drove us down by the shore. He talked about how the resort “trains” dolphins and how they let the older ones out because they know they’ll come back, sometimes with other new dolphins. And there have been dolphin babies. I believe this is the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences. 

We continued along, past Anthony Key Resort, a quaint older place. Then we drove onto the beach; W. Sandy Bay Beach Road. The beach was nice but it didn’t look like a place to swim. Jefri talked about how the reef protects the beaches and they haven’t had a bad hurricane since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. He was pretty young and thought it was really cool but now as an adult and parent, he doesn’t find the storms quite so fun. He also talked about how the weekend had been their Independence Day celebrations and a huge fishing tournament. The top prize was something like $30 000. His friend and his buddy got second place with a huge marlin. Marlins are catch and release and quite violent. Jeffery told us about the one time he caught a marlin and it turned around and bashed his boat and put a hole in it. Take marlin fishing off the excursion list!

The girls were getting antsy and wanted to go to a beach. Mum and Rob were too hot, and Rob was worried about getting back in time. We headed to the chocolate shop.
Wow, it was packed--so no pictures. There was also a craft market on the other side of the parking lot. We got to taste raw (or roasted?) ground cocoa beans mixed with raw brown sugar. Strong. We looked at all the chocolate. Some of the bars were rather squishy, even though there was air conditioning going. It was pretty warm! Lucy and I bought some chocolate. There was also some really nice jewellry made with semi-precious gems/geodes.

Wait a minute!
Where we went did not look like that drawing on the website I link to in the previous paragraph! Quick Google search...we actually went to Mayak Chocolate. I had no idea there was more than one chocolate factory! Perhaps that's why we didn't really get free samples? 

Then off to the rum factory, despite the girls displeasure. Their website has been under construction for awhile, so I won't link. Easy enough to find though. We needed to bring back some coconut rum for Mum’s neighbour/tenant who was looking after the dogs. He aksed for an American brand he can’t get at home but we thought he might like something more authentic. The rum place didn’t seem to have anything showing the production or history. It was mainly a shop. We tried a couple samples which were fine. The rum cream was nice, not as thick as  Bailey’s. The rum cake was yummy. But they had only big bottles for sale, around $25-$30US. I wanted small bottles. So, no rum for us.

Jefri headed back to the port. On the way, he stopped at the big Roatan sign. It seems every port has these big signs now. It was a little tricky getting a shot that was mostly us and not other tourists. Mom didn't want to rush across the road to be in the shot. She was more fascinated with the man handpainting the lines for the parking spots. My brother does this during the summer, but using modern, large road equipment.

When we come back to the port, the taxis can come right in to drop you off. That’s nice. We tipped Jefri and headed aboard. 

We went up to the pools while they were a bit quieter than on the sea day.

Dinner was very nice!

 We were a little disappointed to see little packets of butter instead of butter balls. Cheaper to buy and dispose of the garbage than to hire someone to make a million butter balls? Anyway, this is the Roasted Poblano Potato soup and Mom had the shrimp cocktail I think. The soup was really good and I could have eaten more!
This is the Arugula and Radicchio salad. It was also really good though I'm not a fan of cold cauliflower. The goat cheese was really, really good. 

 I got the Braised Beef Short Ribs and Mom got the Chicken Parmesan. She said it was quite good. My philosophy is to not order something I can make (or get at local restaurants). The short ribs were also very good. The food in the dining room was consistently very good! And not the huge portions that cruises used to be known for.
 I think Andrew heard Megan mention she'd like to try the risotto, so a dish magically appeared. It was good...but sauteed mushrooms....ewww.

Dessert...That's the lemon curd tartlet. As I've found in the past, the pastry is quite tough. I'm not a pastry fan anyway (except my own), so I just scooped it all out. Andrew started bring a dish of vanilla ice cream with strawberries (not fresh, they were in a sauce) for the girls. They loved their strawberry "sundaes". Megan got the Creme Brulee (not what she was expecting--the sugar seemed a little burnt actually), and Dad got the warm chocolate cookie. It was more like a shallow brownie, but oh man, very good. 

The show was the ice show! "1977" was the name. Megan wanted to be at the doors at 7:55 for the 8:30 show. Rob and I got there and she wasn’t there LOL. They got a little disorientated--it's hard to determine where the entry is to the rink on the maps. We weren’t first in but got front row seats at the side near the stage. As usual, it’s a great ice show. I had seen something either on the TV in the cabin or just before we left that talked about an ice show and using drones with lights to create a show. I wasn't sure which ice show that was part of, but it turned out to be part of this show. It was really cool, even though I had seen it on the TV. 
 They changed colours and did different formations. Hard to photograph, so it's worth searching out a video online.

 Hard to see but this was a fascinating double death spiral. Two guys holding the two women, spiraling. Crazy. You can barely see the other woman; her arm is around the front woman's waist.

The costuming is always really cool to watch. Mom was impressed with the quick changes!

I think they’ve improved the quality of skaters. It used to be a couple of “guest stars” and then what felt like a synchro skating team backing them up. Now, there were about 5 couples—they weren’t all pair skaters but they were all featured instead of just the background. 
This is one of those stunt moves that used to be more common in their ice shows. They've got a swivel device around their necks so she can spin during a sort-of death spiral. 

At one point, a Yeti lunged over the railing towards Megan (who just happened to have her Skate Canada lanyard showing). The yeti actually startled Lucy and I quite a bit and I only got his butt LOL. Megan says to him “Do a double Axle!” He replied “Don’t worry, I can!” He did do one later! I like the small venue for seeing a show but I’m surprised that it’s not really any bigger than on the Freedom class. Royal Caribbean is actually now the largest ice show production company in the world.
At the end of the show, the cruise director Ricky came out, on figure skates. He was joking about how much ice skating they do in Jamaica. He tentatively got on the ice and did a few glides. We all applauded and then he comfortably skated to the other end LOL. He even did a little jump and spin.

We forgot to go to the adult comedy show. Not sure if we did anything after the ice show. Maybe a deck walk, maybe a swim?