Excursions

El Cozumeleno Beach Resort Day Pass All Inclusive review in Cozumel, Mexico

In:
29Nov2018

One of the most popular ways to spend time in Cozumel is by going to an all-inclusive beach, and there is no shortage of choices.  So when I ran across the El Cozumeleno resort offering day passes, I had to check it out for myself.

Photo by Cruise Life Rick

El Cozumeleno is an all-inclusive resort that offers day passes for purchase, which grant access to the hotel grounds.  This includes the beach, pool, dining facilities, snorkeling, mini-golf and more.  It looks like the total package, but how would it stack up to the many other all-inclusives in Cozumel?

Description

Located on the north end of Cozumel, El Cozumeleno is not in the usual area where you find the most popular all-inclusives.  El Cozumeleno is one of many hotel resorts on the north side that cater primarily to guests who are staying in Cozumel multiple nights.

 

The resort advertises itself as offering a lot for your time and money. There is a huge selection of activities, options and ways to spend your day while on a cruise in Cozumel. Note that this is not a Royal Caribbean excursion, and can be booked via one of many third-party websites that sell day passes.

Checking in at the front desk, you are greeted with a welcome drink and explanation of what's included with your stay.  Essentially, you have access to anything a hotel guest would have, minus pool towels.

Here is exactly what is included with your day pass:

  • All food and open bar
  • Snorkel gear
  • 5 swimming pools, Jacuzzis and wading pools
  • Restaurant a la carte and buffet style right on the beach
  • Restaurant a la carte (air conditioned)
  • 5 Bars
  • Diving class in the pool
  • Mini golf & tennis court
  • Game room - pool table, table games, table tennis, table soccer
  • Fitness Center
  • Beach chairs
  • Swimming pool lounges
  • Sandy beach and great snorkel area
  • Kids club activities program in a special designed kids club
  • Wi-Fi in lobby area

As is the case with many all-inclusive resorts, you head outside and pick a few chairs to be "your spot" for the day.  There is ample seating along the beach, or in one of the pool areas. 

There are two main beach areas at El Cozumeleno, with one being primarily for enjoying the sun and surf, and the other beach used more for snorkeling (although there is plenty of seating there as well).

In addition, El Cozumeleno has a sprawling pool complex, which is also split up into two areas. The main pool is massive, with various depths and even part of the pool completely under a shaded area for those that want refuge from the sun.

There is a swim-up bar, as well as roaming waiter service.  The wait staff will consistently stop by to bring you any food or drink you would want.

If you prefer, there is a buffet restaurant between the two pools that is convenient to the beach or the pools.  

Speaking of food, there is a lot of it with a good mix of Mexican favorites and more familiar American fare.

El Cozumeleno offers programming and services beyond the usual beach and pool activities.  There is a child care facility adjacent to the pool, such as programming for all guests (Spanish language lessons, water aerobics, etc).

There is also a mini-golf course and playground near the pools.  The pools, beach and facilities mentioned are all relatively close to each other, which keeps things manageable in terms of not venturing off too far from anyone.

Comments

In my opinion, there are four components that make a great all-inclusive beach experience:

  1. Well-kept and appealing aquatic facilities
  2. Excellent waiter service
  3. Freshly made and tasty food
  4. Fair price

Having visited a number of all-inclusive resorts in Cozumel, often there is one or two of those components that a resort struggles with and it ends up dampening the experience.  I was pleasantly surprised to find El Cozumeleno bucked that trend and hit all four targets.

First and foremost, the resort is quite lovely.  It is large without feeling overwhelming, and offers plenty of space on the beach and by the pool.  Their pool facility is particularly impressive, with a large amount of space and nicely set up.  We found ample seating, both in the shade or in the sun. 

The beach offers palapas, hammocks, beach chairs and like the pool, there is lots of seating.  Between the two beaches, you should find a spot to enjoy the day.

Equally impressive was the food and service at El Cozumeleno.  We had a team of two waiters who were essentially "assigned" to our group and would regularly come around to see if we needed anything.  In my opinion, you want waiter service that is borderline annoying just so that you are not the one hunting them down to make a request. The waiter team was quite attentive and always had a smile when taking a new drink order, or bringing us our fifth order of chips and salsa.

Speaking of chips and salsa, the food came out fresh and tasted great.  Being in Mexico, I expect a certain level of authentic fare that should exceed the kind of Mexican food we can get in the United States. Their ceviche and fish tacos were excellent, along with fresh salsa.  They offer food like pizza or burgers, which were nothing special but certainly not inedible either.

After spending a day at El Cozumeleno, I believe I have found the new gold standard of all-inclusive beach days in Cozumel.  Their facility was superior to Nachi Cocum, and their service definitely equaled it.  The food offered rivaled any other all-inclusive beach in Cozumel, and I was all too willing to order multiple dishes while there.

At the time of our visit, the price was $54.99 per adult and $25.99 for children aged 3-11 years old (2 and under are free). The price mirrors most other all-inclusive beaches in Cozumel, and is an excellent value.

In short, El Cozumeleno is the best overall all-inclusive resort we have visited in Cozumel to date. Between the beach, pool, food and service, it is "the total package" and I instantly wanted to go back on a future visit to Cozumel. It offers enough for families to enjoy, while still retaining a sense of relaxation if you want to find a quiet corner of the resort.

Top 10 Family Friendly Royal Caribbean shore excursions

In:
Category: 
28Aug2018

A cruise vacation is about enjoying a family experience together, and Royal Caribbean shared its top picks for family friendly excurions in the Caribbean.

Here is the list of Royal Caribbean's favorite family friendly shore excursion options.

All Inclusive St. John Beach & Snorkel (St. Thomas)

Cruise from St. Thomas to nearby St. John and visit the stunning beach of Trunk Bay, featuring an underwater reef trail. Enjoy a narrated boat ride complete with photo stops en route to Trunk Bay — famous for its long stretches of white sand and sparkling water. Discover tropical fish and colorful coral on the snorkel trail or simply swim, sunbathe, and relax.

Caribbean Sail to Christmas & Honeymoon Coves (St. Thomas)

Climb aboard a schooner whose friendly crew delivers a fun day of sailing, snorkeling, swimming and beach time. Discover sea turtles, tropical fish and coral while anchored offshore in the waters of Christmas Cove. Sail on to Water Island, where you can relax on the sands of Honeymoon Beach, swim and do more snorkeling before sitting down to a freshly-prepared Caribbean BBQ served overlooking the sparkling blue sea.

5 Star Island Tour (St. Thomas)

Drink in lovely St. Thomas vistas, enjoy spectacular shopping and explore the stunning Magen's Bay Beach on a driving tour of key island landmarks. Stop at the famous Mountain Top, a local institution atop St. Peter Mountain where you can shop or enjoy the views. Then head to heart-shaped Magen's Bay Beach for two hours of sun and fun. Conclude with two more hours shopping in Main Street, downtown Charlotte Amalie.

4x4 St. Maarten and Beach Escape (St. Maarten)

Escape the crowds to discover the island’s scenery and leading sights on an adventurous 4x4 drive, with time in the French capital and on a gorgeous beach. Travel via convoy across the island, through the charming seafront town of Grand Case on route to Marigot, while stopping at scenic lookouts along the way. Enjoy free time to stroll around the quaint and atmospheric city. End your St. Maarten exploration with a refreshing swim and relaxation.

A Golden Eagle Sailaway (St. Maarten)

Walk the red carpet before boarding a catamaran for a pampered sailing excursion to an unspoiled St. Maarten beach. Keep an eye out for flying fish and dolphins as you stretch out in the nets or in the shade of the sail as the boat reaches speeds of up to 20 knots. At the beach, swim, sun, and snorkel. Recharge on the return to Philipsburg with sandwiches and cold drinks served by the friendly crew.

Maho Airplane Experience (St. Maarten)

Experience the thrill of watching, hearing and feeling a commercial airplane as it lands merely feet above you while lounging along the white sands and turquoise waters of Maho Beach. Join a friendly and informative local guide for a 35-minute narrated motor coach ride across the Dutch side of St. Maarten. Upon arrival at Maho Beach, you’ll enjoy over three hours of free time at this popular seaside locale. But beyond all those exciting activities, the most unique aspect of this beach is its proximity to Princess Juliana International Airport, as one of its runways is situated right next to the beach.

Old and New San Juan (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Fall in love with the beauty of Puerto Rico's capital as you go through a guided tour on the historical landmarks in Old and New San Juan. In New San Juan, you'll explore Condado, Isla Verde, and the picturesque residential areas. Step down the fabulous Window of the Seas where the famous Puerto Rican superstars have printed their signatures on the sidewalk resembling Hollywood Boulevard. In Old San Juan, you'll discover the Capitol Building, the 5th Centenary Plaza, and have the opportunity to choose between visiting San Cristobal Fort or the colonial shopping district.

Pirate Treasure Hunt Family Tour (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Get ready for some swash-buckling fun as your family helps a local pirate find his way home while walking along a sweet treat-laden trail around Old San Juan that leads to El Morro fortress. Set out on foot in true buccaneer style on a guided hunt that leads you through blue cobblestone pathways amidst San Juan’s historic colonial district. Discover notable treasures along the way: stone buildings dating back to the 16th century; the marble statues of Plaza de Armas; and the Ballaja Barracks, which once housed a thousand soldiers. Along the way you’ll learn about Puerto Rico’s illustrious history and taste a variety of sugary delights in local shops — frozen yogurt, popcorn or, chocolates and churros. Outside stately El Morro, a 16th-century citadel with a storied wartime legacy, kids can fly a kite into the Puerto Rican air to celebrate the finding of the trail’s final treasure. Take in the view of San Juan Bay before making the trek back through town to your ship.

Campo Rico ATV Adventure (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Hop on an ATV for a “Ride of a lifetime”. “ Experience the thrill of driving an all-terrain vehicle through the Puerto Rican countryside just minutes from San Juan on a 2,200- acre private ranch that leads you to a plantation home, horse stables and ends at the Mojito bar. Meet our experienced guides, receive a safety briefing and get operational instruction of how to drive your ATV. Then hit the gas and follow your guide as you maneuver your 4x4 machine around mountains, mangroves, lagoons, limestone formations and tropical fields. Watch for wildlife along the trails before driving up to Mi Casa, a traditional Spanish sugarcane plantation estate home. During a short break take photos and learn the history of this working ranch. Continue your ride through the ranch stopping at the horse stables and learn the history of the “ Paso Fino “ horse. End your ride at the Mojito Bar, relax and rejuvenate in this hilltop watering hole, where you can purchase beer, mojitos and other tropical drinks.

San Juan Food and Culture Tour (San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Satisfy your tastebuds as you experience the best of Old San Juan on a small group walking tour. You’ll venture off the beaten path to discover its delicious foods, fascinating architecture, intriguing cultural traditions and bustling shopping streets of the historical neighborhood of Old San Juan. Your culinary walking tour lets you taste specialties from a variety of favorite local food establishments. You will have the opportunity to get involved in the food preparation by having an active role in some of the food served. You will also receive a coupon savings booklet which allows for additional savings in restaurants and shops throughout Old San Juan.

Excursion Focus: Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Garden

In:
Category: 
20Aug2018

If you take a Royal Caribbean cruise to Alaska, there is a good chance your cruise will make a stop at Victoria, Canada, and the two most popular cultural tourist attractions are available to see in one tour via the cruise line.

If you do even a minimal amount of research into what to do in Victoria, you will find that Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Garden are at the top of many lists.  As a result, we thought it would make sense to take a tour to bring us to both.

Description

The Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Garden shore excursion is a bus tour that will take you from the cruise ship area and visit the two most popular spots in Victoria.

The tour bus waits just outside the area where your ship docks, although be forewarned it is a rather long walk from the ship to the buses and delays getting off the ship is not unusual.

Once on the bus, we took a guided tour to our first stop.  Throughout the bus ride, our guide provides a narration of the history of Victoria, as well as pointing out significant spots along the way.  

Our first stop was Craigdarroch Castle, which is a 19th century home built by industrialist Robert Dunsmuir in 1890, with antique furnishings and gorgeous glass fixtures. 

As you arrive, your group is greeted by one of the castle's employees who talks about the history of the home, as well as sharing some rules.  One of the more unusual rules is you cannot wear backpacks into the castle.  If you have a backpack, you must wear it on your front as a means of avoiding accidentally running into things in the house.

As you enter Craigdarroch Castle, you will walk through much of the house in a path that will take you floor by floor, upstairs and then across the home and down stairs until you exit.  Keep in mind that backtracking is difficult, so do not leave a floor until you are satisfied with what you have seen.

The home is kept in a state that is representative of what it looked like back in the late 1800s.  

Beyond the inherit beauty and grandeur of the home, Craigdarroch Castle provides a glimpse into what life was like during this era. The house features a collection of residential stained and leaded glass, period furnishings, wood paneling and carvings.

After everyone visits the castle, it is time to hop back on the bus and onto the next stop at Butchart Garden.

Upon arrival to Butchart Garden, you essentially have an hour and a half to walk the grounds and explore on your own.  

Butchart Gardens is massive, encompassing a 55-acre site that originated as a turn-of-the-century quarry site that turned into a beautification project.


There are many trails and paths to see, with the Sunken Garden being a well-known highlight.

This tour does not provide nearly enough time to see the entire breadth of the Gardens, so be prepared to prioritize what you want to see.

Once time at the Gardens is up, you re-board the bus to take you back to the port area.  On our tour, they offered to drop guests off in downtown Victoria as well.

Comments

The Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Garden bus tour covers exactly what it promised, and gives just enough time to get a sense of what each attraction offers.

The time spent at Craigdarroch Castle is sufficient to see all the rooms and get a good feel for the history and opulence of the home.  There are other tours and groups visiting at the same time you will be, so do not expect a private viewing.

As noted earlier, Butchart Garden is so massive an area that there is simply not enough time to "see it all" in the window of time you have on this tour.  The goal of this excursion is really for guests to get a sense of what Butchart Garden is all about, without committing most of the day to seeing it.  A friend was on a multi-hour tour of just Butchart Garden and remarked that he still did not have enough time to see it all.

The bus driver provides narration throughout your visit, and it is a good way of learning about the history and lifestyle of Victoria.  The narration can also serve as a means of making mental notes for places to visit on your own later in the day.

Ultimately, we booked this tour because we wanted to see both attractions without spending a bundle of time at either one.  This was our first visit to Victoria, so we wanted a "taste" of what the area has to offer.  If you are looking for an opportunity to see both Craigdarroch Castle and Butchart Garden but not necessarily in-depth, this is a great tour for you.  There were a few hours left over for touring Victoria on our own, including grabbing lunch downtown.

Cost: $129 per adult, $89 per child.

Spotted: Furious Flyer ZipLine excursion in Labadee

In:
01Aug2018

Royal Caribbean is now offering a new type of zipline experience at its private destination of Labadee.

The Furious Flyer Zipline has popped up as an excursion to reserve prior to a Royal Caribbean sailing that offers guests a tandem zip line course to experience. Royal Caribbean Blog reader melski94 spotted the new option.

The excursion is described as, "Take a thrilling leap into sky-high adventure as you race head-first on a tandem zip line course that shoots you along 2,800 feet of cables dangling above the forested mountains and tropical seascapes of Labadee. Atop a launch tower in the middle of the forest you’ll meet expert trainers who will deliver a safety briefing before gearing you up with a helmet and cable harness. Then feel the adrenaline rush of flying head-first, like a soaring superhero, through a tunnel of tall trees along a zip line that opens up over craggy cliffs plunging to the bright-blue ocean below. This unforgettable flight whizzes you over Labadee’s powdery sands, crystalline seas, and coral reefs — all before touching down safely on an elevated landing deck."

There is a minimum weight of 75 pounds, and a maximum weight of 275 pounds.  Guests must also be at least 48 inches tall.

Excursion Focus: Paradise Beach Cozumel

In:
25Jul2018

Spending the day in Cozumel, Mexico means time playing and relaxing by the ocean, and one of the most popular spots for cruise ship guests for many years has been Paradise Beach.

Unlike some other beaches in Cozumel, Paradise Beach offers an a la carte experience, where you only pay for the activities you want to enjoy.  This means a lower admission cost than some other popular beach options.

It had been eight years since our last visit, so on a recent Royal Caribbean cruise to Cozumel, we decided to see how Paradise Beach stacks up to the competition.

Description

Paradise Beach is about a 15 minute taxi ride ($15 one way) away from where Royal Caribbean docks their cruise ships in Cozumel, and easily accessible by taxi. It is located on the western side of Cozumel, one of many beaches that are popular with tourists.

Paradise Beach offers beach access, a large swimming pool, dining and drink service, and water toys in the ocean.  What makes Paradise Beach stand apart is that is not all-inclusive, which means you are charged for what you want to enjoy.

Admission to Paradise Beach is just $3 per person.  For that price, you can sit on the beach or go to the pool and enjoy the entire day.  Granted, that does not include anything other than facility access, but for some people that is all they really want. It is worth noting that a $10 minimum food order is kindly requested for pool access.

More realistically, you have the option of purchasing food, drink or activity access.  Paradise Beach prides itself on offering a low cost of entry and reasonable prices for the things to do there.  

Speaking of prices, Paradise Beach offers a Fun Pass that costs $18 and you can use the kayaks, snorkel gear, stand up paddle boards and access to the inflatable water toys, which include:

  • water trampolines
  • 14 ft. climbing iceberg
  • water slides
  • a floating multitier Jungle Joe climbing structure
  • Jungle Joe 2
  • Wibit Flipper
  • Aqua Glide blast bag
  • the Rock-it circular water rocker
  • Jungle Joe x1 aqua glide revolution
  • water mats
  • coconut tree climb
  • bungee-trampoline

As you arrive, the staff at Paradise Beach will escort you to any available chairs you prefer, either on the beach or near the pool. The staff roam the grounds of Paradise Beach regularly to take food or drink orders, and deliver it right to you.

Speaking of the pool, Paradise Beach has a massive pool area that offers shallow and deep(er) areas.  You can find chairs out in the sun, under a tree or somewhere inbetween.  

As its name implies, there is also a lovely beach that you can have access to while at Paradise Beach. It is indeed a large sandy beach and can accommodate quite a number of guests.

Food and drinks are available by ordering from the wait staff (copy of the menu.  There is certainly a large variety of alcoholic beverages you can enjoy, which is expected at any tourist beach spot in Cozumel.  In addition, the food is a mix of traditional Mexican fare and some American dishes

Comments

The appeal of Paradise Beach is quite simple, have a fun day by the beach or pool (or both) and pay just for what you want.  Unlike some other all-inclusive options, Paradise Beach does not include everything because they do not believe you need to have everything included.

Without a doubt, if you are looking to only spend part of your day at the beach or pool, Paradise Beach is the go to spot.  The opportunity to drop in and spend just a few dollars on admission is quite appealing.  Moreover, their prices for beer or cocktails are reasonable (definitely cheaper than the cruise ship prices).  Even if you drink quite a bit, you may still find yourself spending less overall than at an all-inclusive.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of our visit to Paradise Beach was the service.  I was curious how attentive the wait staff would be, especially since our cruise ship had a late arrival (noon) and we did not arrive to Paradise Beach until well into the afternoon.  Despite the late arrival time, we never waited more than a few minutes to get an order in.  Some of the waiters had handheld tablets that they could put orders immediately into the system, and then be delivered later on by other waiters.  

Coming back to Paradise Beach after so many years, it definitely holds up as a premier spot for any cruise ship guest to enjoy.  Paradise Beach has been synonymous with recommendations for a good beach day in Cozumel for quite a long time.  If you happen to search the internet for recommendations, inevitably Paradise Beach will always be among the suggestions.  

Overall, Paradise Beach impressed us with its combination of large beach and pool area, along with very good service.  When you combine the low cost of admission, Paradise Beach is a great spot to enjoy being outdoors.  Unless you are planning on doing some serious drinking and/or eating, the value proposition of Paradise Beach is quite high.  Families especially are sure to find the low cost for kids (we were never charged for our two daughters on our visit) a welcome change.

How to book: No reservations required or available. Just show up. Website

Excursion Focus: Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp in Juneau, Alaska

In:
Category: 
17Jul2018

Do you like cute puppies? Do you like playing with cute puppies.  You have satisfied the prerequisites for the Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp shore excursion.

That is essentially what we thought when we booked the Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp excursion on a recent Explorer of the Seas cruise to Alaska.  While browsing the Juneau shore excursions, we decided to conduct some serious scientific research and spend a couple of hours playing with puppies...and maybe learning something or two about the Iditarod race.

Description

There are many different shore excursions in Alaska that incorporate dog sledding into them, but if all you want to do is focus just on the dog sled aspect and play with puppies, this is the excursion for you.

The Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp tour is offered directly by Royal Caribbean, and can be booked prior to the cruise or once onboard.

After disembarking the ship in Juneau, we found our group meeting location in the parking lot adjacent to the pier area.  Once everyone arrived, we boarded a small bus that would take us on the roughly 10-15 minute ride to the dog sledding camp.

The camp is located on the outskirts of Juneau, Alaska.  We visited a real dog sledding camp, where when the operators are not offering tours to cruise passengers, they are training for dog sled races that will take place in the winter.

Upon arrival, our group was split up to maximize our time and minimize standing around and waiting.  There are three basic components to the Alaska Sled Dogs & Musher's Camp excursion:

  1. Riding the dog sled
  2. Learning about dog sled races
  3. Playing with puppies

In our case, we started off with the dog sled experience while the other people in our group met the puppies.  Later on, we would switch.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no snow in the ground in the summer in Alaska, so the dogs practice pulling a cart that is meant to evoke the same experience as a dog sled.  A group of dogs pull the cart around a track that goes through a large portion of the forest.  

You are seated in the cart, get buckled in, and are lead by a dog sled musher.  The musher explains how the races work, describes the nuances of dog sledding and how the dogs train for the race, and takes you and the dogs out on the track.

The entire race portion takes you around the track, with a break along the way for the dogs.  The track area goes through a heavily wooded part of the camp and it is quite lovely and beautiful to be in there.  Meanwhile, the dogs seem to relish the thrill of the race.

Along the way, the musher will take photos of you in the cart while you remain seated. 

After the race concludes, you get a chance to meet and pet the dogs that pulled you.  The make up of the dog team will vary from experienced dogs who tend to lead the pack, to the inexperienced and brand new dogs that pull up the rear of the team.  

After the dog sled portion, there is an opportunity to learn more about dog sled racing. 

You learn about the history of the Iditarod race, and how dog sledding has evolved to where it is today.  On our visit, we also had an opportunity to meet a retired dog sled racer, who is now quite content laying around and being petted by strangers.

The camp also features a suspension bridge for taking photos.

Following the lesson in dog sledding, it was time for the pièce de résistance, the puppies!

On our visit there were three sets of puppies of different ages: very young puppies, young puppies, and adolescent puppies.

A member of the camp team will distribute puppies to people in the group. Ultimately, it is up to your fellow excursioneers to share time with the puppies and pass them around.

You can pet them, hold them, take selfies with them, hug them and likely try to convince your significant other/parent/cousin/uncle to adopt a puppy as soon as you get home.

During the puppy petting time, there is also complimentary hot chocolate you may enjoy.

Comments

Just as the excursion promises, this is an opportunity to see, play and pet puppies.  I was a bit skeptical about how many puppies there would be (as opposed to older dogs), but they had quite a few and it lived up to the expectations.

The race part of the tour was better than I thought it would be, with a sense of exhilaration as we raced around the track.  These dogs are the real deal and at the very hint of going on a race, they would all start howling and barking in euphoric anticipation of what they knew what was coming next.  

Of course, meeting the puppies is what everyone is really there to see, and it is quite the experience.

The only real issue with meeting the puppies is it is wholeheartedly dependent on your fellow guests to share and be gracious with time.  There is a limited amount of time with each group of puppies, and in our experience, there were definitely some people who tended to hold onto the puppies longer than others. There is no guidance given on time, nor is there any kind of rule.  Just keep in mind that there are not enough puppies for everyone to have one at the same time, and so, whoever does not have a puppy is likely looking longingly at the people with the puppies for a turn.  Be kind and rewind, err, share the puppies.

I liked how they split up the group at the start of the excursion to minimize the time we spent waiting.  It helped keep everything moving, and when it came time to meet the puppies, having less people to compete with meant more quality time with the dogs.

Our tour clocked in at two hours, which was just the perfect amount of time, in my opinion.  We had enough time to do everything without having that feeling of, "when are we going to start the next part already?".

As mentioned earlier, there are a few different excursions offered that incorporate this experience into the total tour.  If you are looking to just meet the puppies, this is the tour for you.  If you want to meet puppies and do some other touring, consider one of the other tours.  We ended up touring on our own after this excursion, but it is important to know there are other excursions in Juneau and Skagway that offer very similar experiences.

Cost: $127 per adult and $127 per child (our three year old daughter was free).

Excursion Focus: Old Havana City Sightseeing

In:
Category: 
12Jul2018

Many people visiting Cuba on a Royal Caribbean cruise are very likely visiting Havana for the first time, and for those that want to see the highlights of the Old City of Cuba's capital, Royal Caribbean's Old Havana City Sightseeing tour offers just that.

We were also one of those first timers in Cuba on a recent Majesty of the Seas cruise, and picked this tour as a way to cross off some of the most famous landmarks in Havana.  It is impossible to see all of Havana in just one day, but this tour aimed to take us to the more popular spots.

Description

The Old Havana City Sightseeing tour is listed as a 4 hour bus tour that drives through much of Havana and offers stops at four places along the way.

This tour is offered directly by Royal Caribbean, and we booked the tour prior to the cruise.  The list price for this excursion is $99 per adult and $79 per child.

In the case of this tour, guests are instructed to meet onboard the cruise ship in the ship's theater. 

Royal Caribbean splits up guests among different buses, with each bus on its own schedule and with its own tour guide.  When it is time for your tour group to depart, Royal Caribbean escorts guests off the ship, through Cuban Customs and onto a waiting bus.   

This may sound simple, but it does take quite a while.  Going through Cuban Customs, security and money exchange goes at a snails pace in a very un-air conditioned building.  I estimate it took us 90 minutes to go from when we arrived at the theater to actually boarding a bus.

Once on the bus, your tour leader will introduce themselves and welcome you aboard.  By far the best part of the tour is the fact you will go all around Havana in an air conditioned coach bus.  I cannot understate the value of having an air conditioned base of operations to fall back on.  Havana is quite a hot and humid place to visit, and unlike so many other spots in the Caribbean, air conditioning is quite rare in Cuba.

While on our tour, we had the same bus, bus driver and tour leader for the entire duration of the excursion. This meant we could leave anything we wanted onboard the bus and it would be waiting for us when we got back.

The Old Havana City Sightseeing tour makes four stops as it navigates the streets of Havana.  These stops include:

  • Morro Castle
  • Plaza de Revolucion
  • Cristo de la Habana statue
  • Colon Cemetery

The exact order you visit may vary, as our tour guide optimized the tour to visit spots with little to no shade earlier in the day and save the spots with shade for later in the day.

A great deal of other sights will be visible from the bus as you drive through Havana and your tour guide will narrate the entire trip. Many blog readers asked us after the tour if there were any restrictions on what we could see or photograph and there really were none.  Our tour guide was more than happy to answer any and all questions we had and helped shed some light onto the Cuban way of life.

Our first stop was the Colon Cemetery, which is where a great deal of Cuba's most famous filmmakers, politicians and baseball players are buried. The bus dropped us off towards the entrance, and then a special guide escorted us through the cemetery and pointed out some of the more famous mausoleums.

The cemetery is massive, and there is not enough time to even see half of it, but it was incredible to see the detail in some of the burial spots.  

Our next stop was Revolutionary Square, where some of Cuba's most famous speeches were given.  Odds are if you watch an old news reel of some of Cuba's early days following the Communist Revolution, you will see someone speaking from this area.  It is basically a very large parking lot, with some government buildings surrounding it. 

There is also a fleet of classic American cars (or at least the exterior of classic American cars) that double as taxi drivers show off in the area. 

After a quick introduction to the history of this area, we were given some time to walk around on our own and check it out.  Most people tended to flock towards the classic cars to see them up close and take photos with them. There is no cost to any of this (unless you opt for a ride), although if you get into the car, a tip is customary.

Our next stop goes to check out Cuban sculptor Jilma Madera’s Cristo de la Habana statue, which keeps watch over the bay from a hilltop. 

The Christ of Havana statue is a large sculpture representing Jesus of Nazareth that was commissioned in 1953. The statue was carved out of white Carrara marble, the same material used for many of the monuments of the Colon Cemetery.  The statue is about 20 metres (66 ft) high including a 3-metre (10 ft) base.

The park where the statue is located provides a great view of Havana, your cruise ship and the harbor.

The final stop took us to Morro Castle, a stately fortress at the mouth of Havana harbor.  

Not only is the castle a fine example of Spanish colonial defenses, but there is also a bit of shopping you can do inside and outside the fort.  

The tour does not actually include admission to the fort, but you do get to go inside a small part of it that leads up to the entrance.  You are free to walk the grounds of Morro outside and explore without any cost.

When you get off the bus, there are a number of shops set up outside the fort you can browse.  In addition, you will be taken into a rum and cigar shop inside the fort that is optional to visit.

Most of the stops are 15-30 minutes in length.  The stop at Morro took about one hour and the Colon Cemetery was closer to 30 minutes.

At the conclusion of the tour, the bus returns to the port area, although you are free to tour on your own after that.

Comments

Going to any port of call for the first time means you likely have your own list of landmarks you would like to see, and Havana certainly has plenty of good candidates.  The Old Havana City Sightseeing does a good job at providing an introduction to Havana and overview of some of the more notable spots.

Of course, this is a group bus tour, which means the pace of the tour is largely dictated by the tour leader (and whomever shows up last to board the bus) and it does not leave a lot of room for personal exploration.  That is not necessarily a bad thing either, but do not expect a hands-on walking tour of the city.

The best part of this excursion is the air conditioned bus.  Having a bus to go back to between stops and relax, recuperate from the heat and humidity, and rest makes for tackling a city as large as Havana much easier.  Everyone's patience is higher when air conditioning is involved and after taking this tour in July, I do believe it helped make the overall experience better.

Our tour guide was also very knowledgeable about Cuba's history and current role today.  He encouraged us to ask questions and always took the time to explain concepts and programs that are not something you may find elsewhere in North America.  

Between the places we stopped to see and the many other places we saw from the bus, I felt the Old Havana City Sightseeing excursion provided a great starting point for my first visit to Cuba.  I may have preferred slightly more time on my own to explore, but the tour was perfect for anyone who has never been to Havana previously. 

Cost: $99 per adult, $72 per child.

Excursion Focus: Yukon Hummer Adventure in Skagway, Alaska

In:
Category: 
09Jul2018

Exploring the vast wilderness of Alaska can take you to so many places along the way, and Royal Caribbean offers one way to do in some serious style.

On a recent stop in Skagway, Alaska on a Royal Caribbean cruise, we tried out the Yukon Hummer Adventure so that we could not only see large swaths of Alaska and the Yukon Territory, but do it in a really fun way.

Description

The Yukon Hummer Adventure is a 4 hour tour that takes you from Skagway deep into the heart of the Yukon Territory in Canada.   Your group gets to drive a 4-wheel-drive Hummer H3 as part of a caravan that will see a lot of the countryside.

We booked our excursion directly with Royal Caribbean and took an early time to ensure we had time after the tour to explore Skagway upon return.  The tour cost us $152 per adult and $104 for our 7-year-old daughter.  We are pretty sure nearly all of that cost pays for the gas for the H3. 

A representative from the tour company will meet you at the end of the pier and provide van transportation to the tour departure point.  Here, you hop into a H3 (4 people per vehicle), do a quick radio check and set out on the road.

The Hummers provided had some mileage on them (149k miles on the one we drove) but were in good working order.  The cars were comfortable and have an automatic transmission.  There is also climate control and a sun roof.  

All guests planning to drive must be at least 25 years old, bring a valid driver's license and name of insurance company, and must sign a liability/insurance waiver.  

Each car has a two-way radio that you can use to communicate during the drive.  The tour leader drives first, which everyone in the group following.  The tour leader regularly comes on the radio to share driving strategies, point out animals, and provide history of the region, the gold rush, and what life is like there today.

During the tour, you will reach White Pass Summit and pass through subalpine terrain, en route to the narrow Caribou crossing at the headwaters of the Yukon River and see Emerald Lake.

We made a few stops along the way, which include

  • The Yukon Territory welcome sign
  • Emerald Lake
  • Village of Carcross, Yukon Territory
  • The Alaska welcome sign (on the return trip)

The exact route you go on will depend on road and weather conditions.  We also stopped to see a bear that was alongside the road.  We would have made more stops for wildlife, such as moose or porcupine, but we never saw any.

Since this excursion crosses the U.S.-Canadian border, guests must carry their passport, and if applicable, their visa.

Comments

We booked the Yukon Hummer Adventure because it allowed us to cross off two bucket list items: see lots of the countryside in and around Alaska, and drive a Hummer.  We certainly accomplished both.

Much of the tour is conducted as you drive, and there is a lot of places along the way that you will see, but will not have time to stop at and explore.  In order to reach Carcross and Emerald Lake, much of the tour time is required in getting back and forth.

When you do stop, there are often beautiful vistas to enjoy and the kind of scenery you might imagine Alaska and the Yukon are known for historically.  I certainly would have liked to have made a few more stops on the way at other spots, but I did feel we saw a lot more of the Yukon than anyone else on similar tours.  Seeing the mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes, even at 55 miles per hour, is better than not seeing them at all.

Our tour guide briefed us early on the tour about what to do when we see a bear, and I was very happy we did find one along the way but that was the extent of the wildlife on the tour that we spotted.  Obviously which animals you see or do not see is left to chance, but it is worth noting that our driver was willing to stop for other animals if they were spotted.

Driving the Hummer was very easy, and as someone who does not know how to drive a manual transmission, it was simple enough to operate the Hummer.  If you can drive a pick up truck or mini van, you can drive a H3. 

The best part of the tour is we covered so much ground and came across so many beautiful views along the way.  Being able to drive the H3 was also really fun, and I do believe half the appeal of this tour is you have to be excited to drive a Hummer in the first place. 

The two major stops along the way are Emerald Lake and Carcross.  Emerald Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake that is known for its intense green color.  It looks like it belongs in the Caribbean, and not in the sub arctic.

Carcross is a small village just before Emerald Lake and you will have your longest stop.  There was just enough time to use the restroom and grab coffee and a snack.  I would have loved to have had an additional half hour to explore the town a bit more.

More time is really at the heart of my only complaint about the tour.  You spend a vast majority of the time doing exactly what the tour promises: driving a Hummer.  While neat and a great way to inflate your manly ego, I can think of 3-4 places I really would have liked to visit along the way.  It should be noted you can book a private tour with the tour operator and basically go wherever you want, as an alternative for those that also like the idea of exploring on foot and driving an awesome car along the way.

Our tour guide, Ben, was very helpful and conveyed the story of the gold rush and life in Skagway and the Yukon today.  Ben was insightful, knowledgeable and happy to help take photos at any stop.  

Overall, we had a great time seeing a lot of Alaska and Canada on this tour.  If the idea of driving a Hummer and exploring the Yukon sounds like a great combination, then this is the tour for you.

Cost: $152 per adult, $104 per child. Children must be at least 5 years old. Booster seats are available.

Excursion Focus: Maya Chan Beach in Costa Maya

In:
23Apr2018

If there is a downside to having a really, really good time on any shore excursion it is that you begin to wonder if subsequent times going on that same excursion will match the first time.

Maya Chan Beach in Costa Maya, Mexico has been the high water mark for any all-inclusive excursion I have tried, ever since we went there back in 2010.  Having an opportunity to return eight years later, I was excited to try it again, but I was concerned perhaps the second visit would not match up to my first time.

While on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas, we booked a visit to see if it could match up in a way similar to the hit Foreigner song.

Description

Maya Chan Beach is an all-inclusive spot that offers all the drinks and food you like right on a prime spot in Mahahual, Mexico.

This excursion is booked directly via the Maya Chan website.  The process is fairly smooth, with some emails traded back and forth before completing the booking.

Maya Chan Beach is not near the port area of Costa Maya, so you will need to take a taxi to get there. The folks at Maya Chan Beach arrange transportation back and forth.  Upon exiting the port area, you take a short walk down the street and meet up with the Maya Chan Beach representative, where they immediately hail a taxi for you.

On our visit, the Maya Chan Beach representative informed us that the entire area (including Maya Chan Beach) has been inundated with seaweed.  They showed us photos of the beach area, and told us they had a team of guys working to clean the beach. They offered to give us a full refund if we decided the seaweed was too much of a problem.  Since the problem was not just limited to Maya Chan, we decided to go forth with the excursion. I appreciated their honesty and offer for a refund, as the flow of seaweed is hardly something they can control.

The taxi ride to Maya Chan Beach takes around 20-30 minutes, and passes through much of Mahahual. Most of the ride is over dirt road, which was recently smoothed over for a much improved ride.  The road used to be riddled with holes, but this time around it was quite smooth (minus the incredible amount of speed bumps locals have installed).

Upon arrival to Maya Chan Beach, the representative meets you at the entrance and gives you a quick run down of how things work, along with a welcome drink.  

Each family/group is assigned a palapa area, that has enough seating, hammock and sun bed to enjoy.  There are palapa areas of various sizes to accommodate different sized groups.

By far the best part of Maya Chan Beach is the level of service you receive.  Their team is comprised of a staff that speak perfect English and are constantly roaming the grounds to assist in getting anything.  The quality service was exactly as good as on our first visit, and it meant we never waited long for anything and always had drinks and food.

In terms of food and drink, you are greeted with a serving of chips, freshly made salsa and guacamole.  Refills are available at any time. 

Their cooking staff creates a lunch each day from scratch, that is a buffet of create your own tacos to enjoy.  Truly great food all around.

There is a full bar of drinks you can enjoy throughout the day.  You can opt to get it yourself from the bar, or have one of the servers bring it to you.  

In fact, the staff set up a pseudo-floating bar off the beach to enjoy.  I loved the creativity.

Besides eating and drinking, a day spent at Maya Chan is about enjoying the beach.  While Maya Chan does not have a pool, it does have a large amount of beach access for its guests.

As I mentioned, the inundation of seaweed made getting out past the first 10 feet a little icky, but they did provide water shoes you could borrow.  

Your day pass includes access to:

  • Free WiFi
  • Kayaks
  • Snorkel equipment
  • "Cleanest bathrooms in town"
  • Lockers
  • Showers

Maya Chan also built an observation tower, which you can climb up to and enjoy a perfect view of the beach and surrounding area.

Maya Chan is also home to a couple of dogs and a cat.  The pets are well behaved, and if you like dogs or cats, they roam around and are happy to come say hello in exchange for a good scratch behind the ears.

Comments

These days, there are a lot of all inclusive day pass options at pretty much any Caribbean island you visit.  What seperates Maya Chan from the rest is the level of service and quality overall experience they offer.

Maya Chan bills itself on its service, and I think that has to do with the fact the beach is owned and operated by a few American ex-pats, who understand really well what tourists are looking for in a beach day. The attention to detail the staff provides is exquisite, and why we came back.

Despite eight years between visits, I think Maya Chan absolutely lived up to my expectations from my first visit.  Our family had a great time enjoying a relaxing beach day.  When we arrived to our palapa, there was a bucket of beach toys waiting for my kids to use.

The one issue we encountered was the seaweed, which Maya Chan has no control over.  They did have at least four guys working from morning to afternoon to clear the stuff off the beach, and by lunch there was a path to the water.  Moreover, I really appreciated the fact they offered us a warning and refund prior to going to the beach.  That kind of honesty goes a long way.

There are no guarantees with anything, but if you are headed to Costa Maya and want the kind of beach day that is very, very, very unlikely to disappoint, booking Maya Chan Beach is a great idea.

Cost: Adults: $59, Kids 0-3 $19, Kids 4-7 $39, Kids 8-17 $49.

Reservations can be made at the Maya Chan website.

Excursion Focus: Fury Catamaran in Cozumel, Mexico

In:
17Apr2018

Over the years I’ve visited Cozumel at least a dozen times and always find myself doing the same thing. On my most recent cruise to Cozumel, Mexico I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new. So off to the cruise planner I went and I came across an excursion called, Fury Catamaran snorkel and beach break.

The price in the Royal Caribbean cruise planner is listed at $78 for adults and $59 for children. I happen to book during a weekend cruise planner sale and it was listed as 25% off.


 

I should mention you can book directly through their website and it’s the exactly the same excursion. In fact, I think half my boat booked through Royal and others through Fury directly. So I would check both options and see what’s the better price.

The meeting time for our excursion was 8:30AM, so we were up early to meet on the dock. In Cozumel, you have that pier you walk down to enter the shopping area, our catamaran was docked right before that. I would say no more than 100 yards from walking off the ship, so that was really convenient.

We didn’t end up leaving until 9:15AM because we were still waiting on some guest. They do handout soft drinks and water while you are waiting.

Our day was split into three different activities, which I really enjoyed. The first part was snorkeling for an hour, a beach break for an hour and a half, and ending with an hour ride back to the ship.

Stop one was snorkeling; we were only 5 minutes from the pier so it was a quick ride over. During the short ride they explain our day, what to expect, and all the safety tips. They provide you with snorkeling equipment when you board. We were here for an hour and it was actually a perfect amount of time. Beautiful coral and fish all over, I really enjoyed this snorkeling.




 

Our second stop was the beach break; they have a private beach, which is about 20 minutes away. During our cruise over they started serving rum punch, beers, or soft drinks, which are all included.

The beach was nice and everything on the beach was also included. They had beach chairs, aqua park, kayak’s, paddle boards, beach beds, and of course an open bar.



 

The bar served the same thing as the catamaran so rum punch or beer. If you are hungry they also serve hamburgers for $10 and that was the only upcharge option for the day.

The final part to our excursion was the one-hour ride back. During the ride back they keep bringing you drinks and asking if you need anything. I laughed that they don’t let you go 5 minutes without checking in on you, really outstanding service the whole day.


 

They also have some fun line-dancing going on during the ride back, but you can also just sit and enjoy the views.

The excursion lasted 4 hours and I found that to be a perfect amount of time. And since we started early in the morning we had the whole afternoon open in Cozumel. This excursion would be perfect for someone who doesn’t like to sit and do the same thing all day or just looking for something totally different.


 

I was so happy I tried the Fury Catamaran and I plan to return again soon! Feel free to leave any questions below or if you have tried Fury and what you thought.

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