It’s mid-October in Atlanta and the temperature has finally dropped from 97 degrees to a more fall-like 65 degrees with 40’s overnight. Jeans have replaced shorts, shoes replaced sandals and it is cold enough to use the firepit. Yet here I am at the pool bar, sipping a fruity frozen drink as a warm breeze blows ripples across the water. What just happened? Maybe I better back up the story a bit …
You see, since our last great cruise on the Harmony of the Seas this summer, Jackie and I stated rather firmly that we would not be cruising again for a year or so, since we had plenty to do back home with grandson-sitting, beer festivals, maybe a fall camping weekend and such. But it was just fine if Dad and the family wanted to head out to the Caribbean once again, we would wish them well. So plans were made for Dad, my brother Jeff and wife Vickie – even my sister Linda and husband Norman – to head out to the Western Caribbean on the Harmony of the Seas for a fall cruise. Good stuff – wish you well.
But things got complicated when Norm’s family announced a trip to the Canadian Rockies and suddenly Linda was a single cruiser and gosh she needed a way to get to Port Canaveral via Atlanta (from California) and wouldn’t it be nice if Doug picked her up from the airport and drove her to the port and heck, he could even be her cabin mate. Hey, Doug, whatcha think? Well it seems that, being retired, Jackie and I go where we are needed: so that meant cruising as a plus-one with my sister.
Turns out it was a great time. We drove to Orlando and spent the night, checking out two breweries of course. Hourglass Brewing had a lot on tap so of course we had two flights between us. Then a return visit to Rockpit Brewing meant another pint to try before returning to the hotel.
Up early in the morning and off to the ship! We parked, checked in and were on the ship by 10:30 – just minutes before Jeff, Vic and Dad arrived. This trip Jeff arranged a scooter for Dad, so we had to practice getting him in and out of the room and around the ship. Turns out it was the BEST move, as he was soon zipping along on his own.
How about some highlights from the ports and sea days aboard ship you ask?
Perfect Day at Coco Cay
The scooter made a world of difference for Dad, who was down the gangway and on his way across the dock to the Oasis Lagoon pool in no time. We found lounge chairs by the huge pool and were soon sloshing around with drinks in hand. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, as you can see from the pictures.
The only disappointment was the snorkeling reef. Over the years we have been coming here, the area to snorkel has been corralled in closer to shore and the last hurricane seems to have damaged the reef enough that you really didn’t have much to see.
The three reef excursion Linda and I took certainly was a change from Coco Cay. We walked around and through the maze of shops on shore to find a taxi to the departure marina to meet our guides.
Turns out there were only four of us on the small boat, which was awesome. Snorkeling in Cozumel is usually a float over the reef with the water current moving you slowly along. We saw triggerfish (Queen and black), angelfish (Queen and French), parrotfish, yellow snapper, blue tang, butterfly fish, scrawled filefish, trunkfish and a couple of black and white eels.
We had a photographer along who kept attracting the yellow and black Sergeant Majors in front of us to get photos – nice at first, but a bit annoying if you were looking at something else on the bottom. Overall, it was amazingly clear and a great snorkel. A float vest I purchased worked out perfect, along with a rashguard shirt that substituted for sunscreen (they are serious about protecting their reefs – no sunscreen). Fish identification was much easier thanks to some waterproof cards I bought from fishcards.com. Thanks to Michael Greenberg for all his help getting us these essential cards. We had a few cold Coronas on the way back to the marina while sharing what we saw.
Getting to the reef in Roatan from our dock in Coxen Hole was much more of an ordeal than in Cozumel, where the reef was in sight of the ship. Jeff, Vic, Linda and I made our way ashore (where they are in mid-construction of a second big dock), wound through the maze of shops once again and found our excursion driver. Into a van with four other divers and we were off to the northeast coast. It was an hour’s drive up and over the mountains along a busy 2-lane road that was surrounded by small houses (barely one-room shacks by our standards) and market stalls. Despite all the happy house hunters I have seen on HGTV, I can’t say that I would have chosen to retire to the island. Not exactly prospering.
But once we reached our destination at Turquoise Bay Beach and Dive Resort it all changed. The small marina had several dive boats and we were soon joined by 5 others with Subway Watersports to head to the reef and snorkel. Next to us was a beachside resort that we would be able to enjoy after the snorkel. Not far off shore we were moored and ready to slip in the water in a sandy spot that was maybe 6 feet deep with a few sea stars. There was a bit of wind chop as we were directed ahead to find an underwater oasis of coral, sponges and fish that were just amazingly beautiful.
The “wall” was covered with sponges, fans and corals of all sorts. The fish were much like what we saw at Cozumel, darting in and around the corals. A lionfish was pointed out to us along with a yellow trumpetfish. Our guide took my gopro down to get a shot of the lionfish (which was stunning, although destructive to many native fish on the reefs). Again, my vest was a big help, since we were probably snorkeling the reef for an hour. The sponges and corals (thanks to my ID cards) seemed to be sea whips, sea fans, tube sponges (blue and yellow), sea fingers, vase sponges, staghorn coral, brain coral, star coral … gosh so many colors and shapes. Video link click here.
As I mentioned, we were able to hang out at the beach resort until our taxi arrived to take us back to the ship. Totally gorgeous spot on the water – dreamy. But since we would be leaving port early and Roatan was 2 hours behind ship’s time, we were a bit anxious when it had not arrived. We were told we would be waiting for the divers in our party to return, but when they were overdue and in fact were choosing to continue their dive, the excursion owner opted to have one of his staff drive us back to port. We made it with time to spare, but grumbled about the decision by our fellow passengers to have extended their dive at our expense.
Costa Maya Shopping
We were surprised to hear Dad say he wanted to go ashore in Costa Maya to buy a shirt, but once again the scooter made that possible. He was down the gangway and speeding along the dock ahead of all of us, making a beeline for the cluster of shops on shore. He found his shirt while shopping, as did the rest of us, and soon we were all back aboard. Costa Maya is pretty much the shopping arcade, a water park and some nearby excursions and nothing else for miles around. But the coastline is very pretty and our sail away was beautiful.
Around the Ship and Sea Days
Now this is a big ship and you have a few of your close friends with you – about 6,000 of them, with about 3,000 crew members. So finding a lounge chair on sea days can be challenging. You have to first get your Irish coffee at the Park Cafe, find something good for breakfast (waffles with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate syrup maybe?) then grab a mimosa or bloody mary and head for the towel check. Maybe some sunscreen gets slathered on and you are all set – until Jeff says “hey let’s go do the waterslides!
So we climbed the stairway to the waterslides for the highest view aboard ship and zipped down. The “toilet bowl” slide was a first time for Linda and she screamed the whole way down. I did the dark Abyss dry slide again; we bobbed in the pool and Jeff and I decided to brave the Flowrider kneeboard. The board took a moment to get the hang of, what with all the water shooting at you, but soon we both got up on our knees and … well, we took a few falls and scooted around the fast-moving sheet of water. Totally fun and a real blast – I definitely got better as the week went on, but neither of us felt confident enough to do the stand-up wakeboards.
Dinners were in the main dining room, except the night that three of us ate at Jamie’s Italian (oh my gosh was it a lot of delicious food!). A plank of meats and cheeses, garlicky prawns, lasagna, pasta and lamb chops washed down with a delicious red wine and followed by a huge plank of desserts. We had a delightful serving staff at dinner, with special after-dinner shots to toast the day (thank you Mikayla). Late nights involved pizza slices and Octoberfest beer and lunch involved the famous Royal Kummelweck roast beef sandwich in Central Park. We all lunched at the Sabor Taqueria one day and had a fabulous and filling meal – so much so that we skipped the dining room and just did nibbles for dinner.
And of course we had to spend time in the casino. The odds were not in our favor on the craps table and as the week went on, fewer folks were playing it. But Dad had pretty fair luck at the roulette wheel, so he spent more time there than we did. He also seemed to attract his share of women who became helpful friends. One couple adopted him as their good luck charm and we ran into them several times around the ship. Actually, everyone he met was very accommodating and helpful as he navigated his scooter.
We were naturally concerned about Dad on the days that he remained on board and we went ashore for excursions. When we returned from Cozumel he told us that he had found the spa and toured the gym and made an appointment for a haircut and shampoo. Then when we returned from our Roatan excursion he shared how he drove around the buffet with a plate of food and a bowl of soup, driving one-handed. And to think we were worried about him!
The shows were also well done – we all watched Columbus the musical, the Fine Line aqua show (twice) and Linda and I saw the ice show 1887 (very good). Headliner show was the Company Men, which Dad declared all “yelling and screaming – I don’t recognize any of the music” but the rest of us thought their mash-ups from the past decades was well done.
But aboard this huge ship, you can just sit somewhere and relax, maybe in the Central Park gardens while a guitarist plays. Or people-watch on the Promenade on formal night. Or ride the elevator with the piano player. Or watch the sunset from the Mast Bar on deck 16 or even better from the “King of the World” overlook. Maybe create your own drink from the robots in the Bionic Bar or discover the quiet Wonderland Bar for a martini. Watch the street parade from the Schooner Bar with a coconut mojito. It is easy to forget you are cruising off the coast of Cuba or Honduras.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the Canadian Rockies . . .
… Norm was enjoying a beer in a hot tub in the midst of a snowstorm – – while his replacement was lounging by the pool in the warm Caribbean sun. Ahhh, Life is Good.