Friday, May 6, 2016

Norwegian Dawn, Cozumel, Roatan, Belize City and Costa Maya

Well, we took our second cruise this year and the second in our lives on the Norwegian Dawn.  We drove to New Orleans from Betty's on Sunday morning and parked the car a couple of blocks from the dock on the Mississippi River.  We were looking forward to comparing Norwegian with Royal Caribbean and can report over all it was a much better experience.  That said, we still don't think cruising compares to the all-inclusive vacations we have taken to the Secrets resorts.  Here is a link to our post about the first cruise.
We did not know it when we booked this cruise but we had friends who were on the same trip.  They were part of a group of 65 people from Discovery Bay, CA so we got to know a lot more people. Here are Joe, Robin, Kathy, Trudy, Paul and Mitch who all welcomed us into the larger group.  It was great hanging out and doing shore trips with all of them.
I enjoyed sailing down the Mississippi and was surprised by the large number of ocean going vessels, as well as river barges, there are on the river.  The is the Carnival that sailed right before the Dawn.  Because of the sharp turn in the river it looks like it passes right through the neighborhoods of the city.  
St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square in the French Quarter.  We have often looked up at ships on the river from the square and it was neat looking down on the city.
One of many ocean going ships we passed.  There were many more ships anchored along the banks.  It take seven or eight hours to travel from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico.
Of course food is a big part of the cruise experience.  In addition to meals in the restaurants, they cooked and served lunch by the pool most days.  We felt that overall the food was better on this cruise than on Royal Caribbean.  But the options do not compare at all to the dining options at Secrets where you can choose from seven different restaurants for dinner everyday.  Of the ten restaurants on board only four were included as a "free" dining option.  In the other six you had to pay extra for your meals.  We did like the freestyle dining that allowed us to pick where and when we wanted to dine rather than having an assigned time and table.
Kathy, Joe, Mitch, Paul Trudy, Dave and Nanc enjoying an afternoon toddy.  We had the unlimited drink package as a "free" ($80.00 each for gratuity) option when we booked.  After boarding Dave wanted to buy the drink package for himself, as his wife did not drink.  They required that both people in a cabin have the package at a total cost of over $1300.00.  He passed.  At Secrets all drinks are included.
The entertainment was very good and there were several options from small bar shows to big stage productions every night.  You also had a choice of many different kinds of music.
The staff was wonderful and even provided dance partners when a husband was to weary:)
Our first full day was sailing across the Gulf of Mexico to Cozumel.  We took advantage of the day at sea and had a wonderful couples massage in the spa.  This is the Dawn tied up in Cozumel.  We took a shore excursion to Playa del Carmen that required a boat trip to the mainland. 
The excursion, Amazing Secret River, was a very neat walk and swim through a cave that was only discovered in the last 25 years.  We had to wear wet suits, helmets and head lights as there are no other lights in the cave.
It was beautiful and even Nanc, who is not a big fan of water, had a great time.  This is an excursion we can recommend to anyone visiting this part of Mexico.
The next day we were in Roatan Bay, Honduras where we had to be tendered to the dock because there was not enough room for both ships that were there to tie up on the pier.  This was a geographic milestone for us as this is the closest we have ever been to the equator. 
The town center was really just a shopping area for cruise ship passengers.  We did our part for the local economy buying shirts, coffee and jewelry.
The town center from the tender.  It is much nicer looking than the area where we went to do our shopping where locals were selling their wares, rather than stores owned by the cruise lines.
We did have a couple beautiful sunsets.
Next stop was Belize City where the ships had to anchor a 35 minute tender ride from the city.  There were three ships there that day and the color of the water shows why they had to anchor so far off shore.  The water was only 45 feet deep under a ship with a draft of 27 feet, so all three were stirring up the sand on the ocean floor.
Welcome to Belize, a former British colony where English is the official language.  Along with Joe and Kathy we opted for hiring a taxi outside the cruise ship shopping area for a neat tour of the city.
The streets of the city are narrow and crowded with cars, trucks and death defying bicyclists.  While Belize has become popular with American ex-pats, the city is much more British colonial than American.  No Walmart, McDonalds, KFC or other chains other than the Ace hardware store.
St. Johns Cathedral, the oldest church in the city, was built 200 years ago from the stones used as ballast from ships.  Belize gained its independence in 1982 but is still part of the British Commonwealth and has the queen on its money. 
Most of the old colonial buildings were constructed with mahogany that was so abundant when the British arrived.  The wood has be so over harvested that today it is illegal to cut down any tree that is less than 100 years old.  A reforestation program has been started in the last few years to bring back a plentiful supply of this valuable wood. 
We toured the Travellers Distillery where they have been making rum and other liquors since 1953.  This is the old copper still they used in the past.  Today it is a modern operation with automated distilling and bottling. 
Joe, Kathy, our guide Floyd, Nanc and I after we enjoyed a tasting.  We sure were happy Floyd was driving even after only two shots.
Look what Nanc found, a bottle of Nance rum.
One of the tents where the vendors sold their wares.  The beautiful tree is appropriately named the flamboya tree with its vibrant pink flowers that covered the ground under the trees.
Joe and I tried the local beer at each stop while the ladies had margaritas.    The Belikin beer was ok, but their slogan was great, "No working during drinking hours".
All dressed up for dinner, Paul and Trudy, Jim and Nanc and Joe and Kathy.  We had a fun time with them and are already planning to see them down the road.
The last stop was Costa Maya, Mexico which is nothing more than a shopping area built by the cruise ship companies.  The local village here is a couple miles away and only has 300 or 400 hundred people.
Everything you see was build for the tourists.  There was even a large pool for those who wanted to escape the much smaller ship pool.
Voladores de papantla, pole flying, is an ancient Mesoamerica ritual that according to one myth was a ceremony to end a drought.  The flyers climb the 60 foot pole, pull the ropes up and wind them around the pole.  They then tie the rope to their feet or waist and slowly descend as the rope unwinds while one of them plays the flute and drum.  We had never seen this and it was very neat.
I took advantage of most people being in Costa Maya and actually got into the pool when it was not over crowded.  It was salt water and very warm.  This is another big difference from Secrets resorts that usually have at least two very large pools to handle three or four hundred people instead of one to handle 2000.
The last show we saw was an extravaganza that featured dancers, a feast of flying acts and a magician who put on a great show with the themes of Earth, Air, Water and Fire.  At the end they brought out crew members from all the departments to be recognized along with a few of the flags of the almost 60 countries represented on board. 
The last day was at sea and the pool and sun deck were packed.  We found a quiet corner to read and nap and did not join the masses at the pool.
They did do an ice carving that was really impressive.  The man carved the whole thing in about 15 minutes.  This did attract a few kids, but there were not nearly as many on this trip as on our first one.
When we were doing our morning walk the last day, still several hundred miles out to sea, we saw this lone pelican soaring along with the ship.  It was still there late that evening after dinner.  I think it was just enjoying the free ride back to shore as it never landed and rarely flapped its wings the whole time we watched it.

Overall we thought this cruise was better than the one we took in February on Royal Caribbean but we still like the all-inclusive vacations better than cruising.  At Secrets the food is better, the rooms are bigger, the pools are much nicer, the internet is included and they are not asking for more money, as everything is included in the up front cost.  We did very much enjoy our time spent with friends, Joe and Kathy, Paul and Trudy along with their friends from Discovery Bay.

1 comment:

Doing It On the Road(Part II) said...

The Amazing Secret River, Wow!