We often equate September with back to school; a new start for learning. In September, my new learning wasn't going back to school, but rather going back to the Caribbean. Having been to the Caribbean many times both on cruises and destination vacations, I was excited to explore three new ports of call (two in never-before-visited countries) and a return to a port I visited over 20 years ago.
My fall getaway appropriately was on the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) ship the Getaway. The ship, built in 2014, accommodates almost 4,000 guests, and yet there were plenty of activities, dining options and entertainment to make the ship feel comfortable and not crowded. The ship sails from Miami with stops in Mexico (twice), Belize, and Honduras and allows for a full day at the beginning and end of the cruise to enjoy sailing and relaxing on board the ship. Although shore excursions are offered in every port, I chose to forego the planned tours and enjoyed my time at the beach, poolside and shopping.
Costa Maya, Mexico is a relatively new port of call for cruise lines in the Caribbean; located on the Yucatan peninsula south of the Riviera Maya, close to the Belize border, it was built primarily for cruisers and has several shops that circle around a huge pool area. There is also a bird aviary within easy walking from the pool and shops. With Mayan ruins nearby and other water activities offered, the crowd at the pool was not large. With lots of lounge chairs and pool activities it was a great way to spend the day. The ship does dock on the pier and it is a bit of walk to the island, so make sure you bring everything you need to avoid a long trek back to the ship.
Many cruise lines that sail in the Caribbean have their own private island, in the case of NCL, that island is Harvest Caye, Belize. This stop also included a walk from the ship to the island, with courtesy shuttles for those that didn't or couldn't make the walk. Although smaller and less developed than Costa Maya, the beach is the attraction here (if you aren't doing a snorkel or diving excursion) and it was again full of lounge chairs and even had a snack shack and waiters offering drinks. There were a few shops, and a bird sanctuary and butterfly enclosure with beautiful colored birds and butterflies.
In Honduras, we caught a little rain (note: it is the height of hurricane season in September, prices are usually lower during this time, but you also run the risk of possible rain and wind) There is a small boardwalk area with some shopping. We considered venturing out of the immediate port area, but found the poverty in this area a little unsettling, and so decided against it.
A lot has changed in the 20+ years since my last visit to our final port of Cozumel. Known mostly for its beautiful coral reef with excellent diving and snorkeling, the once quiet fishing village is now a busy port with lots of shopping along the main street and even a two-level mall. There is a small plaza/park right off the main street which offered a nice place to sit and people watch. And a stroll back to the ship along the ocean (opposite side of the street from the shopping) was the perfect way to end the day in Cozumel.
With two days at sea to enjoy time onboard the ship as well, I took in some miniature golf, relaxed at the fun pool area, teamed up with other guests for some trivia-themed games, watched movies (inside at the atrium) and outside (under the stars on the top deck) A favorite spot on the “quiet side” of the ship was where the restaurants (closed during the day) had comfy chairs and beautiful ocean views. Having a room with my own balcony allowed time to enjoy the sea days without having to really leave the comfort of our spacious room.
Freestyle dining (open seating dining with no scheduled times) was first introduced by NCL over 10 years ago, and is still my favorite. Being able to dine when I want to and with as many or few people as I want is always my preference. The food was good in the dining room and I found the wait staff most accommodating. One tip about open dining is to not go on the hour or half hour, getting there at 6:40 for instance (rather than 6pm or 6:30 pm), meant there was never a wait for a table.
Although there are many alternate dining options, I found the live music in the dining room a nice way to start the evening. We found a musical group (duet) we really liked and often dined or lounged in the areas they were performing. The comedy club was also fun, a couple of the comedians were especially good. (note: if the comedy club offers two shows, the later show is usually more “R” rated). The nightly entertainment had something different each night with music, dancing and comedy. The “Burn the Floor” production was outstanding, so much energy and amazing dancers.
When you’re ready for a vacation, consider ocean cruising where you can do as little or as much as you’d like. And don’t hesitate to call or email me to help you plan and confirm your next great getaway.