Mike and Renée's Western Caribbean Cruise
On Grand Princess
December 2-9, 2006

This was our 29th cruise, and our 8th on Princess. We had cruised on Grand Princess to the Mediterranean previously, and I will not repeat here a lot of things about the ship that are on that page. She is a marvelous ship and we were delighted with our accommodations, the staff and facilities, and this itinerary.

We flew into Houston International on a red-eye, and rented a car from Enterprise. It is a bit over an hour drive to Galveston. We had breakfast at the Phoenix on the Strand, enjoying the famous beignets! Then we dropped the car off at Enterprise and took their van to the port. We left our bags with the porter and got in the security line, which began moving about 11:00. After security, check in was quick and efficient and boarding began about 11:45.

We explored the ship and found all our favorite venues. We decided to lunch in the dining room instead of heading for the buffet as most of the passengers did. It was very enjoyable to dine leisurely and elegantly after a long flight. Then we headed up to our favorite "secret" place, the Plantation Pool at the back of the ship for hot tubs, sauna and steam. All this made for a nice relaxing embarkation afternoon.

We had booked this cruise while we were aboard last trip, and therefore got the usual onboard credit. Shortly before the cruise we were visited by the Upgrade Fairy and moved from an outside cabin on Fiesta deck to a balcony on Baja deck. This was a very nice cabin, roomy and comfortable. Storage space, however, was very limited, one small closet and about six small drawers plus a couple of shelves.

We used the balcony quite a bit, for just sitting and watching the sea go by. In the evening it was delightful to sit on the balcony under the full moon!

We had a wonderful first day at sea, enjoying the ship, playing trivia, more steam and sauna, and finally enjoying dressing up for formal night.

Then we changed clothes and went up on the deck for "Movies Under the Stars." Of course this is a trademark of the Grand class ships on Princess and is very popular. We settled down in the nice lounge chairs, each provided with a pad and a blanket, and enjoyed watching "Pirates of the Caribbean"! That seemed to be an appropriate movie for a Caribbean Cruise!
Our first port was Costa Maya. This port has been built specifically for cruise ships. It is a long walk down the causeway (or you can ride the shuttle) to the port village, which is pretty much designed to keep passengers inside and happy! There are two swimming pools, several bars and restaurants, and lots of shopping. There are also a few independent tour operators. The only exits from the village are marked "Emergency Exit"! However, if you venture out, there are many small vans transporting passengers to the village of Mahahaul.

We had booked independently with David and Ivan. The two of them and their staff are all local people and very familiar with the area. We met Carolina and took the van to Chacchoben Ruins. On the 40 minute trip there, Carolina kept up a running commentary on the Mayans, the local people, crops, scenery and lots of other subjects!

Reaching the site we joined up with David and a small group of others and began the tour at the pyramid.

The site is only partially excavated. As we walked through the jungle David would point out hills that cover other buildings which have not yet been excavated. The whole complex consists of a circular trail which we easily covered in the two hour tour, stopping frequently for David's comments. He is highly familiar with every stone and stick in the complex and provided lots of wonderful information.

We came to the highest flight of steps in the complex, but Carolina led Renée around to the "easy route" to the top. I waited on the ground and let them wave to me from the top! Carolina was a delight and very helpful all the time. It was a fantastic tour and a high point of our trip!

On the way back we visited the Mayan village. There were thatched roofs, houses on stilts and flocks of turkeys in the streets, but also TVs and satellite dishes. We saw a number of children who were the absolute image of some of the old Maya paintings and carvings in their features. It was interesting to see how the Maya live today.

The next port was Roatan, Honduras. This is a lovely island, part of the Bay Islands. We got off the ship into a very small port area with a few small shops and these xylophone players. We walked a short distance to the gate. There are lots of taxis waiting there, or you can take a short walk into town to the usual tourist shops.

However, here we had booked a special appointment at Sante Wellness Center. At the gate we were met by Alex, the taxi dispatcher, and he got us a taxi to the West End, the developing end of the island where there are many resorts.

There we entered Parrot Tree Plantation, and at the marina were met by the water taxi for Sante, with Captain Leon and first mate Rufus! They whisked us across the bay to the beautiful spa. It was wonderful weather, blue skies with a few clouds and warm breezes blowing.
Sante Wellness Center is a beautiful mansion situated in a magnificent location on the bay. We were greeted by our lovely and gracious hostess Angela, Leon took on his duties as cook, and Rufus as the concierge. Together we mapped out the day and arranged our massage schedules.
Sante Wellness Center is a truly wonderful spot. Angela told us she only accepts four to six patrons a day, so we and our two traveling companions had this lovely building and grounds all to ourselves. It is a great place to relax. Wind chimes and fountains decorate it everyplace. The pool is a good place to sun, and Rufus supervises. You can also meet Muñeka the Macaw, but be careful as she is very curious and will snitch glasses or watches left lying around, and nip anything including fingers! Walks through the trees or along the beach are also a fine way to relax.
Lounging on the porch in a hammock after your massage is a wonderful way to spend the morning, especially if you have a faithful servant to do the pushing! The weather cooperated and we had a beautiful sunny day with little breezes blowing. Then we had a great spa lunch of prawns, saffron rice and vegetables, finished off with delectable brownies. Too soon it was time to go back to the port, where Renée had a bit of time to shop. Guess what, she bought a hammock!
After a relaxing dinner and some music in the Wheelhouse Bar, we went to bed early. The next morning the ship anchored in Belize. We enjoyed breakfast from room service on the balcony. Then we departed our separate ways for our shore excursions.

Due to the reef and shallow water close to shore, the ships anchor quite far out. Independent passengers lined up for tender tickets. After about 30 minutes, we heard an announcement that there was no line for tickets. As we were on excursions, we were led to the tenders by the shore excursion staff, and did not need tender tix. It is about a 20 minute tender ride ashore.

Renée was booked on the River Tubing, not the Cave Tubing, which was lucky as many of the cave tubing trips were canceled due to high water. They had a long but scenic drive to the river, and a lunch included. She enjoyed the tubing very much, so much that she said she wished it was longer!

I was booked on the Airboat Adventure which was a lot of fun. It was quite a drive to the airboat dock, and then we had a very interesting tour through the swamp. We saw lots of birds and some iguanas, but no manatees.

We reboarded the ship and had the afternoon to relax. By then the sun was out and it was truly tropical weather. Lots of people were around the pool. We went to the Plantation Pool at the back of the ship for a bit of hot tubbing and steam and sauna, and then got dressed in our formal clothes for a picture and the Captain's Gala Dinner, during which a lot of lobster tails swam onto my plate! We enjoyed the Anytime Dining throughout the trip. Since it is often asked, I scanned in the "dining options" listing.

After dinner we had a made the musical rounds of the ship visiting several lounges. The piano bar in the atrium had a very nice atmosphere, and we also enjoyed the Rock N Roll band in the Explorers Lounge.

Our last port was Cozumel. We anchored at the Punta Langosta pier. It seems the port has largely recovered from the hurricane. There were at least seven ships in port! Six were at the three piers, and one tendering.

We walked down the pier. The tour center at the dock is still under repairs, but the shopping mall across the street is going full blast!

Here we tried a new excursion offered by the ship, Mexican Cuisine Cooking. We got in taxis at the pier and drove to the Playa Mia Beach Resort Park, where we were furnished with aprons and hats and met Luis, our instructor. He was friendly and enthusiastic and the cooking lesson was a lot of fun. Under the watchful eye of Luis and his assistant Carlos we began the cooking. We had fully equipped work stations with four people per station.
The first course was sope with beans and cheese, and then we made fish in mango salsa with stuffed chiles for the main course. Luis taught us that presentation is important and we learned to decorate the plates appropriately. Dessert was a tower of cookies and rice pudding, with decorations in strawberry sauce and heavy cream.
Of course the proof of the meal is in the eating. All through the cooking, eating and our stay in the Park, beverages were unlimited so a margarita was a good accompaniment to the meal. It was all delicious. We then had some free time to take advantage of the beautiful beach at Playa Mia. It is a wonderful place to swim, sunbathe, or just watch the bikinis go by!

We returned to the ship in time for afternoon trivia, a bit of relaxation in the steam and sauna, and an early dinner before going to the Vista Lounge for the comedian.

During the night as we sailed toward Galveston the seas became very rough, with a strange jerky sidewise motion instead of just a slow roll. In the morning we were scheduled for Breakfast on the Balcony. Rough seas and high winds kept us inside, but it was still very nice to enjoy a leisurely breakfast by the picture window. We had champagne, orange juice and cranberry juice to make Champagne Sunrises, along with crab quiche, crab legs, cheese stuffed tomato, smoked salmon on bagels with all the fixings, pastries, and a beautiful half melon full of berries. It was fun to "play rich"!

The last day was overcast, and the seas were rather rough. This cut down on the options for basking by the pool, but we still managed to find things to do, including a wonderful afternoon tea.

Finally, it was time to leave. I stood in line at the Purser's desk so the idiots could (very politely and nicely) try to figure out how to straighten out the mess they had made of our disembarkation tags. Sigh.

Of course, people were crowded around the exits, and sitting on the floor all over the ship, but we went into the Elite/Platinum passenger's lounge. It was very nice to have comfortable seats, water, coffee and juice, and even CNN news on the big screen while we waited.

As there were lots of Texans on board, who had driven to the port, the Walk Off Express Disembarkation was very popular. It began promptly at 7:15 and by 8:15 over 600 numbers had been called, and then the regular disembarkation began. We had coach transfers to Houston International airport, and our group was called about 9:15. We got our bags and waited in huge lines for customs and immigration, then got on the bus and left about 10:00, arriving at the airport by about 11:30.

This was a perfectly wonderful cruise, and one we would gladly repeat. Although it has a reputation as being for snorkelers and eco-tourists, we found many other interesting things to do. The Grand Princess is a great ship and we hope to cruise on her again!

We like to discuss our travels. Email us at thehalls@bully4.us

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