So the glorious Florida sunshine has me missing the open seas! I had been meaning to "unpack" more of our last Carnival trip a long time ago and just have not gotten around to it. But my longing to be on a boat right now has me ready to reminisce. We went on the Carnival Breeze in November and loved pretty much every minute of it. However, we would have loved even more minutes had we been more aware of what could be found at each port prior to our trip. I had done plenty of research before we left and I thought I had a pretty clear picture of what would be best, but some of the details weren't super clear. So I thought I would share a little bit of what we discovered for any of those planning a similar trip!
We didn't really think this one through, we were pretty cruise ship destination oriented and being from Florida our plan was simply to get on the boat. However, as we were leaving the ship on the way home we realized we probably should have given ourselves an extra day to explore places around Miami. Even though we are both born and raised Floridians we have never done a trip to the Everglades. That will be added to the next trip FOR SURE! I want to wade with the gators!!
2.) Grand Turk
This is undoubtedly our favorite island, not only of this cruise, but of any cruise we have been on. Grand Turk is 7 miles total. You are in port for 7 hours. That is a whole hour to explore each mile and we did pretty much just that! I knew going into it that I wanted to explore the lighthouse. While you don't actually go up into the lighthouse the grounds are beautiful and I heard that not a lot of people head out that far; the lighthouse is pretty much at the exact opposite point from the cruise port and based on what they tell you there is "no beach". However, I had read differently while researching, so we decided to head out on our own. One, because we like it that way anyways and prefer to spend our days in port just the two of us, without tons of other people who book the same excursion. Two, because the ship excursions don't really allow you to go at your own schedule/ pace. And three, because they charge way more than it will cost if you choose to explore on your own.
So upon exiting the ship we found and rented a scooter and started our trek out to the lighthouse. I will admit I was nervous being on a scooter, but Babe was a great driver and we arrived safely at the lighthouse (no admission fee). It was amazing!! There are two trails leading towards the water from the back of the lighthouse. If you take the one to the right you can explore an old armory that is now falling to ruins, as well as the coast line from the top of the cliff. However, if you explore the trail to the left it will take you down the cliff (not super steep, but rocky towards the bottom. I would recommend water shoes if you have them; we didn't) to a pristine white sand beach. There was no one else there but us and the rocks from the cliff had formed this perfect little pool so that the water was calm and swimmable. It was glorious!!
We stayed there for about two hours (lighthouse, trail exploring and private beach swimming) before we started making our way back to the boat. We made sure to leave ourselves time to stop at all the off-beaten places we spied on the way to the light house. One included an old, run-down, abandoned hotel (pretty sure it was named Coral Reef, but you can see what the entrance looks like in the above far left picture of our Grand Turk stops) and the other was a shipwreck at a pretty popular beach located right near the boat. I was surprised no one else was exploring the shipwreck. But we hopped right on. You can swim to it from the beach (not far at all, would even be reachable for older kids). We explored the length of the ship (interior) and then used the ropes hanging from the riggings to make a swing!! Seriously my favorite cruise port day of all time!!
*If you are looking for a more relaxed, less adventuorus day, the beach where the shipwreck was located is walking distance (probably .5 miles) away from the cruise port. They have lounge chairs, crystal clear water, snorkel rentals and a huge ship to explore.
3.) La Romana
|Photo from: Carnival|
*You can also book car rentals ahead of time, either through Avis or through the Budget Car rental at the casino in Curacao. By the time we got to the Budget place all the cars were gone and they would have had to be returned at 4:30, it was already 3:15.
Aruba probably ties for our second favorite port! It's a toss up between Aruba and The Baths in Virgin Gorda, which you can access by ferry from Tortola. Aruba was another destination where we knew we would be renting some type of our own motorized vehicle. We planned to go to Arikok, the national park in Aruba, which has a natural pool. I had read that the only way to get directly to the natural pool was by ATV, so that is what we got. It took a good bit of time to get out there and I would definitely recommend some type of off-road vehicle. However, it might be worth it to pay a little more for an ATV which has a back seat or cushion. We got a one-seater and I just sat in the extra space on the back; once you hit the rocky path, ouch!! My tailbone kept hitting the metal bars and it was not a pleasant ride. But the scenery was stunning, the natural pool totally worth it and the caves were amazing to explore! I won't give too much away, because you should get to be surprised, but you really should try to check out as much of the park as you can in the time you have. We did both main caves, the pool and even had time to stop at the little cafe on site to eat (it was decent, but not great). I do wish we had thought to pack a heavier snack so we could have spent more time exploring instead of stopping to eat.
*If you are afraid of bats the caves may not be your thing. I was fascinated by the bats, but they do fly freely and while there were not a whole lot, because it wasn't night, there were quite a few that flew right past us.
*You can take any vehicle into the park, however, you can not take cars directly to the pools. You can park some distance away and will be walking (a pretty fair distance) over rocky, steep terrain. Even from the top of the natural pool (where you will park the atv) you must be able to walk down stone steps. You should be pretty physically able to reach the pool.
*If you choose to swim in the natural pool, you should be a strong swimmer or else stay furthest from the rock wall that seperates the pool from open ocean. Every so option the waves will hit and come over the rocks and you will get swept up in the wave. You won't get pulled out of the pool, but will definitely get tossed around a bit.
*This would be one cruise excursion I would be willing to look into booking through the ship. They rode in these open-air, off-road, jeep-like vehicles and mostly kept pace with the rate we were going. They had maybe 15 less minutes at the pools and I am not sure if they explored the second cave, but otherwise the cushy seats and guide might be worth the extra money. Though if you are prone to car sickness (I can be) I may think twice, the drivers were spinning donuts and driving crazy! It looked like a lot of fun, but it also might have been a cause for Dramamine.
Overall I think this was one of our favorite cruises, between the ship itself and the ports of call. I would highly recommend it if you are a cruise lover like we are!
Disclaimer: Choosing to do your excursions on your own can pay-off (see below), however, we know that we take the risk of something happening and not having the insurance provided by booking through the cruise. If you book your excursion through the cruise and something happens while on the tour (bus breakdown, accident, etc.) you are insured through the cruise and are guaranteed to make it back to the ship. If something happens and your tour gets stuck or you are late getting back to the ship they will make sure the ship doesn't leave you. However, if you book your excursion on your own time the boat will not wait for you if something happens. Ultimately, if you book your own excursion and something happens you are on your own. And if you miss the call time to be be back on ship, well, you're just SOL. We always make sure we are back near the ship an hour before call time, just in case we run longer than planned (hit traffic, etc.) we are safe to make it back in time.
An example of what we saved by going out on our own:
In Grand Turk
Scooter rental: $60.00 (+$15.00 tip after; optional)
Extras: $10.00 snocones and drinks at lighthouse
perks: we had plenty of time to stop, explore and even pet the donkeys
Excursion: $69.99 per person
* The excursion is only about 2 hours and you are completely at the mercy of the tours time schedule. The bus that got to the lighthouse only stayed for about 15-30 minutes, which (in my opinion) is not enough time to explore the whole area even if you don't plan to swim.
Hope you found this helpful! Happy cruising!!