An interesting part of taking a cruise vacation, one not advertised but true: No two cruises are alike. If nothing else, sailing the same cruise line, ship, itinerary and time of year will bring a different experience due to a different batch of passengers on board. In my experience, each sailing has its unique qualities (or drawbacks), often defined by the people on board, be they crew or passengers. Such is the case as we sail with Carnival Cruise Line on the #CelebrateFreedom cruise, a voyage that began with a tribute to military families and continues on a swing through the Caribbean. A number of noteworthy firsts (for me) have occurred that speak to some very important elements of any cruise vacation. More importantly, they add up to a seamless Carnival Caribbean experience like no other.
In a way, knowing that each sailing is different blows away the argument ‘I have already been to those islands, I want to go someplace different’. That’s a valid point if the objective is to complete a bucket list desire to see as many places as possible in a lifetime. Otherwise, skipping familiar ports or ships can be passing up what could be a wonderful experience.
Part of the seamless Carnival Caribbean experience involves their presence in key locations. The Carnival-built cruise port in Cozumel is one example. Used by other cruise lines as well, with two ships in port, the Carnival flag flies high.
Back on board Carnival Freedom, passengers wake to find towel animals have infested the pool deck, briefly. Happening early in each voyage, this event is just one in a number of unadvertised bonus extras that help define the seamless Carnival Caribbean experience.
Getting off on the right foot is imperative and sometimes a challenge when things don’t go quite right in the beginning though. Lost luggage comes to mind as a very good way to get in a bad mood really fast. Normally the fault of an airline, cruise lines too have an occasional luggage problem, like happened on our sailing of Carnival Freedom.
I was surprised and pleased to see this letter slid under the door of our cabin, asking if anyone had seen this piece of luggage. I have never seen this on any other cruise ship and it really speaks to the commitment of Carnival to be sure everyone has a good time. Not having hair care products after an airline lost our luggage nearly ruined a cruise for Whitney not long ago.
Another Look At Cozumel, Again
I can’t count the number of times I have been to Cozumel, Mexico. I know it has been enough that I know a favorite waiter at a restaurant there and have found two of the many jewelry stores to be most favorable for haggling over price. Still, for those who have not been to Cozumel or have but simply got off the ship, went on tour and called it a day; we have a bit more information.
If time permits, a stop by the Tour Information And Ticket Sales booth is a great start. There we find a map of the area with all the stores named and numbered. That’s a big help for those with limited time either before or after a tour.
From where cruise ships dock, there are a variety of destination contact experiences available, either by organized tour or on your own. Swimming with the dolphins is popular here and perhaps the best choice among islands in the area. The Mayan Ruins of Tulum takes travelers by motorized catamaran along the Cozumel coast to Isla Pasion, a picture-perfect private island. Carnival offered 49 different tours on our sailing, grouped as Snorkeling, Sightseeing, Fishing, Adventure and more.
Still, there is something to be said for time management, even on vacation. Big ship cruises have a limit on how long they can stay in port and still complete their itinerary. To me, that means choosing tours that do not take up the entire day in port, allowing time to linger and drink in the local scene, if not a few local beverages. I did just that in Cozumel and liked the feeling so much I did it again in Progresso.
Which brings us to an interesting question from Holly B in The Villages, Florida. “Progresso? Where the hell is that? Isle of Soup?”
No soup in Progresso Holly, but plenty of 3/$5 beer and oddly, one of the best and most reasonably priced markets we have seen on this trip. Bargaining with vendors a price went from $85 to $40 o a final $15 really fast. Progresso actually reminds me a bit of Civitavecchia, the gateway to Rome. That port also has little to do but provides a doorway to some amazing places.
Not long ago, I visited the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza with Holland America Line. That tour was a lifetime-quality experience, viewing ruins that were much more than the standard ‘see that rock? it was once a big thing of some sort’ tours. Beginning in Progresso, much closer to the ruins, the Carnival tour cut 4 hours off the time, mostly with a reduced time bus ride.
The Shore Tour Desk
Carnival offers a variety of tours from Progresso along with one extremely important bonus: the people who man the Shore Excursion desk on board Carnival Freedom are lecture-worthy near-experts on these destinations. That surprised me.
I thought they were just order takers with a few talking points in hand to help direct passengers to tours that generally would be OK for them. Mobility-challenged, avoid #2 or #8. Touring with kids, choose #23, avoid #18…that sort of thing. Sitting close by the shore excursion desk, eavesdropping on conversations between shore tour staff and passengers, they actually knew quite a bit about the tours and let the highlights of the destinations ‘sell’ the tour. Impressive.
I think this is just one part of the seamless Carnival Caribbean experience, what we will be spending the rest of our time on board Carnival Freedom defining.