08JAN2023-Shore Excursion Tips
Ahoy! We're only 302 days away from departure!
Before I get into excursions, I have an odd opportunity for you. I've booked a group on the same ship for a family gathering, and you're welcome to come if you'd like. It's a unique cruise of 5 nights from Boston to Bar Harbour ME and Saint John NB, Canada. Unusual itinerary at a decent price. Oct 29-Nov2, 2023 This is the cruise just before the Panama Canal cruise, but you can't do a back to back as the ship will sail from Boston to Miami empty.
Anyway, it's odd, but if you think you might be interested, let me know. And now - let's talk about excursions. Below are my suggestions/ideas for which excursions to do (or not). This is YOUR vacation, and you should do what you want, but I've been to many of these ports before and know some things.
Should you book through the ship? Well, here are the pros and cons: If you book through the ship, they guarantee a level of quality and that you'll get back to the ship on time. You can cancel up to 24 hours before, and it's rolled into your cruise making things much simpler. BUT... they cost a lot more, and may not be the very best tour for you as they are "genericized" for the average cruise passenger. So, if you see something you like on the Royal Caribbean site—book it. You can always cancel later, and things do sell out.
Now, here's a rundown port by port of what I think you might like: _________ MIAMI
If you can, it's always better to fly down the night before. It adds another port to your trip, removes a LOT of stress, and gives you a buffer if anything goes wrong. We are working on hotel recommendations, and may book a block at a reasonable place. Stay tuned for info on that.
South Beach If you have time to kill in Miami, you can do the South Beach walk with all its fancy shopping and art galleries. This is not my thing, but it could be yours. A good place to start looking for what to do is here: https://visitsouthbeachonline.com/
Zoo Miami I know feelings on zoos are mixed, but Zoo Miami is a good one, especially if you're coming from a place that doesn't have a major zoo. They often have special events, sometimes at night, and are organized like a Disney park with different continents represented in different sections of the park. Find out more here: https://www.zoomiami.org/
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden This is a spot that caters mostly to locals, but it's a quiet, beautiful spot featuring a wide variety of tropical plants, including the flamboyant Rainbow Eucalyptus of many Internet memes. https://fairchildgarden.org/
Cozumel is an island off the Yucatan peninsula, and it's one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. There are two main approaches to Cozumel: the "chill out and enjoy the weather" approach, and the "let's go for it!" approach. Note: the ruins that are actually on the island are either tiny or recreated. See below for Tuluum if you want to see Mayan ruins.
For the Chill Out and Enjoy group, there are two basic things worth considering:
Chankanab - I've been here at least three times now. It's a resort park, with beachside drinking, snorkeling, and a buffet. If you want to sit under a palm tree drinking out of a coconut, this is the place. You can also play with dolphins and manatees for a substantial fee, but don't do this unless you understand it will cost you at least another $100 to have photos of your encounter—cameras are prohibited. No tour needed, you can take a taxi. Bring a towel from the ship. https://cozumelparks.com/en/chankanaab/
Old Town - Yes, it's very touristy, but it can also be fun and the restaurants are excellent. Head north once you get off the ship and just wander around. Don't be afraid to haggle, and visit the pharmacy if you've forgotten something or want to see just what you can get over the counter in Mexico. (You might be surprised.) It's a decent walk, but not impossible. Watch your time for the walk back.
For the Let's Go For It folks, two main options:
SCUBA Diving - Though there has been your expected amount of tourism-related bleaching, there is still excellent diving to be had here, and depending on your perspective, there may be a bonus: you don't have to be certified to dive here. I have no specific recommendations for who to dive with, but this might be helpful: bit.ly/TACozumelDive
Tulum - This is the real deal. If you want to see authentic, striking, well-preserved Mayan ruins, this is the tour to do. Though it's reasonably priced for a whole day tour, it's a bit grueling, requiring a ferry, bus and good amount of walking. But there's a lot to see and an amazing beach as well. If you do this, I urge you to read about the place in adavance—the tours don't cover nearly enough, especially about the ingenous lighthouse, whose design has been copied for marine navigation in modern times. You DO want to book the ship's tours for this. It's an all-day trip, you'll see nothing else, and you'll be among the last buses getting back to the ship. But it's worth it. https://bit.ly/RCTulum
GEORGETOWN, GRAND CAYMAN
Grand Cayman is a great island, but it's getting very crowded and traffic is becoming an issue. This is an island where you typically don't do what you've done before. For those who've been here before, I'm going to try to organize a nature walk in a forest that tourists seldom see. More on that later. But for the first timers, these are the things you may want to see & do:
Swim With Stingrays - all the pictures you've seen of people interacting with giant stingrays in the water, this is the place where that happens. Book through the ship, and get ready to take a boat out, wade onto a sandbar, and have a surprisingly intimate encounter with a flat fish the size an oriental rug. Book this through the ship. https://bit.ly/RCStingRays
Visit the Turtles - There's a sea turtle research center, and you can visit and then have a swim with the little darlings. There are many ways to get here, as it's included in many tours, so pick the one you'd like. Many photo ops, and some tours including Hell (below). https://bit.ly/RCTurtles
Go to Hell - There are many Hells on Earth, and this is one. It's a rather inhospitable rock formation with a post office. That's it, and it's included on most tours.
When most Americans hear "Colombia," not only do they miss that there's an 'o' in there, but they think it's like the TV series Narcos, and not the beautiful and varied country that it actually is. Cartagena is lovely, and it's my favorite port on this trip. Unfortunately, we only have a short time here so my advice is simple: go to the old walled city, wander around, take pictures, and have a delightful lunch. That's it. I promise it's enough. There are many tours being offered, but if you choose one, it will take up all your time, and I'd hate for you to miss the city.
The ship does not dock exactly where we want to be, so a short taxi ride may be necessary. I'll help organize that for those who wish to follow me around the battlements.
Note: if you have mobility issues, a tour might actually be the best option for you. This is an old city with rugged streets and there will be lots of walking.
PUNTARENAS, COSTA RICA
I've been here, and the actual place the ship stops is a locals' beach, with a lot of interesting vendors, some very good restaurants and a large beach that's sadly covered with plastic waste :( Because of this, I think a tour is in order, and again, a ship's tour will be best as you'll likely be heading far from the ship to get into the jungle. Looking at the excursions that are currently offered, they all seem interesting to me. :) https://bit.ly/RCPuntarnes
HUATULCO, OAXACA, MEXICO
At this point, you're going to be tired—it's just a fact of travel. Huatulco is an ancient port that's only recently been used for tourism, so it's mostly a resort town. But it's also a gateway to Oaxaca, probably the best state to visit in the country.
Sicaruu Trail - The tour I want to recommend isn't available yet, but it's possible to visit 16th century colonial towns in the mountains. Failing that, I think the Sicaruu (not Sicario) Trail is probably the one to do here. It's paradoxical, but a hike when you're tired is one of the best ways to reinvigorate your adventurous spirit. https://bit.ly/RCSicaruu
SAN PEDRO/LONG BEACH/LA, CALIFORNIA
Most of you will probably head straight home. We'll be off the ship by 8AM with any luck. Don't book a flight before Noon. However, a good portion of us, especially those traveling East will have some time to kill, so I'm going to try to organize a small trip to kill some time.
La Brea Tar Pits - Yes, the legendary tar pits are calling to you, and I promise they're more interesting than the Lost-wannabee show that somehow got renewed for a second season. The plan is this: a bus will pick us up, store our luggage, and take us to the pits for a few hours. After that, it will drop us off at LAX. So you'll be getting a bit of a tour and transportation to the airport for less than just the cruise line transfer, which seems like a deal to me. I won't be able to book this until we get more involved with flights, but that's the idea at this point.
Please remember everything here is just a suggestion. Feel free to ask me about other things that seem interesting to you, and I'll let you know of any tips I have for that.
Much much more to come!