Age: NOT FOUND
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Celebration
Sailing Date: June 3rd, 2002
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
My wife and I cruised on Celebration on the five day cruise to Cozumel / Playa del Carmen. This was our first cruise and trip to Mexico. Our travel agent wasn’t all that helpful so there were a lot of things we didn’t know about cruising. Firstly my wife and I don’t really party very much, we were celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary without our children along. Our emphasis was getting away together and snorkeling on our port days. I will not make any comments on gambling, happy hours, etc because we just didn’t participate.
Our arrival at the pier in Galveston was an easy drive from Austin, TX. Things aren’t labeled that well but you can’t miss the funnel of a Carnival cruise ship. Once there I dropped my wife and our bags at the curb. She was assisted by a porter and I took the car to the lot and got a shuttle back. The terminal is pretty nice, we arrived about 1:00 and things were in full swing even though the suggested arrival time was 1:30. We heard that the people having weddings on board were arriving as early as 12:00, I wish we had been a bit earlier. But we got through security, ticketing, key pickup etc in about an hour and we were on board.
I had read other cruise reviews that described the Celebrations interior as old. I will say that the hallway to our cabin was a bit of a fright. The carpet was very worn and looked like it had gotten thoroughly wet more than once. Also the “decorations” on the wall looked quite out of style. However our room was nice and most of the facilities on board were in good condition. Some of the lounges had a real Crocket and Tubbs feel to it but hey the boat was built in the 80’s that’s what you would expect. The room did contain a small key safe for your valuables.
We walked around and the Wheelhouse Grill was serving food in full swing. We were underway right about 4:00 and headed out to sea. We were assigned late dining despite our request for early. We went to see the Maitre D’ at the appointed time (a detail easily missed from the Carnival Caper newsletter). From the second day on we were on the earlier seating. The main advantage to this is you’re not eating dinner during a lot of the evening’s entertainment, although the big shows have early and late seating.
One of the things my wife and I didn’t really anticipate was that the ship does a fair amount of moving through the gulf. Some days were remarkably calm but others were not. We did not fell seasick but it was an unfamiliar and sometimes unsettling feeling. The other and I think more distracting quality, is that a ship’s can be really noisy, especially when maneuvering to get into port. We were in the forward section of the Upper deck, I think vibration and noise would be a lot worse in the aft (rear), and on decks even lower. The aft section of the Wheelhouse café seem to always be vibrating. To be fair we were told that the ship was heading to dry dock after our cruise for an engine replacement and we also heard new carpet. Perhaps that new engine will cut down on the vibration.
On Tuesday there was a very interesting port of call lecture. They have several good tours and there are probably a lot of good reasons to go on them. We did not. Our original intention was to rent mopeds in Cozumel and drive to several beaches to go snorkeling. The cruise director, the caper and word of mouth told us not to do this. Instead we rented a car from National right at the cruise terminal pier. This cost us $66 + $11 for supplemental insurance. After seeing the roads and people getting around on mopeds I think we would have done alright but the car gave us more carrying capacity and it did rain a little and I would not have wanted to carry our day bag on a wet road with taxis all around.
The lecture was interesting, there was a gal there with title “Super Shopper” and she told you all about the Carnival recommended stores. She had quite a few does and some don’ts. But I can’t help but feel there is some kick back involved here. I asked at one of the recommended stores and they said Carnival gets $200 per ship arrival from them.
If you think this cruise is to Cancun you are mistaken. The only way to go to Cancun is to either rent a car or take the shopping excursion.
On Tuesday night there was the formal dinner. As I suspected attire ranged from sports shirts to ties and suites and it really went by age. I didn’t see anyone actually in a tuxedo although rental was available. The other nights I wore slacks and a sports shirt / polo and felt appropriately dressed. The ladies were in a wide variety of dresses and pants outfits. I did not see anyone turned away from dinner based on attire and there were several people in jeans, but the ship was full of Texans so what else do you expect.
We arrived on time at the pier in Cozumel on Wednesday. As I said our focus was snorkeling and we decided to do it on our own. The weather for two days before we arrived was bad and the beaches were not really conducive to snorkeling. There were light waves but the water was quite churned up. We went to Playa San Francisco paid $12 for beach chairs (a mistake) and checked out the water. They were honest enough to tell us the best snorkeling was one beach up at playa Corona (Corona Beach). You can find Corona Beach by taking the first road after Chankanaab, if you hit Playa San Francisco you’ve gone too far. The snorkeling there was awesome. We stayed for 4 hours for the price of 3 cokes and $8 to rent two pair of fins. This is the best deal on the island in my opinion. Various snorkel excursions either showed up by bus or boat all afternoon. This is definitely the spot, especially if there has been any inclement weather. We also found out that the people from the boat that signed up for the snorkeling excursion had theirs cancelled. We felt we made a good choice.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon driving around the southern and eastern side of the island. We stopped at a beach club at Chen Rio and walked the beach. The beaches on this side are more rugged and quite beautiful. My Fodor’s book said there is snorkeling at Chen Rio but not in the moderate surf we found. Our car was due back at 7PM. The view along the intracoastal highway was Mexican poverty and dilapidated buildings.
We cleaned up and did some late shopping on the main drag. We mostly went the recommended stores and found some nice souvenirs. We had some nachos at Carlos and Charlie’s which was very loud but it seem like a good completion to our Cozumel experience.
I thought we would have a nice mild night at sea since we were probably only about 20 miles away from Calica, but the ship apparently circles around the gulf all night so it can run the casino. Basically it’s all about Carnival making a buck. We arrived at port about 7AM and it was not something most people could sleep through.
The second port of call is Calica, which is Mexican for gravel pit. Now I will credit the cruise director for warning us that Calica was nothing to look at. Basically they dug out a cruise ship pier in the rocks and they are running some sort of industrial gravel / sand operation on the off days. The cruise ship really promotes the Tulum / Xel Ha Mayan ruins tour. We heard from a few people that went on the tour and really enjoyed it. Our hope was to do more snorkeling. We toyed with the idea of signing up for the excursion but it was cancelled again (a lot of snorkelers went home with seeing anything). We got a cab ($20 round trip pre paid) and asked to be dropped off at the beach in Playa del Carmen.
The driver dropped us off in the middle of Avenue 5 (the main strip) and pointed to the beach. We were north of the ferry terminal, later we found out that Senor Frog’s was just south of the ferry terminal and may have been a better destination. After walking the beach for a while we gave in to a waiter at Hotel Colibri who offered us lounge chairs under a palapas and he basically took care of us for four hours. We had a nice lunch and several drinks and felt quite at home. There are beach clubs / hotels all up and down this strip of beach and you can probably get good service at many of them but our experience was so positive I wanted to get the name out there.
We spent an hour shopping before returning to the boat. Our experience shopping in Cozumel was pretty positive, we really felt like we were in Mexico in Playa del Carmen. The guys out front of the stores were pushy, one cashier tried to rip of my wife making change, they want to give you pesos instead of dollars and you just don’t feel like you know what any of the products are worth. After looking a little while we felt like we were just seeing the same things over and over.
If you’ve read this far here is where you get rewarded. Someone we met on the boat had lived in the area before and we met up with him on the way home. He spent the day at a marina / resort area, Puerto Aventuras and said the snorkeling and beach activities were awesome. If we ever go to this part of the coast again we will go there instead. I will say there seemed to be a lot of dive activity from the beaches at Playa del Carmen and there were snorkeling tours be we didn’t see one boat go out in 4 hours.
The trip home was uneventful. We really enjoyed the band in one the lounges so we watched them and took in the shows. The cruise director Chris was quite entertaining and he was the highlight of the talent show.
You are supposed to do all your tipping on the last night. I will say from talking to one of the dancers we heard that a lot of the staff make most of their money on gratuities. I’m not impressed with how much Carnival charges for drinks, etc but you shouldn’t hold back on the stewards and waiters. They all seemed like very nice people and most of them are very far from home. I suspect a lot of these hard working folks are supporting their whole family with their cruise earnings.
I will give some secrets to the debarkation process. The first step is passing through immigration. The process started around 6:45AM with the top decks and worked down in 20 minute increments. Our assigned time was 7:25 so we thought we would check out the line after breakfast and it was already quite long so we got in line. Around 7:45 we had been checked through and the line was significantly longer. There is nothing about the immigration check that has to do with your room location so you may want to beat the crowd.
We went back to our room and spent about an hour watching a movie on TV. I think most of the decks and lounges would have been pretty crowded. The first people were allowed to leave about 8:45 and I believe the immigration process was still going on. Our color was called around 9:00. We promptly left the ship, found our bags in the color coded area and walked through customs. Outside the terminal building there were lots of buses etc for people leaving. It was quite busy but I got to the parking lot and back in about 15 minutes. My wife and I used FRS radios to communicate so you may want to have your cell phones with you to find each other.
All in all we enjoyed our cruise on the Celebration. The overall service was good, food was good, our cabin steward Herman Cruz was excellent. The boat is quite busy and this particular cruise seemed to have a lot of people on post graduation trips, many with whole families. We heard good things about the kids program but the parents with small children seemed pretty stressed out at times, but that’s the way it is. I hope you find some of this information valuable.