Part One of this review consisted of:
Part Two includes:
Part Three will wrap up with:
This cruise only had two stops -- Grand Cayman and Roatan, which is an island off the coast of Honduras. When we docked at Grand Cayman, the captain announced that the sting ray city shore excursions would be canceled due to winds and waves. I had been warned on these boards that the ship would often cancel these tours in an overabundance of caution, so I had booked us on a private excursion (www.nativewaysports.com
) to do the sting ray island tour.
This turned out to be a mistake. We went out in a boat and got to sting ray island, which is basically a sand bar about three to three and a half feet deep. The problem is that the waves were one to two feet in height (Paula says they were two to three feet)! I am about 5'6" and Paula is under 5'. I was able to touch bottom (and actually got to hold a sting ray in my arms and pet it) but Paula was swept off the bottom with almost every passing wave. We're both decent swimmers, but it was nonetheless a very unpleasant experience for her and not really a fun one for me. We spent the rest of the tour on the boat, watching the others cavort with the sting rays! I felt bad for Paula and was wishing that I had picked out something for us to do on a beach.
Lesson: Be warned. If the waves are a bit high and you are close to six feet and don't mind being bounced around a bit, you're going to be okay. If it is smooth, you're going to be okay. But do inquire about the weather and pay attention to the wind before you go out! Grand Cayman is exceptionally flat, so wind makes a HUGE difference.
If you go to Grand Cayman and are looking for a yummy place to eat, don't go to Breezes, the huge bar/restaurant near the pier. It is basically a New Orleans-style drinkathon. Rather, there is a place that is about a five- to 10-minute walk from the Pier (named after a pirate; unfortunately, which pirate exactly escapes me) and it serves absolutely delicious jerk chicken, among other things. Any taxi driver or tour guide should know what restaurant I am talking about. Simply ask them where you can get some authentic local food within walking distance of the Pier!
A lot of people have discussed the impact of the hurricane on Grand Cayman. You can see the buildings damaged, the trees bent and destroyed everywhere you look. But the greatest visual impact is that the island is now brown instead of green. Why? Because saltwater tends to kill island vegetation. This island survived an 11-hour onslaught of saltwater that brought destructive tides and killed off so much of the beautiful vegetation. Oddly, one of the biggest victims of the hurricane was the iguana population. (To be true to Paula, I should interject here and say that Paula HATES iguanas and was not exactly expressing deep sadness at their poor plight, LOL! But I like the iguanas and think they're cute, in a reptilian sort of way.)
But to continue: The reason why the iguanas were hurt is that they are vegetarian, and all of a sudden, there was nothing for them to eat. They came out from the bushes on to the roads as if to say, "where's dinner?" and then they got hit by cars! Still, by this time next year, I think the vegetation will be back in full force and the iguanas will be happy once again (but not so much Paula).
Two other quick notes about Grand Cayman: First, there used to be an Internet cafe near the Pier. It has gone out of business. The only public Internet access I saw was at a very popular bakery about a 10-minute walk from the Pier. It had only two computers and was a mad house. If your ship is going to, say, Roatan, Cozumel or Cancun after Grand ayman, you would be well advised to check your email at one of those stops.
Second, yes, there is shopping at Grand Cayman. Paula and I both thought it was overpriced and totally lacking in variety and simply offered, in Paula's words, "cheesy tourist (stuff)." Truth be known: of all the stops I have made in my five cruises, this is my least favorite. I think their slogan should be, "Grand Cayman: Our stuff is overpriced -- but at least it is expensive!"
(Now, before everyone here flames me for that, let me say that I am sorry for what the people of Grand Cayman went through during the hurricane and I also realize that some people love to shop in Grand Cayman. This is what is great about cruises -- to each their own!)
Roatan, I have to say, proved to be one of my top three cruise stops of all time. (To me, it ranked up there with a private island experience I had while on Celebrity Century and with a trip I went to on St. Thomas, when we went to Megan's Bay, an incredibly beautiful swimming hole.)
Paula said she thought Roatan looked a lot like Fiji, where she went a year ago. The island was lush and beautiful and apparently has not suffered a hurricane in many years.
In keeping with advice we found on cruisecritic.com, we arranged beforehand to book a day's excursion not through the ship, but rather through Salt and Pepper Tour's, an operation run by this very friendly and interesting character named Paul David, who hails from Great Britain.
I have to tell you -- and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough -- this is a tour you MUST do and is the very best, most fun thing to do in Roatan!!!!! Basically, they pick you up in a car or a van and take you on about a 25-minute ride to a semi-private beach on the other side of the island. There you get quiet time on the beach, plus a very tasty lobster lunch. You also have options to get snorkel equipment and snorkel off the beach or to go out on a boat and snorkel. How much it costs depends on what you do. If you just want the beach, it costs $30 per person (a good value, given that private transportation and the lobster lunch are included). If you need to rent snorkel equipment, that's an extra $10 and if you want to go out on the boat to better snorkeling locations, that's another $10. So, for this day in paradise -- and it is paradise -- it will cost you anywhere from $30 to $50 per person, depending on what you want to do.
They also have a bar that serves drinks that appear to be inexpensive, at least compared with prices on board the ship -- for instance, they have two types of local Honduran beer that costs $2 per bottle. A coke (which tastes a bit more syrupy and yet less sweet than coke in the U.S.) I think costs $1 or less and it comes in a glass bottle, like in the olden days when I was a kid.
One word of warning: There are peddlers who go up and down the beach asking if you want various things, would like to go horseback riding or to buy this or that. When we first got there, they asked us if we wanted to rent beach chairs. We said yes, of course, and rented two chairs for $5 each. We later found out that the chairs were part of the $30 fee, so we were able, with Paul's help, to get our $10 back. Paul is a very outstanding and upstanding guy, so consider giving him your business!!! His web site is www.saltnpeppertours.com
The day at Roatan started out cloudy with some rain. Later it cleared up with totally blue skies. This day was emblematic of our cruise. I was marveling at the beauty and could have spent a week in Roatan.
This is what you were waiting for, wasn't it? The CRUISE FOOD!!!!!! For Paula, the food on this cruise was hit and miss. She liked the escargot in La Bistro, the alternative French restaurant, but not so much the fish dish that she had. And she liked one or two things she had in the main restaurants. She is a chocolate expert, and I think perhaps the chocolate on this cruise was not up to her standards. She did NOT like Shogun's, the alternative, somewhat pan-Asian restaurant. She found her main entree that night to be mediocre and the service to be slow if not rude.
For my part, and this shows how totally subjective cruising can be, I felt that the food on this cruise was the best of the five cruises I have been on. And that is really saying something; after all, Celebrity is supposed to be superior to NCL in this regard, but this was not my experience.
My favorite two meals were the first night, at La Bistro, and the last night, at Windows, one of the two mainstream "free" restaurants. At La Bistro I had escargot, which was to die for (but luckily I didn't) and filet mignon. For desert we had the chocolate fondue. There is a slight problem with the fondue -- they bring chopped-up fruit out to you in a carved-out pineapple, which is fine, but the pan of chocolate they bring out to you with the chocolate is simply not hot enough. It would be an improvement if they could do it in real fondue style and heat it at your table. But perhaps I am being too nitpicky about this.
In Windows, on the final night, Paula had perhaps her best meal of the cruise. She really enjoyed a lamb appetizer and she had the Duck A L'Orange which, she couldn't help but tell me, was as good as the Peking Duck I had paid extra money for in Shogun's previously!!! I also had a wonderful meal. I had two appetizers: Oysters Rockafeller and Lobster Mousse, which came topped with caviar and with -- what do you call it -- salmon regulet (salmon eggs, kind of like caviar). I also had a bowl of salmon bisque and the filet mignon in bernaise sauce and, for desert, the baked Alaska. (Those who know me know that I don't eat all that much. Paula was staring at me that night and saying, "Are you really going to eat all that?")
And I did. Every bite.