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Magic, Magic, Magic! Oct 25 – Nov 1, 2015


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Here it comes...I got a ton of great adviceand ideas as I researched this trip, so it'll be long, hopefully helping others doing their research! As of yet I have not figured out how to embed pictures. Any hints or clues are appreciated.

 

Magic, Magic, Magic!

Western Caribbean – Oct 25 – Nov 1, 2015

Galveston, TX, Cozumel (Mexico), Belize (Central America), Isla Roatan (Honduras)

 

This review/journal is my perspective, my recollections and my biases alone.

 

A little back story and then I’ll begin…we are 2 women from So. Cal., best friends for more than 40 years, we are 57 (me) and 64, and both are world travelers and love to have adventures and taking a cruise caters to our desires to be pampered (fed, housed, many amenities and as much, or as little entertainment as we like). We prefer a balcony cabin because we both love fresh air and having our own “private” and quiet spot. We also love a ship with a “spa” as we are both hedonists at heart, and utilize the spa amenities.

 

The trip planning began in January of 2015 when we decided we were ready to start planning our next adventure. We have several cruise options close to home, but found that the cruise fare was nearly the same if we ventured away from our home port, which would require a little more money (airfare, etc.), but would offer us new ports of call. We agreed on a Carnival cruise out of Galveston Texas, on The Magic. A new (about 4 year-old) ship with the Cloud9 Spa we had grown to love on The Splendor. After little fanfare we booked a spa balcony cabin, which provided the access to Cloud9 without paying extra for it once on board. By planning this far out (our sail date wasn’t until Oct 25th) we could easily manage the costs by making monthly payments and spreading them out. We opted to pre-pay tips as well. In addition, our cabin category price continued to drop, and although we were not booked “Early Saver” we were able to have prices matched up to 45 days before sailing. In all our fare dropped $440 (total, not per person) and one drop even gave us $50 per person onboard spending money.

 

We had never flown to a port before, so opted to let Carnival make all our arrangements (FlyAweigh) – airfare and bus transfers to the port. The price was comparable to what I’d seen online (I’m nuts about research and don’t like overpaying for anything!) however to lock in the rate I had to pay for the FlyAweigh in full at that time. So I did, and was happy. UNLTIL 2 days later when my travel agent (TA) called to tell me Carnival had made a mistake in their pricing for the FlyAweigh and wanted more $. I reminded my TA that “in order to lock in the rate” I was required to pay in full, and in fact the call was “recorded” – she was great and went to bat for us, requesting that a supervisor at Carnival review the recorded call, etc. We “won” and they had to “eat” the nearly $500 error. I now knew why the rate was so reasonable! One thing that was a drag was how “difficult” (a relative term) it is to get from Houston to Galveston. The traditional methods (shuttles, taxis, even Uber) are either quite expensive, or non-existent. Had I known this in advance, I probably would have steered clear. The upside was not knowing this in advance meant an amazing Caribbean cruise!

 

I wanted to buy Faster to the Fun (FTTF) – a program that at the time cost $49 for the cabin, and provides several features we would have liked…such as bypassing the embarkation lines, priority tendering in Belize (allowing for getting on a tender sooner and being able to meet our tour guide earlier), having our luggage delivered sooner to our cabin, and having the cabin ready for us once we boarded the ship). Alas, even though it was available, Carnival has some glitch in their online system that doesn’t allow for purchasing this program when you are also booked with Carnival transfers (busses to/from the airport/port of debarkation). After many frustrating phone calls I finally was able to purchase FTTF! Probably the best bargain we could never have imagined needing!

 

In early July, I started noticing that airfare was dropping, and after reading thousands of posts on Cruise Critic “warning” folks using various FlyAweigh programs from all the cruise lines, flying in the day of a cruise, and more, Chris & I chatted and agreed to book all our own travel, arriving in Texas the day before sail away. I booked airfare, a one-way car rental from Houston International to Galveston (through Enterprise), and a hotel in Galveston (Country Inn and Suites, booked through Hotels dot com) on the Galveston seawall right across the street from the historical Pleasure Pier (which we planned to play on), for exactly $22 more than we’d paid for the FlyAweigh! We cancelled FlyAweigh with no penalty.

 

Finally, we were a week away from leaving home! Then 3 days before…along comes Hurricane Patricia! While she was making her way to Mexico to create havoc, our ports of call weren’t expecting any issues. Alas, Texas and Louisiana were on alert with flooding, high winds, and rain, rain, and more rain. The night before we flew out I received an urgent message from the airlines, offering to let us cancel (taking a credit good for a year) or postponing our trip with no $ penalty. We had purchased travel insurance so opted for continuing with our plans. The news that night noted that Galveston was due to receive 8-12” of rain in a 24-hour period. We were up long before dawn, and used Uber for the 7 minute trip to the airport. Our flight was a little delayed as we were being rerouted past Houston, to Louisiana and heading back west, due to wind. Also our flight was considerably empty. I assume many passengers took them up on canceling/postponing. Our captain was amazing and made a landing in fog so thick I could not see the ground when we were 500 feet off it!

 

It was raining when we landed in Houston. We picked up our luggage, hopped on the car rental shuttle, and picked up our car. A little shout out here to the 2 reps at Enterprise at IAH. That “southern hospitality” we’d heard so much of started right there and then. Or car was a brand new (315 miles on it) Nissan Sentra, and away we went. Sort of. I had my GPS ready to guide us to Galveston (it’s not difficult, but we wanted to avoid the toll road) and while this car had every bell and whistle imaginable, I couldn’t get the sound of the GPS to come through the radio (later I learned “there’s an app for that”) – so we just tried to hear the GPS through the rain. And rain it did! We got a little mixed up with our directions but stopped at a mom and pop tire repair and asked Mr. Lopez how to get to the freeway without taking the toll road. He gave perfect directions. We were on our way. Mostly it was heavy rain but a few times it was “I can’t see a thing” rain! I stayed in the center lane, and kept steady with the locals. It took a little more than an hour to get to Galveston. Due to the weather it was hard to enjoy the drive, but we did our best.

My research provided “best BBQ in Galveston” was Leon’s at 55th & Broadway. We were very hungry and ready to eat. I’m not a meat eater, Chris is. Let me tell you…even I ate meat! We shared several side dishes (the baked beans were heaven) and ate to our content. Southern hospitality was on tap at Leon’s too! It was a heavy drizzle after supper.

 

Next stop was Walmart so Chris could buy her 2 bottles of wine to carry on the ship. We parked 9 cars away from the entrance. After a 25-minute shopping trip we stepped outside to sideways wind and POURING rain! I ran to get the car (not a slow run, but a full sprint) and was soaked to the skin by the time I make the 9 car distance and drove to collect Chris. Just getting into the car she was soaked too! We inched our way up the seawall (seeing newscasters battling the rain and wind to report on the weather) the less than 2 miles to our hotel. We checked in and found a lovely room, with 2 queen beds and a balcony that wasn’t being rained on due to the architectural design. We had an ocean view, and it was something to see. Churning, big waves one on top of another, and WIND! Have I mentioned that it was around 80 degrees during all of this? Country Inn and Suites had an indoor pool and jacuzzi, laundry facilities, free wifi, and included a hot breakfast. We scored a great rate by booking with Hotels.com, 3 months from sail date. Those rooms were nearly double the closer we got. I took advantage of the dryers and dried our clothes. We stayed in and watched and listened to the storm. In the morning we ate breakfast and walked across the street as the wind whipped around – it was warm, windy and drizzling. We packed up the car, and took a short drive to the end of the island.

 

Weather wise it wasn’t too bad, so we decided on one more quick Walmart stop, put some gas in the rental, drop off our luggage at the port and return the car. We figured we’ll call a cab to get back to the port (only about 3 miles). Before we knew it it was raining again, pretty steadily. Many streets to the port were closed due to flooding, so we followed a shuttle bus up and down streets until we made it to drop off the luggage. Our boarding passes didn’t show FTTF but I had printed my receipt and showed it to “Joe” the porter. He tagged our bags, we tipped him heartily and inched our way out to the car rental location.

 

Side note: This is the first time, in a very long time, that I didn’t glue myself to a camera (and I brought 2 with me!) – so the pictures are few, but the memories are etched for life!!

 

When we got to Enterprise it was pouring again, and that southern hospitality was in full force. Jazz, the rental agent was going to call a cab for us, however there was a couple waiting for a cab and they offered to share theirs with us. For about 30 minutes it was just us 4. Before long several other groups came to drop off and a few came to pick up cars. Enterprise closes at 1:00 pm on Sunday, and they were getting antsy for all of us to get out of there in time for their closing. Cabs were not coming, and by 12:15, no cab companies were answering their phones either. The rain got worse and the wind more intense. There are all sorts of political things at play in Texas, and the Port of Galveston has made it nearly impossible for small business to be successful in helping passengers. Enterprise is the only car rental company that returned after Galveston was decimated by Hurricane Ike in 2008. They have tried non-stop to get a livery permit to allow them to shuttle their customers to the port with no success. Uber drivers are targeted by authorities as well so they (Uber) just won’t drive in Galveston. Enterprise is only able to drop off (or pick up) a block from the port, but in this weather it would have been terrible for anyone to try to make their way by foot to the pier. However they secured 2 huge vans to carry more than a dozen passengers and their luggage as far as they could. As they were filling, “our” cab came. “Joseph” our driver was apologetic about making us wait nearly 2 hours, explaining that street after street were flooded and he simply was unable to maneuver. We were just delighted we weren’t going to have to walk to the pier! A 20+ minute ride for the 3-mile journey and we were at the pier. We said good-bye to our new friends, and looked at hundreds of passengers on line. Faster to the Fun to the rescue! We showed our receipt and boarding passes and bypassed all those waiting in line. Part of me felt terrible, but the practical part of me was dancing! Luckily this port is all indoors so no one was actively in the weather. Less than 10 minutes of snaking around the building and we were heading on board! We immediately went to our cabin and dropped off whatever we were hand carrying (wine, purses, etc.). We met our cabin steward, Made, and introduced ourselves. I explained we would like ice to be in a (soft-sided) cooler we brought to keep bottled water cold, etc., and he never faltered. He had our names down with one meeting. Our spa balcony cabin was in pristine condition, and clean, clean, clean. It remained that way fro the entire trip. We stood on our balcony and saw a line of cars along Harborside Drive that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was about 1, and we took the opportunity to enjoy some freshly prepared stir fry at the Mongolian BBQ. We sat outside, under an awning, by the pool. We were due to set sail at 4, but by 5pm, we figured out that wasn’t going to happen. We were still in port and that line of cars did not budge. I don’t know what time it was when we learned we would not be setting sail that day, as the port authority had locked down the channel due to weather. We didn’t care. We were on the ship and everything was in full swing.

 

Well almost everything…We had made a 6:30 reservation for the steakhouse for the first evening due to the promotion of a “free bottle” of table wine, or 50% off any other wine as well as the more relaxed dress code the first night. So at 6:15ish we headed out to dinner. When we asked for the wine we were denied. You see, Texas has Sunday “blue laws” and as we were in Texas no wine (or liquor for that matter) could be purchased. Interesting enough, Texas sold Carnival several cases of “Texas Champagne” (low alcohol sparkling “wine”) and we could have a bottle of that complimentary. OR we could purchase a bottle of wine at 50% off, but could not have it until whenever it would be that we would be out of Texas waters. We opted for the “Texas Champagne” – Chris is a wine drinker, I am not, so I didn’t care either way. She was fine. Dinner was delicious and service professional and spot on. We enjoyed everything we ordered except the “mashed” potatoes, which were more “whipped” than mashed and way too smooth for our palates. I am allergic to walnuts and one of my chocolate dessert cups had walnuts in them (not noted on the menu). I simply asked that the cup be removed, no big deal, I still had 3 to eat! A few minutes later the waitress came back with a specially made chocolate cup replacement from the chef, with no walnuts! Above and beyond service which was professional as well as friendly. Just as we have ALWAYS experienced on Carnival.

 

After dinner our luggage arrived (Made made numerous calls to locate it, as he felt since we had FTTF it should be there already). We unpacked and walked around the ship for awhile before heading to bed.

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Enjoying your review. I'm glad you were able to make it on the ship!

 

Us too! The cabins on either side of us didn't - our ship sailed less than 50% full as confirmed by our CD - I feel for those that didn't make it.

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Us too! The cabins on either side of us didn't - our ship sailed less than 50% full as confirmed by our CD - I feel for those that didn't make it.

 

I was surprised to read that so many people could not make this cruise. We were on Navigator of the Seas waiting in Galveston with Magic - 3300 people on board Navigator October 25-Nov 1. 3500 expected for the next week.

 

Beginning my research on Magic for our May 21 cruise out of Port Canaveral. Can't wait for more info.

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A couple of things I neglected to write about from yesterday…

 

Muster drill…went as scheduled (well time wise, later) with no life vests necessary, and ours was inside the main showroom. I’ll be honest - passengers are terrible during this safety information. Talking, joking, and generally not paying attention. I may have been “bored” too, but I was quiet.

 

Before heading to bed last night we decorated the outside of our cabin door for Halloween (and also because it makes it easier to find a cabin in a sea of same-looking doors) – we opted for a Dias de las Muertos (Day of the Dead) theme – and had a groovy paper skeleton which we decorated with a pirate’s hat, a metallic pom-pom, and a mini skeleton in his hand (Made was adorable, as each time we would come back to the cabin after he’d been there he had repositioned the mini skeleton).

 

We also put out a room service breakfast card, which we enjoy as we like having fruit and coffee on our balcony before heading out for the morning. Yogurt, fruit and coffee were promptly delivered at 7:30, as we had requested.

 

It’s a new day…

 

When we opened the balcony door we were treated to sunshine, warm temperature and blue skies. We happily enjoyed our breakfast and wondered if we would set sail – BTW the blue skies and sunshine didn’t last long. Captain Marchetti came on the PA system to let us know the port was still closed (we heard scuttlebutt later that a tanker or some such had tipped and run aground the evening before and that’s why the port was closed) and that he would have more information at his noon announcement. We were also treated to the “Reverand Dr. E” (our cruise director) morning show. This guy was GOOD! He was fun, smart, and charismatic. I’ve never really noticed a cruise director before, but I sure noticed him! For a little sample of him you can search You Tube for Everson Bevelle Carnival…a few videos show up, including his “Morning Song” -

 

Whoa…without any notification, at just about 9:30 am, I felt the engines starting up. We looked and lo and behold it seemed we were going to set sail! The captain came over the PA, and I’ll paraphrase what I heard…Dudes, the port has given us the go-ahead to set sail, so hold on because we’re outta here! Now I’m pretty sure that’s NOT what he said, but we beat cleats out of Galveston!

 

As is tradition, we stood on the balcony during sail away, waving, leaving (now) gray skies and churning water behind. The captain announced that we would be sailing a “reversed itinerary” and guest services would be helping anyone who booked tours/excursions (through Carnival or not) to contact their tour companies to let them know the new day/times of arrival. I had purchased the “social media” package ($5 a day or $25 for the week – I opted for the week) – and was able to connect with our private tours through FB Messenger. Both companies said they were aware of the changes and would meet us at the same place, and time, as we’d originally scheduled…on the new day. I also was able to stay in touch with my H who was at home. The connection was very good when it was working, but sometimes it was slow and clunky. I assumed it had to do with the amount of “traffic” (users) – eventually all my communications posted and it was really fun to keep in touch this way for not a lot of $. New itinerary was at sea - sailaway (actually at Galveston), at sea, at sea, Belize, Roatan, Cozumel, at sea.

 

We got dressed, and went up to lido for some freshly made egg white omelets, and people watching. A lot of people don’t know that at the omelet station you can have egg whites only, or even freshly made over easy, etc. eggs in addition to the omelets. I had to convince "Muhammad" not to use the spray and oil in the pan – but by the next morning he was used to my requests. I found some incredible gluten free toast as well (made with all types of seeds and nuts), and my guilty pleasure when on a ship…peanut butter and marmalade!

 

It was humid and warm even if the sky was gray, and the events around the ship were in full swing. And…finally the casino could be opened and liquor could be served (neither of those were of particular interest to us, but you just know that SOMEONE cared…including the cruise line!) - We were part of a “roll call” from Cruise Critic that moved to another social media site with the initials FB, and had signed up for a group slot pull for the first morning at sea. We met and both added our $20 to the kitty. There were 19 of us who actively participated and in addition to getting our $20 back, we each walked away with another $19 – not rich, but not poorer either. And it was fun (we’d never done one before).

 

We walked around, and popped into all the different shops on board (which were also finally able to open) - there’s a full on candy store, in addition to the usual and customary duty free liquor, perfume, jewelry, clothing, coffee bar, etc. We met “Emma” from England who works in the jewelry store. She commented on a book Chris was reading about Santa Monica (California), and we struck up a friendly conversation. Emma is writing 2 books, one about life working on a cruise ship (she’s done it for 4 years now) and the other about traveling through Europe on less than $1,000 a month – she was super friendly and kind.

 

Back to our cabin to hang out on the balcony and read for awhile.

 

I had read about the Italian restaurant (Cucina del Capitano) on the Magic, and it sounded like something we would enjoy (it’s complimentary during lunch hours (a limited menu) and costs $15 p/p for dinner), so we opted for lunch to see how it was. We were not disappointed. We ordered ½ portions of pasta (made to order with several types and items to add), a lasagna to share (this one we didn’t care for), some salad and a side of meatballs (they were very good!). Service was professional and friendly (a recurring theme on this trip!) and we enjoyed the food.

 

After some more chilling out on our balcony, the sun was peeking through the clouds and I was ready to do some yoga. We found a secluded deck large enough to spread out, and play our yoga tunes, borrowed some towels from the towel lady at the pool and did a little more than an hour of self-guided yoga.

 

The time had come…it was time for our first Cloud9 ritual! We like to hit the spa around 4 in the afternoon. We find it less crowded as many are preparing for early dining (we opt for “anytime” dining as we don’t like being tied down to a set time). We met "Orla" at the spa desk, and got our first bracelet for access to the spa. We hit up the thelassotherapy pool (a very large, indoor hot tub, that is far warmer than any on deck), then go from aroma steam room, to the less hot therapy rooms (there are 3), slowly cooling down, and finally to the room with the heated loungers, where we pretty much pass out (I like to call it meditating because it just sounds better :p). All in all our “ritual” is a little more than an hour but the effects (full relaxation and soft, smooth skin) lasts the rest of the day!

 

 

Back to the cabin to shower, dress and off we went to the Northern Lights main dining room (our one and only time during this trip). The ship has the new “American menu” (I think it’s called that) and a few things were different. For one, a large carafe of iced water is on the table (we liked that!) and there were some different menu choices. Chris tried the braised rabbit as an appetizer (she wasn’t thrilled) and thoroughly enjoyed the broiled salmon as her entrée. The menu wasn’t particularly appealing to me, so I opted for the vegetarian Indian inspired dinner (lentils, rice, and a bunch of other side dishes). When my plate came there were all sorts of little bowls of goodies…then 4 more little bowls showed up. There was enough to share! It was very good. We each enjoyed a warm melting cake (but I think they were a little overcooked) and tried a slice of peach pie to share (it was ok). I’d read that service was hit or miss in the anytime dining room, we certainly felt it was a “hit” – although when we were ready to leave, we hadn’t seen our waiter for a bit of time, and it felt odd for us to leave the dining room without so much as a thank you & a good bye. But we did.

 

We decided to stay “in” and rent a movie. This was a nice surprise since our last cruise, 2 years ago. Previously pay per view was $9.95 per film, and the choices were really limited. This time, the films were $4.99 and the choices were really vast and many genres. We also noticed that there were more TV channels to choose from (this may have been the evening we watched the last few innings of the first game of the World Series too), and reception was flawless.

 

After the movie we followed our other “ritual” – in our pjs and robes we will go out on our balcony and stargaze and quietly reflect on the awesomeness of being at sea, in the dark. Sometimes we would go forward on deck 11 (our deck) to the “secret” deck – on occasion there would be one guy up there too, he was enjoying a smoke. We understand it’s a “non-smoking” area, but he was respectful and wasn’t bothering anyone.

 

We placed our balcony breakfast order card out, and tucked in for the night.

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Edited by tea4ular
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Thanks for the review. I look forward to the rest. We will be sailing on Magic on Dec 6. I am glad to hear that FB messenger works on the $25 package. We will use that to stay in contact with family.

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As I write this I find myself recalling things from the previous day(s) that I neglected to write about. This is an example: I also have a daily ritual (even at home), I walk for health, and meditation time. Yesterday afternoon I found myself on the sports deck for walking, as deck 5, which I would have preferred, was partially closed off due to high winds. With my headphones on I walked ‘round and ‘round. At one point I got a notion to try the ropes course. Bear in mind I don’t do well with heights, but it didn’t look too scary. I got all suited up, got my debrief, and up I went. After 2 steps I realized I was out of my mind. I couldn’t do it. I climbed down and I went back to walking. The 2 attendants there were very sweet, and both told me to come back and try again. I didn’t. I tried some of the outdoor exercise equipment too, but it just didn’t feel as good as the equipment in the gym.

 

Tuesday – We woke up bright and early and enjoyed our morning ritual of coffee, yogurt and fruit on the balcony, Sorry to those who like to sleep in on vacation we just don’t enjoy that too much. The sky was blue and the sun was making itself known. It was warm and balmy.

 

We took our time getting ready for the day, and really just bummed around. People watching, reading, relaxing on our balcony. We didn’t do any of the ship sponsored activities, we just enjoyed being on a cruise ship with nothing on the itinerary. Looking back, I think perhaps we were conserving our resources for the 3 full port days ahead.

 

Around 4, we did our late afternoon Cloud9 Spa ritual, came back to the cabin in time to catch the sunset, showered & dressed. We were so noodled out from the spa and the relaxing sea day we decided to skip the dining room, and opted for pizza and salad bar by the lido pool. There was a movie playing at the “dive-in” but we had no idea what it was, nor any interest. We enjoyed our dinner and Chris wanted to head “home” (our cabin) so I walked deck 5 for an hour and then decided to venture to the George Lopez sponsored comedy club (Punchliner). The comic I saw wasn’t the best, but he was ok (his name escapes me…maybe it’ll come back to me). After I went back to the cabin and we stargazed for awhile (it was a full moon and we watched it rise) before watching some late night TV and going to bed.

 

Of course we hung our room service card up for the morning. We were going to Belize! :p

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We woke to room service bringing our morning coffee, fruit and yogurt and almost jumped out of bed to the balcony! We were watching the full moon set (the opposite of a sunset) in Belize! The sun had barely risen and we were watching the moon set on our balcony.

 

We had a full day excursion booked through cavetubing dot bz (VS booking with Carnival) and were excited to begin the day. We packed our day bags, and went to eat a good breakfast at lido (egg white omelets and peanut butter toast) before heading to the 3rd floor guest services area for FTTF tender tickets. Belize is a tendered port, so there’s some finessing required to get off the ship. Our tour guide said they would wait for everyone who booked the tour however requested we try to be off within an hour of docking. It was a relatively painless experience and excitement was in the air.

 

When we got to the pier in Belize dot bz was right there waiting for us. They guided us to a shaded area and we had an opportunity to use the restroom before the rest of our small group arrived. I think we were 10-12 in all. A couple of children and the rest adults (we were the oldest). We were escorted to an air conditioned van and off we went! Belize is a very lush and tropical country in Central America. English is spoken here and we learned a lot about the country. School is mandatory and it is free. Until the early 1970s the country was known as British Honduras and was a Commonwealth country. They are independent now (since the early 1980s) however Queen Elizabeth II remains as head of state. Everyone we met was polite and thoughtful. Our guides for the day and Vitalino Reyes’ (owner of dot bz) family were just delightful! We drove inland for about an hour as we made our way to the national park and headed to the river where we would be suited up in a helmet with a miners’ light, and life vests. From there we walked through the Mayan rainforest for about 25-30 minutes, even walking through the river at one point to get to the other side. The water was chilly, not “cold” but not tropical warm. Unlike some of the other tours we saw, we did not have to carry our tubes during the hike. The forest walk was beautiful and our guides showed us all sorts of things that were exciting, like a leaf that when its stem was broken “bled” a saffron colored sap, which the Mayan used for facial and body decorating. And another leaf/stem that tasted like allspice, and had a numbing effect (medicinal uses). Someone in our group opted for trying a woodland termite. I wasn’t game. Most of the walk (they called it a “hike”) was flat and pretty easy to maneuver – we wore water shoes and were fine. It was mostly shaded which was good because it was hot in the sun. The caves we went to have archaeological evidence as being used for more than 2000 years by the Mayan for ceremonies and rituals. Initially I thought I might feel claustrophobic however the caves were huge and many stories tall (in some places 8-10 stories tall) and they were absolutely breathtaking. If I had to use one word to describe them, I would use “otherworldly” – we truly were some other place than Earth. There were small waterfalls and hiking trails throughout. The water itself that we floated in was emerald green. We floated along for at least an hour. It was truly magical and you could feel the history and time travel through the caves. At the end we went back in the van and drove to Vitalino’s home where his family had prepared a lovely meal of chicken, coleslaw, rice and black beans for us. Rum punch or soda was also included. I requested a vegetarian plate and they added a lovely salad to my plate. There was a small gift shop and some items were crafted there (not all). We said our good byes and thank you to our cave guides and were driven back to town, in time for the tender back to the Magic – no time to shop though. I would rate this tour 100%. Not one thing could have made it better!

 

Back on board we showered and changed and waited for 2 tenders worth of passengers to arrive well over an hour past “all on board” – we later heard there was a bad bus and a bad boat these fellow passengers were all on.

 

The sunset that night was gorgeous!

 

We felt so good and energized, we decided to try Cucina del Capitano for dinner. It was even better than the lunch we had had there had been! After dinner I walked deck 5 for an hour and we stargazed from the “secret” deck on 11 before watching some TV and heading to bed.

 

And of course we set out our room service order. :p

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We were awake even before room service came with our usual and customary. We were up so early in fact we watched the sun rise over Mahogany Bay in Roatan! It was breathtaking. By the time coffee showed up, we were fully immersed in watching Mahogany Bay come to life. We saw workers rake the beach, set up chairs, test the Magical Flying Chair system (chair lift that transports folks from the gangway to the beach) and more. Those few moments before the sun burst over the horizon were magical and it was a perfect prelude to what was to come.

 

As we are known to do we packed our day bags and then headed to lido for a good breakfast. Roatan is a “walk off” port so once we were done eating we grabbed our stuff and headed off the ship. We independently booked Sightseeing and Snorkel the Barrier Reef with Roatan Ocean Adventures (ROA) which we read about on Cruise Critic. Reviews there and on Trip Advisor were all positive and after a few e-mails with Herbert, the owner, we booked. We received a detailed e-mail with exact walking directions to meet the tour. We followed, and walked up one area, down another, across even another, and finally up a small hill road, at the top, when we looked down the other side, there was a line of people along the right side of the road, with signs announcing who they were and what tour they were picking up for! Apparently Carnival will only allow “their” excursions to pick up at the actual pier. It was no big deal - the walk took all of maybe 10 minutes. As soon as we got to the checkpoint, 2 guys with a different tour group asked us who we were looking for, and called out for them. With more than 50 people picking up for as many tours, ROA wasn’t there. We were assured they would be there shortly. We sat and watched this physical symphony. It was a lot of fun watching locals picking up their visitors for the day. A few minutes later a young man came over and said my name. He was holding a cell phone. He had Herbert on the phone. He was minutes away and he apologized several times in the 1 minute call we had. The young man was his cousin.

 

Herbert arrived and had parked and walked over to collect us. His car was clean and air conditioned and as he drove he shared with us all sorts of interesting things about his life, and life on the island. At 27 Herbert is a devout ecologist. He is very concerned about the reef system and has taken matters into his own hands…literally. He has taken 86 species of coral that he has seen being damaged by storms, pollution and humans and created a coral garden. He is re-growing the coral and when it is mature enough he will take each piece and reintroduce it to the reef with the expectation of re-growing endangered reef coral. In addition he is preparing to add solar panels to the house he lives in with his dad in French Harbor. Herbert has a ton of business ideas and shared many of them with us, asking what we thought. To me, I felt like I was visiting with a relative I don’t see frequently rather than a stranger. He is smart and very personable. As we drove he pointed out various things to us, and we 3 chatted as friends. We were fortunate in that we had a private tour with Herbert.

 

Along the sightseeing way we stopped at various beach vistas (beautiful) and at one we were among mangroves and Herbert taught us the right way to replant the pods that we found on the ground (he said “come back next year and I’ll show you your trees!”). We also stopped at the iguana park and Chris & I both bought a few trinkets in the shop there. Many items were locally made and prices reasonable. Then we made a stop at his cousin’s animal sanctuary where we played with little monkeys, saw beautiful scarlet macaws, some local tapirs and I got to hold a very friendly sloth. Those are words I never thought I’d say in my life….I held a sloth. And then the time had come…it was time to snorkel the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world! We had brought our own mask and snorkel and Herbert had fins and vests for us. He also has masks and snorkels to use. I’m not a very good swimmer and Herbert suggested I simply hold the vest against myself and basically use it as a floating device. It worked brilliantly! Herbert also keeps a stash of “reef safe” sunscreen. We brought our own, and lathered up! We met Justin, our entrepreneurial and lovely 16-year old pontoon boat driver (he works during the week and goes to school on weekends and will be graduating in a month and then going to university) – he is also very concerned for the reef and will do whatever he can to preserve and/or make it better. The sounds from the “party” on Little French Cay was loud enough for us to hear and Herbert wanted to take us away from it. He guided Justin and before long we were in an isolated area of the reef. They lowered a sloping ladder and in we went. The water was warm, calm and the most exquisite color of green and blue I’d ever seen. One thing to note with ROA is that Herbert carries an underwater camera (so you don’t have to) and takes pictures while you snorkel (he was in the water with us, while Justin quietly followed along). Within a few days Herbert e-mails hi-resolution pictures to you at no extra charge. We got about 20 and each one is more beautiful than the next! We snorkeled a very long section of the reef (maybe a mile) all the while seeing every variation of fish, sea life and so much coral that was so colorful and unusual it almost looked like an underwater movie set! At one area we snorkeled over a submerged 185’ ship, something that scuba divers enjoy exploring. I would say we snorkeled about an hour or so. We could have done more, but we knew we were on limited time. We boated around a bit more before heading back to shore. After drying off we got back in the car and Herbert took us down the highway and drove us through Coxen Hole before taking us back to the ship pier. We sadly said good -bye to our new friend and told him we would see him again. We stopped for gelato and sorbet and walked through the shops in Carnival’s Mahogany Bay buying a few Roatan memory trinkets. We weren’t ready to go back to the ship so walked over to the Carnival beach. The walk was pleasant with many spaces tucked away to relax (hammocks, and such). When we got to the beach we got sticker shock when we saw the prices Carnival was charging…example $26 for ½ hour kayak rental. Our entire morning was less than $50 p/p! We went back and laid in hammocks for a few minute rest. It was sunny and hot and we were ready to go back “home” (the ship). On board we dropped our stuff off and headed to the “deli” for sandwiches on the back pool deck area.

 

After we followed our afternoon Cloud9 ritual, watched the moon rise, went to the comedy club (this guy was HILARIOUS! – I can’t recall his name either!! :eek:), I walked, we stargazed and after putting out our room service card watched a little TV and we were out!

 

We both said this excursion and this port was the highlight of our trip. If you get a chance to book with Roatan Ocean Adventures you will not be disappointed. We give this excursion 100% PLUS! :p

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Edited by tea4ular
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Once again we are up to watch the sunrise, this time in Cozumel, Mexico. We have booked a Carnival excursion, for the plain and simple reason, the distance and the length of the excursion. We’re going to the Mayan ruins in Tulum, on the mainland of Mexico (Cozumel is an island). We packed our day bags, ate a healthy breakfast and headed to the Northern Lights dining room where we will meet our tour. Several tours meet in the same location and we are all tagged with a number to ensure we end up at the right place. Cozumel is another “walk off” port however we will be walking off and then to another pier in order to catch the public ferry (included in our excursion price) to the mainland (Playa del Carmen) and then walk to our bus for the ride north to Tulum. Before we know it we’re heading off the ship. It’s warm and sunny already, and it was not even 9 am. The color of the water in Cozumel is beautiful blue green and we are excited to head up the coast on the Yucatan Peninsula. Tulum is on the Caribbean Sea. I had taken this excursion in 2000 when Larry & I went on our honeymoon, so I sort of knew what to expect…except 15 years later everything was different! That was exciting for me because it meant I got to experience it anew!

 

From the start we were warmly welcomed and the 45 minute ferry ride was without issue. They had water and beer for sale, and even at 9 am some took advantage of the beer! No judgment, we just enjoyed the breeze and the ocean view. At Playa del Carmen we walked to a new air conditioned bus, where we were introduced to “Tour Guide Juan” and his partner Paco. Miguel was our driver.

 

Tour guide Juan is of Mayan decent and knew a lot about the history of Tulum and the culture of the Mayan. Tulum was constructed in the 1200s and had a population that fluctuated between 1,000 to 1,600 – it seems that by 1600 a.d. the site was completely abandoned even though it had survived nearly 100 years after the Spanish conquered Mexico. The way that the site of Tulum was designed and built, up high on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean Sea and with “100s of houses side by side” historians believe that when the Spaniards arrived to the spot by ships they turned back believing there were thousands living there and feeling they were outnumbered.

 

Before we got to Tulum Tour guide Juan told us of a Mayan collective of artists and entrepreneurs. He suggested that we consider the collective for souvenirs vs the “stuff made in China with Mexico painted on it” – 17 families work the collective and at the end of the day they pool the income and each receive 1/17th – anyway he showed us a beautiful charm that is custom made while we’re exploring the site. It’s a piece of obsidian (black lava stone) and affixed to it are Myan silver cartouches depicting the letters of the alphabet (similar to hieroglyphics) – anyway I liked what I saw and ordered one with 2 letters, my husband’s and my first initial. Chris ordered one as well. They are just awesome and we both are delighted by them. By the way, my receipt showed exactly what each family would be earning from my sale, so he’s not just telling stories.

 

We walked as a group along a path to get to the entrance. There is also a tram, Chris took it…$2 round trip. They placed a paper bracelet on her so she was identified as prepaid. The walk was maybe 10 minutes. It was hot. We had brought collapsible umbrellas for parasols, as did one other lady. We were smart! Tour guide Juan continued to provide a truly interesting history lesson. Once inside the property Chris & I wanted to branch off. We spoke to Paco who couldn’t have been sweeter telling us to come find him if we needed anything at all. We were given a time to meet at the bus, and had a little more than 90 minutes to explore, walk/tram back, get a bite to eat/shop a bit, and we had wanted to go in the ocean too for a few minutes. We walked around reading plaques and marveling at the ingeniousness all those years ago! When we got to see the water it was gray and brown and churning a lot. I walked down to it (there’s a staircase), and stepped in - while it was warm, it was murky. Too bad because that water gets turquoise! Anyway it was almost time to head back, and we had a cute couple take our picture in exchange for me taking theirs. And we slowly headed back. We ate some fish tacos, rice and beans at the collective’s café, it was good. Back on the bus for a little more history from Tour guide Juan, and then we went back to Playa del Carmen for a very short (45 minute) shopping stop before taking the ferry back to Cozumel. We both loved the excursion, and minus not being able to get in the turquoise sea (no fault of the excursion!) we rate it 100%.

 

 

Last on board was 4:30 and we just made it.

 

We need not have worried. We were late setting sail by well over an hour and had a few really good pier runners! And some pier strollers…I mean S.T.R.O.L.L.I.N.G.! Our cabin overlooked the pier so we were watching in disbelief. We were also very close to the bridge and could see the captain pacing.

 

 

 

Finally we set sail, and we were done with ports of call for this trip.

Following our afternoon spa ritual, we opted for casual buffet dinner at lido. We had had a very long, hot day, and simply stargazed, watched a bit of TV and were out.

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We requested a little later room service delivery but I knew if I could get up to the pool early enough, it being the last sea day, I might catch the towel animals take over of the pool deck chairs. So I raced to get there. It was worth it! Almost every chair was still adorned with a towel animal! Some little kids were picking favorites. I took a few pictures and went for breakfast. I also noticed that areas were decorated with Halloween decorations. Those big blow up kind you see on lawns, all kinds of those, and some smaller decorations too.

 

After a leisurely breakfast we went to the Friends (TV show) trivia and that was fun. No one was shouting out answers (until it was time) so that made it even better. One couple got them all! I did alright (I admit, I love the show). We enjoyed wandering around the ship some more and as we walked by the jewelry shop I heard my name being called out. It was Emma from England. Considering we’d only chatted once, early in the trip, I was impressed by her remembering me…we chatted a bit. We read on our balcony and enjoyed a “day at sea” – our last one for this trip.

 

We followed our afternoon routine at Cloud9 and after watching the sunset gave each other space in the cabin to pack (don’t we all just hate that part??) while the other enjoyed the balcony.

 

After putting our luggage out for debarkation in the morning we “dressed” for Halloween…nothing extravagant, we had handheld masquerade masks adorned with beautiful feathers, made glowstick bracelets and necklaces and dressed all in black. We had extra glowsticks and a few trinkets and shared them with others throughout the evening. We went to people watch and opted for a casual buffet/pizza/salad bar dinner and sat outside by the pool. After dinner we went down to the guest services area of the atrium and got wrapped up people/costume watching. We heard there was a costume contest in the main showroom so off we went. It’s really impressive the creativity some put into their costumes. Then we headed to the PG comedy show which did not disappoint…and I still am unable to recall the comic’s name, but it was the very funny one from earlier in the week. Chris was done and headed back to the cabin. I stayed for the adult show, but it wasn’t as good, not because of the comic but because passengers were hell bent on getting him drunk and heckling him. He tried his best. After my nighttime walk I went back to the cabin and we went to the “secret” deck on 11 forward to stargaze. This had been a great trip for us, with a lot of relaxing, a lot of really fun excursions and very little stress or worry. Just what we had been looking for! Alas, morning would come and we would be heading home. We turned in, but not before we got back up to stand out on our balcony one more time and stargaze.

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When we woke up we were pulling in to Galveston. It was drizzling – and it almost felt like we had just left!

 

A good breakfast and one more hanging out under the awnings at the pool and it was time to gather our stuff and give Made the cabin so he could get ready for the next passengers. We walked around first thanking every crew member we saw and gave out a few cash tips to those who we’d had special encounters with during the week (like Muhammad the lovely man who made my omelets “my way” each morning). We found Made too and each tucked some extra cash into envelopes for him with thank you notes and said our good byes. We went to deck 5 atrium and people watched. We had our masquerade masks and found 2 little girls we thought might like them, so asked their [parents if they were flying (wouldn’t you just hate it if someone gave you more crap to try and get on a plane with??!!) and when they said they were not, we asked if their girls would like the masks. They beamed and graciously accepted and both girls were delighted. We had a pirate’s hat too and asked their older brother if he might like it, but he was “too cool” and said no. The dad however said HE’D like it, so we gave it to him. He was a great sport and even put it on!

 

Before long it was our turn to disembark. We said good bye to “Reverend Dr. E.” (our cruise director) as we funneled out.

 

Getting off the ship wasn't delayed - we grabbed a porter to expedite the customs lines. No delays. THEN came the mess called transportation to IAH - what a sloppy port (compared to others we've been to). Traffic officers giving shuttle drivers a hard time (we used Galveston Express), trying to fit all passengers booked (and their luggage) into the van(s) - pretty chaotic. AND it was raining! Our flight was leaving IAH at 2:10, and while our shuttle was due to pick us up at 9:45 - 10:00 we didn't even leave the port until a bit after 11. With our extra time we didn't have to stress or worry. We arrived at IAH in time to grab a bite to eat and calmly make our way to the gate. A non-stop flight home, and a 7 minute cab home, and it was official…our vacation was over.

 

Final thoughts…overall it was great trip. Our excursions were fantastic, the ship was great, we had plenty to keep us occupied and as we find on every trip, we didn’t do everything we wanted to do/thought we’d do. We liked the trip so much that we’re researching a spring 2017 on the same ship, different ports of call. :)

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  • 1 month later...

Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Could I ask a few questions??

We are looking to book with our family, (ages 42,40,15,12)

What was the smoking like on board? We haven't traveled on Carnival in 18 years and wondered how much smoke there is?

Also, when you said you ate pizza and salad and what not, is that open all the time or just for certain hours?

Lastly, I'm sure I could search it out but could you tell me what the prepaid tips were? Also if there is a soda/mocktails type package if you knew that price I would be very grateful.

Thanks again for the review.

LOVED how you explained things, and the time you took to explain things like your spa ritual and excursions.

Safe Travels.

Chass

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  • 1 month later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for your review. I was searching the Magic reviews because I am cruising the Breeze with this itinerary and was interested in the excursions you took. I was a little worried about doing the caves but you made it sound like a great adventure.

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