February of 2009, Andy and I decided to try our hand at cruising since his dad and step-mother are big fans. Unsure of wherever we would enjoy sleeping in a tin can and being confined to a boat, we actually had a great time. The Independence of the Seas was one of the largest ships in existence when we went. Now they have the Oasis of the Seas, which is the largest of all the cruiselines, featuring two Flowriders and a zipline from bow to stern.
We drive from NY to Florida, where we went to the port of Fort Lauderdale. It was a long drive, and even more-so due to the fact we took the girls to their old kennel in Georgia. Andy, as always, was a source of non-stop entertainment for me as I drove.
We spent the night at the La Quinta. It was a decent hotel, as far as we could park my car there for the duration of the cruise … but it was in need of some upgrades. The next morning, we took the complimentary shuttle from the hotel to the port. We left pretty early because we did not know what to expect when arrived, and I am glad we did, because it looked like Noah loading the Ark! All we needed were some zebra's going two-by-two and it would have been a party. There were palates of food and supplies, booze, suitcases and people everywhere. We waited in a big line in a warehouse-type building to check in, and then were ushered up a ramp on to the ship. Once we stepped onboard, however, it was kind of amazing.
Inside the ship
When you get on board, you go to your room to check it out but they have already taken your luggage, so you are free to roam. They sail out of port and everyone cheers. But then they make you report to the lifeboat drill, or as I like to call it, excuse to take a compassionating picture of Andy.
The ship was very nice and our cabin was small, but we were not in it other than to sleep. The bed was comfortable and we had a porthole window. I debated on whether to get a balcony, but those Dateline Murder mysteries keep popping into my head, so I determined alcohol and a balcony might not mix. If we ever take the boys on a cruise, which we actually wished we had, we would have to get a family suite or two adjoining rooms because the 3rd and 4th beds fold down out of the ceiling like bunkeds, and there is no way I could sleep with the kids hovering above us.
Food: I read about a thousand reviews about cruise ships before we went on this one and I chose Royal Caribbean because they had good reviews on the food and things to do to amuse yourself while onboard. They were really laid back about what you wore. Honestly, I saw quite a range every day, even the so-called "formal" nights. We only ate twice at the buffet, but we ate at the dining room every night and we had room service for breakfast every day. You could order what you want from your tv the night before and tell them what time you want it to arrive, all at no extra cost. There was a Johnny Rockets that we paid an upcharge to eat, which was weird for a burger joint but they put a fried egg on my burger and all was forgiven. They had a nice little pizza shop where we grabbed our late-night snacks before heading back to collapse in bed.
Entertainment: Okay … I am lacking in this dept. I did not see the ice-skating show. But we did see the comedy act, which was the Cruise Director. He was funny, but do not take your kids to that! The "F-BOMB" was dropped many a time. We spent every evening in the casino, and Andy went on the Flowrider, which is a surfing machine. I might have tried it if there was not stadium seating at the bottom. We also went miniature golfing, which is not easy when the new challenging of trying to hit the ball is foiled by the wind coming off the ocean.
Our first excursion was to Belize City, Belize. The port area where you first come in to town is quaint and pretty, but it soon becomes that appearance that it is an illusion created for cruiseships. We stopped at a little bar on the pier and sampled the local beer, Belikan. (It's pretty good.)
Then we were off to catch our jungle ziplining tour. We raised a bus and drve for about an hour, where we were presented with a local lunch. They said it was chicken and beef kababs, but I was skeptical. Nonetheless, I was hungry so I ate it .;) Then we made our way into the jungle and began to suit up. I wish I would have know we would have to hike up a cliffside … it was humid and tiring. But we finally got to the top and after scanning the line for any breaks, when it was my turn I just sat and flew! I found it was better to just not think about how I could plummet to the ground and fall to my death.
It was a great experience, but I do not know that I would go back to Belize again. I was told the reef off the coast is second for snorkeling only to the Grand Reef off Australia. But I have no interest in snorkeling since I am a tad claustrophobic and I can not float on my stomach.
Stop number two was Costa Maya, Mexico. This is the view from the cruiseship tenders as we came in to port. Costa Maya had been hit by hurricanes, so everything was brand new. It became apparent that this little village depended on the cruise ships to support their way of life. Andy and I spent a relaxing day under a palapa, and the restaurants served fresh ceviche, pico de gallo and of course, Dos Equis. You can not go to Mexico without enjoying a margarita, so I stopped to get one by the pier. They had a busy, but inviting salt-water pool, complete with swimup pool bar.
Finally, stop number three was Cozumel, Mexico. This is the home of Spring Break. Thankfully, we were there before the throngs of college girls gone wild, so it was not too busy. This is another place I would probably not visit again, as the island is small and limited in activities other than drinking on the beach. Which was what we did.
All in all, the cruise was a great experience. There were plenty of activities for children, but it catered towards every age group. Our fellow cruises included seniors, honeymooning couples and extended families. We felt like we did not have to sacrifice quality for amenities, and we were not bothered by party frat boys. I would be hard-pressed to go on another cruiseline after this wonderful trip!