An Expert Guide To 3 Princess Cruise Ports
There’s a wealth of information out there about cruise ports, but not all of it is particularly helpful, not all of it is current, and a good amount of it is ad copy meant to sell a product. I wanted to share some insight on three very different ports and three very different excursions I experienced during my seven-day cruise onboard Caribbean Princess. I’ve thrown in some helpful tips and things to know “next time” that would have been helpful to know before I traveled.
Cozumel—for an introvert—is exhausting. Princess docks at the south end of town with its Carnival Corp stablemates, and disembarking guests must run through a narrow gauntlet of duty-free shopping in order to reach the shore. Be sure to make extra time to meet your shore excursion because there’s no getting through that line quickly.
Once through, the area around the port is a rather uninspiring collection of tourist traps, and the process of being herded into vans with other excursion-goers puts to bed any ideas one might have had that either cruising or Cozumel were anything but a mass-market tourist stomp.
However, that’s where the difficulties end. I chose the Chocolate and Wine Tasting Seminar, which takes place in an oceanfront tasting room with floor-to-ceiling windows and robust air conditioning. Our hostess Lucy explained the importance of cacao beans and chocolate to the culture in Central America, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years.
She also explained the chemical makeup of the cacao bean, and what gets added to the ground beans to produce chocolate. She instructs attendees in the process of grinding the beans to release the oils and adding sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla for a typically Mexican preparation of dark chocolate, stamped in a hexagonal shape known as an abuelita or chocolate para mesa (table chocolate).
In addition to making abuelitas, guests are offered a taste of several different chocolates made in Cozumel, with flavorings such as chili pepper, coffee, and cactus, along with wines selected to enhance the flavors of the chocolate. There’s also a chicken enchilada with mole with a chilled chocolate beverage.
Pro tip: Give extra time for shore excursions.
Instagrammable moment: Grinding chocolate is by hand is a few-other-places activity that deserves a photo.
Roatan, which is an island off the coast of the Honduran mainland, was my favorite stop on this cruise. Tropical rain showers had punctuated parts of the overnight journey from Cozumel, and it was magical to wake up to a calm jade sea and a cavalcade of other cruise ships passing in and out of misty downpours off the rainforest blanketed mountains that dot the island’s coast.
Princess ships stop at a contained port at Mahogany Bay (rusting hulks from decades past bely the difficulty of docking without modern equipment) with the typical port-side duty free shopping. A unique feature of this port, however, is the beach front, which is connected to the pier by a ski-lift type aerial chair, which lifts occupants up and over the rainforest canopy.
After a morning of rainfall and no breeze, the air was oppressively heavy with humidity, and the artificial breeze created by the moving chair lift was welcome. The lift drops guests right on the beach where they can rent watersports equipment and floats, and enjoy respite from the curiously strong tropical sun underneath pre-reserved beach “clamshells,” where there’s waiter service from Fat Tuesday. Drinks and lunches are refreshingly cheap here compared with some other cruise ports in the Caribbean.
Compared with some of the awkward “shared space time” of taking shore excursions solo, I found the beach break package from Princess (the clamshell, chairlift ticket, and beach floats can be pre-reserved as an excursion while onboard the ship) by far the most relaxing part of the voyage; pre-planning a mid-cruise port to otherwise do nothing turned out to be a sage decision.
The chairlift might seem gimmicky to some, but sometimes the perfect antidote to the anxiety of travel (even on a cruise) is the luxury of enjoying a languid 15 minutes sitting down, in the sun, floating over a sea of tropical foliage with a sun-kissed visage and sand sprinkling from your toes onto the treetops.
Pro Tip: If you’re dying for a beachfront cabana, line up to be the first off the ship. If you can live without it, wait until the crowds have subsided.
Instagrammable moment: Pictures of the ship framed by tropical foliage taken from the aerial chairlift are brochure-perfect.
If Belize City were all I ever saw of Belize, I’d be terribly disappointed. It’s why most visitors to Belize spend their time at resorts on San Pedro, and cruise visitors are wise to book excursions into the interior of the country to see the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha, Lamanai, and Xunantunich.
The city itself is no jewel (as our tour guides freely mentioned, although they took great pride in pointing out sites of interest nonetheless) but once out onto the water in a fast speedboat to see manatees and hordes of wildlife up and down the river (bats, howler monkeys, iguanas) it was easy to appreciate the charm of the rainforest. It also rained, and me without a jacket or umbrella found myself quickly drenched, but it all had a sort of Romancing The Stone charm to it.
A stop at a riverside inn for a quick plate of chicken with Belizean rice and beans (made with coconut milk and infused with the smoke flavor of the wood fired hearth it was cooked on—delicious) provided refuge from the rain and a chance to eavesdrop on the tour guides speaking amongst themselves in the local Belizean Creole (the country’s official language is English, but many Belizeans are multilingual).
During the journey to the ruins, guides onboard the bus talk about Belizean culture, currency, government, school systems, and history. The ruins themselves are worth the trip, for they raise more questions about their origin than they answer.
Pro tip: Passport stamp collectors can have their passport stamped at the port after arriving on a tender from the ship. It’s a 15-minute ride, so if you forget your passport, it’s a long ride back to get it.
Instagrammable moment: Everything outside Belize City is photo worthy. I took a picture of the river during lunch to capture the undeveloped nature of the entire experience.
More by Scott Laird
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