Excursions

Excursion Focus: Old Havana City Sightseeing

In:
Category: 
12Jul2018

Many people visiting Cuba on a Royal Caribbean cruise are very likely visiting Havana for the first time, and for those that want to see the highlights of the Old City of Cuba's capital, Royal Caribbean's Old Havana City Sightseeing tour offers just that.

We were also one of those first timers in Cuba on a recent Majesty of the Seas cruise, and picked this tour as a way to cross off some of the most famous landmarks in Havana.  It is impossible to see all of Havana in just one day, but this tour aimed to take us to the more popular spots.

Description

The Old Havana City Sightseeing tour is listed as a 4 hour bus tour that drives through much of Havana and offers stops at four places along the way.

This tour is offered directly by Royal Caribbean, and we booked the tour prior to the cruise.  The list price for this excursion is $99 per adult and $79 per child.

In the case of this tour, guests are instructed to meet onboard the cruise ship in the ship's theater. 

Royal Caribbean splits up guests among different buses, with each bus on its own schedule and with its own tour guide.  When it is time for your tour group to depart, Royal Caribbean escorts guests off the ship, through Cuban Customs and onto a waiting bus.   

This may sound simple, but it does take quite a while.  Going through Cuban Customs, security and money exchange goes at a snails pace in a very un-air conditioned building.  I estimate it took us 90 minutes to go from when we arrived at the theater to actually boarding a bus.

Once on the bus, your tour leader will introduce themselves and welcome you aboard.  By far the best part of the tour is the fact you will go all around Havana in an air conditioned coach bus.  I cannot understate the value of having an air conditioned base of operations to fall back on.  Havana is quite a hot and humid place to visit, and unlike so many other spots in the Caribbean, air conditioning is quite rare in Cuba.

While on our tour, we had the same bus, bus driver and tour leader for the entire duration of the excursion. This meant we could leave anything we wanted onboard the bus and it would be waiting for us when we got back.

The Old Havana City Sightseeing tour makes four stops as it navigates the streets of Havana.  These stops include:

  • Morro Castle
  • Plaza de Revolucion
  • Cristo de la Habana statue
  • Colon Cemetery

The exact order you visit may vary, as our tour guide optimized the tour to visit spots with little to no shade earlier in the day and save the spots with shade for later in the day.

A great deal of other sights will be visible from the bus as you drive through Havana and your tour guide will narrate the entire trip. Many blog readers asked us after the tour if there were any restrictions on what we could see or photograph and there really were none.  Our tour guide was more than happy to answer any and all questions we had and helped shed some light onto the Cuban way of life.

Our first stop was the Colon Cemetery, which is where a great deal of Cuba's most famous filmmakers, politicians and baseball players are buried. The bus dropped us off towards the entrance, and then a special guide escorted us through the cemetery and pointed out some of the more famous mausoleums.

The cemetery is massive, and there is not enough time to even see half of it, but it was incredible to see the detail in some of the burial spots.  

Our next stop was Revolutionary Square, where some of Cuba's most famous speeches were given.  Odds are if you watch an old news reel of some of Cuba's early days following the Communist Revolution, you will see someone speaking from this area.  It is basically a very large parking lot, with some government buildings surrounding it. 

There is also a fleet of classic American cars (or at least the exterior of classic American cars) that double as taxi drivers show off in the area. 

After a quick introduction to the history of this area, we were given some time to walk around on our own and check it out.  Most people tended to flock towards the classic cars to see them up close and take photos with them. There is no cost to any of this (unless you opt for a ride), although if you get into the car, a tip is customary.

Our next stop goes to check out Cuban sculptor Jilma Madera’s Cristo de la Habana statue, which keeps watch over the bay from a hilltop. 

The Christ of Havana statue is a large sculpture representing Jesus of Nazareth that was commissioned in 1953. The statue was carved out of white Carrara marble, the same material used for many of the monuments of the Colon Cemetery.  The statue is about 20 metres (66 ft) high including a 3-metre (10 ft) base.

The park where the statue is located provides a great view of Havana, your cruise ship and the harbor.

The final stop took us to Morro Castle, a stately fortress at the mouth of Havana harbor.  

Not only is the castle a fine example of Spanish colonial defenses, but there is also a bit of shopping you can do inside and outside the fort.  

The tour does not actually include admission to the fort, but you do get to go inside a small part of it that leads up to the entrance.  You are free to walk the grounds of Morro outside and explore without any cost.

When you get off the bus, there are a number of shops set up outside the fort you can browse.  In addition, you will be taken into a rum and cigar shop inside the fort that is optional to visit.

Most of the stops are 15-30 minutes in length.  The stop at Morro took about one hour and the Colon Cemetery was closer to 30 minutes.

At the conclusion of the tour, the bus returns to the port area, although you are free to tour on your own after that.

Comments

Going to any port of call for the first time means you likely have your own list of landmarks you would like to see, and Havana certainly has plenty of good candidates.  The Old Havana City Sightseeing does a good job at providing an introduction to Havana and overview of some of the more notable spots.

Of course, this is a group bus tour, which means the pace of the tour is largely dictated by the tour leader (and whomever shows up last to board the bus) and it does not leave a lot of room for personal exploration.  That is not necessarily a bad thing either, but do not expect a hands-on walking tour of the city.

The best part of this excursion is the air conditioned bus.  Having a bus to go back to between stops and relax, recuperate from the heat and humidity, and rest makes for tackling a city as large as Havana much easier.  Everyone's patience is higher when air conditioning is involved and after taking this tour in July, I do believe it helped make the overall experience better.

Our tour guide was also very knowledgeable about Cuba's history and current role today.  He encouraged us to ask questions and always took the time to explain concepts and programs that are not something you may find elsewhere in North America.  

Between the places we stopped to see and the many other places we saw from the bus, I felt the Old Havana City Sightseeing excursion provided a great starting point for my first visit to Cuba.  I may have preferred slightly more time on my own to explore, but the tour was perfect for anyone who has never been to Havana previously. 

Cost: $99 per adult, $72 per child.

Excursion Focus: Yukon Hummer Adventure in Skagway, Alaska

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Category: 
09Jul2018

Exploring the vast wilderness of Alaska can take you to so many places along the way, and Royal Caribbean offers one way to do in some serious style.

On a recent stop in Skagway, Alaska on a Royal Caribbean cruise, we tried out the Yukon Hummer Adventure so that we could not only see large swaths of Alaska and the Yukon Territory, but do it in a really fun way.

Description

The Yukon Hummer Adventure is a 4 hour tour that takes you from Skagway deep into the heart of the Yukon Territory in Canada.   Your group gets to drive a 4-wheel-drive Hummer H3 as part of a caravan that will see a lot of the countryside.

We booked our excursion directly with Royal Caribbean and took an early time to ensure we had time after the tour to explore Skagway upon return.  The tour cost us $152 per adult and $104 for our 7-year-old daughter.  We are pretty sure nearly all of that cost pays for the gas for the H3. 

A representative from the tour company will meet you at the end of the pier and provide van transportation to the tour departure point.  Here, you hop into a H3 (4 people per vehicle), do a quick radio check and set out on the road.

The Hummers provided had some mileage on them (149k miles on the one we drove) but were in good working order.  The cars were comfortable and have an automatic transmission.  There is also climate control and a sun roof.  

All guests planning to drive must be at least 25 years old, bring a valid driver's license and name of insurance company, and must sign a liability/insurance waiver.  

Each car has a two-way radio that you can use to communicate during the drive.  The tour leader drives first, which everyone in the group following.  The tour leader regularly comes on the radio to share driving strategies, point out animals, and provide history of the region, the gold rush, and what life is like there today.

During the tour, you will reach White Pass Summit and pass through subalpine terrain, en route to the narrow Caribou crossing at the headwaters of the Yukon River and see Emerald Lake.

We made a few stops along the way, which include

  • The Yukon Territory welcome sign
  • Emerald Lake
  • Village of Carcross, Yukon Territory
  • The Alaska welcome sign (on the return trip)

The exact route you go on will depend on road and weather conditions.  We also stopped to see a bear that was alongside the road.  We would have made more stops for wildlife, such as moose or porcupine, but we never saw any.

Since this excursion crosses the U.S.-Canadian border, guests must carry their passport, and if applicable, their visa.

Comments

We booked the Yukon Hummer Adventure because it allowed us to cross off two bucket list items: see lots of the countryside in and around Alaska, and drive a Hummer.  We certainly accomplished both.

Much of the tour is conducted as you drive, and there is a lot of places along the way that you will see, but will not have time to stop at and explore.  In order to reach Carcross and Emerald Lake, much of the tour time is required in getting back and forth.

When you do stop, there are often beautiful vistas to enjoy and the kind of scenery you might imagine Alaska and the Yukon are known for historically.  I certainly would have liked to have made a few more stops on the way at other spots, but I did feel we saw a lot more of the Yukon than anyone else on similar tours.  Seeing the mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes, even at 55 miles per hour, is better than not seeing them at all.

Our tour guide briefed us early on the tour about what to do when we see a bear, and I was very happy we did find one along the way but that was the extent of the wildlife on the tour that we spotted.  Obviously which animals you see or do not see is left to chance, but it is worth noting that our driver was willing to stop for other animals if they were spotted.

Driving the Hummer was very easy, and as someone who does not know how to drive a manual transmission, it was simple enough to operate the Hummer.  If you can drive a pick up truck or mini van, you can drive a H3. 

The best part of the tour is we covered so much ground and came across so many beautiful views along the way.  Being able to drive the H3 was also really fun, and I do believe half the appeal of this tour is you have to be excited to drive a Hummer in the first place. 

The two major stops along the way are Emerald Lake and Carcross.  Emerald Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake that is known for its intense green color.  It looks like it belongs in the Caribbean, and not in the sub arctic.

Carcross is a small village just before Emerald Lake and you will have your longest stop.  There was just enough time to use the restroom and grab coffee and a snack.  I would have loved to have had an additional half hour to explore the town a bit more.

More time is really at the heart of my only complaint about the tour.  You spend a vast majority of the time doing exactly what the tour promises: driving a Hummer.  While neat and a great way to inflate your manly ego, I can think of 3-4 places I really would have liked to visit along the way.  It should be noted you can book a private tour with the tour operator and basically go wherever you want, as an alternative for those that also like the idea of exploring on foot and driving an awesome car along the way.

Our tour guide, Ben, was very helpful and conveyed the story of the gold rush and life in Skagway and the Yukon today.  Ben was insightful, knowledgeable and happy to help take photos at any stop.  

Overall, we had a great time seeing a lot of Alaska and Canada on this tour.  If the idea of driving a Hummer and exploring the Yukon sounds like a great combination, then this is the tour for you.

Cost: $152 per adult, $104 per child. Children must be at least 5 years old. Booster seats are available.

Excursion Focus: Maya Chan Beach in Costa Maya

In:
23Apr2018

If there is a downside to having a really, really good time on any shore excursion it is that you begin to wonder if subsequent times going on that same excursion will match the first time.

Maya Chan Beach in Costa Maya, Mexico has been the high water mark for any all-inclusive excursion I have tried, ever since we went there back in 2010.  Having an opportunity to return eight years later, I was excited to try it again, but I was concerned perhaps the second visit would not match up to my first time.

While on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas, we booked a visit to see if it could match up in a way similar to the hit Foreigner song.

Description

Maya Chan Beach is an all-inclusive spot that offers all the drinks and food you like right on a prime spot in Mahahual, Mexico.

This excursion is booked directly via the Maya Chan website.  The process is fairly smooth, with some emails traded back and forth before completing the booking.

Maya Chan Beach is not near the port area of Costa Maya, so you will need to take a taxi to get there. The folks at Maya Chan Beach arrange transportation back and forth.  Upon exiting the port area, you take a short walk down the street and meet up with the Maya Chan Beach representative, where they immediately hail a taxi for you.

On our visit, the Maya Chan Beach representative informed us that the entire area (including Maya Chan Beach) has been inundated with seaweed.  They showed us photos of the beach area, and told us they had a team of guys working to clean the beach. They offered to give us a full refund if we decided the seaweed was too much of a problem.  Since the problem was not just limited to Maya Chan, we decided to go forth with the excursion. I appreciated their honesty and offer for a refund, as the flow of seaweed is hardly something they can control.

The taxi ride to Maya Chan Beach takes around 20-30 minutes, and passes through much of Mahahual. Most of the ride is over dirt road, which was recently smoothed over for a much improved ride.  The road used to be riddled with holes, but this time around it was quite smooth (minus the incredible amount of speed bumps locals have installed).

Upon arrival to Maya Chan Beach, the representative meets you at the entrance and gives you a quick run down of how things work, along with a welcome drink.  

Each family/group is assigned a palapa area, that has enough seating, hammock and sun bed to enjoy.  There are palapa areas of various sizes to accommodate different sized groups.

By far the best part of Maya Chan Beach is the level of service you receive.  Their team is comprised of a staff that speak perfect English and are constantly roaming the grounds to assist in getting anything.  The quality service was exactly as good as on our first visit, and it meant we never waited long for anything and always had drinks and food.

In terms of food and drink, you are greeted with a serving of chips, freshly made salsa and guacamole.  Refills are available at any time. 

Their cooking staff creates a lunch each day from scratch, that is a buffet of create your own tacos to enjoy.  Truly great food all around.

There is a full bar of drinks you can enjoy throughout the day.  You can opt to get it yourself from the bar, or have one of the servers bring it to you.  

In fact, the staff set up a pseudo-floating bar off the beach to enjoy.  I loved the creativity.

Besides eating and drinking, a day spent at Maya Chan is about enjoying the beach.  While Maya Chan does not have a pool, it does have a large amount of beach access for its guests.

As I mentioned, the inundation of seaweed made getting out past the first 10 feet a little icky, but they did provide water shoes you could borrow.  

Your day pass includes access to:

  • Free WiFi
  • Kayaks
  • Snorkel equipment
  • "Cleanest bathrooms in town"
  • Lockers
  • Showers

Maya Chan also built an observation tower, which you can climb up to and enjoy a perfect view of the beach and surrounding area.

Maya Chan is also home to a couple of dogs and a cat.  The pets are well behaved, and if you like dogs or cats, they roam around and are happy to come say hello in exchange for a good scratch behind the ears.

Comments

These days, there are a lot of all inclusive day pass options at pretty much any Caribbean island you visit.  What seperates Maya Chan from the rest is the level of service and quality overall experience they offer.

Maya Chan bills itself on its service, and I think that has to do with the fact the beach is owned and operated by a few American ex-pats, who understand really well what tourists are looking for in a beach day. The attention to detail the staff provides is exquisite, and why we came back.

Despite eight years between visits, I think Maya Chan absolutely lived up to my expectations from my first visit.  Our family had a great time enjoying a relaxing beach day.  When we arrived to our palapa, there was a bucket of beach toys waiting for my kids to use.

The one issue we encountered was the seaweed, which Maya Chan has no control over.  They did have at least four guys working from morning to afternoon to clear the stuff off the beach, and by lunch there was a path to the water.  Moreover, I really appreciated the fact they offered us a warning and refund prior to going to the beach.  That kind of honesty goes a long way.

There are no guarantees with anything, but if you are headed to Costa Maya and want the kind of beach day that is very, very, very unlikely to disappoint, booking Maya Chan Beach is a great idea.

Cost: Adults: $59, Kids 0-3 $19, Kids 4-7 $39, Kids 8-17 $49.

Reservations can be made at the Maya Chan website.

Excursion Focus: Fury Catamaran in Cozumel, Mexico

In:
17Apr2018

Over the years I’ve visited Cozumel at least a dozen times and always find myself doing the same thing. On my most recent cruise to Cozumel, Mexico I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new. So off to the cruise planner I went and I came across an excursion called, Fury Catamaran snorkel and beach break.

The price in the Royal Caribbean cruise planner is listed at $78 for adults and $59 for children. I happen to book during a weekend cruise planner sale and it was listed as 25% off.


 

I should mention you can book directly through their website and it’s the exactly the same excursion. In fact, I think half my boat booked through Royal and others through Fury directly. So I would check both options and see what’s the better price.

The meeting time for our excursion was 8:30AM, so we were up early to meet on the dock. In Cozumel, you have that pier you walk down to enter the shopping area, our catamaran was docked right before that. I would say no more than 100 yards from walking off the ship, so that was really convenient.

We didn’t end up leaving until 9:15AM because we were still waiting on some guest. They do handout soft drinks and water while you are waiting.

Our day was split into three different activities, which I really enjoyed. The first part was snorkeling for an hour, a beach break for an hour and a half, and ending with an hour ride back to the ship.

Stop one was snorkeling; we were only 5 minutes from the pier so it was a quick ride over. During the short ride they explain our day, what to expect, and all the safety tips. They provide you with snorkeling equipment when you board. We were here for an hour and it was actually a perfect amount of time. Beautiful coral and fish all over, I really enjoyed this snorkeling.




 

Our second stop was the beach break; they have a private beach, which is about 20 minutes away. During our cruise over they started serving rum punch, beers, or soft drinks, which are all included.

The beach was nice and everything on the beach was also included. They had beach chairs, aqua park, kayak’s, paddle boards, beach beds, and of course an open bar.



 

The bar served the same thing as the catamaran so rum punch or beer. If you are hungry they also serve hamburgers for $10 and that was the only upcharge option for the day.

The final part to our excursion was the one-hour ride back. During the ride back they keep bringing you drinks and asking if you need anything. I laughed that they don’t let you go 5 minutes without checking in on you, really outstanding service the whole day.


 

They also have some fun line-dancing going on during the ride back, but you can also just sit and enjoy the views.

The excursion lasted 4 hours and I found that to be a perfect amount of time. And since we started early in the morning we had the whole afternoon open in Cozumel. This excursion would be perfect for someone who doesn’t like to sit and do the same thing all day or just looking for something totally different.


 

I was so happy I tried the Fury Catamaran and I plan to return again soon! Feel free to leave any questions below or if you have tried Fury and what you thought.

Excursion Focus: Iberostar Cozumel all-inclusive day pass at Cozumel, Mexico

In:
04Apr2018

If you are looking for a relaxing day in Cozumel, Mexico that offers fun in the water and much (if not all) included in your price, there are plenty of resorts to consider.

If you were to ask me, the gold standard for all-inclusive day pass spots in Cozumel has been Nachi Cocom, but on a recent Royal Caribbean cruise stop in Cozumel, our family tried to make a last-minute reservation and Nachi was sold out.  After spending some time researching our options, we decided to give Iberostar Cozumel a try.

Description

Iberostar Cozumel is a five star family friendly all-inclusive resort, located on the western side of Cozumel in the same area many resorts (like Nachi) are found. A taxi ride will take about 10-15 minutes to reach Iberostar Cozumel.

Iberostar is a family of all-inclusive resorts that you can find around the world.  In fact, most of the guests you are likely to encounter at Iberostar Cozumel are resort guests, rather than cruise ship guests. 

The resort itself is a large, sprawling retreat.  The lobby area is located in an enormous open air atrium, where you receive wristbands to identify yourself to staff around the resort.  Despite the fact you are a day guest at a hotel resort, admission to Iberostar Cozumel gets you access to essentially everything and anything a resort guest would get, minus a hotel room.

The grounds at Iberostar are immaculate and sprawling.  Not only is there a beautiful collection of flora to see anywhere you walk, you will also find flamingos, peacocks, and other beautiful animals along the way.

Your day pass includes:

  • Access to Iberostar from 8am to 6pm.
  • Unlimited meals & snacks at your choice of open establishments. This includes breakfast and lunch.
  • Unlimited drinks (alcohol & non alcohol)
  • Full access to beach
  • "Lake style" pool and separate kiddies pool
  • Lounge chairs and towels
  • Kids Club with supervised activities for ages 4-12
  • 3 Lit Tennis Courts plus 1 multi-purpose court for basketball or volleyball
  • Activities program by the pool and beach.
  • Use of snorkeling equipment ($2 USD fee for Marine Park not included)
  • Kayaking and catamarans
  • Fitness Center
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi

If that sounds like a lot, that is a lot to be included with a day pass. While I think most cruise passengers are primarily interested in beach or pool time, coupled with drinks and meals, there are lots of activities you can take advantage of as well. 

Iberostar describes its pool as "lake style" and it is indeed massive.  It is essentially three main pools, along with a rather large kiddie (shallow) pool that all intertwine.  The result is one of the loveliest resort pools I may have ever been to at any resort in the Caribbean.  

There is a swim-up bar in the middle, lounge chairs in the shallow end of the pool, basketball hoops, and plenty of room to relax. In short, it is an impressive pool.

Naturally, Iberostar offers a large white sand beach area.  The pool is close enough to the beach that you can fairly easily walk between the two areas.

Admission to Iberostar Cozumel gets you unlimited food and drink during your stay.  There are a few restaurants around the resort that you may visit and enjoy.  Something that distinguishes Iberostar is the fact breakfast is served along with lunch later in the day. The food is served at any of the buffet-style restaurants, with one large restaurant and a grill located within steps of the pool and beach.

Much of the food offered is American fare, with a few Mexican dishes thrown in.  The menu at Iberostar rotates on a daily basis, with the idea that resort guests will be there for a week or so, and thus, get different choices each day to mix things up. As a result, the exact menu you get may differ depending on the day.

Unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are available as part of admission.  There are roaming waiters around the pool and beach area, along with the aforementioned swim-up bar, and some bars around the resort you can visit.

Comments

For a family looking to enjoy a relaxing day at a beautiful resort, Iberostar Cozumel fits the bill nearly perfectly.  It is an impressive resort that rivals many all inclusive experiences we have had in the region.

In general, we enjoyed our time at Iberostar and had a fun day splashing, eating, and drinking. I was truly impressed by the resort grounds and what they offered.  In fact, I found the assortment of activities very impressive.  Yoga, aquatic aerobics, archery, tennis, skeet shooting, snorkeling, etc.  Where most day pass resorts are limited to a beach, pool and snorkeling equipment, Iberostar shines with its rich array of things to do.

I had two gripes about my visit to Iberostar that prevent it from being my top choice for a day pass option in Cozumel. 

We arrived right around 9am or so, and already 65-75% of the pool chairs had been reserved.  There were not people actually there, but the "chair hog" situation was worse than anything I have seen on a Royal Caribbean ship.

Second, the lunch offered was fine, but lacked Mexican cuisine that I think many (including myself) look to enjoy while in Cozumel.  The lunch offered consisted mostly of American food, with a taco making station that was sufficient.  There were no quesadillas, guacamole, chips, or salsa to enjoy during our visit.  The flip side to this issue is my children had no problem chomping down on burgers and hot dogs all day long.

The level of service in terms of getting drinks while lounging was more than acceptable.  Roaming waiters took drink orders and once the initial surge of drink orders subsided, it was quite easy to get refills.  Of course, the assortment of bars around the resort means getting one on your own is easy enough.

Inevitably, I have to compare Iberostar Cozumel to Nachi Cocom resort, because Nachi has been my go-to recommendation for a while.  Iberostar's grounds and range of activities exceed what Nachi offers.  The quality and variety of food is better at Nachi, and Nachi's personalized waiter approach is still a preferred method in my opinion.

In terms of cost, Iberostar Cozumel cost us just about the same as most other all-inclusive day pass resorts in Cozumel. We paid $72 per adult and $36 for kids 3-12.

Overall, Iberostar Cozumel is a beautiful resort that is a good choice for groups that are looking for a phenomenal pool day, and/or lots to do around the resort, in addition to all the food and drink they care to enjoy. The reserving of chairs and food selection may or may not be an issue during your visit.  Our family certainly had a fun day at Iberostar and would love to return again just for that pool.

Royal Caribbean now offers shore excursions to Elizabeth, New Jersey

In:
15Dec2017

Guests sailing on a Royal Caribbean cruise out of Cape LIberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, will have the option to take shore excursions to one of New Jersey’s oldest and most historic cities, Elizabeth.

A new partnership between Royal Caribbean and EMI Global offers passengers the option to book a post-cruise excursion in and around Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is known for its historical precedence of being the starting point for New Jersey (est. 1664) and home of America’s founding fathers, like Alexander Hamilton, Elias Boudinot , Marquis de Lafayette and many others. Additionally, Elizabeth is noted for its rich ethnic diversity, representing more than 50 countries and 37 language groups, authentic cultural cuisine, and as being the 5th best City for Shopping in America due, in part, to being the location of New Jersey’s largest outlet and value retail center, The Mills at Jersey Gardens, a Simon Center.

Guests can get more information about these shore excursions at www.GoElizabethNJ.com/RCCLExcursions.

Excursion Focus: Nachi Cocom Beach Break review in Cozumel, Mexico

In:
29Nov2017

For years, I have read so many glowing reviews of Nachi Cocom Beach Club in Cozumel, Mexico that I just had to try it out for myself to see what all the clamor was all about.

Nachi Cocom is an all-inclusive resort that offers guests a day pass experience, where they can enjoy unlimited refreshments, food, and access to pristine water on the beach and pool.  It also distinguishes itself by advertising it limits the amount of guests that may visit on any given day to ensure no crowds.

While in Cozumel on a recent Independence of the Seas cruise, I decided to bring the family and experience Nachi for myself.

Description

Nachi Cocom is an all-inclusive beach resort minutes away by taxi to where Royal Caribbean docks its ships.  It is a private beach that is roughly 1980 square feet in size, that features a number of amenities including:

  • Outdoor Jacuzzi
  • Outdoor swimming pool
  • 1 swim up bar
  • 1 beach bar
  • Restrooms
  • Fresh water Showers (outdoor)
  • Hammocks
  • Palapas "Natural umbrellas" (first come, first serve).
  • English speaking staff
  • On site accessible self- parking
  • Private Dock
  • Lounge chairs
  • Free Wireless internet Service

Getting to Nachi means likely taking a taxi.  On our trip, it cost $17 each way for the taxi (total, not per person) from where our Royal Caribbean ship docks.  The drive is maybe 10-15 minutes, and is in an area of Cozumel that is does not have much except for beaches and natural vegetation.  There is a parking lot that you can park at, if you choose to rent your own car.

Upon arrival, you are greeted by a staff member who will welcome you and take your group photo (which will later be offered to sell to you).  Afterwards, you check-in at the kiosk to confirm your reservation.

Reservations are strongly encouraged, and can be made via the website.  Reservations require a small deposit to secure your spot, with the remainder of the cost paid at check-in.  They take cash or credit cards (Visa or Master Card). Be sure to bring a print out of your confirmation.

At the time of this review, the cost of admission was as follows:

  • Adult (16 years old and over): $55 per person
  • Child 12-15 years old: $39 per person
  • Child 04-11 years old: $19 per person
  • Infant 3 and under: $0

After you are checked-in, you will be assigned a waiter who will allow you to pick a spot on the beach.  The spots, which are palapas that have lounge chairs underneath, are first-come, first served.

Once you pick a spot, you are free to explore the grounds.  There is a large beachfront access, along with private pool and hot tub.  Towards the back of Nachi are some hammocks.

Your waiter is your go-to representative while at Nachi.  He will take your drink and food orders, and deliver them right to your palapa.  You do have the option of going to the swim up bar at the pool, or the beach pool if you prefer.  There are seats at both bars to enjoy drinks.

Nachi does not offer activities, but they do partner with a third-party company that offers beach massages, water sport rentals, parasailing and more.  The representatives for this company can be found roaming the beach, if you so choose.

Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are included with the price of admission, and you can order as much of each as you like.  On our visit, the kitchen did not open until 10:30am, but once it opened, we could order as much as we liked throughout the day.  Likewise, the drink service is available as soon as Nachi opens, and offers beer, cocktails, shots, and pretty much anything else you would expect to find at a bar.

Comments

On an island that offers so many beach experiences, Nachi Cocom has built a reputation on offering great service, and low crowds.  After my visit, I can see why Nachi stands out among the choices.

We tried Nachi Cocom based on reputation, and for a relaxing day for kids and adults.  At its heart, Nachi is all about relaxing and lounging on the beach, by the pool, or both.  Nachi intentionally does not offer tons of activities, because it wants a low-key experience for its guests.  For some, that may be a problem but we enjoyed taking it easy.  For us (and especially the kids), it was about enjoying time in the water.

The food was pretty good, and certainly indicative of the kind of freshly made Mexican cuisine that we have always enjoyed.  While it may not be the best local food in Cozumel, it does offer some good choices across a good-sized menu.  If you are looking for truly authentic Mexican cuisine, you may not find it here, but the food at Nachi is still better than some overly touristy spots downtown.

Overall, Nachi Cocom is the kind of place families and friends can go for a relaxing day by the beach, with plenty of food and drink to go around. The admission price for Nachi is quite reasonable, especially for those that plan to drink a lot.  We found the cost for our young children to be extremely good.  The level of service and terrific atmosphere at Nachi make it clear why so many people have been a fan of Nachi Cocom for so long.

Top free Caribbean beaches for a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
Category: 
26Oct2017

There are lots of great activities to enjoy while visiting the ports of call on a cruise to the Eastern or Western Caribbean, including spending the day at the beach.

A day at the beach can come in many different ways, and prices, but nearly every Caribbean port has at least a few beaches open to the public and we took some time to list some of the more popular ones.  In many cases, there are more beaches without an admission fee, so consider this list a jumping off point.

We should also define the word, "free" before the comments section of this blog post erupts with corrections.  We are defining a "free beach" as any beach in which it costs you nothing to sit down on the sand and enjoy the surf and sand.  There are some inherit costs associated with a day at the beach that are simply part of anywhere you go, such as transportation to/from the cruise terminal, food and drinks, chair/umbrella rental, etc.   

It is also worth noting in many ports, all beaches are technically open to the public, but facilities and other amenities offered may not available to you. 

Nassau, Bahamas

Junkanoo Beach

Cabbage Beach

Cozumel

Playa Palancar

Playa Azul

Costa Maya

Mahahual

Grand Cayman

Public Beach

Falmouth

Burwood Beach

St. Thomas

All the beaches in the Virgin Islands, including St. Thomas, are public.

Lindquist Beach

Emerald Beach

St. Maarten

Maho Beach

Orient Beach

San Juan, Puerto Rico

All beaches on Puerto Rico, even those situated near luxury hotels, are open to the public.

Public bathing beaches, with lifeguards and facilities, are called balnearios and charge for parking and for use of lockers and showers. Admission to the beach is free.

El Escambrón public beach

Isla Verde public beach

Roatan

All beaches on Roatan are supposed to be open to the public, but we have heard of some resorts in West Bay circumventing this.  The West End beaches, however, tend to be open and not charge entry fees to go to the beach.

Camp Bay public beach

Did we miss a great public beach? Tell us about it in the comments!

Guide to visiting St. John on a Royal Caribbean cruise

In:
17Jul2017

Many Royal Caribbean cruises make a stop in St. Thomas while on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary, but the nearby island of St. John is an enticing and exotic destination cruisers should consider in their shore excursion plans.

St. John is just a few miles away by ferry from St. Thomas, making it an easy commute between the two islands.  Regular ferry service means getting back and forth is a mere formality and that means the pristine beaches of St. John are easily accessible.

On a recent Royal Caribbean cruise, we decided to try a visit to St. John and the good news is it is a great option to consider, especially for those that may feel St. Thomas is a "been there, done that" situation.

St. John Overview

St. John is the smallest and least populated island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  It tends to be a refuge for cruise visitors and local residents alike, who seek a place to "get away from it all."

The Virgin Islands National Park takes up roughly two thirds of the island, which means visiting St. John is really about taking time to enjoy a beach, nature hike or combination of the two.  The beaches of St. John offer plenty of sun and surf, along with the typical beach activities like snorkeling, kayaking and paddle boarding.

There is a small town where visitors arrive via ferry, Cruz Bay.  This town has some basic offerings, such as restaurants, bars and some shopping.  However, unlike St. Thomas or St. Croix, the offerings in Cruz Bay are limited.  Essentially, people come to St. John for the natural beauty.

Getting to St. John

There are two primary means of getting from your Royal Caribbean cruise ship to St. John.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and which option you pick depends on your personal preference.

Royal Caribbean excursion

Royal Caribbean offers a few excursions to St. John that will depart from near the cruise ship and take you directly to St. John.  There are tours that will provide round-trip ferry transportation, as well as some sort of an organized tour while in St. John.  In addition, there is also a "on your own" St. John excursion that brings you just to the island and lets you go on your own.

The primary consideration with the Royal Caribbean excursions to St. John is the fact you will take a longer ferry ride.  The ferry from Crown Bay is roughly 40 minutes in length, which is about double that of the other ferry.  

Of course, booking with Royal Caribbean has an added bonus of the guarantee of return, where you know you will absolutely get back to the ship, no matter what.  For many, that peace of mind is important.

On your own

Many residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands regularly go back and forth between St. John and St. Thomas, which means there is regular ferry service offered for a small fee.

There are two primary points of taking a ferry to St. John: Crown Bay and Red Hook.

The Crown Bay ferry is the same ferry Royal Caribbean excursions take.  The benefit is this ferry departs and returns very close to the cruise ship, which means taking a taxi is either unnecessary or significantly cheaper.  Of course, the ferry ride is about double the length and there are less ferries offered throughout the day.

Red Hook is an area on the east end of St. Thomas, with a short 15-20 minute ferry ride to St. John.  While it requires a taxi ride to reach Red Hook, we felt the shorter and more frequently offered ferry rides were worth it.  Ferry service from Red Hook runs every hour, on the hour.  You can consult the ferry website for exact fare and schedules. 

The taxi ride to Red Hook is fairly short as well, although often you will get lumped into vans other other guests, where the driver makes a few stops along the way.  Your experience will vary, but the one way trip should take about 30 minutes (if not less).

Once at the ferry terminal, you can purchase round trip fare.  Be sure to bring plenty of cash, because taxis and the ferry regularly take cash only.

If you are wondering how long it takes to get from Crown Bay to Red Hook and then take the ferry to St. John, it depends largely on timing.  How long it takes you to get into a taxi, for the taxi to drop you off and what time you arrive before a ferry departs are all factors you may not have a lot of control over.  If you time things out perfectly, it should take just around an hour.  If you just miss the ferry, figure another an extra 30-60 minutes on top of that estimate.

Arriving in St. John

The ferry will drop you off in Cruz Bay, which is on the west end of the island. There are a few shops and restaurants, but the real attraction of going to St. John is to see the beaches.  You ought to be able to take a taxi to any of the beaches nearby.

There is a primary road, North Shore Road, that runs along the Northwest coast of St. John and has easy access to the beaches. Most day visitors opt for taxis, but you could also rent a car.  Keep in mind that vehicles drive on the left side of the road in St. John.

St. John is largely set up as a National Park, and that means lots of beaches to consider.  By far the most popular is Trunk Bay, which is about a 10 minute taxi ride away.  There are lots of other beaches, including Cinnamon Bay Beach. We chose Cinnamon Bay Beach for the lack of crowds.  

For the purposes of this blog post, we will be discussing Cinnamon Bay Beach, but the experience of visiting any of the beaches in St. John is likely very similar: a beautiful and scenic coastline with white sand and clear, turquoise waters.

At Cinnamon Bay Beach, there is no beach fee, so feel free to grab any spot you choose.  We were able to rent beach chairs from a company that offers surf rentals as well.  There is not a lot of natural shade, but if you retreat to the back edge of the back, there was some shade provided by trees and shrubs.

Most of the taxis in St. John make regular stops at each of the beaches, so getting a taxi back is fairly simple and just a matter of timing.

If you are a United States resident, your cell phone will likely work normally in St. John because the island is part of the United States.  We found cell phone coverage to be a "light" the further away from Cruz Bay and the main road you get, but placing phone calls (like to a taxi driver) usually works.

Your Thoughts

Have you visited St. John? What did you think of the experience? If you have visited other Caribbean islands, how do you think St. John compared to those? Any tips of your own to add about visiting St. John? Any questions? Hearing from readers is part of the fun (and is helpful to others), so please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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