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I cruised to a tiny town in Mexico you’ve probably never heard of, and it was the highlight of my cruise vacation

06 Mar 2023

There’s a charming small town just minutes away from one of Mexico’s busiest cruise ports, and it’s by far my favorite place to visit on any Caribbean cruise.

With lively culture, gorgeous beaches, and world-famous cuisine, visiting Mexico is a must whenever I’m planning a Caribbean cruise. Yet as a culturally-focused traveler, I’m more interested in exploring local places rather than spending the day at a gated resort.

So when I first discovered Mahahual, a small fishing village located just 1.5 miles from the Costa Maya cruise port, I knew I had to check it out. With a little over 2,500 residents, it’s worlds away from destinations like Cancún and Puerto Vallarta, and I was intrigued.

I visited Mahahual for the first time last April and immediately fell in love with the town’s relaxed, beachy vibe. I couldn’t wait to return, so when I booked another cruise to Mexico, I knew I’d be heading back.

Let’s take a walkthrough of a perfect cruise ship port day in Mahahual, from sunbathing at the beach to endless tacos and guacamole. If you’re planning a cruise to Mexico soon, this may just be the best place to visit.

Getting there

The town of Mahahual is split into two sections: the main town—where most residents live—and the boardwalk.

The boardwalk, known as the malecón in Spanish, is the main tourist area of the town, and it's where most visitors will spend the day. Getting to the Boardwalk is easy, but you’ll first have to navigate the maze of the Costa Maya cruise port!

Once you walk off the ship and enter the Costa Maya cruise port, you’ll be met with a maze of restaurants, bars, shops, and even a pool. Although the port area is nice (it even features its own aviary), I’d highly recommend leaving port and heading to Mahahual for a more authentic travel experience.

To do so, keep heading left through the port, following a path that will eventually lead you to a line of taxis. Taxis to Mahahual are $4 per person each way.

On my recent port day, we took a taxi to the Faro de Mahahual, a 72 foot lighthouse marking the start of the town’s oceanfront boardwalk.

Exploring Mahahual

We arrived at the lighthouse around 8AM local time, just as Mahahual started to wake up. The breezy morning weather made for an excellent time to walk the boardwalk.

Mahahual’s malecón is car-free and lined with coconut trees, shops, and beach clubs. The town is an up-and-coming diving destination, so there are plenty of small bungalows and hotels along the way.

Several massage stands were set up along the boardwalk, too, which are guaranteed to be priced lower than on the ship!

Although the morning in Mahahual is quiet, it’s the best time to walk the mile-long boardwalk. Temperatures are comfortable, there are few crowds, and you’ll get a better taste for the tranquil atmosphere of the town before other tourists arrive.

After 20 minutes walking the boardwalk, we were ready for Mahahual’s main attraction: the beach.

Beaches in Mahahual and Costa Maya, Mexico

Mexican law states that all beaches must guarantee free public access to anyone; there are no private beaches in the country! Because of this law, the beach in Mahahual is accessible to any visitor, but there are a few things to be aware of.

Beach clubs

Mahahual’s coastline is full of beach clubs and hotels, most of which use beach space for chairs and umbrellas. While you can technically access the beach at any location, use of beach equipment is reserved for guests at the respective businesses.

Therefore, booking a day pass to a beach club is the most comfortable option for a beach day in Mahahual. Some beach clubs offer free entry if you buy food and drinks whereas others offer an all-inclusive cover charge.

Here are a few of the best beach clubs in Mahahual:

Maya Chan is another popular day pass in Mahahual, but it is not located in the town center.

Free beach access

If you’re hoping for a free beach day in Mahahual, your best bet is to find a quiet spot of sand in between beach clubs. To do this, walk further down the boardwalk where there are fewer businesses and tourists. You can place your towel on the sand here for free!

Jaime’s at the Blue Reef

My favorite beach club in Mahahual is Jaime's at the Blue Reef, and this is where we spent the majority of our day in town. At $56 per adult, a day at Jaime's provides an all-inclusive experience with unlimited food and drinks.

The menu has a variety of both Mexican and American dishes, including quesadillas, onion rings, ceviche, and tacos. We dined on chips and salsa, guacamole, and several types of tacos, and everything was delicious.

Jaime, the owner of the Blue Reef, even made us a special dish of rice with freshly caught shrimp cooked in white wine and pepper. The hospitality of the Blue Reef keeps me coming back each time I visit Mahahual!

Beach club access also includes a private, padded beach chair placed perfectly in the shade of coconut trees and palapas.

In between food and drinks, taking a dip in the ocean is a must. Although this region of Mexico is prone to seaweed, most beaches in Mahahual are protected by a barrier in the water, and we found the water perfectly clear during our stay.

Of course, you can't beat the views from the rooftop at Jaime's at the Blue Reef, either, which feature the most spectacular panoramic views Mahahual has to offer.

Like always, my time at the Blue Reef was a highlight of my day in Mahahual.

What to do in Mahahual

Although a day in Mahahual is best spent at the beach, there are a few other ways to enjoy your time in the town, too, from dining to cycling and more.

Food & Drinks

One of the best reasons to cruise to Mexico is for the food, of course, and Mahahual boasts plenty of culinary options to match any tastes. As the town receives many tourists, both American and Mexican fare can be found in town.

Many visitors will dine at one of Mahahual’s beach clubs. If you're looking for a restaurant more off the beaten path, though, walk a few blocks away from the busy oceanfront.

Here you'll find restaurants frequented by Mahahual locals, such as La Curvita, which serves breakfast and lunch dishes for under $5 USD. Menu highlights include tortas, quesadillas, Mexican-style eggs, fajitas, empanadas, and more.

A variety of bakeries and cafes are located along the boardwalk as well. Panadería La Tartaleta is a fantastic spot for coffees and pastries, whereas La Dolce Vita makes unbelievably fresh smoothies.

The passionfruit, mango, and banana smoothie is one of the best drinks to try in Mahahual, so I made sure to pick one up on my recent port day.


Because Mahahual’s boardwalk is car-free, it’s a popular spot for bike riding. Several cycling excursions cruise the boardwalk each day, but you can also rent a bike on your own.

Bike rentals cost between $3-8 for a rental, which you can rent for only an hour or for the whole day.

Although I didn’t have time to cycle during my recent visit to Mahahual, I’d recommend this option for those looking to see as much of the town as possible in a short port visit. You can ride bikes past the boardwalk and onto a sandy beachfront road or head to the local side of Mahahual to ride amongst the neighborhoods there.


The waters off the eastern coast of the Yucatán peninsula are known for having some of the best scuba diving in the world. If you’d like to give diving a try, you can do so in Mahahual.

Several diving companies are located throughout the town, but if you are trying for the first time, I’d recommend a Discover Scuba lesson from Mar Adentro Diving, located right off the boardwalk in Mahahual.

Back to the ship: why you should visit Mahahual on your next cruise to Mexico

After a wonderful day walking around Mahahual and suntanning at Jaime’s at the Blue Reef, it was time to head back to Symphony of the Seas. While taxis are available directly from the Blue Reef, we wanted to walk down the boardwalk one last time.

Now mid-afternoon, the boardwalk was packed with visitors from the two cruise ships in port. Music was pumping at beach clubs, street food vendors were rolling carts down the street, and vendors were ready to sell any type of souvenir and trinket you could imagine.

Like any tourist area, it's important to be prepared to be asked to buy souvenirs, massages, and food. A simple "no, gracias" is a polite way to dismiss any vendors on the beach or boardwalk, and they weren't pushy.

We walked the mile back to the lighthouse, where we were easily able to get a taxi back to port for $4 per person.

My day in Mahahual was the highlight of my cruise vacation. The town’s small, walkable size makes it easy to explore, and it has everything you could need in a port day: great food, picturesque beaches, plentiful activities, and affordable prices.

I love the energy of Mahahual, and even though many tourists visit each day, it still has a laid-back feel. Combined with the friendliness of everyone I encountered in town, Mahahual is a place I plan to visit over and over again.

If you have a cruise booked that visits Costa Maya, don’t hesitate to leave the port area and take a taxi to Mahahual.

I found the ultimate foodie destination in the Caribbean: The most delicious Cozumel food tour

01 Mar 2023

I travel for food, and I’ve just found the best Caribbean cruise port for foodies: Cozumel, Mexico.

Mexican food is among the world’s most popular cuisines for a reason: it’s fresh, flavorful, diverse, and spicy. After all, who doesn’t love chips, guacamole, and tacos?

And although Cozumel is best known for its beaches and world-renowned scuba diving, I decided to plan a self-guided food tour on my recent cruise ship port day.

The plan was simple: find the most delicious, authentic Mexican restaurants in Cozumel for breakfast, lunch, and dessert. Yet with only 8 hours in port before my cruise ship would depart the island, I knew I had to strategize to find the best food in such a short amount of time.

Follow me on a self-guided food tour in Cozumel, which will surely inspire you to eat your way around Mexico on your next Caribbean cruise. I hope you’re hungry!

Getting to downtown Cozumel

If you’re visiting Cozumel on a cruise, there are two main cruise terminals: the Langosta pier, located right downtown, and the International Cruise Terminal, located three miles south of downtown.

Royal Caribbean ships dock at the International terminal, so we paid $8 one-way for a taxi from the port to downtown. For convenience, I had the taxi driver drop us off at Parque Benito Juárez, the main square in downtown San Miguel de Cozumel.

From here, countless restaurants, shops, and attractions are within walking distance, and the square is a relaxing place to spend time throughout the day.

After a brief walk around the square, it was time to check off our first item of the day: breakfast.


Tacos and enchiladas may get all the attention when it comes to Mexican cuisine, but Mexican breakfast is severely underrated. Whether sweet pastries or hearty plates of eggs, tortillas, and salsa, you can’t go wrong with breakfast in Mexico.

Here are some of the best breakfast dishes to try when you visit Cozumel:

  • Chilaquiles: tortilla chips simmered in a red or green sauce, often served with eggs or chicken
  • Huevos rancheros: fried eggs placed over crispy corn tortillas and topped with a red salsa
  • Huevos divorciados: a form of huevos rancheros drenched in green salsa on one side and red on the other
  • Huevos motuleños: A Yucatán specialty of fried eggs on tortillas served with black beans, cheese, ham, and peas
  • Concha: a sweet, fluffy bread topped with a crackly crust that resembles a seashell

Mexican breakfast is, by far, my favorite type of food to eat in Mexico. There are countless restaurants offering breakfast downtown, but I settled on La Candela, a breakfast and lunch restaurant located just a few blocks from the city center.

The ambiance of the restaurant was charming, with a palapa-style roof and open-air patio. I ordered the chilaquiles—my favorite Mexican dish—while my dad ordered huevos divorciados.

Both dishes far exceeded my expectations. In fact, the chilaquiles were the best, most flavorful chilaquiles I’ve ever had. I'm still dreaming about them a week later!

Of course, you can’t enjoy breakfast without a fresh-squeezed jugo de naranja (orange juice).

In total, we spent 300 pesos ($16 USD) on breakfast.

Food markets

After breakfast, we wanted to continue checking out Cozumel’s food scene, so we headed to the Mercado Municipal, just an 8 minute walk from Parque Benito Juárez.

From the incredible aroma of barbecued beef and chili peppers to the more... unpleasant odor in the raw meat aisles, Cozumel’s main food market immediately ignites all of your senses.

Although not the biggest open-air market I’ve been to in Mexico, the Mercado Municipal boasts restaurants, produce and meat stalls, a candy shop, and aisles of convenience stores.

Walking through the market can be an excellent way to learn more about daily life in Cozumel while sampling various dishes, candies, and fruits.

We couldn’t pass up the chance to try Mexican candies, and purchased a few for 60 pesos ($3 USD).

We walked back to Cozumel’s waterfront and enjoyed the candies with an ocean view. This is an excellent place for people watching and enjoying the sea breeze in between your Cozumel food tour.


Despite our goals of trying as much food as possible during our 8 hour port day, we faced one problem: we were still full from breakfast! To pass the time, we headed to the Museo de Cozumel, a museum with artifacts and information on the island’s history, geography, and culture.

The entrance fee was only $7 USD per person, and I was impressed by the museum’s exhibits and technology, which gave me a new understanding and appreciation of the island. Of course, the air conditioning was a nice touch, too!

Hungry once again, we were back on Cozumel’s streets in search of lunch. On our way to the market earlier in the morning, we passed many small, unassuming restaurants and decided to head that way again.

A quick Google Maps search led me to Las Flamitas, a local spot just a few blocks from the Mercado Municipal. The first thing I noticed as I approached the restaurant was a nonchalant chalkboard with a list of daily specials, and I took that as a good sign.

Our waiters were exceptionally friendly at Las Flamitas, and we started the meal with a refreshing bottle of Fresca soda followed by a comforting bowl of chicken soup, which came included with our meal.

For our main courses, I ordered enchiladas with green salsa and my dad ordered chicken fajitas. Just as we hoped, both dishes were flavorful, fresh, and satisfying, although we found it a bit funny that the fajitas were served with a side of spaghetti!

In total, we spent 280 pesos on lunch, or $15 USD, and I’d definitely come back to Las Flamitas again.


In the mood for something sweet? Cozumel has you covered, and the moment I stumbled upon La Cozumeleña bakery, I knew I had to pick up some pan dulce.

Like Mexican breakfast, Mexican bakeries are highly underrated, but once you try the diverse assortment of baked goods—from savory empanadas to fruit-filled cakes—it’s easy to become addicted.

I settled on three items: a coconut empanada, guava and cheese empanada, and oatmeal-cinnamon cookie. The coconut empanada was the clear winner, but you can’t go wrong with any Mexican bakery item!

Street food stalls

Our final stop of the day was back to Parque Benito Juárez, where we had one final goal: street food.

If there’s anything that gets me excited about tasting new cuisines, it’s street food, but I was disappointed to see only a few street food stalls during my day in town. I may have been in the wrong area or perhaps the street food scene is more active at night, but I expected to see more food carts around downtown.

Nonetheless, my plan was to find a street food stall selling marquesitas, a dessert native to Mexico’s Yucatán state. These sweet snacks are made by rolling a thin crepe like a taco and filling it with caramel, condensed milk, edam cheese, and other optional ingredients like fresh fruits or jam.

Unfortunately, my search for marquesitas in downtown Cozumel left me empty handed, as most of the street stalls I saw were not open.

I was still determined to grab dessert from one of Cozumel’s food stands, though, so I continued walking around the park looking for something to eat.

This is when I made perhaps the best discovery of the day: a machacado de frutas.

In a corner of Parque Benito Juárez, in front of the Fat Tuesday bar, I noticed an older gentleman attending to his food cart (attached to a tricycle, might I add), and I was immediately intrigued.

The cart was stacked with bananas and a variety of colorful syrups along with cans of condensed milk and jars of cinnamon. Even with these context clues, I had no idea what this local man sold at his cart, so I decided to ask.

“¿Qué tipo de comida es esta?” What type of food is this?

“Machacado,” he responded kindly.

His answer left me even more confused. I had never heard of this dessert before (was it even a dessert?). Unlike churros, flan, and tres leches cake, the word 'machacado' had never appeared in any Spanish textbook, YouTube video, or articles I’ve seen about Mexican food.

Needless to say, l couldn’t say no to my curiosity, and he began preparing me the best dessert I’ve ever tasted in Mexico.

First came the mashing of two bananas, which were placed in the bottom of a large plastic cup. Next was a generous scooping of crushed ice, followed by a layer of creamy sweetened condensed milk. The dessert was topped with a drizzle of vanilla syrup, which soaked into the ice below, and a liberal dash of cinnamon.

I handed the gentlemen 30 pesos (roughly $1.60 USD) and I was on my way.

I had never tasted anything quite like this dessert before. It felt as if I were eating a homemade cinnamon roll coated in a thick layer of icing and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

It was everything I could have ever dreamed of in a dessert, and even my dad, who had just proclaimed he ‘couldn’t eat another bite of food,’ kept sipping away at his machacado.

My tips on planning a food tour in Cozumel

If you’re a foodie who’s interested in discovering Mexican cuisine, I can’t recommend planning a food tour enough. Cozumel certainly has gorgeous beaches, but walking the colorful streets downtown and trying a variety of local restaurants was, by far, the best day I’ve had on the island yet.

Here are my top tips for planning your own food tour in Cozumel:

Self-guided versus with a guide

I planned a self-guided tour in Cozumel because I value the flexibility of exploring without a schedule and choosing the restaurants myself. However, if you’re more comfortable with a local guide, you can book guided food tours on websites such as Tripadvisor and Viator.

A guided tour will likely provide you with more knowledge about Cozumel’s cuisine and take you to areas you might otherwise not visit yourself. On the downside, these tours will be more expensive than planning the day on your own.

Cozumel 4 You Facebook Page

A valuable resource I used when planning this tour was the Cozumel 4 You Facebook Page. This page is a hub of information on Cozumel with restaurant recommendations and ideas on how to spend your day on the island.

What to do in between eating on your food tour

An unexpected problem we encountered during our day-long food tour was not feeling hungry. If you’re planning a full day of eating in Cozumel, you’ll run into the same problem, so it’s helpful to know what to do in between meals.

I recommend visiting the Museo de Cozumel, sitting by the waterfront, and walking around various shops downtown to pass the time.

A variety of coffee shops are located throughout downtown as well, including the popular Aqui + Ahora Coffee Bar, and this can be a nice way to spend time throughout the day.

Download offline maps

While Cozumel’s downtown is walkable, having Google Maps on your phone can help you better navigate to your destination.

If you don’t have international cell phone coverage in Mexico, be sure to download an offline version of downtown Cozumel in Google Maps to allow for easy access when your phone is on airplane mode.

Pay with Mexican pesos instead of US dollars

While most places in Cozumel will accept US dollars, it's easier to pay with pesos, especially if you're eating at restaurants further away from the main tourist area.

There are several banks located downtown with ATMs depositing pesos, and having pesos on hand will make your life much easier throughout the day. Plus, you can ensure you are getting the best rate when paying in local currency.

I checked out a private island in Honduras —with crystal clear beaches and all-inclusive drinks, it far exceeded my expectations

09 Feb 2023

Roatan, Honduras may be known for its reefs and perfect snorkeling spots, but for those of us who prefer to keep our faces above water, let me introduce you to my new favorite spot: Maya Key Private Island Retreat.

Just a quick 5 minute tender ride from where cruise ships dock in Roatan is the 11.5 acre island of Maya Key. This small island offers two gorgeous beaches, sun chairs, a pool, garden paths, and exhibit centers.

We booked our excursion to Maya Key directly through Royal Caribbean for around $70 per person. The all-inclusive excursion included drinks, food, beaches, pool access, and select activities.

Aside from Perfect Day at CocoCay and Labadee, I had never experienced a “resort” type of shore excursion, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with our day at Maya Key.

Would it be worth the money, or would it have been better just to stay on the ship where we could get those same amenities, minus the beach, without paying extra? I headed to the island to find out for myself.

First impressions of Maya Key

My group of three disembarked Allure of the Seas right away, and we were some of the first to the small island of Maya Key. The tender drops you off at a small dock where you are met by Cindy Carter, an expat who runs operations on the island. She gives a short introduction spiel, and then you can set off to explore!

The need for a speech may seem strange until you learn that Maya Key isn’t just any day resort, but a wildlife rescue center.

Right off the dock, you’ll see a giant sea lion splashing in his pen, and you’ll receive a secondary greeting from a big red macaw. Various animals can be found around the island, and you can even take a tour of the greater rescue facility.

After being welcomed by Cindy and her feathered friend at the entrance, I headed straight for the beach and the clear blue waters. There are plenty of lounge chairs on the beach in both sun and shade.

They are a little packed together in the main section, but I did find some further down the beach, past the snorkeling dock, that no one was using. 

Maya Key beach experience

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such crystal clear water. I spent most of the day wading around, watching silvery bait fish dart around the kids snorkeling.

Every so often one would pop their head up and yell, “Dad! I just saw a crab!” Apparently there was some kind of fish burrowing in the sand that they were chasing. For those scared of sea creatures, don’t worry. You can legitimately see everything around you; the water is that clear!

For those that do enjoy snorkeling, tours are offered on the island, but I didn’t see many people doing this—I’d guess most serious snorkelers book bigger excursions.

There is also a pretty big inflatable raft park, and the family I saw on it was having a great time challenging each other to races!

Food & drinks at Maya Key

Lunch at Maya Key is included, and it’s the typical island barbecue fare that you see on most excursions: jerk chicken, salad, beans, and rice. It was good, and a welcome protein break in the middle of the hot day!

There was also bar service on the beach, though I found it to be a little sparse. It was easier to run up to the bar myself.

Overall thoughts

If you’re looking for an easy retreat option while in Roatan, I’d book an excursion to Maya Key in a heartbeat. It’s simple, beautiful, and clean. Not only that, but the resort serves a larger purpose, so animal lovers will appreciate the rescue efforts that the island organizes.

I went to a stunning Caribbean island on my cruise that you've probably never heard of

12 Jan 2023

I had never heard of Water Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but as soon as I read about this gorgeous island, I knew I wanted to check it out.

Elizabeth on Water Island

I’ve been to St. Thomas more times than I can count, so when I saw that it was a scheduled port of call on my current Symphony of the Seas sailing, I was planning on staying onboard and grinding out some of my work.

That is, however, until I heard about Water Island, a quiet and secluded island off the coast of St. Thomas that's also the smallest of the four U.S. Virgin Islands and only has about 180 full-time residents!

The water ferry

Dock D St Thomas

I disembarked around 8:50am and began the ten minute walk to the Crown Bay Marina, which is right outside of the cruise terminal. The ferry sails from Dock D and is located directly next to Tickles Dockside Pub.

I had just missed the 9am departure, so I planned on making myself comfortable for the next hour. I was pleasantly surprised when they did an extra run around 9:40am!


You don’t need to worry about going to a ticket office prior; the $15 roundtrip fare is payable via cash only upon embarkation. I received a hard piece of plastic that was my return ticket, and I really appreciated how it listed all of the departure times!

View from water ferry

We departed for Water Island at 9:42am and arrived only ten minutes later. The views of St. Thomas on the way there were breathtaking, and I got to see a (nearly) 360° view of the ship.

Honeymoon beach

Honeymoon beach

When we arrived, we were greeted by a bus driver who was providing free transfers to Honeymoon Beach.

Honeymoon Beach Water Island

It was a quiet day despite five ships docked in St. Thomas (that means over 17,000 passengers), and there were plenty of beach chairs and umbrellas available for rent, as well as complimentary palapa umbrellas.

There wasn’t even any music playing on the beach; it came from excursion boats or the restaurant.

If relaxing on the beach isn’t your vibe, don’t worry! They also offered a variety of different water sport equipment, including paddle boards, kayaks, and snorkel gear, and for the first time in my life, I saw a floating cycling class.

Prices for golf carts

Apparently, you can also pay for a floating picnic table ride for a minimum of $100. Unfortunately, I did not see anyone picnicking in the bay, even when I returned in the afternoon.

You can also rent golf carts to help you navigate the island. They start at $45 per hour, but you can rent one all day for $125. 

Golf Carts Honeymoon Beach

Other amenities include a restroom and souvenir store.

The Crossing

The Crossings in Water Island

After checking out Honeymoon Beach, my plan was to walk (fourteen minutes, according to Google Maps) to Limestone Beach, but I quickly realized that this might not be possible; everyone I saw was riding in a golf cart. The incline of the roads were steep, and there were no trees or buildings to provide any shade.

I did, however, stumble upon the cutest shed called The Crossing, which was probably the highlight of my morning. Outside, you can purchase virgin shaved ice for $5 (they offer twenty different flavors!), beer, wine, hard seltzer, soda, or water.

Elizabeth on Water Island

On a more pleasant day, there’s some outside seating available, which is probably ideal before hopping back onto a golf cart. I can see some major and unfortunate spills happening this way!

To escape the heat, I went inside and checked out the local art that’s available for purchase. I’m regretting not buying one of the stickers that I saw!

After cooling down with a cherry flavored shaved ice, I decided to keep trekking towards Limestone Beach. One local in a golf cart stopped me to tell me that I was heading in the wrong direction and that it wasn’t the best beach to visit because of how rocky it is.

I was also told that Sprat Bay Beach is only accessible to those staying within Sprat Bay Estates. There went my entire plan!

I was still curious as to what the Limestone Beach was like, even if I had to navigate some rocks. After I was pointed in the right direction and kept going for a few minutes, a vacationing couple stopped and asked, “Are you trying to walk this entire island in the heat for fun?”

Fort Segarra

Fort Segarra

They shared the same sentiments about Limestone Beach and told me I was better off hitching a ride with them and visiting Fort Segarra, an underground fort built during World War II. However, the war ended before it was completed, so the structure was abandoned.

The ride in the golf cart took about five minutes, but it went up a lot of hills and poorly paved roads.

When we walked inside of the fort, we all agreed felt like a horror movie. There were no lights, and giant holes in the floor were covered with wooden planks.

Plus, I could tell that this was a place that people go to party, as there were broken beer bottles everywhere. If you walk all the way through, you’ll find to two gun embankments.

View from Fort Segarra

The sweeping views of St. Thomas and the ocean made the journey worth it. There was a picnic table on top of the fort, and I’d highly recommend adding lunch here to any Water Island itinerary.

Lunch at Dinghy's Beach Bar & Grill

Menu at Honeymoon Beach

After taking in all of the views, the couple planned on giving me a ride back to Honeymoon Beach, where I was planning on grabbing lunch at Dinghy’s Beach Bar and Grill.

Well, like the rest of my morning, this did not go as planned. We were stopped a little over halfway there by the owner of the golf cart rental company who said that the golf cart was only able to seat two people. Thankfully, she gave me a ride the rest of the way.

The menu felt standard for a beachside joint, with offerings like burgers, sandwiches, tacos, and salads.

Even though I ate a shrimp based appetizer and entree last night for dinner, I opted to order the bang bang shrimp ($16.00), and, of course, their signature frozen cocktail: the creamy dinghy ($11.00). After all, I was at the beach!

It took almost twenty minutes to receive my food after placing the order. Since I technically ordered an appetizer, I wasn’t expecting the portion to be large.

I was served five fried shrimp coated in sauce and garnished with green onions, enough to satisfy me until I returned to the ship!


The shrimp was golden and crispy, though a few pieces were so large that cutting the tails off was difficult; you could barely see them through the fried batter!

I saw a lot of people eating the sandwiches, including some of the HiRO cast members, and I wish I had tried one of them instead.

On the other hand, the creamy dinghy was fantastic! This was my first frozen drink of the cruise, and I was not disappointed. It tasted like a piña colada with a more muted pineapple flavor.

The service at Dinghy’s Beach Bar and Grill was slow. It took over twenty minutes to receive my bill. This was upsetting because I was hoping to get some time to hangout on the beach before catching the water ferry back to St. Thomas.

Overall thoughts

Palapa umbrellas honeymoon beach

While I had an adventurous morning on Water Island that allowed me to explore a new place, I think that I would want to rent a golf cart to maximize my time on the beach and see more of the island.

Since I really enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere of Honeymoon Beach, I definitely plan on returning in the future!

Why booking my cruise shore excursions in Europe with the cruise line was the best decision

22 Nov 2022

Planning your cruise vacation often includes the age-old debate of whether or not you should book excursions through the cruise line.

When you arrive to a cruise port, you often have three choices for how to spend your day:

  1. Explore the port on your own
  2. Book a tour through the cruise line
  3. Choose a third-party tour company

When it comes to cruising, I firmly believe there’s a time and place for each of these options. Depending on your budget and length of time in the port, it can be very cost-effective to book a third-party vendor.

There’s also been times on European cruises where I want to visit somewhere that isn’t on the excursion list. Sometimes, it’s way too expensive to book excursions through the cruise line when I can get the same experience for much less with an independent tour company. 

I also appreciate exploring ports by foot whenever possible. Some ports are inherently easier to explore on your own; for example, some ports allow cruise ships to dock right in the city center where you can easily walk around or take a taxi.

In general, I’ve found that European cruise ports are very pedestrian-friendly so we often choose to do our own thing whenever possible. This allows you to have flexibility to spend your day exactly how you want and I love exploring a city by foot.

However, on a recent 12-night European cruise to Israel onboard Odyssey of the Seas, we booked four excursions through the cruise line - and it was the absolute best decision we could have made.

Here’s why I don't have any regrets about booking Royal Caribbean sponsored excursions on our Holy Land sailing. 

Immigration Preference

First (and probably most importantly), the biggest advantage of having a shore excursion through the cruise line was having priority immigration when we arrived in Israel.

Although not common for European ports, Israel requires face-to-face immigration for all maritime tourists. With nearly 4,000 passengers onboard, every single person was required to go through this in-person immigration even if they were not planning to go ashore.

Originally, we had booked a third-party tour through Viator because we had an overnight in Ashdod and we weren’t worried about returning to the port at a certain time.

However, I decided to do some research about immigration in Israel just a few months before we sailed. I discovered that Royal Caribbean tours would receive immigration priority and everyone on an independent tour would need to wait for all cruise line tours to go through immigration first.

Those that were not on a sponsored excursion had to get an immigration number prior to arrival; these were given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Also, large independent tours that comprised of 30-50 cruisers onboard had to coordinate getting similar immigration numbers so everyone could go through at similar times.

I watched online as many scrambled to change their tour plans and coordinate with their independent guides when they found out about the immigration delay.

For larger cruise ships, immigration in Israel can take four to five hours! We decided to cancel our third-party excursion, watch the cruise portal, and book a Royal Caribbean excursion as soon as a full-day tour opened up.

This was the best decision we made, as we were able to go through immigration promptly at 8:00am. As expected, those who did not have a Royal Caribbean excursion had to wait until 12pm-1pm to get off the ship.

Most of the sites in Israel close near 4pm-5pm, so this really doesn’t allow for much time to see everything the city has to offer.

For us, Israel was the main highlight of the itinerary and we wanted to optimize our 3 days there with full-day tours. Losing half of a day waiting for immigration would have been not only frustrating, but also disappointing.

We heard stories of people who did not get through immigration quick enough and their independent tours cancelled on them - or they were left behind entirely to fend for themselves. We met others who tried to explore the port on their own after getting left behind, but found difficulties trying to do things without a tour guide.

Late Return Guarantee

In addition to priority immigration, another major perk of booking an excursion though the cruise line was having the guarantee that the ship would not leave us behind.

After thinking through our excursions, we realized that we had a lot of driving between all of the sites we wanted to see. For example, visiting the Dead Sea and Masada was more than 2 hours away from the Ashdod cruise port.

Since we wanted to see places that were not close to the cruise port, it made sense to book our excursions through the cruise line. We also found there to be a lot of traffic jams in Israel; our tour guides mentioned that Israeli people love having the luxury vehicles, which congests the road.

On our second day in Israel visiting Masada and the Dead Sea, we found ourselves more than an hour behind schedule. There were tons of tour buses visiting Masada at the same time and only one person was operating the two cable cars that take people up to the mountain top and back to the visitor center.

We waited in line for an hour with people pushing and shoving their way through the crowd. Most were likely scared of being separated from their tours and being stuck 2 hours away from the cruise port.

With our Masada delay, we visited the Dead Sea almost two hours later than anticipated on the schedule. Instead of stressing about getting back to the ship on time, we had a sense of ease knowing the ship would not leave us because we were on a Royal Caribbean sponsored excursion.

We enjoyed our time floating in the Dead Sea instead of skipping it entirely because we were stressed about getting back to the ship on time. 

There were tons of tours that returned late to the ship that evening, so Odyssey of the Seas left three hours later than scheduled.

The same thing happened on our third day when the ship was docked in Haifa. As we were shuffled from site to site, we were about an hour behind schedule. This had us running late and then we hit traffic on the way back to the cruise port.

Again, the ship departed Israel later than anticipated because there were other tours also behind schedule.

I can only imagine the panic that would have overwhelmed us if we had been on an independent tour during this time. Our tour guide said he had never seen the amount of people we saw when visiting Masada. You just never know when things might go amiss in these situations. 

We were very grateful that we were on Royal Caribbean sponsored excursions and did not have to stress about getting left behind in a foreign country.

Priority Tendering

Although Israel was the main draw for us with this 12-night itinerary, we also had port stops in Greece and Cyprus.

Santorini is one of the most popular ports in Greece, along with being a popular destination for travelers all over the world. Its stunning volcanic, mountain landscape makes it a bucket-list destination, but also a logistically challenging port for cruise ships.

During our visit to Santorini, there were five other ships docked during the same time, so it was very busy. Santorini also requires tenders for those wanting to go ashore to the island.

Those who choose to independently get off the ship are tendered from a one end of the ship while excursions through the cruise line launch from the other end. Those independently exploring are brought to Skala, which is a small tender port near Fira.

Since the town of Fira is located up the mountain, you have to either ride a cable car, walk the steps or ride a donkey (yes, really!).

If you’re on a cruise line excursion, you are likely brought to the Athinios port instead where you can take busses throughout the island.

I’ve been to Santorini twice before. My first visit was on a land-visit during my study abroad semester, so I knew the lay of the land. The second time I visited Santorini was on my honeymoon with my husband, in which we chose to independently take on the island with a ferry to Oia and bus ride to Fira.

As young-20-something newlyweds, we didn’t mind the thrill of running down the stairs along the donkeys to get back to the tenders! If anything, it was a fun memory for us after a lovely day on our own time.

However, I knew my parents (in their early 60s) would not appreciate the stress of riding a donkey, the physical strain of doing all the steps, or the frustration of being crowded in a line waiting for cable cars.

After weighing the options, we chose to book an excursion through the cruise line for Santorini. We were given priority tendering to get off the ship and didn’t have to fight any crowds onboard.

The tender brought us to the Athinios port and we were bussed across the island to the Village of Oia, in addition to a stop at a winery and visit to Fira.

Not having to worry about the tendering situation, along with the stress of how we would get back to the tender port from the mountaintop of Fira was a huge relief.

We had a lovely day exploring the island by bus and I was grateful that we didn’t experience any logistical challengers, especially considering how many ships were docked at the port at the same time.

Overall Safety

While Israel is generally considered to be very safe, we did see a few headlines before our cruise that gave us pause with the rising tension in that area of the world.

Speaking broadly, cruise lines do not want to take any major, known risks with their excursions; most of the time, these companies are vetted thoroughly for safety.

When cruise lines market and sell tours, they are inherently accepting some sense of liability when something goes wrong.

Of course, things can happen when you travel whether you’re on a cruise line excursion, exploring a port on your own or traveling with an independent tour company. There will continue to be risks with traveling that you accept when you choose to pack your bags and head out to see the world.

For this itinerary, we felt booking excursions through the cruise line was the best decision we could make for our safety. Since we had not traveled to this area of the world before and we were not familiar with the port or the country, it felt like the most informed decision we could make.

We knew we were paying a premium for booking excursions through the cruise line; yet, it felt like the money was worth it to have peace of mind for our time in Israel.

General Convenience

One of the biggest draws of booking a cruise short excursion with the cruise line is the general convenience you’ll have, especially when it comes to logistics.

It’s so nice to just wake up, have breakfast and meet at a designated spot onboard. There’s very little planning, coordinating and stress involved with sponsored shore excursions.

We also appreciated the flexibility of booking excursions through the cruise line. In this instance, my mom wasn’t entirely sure which days in Israel she wanted to take tours. She considered staying on the ship because she didn’t know how comfortable she felt getting off the ship.

Having our excursions booked with the cruise line gave us cancellation flexibility if she ended up changing her mind last minute and not wanting to join us on tours; you simply walk to the shore excursion desk and the crew members help you from there.

There’s no coordinating with a tour company in this instance, which can be difficult onboard if you have internet troubles or don’t want to purchase an internet package.

At the end of the day, we knew were were also paying a premium for the convenience provided; in this instance, it was absolutely worth it for us.

I wouldn't change anything about the shore excursions we booked through the cruise line during this European cruise to Israel - it was truly the best decision we could make for our family.

7 things I did right (and 3 mistakes) on my recent cruise ship port day

10 Nov 2022

Whether dipping your toes in crystal-clear water or tasting local street food, there’s no doubt that visiting new ports on a cruise ship is exciting. Many cruisers, though, find themselves in one of two situations: satisfied with the activities of their port day or wishing they had done something else.

Dominican Republic with cruise ship

I recently spent a cruise ship port day in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, a place I had never been to before. I knew little about the port prior to my arrival, but I was determined to make the most of my port day by experiencing the country’s culture, cuisine, and historical sites in just 7 hours.

From marveling at the port’s mountainous scenery to observing local lifestyle at the city’s public square, I was satisfied with my day in port when I returned back to the ship later in the day.

No matter how much research you do ahead of time, however, you’re bound to make a few mistakes along the way, and I definitely did.

Here are the top 7 things I did right (and 3 mistakes I made!) on my recent cruise ship port day.

Staying flexible

The first thing I did right was staying flexible.

“No refunds!” was what I heard as I entered Port Everglades on embarkation day. A worker was handing out a sheet of paper to every guest, and I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about what it might say.

Tropical storm Nicole was approaching the Bahamas, and I had doubts our Bahamas & Perfect Day cruise would go ahead as scheduled. I was bringing my cousin Keli on her very first cruise, and I wanted her to have the best experience possible. I was nervous the paper might say we had all our stops canceled.

That wasn’t the case at all, though, and we learned our ship would be sailing to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic instead of the Bahamas! While I could have been upset that our itinerary wouldn’t go as planned, I was excited.

I had never been to the Dominican Republic before, and it was such an unexpected change that I couldn’t wait to see what Puerto Plata had to offer.

After talking to a few other guests, I realized some passengers were upset their plans did not go forward as planned. It’s always important to remain flexible when traveling, but especially on a cruise, so be sure to make the most of whatever unexpected changes may arise.

Not booking a shore excursion

While I’ve booked Royal Caribbean shore excursions in the past, I much prefer exploring independently. Even though organized tours can bring you to a port’s highlights without worrying about any logistics yourself, I find that the cons outweigh the pros.

Whether waiting for guests on the tour who are running late, being forced into sales pitches at tourist shops, or traveling in a group of 30+ people, I’ve almost always regretted when I’ve booked organized shore excursions over exploring independently.

Instead of a guided tour, we traveled around Puerto Plata with a taxi driver for the day for the same price a group tour would have cost. We were privately escorted to some of the port’s top sites, including Puerto Plata’s cable car and the Centro Histórico district.

Exploring without the hassle of traveling with a large group enhanced our port experience immensely.

Researching the port in advance

Because our cruise itinerary was not originally supposed to visit Puerto Plata, I knew very little about the Puerto Plata cruise port when I boarded Liberty of the Seas. I had two days to become acquainted with everything the port has to offer.

I watched YouTube videos, read articles, and spoke to a few friends who had visited Puerto Plata in the past. This was beyond useful for giving me a better idea of what to expect, deciding what I should do and not do, and creating a general plan for my port day.

One of the most important details I learned, for example, was that taxis are expensive in Puerto Plata. If I hadn’t read this, I probably would have experienced stronger sticker shock when I was quoted $70-100 for a taxi for the day.

It’s always helpful to research a port before arriving to become acquainted with the port’s offerings and the local area. I’m 100% certain that one of the reasons we had such a wonderful day in port was due to the research I did ahead of time.

Leaving the immediate port area

The Taino Bay cruise port in Puerto Plata is one of, if not the best, port area I’ve experienced thus far. It’s nearly brand new, immaculately clean, and has more than enough to keep you busy for a whole day.

Some of the port’s highlights include a large swimming pool, chic bars, and restaurants.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the port’s facilities and we even spent the last hour of our day hanging out in the port’s large pool.

However, I came to the Dominican Republic to discover the country outside of a gated port area, so I’m glad we ventured off into a more authentic part of the city.

Hiring a local guide

We ended up spending the majority of our port day with a guide and he was fantastic—although we didn’t expect to have a guide in the first place.

In order to get to many of the city’s top attractions, I had to take a taxi. In Puerto Plata, however, taxis don’t just drop you off at one location. Your taxi driver stays with you the entire day, waiting for you at each location to take you to the next.

For $100 a day (plus a tip), we were escorted around Puerto Plata by Ramon, a local man who was determined to show us the best that the port had to offer. He has been working as a guide in his country for over ten years and already had a tentative itinerary set which we could customize to our liking.

Although I usually prefer exploring on my own, it was a nice change to not have to worry about a single thing while in port. Ramon knew where to bring us, what to show us at each location, and he shared insights to his country and city along the way. 

Considering Royal Caribbean was offering shore excursions for $50+ per person in a large tour group, spending $50 per person on a private guide for five hours seemed like a pretty good deal.

Trying local cuisine

I am always shocked to hear that some cruisers won’t spend a single penny on local cuisine while in port, instead opting to head back to their cruise ship every day for lunch.

While I understand that there is food you already paid for onboard the ship, I believe tasting local cuisine is an important part of traveling to new locations. Whether conch fritters in Nassau or tacos in Mexico, trying local cuisine is a must for me in any cruise port.

Our guide brought us to Cosita Rica, a waterfront restaurant serving local cuisine for lunch. Trying Dominican food was high on my list, and we enjoyed a meal of fish, chicken, rice, habichuela (beans), empanadas, and tostones (plantains).

I love the included food on a Royal Caribbean cruise, but how many times do I have the opportunity to eat traditional Dominican food near the beach in the Dominican Republic?

Planning a variety of activities

I could have easily spent my entire day in Puerto Plata lounging on a beach chair and sipping cocktails, but I’m sure glad I didn’t. I love the beach, but there were so many activities available in Puerto Plata that I couldn’t pass them all up in favor of a beach day.

There’s nothing wrong with spending 8 hours on a beach chair, but I knew I wanted to experience culture, food, scenery, and the beach in just one day.

We planned our day as follows:

  • Part One: cable car ride to Isabel de Torres National Park for scenic views and nature walks
  • Part Two: walking and shopping in Puerto Plata’s historical district
  • Part Three: lunch at a waterfront restaurant followed by a walk on the beach
  • Part Four: exploring the Fortaleza de San Felipe

The combination of these activities made for a busy yet insightful day in port, and I’m glad we chose to experience multiple types of activities in one day as opposed to choosing one thing over another.

Now that we’ve learned about the 7 things I did right on my recent port day, let’s take a look at our biggest mistakes of the day.

Leaving a cellphone in a taxi

At the end of our port day, our driver Ramon dropped us back off at the Taino Bay cruise port and we said farewell.

Two minutes later, my cousin Keli realized she left her cellphone in the back seat of his car. While I had no doubt that our friendly guide Ramon would return her phone, I was nervous he wouldn’t realize it was in his car until we had already left Puerto Plata.

Luckily I had gotten Ramon’s phone number earlier in the day, so myself and a few workers in port tried calling his phone, but it appeared to be off. We kept trying to call until a few minutes later when Ramon appeared on his motorbike to return Keli’s phone. Phew!

While this may seem like a rookie move, it’s easy to get distracted when exploring a new place for the first time. Be sure to always check to make sure you didn’t leave anything behind.

Not trying more variety of local foods

Looking back at our day in Puerto Plata, one other change we would have made would be to try more local cuisine. 

While we had a fantastic lunch by the beach, it was undoubtedly a restaurant catered almost exclusively to tourists. I’ll admit I didn’t let our guide know I would rather eat at a hole-in-the-wall local joint, but I found myself wishing I tried food from a variety of spots in Puerto Plata.

Whether a street food stall or pastry shop, it would have been nice to see what local food can be found in the city outside of tourist-centric restaurants.

Plus, we certainly paid more for our lunch than food we could have found at a non-touristy restaurant. Although I don’t necessarily regret eating at the tourist restaurant because the food was delicious, I wish I could have eaten where local Dominicans eat as opposed to just tourists.

Not staying more hydrated

Our day in Puerto Plata was gorgeous with sunny skies and warm temperatures, but we did not drink nearly as much water as we should have.

Staying hydrated is always important, but especially so when exploring a tropical destination where you will, most likely, be constantly sweating!

With all the excitement of discovering Puerto Plata, we forgot to stay hydrated and found ourselves parched later in the day. Luckily, a fresh coconut water saved the day.

Be sure to always keep a water bottle in your daypack to stay refreshed throughout the day to avoid any problems down the line.

More shore excursion tips & tricks:

Excursion Focus: Tulum Ruins & Mayan Cenote tour in Cozumel

30 Sep 2022

Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is known for its ancient Mayan ruins and freshwater cenotes, and I wanted to experience the best of both worlds on my recent port day in Cozumel.

I booked the Tulum Ruins & Mayan Cenote tour through Royal Caribbean. This excursion combines a visit to the oceanfront Tulum Archeological site with time to swim at nearby cenotes.

This tour was located on mainland Mexico as opposed to the island of Cozumel, so I knew I was in for an adventure.

Booking options

Because of the ferry involved from the island of Cozumel to mainland Mexico, I booked this excursion directly through Royal Caribbean.

I usually prefer to book smaller tours through independent companies, but I had heard stories of ferries being delayed and causing people to miss the cruise ship.

I figured it was best to book directly through Royal Caribbean for the added protection.

Related: Is it better to book excursions through the cruise ship?

I purchased the Tulum Ruins & Mayan Cenote tour for $101.99 on Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner website.

Transportation to the mainland

All tours traveling to mainland Mexico from Cozumel met in the ship’s theater at 7:45 AM. Up bright and early, I was expecting to leave shortly after the meeting time, but we didn’t leave the theater until around 8:20 AM.

We boarded the Winjet Fast Ferry to the mainland, and there are two levels: an outdoor deck and an indoor deck with no window views.

I chose to sit indoors and this turned out to be a huge mistake. I had heard stories of the ferry being miserable through choppy waters between Cozumel and the mainland, and these stories are completely true.

The ferry ride was beyond miserable. Multiple people were vomiting around me and I was doing everything in my power to not throw up myself!

I’ve never wanted to kiss the ground more than when I disembarked the ferry on the mainland. Thankfully the non-drowsy Dramamine I took before the ferry saved me and I arrived in Playa del Carmen unscathed.

On the way back, I sat on the top deck so I could keep my eyes on the horizon throughout the whole journey. Being outside was much better than indoors.

Tulum Ruins

Following the 45 minute ferry, our group of 44 passengers boarded a 1 hour bus to the Tulum archaeological site.

The Tulum Archeological Site is the only site in Mexico's Quintana Roo state facing the Caribbean Sea, and the city was once the center of land and sea trade in the region. It is thought to have been constructed between 1200 AD and 1450 AD.

Many temples and buildings are located right on the ocean, leading to spectacular views of ancient history mixed with turquoise Caribbean waters.

Our tour included a wonderful guide, Tony, and it was fascinating to learn about the traditions and culture of those who once called this site home. We were given earpieces to wear so everyone could hear the guide.

The archeological site was not outrageously busy when we visited, and we were given an hour of free time to explore after our ~1 hour tour of the ruins.

I always enjoy visiting archeological sites, and the Tulum Ruins are particularly beautiful as they are right on the water. They were all well-preserved and I appreciated that visitors are neither permitted to climb on the ruins nor walk on the beaches to keep the site in excellent condition.

After exploring on my own, I headed back to the entrance of the archaeological site, where there are souvenir shops and places to eat. Our tour included a small sandwich in the morning, but most guests ordered tacos at the site.

Cenote tour

After around two hours at the Tulum Ruins, we boarded the bus for a quick, 15-minute drive to the second part of our excursion: a cenote tour.

Cenotes are natural sinkholes formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock, exposing the groundwater below. The Yucatán Peninsula is said to have over 6,000 cenotes.

These have become popular tourist destinations in recent years, allowing visitors to cool off in the region’s hot temperatures in a natural, tropical oasis.

Our tour brought us to two cenotes. I had never seen a cenote before and they were just as beautiful as I had imagined.

The first cenote was fully exposed to open air and had clear, cold water perfect for swimming. We were provided life jackets as the cenotes are quite deep, and many visitors were cliff jumping into the cenote from above.

The 5-minute walk to the second cenote was beautiful along a path through mangroves.

The second cenote was in a cave, and our group was guided into the cave’s small opening and through an underground pathway to the other side.

Food and drink stands were available throughout the cenote complex, and I ordered a fresh mango and passion fruit juice before starting the long journey back to Cozumel.

What I liked about this tour

I felt this tour had a nice mix of history, natural beauty, and adrenaline. It was interesting to visit mainland Mexico from Cozumel even if it required the choppy ferry ride, and the two destinations we visited were undeniably beautiful.

I loved being able to cool down in the cenotes after walking around the Tulum Ruins in the September humidity, and I’d love to explore more cenotes on future visits to Mexico.

Our driver and two guides were friendly, knowledgeable, and professional throughout the tour.

What I didn’t like

One of the reasons I don’t book Royal Caribbean excursions or large group tours very often is due to how slowly the tours move.

A lot of this excursion was spent waiting around for all guests to finish at the bathrooms, board the bus, arrive at the theater in the morning, etc.

Additionally, while the cenotes were gorgeous and refreshing, our time at the cenotes was very brief. We were only given around 15 minutes to swim at each cenote, and there were a lot of crowds. I felt our time at the ruins was a good length, however.

The ferry was by far the worst part of the day, so if you’re planning this tour it’s imperative to pack motion-sickness medication and sit on the outdoor deck.

Should you book this shore excursion?

While this tour had its downsides, it still offered the quintessential Yucatán vacation experience of visiting ruins and cenotes. The Tulum Ruins are larger and more impressive than anything found on Cozumel, so if you’re interested in visiting Mayan Ruins it’s worth the trip.

Plus, when you look back at the tour in 10 years, you won’t remember the nausea-inducing ferry ride or summer humidity. What you will remember are the fantastic sites, history, and nature you experienced!

If you do select this tour, I’d highly recommend planning more relaxing port days for the rest of your itinerary. This tour is tiring and busy; it lasted 9 hours!

Booking an all-inclusive beach club or catamaran tour for the other port days on your cruise is a good idea to ensure you don’t get too worn out.

I would not recommend trying to do this excursion on your own. Due to lengthy travel time required with the ferry, it’s best to book directly through Royal Caribbean.

More excursion recommendations and reviews:

Excursion Review: Jaime's at the Blue Reef all-inclusive day pass in Costa Maya

29 Sep 2022

Costa Maya is one of the busiest cruise ports in Mexico, and we’re always looking for new excursions to try in this small beach town. We recently tried an all-inclusive day pass at Jaime’s at the Blue Reef, a local hotel near the port, to see if the amenities, food, and drinks were worth the admission fee.

The result? A gorgeous beach day complete with spicy tacos, refreshing margaritas, and luxurious pool views.

Let's take a look at our experience at Jaime's at the Blue Reef to help you determine if you should give it a try on your next visit to Costa Maya.


Jaime’s at the Blue Reef is a 10 minute taxi ride away from the Costa Maya cruise port, and a taxi costs $4 per person each way. It is located in the small beachfront town of Mahahual, Mexico.

Jaime’s at the Blue Reef is a hotel and restaurant offering day passes to cruise ship guests. Capacity is kept low in an effort to provide the best service possible. No more than 28 day passes are sold each day.

All-inclusive day passes at Jaime’s at the Blue Reef include the following amenities:

  • Unlimited food and beverages
  • Private spot on the beach with padded lounge chairs
  • Shaded palapas
  • Kayaks, floats, and paddle boards
  • Pool access (dependent on availability and adults-only)
  • Wi-fi

Day passes at Jaime’s at the Blue Reef often sell out, so it’s important to reserve your booking ahead of time. To reserve a day pass, visit the official website for Jaime’s at the Blue Reef.

At the time of review, the cost of admission was:

  • Adults: $57 USD
  • 13 to 17: $33 USD
  • 6 to 12: $19.95 USD
  • 5 & under: Free

After being checked in, a staff member will escort your group to your private, padded lounge chairs and palapa along the beach.


Jaime's at the Blue Reef has a calm, clean, and warm beach which is protected from strong currents and seaweed by a barrier in the water.

The water is so calm, clear, and warm that it is almost like swimming in a bathtub, and the sand is soft with no rocks and very little seaweed.

Water sport equipment is available at no extra charge, and many guests (mostly kids) chose to try a kayak or stand up paddle in the protected beach area.

The padded beach loungers are sufficiently shaded from the palapa and coconut trees above.

Jaime’s at the Blue Reef has a small pool located on the roof, although day pass guests should check with the hotel before booking to see if the pool will be available.

When we visited, the pool was only open to adults. There is no shade at the pool, but it offers panoramic views of the ocean, town, and coral reefs in the distance.

Jaime’s at the Blue Reef does not offer services like massages, boat tours, etc., but these activities are offered by other local companies located just a few feet from the hotel. A snorkeling tour may be offered by Jaime’s each day, but it’s best to contact the hotel for availability and pricing.

Guests can enjoy unlimited food and drinks throughout the day at Jaime’s at the Blue Reef, and this offers a great value for those hoping to taste a variety of foods and snacks.

The food menu had both standard Mexican fare (tacos, quesadillas, nachos, ceviche, etc.) and also American fare (hamburgers, onion rings, chicken fingers, etc.).

Jaime's at the Blue Reef has a cocktail and beer menu available along with a selection of non-alcoholic beverages.

Waiters can bring food and drinks to your beach chair or you can sit at the shaded bar and restaurant area.


I’m not a fan of the immediate port area where cruise ships dock in Costa Maya as it feels very inauthentic, so I always search for things to do in the nearby town of Mahahual instead.

I like how the hotel's location is right in the middle of the town of Mahahual, as it was easy to access, yet I didn't feel "stuck" at a resort with nowhere else to go.

After lunch, I took a walk around Mahahual's Boardwalk. I love this small town and it's always fun to walk around, shop, and chat with locals. This is something I wouldn't be able to do as easily at a more secluded resort, and it was a nice way to break up the day.

Because it was located along the busy beachfront boardwalk, however, there were frequent visits from locals trying to sell souvenirs like sunglasses, jewelry, trinkets, etc. This could be a downside for some guests, although none of the vendors were pushy, so I didn't mind.

Beach & Pool

I appreciated the calm waters at the beach, as I don’t enjoy fighting strong waves or currents. There was virtually no seaweed in the water, too, which was a huge plus.

The beach area had enough space for all guests, although chairs were relatively close together.

The pool was one of my favorite amenities at Jaime’s at the Blue Reef, and although it’s not listed on the hotel’s website as a day pass amenity, it was available when we were in town.

When I went to the pool, there were no other guests there, so I had the entire area to myself. While the pool isn’t very convenient to access (it’s on the roof of the 4-story hotel with no elevator), it’s well worth the trek for gorgeous views of Costa Maya.

Jaime explained that this area permits topless sunbathing, so it’s an adults-only area.

Food & Drink

I wasn’t sure how authentic the food would be at Jaime’s and was a bit skeptical once I saw how many American foods were on the menu. These worries quickly went away, however, with my first bite of guacamole.

I did not expect such a delicious appetizer. There’s no question that the guacamole is made-to-order with fresh avocados, and I could have eaten only chips and guacamole all day and been satisfied!

I also tried two varieties of tacos: fish and vegetable tempura. You can’t go wrong with tacos, and the two hot sauce selections were impressively spicy.

The highlight of the meal came when Jaime, the owner of Jaime’s at the Blue Reef, made a fresh, tropical fish ceviche. Made with white fish, pineapple, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and black sesame seeds, it was tangy, savory, and sweet at the same time.

With the combination of Mexican and American fare offered, Jaime’s has a crowd-pleasing menu suitable for even the pickiest eaters.

As far as drinks go, I had no complaints and enjoyed a fresh pineapple juice and margarita. Others in our group ordered Modelos, a Tequila Sunrise, and (a few too many) shots of tequila.

Waiter service was relatively quick for both food and drinks, and all staff members were remarkably friendly. They constantly walked around the beach to check if we wanted to order anything else.

Final thoughts

I would definitely visit Jaime’s at the Blue Reef on future trips to Costa Maya. Considering the day pass includes a private, shaded beach chair, beach and pool access, drinks, food, water sports equipment, and wi-fi, I thought it offered a great value.

It wasn’t hard to “break even” on the $57 day pass, especially when considering the price of food and drinks in the immediate Costa Maya cruise port.

It was hard to find any complaints with the day pass, but if I had to pick a downside it would be the location of the pool, as it isn’t convenient to access on the roof. That being said, the pool location was a huge benefit to me as I could relax with stunning beach views.

If you’re looking for an all-inclusive beach day in a convenient, centrally-located area of Mahahual, Jaime’s at the Blue Reef may be the best choice for your day in port.

More all-inclusive day pass reviews:

Best shore excursion in every Caribbean cruise port

26 Sep 2022

One of the best aspects of any cruise vacation is planning what to do in port, but it can quickly become overwhelming with hundreds of tours and ideas to choose from.

St. John Beach

If you’re cruising to the Caribbean, you’ll find a wide range of tours from beach days to catamaran cruises, zip line adventures, ATV excursions, and much more.

Although you’ll likely have an amazing port day no matter which excursion you book, there are some excursions that stand out from the rest, and every Caribbean island offers unique activities and attractions.

Let’s discuss the best shore excursion to book in every Caribbean cruise port to help you make the most of your next Caribbean cruise.


Antigua is home to 365 beaches, so it’s no surprise that a beach day is a must while on the island.

If your cruise visits Antigua, make the trip to Valley Church Beach, located only 20 minutes by car from the cruise port. The beach remains relatively undeveloped, making it a serene day for those looking to relax in the sun and sand.

Excursion Focus: Valley Church Beach in Antigua


Cruising to the ABC islands calls for beaches, culture, and unique excursion opportunities. If your cruise itinerary visits all three islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao), we recommend making Aruba a beach day.

The most famous beach on the island is Eagle Beach, a wide stretch of sand with pristine turquoise waters. The beach offers excellent swimming as well as the opportunity to snorkel or rent water sport equipment.

Related: Visiting Eagle Beach in Aruba on Freedom of the Seas


Visiting Turtle Bay in Barbados is among the most popular shore excursions on the island.

Royal Caribbean offers the Swim with Turtles, Shipwrecks, Snorkel, and Beach excursion, during which visitors take a boat ride to Turtle Bay where they can observe sea turtles in their natural habitat.

The excursion also includes snorkeling above a shipwreck and time to chill out at a nearby beach.

Belize City

Adrenaline seekers will love the opportunity to tube down the Cave Branch River, an underground cave system in Belize. Following a 45 minute hike through the rainforest, visitors can explore the cave's unique geology and ecosystem while cruising down the river.

Tubing the cave system is a popular excursion choice in Belize and can be booked through Royal Caribbean or independent tour companies. This excursion is not recommended for those with mobility issues.


Bermuda is a gem of a cruise port, and while it’s technically not located in the Caribbean sea, we’ve included it on this list because visits to the island can be found on many Caribbean cruise itineraries.

One major plus of visiting Bermuda on a cruise is that ships often dock overnight, giving you 2-3 days to explore the island’s highlights. Bermuda has excellent public transportation and it’s easy to get around without booking an official shore excursion.

Related: What to do in Bermuda on a cruise

Visiting Horseshoe Bay is a must while in Bermuda. There are on-site amenities including chair and umbrella rentals, bathrooms, and food.

Those looking for more active or cultural opportunities may also want to consider renting a bicycle to explore the Bermuda Railway Trail or walking the streets of downtown Hamilton to take in local culture and lifestyle.


Bonaire is a port perfect for an adventure-filled, active day. As one of the world’s best diving locations, many cruisers explore underwater to spot the coral reefs and marine life that make this island a diver’s paradise.

If scuba diving is of interest to you but you’re not certified, consider booking a Discover Scuba tour. This tour will give you the necessary skills to partake in an assisted dive with an instructor.

Excursion Focus: Discover Scuba tour

Snorkeling opportunities are fantastic on the island as well, and many passengers find that renting an ATV or golf cart provides the perfect way to explore as much of Bonaire as possible in one day.

Related: Renting an ATV in Bonaire

Costa Maya

As one of the most common cruise ports in the Caribbean, there is no shortage of things to do in Costa Maya. Instead of offering just one “best” shore excursion in this Mexican port, we have three, one of which is sure to fit your cruising style.

If you’re looking for a beach day, book a day pass to Maya Chan Beach Resort. This all-inclusive day pass includes transportation, beach beds, all-you-can-eat food, an open bar, use of snorkeling gear and glass bottom kayaks, bathroom facilities, lockers, wifi, and more.

Excursion Focus: Maya Chan Beach in Costa Maya

History lovers will want to book a visit to the Chacchoben Ruins, which were estimated to have been settled around 200 B.C. As the ruins are located a 45 minute bus ride away from the cruise port, booking an excursion through Royal Caribbean directly is recommended.

Excursion Focus: Chacchoben Ruins in Costa Maya

Finally, those interested in exploring more of Costa Maya’s culture may want to make the short trip to the nearby town of Mahahual. This small town has plenty of local businesses, restaurants, and day passes to beach clubs to enjoy.

Related: Visiting Mahahual while in Costa Maya


Cozumel is another of the most popular cruise ports in the Caribbean, and we recommend booking a day pass to a beach club while in port.

There are several day passes to choose from, but our favorites are Nachi Cocom and Paradise Beach. Read our full reviews of each day pass here to pick the one best suited for you:


While there are plenty of excursions offered in Curaçao, many cruisers enjoy strolling through the capital of Willemstad without an organized tour.

Walking across the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge is a highlight for many visitors in addition to visiting local shops, cafes, and restaurants and taking a trip to a nearby beach.

Related: Spending the day in Curacao without a tour


Dominica has lush, dramatic landscapes, and one of the best ways to explore the island is by booking a shore excursion to the rainforest.

The River Tubing, Rainforest Drive, and Hibiscus Falls excursion offered by Royal Caribbean provides the best of Dominica’s natural beauty with an active adventure.

The tour begins with a tubing adventure and visit to Hibiscus Falls, a 40-foot waterfall leading to an emerald green pool perfect for taking a swim. Following a visit to the falls is a longer, 90-minute tubing adventure through mini-rapids and slower-flowing waters through the rainforest.


While some ports are best for exploring without an organized tour, we recommend booking a shore excursion in Falmouth to make the most of your day in port.

Falmouth offers beaches and jungles, so there’s something for everyone and every fitness level.

Active adventurers may want to book the Blue Hole, Dunn’s River Falls & Chill at Reggae Hill shore excursion. This tour includes diving and swimming at Jamaica’s famous Blue Hole followed by the chance to climb small waterfalls and explore caves. The excursion ends with a relaxing afternoon at a park with reggae music, lunch, and beverages.

If climbing waterfalls and diving sounds like the exact opposite of a relaxing day in the Caribbean, consider booking a day pass through There are six day passes listed on the website, most of which are all-inclusive and include transportation from the ship.


While Nassau and Perfect Day at CocoCay are the most popular cruise ports in the Bahamas, you’ll find plenty of itineraries visiting Freeport, Grand Bahama Island.

Freeport may not offer as many shore excursions to choose from compared to other Bahamian ports, but many visitors plan for a beach day or visit the Lucayan National Park.

Booking the Lucayan National Park Kayak & Nature Tour is a fun excursion to book through Royal Caribbean, as it includes a guided kayak tour through mangroves and creeks in Lucayan National Park followed by a beach break.

Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean: Seven Mile Beach, and visiting the beach is a popular excursion choice for those looking to explore Grand Cayman without an organized tour.

Related: 11 of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean

If you’d prefer to explore underwater as opposed to laying on a beach, book a tour through Stingray City, an area of shallow sandbars with an abundance of stingrays. Booking a tour to Stingray City means you’ll have the chance to snorkel and interact with not only stingrays, but turtles, starfish, and other marine life.


Grenada is known as the Island of Spice, and we recommend splitting your port day into two sections: a cultural tour and time at the beach.

The best way to do this is through a shore excursion that combines both attractions of the island. Royal Caribbean’s Spices and Sunshine tour first brings visitors to the Laura Spica Gardens, where they’ll learn more about the various spices and herbs produced on the island.

Following this cultural insight, visitors travel to Grand Anse Beach, often considered the best beach on the island.


Royal Caribbean’s private destination of Labadee offers more than enough to enjoy without spending anything extra on excursions. However, there are several additional activities to book that can offer a more enhanced experience in port.

Those looking for a more luxurious experience in Labadee may want to rent a private cabana. Cabanas include a cabana attendant, bottled water, snorkel gear, floating mats, and more.

More information on Labadee cabanas:

Outside of cabana rentals, you may wish to book a ride on Labadee’s famous zipline or a ride on the Dragon’s Tail Coaster. Both activities are sure to get your adrenaline pumping and can be fun options when traveling with kids.

Excursion Focus: Zipline at Labadee


Martinique is a French territory that is undeniably French, and while it may not be a very common port stop, the island offers activities for all interests.

Because you won’t find many cruises visiting Martinique, we recommend making the most of your time on the island through an island tour. Booking an island tour means you can see multiple of the island’s highlights, from beaches to markets and historic ruins, in one day.

You can choose to book a tour through Royal Caribbean or through an outsider provider.

Related: 5 quick and easy tips for finding a great shore excursion on your own


Nassau is an extremely common port on cruise itineraries, and most visitors to New Providence Island will opt for a beach day.

Our favorite shore excursion in Nassau is a day trip to Pearl Island. Located 30 minutes away from the cruise port by boat, Pearl Island offers a small, turquoise beach, bar and lunch buffet, lounge chairs, watersports equipment, and more.

Excursion Focus: Pearl Island Beach Escape in Nassau

If you’re looking for other ideas of how to spend a day in Nassau, check out our article on the best things to do in Nassau on a cruise.

Ocho Rios

While most cruises stop in Falmouth, Jamaica as opposed to Ocho Rios, you’ll find that they offer several of the same excursions.

While we mentioned booking an excursion to Dunn’s River Falls from Falmouth, the waterfalls are much closer to the Ocho Rios cruise port.

If you are interested in exploring the natural beauty of Jamaica’s lush rainforest, your best bet for an excursion in Ocho Rios is one that visits Dunn’s River falls and the surrounding area. Due to the falls’ proximity to the cruise port, you won’t have trouble finding an excursion through Royal Caribbean or independent tour companies.

Perfect Day at CocoCay

Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas, is one of the most beloved ports among Royal Caribbean fans.

Included at Perfect Day at CocoCay is beach access, food, drinks (juices, water, tea, etc.), beach chairs, umbrellas, Splashaway Bay, Captain’s Jill’s Galleon, Oasis Lagoon pool, and more. Most is included in the cruise fare, so it’s not necessary to book an excursion on the island.

There are, however, several other activities on the island for an extra cost including Thrill Waterpark, a zipline course, jet skis, kayaking, the Coco Beach Club, and cabanas, just to name a few.

If you’re considering booking an excursion or rental at Perfect Day at CocoCay, you may find the following guides and reviews helpful:


Located on the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula is the port of Progreso, and our most recommended shore excursion in this port is a visit to Chichén Itzá, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

While you can visit Chichén Itzá from Cozumel, it’s much easier to visit the site from Progreso as it does not require a ferry ride from the island of Cozumel to mainland Mexico.

Due to travel time required, we recommend booking an excursion to Chichén Itzá through Royal Caribbean directly. Excursions run around $104 to Chichén Itzá per adult and $164 for a combined trip to Chichén Itzá and a nearby cenote.

Puerto Plata

Natural beauty is in abundance in the Caribbean, and that remains true in the Dominican Republic, where visitors can enjoy beaches, jungles, and waterfalls.

One of the most popular excursions in Puerto Plata is a visit to the Damajagua Waterfalls, a lush area of the forest with 27 waterfalls to explore. You can swim, slide down, and jump off waterfalls, and it’s a fantastic way to cool down in the Caribbean heat.

You may also find an excursion option combining a visit to the waterfalls with a zip line for extra fun!


Many Western Caribbean cruise itineraries include a stop in Roatan, an island off the coast of northern Honduras.

There are a lot of excursions to choose from in Roatan, from petting sloths and monkeys to spending the day at a beach resort.

Instead of choosing one excursion over another, we recommend booking a private tour of the island with Victor Bodden Tours. These tours can be customized to your liking and come at a reasonable price, even for solo travelers.

San Juan

San Juan, Puerto Rico is a Caribbean cruise port where booking an organized shore excursion isn’t totally necessary.

Cruise ships dock directly in Old San Juan, the historic, colorful neighborhood of San Juan. Visitors to Old San Juan can spend time exploring the city’s historic forts, walking the old city walls, dining at a local restaurant, and relaxing in one of the city’s parks and squares.

Related: Things to do in Old San Juan

St Croix

Biking is one of the best ways to explore a new destination, and if you’re interested in an active excursion, consider the Bike St. Croix tour offered by Royal Caribbean.

This tour takes guests on a 10-mile bike ride along St. Croix’s coastline, through sugar plantations, and in the port city of Frederiksted. It includes commentary from a local guide, as well, meaning you’ll not only take in the sights, but also the culture and history of this Caribbean island.

St Kitts

A unique shore excursion opportunity in the Caribbean is taking a ride on the Caribbean Scenic Railway in St. Kitts.

The main industry in St. Kitts used to be sugar cane, and the train was originally built to transport sugar cane around the island. The train rides through the countryside of St. Kitts, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy beautiful views of the island’s natural landscapes.

Excursion Focus: Caribbean Scenic Railway Tour in St. Kitts

St Lucia

St. Lucia is famous for the Pitons, two mountainous volcanic plugs that rise over 2500 feet above sea level.

Many visitors to St. Lucia put the Pitons on their must-do list, and there are many shore excursions to take guests to these iconic peaks. Traveling to the Pitons via boat is recommended over a car or bus, as the roads can be quite windy and aren’t ideal for those prone to motion sickness.

Royal Caribbean offers the Coastal Cruise to the Pitons excursion, a four hour tour including roundtrip transportation to the Pitons and a swimming stop at one of the island’s bays.

St. Maarten

St. Maarten is a favorite port among cruisers for the wide variety of options offered on the island. From watching planes land at Maho Beach to walking the streets of Philipsburg and discovering the Dutch and French sides of the island, it can be difficult to decide what to do in port.

Therefore, we recommend booking a taxi for the day in St. Maarten to bring you on a private, customizable tour around the island. The island is fairly small, so it’s possible to see all of St. Maarten’s main highlights in one day on both the French and Dutch sides.

If you’re feeling more adventurous than traveling via taxi, consider renting a bicycle and exploring St. Maarten on two wheels!

Excursion Focus: Cycling in St. Maarten

St. Thomas

If you’re visiting St. Thomas and looking to experience one of the most pristine beaches in the Caribbean, book an excursion that visits St. John.

St. John is a true island paradise, and many excursions visit the famous Trunk Bay Beach, known for its soft, white sand and underwater snorkeling trail.

While you can visit St. John without an excursion, it can be challenging to find a taxi to bring you to the ferry terminal, travel to and from the island via ferry, and find a taxi back to the ship. Because of this, we recommend booking a tour to visit St. John.

Related: Guide to visiting St. John on a Royal Caribbean cruise

St. Vincent

Cruise itineraries visiting St. Vincent are few and far between, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to discover in this small island nation.

One of the most unique tours offered in St. Vincent is a hiking trip on Mount Soufrière, the largest peak on the island and an active volcano. Rising over 4,000 feet above sea level, the hike is no walk in the park, but offers unbeatable views of the country and the unique opportunity to experience an active volcano up close.


If your cruise visits the British Virgin Islands, consider making a day trip to the small island of Jost Van Dyke from Tortola. While on this small island, you can swim and snorkel in a protected cove with extremely soft sand and clear waters.

Planning a shore excursion? Here are more of our top tips & tricks:

5 cruise ship shore excursions I tried and instantly regretted

17 Sep 2022

There have been a few shore excursions I've taken over the years that I would love to get my time and money back.

Mr Sanchos in Cozumel

Shore excursions are a major part of any cruise vacation because the ports of call a cruise ship visits is an extension of the overall trip. Each day you visit a new port and there's just enough time to get a taste of what that city, island, or country has to offer.

I've usually had good luck with choosing a tour, as I've learned the sort of things I like and don't like to do. But once in a while, I run into a dud and realize I've made a mistake.

Sometimes the issue is subjective because I personally don't care for the type of tour offered or something else just isn't my cup of tea.

Other times, I felt the tour just didn't measure up to expectations. In any case, it left me wishing I had done something else.

Here are five times I took a cruise ship shore excursion and reconsidered my decision making almost immediately.

Blue Waters Beach Escape in Falmouth

Ever since Royal Caribbean started visiting Falmouth, Jamaica, I've struggled to find a great go-to shore excursion.

Part of the issue is Falmouth is a relatively new cruise port and there aren't a lot of attractions nearby, which means you need a long bus trip to get to the great stuff.

On one visit in 2016, I thought to heck with spending an hour or more on a bus, we'll go to the beach and enjoy the Caribbean waters because how bad could it be?

We tried Blue Waters Beach Escape that I booked through Royal Caribbean and it reinforced one of the most common issues a person can have on a tour booked through the cruise line: an oversold and underwhelming experience.

While bus ride was short to the beach (about 10 minutes), we found a ton of other tours had beaten us here, which left very little seating.  

Some guests who arrived after us had no chairs available and had to settle for beach chair mats until chairs were freed up by departing guests.  The shore excursion title says, "An exclusive Blue Waters Beach Escape", but clearly this was not as exclusive as one may have thought.

On top of that, the food offered by the beach's "5-star chefs" was also quite underwhelming and limited.

The lesson for me here was to reconsider beach break shore excursions sold through the cruise line for the overselling aspect it brings with it. In the Caribbean, there are plenty of beaches in any port, so I'm best served by finding another way to visit one of the other less-crowded options.

A day at Margaritaville

Another "Jamaica mistaica" was to skip the tours all together and just hang out at the Margaritaville in Falmouth.

On my next visit to Falmouth, we thought we'd take it easy and just hang out in the Margaritaville bar that contained within the Falmouth cruise port because it has a rather large pool, plenty of chairs, and food that we'll enjoy (even if it's nothing special or authentic).

The day started off good, as we got to Margaritaville and found our spot. There was no cost to enter the pool or use the facilities and the kids really enjoyed the pool.

Unfortunately, a lot of other people had the same idea we did and by mid-morning, the pool and seating was super crowded.

Being a Margaritaville, the food and drink were nothing spectacular but also quite expensive. The longer we stayed, the more I thought "I could be enjoying a very similar experience back on the cruise ship for a lot less money".

We eventually packed things up and went back to the ship, but the lesson I learned here was Margaritaville is fine for a quick visit, not a whole day stop.

Trying to get to St. John on my own

Ever since I visited St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I loved how absolutely beautiful it was and wanted to return every time.

In order to visit St. John, you have to take the ferry from an area of St. Thomas known as Red Hook. Red Hook is not really near any popular beaches, so it is not exactly the most popular destinations out there.

My plan was to go take the ferry to nearby St. John and enjoy a day at one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited. 

We went to the taxi stand and asked to go to Red Hook.  In St. Thomas, taxis in the form of a sedan are nearly nonexistent.  

Each taxi driver passed us on to someone else, as they were unwilling to drive us there.  For some strange reason, the taxis in St. Thomas are primarily these converted pickup truck buses, and the taxi operators all want to maximize every seat in the vehicle.

So after 30-40 minutes of literally standing around to go, we were told to board one of these buses to go to Red Hook.  Except the bus was not going to Red Hook. We asked the people onboard where they were headed, and were told some other beach on the island.  So clearly the plan was to take these folks somewhere, and drop us off later. 

I was so irritated at the situation, that I decided I would rather spend my day back on the ship than deal with the taxi consortium.

My lesson learned here was to either book a Royal Caribbean excursion that would take us to St. John, or pre-arrange private transportation to the ferry area.

Read more: Guide to visiting St. John on a Royal Caribbean cruise

Kennedy Space Center

Don't worry, I loved Kennedy Space Center when I visited it on my Anthem of the Seas cruise. The issue was how I chose to get there.

We sailed on Anthem of the Seas from New York and had a port stop in Port Canaveral.

I don't remember why, but when we decided to visit Kennedy Space Center I was fixated on finding a Royal Caribbean shore excursion to take us there. Kennedy Space Center is a very short distance by car from Port Canaveral, and I'm not certain why I didn't take a taxi cab.

We got to the space center without any problems and had a fabulous time, but we wasted a lot of time with the bus.

We booked the Kennedy Space Center Express tour, which was not a guided tour, and it would simply drive us to the entrance and give us a time to return back.

Part of my mistake was assuming 5 hours at Kennedy Space Center was going to be too much time and I'd run out of things to do. The reality was I wish we had another five hours because it was incredible.

Had I just taken a taxi to Kennedy Space Center, we could have squeezed out another hour or two from our day.

Mr. Sanchos in Cozumel

My most recent shore excursion goof was spending the day at Mr Sanchos Beach Club in Cozumel.

Within a half hour of arriving, that little voice in my head started saying "this was a mistake" and I tried my best to enjoy the day but it was a disappointment.

It's my opinion that Mr. Sanchos' popularity seems to have lead to the one faux pas of any beach spot: overcrowding. They clearly had sold every chair and table at the resort and I found it to be overcrowded and unenjoyable.

The wait staff were great, but I found it disappointing how busy things were because it felt like we were all pushed together a little too much.

Making matters worse was the food, which came overcooked and didn't taste great.

I know Mr. Sanchos is a beach resort a lot of people have enjoyed over the years, but I thought it paled in comparison to many other beach days spots in Cozumel.

Bonus: Walt Disney World

Consider this a word of caution rather than a personal experience.

A lot of cruisers that visit Port Canaveral for the day are tempted to book a shore excursion that takes them to Walt Disney World in nearby Orlando. 

It's an hour-long drive and seems like a great idea for a day visit.

The problem with this idea is how incredibly expensive a one-day pass is to the parks, along with the timing.

Because your ship arrives much later than when the theme parks open for the day (compounded by the fact it will take you time to disembark and then drive to the parks), you'll have a very limited window of time to enjoy what Disney offers. 

Moreover, because you have to be back onboard the ship much sooner than the theme parks close, there's just no way you're getting your money's worth from a day visit.

If you want to experience Disney World with a cruise, your best best is to do a land vacation there before your cruise for a few days, and then book a short weekend cruise on Royal Caribbean to recuperate.

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