Monthly Archives: November 2014

Cruising

It’s easy to forget the true purpose of a cruise is to visit foreign parts – there are too many things to keep us entertained on board these modern ships (or do we call it a boat?). And it hardly looked inviting as we dropped anchor at the first port of call. The heavens darkened as torrents flooded the narrow streets of Cozumel. Apparently it was the first time they’d seen rain since April. We admitted it was our fault; being English we attract grey clouds, just like Winnie the Pooh.

Anyway by the time David and Stacey hired a jeep and we’d all piled inside the clouds had emptied and the far horizon looked temptingly bright. Driving out of town on the island’s single ring-road we used our basic map to hunt for the kind of beach anticipated by the prefix ‘Caribbean’ i.e. palm trees with white sands fringed by a turquoise sea. It took a couple of sorties before we found one that didn’t charge per-item (parking, toilets, shower facilities, loungers, being there) as private beach clubs monopolise much of the best coastline, but finally, after bumping down an unmettled  track through what can only be described as swampland (with resident tropical mosquitoes), we found what we were looking for. Picture-poster paradise!

Cozumel beach

We settled onto the ‘free’ sun-loungers and while everyone else went to change into swim-suits (only the timid call them costumes) the waiter brought a menu for the beach bar. No coffee? No tea? Now I love an ambitious cocktail but not before elevenses. The man seemed flummoxed by my abstinence – one rum mojito? It’s very tasty! Perhaps…given more time…I might have relented but I wanted to remember my day in Cozumel for all the right reasons.

We lazed on the beach and swam in crystal-clear water until the sun beat down so mercilessly we decided it was time to go exploring. We wanted to see the whole island – the ancient ruins, the exotic birdlife and even perhaps one of the native crocodiles (one would be enough).

Beach Bar, Cozumel

Cozumel beach 2

As we rounded the south-east tip the scenery changed dramatically as the road ran briefly beside the shore. But this wasn’t a gentle laze-in-the-sun beach, although an azure sea stretched out to a distant horizon, Atlantic-driven waves spurt over and through a plateau of craggy limestone, spouting metres into the air, illustrating one of the island’s best natural features – its blow-holes. For millions of years the sea has burrowed through these rocks and geologists have recently discovered this tiny island contains the fifth largest cave system in the world. But we didn’t come to Mexico to go caving.

Wave power

Time for lunch. We stopped at a rickety beach-bar (resting on twelve-foot high stilts) because it offered great views, and subsequently broke every ‘safe’ traveller’s rule by ordering fresh guacamole and salsa (the ‘kitchen’ proved to be a tin shed tucked behind the toilet block). The food was truly delicious but our enjoyment was shattered by a trio of hardy mariachis, two guitars and a percussionist, who’d trailed us from the capital (guitar strung to their backs and drum-kit across the knees) on an aging pair of mopeds. We’d all laughed when we sailed past them a third time not guessing they would track us down!

O sole mio

Escaping their enthusiastic rendition of ‘O Sole Mio’ (who requested a love song?) we set off for the temple ruins, our last port of call before re-boarding the ship. It’s believed the island had a population of 10,000 Mayan people before the Spanish arrived. By the late sixteenth century European diseases had decimated the native population and everyone forgot the Mayans. Although the Archaeological Institute of Mexico is responsible for maintaining the ruins they are in danger of remaining an enigma. A very inhospitable armed guard charged us a small fee for entering a concrete quadrangle which housed various souvenir shops and a bar-café full of uniformed guards. We were immediately steered to the opposite side of the square where we were charged a further fee and provided with day-glo-green wristbands which, it was explained, permitted entry to the Mayan complex. What the first fee covered was never divulged, and we were far too intimidated to enquire, but we had our suspicions – gazing at the officers at the bar.

I only wish I’d remembered the Deet. Before we reached the first set of temples we were consumed as ‘plat du jour’ by a vigorous insect population. Shorts and T-shirts proved an open invitation to hungry hoards who obviously relished Brit. At first we braved it out, running along some ancient track that kept our feet above swamp. We viewed the ruins in fast-forward mode – look…there’s a carving, look…that’s where they sacrificed people, look…there’s a giant iguana….crikey he’s real. Do they eat Brits? Rather than test the theory we raced back to the car – Indiana Jones eat your heart out.

Mayan bridge

David’s previous experience on Cozumel taught him to allow plenty of time to drive through the island’s capital. Although we had ‘the map’ roads weren’t numbered, or even classified as to size or quality, and negotiating what appeared a simple grid-system proved tricky. Our first choice was one-way – in the wrong way and the next option wasn’t wide enough for a four-wheeled vehicle wanting to retain both wing-mirrors so we felt blessed when we finally reached the harbour unscathed. David returned the jeep, leaving us to quickly browse a street market before making our way back to Navigator. Enough foreign parts for one day!

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Just Cruising

Lazy days at sea

Lazy days at sea

It’s an entirely artificial paradise, and one that is totally, completely, utterly, unashamedly self-indulgent. On board the Navigator of the Seas every effort is made towards having fun. Hungry? Apart from five gourmet restaurants, a huge self-service area and a more sedate dining hall, food and drinks are available 24/7 in the café on Deck 5 where pizzas are made freshly to order, alongside sandwiches, cakes and cookies all temptingly lined up and ready to go. You can also help yourself to as much freshly brewed coffee you may need or any kind of tea or hot chocolate or ice cold lemon water. This luxurious cruise ship has all the trappings of a five-star hotel – twenty metres high chandeliers, carpets that absorb every step, sweeping marble staircases underlit with neon lights, brass fixtures which gleam like polished gold, glass bubble lifts flying up and down between the 15 public decks. And the hub to this floating palace is the Royal Parade, a high street of shops that runs through its heart. It’s hard to believe you are actually on board a boat.

Entertainment? Well the world is at your feet – every night a different show, a different style, a different era. The ship has a host of talented in-house musicians, skaters, singers, dancers, comedians, as well as individual performers who entertain in various bars around the boat. The Two Poets Pub (modelled on everything British) featured a musician who sang so much like Van Morrison it could have been him.  Plus, as if that wasn’t enough, each week a headline act is flown in direct from Las Vegas – we were wowed by Freddie London, a singer who mimics stars like Rod Stewart and Tom Jones to perfection.

Or perhaps the lure of competition rattles your fancy? Each morning the boat’s daily newsletter gave a list of tempting choices from ‘trivia’ in the pub to achieving the biggest belly flop in the pool. No excuse for being lost for something to do.

Deck 11 is where you swim. It contains swimming pools, several Jacuzzis, loungers and a solar room (protected from the elements but featuring another pool and Jacuzzi), alongside the requisite amount of cocktail bars and a big screen where you can watch videos while you laze in the sun. There’s an ample supply of fresh towels, rolled up like blue sausages, to keep you from dripping on the sun-loungers. The Royal Caribbean Company seems to think of everything.

Yet the thing I treasured most was meeting so many of my son David and his fiance Stacey’s new colleagues. They are currently skaters-in-residence alongside eight other professional ice performers on board Navigator. Didn’t I mention the ice rink? Deck 3, Studio B – no need to bring skates, they have plenty to lend, but you must wear a helmet and the ice show is amazing. Even before the end of the first day we were admitted into the family – when you’re working at sea fellow performers look after each other with tight-knit loyalty. It’s a truly international crew, gathered from all over the world – we met people from the Ukraine, Panama, Serbia, Poland, Wales, Italy, Iran, Norway, Canada as well as the USA. And we were treated as members of their family, and it was a true honour to be admitted into such a circle of dedicated and professional performers. The stuff of beautiful memories.

Formal night

Formal night

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