Note: I am currently sailing a 5-day Mexican cruise aboard Carnival’s oldest ship — Carnival Ecstasy, a trip that cost only $14 per day in cruise fare. Each day I cover the experience, giving you an inside peek at what it’s like to sail this trip.
You can view other days here:
- (Live Blog Day 1) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: Not What I Expected!
- (Live Blog Day 2) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: Neon, Gambling, and The Beatles
- (Live Blog Day 4) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: An Amazing Excursion… That Cost More than the Cruise
- (Live Blog Day 5) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: Last Day. Would I Do It Again?!
Today, Carnival Ecstasy docked in its first port of call since departing Mobile — Cozumel, Mexico. And the ship is far from alone.
Cozumel is one of the most popular cruise ports of call on the planet, comparable to Nassau in The Bahamas. While you aren’t ever likely to visit when no other ships are in port, today took it to another level.
Our ship arrived around 8:15 this morning, with two other ships — Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas and Grandeur of the Seas — already docked. Right behind us was the Carnival Breeze. On the way in we crossed paths with a Celebrity cruise ship, which was then joined by and MSC ship. And to top it all off, a couple of hours after docking, Carnival Conquest made an appearance.
All told, seven different cruise ship docked at the island today. That’s by far the most I’ve ever seen in my trips here. Needless to say, the port was busy.
This morning started out with passing rain showers, including a drenching as we made our way to the dock. It’s one of those Caribbean days where one minute it looks like it’s about to pour and the next minute it is bright and sunny. One benefit is that this morning I saw the most vivid rainbows I’ve ever seen as one side of the sky was sunny and the other had dark rain clouds.
But that weather, combined with some ridiculous “tourist” prices, also led to what ended up being an awesome adventure.
Needless to say, after two days on the ship, I was ready for port and to stretch my legs. My plan was to spend the day in Cozumel at Playa Palancar. It’s a beach area where admission is free, but you’re expected to buy food and drinks while you enjoy the facilities. Since I have an excursion for tomorrow’s port (Progreso), I thought that this would be an easy way to spend the day.
Exiting the ship and making my way into the port, I did a quick lap around all the souvenir shops and bars/restaurants in the port area before making my way to the taxi stand.
If you’ve never visited Cozumel, then one tip is that the taxi prices are set and listed in the ports. So you can see exactly how much you can expect to pay before you get in. The only issue is that taxi prices are pretty high.
For example, for the ride down the coast to Playa Palancar, which is less than 10 miles, the cost was listed at $25. Considering I’m cruising solo, that would mean $50 round trip just for me to get back and forth… before any sort of tip. That’s nearly what I paid in cruise fare!
Had the weather been perfect, I might have just paid the fare. But with clouds and showers moving in and out, the last thing I wanted to do was to pay a lot to get to the beach… and then get rained out.
So at the last minute, I decided to just start walking into town to explore on my own.
Exiting the port, I made my way north. And with so many ships in port, things were hectic. Taxis and scooters are going back and forth, cruise passengers are everywhere, and little shops and stands try to get you to stop and buy something. Honestly, it’s not that nice of an experience. But get just a little past the cruise port and things quiet down on the way into town.
In this case I didn’t know what I was looking for, but really just exploring. There were a number of small restaurants, as well as several hotels with beach clubs where cruise passengers can get a day pass. I figured I would end up stopping at one of these clubs to spend the day. In all, I ended up walking about 30 minutes to a lighthouse that marks the start of the main town on Cozumel.
Sitting on a bench under a tree to cool off a bit, I started to head back with the intention of stopping at one of the beach clubs for the day.
However, after about 10 minutes I saw a sign for “Playa Stingray” with a set of simple stairs that led from the sidewalk down to the beach. With plenty of time, I headed down to check it out.
Now you should know that the shore on this side of Cozumel is very rocky. The sandy beaches are down south or on the other side of the island. But the water is crystal clear and warm. And while Playa Stingray wasn’t postcard worthy, I was also completely alone here. Just down the coast were massive cruise ships with thousands of people, loud taxis, scooters, and more. And the other direction sat the main city with even more cruise ships.
In this spot, however, I had found a little hidden-away beach that was literally all to myself. I sat my things under one of the trees, carefully made my way out over a few rocks, and then swam in the Caribbean for almost an hour. The salt water was so buoyant, all you had to do was lean back with a full breath and you’d float like a raft.
Sure, there are nicer beaches, but being able to have a little spot to yourself in such a busy port was priceless.
Everyone knows that swimming builds up an appetite, and that’s exactly what happened next. Heading back toward the ships, I ducked into a hole-in-the-wall spot called Ernesto’s there on the main road between the port and town.
This open-air restaurant serves typical Mexican fare, but also features a patio that looks out into the water and the cruise dock. With the heat and humidity, I wanted something lighter, so I ordered guacamole. Out comes a huge plate of guac, a basket of chips, salsa, and pico. It would have easily fed four as an appetizer… and I ate every bit of it.
All-in-all, my exploring had taken 4-5 hours and I decided to head back to the ship, but not before doing some souvenir shopping for a couple of people back home.
Specifically, I was looking for something for dear-old mom. My mom is one of a kind. She absolutely loves anything cheap and gaudy and specifically asked me to bring her something that fit the bill.
“Mom, I don’t want to waste money on that kind of stuff. It’s just going to get thrown away.”
“It makes me laugh. I like it!”
So, yes, I ended up looking for something tacky that she would like. And let’s just say, it doesn’t get tackier than this:
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s a Mexican skeleton Michael Jackson, complete with velvet suit and one sparkly glove.
Can you believe this was even marked down 80% from its original cost?! What can I say? I know a deal when I see one.
Heading back to the ship, the afternoon and evening had a decidedly different feel than they have the previous days on board. It seems obvious that the day of being out in the sun and heat has seemingly taken it out of everyone. It was quieter around the ship and fewer people were out and about.
That said, there was a good turnout for what’s a cruise staple and one of the most popular shows on any cruise — the Love & Marriage game show. No matter how many times I’ve seen this show (and it counts in the dozens), it’s always something new and hilarious. This version included a couple that had been married 50 years and one that was married just four days ago.
And if you’re wondering the best answer of the night to the famous question in the game (Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever made “whoopie”?), then it had to be the couple that answered in the back of his work truck, on top of the “meat snacks” he was delivering.
Like I said, it’s always something new.
- I’ve noticed that the lines to eat on this cruise seem to stay plenty long. For instance, I grabbed some pizza (which itself took about 15 minutes to get) and saw across the buffet that the main line was about 30 people long. I chalked it up to it being the start of dinner. But after I finished my meal about 30 minutes later, that line was still about the same length and seeming to move slowly.
- Heading from the ship into port, passengers had to pass through one of two lines, each with a dog sniffing their bags. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is drugs. However, these were dogs sniffing out agricultural products that aren’t allowed to be brought ashore. Sure enough, at the end of line was a table with things like apples and bananas that passengers had brought with them from the ship.