(Live Blog Day 4) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: An Amazing Excursion… That Cost More than the Cruise

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:

This morning welcomed the second — and final — port of call on this 5-day cruise, when the ship docked in Progreso. (It also marked the “towel animal” invasion on the pool deck if you’re into that, although it certainly seemed like a lot fewer than there normally are.)

If you’re a fan of the towel animals invading the pool deck, today was your day.

This has been a day I’ve been looking forward to since I booked this cruise. Alongside booking the cruise itself, I also booked a special excursion. In fact, the excursion costs more than the cruise fare I paid!

This excursion was officially called the “Underground Caverns & Shaman Ceremony” and if I remember correctly, cost $85 per person. The outing takes you from Progreso out to swim in two cenotes (pronounced “see-no-tays”).

Cenotes are essentially freshwater sinkholes that dot the Yucatan. They feature crystal clear water that’s often connected to other cenotes via underground caves. It’s a unique things to experience, and something you can’t do anywhere other than here.

In addition, the trip also featured a traditional “shaman” ceremony to ask the gods’ permission to swim (what happens if they say “no” today?!) and a local style lunch.

I’ve swam in a cenote before, but it’s been more than a decade. Needless to say, I was excited.

Progreso sits at the end of a 4-mile long pier that juts into the gulf. It’s a port town, but there’s also a nice beach with water that may or may not be so nice depending on the weather. Today, the water was very murky.

With the ship docked, a group of about 20 of us piled into the waiting bus and headed down the four-mile long pier that leads to the city of Progreso.

Normally a bus ride is just a necessity between getting from Point A to Point B. And much of this trip was just that as we headed down the highway with the tour guide telling us about what was in store for the day.

However, there were also some very interesting sights that stood out. First, the bus headed toward Merida, which is a major city in the Yucatan. It’s large and modern, complete with many American stores and restaurants you know — Office Depot, Walmart, Church’s Chicken. There are even large car dealerships for any car you can imagine, including Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Kia.

But then we started to go off the beaten path a bit. We passed through small towns like Acanceh, and the cenotes were located just outside of a small town named Cuzama. These towns were tiny, and despite being only 30-45 minutes from Merida, were a world away.

Small dogs roamed the streets. Churches dominate the town squares. Small family bodegas dot corners selling snacks and drinks, and there are even small meat markets hanging fresh cuts in the open air. It’s definitely not Merida, with the Mercedes-Benz dealership.

Our ride to the cenotes took us through Merida (a major, modern city) but also small towns where you saw a daily life very different from the city.

I hadn’t expected it, but the ride was an interesting glimpse into the “real” Mexico outside the tourist zones… and even the big differences between urban cities and rural towns that are just minutes from each other.

In total the ride took about two hours before we arrived. From there, we were each given a life jacket and snorkel gear for the day.

Now, reading reviews, I saw that many people mentioned riding a bicycle from the main building to the cenotes, which is about a quarter-mile away. That was not the case today. Instead, there were several railroad type carts on small track that headed down the road and around the corner.

Once at the park, we sat on a small railroad cart and were pulled the roughly quarter-mile to the first cenote.

We loaded eight people to a cart and then each one was hooked up to a horse. The driver then gave the order and the horse started trotting down the track, pulling the cart easily. I must say, it’s the first time I’ve ever ridden on a horse-drawn rail car.

The first cenote we arrived at was called Chacsinkin (don’t even ask me how to pronounce it). But before we could enter, there was a small ceremony held under an arching tree. There, the shaman burned incense, spoke in both the native Mayan language and Spanish, thanking the gods and asking to protect us. At certain points he blew into a conch shell that had been turned into a horn.

To be honest, it seemed a bit odd as it felt a bit like a show just put on for tourists instead of a legit ceremony. Still, when in Rome.

As you start to descend the staircase from ground level into the cave, you get a sense for how amazing a natural phenomenon this is.

From there, it was time to get our first look at the cenote. This particular spot has a hole in the earth that’s about 15-20 feet across. Descend the wooden stairs and the cave is essentially shaped like a bell. And at the base — about four stories down — is the most beautiful clear water you’ve ever seen.

To enter the water, you can choose to walk down the few steps that descend into the blue or jump in. I’m not a fan of cold water and know the best way to get used to it is to just dive right in. Once you get over the initial shock, it was quite refreshing.

Looking back up to the entrance from the water, you can see how the the cave was carved out a “bell” shape in the cenote.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to swim in a cenote like this. The water is beautiful, the area is enclosed, and the only light is coming through the hole in the ceiling. It’s something 100% unique and really makes you appreciate the things that Mother Nature can do.

We swam for 30-40 minutes, and then it was onto a second cenote. In this spot, it was only a 2-3 minute walk for the other swimming hole. In this case, a massive staircase was carved out of the rock, leading down to the edge of the water. A short walk through a carved tunnel opened up to the cavern.

At the second cenote you descended a large staircase, entering at the side of the pool instead of from the top.

This time it’s not as much an enclosed cave as an opening, complete with a large tree balanced on the edge with roots extending all the way down to the water. This spot was deeper than the first one, with our guide telling us it was 80-100 feet deep. As a result, the water seemed slightly darker, but still absolutely clear.

After another swim session, it was time to hop back on the horse-drawn carts to head back to the main building, which also housed the restaurant.

Sorry Carnival, the best thing I’ve eaten on this trip are these tacos served with lunch on the excursion. Light, fresh, and full of flavor.

Lunch was included with the excursion and thankfully it was not some buffet serving hot dogs and hamburgers like you see on many excursions. Instead, it was some fresh, local-made tacos, as well as a Mayan-style empanada. It was insanely good and full of flavor; by far my favorite meal of the entire cruise.

After lunch, it was time to hop back on the bus for the lengthy ride back to the ship. We arrived back just minutes before all-aboard, and with a walk through the port “gauntlet” of sellers trying to get us to buy something at the last minute, it was back aboard.

As the ship left port, a wall of dark clouds came up from the south. No doubt that we left just in time to avoid a massive storm.

Our timing couldn’t have been better, leaving port just as a storm rolled into Progreso.

Interesting Observations

  • This was the first Thursday of the college football season. Back on the ship after the day in port, I was disappointed there seemed to be nowhere showing any games. There’s no sports bar. The cabin TVs don’t have games, and the TVs around the ship are showing tennis and baseball. For a ship sailing from Alabama, it just feels wrong.
  • I think that for a ship this size (and age), a three- or four-day cruise is ideal. This cruise is for five days and tomorrow is a day at sea. I’ll be honest — I’m not sure how I’m going to spend the day. There isn’t a ton to do outside of the casino, hanging by the pool, or having a drink. That’s not the worst way to spend the day, but I definitely like being more active on cruises. We’ll see what the day will bring.

Tomorrow the ship is at sea.

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  1. I love cruising, however my budget is super small. How did you get a $14 day cruise? I would jump on a deal like that for sure!

    • It was shown on the Carnival website as part of a sale. Never seen rates that low before as I don’t hold elite status on Carnival or anything.

  2. I just realized your probably busy having a good time on the cruise to look at posts!

    I have enjoyed the updates on the Ecstasy, been on her several times in Miami. I really enjoyed the decor and the atrium with neon and light fixtures you showed with the city skyline, I would like to buy one of those!

    I don’t know if you docked at Carnival Pier Puerto Maya, in Cozumel, there is a small beach there and deck chairs, its really nice and a great view! The pier is really beautiful with some waterfalls, music, and gardens.

    The China bar you showed on day 1 has a lot of detail with, art, lamps, and even a delivery truck. I was on the Carnival Sunrise, former Triumph and they have removed a lot of the design elements. There is more white wall paper and they removed the oyster covered walls and the piano bar.

    The aft lounge where the comedians used to perform, is now cabins. The limelight lounge under the casino is inferior location and cramped, not good.

    Enjoy your last day at sea, look forward to reading more!

  3. The cruise sounds great, I have posted a few drafat comments about the Ecstasy, not seen them online. Do you have any more detail or delay in positing comments?


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