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 3) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: My Own Beach in Cozumel?!
- (Live Blog Day 5) Cruising for $14 Per Day on Carnival’s Oldest Ship: Last Day. Would I Do It Again?!
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.