The next morning, we woke up, fed the kids and headed up to breakfast — the ship seemed to be moving pretty fast as we could feel a bit of engine vibrations. The kids made their way to Kid’s Club, and my husband and I were off to take a yoga class in the well-appointed fitness room.
About thirty minutes into our routine, three chimes sounded on the ship’s public address system. It was the captain speaking. The instructor cast a look to those of us in the class. Apparently, this isn’t an everyday occurrence.
The captain informed us calmly of the developments surrounding Gonzalo, a tropical storm that was expected to head north into the Atlantic. Instead, Gonzalo had grown into a much more serious threat — and one that was headed straight for our next destination, St. Maarten.
Stressing the safety of the crew and passengers, he had made the decision to reroute the ship to the Western Caribbean. No longer were we headed to St. Maarten, Turks and Caicos, or St. Thomas. We were now hauling westward toward Ocho Rios, Jamaica and would arrive the next morning. After that, we were headed to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico.
I could get used to this. Nasty weather? Reroute! Incredibly, all the excursions booked at for our now former destinations were cancelled and new excursion options were raced to everyone’s cabins. Review your options, tick a few boxes, and drop the paperwork off at the excursions office. Incredible how nimble the staff was in making the switch between ports of call.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Jamaica is the most mountainous island in the Caribbean, full of lush vegetation and crystal-clear rivers spilling into the ocean. We chose a rafting trip down the historic Martha Brae river. Our bus ride to the destination was hosted by an informative (and very funny) docent who gave us a better picture of the island, the local economy, history, architecture and more.
We arrived at our destination. My husband completely biffed our plans — we thought we were going to float on tubes down the river. Instead, he selected the river rafting excursion which turned out to be awesome. We hopped aboard two hand-made rafts each with its own river guide. There are 95 of these guys who rotate with each other leading tours, and they spend their off time hunting gourdes and carving them into intricately detailed objects (which they’ll happily sell to you). The guides were informative, humorous, and relaxed.
Verdict: highly recommended. You spend time learning about the island from the people who live there while immersed in natural beauty. We headed back to town and enjoyed a delicious dish of curried goat, a local delicacy. Don’t miss it if you’re in Jamaica.
Grand Cayman Island
Grand Cayman stands in stark contrast to Jamaica’s rolling hills and mountaintops — it’s essentially flat. We chose to swim with the dolphins at a marine mammal preserve, then swim with stingrays out in the ocean. A quick bus trip got us to our destination, where we learned lots of facts about dolphins (the kids absolutely ate it up). When it came time to get into the water and actually swim with the dolphins, Stella got cold feet and decided to watch from the shore. It’s incredible how well trained these amazing creatures are; you always felt safe. They’re trained using operant conditioning — basically, the biologists reward the behaviors they like, and simply ignore (don’t reward) the behaviors they don’t. We took a bunch of fun pictures with the dolphins and headed out in a boat to swim with the stingrays. We anchored on a sandbar where a few other boats were gathered, and jumped into the waist-high water. Stingrays were all around us, moving gracefully as we checked each other out. The big ones, we learned, were females. They can reach seven feet across and while they’ve got a nasty looking barb on their tail, they’re very curious and gentle creatures. Males are smaller, growing to just about two feet across.
#vacation #cruising #boat #stingrays #grandcayman #fun #family #comebacknew A photo posted by @socialmoms on
Verdict: Recommended for families with older children. Teaching children about wildlife and the ocean ecosphere is great, but the up-close-and-personal nature of swimming with wildlife was a bit too much for our youngest at age seven. Oscar thoroughly enjoyed the experience at nine, as his wide eyes, smiles, and laughter proved out.
Cozumel is a beautiful island just off the coast of Mexico, known for its diving and snorkeling. We decided to throttle back on the adventure aspect of travel to make things a little more comfortable for Stella. We described our situation to Sally Maisel, a veteran cruiser who we met on the trip, for her sage advice. She recommended a beach club called Mr. Sanchos, which includes an inflatable water park to entertain the kids. A ten minute taxi ride out of the port, and we arrived.
We got the sense that Mr. Sanchos is a lot like many of the other “beach clubs” that dotted the island — you basically pay a day rate in exchange for snorkeling, unlimited food and drinks, lockers, cabanas, etc. Our server was polite and my husband enjoyed dusting off his Spanish to summon tacos, shrimp, cocktails and more. Food was much better than expected, given the lack of research we put into finding ourselves at Mr. Sanchos. The kids enjoyed the waterfront and relaxing on the beach (they even took a nap!).
Our favorite part of Mr. Sanchos was a pedicure provided the Islander Fish Spa — ranked on Trip Advisor as the #5 spot of 241 Cozumel listings. You get a choice of small or relatively larger Garra Ruffa fish to eat dead skin off your feet. The sensation is almost indescribable, and a rush of laughter fills everyone who puts their feet in the tank. The location is very clean and eight filters keep the water sparkling; the experience is punctuated with a foot massage and exfoliation treatment. Just as with the other Trip Advisor users, we rated this unexpected treat a ten. Check out my husband’s feet here:
Verdict: Solid and relaxing. While we may have missed out on the cultural options available in Cozumel — visiting Mayan ruins, for example — we think we made a good choice given the fact we had young kids in tow. They don’t have the patience for longer tours or hikes at this age. A waterpark and steady flow of margaritas was enough to satisfy both of us.
All in all we could not have been more impressed with our maiden voyage on Princess Cruises. Our comfort, safety and happiness truly was their main concern. From the moment we set foot on board, we were treated like a member of the Princess family. The amenities, the dining and the fun atmosphere will bring us back again and again. Do yourself a favor for your next family vacation… just pack a bag, and they’ll handle everything else.
Cruise travel provided by Princess Cruises. All opinions and ideas expressed here are my own.