I spent a week as a media guest on board the Carnival Vista. All travel expenses were covered for this sailing. All thoughts and opinions below are my own.
If you’ve never been on a cruise, you probably have so many questions. The questions start with what’s a cruise like and end with.. what cruise line? what ship? what itinerary? and finally, WHAT EXCURSIONS?
I’ve cruised in all different manners. I’ve booked my own, independent excursions. I’ve booked ship’s excursions. And I’ve gone with no excursions at all! There’s no wrong way to cruise but making the most of your cruise depends on what you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to spend.
As a recent guest of Carnival (with my friend Stella) on their sailing of the Carnival Vista in the Western Caribbean, I had a chance to visit three common ports for an itinerary like this: Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel and I spent my time in each port very differently. But the way that I did on this cruise was absolutely perfect.
Since this was a media sailing, Carnival offered a few complimentary shore excursions for several of the destinations for me to choose from.
Follow my recommendations and I’ll tell you exactly why I wouldn’t change a thing.
Ocho Rios: Bamboo Beach Club VIP Package
It may seem like a tough choice: Bamboo Beach Club VIP Package or Bobsled Jamaica and Dunns River Falls. But as you can already tell, I chose the Bamboo Beach Club. Here’s why.
I visited Dunns River Falls years ago and was traumatized by one of the falls guides who kept kicking water on me as I attempted to climb up the falls. I didn’t intend to go through that again and I’m really not an adrenaline junkie. Also… BEACH!
Since this was our first port, it was a great way to get into the island spirit. We hopped off the ship and headed into the area where they corral all of the passengers for excursions booked through the ship.
Once we were on board our shuttle to the Bamboo Beach Club, it was time for the excursion to begin. From the moment you’re on that shuttle, they want to put you in vacation mode. We laughed, we sang, and we got to know our guides that would also take care of us for the day at the Bamboo Beach Club.
Once we arrived, we were greeted with a drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic – your choice) and shown to our exclusive VIP area.
While the beach was small, it was beautiful and it was OURS! When we weren’t in the water, we were filling ourselves with the complimentary drinks (yes, I indulged in many of those tropical drinks) and several courses of food served at our lounge chair. There was nothing to do but eat, drink, and relax!
Our guides rounded us up when it was (sadly) time to head back to the ship. We made a quick stop at a tourist shop on the way back (which wasn’t even worth getting off the shuttle) and I did a little shopping at the markets by the port before heading back on the ship and getting ready for the next stop!
Grand Cayman: Stingray Encounter and Tiki Beach
There’s a good reason to book a ship excursion in Grand Cayman. It’s a port that requires tenders. No, not chicken tenders. When the port is too shallow for a cruise ship, they have to anchor away from the dock and passengers have to rely on tenders (small transport boats) to take them to and from the docks. When you have a ship excursion, you have a higher priority when getting off the boat!
For our next stop, we were also offered two excursions: Stingray Encounter and Turtle Swim or Allura Catamaran Sail to Stingray City Sandbar. I did pick the first one, again, because I had been to see the stingrays on a catamaran before and I was dying to see the turtles.
Alas, the turtle excursion booked up very quickly and we found out that our plans had changed. We still set off on the Stingray Encounter as planned and ended up spending a few hours in the afternoon relaxing at Tiki Beach. Not a bad consolation prize.
If you haven’t ever been to Stingray City, it’s a MUST. It’s a shallow sandbar accessible only by boat. Once in the water, the stingrays naturally come and gently swim around. If you’re brave enough (I was!) they’ll give you fish to hold in your hand and the stingrays will come and suck them into their mouths. It’s a bizarre feeling but awe-inspiring to see them in nature.
If you’re looking for shopping, there’s plenty of time to do that after the excursion right near the port. I found some amazing Alex and Ani bracelets on my trip!
Cozumel: no excursion, no problem!
For this last port, we were on our own. I loved having complete freedom to decide how to spend my day and while the excursions for Cozumel all looked amazing, we were ready for something more laid back and not necessarily in the blazing hot sun!
Our first stop was right outside the port area where we quickly found a line for cabs. Our goal was to head to downtown San Miguel, the main shopping district, and maybe shop, eat, and drink. In fact, if you can find others going to the same destination, it’s easy to share a cab and split the cost.
On our way to San Miguel, we chatted with our cab driver who struck up a deal with us. For $60, he would drive us anywhere we wanted to go on the island for three hours. First stop? MEGA! We needed a few supplies and love to explore non-touristy things so we went shopping at a superstore. (Oh, was it cheap!)
By skipping an excursion today, we had a chance to really get a sense of island life, what the people are like (our cab driver lives in Cozumel), and what they eat.
And we still took in the breathtaking scenery all around the island.
Finding Your Excursion Style
Whether you’re cruising on the Carnival Vista or another Carnival Cruise ship, you’ll see many of the same ship excursions. Carnival makes them easy to book and you have some assurances when it comes to getting off the ship and, more importantly, getting back on!
You’ll also find great experiences and guides as these local residents rely on cruise ship passengers to keep their economy going. They want to do a good job for you so that Carnival will keep referring their customers to them.
Whether you want relaxing or adventurous, you’ll find everything that and everything in between. But don’t overschedule yourself and remember to take time to relax and take in the local culture and scenery.
Cheers to your next cruise adventure!