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Friday File: Caribbean Calling In Winter

In case the resident weather systems haven’t prompted you to look south — or anywhere — for a break from mid-winter, this is a good time to drool over some of the luscious, hot, picturesque, sandy, enticing places you can visit when you take a Caribbean cruise. And if that doesn’t tempt you to book one…well, maybe you’re just content to stay home and shovel!

Before departureIs there a more photographic rock formation than at Cabo San Lucas?

St. MaartenIt seems everybody has a boat in the popular port of St. Maarten

TulumGazing at the Gulf of Mexico from the Maya ruins of Tulum, Mexico

Cayman IslandsA watering hole called Paradise in the Grand Cayman Islands

Mahogany BayPrivacy is available at beautiful Mahogany Bay in Roatan, Honduras

CozumelThis pretty part of Cozumel is worth taking a drive to the north shore

In the news…

• Norwegian Edge: 2-year, $400-million refurbishing program for 9 ships
• Holland America’s new brand campaign called ‘Savour The Journey’
• Sea trials complete for Holland America’s new 2,650-passenger Koningsdam

Today at portsandbows.comRefurbishing the Carnival Inspiration

Holland America Maasdam
7 nights
April 19, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon Cay, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

Friday File: Beaches of Beauty

If you think a beach is a beach is a beach, which people who don’t lie in the sun might feel inclined to do, then you haven’t met our son-in-law. He will structure his family’s vacations around the quality of the beaches. Prompted by his discriminating eye, we’re re-visiting some that we’ve at least seen in our cruise travels…

TulumTULUM: This picture is taken from the ancient ruins of Tulum, and its accompanying beach provides an alternative for cranky teenagers (or adults) more interested in sunshine than sun gods.

GREAT STIRRUP CayGREAT STIRRUP CAY: This is Norwegian’s private island, which means this is Norwegian’s private beach, available only to its cruise-ship passengers. It has everything you might want, especially people.

BarcelonaBARCELONA: You don’t expect to find palm trees, or beaches like this, in Barcelona…at least we didn’t. The lack of beach-goers had more to do with the time of year (May) than the quality of sand. 

Huatulco-2HUATULCO: A nice spot frequented mostly by the locals who live near this pretty place in southern Mexico, and just a short cab ride from the Celebrity Millennium…well worth whatever it cost us.

St. MaartenST. MAARTEN: The bar from which this shot is taken does a booming business all day, thanks mostly to cruise tourists from Philipsburg, 20 minutes away from being this close to landing jets.

MIAMI: There are places that lay claim to being the most famous of beaches, but is there one better known than Miami Beach (okay, Fort Lauderdale) and its view for passing cruise ships?
ArubaARUBA: White sandy beaches that stretch seven miles along this tiny island, flanked by some of the most expensive hotels you’ll find. The good news is the beaches are all public — it’s the law.
Costa MayaCOSTA MAYA: A popular Mexican port still recovering from Hurricane Dean (2007) doesn’t have a lot to do within walking distance of the ship, but this beach near the pier is a hotspot for passengers.

Today at portsandbows.com: Koningsdam coming to America

Royal Princess
14 nights
April 25, 2015
Fort LauderdalePonta DelgadaCorkRotterdamBrusselsSouthampton
Inside: $696
Cost per day: $49


Photo Essay From Cruises To Mexico…

TulumIs there a prettier setting for Maya ruins than in Tulum, close to Cozumel?

AcapulcoAn easy attraction in Acapulco, a short walk from where the ships are moored.

IguanaLots of iguanas all over Mexico, and all look more menacing than they really are.

Huatulco-Playa La EntregaIntruding on a family picnic near Huatulco, on as pretty a beach as we've seen.

Cabo San LucasThe familiar rocks near Cabo San Lucas, a magnet for cruise visitors.

cozumelIn Cozumel, more than the tourists go for a walk on the beach.

Cozumel marketMexican markets are wherever cruise ships land and all of them have deals.

Costa Maya

Costa Maya, just one of the stops on the Yucatan Peninsula with ruins can climb!

Today at portsandbows.com: Windstar — year-round in the South Pacific

Carnival Breeze
8 nights
January 3, 2015
Miami (return): NassauSt. ThomasAntiguaSan Juan
Inside: $279
Cost per day: $34

Cruise Port — Cozumel Launch Pad To Yucatan, Too

This week, we're featuring ports you may find on your cruise itinerary, to give you a snapshot of what it's like, what ships usually go there and what some of the options are once you get off the ship. Today it's Cozumel, Mexico.

If there's a cruise ship that goes to the Western Caribbean and DOESN'T stop at Cozumel, the identity if the ship must be a closely guarded secret.

Like rice and beans and tequila, Cozumel is a Mexican staple.

It's also a jumping-off point for same-day sites to see, which is probably why it's on the itineraries of all major cruise ships. Think for a minute about it's cousin around the gulf, Costa Maya. If every ship stopped there, and many do, you'd either run out of things to do or tire of long bus rides, or both.

Not so in Cozumel.

The island itself is at least interesting and worthy of stopping there once or twice (we once made three Cozumel stops in a little over two weeks). For the photography crowd, there are photo-ops everywhere and, being an island, plenty of Cozumel-east beachbeaches. However, getting some local advice on the best beaches is a good idea because the east side of the island didn't look that inviting when we rented a car (call Margarita or Santiago at 987-872-33-67 for a smokin' deal) and circled Isla Cozumel.

Then there's off-Cozumel.

Take the 45-minute ferry to Playa del Carmen, where the beaches do look inviting, even to people to whom beaches are rarely that inviting, like us. On the Mexican mainland, you can also make quick trips to the ruins of Tulum (now that IS Shopping in Cozumelinviting) or longer trips to other attractions on the Yucatan Peninsula, like Cancun or Merida. There is no shortage of things to do in this part of Mexico, and the weather usually cooperates. 

One warning when you're on a cruise ship: Check your watch, and not because you're afraid it will be stolen…because you're afraid you might get confused by Cozumel time and wind up missing your ship.

Otherwise, Cozumel is (as they say) "a trip!"

Today at portsandbows.com: Watch for the acronym MSC — it will be on more ships

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
June 7, 2014
Quebec CityCharlottetownSydneyHalifaxBar HarborBoston
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64

Juan Great Way to See Tulum


TULUM, Mexico — Tulum is not out first rodeo. We'd seen "ruins" before this stop. It is our third rodeo, now that you ask, and all three ruins (Chacchoben and Altun Ha) have been in the Yucatan Peninsula and all have been left behind by the Maya. If nothing else, we're consistent. Friends are starting to wonder if we're going to buy into the end-of-the-world thing…from two months ago.

That's one misconception about the Mayas. They did not predict the world would end on December 21, 2012, only that it marked the end of their calendar (left). Nobody thought to mention that the calendar would start over again, but the marketing of December 21 took over, and everybody has to make a buck, right. 

Even if it is at the expense of the Maya.

Did you notice the "n" is missing? That's another misconception about these people of the past in North and Central America. They are Mayas, not Mayans. Tulum and places like it are Maya Ruins, not Mayan Ruins. It is the Maya language…and so on…and the source of this is Juan Manuel Trejo, who would be Maya except half of him is Spanish, and that makes him Mestizo, which is a nice way of saying a "mixed race."

"There is no 'n' in Maya," he says. "If it says Mayan, it is because of English."

After we left the Crown Princess in Cozumel, Juan was the tour guide in Tulum. In our two previous "rodeos" we never had a tour guide like him. He is absolutely passionate about everything Maya. He wears two necklaces, one bearing the name of his wife (Gloria) and the other of his daughter (Alexandra). Their names are imbedded on the necklaces in Maya.

Of course.

Juan is also a bright guy. He probably does this for other cruise lines, but Princess is lucky to have him doing Maya tours for passengers who get off the Crown Princess in Cozumel. The busload he educates and entertains on this day return to the ship shaking their heads at his knowledge, his turn of phrase and most importantly his passion for his past.

"I am 60 per cent Maya," he says. "I didn't really learn this until I went to school to be a tour guide, but when I learned it I realized that I already knew. I was taught by my father, and my grandmother, about the Maya."

What he knows (as much as anyone can KNOW something that virtually disappeared as a civilization 300 years ago) is that the Mayas were ahead of their time in writing, in astronomy and in developing a calendar…they just didn't have the foresight all those centuries ago to create one going beyond 2012.

"The greatest accomplishment of the Maya civilization is the writing," says Juan. "Of all the native Americans people, they were the only ones who knew how to read and write."

His explanation of the Maya calendar is fascinating. It's too long to explain here but after hearing it visitors can't get into a souvenir stop fast enough to buy something, anything, with the calendar on it (us included). Okay, so maybe Juan's a good salesman, too.

He refers to Tulum as the Notre Dame of the Maya, the San Pedro of the Maya or the Stonehedge of the Maya — all three analogies were invoked at various parts of Juan's tour. He is almost grateful to be doing what he does.

"Tourists go to Cancun," says Juan. "Travellers go to Tulum."

There was only one question Juan Manuel Trejo could not answer. There is no "n" in Maya, yet on the sleeve of his tour-guide shirt promoting what he does were these words:

"Mayan Ruins."

Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
3 nights
May 31, 2013
Miami (return): Coco Cay, Nassau
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $89

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