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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

Belize it or not…Costa Maya

News item: Carnival has canceled 10 stops in Belize City because the Belizians have taken on so many ships that the tendering process (necessary) has created congestion. Instead of Belize, passengers on the Carnival Legend or the Glory will be taken to Costa Maya.

Okay, and the winner here is…

Not Carnival's passengers. 

Almost four years ago — before we started writing this blog — we went to Belize on the Norwegian Spirit. We eagerly anticipated the visit because our daughter had often been heard talking about going to Belize, which means she'd done more research on it than us. If you can make a judgment on an eight-hour stopover, it was everything she'd imagined it to be: pretty, friendly, accommodating, interesting, safe. The only thing wrong were the red ants at the butterfly garden…but that's another story.

Not Costa Maya. 

This is a Mexican port we have visited twice, the first time on the way to Belize. As much as we enjoy making lemonade out of lemons, so to speak, this is also a port that needs time to develop, even though it has been nearly six years since Hurricane Dean almost wiped this dot off the map. There's not a lot to do or see in the immediate area, unless you want to sit on the beach and drink beer. As a substitute port, to us it doesn't hold anything close to the appeal of Belize.

Not Carnival.

The cruise line loses on the public relations front with everyone. Passengers may be annoyed at the port substitution, especially if they've been to Costa Maya. Belizians from restaurant owners to street vendors to government bean counters will surely be annoyed at the risk of losing business they were counting on, no matter who's fault it is.

Not Belize. 

There are probably more Carnival ships going there than any other cruise line, to the extent that Carnival believed there was an agreement that no more than four ships would be there at a time, and that Carnival had first dibs on the parking spots in the harbor. So while Belize may — that's may — have more people visiting by crowding the harbor, the increase comes at the risk of alienating its largest cruise ally.

There was a 10 per cent decrease in cruise visitors in 2012. Local tourist officials are being grilled about dealing with the issue, to the point that a "Director of Cruise and Regional Initiatives" is being added to the Belize Tourism Board. The government is engaging potential investors in developing a "Cruise Tourism Village" berthing facility, otherwise known as a cruise ship terminal.

In the end, the buck stops in Belize.

Holland America Volendam
7 nights
May 1, 2013
Vancouver (return): Inside Passage, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Cruise Traffic and Costa Maya

COSTA MAYA, Mexico — One of the reasons we’ve been anticipating this stop on the Norwegian Epic’s journey into the Western Caribbean is the simple juxtaposition of the ship and the shore. If you’ve made a port stop here, you know how small the place is, and if you’ve seen the Epic, you know how big the ship is.

There never was much to this south Yucatan village, and less after Hurricane Dean blew it up in August 2007. Yet it’s an occasional if not regular stop on the cruise calendar, even for the Epic and the biggest ship in the world, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas.

For us, it’s been a mystery, one that is now at least partially solved.

“It’s all ecotourism,” says Lisbeth Choc-Rodriguez, the educated and articulate guide for the shore excursion we took to the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins, an hour from the port. “It was a combination private venture and the government. The governor wanted to bring more tourists to this part of the Yucatan, because everybody was going north.”

That led to private-venture construction of a pier, opened nine years ago, that was big enough to handle any cruise ship in existence or on the horizon.

“Everything is eco,” she adds. “Everything is protected here, and we have the second-biggest coral reef in the world, after Australia, so there is lots of snorkeling and scuba diving.”

It would be nice to think that cruise companies just wanted to help these poor victims of Hurricane Dean rebuild, but there always has to be an economic factor. The government must have made it attractive for the cruise lines to bring tourists here by the shipload, because they’re coming, and so are the entrepreneurs.

The government is hiring people like Lisbeth to tell the story of the Mayans, or to take tourists zip-lining, diving and snorkeling. It’s turned Costa Maya into a jumping-off place for other parts of this state, called Campeche, where locals also had their homes wiped out by Dean.

Our last visit here was almost exactly a year ago. At the base of the pier, there was construction. Today, there are more upscale shops, a Senior Frog’s and a Hard Rock Cafe. The pier is becoming the town. Costa Maya is a short cab ride away, clearly visible from the pier, and attractive to cruisers who just want a beach and a beer.

At the current pace of development, soon they will be one, and this will be a more attractive port created by the big ships that come here.

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