As it had been several years, our eldest son wanted to take a cruise with us. So to have ample room, we booked a balcony room with a pullman and a pull out sofa. The pullmans are pretty small for my son, so we figured the sofa would work best.
We booked this cruise directly from Royal Caribbean, and used our Crown & Anchor Platinum status to get a discount. Since this was our 8th cruise, we were pretty sure how to book ourselves and what to expect without the aid of a travel agent, and it worked out well. Besides we have not been all that enamored with our current travel agent, and we were probably more knowledgeable than she was.
We always buy cruise insurance, and her agency always pushes 3rd party insurance. Now it is perhaps debatable which insurance is best, there are two undeniable facts. First, the 3rd party insurance is more expensive and likely provides more profit to the travel agency (hence their wanting to push it), and secondly, notwithstanding the claims of the travel agency to the contrary, I believe you get better service. While I have never had the need for the insurance, I have to believe that if you have an issue while you are on-board, someone will be there to help work out the logistics.
On the contrary, if you have your own insurance, you might be expected to make several $1.95 per minute phone calls from the ship to the insurance company. Regardless, due to the realitive low cost of insurance, we always buy it. If you ever need to be medivac'ed off the ship or an emergency flight home, the cost will outweigh the cost of insurance.
Since I had ruined my Nikon S560 Point & Shoot camera, I replaced it with a new Nikon S570 camera, which I took along with my Nikon D90 DSLR.
Departure. This was the second time out of Tampa. We had stayed in Centeral Florida with my youngest son the night before, and made the hour trip to Tampa the morning of the cruise. We parked at the Port Authority parking garage on ChannelSide Dr. across from Terminal 2. With our eldest son going on the cruise with us, the trunk of the car was packed to the limit.
The cruise we were on was the first time the Radiance had sailed out of Tampa. It had just arrived earlier in the morning from a repositioning cruise from Alaska, where it spent the summer months. Part of the repositioning was through the Panama Canal, and for some unkown reason, US Customs required the entire crew to go through customs. Consequently, the ship was late to board, and we had to wait at least 1PM before we could board.
We had sailed from Tampa about 9 months earlier, and had missed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge crossing due to conflicting dinner time in the dining room and the time we went under the bridge. So for this cruise, we did not go to dinner the first night, but stayed on deck to watch the crossing. Since it was dusk, we still had some light to partake the spectacular view. There was literally only 2ft or so of clearance under the bridge.
So the first evening, we ate dinner at the Windjammer buffet-style.
Because my son was with us, this was also the first cruise that we did not order Champagne for our stateroom. He is drinking age, so we went to a lounge and watched football and had a beer.
Cayman Islands. We were experiencing thunderstorms in the vincinity of the Cayman Islands as we approached in the morning, and had spotty thundershowers the entire day. The Cayman Islands are a tender port, and why they don't build a pier is hard for me to understand. The first time we visited, there were 4 ships at anchor. This time, however, there were only two. We have heard that ship visits to this port have diminished over the years, which seems odd to me as much of the Caribbean economy is due from Tourism.
We took a Turtle Farm excursion, and got a chance to hold and pet the sea turtles. Again, it's an experience you may not be able to obatin in the US. We got rained on twice during the day, as unknown to us at the time, a severe low was developing into a hurricane to the south of us.
Our second stop on the excursion was in a little place called Hell. OK, so there was a Post Office there where you could get a postmark from Hell. Michigan also has a Hell (Hell, Michigan), with a Post Office too, so I didn't see that as a really big deal. However, there are some curious rock formations at the facility that were interesting, which I suppose is where the place got it's name.
We also took a tour at the Tortuga Rum Factory in GeorgeTown - love them Rum cakes!
Costa Maya. What a disappointment. There is nothing there. Your basic choices for an excursion is either water activity related or a bus ride to Mayan Ruins. We elected to just hang around the port for awhile, then went back to the ship. Hurricane Paula was forming in the area, and the captain had to keep an eye out for where it was headed. We were still north of the hurricane, but it was on track to pass to the East of us. Our next stop was Belize, and luckily the hurricane stayed on it's projected course, so we passed to the south of it that evening.
Belize. Belize is an ex-British Colony, and used to be known as the British Honduras. Belize is the only Centeral Amererican country where English is the predominant language. They also drive on the right-side of the road, one of the first things they changed after British rule, no doubt.
Belize has the second largest reef in the world, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. There are literally hundreds of islands and Cays off shore, and if you have a desire, you can buy your own island - for a price.
When approaching Belize, the cruise ships have to pass through the reef taking a rather zig-zagging course; and even then, they anchor a couple of miles offshore. Belize has high speed catamaran tenders so the trip into Belize City only takes about 15~20 minutes. The day we were there, a NCL ship was anchored near us.
Again, we took a city tour excursion so that we could get an idea of the area. Belize has the largest population of US expatriots, but they are not in Belize City, they are in the north of Belize, around San Pedro. Belize itself is just a typical poverty-stricken area, and you might have to be careful if you walk around alone outside of the cruise tendering area, which is walled off from the city proper.
The one stop we made in Belize while on our excursion was the Traveler's Rum Company. We were able to see how a Rum factory worked, and the highlight was a bit of Rum tasting. Oh how we liked the Tropical Craboo Cream - yum! The craboo is a large shrub or small tree that is well known and enjoyed in Belize. The tree produces a fruit that the local children and adults love. We bought a bottle of Craboo Cream, as the exchange rate is something like one Belize dollar equals $0.50 US Dollar.
Cozumel. By the time we headed back north from Belize, hurricane Paula had moved out of the area and largely dissipated.
This was our second time in Cozumel, and the most popular excursions at this port are water related. Unfortunately there were rough waters that day, so all of the water excursions were canceled. The last time we were here we took a Mayan tour, and we didn't have a desire to see that again. So we went into port, bought a few trinkets and a couple of T-shirts, then returned to the ship. I bought a Mayan Calendar, but broke it on the way home. I am not sure if that means the "End of the World" is canceled or assured.
Tip #22. Have a backup plan on what to do in port should your excursion be canceled.
Arrival. During our cruise, my eldest son took on the rock climbing wall and made it to the top. We also tried out the self-leveling pool tables. One day it was kind of rough seas and it was kind of funny watching the pool tables rocking while the ship was rolling.
We booked a future cruise with our son while on board. We're booked to go on the Freedom again next Oct. on the Eastern Caribbean route. While we have done this cruise before, my son has not, so it will be a new experience for him, as both of his cruises have been Western Caribbean itineraries.
We made it back to Tampa without issue, and left the ship. Unfortunately, Tampa does not allow express departures (taking your own luggage with you), so we had to go through the baggage claim process after we were off the ship.