A Quick Scuba Trip to Cozumel

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When David and I didn’t get to scuba dive on our cruise in March, we almost immediately decided that we needed to book a dive trip. (Since we braved 50-60 degrees temps to get certified in time, to say we were sad that we didn’t get to dive would be an understatement.) It took us about a week to decide where to go, and since it would be a quick trip (while David was on his four days – oh gotta love a paramedic’s schedule), we had a few guidelines:

  • We wanted to make sure it was somewhere that we could fly in under 3 hours. (I mean who needs to waste a day getting somewhere when you’re only working with 4 days?)
  • Highly rated dive sites. (First time diving in the wild should be good right?)
  • Preferably somewhere that we’d been before (so we weren’t worried about trying to do a lot of sight-seeing on top of booking dive time).
  • All inclusive (because I mean, come on, it’s just easier to not have to leave the resort)
  • Oh, and we had not a very big budget. (See: we just got back from a 10 day cruise, and this was an unplanned, last minute trip that I hadn’t been saving for.)

After some research on Belize, Roatan, and even Jamaica (I know, I know – I’ve told many of you that I’d never go back to Jamaica, but it kept popping up as a good place to dive for beginners. It has the closest Sandals resorts. We weren’t planning on leaving the resort. AND, you can dive for FREE with Sandals! Sandals, in a different country, is now fairly high on our list for next tropical vacations.) We decided on Cozumel, Mexico for five days!

For many that know us, this wasn’t a surprise… and for those that don’t know us so well yet, this marked our 7th time in Cozumel. (Third overnight trip; the other four trips were via Carnival cruises.) But, Cozumel made perfect sense. It has one of the best coral reefs, we are very comfortable there, and it’s a two hour plane ride. Win-Win-Win.

The Hotel

We ended up at the Occidental Grand Cozumel, and we were less than impressed with the entire experience. When we arrived, we were immediately set-up with someone trying to sell us on their time-share. (Not a good first impression.) After we got done with that we were taken to the Royal Club to check in because we had upgraded our package to “Concierge.” (Although I’m not quite sure what we got that was additional in the concierge package – we were lead to believe that we wouldn’t get a minibar refill unless we upgraded, but people who didn’t upgrade got theirs refilled.)

Upon checking in (the girl that checked us in really couldn’t have been more miserable), I learned that the $500 resort credit, which sold me on choosing this hotel over another, is a scam. It isn’t a credit like other hotels in the area offer, it is it just percentages off in the spa. The girl that checked me in wanted to see my printed confirmation (seriously who is killing trees printing those things?), even though TWO people before her confirmed who we were and even knew what room we’d be in when we arrived. I had a picture of the document on my phone, and she wanted me to email it to her, but was going to charge me to use the WiFi. Well, sorry, I’m not paying to send you the confirmation number that I know you already have.

We did arrive early, and our room wasn’t ready- which was fine. We looked around (gorgeous property), had lunch, checked out the on-site dive shop that we’d already booked dives with, and changed into our swimsuits. When it was time to go to our room and clean up for dinner, was when our problems REALLY started. We ended up with a patio door that wouldn’t lock (we were on the ground floor), a shower that wouldn’t drain (eww), and housekeeping was ignoring repeated requests.

At that point we were overwhelmed with the issues we’d had since checking in, and my husband went to find a manager and speak to her. She was very nice and professional- she made sure that everything was taken care of and stayed with us until we were satisfied. She also upgraded us to the actual Royal Club (which gave us access to those additional amenities, like a private hot tub and the exclusive restaurant, and free WiFi).

I didn’t get many pictures of the hotel (or really in general – I guess I should get better at that if I want to keep doing this blogging thing… ha!) But, the pictures on Expedia are pretty accurate.

After that horrible start, the rest of the week was much better. The hotel and the grounds were actually really nice and much better than I thought they would be, and it was also FULL of tiny, animal creatures for us to adore. 

Would we stay there again? Maybe, but there are other great options on the island, and they did make up for the bumpy start.

The Diving

As for our first scuba diving trip in Cozumel, we had pre-booked with ProDive Mexico, which as I mentioned previously is the on-site dive shop for Occidental, but we’ve dive with them again! They were great and professional. We ended up booking two 2-tank dives on two different days (geesh, that’s a lot of 2s!), but tropical storm Cindy was out in the Gulf of Mexico causing a stir and making me all sorts of nervous. We did have A LOT of rain while we were there, but thankfully, we only have to skip 1/2 a dive. When we were on our dive the second day, came up from the first tank to find out that the park was closed due to weather and we wouldn’t be able to go back out for our second tank. We were bummed, but honestly the first dive that was so gorgeous, we weren’t all that bummed. Unfortunately, weren’t able to make another dive, but they gave us a certificate for a dive when we come back (or to any of their other dive shops in the world – if I remember correctly, they have like 7 more?)

We ended up diving 3 locations:

  1. Palancar Gardens
  2. San Francisco Wall
  3. Santa Rosa Wall

Ok, now on to the good stuff, pictures! Because I’m sure they are more interesting than me droning on.

Unfortunately, since that bee-yatch Cindy was hanging around, our light was limited, and most of our pictures turned out dark. But, we had a great time. Diving in Cozumel was breath-taking. We are already talking about next time. 😉

P.S. Santa Rosa Wall was my favorite!

Everything Else

We went into this trip with no plans except for scuba diving. There were a couple of things we would have liked to do, like Whale Shark watching or visiting Chankanaab, but nothing set in stone. We wanted to relax, sleep in, and scuba dive, and we got to do all of those things (well we more went to sleep early, and woke up before 7am- like we normally do).

The rain did slow us down more than normal, but it ended up being nice and relaxing. We took advantage of the adults only pool…

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…even in the rain.

And hung out with these cute, little, drink stealing guys…

He, seriously, just walked right over, knocked my drink over, and put his head in the glass. I would have probably been upset if I’d paid for that drink. #allinclusivewin Also, don’t worry about that guy, I poured my water on top of it to dilute it and try to prevent his from getting drunk/sick. But, obviously, he’s done this before.

ETA: That cute guy is a called coatimundi AKA “Mexican raccoons” (by the locals)

Our last full day, we went into town to visit our favorite bar and do a bit of shopping. If you are going to Cozumel, you have to visit Wet Wendy’s in town; we go every time and it’s the best!

While we were there David tried grasshoppers. Ugh- gross.

While this was a quick trip, it was so great to be able to get this quick dive trip and take the time to take a break (without a million place to be and things to see) with my love. We are always sad to say good bye to Cozumel, but I’m sure we will be back soon!

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A Carnival Vista Review

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In March, after 18 months of waiting (nope, not an exaggeration), we FINALLY made it to Miami and boarded the newest ship in the Carnival Fleet, Carnival Vista. This was our seventh cruise since 2009, but this ship had so many new upgrades compared to the other ships! Plus at 133,500 gross tons and 1,055 feet in length, it was easily the biggest cruise ship that we have sailed on.

Before the cruise, we were part of a Carnival Vista Facebook page, and I have to tell you, a lot of people who were coming off of the ship were complaining. I read complaints about the food, the bar service, the wait staff, most of the staff, and the list goes on. I would say that since this ship’s guest capacity is 3,934 passengers and the onboard crew is about 1,450- we didn’t notice a lack of staff at all. Or really have any complaints. I really think that goes to show that there are some people who will never be happy.

However, as I mentioned earlier, there were a number of upgrades and changes to this ship class. Let’s take a look at each element of the Carnival Vista individually.

Embarkation/Debarkation

I’m going to lump these together, and they really have nothing to do with the ship itself, as much as the port. The port of Miami is one of the most unorganized ports that I’ve ever debarked from. Embarkation was fine, and pretty quick considering the long line outside of the cruise terminal. However, debarkation was a cluster%^&$, and the employees were pretty rude. We waited a while to get off the boat since we had an afternoon flight, but our bags weren’t where they were supposed to be (they had 1 luggage belt working for 4,000 passengers). It was a mess. We much prefer the method where you are assigned a number then you go find your bags in the area that your number is assigned to. Not on luggage belts with 15 other numbers. It was a mess.

Anyway, moving on…

Stateroom and Sign & Sail Cards

This boat has new room options that don’t exist (yet) on the other classes of Carnival ships. There are the Family Harbor rooms which are a family friendly option, and the Havana Cabana rooms where the guests in these rooms need to be 13+. David and I had the opportunity to grab a Havana Aft-View Extended Balcony room. I have SO.MUCH to say about the Havana rooms that I’m going to save that for my next post!

Although, I think it is important to note that Carnival has started to change-up their processes, starting with this ship. You no longer get your Sign and Sail card when you check-in at the terminal, you cards are waiting for you in your mailbox once your room is ready. My guess is that this is to prevent people from busting into their rooms before the poor room stewards have time to turn the rooms over from the last set of guests. David was a bit concerned about how he was going to get our customary first drinks when we boarded, but it was no extra trouble. You just show them your printed boarding pass and everything else is normal from there.

Food

The Vista is full of food options. Some tried and true, such as Guy’s Burger Joint and the BlueIguana Cantina. And some brand new options, such as the Seafood Shack, Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ, and Bonsai Sushi – to name a few.

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I don’t normally do food pictures, but here’s one of this guy after he finished his BBQ. **insert heart-eyes**

By the time that we boarded the ship, our room wasn’t quite ready so we stopped by the RedFrog Pub to grab a flight. Luckily, Pig & Anchor was located on the same deck as the pub so we took turns grabbing lunch while the other one of us sat with our luggage. The wait time was MINIMAL – I think I was maybe gone a total of 5-7 minutes getting my lunch. David was surprised to see me back so soon with food because initially I had just left to see how long the line was. He left to get his food and had a very similar experience. I do think this was due to it being the first day (people tend to go straight for food on the Lido) and us being on the ship fairly early, but the wait times weren’t much long the other times we walked by during the week. Now being from Texas, we didn’t have high hopes for the BBQ, but we were really surprised at how good it was. The mac n cheese was really delicious, and collard greens might have been a favorite of mine. We ended up eating BBQ on the boat one other time, and it wasn’t as good the 2nd time, but it was still pretty good.

Other new dining options that we tried were the Seafood Shack and Bonsai Sushi. There is an additional cost at both of these options. I tried the Seafood Shack (not David- since he’s not the biggest fan of the seafood) and ended up getting the lobster rolls (because they came so highly recommended). I think it was about $12. They were good, and I don’t normally like lobster. But, it was pretty greasy, and I didn’t finish it. It’s a lot of food. It’s on the Lido deck (unfortunately replaced the Tandoori), and it’s counter-service. You place your order and they give you a pager for when your food is ready. It was pretty quick- it was ready by the time I ordered a drink and signed for it at the Lido bar. As for Bonsai Sushi, we tried this for dinner one night, and it was also very good. They have sushi and sashimi, as well as soups, salads, and other entree options. Even David, the non-sushi eater, was satisfied with this meal.

As for regular dining in the main dining room (MDR), we had Your-Time-Dining which has worked out for us well in several of the previous cruises that we’d been on, but I think after this cruise we decided that we would just request early dining from here on out. We weren’t all that impressed with the new check-in system. You have to check in on deck five, get a ticket or a pager (if there isn’t an available table at the moment), and then go down to the dining room on deck three. It does prevent you from having to stand in line waiting for a table and keeps you closer to entertainment since this ship is set-up differently, and you wouldn’t be close to any if they had stuck with the older method.  So I can see why they planned it that way.

We did have a not-so-great experience  in the MDR during the first formal night. We were sat at our table and then were promptly looked over… for 20 minutes. After about 20 minutes of nothing, including water, we got up to leave. On the way out, David mentioned to the maître d’ that we were leaving without eating, and he quickly made it right. On top of that, he assigned the assistant maître d’ to oversee us, who in-turn assigned us to a regular table and looked after us for the rest of the cruise. This could have gone really wrong for us, but we were very impressed how it was handled and that we were checked on, during dinner, for the rest of the cruise.

As for dining that we didn’t enjoy this time around… we tried the JiJi Asian Kitchen during lunch (when there is no additional cost) and ordered from the Mongolian Wok. Instead of picking your own ingredients, you check your options on a card and turn them in. It came fast enough, but when it did- it was virtually flavorless. We both took a few bits and then left to find another lunch option. There is just too much food on this ship to eat something that isn’t good!

For my final dining tip – it doesn’t matter which ship you are on (I’ve had it the last 4 cruises), but you HAVE TO try the vegetarian Indian option at dinner in the main dining room.  The lentils are to.die.for. Seriously. Even David loves them. Sometimes we order them two or three times a cruise. There are never too many lentils or chocolate melting cakes on a Carnival Cruise.

Onboard Activities

You guys. There are so many things to do on this boat. If you are bored, it’s your own fault. There is so much to do, and unfortunately, we couldn’t do it all.

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The best views of the DR!

The SkyRide is a brand new addition to Carnival, and while the wait is normally pretty long, it was worth it. We hopped in line for SkyRide when we were still in port in the Dominican Republic. The line wasn’t half as long as it normally was, but we still waited in line for about 45 minutes. The wait was worth it, but I would say that you might be better off trying to ride it during a port day. Plus there’s more to see when your dock, as opposed to just open ocean, but I think that would a be pretty view as well.

After we got done with the SkyRide, the line ropes course was pretty short so we jumped in line. I mean we were already dressed for the occasion (I had to put on shorts and closed-toed shoes, such a travesty). There are two options: an easier and a harder option. Normally I would have jumped all over that harder option, but I did notice there were several kids in front of us and I asked the guy which line had more people, he told me the harder one but that it moves quickly. I choose the easier option (David the harder). Well about half way through, I was breezing through and David was stuck behind some 13 or 14-year-old who was pretending to be afraid of heights. **insert major eye-roll here** I get that I might get comments about this, but you had to be there, the kid was so obviously faking it for attention. And who goes up 20-30 feet willingly if they are that afraid of heights? We saw the same kids running amuck a few nights later, I’m sure that he was just seeking attention.

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No worries kid, we can wait all day.

We also regularly participate in trivia and other various games (scavenger hunts!) put on by the entertainment staff, as well as the comedy shows. But this ship also has a movie and IMAX theater, 3-D theater, mini-bowling that we didn’t have time to make it to! I’m telling you. SO.MUCH.TO.DO.

Brewery

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I already mentioned that our first stop was the RedFrog Brewery where we ordered a flight to try all the beers that are brewed on-board the Vista. That’s right, they are actually brewed on the ship! We also signed up to take the brewery tour, which is just like any other brewery tour you’ll ever take, but ON A BOAT.  It is currently the only brewery at sea. It was a good tour and worth $25 or $35 that they charged. It came with a free flight (plus a few extra pours), a certificate of completion, a RedFrog pint glass, and a free pint to use during any point during the cruise. If you are a beer drinker, do it! Pro Tip: Go to RedFrog and sign up for the tour as soon as you get on the boat. There’s very limited space for these tours, and they only do a few per sea day. 

Carnival Vista's RedFrog Brewery Tour

See. Having a blast on the brewery tour.

We have a great time on the Vista and would highly recommend it. Luckily the Vista is coming to our home-port, Galveston, soon! We are already planning our next trip on her once she gets here. (But probably not until 2019 because, seriously, Thailand is on my list and it keeps getting skipped over!) In the meantime, stay tuned for a review of our itinerary and our stateroom.

Miami: Great Art and Even Better Ice Cream

We also never actually decided to go to Miami. You see, we picked a cruise ship and then picked destinations on that said cruise ship and then picked the type of room we wanted on that said cruise ship. (Are you still following me?)

This trip was a long time coming. We actually booked it two cruises ago, or 18 months ago, for those of you that don’t follow our vacations that closely. (My mom might be the only person that falls into that category anyway.) 18 months is actually a record for us as far as planning goes, and in those 18 months, I had many reservations about going to Miami. It was not a place that was ever on my radar before. Boy, has that changed.

We REALLY enjoyed Miami – way more than I thought that we would.

Wynwood, Miami, Florida

Even the trees are happy in Miami.

Our cruise was scheduled to leave on a Saturday, and initially we planned to fly into Miami the Thursday before we left to have a few days to explore. However, after much debate, we ultimately decided to just fly in the day before our cruise left. One reason being that we really only wanted to go to the Everglades, and the second reason being that we somehow scheduled this trip during Spring Break! DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH HOTEL ROOMS IN MIAMI ARE DURING SPRING BREAK?!?!?! Ugh- how did that happen?!?! (See the first paragraph for the answer. *insert eye roll to myself here*)

We did manage to fly in super early on Friday morning; we ended up landing around 8:30 am. The flight from Houston (IAH) to Miami (MIA) was an uneventful, quick-2 hour flight. Once we landed, gathered our bags and caught the hotel shuttle, we made our way to the Hilton Miami Airport for our one night stay.

We didn’t bother renting a car because we were in town for one night, but that was mistake number two. (More on that in a minute.) When we got to the hotel, our room wasn’t ready yet; which was no surprise seeing as official check-in time was 3pm and we were in the 9 o’clock hour still at this point. We decided to grab breakfast at a place that the front desk lady recommended that was just down the street, but first we made a trip over the concierge to drop our bags. While squaring away the bag situation, we also inquired about an Everglades tour. I hadn’t booked one because I was afraid our flight would get jacked up and then I’d have to worry about cancellations, etc. The concierge wasn’t super helpful when it came to booking a tour; he called and inquired but said that we’d have to come back around noon to confirm the trip. (Just what I wanted to do- wait half a day to figure out the rest of the day.)

Finally we set off to breakfast brunch at Casa Juan. We were lead to believe it was a 10 minute walk… It was a mile away… I can’t run a mile in 10 minutes, y’all. Then it started raining. We thought about turning around, but we were both hangry at this point, and we were going to get wet no matter which way we walked so we kept going. GUYS, I’m so glad that we kept going because it was such a good meal! Highly recommended, go if you are in Miami. And have the Cuban coffee.

While at breakfast, we decided is book an Everglades tour through the company that I have previously researched and get a rental car. Thankfully, on our walk back to the hotel the shuttle driver saw us walking and picked us up. We canceled our tour with the hotel and then hopped back on the shuttle bus to get a ride to the airport to rent a car. There was some drama getting a rental car since it was spring break, some music festival was happening, and we hadn’t reserved a car, BUT we found one and were finally on our way to the Everglades!

We booked our Everglades tour with Airboat in Everglades, and I cannot reiterate enough that they are wonderful. We booked a semi-private tour, and Maurice was our guide. If you can request him, do it! He has a special relationship and respect for the wildlife. He is very knowledgeable, accommodating and witty. I can’t say enough about how great he was! The tour took about an hour and a half.

During the tour, I got a text from Hilton that our room was ready so we headed back to the hotel to check in. Once we got checked in and cleaned up for dinner, we headed out to dinner. We ate at Jimmy’z Kitchen Wynwood because they had been voted “the best mofongo in Miami” and they were supposed to have an awesome craft beer selection. There was a lack-luster beer selection, but the mofongo and wine specials more than made up for it.

Once we were sufficiently stuffed, we walked over to Wynwood Walls park to check out the art. Let me tell you guys, this was right up our alley. It’s such a cool place to hang out and the art just keeps going and going, but once the art ran out, we decided to check out a local brewery. Up until this point, David had been trying his hardest to seek out local beers to try, but we couldn’t find any! Corona, Miller Light, and Bud Light all day long, but nothing local. After a quick Yelp search, we found that we were a couple blocks away from Concrete Beach Brewery, so we headed over.

Concrete Beach had a fun atmosphere and clean restrooms! Hallelujah. We both ordered a flight to sample; I ended up really liking the stout that David didn’t really care for. I think we stayed long enough for David to have one more beer after the flight (and it to stop raining – we had rain on and off all day), before we started our pilgrimage back to our rental car.

 

 

At this point, I MAY or may not have made David walk 2 1/2 sketchy blocks out of the way for ice cream at Mr. Kream. If you like ice cream and/or hip hop, then this is the place for you. And guess what, David found local beer. Seriously, we had been on the look out all day, and finally found it at the ice cream joint- who’da thought? Any how, the girls working at Mr. Kream were so nice and patient, while I took 15 mins and 5 samples trying to decide which ice cream I wanted before I landed on the cookies and cream flavored, Two-Live Blue! It was worth the back and forth because it was good. I left happy and with a blue tongue.

We made it back to our hotel, and I’m pretty sure were showered and in bed by 10 pm. (Give us a break, we woke up at 3am Central time.) We needed to rest up for our next day, which was debarkation day! Carnival Vista, here we come!

Wynwood Walls Miami

One more picture from Miami because I love it. It wasn’t staged; this is just my husband in his art-looking stance. *heart eyes*

That last sentence would have been a great place to end, but since I wanted to keep all things Miami in one post, I’m not done. (Sorry, this post is kinda long.) The next morning, before dropping off our car and heading to the cruise terminal, David and I took the morning to drive around Coral Gables and stop for breakfast at a french bakery, Cafe Croissant.  We each got a croissant (me – chocolate, him – almond) and a crepe (me – vegetarian, him – turkey and swiss) Again, the food was fantastic! Miami did not let us down on the food front, and we decided that if we had to move to Miami, we would want to live in Coral Gables. I wish I would have gotten pictures; maybe next time.

We both agreed that we throughly enjoyed Miami, and would both love to go back again for a longer visit. Actually, we never made it to the beach- I think that means we have to go back. Since it’s only a 2 hour plane ride from Houston, it would make a nice long weekend trip.

Next up, Carnival Vista!

A First Blog Post

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A first blog post… Wow. There is so much pressure associated with that sentence in my  mind. Which is crazy, funny, and sad (all of those things at the same time) when you think about it because for those of you that don’t know, I write/edit/approve/read/etc a lot of other people’s blog posts for work. #ironic #marketingGENIUS

Also ironic in my mind because this is not my first attempt at a blog. (My first blog has long been taken down, so don’t try to go searching for it.) You see, I loved blogging, but I didn’t care to blog everyday. I feel like my life is pretty boring when looked at in a day-to-day basis kind of way. I mean how much work, gym, home can one person write about?! I got bored. (And, I changed jobs that I **literally** had to sign all creative licenses away for. Not kidding, they could have sued me for my personal blog – not worth it. #goodriddance) However, I did meet a lot of cool and interesting people, and surprisingly, got some awesome opportunities from my former little blog. #RIP

Bottom line: I miss blogging. And, while I don’t know how many people were actually reading my last blog, I know my husband, David, missed reading my musings.

So I’m back! But, not in a here’s-everything-I’m-doing, and every-mile-I’m-running kind of way. I’m coming back to blogging so I have a place to write about my travels and all of the awesome places that life has taken me. If you want to follow along please do, if not… well #$%^ off. #sorrynotsorry

I’m so excited about this because we are fresh off of a vacation with three more planned! I want a place to collect my thoughts and honest opinions on all of the awesome places we’ve been, the great people that we’ve met during our travels, and be able to give people my candid recommendations about places that they are thinking about visiting.

I’ll start recapping our most recent trip, which was a cruise on the amazing Carnival Vista leaving from Miami, and then I’ll start pulling some oldies out of my cobwebbed brain as well!

I’m excited! Did I already mention that? Oh well… Stay tuned for more!

P.S. The snarky humor and hashtags are here to stay. #notfortheeasilyoffended