Cruising on the Carnival Triumph to the Western Caribbean
Well, that title is a mouthful. Anyhow…
There’s no blog post about it (yet!), but we went on our first cruise in December 2016. I was sick the entire time, and Austin spent the last day on the ship in bed with a wastebasket nearby. We decided then that we weren’t cruise people, and we were pretty sure we wouldn’t try again. I just knew part of it was motion sickness, but then the nausea and exhaustion lasted for weeks after we returned home. So I started to question everything – maybe we did just have a virus and the ship didn’t play much of a role at all. And although Aidan/James were ambivalent about the whole thing, Audra had an absolute blast. So a few months later, when we heard about a nationwide group embarking on a 5-day “NOT Back to School” Homeschool Cruise in the fall, we decided to look into it further. The price was right, and the ship would be taking us to MEXICO – Cozumel & Progreso! So we jumped on it.
To be clear, it was a regular cruise ship – the Carnival Triumph – but we were the largest group on board! I think our travel agent said there were nearly 300 of us. And once on board, she gave us each red lanyards and bracelets so we could easily identify each other.
We decided quickly to drive rather than fly to reduce our cost a bit. So we packed up and made our way from Colorado down to New Orleans, and we stayed in two hotels to break up the monotony. We are not getting any younger and pulling all-nighters is a thing of the past. I will also say that 20 hour drives without some fun stops along the way might also be a thing of the past! But thankfully we all travel well, and I picked nice, clean hotels.
We finally arrived in New Orleans on Saturday morning and parked in a garage. We pre-paid online but it ended up actually being a little cheaper on-site. I appreciated the convenience and peace of mind it provided though. We piled out of the van, waited a hundred years for the elevator (and ended up taking the stairs clunk-clunk-clunking along the way), took the free shuttle over to the port, and finally got in line to board the ship. We were so excited to use our fresh new passports! (We didn’t actually need them because the cruise started and ended in the U.S., but they were nice to have.)
Once we were on board, we ate lunch, checked out the kids’ clubs, and made our way up to the top deck for the Sail Away Party.
Look at these mostly normal totally-not-at-all weird and unsocialized homeschooled kids.
The deck party was loud and great and full of excitement.
We bought James and the boys the Bottomless Bubbles package so Aidan got started on his unlimited soda indulgence straight away. (It’s a treat at home!)
What you see here is a group of five people who spent weeks ingesting vitamin C tablets in the hope that we would stay healthy and have the. most. fun. ever! (There might have also been a bit of alcohol involved. For the adults of course.)
I feel like the thing we did most on board was eat. (The scale agrees with my assessment.) Our nightly fancy restaurant food was delicious. And since we don’t get all dressed up very often, we took photos every night. I’ll spare you the majority of them. But I have to share a few.
How handsome is this guy? I didn’t get enough photos of him. I’ll make sure to adjust that in the future. (And when I shared this pledge with him, he was THRILLED.)
We got lucky this night and sat just by the window. It was fantastic!
They were acting like fools literally a millisecond before I snapped this shot. Somehow it turned out picture perfect?
In addition to the dinners, we also ate our weight in soft serve ice cream. (And burgers and tacos and egg omelettes.)
Beyond the food, there was entertainment. This ship had comedy routines (both PG and 18+), so we had a good time attending those.
But there were also other interesting items on the agenda – dance performances, a Love & Marriage “game show”, and even a Gender Wars showdown that Audra got to participate in!
Mostly we loved playing Bingo together. However, it did not come cheap and we never won a thing.
Our other pastime was taking photos of us around the ship. Did I mention we don’t get dressed up very often?
This child is a HUGE fan of cruising. The teen kids’ club was totally her jam.
I loved seeing Aidan come to life on the ship. In general, he’s the quietest out of our bunch, but I think he really did have a lot of fun.
Austin spent quite a bit of time with James and me as he was at the older end of the age group for his club. Plus I don’t think the activities are quite for him. (He’d rather play video games than do dance parties or arts & crafts!) But we had a good time with our little guy. And he might have spent a lot of time running around the ship exploring on his own too…
The elevators overlooking the Capitol Lobby were a huge hit with the kids. (And who doesn’t love to do a bit of people watching from way above?)
I just had to include this one. Because, well, most people don’t see this crazy side of him!
Our cabin was much smaller than the one we had last year, but we opted again for a balcony to appease my claustrophobia-prone self. It was a great decision.
I cannot with this kid. He’s so dang handsome. Even though his face looks like it was smothered in dirt. (He’s 10, so he might have found some dirt somewhere on the ship. You never know.)
Our sleeping arrangements worked out well. I actually spent quite a bit of time passed out in bed, and I’m not even a napper. But the swaying of the boat puts me right to sleep.
The last day at sea was horribly rocky as we were trying to outrun Hurricane Nate back north through the Gulf of Mexico. So we spent even more time in the stateroom relaxing….and the kids put Austin’s new chess set to good use.
Our bathroom was quite big, and very…pink.
And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t share our towel animals the attendant handcrafted for us.
We had an elephant.
And a monkey!
And lastly, I wanted to cover our first port of call. The second one – when we stopped at Progreso and toured the Uxmal Mayan Ruins – deserves its own post.
Although we were on a 5-day cruise, the first half-day was spent getting settled. Then we had a day at sea and two port days in a row, followed by one last sea day before we disembarked the morning of the sixth day. (I’m sharing because I had no idea how it all worked before our first cruise.)
Our first port was Cozumel which is the largest island in Mexico – right to the east of the Yucatan Peninsula. The sunrise that morning was beautiful.
But it was forecasted to be a wet day.
We didn’t purchase an excursion for Cozumel, but we planned to rent a jeep and drive around the island.
We had been in contact with Ernesto’s Rental so we headed down to the shop to pick up our jeep which we’d reserved but not yet paid for. The cruise ship ported on the west side of the island, and it wasn’t too far of a walk. On the way, it started to pour. It wasn’t a big deal – we expected the weather, but we stopped underneath a hotel’s awning so we could get further direction on where to go. It turns out Ernesto’s was just across the street. We decided to give the rain a few minutes, and in the meantime, we chatted with the guy at the hotel. And somehow, we got completely suckered into a 90 minute vacation sales presentation in exchange for a half-price jeep rental. (This sounds ridiculous in hindsight, but we figured it’d keep us occupied for a bit through the rain storm!)
I will not bore you with the details, but I will say that if you have an extra $45k lying around, let me know and I can get you in contact with the salesman. But be prepared for a hard sales tactic where you might feel a little bit like you’re being held hostage because you have to go through three separate people before they’ll accept your ‘no’. Also, after two hours of time spent there, you might find out the original guy is mistaken and no, they don’t actually take American Express for their jeep rentals.
So. No jeep. But I did get this great view of our ship from the hotel. So there’s that.
But we should have just gone to Ernesto’s.
At this point, we all felt a little spent. We were frustrated by the experience (although the kids had fun playing video games!) and we figured the jeeps had all been rented at Ernesto’s. With the weather threatening to let loose again any time, we weren’t really in a sightseeing mood. So we decided to walk back toward the ship and see what places were along the way. We perused the shops in which Austin picked out a quartz chess set and Audra bought a porcelain cat and three bottles of Mexican vanilla. (Because apparently that’s a big thing in the baking world?)
But our favorite stop was this adorable little restaurant called Mi Pueblito that’s only been open about four months. The food was incredible and the service was spectacular. It’s located in the Mayan Plaza right next to an impressive (if not exactly to scale) ruins replica.
Audra got chicken nachos.
Austin had a steak burrito.
I got fajitas, and James and Aidan picked chicken tacos. Everything was amazing. Even the refried beans which aren’t typically my thing. I can’t recommend this place enough! And it’s only a five minute walk from the port.
As we made our way back to the ship, we realized the main road had pretty much completely flooded. It was quite the experience, but thankfully we found a higher section would could cross.
We hung around the port area (Puerta Maya) for a bit of shopping.
And we encountered this humorous mariachi band. You can’t read the box well in the photo, but it says “KEEP CALM AND TIP ON…We accept cash, visa, MC, AMEX, Sam’s Club, Beer, Tequila, Kisses, and more….”. Ha!
Feliz Viaje = Have a good trip!
After only spending about five hours on the island, we were ready to board and relax. But of course I had to get a selfie of us with the ship. And that’s never a quick process.
Once back on, I grabbed some photos from our balcony. It’s a beautiful island, and I’m bummed that we didn’t get a chance to explore more. I guess that just gives us a reason to return!
Ultimately, we really did have a great time on the cruise. I’m not sure this type of vacation suits us exactly. I spend a lot of time stressing on port days about making it back in time. And that’s not an issue if you do a cruise-sanctioned excursion. But those excursions are really very expensive and there isn’t much flexibility. We want to make our own adventure! And beyond that, we spent our days eating and drinking or lounging in the stateroom when there wasn’t a scheduled activity we wanted to attend. It almost felt like we were missing out, but how many rounds of trivia can a person do? And while the nightlife is just getting started at 10pm, James and I were passed out. (When did we get so old?)
But I am SO glad we gave it a try, and I think less sea days and more ports might fit us better. So we’ll keep it in mind for other places we want to try like Alaska or the Mediterranean. And best of all – none of us got seasick! Even the last day when many others were struggling, we were pretty much fine. So I’m calling that a win!
We’ve now tried Disney and Carnival and I feel both have their pros and cons. I definitely believe that – like most things – you get what you pay for. Our stateroom wasn’t as updated this time, and we had to pay extra for soda and on-board family texting. But on the other hand, we spent $1000 less for an extra two days! And Carnival had a lot more shows than I remember Disney having. But then again, I was sick the whole time so maybe they had more than I remember?
I would love to hear about your cruise experiences. Do you have a favorite cruise line? Or a favorite port? Please share!