Carnival Celebration Live Blog (Day 4): Cruising Costa Maya
Note: Carnival welcomed its newest ship to the fleet earlier this month with Carnival Celebration now sailing from Miami. Cruzely was invited to sail on one of the first voyages. The seven-day cruise departs Miami headed to Cozumel, Costa Maya, and Mahogany Bay (Roatan). I’ll be live-blogging the experience each day to share what sailing the new ship is like.
You can view other days here:
If you want to know how much there is to do on Carnival Celebration, here is a hint. I’ve been onboard for four full days… and while there is still plenty more that I want to see and do, only now do I feel like I can relax a little bit instead of feeling like I have to make sure I do everything before it’s too late.
From shows to restaurants to ports of call to waterslides, this cruise has been seemingly non-stop. Heck, I haven’t even eaten at the same restaurant twice! All that isn’t to say that you can’t relax, but if you’re someone that loves having a lot of things to do… there’s no shortage.
Day 4 of the cruise saw us docking at sunrise in Costa Maya, Mexico. Let’s just say that what this place has transformed into is mind-boggling. I’ve visited several times before, but never on a day like today.
After docking, we were joined alongside by the new Norwegian Prima. And then before we left this ship to go explore, the gangway was closed for a few minutes as Virgin Voyages’ Valiant Lady docked at the pier.
Any time I’ve been here, there have been one or maybe two other smaller ships. Now with two other new mega-ships alongside Celebration, that meant roughly 10,000-12,000 cruise passengers in port at once.
And you could tell.
Leaving the ship, the pier into the port area was a sea of people. If you’ve visited Costa Maya before, then you may remember that the port winds back and forth like a maze to get passengers to pass all the shops. There is also a large pool, restaurants, and bars. In other words, if you wanted to do so, you could just stay in the port area and have a full day.
Today, however, the entire port area with three massive ships in port was jam-packed with people headed every direction. We simply made a beeline (with of course, a required stop to check out the flamingos that are housed in the port) to the exit, through the crowd and all the shops.
While we had an excursion in Cozumel and another tomorrow in Mahogany Bay, today we planned to just wing it. So leaving the port, we started to walk toward the main town (Mahahual).
What we didn’t count on was that despite it being almost December… it’s summer year-round down here. After a few minutes of walking we happened across a few taxi drivers hanging out in the shade. For $4 per person they offered to give us a ride into town. We happily just gave the cab driver a $10 for the two of us as he dropped us off. With the sun and the heat, it’s the best $10 I’ve spent in a long time.
Mahahual is not large at all, but it’s spread up and down the coast. There, they have a malecon that runs alongside the beach. It’s a nice and easy path with both sides lined with restaurants and vendors, along with a number of spots where hotels or restaurants set up chairs and loungers for their customers to use on the beach.
First we walked down to the lighthouse, which is by far the most prominent landmark in the area (there’s also a large ‘Mahahual’ sign where you can get a souvenir photo). This spot also gives a great view looking back to the ship and while the water isn’t ideal for swimming here (the bottom is too rocky), it is a gorgeous blue.
Turning around, we walked down the malecon just to explore the area. In my other visits, I had yet to walk this ‘main drag’ before and wanted to see what it was all about.
As you’d expect with so many ships in port, it was busy. People are walking up and down the malecon. People are hanging out at the beach. And shop vendors are offering up everything from massages ($20 for an hour) to souvenirs to cigars… and something stronger to smoke if you want that as well.
I grew up going to tourist spots in Mexico as a kid. I’m used to just giving a simple “no, gracias” to shopkeepers and moving on. I’ll be honest, today was something else. Just as soon as you’d pass one person offering a massage, someone would try to hand you a menu to a restaurant. And then someone else is walking with you to look at the stuff they have to sell. And then it’s another offer for a massage from another person.
I do have to admit that despite feeling hounded, walking through the shade of palm trees next to blue water and white sand is a pretty neat spot to be. I imagine that once most people head back to the port and things calm down, this is a completely different place to visit.
Getting through the busiest section of the walk, we ducked into an open-air restaurant that had a large palapa with seating on one side and beach access with loungers on the other — El Gran Nohoch Kay.
When you picture a simple beach restaurant, it’s likely something like this. No fuss, casual, ice cold beer and drinks, and relatively cheap. We ordered a couple of appetizers, drinks, and some white wine garlic shrimp tacos for a grand total of about $20. And it was all delicious.
From there, we took advantage of the beach access to set our stuff down and take a swim in the Caribbean. Head out about 50 feet into the water, and you can look back down the coast where it’s fishing boats, white sand, green palm trees, and then the cruise ships docked a mile or two away.
This is definitely a spot that I’d love to come visit when the crowds are thinner. But there’s the beauty of taking a cruise. This spot is hard to get to other than by ship, taking multiple flights and a long day of travel. Instead, maybe just hope you visit when only one ship is in port!
After our swim it was time to head back to the ship, and after seeing how long it would have taken to walk on the way in, we just grabbed another cab. Back in port, I was surprised that the entire area was still just as busy as it was this morning, despite it being afternoon and seeing a stream of people heading back to the ships.
That’s when I noticed that there was now a fourth ship — Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas — also docked at the pier.
Totaled up, that’s four large ships all calling on this small port at once. No wonder it felt a little busy.
Back on the ship we tried our hand at some trivia in the Havana Bar, only to be beaten by someone who must be a 7-time Jeopardy! Champion (she literally got every question right!).
Then it was time for some relaxing in Loft 19, with a view of the other ships in port. It’s always fun to eyeball the other ships to see exactly what all they offer and what those passengers are doing on their day in port.
Tonight Carnival put on another production of last night’s phenomenal circus show, so anyone who missed it had another chance. Since we had already seen it, we instead opted for a stand-up comedy show in the theater (very good) before dinner.
But the highlight of the evening was a meal at Rudi’s Seagrill. This is one of the specialty restaurants on Celebration, led by Rudi Sodamin, the Master Chef for Holland America — a sister line of Carnival. It’s obviously seafood focused, with an atmosphere that’s upscale, yet still very approachable (just notice the plates printed with faces made of food when you sit down).
A meal here is $48 per person, and ours took about two hours start to finish. So it’s definitely a “date night” spot, not just a place to get a bite to eat. For dinner, I had four courses, started with lobster mac and cheese, followed by a salad, lobster tail, and finished with a piece of chocolate truffle cake.
It was all good, but the lobster and chocolate cake receive special mention. While lobster night in the main dining room comes later in the trip, it already faces a big hurdle in being compared to what was served here!
Day 5 of the cruise is a call at Mahogany Bay, Roatan.
- One feature I discovered today is a digital wall map of the Carnival fleet located next to Emeril’s Bistro. Here, you can see the real-time location of every ship. Click on it and it will tell you details about the trip it’s on, including ports, size, and more. It’s a very cool feature.
- Another little discovery? The ship’s coin is prominently displayed on Deck 6 near the Punchliner Comedy Club. But at Loft 19 — which is an exclusive area of the ship for suite guests — the ship’s lucky coins are held in a box. You can’t see them (the box is white and welded shut), but these coins are part of the shipbuilding tradition from the shipyard.