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The Belize Zoo

1 Jun

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My kids and I met another mom who was traveling without her hubby on the cruise. Neither of us had a shore excursion planned for Belize and we had heard on Tripadvisor that the Belize Zoo was the #1 attraction in Belize City. Here are my tips for making the most of this excursion.

Make your way out of the cruise terminal area and past all of the tour operators that will be trying to get your business (usually in bright colored shirts). You will pass through a well air-conditioned building that will have shopping to the right and more tour companies on your left. Just ignore or politely decline their services and go out of the other side of the building. Here, you will get more bang for your buck. There will still be tour operators on this side, but you will have more room for negotiating. Find an operator who will take you to the zoo, stay there with you (taxis are hard to come by while at the zoo) and bring you back to the cruise terminal. Agree on a set fee (NEGOTIATE!). We had 5 people in our party and didn’t pay more than $25 a person. The zoo is about a 40 minute drive from the cruise terminal.

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None of the animals in the zoo have been taken from the wild. The have either been injured, born there, given as gifts, or orphaned. Entry is $15 USD for adults and $5 USD for children. (Hint: If you have a large family, you can purchase a family membership for $35 and get a year’s free admission, plus a cool bumper sticker!).

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The Belize Zoo is small, yet uncrowded. Some of the animals you will see include the king vulture, black spider and howler monkeys (my personal favorite), puma, macaw, ocelot. Some of the lesser known animals you will see include peccaries, agouti, paca, and coatimundi.

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The zoo also provides animal encounters and even accommodations. My kids, ages 6 and 15 had a great time. Grab some lunch at the gift shop/cafe. Try the hot sauce on the table and if you like it, purchase some to take home in the gift shop. (I wish I had gotten more).

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Have you been to the Belize Zoo? Are you thinking about going? Post your questions in the comments below, and be sure to like my page on Facebook.

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The Disney Wonder

1 Mar

“Mommy, it was magical!”

Can any words be sweeter to hear from your child about a family vacation? From top-notch food to better-than-Broadway shows, you will find it on this ship!

Disney has made the check-in process painless (for adults anyway). The food was wonderful and there was always an abundance of characters around the ship. While I never write a full, lengthy reviews on the cruise ships I’ve been on, I will point out some tips to having a more-than-magical time on the Disney Wonder.

  • Unless your child wants to hunt down all of the characters for their autographs, you can take up to 4 items per stateroom to guest services to get signed. Place your items and permanent markers in a ziplock bag. Guest services will fill out a form with specifics (your room number, which characters you want, etc.) and will return it to your stateroom at the completion of the cruise.
  • Get to the characters meet and greet EARLY. Especially the Princesses!
  • Arrive at the main show at least 15 minutes early to ensure a good seat.
  • When arriving on embarkation day, eat at Parrot Cay (Deck 3, aft) instead of the main buffet on deck 9. You will be served your drinks and it’s a nicer, less crowded environment.
  • Some items in the gift shop will be marked down on the last night of the cruise. It’s better to wait to see if that shirt you want will go on sale.
  • For the pirate party, we brought glow necklaces and glow bracelets. We also wore them to the shows. All the kids wanted one!
  • If your child participates in the end of cruise show with the kid’s camp, they will get a free t-shirt.

I will be happy to answer any questions about the Disney Wonder if you would like to leave them in the comments section.

Stingray Sandbar, The Cayman Islands

28 Jan

Ah, the stingray. Fear of these little guys shot up about 1000% after Steve Irwin’s unfortunate death. Alas, the most popular thing to do in The Cayman Islands is the stingray sandbar tour. The boat ride out to the sandbar was nice but felt like it took forever- even on the “speed boat” we were on.

When we finally arrived, we peeked over the edge of the boat, watching these marvelous creatures seem to anticipate our arrival.

I have to admit I was quite fearless upon getting into the water. The crew will stay with you while you are in the water. You have the opportunity to feed the stingrays, pet them and hold them. We even got snorkel equipment. No one was stung on this tour. I have to admit, my fearlessness diminished when these majestic creatures started sliding under my feet and around my legs. It kind of gives you that creepy feeling when their velvety skin touches yours. After all, you are in their habitat. Their territory.

Please excuse the bad pic...taken with an expired underwater camera!

Nonetheless, this was a great experience- one I will never forget! I highly recommend the stingray sandbar for adults and kids who are not fearful of stingrays or swimming with ocean life. My 4-year-old daughter and I are stopping in The Caymans next month on a cruise itinerary and are opting to swim with the dolphins instead. She would be quite freaked out by the stingrays. However, there are life jackets provided for everyone and I saw kids younger than my daughter on this tour, so only YOU know your children and what they will tolerate.

Cruise line excursion rates can be high. I can get you this tour PLUS an additional snorkel stop for only $49 per person. E-mail me at bluegrottotravel@outlook.com and ask me how!

Do This: Cave Tubing in Belize

16 Jan

A woman recently stopped me after she saw my ‘Blue Grotto Travel’ car magnet. She had booked a Spring Break family trip to Belize and was wondering what to do while there. My reply was simple- Cave Tubing! It is a popular shore excursion among cruisers- and it’s no wonder why!

My party and I booked through Cave-Tubing.com and could not have had a better time. While other cave tour groups were over-crowded (we saw over 20 people linked together by their tubes at one point), we were a nice small group of about 8. Smaller tour groups mean easier management and more time for FUN! Plus, afterwards you get to try a Belizean tamale and purchase a nice “Butt’s Up” souvenir tee. During my extensive research I also discovered that they had the best price for the tour as well. Our guides were really nice and we even got a chance to “cliff jump” afterwards, They really knew all of the ends and outs of the cave and the area. Don’t worry- they will always remind you to keep your “butt’s up” during cave tubing.

The pictures I took during cave tubing didn’t come out so great (my underwater/waterproof camera was an epic fail on this trip, plus the caves are dark!).

Coco Cay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas

21 Nov

If you are sailing to the Bahamas on Royal Caribbean, chances are that Coco Cay is listed on your itinerary. This charming island has everything you need to have a great time. Whether you are looking to shop, relax on the beach, or bounce on a water trampoline, Coco Cay has it all. As with other ports of call, you can pre-book excursions for Coco Cay. We booked snorkel equipment, a glass bottom boat tour and an hour time slot at the Aqua Park.

First up was the Aqua Park. I am a water park lover and this was amazing! There were a few large trampolines, and several “rock climbing” inflatable islands to climb on and jump off. All the while, you are being closely watched by a lifeguard. You do have to wear a life jacket, so keep this in mind. Even though the weather is gorgeous and sunny in February, the water is still cold. You have to walk out to the water park area, so if you are going in the winter months, be prepared to freeze until you get used to the temp!

There is an island barbecue which is put on by the ship, so you don’t have to tender back to the boat to eat lunch. The house band also came ashore to play Caribbean rhythms while we ate.

The glass bottom boat tour was one of the highlights of my trip. Led by knowledgeable staff, we traveled around the island looking for schools of fish and other marine life. Staff members dove under water to bring various marine life onboard that we could touch (optional). They also retrieved a conch from the ocean and we got to taste it raw (very optional)!

Unfortunately, we never got to use our snorkel gear. We had simply planned too much for our time at Coco Cay.

There is also a charming market, run by native Bahamians, conveniently located close to where the ferry tenders. The prices were fair, but don’t be afraid to haggle even lower. The vendors do accept US currency.

There were other areas of the island that we didn’t even get to explore, such as a nature area and trails. Get excited if you see Coco Cay on your ship’s list of destinations!

Minisub Diving in Cozumel

29 Sep

A friend and I decided to give this excursion a try during a recent cruise. I had never been scuba diving before and I thought that this would be the perfect precursor to the beginning scuba class I had planned later that week.

We took a short taxi ride to a hotel where our adventure would begin. The sub dive apparatus was displayed for us on dry land. After an introduction which included the use of appropriate hand signals, the machines were lowered into the water. We ducked beneath the water and reemerged with our heads in the “bubble.”

We were attached to safety lines at various points of the dive. At our depth (10-15 feet) I did not experience much pressure in my ears and sinus cavities. Our two instructors helpfully took pictures with my underwater camera. They squeezed bread from plastic bottles into our hand so that swarms of fish were captured in our pictures.

Our guides also ventured off to find other marine life to hold while they snapped more pictures of our adventure.

When the dive was over, it was an easy process to get out- just down and out of the “bubble.” On dry land, there was a tip jar, which we obliged. We were also invited to use the property grounds, including the pool, afterwards.

It was such a fun experience! Yes, your head gets wet in the sub dive, unlike helmet diving. Don’t expect the mini subs to advance at rocket speed under water, either. It’s a great experience for anyone who is curious about scuba diving, avid snorkelers, or just the curious explorer.

For more information on sub diving in Cozumel, visit here and type in minisub in the search box. The dive is also available in Cabo San Lucas.

Carnival Liberty

8 Aug

 

I recently set sail on the Carnival Liberty. The first word that comes to mind when I think about this ship is: Clean. I do mean clean in its simplest form. The common areas were clean, the staterooms were clean, the gym and spa were clean. My suitemate and I came back to the room to shower and noticed our shower head was missing! I quickly found an attendant outside who deeply apologized because they had just been sanitized! How many hotels do you know of that routinely sanitize their shower heads? We were impressed. Not to mention grateful for a ship with a seven-day itinerary who took pride in deep cleaning at every chance.

Beyond the cleanliness, we enjoyed wonderful food (eat in the dining rooms for the best food and service), activities, and entertainment (the adult only comedy shows were great!). I must mention the steak house. It is well worth the $35. Do not eat lunch before having dinner at the steakhouse!

It would be near impossible to touch on all of the areas of the cruise, but I will try! We visited Belize, Roatan, Cozumel and Grand Cayman. In the mean time, if you have any questions, I’d love to answer them. Post away!

Shore Excursions

21 Jun

If you have ever taken a cruise, you have more than likely booked a shore excursion at one or more of your ports of call. These excursions make it possible to see some of the highlights of your port of call, along with other people, usually from your ship or any other ships that may be docked at the same time.

Such excursions can be pricey when booked directly through the cruise line. You may spend up to $200 for a dolphin encounter, or $150 for a jet ski and snorkeling combo tour. Many people suck it up and pay it. After all, the excursion is being booked through the cruise line so it ought to be worth it, right?

There is a little known website called Shore Excursions Group that offers much of what the cruise lines offer, only at better prices. They also boast a 12 person average sized tour group.

Yeah, but if you book directly through the cruise line, they have to take care of you if you miss the ship.

True, but if you book through Shore Excursions Group, you get the SAME protection. They have never had someone miss the ship due to the excursion not getting back to the dock on time. Even in the rare event that it happens, the company will arrange and pay for your accommodations, meals, and transportation to the next port of call, and will pay you an additional $500 per customer for the inconvenience.

I’m glad I stumbled upon the website and I will be using them on my upcoming cruises.

What is the best shore excursion you’ve ever taken?

Labor Day Cruises

8 Jun

Labor Day is quickly approaching. For some, it signifies the last chance to take a vacation before the kids are back in school. (Unless you live where I live and the kids go back around mid August). This is one of the best offers out there. It applies to any Norwegian cruise 5 days or longer, but I’ve included the latest rates for Labor Day sailings to Bermuda. More dates and cruises are available including Bahamas, Alaska, and European sailings.

Book an inside cabin and receive a FREE BOTTLE OF WINE. Ocean view cabins receive free wine and CHOCOLATE COVERED STRAWBERRIES, balcony booking receive all of the above plus an ITALIAN DINNER FOR 2 onboard. Other cabin categories have increasingly awesome extras such as onboard and spa credits.

  • August 31- September 7 cruise on the Norwegian Dawn from Boston to Bermuda. Space is still available from $1218 per person.
  • Prices start at $1078 for September 2-9 onboard the Norwegian Star (pictured) departing from NYC to Bermuda.

Other destinations are available and space is filling up fast, and driving the prices up. Many people do not realize that once the lowest priced cabins are gone, the next price point is rolled out, then the next. The above rates are what the inside cabins are going for as of today via Norwegian’s booking system.

Today is the last day to book to receive the Norwegian promotional offer! (817) 607-3693.

Want more examples?

  • For a shorter getaway, consider Carnival Imagination. The 3 day cruise to the Bahamas departing August 31st from Miami. $289 per person gets you there.
  • There is also Carnival Ecstasy leaving from Orlando on September 1st for a 5 day sailing to the Caribbean. $249 per person.
  • Royal Caribbean’s Majesty and Monarch of the Seas both depart on August 31 for a 3 day sailing. Majesty departs from Miami and Monarch departs from Port Canaveral. Staterooms are from $319 per person. A $200 deposit is due at booking and the balance is due on July 2.
  • Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas- 7 night Alaska cruise tour departing from Vancouver on August 31, from $599.

Many other itineraries are available. Call us for more information!