This past January (2017), I started my year off with tropical weather, Piña coladas, and sailing the Caribbean Sea with one of my best friends, Charlie-Rose. The cruise itself was eight days, but between driving from New York to Wisconsin (where Charlie lives), to flying and spending three days in Galveston, Texas, my projected eight day trip turned into a two week vacation. I won't bore with the driving details and long waits in airports, so let's skip past my ten-hour road trip and get to Galveston (but let me just say that the cheese curds in Wisconsin are out of this world).
Galveston was a quaint and lovely little island off of Texas. We flew into Bush Intercontinental (IAH) from Chicago, and from there it was about an hour shuttle to the Island. Planning this trip was a little tricky because at the time I was 20 and Charlie was 19, so our hotel options were extremely limited. So limited in fact, that our only option was the Red Roof Inn. Luckily, it was also the cheapest option, and although it was certainly nothing luxurious, it had a beautiful beachside view of the ocean and was fairly close to Pleasure Pier (pictured above) which happened to be our favorite part of Galveston. The three days that we spent in Galveston were certainly enough to enjoy this little island. I would go back to visit anytime, but probably nothing extending longer than a week. The island although beautiful, was small and did not have too much to keep an adventurous heart satisfied for long. After spending New years eve playing beer pong (the beer was actually just sparkling grape juice) in our hotel room and New Years Day exploring the island, we departed for our cruise on January 2nd.
So the cruise line that we ended up choosing was Carnival. There were several reasons we ended up going with this line, but the main reason other than being the most affordable, was their military booking policy. You have to be 21 to book a cruise, but Carnival has a policy that allows military members (active, guard, and reserve) to book a cruise if you do not meet the age requirements. Charlie-Rose and I are both in the Air Force (we actually met in bootcamp), so thankfully we were both able to take advantage of this policy. Carnival was a blast. This was the first cruise I had ever been on and it did not disappoint. Frankly, we spent most of our free time in the *free* buffet. For those of you not familiar with Carnival Cruises (or cruises in general) the cruise ships are massive and have so many activities for you to partake in while you are at sea, awaiting arrival at the ports. We ended up on the Carnival Valor ship (pictured above), and it had a variety of bars, restaurants, theaters, and more. The main deck featured two pools (one for families and one for adults), multiple hot tubs, and a huge outside movie display, right in front of the pool that played movies every night. We spent a couple of our nights on the cruise in a hot tub watching whatever movie was featured that night. Every hour from about 8am to midnight, there was an activity going on. Our cruise director was a really fun and outgoing young man who usually hosted these events such as dance parties, hairy chest competitions for the men, and so much more. It was such a fun experience, and also very family-friendly.
Mahogany Bay was our first stop. This port is located in Roatan, Honduras. It took us a little longer than most to get off the ship because the views of the island from the upper deck were completely and utterly mesmerizing. This island was so aesthetically pleasing, I never wanted to leave. We spent most of our day at this port relaxing by the beautiful beach, eating the best chips and salsa I've ever tasted, and sipping on Piña coladas. Too many Piña coladas that led to tipsy karaoke back on the ship (and making friends at dinner). The beach that we spent our day at was located a short walk away from where our ship was. It was really easy to get to with workers from the ship telling us where to go, and the admittance was also free because we were passengers on the ship. Our day spent in Mahogany Bay was truly a magical day without cares, worries, or stress.
Our next stop was Belize (it was un-belize-able!). For this stop, we decided to spend the day exploring the city rather than staying in the port area. We took a cab to the heart of the city and explored various food and clothing markets, restaurants, and shops. This was my first time being exposed to a poverty-stricken community to this extent, and it was a truly eye-opening experience. We spoke to several of the locals, one of them was working the counter of a small diner that stopped in for a drink. We chatted for little bit about the cruises that come in every week, all year round. We asked if she was annoyed or bothered by the amount of Americans that flood her country every week and I was surprised to hear that her answer was no. Despite how arrogant we can be at times, the waves of tourists that come in so often provide great business for the locals. On our way back to the ship after wandering through the city (and eating the most flavorful rice and beans I will ever have), Charlie pointed out to me that not a single person (aside from the tourists) wore prescription eyeglasses. This hit me hard. I was born in a country and into a family where my health insurance covers all of my needs like eye care and dental care. And don't even get me started on how privileged we are to have flushable toilets. Belize was a reality check for me and everything I take for granted. And yet, it was such a joyful community enriched with amazing culture (and delicious foods).
Cozumel, Mexico was our third and final stop on this journey and it was every bit as magical as it sounds! This was the one port that we booked an excursion for, and it was worth every penny. The excursion encompassed a dolphin ride, snorkeling, and limitless food and drinks. When we arrived at Dolphinaris, it wasn't long before we were in the water with those magnificent creatures. I can't even tell you how incredible it was to swim with dolphins- to have them right in front of you and pet them- definitely one of the more magical moments of my life. I was a little skeptical when I first booked the excursion. I hate to see the mistreatment of animals and I stay away from establishments like Sea World, which is well known for its animal abuse and habitat enclosures unfit for some of the marine life. Dolphinaris however, seemed to be a pretty good establishment. The pools for the dolphins were directly connected to the Ocean and the dolphin trainers were kind and had a genuine love for the dolphins that they worked with. The woman that was in charge of our group also said that all of the dolphins were either rescue dolphins or born there.
After swimming with the dolphins and eating our fill of authentic Mexican food, we went Snorkeling! This was my first time snorkeling and it was so incredible. I used to have a fear of swimming in bodies of water that had fish and other creatures in it, but since the ocean waters were so clear and I could see everything I was swimming with, my fear was replaced with excitement and curiosity. I was able to pet manta-rays and swim through large schools of fish, some of which contained fish twice the size of my head. The experience added to my love for the ocean and vanquished my fear of swimming in it.
This vacation contained many firsts for me- first time on a cruise, first time leaving the U.S./Canada, and first time snorkeling. It was an unforgettable experience and left me with a collection of memories that I will forever cherish. Above all else, I am so grateful that I was able to share this adventure with such a close friend of mine that I hadn't seen since bootcamp. Life is beautiful, my friends! Fill up on adventures!