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Review: Aruba Snorkel and Beach Cruise Excursion



For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told to bring my scuba to Aruba. The only problem: I’m not a scuba diver. Getting certified is one of those things that I’ve always meant to do, but just haven’t gotten around to.  I am, however, a really good snorkeler. So when the Snorkel and Beach Cruise shore excursion showed up as an option during my recent cruise on the Carnival Vista, I immediately booked it. Snorkeling? Aruba? I was sold… even before finding out it included an open bar.

Tour Overview 

This four-hour tour operated by Pelican Adventures through Carnival Cruise Line started with an amazing trip along Aruba’s coast on a catamaran, and featured snorkeling stops at two different reefs. The first reef was in relatively shallow water (about 10 feet below the surface), but it was the second stop which really caught my attention: We would be snorkeling at the wreck of the Antilla, a World War Two German freighter that has, since it’s sinking (which is a story in and of itself, and we’ll get to that in a minute), morphed into a coral reef and become home to a wide variety of tropical fish. We would then head to the beach for lunch and a little relaxation before heading back to the ship. All in all, it sounded like my version of a perfect day.

The price of the excursion was $104.99 per person. Yes, there are cheaper snorkeling options out there, but the others I looked at didn’t include an open bar on the catamaran or a BBQ lunch. They were simply basic snorkeling excursions.

The Aruba Sail and Snorkel Experience

Once we disembarked from the cruise ship, there were representatives from the excursion company holding up Carnival signs with our excursion name on it. Once everyone was gathered, we walked down the pier and boarded the catamaran to begin our adventure. The catamaran itself was spacious, featuring bench seating and two bathrooms inside the cabin, and a wide open space at the front of the boat where (once underway) you could sprawl out on what the guides called “trampolines.” There was one on each side of the catamaran, and they were essentially nets on which you could stretch out. As the boat headed out, you were suspended just a foot or two above the water.

It was a 45-minute ride to the first snorkeling spot, and a few minutes after we left the doc, the crew raised the sails and opened up the front of the boat for us to sit and enjoy the ride. The catamaran is both power and wind driven.  I was surprised how many people opted to stay in the shade of the cabin as opposed to heading for the “trampolines”, but hey, that meant more room for those of us who wanted to feel the wind in our hair and the spray of the ocean which would occasionally splash up onto us.


We sailed through turquoise and dark blue shallow waters, often able to see the bottom. Once we got to the first reef, the crew walked us through how to put the life jacket on as well as how to operate the snorkel and mask. We had to put a solution in the mask so it wouldn’t fog when we were in the water. I know some people don’t love the idea of wearing a life vest while snorkeling, but as it turns out, but the cruise line (for insurance purposes) and the Coast Guard (for safety purposes) require guests to do so.  And no, it doesn’t matter how good a swimmer you are.

I’ve snorkeled all my life, and their gear was solid. I usually bring my own gear when I go to the Caribbean, but having booked the excursion in advance and read that they provided gear, knew there wasn’t any reason to do so.

The First Reef

There wasn’t much to see at the first reef, if I’m being honest. The water was about 10-15 feet deep, and we saw some coral and only a couple of fish. I think this first stop is less about seeing underwater creature and more about getting people comfortable with the equipment and the idea of snorkeling before we moved on to the main event. While there were several people who, like me, had been snorkeling numerous times, there were others who’d clearly never had the pleasure. I suspect a lot of people’s first exposure to snorkeling is under situations exactly like this one… on a cruise ship excursion. (I also suspect that the vast majority of them love it and find themselves looking forward to doing it again!)

We got to swim around at this location for about 30 minutes before we got back on the catamaran and set sail for the next stop… which was where the real fun was!

The Ship Wreck 

As I mentioned before, the second stop was at the site of the wrecked German freighter Antilla. As a lover of nautical history, I was all about this part of the excursion. This cargo ship was active during World War Two, although it had an incredibly short lifespan. It was being chased by the enemy and instead of allowing the ship and its cargo to be captured, the captain decided to purposefully sink her. Ordering the Antilla to proceed at full speed ahead, the boilers overheated and blew a hole in the side of the ship. As a result, the ship sank in 60 feet of water, with all of the crew surviving and managing to row their way to the shore. And now, that incredible piece of history was here, off the coast, waiting to be explored.

We anchored on the back of the sunken ship and were set free to explore. When I first jumped into the water, I was momentarily stunned nearly to the point of being overwhelmed with excitement. I’ve been to beautiful reefs over the years, but nothing could compare to this. Sure, we hadn’t gone to the bottom of the ocean floor in a submersible, but this was probably the closest I was ever going to come to capturing the emotions felt by the people who discovered the Titanic‘s wreckage. I could have shouted “I’m king of the world!” at that moment… were it not for the fact that I was, you know, underwater and probably would have drowned.

We could inflate and deflate our life vests in order to make it easier to swim beneath or return to the ocean’s surface. At first, I stuck close to the surface, scoping out the wreckage from above until I found the area I wanted to explore. Then I deflated my vest and dove down. Although the ship sank in 60 feet of water, the Antilla is laying on her side. This means that the part closest to the surface is only about 20 feet beneath you as your snorkeling on the surface.

A lot of coral has grown on the side of the ship over the years, and a ton of angelfish live there. I had my GoPro with me, and was able to get some fantastic shots of this underwater kingdom and its inhabitants. There was a scuba diving excursion at the wreck as well, and it was kind of cool to see them exploring the ship up close. (It also left me determined to get certified so that if and when I do this excursion again, I’ll be able to fully explore the Antilla!)

After 30 minutes of exploring this amazing site, we boarded the catamaran again and headed for the beach to enjoy some food and drinks.

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BBQ On The Beach 

It took a few minutes for us to head to the shore where the catamaran was tied up to the dock so we could disembark.  There was a BBQ lunch served in a shaded area (barbecued chicken and ribs, baked beans, pasta salad, corn and a roll, as well as water or soda). For those who needed it, there was also a bathroom near the end of the dock.

Once beachside, loungers and umbrellas were available so we didn’t get scorched by the Caribbean sun… which is way too easy to do when you’re caught up in having a good time and not applying sunscreen as often as you should! We went straight into the ocean and man, did it feel good to get a break from the heat!

The Return Trip

After an hour at the beach, we re-boarded the catamaran and began making our way back to the terminal where the cruise ship was docked. On the 45-minute ride back to the ship, the bar was open again for rum punch, water, and soda. (Sorry, folks, no beer!) Just like on our way out to the first site, once we were underway, they put the sails up and let us sit on the front of the catamaran. We were able to stay there right up until we were about five minutes from docking, at which point they took the sail down and went under their own power to the pier. The ship docks right in the heart of downtown, so once you get off the catamaran, you can either make the five-minute walk back to your waiting ship or hit the stores (most of which sell jewelry) located around the dock.

Final Thoughts

This was probably one of the best Caribbean cruise excursions that I’ve ever experienced. It was very well organized, and the team was very professional and helpful, especially with inexperienced guests who might have been nervous about snorkeling or had difficulty with the gear. It’s always an added bonus when they don’t try and guilt you into a tip as the tour is ending. There was a tip jar on the bar, which I was happy to see some people putting cash into. As for myself, I happily gave a tip to the crew — whose knowledge and friendliness helped elevate this already amazing excursion — as we were getting off the catamaran.

Want to learn more about this amazing excursion? Find everything else you could want to know here: Snorkel and Beach Cruise Excursion.


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5 Waterproof Travel Items You Cannot Forget On Your Next Cruise



The blissful view of an endless horizon, the sound of the ocean and the constant excitement of a new destination are all part of the reasons why we love cruise vacations so much. But this blissful existence can be shattered in the event of bad weather and the ruin of some of your most precious belongings. By their very nature, cruises bring you in close contact with water so it’s best to always be prepared for the worst. Thankfully, there are now many ingenious and attractive ways to weather-proof all of your packing items. Here are some of our favorite objects you shouldn’t leave land without.

Be Ready For Anything


When we think of cruises, we think of glamour and fun, not soaked-through clothes and malfunctioning electronics – and that’s the way we want to keep it! Firstly, it’s as important to know what not to pack as what is essential, and how to ensure everything will return in one piece. These are our best bets on things that can withstand even the most severe sea-dunking while offering daily usefulness.

1. Aqua Shoes

Flip flops might suffice while on deck but if you disembark and are hoping to indulge in some rock pooling or water sports then a pair of aqua shoes are an excellent all-weather option. Sturdy, light and easy to slip on, these specially designed shoes offer enhanced grip on slippery surfaces while protecting your feet from sharp rocks. What’s more, they are comfortable, quick to dry, and take up far less packing space than traditional chunky sandals.

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2. Underwater Camera

The fine sea mist that feels so refreshing on your skin in the hot sun is the same damp air that can ruin your expensive digital SLR camera. Moreover, as anyone with kids knows, you are never safe from a hefty splash when sat by the pool. For these reasons, having an underwater or water-safe camera is a great addition, meaning you can keep your high-quality shots for the safety of land and still have fun on the beach and at the pool.

3. Dive Watch

Just as you might be worried about fine jewelry tarnishing amongst the waves, so too might you be concerned about wearing your expensive watch. However, many elite brands sell models that can operate at great depths. For instance, HydroConquest models from Longines are renowned dive watches that can be submerged at depths of up to 300 meters, and are actually cheap to pick up if you know the right place to look.

4. Water-Tight Phone Case

For many of us, it has become our most treasured item, so don’t run the risk of breaking it on your first day by the pool deck! A waterproof phone case is essential when aboard a cruise ship, where your general proximity to water makes all electrical items potentially disastrous. Tough, durable and letting you move with confidence, many of these watertight pouches are large enough to let you even keep all of your belongings, not just your phone, in a safe place.

5. Water-resistant Sun Cream

It’s important to distinguish between sun creams that can withstand exposure to moisture and those that can’t, as a nasty burn could be awaiting you otherwise. Look out for labels marking the product as ‘water-resistant’ and clearly stating the period of time they can be relied upon to withstand water contact, such as 30 minutes or 60. Moreover, if you plan to be doing some scuba diving or snorkeling excursions as part of your cruise, take a look at these reef-safe sun creams that will ensure you won’t be damaging the delicate ecosystem with harsh chemical agents.

What do you take on your cruise? 

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Review: Maya Chan Costa Maya Beach Excursion



If you plan on taking a Western Caribbean cruise, there is a good chance that your ship will be stopping in Costa Maya, Mexico. Located on the Southern end of Mexico, just north of Belize, you will find the Costa Maya Cruise Port. As with any port, you’ll find that the ship offers a wide variety of excursions. (This is, after all, another way for them to make money.) But if you’re the type who doesn’t mind breaking free from the heard — and are responsible enough to get yourself back to the ship on time so as not to be left behind — the all-inclusive resort of Maya Chan might be a good fit.

The price for all-day access is $59 per adult. The price per child is $19 for those up to three years old; $39 for kids aged 3-17, and $49 for those between 8 and 17 years old. (They do offer a bit of a discount if you have a large group. To find out if you qualify, contact them directly when you’re making your plans)

And what do you get for the price of admission?

Maya Chan

  • An English-speaking Maya Chan representative who will meet you at the port
  • Round-trip transportation from the pier to the resort and back
  • Beach chairs and day beds
  • A pre-assigned, private shaded area for each party
  • An all-you-care-to-eat Mayan food bar as well as open bar
  • Free WiFi
  • Changing areas
  • Facilities
  • Kayaks and snorkel gear

It’s worth noting that for planning purposes, they request that guests make reservations in advance. Once you do, they’ll generally respond within 24 hours and request payment via Paypal.

Upon Arriving in Costa Maya 

Maya Chan

On many itineraries, Costa Maya winds up being the final port of call before the ship begins heading home. It also often ends up being a relatively short visit, with the ship both arriving and departing earlier than it does other ports. It’s not at all unusual for the all-aboard time to be around 1:30 p.m. That was the case during my recent visit, when the ship arrived at port before I was even awake, and we set sail again at 2 p.m.

The pier is Costa Maya is pretty long, so give yourself plenty of time to disembark and make your way down the pier. Once you exit the cruise terminal gates, you’ll see someone from Maya Chan waiting for you at a clearly marked tent where guests board shuttle buses. And while the resort is only about four miles away from the actual terminal, it can take almost a half hour to make the journey. Because of this, the folks at the resort makes sure to stay on top of the departure time of your ship so that they can have you on a shuttle back in plenty of time.

Welcome to Maya Chan

Maya Chan

Once we arrived at the resort, we were immediately greeted by a guide who took us on a quick tour of the property. Given that we had pre-paid before even setting foot on the ship, we were able to bypass that step and head straight for the beach. There, we were introduced to our servers and brought to the private area where we would be spending the day. There were a line of chairs and two day-beds, and the area had our name on it so we knew it was intended for us. The sun was shining, the water was sparking and it was clearly going to be a great beach day.

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Food & Drinks

The food was very impressive (and gluten-free). The chef, who has been cooking authentic Mexican cuisine at Maya Chan for years, fires the grill up around 9:00 a.m. and they begin serving foot at 11:00 a.m. Trust me, by then you’ll be salivating thanks to the incredible smell of the steak, chicken, pork and fish coming from the grill.

Maya Chan

Unlike some resorts where the drinks come at an additional costs, they were included here. And this isn’t a situation where they basically limit you to a pre-made rum punch. In fact, we had quite a bit of fun getting creative with the bartender, who whipped up all kinds of frozen concoctions for us.

A Few Useful Tips About Maya Chan

  • Get there early. Like I said before, many ships wind up having relatively short stays in Costa Maya, so you want to make the most of the time you have available at the resort. Consider getting off the ship as soon as the gangway opens. Yes, that could mean that you’re walking off the ship at sunrise, but it also means you’re sitting on the beach sipping a drink that much sooner. (Hey, you’re on vacation!)
  • Bring sunblock. The Western Caribbean sun can be brutal. Even though there are umbrellas and plenty of shaded area throughout the property, it doesn’t hurt to be protected. Especially if you plan to walk the beach or go for a swim!
  • Take advantage of what’s available. Heck, take one of the floating mats out on the water and the staff will even bring you out a drink! (Did we mention you’re on vacation?)
  • Pamper yourself. Massages are available on site for a nominal fee.
  • Bring your appetite. If you’re hungry — and you definitely will be — head for the lunch line a little bit early. They start serving at 11, and the line can get long really quick. Since most items are made-to-order, it can take a bit of time… although it’s definitely worth the wait!

Final Thoughts

I thought this was a great excursion if you’re looking to experience the authentic Costa Maya. The resort has character, friendly staff, amazing food and is far enough away from the cruise terminal that it tends not to be overly crowded, and yet doesn’t take forever to get to. It’s worth noting that like Costa Maya in general, the Maya Chan does not have the most pristine beaches. But the staff works very hard to keep it clear of sea grass so you can enjoy the property.

I’ve only been to Costa Maya a handful of times, and this is the first trip on which I’ve had a chance to experience a port day that wasn’t experiencing the area immediately around the pier. The chances I’ll be returning to Maya Chan are very high.

Read More: Carnival Magic in Costa Maya

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Everything You Need To Know About Carnival Horizon



With the highly-anticipated launch of the Carnival Horizon coming soon, cruisers are seeking out as much information as they can get… and we’re here to help. Whether you’re already booked or deciding if this is the right ship for you, read on for a look at the vessel’s restaurants, entertainment options and more!

Fast Facts

Her First Voyage: The Horizon will do several round-trip sailings out of Barcelona beginning on April 2, 2018, before setting sail May 9 on a 14-day transatlantic to New York City. 
Number Of Passengers: The ship will be able to carry 3,960 guests at double capacity.
Her Stats: While it’s never polite to ask a lady such things, Horizon will weigh in at 133,500 Gross Tons. She’ll be 1,062 feet long and 15 decks high.
Itineraries: Upon arriving in New York City, Horizon will spend the summer doing 4-day sailings to Bermuda and 8-day sailings to the Southern Caribbean. In September, the ship will relocate to Miami to do a variety of Caribbean-bound voyages.

Carnival Cruise Line

The Carnival Horizon is the second Vista-class ship, and will be followed by the Carnival Panorama in 2019. She’ll be a true sister-ship to Vista, featuring many of the same restaurants and features which proved popular on the first-in-her-class vessel, including the SkyRide and the wildly distinctive LED Dreamscapes featured in both the atrium and casino. (People who’ve never actually seen the Dreamscape funnels in person sometimes struggle to understand their appeal, but trust us: They are seriously cool. Need proof? Look at some of the cool images featured... and then imagine them moving!)

What’s New On The Horizon?

Given the popularity of Vista, it would have been easy for Carnival to simply crank out a twin sister. Instead, they’ll be introducing several new concepts, dining venues and a whole slew of new entertainment options. In a promotional video for the shows, Robb Wagner, media producer for Playlist Productions, explained that Carnival was upping their game by “introducing video game technology” and “using that technology to create immersive environments” designed to “make the audience feel more like they’re stepping into a world versus sitting down to watch a show.”

READ MORE: Full Details On Horizon’s New Shows

Among the new shows being rolled out, the one we’re perhaps most intrigued by is Soulbound, a New Orleans-set spectacle combining soulful songs with special effects which will take viewers to a variety of locations… including a haunted cemetery and apothecary. (Anybody else think that, given that last set, the Alchemy Bar will be the perfect place to have drinks before or after seeing Soulbound?) The other shows are Celestial Strings (which combines classical and pop music in a garden setting, complete with “aroma-infused” sets) and Vintage Pop (in which contemporary songs are given a classic jazz vibe with a little help from a 6-piece orchestra). In addition to these, Amor Cubano: A Caribbean Dance Romance —  which made its debut on the Carnival Vista — will be imported. Meanwhile, if there’s one big change many are hoping to see on Horizon, it’s better sightlines than can be found on Vista, where many of the theater’s seats have obstructed views.

Guy Fieri’s Newest Restaurant

On the food side, Carnival Horizon will offer a couple of concepts that are new-to-Carnival, including the latest offshoot of the line’s partnership with celebrity chef Guy Fieri. This time around, Fieri’s offering up Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ Smokehouse. And because it’s a crime in at least 4 states to eat things like smoked brisket or babyback ribs and not wash them down with a cold beer, the joint will also serve as a brewhouse offering up an exclusive line of Parched Pig beers. During the day, the restaurant will serve up free grub, while the more extensive dining menu will come with a fee. (And yes, the ship will also have a Guy’s Burger Joint, aka the perfect poolside grub… and yes, the Burgers will still be free.)

Another first-for-Carnival addition will be Bonsai Teppanyaki. The for-fee restaurant (which will be open for lunch on sea days and dinner every night) will offer a menu spotlighting authentic delicacies from the Far East. But as anyone who has ever experienced a Teppanyaki restaurant knows, half the fun is the show put on by the amazingly talented chefs. It’s also the perfect setting for group fun, as the chef’s work at custom-built stations at the center of an eight-seat table. Bonsai Teppanyaki will feature to such set-ups, but with seating limited, it’s definitely a venue one should plan to make reservations for.

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Rendering of Bonsai Teppanyaki by Carnival Cruise Line

Horizon will also feature an assortment of the venues which have proven popular on other ships, such as the  JiJi Asian Kitchen, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse, Cucina Del Capitano. For all your grab-and-go needs there’s also the BlueIgunana Cantina (located near the midship Beach pool), as well as the Seafood Shack and Pizzaria del Capitano (both located by the aft-facing Tides pool). There is also, of course, the various options offered by the buffet. And if you happen to be hanging out in the adult’s-only Serenity area on sea days, you’ll be able to enjoy one of the healthiest options on board, the do-it-yourself salad bar. Finally, for what promises to be the best dining experience you’ll ever have at sea, sign up for the once-in-a-lifetime meal that is offered by the Chef’s Table.

Pick A Room, Any Room

Havana Cabana Suite – rendering: Carnival Cruise Line

As on the Vista, the Horizon will offer the widest variety of stateroom options ever featured on a Carnival ship. The Family Harbor staterooms and suites are perfect for both single and extended families, especially given that they include access to a special lounge featuring snacks, games and a comfy place for clans to hang out and maybe even make new friends. But the most popular rooms on the ship will surely be those located in the Havana area. Ranging from interiors to suites, these beautifully decorated rooms also come with exclusive daytime access to the Havana Bar & Pool (which isn’t open to other guests until after 7 p.m.). It’s important to note that all guests staying in the Havana area must be 12 years old and above.

The Cloud 9 Spa rooms are perfect for those looking to get their relaxation groove on. They grant passengers free access to the thermal spa, Elemis toiletries, bathrobes, slippers and more. One of the nice things about the Spa rooms is that they come in everything from an interior to a suite, making them affordable to a wide variety of budgets.

Important Things To Keep In Mind

Carnival Horizon

  • As the Carnival Horizon is a new ship, it could take a while for the kinks to be worked out. Those sailing on the first few voyages should — as with any new ship — keep that in mind. If you’re the type of person for whom a few bumps in the road can ruin an entire trip, it might be worth letting the ship and her crew settle in before taking them for a run.
  • When trying to decide what stateroom is right for you, be sure to consult the deck plans. Make sure you’re not located above a theater or below a bowling ally. Until the ship has been sailing for a while, actual reviews of various decks, let alone specific cabins, won’t be available… so using the deck plans will be your best bet!
  • One of the coolest sections of the ship, the Havana Bar & Pool, is off limits to guests who aren’t staying in the Havana section… until after 7 p.m. But be sure to visit, because it’s got spectacular views and is sure to be one of the hottest spots on the ship nightlife wise.
  • Be sure to check the Fun Times to see when restaurants which are only open limited hours are serving. There’s nothing worse than getting psyched up for a meal… only to find out the restaurant isn’t open!
  • The newest venues on the ship — such as Bonsai Teppanyaki — will also be the most popular. Once you’ve locked in your trip, consider making reservations so that you can enjoy the restaurants you consider Must-Do.

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