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Review: Irie Tours in Curaçao (Photos)



When researching cruise excursions that were available during our visit to Willemstad, Curaçao, we came across Irie Tours. For $25, the East Side Island Tour boasted a narrated island tour with stops at the Curaçao distillery and Mambo Beach, as well as scenic views along the way. The excursion included free beer and soda during the tour — which others we looked at didn’t — making this seems like a real bargain.

While you don’t need to make reservations for the tour, they do recommend doing so, as the buses fill up pretty quickly. Once you make a reservation, the operators will send you a confirmation. It’s important to note that you do not pre-pay for the excursion. Instead, you’ll pay them — cash or credit — at the time of the tour. It’s also important to show up at least 15 minutes before your reservation to guarantee your spot! Like I said, their tours are very popular, so it’s likely that if you’re not there, they’ll easily find someone to fill your seat on the bus!

The East Side Tour

After disembarking from the cruise ship, we walked over to the big white tents at the Curaçao cruise terminal and quickly found someone holding up a sign that said “Irie Tours.” Our names were checked off the list, we were given a sticker and told which bus to board. (This is important, since the company operates several different tours!) And from the moment you see the buses, you get the impression that it’s going to be a very fun day. Because this is not your ordinary school bus, but rather a multi-colored party on wheels. The windows have been removed, and a cooler of drinks (including water, beer and soda) is ready to be raided, free of charge.

At this point, we still hadn’t paid and, when we asked, were told to pay the driver at the end of the tour. (I took this as a sign that they know you’re going to enjoy yourself… after all, it’s probably difficult to get people who have a lousy time to pay up after the fact!) They accept most major credit cards (and don’t charge processing fees) or cash, and the fee is a flat $25 per person.

After  about 15 minutes, the bus was loaded and we were off on our guided tour, which began with a drive past some of the iconic pastel buildings which line the Willemstad waterfront. While we didn’t get off the bus here, the driver stopped so that we could snap pictures. And it was then, while leaning out taking those photos, that you realized why there were no windows on the bus. Well, in addition to the breeze that helped cool down the hot day!)

Next, we drove over the (very high!) Queen Juliana Bridge, which offers a breathtaking overview of the city and the cruise ships. On a nice day, this is an absolutely incredible spot from which to take a picture of the harbor.

First Stop: Curaçao Distillery

After 15 minutes of driving– touring which our drive offered up lots of interesting facts and tidbits about the island he clearly knows well — we stopped at the distillery to see how the world-famous Curaçao liquor is made. It’s a self-guided tour at the end of which there’s a tasting station with three different types of liquor for you to sample.

Just like every attraction at Walt Disney World, the tour of course empties out into a gift show. And needless to say, you can also purchase a bottle if you like what you taste. (Just be aware that once you get back to the ship, they’ll take it from you until the last night of the sailing!) You can also hit the bar outside for a Blue Curaçao drink that runs $8. We were at the distillery for around 30 minutes.

Touring the Wealthy Neighborhoods

Once back on the bus, we made our way through a really wealthy neighborhood called Spanish Water Way where the houses start at $350,000 and go up from there. It was fascinating to see the lack of security fences… which were instead “replaced” by huge eight-foot tall cacti, planted close to one another to form a natural border. We were told they work great when it comes to keeping out both people… and goats! (Apparently, there are a lot of them running around the island!)

The neighborhood was beautiful, and we were surprised by how modern many of the houses were. In downtown Willemstad, there are rules about the architectural styles in order to preserve the areas historic look and feel, but in these more residential areas, anything goes. The eclectic and varied styles chosen by the people lucky enough to build their houses here are something to see.

Stopping at Curaçao Mambo Beach and Boulevard

Our final stop on the tour was the beach and shopping district, where we had about 90 minutes to do our own thing. (Before getting off the bus, the driver asked how many of us wanted to stay at the beach for two hours, and how many preferred we only stay for one hour. Since the vote was pretty even, he split the difference and let us have an hour and a half.)

The beach itself wasn’t anything spectacular, but it wasn’t bad either. A horseshoe-shaped beach with rock jetties, the water starts ankle deep and gradually gets deeper the further you move from shore. It’s a nice, gentle drop-off. If you’re a swimmer, there’s a floating diving platform in the middle of the horseshoe where you can jump into the water and maybe show off your flipping abilities.

READ MORE: Carnival Vista Trip Report: Curaçao

The beach charges $3.50 fee for a beach chair but it didn’t seem to be strictly enforced. We were told someone would come around to collect the fee, but no one ever did. There was a bar on the beach where the drinks ran about $10 each. It was pretty packed, so I was never able to determine if the bar takes credit cards. It’s always safe just to assume that on Caribbean excursions cash is the best option.

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Because our ship didn’t dock until 1 p.m., our four-hour tour was scheduled from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. This meant we were still at the beach for the 5 p.m. sunset, which was perfect (although it’s important to note that each tour is different, depending on various factors, including ship schedules). Make sure to check with your cruise itinerary before booking the tour.

The End of the Tour

At the end of the tour, we were given the option of being dropped off by the floating bridge downtown — which, when crossed, would put us into the waterfront area — or back at the cruise ship. And it is at this point that we paid for the tour. (A representative from the company is there with a portable scanner for those wishing to pay by credit card.)

The walk from the shopping area back to the ship takes about 15 minutes and follows a well-lit path along the waterfront and through the fort. This is also a great opportunity to get a shot of the ship you arrived on before boarding.

Final Thoughts 

I’ll admit that heading into the tour, the $25 per person fee left me with very low expectations. But almost from the moment it began, I knew we’d lucked into a great tour at a bargain price… especially considering the fact that comparable tours on the island run $69 per person or more, And while those other tours might be in an air-conditioned vehicle, they don’t offer anywhere near the experience. The East Side Tour will give you a bit of history about Curaçao, a visit to a distillery and time to shop or hit the beach. In other words, pretty much everything you could want from a shore 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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