Guest post by SarahKelly
Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.
We took a Western Caribbean cruise out of Miami through Carnival. The cruise was technically 5 days, but 2 of those were sea days, which I won’t go into a ton of detail about. We opted to fly in a day early so that we wouldn’t have to worry about time. To save money, we flew into Ft. Lauderdale even though our cruise was leaving from Miami.
Day 1 (Fort Lauderdale to Miami)
Arrived at FLL Airport in Florida and immediately caught an Uber to Miami University area. It was roughly a 35 minute drive and MUCH less expensive than a taxi. We were dropped off at our hotel, which was the Holiday Inn Express at Coral Gables, on campus. While it’s now sadly closed, I have only good things to say about this hotel. We requested early arrival and reserved a standard double room. We arrived early and since our standard room wasn’t ready yet, they immediately upgraded us for free to a poolside patio suite. It was a large lovely room with all the comforts and best of all a private fenced patio that had a gate to the pool courtyard. It was lush with palms, flowers and little lizards. We spent all day relaxing here and experienced none of the stress of rushing from the airport directly to the cruise port. We checked out in the morning refreshed and relaxed and caught another Uber to Port of Miami.
Day 2 (At Sea on Carnival Sensation)
Day 3 (Ocho Rios, Parish of Saint Ann, Jamaica)
- Drive through Coolshade Farms, a development overlooking Chukka Cove
- Irie Blue Hole
- Drive through Fern Gully, a rain forest valley with over 400 species of tropical ferns
- Sampling fresh fruits & spices at local hut along Fern Gully
- Private beach visit & Lunch at Bamboo Blu on the water
- Rum tasting, coffee tasting, & souvenir shopping
Ocho Rios was by far my favorite part of this trip. The culture is so rich and the landscape is beyond beautiful. From gorgeous beaches and rocky coves to foggy mountains and dense rain-forest, Jamaica is a true gem of the Caribbean. We opted to buy a local guided tour for the day and we were so happy with it. A similar cruise-sponsored excursion would have cost us $200 per person, and we ended up paying about $70 per person by going with a local instead. This basically included a chauffeured air-conditioned ride to anyplace on the island we wanted to go all day, all our admission fees (for 4 adults) and all gratuities. Our driver grew up in the area and told us all about the culture, like what are the best local dishes to taste and all about the education and political system. I know a lot of people on cruises fear taking any tours that aren’t cruise-sponsored because there’s a worry of being left behind by your ship. We never had this worry – Our driver was great about giving us time reminders and got us back to port with time to spare. We absolutely loved Irie Blue Hole (aka Cool Blue Hole). It’s less crowded than Dunn’s River Falls, but it’s getting more popular – I’d say there were about 20 other tourists there with us. You do have to take a guide if you want to climb around and get in the water – They are trained lifeguards and know all the routes up the falls that are safe. (The admission cost of this was covered for us by our driver – but alone you’ll pay about $15, which covers admission and a lifeguard to guide you on the falls.) You also need water shoes of some kind, no bare feet. We had a blast climbing up the rocks and jumping or rope swinging down into the blue hole, and the surrounding rain-forest was gorgeous. Later, at Blu Bamboo we tasted curried goat ravioli (much tastier than it sounds) and jerk chicken, and hung out on the private beach in front of the restaurant. After awhile it began to rain so our driver got us back in the van and took us to a rum & coffee tasting. Jamaican rum is famous of course but the coffee there is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s dark and rich, and some of the most expensive coffee in the world. The shots of rum and samples of coffee were included in our tour fee, and there didn’t seem to be a limit – between the 4 of us we tasted every kind of rum the store carried. They do try to sell you bottles to take home, so that’s the trade-off (We bought 4 bottles). We did some souvenir shopping near the rum place before heading back to the cruise port.
Day 4 (Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island)
- Shopping at Camana Bay
- Grand Cayman National Museum
- Seven Mile Beach & Calico Jacks
Georgetown is vastly different than Ocho Rios. The first thing you notice is the commercialization. There are shops and restaurants lining the coast and they all look pretty familiar. I saw a lot of big chains like Margaritaville, Victoria’s Secret, etc. We meandered through Camana Bay for an hour or two and stumbled upon the National Museum, which you can miss if you aren’t looking for it, it looks like a plain white wooden house. For $8 we did a self guided tour of Grand Cayman’s first permanent structure and learned all about the history of the island. After that we caught a bus to the public portion of the famed 7 Mile Beach and had lunch at Calico Jacks, sitting 20 feet from the waves. Although we enjoyed our day overall, Grand Cayman isn’t a place I see us returning to. We’re adventure lovers, and enjoy immersing ourselves in the culture and history of a place when we visit it. Founded in the late 1800’s there just isn’t much history to Grand Cayman. British explorers built it up commercially, brought the slave trade to the islands and hunted a lot of its native wildlife to extinction. Today, it’s mostly beaches and shopping, and little else. If you’re into shopping and laying on the beach all day, its probably perfect for you. But we aren’t, and that meant we were a little bored.
Day 5 (At Sea on Carnival Sensation)
I won’t detail the activities of our days at sea – but I will take this opportunity to talk about our ship. The Carnival Sensation is one of the smaller ships in the fleet. It has all the usual cruise ship amenities like bars and restaurants, a pool, a gym, a casino, and a couple theatres. It’s clean and the crew are polite and attentive. The ship decor is a little outdated, (The main atrium reminds me of 1990’s Vegas) but that didn’t bother us much, as everything was functional and kept in working order. My main complaints weren’t really specific to our ship, but Carnival in general: The Carnival ‘Cheers’ package, and the food.
The cheers package is $54.95 USD per person, per day – plus a 15% gratuity. This is a relatively good deal if you plan to drink alcohol for the whole cruise. However, to get this deal everyone in your stateroom has to purchase it. Since I don’t drink but my husband does, this didn’t work for us. We asked for an exception but they wouldn’t make one, we thought it was an unfair rule.
My other disappointment was the food. It was ok – but only ok. In no setting (specialty or not) and in no restaurant on board did we experience exceptional meals. The menu in the main dining rooms changed everyday and included a special local dish each night, but even those were mediocre. The service was amazing though, and the waitstaff went above and beyond to entertain us and make us happy.
Day 6 (Miami- return flight home)
We arrived back in port around 6am, and were off the ship and through customs by 9. We had an evening flight from Ft. Lauderdale and faced the challenge of what to do for 8 hours. There are tons of tours in Miami that we would have had time for, but we had luggage to tow around and we were all pretty tired. We ended up getting an Uber to a hotel in Ft. Lauderdale that offered “day rooms”. I highly recommend this if you have 6 or more hours before you need to be at the airport. For about $57 we napped, ate lunch, hung out by the pool and watched tv in comfort while killing time before our flight.
Traveled in March 2017