Day 4 – Costa Maya, Mexico

Fat Tuesday in Costa Maya

Celebrating Seuss At Sea, Carnival Cruise Line's new partnership with the works of famous children's author, Dr. Seuss. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Celebrating Seuss At Sea, Carnival Cruise Line’s new partnership with the works of famous children’s author, Dr. Seuss. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

It was a morning of sailing the surprisingly moody waters of the Gulf of Mexico aboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Freedom as we made our way to Costa Maya, Mexico. In fact, moody storm clouds seemingly chased us all the way into port, buffeted by strong winds that whipped across the open decks.

Believe it or not, this is only my second Western Caribbean cruise; the first was way back in 2009 on a run from Tampa to Key West and Cozumel. Still, I don’t remember the winds being this strong; they seem uncommonly harsh to me. They’re certainly doing double-duty today: guests are by and large staying off the open decks.

This morning, the Seuss-at-Sea Parade took place along the Deck 5 Promenade aboard Carnival Freedom. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
This morning, the Seuss-at-Sea Parade took place along the Deck 5 Promenade aboard Carnival Freedom. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Guests had an interesting way to stay entertained this morning, despite the high winds. In the sheltered warmth of the Deck 5 Promenade, guests could participate in the Seuss-At-Sea Parade, which wound its way along the length of the ship before finally concluding in the Victoriana Lounge for a Seuss-themed storytime. The book being read to the eager kids: none other than The Cat in the Hat.

I love the idea of having storytime for kids. Anything that encourages kids to read is a huge plus in my books. Not only that, but adults were encouraged to attend and participate, too.

The Seuss-at-Sea parade culminated in...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Seuss-at-Sea parade culminated in…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...storytime with the Cat in the Hat in the Victoriana Lounge. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…storytime with the Cat in the Hat in the Victoriana Lounge. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

By the time we came alongside in Costa Maya, seas as blue as the sky greeted us, replacing the moody and uncooperative weather that had plagued us for most of the morning. Also there to say hello was Costa Cruises’ sleek Costa Luminosa, looking resplendent with her gleaming white superstructure and bright canary-yellow funnel.

The best way I can describe Costa Maya is to call it the Grand Turk of the Western Caribbean. It’s not an island, but it is largely a manufactured port of call. Up to three megaships can dock here at a single time, and the massive pier apron conveniently funnels all guests right through the duty free shopping mecca that functions as the cruise terminal.

Meanwhile, Carnival Freedom was nearing Costa Maya...and Costa Luminosa, as it turns out! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Meanwhile, Carnival Freedom was nearing Costa Maya…and Costa Luminosa, as it turns out! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Coming alongside the pier in Costa Maya. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Coming alongside the pier in Costa Maya. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

There is a small town nearby (Mahahual) that can be reached by taxi, but its amenities are few and far between. It has been repeatedly slammed by hurricanes in 2008 and 2012, and is a shell of its former self. And let’s be honest: most guests are going to disembark the ship and stay within the gated confines of the Costa Maya cruise center, where they can bathe in the nearby swimming pool or watch dolphins do their thing in the small dolphin tanks that are situated between the pool and the beach.

Looking to go ashore? Head to Deck 0 all the way forward! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Looking to go ashore? Head to Deck 0 all the way forward! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Places like Costa Maya mystify the heck out of me. I can’t fathom just lying on the beach, burning like a lobster; or slamming back Corona’s until I pass out face-first in the swim-up bar at Senior Frogs. Sometimes, I wish I could be “that guy” – just to see what it’d be like. I imagine the hangovers are pretty wicked.

Costa and Carnival, side-by-side in Costa Maya. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Costa and Carnival, side-by-side in Costa Maya. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Costa Maya is a decent walk in...but there's a tram if you're feeling particularly unadventurous. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Costa Maya is a decent walk in…but there’s a tram if you’re feeling particularly unadventurous. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The stern of Carnival Freedom in Costa Maya on February 17, 2015. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The stern of Carnival Freedom in Costa Maya on February 17, 2015. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Costa Maya is heavily manufactured, but there are still some beautiful hand-crafted goods to be had. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Costa Maya is heavily manufactured, but there are still some beautiful hand-crafted goods to be had. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Or you can just watch the Dolphins in what I like to call "The Dolphinarium." Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Or you can just watch the Dolphins in what I like to call “The Dolphinarium.” Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
You also can't get lost. Literally. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
You also can’t get lost. Literally. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The thing is this: I am socially inept by accident. I accidentally destroyed my runners last week in Grand Turk, so now I am relegated to wearing long pants and dress shoes in the Caribbean until I can find proper footwear. If you’re seeking someone who is delightfully un-cool, look no further.

Sadly, no new shoes for me. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Sadly, no new shoes for me. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Back to the ship! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Back to the ship! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

But, relegated to the fact that I’m still very much me, after half an hour ashore I returned to the Carnival Freedom. She’s something I understand. I ordered a RedFrog Cocktail from the RedFrog Rum Bar up on Deck 9, and quietly wandered up to Deck 10 to watch the Costa Luminosa drop her lines and depart shortly after 5:00 p.m. I watched her until she disappeared beyond the bow of our Carnival Freedom, splashed with the amber glows of the setting sun.

RedFrog Beer spiked with Bacardi Rum, anyone? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
RedFrog Beer spiked with Bacardi Rum, anyone? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

I put my hand on the railing and felt Carnival Freedom rumble beneath my feet. To me, a ship is a living thing, and while Carnival Freedom has been a bit of a slow burn for me, she’s still a great ship that her guests are absolutely in love with. Carnival Freedom is wacky, vibrant and fun and it’s exactly what the Texas market – which is largely made of folks who drive themselves to the pier – are looking for in a cruise.

Costa Luminosa departs Costa Maya as guests from Carnival Freedom look on. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Costa Luminosa departs Costa Maya as guests from Carnival Freedom look on. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

My recommendation if you’re not a fan of the manufactured metropolis that is Costa Maya: take one of Carnival’s Shore Excursions. The line offers 27 different possibilities here that range from off-road jeep adventures to Snuba excursions, Segway tours, salsa dancing classes, and – of course – tours to the smaller, more out-of-the-way Mayan ruins of Chacchoben and Kohunlich. I opted not to do any tours because I’m taking part in the massive, 8.5-hour trip to Chichen Itza on Friday in Progreso.

Tonight, I dined in the Sun King Steakhouse on Deck 10. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Tonight, I dined in the Sun King Steakhouse on Deck 10. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

This evening, I dined in the Sun King Steakhouse, Carnival Freedom’s additional-charge specialty restaurant. Located on Deck 10 at the base of the line’s famous funnel, the Sun King derives its décor inspiration from everyone’s favourite French narcissist, Louis XIV. The restaurant has kind of a Versailles “Hall of Mirrors” theme going on, but it actually works, particularly when daylight fades and the room takes on warm tones of gold and amber. Old Louis would be proud.

The opulent decor is meant to reference Versailles and the fun-loving Louis XIV. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The opulent decor is meant to reference Versailles and the fun-loving Louis XIV. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Food is, by and large, very good, and even has the Wasabi Mashed Potatoes I enjoyed so much on the Carnival Breeze as a side-order option. I didn’t feel like steak, so I went with the Lobster Ravioli, which was quite good. Service was exactly what it should be – friendly and attentive – and the intimate size of the room coupled with the neat location just off the open deck space on Deck 10 created a neat ambiance that served as a good alternative to the main dining room.

The Sun King Steakhouse takes on a particularly elegant ambiance at night. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Sun King Steakhouse takes on a particularly elegant ambiance at night. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Sun King Detail. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Sun King Detail. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Filet Mignon was a popular choice...and photographed much better than my Lobster Ravioli! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The Filet Mignon was a popular choice…and photographed much better than my Lobster Ravioli! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Of course, a dinner like that requires some after-dinner cocktails, so it was off to the Alchemy Bar on Deck 5 for a few colourful libations mixed up right before my eyes. Pick: try the Spicy Chipotle Martini. Faaan-tastic.

Tonight, Mardi Gras celebrations were being held aboard the Carnival Freedom, and everywhere I looked, guests were having a great time. Today wasn’t an educational or cultural experience of any sort, but it was what it was: a nice, fun day in the warmth of the Caribbean.

Maybe we all need that from time-to-time.

Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Our full journey:

Carnival Freedom, Western Caribbean

DATEPORTARRIVEDEPART
February 14, 2015Galveston, TexasEmbark Carnival Freedom in Galveston; pre-cruise event for Operation Homefront. Overnight in Galveston
February 15Galveston, TexasOvernight4:00 PM
February 16Fun Day At Sea
February 17Costa Maya, Mexico1:00 PM8:00 PM
February 18Cozumel, Mexico8:00 AM4:00 PM
February 19Progresso, Yucatan, Mexico9:00 AM5:00 PM
February 20Fun Day At Sea
February 21Galveston, Texas8:00 AMDisembarkation

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