Cruising the Caribbean From New Orleans

Written by Diane Webster.

A few years ago I was a cruise virgin, never been on one, wasn’t sure I wanted to. 3 1/2 years later I’ve been on 5 cruises. My husband and I have now cruised Europe, Alaska, and three different Caribbean itineraries. We’ve cruised with family and done a couple of romantic cruises with just the two of us. What makes cruising so appealing is that it’s so carefree. You unpack once, and your ship becomes your hotel – bringing you to different destinations while you sleep. And, when you are not ashore, your ship’s crew does everything in their power to meet your physical, emotional and gastronomic needs. They provide all the activities, entertainment, food, spa equipment, etc. Your rooms are tended to at least twice a day by an attendant who happily greets you by name and inquires to your daily satisfaction. It’s all about being spoiled, and let’s face it – who doesn’t like that? Probably our favorite part is having dinner every night with our family. The same waiters seeing to it that all our needs are met; and then going to a show with comedians, or production numbers, or some other fun and entertaining performers. It’s a great time for all!

At the end of January, we went with my husband’s sisters and brother-in law on a Caribbean cruise. It’s very easy to settle into a routine that you love. Cruise ships are masters at putting together options to suit the daily interests of all their guests. We found that we were very quickly meeting at “our usual places” for sandwiches, snacks, poolside sunning, dinner and shows. On this cruise we returned to the Royal Caribbean line. We have always found them to be great host and this time was no exception. Our ports included Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.

We did a casual bit of sightseeing, usually caught lunch at a local restaurant and some heavy duty shopping in each port. We enjoyed this itinerary and would like to do it again. Another great thing about this particular cruise is that departed from New Orleans – a city we all wanted to visit for many years and there was no disappointment – we all loved New Orleans (aka NOLA).

We had been to Jamaica before and always found it to be lively, with happy, friendly, people. The food is great and their crafts (we are especially fond of the wood carvings) are beautiful and a good buy.

This was our first trip to Grand Cayman and we cannot wait to return. It’s clean and colorful, with great shopping and great dining. We had a wonderful lunch at Guy Harvey’s restaurant on a balcony overlooking the ocean. Fresh seafood and a great view – two things that are hard to find in Michigan in February!

Grand Cayman also has some of the best snorkeling and water sports in the Caribbean. We went to a  turtle farm, and right across the street was a well known dolphin experience exhibit. If you are thinking of staying in Grand Cayman, I would recommend the Marriott Grand Cayman. We toured the property and it’s beautiful with its private beach and its own man-made reef. With great views and a central location – it’s definitely a place where we would like to return.

Now it’s time for Cozumel and at this port we focused on shopping. Shop after shop are filled with strikingly beautiful silver jewelry, carvings, paintings, and some of the best pottery buys in Mexico and the Caribbean. There are loads of other jewelry, like watches (from inexpensive fun ones to the most expensive in the world), and a wide assortment of colorful crafts and decorations. We love the pottery and found several new pieces for our home and even a couple for the garden.

Then it was back to New Orleans where we stayed for a couple of nights to transition before returning home. This town won us over with its colorful and unique architecture, history, culture, food, music, and friendliness. We toured the garden district, where beautiful mansions celebrate their wealth in their uniqueness. We also toured the devastation and rebuilding caused by Katrina. We were guided through one of the famous cemeteries and enjoyed many stops and shops in the French Quarter.

As a departure port, it’s great. It takes about an hour less to fly to New Orleans than to Florida or the West Coast ports. It’s the kind of place you can spend an action packed day or just kick back and enjoy some good music and food. Our cruise departed a couple of weeks before Mardi Gras, so everywhere people were decorating their homes (and selves) for the upcoming party. They have several local smaller parades weeks before the big one, so you can get a sense of what’s to come. But, even if you don’t go at this time, our horse and buggy driver explained that “after Mardi Gras, there’s St. Patrick’s Day, and after that there is Easter. We are always celebrating in New Orleans – that’s just the way we roll!” A city that never stops celebrating, no wonder we love it so much!

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