Chichen Itza as a Shore Excursion from Cozumel? It Depends

Tucked away on a jungle plain of the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the “New” 7 Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza. For a cruise ship passenger, getting to a monument tucked away on a jungle plain is something of a problem – something to do with access I suppose. For all their striking advances in mathematics and architecture, you can fault the Mayans for the shortsightedness of building one of their most impressive complexes so inconveniently far from what would become the region’s most popular cruise ship port. The way I see it, if you’re so bold as to predict the end of the world (strike 1), you should start by predicting your future source of revenue. Well,  revenue until said world ends. Regardless of the reasoning, this incongruity leaves the culturally-minded cruise ship passenger with a bit of a conundrum: How can you visit the greatest area attraction in the woefully inadequate amount of time spent in port? And even if such an option is available, would it be worth it? Let me give you the clearest answer possible to those questions: It depends.
Chichen Itza
El Castillo – Chichen Itza, Mexico

Terms and Conditions

Allow me to further elaborate on my earlier point. Can a day trip to Chichen Itza be done as a shore excursion from Cozumel? Yes. Should it be done? Again, it depends. To reach Chichen Itza from Cozumel requires more than the usual investment of time and money. First, guests will disembark at the bustling tourist dock on the island of Cozumel, where they will be quickly transferred to a fast ferry for the approximately 45 minute ride to Playa del Carmen on the Mexican mainland. From there, they will then be boarded onto a bus or van that will pass through the congested roads of the town and onto a straight highway through low-lying jungle for about two hours. Counting all the various transfers and regrouping, figure on at least 3 hours of travel ONE WAY, which unless you wind up being sacrificed atop the main pyramid, will then require you to take the same trip in reverse. It is for this reason that I would very strongly suggest only booking such an excursion through the cruise ship. While I am notorious for going it alone when in port, considering the very stringent time constraints, you’re going to want to be sure that if there’s any holdup or delay the ship is going to wait for you. And while prices start at around $150 per person (check with your cruise line) it really isn’t all that bad a deal if you’re still insistent on making the trip.
Chichen Itza2
Columns for Days, Chichen Itza, Mexico

Is it Worth it?

The pressing question now, is whether or not all that travel, hassle and money is worth it. Well, let’s see…I’d say it depends. Perhaps a little more information will help you make up your own mind. The tour operator that Royal Caribbean teamed up with did a really nice job when I made this journey myself in February 2018. During the long ride out to the site, each couple was handed an iPad with photos and diagrams that our guide explained in detail so that we could make most of our limited time at the destination. He regaled us with lots of details on Mayan culture and history, but honestly the only thing that stuck in my brain is that the name Yucatan is actually derived from the Mayan term “you talk funny” uttered by the natives upon first contact with the arriving Europeans. Sufficiently equipped with a knowledge of what we’d see and what to look for, most of us ate our very meager bag lunches (like, ham and cheese sandwiches you would have brought to school, only without the note from your mom) and marveled at the throngs of tourists flocking to this remote outpost in the jungle. While it’s hard to imagine so many people visiting the location on their land-based tours, it did confirm that we were about to witness something rather special. Passing through the crowded visitor center, our guide took us down a long walkway lined with vendors, that in view of the time constraints, are best browsed on the way out. The main attraction was up ahead on an open field – El Castillo, the iconic pyramid that characterizes what is really an enormous complex of ruins. While our guide directed our attention to all the details I tuned out on the ride over, I went to town taking pictures, looking for unique angles and basically just absorbing the vibe of the place. We did a somewhat hurried tour of the main attractions like the ball field and some impressive colonnades, but again, the main draw to non-Maya scholars is the scenery and the vibe. Cue the rolling boulder. After about an hour of circling the basic tourist track (there’s a ton more to see if you have the time) we passed through the gauntlet of vendors, used the restrooms and were back in the van. Here’s where your own sense of math comes in: Is 6 hours of travel equal to or greater than 1 hour of sightseeing? The answer is, of course, it depends.
Chichen Itza3
Ancient Mayan Emojis? Chichen Itza, Mexico

My Professional and Personal Opinions

So was it worth it to me? Professionally speaking, if my travel clients had never been to Mexico before, and weren’t tremendously interested in world heritage sites, I would not recommend this excursion. You can get a similar flavor by going to Tulum or other sites that don’t require such exertion and would still leave you time to shop for liquor on the way back. Personally, since I’ve been to Cozumel a few times, and had spent approximately 80% of my time there underwater (the diving is superb) I found that being able to see in person such a historic and iconic site with my own eyes was well worth the effort. Now the important question is this: Is my professional or personal opinion the one you should trust? Come on people, you should really know the answer by now. But just in case you don’t, I would 100% absolutely without hesitation say:  it depends.

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Big Enough For Ya? The Witty Traveler’s Review of Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas

Liberty of the Seas
The Liberty of the Seas docked in Cozumel, Mexico
With each passing year it seems that cruise ships become increasingly large. I’m sure that given enough time they’ll eventually have Formula One racetracks, regulation size soccer fields and 50 acre horse farms on board. But for now the current giants of the seas are content with such “compact” amenities as ice rinks, rock climbing walls and wave riding pools. Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas is just such a ship, and I recently had the chance to sample some of these over-the-top experiences while at sea, plus many more. Here’s a rundown on the good, the bad, and everything in between.

The Pros

The first pro for me was a convenient departure port. Living in Houston meant that in just a little over an hour’s drive I could be down in Galveston, ready to board. Though fog had closed the port until the time of our intended departure, the staff did their best to get us processed and in our staterooms in the timeliest way possible considering the circumstances. Which brings me to the next pro… With so much homogeny among cruise lines, its the little things that set them apart. I had to say that I was very pleased with not only the friendliness of the staff, but the sincere effort to be of help that they exuded. Normally I don’t pay all that much attention to such things, only noticing when something isn’t right. But I give them credit – all those guests and they still had a smile that didn’t appear to be just a mask hiding the raging desire to throw any and all tourists overboard.
Waterslide
The geometry of fun – Waterslides on Liberty of the Seas
Another pro was the ship itself. These days, the massive behemoths plying the cruise circuit are intended to be a destination unto themselves, and the Liberty is no exception. The top decks are literally overflowing with attractions – from a pair of waterslides, to rock climbing walls just perfect for public embarrassment, to a simulated surf pool where bleacher seating guarantees your public embarrassment. There are ample pools, both for kids and just for adults, plus two hot tubs extending out over the side of the ship for some vertigo to go along with your soaking.
Promenade
The promenade on the Liberty of the Seas
In the interior of the ship there’s a long promenade that not only serves as an effective conduit and point of reference, but also hosts a variety of shops and specialty restaurants (more on that later). The gym is sufficient and there’s a dedicated walking/running track outside just in case you didn’t work up enough sweat exercising in the air conditioning. I’m not a gambler, so I can’t really comment on the casino’s merits, but it seems ample and rather (in)conveniently placed when traversing the ship. I should also mention that despite the large amount of passengers onboard, there are lots of quiet places tucked away throughout the ship where you can find some peace and even (gasp) some solitude. Lastly, I should also mention that RC is consistently at the lower price range on their cruises, making it a great value for the money. With that in mind, we have a better context for the cons.

The Cons

Honestly, there wasn’t a whole lot to complain about, but since I’ve already dedicated a section to doing so, I might as well do my griping now. My first observation upon entering the ship – other than awe at the cavernous space I was standing in – is that there were a good number of  ‘attractions’ that weren’t included. In fact, during a stroll down the promenade there are numerous little restaurants and shops that incurred additional fees, like anything other than regular (weak) coffee or a treat from the cupcake shop. There’s a Johnny Rockets onboard, where you could really pig out for a flat fee, but if I’m going to consume my entire daily caloric intake in one meal, I want to do it for free – know what I’m saying? Of course, there are several specialty restaurants which require additional fees, and I think that I’ve already made myself clear on how I feel about that. Considering that the main dining rooms – artfully tiered over several decks at the stern – offered better than average fare, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to try them unless you see something on one of the menus that you’ve really got a hankering for. I know that cruise lines make a good portion of their profit from onboard sales, but these days many cruise lines, much like the airlines, now give the vibe that they see you as a ripe cash cow just waiting to be milked. Cocktails were unnecessarily pricey – which is expected – but what annoyed me the most was the blatant markup of even basic products in their store. When my wife came down with a cold, I nearly got sick myself when I had to pay $17 for a small bottle of Day-quil. Naturally, I still got it for her, but come on guys – is that really necessary? Are you somehow associated with the company that makes Epi-Pens? The only other minor complaint would be with the general communication with the guests. When we had some unexpected delays, they weren’t all that quick to convey this, resulting in lines at the Purser’s Desk and confusion regarding shore excursions. Not that this ruined anything, but when it turns out that I didn’t have to get up until an hour later than what was originally said, I got a little cranky (FYI- not a morning person). Lastly, and I really can’t say it is a con in and of itself, the itinerary – Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica – is rather pedestrian. Those places are nice to be sure, but are so cliché to anyone who has cruised more than once, that I feel at least one port beyond the ordinary would do much to make the destinations as appealing as the ship.

A Great Not So Secret Deal – The Chef’s Table

Remember when I implied that it felt like guests were being viewed as a bunch of sunburned dollar signs? Well, this actually worked out well to our advantage on at least one occasion. While munching on lunch in the Windjammer Café that every ship seems to have, a waiter approached us with an interesting proposition. For about $85 per person, our group (adults only) could have a very special dining experience in a select, secret location. Intrigued, and feeling a little cheap that we didn’t splurge on any of the specialty restaurants, we all decided it was a good idea (especially when Dad decided to treat everyone!) and as a result I had one of the top two best meals of my life. The other was on the Italian island of Ponza, but that’s another story… To start we were asked to meet at Vintages – a wine bar on the promenade, where we were given a glass of champagne (all alcohol in this package was included). Once sufficiently ‘relaxed’ we followed our host to the stern, where on the top tier of the dining venues, right at the balcony overlooking it all that I earlier had said ‘wouldn’t it be cool to eat at that table’, we were seated around a private table screened off from the riff-raff of our fellow guests. The head chef came out and told us about how he personally was preparing this meal, what we could expect, and how much we were going to enjoy it. At first I was a little skeptical, especially when they brought out our appetizer of scallops that were so finely sliced I thought it was just a film on our tiny little dishes. They were tasty, but if we were going to be in for some weirdo kind of dining experience where the food came in spray form or a beam of light, I wouldn’t be having any of it. But when the soup came out – tomatoes roasted for 6 hours and poured hot into a bowl with soft cheese – all fears dissipated. In fact, it was so tasty I just wanted to stand up and punch somebody. This was followed by a main course of filet mignon so tender I could use it as a spread, plus a shared order of truffle ravioli so delicious I wanted to cry. We finished off with some fantastic dessert, and I should also mention, finished off another round of wine. Each course came with a specifically (and sometimes expensive) paired wine, which left us feeling beyond full, yet very happy. It wasn’t cheap, but I’m sure it beat any specialty restaurant out there.

Odds and Ends

The entertainment on board ranged between ‘that’s pretty cool/funny/nice’ and ‘meh’. The shows were usually packed, so unless you get there early you might be forced to stand – that is if you can, after dinner. The ice show was definitely worth seeing, and really what’s not to like about watching pretty girls being flung around, often inches from the ice? I’m a bit too old and married to be hitting the clubs, but even in the evening it didn’t seem much like a party ship – whether that’s a pro or con depends on you.
Ship
The Liberty of the Seas in (giant) profile

Summary

Weighing the pros and cons, I’d definitely have to give it to the pros. Sailing on the Liberty of the Seas was a great value and a good time despite the run-of-the-mill itinerary. Sure it’s big, and yeah, just about every point on the ship is about half a mile from your cabin. But in a sea of giants, with bigger giants on the way, this one was gentle enough to be worth the walk.
Have you cruised on the Liberty of the Seas? Tell us about it by leaving a comment below.

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