A few weeks ago, Sam and I took a 4-day cruise with Carnival to Key West and Cozumel, Mexico. This was our second cruise but our first with Carnival. When Sam and I started planning our trip back in March 2016, we had decided to go somewhere warm in January or February the following year. Originally we wanted to fly out to the west coast and sail from LA down to Mexico, but as we had gotten the cruise through a timeshare promotion there were no trips available by the time we got around to booking. There were also no 3-day cruises available either, which is what we technically had won. We were told we could either sail in December (which was impossible with my work schedule and the short notice) or we could upgrade to a 4-day cruise to the West Caribbean in early January. We decided to spend the extra money and do the 4-day trip.
Sunday, January 8th – Arrival into Florida
We flew into Fort Lauderdale from Philadelphia on Sunday evening. Our flight was delayed 40 minutes (a first for me believe it or not), but by the time we landed we were only about 15 minutes late. As we were arriving the day before our cruise, we had had to find accommodations for the night and were able to do so through Couchsurfing (check back in a few weeks for more details on our experience).
Our host was so easy going and flexible. When I called him and told him we were going to be coming in late, he said that he was probably going to be in the vicinity and could get us at the airport! So when we arrived he picked us up and we headed to his home, which is actually a sailboat! He had two other Couchsurfers staying with him as well, so we all stayed up late talking and swapping stories. It was definitely one of the most memorable parts of the trip.
DAY ONE – Monday, January 9th – Embarkation and Sailing Day
The next morning, our host gave us instructions on how to take the train into Miami so we could get on the ship. He was kind enough to drive us to the train station so we didn’t have to get an Uber. We had stayed just north of Fort Lauderdale in Pompano Beach, so we took the Tri Rail from Cyprus Creek to the Metrorail Transfer Station. In all my travels, I’ve rarely used public transportation, so I felt like such a local! The Tri Rail is a double decker train that travels north and south from Mangonia Park in the north all the way down to the Miami Airport in the south. It was very easy to figure out, even for us country folks. The ride was about an hour to the Metrorail Transfer Station.
From there we hopped onto the Metrorail to get us into downtown Miami, as close to the Port as we could figure. We went south and got off at Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre. At this spot it was about 6 blocks to get to the bridge which takes you to the Port of Miami, but by this time it was about 10:30am and as we hadn’t eaten breakfast we were hungry, so we walked up and down Biscayne Blvd until we found a little shop and bought a couple of empanadas to hold us over.
From there we hoofed it down to the Port of Miami, which was easily a 30 minute walk. The weather in Miami was cooler than average – about 70 degrees and with a constant breeze – which made walking around the city much more pleasant. I actually had to wear my sweater because I felt a bit chilly in the morning!
As we reached the Carnival Victory, I thought we were going to have to wait to board, but the place was packed already and the line was long, so we decided to see if we could get in sooner than our noon boarding time. We checked our bag and went through security. We were on board a little after 12. Our cruise was about to begin!
The ship wasn’t scheduled to leave Miami until 4pm, and we couldn’t get into our room until 1:30pm, so we decided to eat some lunch and explore.
The Carnival Victory has 14 decks. There is so much to see and do on board – I’m not sure we even saw all of it in 4 days! Some of the activities include a comedy club, casino, bingo, several pools and hot tubs, water slide, spa, gym and running track, mini golf, nighttime movies, night club, and lots of bars and restaurants. We made a point of not spending any additional money on the ship except a couple of drinks, and we stuck to it! Many of the activities cost extra, like the casino and spa, but we didn’t feel like we missed out.
After some exploration we headed to our room to unpack. I was pleasantly surprised with the size and amenities in the room. We had a king-size bed, plenty of drawers and closet space, a TV with some decent channels, a mini fridge, and a nice bathroom.
I made sure I was up on deck when the ship left Miami. There was a party on the main deck which was fun to watch, but there is just something about standing at the rail, the wind whipping your hair and clothes around, watching the land disappear into the distance…
That night we had our first dinner in the dining hall. The way the cruise is set up is that you can eat pretty much any time of day somewhere on ship, and the food is pretty decent, but for dinner you get to sit down to a fancier meal with wait staff at an assigned table and time. We sat with a very nice couple from New York that we had a lot in common with. The food was great, although portion sizes were wanting (as a foodie my desired portion sizes are pretty large). I got to try some pretty unique things throughout the cruise, including a lot of seafood and escargot (which was actually fantastic). By the end of dinner, our lack of sleep had finally caught up to us, so we went back to our room and hit the sack early to prepare for our first port of call – Key West!
DAY TWO – Tuesday, January 10th – Key West
We arrived at Key West at 7:30am, so we were up early to take advantage of the short time we had there. We had to be back on the ship no later than 1:00pm, and we disembarked a little before 8am, so 5 hours was all we had.
We started out our day by walking through some the fancy residential areas. It was so quiet and beautiful – it made me realize how people could go there and not come back.
We passed the Little White House, which was the winter residence of President Harry S. Truman. It is now a museum and is also still used as a retreat for government business.
We moseyed our way over to the Southernmost Point of the Continental US. I had heard that the line to get your picture taken can be ridiculous, but we made the right choice to get there early – we only had to wait a couple of minutes!
From there we made our way to the Ernest Hemingway House.
We had decided that this was going to be our splurge in Key West – admission is $14 a person! It was definitely worth it though – the place is fascinating!
Normally I don’t opt for guided tours, but it was included in the admission price and we had plenty of time, so we decided to do it. I’m glad we did – we learned so much! In a nutshell, Hemingway lived in the home for about 10 years with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer. He wrote most of his novels there.
Pauline was a decorator, and the home is furnished with décor from all over the world, including Africa, which was a place Hemingway went often for safaris.
It is also famous for the six-toed cats that live there – over 40 of them! Most of them are ancestors of Hemingway’s own polydactyl cat, Snow White.
We spent a good while at the home, exploring all the rooms and the surrounding grounds. It was a fun way to spend the morning in Key West.
After the Hemingway House, we turned up to Duval Street, the famous touristy section of town.
We wandered into a few shops that struck our fancy and found our way into Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe. I had read some reviews that this was the place we wanted to get our Key Lime pie from. We were not disappointed! I went with the chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick, and Sam went with the traditional pie.
A few other places we stopped included a little stand where Sam got a shark tooth necklace and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which was having a flea market and a demonstration inside.
Another thing you notice while traveling around is there are feral chickens that run loose all over town. Apparently, these chickens have been around since the beginning of Key West. Half the residents cherish them and the other half hate them and want them gone. Regardless of your feelings towards it, it is definitely something that defines Key West!
One of the last places we stopped was Grand Vin for our bottle of wine. Our tradition is that we buy a bottle of wine on every vacation we take, and then take that bottle and drink it on the next vacation. We took our bottle of wine from Nashville on the cruise with us and drank it on deck the last night.
By this point, it was time to head back to the ship. We made one last stop – Route 1’s Mile Mark 0. Route 1 goes from Boston all the way down to Key West. It is another photo op that is worth the stop (hey, that rhymed!).
Once back on board we got some lunch and spent some time watching TV and bumming around. Believe it or not, just relaxing in our room was quite enjoyable. We don’t have a TV in our room at home, and we don’t have satellite or cable either, so sometimes just laying around in the AC watching Seinfield is exactly what we wanted to do.
We skipped our fancy dinner that night and instead stayed up and watched two movies on deck – Sully and Suicide Squad. It was quite windy and chilly, but watching a movie all bundled up under the stars on the ocean was lovely – even if Suicide Squad is a mediocre film (Sully, by the way, is fantastic).
DAY THREE – Wednesday, January 11th – Cozumel
We didn’t get into Cozumel until 12 noon, so we slept in and had a late breakfast. We got off the ship right around noon and went to find a car rental. We had decided that instead of doing an excursion in Cozumel, we were going to rent a car and drive around to see the island. Cozumel is only 32 miles long and 9 miles wide, so we figured we could see most of it in one day. We decided to go with Alamo for the rental because it was a company that is worldwide, and I figured if anything went wrong, we could get the problem solved easier than with a local company.
It was drizzling that morning, so we chose a little Toyota Yaris. We could have gotten a really cool Volkswagen dune buggy that was manual, open on the top and sides, and had more off-road capabilities, but we were afraid if the weather got worse we would be soaked, and I also wanted to have a vehicle that we could lock and leave my bag in if we wanted to stop and look at something for a few minutes. As luck would have it, it stopped raining about 5 minutes after we left Alamo, so we could have gotten the dune buggy, but I still think we made the right choice. There is always a next time!
We decided to head out of town and drive south first. There is basically only one road around the island, so it is impossible to get lost. The first part of the drive was pretty boring. We were inland and couldn’t see anything but vegetation. Most of the attractions at this part of the drive were off the main road, so we couldn’t see them either. Sam and I looked at each other and thought, this better not be it. And it certainly wasn’t.
As soon as we reached the south of the island, the trees dwindled down and there was the ocean! And not the ocean we are used to at the New Jersey or Delaware beaches, but the rough, roaring, powerful ocean! And how beautiful!
The waves were huge and blue and amazing! I don’t think I’ve ever seen waves quite so big. The first place we saw to stop, we got out and wandered around on the beach, just soaking it in.
Scattered along the south and east of the island are little restaurants and souvenir shops. Most of the places want you to buy something in order to use their beach, but we would browse around the stands and meander our way down to the beach, which is really what we wanted to see.
Some places had really cool rock formations that you could walk out on. You definitely have to be careful though – the waves can get really close and the rocks are slippery, so if you aren’t paying attention you could get hit by a wave and fall in! Luckily that didn’t happen to either one of us, but it could have happened very easily.
My biggest annoyance about the whole trip was how pushy all the shop keepers were. We would just be browsing and the owner would follow us around, saying he would give a great price just for us, how much would we give him for such-and-such, that all his items were hand-made, etc. I got agitated pretty quickly and would leave after only a minute or two. I know it’s a normal occurrence in poorer countries and that selling all the little trinkets is their livelihood – I have experienced it before. However, I am the kind of person who likes to spend time looking at everything, weighing my options and making mental notes about what I want, and it’s really hard to do when someone is breathing down your neck, asking what you will give him for a “handmade” Mayan mask that you know is at every shop on the island. I tried very hard to be kind yet firm, but unfortunately it didn’t work often. I don’t know if it was because I am a woman or if it’s something else – maybe someone reading this has some insight?
Anyway, enough of the negative – I knew I didn’t want to buy anything until the end of the day, so we did skip a lot of the shops the first loop around. We made mental notes about some the restaurants though, because we knew we wanted to stop at one on our loop back.
We traveled up the east side of the island and then made a turn left to head inland. The northern part of the island only has dirt road access, and we were strictly warned not to take the car on it, so we had to miss the lighthouse on the northern point which was a bummer. However, we made our way inland to go to the San Gervasio Mayan ruins, which was something I knew I wanted to see.
These ruins are the largest on the island and held great significance to the Mayan culture. It was a sanctuary to the goddess of fertility and love, Ixchel. Mayan women were obligated to make the journey to Cozumel at least once in their lifetime to pay tribute to Ixchel.
This was definitely worth the stop. A lot of the ruins were preserved really well, and you could even walk on some of them! We probably spent about an hour walking around. It wasn’t crowded at all, so oftentimes we were the only ones in the area, and could see everything and get great pictures.
Another thing we saw a lot of was lizards. Iguanas, to be more specific. Seven in total. Most of them weren’t afraid of people either. I got really close to quite a few, like this guy:
I love reptiles, so I probably enjoyed seeing the iguanas almost as much as the ruins. Almost.
By this time the weather was warming up, but it wasn’t miserably hot either. The sky was starting to clear and it was quite pleasant to walk around. A few of the ruins were about a five minute walk through the woods, and without anyone else around, it was like we were in the middle of the jungle on an expedition.
After San Gervasio we were getting hungry, so we decided to head back the way we came and find a restaurant for lunch. We stopped at Coconuts, a very unique experience. There were signed t-shirts, cozies, and other memorabilia all over the hut.
We actually met a woman who had been there 12 years ago and had given a signed koozie, but the island had flooded a few years back and she said that most of the memorabilia had been lost, and since she couldn’t find hers she assumed it was gone. How sad! But it was neat that she had come back to see if it was still there.
The menu was on a double-sized piece of wood. Even though the prices were in pesos, we were told we could pay in dollars, which was good since we hadn’t exchanged any money. I got fish tacos and Sam got shrimp tacos. Everything was delicious! I also got a Coke in a glass bottle. I really wanted to take it with me, but the waiter caught me putting it in my bag and said I couldn’t have it. Boo.
I was also given a grasshopper made out of palm leaves. I really wanted to take it home, but going through customs on our way back it was confiscated because it could have bugs. Boo again. At least I got a picture.
By this time it was around 4:30pm and we had one more thing we wanted to do before taking the car back – a tequila tour. We were given a coupon by Alamo for free admission to one of several tequila tours on the island. However, what we didn’t realize is that most places start closing up between 4 and 5pm. All the shops on our way back were closing up and we started to panic. We drove almost all the way back to the port and found the closest tequila place and saw it was vacant. I was really disappointed, but Sam went in and asked if it was too late to do the tasting. The guy said they were closing but could do the tasting for us if we wanted. How nice of him! We didn’t have much time left either as the car had to be back before 7pm, so he did a super quick version of the tour for us. We got to taste about 4 different kinds and man were they good! True Mexican tequila is very different from American tequila – much smoother and also much more expensive (like $50+ a bottle expensive). We couldn’t afford to buy any, but we thanked him for accommodating us and headed back.
We drove back to Alamo and turned our car in. I hadn’t gotten to buy any souvenirs yet so we headed down the main street and did some exploring in the shops. We got hassled again but not nearly as bad this time. I was able to find two Mayan masks and my Mexican country box for about $30. I collect a box from every country I visit and fill it with ticket stubs, mementos, etc. I couldn’t find a large one that I liked, so I settled for a smaller one with a skull on it. I can’t fit all my mementos in it, but it will suffice considering we were only in Mexico about 8 hours.
After shopping, we couldn’t think of anything else we wanted to do, so we headed back to the ship and got ready for dinner in the dining hall. Afterwards we hung out in the room for a bit watching TV before going to bed.
DAY FOUR – Thursday, January 12th – Day at Sea
Our day at sea was pretty relaxing. There were a ton of options for us, but we chose a pretty low-key itinerary, which meant we didn’t pay for anything extra except a couple of drinks.
We started out exploring the ship some more, wandering around and people watching. We hit up the mini golf course, which was its own kind of challenge because it was so windy. The balls blew around and rarely stayed still, so it wasn’t so much playing for real as it was seeing if you could keep the ball on the course. It was still fun though.
We ate some more food and relaxed on deck for a bit to watch the sunset.
As night rolled around we attended a comedy show (not the greatest I’ll admit), ate dinner in the dining hall, and watched the last outdoor movie of the cruise, The Secret Life of Pets, while drinking the bottle of wine we brought onboard. It wasn’t a super eventful day, but after the previous two days, it was exactly what we needed.
Friday, January 13th – Port of Miami & Home
The next morning was very busy and we spent a lot of time waiting around to disembark. We got up very early to eat a quick breakfast before heading back to the room to finish packing up. As we were carrying our bags ourselves and not having them taken ashore by the staff, we got to disembark in the first group, but since we were on the second level of the ship we still had a long wait. Sam even took a nap in one of the designated waiting areas. Typical man.
At long last we were able to get in line to go ashore. Once we got off the ship we had to decide what to do before making the journey via the trains to the airport. Our flight didn’t leave until almost 6pm and it was only noon. I realized at this point that I hadn’t printed off our boarding passes for our flight home, so I located a UPS store about a 30 minute walk away and headed there. We printed the passes, made our way to the Metro and boarded. It was as we got on the second train to what I thought was the Metro Transfer station that I realized two things: 1) I left the boarding passes on the bench at the train station, and 2) we had gotten on the wrong train and were going the wrong way. Oops.
Luckily, the train started going back the right way after it reached its last destination on the line, so we ended up going towards the Metro Transfer station after a bit of a detour. Once there, we got back on the Tri-Rail towards the Fort Lauderdale airport (I double-checked to make sure we were on the right train) and left Miami.
At the Fort Lauderdale Tri-Rail stop, there was a shuttle bus that took us directly to our terminal at the airport – how awesome is that? We dropped off our bag and I was able to print our boarding passes at a kiosk for no extra cost – phew!
After a quick dinner at an airport restaurant and some more waiting around, we boarded our plane and headed home.
We did have a quick layover in Atlanta, but we didn’t have to get off the plane which was nice. We were in Philadelphia before 9pm.
Overall the trip was quite nice. It was a great little winter getaway and I would strongly recommend it to anyone! Hopefully next week I’ll have the vacation video for you to enjoy!
Look for my upcoming posts on How To Do A Cruise For Cheap, What To Do In Key West, What To Do In Cozumel, & What To Do On A Day At Sea for more details on our adventure.
Have you ever been on a cruise? What were your favorite things to do? Where would you like to cruise to? Leave some love in the comments!