Galveston is an Island city located in the Gulf of Mexico, 2 miles off the coast of Texas. It boasts 32 miles of beaches, balmy Gulf sea breezes, and a long and storied history. It was once one of the wealthiest cities in Texas and even obtained the nickname "Wall Street of the South". Today, the city still boasts excellent examples of Victorian architecture sprinkled in and around the famed downtown historic district.
Along with the historic Strand District, a host of other attractions grace the city of Galveston today. In addition, several neighborhoods are included on the National Register of Historic Places and are within walking distance of the port. A multitude of other interesting and quaint shops and eateries abound throughout the historic downtown area.
Galveston Island even has history revolving around the legendary Pirate Jean Lafitte. This rogue stayed on the island long enough to establish the colony of Campeche by 1817. Ultimately, Lafitte was forced to leave the island, and he unfortunately burned his town to the ground when he departed! Let's hope our TRF Pirates are a little more well behaved!
Puerto Costa Maya, Mexico Overview
Costa Maya is located on a peninsula along Mexico's Caribbean coast, about 100 miles south of Playa del Carmen. It feels like a private island created from scratch expressly for cruisers. That's because it was! Developers created the port terminal/village complex not far from the Belize border solely to woo cruise lines and their passengers.
The folks who created Costa Maya also invested in and remade Mahahual (also known as Majahual), a one-time fishing village of 200 people that's about a 30-minute walk or $5 cab ride away. An attractive malecon (an esplanade along the water front) anchors a row of seaside hotels, restaurants, dive shops and beach clubs that serve fresh ceviche and offer water activities along white sand beaches with shallow surf.
Where we dock: The Liberty docks right at Costa Maya's purpose-built facilities. While the pier is long, a free shuttle bus ferries passengers back and forth.
Port Facilities: The terminal is just steps from the dock. The pier-side complex features a number of free-to-use pools, one of which is huge with a swim-up bar; restaurants, bars and various shops. Want to just relax and not venture far from the ship? Visit the small beach lined with chairs and hammocks for relaxing.
Excursion Choices: just want to get into the "don't worry, be happy" mindset? The area's beach clubs can pretty much consume the day. Those who want to venture further have intriguing options, too. The region is home to some lesser-known (but still important) Mayan ruins. The site most cruise passengers come here to see is Chacchoben, a city dating to around 350 A.D.; some excursions focus solely on Mayan food and culture. Bacalar lagoon offers kayaking and swimming in the Cenote Azul, and there's also a Spanish fortress you can tour. There's something for everyone in this corner of the Caribbean -- and it only keeps growing.
Good to Know: Costa Maya and Mahahual have very little crime. There may be local vendors who walk along the the beach selling local wares, but a simple "no gracias" sends them on their way.
Getting Around: The five-minute taxi ride into Mahahual is about $5 per person round-trip. Local buses to Mahahual pick up behind the shopping area; tickets for the $3 fare must be purchased in advance and are sold at a booth located in the same area. If you'd like to drive on your own without relying on the local buses, golf carts and Jeeps are also available for rent for around $75 per day.
Currency: The currency is the Mexican peso. Many vendors will gladly accept U.S. currency. There's an ATM in the cruise port area and also in Mahahual, but you might want to have cash on hand before this stop, as few vendors take credit cards here.
Language: This is Mexico, so Spanish it is! However, English is widely spoken in the area.
Food and Drink: A variety of Mexican chains, such as Carlos 'n Charlies and Senor Frog's, are located within the port village. Within Mahahual, it's easy to find menus with the standard Mexican favorites, such as guacamole, chips and pico de gallo and tacos. A growing Italian population has raised the bar somewhat, however, and many of the hotels that serve food are run by Europeans, offering more sophisticated choices.
By the Port: The chain-restaurant-style Mexican food at Mamacita's, the pier-side beachfront restaurant, plays second fiddle to the fun atmosphere and live entertainment. (Who would have thought men in sombreros would rock out to a Rolling Stones cover song?)
In Mahahual: The shrimp tacos and seafood at Nohoch Kay, located at the far end of the Malecon, are considered the best in town. American Steve Uhl, owner of Tropicante has built a following among cruisers for the complimentary loungers he reserves ahead of time for his Tex-Mex restaurant's guests -- no minimum required. Expect the standard tacos, enchiladas and burritos. Locals and crewmembers also love Luna de Plata, which is a little removed from the strip, with a quieter beach and a full menu of Italian and seafood dishes.
Shopping: The stores at the port sell the usual trinkets. Vendors on the beach will sell similar items, sometimes at lower prices. Colorful Mayan embroidery and textiles are most popular here, including handkerchiefs, table runners, place mats and dresses.
Best Cocktail: Try any fruity concoction sold in a yard-long plastic tumbler called, "la yarda." If three feet of banana daiquiri or strawberry margarita doesn't float your boat, quench your thirst with a few bottles of Bohemia or Sol, the requisite beers.
Roatan Island, Honduras Overview
Imagine a place where lobster is a common lunch fare, traffic lights don't exist and you can hail a taxi on the water. Welcome to Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands, 30 miles north of Honduras. Almost 40 miles long and just 2.5 miles at its widest point, the remote island boasts white-sand beaches, pristine bays and spectacular coral reefs.
Roatan is a true melting pot. Its 50,000 people are a mix of Spanish, British, Paya Indian and African, the result of a stormy history that includes conquistadors, pirates and slave traders.
Where we dock: The Liberty docks at Coxen Hole (named after a pirate..arrgh!). Coxen Hole is the largest city and the Capital of the Bay Islands.
Port Facilities: Walk right off the ship, and find yourself in a small area with a shopping mall and a handful of restaurants. There is also an ATM. You can easily walk past the port gates onto the local streets, where you'll find authentic food and souvenirs.
Excursion Choices: Dozens of world-class diving and snorkeling sites are accessible from sandy white beaches around the island. Divers and snorkelers swim alongside schools of fish, as well as whale sharks, barracudas, mantas, dolphins and turtles. Roatan is also a mecca for water sports. Kayaking, water skiing, sailing and wakeboarding are popular activities. Want to do something not involving water? There are plenty of choices including ziplining, and an animal sanctuary for those who wish to "monkey around".
Good to Know: If you travel beyond the immediate port area, be prepared to deal with locals -- sometimes children -- who will offer everything from cab rides and excursions to local wares. You might also be asked about taking a tour from a local guide, even if you haven't asked for them. We recommend, refusing these local guides in favor of an organized shore excursion.
Getting Around: A paved road runs north from Coxen Hole to West End and east to French Harbour. An unpaved road continues east to Paya Bay and Camp Bay. Taxis, rental cars, motorbikes and buses are available in West End, Coxen Hole and French Harbour. Captain Van's (+504-2445-5040) and Caribbean Rent a Car (813-506-8663) are your rental choices. Confirm taxi fare (and the currency type) prior to getting into any taxi.
Currency: The official currency is the lempira (named for a martyr who fought the Spanish). U.S. dollars are widely accepted, as are credit cards and traveler's checks.
Language: Though the official language of Honduras is Spanish, the most common language spoken on Roatan is Caribbean English. It's a creole, or Island English, blended through centuries of foreign influences and owning its unique Caribbean flair.
Food and Drink: The Lighthouse offers some of the best fish tacos, grilled lobster and conch soup on the island. For authentic Bay Island dishes, try Trattoria da Piero. This restaurant, found at the Las Rocas Resort, is set on a rocky point at West Bay and known for authentic Bay Island dishes like shrimp with rice, chicken in coconut milk and beef in coconut milk.
Shopping: Locally made handicrafts are great souvenirs. You can pick them up at stalls located throughout the areas surrounding port. You'll find everything from clothing and jewelry to cigars and chocolate -- all at decent prices. In Coxen Hole, the most authentic offerings can be found if you head beyond the immediate port area, which is a bit more commercialized. Don't worry: It's easily walkable.
Best Cocktail: One of the best drinks on the island is Salva Vida, a famed local beer. It can be found at just about any bar or restaurant. If you're not the beer-drinking type, pina coladas are always a sure bet.
Although Cozumel is Mexico's largest Caribbean island (and its most populated), it wasn't until the 1960's that this once-sleepy fishing village became a tourist attraction in its own right, following a documentary in which Jacques Cousteau declared it one of the most beautiful areas in the world for scuba diving.
These days, Cozumel is a major cruise port that welcomes more than one million cruise passengers each year and as many as eight ships per day. But even with all this progress, Cozumel has held onto its non-touristy side; only one-third of the island has been developed, leaving large stretches of pristine jungle and sandy beaches basically untouched.
Where we dock: The Liberty docks at The International Pier, the oldest cruise ship pier on the island. It is located about 3 miles south of San Miguel (a long but scenic and safe walk), or choose a taxi ride for about $5-$10 to get to San Miguel.
Port Facilities: As with the other two ports, you will be able to Walk off the ship, and after a bit of a walk you will wind up in a duty free shopping area. From there, you can venture out to the street and begin your day in Cozumel.
Excursion Choices: There are not enough words to convey the array of things you can do here! Arelaxing beach day, renting scooters, various tours, tequilla tasting, swimming with dolphins and much more!
Good to Know: Be aware of mopeds, motorcycles and bicycles. They're prevalent, and drivers won't always yield to pedestrians. As you should when visiting any city, leave unnecessary valuables in your cabin safe. Finally, be sure to negotiate and settle on a fare before getting into any taxi.
Getting Around: Downtown San Miguel is quite a walk; roughly 45 minutes. We recommend a taxi, which is in the $5-$10 range for fare. You can rent anything from jeeps, four-wheelers, mopeds, or bikes. You can also rent a car from Thrifty car rental.
Currency: Local currency is the peso. However, most stores prefer U.S. dollars, so it's not necessary to change money. ATMs are located in several areas throughout the main plaza in Cozumel, near the cruise docks.
Language: Spanish is the official language, but nearly all shops and eateries have English-speaking personnel.
Food and Drink: Pancho's Backyard has wonderful Mexican specialties. La Mission has a great bowl of tortilla soup, or try La Choza for home-cooked style cuisine.
Shopping: Mexican arts and crafts like hammocks, jade jewelry, ponchos, carvings and leather goods, make great souvenirs. Tequila is also a popular take-home item; though the prices might not be the lowest on the island, the selection of premium tequilas at the Los Cinco Soles store in San Miguel is impressive.
Best Cocktail: No drink can beat the luscious giant margaritas served at Pancho's Backyard at the Costa Maya cruise terminal and in San Miguel, although the margaritas at Nachi-Cocom Cozumel Beach Club offer a steady challenge. Another tasty libation imbibed in many bars is the "michelada" (beer mixed with lime juice).