Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cruise Brews

Home Brew Update: Obviously, it has been more than two weeks since I bottled the latest batch of home brew. My opinion might be due to my lowered expectations, but the beer is not that bad. It is a little flat and seems a bit sour, but it is drinkable.

Moving on to other news, El and I just got back from a seven-night cruise of the western Caribbean aboard the Carnival Valor. Our "exotic" cruise departed from the Port of Miami. After a day at sea, the first stop on our itinerary was Grand Cayman. The Cayman Islands were part of the British West Indies and are now one of the British Overseas Territories. Grand Cayman was accessible from the ship via smaller tenders. El and I elected to skip Grand Cayman and stay aboard the ship. One of the drawbacks of cruise ships are the large number of people. The Valor has a capacity of 2,974 passengers plus 1,180 crew members. Spending the day on the ship with fewer people was a welcomed change of pace. We did see a fake pirate ship that roams the bay as part of a pirate-themed excursion.

The next day our ship docked at Mahogany Bay on the island of Roatán which is off the coast of Honduras. The area is known for a great strip of beach plus various water-based activities. Our ship shared the day in port with the Carnival Dream which is Carnival's newest and largest ship. El and I disembarked for a short time, but retreated back to the Valor due to the heat and the crowds.

The third stop on our cruise was Belize. El had us booked for a seven-hour tour of a Mayan ruins site. The morning started with a ride on a tender to the port of Belize City. After arriving in port, we were herded onto a tour bus for the ride out to Xunantunich. The main tour guide jokingly told us to pronounce the name of the site like "Tuna Sandwich". The ruins are accessible via a ride across the Mopan River on a hand-cranked ferry and followed by a quick van ride up the hill.

Prior to getting to the ruins, we stopped in a small welcome center which contained a scale model of the site. Then we proceeded to the ruins. There are multiple structures that are part of the site. The most impressive is the large pyramid known as "El Castillo". Our group climbed to the top of temple and were awarded with an amazing view of the surrounding area. The guides pointed out areas that were in Guatemala which is only two miles from the site.

After descending from the pyramid, we rode back down the hill and back across the river. Then we jumped back on the tour bus and headed off to lunch. We stopped at a restaurant in a small nearby town called San Ignacio. Lunch was the best red beans and rice that I have ever eaten, but that might have been due to our tired state. We also had chicken and fried plantains. To go along with lunch, I bought us two bottles of Belikin beer. Belikin is known as the beer of Belize. It is a run-of-the-mill lager that normally would have been uninteresting. However, it definitely hit the spot at the time.

After lunch, it was back on the bus for the ride back to Belize City. Outside of the compounds run by the cruise lines, you might expect the areas of Central America and the Caribbean to be in abject poverty and extremely rundown. What I saw of Belize during the ride to and from the ruins was better than that expectation. In fact, I really did not see much difference between outlying areas of Belize and many rural areas of the South.

The fourth stop of the cruise was Cozumel which is a Mexican island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It was our second early morning, since El and I had another excursion. After debarking and meeting our group, we were loaded into a taxi for a short trip to a zip-line center not too far outside of the port compound. The guides helped us into our gear, and after a short instructional briefing, we climbed up a wooden tower. I should note here that I am not a big fan of heights. It took some effort to just pick my feet off the ground and start trusting the cable. I finally took that first step, and after that, it got easier.

After returning from our excursion, we found the Carnival Conquest docked next to our ship. The Conquest is one of the Valor's sister ships, and it was pretty impressive walking down the dock with the twin ships on each side. It was reminiscence of walking around the downtown area of a large city with skyscrapers lining the street.

Other than the bottle of Belikin beer in Belize, I did not get the opportunity to sample any local brews. During the cruise, El and I spent most of our evenings after dinner in the piano bar. I downed several bottles of Pilsner Urquell and cans of Boddingtons Pub Ale while enjoying the entertainment provided by Randy on the piano.

Day seven was another day at sea. El and I had a very nice dinner at the steakhouse located on the tenth deck. On the eight day, we returned to Miami, and then flew back home.

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