Chankanaab, Cozumel, Mexico (February 20, 2012)
The Jewel’s first port of call was Cozumel. Despite the fact we’d never been to Mexico before (except for one brief Tijuana foray I’d rather forget), we decided to skip any organized tour and venture out on our own. Our goal was to do some snorkeling and hang out on a beach. Chankanaab National Park fit the bill because we could get there by taxi and enjoy snorkeling from the shore.
Not having to meet a tour at a set time granted us a second blissful day of sleeping in. Ah, vacation. After performing the required bathing suit and sunscreen ritual, we headed to the Windjammer for another leisurely buffet breakfast. By 10:30am, we were through ship security and wandering down the dock at Cozumel. Finding the taxis was as simple as following the signs, but we had to run the gauntlet of hawkers tempting us to take their tours, cruises, etc. The salesmen, always men, were very friendly and charmingly persuasive. Once they realized our plans were set, they were kind enough to send us off in the direction of the cabs. Getting a cab at the end of the pier in Cozumel is a very organized and efficient process. Cruise patrons line up in a roped off section on the sidewalk. The taxis (from small cars to multi-passenger vans) line up along the curb. A man asks group size and destination and waves a waiting cab forward.
Our taxi was a large white van driven by a speed demon from hell disguised as a mild-mannered, middle-aged Mexican man. We were barely seated before he tore down the road, tailgating and passing every vehicle which was brazen enough to get in our way. I wanted to scream “Stop! Stop!”, but couldn’t recall the Spanish equivalent in my state of panic. Instead, I just stood on my imaginary brake, holding on for dear life. In less than five minutes, we careened into the driveway of Chankanaab, white-knuckled and shaky. We tumbled out of the van, kissing the ground and thanking God we didn’t die before we’d had the chance to get some snorkeling done. The staff at Chankanaab didn’t even blink, which informed me that this might be a common occurrence.
Chankanaab Park offers a slew of activities – dolphin swims, sea lion shows, manatee exhibits, kayaks, a Mexican heritage trail, ironstone shoreline with white sand beach, etc., and packages are priced accordingly. We just wanted to relax under a palapa and snorkel in the turquoise water. It was the perfect day for such humble ambitions, warm and sunny with very calm waters. One of the waiters whose name started with a “D” (that’s all we can remember) walked us to a less crowded area of the beach and gave us menus for the day. We ordered our very first Mexican Coca Colas, made with sugar cane and served in glass bottles, and then settled in for a day at the water’s edge. From our palapa, we could see our ship in the distance, waiting patiently for our return. The Cokes we ordered were cold, sweet, and fizzy.
The kids were eager to try snorkeling, so we grabbed some life vests (a requirement of the park that many patrons ignored) and headed to the water. I would have ignored it, too, because I hate wearing a vest to snorkel, but the kids were newbies and we wanted them to be safe. We brought our own snorkeling equipment, but it can be rented at the park for a fee. Entrance into the water and subsequent exiting was a bit tricky. The steps were carved out stone (or maybe coral) and were very slippery. The depth of the water increased rapidly as well. As a first snorkel experience for the kids, getting in and out was a little rough. They are good swimmers, though, and handled it well with only one minor panic episode.
We saw a fair amount of fish – sergeant majors, a variety of parrotfish, a few blue tangs, sea urchins, and several small brightly colored tropical varieties. Buddy and I also saw two juvenile sunfish playing hide and seek around a large jumble of rocks. Also of note was the discovery of the largest sea cucumber of my snorkeling career. The sea fans and coral were sparse but seemed pretty healthy, too. It is possible to rent scuba equipment at Chankanaab. While we were snorkeling we saw several scuba divers in the deeper water. Although the water was very clear even at increasing depths, our best viewing experiences were close to the shoreline. For a first time expedition, it was OK. Because the kids were having fun, so was I. However, if there’s a next time, we’ll take a boat tour out to the reef for the better snorkeling now that we know the kiddos can handle it.
We were hungry from our first snorkeling attempt so when “D” checked on us again we ordered chicken quesadillas, nachos, and another round of Cokes. Ace, of course, chose a hot dog. So much for trying native cuisine. Everything was delicious, especially the uber-smooth and slightly hot guacamole. While Hubby lounged under the palapa, the kids and I engaged in some exploration. There is a nice trail that highlights a bit of the history and famous monuments and statues of Mexico. I just enjoyed the tropical flora and fauna.
The boys headed back to our little piece of paradise and Lovey decided to have her hair braided. She was adamant that I mention how kind and friendly the ladies were to her. While she sat, I snapped more photos. There were several iguanas and lizards in the park. At the Chankanaab waterfall, we found one that had lost his tail and was growing a new one. He was understandably embarrassed and therefore reluctant to have his picture taken.
Around 3 pm, the park really started to clear out. All those pesky cruise ship passengers were finally leaving and we could have the park to ourselves. Wait a minute, now we were those pesky cruisers. And now we had to leave just as the perfect beach time was settling in – late afternoon. I decided then and there that the time constraint at the ports of call was my number one beef about cruising. I hated having to cut the day short. Even so, we stayed at Chankanaab until after 4 pm. It was just too lovely to leave any earlier. We snorkeled and lounged in the mellow late afternoon sun. Reluctantly, we gathered up our things, paid our surprisingly reasonable food bill, and began prepping ourselves for the heart-pounding race back to port. A “free” T shirt and bottle of water was included with each of our tickets. I was hoping for something a bit stronger than H2O to buoy me through the impending taxi ride. We stopped in a shop near the entrance to pick up our souvenirs and buy some gum. The kids thought it was cool that the packaging was written in Spanish. No luck with the adult beverage. Sigh.
The gentleman at the entrance hailed us a cab from the parking lot. We all took a deep breath and climbed in. To our amazement, the ride was a leisurely drive back to port that allowed for actual enjoyment of the scenery. When we pulled into port, I could have kissed our driver for his kindness. Instead, Jay just gave him an extra large tip. We wandered through the maze of shops, heading toward security and the ship beyond. In the middle of the walkway, a trio of musicians began to play traditional Mexican folk tunes. We stopped to take some photos and enjoy the music. Finally, we meandered back to the Jewel.
We were scheduled to depart around 5:30pm so we hung out on an upper deck, watching a Carnival ship leave port and sail into the sunset. There is a very small eating area on Deck 12 called the Seaview Cafe. We relaxed here eating chicken fingers, delicious onion rings, and decadent chocolate brownies. It was a perfect evening. Once we were on our way and the sun had set, we went down to our rooms to get ready for dinner. We would be eating in The Tides (the main dining room), which required some preparation and appropriate attire.
We enjoyed something called My Time Dining which allowed us to choose when we wanted to eat instead of having a time assigned to us. We could make reservations if we wanted (which we did) or just show up and wait for a table. We ate late, around 8pm, and were seated at a table for six. Our waiter, Jerome, and his assistant, Arnel, proceeded to make our dinner a delightful one with their skill and attentiveness. They knew our names before we even sat down which impressed the kids immensely. The food was generally very good with some truly outstanding offerings. The chilled fruit soup (I think it was mango cranberry) and the trio of mini desserts were exceptionally delicious. While we ate dessert, Jerome talked with us about his jobs on the cruise ship and the places that he and the Jewel travel throughout the year. He was eager to hear about our expedition to Chankanaab, too. The combination of food and service made for a very memorable meal. After dinner we went back out on deck to do some star-gazing. The deck was empty, the night was crystal clear, and the breeze was soothing. We soaked up the quietness while we watched several falling stars burn across the sky. It was a magical ending to a fun and eventful day.