Find blue water, sunshine, and warm breezes with a bargain getaway to the Caribbean.

My husband and I had grown weary of cold, damp weather when I spoke the magic word: "cruise."

"Let's take the Carnival ship out of Galveston, Texas," I said. "The trip is only four days and goes to Cozumel, Mexico." My spouse needed no urging after I read aloud the description of turquoise water, tropical temperatures, and seemingly endless food.

"Let's go," Bill said. "I've been ready to get warm since January."

Traveling Thursday
We flew to Houston, and then caught a cab for the dock in Galveston. The taxi fare cost about $80 and was worth every penny for transporting us and our four big bags and carry-ons to Carnival's Celebration.

After presenting identification (passports or certified copies of birth certificates will do for Mexico), we were free to board and explore the ship. A buffet lunch awaited new and hungry passengers. We listened to a band under the Galveston sun before heading down for an informative talk in the Astoria Lounge. There the friendly folks with Spa Carnival told about all the treatments and services offered onboard.

Then came a lifeboat drill at 3:30 p.m., and a half-hour later, the Celebration pulled out of Galveston Bay, headed for the Gulf of Mexico and warmer air. Bill and I felt sunnier already as we walked to the Sushi Bar. A late dinner at 8 p.m. filled in any empty spots that the previous food forays missed, and we enjoyed the Welcome Aboard Show before retiring to our cabin. Water, water everywhere--but no lurching, rocking, or rolling. And the cold was slowly seeping away from our bones.

 

Sunny Friday at Sea
We awoke to a beautiful day with no sight of land and decided to check out the gymnasium before breakfast. Afterward, we oohed and aahed over jewelry and the requisite T-shirts in the gift shops.

"The shopping talk is going on now," Bill noted. "We'd better go see what they say about Cozumel. We need to pick out which shore tour we'll take."

We learned from Cindy of the Carnival crew that it's okay to bargain and that we should stick to the map that the ship hands out. She also informed us that cash is better for bargaining than credit cards, though most all credit cards are accepted.

The crew then began describing the shore tours. Two that appealed to us were the Eco Adventure by Jeep ($79 per person), where guests would see wildlife and tropical plants, and Cozumel Highlights and Shopping ($49 per person), which included history, the beaches, and shopping. We opted for the latter.

After lunch at the 24-hour pizzeria, we watched a volleyball game while soaking up some rays. Before joining the captain's cocktail party and formal dinner, we drank in a stunning sunset. And at midnight we laughed ourselves silly at the adult comedy show.

What fun! Almost too excited to eat a light buffet breakfast, we stocked up on bottled water and sunscreen and took off down the long pier to rendezvous for our Cozumel tour.

 

Vamonos a Cozumel Saturday
The island of 66,000 residents supports a thriving tourist business with gorgeous beaches and wonderful shopping. Bill and I stopped for lunch at Pancho's Backyard, where we dined on shrimp, guacamole, and sopaipillas. The ship was to sail at 5 p.m., so we boarded by 4, exhausted and happy. We ate a light supper at the pizzeria and went to bed early.

No Siesta Sunday
The sun shining through our cabin window roused us. Over eggs Benedict at the Horizon Restaurant, we planned our last day at sea. Bill would try the golf putting competition; next we'd attend the debarkation talk and then watch the ice carving.

In between activities, we basked in all the sun we could before the warm air and water gave way to the last of winter. That night after a dinner of fresh salmon and pasta, we enjoyed the X-treme Country Show in the Astoria Lounge. We were getting back into a Texas frame of mind.

Mopey Monday Morning
We arose early but were not anxious to leave our pleasant home of four days. We had unpacked only once, and we'd been to Mexico and back without having to stop and ask for directions. The weather had been perfect, the service impeccable. "Let's come back and stay longer," I said. Bill nodded. "Next February," he replied, "when it begins to feel too cold."

Cruise Tips
The earlier the better, where boarding is concerned. The lines only get longer as the afternoon gets shorter. And don't forget to put those all-important luggage tags showing your cabin number on your bags before you get to the ship.

At the end of your trip, put your bags out the night before you debark so porters can deliver them to the dock for you. But be sure to keep out something to wear the next day.

This article is from the February 2004 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.

 

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