Trip Date 03/01/2019
Posted On 03/07/2019 17:24:21
Destinations | Cruises | Celebrity Ultimate Caribbean Cruise | ABC Islands | Grand Cayman | Cartagena | Aruba | Curacao | Bonaire | Caribbean Shore Excursions
While on a Celebrity cruise traveling in South America, we took advantage of the future cruise program and reserved an 11 night Ultimate Caribbean Cruise. The good news was that the cruise was fully refundable, however, the more that we thought about the destinations, the more excited we got. We've traveled the Caribbean on multiple occasions, and this cruise had us returning to some of our favorites in addition to some ports we hadn't previously visited.
If you have planned or are considering a cruise with port days in Grand Cayman, Cartagena, Columbia, Aruba, Curacao or Bonaire, take a look at this post for shore excursion ideas. We'll start with our itinerary followed by a brief overview of each day in port. In addition to basic information for planning, we've also included the total cost for the two of us.
Ports of Call: 11 Day Cruise ItineraryWhat caught our attention when we reserved this Caribbean cruise was the calls in Curacao and Bonaire as they were both new ports for us. Additionally, although we'd been to Grand Cayman, our most recent scheduled port day was cancelled due to weather. We had planned a shore excursion that we were really excited about, so this cruise would give us the opportunity to (hopefully) make it happen!
It seems that, lately, every cruise that we have booked has had one or more itinerary change between the time of our reservation and our actual travel date. Fortunately that was not the case with this itinerary - our original and final itineraries were identical:
- Monday, February 18, 2019: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (4:00 PM Departure)
- Wednesday, February 20, 2019: George Town, Grand Cayman (7:00 AM - 4:00 PM)
- Friday, February 22, 2019: Cartagena, Columbia (7:00 AM - 4:00 PM)
- Saturday, February 23 (4:00 PM arrival) - Sunday, February 24, 2019 (6:00 PM departure): Oranjestad, Aruba
- Monday, February 25, 2019: Willemstad, Curacao (7:00 AM - 7:00 PM)
- Tuesday, February 26, 2019: Kralendijk, Bonaire (7:00 AM - 3:00 PM)
- Friday, March 1, 2019: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (7:00 AM Arrival)
George Town, Grand CaymanWe had plans for a 2 Stop Stingray / Snorkel Tour with Captain Marvin's in December 2017, however our port day was cancelled due to rough seas. As we had been looking forward to the excursion and we appreciated the company's policy of not charging passengers when a ship cancels a port, we decided to give it another try. Although the water was a little rough during our excursion to Stingray City, we had an awesome visit.
Upon leaving the stingrays, the captain took us to a reef where we snorkeled ... and even saw some more stingrays!
Priced at only $40.00 USD per person for about 2 1/2 hours on the boat and in the water, we couldn't have been more pleased with our first port day. The Stingray City and Barrier Reef Snorkel offered by Celebrity was priced at $79.00 per person. While the advertised itinerary ended with (rather than starting with) Stingray City, all else was nearly identical to our excursion with Captain Marvin's - other than being nearly double the cost!
Cartagena, ColumbiaScott and I joined a morning Cartagena Free Walking Tour where most of our time was spent inside the walls surrounding the Unesco World Heritage site. Although the sun was beating harshly down upon us, our guide did an excellent job of scoping out shade when he paused to share some of Cartagena's history. Even after having visited the city for one day each on two previous cruises, the two hours was time well spent with a very knowledgeable and energetic guide.
We spent a total of $35.00 for the two of us including transportation plus the recommended (but optional) tip of $10.00 per person for our guide. (We negotiated a price of $5.00 for a taxi ride from the port to the Walled City of Cartagena and $10.00 for our return.) The 4 1/2 hour A Taste of Cartagena was the most comparable cruise line offered tour. Including a short guided tour plus free time, the per person charge of $44.75 was more than two times what we paid for our walking tour.
Oranjestad, ArubaThe day that we arrived was Aruba's Grand Lighting Parade, one of the many events during the island's Carnival celebration. With the parade running from 8:00 PM to 2:00 AM and passing near where our ship was docked, we hoped to see at least a few of the floats. We did walk quite a distance along the route, however learned that it would be 10:00 PM or later before there would be any sign of the parade near the port. With early plans for the following morning, we decided that getting some sleep was more important!
We had arranged a one-day rental car with Amigo Rent-A-Car so that we could spend the day in Aruba's national park. After meeting an Amigo representative right across the street from the port, he drove us to the agency where we completed the necessary paperwork before driving off. We read about a few other "must see's" on the island, so we made a number of stops before even making it to Arikok National Park in the early afternoon!
Our full day adventure came at a price tag of $54.06 for our rental car (including insurance) plus $13.26 for fuel. Our visit to Aruba's national park added $11.00 per person bringing our cost to a total of $89.32 (just under $45.00 per person). While Celebrity did not offer a tour that packed in anywhere near the number of sights that we were able to see in our seven plus hours, the two closest offerings were:
- Sights, Scenes & Tastes of Aruba which included "upgraded transportation" and stops at Natural Bridge ruins, Baby Bridge, Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, California Lighthouse and Eagle Beach. Priced at $89.00 per person for the 3 1/2 hour tour, each guest was also treated to a "dushi pastechi di keshi" (a popular breakfast item described as a cheese patty).
- The 4 hour Aruba Island Sightseeing and Beach Adventure included an air conditioned panoramic drive with commentary while passing by key landmarks. The $49.75 per person tour concluded with one hour of free time at Eagle Beach.
Willemstad, CuracaoWe knew that we wanted to snorkel in Curacao, yet we had some difficulty arranging an excursion when we finally got around to planning. As they say, "all's well that ends well", and our All West Beach Hopping Tour with Irie Tours turned out to be an excellent way to spend our day. Before having the opportunity to swim with turtles, we made two stops - one to see the flamingos and the second to enjoy the beautiful scenery in the national park.
Our day ended with two additional beach stops where Scott and I snorkeled before finding some shade at each beach where we could relax and dry off. Our guide shared some of the island's history throughout the day and when possible, our driver pulled to the side of the road for some photo stops along our route. The open air bus which took us from place to place was quite comfortable ... and the island tunes definitely helped to ensure our Caribbean mindset!
The 3 1/2 hour Fun Beach Express, Sightseeing and Snorkel Celebrity tour included an open air bus ride through Curacao's West coast (including the pink flamingos}. Before returning to the ship, guests had the opportunity to enjoy leisure time for relaxing, snorkeling or swimming at a beach all for $59.00 per person. While Celebrity contracts with Irie Tours for some excursions offered to cruise ship passengers, none included all that we had the opportunity to see in our 7 hour tour priced at $65.00 per person.
Kralendijkg, BonaireDaniel, the owner of Aqua Fun Bonaire, waited for the two of us plus five other couples just outside of the port. He arranged for transportation to Harbour Village Marina where we boarded The Vitamin Sea. After a short safety presentation, we headed out into the crystal clear waters of Bonaire.
We snorkeled nearby the boat at our first stop, and once all were back on board we made our way to No Name Beach. Following a walk along the beach to the starting point for our second snorkel, we drifted back to the boat while enjoying the sea life below. Either Daniel or his assistant were in the water with us at all times, and our excursion included round trip taxi service from the port and all snorkeling equipment.
Scott and I paid $55.00 per person for our 3 1/2 hours with Aqua Fun Bonaire. A similar 3 hour Double-Dip Snorkel ($79.75 per person) was offered by Celebrity which included rum punch in addition to two snorkel stops. While our excursion did not include alcoholic beverages, Daniel did offer water and a variety of soft drinks plus some brownie bites - at a savings of almost $25.00 per person.
Tips on Reserving Shore ExcursionsAlthough typically more expensive, there are advantages to purchasing excursions through a cruise line's Shore Excursions Desk. The biggest benefit is often a guarantee that the ship will wait for you should your tour be delayed for any reason. In our early years of cruising, we always booked through the cruise line. That changed in 2001, after we went out on our own in Athens, Greece. Of the entire cruise itinerary, I still remember our day in Athens more vividly that any of the others. Since then, we typically either organize or join smaller private tours or just go out and explore the port and nearby areas completely on our own.
If you are considering planning your own excursions, here's a few suggestions:
- Be prepared for the time commitment! While you can usually save quite a bit of money, there is a time commitment required to research options;
- Check Cruise Critic and Facebook Groups for others in search of people to join a group that they are forming or who are also in search of private tours;
- Read comments and reviews from previous travelers on Cruise Critic, Trip Advisor, travel blogs, etc. to get ideas and ratings (we generally will not reserve with a company unless it has a lot of very positive comments);
- Make contact with more than one tour provider so that you can compare prices and tour options;
- Ask lots of questions including:
- whether or not they have a guarantee to get you back on time;
- what is included and not included in the quoted price;
- is a deposit required;
- do they accept credit cards;
- what currencies do they accept for cash payments; and
- any other questions that you can think of!
- Become familiar with the cancellation policies and don't reserve unless you are comfortable and happy with the tour provider's policy (many companies will refund all money already paid should the cruise ship not make it to the port for any reason).
Caribbean Ports of CallFor more information on each of our days in port, check back in the coming weeks. We'll have a post dedicated to each port of call which will include details on planning an excursion, more in depth itineraries and, of course, more photos from the day.
Caribbean IslandsWhat are your favorite islands in the Caribbean, and why do you favor them over the others?
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