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cruise, 2004

Houston | At Sea | Cozumel | Roatan | Belize | Cancun | At Sea  || Ship Details
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March 6, 2004
Norwegian Cruise Line
Ship Name:
The Norwegian Sea
Ship Details: Click here.
Itinerary: A 7-night cruise departing from Houston: Houston, At Sea, Cozumel, Roatan (Honduras), Belize City, Cancun, At Sea, Houston

NOTE: The following images were taken with a (borrowed) Sony DSC-92. It's 5.0 megapixels, but almost all the photos were taken at 1.2. It's compact (fits comfortably in one's pockets), functional and quite nice. 


Day 1: Houston, Texas

This is the east side of Houston, near the port. Lovely. But not as bad as River Rouge, Michigan. This scene served as a poetic contrast to our vacation; a sendoff from the harsh industrious norm to a relaxing respite.

Our ship was the Norwegian Sea. It's a 40,000 ton ship. 1300 passengers, 600 staff, 5 restaurants, 1/4-mile jogging track. They say it's a small cruise ship.

Our original room (called a "stateroom") was supposed to be an inside room on the lower deck, but our travel agent upgraded us to an upper outside room. That would have normally cost us several hundred dollars more. Good view. We were in room 6007 on Deck 6, the same level that has the jogging track around the outside perimeter of the ship.

The ship has 2 pools and 2 hot tubs. 4 formal restaurants and one casual restaurant. They also have grill out on the pool deck (Deck 9). There are 2 lounges with stages, capable of seating hundreds of people, and several smaller lounges. 


Day 2: At Sea

Only staff was allowed on the bow. I'm betting they had too many "I'm the king of the Worlaaaaaah...!" *splash* episodes.
Each day, we'd walk a couple of miles around on their jogging track. The ocean breeze was quite refreshing. We expected to see some dolphins or other fish, but the only animals we saw was one bird and several flying fish that would jump out of the water and fly for a 100 feet or so before going back into the water. We didn't think they were flying fish because they flew so far. But once they hit the water, they never came back up. Pretty weird.


This is the port side ("driver's side" on a car).

Our "stateroom" was the 6th window, underneath the lifeboat.

The white canisters on the right are inflatable life boats.

The larger lifeboats can hold 40 people. All the lifeboats have food and water for 3 days.

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Day 3: Cozumel, Mexico
Sunrise as we get ready to hit Cozumel, Mexico.


I think the ship off our port side was some Pirate ship that you could pay a zillion bucks to see how pirates lived.
Our ship had to do a 180* turn in order to back in next to this black & white ship. Didn't know a huge ship like this could turn on a dime. Carnival Cruise Lines had 3 "big" ships off in the distance.
Bunch of shops. We spent a couple hours here.
We unloaded from the ship in Cozumel and quickly went in search of a cab. For $10, the cab driver took us on a 10-minute ride to Chankanaab National Park, a park with a beach and dolphin swim area. 

Interesting entrance to the park

In the park there was a small trail with replicas of Mayan and pre-Mayan artifacts. We didn't intend to stay long, but the guide was quite informative and we stayed about 45 minutes. Well worth it.

Did I mention the lush vegetation?

A Mayan altar.
Elephant? Shouldn't be, but... 

Since elephants aren't native to this continent, this is supposed to be a ..a ..a snake, says our guide. And I'm thinking "it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and smells like a duck, it must be an elephant".

The snake figured prominently in Mayan culture. This is a representation of a snake's mouth with a human head in it.

I'm about ready for lunch. You? 

Mayans lived in huts. This is the living room, with several drums. They used drums to communicate from village to village.
The kitchen didn't have stucco in the walls. This allowed air to pass through and keep the kitchen from getting hot. Normally there would be a lady in this room serving torillas to visitors. She was on vacation.

The floors were almost rock hard. Just regular dirt, but there wasn't much topsoil.

Some kind of sweet fruit.
Mr. Iguana. When our guide was talking about something or another, I heard a rustle in the tree and ran over to snap this photo. His body was about 2' long, and the tail was another 2'.
This was a light house. They'd put firewood into the small openings on bottom. This life-size structure was only about 7' tall. The openings were about 1' wide.

The Mayans would place different sized conch shells in the top of the structure. As the wind would blow, it would create a different sound depending on the direction of the wind. The people could determine the direction of the wind just by the sound. Wish I'd thought of that! 

Imagine walking through the jungle and finding this head waiting to greet you. These heads were carved from solid stone and were almost 5' tall.

They were created by the Ulmecs, the "rubber people", the earliest inhabitants of the Americas - ancestors to the Aztechs and Mayans. 

These heads date back to 2,000 BC (Abraham's time!), roughly 4,000 years before Joseph Smith wrote extensively about advanced civilizations that were never found in these here parts. But that's another story...

The weird thing about these heads is that they were made of a stone that was NOT native to the area. Poor Ulmechs! For whatever reason, they dragged(??) these 5-ton stones from hundreds of miles away over hills and through jungles. Too bad they didn't have elephants to help them drag them, eh?

No one knows why they went through all the trouble. I bet they were trying to impress some lady.

Here's Sheryl with our guide. I think his name was Ernesto.

   Don't let the relative size of these statues fool you. The one on the left is about 5' high, while the one on the right is about 20 feet tall.

The taller ones were apparently used as pillars for support - like a Greek coliseum.

Wild dogs were part of the Mayan diet. This was also an altar. Offerings were put on the dog's back. 
This is one of the more recent Mayan finds. It was uncovered while workers were repairing electrical lines in a subway tunnel. It's 8' in diameter and depicts a woman wearing festive/ornamental headress and clothes while dancing in some ritualistic fashion. This emblem is stamped on Mexican currency.
This is a Mayan calendar. The Mayans had a rather elaborate calendar consisting of 18 months. Each month consisted of 20 days. At the end of all this, they'd add 5 more special (holy?) days for a total of 365 days. They also had 4 seasons. The intertwining of their calendar was worked into many of their sculptures, including the Mayan temple. Their temple had 4 sides (to represent each season). Each side (season) faced a co-ordinate (N/S/E/W) and had 91 steps leading to the top. At the top was a final step: 4 x 91 + 1 = 365. The silhouette of a snake was worked into the design of the steps' shadow, and was only visible on March 21st and Sept 22 of each year. Smart people.
The lush vegetation was something to behold. I'd expect to pay a wad of cash for a 6' tree like this from Home Depot. But this tree here was a good 25-30 feet tall.

We went snorkeling after this. Wish I'd brought an underwater camera. The fish would swim up to you and hang around - just in case you wanted to feed them, I guess.

After swimming for an hour, we went back to the strip of shops near the ship.

This is a block behind the shops on the ocean front. Not quite as touristy, but just as fun.
"Come in, come!! Please! Everything's a dollar!"

"Hey, look, Sheryl.. this silver necklace is only ONE DOLLAR!"

"Yes sir! Just one dollar off the normal price!"

"WHAT? Ok, fine. I'll give you $2 for the necklace."

"No, sir. You don't understand. This necklace is HEAVY silver. [takes out scale, weighs necklace and punches calculator] Heavy! Not cheap like other shops. Regular price 400 pesos. That $40. But for you, my friend, $30!"

"Whatever. $3! That's my final offer".

"You get out of my store!"

Whoever said Mexicans don't have a sense of humor? ;)

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Day 4: Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras

The island of Roatan.

It was too foggy for a good sunrise today. Bummer!

An interesting small island off the coast of Roatan.

Roatan was our favorite destination by far. It seemed the least affected by westernized progress and was more like a jungle than any of the other stops. I guess that's also a way of saying it was the poorest of the countries. People there were much friendlier as a whole than the other stops we went to. And even though there was quite a bit of poverty in some areas, we always felt safe.

Apparently Roatan got its start a couple hundred years ago when escaped slaves landed on the island. Their unique culture still showed signs of their African descent. Most people there spoke English. There was one other language that a few of the locals spoke. Not all the people there knew this strange language. 

Friendly people greeted us at the docks. Like Cozumel (and all the other ports), there were independent touring companies wanting to take us on different tours. One guy offered submarine rides to take you down to over 1,000 feet below sea level in a special sub. All for just $250. Not bad! Turns out that the waters just off Roatan go as deep as 5,000 feet. I'm still kicking myself for not going!!


We took a ship excursion for a mountain hike. Our tour guide was Darla and the driver's name was Junior. He was pretty cool. On the way to the mountain hike, we crossed their "big bridge". It's the only bridge on the island of any significance, and was about 70 feet long. 
Teachers are well-paid in Roatan: $15/day. Doctors are among the best paid: $25 per day. And it costs $20 to have a baby there. I think our tour guide made a lot more than that. ..but I don't know how many tours she works a week. She said that her home, like most, doesn't have hot water. Cold showers only.
Darla pointed out the island's only jail - the yellow building in the background. It could only hold 30 people.

For a population of 50,000, I was impressed that they only had 20 or so police. 

It took about 45 minutes to get to the mountain in question.

Did I mention the lush vegetation? 

Our mountain guide's name was Lex. He was 17. 

It was a fairly steep climb, but it was absolutely gorgeous! In the garden at the bottom of the mountain were some spectacular plants. Orchids, tall palm trees (plenty of those on the trail, as it turns out), huge dracaenas and yucca plants. It had to be seen to be appreciated. Note the plastic lawn chair in the background here. This palm tree was a good 30' tall. 

I wonder how much Home Depot would sell this plant for?
This spider was about 4-1/2" from tip to tip. Darla thought it was dead. I blew on it - Darla was wrong.
This tree grew large (2-3 foot) clusters of nuts kinda like a coconut. Each nut was about 2-3 inches tall, roughly in the shape of a football. It had 2 shells (like a coconut) and when you broke through the inner shell, you got a coconut-like substance. Instead of hollow with coconut milk, it was solid all the way through. Tasted like dried coconut - except it was fairly moist. Not terribly delicious.
Termites. This clump was about the size of a basketball.
Darla, working her way up the trail.
There was one kind of palm tree that had huge thorns in it. The thorns were at least 3" or 4" long.
Once we were at the top of the mountain, we had a fantastic view of the ocean and small islands below. 
From one spot, we could see another group of people from our ship that were in a dolphin petting show.

As we made our way down to the bottom, we were able to see even more wild plants and strange plants. There was one tree that was about 4 feet wide and only about 1-2 feet thick. There was one tall tree that had a huge palm tree growing out of it... 50 feet up. The palm tree itself was a good 30' or taller, making the entire "tree" about 80' tall.

This is a chocolate tree.
After the "eco hike", we made our way to a beach area called "La Palmas". This is a walkway that connects all the little shops on the beach area. Nice, neat, clean!
The beach had nice sand, but once you get to the shore, the sand turns in to crushed sea shells. Don't let that stuff get in your sandals! Egads!! 
It was kind of cool driving down the streets. They didn't keep much distance from people walking or biking down the street.

This is an MPEG video - coming soon.

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Day 5: Belize City, Belize

Pulling into Belize City.

An island where clear burning had apparently taken place the night before.

Up till now, I'd been using a friend's Sony DSC-92 (5mpxl. Sweet camera!) I left it in the stateroom and took a disposable underwater camera from here. Piece of junk didn't take clear pictures at all :(
Belize doesn't have a dock so instead we "tendered". Tendering is when you have a small boat come out to pick up a bunch of people up and bring them in to shore. Once we reached the dock, we hopped into a rickety bus and took a 1-hour drive out into the lush country side for our cave-tubing excursion. Our guide's name was Mary and the bus driver was Fidel. 

Belize City itself looked fairly run down, with lots of iron bars on windows, even in nicer neighborhoods. Like the other cities, I don't think I saw any traffic lights. Kinda weird to think that a city of any significant size can get along without traffic lights.

 The last 7 miles of the trip was off on a dirt road. We ended up at a remote resort called Jaguar's Paw. Basically it was a house (with the usual satellite dish), a small restaurant and several other buildings. It was hard to tell how many buildings because several of them were behind dense foliage.

We picked up inner tubes and flashlights (the kind with straps that mount to your head) and followed our guide Rick. Here's the mouth of the cave where our trip began and ended. Basically, we hiked to the river entry point and tubed down to the starting point.

It was about a 45-minute hike through dense jungle - fairly smooth path. Didn't see any wildlife, but we did see a tree off in the distance that had weird bird nests in it. The nests were about the size of a basketball, and hung in what looked like a 3-foot long sack. There were about 20 nests in this tree. Rick said they were Golden Montezuma birds. ..or something like that. He told us stories about howler monkeys and how they could aim pretty well. If they felt threatened, they'd crap on your head. I made sure not to threaten the wildlife.

Our entry point had 2 ways to get into the stream: jump from a 10' cliff (far left) or walk down into the water. You can see a couple of guys getting ready to jump in after their innertubes.
Sheryl tried to take my picture when I jumped, but couldn't figure out the underwater camera and missed my grand entrance. I didn't care to jump again.

Here we are, about to enter the cave.

The cave was pretty cool. For the most part, it was about 30-40 feet wide, and about 10-20 feet from the water to the top of the cave. In some places, the water was only a few inches deep, but I think for the most part, it was about 10 feet deep. Sheryl asked our guide (Mary) if there were any snakes. She said "Poisonous - but they don't like us making noise, so they stay away." It's hard to stay on an inner tube without touching the water.

If you looked at the roof of the cave, occasionally you'd see sticks and debris jammed in crevices in the roof. Obviously the cave was completely full of water at times. Mary didn't seem too concerned. 


At one point, we came to an opening that was about 100' long before going back into another cave. The 2nd cave had more interesting stuff. There was a large cave-in where you could see the outside literally pouring in. The height of the 2nd cave in some spots was probably 50' with stalactites and bats. Crappy camera couldn't make heads or tails of any of it.
I took a few pictures while in the cave. Just imagine a black rectangle with a bunch of yellowish dots (flashlights), and that's what the photos look like. The real deal was much cooler than that, of course. Crappy camera.


It took us about an hour to make our way through the tubing part. When we came out, it was just a short 2-minute walk to the restaurant where we got a plate of food to eat and a coke. 

Back in Belize City, we checked out some of the shops near the docks. We didn't feel safe enough to venture too far away. We wanted to buy a bag, but the best quality bags we could find said "Guatemala" instead of "Belize" on it, so we didn't bother.


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Day 6: Cancun, Mexio

Just outside of Cancun, Mexico.

Most of the sunrises were cloudy. Cancun had the best sunrise so far. We would invariably miss most of the sunsets on the cruise.

The city's skyline made it clear that this was the most developed city on our stop. 

The water in Cancun was unreal! It had the strangest colors: deep blues, bright greens, aquamarine - just like the gem. 

It was crystal clear. You could easily see the bottom of the ocean in 40+ feet of water. It was peppered with coral reefs, and the reefs invariably had fish and other life forms swimming around.
This port was also a tender port. Our ship dropped anchor about 2 miles from the coast and we all hopped on a 500-passenger triple-decker tender boat and headed for the shore -at about 10 mph. Ugh. This thing moved so slow, I swear I could swim faster! The Belize boat held fewer people, but moved along at a brisk clip. 
If you think car dealers have huge flags, check this out. This flag pole is probably 200' tall. Note its size relative to the 10-story building.

Nevermind the flagpole. Check out the water!

The dock at Cancun.

We took an excursion to go snorkeling. 

As soon as we hopped off the tender boat, we got on a smaller (faster) boat and headed out to a spot about 1 mile past where the ship anchored. The water there was between 10 and 30 feet deep. We donned our snorkel gear and jumped in the water. Our excursion consisted of floating/swimming a little over an hour to cover a 1 mile stretch. There were about 20 people in our group. Here's one piece of advice: get contacts. Kinda stinks trying to see underwater when you can't wear your glasses. But it's easier to see underwater w/o glasses than above water, so it was still quite the experience!

Everyone says Cozumel is better for snorkeling. I guess we didn't go to the right place or something, because Cancun was much better. 


Here we go again with the disposable underwater camera. That piece of junk simply doesn't do ANY justice!!


This is actually a bunch of *pretty* coral stuff about 10-15' underwater.
In this shot, I'm about 50 feet away from the rest of the people in our group. You can see their legs at the top of this photo - 50 ft away, mind you. We're swimming in about 15' of water, with a bunch of fish swimming below us (the yellow dots). Didn't see any sharks or rays. Have to go to other places to see/feed them.
Bunch of yellow fish and some blue fish. They were about 8-14" long.
Trust me, it was really pretty. Seriously.
Not all the fish were yellow and silver. Here's some blue ones. I tried touching them a few times. Couldn't get too close.
If anyone knows how to do good color correction in Photoshop, I'm all ears. The left photo is an untouched photo of me, about 20 feet away (crappy camera!). I tried piddling with the photo to get it as clear as possible w/o losing detail. No bueno. Makes me want to buy an expensive underwater camera so I can take photos like these: photos1 and photos2. (I know this guy, btw. Ugh. Makes me sick to see his photos and then look at mine. I think I'll stick with beach-side shopping! Ha! I just noticed he was in Cozumel 2 weeks after we were. How's that for weird?)


I got chased out of a couple of these shops too. Some of the store owners were nice, tho. A ~12 yr old kid had a small table. "How much for the conch shell?" I asked. 

"$5, sir!" and proceeds to bag the item.

"Nah. That's too much. How much for the toy top? My son would like a toy top."

"$5 for this too, sir, but for you.. $4", and proceeds to bag the toy.

"Was it made here in Cancun?"

"Oh, yes sir!"

"Did YOU make it?"

"No. My friend ... ..Luis! Luis made it!"


"Yes sir! I sell you both for $5"

"I'll give you $4 for both of them."

"You got a deal, sir!"

"And tell Luis I said 'Thanks'"

"I'll do that, sir!"

Smart kid.

And there's one valuable tip I learned: Don't haggle too much ..and if you do, be careful what you pick up. If something's leaning against what you pick up and it falls over and breaks, you're in the hot spot. I ended up buying a broken "$80" mask this way. 

"Aiii, yi, yi! Oh.. no, no, no! This $800 peso! Now all gone"
"This mask is not 800 peso!"
"Si, si! This $80!" She looked like she might cry.
I paid her $20 for it, and got the store owner (her son) to include a HUGE "quartz" diamond with it (the item I really wanted). It was $10 more than I wanted to spend, but I felt bad for her, so I figured $20 for both was fair game. I figure she pocketed $15 profit on that little deal.

Sheryl just stared at me.

Anyone want a broken mask?

Meanwhile, back on the ship...


Thursday night at midnight is the "Chocolate Buffet". Everything on this table is chocolate. Everything! (Even the chef's bust). Ok.. the ice sculpture wasn't chocolate, but still!

This buffet table stretches all the way back to the white wall. And it's only 1/2 of the layout. There was a 2nd set of tables on the other side of the restaurant.

Gee whiz! 

I had about 1/2 a plate, and I was done.

I forget the magician's name. He had some pretty cool tricks that stupefied the audience. He called me and 2 other guys on the stage and linked our wedding rings. I'm not sure how he did that.
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Day 7: At Sea

Interesting burst of light.
Deck 6 (our deck) had a jogging track all the way around it. This is the port side.
The aft section also had a basket ball court.


This is the Seven Seas, one of the nicer restaurants on the ship.


Almost sad to come home after 7 days of doing nothing.

Had about 500 emails waiting for me and a mail server upgrade flaked out while I was gone. *sigh*

Welcome home!

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Day 8: Houston, Texas

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Houston | At Sea | Cozumel | Roatan | Belize | Cancun | At Sea  || Ship Details