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Christmas Cruise: A Weekend at Walmart

A few years ago we started a new holiday tradition in our house. Realizing how much we disliked the craziness that is the American Christmas season, Brenda and I decided to start taking our three kids on a trip, in place of buying gifts. We thought it would be a great way to connect as a family without many of the distractions that occur during the holiday season. Fortunately for us, our children were just as tired of the meaningless gifts and the commercialization of the holiday as we were. We’ve celebrated Christmas in New Orleans, San Diego, Miami Beach, Los Angeles, and a few other places. It takes a bit of planning, but the results, for the most part, have been wonderful.

One year, I unfortunately let expediency creep into the planning process. Trying to do as little work as possible, I decided that a Christmas cruise would be a great idea. No need to plan meals or events, everything would be provided on the boat. Full disclosure, we had never been on a cruise before. I view cruise ships as floating Petri dishes. The thought of standing in a buffet line for food or being herded like cattle to get on and off the ship just doesn’t sound appealing to me. To make matters worse, I chose a 3-day Carnival cruise. As the title of the post alludes to, it was like spending a weekend at Walmart.

Buffet line

How not to spend a vacation.

My intent is not to insult anyone but there is something different about cruise people. They take cruising very seriously. I can’t believe how many people I spoke with on the ship that cruise on a regular basis. Some of them take 2-3 trips a year. I swear the topic of conversation in their world revolves around the food. They know what is served and when, which cruise has the “best” Captain’s Dinner, and which buffets are open 24/7. Some dress up for dinner as if they are dining at Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo. I felt like they’d kill you for the last piece of deep fried chicken in the buffet line. I know not all cruises are like this and that I’m being a bit snarky. It’s just unfortunate that this was our first and only experience on a cruise ship.

Even though I was a bit biased from the start, I went into the trip with a positive attitude. There were two stops on our cruise and a full day at sea, which was Christmas day. The first stop was Key West, which is always enjoyable. The quirkiness of the island along with the people of the Conch Republic make for a fun filled day. We spent our time wondering around Old Town, stopping in at a few of our favorite spots and enjoying the scenery. Key West, in our opinion, is a great destination for Christmas. The city does a wonderful job with decorations and holiday festivities.

The second stop was the one Brenda and I were most excited for. We were going to spend a full day on Cozumel. The two of us had been there roughly 20 years earlier and enjoyed it tremendously. At that time, Cozumel was more of a day trip for those in Cancun, and a stop for a few cruise ships. There were a handful of resorts and hotels, but nothing like the volume of some of the other destinations in Mexico.

We remember the trip distinctly because we were stuck on the island during hurricane Roxanne. We had only been in Cozumel a couple of days when all of a sudden the tropical storm turned to a Cat 3 overnight. It happened so fast that there was no way to leave. The storm decimated the island, along with the airport. We ended up spending a few extra days there, wandering around and looking at the destruction that had occurred.

The odd part is that we really have good memories of Cozumel, other than the hurricane. San Miguel was still somewhat small with a laid-back feel to it. I remember renting a moped and just cruising around the island and town, stopping at any stretch of beach that looked good. We found a few make-shift restaurants where we could get some good local food and drink, and then take a swim. The people of Cozumel were incredibly warm and friendly.

Fast forward 20+ years later. I can’t tell you how much we hated Cozumel. Talk about a tourist trap! As we got off of our floating Petri dish we were inundated with requests to buy any type of tour or trinket you could imagine. Vastly larger than our previous visit, San Miguel seemed to suffer from mass over development. The quaintness and authenticity that we experienced on our first trip had disappeared. In its place was what can best be described as a caricature of Mexico. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to share the place we visited years ago with our children. Brenda and I were equally disappointed with how much the island had changed.

For reasons that are now obvious, I almost titled the post, You Can’t Go Back. As much as we wish to relive certain events in our lives that brought us great joy, sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Many of the trips we’ve been on had a great deal of spontaneity, and you can’t plan spontaneity. A bit more research on my part and we probably would have been prepared for what Cozumel had become. As I stated earlier, I let expediency creep into my planning. I’ve made a point to not let that happen again.

Thanks for checking us out!

Scott & Brenda


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