I was lucky to "get out of Dodge" just in time. Well, it wasn't really Dodge City, Kansas, but it was Cincinnati, Ohio just before the ice and snow piled up. I headed south, way south, for fifteen glorious sunny days which I am about to share with you.
Day 1: As Silversea's Silver Spirit set sail on the first leg of its 1726-nautical mile round-trip Caribbean cruise from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the ship's 476 passengers and I settled in for a relaxing evening at sea.
Day 2: Another day was spent sailing the Florida Straits and Caribbean Sea as we continued our 536-nautical mile cruise to Cozumel. By this second day, I was already so pampered and spoiled that I didn't care if I never got off the ship.
Day 3: The Silver Spirit docked at Cozumel, Mexico at 8 AM. Smaller than Cancun, Cozumel is a marriage of commerce and Mother Nature. When it came time to select a shore excursion, I chose Silversea's "Living History – Mayan Traditions and Island Tour".
SILVER SPIRIT DOCKED IN COZUMEL
During our visit to the Mayan Village we saw traditional thatched-roof Mayan houses, medicinal gardens, cooking techniques, and Mayan ceremonies. We also learned about the myths, histories and beliefs of the Mayan World.
Following our tour of the village, we traveled across the island to the eastern shore for stunning views of the island's undeveloped coastline. Traveling past ancient black rock formations protruding from the sea, we saw beautiful white-sand beaches, tropical low-jungle vegetation and the iridescent waters of the Caribbean Sea.
Day 4: Having sailed 116-nautical miles from Cozumel, we arrived at Costa Maya, Mexico where I opted for a Silversea fun tour called "Salsa & Salsa Beach Break".
WELCOME TO COSTA MAYA
We were transferred to a beach restaurant for a hands-on Mexican salsa cooking class. We were each given a plate of fresh ingredients and then taught the steps of making authentic Mexican salsa and guacamole. We then devoured our concoctions with tortilla chips and washed them down with complimentary margaritas.
WOULD-BE CHEFS MAKING AUTHENTIC MEXICAN SALSA
Afterwards, our guide showed us how to step, sway, and get into the groove of Latin America's most famous dance…The Salsa. Following step-by step instructions, those who were ready for the dance floor did their thing.
GETTING THE SALSA GROOVE…AFTER A MARGARITA
Day 5: When Silver Spirit reached Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala, some 212-nautical miles later, we opted for the Amatique Bay Resort tour that allowed us to chill out completely in one of Central America's finest resorts.
WELCOME TO SANTO TOMAS DE CASTILLO, GUATEMALA
Departing the pier via a panga boat (a modest-sized, open, outboard-powered, boat) we sailed to the five-star Amatique Bay mega-resort. The Amatique Bay Resort features a botanical garden surrounded by Mayan archaeological sites, exotic landscaping, and a wide array of lush flora and fauna.
Upon arrival, we could do as we pleased…sunbathe or swim at the pool with wet bar and water slides…explore the private beach, butterfly and turtle gardens…visit the Jade Museum…shop for souvenirs…or join in an invigorating game of beach volleyball or soccer (if we were a few, few, few, years younger). A barbecue buffet lunch was served before we boarded the panga boat to return to the pier.
PIRATE SHIP CONCEALS A WATER SLIDE INTO THE POOL AT AMATIQUE BAY
Day 6: Belize,124-nautical miles from Santo Tomas, is nestled between Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean coast of Central America. Formerly known as British Honduras, the colony's name was changed to Belize in 1973 in anticipation of its independence. On September 21, 1981 independence finally came to Belize.
Belize,the only English-speaking country in Central America, is one of the few remaining unspoiled places on earth. Silver Spirit anchored in Belize waters and we were tendered ashore to Belize City, home of the country's commercial center and the largest concentration of Belizeans.
Sarita, from S&L Tours, zipped us around to Belize City's many sights of interest that included the following: Museum of Belize that was built in 1857 as "her Majesty's Prison"; Baron Bliss Lighthouse, built in honor of the benefactor who left Belize $2-million; St. John's Cathedral, constructed in 1812 from red bricks originally used as English ship ballast; and the Swing Bridge that has connected the downtown area since Colonial days and is one of the few manually operated bridges still in use in the world.
BE laid back...BE unleashed...BE-LIZE!
Day 7: Once again we were cruising the azure Caribbean Sea and the Straits of Florida. We had to sail another 566 nautical miles before reaching Key West, Florida. And I loved every minute of it…more time to be coddled and indulged on Silver Spirit.
Day 8: I can best describe our final port stop, Key West, Florida, in three letters: F-U-N! This island of contrasts is a place where pirates once preyed and presidents once played. It is a place where straight meets gay, where drunk drinks with sober.
Sloppy Joe's, the favorite haunt of the late Ernest "Papa" Hemingway, is much more than a honkytonk saloon. It is a symbolic personification of Key West. One order of their heavenly Havana Nachos, with Sloppy Joe Mix, is enough for two. Add to that an Original Sloppy Joe Sandwich and their award-winning Sloppy Rita ("Best Margarita in Florida") and I guarantee you, you won't be hungry for days.
AUTHOR AND HUSBAND LUNCH ON HEAVENLY HAVANA NACHOS
Key West is Caribbean and continental, traditional and avant garde. It is the Conch people, conch fritters, conch chowder, the Conch Tour Train, Conch High School, and Conch cheerleaders known as Conchettes. By the time you leave this end of the Florida Keys…this end of the highway…this end of the rainbow…I can assure you, you'll be conch-ed out. Only 172 nautical miles remain until we return to Ft. Lauderdale and our heavenly cruise would be over.
Day 9: Having been immersed in the easy-going culture and clear blue waters of the Caribbean for eight glorious days, I was not ready to face up to the icy winter weather that awaited us back home. So what did I do? I checked back into the Embassy Suites Ft. Lauderdale (where I had spent several pre-cruise days) for a few more days of sunshine, thus allowing the icy reality to sink in slowly.
Days 10-15: Our 2-room suite at Embassy Suites Ft. Lauderdale was beginning to feel like home…like a place at which we could spend the entire winter. Complimentary home cooked breakfasts every morning…maid service every day…complimentary cocktails every evening. What's not to like? We lazed around the beautiful pool area, hung out with our kids and grandkids who live minutes away from the hotel, and ate at simple, down-home restaurants such as: Coco, Tamarindo, Joes Cafe, 17th Street Grill, Marina Deli, Il Mulino, Pomperdale Deli, and Greek Islands Taverna.
AT THE LUSH VERDANT POOL AREA AT EMBASSY SUITES FT. LAUDERDALE
And then, before I knew it, it was all over.
Day 16: Back home......Brrrrr!
JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 38 national travel-writing awards and an Independant Travel Consultant with The Travel Authority in Mariemont, Ohio.