Carnival Horizon 8 night Southern Caribbean Review

Monday, September 30, 2019
My husband Gabe and I just returned from the Carnival Horizon 8 night Southern Caribbean Cruise where we celebrated our 5 year wedding anniversary. I have so many amazing things to say about our experience. I'll be posting each of our ports and some of the activities we did on our Fun Day's at Sea so stay tuned!.

I have sailed on the Horizon's sister ship, the Vista when in 2017. Although the two ships nearly mirror one another, my experience on the Horizon blew away all pre-conceived notions I had prior to getting onboard. Also, I was a little apprehensive about 8 nights at sea, as the longest cruise I had done until this was 7 nights and I felt that was a bit too long. Now that I am home, I wish we had more time. I cannot say enough about the staff on the Horizon and this was my favorite cruise to date.

A bit about the staff: Our Cruise Director, Cookie, was the assistant Cruise Director when I sailed the Vista in 2017. I knew already he would be a blast, but I wasn't expecting to leave feeling like I made a new friend, and that was exactly the impression Cookie left. He's good people. Our room steward I-Made was one of the best I've ever had on any ship. That side of the staff does not get the credit they deserve and I appreciate all the hard work they put in to make our vacation enjoyable. Then there were the bartenders on the ship. I yet again ran into a bartender I have met on another ship, Annamaria from Alchemy Bar. She has always been able to entertain a large group while making crazy amounts of delicious drinks. The entire group at Alchemy was a blast. We also really enjoyed hanging out at Farenheit 555 bar with Ivan, with thousands of guests, he always remembered our names and what we liked to drink. We never met a rude staff member and everyone went out of their way for all the guests.

Our Carnival Horizon 8 night Southern Caribbean Itinerary 

Our itinerary on the Carnival Horizon 8 night Southern Caribbean gave us a chance to experience 4 brand new ports to us, along with giving us 3 days to relax at sea and explore the beautiful ship. I can tell you that 3 days at sea was not enough time to conquer everything we wanted to do and I now fully understand why people do transatlantic cruises. Prior to sailing on the Horizon, days at sea were not something I looked forward to. This has since changed. Also, this was the first time I've sailed knowing I had aggressive reoccurring stage 1 melanoma, so this entire experience was different to me. I couldn't spend hours at time in the sun, which forced me to do other activities on board.

I will do a full review on each of our ports but wanted to share what a little on what did on each day.
Day 1: Sailing Day
I wasn't feeling 100% on the first day of the cruise and we had already booked a reservation at Fahrenheit 555, the ships steakhouse. I got to the point that I couldn't even drink the amazing bottle of Silver Oak we purchased for half off (huge perk of booking Steakhouse on night one). We called it an early night and watched a movie on demand in our room. Carnival offers a ton of movies for free (and some for a small charge) and there are huge flat screen TV's in the rooms. Lame, I know... but I knew we had a long few days ahead of us and I didn't want to overdo it.

IMAX at Sea
Day 2: Fun Day at Sea
On our first day at sea, Gabe and I spent the earlier part of the day at the pool, hit up a few shows, spent some time in the Casino and consumed one too many adult beverages. Due to that - he somehow convinced me to go see IT Chapter 2 at the ships IMAX theater. I've been on a few ships with full theaters before, but never wanted to spend my time at sea watching a movie. Tickets were cheap for an IMAX, $12.95 an adult. Each sailing offers 2 new releases along with a variety of other movies in their Thrill Theater for much less. The other new release movie playing during our sailing was ad astra. Truth be told, I would much rather see Brad Pitt in IMAX than Pennywise the Clown, but IT 2 was way better than I expected. I strongly suggest seeing an IMAX new release while at sea if you find yourself on a ship that offers this add-on. That night we ate at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen and I was pleasantly surprised how great Carnival worked with my Soy Allergy, and how many options I had to choose from.

Topher the Doodle of Jacks Shack
Day 3: Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
We asked around for suggestions on the ports we stopped in and everyone I know said not to do an excursion while at Grand Turk - instead walk 5 minutes on the beach down to Jacks Shack, where we could get free beach chairs, drink some local beers and play with Topher the Doodle. This is exactly what we did. That night we at at Guys Pig and Anchor BBQ Smokehouse, where we would find ourselves on many other occasions.

Hilton La Romana
Day 4: La Romana, Dominican Republic
Not going to sugar coat this - I did NOT want to go back to the Dominican Republic. We went earlier in the year and didn't have a wonderful experience and this was prior to all the news coverage. Thank you Carnival for changing my mind about the D.R. We went to Hilton La Romana, which Hilton purchased 4 months ago from Dreams Resort. They are in the process of remodeling the property and you could tell they are going to make sure this resort will give you the experience you want. We would go back here if we find ourselves back in La Romana. That night for dinner - you guessed it, we went back to Guy's Smokehouse.

Caracao
Day 5: Caracao
Our day in Caracao started later than most ports. We got off the ship around 1:30 and boy was it HOT. I live in FL but this was brutal. We strolled around their gorgeous downtown, embraced the history and learned about authentic Caracao, a blue liquor I thought I didn't like prior to this trip. I want to go back to Caracao and check out the beaches! For dinner that night, we went to Bonsai Teppanyaki, a Japanese steakhouse at sea! It was delicious and entertaining.

Flamingo Beach, Aruba
Day 6: Aruba
I cannot wait to write my blog post on Aruba, a place we will absolutely go back and do a proper vacation. When I heard about Flamingo Beach, a private island owned by Renaissance Aruba Resort, I knew that's what we were going to do. I quickly learned it wasn't a cheap option. Lucky for me, I am a loyal Marriott girl and rack my points up through the year. I had more than enough Bonvoy points to secure me a room for free which have us an opportunity to see this luxurious property. Stay tuned for that experience and other options to get to this island if you aren't booking a room!

Floating Mushroom at Chefs Table
Day 7: Fun Day at Sea
On our 6th day at sea was our 5 year wedding anniversary. We spent some time at Serenity, the adults only deck, and ate dinner at Chef's Table, the gastronomic experience at sea. We took it easy and although we had intentions of seeing a comedy show that night, we opted to make it an early night and watch one of the many movies on demand.

Horizon Tides Pool
Day 8: Fun Day at Sea
I should call this - the day I almost hit my 15 drink limit on the Cheers program but that's another story for another day. We spent our last day at Sea at the Tides Pool, which is located on the back of the ship. We both enjoyed this pool over any other on the Horizon. It also made us curious to book a Havana room on our next sailing, knowing they have a private pool during the day for those staying on the deck. We watched College football in the sports bar and played a round of putt putt golf at sea. It was the perfect day!

I would 100% suggest the Horizon to anyone looking to book a Carnival Cruise. The only thing I would warn you on - if you aren't OK with taking the stairs, you may want to inquire about their elevator situation before booking. They have smart elevators, which were a little too smart. Instead of pushing a button, you told it which floor you wanted to go to, and it told you what letter car to ride up or down. Sometimes it was slower than I prefer so we did a lot of walking. According to my health app, we climbed over 150 flights of stairs over our 8 nights (I am OK with this - allows for more food and drink!!). You can find future sailings on Carnival.com or by calling 1.800.764.7419. While you're on Carnival's website, be sure to check out the Carnival Mardi Gras, who will make her premier in 2020 out of Port Canaveral!

Special thanks to Carnival for hosting me on this sailing. I was not required to write this post and all opinions are my own.
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Busch Gardens Howl o Scream 2019

Monday, September 16, 2019
My favorite time of year is here! Both my husband and I are obsessed with everything Halloween. This will be our 9th Halloween in Tampa and as always, we are excited for Busch Gardens Howl-o-Scream to kick off the season on Friday night! Be sure to follow along with my instagram stories as I will be sharing live videos and photos all night instagram.com/irun4wine.  Howl-o-Scream will take place on 22 select nights, from September 20-November 2. Ahead of our visit, I wanted to share what you can expect at the 2019 Busch Gardens Howl-o-Scream, ticket options and all the upgrades to enhance your experience.
But first - let's talk about Death Water Bayou. Five years ago we had a destination wedding in New Orleans. Gabe proposed to me in 2013, which happened to be the inaugural year for Death Water Bayou, a haunted house based in the swamps of New Orleans, haunted by the Voodoo Queen. All throughout the house were nods to the Big Easy. I did what any Halloween obsessed blogger who was about to get married in NOLA would would naturally do - pitched them for a Haunted House engagement shoot. You can check out the Halloween Engagement Shoot here. It was one of the coolest photo shoots I have done and will always be grateful that Busch Gardens gave us those memories. I am excited to say that Death Water Bayou is returning this year.
DEATH WATER BAYOU: WRATH OF THE QUEEN
VOODOO MAGIC HAS RETURNED THE QUEEN TO HER SWAMP - DESCEND INTO THE SWAMPS IF YOU DARE...
Just when you thought she was gone for good, the Queen of the Shadows has been lifted from the dead by Voodoo’s dark magic and is seeking revenge upon the living. Armed with her devilish devotees, all who dare to enter the swamp are subject to curses around every corner.

THE RESIDENCE
NOT ALL IS THAT IT APPEARS TO BE - DISCOVER THE DOMESTIC DEMONS WITHIN THIS SUBURBAN HOME
Enter the pristine home of the picture perfect suburban Clark Family, but beware of unseen horrors – once you’re invited in, you may never make your way out. Don’t let yourself become the next sacrifice in their sinister devotion.

INSOMNIA - PATIENTS' REVENGE
PATIENTS AND DOCTORS CLASH - EVERY DOOR IN THIS HAUNTED ASYLUM LEADS TO YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE
Years of cruel treatments at this sleep institute have warped the minds of the tortured and imprisoned patients. Now rising against the demented doctors, the inmates have taken over the ward to seek sick revenge to torture their evil caretakers.

MOTEL HELL: INFESTATION
ESCAPE FROM THE TORMENTED MOTEL - THE EXTERMINATOR HAS TURNED HIS NOXIOUS ATTACKS ON YOU
Hordes of oozing, wriggling insects have infested Motel Shellburn and the exterminator is determined to extinguish all signs of life, including the guests. Every room in this motel from hell brings new skin-crawling horrors as you try to escape his noxious attacks and check out alive.

THE BLACK SPOT: BLOODSHED
ESCAPE FROM SAW TOOTH SILAS’S MURDEROUS HIDEAWAY - AN INFAMOUS PIRATE HAS YOU MARKED FOR DEATH AND HE HAS YOU RIGHT WHERE HE WANTS YOU
Dare to enter the underbelly of Captain Saw-Tooth Silas’ pirate ship. Try not to fall victim to what this macabre labyrinth has in store for you, the trick lies within the dimly lit corners of this mysterious hideaway- holding the secret to escape… or demise.

SIMON'S SLAUGHTER HOUSE
TRY TO MAKE IT THROUGH SIMON'S HORROR-FILLED HOUSE - STEPPING INTO SIMON’S HOUSE LEADS TO A GRUESOME GAME OF SLAUGHTER
Watch where you step in Simon’s house, as every twisted turn corrals you from one sickening scene to the next. Don’t get caged in or you might be the next one up on Simon’s butcher block.

TICKETS AND UPGRADES
One thing I will suggest, if you are going to Busch Gardens Howl-o-Scream, invest in one of the front of the line upgrades. This will allow you to get the most of your experience, able to enjoy all the houses and rides you want. You can select from a variety of different options - everything from one time haunted houses to unlimited front of the line for the entire season. Plus this year, Busch Gardens is offering an unlimited admission ticket giving you access for all 22 nights! This is huge if you are looking to go more than once this year. Details and pricing are below!

HOWL-O-SCREAM 2019 SINGLE-NIGHT TICKET starting at $39.99
Brave 1 visit to Howl-O-Scream 2019, select nights Sept. 20 - Nov. 2, 2019 at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Buy your tickets now and lock in your price.

HOWL-O-SCREAM 2019 UNLIMITED ADMISSION TICKET $79.99
Valid for unlimited visits to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Howl-O-Scream 2019 for one consecutive weekend (Thursday – Sunday) Scream your way through all 22 nights of Howl-O-Scream, select dates Sept. 20 - Nov. 2, 2019 at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

HOWL-O-SCREAM 2019 WILD & WICKED WEEKEND TICKET $109.99
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Howl-O-Scream Wild and Wicked Weekend Tickets
Enjoy a weekend full of visits to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay during the day and Howl-O-Scream at night, weekends Sept. 20-Nov. 2, 2019.

FRONT OF LINE FEAR PASS starting at $35
Skip the Lines with Front Line Fear during Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Why wait! Get front-of-the-line access to 6 haunted houses of your choice.

FRONT LINE FEAR EXTREME starting at $45
Skip the Lines with Front Line Fear Extreme during Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Enjoy front-of-the-line access at 6 haunted houses and 7 major thrill rides of your choice.

ALL HOWL-O-SCREAM FRONT LINE FEAR UPGRADE starting at $149.99
Why wait! Get front-of-the-line access to all haunted houses and thrill rides of your choice for all 22 nights. Howl-O-Scream admission is required but not included.

SCARE ZONES
There are 9 scare zones this year at Howl-O-Scream. Included in the scare zone is First Fear, all of the horrors of the last 20 years of Busch Gardens.

FIRST FEAR: The horrors of Howl-O-Scream’s haunted past are the first frights to greet you, rising from the dead and bringing 20 years of fear back to life.
LITTLE NIGHTMARES: Take a creepy walk down memory lane to the bygone era of papier-mâché masks and homemade costumes sure to stir up the nightmares of your childhood.
CARPE NOCTEM: The eerie quiet of this gothic Romanian cemetery is shattered by the triumphant screams of vampires and the sobbing moans of their victims. Climb into a coffin but your photo may be all that comes out.
CAMP DOA: Rising from the murky swamp waters, murderous mutants have taken over a seemingly peaceful campground. Campers are snatched from their idyllic dreams to become ghostly stars of living nightmares.
HELL ON WHEELS: In a post-apocalypse world, the surly survivors will stop at nothing for food and supplies, destroying all who stand in their way. Can you run the gauntlet of a murderous crazed biker gang to make it out alive?
DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS: Honoring the souls and spirits of those who have gone before us, guests can dance the night away in this festive zone; featuring face painters, traditional tastes of Mexico, spectacle of performers, and a one-of-a-kind photo with an icon of La Catrina.
MANIAC MIDWAY: Go backstage at “scariest show on earth” with Sparky and his terrifying carnie-crew as they take over Pantopia and make the midway their own stage of torture creating a frenzy of fear.
DEADLY TOYS: You can run but you cannot hide as giant toys spring to life in a murderous rampage with you in their sights. Childhood memories will be destroyed when these toys turn a play date into a slay date.
MEAT MARKET: Howl-O-Scream’s most fear-inducing zone places you in the center of a nauseating assault by cannibal creatures gorging on their monster menu of human hors d'oeuvres.

FOOD, DRINKS, AND HAPPY HOUR!
As much as I love Halloween, I am a big baby. I am petrified of clowns and I cannot go to any haunting event without having liquid courage. There are tons of bars within Howl-o-Scream and below is where you can find cocktails, beers, wine, shot girls, and more. Be sure to visit Serengeti Overlook Pub between 5:00 – 7:30 p.m. for pre-event / Happy Hour drink specials!
Carnibar in Pantopia
Dragon Fire Grill Entrance
Serengeti Overlook Pub
Stanleyville
Meat Market Bar
Nairobi Walkway
FRIGHT FEAST starting at $29.99
Devour monstrous main courses and desserts at this delicious dinner. Then, be the first to brave the dark with a half-hour of early access to the haunted houses and front-of-the-line privileges until 8:30 p.m.

FRIGHT FEAST & BEVERAGE PACKAGE starting at $49.99
Enjoy all the exclusive benefits of Fright Feast mentioned above, plus the choice of any three beverages throughout the night including beer, wine, cocktails, soda and water.
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Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Bier Fest #thrillsontap

Monday, August 19, 2019
This weekend I checked out Busch Gardens Bier Fest in Tampa Bay. The annual beer festival will take place on weekends through September 8th and will give attendees the opportunity to explore over 40 craft beers from around the world! This includes 20+ Florida Craft Breweries and the beers will change throughout the festival.
Tampa has an incredible craft beer scene so this festival makes perfect sense! Along with 40+ beers, there are multiple food tents and  live entertainment. My in-laws were in town so we brought them along and had a great afternoon trying out multiple brews and bites.
I was excited to see my favorite beer, Abita Strawberry there! This beer used to be seasonal and was just made available year-round. If you go to the festival, give this beer a try. You'll thank me later.



FLORIDA BREWERIES
3 Daughters Brewing, Barrel of Monks Brewing, Big Storm Brewing Co., Big Top Brewing Co., Brew Hub, Central 28 Beer Co., Cigar City Cider & Mead, Coppertail Brewing Co., Crooked Thumb Brewery, Dunedin House of Beer, Escape Brewing Co., Florida Avenue Brewing Co., Fort Myers Brewing Co., Green Bench Brewing Co., J Wakefield Brewing, MIA Beer Co., Orange Blossom Brewing Co., Pierced Ciderworks, Sailfish Brewing Co., Tampa Bay Brewing Co., Two Henrys Brewing Co., Veza Sur Brewing Co., Walking Tree Brewery
Grand Mimosa, CiderBoys
DOMESTIC BREWERIES
21st Amendment Brewery, Abita Brewing Co., Bell’s Brewery, Boston Beer Co., CiderBoys, Dogfish Head Brewery, Goose Island Beer Co., Lagunitas Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co., Oskar Blues Brewery, Sea Dog Brewing Co., Short’s Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Stone Brewing, Terrapin Beer Co., The Bruery

INTERNATIONAL BREWERIES
Hofbrauhaus, Paulaner Brewery, Peroni, Samuel Smith Brewery, Stella, Wittekerke


BEST BITES
We tried the Reuben Croquettes and the Deep Fried Cheese Curds. Both were exceptional and I would order them again. We paired them up with the Sweet & Hot Mustard and the Maple-Bacon Honey Mustard.
  • Bacon Mac & Cheese Bites
  • Reuben Croquettes
  • Deep Fried Cheese Curds
  • Dipping Sauces: Basil Parmesan Mayo, Sweet & Hot Mustard, Maple-Bacon Honey Mustard
Deep Fried Cheese Curds and Reuben Croquettes
SIP 'N SLIDERS
The two sliders we tried were the Schnitzelwich Slider and the Bratwurst Slider. I preferred the  Bratwurst Slider with the Pretzel Roll, it was perfect with the braised red cabbage.
  • Bison Slider: Grilled Bison Slider on a Pretzel Roll with Provolone Cheese, Bacon & Onion Marmalade
  • Schnitzelwich Slider: Schnitzel on a Pretzel Roll with Swiss Cheese & Maple-Bacon Honey Mustard
  • Bratwurst Slider: Split Bratwurst on a Pretzel Roll with Braised Red Cabbage & Horseradish Mustard
  • Flourless Chocolate Torte: Served with Guinness-Infused Whipped Cream
Bratwurst Slider
MELTED MUNCHIES
The groups favorite bite of the day was the Impossible Burger Slider. We didn't tell my in-laws that it was a veggie burger and they raved about it being one of the best burgers they've had. I agree. If I am going to return to the festival this year, I would buy a full sized version of one of these sandwiches. I hope Busch Gardens puts it on their menu permanently. We also tried the Short Rib & Brie Melt. It was good, just wish there was a little more short rib on the sandwich we got!
  • Short Rib & Brie Melt: Short Rib, Brie & Caramelized Onions served on a Toasted Roll with Creamy Horseradish Sauce
  • ImpossibleTM Burger Melt: Impossible Burger on Texas Toast with Provolone & Red Onion Jam
  • Griddled Cheesecake Melt: Sweet Cream Cheese Filling on Pound Cake, Grilled & served with Guava Sauce

Impossible Burger Patty Melt
PUB GRUB
  • Fried Chicken Wings tossed in your choice of Spicy Mango Sauce, Blood Orange Sesame Glaze, or Korean BBQ sauce
  • Sweet Potato Fries served with Toasted Marshmallow Dipping Sauce
  • Deep Fried Pretzel Sticks with Beer Cheese Dipping Sauce
TACOS ON TAP
  • Shrimp Taco: Beer-Battered Shrimp, Flour Tortilla, Shredded Cabbage, Queso Fresco & Sweet Ginger Pickled Onions on a Flour Tortilla
  • Smoked Brisket Taco: Smoked Brisket, Corn Tortilla, Citrus Chipotle BBQ Sauce, Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese & Crispy Jalapeno Strips on a Corn Tortilla
  • Jerk Chicken Taco: Grilled Jerk Chicken, Flour Tortilla, Shredded Cabbage, Smoked Pineapple Salsa & Queso Fresco on a Flour Tortilla
  • Portobello Mushroom Taco: Portobello Mushrooms Sautéed with Peppers, Onions & Corn served on a Corn Tortilla with Shredded Cabbage & Pico De Gallo
FLOATS
  • Adult Root Beer Float with a shot of your choice
  • Hard Coffee Float: Pabst Blue Ribbon Hard Coffee served over Chocolate Soft Serve Ice Cream
  • Rosé Float: Astoria Sparkling Rosé Moscato served over Vanilla Soft Serve Ice Cream
  • Maduro Float: Cigar City Brewing Maduro Brown Ale served over Vanilla & Chocolate Swirled Soft Serve Ice Cream
FOOD & BEVERAGE SAMPLER PACKAGES
One of the things I really appreciate about Busch Gardens festivals is that you can purchase a tasting lanyard. This is great if you're going with a group of people as you can evenly split the cost, and won't be sticker shocked at the end of the day. Our group of Four split two 10 packs and it was more than enough for us. There are multiple samplers in a variety of price points. The way it works, each food and drink sample equals one hole punch. If you want a full sized beer (or wine), you can use two hole punches. Pass Members save 15% off samplers and have the access to purchase an exclusive 12 item sampler.
5-ITEM SAMPLER: $29.99 ($25.49 w/ Pass Member discount)
10-ITEM SAMPLER: $49.99 ($42.99 w/ Pass Member discount)
12-ITEM PASS MEMBER EXCLUSIVE SAMPLER: $49.99 (must be an annual pass member to purchase this lanyard)

You can check out more details and hours of the festival on buschgardens.com 

Thank you to Busch Gardens for providing us with two tickets and tasting samplers. I was not required to write this post and all opinions are my own.
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Isla Mujeres Mexico

Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Oh Isla Mujeres... you captured my heart. I will be doing a few posts on this amazing small island located just off Cancun. 😍
A few years ago, my best friend Keri and I started talking about where we would plan our 40th birthday trip. We met in 2nd grade and our birthdays are 11 days apart. At the time, we started throwing around having a girls trip in Napa.

As time went on, as wonderful as a girls trip in Napa sounded, I really couldn't imagine spending my 40th without my husband and this trip quickly turned into a couples trip with some of our closest friends. We did a lot of research and ended up selecting a tiny island in Mexico called Isla Mujeres.
Keri learned about Isla Mujeres from a show on HGTV. This 5 mile long island is known for calm turquoise waters and pure white powdery sand. We quickly realized this is exactly where we want to be. It's a quaint and safe beach town with tons of local shops and restaurants. Depending on where you stay on the island, you can walk to a lot of places, or rent a golf cart. After choosing where we would have our trip, Isla Mujeres was named one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world by Trip Advisor in 2019.
Getting to and around Isla Mujeres:
We flew into Cancun Airport direct from Fort Lauderdale. Once you get out of Customs (ours was a breeze in Terminal 4 - we had zero wait), you will need to take a taxi or car service to the Isla Mujeres Ferry. We pre-booked door to door transportation through Luxury Van Transportation Cancun. This included our ferry tickets and the taxis picked up the groups from the hotels on our different departure dates. While this was a little more expensive, it was a great peace of mind for everyone who traveled. They were extremely professional and I would suggest them in a heartbeat!

I strongly suggest renting your golf cart ahead of time. We booked ours 60+ days in advance and more than half of the companies we reached out to were already sold out. We booked 3 golf carts, all 4 seat carts. You cannot have more than 4 people on a golf cart (it's illegal and you will get ticketed). We booked through Isla Mujeres Golf Cart Rentals. Note - they will need to keep 1 drivers license on file for every cart rented. You won't need your license while on the island but it is worth noting.


Where to stay on Isla Mujeres
Although less than 5 miles long, there are many areas to stay on Isla Mujeres. We personally wanted to be able to walk out of our door onto a white sandy beach. We ended up in Playa Norte - or North Beach. Our group rented condo's at Ixchel Beach Hotel.  Keri and I shared a 2 bedroom penthouse and everyone else got individual single rooms. All rooms had a balcony overlooking beautiful clear waters. It had all of the amenities you would find in a major resort. I had multiple $30 massages overlooking the gorgeous waters. We were able to stroll down the market streets, where a ton of restaurants, bars and shops were located all within walking distance - some of which allowed us to put our tab to our room charge. This experience was exactly what we were looking for and more. I loved having a full kitchen, making our own drinks and enjoying life at island pace.




What to do on Isla Mujeres
With June birthdays, that put us on Isla Mujeres during Whale Shark Season and we were able to dive with these beautiful gentle creatures. I will do a full post on this experience that left us in awe, but if you find yourself there during season, do this! We also went snorkeling, zip-lining and had a lot of beach days. This was meant to be a chill trip, and for the most part, that is exactly what we got!







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Cozumel Custom Private Jeep Excursion

Tuesday, July 23, 2019
What if I told you there was a way to drive a jeep around Cozumel, creating a custom experience based on what you wanted to do, including lunch - for under $70 a person? This such thing exists and I am here to share our experience on a Cozumel Custom Private Jeep Excursion
One of the many reasons I love cruising is being able to visit multiple destinations during one trip and Cozumel is one of my favorite ports to stop at. It's gorgeous, the locals are friendly, the food is great and the Tequila is amazing. Plus it's an amazing port to take a good photo of your cruise ship! Quick back story on our history with Cozumel - around 5 years ago, my best friend Keri and I were on our annual girls cruise and had to do a last minute excursion switch due to heavy rain. We booked Salsa & Salsa, where we learned how to make authentic Mexican margaritas and guacamole. This began our love affair with margaritas and on the excursion I am writing about today, I will tell you how we were introduced to our new love, Extra Anejo Tequila.
In January we went on the Norwegian Pearl on our annual girls cruise. Our 5 night cruise stopped for a day in Cozumel Mexico. We wanted to do something different and heard good things about a Cozumel Private Jeep Tour. We booked through Shore Excursioneer being this tour wasn't available through NCL.
We met up with our tour guide when we got off the ship. He informed us that he would be sitting in the backseat and were given a variety of activities we could do throughout the day. This was our custom tailored tour, and we were able to go at our own pace. The variety was great and allowed us to see another side of Cozumel than we've been accustom to. Some of the things we could do were: Snorkeling
Tequila Factory & Tasting
Punta Sur Ecological Park & Lighthouse
Chocolate Factory
Beach Club
San Gervasio Mayan Ruins
Horseback Riding
ATV
Parasailing
In full transparency, I had wayyyy too much tequila the night before. There was no way possible I could drive a car - so Keri drove all day while I slept from location to location. I knew Keri really wanted to go to the Tequila factory and that had to be our fist stop due to it's location - so I pulled myself together (the best I could) for our first stop. Mind you, it was at 10am.
We learned about agave and how it is cropped, pulped, fermented and distilled. Extra Anejo tequila is aged a full 5 years - this particular factory uses retired Jack Daniel bourbon barrels for the aging process. The entire process from crop to bottle takes 12 years - and this my friends is why Extra Anejo is so expensive.
We were able to try some of the factories award winning tequila including their 12 year old Extra Anejo. The label is Regalo de Dios Tequila and it is not available for purchase in stores or online. We sipped on some Blanco, Repasado, Anejo and Extra Anejo. The Anejo's were the smoothest tequila we have ever tried. It didn't burn and you could easily drink it without lime juice. Knowing we couldn't find it anywhere else, we were sold. I agreed to split a half case of Extra Anejo tequila with Keri. This set us each back nearly $300 and I quickly had buyers remorse the rest of the cruise. I will say now - I wish we bought our own half case because when this stuff runs out, I will be a very sad person.
Back in our jeep, we decided not to go snorkeling. We live in FL and have snorkeled quite a few times in our lives. Plus the water was a bit choppy and I didn't want to feed the fish, if you know what I mean. We headed over to the opposite side of the island, an area of Cozumel we had not been introduced to yet. We stopped at a beach, grabbed a few pics and headed off to our next destination.
Our next stop was Punta Sur Ecological Park & Lighthouse. While this was an amazing experience, please take this subtle piece of advice - do not climb a lighthouse if you are hungover. Walking up these steps reminded me of being at mile 23 in a marathon. I wanted to quit. My legs hated me. I questioned life. However the views are amazing!
At this point in the trip, we could have continued on to one of the other experiences, but I was done with a capitol D. Lunch was included so we went ahead and took advantage of that. I ate one bite of my food and put my head down on the table and that's when the tears started flowing. I was very upset that I not only wasted and ruined my own day, but I impacted Keri's experience as well. Repeat after me - I will not take 5 shots of Patron in one night (on top of everything else).
We got back to the boat and unloaded our tequila. I took some medicine and forced myself to eat a granola bar. With a few hours left at port, we decided to head down to our favorite spot to have a margarita in Cozumel, Panchos Backyard, a restaurant and bar located within the port of Cozumel. Our server remembered us from our last trip. He excitedly said "I remember you girls, how many times have you been here?" we equally excitedly responded "Five". Next thing you know, we have a full mariachi entourage in front of us - singing, clapping, and a sign that shows off our number of visits. I was very happy I pulled myself together!

We will do this tour again, with me in the drivers seat next time! You can book this tour through Shore Excursioneer or check with your cruise line to see if they offer something similar. 
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