Cozumel. Our final stop before we head back to the states, and the earliest arrival of the whole trip. With the gangway opening before 8:30 in the morning, our shore excursion meeting time was scheduled for 7:45 in the Amber Theater, so I ordered our room service for a 6am delivery. I pulled back the curtains and watched the sun rise behind the island of Cozumel, as I ate my bagel, bowl of corn flakes, and two cups of tea. With the morning sick weirdness I get, it took me a full 45 minutes to finish my small meal, and begin to feel human again. Around 7:15 I began to get ready, and finally pulled Ian from bed. The NyQuil had done its job, and he was able to get a full night’s sleep. Excursion bag in hand, and ready for a fun day in Mexico, we took the stairs two floors down to Amber Theater to meet our tour group.
Amber Theater was the main meeting area for all those shore excursions which would be traveling to the mainland from Cozumel, so there was a very large crowd gathered. Upon entering the theater, everyone had their tickets checked and were given color coded stickers showing which tour you were associated with, as well as motion sickness pills (not a great sign). After sitting for several minutes, groups were gathered by color, and told to make their way down to the gangway. Our group, the Xplor All Inclusive Adventure, was one of the largest. Sticking to the groups we were put in, we disembarked the ship, and followed our tour guide down the pier and to the ferry boat we would be taking to the mainland.
Before boarding the ferry, every bag was checked by a customs dog, and any food passengers were carrying was confiscated. Once on the ferry, the sloshing of the waves made it difficult to walk down the boat to our seats. Almost immediately, a crew member of the ferry began handing out baggies to everyone, just in case the motion sickness proved to be too much to handle. While the boat was not moving, just rocking in the waves at the pier, I did feel slightly sick, but my early wake up and breakfast seemed to do the trick. Even without taking the motion sickness pills, I felt fine once the ferry was underway. 40 minutes later, we were in Playa del Carmen.
A busy shopping district, Playa del Carmen was filled with souvenir shops, brand name stores, and excursion planning services. Once we were all lined up at our designated shore excursion placards, our tour guide took us on a winding walk through the shops, down side streets, and eventually to our tour bus, which would take us the rest of the way to Xplor Park. Only about a 15 minute drive down the highway, Xplor Park is a semi-natural waterpark, with zip lining, and amphibious vehicles. Built into a cenote and cave system, Xplor is the most remarkable amusement park I have ever seen.
After checking in at the front desk with our group, we each received a wrist band, locker key, and a helmet (a mandatory accessory the entire time as there were low cave ceilings and hanging stalactites) which had a GPS tracker chip in it. The GPS tracker and wrist band worked together to help track our progress through the park, and put together our pictures from different activities around the park at the end of the day. Helmets on, we were led through the twisting cave system to “The Heart”, which was both the literal and figurative heart of the complex. Once we changed into our swim suites, and locked our bags into a locker, we were free to dive into everything Xplor had to offer.
Our tour guide suggested we do the zip-lines first, as they could take the most time. 14 zip-lines broken up into 2 circuits, together a total of 3.8 kilometers of climbs and lines, Xplor Park has the absolute best zip-lining I have ever experienced. That being said, this zip-line course was a serious work out. Being in a primarily flat area, the only way to make an effective zip-line course was by building towers with spiral staircases leading from the bottom of one line to the top of the next.
By the time we made it up each of the spiral staircases, our quads were burning, and we were short of breath. The lines themselves however, were spectacular. Our favorite lines by far were the ones which ended with a splash down in the water; though my favorite part of the whole course was getting off one line, and taking a waterslide down to the last line, which was a water landing line. Once we finished both zip-line courses, our tour guide met us at the harness drop off area, and told us where we could find the next activity, the amphibious vehicles.
Unfortunately for us, it was apparently a dry season when we visited Mexico, because this ride ended up being for the not-so-amphibious vehicles. Though we could see where there would be creeks and large puddles to splash through during the rainier seasons, every bit of the road was dry. Even without the amphibious bit of our vehicle tour, with portions of the drive going through small cave systems and tunnels, the ride was largely enjoyable. At about ten kilometers long however (about a forty minute drive), the experience did feel slightly drawn out without the added excitement of splashing through the mud.
After two long activities, we were ready for some lunch, and wound our way through the trails until we found the park’s restaurant, “El Troglodita”. Walking in, we were seated at a table which had hooks on the end, so that we could take off our helmets and hang them up to dry out fully while we ate. A buffet style restaurant, El Troglodita had a full salad bar, local and international options, and a variety of delicious desserts. Ian and I each tried the green chili pork stew, with beans and rice, as well as several servings of the mouthwatering caramel flan. Finishing off, we re-hydrated with the delightful fruit and chia infused waters and juices.
Refueled, but now on a time crunch, we chose to head back through The Heart, and down into the cenote river. With two activities we wanted to do left, we determined it would be better to do the one which would take the longer amount of time, and see if there was enough time for the second when we finished. So, we headed for the underground river rafts. Paddling along with small paddles attached to our hands, this is where we got our trapezius workouts in. Each of the two circuits for this underground tour were between 500 and 600 meters, so, by the time we reached the end of the kilometer of paddling, our shoulders felt like they were curling up into our ears.
Once we climbed out of our rafts, and stretched our backs and arms, we only had about forty minutes left until we had to meet our group and hop back on the bus, so decided to see how long the final activity, the cenote swim, would take. With the option of doing the 50 meter or the 400 meter swims, we knew we had enough time to take a 50 meter swim, and grabbed our mandatory life vests. Once we stepped into the water, we were glad we had chosen to take the shorter route. As cenotes are fed from underground streams and springs, the water was quite cold; and with no sun to warm us, it felt even colder. It was nice and relaxing to swim through the caverns, looking up at the stalactites and seeing how the beautiful caves were created by nature. The final stretch of the swim took us through a waterfall and then a final breathtaking view of the cavern, lit from above by a kind of well leading to the surface, and the sky beyond.
Pulling ourselves from the water, and shedding our life jackets, we were happy that we managed to check everything off the list of activities we wanted to do. After getting back to The Heart, we grabbed our bags from our locker, changed into dry clothes, and stopped by the gift shop. At the gift shop, we picked up a magnet for Xplor, and purchased our Xplor pictures, which were taken at each activity automatically. In The Heart, we re-hydrated at the infused waters station, and took some time to photograph and video the area, while we waited for the rest of our tour group to gather. Once everyone was rounded up, we struck out into the tunnels again, winding our way back to the bus. All day, I kept my sneakers on, so that I could climb staircases, and wouldn’t cut my feet on the harsh rocks of the park. All day, that is, until we had changed into dry clothes, and I put on my dry flip flops. Walking back through the dark tunnels, I avoided smacking my head on the hanging stalactite I saw hanging from the ceiling, but didn’t see its matching stalagmite on the ground. Cringing in pain, I checked that all of my toes were still intact, and hobbled the rest of the way to the bus, grumbling about the injustice that karma had dealt me.
Another quick bus ride back to Playa del Carmen, followed by a hurried walk through the shopping district and the pier where our ferry was waiting for us, and we were on our way back to Cozumel. Tired out from all of the day’s events, it was hard to keep our eyes open as the ferry bobbed in the waves. As soon as we reached Cozumel, we were funneled through a gift shop, where we picked up our mandatory location magnet. As we didn’t really spend any of our time on Cozumel, it was a bit more difficult to find one we were satisfied with, but we managed to pick one out in the end.
Before going through the customs checkpoint at port, we stopped through a duty free shop to grab a small bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream for the next day. There was a little hang up at customs because of the bottle, but we were waived on with our purchase, and made our way up the gangway and into the ship. We stopped by the room to change into suitable clothes for the dining room. Unfortunately, my sneakers were still wet, so I had to wear my only other option. My heels from formal night. I like to think I looked pretty good in my Friday the 13th t-shirt, jeans, and black high heels. 😉
Dinner in American Icon was the Shiitake menu. Starting with the Spinach Dip, and the Chilled Mango and Pineapple Soup, and of course our several servings of bread each, we realized we were starving after our long day in the sun and humidity. For our entrees, Ian ordered the Roasted Rack of Lamb with Parsnip Mash, and I ordered the Chicken Gyoza. I think our server realized how hungry we were, because he was kind enough to bring us double ordered of our entrees. Everything was as delicious as ever, and we decided to make the most of it by ordering multiple rounds of dessert. The dessert of the night was a Strawberry Kiwi Pavlova, which we enjoyed so much we ordered it twice, but we also ordered a Fruit and Cheese Plate, and the Warm Chocolate Cake.
Stuffed full, and exhausted by our long day, we went back to the state room to change back into our swim suits, and chill out in the hot tub. Our sore quadriceps and trapeziuses, joined by my aching side from Haiti, all appreciated the warm water, but a tickle in my throat kept me coughing, making my lat-muscle hurt worse. Soaking in the hot tub was the perfect way to end the physically demanding day, and we had to drag ourselves from the comfort of the water to get to bed.
With the next day being a cruising day (Ian’s Birthday!), and the tickle in my throat increasing exponentially (a foreboding sign), we decided to make it an early night, and watch some television in the state room. Only after we were showered and ready for bed, did we notice the gift our Ninja had left us. Hanging from the light over the couch in our state room, was the most intricate towel origami creature he had left us. A little monkey, this time wearing Ian’s sunglasses. I still have no idea how Ninja managed to turn completely ordinary towels into cute little creatures, but I appreciated them all nonetheless.