What’s Up, Hungry People
It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks in the Starving Chef’s household, but fear not! I have a pretty good excuse for being absent from the blogosphere the past few weeks: we went on a Caribbean cruise! As a self-proclaimed food enthusiast and adventurer, this was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. So let me take you on a journey as I recount our exciting and palate-pleasing experiences.
Setting Sail on the Carnival Valor
I must confess, I’m not a seasoned traveler, having never ventured outside of the United States before (well, except for that one time in Canada). But this cruise promised to open up a small, new chunk of the world to me. Our ship of choice was the Carnival Valor, and our itinerary included stops at Cozumel, Mexico; Caye Caulker, Belize; Roatan, Honduras; and Costa Maya, Mexico. Each destination held the promise of unique culinary experiences and exciting adventures.
Exploring New Cuisines
While most of our meals were enjoyed on the boat, we tried to steer clear of the buffet and instead opted for the diverse on-board restaurants. After all, it was an all-inclusive package, so there was nothing stopping us from indulging in delectable dishes.
From salmon eggs Benedict in the morning to escargot and lobster every night, our taste buds were treated to a delightful symphony of flavors. Despite enjoying every meal, dinner became the highlight of our day, especially after an exhausting excursion.
Cozumel, Mexico: Cave Diving and Turtle Cove
Our first port of call was Cozumel, Mexico. We disembarked from our massive ship and promptly boarded a smaller vessel bound for the mainland. A 45-minute bus ride took us further inland to Riviera Maya, where we discovered a large Mayan sinkhole and a mesmerizing cave system brimming with crystal-clear water.
Swimming through two expansive cave systems was an exhilarating experience. Afterward, we took another bus ride to Akumal, affectionately known as “turtle cove.” This charming spot is a favorite snack stop for green sea turtles.
We had the incredible opportunity to observe these graceful creatures up close while snorkeling over vibrant coral reefs. I captured some of our adventure on video, which you can watch below.
To replenish our energy after a day filled with cave diving and encounters with sea turtles, our guide took us to a beach-side bar. There, we were greeted with a magnificent taco buffet featuring ceviche and margaritas. And let me tell you, the cheese was like a soft curd, reminiscent of strained cottage cheese.
The sauces were no joke either, with one salsa proving to be the spiciest thing I had ever tasted. Lesson learned: be cautious when experimenting with new spices in a different country.
Nevertheless, the meal was absolutely delicious and provided me with inspiration for a future Mexican-inspired dish like ceviche (stay tuned for the recipe!). I even brought home some extra picante habanero sauce to relive my spicy adventure.
After the meal, Nick and I took a leisurely stroll along the beach, savoring the serene atmosphere until it was time to return to the pier. We bid farewell to Cozumel and eagerly made our way back to the Carnival Valor, ready for whatever lay ahead.
Caye Caulker, Belize: Swimming with Stingrays and Sharks
The next morning, we arrived in Belize, where we embarked on a small boat for a scenic one-hour ride to a tiny island called Caye Caulker. The locals endearingly referred to it as “Go Slow Island.” Our guides led us to a shallow reef where we were greeted by dozens of stingrays, a couple of sharks, and even some intimidating barracudas.
As I tried to navigate the waves, avoid stepping on a stingray, and prevent myself from colliding with the reef (which, I must admit, was mostly covered in poisonous coral and sea urchins), I managed to capture some footage of our memorable swim which you can watch below!
Following our adventure in the reef, with all limbs intact, we spent about an hour exploring the tiny island. It was so compact that you could stroll from one side to the other in mere minutes.
Our lunch was enjoyed at an ocean-side bar, where I treated myself to a lobster kabob, likely made from a lobster freshly caught from the reef we had just explored.
However, the standout element of this meal was the garlic bread, reminiscent of garlic-infused French toast. I couldn’t help but make a mental note to recreate this unique dish in the near future.
Once we returned to the ship, we treated ourselves to another five-star meal. My taste buds delighted in orange duck—a novel addition to my flavor palette. It had a unique texture, somewhat reminiscent of fleshy SPAM. I know, it may not sound appetizing, but trust me, it was surprisingly delicious. Being surrounded by the open seas, I couldn’t resist indulging in as much seafood as possible, knowing how difficult it is to find super fresh seafood back in cold Ohio.
Roatan, Honduras: Monkey Sanctuary and Iguanas Galore
Our time in Roatan was primarily dedicated to visiting a monkey sanctuary. This sanctuary housed a variety of captivating animals, including a couple of dozen Capuchin monkeys, rainbow macaws, toucans, and countless iguanas.
Although we didn’t sample any new foods during our time here, I did make a new friend—a playful monkey who added an extra dose of joy to our day.
Costa Maya, Mexico: Relaxing Beach Vibes
By the time we reached Costa Maya, exhaustion had started to take its toll. We decided to forgo any excursions and spend the day doing nothing but soaking up the sun on a beautiful beach. Of course, we couldn’t resist sipping on refreshing strawberry daiquiris as we lounged. After a few hours of sun-tanning, my hunger led me to decode a menu written entirely in Spanish—a challenge that added to the adventure itself.
Drawing upon my basic knowledge of Spanish from two years of high school and a quarter of college, I decided to try some “tacos de jicama.” To my surprise, they turned out to be exactly what they were called, but not what I was expecting. The beer-battered shrimp was served on incredibly thin slices of jicama instead of tortillas, topped with a mouthwatering mango sauce, pico de gallo, and chipotle mayonnaise.
As I snapped pictures of my lunch atop a log on the beach, I couldn’t help but attract some curious glances. “I’m a food blogger,” I explained, “this is completely normal!” This unique culinary experience left me inspired to experiment with new flavor combinations.
Scarlet’s: The Epitome of Fine Dining
On our final night aboard the Carnival Valor, Nick and I decided to treat ourselves to a special evening at Scarlet’s, the ship’s most luxurious restaurant. The dinner that awaited us was nothing short of extraordinary.
Our culinary journey began with the chef’s complimentary corn chowder and roe—small gestures that set the tone for the feast to come.
For my second course, I indulged in a steaming bowl of baked French onion soup. While the temperature was scorching, the flavors were absolutely sublime.
Nick, embracing his inner food blogger, attempted to capture the essence of his second course—escargot and clam chowder—by snapping a picture for me. Don’t give up your day job, babe!
Continuing our seafood-themed adventure, my third course featured a simple yet divine crab cake resting on a bed of corn salsa.
Meanwhile, Nick, armed with a few food photography tips from yours truly, made another attempt to document his lobster bisque—this time with considerably better results. Although I’m not the biggest fan of lobster bisque, I couldn’t resist stealing a few bites of Nick’s dish, and I must say, the fresh lobster truly made all the difference.
For his main course that evening, Nick savored the flavors of lobster ravioli, topped with succulent shrimp and drizzled with a delectable Béarnaise sauce.
As for me, I wanted to relish the best of both worlds—a seamless transition back to the landlocked cuisine of Ohio. Hence, I chose the filet mignon and lobster tail—a combination that did not disappoint. The filet was so tender it practically melted in my mouth, leaving me thoroughly satisfied.
Our first annual “friend-cruise” turned out to be a resounding success. We embarked on countless adventures, from cave diving to snorkeling with sharks, and savored the spiciest of dishes while meeting extraordinary people along the way. I can hardly contain my excitement for our next escapade!
Stay tuned, Hungry People! Enjoy!