CARNIVAL MAGIC’s U.S. Debut, Part Three

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Carnival Cruises

All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Although it would have been great to finally visit Costa Maya as originally scheduled, the CARNIVAL MAGIC’s revised itinerary with an overnight in Progreso meant I could make a long-awaited return to Chichen-Itza, one of the most mesmerizing and beautiful archaeological sites in the world.

Deli-ted to go.

Tom booked us on a ten hour excursion (including dinner and a light show) that left the Progreso pier at 12:30. A toasted turkey and swiss sandwich from the perpetually open Deli would get us both lunched and launched.

ELATION Overview.

Meanwhile, berthed next to us was the CARNIVAL ELATION, the seventh of eight FANTASY class ships, which when introduced between 1990 and 1998, were among the largest in the world. Today, the Finnish-built, pod-driven 70,000 gt CARNIVAL ELATION enjoys “mid-sized classic” status but looked particularly spruce with her spotless paintwork and freshly scrubbed, genuine teak decks.

Carnival Canyon, Progreso style.

From pier level, the vastly different ships formed a lopsided Fun Ship ravine. This would be the first of two such “Carnival Canyons” the MAGIC would create during her inaugural cruise.

CARNIVAL ELATION and CARNIVAL MAGIC at Progreso.

Leaving the CARNIVAL ELATION and CARNIVAL MAGIC in our wake, we stepped onto the coach where our guide, Carlos, began to brief us on the history, geography and culture of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

It's a long, long way to...Progreso...

Did I mention that Progreso has, at four miles, the world’s longest pier? It took ten minutes just to get from the ship to solid land.  Our ensuing two and a half hour drive to Chichen Itza would also pass through the city of Merida before entering the farmlands and jungle of the Yucatan.

On the road to Chichen Itza.

Finally, the coach turned into a settlement of restaurants and hotels on the outskirts of Chichen-Itza. When we pulled into the parking lot, it was evident we would not be alone — dozens of “fellow” coaches were offloading their similarly curious cargo.

Steps of Kulkulcan.

We were herded through a turnstyle and under a canopy of trees. Beyond the craggy branches, the 100 foot tall form of the “winged serpent” KulKulcan (also referred to as El Castillo) loomed, its symmetrical, stepped sides a study in architectural perfection. Even though the Aztecs and Egyptians have built greater pyramids, in my opinion, Kulkulcan is probably the world’s most beautiful.

Serpent's trail of Kulkulcan.

A slight breeze kept us relatively refreshed in the jungle humidity as dramatic clouds puffed across the deep blue sky. Carlos explained how Kulkulcan was built with 365 steps (including the top platform) to form a perfect year and that the sun’s shadow cast on the northwest edge of the pyramid took on the illusion of the descending, feathered serpent during the Spring and Autumn Solstice.

Feathered Serpent's mouth, Kulkulcan.

In the shade of the pyramid, we stood within striking distance of the serpent as iguanas foraged in the adjacent ruins.

Carlos to crowd in front of Temple of the Warriors.

Alas, the Mayans were as bloody as they were brilliant. Just beyond Kulkulcan, the Temple of the Warriors was an epicenter of human sacrifice, where the victim’s heart would be cut out and placed as an offering to the Gods on a reclining Chac Mool statue. The temple complex includes a large stepped pyramid surrounded by columns with carved warriors.

Cenote.

Of the two large sinkholes or cenotes adjacent to Chichen-Itza, one had a particularly gruesome past. Archaeologists have recovered bones of children, supposed virgins and prisoners of war that were hurled into the 70 foot deep pit of water. Of course, to the Mayans, such a death was considered an honor as it was an offering to the gods. The victims were cleansed in a nearby sauna and often sacrificed prior to their murky dispatch.

Kulkulcan, Temple of Venus and wall of skulls.

On our return, we stopped to view the Tzompantli or Wall of Skulls, a wall with engraved likenesses of human crania. The Temple of Venus with its exquisitely carved serpents’ heads and Kulkulcan loomed just beyond.

Games court structure.

The Games Court was closed for renovations but Carlos explained how one member of the losing team would be sacrificed as an offering to the Gods. Interestingly, on my prior visit, the guide told us that the actual honor went to a member of the winning team. Since the conquistadors destroyed almost all of the Mayan tablets, we may never know the precise story.

Kulkulcan unrestored side.

There was only 30 minutes left to explore on our own, so I headed past the un restored south side of Kulkulcan in search of the Observatory.

Pillars and Platforms.

The late afternoon lighting on the Temple of the Warriors was especially dramatic with its rows of shaded columns in the foreground.

Observatory.

When I finally reached the Observatory, a guard halted me. Access is denied at 4:30 but he kindly looked the other way when I promised to take just one photo and get out. Nicknamed El Caracol (“the snail”) because of its inner spiral stone stairs, the building is theorized to have been conceived with doors and windows aligned to gauge the path of Venus.

Beer bottle dancers.

After the bus lingered an extra 30 minutes for two tardy touristas, we headed to a nearby restaurant for the included dinner. Unfortunately, the simultaneous influx of two bus loads of visitors depleted the food supplies, creating a snarl in the buffet line. While the chefs did their human best to restock the otherwise excellent tamales and taquitos, we sat and watched a group of young folklorics dance with bottles of beer on their head.

Serpent's trail phantasm.

We returned to Chichen-Itza slathered in insect repellent to watch the light show. Even though there was not a lot of variety in the presentation, seeing those magical structures lit in a spectrum of color under the jungle sky was otherworldly. And, speaking of other worlds, I haven’t seen so many vivid shooting stars in my lifetime.

CARNIVAL MAGIC on a Progreso night.

It was lights out for the return drive to Progreso. The air conditioning decided to work overtime, putting us in a frosted state of drowsiness, bus windows streaked in condensation. As we approached the pier, we could see fireworks but by the time we arrived at the brilliantly lit ship, they had stopped.

"Doctor No" by the pool.

We weren’t actually hungry when we ascended to the midships pool but the pizza was too much to resist. Carnival’s pizza is “the real deal” and I am sure the ship’s Italian officers would not require prodding to agree. Overhead on the 270 square foot LED screen, the charmingly MidCentury “Dr. No” was being broadcast to an audience clutching bags of freshly popped corn.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

CARNIVAL MAGIC at Progreso.

Although there were frequent shuttles to Progreso and a menu of tours available, we chose to stay close to the ship. For me, it would be nice to catch up on this blog series and enjoy a leisurely day on board.

Thruster ladder, port side.
Thruster ladder, starboard side.

As divers repaired the CARNIVAL MAGIC’s thruster, we wandered ashore into the shopping complex in search of Toltec tchotzkes.

Progreso shopping.

Amazing how the “hand painted” ceramic in one shop was $35 and in another, one with the exact same likeness was only $5. The friendly shop with the $5 bauble won me over and ended up offloading a small basket full of hot sauce and Mayan-themed trinkets that would have to be strategically packed.

Red/orange bollard.

Our ship looked quite handsome in the brilliant sun. I rather like the full figured CARNIVAL MAGIC’s rounded lines. Even the brightly painted bollards seemed to bask in a Mayan afterglow.

At 5:00 PM, Carnival’s latest hardware, with thruster freshly repaired (hopefully for good this time), pivoted away from Progreso. She made an easterly course along the northern shores of Yucatan and turned south in the evening hours. The rest of my day was non-eventful (the way I like it) with more eating, which I kept in check with yet another hearty work out.

Prime Steakhouse, facing aft.

Dinner in the extra tariff Prime Steakhouse ($30) at 8:30 was yet another indulgence not to be missed.

Prime Steakhouse amuse bouche.

We were all served a variety of artful amuses-bouches.

Prime bread spreads.

Artisan breads come with a trio of spreads: eggplant, butter and olive.

Prime crab cakes.

I forgot to take a photo of the crab cake appetizer before I squeezed the lime…

Steakhouse caesar salad.

The Caesar salad was delivered and then dressed with grated Parmesan and a dollop of anchovies.

Steakhouse chicken.

And, ahh, that roasted rosemary garlic-infused chicken entrée — one of the best at sea!

Steakhouse apple tart.

I finished up with an apple tart. Was it just me or does Carnival always have a perfect apple-infused dessert to offer in all of its venues?

The rest of the evening became a wine and sugar-induced blur.

End of Third Post. Much More To Come….

If you enjoyed this post and are on Facebook, please click the “like” button at the top of the page. Thank you.

Special Thanks: Martin Cox, Jennifer De La Cruz, Vance Gulliksen, Tom Nicolai

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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