This is the final post in our review of the Norwegian Jade and the 8 day cruise to the Western Caribbean and Central America. Thanks for joining us!
The Ports of Call
The main reason we chose this particular cruise was for its ports of calls and unique itinerary. Ports of call for the 8-day cruise included Cozumel, Mexico; Harvest Caye, Belize; Santa Tomas, Guatemala; Roatan, Honduras; and Costa Maya, Mexico. We chose to only do two excursions on this trip, both of which we did not book through the cruise line. I wanted us to have a more authentic visit and did some personal research that allowed us to experience something different than the various snorkeling or jeep excursion options that were offered.
This was our third trip to Cozumel, Mexico and what we loved about coming back was the opportunity to wander, be tourists, explore and relax at one of the local bars.
We didn’t book an excursion at this port, and we are glad that we didn’t. It was amazing to see how much the area had changed over the last 10 years. Our first visit to Cozumel was on our Honeymoon and our second was on our first cruise, with Royal Caribbean. The changes that they have made to the port have all been extremely positive, including updating and adding more shopping, restaurants, and amenities. It felt and was a much more dynamic environment than during our second trip, and 100 times better than the first time we were there.
Overall, the weather was great, but something that we’ve noticed about being in Cozumel is that it tends to be very windy. The chop was heavy and it probably made for some adventurous snorkeling excursions.
Harvest Caye, Belize
Although Harvest Caye was designed specifically by Norwegian as one of it’s ports, it didn’t feel like other typical cruise ports with high-end jewelry stores or pushy shore excursion vendors on every corner asking you to book a tour with them. What you find is a glittering oasis and resort-like feel that is staffed by Belizean locals, rather than the ship’s crew. Local artists and vendors are present in all of the stores and kiosks of the island’s small shopping area, and much of what makes the island, which means you feel like you’re truly visiting Belize even though it is exclusive to Norwegian cruises.
The 75 acre island, 7 acres of which are stretch of beach, also includes an enormous pool with swim up bar complete with table and chairs in the water (we spent the entire day there) and a Jimmy Buffett-affiliated LandShark Bar & Grill. There are also cabanas available to rent if you’re wanting to escape from the sun!
One of the most noticeable activities on the island is a giant lighthouse, housing Harvest Caye’s for-fee zipline as well as a lagoon with kayaks, paddleboards and small motorized boats for rent.
This area took over 5 years to build, and one major point to make is that it also benefited the environment. Norwegian planted thousands of new mangrove forests, which created new habitat for the local wildlife, including those that were disturbed by the construction of the island resort.
Unlike the other ports in Belize that requires passengers to get ashore in tender boats, Harvest Caye has its own dock, which means Norwegian ships can pull right up to the island to offload cruisers.
Harvest Caye was beautiful, relaxing and the perfect beach and pool day for us – only downside is drinks and food are not included, something that got us in a little trouble with our new found friends at the pool swim up bar, but nonetheless a day that we’ll never forget.
Santo Tomas, Guatemala
Our day in Guatemala was unlike any other port trip I’ve taken on a cruise ship before. After doing extensive research on a tour guide named Gus, a native of Guatemala and one of the first tour operators that started there under the name Go with Gus, I decided we had to go on his Livingston Humanitarian tour.
Our excursion included Gus (the owner of the company) taking us via boat to a Guatemalan school where we were able to bring school and personal supplies to the students. It was a heart-warming day and a unique way of interacting and meeting the locals by contributing to the welfare of the local school children and districts with in need of aid.
We got to meet the teachers principals, and students and learn about the school, one of many that receives no government assistance.
And because it is so remote, far up in a river canyon, there are two main distinctions that stood out to us while visiting. First, because they are so remote there is no electricity and everything at the school relies on diesel generators or solar panels. This includes their computer lab, for which they have to solicit donations for fuel in order for the students to learn. Second, all the students access the school by canoe.
Hand carved and dug canoes – think about that, for your commute – at seven years old. It was quite a sight to see five, six, and seven year olds paddling their family canoes to head back home at the end of the school day. It definitely gave us a better perspective, related to the power of learning and the hard work volunteers are doing in order to provide a better future for those children.
After the school, we made a stop the town’s main store where local’s buy supplies.
It was interesting to see the types of products and luxuries that were available to the town folk. The tortillas made there were by far the best I’ve ever tasted; no need for a fancy kitchen here!
We ended the day having some free time to walk around the town of Livingston and then headed back to port.
The experience at the school is one we’ll never forget and will continue to search for opportunities like it in the future.
If you’re interested in learning more about Go with Gus, his excursions and the humanitarian efforts he supports in Guatemala, check him out at his website and send him a note! www.gowithgus.com
In Roatan we did the Mangrove Tunnel and Island tour which first started with a drive and mini city tour on our way to the mangroves. Roatan is an interesting situation with its countrymen of Honduras. Technically, it is a part of Honduras; however, because it is an island separated by 75km of open water, they aren’t controlled as heavily as mainland Honduras. The benefit is that it is somewhat immune to the challenges of mainland Honduras, including the development of multiple cultures on the island, living harmoniously. There is also substantial development, including grocery stores, fast food restaurants (They have Bojangles everywhere!), casinos, gas stations, and retail shopping (not touristy shopping, but actual everyday stores). As we toured around the island and it was clear that the area was experiencing a construction boom. According to our driver, construction represented almost 40% of the economy, with everything from condos, to houses, to golf courses being built. It was unbelievable to see all of the construction crews all over the island, our driver even pointed out homes for both Angelina Jolie and Sylvester Stallone!
We made a quick stop to drop off other passengers for horse back riding, where enjoyed more beautiful views and met my new friend, Puncho, the monkey who kept trying to steal my sunglasses!
Progressing towards our tour, our driver dropped us off at a local dock that was also used by locals to refuel their boats, pick up small supplies, and generally catch up with one another.
Here’s our boat, she’s a beaut.
When we signed up for this excursion, we had no concept of the boat we’d be taking in order to tour the mangrove forests, but upon inspection “Trust Me” owned by captain Alex, would be our chariot for the day. Along with another couple, Bill and Alinda from Salt Lake City, we quickly learned how unstable this little vessel was as any slight shift in weight or positioning almost rocked the boat on its side.
We proceeded through small fishing villages that were bracketed by large shrimp and lobster boats and as we made our way to the forests we caught glimpses of how people lived in this part of the world, including boat garages! No cars anywhere, and most of the houses either had docks or drive under boat ramps.
Once we got into the tunnels of mangroves the water calmed and we were able to enjoy our trip. It was incredible to get into these forest tunnels and see the structure that nature had created, no construction had been done in the tunnels, just boat traffic through them keeps the mangroves from growing together. It was quite the sight to see, that along with egrets, cormorants, and pelicans, we also viewed herons, mangrove crabs, and tarpon.
Roatan was the first port of the trip that had bad weather and a torrential rain storm rolled into the area and absolutely let loose on us. Thankfully we had just returned to pick up our horseback riders and we settled under the palapa (palm thatched hut like structure) for a couple of local beers and some early 90’s country music while we waited for the rain to pass (Jeremy was in heaven and wanted to sit there the rest of the afternoon).
Costa Maya, Mexico
Costa Maya was new to us, we hadn’t heard much about it, let alone ever stopped here in our travels. But it was small port that seemed built to hold cruise ships. There were two other boats docked with us all day, it was crazy busy and also very windy. It was probably the first time we felt the ocean and its power while our boat was tied off!
Travel Tip: Don’t want to visit a port with other ships docked at the same time? As a travel professional, I have access to information on any port for any cruise, meaning you don’t have to deal with crowds if you don’t want to!
The main draw to Costa Maya is the Mayan ruins that are about 60km from the port, and a lot of our ship mates headed that way. We’ve experienced other Mayan ruins during past trips and opted to relax and settle into a local bar, with great local beers and listened to a DJ, while staring out at the beautiful scenery.
Overall, it’s a very touristy port, but the local town of Mahahaul isn’t a far taxi ride away. However, it was definitely different than other cruise ports. Jeremy’s comment was that it was a very curated experience, a lot like Disneyland. The design, layout, and décor was well thought out, including the specialty shops, artisan restaurants, and craft cocktail bars.
Overall, we chose this cruise because of the unique ports and the amazing countries that they were in, and we came away with a much greater appreciation for all of the locations visited.
So what do you think of the Norwegian Jade? Have you ever cruised to Central America? Share your experiences here and contact Samantha to plan your perfect vacation!