This winter I took a holiday cruise which included the port of Belize City, Belize. I had never traveled to Belize so this was the perfect opportunity; with the fares rockbottom. My Friend Mary - who incidentially is MS Buffalo Soldier 2002 was my co traveler.
We arrive in Belize early in the morning, before sunrise.
I get a 630am wake up call so that I can see the ship, as it’s greeted by the many small tenders who would ferry us to Belize City’s port. The television broadcast of the sunrise over the ship’s bow was absolutely breathtaking.
I enjoyed getting showered and somewhat dressed, while looking at the deck pics for about half an hour before I could convince Mary to get up. I had left our tag out last night before I retired, for breakfast delivery to our cabin, for 8am; so that we’d miss the dining room fracas that often accompanies a day in port. The room service attendant delivered our freshly made hot tea, hot chocolate, fresh fruit plates, a fresh croissant and those infernal prune Danish pastries.
Since there was only one croissant I took it, because
Mary still wanted to go to the Dining room for a hot
breakfast. I ate sitting on my bed, as she hurriedly
showered and dressed for breakfast in the dining room.
When she was ready, we went to the dining room for her breakfast. I had Hot Chocolate, and read the Xeroxed copy port guide. The very fact that they print one fresh which is readable for Cozumel, and give you an almost unreadable photocopy of a guide for Belize is unbelievable. Mary and I sit with a lovely woman from California, who is traveling alone and quite independent. We enjoy talking about our travels and the similarity’s of being 40- Somethings. She says that the shore excursion talk had almost dissuaded her from going ashore in Belize, but that she was reconsidering it after listening to what we had planned for the day. I must admit that we had quite a laundry list of items to do while in Belize. While we were at Breakfast there was a ship wide announcement that anyone who was booked on a shore excursion should report to the showroom for an immediate disembarkation ticket in order to reach their shore excursion in time. We saw many folks rushing into the elevator who were obviously not going to be going tubing or to the zoo, but just wanted to get off the ship after 2 days of being confined at sea.
Many of those quiet looking grandmother types can be lethal with their bags when standing in line waiting to get onto the tenders, so watch who you are standing behind, and give them a little space; a lady who was not paying attention almost knocked another woman off the tender platform because the woman reached for the handrail to board the tender and her gigantic shopping bag punched the woman behind her, knocking her off balance on the sea moored platform. So Ladies, take care with those packages and bags when boarding those tenders and disembarking on those sea moored platforms; Especially like this one in Belize, which pulls up right beside the ship. Yes it is towed out to the ship, and the ship moors and drops anchor while the tenders pull up alongside this floating sea dock, and pick up passengers to tender to the port. This can be a bit of an inconvenience if you have any mobility limitations. The folks on the platform and the captain on the tenders, take good care of the passengers and make sure that the boats are securely anchored to the platform so that no one falls.
(You can see my photo’s of the tendering and Belize Trip in the photo album for this review which is located at http://ausetkmt.com/winter-holiday02.html)
Mary and I get tickets in the showroom, ship stickers, and then go back up onto the deck to watch the tendering process. It is at least noon before we are able to get on a tender and into Belize City. We eat lunch in the Lido Café while we are waiting. There are various salads, cold cuts, and Hand Carved Roast Beef, Turkey and Ham. All manner of sandwich making materials, slices of various cakes, pies, and cookies are in abundance. The entire café is full of folks watching the tendering process out of the windows while having lunch, a nice idea indeed.
Mary spots Scotty and Billy. They have a table in the
middle and since we have a table by the windows we invite
them over. They come over and we discuss our plans for
the day in Belize. Their shore excursion is called for
disembarkation, and they leave us sitting and watching the
tenders come and go like a small fleet of water taxi’s.
it’s interesting to see how NCL Gets it’s passengers ashore in some locations, and this is one of the most innovative that I’ve enjoyed in my many cruises with them.
Finally at 12:30 they give a general shore call and we depart for deck two. Mary and I follow the hordes to the disembarkation point and wait our turn to get onto the tender. The way that they take time to help each passenger get onto the tender safely makes me wonder if they have a special training class for this. It seems so coordinated. Finally it’s our time to get on. We show our boarding passes and Passports to the security officers and we are through the portal to the platform. When we go down the gangway onto the floating platform, it’s not exactly clear to us what is moving which way; but the moment that you put your foot on that platform, you know. I move quickly because I can see that the sea swells are moving both the platform, Ship and then there’s the Tender.
When I get to the tender from the gangplank, I get assistance from two gentleman, who literally lift me over the steps onto the tender. How Nice. next they lift Mary. We both smile. We make our way over to the other side of the tender and sit with our backs to the water, on the port side. This is prime space for a photographer, and I’ve got two empty cards ready to go. We have a seat next to a nice couple we’ve seen onboard and spoken to several times. They are excited about going to Belize since they’ve been to every other Caribbean port that NCL offers. They were veterans of at least 20 cruises, and had come strictly to come to Belize. They were as excited as we were.
Behind Mary was a group of folks from Tennessee who Fished like Mary. They were so excited about the possibility of getting a fast fishing charter at the port that afternoon. They said they had been slightly discouraged by Al’s shore talk, but had already done their own research in advance so they had a good idea of what they wanted to do in Belize. We told them that we rented a car for the day, rather than doing a shore excursion since it seemed more logical to use to spend the money to really see Belize instead of just the inside of a tour bus for the same money. They said they agreed, and had made email arrangements with a fisherman who would be meeting them at the tourist village water taxi stop to take them fishing for a half day for less than $100.00 for four of them, including Rum punch and Bait, the captain was throwing in the use of his poles since they were traveling on a cruise ship. Talk about Belizean Hospitality, Yeahhh Mon !!!
We take off when the tender is full and we head off to Belize City, passing many smaller cayes, and enjoying the warm ocean spray on our arms and faces. Everyone onboard was treated to a short waterfront tour by the tender captain on entering the harbor. We all sat quietly excited as we pulled into the bustling port of Belize City, Belize C.A. Everyone disembarked the tender with the assistance of the tender captain and his staff, and NCL Port staff easily. The dock is busy with activity from vendors, water taxi’s and visitors anxious to see all there is to see in the tiny colonial capitol. Mary and I enter the Belize Tourist Village and find a courtyard atmosphere complete with live musicians, tourist board reps handing out information, and various other tour operators soliciting for day tours, and water taxi excursions to the close-by tropical and exotic cayes. We have a reservation for a car rental from Crystal Car Rentals and Tours; they are located conveniently in the shopping craft park just outside the doors of the building.
Our first stop is at the currency exchange, like lots of other folks. The 2 for 1 exchange rate makes it a pleasure to exchange my little cash for their hand full of brightly colored bills and artfully cut coins. I get a map from the lady at the tourist board, and give her my business card. She asks if I will have time to stop at their main offices by the swing bridge, and I tell her that we are only there for the day. She gives us a hug, and tells us to ask anyone on the street if we are lost and we’ll be easily directed. I ask her if the reports of crime are true, and she tells me that they are exaggerations and that most crime recently has been tourists getting drunk and not minding their safety. The police presence was clear, but not at all foreboding, as it is in Cozumel. ( more on that later ) We find Crystal easily in the lot outside in a small log cabin, clearly marked. The lady’s in the office are pleasant when we enter the office, and immediately ask us if we’d like a cool drink.
They have the reservation prepared and the car is ready and waiting in the lot for us. It’s already chilled out from the 90 degree Belizean Heat with the A.C. on low, and the radio playing low. We go over a few basics on the rental, exchange the necessary info and we’re off. It takes us all of 10 minutes. If I could get such service at these computerized locations in the us and Europe. The lady who goes over the car with me, gives me all kinds of good tips on parking, which is important since its scarce downtown; to where the petrol stations are for the refill before return of the vehicle. We get a nice clean new 2002 blue ford escort. 4 doors, ac, clean and nice. Our waiter Locksley is in the port and spots us, we invite him along and he graciously accepts since he says he never comes ashore in Belize.
We head out on the one way road from the tourist village and round the corner heading for the main shopping district. It takes us all of two minutes and we are on the main street in the middle of a bustling shopping district. It’s complete with all the normal smell, sights, sounds and lively activity of most Caribbean ports. There are street vendors hawking food, and drinks. Spiritualist begging for change for their missions, higglers selling their wares out of dressed up shacks and carts all along the many small lanes that jutted off the main street. We were in search of either James Brodie or Ro-Macs, the largest retail food outlets in Belize City. They were easily located on Albert Street, the Main Business Thoroughfare. There was no place to park, not a spot to be found on any of the close streets, and not a lot in site. I turn into an alley behind the Scotia bank Building and there is a car park, with open spaces. Oh well,, how can I do this ?? I ask Locksley if he’d mind car sitting while we went and shopped quickly, since it was already 1:30 and he had to be back at the pier by 4:30. He said “No Problem Mon, go shop I’ll watch your car “
With that Mary and I dashed away with our shopping bags in hand and purses strapped on securely for the hunt. We went across the street peering into the windows of various and sundry stores selling all matter of items. Some of them familiar to me as a child of Caribbean lineage; and some that seem indigenous and required my firsthand investigation. I walked up to a hand tortilla press which had an unusual looking stone plate to examine it’s beautiful lines and unusual plate. The Indian lady behind the counter smiled and asked me if I knew what it was, I laughed and answered in my best Jamaica patois, “Yeah Mon, Me use this nuff at home”. I put it down and thanked her, walking out the door at the opposite end past rows of galvanized tubs nailed to boxes stored on faded pastel shelves, overhead on the walls. There was Marine paint, House paint and Nail polish all in the same section – how unique I thought.
Maybe American vendors should see this useful logic, and stop plugging up our landfills with loads of paper from useless over packaging. The clothes in the windows heralded the Hispanic and catholic influences left here after colonialization of the indigenous Belizeans. We again find Brodie’s and enter with gleeful looks, knowing that we will find some great bargains here. Mary heads straight to the Liquor shop and survey’s the prices. A lady who manages that section engages here and tells her to go to the Red House around the corner for the best prices on liquor. I overhear her, and return a bottle of Coconut Rum to the brimming shelf.. the Belmican beer is in two types, so I get one bottle of each, since I have no intentions of taking a full six pack back home on a plane after this cruise.
I decide to still get a bottle of Parrot Special Rum, because I hear it is hard to find, and Anejo. I am old a fan of Anejo Rums; and this will certainly make my holidays cheery. Even the label on the bottle is pretty with it’s brightly colored parrot and festive lettering; besides at $5.00 us it’s a bargain. I get it and the beer and move out of the liquor store into the grocery store. I am tired of holding all this glass so I get a trolley and head for the spice aisle. I find all manner of Recanto. I get 3, two regular and 1 hot. Then I grab some bright yellow Indian curry powder. It’s color signifies it’s freshness in this case. The Recanto blocks were less than .75 cents each us. The Curry was about .50 cents for more than 2oz’s, and it was so fresh.
I spot the condiments and head straight to the Marie’s Sauces. I am in Heaven. there is a gentleman standing in front of the sauces looking at them and smiling as I walked up. He looked at me, and said in a french accent “ Do you know which one is the best ? “ I smiled back and replied that I planned to buy all of Maries’ sauces and test them out for the first time. I also admitted that I was told that they were the most flavorful hot sauces in the condiment section, in Belize. He did exactly as I did, and selected one of each sauce from the shelf and placed them into his also burgeoning hand basket. I picked up the Habanero Jelly and looked at it’s lovely label, and he also took a jar. we both smiled at each other, knowing that heat even with sugar can still be lethal. I spotted the Exotic Sauce and grabbed a bottle, pointing it out to him as well, and then the Sweet Orange Hot Sauce. We were truly in Hot Sauce Heaven. a fellow connisour to share a brief moment, in such an exotic locale as this supermarket.
He smiles as he walks away toward the front of the store, as I inspect some caribbean canned goods, on the other side of the aisle. when I head toward the front to checkout, Mary is no where to be found. I know she can’t be far, since we often wander away from eachother without saying a word and just somehow miraculously manage to find each other again soon there after, without a word. I placed my trolley into the checkout line behind the other shoppers. when my turn came, I began placing the sauces and spices onto the belt. The cashier and her bagger looked at eachother smiling, then smiling the cashier said to me, “ You really Like it Hot”. I laughed too, and said “ Oh Yes, don’t we all…” they asked if I was staying in town, and I admitted to being a cruiseship passenger intown for the day, and in the supermarket even while on holiday. They got quite a laugh out of that one.
I paid for the goods, all three bags including Rum, amounted to $30.00 BZ. that’s about $15.00 us, what a deal. I asked the ladies if they knew where to get cheap liquor and they said “the Red House around the corner.” Little did I know, Mary had already finished looking in the windows of the shops that interested her on Albert St. and was enroute to help me with the packages. She came around the corner of the doorway just as I was taking the heavy glass laden bags off of the check out stand. She asked me if I tried to buy out the store, and of course I laughed again. we headed to the car to drop off this load. enroute we stopped at the cart of a man selling cold coconut water, and sodas, taking one for each of us, we headed on across the street to the car. Locksley was chilling in the car when we walked up, he jumped out to help us get the packages into the trunk of the car. It was Mary’s turn to drive, and my turn to dictate the route, as if I knew where we were headed. We got into the car and headed back out onto Albert St, toward the Swing Bridge.
When we spotted the Bridge, we looked at it quickly, as the traffic is nonstop fast, and moving in all directions at once. the fact that we were tourists in a rental car made little difference, it seemed. We turned at the bridge’s fork in the road heading across the canal, and into a neighborhood. it resembled most of the english caribbean neighborhoods that I had visited, over the years. It was closely packed, one way streets, and lots of businesses sandwiched in everywhere. We spot it, The Red House. it’s is White in fact, but the sign says “The Red House Liquors”. we park across the street and go into the store, and check out a huge selection of liquors of every description on shelves covered by wire hurricane fencing. I’m wondering why ? but then it hits me, this is their security system. In the caribbean folks are ingenius, and this was truly neccessity at work. Mary asks for a special liquor, and they have it. she says the price is good, so I ask for my choices and they bring them out to the counter. I must agree with her, because I got three fifths of Rum and was very happy. they even gave us a 2003 Calendar to remember them by. the calendar has some delictible recipes which will no doubt be prepared in my kitchen, far from the Red House in Belize City.
We again take our bagged purchases and head back to the car, this time with Locksley in tow. he is so patient, following us around like this. We get back into the car, and head down the street looking at the people on the lanes as we pass. many smile and wave at us, and we wave back. we see children in school uniforms crossing the canal, and decide to stop. Mary instantly spots some Fishermen selling fish from stalls on the oposite side of the canal. she goes over to chat with them, and Locksley and I follow. they are selling Red Snapper, Yellow Tail Snapper, and some other beautiful local fish. Mary is not impressed. She asks them how much for a half day fishing charter, and one of them answers $300.00. I ask him is that Belezian, or us dollars ? and he answers US. I crack up, along with Mary. Locksley lowers his head and shakes it, laughing at the obvious joke. We tell the man that we get the joke, and we’ll be back to see him when we are ready to go fishing. He laughs too.
we cross the street and talk to some Rastas standing on the corner selling Water Coconuts, and Sugarcane in small plastic bags ready to eat. I introduce myself, Mary and also Locksley and ask to buy the Coconut Water. the Rasta smiles back and hands me a freshly opened coconut, then he hands one to Mary and Locksley. I ask him how much, and He says to Enjoy the bounty of Jah Rastafari. I am so thankful for this natural refreshment and the kind greeting of the Brethren. We exchange addresses and hug goodbye. it is a wonderful experience indeed. as we walk away Mary says that she is hungry and the dread directs us to a local restaurant, Dot’s; Just across the canal, one block down. We get into the car, and wave as we drive away. we find the restaurant easily, park and go in. We enter the Clean simple homestyle establishment. the menu is in chalk on a board above the counter window, where the smiling Chef, and Cashier await our order. Mary orders the Sorrell and Snapper Stew upon the Recommendation of another smiling friendly Rasta Brethren sitting in the restaurant. I introduce myself to him, and he says he is Ras Iley.
We Hug and exchange Rasta Pleasantrys. it is lovely again to meet a nice and pleasant person just looking to share the wonderful goodness of his city with us. Mary orders, the cook instantly serves her, and we sit down at the table with Ras Iley to chat while Mary enjoys her lunch. a very small older indian woman enters the restaurant. she is dressed in a white embroidered peasant top and a yellow satin skirt. she is selling baskets, small sweetgrass handwoven baskets. I take two of them from her hands and examine them. I ask her how much for them, and she says $20.00. I reply to her $10.00 she laughs and reinterates $20.00. I open my purse and count out the few american dollars that remain, and find just $15.00, I hand it to her, and she takes it smiling at me. I ask her if I can take her photo, and she again asks me for some more money. I laugh and reply that she has to know that she has all of my money. She stands next to me and allows Ras Iley to photograph us. Then she holds the baskets while I take her picture with them. She tells us that she came from Guatamala and that she is a Mayan Indian. I am sure that she is. she says that she came by walking, and on the bus. Ras Iley confirms that this is quite normal for the Mayans to move about in this manner. Belize is very near Guatamala and you see many indians in Belize.
We Hug Everyone and take photos as we leave the restaurant to take Locksley back to the Pier, for his return to the ship. We pass a billboard from the Ministry of Health, urging not to bring Aids Home. I of course have to have a photo of that. when we drop Locksley back at the pier, Mary and I decide to go over to the Lighthouse and Pier on the other side of the waterfront. It is lovely, and the plaque says that it’s The Bliss Memorial. We park the car beside the road and walk out onto the rocks to check out the water. it is dark and murky, not the Caribbean Blue found out farther from the well dyked shoreline embankments. The water is warm though, and we take pictures and sit and talk for a while; watching the tenders ferry passengers to the various ships anchored off the coastline. It’s almost 5pm and we still have to fill up the car with petrol before returning it, for our tender back at 530pm.
We pile back into the car, with me driving. we return back to the Shell petrol station nearest the tourist port. I ask the attendant to fill up the tank, and without looking I was defrauded outright by the attendant and then the manager. Mary screamed Stop Stop. the Attendant asked “What..?” Mary said look, the pump says $20.00 that’s not possible. What ? I know this is wrong. Mary and I both start looking at the attendant, I ask for the manager, who promptly appears from the office, bad attitude and all. I tell him that there is no way that this car could hold that much petrol when we had only clocked 20 miles on the odometer, which showed it clearly below the speedometer. The lady at the car rental place set it back for us, and said that it might come in handy in a situation like this. Well when I held the money up to pay the attendant, the Manager snatched the money out of my hand, literally tearing it in half. I refused to give him the other half, and asked him to call the local police. He refused. He then blocked my car from moving from the pump while calling me all kinds of names. I think he wanted a Detroit Style Beatdown. I just wasn’t in the mood for this, after such a lovely day in Belize. I toss the other half of the torn twenty out of the window and holler that I will be lodging a complaint with Shell and Belize Tourism against his station. Therefore I am warning everyone who goes and rents a car in Belize - Do Not Patronize the Shell Station nearest the Belize Tourism Village - lest you be Hookwinked, Bamboozled and called out of your name.
This station manager deserves a full day of hearing Al the ship’s unprepared Port Tour Director Discuss why not to go to Belize. Maybe he would understand how powerful one experience can be to ruin a business, and end a career. I followed up after this incident with the Belize Tourism Folks and as well the Folks at Royal Dutch Shell; I am awaiting their responses in regard to the incident. I expect that anyone who visits the page and takes my advice in regards to this incident, Will be Properly “ Forewarned and Fore Armed, against this Crooked Manager and Shell Station”.
When we arrive back at the car rental office and return the car, we tell them about the incident and they take a report and file it with the manager of the agency; who will be advising their future customers about this incident. We explore the shops at the tourist craftmarket after returning the car, and unloading our huge cache of goods. I stand guard over the goods while Mary Shops and She does the same for me. We find nice teeshirts - Cheap; and some cute little key rings, and I of course Have My Postage Stamps and Cards. we walk back around to the pier and get in line with the others awaiting the final tender back to our ship. We spot Billy and Scotty. they look tired. They see us and come up in line to where we are. the folks behind us say it’s not a problem, thank goodness. They had a fun day Tubing and at the beach on one of the cayes, on a shore excursion. they say it was $100. us each. Oh My God I exclaim. Scotty says, “ Well Yeah..” Billy chimes in that it wasn’t worth it, and that they wished they had gone shopping with us instead. he asks us what goodies we came back with, and the Tender begins to load. We find seats together and enjoy the breezy sunset ride back to the ship. the sunset is absolutely breathtaking.
When we arrive back at the floating pier alongside the ship, many of the passengers required more assistance because the swells had increased since our departure. I was assisted with my bags by Billy and Scotty. Mary, Billy Scotty and I all went through the security check and xray just fine, with no confiscations. there was a warning somewhere posted that liquor may be confiscated upon reboarding. we didn’t hide any of the fifths that we returned with, and neither did anyone else. we saw nothing confiscated. only the duty free purchased liquor was being held in bond at the security access point. it was in cases marked with cabin numbers and Passenger Names. that must be the key, don’t buy it at the duty free if you want to have it in your cabin.
I was tired from the port call, and decided to have dinner ensuite. Mary met Scotty and Billy for Dinner, where I understand they enjoyed Lobster and Shrimp, at the pasta cafe on the pool deck. I slept and watched a movie on tv. for dinner I enjoyed a Caesar Salad and pot of Long Island Ice Teas. I needed to chill out and I was gonna do it, for at least a few hours before tonight somehow. It was Caribbean Night on the ship and the theme included a Caribbean Deck Party commencing around 10pm, outside under the stars on the Pool Deck. This was absolutely the trick to getting folks out of their cabins and drinking after dinner on this night. The featured drink - the Rum Runner was Festively Served in a whole Pineapple - top included. It was delicious, and priced right at $5.95 each. The trays were emptying as fast as they hit the deck. There was also a Caribbean BBQ, complete with Shrimp, Grilled Chicken, and Steak. The ondeck music and dance party was highlighted with a Drag Show of Men; all imitating Carmen Miranda. they were lined up in the elevator lobby when I departed the mayhem of the party for the quiet of my cabin, at around 1030pm. I was ready for a good nights sleep after two of those lethal pineapples. I can’t tell you when Mary came in because I was knocked out happily so.
All in all I recommend a day in Belize to wet your thirst for a full week in this still tropical paradise. the air prices to Belize from the midwest are not unreasonable and the country offers so much more in natural beauty; than a visit to it’s over domesticated neighbor Cozumel Mexico. Plan for a car rental for a day and you’ll have the best time; take time and get a map from the website and then talk to the folks at the tourist board booth in the tourist village - and they’ll be happy to point you in the direction of any of the numerous natural attractions and ecological wonders that can only be enjoyed in a pristine environment like Central America, and Beautiful Belize.