After our experience in Roatán we immediately went to the Shore Excursions desk and booked an excursion to an island beach getaway. The island was nice enough, though not exactly pristine; the beach was somewhat overgrown, untreated, and dirty, and the water was murky and filled with seaweed, and a bit oily from the boats that brought passengers over from the ships a mere 100 feet away. But the music was nice, and just at the right volume, and there were plenty of lounge chairs, and ample natural shade for those who prefer that to sunbathing. The swimming area also featured a large water trampoline, and there was a dining area where reasonably-priced food was available for purchase. There were also restroom facilities on the island, although getting to them was a bit of a hike. RECOMMENDATION: Watch out for small, bity insects; my parents were pretty bitten up when we left.
The port itself in Belize City, accessible from the ship via tender boat, is a much more lively and entertaining tourist zone. There is a large-ish air-conditioned mall, an open boardwalk, plentiful shops, and bars overlooking the water with free WiFi access for customers. I don’t know if one could spend an entire day there, and from what I heard, the area beyond the pier is just as bad as Roatán, but there is plenty to do if you don’t book an excursion.
I am in love with this port. The port shopping area is well-developed and lively, featuring a large salt-water pool that contains a swim-up bar and is flanked by the always fun and always over-priced Señor Frog’s and Carlos N’ Charlie’s. If you choose to hang around there, you can also catch a free dolphin show. You will probably not find a lounge chair by the pool at the beginning of the day, but hey, that’s what beaches are for. And the beaches in Costa Maya are phenomenal.
For $3 per person, we took a shuttle to the nearby fishermen’s village, where there are plenty of beaches sectioned off to each of the restaurants along the spacious open-air promenade. RECOMMENDATION: If you take the shuttle, go to the end of the line, and then choose your beach. You don’t have to go to the beach that they want to take you to; there are better beaches there with lounge chairs instead of just cheap plastic chairs around a table. Find one with lounge chairs and the owner of that restaurant will happily set up as many of them as you like however you like them, in exchange for which I recommend taking advantage of their inexpensive and satisfying food and drink menu.
The beaches themselves are pristine, clean, white, and soft, and the water is so clear that I was in up to my neck and I clearly saw my feet. And getting back to the ship is easy, just walk a block behind the promenade to the nearest row of taxis (there are plenty) and pay $2 per person to get back. RECOMMENDATION: Get back at least an hour before your all-aboard time to give yourself some time to shop around or just to relax by the pool, which will have plenty of available seats by then.
There’s plenty to do in Cozumel, as long as you come in at the right port. This time we docked at Punta Langosta, which gives you the easiest pedestrian access to the most activity and shops. If you dock at another pier, you may need to rent a car or hire a taxi. NOTE: Most rental cars that you’ll be able to get in Cozumel are manual transmission. RECOMMENDATION: Ask your Shore Excursion staff at which port you’ll be docking. If it’s not Punta Langosta, and you don’t have a shore excursion, you’ll need transportation.
Punta Langosta is the largest (and only) shopping mall on the island, and it has a large variety of stores if you’re into that kind of thing. There’s also a Hooters downstairs, recently opened, if you feel like munching on some wings and checking in on your social networks on their free WiFi. If you walk away from Punta Langosta, there are ample other shops all along the waterfront, and it’s a pleasant stroll if you don’t mind being asked to come in and check out “great special sales only for you today” every 30 seconds. If you enjoy untamed beaches and being surrounded by gorgeous vistas, the west side of the island is worth a visit as well, but you will need some mode of transportation to get there, and taxis are somewhat expensive. That said, if you rent a car, you can drive the entire length of the main road surrounding the island in under 2 hours. RECOMMENDATION: If you’ve been to Cozumel a few times, it may be worth it to get an excursion, but if you haven’t, you may end up wishing you had more time.
Our first experience in Roatán three years ago was spectacular. The ship anchored off-shore, and we were tendered to a dock adjacent to a gorgeous park through which we walked to a pristine, secluded beach. We thought that this time would be the same, and as such, we figured that booking a shore excursion was pointless. And we were oh so terribly wrong. If you enjoy being harassed by tip-hungry locals from the moment that you set foot on shore, then Roatán is a great place to take your family and walk around aimlessly. You’ll find plentiful such locals on the other side of the gate from the heavily armed security guard. We spent all of 5 minutes outside the gates, where we were advised by a local to walk on the sidewalk for safety and subsequently asked for a tip in exchange for this earth-shatteringly brilliant advice. We walked into a straw market that promised free WiFi and cheap margaritas, neither of which we found amid the half-empty booths and cheap homogeneous souvenirs. The mall at the pier was also only about 75% occupied, and featured a bar with drinks that were more expensive than on the ship. Less than an hour later we had visited every store and were back on the ship enjoying the pool.
A photo that I took from the pier mall sums it up: A fence, surrounded by tattered, tip-hungry locals, followed by a road, with a pickup truck carrying a telephone pole twice as long as the truck, with two men sitting on it to hold it in place, and a decrepit cemetery on the other side of the road. If you go to Roatán, which, if rumors are true, may not happen again beyond the end of this season, get an excursion. There are nice parts of the island. Unfortunately, the port is not one of them.