We booked indecently with Belize Exotic Adventures and had a private van and tour guide. We saw the ruins and the howler monkey sanctuary. Our guide, Henry, was excellent and I felt safe and assured with him. He met us at the port and whisked us off so we could beat the big busses.
We had a brief city tour and then went to the monkey sanctuary. The operator was able to coax the wild (not in captivity at all) monkeys down from the trees to take fruit from the teenagers' hands. This was delightful and a wonderful experience. Great photo opportunity.
We then went to the Mayan temples for a guided tour by Henry. He is extremely knowledgable and proud of his heritage. My wife and I are educators and appreciated the knowledge. We climbed on the ruins and did a little shopping. This was a nice experience. Remember, barter for everything... start at 50% less than asking.
Henry took us to lunch at a local place where we had a traditional Belizean meal. My wife and one of the girls had chicken, while another girl and I had GIBNUT (look that up). :) It was served with a Belizean beverage, rice and beans. Very tasty. This was included in our price. Believe it or not, the gibnut was tasty - a mix between pork and chicken.
After that we made our way back to the port. We skipped the usual shopping nightmare of Diamond International and the other touristy shops.
Note that Belize uses a tender - the ship doesn't dock in Belize.
The tour with Henry was a full day and we wanted to beat the crowds back to the ship.
Costa Maya itself was very touristy and I was so glad that I booked with Maya Chan Beach. After a short walk outside of the port area (where the crowds are and the typical junk), a representative from Maya Chan was there to pick us up. They only allow a small number of guests (so book early). Their all inclusive rate included: transportation, meals, unlimited beverages (including alcohol), a private cabana on the beach (private for your family - not shared), kayaks, snorkeling gear, etc.
This is the ultimate in beach relaxation! They greet you chips/salsa/guacamole/drinks and show you to your privately reserved area of the beach. The cabanas are awesome, the beech is beautiful, and the water is splendid. It's truly a small group of folks you are with so you do feel exclusive and like you have plenty of space. There are nice beach chairs, chaises, and even a beach bed. I hang out under the cabana enjoying the views while sipping drinks while my wife tanned and the girls did floating chairs (provided), kayaking, and snorkeling.
Lunch is fresh cooked and excellent. Different meats, beans, salsas, and fresh tortillas all grilled in front of you. Again, unlimited drinks - whatever you want, they have it. I preferred the Mexican beers and mixed tequila drinks.
When you're ready to go, let them know and they have the taxi meet you and take you to port. Again, transportation is included. This is 100% all inclusive. A+!
When you go through the port, again be sure to barter if you buy anything... start at least 50% off.
Cozumel was the nicest port because it was more developed and totally about the tourists. We booked with Tours Plaza and had a private van and guide for the day. Our guide was Miguel and he was excellent. He gave us a tour of the city, we went to a small park to look at iguanas and other wildlife, then to Casa Mission restaurant (next to Tequila tour/store). Casa Mission was excellent (good price too). The tequila tour was free (nice) and tasted great. We brought home a couple of bottles (a little spend, but they were great tasting and in decorative bottles). We went to the Chocolates Kaokao Factory tour and the girls took a class in making chocolate. They enjoyed this very much.
The only disappointment was the restaurant Miguel took us for lunch. Unfortunately can't remember the name of it... but the food was disappointing and the bill came to $68 US! I have never paid that much for a typical Mexican meal in a high class Mexican restaurant in the U.S.! The prices were in pesos. I wasn't careful and got duped. The food wasn't great (my shrimp fajitas were awful) either. There were lots of locals. My wife asked our server if there was a different price structure for tourists... we couldn't believe locals would pay that much for what we got.