As it known, all ships visiting Belize have to tender in. We arrived in the main ship's theater at exactly 0745 -- when our ticket told us to -- and no sooner had we sat down that they called our tour. We were on the tender on our way in under 10 minutes. Very efficient.
The tenders in Belize are run by private companies, rather than the ships using their lifeboats as tenders. As such, they are fairly large. The ride was a little rough, but nothing too bad, and the locals running the ship were very friendly and talkative.
We boarded a large bus -- a VERY old Greyhound Bus that seems to have found a second (or third) life in Belize. We drove through the city itself, which is NOTHING to write home about -- and out onto what I presume is the country's only highway. Our tour guide was local and VERY knowledgeable, but his English was very hard to understand. In addition, the bus was extremely warm. We finally convinced the driver to turn the A/C to maximum, though I know it taxed the bus's engine. It took about an hour to reach the dock, where we were to board a boat.
It was obviously a purpose-built thatched-hut-like pavilion, but it was nice. They had juice, water, and gingersnap cookies as a "snack." We shortly boarded a "fast-boat" right there at the dock, and off we were. There were about 15 in the group -- the same people and guide as on our bus. The boat is much too loud to hear anything, but at least the speed helped cool us off. They took us down about 1/2 mile in the opposite direction of Lamanai to view a monkey, clearly visible near the waterbank. I have suspicions as to why he happened to be and stay in the same area, where all the tour boats were coming right up on him. Anyway, the ride to Lamanai took almost an hour through the mangrove. It is pretty, but gets kind of monotonous. We did have to slow way down everytime we came across the many canoes with locals out fishing. We did pass a couple of Menonite farms, as advertised, but aside from some birds and bats, we saw no other significant wildlife. I had visions of alligators and/or crocodiles, but we never saw any.
The boat brings you right up into Lamanai, with a nice view of the high pyramid from the water. At this point, I have to caution that this is not a low-exertion excursion. Norwegian lists it as "moderate," but it was VERY strenuous, and the heat was oppressive once we were off the boat. This is definitely not a tour for everyone. We walked around the complex, which is VERY impressive, for about an hour and a half, and it is hot. The ruins in Belize are distinguished from those in Mexico, in that visitors are allowed to walk on them, so we all had an opportunity to climb to the top of the highest pyramid. It was very high and just as steep, with only a single safety rope done middle. Our guide confirmed that people have slipped and fallen in the past.
We rode the hour back to the pavilion in exhausted silence, very much appreciating the cool breeze. Once back, they had a decent, warm lunch of chicken, beans, and cole slaw (I questioned this choice in a tropical environment), but it was good.
On the long, hour-long drive back to Belize, our guide mercifully let us rest, and most people slept, as it had been a very long day. We made it back to the tender with no issue, with about an hour to spare before we left port.
All in all, it was a good and memorable tour, but in hindsight, we probably should have gone with a private company, as I do not think the tender situation was bad at all.
Getting to the place was more of a hassle than I would have liked. Maya Chan sends detailed instructions, but frankly I found them very confusing. As it was, I think we messed up. We completely exited the terminal area -- walking past the vans belonging to the terminal, which are allowed to drive in. We walked down to the well-marked taxi stand -- about two blocks -- and then had to wait another 15 or 20 minutes while a "taxi coordinator" tried to arrange transportation for our group of 17. We ended up being split between a sedan and large van, but it was fine. The ride is about 20 minutes, on a very rough road, but it was semi-interesting to see the very small village and scenery along the way. They were waiting for us when we arrived, and they took care of the taxi fare. We signed in, and signed a liability waiver.
The area is smaller than I had expected, but very nice. I heard later that they had indeed "over-sold" that day, so they were short some seats initially, and it did seem a little more crowded than I had hoped. There were three ships in port that day, and were the last to dock, so there were people from the other two ships already there. We jockeyed for places to set up, and then were fine. From reading the boards, I had images of being catered too, with drinks and foods brought to our seating area. I was wrong about that. No big deal, but not what I had expected. The drinks are plentiful -- you just have to go wait in line and ask for them -- but they were some of the best drinks I have ever had. The Pina Colada was outstanding. The food was also quite good, and very fresh.
My only complaint about the place was the water. Their website clearly states that they have Turtle Grass, and that this is indicative of the area's beaches. That said, there is really no beach at all at Maya Chan, and was is there, was literally covered in 6-8 inches of washed up turtle grass. You have to walk through and over the piles to get into the water, which is in itself FULL of grass. Our 11-year-old daughter was "grossed out," and only entered the water on one of the canoes. I will admit that I too did not like wading in the grass. I expected a true beach, and there is none at Maya Chan.
There is wi-fi at the resort, but the signal is so weak that you have to be sitting in the drink/food pavilion to connect. I had visions of surfing from my beach chair, but that is impossible. Also, it is a VERY slow connection. I know this is a minor thing, but Maya Chan makes a big deal of touting their wi-fi offerings on their website, so people should set their expectations accordingly.
About 15 minutes before we were ready to leave, we told them, and they called a cab. They took care of the fare, and we were back "in town" in under 30 minutes. All in all, it was a fun day, but the lack of a beach and water in which to swim was a major letdown.
The day was so beautiful, and we had so much fun snorkeling the day before in Roatan, that we decided at the last minute to join a Norwegian-supplied excursion on the Fury Catamaran. A large catamaran picked up our large group -- at least 50 -- at the pier, next to the ship, and we sailed about 20 minutes north to a "national park" which protects a reef. It was such confusion trying to get so many people geared up for snorkeling, and it had SUCH a different feel from our great experience in Roatan. Still, we donned our gear and entered the water via a nifty staircase that lowered into the water at the front of the ship. With so many people in the water, it was chaotic, and there was several other boats around us, doing exactly the same thing. Still, we stuck to ourselves and off we went. The reef, alas, was a major disappointment compared to Roatan. Many people we squealing at what they were seeing, but it was really a pale comparison. The reef is obviously "over-snorkeled," and was very bland.
After about 30 minutes in the water, we all got back on, and then they broke out the beer and margaritas, which are included in the price. It was a very fun and beautiful sail further north. After about 20 minutes, we arrived at the Fury's private beach, which was stunningly beautiful. Truly spectacular, with palm trees and hammocks; tons of lounge chairs, canoes, floating rafts, and a kids inflatable play area out in the water. The beach was clean, white, and there was clear, beautiful water in which to wade. We had wished the excursion had dropped the snorkeling and given us more time at the beach.
Food is not included, and as the tour left the ship at 1130, we were all hungry. The only food option is a $9.00 hamburger lunch, with potato salad. It was good, but not spectacular.
After about an hour at the beach, they called us all back to the boat, and we were off for the final half-hour ride to our ship. Along the way, the drinks continued to flow, and near the end, the crew led the passengers in several line dances, etc. It was A LOT of fun. Though there was unlimited alcoholic beverages, there were also lots of kids on the tour, and the atmosphere was very "family friendly."
While we had an excellent time, I recommend skipping the snorkeling and just focus on a sailing trip and beach break. You'll have a blast!
The drive to the retreat is bumpy for the last mile or so, and YES, you do drive past the dump, but if it bothers you, look the other way. It in NO way detracted for us. The retreat itself is tucked along side a wooded hillside and is simply idyllic. Duane was waiting for us, and he walked us down to the pier area, pointing out the local vegetation on the way. Barbara was down below, offered us drinks if we wanted, and we met Al and JJ -- our guides for the snorkel tour. I cannot describe how truly idyllic the whole setting was.
Al and JJ fitted us out for our gear, and off we went. Both Al and JJ were PHENOMENAL! We went to two separate places along the reef to snorkel, and Al was in the water helping us all as needed. Both my wife and daughter had the initial shock of trying out the gear in the open water, but Al could not have been more patient and within minutes, we were all off. He pointed out incredible sights, and even took down our waterproof camera on multiple occasions to snap close-up photos for us. At the second stop, we saw THE drop-off at the edge of the reef. I did clearly gulp at that, but it is truly a sight to behold.
On our way back, they gave us a short tour of the mangroves, and then we returned for a fantastic vegetarian lunch with drinks. Do not miss the watermelon smoothie.
This trip was -- without doubt -- the absolute highlight of our cruise, and we will NEVER forget the snorkeling. In fact, we were so taken, the very next day -- while visiting Cozumel -- we booked a last-minute snorkel tour of their reef. While people around us were astounded at the reef and what they were seeing, the three of us almost laughed at the comparison -- as there was NONE. The reef in Roatan is famous for a clear reason, and what we saw in Mexico was a very poor relation.
p.s. One of the best things about this tour is the fact that the size is kept very small -- less than 10 people. You definitely do NOT want to try snorkeling with 50 other people in the water, especially if you are going for the first time. On this tour, we were the ONLY people on this reef. In fact, there were no other people anywhere in sight.
A truly magical experience, and HUGE thank you to Duane, Barb, Al, and JJ.