When Holland America's Westerdam pulls into port at Costa Maya today, it'll be cause for celebration for both passengers and area residents alike. Westerdam is the first cruise ship to visit Costa Maya -- which lies on Mexico's southern Caribbean coast, near Belize -- since the port was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Dean in 2007.
Prior to the storm, Costa Maya, which serves as a gateway to the Caribbean and was carved out of the jungle to serve cruise travelers, was increasingly popular. Its deep-water dock handled ships of all sizes, and its onsite facilities featured open-air restaurants and bars, pools and a private beach, and duty free shops. Water sports options -- from scuba diving to kayaking -- along with opportunities to visit Mayan ruins, helped to cement its appeal.
Costa Maya's developers also created a beach club facility for shore tours, complete with water sports and restaurants. Majahual, a charming village of 200 people about 10 minutes away, was also a prime destination for dining, beach massages, water sports and shopping.
The good news, says Cesar Lizarraga, Costa Maya's marketing chief, is that the created-for-cruise-ship port and facilities are the same as before, only better (and newer, as they've been rebuilt). Half of the dock was destroyed, but the newly rebuilt pier can now accommodate three ships instead of two, as was the case previously. It is even large enough to handle Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, should the cruise line decide to include Costa Maya on a future itinerary for its newest, largest ship. The Uvero Beach Club, which was completely destroyed, has also been rebuilt, but Croc World, a small, fun-for-kids jungle sanctuary on the property, has not returned.
Otherwise, says Lizarraga, "The restaurants, pools and shops didn't suffer dramatic damage. Repairs were more cosmetic than anything else." Repeat visitors will notice very few differences, though the previously existing amphitheater was replaced with more shopping. "With the growth of Majahual, people like to venture out, and now that the village has a promenade and other new features, it's even more enticing," Lizarraga says.
Indeed, Majahual -- which, like Costa Maya, lay right in Dean's path -- has had a complete makeover. There's a new boardwalk, or promenade, that runs along the beach. Lizarraga tells us "It's beautiful ... turquoise, 1.5 miles long and even featuring color-coordinated trash cans. Ugly electrical lines have been buried, the white sand is powdery (very Caribbean), and the restaurants (El Faro, Luna de Plata, Los 40 Canones) are all back."
Westerdam's call today represents the beginning of Costa Maya's fall and winter season. Starting next week, ships will again become regular visitors. Among those heading to Costa Maya in November, in addition to Westerdam, are Holland America's Veendam, Carnival Legend, P&O Cruises' Oceana, Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas, Disney Magic and Norwegian Spirit.
Heading to Costa Maya soon? Share your experiences and photos with us here.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
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Costa Maya Welcomes First Ship Since Hurricane
October 31, 2008