We've seen a ton of purpose-built islands, so it takes a lot to grab our attention. Harvest Caye stands out for many reasons: From the zipline to the nature center, the 75-acre floating oasis in southern Belize is a testament to Norwegian Cruise Line's commitment to both the local economy and to its passengers.
"The way it connects with Belize is impressive," says Andy Stuart, Norwegian Cruise Line's president and CEO. "You discover the destination as you work your way around the destination."
The Belizean touches Norwegian added during construction of Harvest Caye -- native performances, shops and kiosks run by residents selling their wares, as well as sculptures and paintings by local artists -- leave visitors feeling like they've gotten a real taste of what Belize has to offer. To see more of the country, cruisers will need to book a Norwegian Cruise Line-sponsored shore excursion; there are no third-party operators or taxis available for hire.
Cruiser-friendly additions to the island range from major draws -- a canopy-covered dock, a gargantuan pool, zipline, beachfront villas and an outpost of the Jimmy Buffett-affiliated LandShark Bar & Grill -- to more minor details that include mist-blowing fans and a pair of mini-cannons near the front gate to commemorate the Battle of St. George's Caye.
Photos: Ashley Kosciolek, Editor
No More Tendering
Unlike the port in Belize City, Harvest Caye has a dock, which means visiting ships can pull right up to the island to offload passengers, making tendering unnecessary. The dock is long, but it will be shaded and protected from inclement weather by a canopy.
Keeping It Local
Adding to the authenticity of a visit to Harvest Caye are works by Belizean artists, including a giant wooden carving of two iguanas and gorgeous wildlife murals at the island's welcome center. Norwegian executives tell us they tried to support local business by sourcing as many materials as possible from within Belize when building the island.
Tying in with its efforts to make Harvest Caye eco-friendly and to help visitors learn about the native wildlife, Norwegian has included a nature center on the island. Cruisers can walk through for free, visiting a variety of animals like birds, butterflies and boa constrictors along the way. To care for the animals, the cruise line has hired a naturalist who boasts 25 years of experience with the Belize Zoo.
Butterflies and Iguanas Galore
A butterfly sanctuary is home to dozens of the winged creatures in stunning shades of blue and orange. Be careful where you step, though, as the enclosure is also home to dozens of iguanas that were rescued from elsewhere in Belize.
In addition to the aforementioned fauna, toucans and scarlet macaws can also be found in Harvest Caye's nature center. This little guy is one of five toucans who lend their gorgeous colors to the island.
For Active Cruisers
One of the island's most prominent structures is a giant lighthouse, which serves as the home base for Harvest Caye's extra-fee zipline. Two separate runs are offered, one of which stretches 1,300 feet between the lighthouse and the beach. Cruisers who want even more adventure can also take on the island's ropes course or rent a paddleboard, kayak or motorized boat. (The water sports lagoon is cordoned off to avoid causing harm to the local manatee population.)
For Cruisers Who Want to Relax
It seems nothing is more appealing to cruise passengers than exclusive areas ashore. Harvest Caye offers 11 beachfront villas (including one accessible) from $475 per day and 15 poolside cabanas from $199 per day. For real estate that exclusive, you'll want to book in advance.
Have a Peek Inside
Each beachfront villa has air conditioning and its own living area (high-top table and two chairs, couch, two wicker chairs, coffee table, television), private bathroom, outdoor shower and four outdoor loungers. Food service is also available.
If sandy beaches and a massive pool aren't enough for your kids, check out the small, shaded, brightly colored Splash Zone, featuring sprayers and a dump bucket.
Lounging on the Beach
More than 3,000 beach loungers are available for passengers to use, free of charge. For-fee clamshell shaded loungers can also be reserved.
LandShark Bar & Grill
Places to snag food on Harvest Caye include Horse Eye Jack's, Laughing Bird Bar & Grill, Manatee Bar & Grill and various kiosks throughout the island, but the most anticipated venue is Jimmy Buffett's LandShark Bar & Grill. Offering both indoor (air-conditioned) and outdoor seating on a second-floor terrace overlooking the pool, LandShark will serve a variety of menu items, as well as LandShark beer and Belikin, a local Belizean brew. A food service window is also available poolside.
Harvest Caye's enormous pool area -- one of the largest we've seen -- is great for socializing, offering a swim-up bar, in-water seating and a food service window that's attached to LandShark Bar & Grill. It's also a place where visitors can relax on one of several loungers. The pool and its seating are free to use. Poolside cabanas are available for rent, as well.
Located on the Belizean mainland, Malacate serves as the staging area for Harvest Caye. Passengers who book mainland shore excursions (available only through the cruise line) will be ferried from Harvest Caye to Malacate to meet their tour operators. Malacate also serves as the storage area for the island, housing provisions for its food and beverage operations, as well as general supplies.
Behind the Scenes
A month prior to opening, Malacate is still partially under construction. Workers are busy spreading stone and planting local crops like mangoes, pineapple and sugarcane, which will all be used on Harvest Caye. Norwegian employed hundreds of Belizean workers who helped with building the facilities at Malacate and on the island, and more than 400 others will work in passenger-facing jobs on Harvest Caye.
It's one of the most common cruising questions: When is the best time to cruise Alaska, Australia, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Hawaii, Europe or the South Pacific? The answer depends on many variables. Fall foliage enthusiasts, for instance, will find September and October the best time to take that Canada/New England cruise, whereas water sports-lovers (and families) much prefer to sail the region in the summer when school is out and temperatures are warmer for swimming. The best time to cruise to Alaska will vary depending on your preferences for viewing wildlife, fishing, bargain-shopping, sunshine, warm weather and catching the northern lights. For most cruise regions, there are periods of peak demand (high season), moderate demand (shoulder season) and low demand (low season), which is usually the cheapest time to cruise. High season is typically a mix of when the weather is best and popular travel periods (such as summer and school holidays). However, the best time to cruise weather-wise is usually not the cheapest time to cruise. The cheapest time to cruise is when most travelers don't want to go because of chillier temperatures or inopportune timing (too close to holidays, the start of school, etc.). But the lure of cheap fares and uncrowded ports might make you change your mind about what you consider the best time to cruise. As you plan your next cruise, you'll want to take into consideration the best and cheapest times to cruise and see what jibes with your vacation schedule. Here's a when-to-cruise guide for popular destinations.