Amongst the many purpose-built islands we've seen, there are only a few that catch our eye -- and one of those few is Harvest Caye. Harvest Caye (pronounced "key") stands out for many reasons: the 75-acre floating oasis included on southern Belize cruise itineraries is a testament to Norwegian Cruise Line's commitment to both the local economy and its passengers.
The Belizean touches Norwegian added during the 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.
There is a whole lot to love about this stunning and exciting Norwegian private island, but here are just 12 reasons why we love Harvest Caye so much.
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.
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 businesses by sourcing as many materials as possible from within Belize when building the island.
Norwegian also employed hundreds of Belizean workers who helped with building the facilities at Malacate and on the island, and now hundreds work in passenger-facing jobs on Harvest Caye.
Tying in with its efforts to make Harvest Caye, Belize is eco-friendly and tries to help visitors learn about the native wildlife by including a nature center called Harvest Caye Nature Park.
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, Norwegian Cruise Line has hired a naturalist who boasts 25 years of experience with the Belize Zoo.
For many visitors, getting a glimpse of the natural Belize wildlife is one of the top Belize excursions. So take a stroll through the nature center -- you won't regret it.
Visitors to Harvest Caye, Belize cruise port get to experience a whole lot more than stunning beaches and ocean waves.
A butterfly sanctuary is home to dozens of 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.
Avid bird watchers can delight in the ease and accessibility of bird watching on this small private island in Belize. In addition to the aforementioned fauna, toucans and scarlet macaws can also be found in both Harvest Caye's nature center and naturally in the wild.
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 the best experience, remember to wear appropriate clothing for adventurous Belize excursions.
It seems nothing is more appealing to cruise passengers than exclusive areas ashore. Harvest Caye offers 11 beachfront villas (including one accessible) and 15 poolside cabanas. For real estate that exclusive, you'll want to book in advance.
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. Talk about a luxury experience on little Harvest Caye!
Food service is also available in the beachfront villas.
If sandy beaches and a massive pool aren't enough for your kids, check out the small, shaded and brightly-colored Splash Zone featuring sprayers and a dump bucket.
Children and adults alike can enjoy the Splash Zone amenities that are available to all guests. Wear your favorite swimsuit and pack towels to dry off.
More than 3,000 beach loungers are available for passengers to use, free of charge. For-fee clamshell shaded loungers can also be reserved.
Enjoy a relaxed beach day with the complimentary beach loungers or head straight into the water for some island fun.
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.
Food on the private island is not included with your cruise. Cruisers can pay separately with US dollars and Belize dollars.
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.