I'm blogging about our vacation on Vision of the Seas last month, and today will be all about our second port stop, Belize! I had never been to Belize before so this one took some research. Everything I read on the Cruise Critic Forums pointed to Cave Tubing as the best choice for this day. After checking prices with local tour operators, I decided to go with the Darknight Cave Tubing tour offered by Royal Caribbean through the ship. The beauty of taking a cruise sponsored tour is that if you are late getting back (for any reason - traffic, car trouble, slow moving tour guide) the ship will WAIT for you. If you are taking a tour with a local tour guide and you are late for the ship .... well, they will leave without you. The cave tubing tour included a LONG ride to reach the tubing area, another shorter ride to get to the departure point and then a hike through the forest. Too much room for error for this crew, so we went with the safest option.
It was another beautiful and warm day when we arrived in Belize City. Because the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is so close to Belize City, this port required tendering. Which basically means that the huge cruise ships can't just park at a dock without ruining the reef, so passengers take a smaller boat back and forth from the port. Some people dislike tendering, but our family mostly views it as an extra boat ride, so we like it. Here's a view from our tender, as we watched another tender arrive for the next group. And hey, bonus, I can see our "windows" !
My daughter and I wore our Keens for this trip. Can't say enough about how much I love Keens - they are the best water shoes because they have all the support of sneakers. They were perfect for our excursion.
And here's our view of the Belize City Port as we arrived on our tender.
Since we were on a cruise tour, we had been assigned numbers on the ship, so we just needed to find our tour operator and go. Easy Peasy. Our bus ride started with a ride through Belize City and then we passed through Yarborough Cemetery. Our guide told us that this cemetery is the only one in the world with a major highway passing through the middle.
Lots of other interesting sights, and lots of good information from our tour guide Javi.
After a long ride (over an hour) we started to see signs of the mountains where we were headed. Javi pointed out this mountain range that looks like a sleeping man - can you see it?
And then, because we were running a little late - instead of going to the tubing first we flip flopped plans and had lunch before the tubing. Which would have made me nervous if we weren't on a cruise sponsored tour, but since we were, the word late didn't phase me at all. Lunch was really good. chicken and some rice and some kind of cole slaw, plus a drink. Shopping available so of course we browsed a little. They had bug spray available here - we didn't need it but some had to buy it since we were going to be hiking through the rain forest. This is the bus we rode in.
Here's our lunch that was included:
Everyone enjoyed it. It looked to be safe for Oliver to eat, and he chowed down, and drank his favorite Izze soda that we had brought from home.
Bought a few coconuts from the shops.
Our lunch time view
After our stop, we drove a little longer to the place where we got outfitted for tubing. At this point there were lockers available to drop off anything valuable that you didn't want getting wet. We knew this was coming so we didn't bring anything except what would fit into our waterproof bags, and we just left our bag of towels and my super old camera on the bus. From here on, all photos are either phone pictures or taken with my waterproof Nikon Coolpix. (AKA - not the best quality). But again, the best camera is the one you have with you!
Here we are with our spelunking helmets and life jackets, ready to go! And you can see the waterproof case hubby has around his neck - big enough for our phones and credit cards and they kept everything dry.
At this point we got on smaller buses (you can see them in the background of the above photos) and headed into the jungle! Short ride and then we were ready to hike! The hike was pretty long and the beginning of it was pretty steep, but we are fairly fit and were able to handle it. Our guide stopped every few minutes to tell us about the plants in the jungle. My favorite was when he showed us a "tourist tree" - they call it that because the bark turns red and peels off. :)
They also offered a zipline - we were not quite that adventurous.
We walked through several large caves on our way.
Cool face in a cliff
Nice path through the jungle
I forget what this was called, but it was edible, kind of tasted like coconut. Palm kernel maybe?
Jaguar tracks - our guide acted like it was fresh to give us a scare, but since they are nocturnal animals, I was pretty sure we weren't in any danger.
Group shot! I really appreciated that our guide asked us a few times if we wanted a photo. Since I'm a photographer, my kids get sick of pictures but when someone else suggests it, they are always willing. And hey, I got to be in the photo for a change. (In my swimsuit. Wearing a spelunking helmet. Nothing says "sexy beast" like a spelunking helmet. Maybe I don't appreciate this as much as I thought?)
More walking ....
This cave was VERY big. When we got to the middle we turned off our lights and were in pitch darkness. No photos of that.
After our jungle trek, we reached the river and the tubes!
With a little effort, we got ourselves in and headed down the river.
The jungle canopy kept us comfortably shaded:
We tubed through the caves
Once again, in the middle of the cave it was super dark. We turned off our lights for a bit to take it in. The Mayans who lived in this area used these caves for ceremonies - they believed that they were in the underworld when they were underground - Xibalba. Not hard to imagine why they felt that way as we sat in the dark water.
And then we were back out in the sunlight and the tubing was finished. We made it out of Xibalba! At this point my kids and I remembered that they used that term in one of our favorite movies, "The Road to El Dorado" - and we got a little silly saying "To Xibalba!" a few times. Back at the buses, Oliver wanted a photo with our guide, Javi. You can thank Javi for the title of today's blog - he is the one who told us that the proper response when asked how we liked Belize was to say - "It was Un-Belize-able!" So Thanks again Javi for that little bit of corn.
We also got to try some of the food and natural medicines that are taken from the rain forest.
Then we changed into dry clothes and headed to the buses for our LONG trip back to our ship. We passed a lot of local homes that reminded us that life in the USA is not so bad.
And then it was time for our home away from home - beautiful view of the ships in port - we saw Norwegian and Carnival, plus two Royal Caribbean ships out at sea.
And here's where we talk about how great it was to take a ship's tour. We were on the absolute LAST tender of the day. In the photo below you can see the Crew Port Guides (pink shirts), who always come back to the ship LAST. I know if we weren't with the cruise tour, I would have been sweating bullets on the ride back to the port! And as it turns out, we heard that two people actually didn't make it - they had to find a way to get to Costa Maya, Mexico the next day and rejoin the cruise then. Can you imagine??
I enjoyed some great views of the ships as we tendered in.
And once again, we were back on-board and getting read for dinner! Our next port was Costa Maya, Mexico! If you want to learn about the Mayan Ruins, tune in next week. I learned a few new things that I can't wait to share.