Mayan Mystique Cruise on the Oceania Riviera
12/13/14 to 12/23/14
Due to the length of the review, it is in four parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page.
Page 1 - Embarkation and Ship
Page 2 - Ship Continued, Dining, Entertainment and Activities; Ports of Call: Key West, FL; Cozumel, Mexico
Page 3 - Ports of Call: Roatan, Honduras; Santo Thomas, Guatemala
Page 4 - Ports of Call: Belize City, Belize; Costa Maya, Mexico; George Town, Grand Cayman
Carol had not previously been to Roatan; but I had spent a week there on a diving trip 27 years ago. The diving had been incredible and our group stayed in little huts over the water at the only diving hotel on Roatan at the time, Anthony’s Key Resort. Since then, Roatan has become a much more popular tourist destination and even has their own international airport for large planes. When I visited before, we had to land at a major airport somewhere else and take a small commuter plane to Roatan.
We would be docking at the Mahogany Bay pier. As we entered we saw a couple of ship wrecks. One of them was the Alexander which was wrecked in 1981. The other was the Tulum which was wrecked in 1976.
We could also look down the island and see cruise ships at two other piers closer to town.
We had booked a private tour for the day with Channin Bodden (www.channinboddentours.com). Since we weren’t interested in doing any beach activities, we were going to do a sightseeing and cultural tour of the island. This was the only tour that Carol was going to join me on, since it wouldn’t involve a lot of walking. In communicating with Channin before the cruise, he told me that he was not allowed to come inside the port, and that we might want to take a cab to where he would be waiting outside of the port area. I didn’t think we would need a cab, since Carol had her scooter, but we would see when we got onto the land.
We were taking the tour with a couple that we had met on our Cruise Critic roll call. Barbara and Allan from Florida, not far from where we live.
The weather forecast was not great for the day and it was drizzling. Not what we were hoping for. We were glad we had brought the large Oceania umbrellas from our cabins. The shopping area itself was quite nice with a large open area that we would have to walk across in the rain. Carol was able to get across it and under cover quicker than the rest of us. She was pretty good at driving the scooter with an umbrella above her. Since she was moving so fast, she reminded me of Mary Poppins flying across the shopping center. I wish I had been able to take a photo of her.
Fortunately the rain did ease up some; but when we left the shopping area, we saw that to leave the port area, we would have to go up a steep road. We decided that we wanted a cab. It was well worth the $2 per person for the short ride. We did have to wait for an SUV cab to put Carol’s scooter in; but there were plenty of them.
It was a longer drive than we expected. Plus there was another steep incline after we got up the first one. It is a shame that Carnival Corporation, who built Mahogany Bay for their ships, makes it so difficult for cruisers to take independent tours.
When we came to the port entry, we saw a woman holding a sign with my name on it. She told us to stay in the cab until she could pull her van from the parking lot to get closer to us. It was an easy transfer. We were going to have a tour with Channin’s wife Kimberly. Since both of them have very good reputations as tour guides, we didn’t care which one gave us the tour. Kimberly was such a sweet person and did everything she could to give us a good time. She was most successful. There isn’t much to see in Roatan; but Kimberly was born there and was able to give us lots of information and show us more than I expected to see.
As we started our tour, we passed by a huge white house that actually looked like the White House. It is owned by the Jackson family, who Kimberly said owned many large homes and businesses in Roatan.
Along the road we saw many fruit and vegetable vendors. This one had an unusual fruit named rambutan. It is similar to the Lychee fruit and it is actually called Lychee in Roatan. Quite unusual looking; but it is supposed to be quite tasty.
As we were driving along I noticed that the road bumps to slow cars down, were rather unusual looking. Kimberly said that they were ropes that had been used on shrimp boats. That is a rather clever and cost effective way to slow down speeders.
Our first destination was to the Parrot Tree Plantation resort. The entry road to the resort was most impressive.
The private homes in the development had nice views looking over the ocean.
As we got into the actual resort area it looked like it was on a lake with a nice beach. The facility looked very nice; but there weren’t many people there. The lake was actually a pond made from the ocean water that flowed in at high tide through channels cut into the sand mounds.
Barbara, Alan and I took a walk around the lake, while Carol stayed with Kimberly.
When we got to the other side of the lake, Carol waved at us. She was enjoying chatting with Kimberly while we took lots of photos of the resort.
At the top of the hill on the resort property we could see the cupola on a large house owned by the resort owner.
After leaving the resort, we drove along the coast line. There were lots of rundown buildings and shops along the way; as well as roads to luxury resorts.
We wanted to stop somewhere and get a local beer, so Kimberly suggested that we go to a supermarket where the beer would be much cheaper. Great idea! It cost $8 for a six pack, which is about what one beer would cost on the ship with gratuity added. The supermarket was also using the shrimp boat ropes to control speeding in the parking lot.
On the way to our next destination, we saw a wall outside a school with some lovely tile artwork outside of a development.
I got a kick out of a dog that was appreciating a strange looking statue with a seashell on its head.
We arrived at Anthony’s Key resort; which was now considerably larger than when I visited there in 1987. They still had the over-water bungalows; but now they were much larger luxury bungalows. I had shared what was now a patio for the larger bungalow with several other divers. I was glad to see that the present day bungalows had electricity.
The resort has grown into a very big operation with lots of bungalows, many boats and a large shop.
I took Alan and Barbara’s photo that I used earlier in the review while on the resort boardwalk. Alan took one of us also.
On our way back to the ship, Kimberly took us to the beach in the van. She actually drove on the sand to show us where her grandmother still lives and where she grew up. Apparently driving on the beach is common on Roatan. It must have been interesting and fun to actually live on a tropical beach while growing up.
We then drove through the town of West End. It is a very popular location for divers to stay, eat and party.
A new road had recently been completed. Kimberly said that it had previously been a very bad narrower road.
There were some very nice establishments along the road as well as some less desirable ones. But I remember when I was diving in Roatan 27 years ago, there was nothing to do other than dive. I would have thoroughly enjoyed visiting West End back then.
Before we arrived at the ship, Kimberly pulled into a shopping center. Channin was there with his group who were eating lunch. I was glad that I was able to meet him, since we had communicated quite a bit prior to the cruise. He seemed like a very nice guy. Channin and Kimberly are a lovely couple.
Fortunately Kimberly was able to drop us off at the port itself, rather than where she had to pick us up. Just before we got to the port, we were able to see the Alexander shipwreck from the other side.
Since the weather had improved considerably during the day, the walk through the shopping area was quite enjoyable. I was able to take a photo of a hummingbird drinking from the lovely flowers.
A local band was performing at one end of the shopping center.
I liked the large Christmas tree in the middle of the cruise terminal. Since we weren’t going to be home until two days before Christmas, we hadn’t decorated this year. It made any decorations we saw that much more special.
It was a pretty good walk from the shopping area to the ship. I was so glad that Carol hadn’t had to walk it.
After we had lunch on the ship, I headed back out to see what else was at Mahogany Bay. I could see the chair lifts carrying people over the water; but didn’t know where they were going.
I saw a nature trail sign, so thought it might be enjoyable to check out. It was a nice well maintained path; but it did involve an incline. There were some nice wooden platforms along the path.
It turned out to be a short cut, so I was glad I took it. The main brick path would have been a longer walk from our ship; but it did look like a pleasant walk also. The reason for both of the paths was to get to Mahogany Bay Beach.
Now this was a major league beach! It was a beautiful well maintained beach with lots of lounge chairs.
They also had restaurants and other water sports available for the cruisers that docked at Mahogany Bay. It would be a nice place to stay if you wanted a beach day. I was glad that we had taken the tour and got to see the real Roatan rather than just the artificial one at Mahogany Bay.
Santo Tomas, Guatemala
Unlike some ports on a Caribbean cruise, Santo Thomas did not have a pretty port area. It had a lot of commercial activity going on.
Once we docked, we were able to see a small area of land that had a tropical look. It was like an oasis after seeing all the cranes and containers.
There wasn’t much for cruisers in the port area other than the terminal building. It looked kind of boring from the outside.
But that changed as soon as I walked through the doors. It was a large building with a lot going on. My first priority was to locate the booth for the company I was taking a tour with that day, Happy Fish Travel (www.happyfishtravel.com). They were easy to find right in the front of the building.
The tour was a boat ride through the Rio Dulce Canyon with a few stops along the way. After taking care of paying Happy Fish for the tour I was taking, I checked out the rest of the terminal building. There were lots of small shops; as well as a stage for performers. I would have to come back to the terminal after the tour and I hoped that Carol would get off the ship, since they did have some unique items.
While sitting in the waiting area for the tour to be called, I heard some loud music. I walked outside and there was a band playing in front of the ship where passengers were disembarking. They were dressed in red and white for the season and were playing Christmas songs. They even had some lovely girls dressed in Santa attire. It was a nice welcome to Guatemala.
When the time came for the tour to start, we saw our covered boat maneuvering to the dock. We all had to put on life preservers for the boating section of the tour. Our guide, Emilio, introduced himself and told us the safety rules and what to expect during the tour.
We saw a lot of nice resorts on the way to the canyon; but the spray from the boat and the distance to the buildings prevented me from taking decent photos. It was quite a long ride. I was glad that the weather was good and the seas weren’t too rough. I would not recommend taking this tour if the weather looks bad for the day. After 50 minutes, we came to the town of Livingston, where we would return later for lunch. The town didn’t look like much; but the first thing we noticed was the smell. Not good! We hoped that it was just along the dock area.
We were all amazed at the large number of pelicans. They were everywhere. Probably part of the reason for the smell issue.
Livingston was not a place where I would want to spend a long vacation. It was certainly an economically depressed area; but at least they had satellite TV.
As we moved away from the town, there were some nicer homes.
We saw a young man in a small boat fishing with a net. He was getting a pretty good haul.
We then got to the main reason I booked the tour, the ride through the Rio Dulce Canyon. The foliage covered cliffs reach up to 400 feet tall. We could see a rocky area on the cliff up ahead.
As we got closer Emilio pointed out that there was a cave in the wall.
As we continued down the river, we saw several boats with what looked like locals heading to Livingston.
It was a nice ride through the canyon; but I was expecting something a bit more dramatic.
We pulled into an area that had lots of water lilies. It also had lots of small boats with young girls selling handmade trinkets. They were very friendly and not too aggressive.
They were surrounding all boats that entered their waters. They were pretty little pirates.
The reason we were there was to go to a small store.
It was a much better stop than expected because a woman was making tortillas for us in her kitchen in the back of the store.
She would put a tortilla on a paper towel, then some salsa on the tortilla and hand it to each guest. Everyone agreed that they were just outstanding tortillas. I had to take a photo of two precious little girls watching us eat.
Emilio told us that people living on the river don’t have electricity unless they own a generator. It was a very poor area; but their quality of life was much better than many parts of the world we have visited.
One of the other passengers on the tour was a horticulturist. He was having a great time with all the tropical plants we were seeing on the tour.
Our next stop was to be at a hot springs area. After reading the write up on the tour, I almost brought a swimming suit. I was so glad I didn’t. It was not what I was expecting. We pulled up along a good sized building. Emilio told us that we needed to walk down the dock and over a small ramp to get to the thermal springs area.
It certainly didn’t look like any thermal springs I wanted to go swimming in. I did put my hand in it and the water was quite warm. Our Cruise Critic roll call friends Bob and Linda from Connecticut, who would do several tours with us, sat down and soaked their legs.
I also was able to get a nice photo of Dorienne and Alan from England when they posed with the other Alan. They would also do several tours with us.
Our next stop was a visit to the Ak'tenamit project, where there is a School for the Mayan children. Unfortunately we were there during a school vacation, so it was basically just a nature walk.
After getting back on the boat to continue our journey, I saw something strange in the water. When I enlarged the photo, it looked like three dragon flies emerging from their pupae. I wish I had had a longer lens to get closer, but I have cropped the shot a lot to show it.
For some reason, my side of the boat was in the sun 80% of the time. Fortunately the weather was quite mild, so it wasn’t too hot; but if you should take this tour, try to sit on the left or port side of the boat. That way you will be in the shade most of the time. Continuing our cruise back to Livingston, we passed some nice homes along with more canyon scenery.
But that changed as we got closer to Livingston and we started seeing shabby homes and the many pelicans.
Our reason for stopping in Livingston was to have lunch and a little shopping time. When Emilio pointed to where the restaurant we would be eating at was located, there were some groans. It was at the top of a hill. But on the bright side, there were a lot of shops on the way. It really wasn’t that difficult a walk.
When we got to the top of the hill, we saw that we were eating at the Happy Fish Restaurant and Travel Agency. An unusual combination; but it worked for Happy Fish. Since they provided us the tour and lunch, the name did describe what they did.
There was a long table set up inside for our group of 22. We were being served some chicken, rice and mixed vegetables. Some people were disappointed they couldn’t select from the menu; but I guess they couldn’t allow everyone to pick their own meal with the amount of time allowed. It was surprisingly good. I also discovered a delicious new hot sauce, Marie Sharp’s Habanero Pepper Sauce. It is a product of Belize and was a great seasoning for the chicken and rice.
After I finished lunch I went outside to do a little shopping. I did find a nice small locally made souvenir. Looking back down the hill was much more pleasant than looking up it.
There was an interesting looking restaurant across the street from the Happy Fish Restaurant. I also saw an interesting way to keep intruders out of your house. I would have to assume that the broken glass on the top of a wall would be pretty effective.
Down near the dock was a small park. The structures were interesting and I liked the way the hedges had been cut to make arches.
On our way back to the Santo Tomas port, I was finally able to get a photo of some of the nice homes along the water.
After getting back to the port, I walked through the terminal to see if there were any more unique souvenirs. While passing by the stage area, I paused to check out a show that was being performed.
I wanted to get Carol a particular souvenir that I really liked; but wasn’t sure about which color to get for her, so I passed on it. I thought that maybe she had come down already and possibly gotten some souvenirs. When I returned to our cabin, I was thrilled to see that out of all the many souvenirs that were available, she had gone shopping and picked out just what I thought she would like. We were in sync.
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