Ellen Frazer-Jameson continues her ‘Return to Cruising’ series
From Miami she sailed to Harvest Caye, Belize on NCL’s ‘Norwegian Gem’
YOU BETTER BELIZE IT!!!
Harvest Caye, Belize, is a private island in the Caribbean, owned and managed by Norwegian Cruise Lines. Through the long pause in operations, as passengers waited to get back to sea, the trend for upmarket tailored destination travel reached new heights. The major cruise lines seized the opportunity to develop and market their own exclusive enclaves and capitalise on the ability to offer passengers a safe bubble, socially distanced and mask-free, while inter-acting with vaccinated fellow passengers.
Pristine palm-fringed beaches with sugar soft sand, lapped by vibrant blue seas in a natural setting, no longer fulfils the needs of high-end discerning travellers.
Expectations of cruise ship passengers rise constantly as they demand more and more exclusivity and access to luxury facilities even as they leave five-star ship living behind and venture ashore. Cruise lines endeavour to manage every aspect of the local experience – with none of the unpredictable aspects of everyday locations.
Harvest Caye in Southern Belize in the Caribbean, offers the perfect premier island destination for a port call. There you are made welcome on a 75-acre oasis featuring an expansive pool with a swim-up bar, salt-water lagoon for water sports, exclusive 7-acre beach and exciting shore adventures ranging from zip lining across the island to snorkelling the world's second largest barrier reef.
The development of Harvest Caye is part of Norwegian Edge, a program designed to bring higher tourism standards to the high seas. Business owner’s partner with the cruise lines to offer unique, quality locally designed and sourced jewellery and artefacts as well as jewelled flip-flops, sunglasses and hair accessories. Services such as hair braiding and henna tattooing are available and tiki-hut palm fringed shops and bars offer shelter from the sun and cooling coconut filled drinks.
The extensive pool area has a swim-up bar, cascading waterfall and private canopy cabanas available for rent. Shopping village features popular name-brand retailers as well as local Belizean crafts.
Luxurious beachside cabanas can accommodate up to 6 guests and feature concierge food and beverage service, lounge chairs, private bathrooms and air conditioning, with access to golf carts for easy transportation around the island.
The Flight house is a thrilling 136-foot high venue for aerial activities featuring 3,000 feet of zip lining across the island, quick jumps and an observation deck with mainland views. There’s a salt water lagoon for aqua sports such as kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and electric float boats.
But is it the authentic Belize?
To experience the real Belize, take an excursion away from the caye.
Belize is a nation on the Eastern coast of Central America, with Caribbean shorelines to the East and dense jungle to the west. Offshore the massive Belize barrier reef, dotted with hundreds of low-lying islands called cayes, hosts rich marine life. Belize’s jungle areas are home to spectacular Mayan ruins. To the north Belize borders Mexico, and to the east, the Caribbean sea and Guatemala.
To the south. The capital is Belmopan and largest city, Belize city.
The country formerly a British colony from 1840, known as British Honduras, won its Independence from Britain in 1981 and continues to be a Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth as its monarch. The country’s anthem is Land of the Free and its Royal anthem is God Save the Queen. English is the official language and Spanish second. Most of the population are bilingual and speak a Belizean Creole and a few locals speak the traditional ancient Mayan language.
The Mayan civilisation flourished in Belize until about 1200AD and mystery and myth still surround the reasons the Mayans died out. It may have been due to disease; possibly their worship rituals that involved human sacrifices or more fancifully the enduring notion that the population was captured by aliens and transported to space.
Belizean cuisine is an amalgamation of all the diverse ethnicities in the island nation and a typical meal includes rice and beans with coconut milk, stewed chicken and potatoes salad. Punta is a popular modern style of Belizean Afro-Caribbean music with an international beat said to be an amalgamation of calypso, reggae and merengue.
The national flower of Belize is the black orchid, their national tree is mahogany and the national bird is the keel billed toucan.
Leave Harvest Caye for an off-shore excursion and a catamaran with the exuberant Captain Kirk, makes a 30-minute journey to a nearby island and offers a coast line of indigenous trees, a few waterfront properties and pastel coloured houses on stilts with communal meeting areas alongside under the shelter of tiki huts.
After the boat ride, a short coach journey arrives at a nearby settlement. The Mango and Independence villages. Unpainted wooden houses line the streets of two villages separated by one street.
Upwards of four thousand people live and work in the area, mostly at the rum refinery and a cashew factory which produces a fine wine known as ‘poor man’s whisky.” The population is made up of descendants of the Mayan culture and various other Caribbean ethnicities.
Hummingbird Highway crosses the small island and all points lead to the commercial centres and transport depots from which bananas – described as “Fyffes, regular size bananas, not baby size Chiquita’s” - and a factory producing 30 different kinds of rum, mostly for export to Europe. This small island community produces 22 varieties of mangoes and the largest of the crop which are “the size of your head” are known locally as bellyful mangoes. Seafood comes in all shapes and sizes and shrimp , red snappers and lobster are fished and exported
The small town boasts a school, a church, sports stadium, nursery day care centre, an ice cream parlour, three cell phone shops, several Chinese superstores and a Holy Redeemer Credit Union. The Hello Hotel is a low-level structure painted sky blue and sunshine yellow and the lot next door complete with a house, is to be raffled – when all the tickets are sold. A young man on a push-bike wearing a superman t-shirt stands by the ticket board, calling out, “Buy a ticket, win a house.”
On main street The Pioneer House built in the 1950’s acts as a museum. Formerly an office building for the now defunct lumber yard and saw mill, the two -storey structure was home to the Zabadi family; parents and seven children. With five bedrooms and two bathrooms, the Pioneer House, also known as “the rich man’s house” was the first in the village to have running water and electricity.
Two Belize flags flutter on the towers of Jian’s Superstore and a welcome breeze drifts across the well-swept sidewalks.
“We are warm as the weather,” Belize people like to proclaim.
The contrast to Harvest Caye is certainly apparent but with high employment in the area and a happy-go-lucky attitude, Mango and Independence villagers take pride in their homes and their country.
Local people and business owners have developed a marketable brand signature, you hear it everywhere you go.
“BELIZE IS UN-BELIEZABLE. YOU BETTER BELIEZE IT.”
International Travel Write and author, Ellen Frazer-Jameson, continues her series on
“Return to Cruising” from her home port of Miami, Florida.
Her latest voyage, round trip Miami on NCL’s “Norwegian Gem” to Central America.
A Jewel of a Ship – Norwegian Cruise Lines “Norwegian Gem”
Under the shade of a cotton tree in Gumbalimba Preserve and Animal Sanctuary in Bay of Islands, Roatan, 40 miles off the northern coast of Honduras, in the Caribbean Sea; the monkey sitting on my head nurses her baby and eats her nuts.
She shows no fear of humans and after the initial shock of a two-foot-tall hyper -active creature leaping from the ground right into my arms, we come to an understanding. She will not pull off my hat and I won’t attempt to share her treats.
Bruna is a white-cheeked, black-haired spider monkey and with other family members including Petra and Joey, she lives with her trainer of 12 years, Angel, who has his work cut out stopping the playful monkeys, who roam uncaged, squabbling with each other and running rings around tourists.
“The monkeys will steal your personal possessions,” Angel warns. “They are fascinated by cell phones, love to know what you have in your wallet and pick pockets for the fun of it.”
Arriving in the early morning sunshine on Norwegian Gem after sailing for two days out of Miami, the first stop on the Central American itinerary was a former British Colony, British Honduras which was fought over by the Spanish and British in the 1850’s and regained independence from an English-speaking government a decade later.
Norwegian Gem, 15 decks high, 1,000 ft long, weighing 93 and a half tons, was built in 2006 to carry 2,394passengers. Post-covid social distancing restrictions have halved that number to 1,200 on current voyages but crew numbers remain above 1,000 individuals, all happy to be back at work after more than a year of enforced home leave. Half the passengers, twice the service, with NCL pulling all the stops out to ensure that returning cruisers feel safe and protected by stringent health protocols though only employees are required to wear masks. Many ports of call impose mask-wearing rules and this applies to passengers who travel on shore excursions from the ship.
Gumbalimba Preserve is high in the hills above Flowers Bay, home to the second largest coral reef outside of Australia, close to the town of Coxen Hole, the major settlement on the Bay Islands. Named after Captain John Coxen, a notorious pirate, one of the more than 500 who set up home on Roatan when several British families arrived from the Caymen Islands in 1835. Coxen’s Cave is a man-made cavern showcasing the Golden Age of the Pirates and the first inhabitants of the islands from 600/700 years ago. A recently excavated barnacle covered cannon guards the entrance to the buccaneer, Coxen’s Cave and a replica of a 7th century Spanish battlement houses an Insectarium of 1,000 breeds.
Roatan has an international airport and is an ever-popular cruise ship destination. It claims bragging rights as a world class scuba, water sports and snorkelling destination with nearly perfect diving conditions.
Sparkling turquoise waters of the gigantic coral reef are surrounded by tropical white sand beaches and an abundance of cotton, coffee, cinnamon, lemon and cannon ball trees, so named because of their unique shape.
Black and green iguanas who can grow up to 5/6ft long and lay 50/60 eggs a year, roam wild in the Animal Sanctuary though elsewhere they are a delicacy eaten by the locals and known as chickens of the trees. In the natural habitat of the outdoor Bird Sanctuary, exotically coloured parrots fly free and are tame enough to pose for photographs with visitors.
Christopher Columbus visited Roatan during his explorations of the central American territories and named one area “deep water”.
“He knew he was in “deep water” when he sailed into our bay,” explains an enthusiastic young guide, and he laughs, “the water around our island are very deep.”
Maybe that is the reason why, even the most expensive newly constructed brick- built houses with spectacular bay views from their hilltop acreages are built on stilts. Driving up the mountain side from the port, the oldest church, a rum factory, a barber shop and huge golf course, once visited by Tiger Woods, are all visible from the road that runs East and West across the 36 miles x 8 miles island. The island is shaped like a crocodile and the best beaches and best restaurants are claimed by West Beach. It is here that veteran Hollywood superstar Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones have a vacation home. If you want to know where the couple live, it is necessary to know the colour of the house. There is no mail service on the island, addresses are listed by distance from the clock tower and the colour of the paintwork.
Exports from the island include five varieties of bananas, rum and coconuts. Fishing, hunting and farming sustain many locals and the recent return of cruises has given the economy and service industries a welcome revival.
Aspects of Roatan can rightly be called Untamed and with the awakened interest in ecologically sustainable tourism, the largely undeveloped areas attract visitors who choose to tread softly on the lands they explore.
“ Welcome Back,” reads a sign in a tour coach window,
“Arrive as strangers, leave as friends.”
The journey continues……next Port of Call – Harvest Caye, Belize, Central Americato edit.
What if we chose to appreciate every moment as if it were our last?
Tony Robbins, is known as the nation’s top life and business strategist. He is often called the greatest motivational speaker on the planet and he has coached millions of people in 100 countries in the art of living a better life. His best-selling books include Unlimited Power and Awaken the Giant Within. “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”
Performance coach, Miami-based, Dragan Trajkovski, decided as an 18-year old immigrant, whose family hardly spoke English to model himself on his hero, Tony. A North Californian, Tony turned his own life around from being a broke janitor at 17, to a famous international speaker in his mid 20’s. Dragan set as his first goal that he wanted to work for the Anthony Robbins company and learn everything he could from the master. Now, some 14 years later, Dragan has partnered with Tony to deliver over 2,500 seminars to top businesses and global organisations. Dragan, whom Tony calls, Dragan Slayer, is a Worldwide Strategist trusted and mentored by Tony to deliver his high energy brand of Peak Performance Strategies. “Identify your problems but give power and energy to solutions” But, Dragan admits, he did not always embrace his Peak Performance. While he tried to find a meaningful role and career path, he suffered from esteem issues with his Eastern European background and limited resources. The Dragan Slayer refused to embrace his birth name and instead called himself, David. thinking that by staying below the radar with an everyday name, he would not need to expect too much of himself. And neither would other people expect too much from such an unassuming individual.
Tony Robbin convinced him that a reclaimed “Dragan” would roar into life and become an extraordinary person who did not be need to be afraid to show his full power and strength. “It’s not knowing what to do, it’s doing what you know” Dragan is on a mission to train and empower people who are committed to living up to their potential. In Peak Performance Strategy sessions he lays out the structure for change. “If your life is underperforming and you don’t change it, you’re choosing it. You are growing and adapting or dying,“ he stresses. A transformative aspect of the Tony Robbins, motivational Seminars, is Fire Walking. A barefoot walk over red-hot coals. “Don’t try this at home, “ Dragan jokes, “ you need the training and confidence to believe you can do it. Then you will.“
Dragan certainly knows how to inspire confidence in his audience and urges the gathered businessmen, executives and realtor newbies at a lunchtime Strategy Session in the luxury real estate offices of Aria Reserve, Miami, to “Live with Passion.”
Dragan, who talks super-fast and constantly circles around the Room as he encourages attendees, “You need to put energy into everything you do.” One compelling reason for thinking big and making dreams outsize is that, every time you underplay your potential, you leave money on the table and the next guy along can pick up your best deal or sell your real estate. “Energy is limitless when you learn to overcome the fear and harness it ,” he states. “ It’s your job to combine the three elements of mental, emotional and physical and become a force to be reckoned with. Bet on Yourself. Invest in Yourself. Grow Yourself.” Dragan offers a strategy. Examine BELIEFS AND PATTERNS– identify POTENTIAL– take Action and ACHIEVE the OUTCOMES and RESULTS “Now is the time to reset the outmoded operating system in your heart, mind and body. If you are using the oldest version of Windows, you are not up to speed. Close down that outdated system and start firing on state-of-the-state software.” After igniting energy levels in his newly motivated audience, Dragan Slayer makes a speedy exit out into the red-hot heat of a Miami summer afternoon. With his last fiery breath, he demands. “If you became aware today, act fast, there is no time to lose.” firstname.lastname@example.org
Back to Cruising!
Sixteen months ago, halfway through a Grand Round the World Voyage, my ship of dreams came to a sudden halt one port on from Sydney.
Aboard a Greek owned, British cruise liner whose entire fleet would subsequently be declared bankrupt, we intrepid seafarers waited anxiously for news of whether we would be evacuated from the ship and flown home; sailed home the long way around or be left to drift aimlessly on a Magical Mystery Tour. A couple of thousand anxious passengers and crew, we treaded water while daily waiting to hear our fate as a global pandemic raged and ports refused entry to once most eagerly welcomed visitors, cruise ships which in many countries help keep their economies afloat.
With Britain in lockdown, most of us were not eager to rush home. Eventually the company confirmed that our global cruise would continue but there would be no shore excursions– essential supplies and fuel were to be allowed onboard in designated ports – but no passengers to disembark. Except for one enterprising gentleman who asked the Captain to drop him off in
Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory on Spain’s south- east coast also known as The Rock. The elderly resident was transferred by tender to his home port as we all stood on deck and waved him off. Apart from the fact that our supply of Easter eggs was not deemed essential enough to be on-loaded during an emergency stop in Singapore, everything went surprisingly smoothly. Hardly anyone complained about the lack of bananas during the latter days of our conveyancing back to the UK.
On board, the ship remained a hive of activity, a highly organised sanctuary of fine dining, first class entertainment and companionable camaraderie.
It felt as if we had been shipwrecked – even while we were onboard.
“This will be your best cruise ever, “ the company assured us. They were not to know that it would also be the last cruise of any sort for a very long time.
My enduring memory is of arriving back at our home-port on the River Thames and being issued with personal protective equipment, hand sanitisers and letters of authority to complete homeward journeys.
With continuous instructions to “maintain social distancing.” Whatever that was! We had been in a bubble – not one passenger crew member went down with covid19 on our ship.
Like dancers on the deck of the Titanic we had worn our party clothes right up to the last Gala Night as the live bands played on.
In the harsh light of day, we were shepherded down the gangway, wrapped head to toe against the encroaching virus and looking, as the brilliant travel writer Paul Theroux once described it, “resembling individuals expelled from the Garden of Eden.”
Many of our family and friends, thought we would never cruise again – not even if we had the chance. They could not have been more wrong; most cruise aficionados were desperate to get back on board.
That brings me full circle to the cruise I finally sailed on out of Port of Miami sixteen months later.
The cruise lines have gone to enormous trouble to implement health and safety protocols to keep passengers safe, and many ships (everyone vaccinated with a few exceptions) are sailing with only
50% capacity. Of course, there is a huge revenue impact on the cruise lines but for travellers, the socially distanced ships are less crowded with no queues for food or entertainment.
Carnival have adopted the marketing slogan BACK TO FUN and on my ship Carnival Sunrise, most passengers did not need much encouragement. A party atmosphere prevailed throughout the vessel with crew showing their joy to be back in jobs by going the extra mile, smiling and welcoming clients while going about their duties with extra wide grins, constant eye contact and offers of “Is there anything else I can do for you?” All crew members actively engage with passengers and in the dining rooms, waiters, servers and hosts join in specially choreographed celebratory singing and dancing routines giving them a chance to display their versatility.
Cruise companies took advantage of the long pause in operations to refurbish their ships, the décor is streamlined and updated, with clean lines and contemporary furnishing. New carpets, drapes, bedding, towels, everything is super ship shape.
Ocean view windows and spacious balconies invite the constantly changing patterns of sea and sky on the passing horizon directly into the stateroom. Fares are affordable and discounts and family rates are being used to attract new passengers and re-engage seasoned cruisers.
Buffets are still popular and from morning to night
there is a mouth-watering selection of every imaginable dish from eggs benedict for breakfast to pizza served all day long to free ice cream cornets.
It is said, if you really try, you can put on 5lb on a week-long cruise. If there were only one culprit to blame, it would have to be the sky-high 6-layer cream sponge cakes in strawberry, peanut butter, chocolate and lemonade.
Lovers of fine dining are treated to waiter service with five-star meals in vast, airy restaurants with glittering chandeliers and vibrant sea- blue glass balconies overlooking the waves.
Speciality restaurants embrace international dishes and hearty American smokehouses serve up plate sized steaks.
Live music around the pool offers on deck dancing and Sail-away parties, while the more active climb never ending staircases up to the top of twisting and turning water slides and flumes.
The Casino offers the chance to claim high stake prizes or simply enjoy repeatedly pressing an outsize button and winning clattering stacks of coins.
Shows in the double decked-theatre cater for all ages and tastes, contemporary musicals make use of fast-moving state-of-the-art graphics and video accompaniments to the team of diverse and multi-talented dancers and singers. Comedy club specials are on offer for a more late-night audience.
Shore excursions on the short Caribbean trips are subject to local restrictions. Travelling in a bubble with other passengers aims to keep passengers and locals protected but there is still a wide range of activities available if you travel in a group.
An abundance of caution is observed while not allowing anything to spoil the sense of spontaneity and adventure. Crew members are always masked and face coverings are mandated for passengers when appropriate.
Returning to the spotless staterooms in the evening, often feels even better than coming home, especially when a cuddly towel creature is perched on the bed.
Many people were sad to leave behind a new family of towel animals who all are a display of the love, care and sense of fun that is a tradition of cruising.
Snuggled down in a super-soft bed, sailing through the night under a blanket of stars, swayed to sleep by the gently rocking of the waves, it’s so good to be back. This is my idea of paradise. Please don’t expel me again.
Miami the new Silicone Valley?
Have you heard the tale of the Two Billboards?
It’s sooo Miami!
Earlier this year, a venture capitalist paid for advertising on two billboards on a San Francisco highway to grab attention for his latest Twitter grand idea.“Ok, guys, hear me out – what if we move Silicone Valley to Miami? He asked on a tweet that went viral on social media.
Back came the immediate response. “How can I help?” tweeted Francis Suarez, the Mayor of the City of Miami.
The ad guys got in on the act and erected two billboards in prime San Francisco locations –and later Times Square, NYC.
Thinking of moving to Miami? DM. Mayor Francis Suarez.
The Grand scheme captured the corporate imagination and spread like wildfire as it gathered pace and propelled a High Tech exodus from California to Florida.
Prior to the pandemic, firms were relocating to South Florida because of lower house prices, great weather, no personal income tax and business friendly regulations.
The Two Billboards' conversation started a tidal wave of relocations thanks to a new freedom to ‘work from home.’
The cost of that housing being the number one factor that drives many employees out of San Francisco to other parts of California or more affordable and cites further afield.
As an example, at the beginning of summer, according to a report in Miami’s Biscayne Times, the median price of a modest one-bedroom apartment in Miami was $1,500 compared to a $3,000 monthly rental in San Francisco.
Miami real estate offices are currently crawling with out-of towners from California and New York looking to buy or rent in the Sunshine State. Tech companies with 100 employees or more are eyeing up desirable commercial property. Several billionaire founders and investors from equity and venture capitalist funds have put their money where their mansions are and bought multi-million dollar oceanfront residential properties.
Prior to the pandemic, and Suarez’s “How can I help?” tweet, out of state companies worried that they wouldn’t be able to recruit talent or raise capital in Miami, now companies from New York, Northern California and Boston are snapping up commercial leases. A critical mass accumulated.
Miami’s current business district is attracting clients, and developers are all set to provide the infrastructure and technology required to accommodate hundreds of workers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematical) industries.
The tech, hedge funds, law firms and financial centers previously overshadowed by tourism, hospitality and health care, are signaling their arrival by building whole villages places to work and live - not so much Silicone Valley more Beach City by the Sea.
Executives of Business Improvement Districts have observed that over the past year, the momentum has attracted a clustering of technology, financial and wealth management creating one of the largest emerging tech hubs in the nation.
Tech companies were already talking about turning Miami into a mint for cryptocurrencies now they have an opportunity to deal from the center of an energetic and forward looking city, inspiring state of the art innovations and advancements.
When the Mayor of the City of Miami, Francis Suarez, asked, “How can I help?” he opened the door to a massive influx of West Coast entrepreneurs, individuals and businesses bursting with economic and social opportunities.“Hey, guys, hear me out. What if we move Silicone Valley to Miami?” Great idea. The Magic City in the Sunshine State, we’re on it!
Further Information :
Are you ready to write YOUR book? What a beautiful day - even with tropical storms in Miami and a weather system on its way to SouthFlorida. We have all become pretty resilient over the last year and a half. What doesn't kill you - makes you stronger!
Spirit of the 32nd Olympiad. Opening Ceremony Tokyo Olympics. Faster. Higher. Stronger.
Let's give a well deserved cheer that the city persevered and have, despite constant challenges, almost insurmountable obstacles and on-going covid set backs, delivered the greatest four-yearly international event in the sporting calendar. Athletes from all over the world performing at the most awe-inspiring levels of skill, fitness and sportsmanship, complete with triumphs, tragedies and glory for their countries.
TWO YEARS AGO I was in Tokyo and the tour guide proudly pointed out a giant 2020 sculpture overlooking the city. No-one could ever have imagined that a global pandemic would sweep over the world and the Games would be cancelled.
The soaring crescendo of Ravel's 'Bolero' in a socially distanced arena, gave majesty to the symbolic arrival of the Olympic Torch as it was carried high into the stadium and passed from the hands of school children; to gold medal athletes; to a doctor and nurse team who treated covid patients and a medal winning paraplegic athlete. Japan's four times tennis gold winner Naomi Osaka with her waist length red braids raised the torch to ignite the Olympic cauldron in a glittering globe at the top of a steep flight of lighted stairs.
John Lennon's inspirational anthem 'Imagine" was given voice by musical legends from all over the world; Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas and Oceania and reminded us,
"And the world will live as one."
Tokyo's skyline was illuminated by a technological masterpiece; 180 light carrying drones formed a dazzling globe and on Wings that Fly, thousands of paper doves filled the sky.
"Let the Games Commence."
Ellen Frazer-Jameson is a journalist, author, actress. theater producer and drama coach. She co hosted the largest live late night radio show in Europe for the BBC and has appeared on national TV shows and taken leading roles on stage. She lives in Miami and London and loves to dance Argentine tango.