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.
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.