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.”
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.