Posted January 18th, 2007, 08:09 PM
We almost never book through the cruiseline. One exception was Lamanai and we were glad we did because we were late returning to the ship.
Here is the full review...
Belize City, Belize
This will be one of your favorite ports IF you book an excursion. You'll hate the place if you do not. This fact has been chronicled time and again. Do yourself a favor and book an excursion! The two most popular excursions are the Cave Tubing and the Lamanai Ruins / Jungle River Cruise. Both get rave reviews. Our selection of the Lamanai tour was no exception.
Once at the Belize pier we were greeted with a nice Welcome sign. There are only a handful of shops at the pier. I am guessing there were about 90 folks on this tour. We were herded onto 1 of 3 air conditioned buses. Whatever bus you get becomes your tour group, and included a guide that not only narrated the bus tour and answered our questions but also drove our boat on the jungle cruise and lead our excursion of the ruins. Our experienced guide was Vel, and he was breaking in a very pretty young guide-in-training that joined us for the duration of the tour. Our guides were very friendly, knowledgeable, and proud of their country.
Belize is a poor country with great natural and historical assets. One idiot on the bus asked "Why are there bars on the windows of houses?" during an otherwise interesting Q&A about the country. (Answer: they have a crime problem related to a "crack" problem). The housing and habitat reminded us a lot of Waimanalo on Oahu (sans the bars). We learned a lot about the city and country on our 1.25 hour bus tour over a paved 2-lane road to the boat dock. [Side note: from visible signage along the road it appears Pepsi "controls" the less populated part of the country while Coca-Cola "owns" Belize City itself]. Each bus unloaded their groups into a large thatched roof building sporting restrooms and a couple of artisans. Within a few minutes we were loaded onto covered boats with comfortable seats and two powerful outboard motors.
We snaked South down the river to the Lamanai Ruin site. Our guide plying us with information and pointing out numerous birds (including King Fisher, Blue Herrin, Vultures, and Snow Egrets), baby crocodiles, and a huge green iguana, as well as various flora and fauna. We also found the huge termite nests in the trees to be of interest to all. One of the 3 boats experienced engine trouble which slowed us down a bit, but that boat was never abandoned. Our boat held back each time to make sure they were not stranded.
Once we arrived at Lamanai, we ate a hearty lunch of Mayan chicken, rice, coleslaw, coconut tarts, and bottled Pepsi and water. We started our tour in a small museum with interesting Mayan artifacts and continued on by foot through an impressive jungle featuring vines, "Jurassic Park"-sized palm fronds, medicinal trees, and Howler Monkeys. We spent about 1.5 hours exploring 3 large Mayan temples and the remains of a small Mayan town. Our guides provided an enormous amount of insight and kept us moving at a reasonable clip.
We returned to the boats, sped back up the river, and returned to the buses just before nightfall. We arrived back at the docks about an hour after the final tender was suppose to leave for the ship. Our guides, to their credit, had made the decision to give us the full tour --- not an abridged tour --- even though we had arrived late. After all, we were paying the full price of the tour and they weren't going to let us get anything less. It was clear, back in Lamanai, that we were not going to make the tender cutoff time. This began to cause great distress among some tour passengers. Just remember, that if you are on a cruise-sponsored tour, there are "no worries!" They were not going to strand any of their passengers in Belize if they are on a cruise-sponsored excursion. Sure enough, we were met at the pier with a nice large boat that easily and comfortably sped all of us back to the ship, which was beautifully illuminated out on the sea. Bottom line: take this tour.