Truth be told, we didn't see much of actual Belize proper when our Royal Caribbean brand cruise ship, "Vision of the Seas," anchored off the coast of Belize City and began ferrying people off to various activities, called shore excursions, in the area. We didn't even see much shore at first, because our chosen shore excursion, booked weeks earlier, was a guided snorkeling tour. So the small ferry that "tendered" us (as they call boat to boat transfers of people at sea that don't involve any land) off the ship took us directly to a section of the second largest barrier reef in the world where we jumped off the boat into the colorful aquatic realm of the coral reef habitat. The waters were a bit rough and visibility was reduced, so it wasn't optimal for snorkeling, but we saw a lot of cool stuff - tropical fish, and corals, and sponges, and the like. The excursion was well organized and the operators were a fun bunch, keeping us entertained and on schedule during the narrow time window of the trip. The snorkeling gear they supplied us was top notch and easy to use, all of it bright yellow and branded with the National Geographic logo.
We had jumped into the choppy marine waters with the beginner group of snorkelers (they had divided the passengers into three groups, beginner, intermediate, and advanced). I initially panicked a little bit when I realized my buoyancy system (an inflatable life jacket they made us wear to aid in flotation) was insufficiently inflated, causing me to expend unnecessary energy staying afloat. But I was able to blow some more air into the vest via its spring action air valve and all was well. Deborah and I held hands, gayly, as we sought some decent views of the reef while avoiding getting flippered in the face by the novice snorkelers around us. The 35 minutes of snorkeling seemed to go by too quickly and before we knew it, our guides were leading us back to the boat. Once back on board, they began serving up some complimentary boozy fruit punch to everyone, while ferrying us on to the second leg of this so called "shore" excursion.
"That was kind of a clusterfuck," Deborah commented, referring to the chaotic mass of flippered beginner snorkelers all jockying for views of the reef in the churning waters.
"I was trying to guide you away from the herd to look at cooler stuff," I responded, trying to rationalize away our sickenly romantic handholding. "We probably should have gone with the intermediate group, not the beginners."
The next stop was technically land, if you want to call it that, but it wasn't the mainland of Belize. It was a small tropical island resort off the coast called Starfish Island, a purely hedonistic oasis - barely above sea level - of beach chairs, fruity tropical overpriced drinks, and a gorgeous sandy swimming beach. Deborah ordered a $10 pina colada and I got some kind of rum based concoction called a Creole something or other. Then we found a couple of beach chairs to drink them on after slathering on a ton of what must have been a faulty batch of 50 spf sunscreen, because we still got a little sunburned (discovered later). After the drinks, I spent most of the remaining 90 minutes we had on the island in the water paddling around and assessing the many various styles of bikini on display. Deborah joined me in that water for a little while, until she got a little chilly. Even though it was gorgeous weather, the strong sea breeze was enough to generate a wind chill on scantily clad, ocean moistened bodies. After what again seemed like too short a time, the crew of the ferry sounded the horn to signal passengers that it was nearly time for the trip back to the cruise ship. I wanted to stay on the island a lot longer, since it was so enjoyable and our cruise ship was not scheduled to leave for its next port of call, Costa Maya Mexico, for several more hours.
As we boarded the ferry, I asked one of our guides if it was high tide on Starfish Island, because I could not imagine this low lying dot of tropical paradise existing at all if the ocean waters were to rise any higher than they already were. He assured me that yes indeed it was "a very high tide." I hoped this wasn't wishful thinking on his part.
"One reason to fight global climate change and sea level rise is the future well being of this island," I commented to Deborah on the ferry ride back to the ship.
My only critique of our Belize shore excursion is that it was too short. I would have been happy to snorkel for an hour on the reef and then spend the entire afternoon on the island chillaxin'. But I know the tour operators have to make money and that probably means getting more tour groups out to the reef per day than just one. So it was a nice little sampler plate of tropical paradise.
Back on the ship, we succumbed to rum and vitamin D induced power naps, before waking in time to assess the extent of our sunburns and head to dinner in the ship's main dining room.