Lately, cruise lines have not only been enhancing onboard amenities, but also developing destinations to feature as new ports-of-call on itineraries. Case in point: Norwegian Cruise Line welcomed its first guests late last month to Harvest Caye, a 78-acre island north of the Placencia Peninsula in southern Belize. It’s the cruise line’s second purpose-built resort area, after Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas.
Currently, only Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Getaway, and Norwegian Jade are including Harvest Caye on itineraries, but ships from other lines owned by Norwegian's parent company are also scheduled to begin calling here in 2017. Oceania Marina, Oceania Regatta, and Oceania Riviera will include stops here on some Caribbean itineraries, as will Regent Seven Seas' Seven Seas Explorer and Seven Seas Mariner.
Harvest Caye is a little different from the other cruise line "private islands" in the area, all of which focus on offering a resort-style beach experience. Instead, Norwegian Cruise Line’s main mission in the debut of Harvest Caye was to incorporate Belizean culture into the experience.
Ships dock at a pier (no tendering required), and guests are led through a set of misters before being greeted by a local band and Mayan dancers. Scattered throughout the island indigenous plants, and sculptures and murals created by local artists.
The shopping village also embraces Belize’s Central American and Caribbean influences, with boutiques that feature jade; hand-woven baskets and other Mayan handicrafts; and chocolate made from cocoa beans from the Mofo River region. Food stands peddle island-inspired eats including fresh coconuts cut open by machetes.
Many of the activities are complimentary: There's a nature and conservation center that focuses on species native to Belize. Visitors can take guided tours with the head naturalist to see Isabella and Blue Morpho butterflies; keel-billed toucans (Belize’s national bird), and the center's boa constrictor. Also complimentary are access to the 15,000-square-foot pool and a beautiful white-sand beach, both of which are equipped with lounge chairs. Cabanas, clam shells, snorkeling gear, and lockers are available for rent.
Cruisers also have the option of reserving one of 11 beach villas that are located on a private stretch of sand away from the public beach. (These start at $499 per day for up to six guests.) Thee luxe retreats have hammocks and loungers, indoor and outdoor showers, air conditioning, blue-tooth stereo systems, and the use of concierge and waiter services.
Harvest Caye has four main dining options, the highlight of which is the Jimmy Buffet-affiliated Landshark Bar & Grill, which features pub grub-style fare (including chicken wings and fried shrimp), as well as some local items such as ceviche.
Passengers looking for adventure can head to the ropes course, the two zip line courses, or to the saltwater lagoon for kayaking, float boats, and paddle boarding. Weather permitting, passengers can also sign up for parasailing sessions.
There are mangrove tours of Harvest Caye, on which you can look for manatees. And, due to Harvest Caye’s proximity to the mainland, inland excursions are also offered. Tours include visits to the ruins of Nim Li Punit; a trip to a spice farm; river tubing through the jungle; and river rafting.