Thursday, 26 January 2017

Belizean bliss at Norwegian's Harvest Caye

Belizean bliss at Norwegian's Harvest Caye

Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island, Harvest Caye, just off the coast of Belize, contains 11 mahogany-trimmed villas that can be rented for the day for $499. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

Harvest Caye, a 78-acre island a mile offshore from southern Belize, might be the best in class in the cruise industry's growing portfolio of privately built destinations in the Bahamas and the Caribbean.

Completed by Norwegian Cruise Line over the course of 31 months, the island has a combination of standout features. 

To start with, it has a dock big enough to accommodate a megaship such as the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Getaway, the result of dredging more than a million cubic meters of sea bottom to make a channel.

Not having to tender to a private port makes everything safer, faster and more convenient for guests. 

Also, while it feels like an island experience, Harvest Caye is only a 15-minute boat ride from mainland Belize, where available tours include the Mayan archaeological ruins, a tropical spice farm, a savannah ecotour by boat and a rainforest river tubing and rafting excursion. Prices for these experiences top out at $109.

Image result for harvest caye belize

On the island, a nature center displays boa constrictors, scarlet macaws and toucans, the national bird of Belize. Run by Tony Garel, an award-winning naturalist recruited from the Belize Zoo, it is the only such center in a port owned by a cruise line.

One popular zoo feature is a screened butterfly house filled with bobbing, iridescent blue morphos.

A branded restaurant adds another dimension to Harvest Caye. The tropically themed, two-story LandShark Bar & Grill was designed by Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Holdings and is operated by local food purveyor Provisions Belize. The restaurant overlooks a 15,000-square-foot pool that, unlike those on most cruise ships, comes with lifeguard supervision.

Harvest Caye's most visible feature is a 136-foot-tall lighthouse-like structure called the Flighthouse, an anchor for two ziplines, including the 1,300-foot Superman, in which riders fly prone, swooping low over the beach like a jet coming in for a landing at the airport. When both ziplines are running, guest services director Dan Drahozal said they can serve up to 192 people a day.

When a ship arrives around 8 a.m., guests will be greeted by a band playing drums and singing songs from the Afro-Caribbean Garifuna subculture in Belize. On the beach, 2,500 blue-cushioned loungers await.

Image result for harvest caye belize

To beat the brutal summer heat in Belize, Harvest Caye is outfitted with an abundance of fans, misters and shade umbrellas. A low canopy also protects the pier walk from the ship to the entrance. 

Several free-standing locker towers provide storage around the island for $5 a day. Harvest Caye's shopping village is lushly landscaped with a variety of tropical plants and mostly local vendors, rather than the chains that crowd other ports of call.

Finally, it's worth noting that many of the Harvest Caye buildings, including the 11 villas that rent out for $499 a day, are trimmed in tropical hardwood milled by a Mennonite community in Belize. It gives a richer-than-expected look to the beach architecture.

"Mahogany is widely used in this country because it's so abundant," said Dustin Bowen, CEO of Provisions Belize, "whereas in the [U.S.] it's scarce and expensive."