For the most part, the concept of cruise line private islands has been the same for years – a controlled shoreside experience mostly insulated from the surrounding region – so it’s refreshing to see Norwegian Cruise Line expand on it to craft a whole destination experience that embraces the mainland and its local operation with the brand new Harvest Caye (pronounced “key”) in Belize.
Before Colin P. Murphy, Senior Vice President, Destination & Strategic Development for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., and Dan Drahozal, Guest Services Director, offered a select group of journalists an exclusive tour of the Belizean port-of-call, I had high hopes for the island development based on beautiful renderings, but only after experiencing the stellar island for myself can I confirm that it is set to give the competition a run for their money.
The Western Caribbean destination, which broke ground in April 2014, is now open and visited by the Norwegian Dawn from New Orleans, Norwegian Jade from Tampa and Norwegian Getaway from Miami, but we had the chance to see it on a non-ship day for a special behind-the-scenes look.
When cruise ships do visit, they conveniently dock alongside, eliminating any need to tender ashore. Boat transfers are only required to leave from the island’s marina, also the hub for activities such as parasailing, to access optional shore excursions on the mainland. These unique opportunities include seeing the Mayan ruins of Nim Li Punit, lagoon wildlife and mangrove estuaries, and river tubing or rafting.
But one of the greatest things about the island is its goal to better the guest experience with plenty of complimentary options as well. Free main attractions on the island include an expected pristine beach that is manmade, requiring sand brought in from dredging operations; an expansive 15,000-square-foot pool, complete with a swim-up bar and shaded waterfall beneath a foot bridge; and a unique nature center featuring regional flora and fauna.
From the very start, chief naturalist Tony Garel has spearheaded an effort for the animal experience to not merely be a guest focal point but a conservation program intent on bettering the natural environment as well. Besides butterflies, that can be strolled among in their cage, boa constrictors, keel-billed toucans and scarlet macaws can be witnessed from outside. The cruise line is still trying to acquire six breeding pairs of the latter from Guatemala to release the species back in Belize, where only 200 currently remain.
Overall, the island is absolutely beautiful, lush with vegetation including 10,000 mangroves and supported by an off-site nursery, and filled with stunning Belizean hardwood structures and even a few large wooden ani
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