Connect with us


Review: Snorkeling Wonders of Barrier Reef in Belize



When a cruise ship stops at Belize, many guests opt to stay on the ship rather than deal with the 25-minute tender ride to the mainland. While planning a recent cruise aboard the Carnival Magic, I turned to my travel agent for advice on what to do during my stop in Belize. She immediately suggested the Snorkeling Wonders of the Barrier Reef tour. All my life, I’d heard that Belize has most of the reefs in the Western Hemisphere off their coast, and I’ve long wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, so this sounded like a perfect excursion for me.

The tour boasted snorkeling on the barrier reef with a professional guide, followed by some time for fun in the sun. I booked it through Carnival Cruise Line, which was charging $74.99 per adult and $64.99 per child.

If you’re doing the tour through Carnival and have a Fun Points MasterCard, check to see if there are any kinds of promotions running. During certain times of the year, the Fun Points card offers excursion discounts which can often get you 10 percent off the price.

Starting the Tour

Snorkeling Wonders of Barrier Reef in Belize

We met in the main show lounge on board the Carnival Magic. The ticket time said we should arrive by 8:30 a.m. and that the tour would depart at 9 a.m.  As it turned out we were one of the last groups called to disembark and I couldn’t figure out why… at least not until we were off the ship. As it turns out the boat we’d be taking to our snorkeling sight picked us up at the ship whereas folks on most of the other excursions had to make their way to the pier (Cave tubing and ruins are always popular excursions.).

READ MORE: Carnival Magic in Belize City

We boarded the double-decker boat and were given a quick safety briefing as we headed to Rendezvous Island, the tiny piece of land at the center of the reef we were excited to explore. The ride to the island was scenic, and the tour guide gave us a little history of the area we were visiting. If you’ve ever done the ferry boat ride to Paradise Island is Nassau, this has a very similar feeling. It was also during the boat ride that we were assigned our snorkel equipment.

40 minutes later, we arrived at Rendezvous Island and, upon disembarking, were given a beach mat and picked our spots to set up camp for the day. I couldn’t help thinking that the place reminded me of the setting of Gilligan’s Island… the only thing missing were Ginger, Mary Anne and the Howells.

Snorkeling Wonders of Barrier Reef

Tip: If you want to get a tiki hut for your group or family, be one of the first people off the boat, there are only 12 or so huts available, and it’s the only shade on the island.

Ready To Snorkel!

A few minutes later,  we were ready to head out on our snorkel tour. We divided ourselves into three groups: Beginner, intermediate and advanced. Those in the beginner group stayed very close to land as opposed to heading into the deeper waters which the intermediate and advanced group explored. Having been snorkeling for years I put myself into the advanced group.

Snorkeling Wonders of Barrier Reef in Belize

On the way to the water, we were issued a lifejacket, mask, and snorkel. Once we had geared up we made our way into the water. Even in Belize, the water is a bit chilly in the winter. But once you got in, you quickly got used to it.

Our guide, Clive, was very knowledgeable as he guided us around the reefs and explained the different types of coral we would be seeing. He also pointed out different types of fish, sea cucumbers and live conchs. The water varied from three feet deep in the shallow areas to more than forty feet deep by the drop-offs.


There is a second guide who accompanies you in a kayak and is equipped with extra equipment should anyone need it for some reason.

If you have an underwater camera, make sure to bring it, because you’ll have a lot of opportunities to get some gorgeous shots.  I brought my GoPro and took some amazing photos of the reefs, fish and different types of coral that can be found along the reef.

Snorkeling Wonders of Barrier Reef in Belize

Note: The snorkel guide will not ask you for a tip but if you enjoyed your tour, it’s nice to extend a few dollars to them.

Sponsored Link

Hanging on the Island

Snorkeling Wonders of Barrier Reef in Belize

After about forty-five minutes in the water, we went back to shore where we were able to grab some food and chill out for a little while before going back to the ship. There was food and drinks available for purchase on the island, and it’s important to know that they only accept cash. I would highly recommend bringing your own bottled water to the island, because it gets hot as heck out there in the sun.

Heading Back to the Ship

Snorkeling Wonders of Barrier Reef in Belize

After an hour and a half, we gathered our belongings and made our way back to the boat. There are changing areas and restrooms not far from where the boat was waiting, allowing anyone who wanted to skip into dry clothes if they want to.

On the boat ride back to the ship, we were served free fruit punch and water. We could also purchase rum punch and beer at $5 a pop. The cups were on the small size, but if you want an authentic experience, go for it… right?

At the end of the tour, there are guides holding a tip jug as you make your way off the boat and onto the ship. These are not the same people who served as your guides while snorkeling, and the tips offered here are for the crew of the ship which ferried you back and forth.

Tips For First-Timers

Snorkeling Wonders of Barrier Reef in Belize

Here are a few tips that I learned my first time doing the Wonders of the Barrier Reed Tour.

  • Bring your own bottled water. You’ll save money by not having to purchase it. Also, don’t fill your bottle from the barrels on the island. The water is unfiltered, and you never know what might have fallen into those barrels along with rain.
  • Be one of the first people off the tour boat so you can grab a tiki hut under which to put your belongings. If there is one ship in port it usually isn’t too bad, but if there are a few, you’ll wind up jockeying for space and it’s a first-come, first-served situation.
  • Sunscreen is a must. As with any Caribbean excursion, the water only serves to amplify the sun and you can burn awfully quick. Trust me: Even if you think you won’t burn, you will without protection. The Caribbean heat can be brutal, even in the winter.
  • Bring cash. If you want to purchase food, drinks or trinkets on the island, you’ll need it. Credit cards are not accepted on the island. Although I refer to it as an island, it’s really just a half-acre or so of sand sticking out of the barrier reef. So you won’t find an ATM machine here.

Final Thoughts

If your ship stops in Belize, do yourself a favor and do some exploring. Even if you’re not interested in this particular excursion, there are plenty of other opportunities to explore, and you’ll really be missing out if you decide not to. But this excursion in particular is, in my mind, a can’t-miss opportunity. Belize holds over half of the barrier reefs on this side of the planet, and it’s truly breathtaking.

The Snorkeling Wonders of the Barrier Reef excursion is easily one of my top three excursions in the Caribbean, and a truly unforgettable experience.

Continue Reading


Ultimate Guide To Booking Your First Cruise



Booking your first cruise can be a daunting prospect. Sure, you could just randomly pick a stateroom on any old ship and you’re likely to have a decent time. However, if you do a little research to make sure you book the right stateroom on the right ship, you’re going to have the best possible vacation. But how does a first-timer know what to ask? By reading on as we look at the questions we wish we’d asked before our first cruise!

Part 1: Figuring Out What Type of Cruiser You Are

Nassau Bahamas

This might be the most important series of questions, because it will help put you on the right ship. Ask anyone in the travel industry – whether a travel agent or the president of a cruise line – and they will tell you that finding the right ship is crucial. (It’s worth noting that for the purposes of this article, we’re looking at the mainstream lines such as Carnival, Norwegian, and Royal Caribbean as opposed to their smaller, more expensive offshoots like Regent or Seabourn.) Studies show that the vast majority of first-time cruisers have such a good time that they decide to take another… but that good time is dependent on them being on a ship which meets their particular vacation needs. So here are some things to ask yourself in the planning stages.

1. How laid-back do I want to be?

Finding the cruise line which you’ll be most comfortable on can, in some ways, be as easy as looking at how they market themselves. Carnival plays up on its reputation as being more laid-back by dubbing its line the “fun ships” and running ads (featuring “Chief Fun Officer” Shaquille O’Neal) suggesting you “Choose Fun.” Norwegian’s promotional materials play up their freestyle concept, which basically advocates you be as flexible as you choose to be. For example, Norwegian does not offer an official “formal night” but rather features Norwegian’s Night Out, where guests are free to dress up or not. Looking for something a bit more upscale? Princess and Holland America trend in that direction, with the former skewing a bit younger than the latter.

2. How important are “bells and whistles”?

Are you the type of person who wants to simply relax… or are you looking for some adventure? Do you want to sit and stare at the ocean… or are you afraid that without the ability to race a go-kart or jump on a surf simulator, you’ll be bored? Even within individual cruise lines, the options vary from ship to ship. For example, Norwegian Gem is a smaller, older ship where the most exciting feature is probably the rock climbing wall. But the line also has ships like Norwegian Breakaway and the upcoming Bliss on which there’s everything from freefall waterslides to laser tag and the aforementioned go-karts. The same is true of Carnival Cruise Line, where smaller ships like Sunshine offer fewer thrills than do the new Vista class ships.

3. Who do I want to cruise with?

If you’re looking for fewer kids, it’s a pretty safe bet that Disney Cruise Line is not going to be for you. Likewise, cruisers who aren’t looking for onboard go-karts, thrills, and spills are likely to gravitate toward a line’s older, smaller ships.

4. What am I willing to pay extra for?

If you’re a first-time cruiser poking around message boards, you’re going to come across the phrase “nickel-and-dime” quite a bit. This phrase is most often used by people complaining about things cruise lines charge extra for on top of the initial price. It’s important to know exactly what is – and what isn’t – included in your cruise price, especially if you are someone who is budget conscious. Don’t get excited about the fact that a ship has 30 restaurants if 24 of them charge a fee and you only want to eat in the complimentary venues.

Part 2: Narrowing Down Your Choices

Carnival trip report

With any luck, answering the above questions has helped you at least narrow your choices down to a particular cruise line. The next step is figuring out which ship you want to be on… and where you want to go. If there’s one thing we would definitely advise against, it’s making decisions simply based on price point. What good is getting a great deal if you wind up going somewhere you have no interest in on a ship that doesn’t offer you the amenities you want? That brings us to our next set of questions.

1. Where do you want to sail from?

The answer to this question will have a major impact on your final destination and ship. Why? Let’s say that New York City is the most convenient port for you, and you’d rather not fly somewhere else. Well, only a few ships sail year-round out of Manhattan’s main port (or the nearby port in Bayonne, New Jersey). If, however, you’re near (or willing to fly to) a port such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale, you’ll have far more options to choose from.

2. What size ship do you want to sail on?

Given that we are talking about the mainstream lines, this really becomes a question of “big” or “mega.” For example, Norwegian’s Jewel class ships carry around 2,500 passengers each, while their Breakaway Plus class ships ferry over 4,000 passengers. Similarly, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas welcomes over 6,000 passengers on each sailing, while Empress of the seas sails with under 2,000 passengers. As we mentioned before, the older, smaller ships tend to have fewer bells and whistles. But a first-timer wanting to get their sea legs before tackling one of the megaships might very well enjoy something a little more old-school.

3. Where do you want to go… and for how long?

Another crucial element is figuring out your itinerary. Many first-timers – worried about whether they’ll get seasick or perhaps be bored – decide to try a shorter sailing. While that’s not necessarily possibly out of all ports (you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sailing of less than seven days out of Manhattan, for example), there are plenty of three and four-night options available, especially out of Florida. As for where you’ll go, statistics from the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) indicate that a majority of first-time cruisers head to the Caribbean. And this isn’t particularly surprising. After all, who doesn’t think of blue waters, white beaches, and tropical cocktails when they think of cruising? Another popular destination for first-timers: Alaska.

Part 3: Picking a Stateroom

nice sized stateroom

Answering the questions above should help you narrow down your cruise line choice and, beyond that, point you toward a ship. But this next set of questions will help with a really specific topic: What type of cabin should you book on the ship?

1. How much time do I plan to spend in the room?

For some folks, a stateroom is where they will sleep, shower, and change clothes. It’s basically a pit stop as they race about enjoying their vacation. For them, an inside or perhaps oceanview stateroom is fine. But others know they will spend quite a bit of time in their room and want something more… like a balcony on which they can sit and read, enjoy their morning coffe,e and just contemplate life. And those who figure “What the heck, let’s do it up right” can consider taking things to the next level with a suite… although warning: Most people we’ve talked to said that once you live “the suite life,” it’s tough to do a lesser category stateroom!

2. Where do I want to be… and just as important, where do I not want to be?

When it comes to stateroom selection, we have two words for you: Deck plans. Seek them out (they are easily accessible on the Web) and utilize them. If you are using a travel agent, make sure they know that you’d prefer to be in a cabin “sandwiched” between other cabins. If you’re booking the cruise yourself, take a look at the deck plans to see if there is a nightclub above you, or a theater below, or any other venue which might result in your late-night or early-morning beauty sleep being disrupted.

READ MORE: Why Stateroom Location is Important 

3. Should I expect an upgrade?

Basically… no. Longtime cruisers will wax poetic about the time they booked an inside room and got a free upgrade to a balcony but, for the most part, those days are over. Booking a stateroom in hope of being upgraded to a higher category is a foolhardy risk. This is especially true as cruise lines have begun looking at ways to monetize upgrades. For example, Norwegian Cruise Line now offers cruisers the opportunity to “bid” on available upgrades. But even those come at a risk, as you are bidding on a specific category, but have no control over the actual stateroom’s location. Translation: You could wind up in a better category, but in a stateroom that isn’t in an ideal location. At the end of the day, booking the stateroom you want is the surest way to make sure you get the stateroom you want!

Part 4: Other Questions to Consider

The above categories should help guide you toward making some of the basic decisions regarding a cruise line, a ship, and even a stateroom. Finally, let’s look at some of the other, more generic questions you should ask yourself during the planning stages. We know it seems like a lot to process, but think of it this way: You’re spending a fair amount of money on your cruise… you want to make it as special as possible, right? And if that means taking the time to do some research – whether on your own or with the help of a travel professional – that’s what you want to do… right?

1. Should I buy trip insurance?

If you ask us, this is a no-brainer… and the answer is yes, every day and twice on Sundays. Many first-time cruisers assume that this is unnecessary or even a way for someone to make more money off folks who don’t know better, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While you hope that nothing bad will happen during your cruise, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry. If you’re wavering even a little bit, click here for more information on why you should definitely be purchasing insurance.

2. Should I purchase a drink package?

This is one of the most-asked questions on every cruise-related message board and Facebook page, and with good reason. Drink packages are popular, but they’re also pricey. Obviously, folks want to know if they are going to get their money’s worth. Unfortunately, it’s a question each individual cruiser has to answer for themselves. The best advice we can offer is to check and see what the package offered on your cruise does and does not offer, and then think about how much of that applies to you. If you’re the kind of person who has a glass of wine at dinner and a Bloody Mary at breakfast, it’s probably not going to work out in your favor. It also might depend on how many sea vs. port days you have, and whether you plan to spend more time exploring ports or staying on board during those visits.

Sponsored Link

READ MORE: Why I Always Buy A Drink Package

3. Do I want an early or late dinner seating?

Granted, this question is increasingly becoming unnecessary as more and more cruise lines offer their passengers flexibility when it comes to dining times. But for those who prefer traditional dining – meaning that on nights you choose to eat in the main dining room, you have an assigned table (and tablemates) at the same time each evening – there is the question of early or late seating. Some prefer an early seating so that they can do a show after dinner. Others prefer going to the early show and then doing a late dinner. There are all kinds of reasons to pick a particular dining time, from wanting to be on deck (as opposed to in the dining room ) when the sun sets to feeling as if there is less rush to a late dinner seating (as there aren’t people waiting to take your table once service is finished).

Final Thoughts

Maya Chan

Obviously, a first-time cruiser will have all kinds of other questions not covered here. But we thought this might be a good primer to get things started. And we know, it might seem daunting and like a lot of work. But here’s the funny thing: By taking the time to do it right, you’re going to have an amazing cruise… and you’ll immediately want to start planning your next one. And when you do, you’ll realize that all this “work” is actually a lot of fun. For most people, the planning actually becomes something they look forward to… in many ways becoming an “extension” of the cruise itself!



Continue Reading


5 Waterproof Travel Items You Cannot Forget On Your Next Cruise



The blissful view of an endless horizon, the sound of the ocean and the constant excitement of a new destination are all part of the reasons why we love cruise vacations so much. But this blissful existence can be shattered in the event of bad weather and the ruin of some of your most precious belongings. By their very nature, cruises bring you in close contact with water so it’s best to always be prepared for the worst. Thankfully, there are now many ingenious and attractive ways to weather-proof all of your packing items. Here are some of our favorite objects you shouldn’t leave land without.

Be Ready For Anything


When we think of cruises, we think of glamour and fun, not soaked-through clothes and malfunctioning electronics – and that’s the way we want to keep it! Firstly, it’s as important to know what not to pack as what is essential, and how to ensure everything will return in one piece. These are our best bets on things that can withstand even the most severe sea-dunking while offering daily usefulness.

1. Aqua Shoes

Flip flops might suffice while on deck but if you disembark and are hoping to indulge in some rock pooling or water sports then a pair of aqua shoes are an excellent all-weather option. Sturdy, light and easy to slip on, these specially designed shoes offer enhanced grip on slippery surfaces while protecting your feet from sharp rocks. What’s more, they are comfortable, quick to dry, and take up far less packing space than traditional chunky sandals.

Sponsored Link

2. Underwater Camera

The fine sea mist that feels so refreshing on your skin in the hot sun is the same damp air that can ruin your expensive digital SLR camera. Moreover, as anyone with kids knows, you are never safe from a hefty splash when sat by the pool. For these reasons, having an underwater or water-safe camera is a great addition, meaning you can keep your high-quality shots for the safety of land and still have fun on the beach and at the pool.

3. Dive Watch

Just as you might be worried about fine jewelry tarnishing amongst the waves, so too might you be concerned about wearing your expensive watch. However, many elite brands sell models that can operate at great depths. For instance, HydroConquest models from Longines are renowned dive watches that can be submerged at depths of up to 300 meters, and are actually cheap to pick up if you know the right place to look.

4. Water-Tight Phone Case

For many of us, it has become our most treasured item, so don’t run the risk of breaking it on your first day by the pool deck! A waterproof phone case is essential when aboard a cruise ship, where your general proximity to water makes all electrical items potentially disastrous. Tough, durable and letting you move with confidence, many of these watertight pouches are large enough to let you even keep all of your belongings, not just your phone, in a safe place.

5. Water-resistant Sun Cream

It’s important to distinguish between sun creams that can withstand exposure to moisture and those that can’t, as a nasty burn could be awaiting you otherwise. Look out for labels marking the product as ‘water-resistant’ and clearly stating the period of time they can be relied upon to withstand water contact, such as 30 minutes or 60. Moreover, if you plan to be doing some scuba diving or snorkeling excursions as part of your cruise, take a look at these reef-safe sun creams that will ensure you won’t be damaging the delicate ecosystem with harsh chemical agents.

What do you take on your cruise? 

Continue Reading


Review: Maya Chan Costa Maya Beach Excursion



If you plan on taking a Western Caribbean cruise, there is a good chance that your ship will be stopping in Costa Maya, Mexico. Located on the Southern end of Mexico, just north of Belize, you will find the Costa Maya Cruise Port. As with any port, you’ll find that the ship offers a wide variety of excursions. (This is, after all, another way for them to make money.) But if you’re the type who doesn’t mind breaking free from the heard — and are responsible enough to get yourself back to the ship on time so as not to be left behind — the all-inclusive resort of Maya Chan might be a good fit.

The price for all-day access is $59 per adult. The price per child is $19 for those up to three years old; $39 for kids aged 3-17, and $49 for those between 8 and 17 years old. (They do offer a bit of a discount if you have a large group. To find out if you qualify, contact them directly when you’re making your plans)

And what do you get for the price of admission?

Maya Chan

  • An English-speaking Maya Chan representative who will meet you at the port
  • Round-trip transportation from the pier to the resort and back
  • Beach chairs and day beds
  • A pre-assigned, private shaded area for each party
  • An all-you-care-to-eat Mayan food bar as well as open bar
  • Free WiFi
  • Changing areas
  • Facilities
  • Kayaks and snorkel gear

It’s worth noting that for planning purposes, they request that guests make reservations in advance. Once you do, they’ll generally respond within 24 hours and request payment via Paypal.

Upon Arriving in Costa Maya 

Maya Chan

On many itineraries, Costa Maya winds up being the final port of call before the ship begins heading home. It also often ends up being a relatively short visit, with the ship both arriving and departing earlier than it does other ports. It’s not at all unusual for the all-aboard time to be around 1:30 p.m. That was the case during my recent visit, when the ship arrived at port before I was even awake, and we set sail again at 2 p.m.

The pier is Costa Maya is pretty long, so give yourself plenty of time to disembark and make your way down the pier. Once you exit the cruise terminal gates, you’ll see someone from Maya Chan waiting for you at a clearly marked tent where guests board shuttle buses. And while the resort is only about four miles away from the actual terminal, it can take almost a half hour to make the journey. Because of this, the folks at the resort makes sure to stay on top of the departure time of your ship so that they can have you on a shuttle back in plenty of time.

Welcome to Maya Chan

Maya Chan

Once we arrived at the resort, we were immediately greeted by a guide who took us on a quick tour of the property. Given that we had pre-paid before even setting foot on the ship, we were able to bypass that step and head straight for the beach. There, we were introduced to our servers and brought to the private area where we would be spending the day. There were a line of chairs and two day-beds, and the area had our name on it so we knew it was intended for us. The sun was shining, the water was sparking and it was clearly going to be a great beach day.

Food & Drinks

The food was very impressive (and gluten-free). The chef, who has been cooking authentic Mexican cuisine at Maya Chan for years, fires the grill up around 9:00 a.m. and they begin serving foot at 11:00 a.m. Trust me, by then you’ll be salivating thanks to the incredible smell of the steak, chicken, pork and fish coming from the grill.

Maya Chan

Unlike some resorts where the drinks come at an additional costs, they were included here. And this isn’t a situation where they basically limit you to a pre-made rum punch. In fact, we had quite a bit of fun getting creative with the bartender, who whipped up all kinds of frozen concoctions for us.

A Few Useful Tips About Maya Chan

Sponsored Link
  • Get there early. Like I said before, many ships wind up having relatively short stays in Costa Maya, so you want to make the most of the time you have available at the resort. Consider getting off the ship as soon as the gangway opens. Yes, that could mean that you’re walking off the ship at sunrise, but it also means you’re sitting on the beach sipping a drink that much sooner. (Hey, you’re on vacation!)
  • Bring sunblock. The Western Caribbean sun can be brutal. Even though there are umbrellas and plenty of shaded area throughout the property, it doesn’t hurt to be protected. Especially if you plan to walk the beach or go for a swim!
  • Take advantage of what’s available. Heck, take one of the floating mats out on the water and the staff will even bring you out a drink! (Did we mention you’re on vacation?)
  • Pamper yourself. Massages are available on site for a nominal fee.
  • Bring your appetite. If you’re hungry — and you definitely will be — head for the lunch line a little bit early. They start serving at 11, and the line can get long really quick. Since most items are made-to-order, it can take a bit of time… although it’s definitely worth the wait!

Final Thoughts

I thought this was a great excursion if you’re looking to experience the authentic Costa Maya. The resort has character, friendly staff, amazing food and is far enough away from the cruise terminal that it tends not to be overly crowded, and yet doesn’t take forever to get to. It’s worth noting that like Costa Maya in general, the Maya Chan does not have the most pristine beaches. But the staff works very hard to keep it clear of sea grass so you can enjoy the property.

I’ve only been to Costa Maya a handful of times, and this is the first trip on which I’ve had a chance to experience a port day that wasn’t experiencing the area immediately around the pier. The chances I’ll be returning to Maya Chan are very high.

Read More: Carnival Magic in Costa Maya


Continue Reading

Sponsored Link


Sponsored Link

Stay in the Know with Cruise Radio

Send this to a friend

Hi, this may be of interest to you: Review: Snorkeling Wonders of Barrier Reef in Belize. This is the link: