PHOTO: Harvest Caye’s saltwater lagoon is ringed by mangroves and frequented by manatees.
Norwegian Cruise Line, which in the 1970s created the original out-island, Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas, has done it again. This time, the company has developed a new destination in southern Belize.
Harvest Caye (pronounced “key”), which replaces Norwegian’s calls at Belize City several hours north, beckons with a seven-acre beach, paddle sports lagoon and an enormous tropical pool with a swim-up bar. The lighthouse is actually a Flighthouse, where daredevils can make free-fall jumps and circle the island on a 3,000-foot zipline. A LandShark Bar & Grill, part of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville group, offers burgers and an outdoor beer garden.
Unlike at most private islands, Harvest Caye is equipped with a ship dock so no time is spent tendering. And, equally rare, this out-island provides catamaran transfers to the nearby mainland for excursions. Cruisers can explore the ancient Mayan site of Nim Li Punit, sail through a wildlife-rich estuary and go river tubing or rafting. Norwegian ships are typically docked at Harvest Caye from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The island is lushly landscaped and buildings are crafted from mahogany and other native hardwoods. Ships are greeted by Garifuna (Afro-Caribbean) drummers, and Mayan storytellers enact their legends. The village area features Belizean foods, art and handicrafts.
At a wildlife conservation center, visitors can see toucans (the national bird), endangered scarlet macaws that are part of a breed-to-release program, boa constrictors and a butterfly garden. Chief naturalist Tony Garel, a Belizean, provides nature talks.
“I didn’t want a typical cruise port with a shopping mall and a bus park. I wanted something unique, special, Belizean,” said Colin Murphy, senior vice president of destination development for Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. “I wanted this to have a real sense of place so you know you’re in Belize.”
The beach is dotted with coconut palms and lapped by clear water. In a more secluded area are the 11 air-conditioned luxury villas, one of them ADA-compliant. Each has a bathroom, indoor and outdoor showers, Bluetooth audio, mini-fridge, safe, deck and concierge service. Day rentals start at $499 for up to six people, not including food and drink.
The 15,000-square-foot tropical pool, which, along with the beach, is watched over by lifeguards; it has a waterfall and curved edges to give more space for people to dip their toes in the refreshing water.
Fifteen rental cabanas, which accommodate four people, provide an oasis close to the action with lounge chairs, privacy drapes and beverage service at an extra charge. The cost is $249 for the day.
At the saltwater lagoon, ringed by mangroves and frequented by manatees, stand-up paddleboards cost $20 and kayaks are $25. Two-person soundless electric boats cost $45; these and personal motorized watercraft operate away from the lagoon. Parasailing costs are $99.
At the Flighthouse, a straight drop simulates a free fall from heights up to 100 feet. It’s not a bungee; riders land softly in the sand. One zipline crosses the lagoon, where riders can touch down on a platform with a ropes course. Another line lets two riders fly tandem, Superman-style. The Flighthouse and the rides are wheelchair-accessible. All the jumps and zips are included in an Adrenaline Package, which costs $79 for adults and $69 for kids.
Passengers can use their cruise keycards for purchases. Wi-Fi is available for a fee.
Mainland tours include the Mayan ruins of Nim Li Punit. One version of the tour also visits a spice farm and botanical gardens. Those interested in nature and wildlife can take a motor launch through a saltwater estuary where manatees graze. On a rain forest river-tubing adventure, participants will see lush mountains and a Mayan village on their way to an outpost where they begin their float down the river. There’s also river rafting on a Class 1 mountain-spring-fed river. All these tours are suitable for families with children.
Western Caribbean itineraries command the lowest fares, according to Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian’s parent, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. But with Harvest Caye, that may change.
“I think it’s going to be the premier destination in the western Caribbean,” said Andy Stuart, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line. “The variety of experiences here really stands out. I feel like I’ve arrived in Belize, not just a cruise line destination.”
JUST THE FACTS
Name: Harvest Caye
Location: Southern Belize, off the coast of Placencia
Opened: Nov. 17, 2016
Offerings: A cruise ship dock, marina for boats to the mainland, beach, villas, pool with rental cabanas, watersports, Flighthouse for jumps and ziplines, ropes course, wildlife conservation center, restaurants and bars, boutiques and duty-free shops
Size: 75 acres, with 55 acres currently developed
Ship calls: The Western Caribbean itineraries of Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Escape from Miami, Norwegian Dawn from New Orleans, and Norwegian Jade from Tampa. Sister lines Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises will visit occasionally, and Harvest Caye will be selectively open to other lines.
Michelle Fee, CEO and cofounder of Cruise Planners, thinks Harvest Caye is intriguing for both travelers and agents. The best part, she said, is that it’s like being at a resort with such features and amenities as a pool with swim-up bar and restaurants like the Landshark Bar & Grill. “For high-end clients, Harvest Caye offers beachside villas and concierge service, which are nice added features,” Fee added.
Families, couples, active travelers, nature-lovers and those who simply want to flop on the sand and relax will find their bliss. Plus, as Fee pointed out, for upscale travelers – the kind of clients who book suites in The Haven by Norwegian – the luxury beach villas and poolside cabanas are key selling points.