Carnival Liberty glided slowly backwards through the deep channel which appears to have been dredged through a shallow bay. Through our balcony window we saw the rusty hulk of an old shipwreck poking through the water, so of course immediately the cameras came out. A definite advantage of having a verandah room. Soon we spotted a much larger wreck. The rusty skeleton of half a ship towered over the water. Odds are anyone present when these ships went aground made it the few yards to shore without drowning.
The ship came to rest with the larger wreck nearly in front of our room, although not knowing we would dock there since the dock was on the other side of the boat, we had taken pictures on the move.
We had no specific plans for this port, figuring just to get off the boat and see what Carnival had to offer us at their beach because a cruise line owns this bay. They did have an interesting way to get to the beach though, a ski-lift type conveyance called the magical flying beach chair. Tickets for this chair count as a shore excursion.
Purchasing shore excursion tickets gets easier and easier. If you haven’t bought them online before boarding, in addition to the shore excursion desk, you can also buy them right on the television in the cabin. Someone will deliver the tickets to your room, either by slipping them under the door or putting them in the mailbox. All cabins have a bin for ship mail just outside the door, which we initially dubbed Tree Mail as on the TV show, Survivor. Later we decided Sea Mail made a better name for the mail bin.
I recommend buying the shore excursion tickets online prior to the cruise if you know what you want to do as the prices sometimes go up a bit if you wait to book on the ship.
I had not bought the tickets for the “Magic Flying Beach Chair” in advance, so I tried the thing where you buy shore excursion tickets through the stateroom TV. It took less time than it took the people I was waiting for at the moment to change their clothes. They do have a footpath to the beach, but we wanted to try the chair because it was there.
Naturally they route everyone through a gift shop at the entrance/exit to the island. A short walk up a hill brings you to…….more gift shops. And of course the usual jewelry stores. As we left the ship they handed us cards for a free necklace at one of the shops. Since that shop was right on the way to the chair lift we stopped in. “For just $10 you can have these earrings to match the necklace,” the girl at the counter said. I declined while noticing that the stone was significantly smaller than in the picture on the free necklace card. Oh well, can’t really complain about free stuff.
As we boarded the chair we noticed someone starting down the footpath pushing a wheelchair. The footpath wound through the trees a bit so we lost sight of them as we took pictures of the lift, the ship, and interesting things on shore like the rental station full of toys to rent. We saw kayaks, paddle boats, and some sort of giant three-wheeled water bike in or near the shed at the water’s edge.
The chair sailed slowly over the water and we watched people on the footpath crossing a bridge. The person pushing the wheelchair who had started out the same time we did emerged from the trees and crossed the bridge, reaching the other shore before the chair lift got to its destination. For anyone who has plans for a cruise that includes a stop at Mahogany Bay, if you want the fastest way to the beach, walk.
We scouted around the beach a bit, traded our lift tickets for wrist bands, and asked the lady at the booth where to find the best snorkel area. She had snorkel gear for rent so we figured they must have one. She recommended snorkeling off the dock on the side outside of the swimming area. We brought our own gear, so passed on the rentals. Well I should say I brought mine, John left his on the boat. We took some pictures around the beach and then decided to go back to the ship to trade his big camera in for his snorkel gear. We took the lift back and again the people on the footpath got there first, but we paid for it, might as well use it. Good photo ops from the lift as well.
Heading down the dock back toward the ship, a sea of humanity walked away from the ship through the Caribbean sunshine, the coconuty smell of sun lotion wafting down the path in their wake. Nobody but us went in our direction. After a switch of camera for snorkel gear, we noticed in our brief absence sunshine gave way to a cloudy overcast sky.
Properly equipped for snorkeling now, we set off back toward the beach. The chair lift seems designed for continuous movement, but if people are not fast enough getting on or off they will stop the chair for them. Doing so stops the entire system as it is on a continuous cable so it makes frequent brief stops along the way. We still took the chair again anyway, preferring to save our feet from the rubbing of beach shoes that aren’t good walking shoes, but are the sort that we don’t mind getting wet and sandy.
We walked down the beach passing people swimming on one side and lounging in lawn chairs on the other. Then we reached a fenced off area containing private cabanas. We turned away from the water and found a trail behind them. The trail led to a lively bar in front of another small section of beach with lawn chairs. We parked our things on chairs near the dock and got our snorkel gear out of our beach bags. At the end of the dock, they had a platform on the water with ladders leading down for easy access for snorkelers. People snorkeled on both sides of the dock, but as the lady in the rental booth advised, the best stuff to see is on the outside, not in the enclosed swimming area. We went on the outside and found several different types of coral and quite a few small colorful fish. Chris and Liza came out later and not having talked to the rental booth lady, went on the inside where Chris said they did see a couple large fish and a school of squid.
About the time we settled in on the lawn chairs after snorkeling the weather decided to dump a sudden downpour on us. Everyone scurried for shelter. Heading up the beach back toward the lift we giggled a bit at a covered playground full of adults sheltering from the rain and not one child at play. By the time we reached the lift, the volume of rain had already decreased, but we got on anyway. Over the water the lift lurched to a stop. Not its normal brief stop to let someone on or off, but a long oh-no-the-lift-died sort of stop.
While we dangled above the water, watching people on the footpath getting somewhere and fish swimming beneath us, it eventually stopped raining. Finally the lift lurched forward and began to move. We made it across the water, but not much farther. Then it stopped once more. This time we sat over land watching a guy with a cane hobbling slowly up the footpath and reaching the end while we dangled in the sky. Finally the lift moved again. This time we reached the end.
Because dangling in the air for long periods of time in the rain is not what we paid for, we asked for a refund on our lift tickets at the booth, but they said since we had bought them on the ship to ask there. I asked there and they said they would email the operator and see what they said. We never did get a refund. Good thing it didn’t cost much. Carnival staff treated us like royalty during our entire cruise, so we can forgive them this minor mishap.
Assuming it works, riding the lift is good for great views and photo ops, or people who can’t walk far. Also for those like us who want to ride it just to ride it. For the fastest way to the beach, definitely take the walking trail. When people with canes and wheelchairs get there first, you know for sure walking is faster.
Funny though, soaked to the skin as we were, we never really felt cold until we got back on the ship where stepping through the door brings about a 30 degree drop in temperature. OK possibly a slight exaggeration, but for some reason people always seem to keep air conditioners turned up way too high. I always need sweaters and sweatshirts and things for inside the ship, yet the outdoor spaces feel pleasantly warm.
Back in our cabin, I stepped out on the balcony and saw crew members having a lifeboat drill. A whole row of lifeboats just under our balcony, each with two crew members poking out of hatches at either end like so many jack-in-the boxes. The lifeboats went down to the water and back up. Sometimes the levels from one boat to another varied, but at the top and bottom they all were the same.
I got some interesting photos I never would have taken had we not got rained on and come back early. You just never know what random things might come in useful later. Some of these photos got reposted all over the internet in John’s guest blog on cruise ship safety.
Shore excursions on Isla Roatan include an island tour or a variety of adventures at Gumbalina Park including zip lines, birds, or pirates. Other choices include private island or resort excursions, several snorkel or dive options, snuba or semi-submarine trips, kayaking, dolphin encounters, and beach options. There’s also golf, but I can’t recommend that no matter how nice the course is because fertilizer from oceanside golf courses increases the growth of coral-killing algae on nearby reefs.
Isla Rotan is the largest of eight islands that make up Islas de Bahia (Bay Islands) about 30 miles off the northern coast of Honduras. The temperature averages 75 – 85 degrees farenheit year-round. Although the island’s official currency is Lempira, at the cruise ship port in Mahogany Bay all the shops accept American dollars. Some stores on other parts of the island happily accept American dollars as well. Tourism is currently the island’s main industry.
Occupants of the island speak a wide variety of languages in addition to English and Spanish. Their ancestries vary widely, as the island’s history included native populations as well as Spanish and English settlers, pirates, and African slaves.
After many years of Spanish, British, and pirates fighting over the island, with various settlements and populations coming and going, the island finally ended up as the property of Honduras in the mid 1800’s.
Locals tell tales of legends of ghosts, known locally as duppees. They say pirates burying gold would kill a man and leave his body with the gold so his ghost would guard it. After centuries of vigilance, the ghosts tire of watching the gold and will give specific directions to willing listeners, who then can find the gold by following those directions exactly.
Isla Roatan and the other Bay Islands boast the world’s second largest coral reef, called the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. It is outsized only by Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Many locals depend on the sea to make their living, whether from cruise ship passengers, or fishing for delicacies such as lobster and shrimp sold world wide. Many fly-in vacationers staying in land based hotels also boost the island’s economy, often visiting for water-based activities.
The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef extends more than 450 miles from Cozumel and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula past Belize and on to the Bay islands. It hosts inner, middle and outer reefs, separated by sand bars and each with their own populations of coral, fish, and other sea life.
Coral reefs worldwide currently face difficulties due to increased acidity of the oceans, caused by the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They have a harder time finding the components they need to build their shells, and when erosion exceeds growth the reefs die off. Other factors such as pollution, bacteria, and increased ocean temperatures also have led to a decline in the number of living corals. Coral reefs create habitat for many other species, so their loss brings about a loss in a great amount of sea life. In some places in the Caribbean, up to 80% of life on the reefs has already died. Since the 1960′s, many square miles of coral reefs in the Pacific have died, with the rate of die-off doubling in the 1990′s. Overfishing also contributes to coral loss because fish eat the algae that can otherwise suffocate the reef.
Coral loss is yet another reason we should all do our part to recycle, use sustainable resources, and help decrease pollution. While this may not directly affect the coral, recycling plastic bottles to ensure they stay out of the great garbage patch in the north pacific gyre is one small thing we can all do to help stop the decline in the overall health of our oceans. The north pacific gyre is nowhere near Roatan, but plastic from all over the world makes its way into the ocean and ends up in the north pacific gyre or in other smaller garbage patches elsewhere.
On a behind-the-scenes tour of the Liberty, we found out that Carnival recycles everything to take back to port so nothing harmful goes into the landfill or the sea.