This is no cruise ship tour. And I mean that in a good way. We really wanted to try the cave tubing in Belize. Riding an inner tube down a river through a cave sounded like lots of fun. We first discovered this adventure in the list of Carnival’s shore excursions for Belize. Looking online for reviews, I discovered a variety of outside companies also provided that tour. The reviews ranged from use an outside company for a longer ride at half the price to don’t go with an outside company because you might miss the boat.
We definitely did not want to miss the boat and have to provide our own transportation to the next port. We eliminated any company with a complaint of guests missing their boat from consideration. We deliberated for awhile if we wanted to take the risk of booking with an outside company for what sounded like a better, cheaper tour. After much researching online, checking websites, reading reviews, that sort of thing, we settled on booking our excursion with cavetubing.com. In fact, since their price was actually slightly less than half the price through the ship, we added the zip line for a combo tour and still paid less than the ship’s price for the cave tubing alone.
Finally the day came, our second port day for this cruise. We badly needed to catch the first tender, and not having the priority of a ship’s tour, we went to the lounge to get our tender tickets half an hour before the scheduled time for it to open, fully expecting to sit out in the hall behind a locked door. Through wide open doors, we found only a couple other people in the room. When it got to about 20 or so the cruise ship people said they would give us all our tickets before anyone else got there. Everyone rushed to the table, I managed to push my way into third, and since we were the second ones there (and the first ones made it to the table first) I did not feel one bit badly about crowding past people who got there after I did.
We sat happily with our Tender 1 stickers as the room filled. And filled. Turns out the government of Belize picked that day to delay clearing the ship by an hour. No idea what for, but the longer they keep the passengers out of port the more money their citizens lose. Finally the ship cleared and they called up tenders 1-6. All at once, no sort of order. So we felt a bit miffed that some of the people who strolled in long after us ended up well ahead in line. We all got on the same boat though. One other tender left before ours, probably full of passengers on shore excursions purchased through the ship since they get priority.
Once the boat landed, we hurried down the pier through the terminal specified on our instructions to the street on the other side and found the guy from cavetubing.com holding up their sign with my name and many others on it. They showed us to their bus where we found seats. People with tender sticker numbers as high as 4 joined us, so had they not put us all on one boat we’d have been waiting on the other side for the slow people who didn’t follow the instructions to get on the first tender.
They took us for a short bus tour through town, driving past the fancy rich houses by the beach and the not so fancy houses on the other side of town. Our hilarious guide, Speedo, kept us entertained the whole way with his lively talk. As we passed the phone company (their one and only choice for phone service) he said its initials of TAL stood for Try Again Later. Gas, he said, cost about twice what we pay in the USA, so everyone drives a BMW. Which stands for Better Me Walk.
Once we reached the highway toward the caves, he announced party time. And he meant it. After offering free bottles of water if anyone would like them, one of the other guides brought out a jug of punch, followed by another guide with a bottle of cashew wine. Big cups for the punch, little for the wine, both for anyone desiring both. My son, Chris, took both and when I just said punch got a wine cup for me as well saying we’d find a use for it. I normally don’t drink alcohol, but drank the punch anyway even though it tasted a bit spiked.
What the heck, I had a cup of spiked punch last year on an Alaskan cruise, a drink once a year probably doesn’t hurt. Took a taste of the wine too, which I thought had a bit of a nutty taste, better than most wines. I never did like wine even before I stopped drinking any alcohol many years ago. (And no, I was never an alcoholic, just didn’t have any reason to drink.) After everyone had a taste, the guides awarded the rest of the bottle to the person most vocal about wanting it. He stood right up and guzzled the whole thing. I’d be willing to bet the people on the official cruise ship tour did not get any offers of free alcohol on their way to the jungle.
Once we arrived, they took all the people who had the zip line as well as the cave tour in the first group, and those just doing the cave tube in the second after a very brief option for a pit stop or clothing change. The hike to the river comes after the clothing change, so for anyone considering this excursion there’s no need to bring most of the things you think you want because you won’t have access to them until you get back to the bus anyway.
Wearing a swimsuit underneath fast-drying shorts along with good walking shoes you don’t mind getting wet works best. Those who don’t mind the exposure could go without the shorts. There’s not much time between the cave tubing and zip line, but a shirt or something left on the driver’s seat can be grabbed quickly if needed. Anything else stays on your own seat on the bus for later. We had a backpack full of towels and things that we never used. By the time we got back from the zip line we had already dried. It’s possible the group who just did the cave tubing used theirs, but no-one from our group did. We never used the passports or credit card we had stashed in the backpack either, but those things need to come along because if you ever did miss the boat you would definitely need them to get to the next port.
For those without water-proof cameras, they passed out ziplock bags. A small booth in the parking lot offered disposable water proof cameras for sale, but anyone stopping to buy one would not have time to visit the bathroom or changing room as there was time enough only for one thing.
Once everyone in our group had an innertube (with life jacket attached) and a head light (as in a light on straps that you put on your head so you can actually see something in the cave) we set off down the trail carrying our tubes. They offered helmets if anyone wanted them, but nobody did. They said the official cruise ship tour requires everyone to wear the helmets, but depending on river conditions they make them optional when they can, something we all appreciated.
First we crossed the river where a rope stretched from one side to the other all the way across. Little minnows swam around our feet. Then we walked down the trail a bit and crossed the river again. Busy taking pictures, I had not noticed my tube rotated a bit so that the corner of the life jacket got a bit wet. I put that back to the top again, but by the next river crossing it had migrated to the bottom and got wetter still. Luckily, since the water was low they did not make us wear them if we knew how to swim, although I did not know that until we got to the starting point of the float.
Liza did not have good walking shoes, so she had a bit of trouble and one of the guides carried her tube for her. Another saw me taking photos and said he’d carry mine to make the picture-taking easier. A bit farther down the trail when I offered to carry Chris’ so he could get some good pictures the guide said no problem, he’d take that one as well. Once we got to the starting point, different groups hitched up together, feet under the person ahead of you’s arms. Chris, Liza, and I had our own little group with a guide just for us, although the three sections of our group stayed more or less together through the caves.
“This cave has bats,” said the guide, “so keep your mouth shut if you look up.” We saw a few hanging upside down and Chris saw one flying around. Nobody actually got guanoed that I know of though. The cave had lots of interesting rock formations and some crystals. A couple really pretty spots had light-filled openings big enough for some plants to add a bright touch of green to the view. While we lazily floated on our tubes, the guides worked hard steering them through the cave, often calling “butts up” in places where shallow water or tall rocks posed a threat to low-hanging derrieres. The guides had little black inner tubes, but mostly seemed to walk or swim, each bringing along their column of bright yellow tourist-filled tubes.
Just past the exit from the cave, we saw people from other groups leaving the water. “That’s were the people who booked through the ship get out,” the guide said. We floated quite a way downriver from there before we had to get out. When we came near the exit point, the guide let us float freely on our own to the end. We floated on down back to where we first crossed the river at the place with the rope across the stream. Most people used it for an aid in that first river crossing. I decided to let my tube float to the rope, which I could then use to pull myself to shore. He did say not to go past it, but not that we couldn’t go to it. Easy way to get to shore I thought, no paddling required, just grab the rope and go hand over hand until the tube touches bottom. Worked great.
We had a wonderful time. I totally recommend cavetubing.com. In spite of the late start, they got us back to the dock with about 45 minutes to spare before the last tender. They kept us all entertained from the time we stepped on the bus for the first time until the time they let us off safely back at the pier. We all loved both the cave tubing and the zip line as well as the free tamale for lunch. This was definitely one of the highlights of our Carnival cruise.