Continuing on with our Royal Caribbean Cruise Adventures …
Day 5 – Belize Mayan Ruins
5 AM on Thursday … As the alarm clock started ringing Aaron and I groggily looked over on each other debating whether we should go explore some Mayan ruins in Belize or take the day to sleep. Cruises can be exhausting if you are always on the hop with different shore excursions. However, you must keep in mind that this was my first real vacation in 8 years without any of my family or caregivers. So, while we might’ve squeezed a few too many adventures into our 7 days, Aaron popped out of bed and made quick work of getting me ready to go explore thousands of years of history!
We arrived in Belize City early that morning, but were anchored offshore. We were anchored at what is called a tendered port. Essentially, you have to take small little dinghies seating anywhere between 50 to 80 people from the cruise ship over to the port of Belize. These little tendered ports are not for the faint of heart, especially in a wheelchair, because with the rocking ocean and trying to lift my manual chair onto this little boat presented its own unique set of challenges. Fortunately, the weather was quite calm so we were able to physically leave the ship, but there are days when they will not allow a wheelchair to maneuver onto the small vessels.
Ligia, our concierge attendant on Royal Caribbean, escorted us to the tendered boat as we skipped all the lines 🙂 I was decked out in sneakers, sports cloths, my manual chair, and ready to get bounced around! It took us about 30 minutes of rocking around on this boat, but we made it to the dock. I’d been to Belize nearly 10 years ago and from what I had recalled, which turned out to be exactly correct, Belize City is no joke from a dangerous perspective. It is not a city you want to go roaming around in alone as a tourist … and certainly not with an expensive wheelchair! It has a very high crime rate, poor infrastructure due to a hurricane hitting the city years prior, and not a very friendly crowd. When we arrived at the docks there was a small little area for tourists and tour guides to meet up with one another, make haste of getting into a van, and getting the heck out of the city!
Since I hired a private accessible tour company who partners with local tour companies who claim to be handicap accessible, and who would be able to show us the Belize Zoo in addition to some Mayan Ruins – I was pretty excited! We did have quite a bit of bother trying to find our tour guide due to many miscommunications, but we did eventually find him. We were running behind schedule though. I wasn’t quite sure how far away our excursions were, but we literally had to be back to the boat in five hours.
Our tour guide, Ricky from Roam Belize Tour Company, greeted us with a smile and proceeded to show us the way to our “accessible” handicap van. Well, there was a van, and there was a ramp that you had to take out of the van to attach to the rear of the vehicle to push me up. I would say it was accessible, but not particularly accessible friendly if you know what I mean 🙂 Once I was loaded into the back of the van I was looking for straps to lock in my wheelchair. Ricky informed us that there were no straps as they were a tour company that was just getting up and running with providing accessible tours to folks in wheelchairs. The way the van seats were laid out, unless I was a paraplegic and could transfer my own, was not going to work to transfer me onto an actual van seat because Aaron could not lift me up with a height of the van.
I did call the company to confirm and I filled out many forms saying that I was paralyzed from the chest down, and that needed to stay in my wheelchair, but being a foreign country things get lost in translation sometimes. No big deal we thought!
We decided to just keep me in my chair and sit next to Aaron. What I did not realize was that the roads in Belize were half paved at best. The moment we started driving down the road my chair fell backward and I thought I was going over. Fortunately, Aaron caught me and we figured for the rest of the way to the ruins he was going to have to weave his legs inside my wheelchair and hold on to me for dear life. We bounced around like two yo-yos for the better part of an hour and learned that it would take an hour to get to the ruins, then another hour to get to the Belize zoo, and then yet. another hour to get back to the port of Belize. Thinking critically about our time constraints we decided to give up the Belize Zoo and see the Mayan ruins in a relaxed manner, and stop somewhere locally for lunch.
One challenge with cruise ship excursions is that you can’t venture off too far in order to make it back to the ship on time. In Belize, the best ruins are at least 3 to 4 hours into the jungle, which was not particularly feasible in our case. So, we were only able to go see the smaller of the Mayan ruins, but thousands of years of history was awaiting us none-the-less. When we arrived we could see multiple buses from the cruise ships pulling in to the ruins as well. We decided to hurry so we would beat the crowds as we had a private tour with our own tour guide. Aaron had never been to any kind of ancient Mayan Ruin before as I had on my previous trip to Belize 10 years ago. I knew what was in store for us, but the look on his face of pure joy and excitement when he saw these magnificent structures was absolutely priceless – perhaps the most memorable moment on the entire trip!
As we roamed around the ruins and took some pictures I could see Aaron anxiously waiting to climb the ruins as Ricky was giving us some history lessons on the Ancient Mayans who thrived roughly around 200 A.D. or so. Many of these ruins had been hidden away by nature with mounds of sand, dirt, and time covering them. .In the late 1800’s and early part of the 1900’s many archaeologists started to excavate this part of the country to unearth the incredible civilization of the Mayans. One notable advance the Mayans made, and they were many, was a contribution to astronomy. High up in the tall ruins many of the higher society scientists would gaze at the stars for years on end and estimated the days of the year down to the fourth decimal place! It is completely mind blowing to think about. I could write an entire blog on the numerous facts we learned about the Mayan culture, but I will leave it to your curiosity to poke around Google!
There was only one specific location you were technically allowed to climb up, but Aaron threw out the rulebook and started climbing like a monkey. When Ricky turned his head Aaron was practically halfway up the side of the Mayan Ruin. He told me that was illegal, but I told him to relax a little bit and look the other way … I do not think Aaron was harming anything with these large stone structures. While the other tourists were huffing and puffing up the side of the ruin, Aaron was running circles around them 🙂
When we were done with our adventure we still had several hours before we had to be back to the ship. We asked Ricky to take us to his favorite local spot to eat and then pull off on the side of the road somewhere so we could have a little bit of a picnic. He told us he knew this beautiful waterway that we could pull off to and we were pretty keen to check this out.
Unbeknownst to us, what Ricky meant by beautiful waterway was a tiny dirt patch of land next to some water off the highway. While slightly disappointing, it was all about the company and we were fascinated to get to investigate Ricky’s life story a little bit more. Ricky did tell us that this was the “Make out Spot” for young kids in Belize in order to evade detection from their parents 🙂 Anyway, we had a lovely time eating local chicken, beans and rice, and plantains. I always find it more interesting to get to know a little bit more about the local culture of places I travel to.
On our way back to Belize City Ricky offered to drop us off into the city to walk around, but Aaron and I looked at each other cautiously, and kindly turned down his offer to likely get mugged in the middle of the city and miss our ship departure!
While the day presented us with some challenges we got to experience some lovely people, learn about ancient culture, and get off the ship for a few hours. As you might expect we were completely knackered by the end of the day, but we mustered up some strength to get changed, and find some food on the ship. We generally kept going to the cafeteria area, called the Windjammer, that was open most of the day where they served an over the top buffet daily. It was relaxed, not rushed, and we had the chance to speak with some of our fellow cruise mates until about 8 PM when we retired for our next day’s adventure.
Day 6 – Costa Maya, Mexico
Friday was our last excursion day before having one more day on the ship and then ending our cruise. We decided not to plan any excursions as we were not quite sure how we would feel by the end of the week. We were quite pleased with this decision as we were teetering on sheer exhaustion by this point. We were told by Ligia that Costa Maya was not actually a specific destination in Mexico. I was curious because I had looked up this location online and couldn’t find anything on this area in Mexico. As it turns out, and I had been aware of this, many cruise ship lines get together and purchase a piece of land or an island, especially in the Caribbean + Bahamas, and construct what I can only describe as a giant tourist island theme park of sorts.
I grew up in Cat Island, Bahamas, which is a very out island in the Bahamas with many dirt roads. A tiny island to the right of us about a 30 minute boat ride away was always a favorite camping spot of mine when I grew up. About 10 years ago I took one of my friends by boat to go check out this little island and I was completely flabbergasted to find cruise ships on this teeny tiny little island with all kinds of outdoor activities. I had learned the cruise ship lines had purchased this island, and, unfortunately, completely destroyed it.
So, once I heard the story from Ligia that the cruise ships had made this little tourist theme park I was well aware of what we were in for. I told Aaron about them and told him to be prepared to have a completely corny tourist day, which made for some pretty fabulous photo ops. I’m pretty sure many of the passengers had no idea what was going on, but we were able to pull right up to the port, right into this “fantasy like” island tourist theme park, and play a game of how many tourist activities we could participate in in just a few hours! Honestly, it provided Mucho entertainment 🙂
There were Mexicans flying through the air, swimming with dolphins, a fake snorkeling pool, restaurants galore, real and fake (Chinese made) Mexican trinkets to bargain for on every corner, a giant pool bar, and a treehouse bird sanctuary to name a few. I’ve included some pictures below which should require no explanation. Suffice to say… We were two giant children in a playground sipping piña colada’s and going from venue to venue!
We were set to depart mid-afternoon back to Tampa Florida. We had the entire day on Saturday to roam the ship on our cruise day back.
Day 6 – Cruise Day
Honestly, I don’t think I took any pictures that day, we slept in a little bit, roamed around the ship some more, took a nap, took a shower, and packed up the room for an early departure at 8:30 AM the next morning. Most folks were packed in by the pool and soaking up in their last day. I actually found it quite chilly on the ships, so I was unable to really bask in the sun with the wind. We had to pack all of our luggage and put it outside the door the night before, and Ligia would meet us the very next morning to personally escort us off the ship!
We did manage to sneak in a beautiful specialty dinner at their Steak restaurant where Aaron ordered Rack of lamb with mint jelly, and I ordered a mediocre salmon. I have to admit Aaron’s rack of lamb was pretty much close to perfection!
Again, an early night for us as our adventures were about to come to an end!
Day 7 – Goodbye
We were up bright and early and, as promised, Ligia escorted us off the ship, through customs, through the thousands of people trying to scurry to find their luggage, and directly to our van parked a few blocks away. If that is not one-on-one service I don’t know what is!
If you don’t have some sort of VIP service or you are not in a wheelchair, you may want to think very carefully if you are claustrophobic about taking a cruise 🙂 The waves of people pushing one another, cutting lines, trying to be polite, but impatient at the same time, as they tried to debark the ship to perhaps make a flight was not the best representation of humanity I’ve ever seen!
Now, I’ve got one more blog to go to sum up my overall experience with taking a cruise in a wheelchair, so stay tuned for my Lessons Learned Next Week 🙂