What to Expect When You Take A Cruise to Belize: The Cruise Ship Village

Yesterday was THE most beautiful day to visit Belize City.  Bright warm sun, but cool in the shade.  I was wearing my long sleeved shirt and North Face windbreaker, visitors, bikini tops and shorts.  I took the 830am San Pedro Express Water Taxi from San Pedro to the city.  One hour and 15 minutes.  To visit the cruise ship village on its most busy day, Thursday.  A three ship day in the harbor day.  (You can see one of them in this picture below…off behind the fishing boats.)

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Ft. George Village is the first stop for all visitors that are getting off the cruise ships in Belize.  So technically, it is the most visited place in Belize.  By far!  So how can I write a blog about Belize without visiting this hot spot?  This hub?  Makes no sense.  In fact, I’m starting to get more and more questions from cruise ship visitors.  Time to get in and take a look around.

One note of warning:  I have never been on a cruise and I’ve never really wanted to.  I don’t really like crowds, it takes me a few days to get a real feel for a destination and…I don’t really like crowds!

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Now that THAT is out there…Here was my on view as I pulled in.  It’s almost like a closed in mall on the Belize Water front.   Lots of docks, bars, shops…

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Looks pretty good to me.  And Belize City really looked gorgeous yesterday.  The view across the river.   The one that thousands of cruisers were seeing from their bar stools yesterday.  Beautiful, right?

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When I got off the water taxi, I headed toward the village and Security Entrance #2.  There were quite a few people on the streets, people trying to sell crafts, hair braiding, tours LOTS OF CITY TOURS, horse and buggy rides…

IMG_7165Some of these horses looked SLIM…and not in a trim, athletic way.  There are also “train” rides and van rides so you do have a choice.

There is a flea market area with a really loud heavy metal band.  Odd to me.  These guys were doing Guns N Roses well…but when you get out in Belize, don’t you want to hear Belizean music?  Perhaps I have no idea what the cruise ship crowd is looking for.  As the day went on…I realized that I really don’t.

Welcome to the Jungle.

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At security, the people are NO JOKE.  If you have a cruise ship pass, movement is quite easy but if you don’t, and just want to visit, you don’t exactly seem welcome.  I was told that you needed only your US passport and no weapons.

Check and check.  And as a back-up, I texted the son of a friend who owns a business in the village.  That back-up name was definitely needed.  It seems as though outside visitors are generally discouraged from going inside.

I handed over my passport (it could not be reclaimed until I exited) and was told NO PICTURES OF THE DIAMONDS.   I was searched, went through the metal detector and the wand swipe and I was in…

Diamonds International (THE DIAMONDS) has about 5 stores in the village.  Including Tanzanite International.  Do lots of people buy diamonds on cruises?  The amount of security guards at these shops was pretty unbelievable.

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The tender boats were coming in fast and furious.

IMG_7201The cruise photographers took pictures of the departing guests and some loaded onto pre-arranged tours.  Like this river tour of the Sibun River.

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Many people took a picture in front of the Blue Hole.  I don’t blame you girls, I’ve never been to the Blue Hole either.

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There were plenty of photo ops around the area…

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And quite a few shops…

I think these three are pretty standard issue for cruise ship ports.  Expensive!

IMG_7170 IMG_7193For t-shirts, shot glasses and general souvenir stuff…

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A bunch of pharmacies selling a wide array of things…

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from 30 packs of Viagra for $90US to Lipitor to lots of antibiotics.IMG_7192

Three cheers for self medication?  Hmmm…what the heck is Maxalt?IMG_7194Something more up my alley.  There is a LARGE chocolate shop that does Belizean chocolates.  I had high hopes for this place…

IMG_7184 IMG_7186It smells divine, they have cute soaps and chocolate bars.  These cool cacao bean bags…

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But it’s tough.  The place is large but not exactly set up to handle such large crowds…particularly if you want to make a chocolate bar.  I couldn’t get close.  BUT, they do have the cutest Belizean made souvenirs that I saw in the area…

$7US for a brightly wrapped bars.

IMG_2846I passed the new frozen yogurt place.   I hear very good things about it.  I bet on the hotter days, this place is hopping!

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And I finally settled into what I think it is the STAR of the cruise ship area…The Wet Lizard.  A fun, funky, casual hodge podge of bar signs, brightly painted decor with a great view, reasonably priced beers and a desire to make the visitors have a great time.

IMG_7207This place is MASSIVE.  The downstairs has a DJ, outside bar, inside bar and a huge crowd.

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More of a younger crowd down here.  I bet once the alcohol really gets flowing this $5us a spin wheel is moving…

I didn’t stick around long enough to see topless Jaeger shots.IMG_7206

Or any beer pong being played.

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Upstairs is super bar-cute…it’s got the views and it’s a bit quieter.

IMG_7209 IMG_7211 IMG_7176I really like this shovel decor.  Clever.

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The beers are 2 for $5US, standard Belize prices…they make all sorts of drinks and local bar food.  I’d honestly make this my home base if I was spending the day here.

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IMG_7179SO…that’s a look at the cruise ship area in Belize City.  If you want to spend the day drinking and eating at a fun bar, good times.  BUT, my advice?  DO THE TOURS IN BELIZE.

Your cruise ship is probably stopping in Costa Maya (Mahajual, Mexico) and a gorgeous beach is just a taxi ride away from the cruise port –> See this post.

Roatan?  Same thing.  Beaches, horseback tours, zip lining or just great shopping, sightseeing in the West End (my recent visit part One or part Two) or an AMAZING beach in the West Bay…a taxi ride away.

In Belize?  Go on the big tour.  The cave tubing is unbelievably cool, the Mayan ruins like Lamanai are incredible.   Go on a river tour.  Look at what someone saw recently in the Sibun River.  A freakin’ BABY JAGUAR!

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The snorkeling?  The best in the world.

IMG_1925 You could have a fun time in the cruise ship village but it also could also be a LONG day.

Or visit the Belize Zoo.  Best zoo in the world.  Promise.

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Don’t let this be your best picture of Belize!

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  • Erik Terdal

    Wait! Did I read that you haven’t been to the Blue Hole?!? Anyway, thanks for this report. I have friends who have only seen this part of Belize; now I have a sense of what they saw.

    • Belize Blog

      You read CORRECTLY. Never been to the Blue Hole. That early morning…that 2+ hour boat ride outside the reef…one day. I WOULD LOVE to fly over it.

  • TarheelBornGal

    I just wish I’d known I could have gotten an albuterol inhaler for $12 while I was in Belize — tho in San Pedro it may have been double that. Still, mine ran out, and I had to wait until I could get to the doc in the US — and pay $46. The things you learn!

    • Belize Blog

      Really? It’s cheaper than at the regular pharmacy? Interesting…

      • TarheelBornGal

        No idea really, but definitely way cheaper than in the US. I always found things in San Pedro to be priced higher than on the mainland, so that was my assumption here. I never even thought to ask. Wish I had!

  • Ron

    I’m not a cruise ship type, but I was convinced to try it, too many people. Anyway, we ported in Belize city and did a snorkle excursion to Goffs Caye, had a blast and the operators were awesome. Got back to the states and researched Belize and Ambergris Caye in particular
    . Six months later we visited San Pedro and Caye Caulker for a week, fell in love with the layed back style, can”t wait to make it back to Belize, need my Belikin fix.

    • Belize Blog

      That’s awesome. Thanks for the feedback. TOURS!

  • Don Squier

    Forgive my negativity, but I find disgust in these cruise ship hordes and the phony Belize village experience. Some will contend that the cruise industry brings jobs and money to Belize. There
    is not a single Mary Sharp’s bottle on any of the tables. Sure there is some Belize chocolate and beer sold, but what is the Belize content in the bulk of the cruiser “tourist” souvenirs? Yea cruisers, drink up and buy “Belize” gold, diamonds and made in China crap. The cruise ships employ economies of scale in the form of large tenders and a multitude of large buses to transport cruisers
    to sea or inland experiences, requiring fewer Belizeans to serve as guides or vehicle operators. Be sure and go cave tubing when the cruise ships are in and the cruiser hordes are spewed from multiple busses to form up in a huge unhappy line. Soon a cruise ship plague is to be established in the South for Placencia’s ruination. This is out of control, wake up, don’t CRUISEify Belize!

    • good comment…!!

    • Belize Blog

      Trust me, I am NO FAN of cruise ships. You can read what I wrote about NCL buying Harvest Caye in my post above. But the cruise ship village is in Belize City so here’s how I suggest making the best of it.

    • Sorryfortherant

      Sorry Don but I have to disagree with almost your entire post, you seem to be rather uninformed on how the village or tourism as an industry operates in Belize. The Belize tourism village is not a phony experience, it is a policed and monitored area with real Belizeans that have worked hard to get a spot within that village. The average American tourist would not be able to handle the nitty gritty side that is Belize, try and keep in mind that the cruise passengers spend almost 61 million US dollars in port every year. That money is crucial in the economic development of the tourism sector of the country, which immensely helps the infrastructure and employs nearly 2000 Belizeans… and that is just cruise tourism. The Belize tourism board polices the guide to guest ratio, it happens to rank quite high against the other Caribbean countries. Belize takes pride in having a beautiful country for tourists to visit, it’s main attraction isn’t the souvenirs, hot sauces or diamonds. The “tourist” souvenirs you see in the cruise port are mostly hand carved in Belize or branded with Belize on them, that pretty much defines a “tourist” souvenir. If anyone would like to see the natural and authentic side of Belize I highly recommend throw on a backpack and stay here for some time just like myself. I don’t believe the targeted demographic of the cruise lines are receiving anything less than they are looking for, a safe and beautiful environment to explore at their leisure and the opportunity to venture further if it suits them!

      • are you on the BTB’s …..payroll….?

        • Sorryfortherant

          BTB doesn’t have a terribly large amount to do with the tourist village other than making parking difficult when I get there in the morning (no I don’t work for the tourism village either). I’ve honestly never posted on a travel blog in my entire life up until now, I just feel a little research should be done before an opinion is formed.

          • my opinion is ….the place smells of slave wages, for belizeans…..while foriegn big-bucks .. go to the rich foriegn buisness owners , [who are raking it in.]
            tru, most carvings are made in belize….but sold at
            way high prices…
            while much else isnt made in belize….[china,guat,mex.,honduras…evn u.s.a., ]

            [hands on , 3 days of research]
            i wonder how many signatory members of the BTB are actually born bzeans…!!!

    • don…. big-yu-oup…..for fighting for the rights of belizean..!!!
      notin negative bout dat.

  • glad to see the blog telling about the cast-like system ,for entry.
    friendly ….certainly isnt the term ,if you are not off of a tour ship.
    i’d add also that, if you want a bargain on a wood carving…. buy it ‘outside’ the tourist tour-ship village…for aprox. 60 to 80% off .
    i was the first gringo…in the history of the place..to be banned from entering…, yrs ago…
    it seems that ”deeks’ friend” , [deeks was the dir. at the time…]…
    didnt like me chattin up his gorgeous young [battered] trophy-wife.
    yep…my photo may still be at the front gate-house.
    lol

    • Belize Blog

      Hmmmm…okay. Thanks for the comment?

  • I agree with you on all, Rebecca. Absolutely detest that place – visited last year and was hauled into the head security office because they thought I was a local – when in fact I was there on assignment for a major travel magazine to get photos of the Wet Lizard. They don’t welcome any non cruise ship visitors at all. In any case, I will never, ever support cruises to the Caribbean and much less to Belize – they pollute and destroy the environment, the local communities reap absolutely nothing, and visitors get to see nothing of the gorgeous place that is Belize.

  • John Pascoe

    I agree with parts of what everyone has said so far:

    Personally, I dislike the whole idea of going on a cruise, and the fake touristy atmosphere in cruise ship destinations. I think it’s much better (for the tourists, the locals, the environment, and the economy) to come on holiday for a longer period and see more of a country. But most cruise ship passengers aren’t like that – if they were, they probably wouldn’t be on a cruise in the first place.

    I agree that the staff at the Village aren’t very welcoming to non-cruise ship tourists. But then, isn’t the whole point of the Village to be just for the cruise ship tourists? And if you’re not one, why would you go in? It’s like saying that a swanky hotel isn’t very welcoming to a scruffy backpacker, or a rich tourist saying that a cheap hostel isn’t right for them. Places have their specific demographics, and the Village does precisely what it’s supposed to do (whether you like that kind of business or not).

    Of course the things on offer aren’t as cheap as you could get them elsewhere, just like in an airport or hotel gift shop. And of course the atmosphere is party-like, the emphasis is on selling stuff, and the tours probably inferior to what you’d get if you were travelling independently. But that’s the nature of cruise ship tourism. The vendors make their money, the tourists have a good time, and go back to the ship saying they’ve seen Belize. That’s how it works in every country that cruise ships visit.

    I agree with the comment about cruise ship companies using economies of scale to their advantage (which is one of the many reasons why I think there should not be a port in Harvest
    Caye). But I also agree with the following comment about how the average cruise ship tourist doesn’t want to spend all that money on a cruise, and then find themselves stuck in Belize City
    for a day. They’ve paid lots for their holiday and they want a certain level of service, and a certain ‘experience’.

    The real shame is that the whole experience is so skewed in favour of the cruise companies (but again, unsurprising) – maybe, if Belize and its people got more of the millions of $, it could be used to benefit the country. It sure isn’t being used to pave the streets!

    • Belize Blog

      Very well said. And yes, the CRAP deal that has been struck for the Harvest Caye site is a joke…it’s less money rather than more going to the country of Belize.

  • Great post. Thanks for penning. And you’re right, the snorkeling is divine.