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Fantasy island Belize

A colorfully decorated Norwegian Cruise Line ship. The company built its own port is southern Belize on Harvest Caye, off the coast of Placencia. The new port landing opens in February.Updated on

The reckoning is triggered by the opening in February of Norwegian Cruise Lines’ $50 million Belize fantasy island, Harvest Caye, coupled with the country’s already “strong tourist arrivals growth.”

So, I reckon that means Belize had better be bracing itself for even more tourism growth in the future?

Travel Pulse sees NCL’s move to its own private paradise — floating dock, beaches, water sports in a protected cove, a life-like Belizean village — as a good thing for the country’s robust cruise tourism sector.

“Harvest Caye’s debut will boost the country’s already strong cruise sector growth. Despite lacking a dedicated ship pier and terminal, Belize is on the verge of becoming the eighth Caribbean Tourism Organization destination to exceed one million annual cruise ship visitors, ” says Travel Pulse in its 2016 Caribbean Tourism Outlook.

In another story on NCL, Travel Pulse says “the cruise line’s website claims visitors will find both ‘solace and adventure’ in Harvest Caye” when it opens in February. We’ll have to take travel Pulse’s work for it because the Norwegian Cruise Line website link produces a page that ominously says “Action not found.” Although we’re pretty sure their cruise passengers will find plenty to do on the caye without ever actually stepping on to mainland Belize — to the relief of little Placencia, which at one point was the designated drop off point for thousands of passengers.

Here’s to solace and adventure on Harvest Caye in 2016.

Indeed, even though NCL has picked up its ball from Belize City and taken it south, there are others in line to play nice with the awkwardness that is Belize City as a cruise destination. (The remote anchorage and dependence on motor launches to transport passengers to dry land has sent a few ships packing in stormy weather in the last year, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost tourist spending.)

Caribbean Journal reports that Jamacia-based MSC Cruises has just made its first-ever stop in Belize City. MSC Cruises is a division of the Mediterranean Shipping Company.

The delightfully named Fantasia-class cruise ship Divina ported in Belize after departing its home port in Falmouth, Jamaica, and stops in Georgetown, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico. It is testing the waters, so to speak, on what Belize has to offer its passengers.

MSC has four 139, 400-ton ships in its Fantasia Class. They are so big, they can’t squeeze through the Panama Canal until the widening is completed later this year. The Divinia boasts 1, 751 staterooms, holding 4, 363 passengers. The crew adds another 1, 300 personnel aboard. Eighty percent of the staterooms have ocean views.

You can bet that the Belize Tourism Board and Belize Cruise Port are going all out to show them what a good time they can have in this beautiful and diverse little country.

“We welcome the new European cruise line, MSC Cruises, in their inaugural call to Belize, ” says Director of Destination Planning and Cruise, Valdemar Andrade. “We are happy to have them as a new cruise line partner for our destination …” Andrade hints that yet another cruise line is investigating Belize City as a port of call.

With well above 300 cruise ships stopping in 2015, and more on the way, the port indeed expects to remain robust.

According to Travel Pulse, “Belize hosted 986, 131 cruise passengers in 2014, an explosive 42.9 percent increase over the 677, 350 cruise vacationers hosted in 2013.

“Despite a slowdown in 2015, Belize’s land-based tourism has also surged in recent years. Last year Belize recorded 321, 217 land-based, overnight visitors, a 9.2 percent increase over 2013. While the 101, 747 tourist arrivals hosted between January and March represents a slight 1.1 percent increase over 2014, the country is still considered on track to continue as a fast-growing Caribbean travel destination.”

Without even considering the explosive “Southwest Effect, ” which has seen a jump in vacationers with the entry of low-cost Southwest Airlines into the Belize airspace, Travel Pulse is wondering how “the transition to mass tourism will impact the once-sleepy exotic destination.”

Seriously? Mass tourism? Is that where we are headed?

I’ll believe it when I see the mega hotels and resorts break ground in far northern Ambergris Caye . . .

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