Dispatch, Carnival Liberty: Ports of distinction

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Cruise editor Donna Tunney is onboard the Carnival Liberty, experiencing the upgrades added under Carnival's Fun Ship 2.0 project. Her second dispatch follows. Click to read Donna's first dispatch. 

One of the great things about cruising in the Caribbean is experiencing the different personalities of the islands.

Some show the evidence of third-party involvement, where cruise lines have partnered with island governments to create high-end tourist zones, while others are rustic and don’t have an advanced tourism infrastructure.

Two ports of call on the Carnival Liberty’s itinerary this week are good examples.

During our call in Cozumel Monday, the 2,900-passenger ship sidled up to the pier that Carnival Corp. built several years ago. (It had to be rebuilt after Hurricane Wilma caused substantial damage in 2005.)

Passengers disembarked on a sunny day and walked toward a spiffy shopping and restaurant area designed to look like a town center. Alongside the pier, a massive building houses upscale stores selling high-end perfumes, jewelry, liquor and more.

And in the town center, uniformed excursion crew members held up signs for each planned tour, and passengers quickly found their group leaders.

At a smaller dock, a catamaran and speed boat waited to ferry guests who had booked a getaway to Passion Island, a few miles up the coast.

And at the waterfront, people who didn’t book an excursion could sit under the shade of a table umbrella, sip exotic drinks and enjoy Mexican food. It was all very efficient, very clean.

I had booked the Passion Island trip, which included the catamaran transfer, a barbecue lunch with open bar and the use of beach chairs on a stretch of powdery sand that was wide and long enough to provide the ambience of a private-island escape.

The next day’s call, at Belize, was quite different. With no dock infrastructure for large ships, the Carnival Liberty anchored outside the harbor and tendered passengers ashore.

While there are a few high-end jewelry stores at the port, the atmosphere is decidedly low-key and casual. The Wet Lizard bar and restaurant attracted passengers to its second-floor space, which provided views of the harbor. But there’s not much to see.

A promenade along the wharf houses several souvenir shops, most of which could use a coat of paint. On one side street, vendors were selling trinkets out of tents — the kind you see at craft shows in the U.S.

I poked around inside several of the tents and saw lots of sale items gathering dust — literally. Along the wharf several men holding handmade signs were calling out to passengers, trying to entice them into buying a bus tour of nearby Belize City or a cave-tubing excursion.

Carnival offered an array of tours in Belize, including cave tubing, Mayan ruin explorations and fishing trips, so the folks who tendered into the port were just there for a look-see. I didn’t see anyone buy a tour from the men on the wharf.

Some might say Belize is an outpost for the “authentic Caribbean” versus the slick, commercial ports some cruise lines have created elsewhere.

There’s no good or bad, right or wrong — they’re simply different destination experiences that keep the region from being all vanilla.

The Carnival Liberty is operating a seven-day cruise out of Miami. Other ports of call are Mahogany Bay, Honduras; and Grand Cayman.

Follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly. 

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