Belize is one of the world’s top ecotourism destinations. But, until recently, for travelers visiting on a cruise, the experience hasn’t been as rich as it could be. Ships anchor off Belize City and passengers take a long tender ride to a landing site, Belize Tourism Village. If they don’t get into the countryside, they miss the true flavor of Belize.

Now there’s a welcome alternative. Cruises have just begun stopping at Harvest Caye, a newly opened destination in southern Belize that sets itself apart from the usual private island in many ways.

When a ship docks at Harvest Caye (pronounced “key”), passengers find a relaxing beach, lots of water sports, shops, and a nature conservation center. Garifuna drummers greet each ship, and Mayan storytellers enact a legend.

There’s a gorgeous, seven-acre sweep of beach lapped by clear water. The lighthouse is actually a Flighthouse, the launching point for zip line adventures (including tandem flying, Superman-style) and tethered free-fall jumps from heights up to 100 feet. (It’s not a bungee; you don’t bounce but land gently in the sand.)

Passengers can rent a kayak or paddleboard at a lagoon lined with mangroves, challenge themselves on a ropes course, or go parasailing. There’s an enormous tropical pool with a swim-up bar and a waterfall, with 15 poolside cabanas that can be rented for the day.

For a splurge, 11 luxury beach villas have spacious decks, air-conditioned interiors, a bathroom, indoor and outdoor showers, Bluetooth audio, and concierge service.

Other cruise line private islands offer beaches, bars, and cabanas, sure, but what’s really different about Harvest Caye is its wildlife conservation center. Belizean Tony Garel serves as chief naturalist and gives talks about the native flora and fauna, including a couple of boa constrictors he has on hand. What Garel says are the country’s largest aviaries house toucans (the national bird) and endangered scarlet macaws that are part of a breed-to-release program. One of the most delightful aspects is a stroll through the butterfly garden, bursting with blue morphos.

Another way this private island is different from most of those operated by cruise lines? It provides a gateway to the mainland. Those who opt to explore mainland Belize can hop into a large catamaran for a ride to Malacate. From there, excursions leave to the Mayan ruins of Nim Li Punit, a ceremonial site with temples, a ball court, observatory, and a small museum. Other excursions traverse an estuary rich with birds and manatees, go to the foot of the mountains for rain forest river tubing, or offer rafting on Class 1 (the gentlest) rapids.

The parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line developed Harvest Caye, and ships on NCL’s western Caribbean itineraries from Miami, Tampa, and New Orleans visit. The ships of NCL’s sister lines, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, will also call occasionally, and Harvest Caye is going to be open, selectively, to other lines. Several are already seeking reservations.

Anne Kalosh doesn’t count the cruises she’s taken, though there have been hundreds—including five years as a shipboard newspaper editor, sailing the world. She loves the experiences sea travel offers. Her byline has appeared in many major publications, and she’s on top of the latest cruise developments as the long-time U.S. editor for Seatrade-Cruise.com and Seatrade Cruise Review.

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