Docking at the Fort Street Tourism Village cruise port in Belize, you’ll be greeted by a colorful Belize sign, cultural dancers, and warm smiles (and weather). A bucket-list dream made reality. For many, this dream had to be postponed – or canceled – as the world grappled with a pandemic in the past 18 months. As vaccination rates slowly rise across the globe, the cruise industry is also gradually rebounding, with Belize’s own ports being reopened this summer. But what is it really like to take a cruise in the midst of a pandemic?
The glaring concern many cruisers expressed is how safe cruising actually is in 2021. COVID-19 cases are not exactly diminishing, but it’s helpful to look at the data of how the country you’re visiting is managing the outbreak. For instance, Belize’s Ministry of Health and Wellness has launched an aggressive vaccination campaign with a focal point on the tourism industry. As for those visiting Belize on a cruise ship, some may argue the process is even more meticulous when it comes to safety protocols. Just to enter the Fort Street Tourism Village (FSTV,) one must be fully vaccinated, have their temperature checked, and undergo extensive sanitization procedures, including keeping a mask on.
Noriko Gamero, FSTV’s Deputy General Manager, emphasizes the importance of safety not only for cruise passengers but the staff at FSTV as well. “Every single person on the vessel must be fully vaccinated,” Gamero tells CC+L. “With the exception of children under the age of 12 who cannot receive the vaccine as yet, they leave on the first tour in the morning, called the bubble tour.”
A “bubble tour” refers to a tour where no independent exploration happens; instead, all passengers stay in the designated tour areas controlled by the tour operators. The other fully vaccinated passengers are able to roam freely around the port area and do some shopping and exploring, often booking city tours or nearby excursions. Though frequent sanitization and temperature checks are expected.
When it comes to safety outside of the ship, Gamero shares that all tour operators and attractions had to be Gold Standard Certified before passengers could visit.
“Fun fact: when we started the reopening on July 7th, the Ministry of Health came the day before reopening and we tested every single person that would’ve started to work on that date,” Gamero adds. “100 percent of the staff were negative!”
The FSTV also has strict protocols in place should someone be suspected of contracting the virus. From having an ambulance on-site at the ready should someone need specialized transportation to a medical facility, to containing an individual in isolation on the vessel before ever setting foot in Belize. Each vessel also comes fully equipped with medical facilities used to treat patients if need be. If there ever is a COVID scare, the cruise ship must be cleared to disembark by the Ministry of Health & Wellness first.
“It’s all about trying to merge having fun with being safe at the same time,” Gamero says.
Belize as a cruise destination
When it comes to cruising to Belize, Gamero admits there’s nothing quite like it in the region. With Belize being a part of both the Caribbean and Central America, its uniqueness is sure to shine in a cruise itinerary shared with similar destinations. Currently, the cruise ships arriving in Belize also visit destinations such as Roatan, Honduras, and Cozumel, Mexico. Both of these places are known for their pristine beaches – much like Belize. So what makes Belize stand out?
“You won’t find archaeology sites in the near vicinity of the cruise ports that are competitive to us,” says Gamero. “We have Shark Ray Alley, we have the Lamanai Maya site where you get to go on the river then get to climb the actual site. This isn’t Disney, you know,” Gamero laughs. “This is real life, going through the jungle to climb a Maya temple!”
She mentions the numbers for upcoming calls are actually looking optimistic, with strong bookings all throughout the rest of the year and onward. October alone will have three ships in port, with the method of having staggering arrivals to ensure social distancing.
Belize is a tender port, and even so the data shows the port has a very high disembarkation rate and a high number of people going on tours. Cave tubing is one of the most popular tours passengers book, as the thrill and adventure are just what visitors want to experience in the short time they have.
Should you book a cruise?
People who cruise have been doing so for years. The cruising community is well aware of the broadened travel perspectives cruising grants you. “They don’t want to worry about unpacking every time, they want the entertainment, the theater experience, and visiting multiple destinations in one trip after being locked up for so long,” Gamero says. She adds that passengers are able to knock multiple items off their bucket list as opposed to normal vacation. (Though many cruisers eventually do become overnight visitors to Belize once they have gotten a “taste” of the country via cruise.)
So, there’s no doubt that if this fits your travel aesthetic, then cruising is definitely for you. But the ultimate question is, should you book a cruise right now? FSTV’s general manager says it’s all up to you.
“If you’re concerned about cruising, you might want to wait,” Gamero says. At the end of the day, she doesn’t want anybody to be constantly worrying when they’re supposed to be relaxing and having fun. “But if you are well informed and read up on experiences and have all the information, you’ll see it’s actually safer than getting on a plane.”
As it stands, many airports in the US do not require a negative test when traveling domestically, and others actually have lax requirements when it comes to COVID and social distancing. Not cruising.
“To me, Cruising is probably safer than any type of travel,” says Gamero. “So if you’re someone who suffers anxiety then maybe this is not ready for you quite as yet. But get informed and you’ll realize cruising is in fact the best option.”