It was August of 2003. We were joyfully embarking on our second cruise, this time a 5-day voyage on the cruise ship Imagination, one of Carnival's smaller vessels. After our rookie sailing the previous summer on the Grand Princess, we simply couldn't wait to share our newfound love of the cruise experience with our two daughters, ages 16 and 11, and hoped they would be as thrilled as we were.
Our destination would be the Western Caribbean, the ports of Belize and Key West, and two relaxing days at sea. We happily crammed our family of four into a 160-square-foot inside cabin, and off we sailed to paradise!
Look at all that space - very cozy, wouldn't you say?
Everything was going great. The girls were having a blast, reveling in this great new way to vacation. "What? We CAN eat all day and all night?" They spent the first two days joyfully grazing the culinary treats that awaited them - the buffet, ice cream, pizza, sushi, and every other delectable delight. After all, where else could they eat anything they wanted and not have to empty their pocket change! David and I, in turn, spent time immersing ourselves in all manner of onboard activity and otherwise getting to know the both the ship and the world of Carnival.
Two days after embarkation we arrived at our our first port of call - the country of Belize on the eastern coast of Central America. Belize was a fairly new cruise port at the time, if I recall, featuring not much else besides tacky tourist shops. Today, if I were to return to Belize, Mayan ruins would be at the top of my list of things to see, but 10 years ago, ancient artifacts were not at the top of must-see attractions for our family.
As this was their first time at sea, we wanted to do something the kids would enjoy, so we chose a snorkeling trip. I was determined to save our family lots of money, avoid the overpriced ship excursion, and spent many months prior researching various independent tours. We finally settled on a well-recommended vendor in the cruise community. We communicated with the company back and forth, being certain that the timing would work with the ship schedule. It was a well-thought-out plan, and we were ready for snorkeling. I patted myself on the back for my incredible tour-planning skills. However, as sometimes happens in life, things don't always go according to plan.
For starters, Belize was a tender port. Our meeting up with the tour at the appointed time would depend on the arrival of the ship into port on time and the ability to be on the first tender. Carnival had a seemingly organized method of issuing tender tickets, and an announcement was made to head to an appointed area to pick up tickets, specifically at 9:00 a.m. and, as they firmly stated, not a moment before. No Ma'am, they would not jump the gun and play unfair. How noble, I thought.
We arrived at 8:40 a.m. expecting a line of eager tender passengers. What we found were many people with tickets already in hand well before we arrived. So much for fair play! Needless to say, we only landed tickets for the second tender. We arrived to the dock just after 10:30 a.m., and our snorkel boat was nowhere in sight.
After asking around at the pier, we sadly discovered that the snorkel trip had left just minutes before we arrived. The boat was gone!
My heart sank, and I felt as small as a mouse. David and the girls knew how bad I felt and bravely tried to cheer me up, my two patient girls bravely hiding their disappointment. Sure, there were other vendors pedaling their tours. However, I was in a strange new land and a bummed-out state of mind, and was not ready to risk another bad decision. We walked around the ports - and, yes, much moping on my part was involved. We checked out a few shops, discovered we really weren't having much fun, and then headed back to the ship.
Yeah, this is about all I remember from Belize ~
On the upside, the ship was very enjoyable without the crowds, and we had the pool to ourselves.
Why, you might ask, didn't we just call the snorkel boat when we knew we would be late?
I have no answer. I suspect we had no cell phones at the time. I did call the company upon return home to find out what happened, and they apologized, saying they had other people on the boat and, unfortunately couldn't wait any longer. They were nice enough to refund our deposit, even though it was not their policy to do so. Absolutely no complaints there.
So - Belize was a bust - at least for us in that moment of time. I immediately vowed never to book another independent cruise tour ever again, especially one with a tender port. Of course, I didn't listen to me and, in fact, went on to book several fine local tours in the years ahead with smooth sailing and no issues.
By the way, our interest in ancient ruins has blossomed since then, having seen the magnificent structures by the sea at Tulum, and we hope to one day return to Belize for another more interesting look at what the country has to offer.