First a little background; me, my wife and 2 sons took a 7 night cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines Pearl to the Western Caribbean with stops in Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya (Mexico) and Key West. When I review the cruise I'll put in a link.
This was our 2nd cruise and we knew we wanted to do a lot but were looking for ways to cut costs but not experiences. My research on Tripadvisor led me to the conclusion that we should look into booking excursions before we boarded the ship. Well, I thought that was a great idea but my wife was a little hesitant to put our fate in the hands of people we'd not met in a foreign country. If it were just the two of us, yes but with the kids...
Anyway, I convinced her I had some great referrals from here to go on and I sent some emails out to operators in each of our ports.
One of the first to reply was David with cavetubingrus.com. We knew we wanted to do Lamanai but it was a little hard to find the fact that David and his company(s) offered this trip. Hint: It's under "other tours" on the right side of the website.
After a few back-and-forths with David we actually worked out pricing (that was much less than the boat) and that was that. No money down. Just a confirmation email. This made wifey a little anxious but after several emails with David I felt very comfortable.
Fast forward to our Belize port day. This may get a little long but I want to give you a little insight to how this all works with David since due 100% to our inexperience we didn't fully understand.
The first thing to know is that when you book an independent tour you don't get priority tendering (ferry from the ship to the shore) from an NCL ship. We thought this would be an issue but it turned out not to be at all. They were VERY fast getting everyone on shore. Their system is to give out tickets for the tenders starting at 8:00am in one of the bars. We caught the 4th tender but were still on solid ground 1/2 hour after we dropped anchor and were cleared to begin tendering.
Once in the port I realized that while I did have David's cell phone number I'd forgotten to print out the map to his location at the port. I remembered he said we needed to exit the immediate port area so I led us out the main area of the port, past security and it didn't take long to spot Melissa holding a sign with our name.
She greeted us warmly, we all introduced ourselves and walked a short way to her waiting van. It was air conditioned and comfortable.
Honestly, while Melissa did share some very interesting things with us about Belize City and the country surrounding, the hour ride to the boat launch was fairly uneventful. The great thing about being on a private tour was we could stop wherever and whenever we liked to get drinks or snacks.
Once we arrived at the Lamanai boat launch area Melissa made all the arrangements and introductions to the captain/guide who would take us to the site. When it was time to board the boat, we joined with a larger group, some from our ship, some people in Belize for other reasons.
The boat trip was great. We didn't see much wildlife but the boys loved it since much of the time we were moving fairly fast. We stopped a few times and our guide pointed out different things along the river.
The ONLY drawback to the entire day was the heat. It was around 95 degrees which is unusually hot for that time of year. Thankfully we had water on the boat.
Once we docked at Lamanai we immediately had a fantastic chicken and rice lunch. It really was some of the best food we had the entire trip. Then it was off to see the ruins.
Here is where the confusing part came in. From reading reviews of this excursion we thought there was a 45 minute hike to get to the ruins. In fact, the first site is only just over a small hill from the lunch/village area (a couple shops in huts). We were pleasantly surprised that there was no long walk. The 45 min- hour you hear about is actually how long you spend walking through the different sites that make up Lamanai.
We got to climb the highest temple and as others have said, it was very scary coming down. I have done a lot of extreme sports and this was one of the scariest things I have done. That said, I would not have passed it up for anything, nor do I regret it at all.
Once we were done with the tour of the ruins it was back to the village where we took a bathroom break and had 10 minutes or so to shop. Then it was back on the boat, van and eventually the port where we had about 45 minutes to shop before catching the tender back.
A couple things to point out. First, it was fantastic having our personal guide with us at all times. Melissa added a lot to what the tour guide was telling the main group. We even got to split off from them at times to do some exploring on our own. It was really a great way to see the site.
The second thing was how great David was in a time of personal crisis. It turns out that I left one of my cameras in a shop at the port. It was too late to go back for it so the only thing I could think to do was call David. We never met him during our stay but he answered the phone immediately and said he would go to the port for me to hunt for the camera. After a few phone calls and some great work on his part, he found the shop I left it in and the honest shop keeper had already given the camera to a ship representative. Without David giving up his free time to do this for me, I may not have known for days what happened. His info allowed me to get my camera back within an hour.
Overall I don't think you could go wrong with David and his company. I have to assume everyone associated with them is as honest, friendly and great to deal with.