Planning a Royal Caribbean cruise: Roatan

In:
06Jan2014

We're continuing our trip planning process for our upcoming Navigator of the Seas 7-night western Caribbean cruise on February 9, 2014 by taking you along for the planning process.  Today, we're looking at what to do on our first port stop of Roatan, Honduras.

You can read all about the plans we made for our last port of call in Belize City too.

Photo by Craig Dyni

Background

Roatan is new to us, having never been here before.  That being said, I've heard nothing but good things about the beauty of this island.

More than any other stop we are planning, Roatan seems like the perfect beach day excursion and so when we sat down to plan things out, special attention has been made to see which beaches would be our best bet.

Roatan is also our last port to visit and I think we're all looking forward to this stop the most, so there's some added self-induced pressure for this to be a really good time.

The Options

Little French Key

Right off the bat, Little French Key jumped out at us from every review we could find about Roatan.  It's the number one ranked thing to do in Roatan according to TripAdvisor and it screams toes in the sand with a tropical drink while the kids play in the surf.

Photo by Sasha Fenix

Little French Key is a private island that seems to cater to cruise guests mostly.  The reviews rave about how beautiful the beaches are, opportunities to take photos with monkeys and jaguars (animals, not the cars) and so forth.  

I can't say Little French Key is the cheapest excursion I've ever seen.  The basic package is $55 per person, with optional upgrades to bring the price per person up to $148.  My 3 year old daugher is 50% off so at ther very least it could cost $138 for the family before drinks, food or anything else a la carte.

Pros: Pictures look beautiful, great reviews, simple plan

Cons: Expensive, Could be Crowded, Food and drink extra

West Bay Beach

Looking for slightly more affordable beaches, our next option is West Bay Beach.  Depending on what you read, this is either a beautiful beach or an overcrowded tourist trap.

Photo by thesledman

It's ranked #4 on TripAdvisor and most reviews sound great, but there are enough neutral to poor reviews to give me pause.  The most common complaint is it's overcrowded and not as beautiful as it once was a few years ago.

Less of a problem per se, is getting to the beach.  It sounds like most people find a taxi driver in port and take a ride out there, which is fairly common when going to do anything.  The upside to having to get a taxi is it allows me to explore the port area some more and get a more authentic taste of Roatan.  Plus, I've had good luck with drivers in the past helping find some good local places to eat.

Pros: Inexpensive option; Photos look great

Cons: How to get there; Some reviews cite overcrowding and demise in terms of looks

Hiring a driver

When I visit a port, I really try to get an authentic feel for where I am visiting.  I want to eat the local food, see what makes the port worth going to and feel like I didn't just see the sanitized tourist created zone.  

Photo by Petpics

Hiring a driver has been a good strategy in the past for me to accomplish this goal. The trick is to find a good driver who is affordable and friendly.  Some taxi drivers are only interested in taking you to the closest beach and then getting back to the port to make more money off the next tourist.  There are other drivers, however, that love to share what makes their home so great and show you around.

Finding drivers is never simple and I suspect if I go with this option, I won't be able to book anything in advance.  Getting to port and walking around to negotiate a rate seems to be the best strategy although the problem can be we may not find anyone good and/or waste a lot of time before settling for just going to the beach.

Reading some threads on the Roatan Cruise Critic board seems to indicate haggling for a taxi is the way to go, especially if you walk up the hill away from port.  The other advantage is I find this to be a little more adventurous and fun.

Pros: Sense of adventure; Opportunity to sample local cuisine and avoid tourists; Potentially inexpensive

Cons: Have to navigate swarm of drivers to find a good one; No guarantee we will find a good driver at reasonable cost; Potentially expensive

Palm Beach Roatan

After doing some more research on what to do in Roatan, I started leaning more towards something off the beaten path, and in terms of beaches somewhere with less tourists and yet beautiful.

Photo by edl803

TripAdvisor lead me to Palm Beach Roatan, which is descibed as, "a complete hideaway from the tourists and crowds".  

Most of the reviews talk about this beach being relatively uncrowded but still quite lovely.  The photos posted definitely backed up those opinions and it sounds like a good place for a simple yet lovely beach day.

Getting here is still a concern since I'll likely have to find a driver in port, which is good and bad.  Ideally I'd like to have my plans in place ahead of time but it's also not the end of the world not to.

Pros: Not a lot of tourists; Photos look great; Very good reviews

Cons: Have to find transportation on my own

The Decision

After considering our options, we ended up choosing.... Hiring a driver + Palm Beach Roatan.

Basically, it came down to cost and getting what I really wanted to do.  When I first started researching Roatan, I thought Little French Key was going to be an easy pick.  But the cost and lack of authenticity (my opinion, not necessarily the case) gave me second thoughts.  Personally, I love to feel like I'm getting a real taste of the island and that desire weighs heavily on me.

The more I thought about it, the more I'd like to find a driver to bring us to Palm Beach Roatan when we get to port so my daughter can get her beach fix.  Not to mention most places may not be open yet given the time we arrive.

After our time at the beach, hopefully the same driver can bring us back with a stop somewhere for lunch that is slightly more authentic than a Margaritaville. My family really loves Latin cuisine and I'd love to try the food here.  

Of course, finding a driver is always a concern but I've had good luck finding one in the past and truthfully I like the challenge.  I've heard enough good things about Roatan to be optimisitc at our chances for success.