The cruise line tries to scare you...
"Excursions not booked through the ship may not get you back on time."
"You don't know what you're getting."
"They may not get you back to the ship on time."
"Some of them are shady."
"Did we mention, that they may not get you back to the ship on time?"
Normally, if Madame is traveling alone, she books through the ship. She wants someone to hold her hand, put a sticker on her, and remind her what bus to get on after she's had a margarita...or two.
But in Belize this time Mr. Owner went with her and they ran into a couple who had done their research ahead of time. They took the tour with Cave-tubing.com. Once they found their seat on the bus, the guide, Speedo, gave a little introductory talk...
"We know what the cruise lines tell you: that we are shady, that you don't know what you are getting, that we might not get you back to the ship on time. We PROMISE to get you back on time and give you an awesome experience today."
And they did.
It was about a 45 minute bus ride into the jungle to get to the site. After a quick stop to let off the people who were doing the ATV ride instead of jungle hike, Madame and Mr. MO were on their way. They ended up at the same place that their fellow cruisers did. The fellow cruisers who were paying $79 while they were paying $45. The fellow cruisers who had fancy life vests, and helmets with lights.
Helmets? Madame wondered what she'd gotten herself into.
The hike through the jungle was on a path that was easily traversed, though occasionally hilly, or muddy, it was not all that physically taxing. No one was out of breath enough to keep them from chattering with fellow travelers and ribbing the patrons of other companies. Once they neared the river Madame heard splashing. Well timed splashing...
She had a moment of panic thinking she might have to jump into the river. As she rounded the edge of a cliff she could see the platform. One guide held the inner tube as Speedo held the person's hands and lowered them, carefully, into a sitting position on the tube. Madame was wearing a tank top over her swim suit and during the entire adventure it didn't get wet.
Once a group of 8 is secured together ( the maximum number of people per guide allowed--this was checked at the entrance by an official) the float into the caves begins. Head lamps are provided as the caves are lengthy enough to be quite dark inside. The instructions given before entering the water included heeding the "Butts up!" call to avoid certain rocky areas. The men seemed to be paying extra careful attention to that part of the speech.
The river was smooth, the caves beautiful and mysterious, and the guides in complete control at all times. It soon became clear that the helmets and industrial strength life vests on the other tubers were overkill. Even what the guides called "rapids" were only ripples in the water to experienced canoers like MO and her husband.
The scenery was stunning and the experience seemed both exotic and relaxing. Upon exiting the river after about an hour long float (Madame is guessing) the bus took them to a hut for a lunch that was included in the price of the tour. It was an authentic chicken tamale (whole chicken leg included) wrapped in a banana leaf. This is not the small tightly wrapped tamale you may get in the States but is more the size of an enchilada. After lunch and drinks, it was time to board the bus for the trip back to the pier to catch the tender for the ship. There was still plenty of time for shopping and drinks before that.
Cavetubing.com did exactly what they promised, for half the price of the excursion booked through the ship.
Happy Travels, Y'all!