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Visiting Roatán By Cruise Ship

Visiting Roatán by cruise ship is becoming an increasingly attractive option for travelers, as more and more cruise lines send ships here and prices drop by the season. In 2008, the port at Coxen Hole took in approximately 200 ship calls and over 430,000 passengers, and in 2011, that number is projected to hit nearly a million. Passenger numbers have risen dramatically as both Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Lines opened their own terminals. There is talk of adding terminals on Utila, Trujillo, and near Tela Bay when the Los Micos Resort project is completed, so passengers can see more of the country and stay longer, but so far, it is just talk.

While plans for new terminals have not been finalized elsewhere in Honduras, new terminals are coming to fruition on Roatán. The Roatán Town Center at the Port of Roatán (www.portofroatan.com), funded by Royal Caribbean, was inaugurated in the final days of 2008 and opened a bright new retail complex at the port with such stores as TOUS Jewelry and Espresso Americano coffee.

At Dixon's Cove, Carnival Cruise Lines constructed an entire new terminal called Mahogany Bay with 8 hectares (20 acres) of waterfront, and even more retail and entertainment space, as well as a giant chair lift that takes passengers from the port to Carnival's own private beach.

I have mixed feelings on both. It is good that the cruise ships bring jobs and a little bit more money into the pockets of islanders, but for travelers wanting an authentic Roatán experience, the cruise ships aren't the way to get it. Especially at Mahogany Bay, you are completely sheltered from nearly all island life if you don't go on an excursion to another part of the island. It's basically a fenced off part of the island filled with Carnival's own shops and restaurants, the same ones you'll find at every other port. If you just want a nice day in the sun and sand, you'll find it, and maybe that is enough.

For most cruise passengers, the biggest question is how to spend their day at port. When you step off your boat at Coxen Hole, you will find a seemingly bustling street filled with a few simple restaurants, bars, cybercafes, Caribbean straw markets, and various gift shops -- the typical spread for a Caribbean cruise port -- but this is all you will find in Coxen Hole. When there isn't a cruise ship in town, this street is empty, and few shops open their doors. This is one of the least attractive places on the entire island of Roatán, and most passengers take excursions elsewhere on the island.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.