Still not a convert, but if I ever win a cruise again I won’t turn it down

Belize City: At 9 in the morning, our cruise ship anchors a couple of miles offshore as this former British Honduras city with a tropical monsoon climate disgorges its passengers into tenders for the trip to shore.

Tours of the city and environs await, including Mayan ruins near the Belize-Guatemala border. The offshore location is as close as the huge ship could safely approach the shore and a barrier reef that holds it at bay but is a favorite spot for scuba divers.

The passengers have until 6 p.m. to get back to the ship or they will be left stranded and desperately waving on the shore. Belize City is not a very big place, with a population of less than 80,000, and is the principal port of the country of Belize. One of its central sources of revenue is the cruise ships. Arriving at nearly the same time, three of them are floating offshore on this day, two of them Carnival ships and one Norwegian.

Just past the docks are restaurants, stores and waiting tour guides holding signs proclaiming the names of their tours. Behind the stores are the individual entrepreneurs hawking their wares. Our tour guide tells us they’re a far better source of goods and souvenirs than the stores, and their prices are considerably less.

As we tour the city, there are people selling things everywhere, but many of their products are aimed at residents, not tourists, and they are friendly folk who will take “no” for an answer. When you smile at them, they smile back.

Residents of this former British colony speak EngIish with West Indies’ accents, mon. They come from many lands and cultures, including Creole, Indian, Mayan, English, and a few expatriate North Americans. I ask our guide why, given their history, local folk don’t drive on the left. He says Britain is miles away across the sea and too expensive to visit, whereas the United States is not so terribly far and has cars designed to drive on the right. It is a place where you can go buy a car and drive it home.

The cruise is in the Western Caribbean. Except for Belize, all the stops are at islands—Cozumel, Mahogany Bay of Isla Rotan and Grand Cayman. At 6 p.m. the ship pulls out and heads toward its next port, stopping at 9 a.m., a schedule it follows throughout our journey.

This is our first cruise.We are on it mainly because we won it, although that still requires payment of lots of fees and for any upgrades. After all these years and all the sarcastic things I have said about cruises and people who take them, my wife and I have joined the ranks of what I once thought were the mindless and are following the regimen set out by a big corporation collecting our money.

So, I was lured into this by winning at something I signed up for. Winning meant the award of about $300 for a small stateroom near the bottom of the ship. That would have been a little too claustrophobic for me, so I upgraded to a balcony stateroom far above the sea.

We are a motley group, with some surprises. I don’t recall any requirement for a person to be obese in order to take a cruise, for example. That happens on the cruise, where one can—if desired—eat continuously. My impression is that most of the people traveling on our ship are pretty fat, some monstrously so. Add to that, some of them are in bathing suits, with the females illustrating what the opposite of the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny tiny polka dot bikini looks like, and the men are not Speed-o kings either.

The ship is like a big convention hotel—actually more like a whole city block, with restaurants, a comedy club, casino, planned tours, an art gallery, musical shows and movies. Included on the movie schedule was a supposed documentary about where Obama would take this country by 2016 if he were elected. It came as a reminder of the right-wing politics of the corporations and some of their shenanigans in the recent election. One part of their expensive push for a corporate takeover of America, this was a film with wild and dishonest projections, crazy enough to have been produced by Glenn Beck and full of enough hate to have been made by Rush Limbaugh.

At the end of the cruise, we are back where we started in the Port of Tampa. I’ll confess that it was relaxing and for the most part we enjoyed it. Have I become a convert? Not quite, but if I ever win another cruise I’ll take it.