Much of what is happening in and around Belize City now is somehow connected with the cruise industry. Belize will get about 900,000 cruise day trippers this year. Over 450,000 arrived in the first six months of the year, a 72% increase from the same period in 2003.

Belize has limited cruise ships to no more than 8,000 visitors a day, but that's a huge number given that on the average day fewer than 1,000 overnight visitors arrive by air. When (and if) the new US$50 million Carnival cruise ship dock and pier opens in early 2006, we'll see an even bigger impact on Belize.

Numbers like these can mean big bucks, but only for a handful of operators. Hotels, restaurants and the average small tourist operators get very little from the cruise ship business. In fact, as we've already seen, popular cruise excursion destinations like Goff's Caye soon get trashed by hordes of palefaces from the ships.

Several new places are opening around Belize City to capitalize on the cruise tours. Among them: Gran's Farm, at about Mile 14 of the Western Highway, tel. 501-227-0406, offers swimming in a swimming pool, a restaurant and bar, picnic area, hiking on trails, and canoeing in Hector's Creek. The "package price" is US$25 for the day. Pricey! I was there on a weekday and saw nobody taking advantage of this package. Orchid Gardens, at Mile 14 1/2 of the Western Highway, tel. 501-225-6991, has a restaurant, a gallery showing some of Carolyn Carr's work, gift shop, and a small museum where part of Emory King's wonderful antique bottle collection is on display.

Most significantly, the Old Belize Cultural and Historical Centre at Cucumber Beach, at Mile 5 of the Western Highway, opened in August. it is housed in an 18,000 sq. ft. building on a 14-acre site where 40 years ago farmers used to load their cucumbers to ship to the U.S. The Woods family, of Cisco Construction fame, has reconstructed part of Belize City's North Front Street, a Maya village, and Garifuna kitchen and other displays about different periods in Belize history. Admission is a fairly steep US$15. Don't confuse this with the Museum of Belize in the Central Bank Building downtown. Also at Cucumber Beach is a much-needed new marina. In this area of the Western Highway is another new attraction, air boat rides similar to the air boats in the Florida Everglades.

A few other notes: Our favorite guesthouse, Colton House, is no longer a hotel. It's a private residence. Alan and Ondina Colton are retired to Consejo Shores. Our favorite B&B, Villa Boscardi, is on the market. I met the real estate agent and a prospect.

--Lan Sluder

Lan Sluder/Belize First