Yoshiko and I visited Ambergris Caye as planned, November 21 - 28, 2003. Our flights from Houston to Belize City and onwards to San Pedro (Maya Island Air) were uneventful; it was neat sitting in the Cessna Caravan looking forward through the front windshield as when I was a child I would look over the front seats from the back of grandpa's station wagon :-) I've flown in very small aircraft and very large, but not particularly the Caravan before. Nice planes.
Our digs at Xanadu met our expectations. The staff at Xanadu is very helpful, and the owners Ivan and Judy are wonderful people. The resident Rottweiller was a charmer too, along with another smaller dog, and a cat or two.
One remark about Xanadu's "loft" suites - they do not offer any real privacy between the two sleeping areas, so if you want two beds and privacy, make sure to get their full two bedroom suites.
Xanadu's promised kayaks and bicycles were present and worked well. They are available from 8:00am through 6:00pm daily (kayaks must be checked in by 5:00pm for nightfall). The maintenance staff, John and Alex, were great. Alex in particular reminded me of that same grandpa whose station wagon I mentioned above, actually.
No bar, no restaurant at Xanadu, and only 18 units. Good stuff - it makes Xanadu very peaceful and quiet, compared to some places which simply have more rooms, or which have bars / restaurants which attract people walking by on the beach. Xanadu has a night watchman who starts around nightfall, so we were only little hassled by beach walkers offering to sell us stuff.
We were surprised to be offered marijuana more often on AC than we had been in Negril, Jamaica, but it certainly wasn't a problem. I think, in contrast to Negril, we smelled marijuana only two or three times on AC, instead of daily in Negril. Again, it wasn't a problem.
The time share and real estate "information centers" peppering San Pedro were a bit more of an annoyance. It would serve San Pedro and AC well to have clear indications to separate commercial interests from government approved / sponsored information centers. Still, nobody was pushy enough to be unpleasant.
Grocery and other stores were open surprisingly late, often until 9:00pm or 10:00pm, making San Pedro quite convenient.
It did rain an unfortunate amount while we were there, making kayaking a little dicey some days (we pulled in on a couple of days and borrowed sheltered beach chairs to wait out rains), and the rain made the roads sometimes unpleasantly muddy. Not a problem for walking, but we bicycled the road north of the cut one day, which was actually a mistake. Shortly north of the cut, we learned *after* setting feet 8" deep in to mud puddles, the place to bicycle is along the beach...
We had plenty of good food, particularly enjoying Los Cocos and Elvi's. Jambel Jerk was good if you want Jamaican Jerk style food. We weren't impressed with Casa Picasso - the pasta was just normal pasta, and the prices were Miami, not San Pedro. Chris who runs the place is a really nice guy and I enjoyed our conversation with him. Desserts at Casa Picasso ARE worth it. Stained Glass Pub served us two excellent meals, one of them the gut-busting Thanksgiving feast. *burp* wow! Only problem was it was the only place where smoking was somewhat more prevalent, but then of course it is a pub.
We were pleasantly surprised at how LITTLE smoking we encountered on AC.
If there was one single thing that disappointed us about the whole trip (other than [in]Continental's [mis]service getting back home, grumble), it was that AC obviously caters 80+% to US tourists. We had hoped that we would find a more international mix. To be sure, we met a few people from other places, predominantly Canada. Still, even on Grand Bahama Island (an extension of Miami Beach if ever there were one internationally), I found more non-US people at our resort several years ago. Not a bad thing, except maybe for the Belizeans, but something I hadn't been expecting.
Snorkeled at Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan of course. Went with Bottom Time, US$20/person from our dock at Xanadu. Good price! Nice guys too. It was very neat to swim with the nurse sharks and the rays, and some coral at Hol Chan was quite impressive. Due to overly hot summer waters a few years ago we were told, much of the coral has been bleached. As a result, AC isn't as colorful a place to snorkel as some other areas. I understand this was not as much of an issue for divers, which alas we are not. (I know, that can be fixed. Too many other expensive hobbies!
Oh, the mosquitors. Yikes. Generally not a problem until evening, when they were vicious. Particularly bad when we stopped right at dusk one evening at the mad Spaniard's place a couple of properties south of Xanadu. The guy's interesting, and has a collection including self-made art and structures, a spider monkey, a baby raccoon, geese, and more. When he's sober, definitely worth visiting him.
Walking along the beach tended to reduce the mosquitoes compared to walking along the road, and of course the beach is much nicer to walk on anyway.
Took Daniel's boat with Tanisha Tours to Lamanai one day. The journey is as much the event as the actual site at Lamanai, and the history and culture of Lamanai is more interesting than the ruins themselves. Very much enjoyed Daniel and his helper, as well as the folks who he contracts for the La Bomba bus ride and the final river ride up to Lamanai. Mosquitoes were nonexistent from the dock and for the boat and bus ride, but once we got to Lamanai itself the mosquitoes were unbelievable. Take LOTS of ~50% DEET!
Finally, just as everyone says - it's no secret - AC isn't a beach destination. Most properties' "beaches" are necessarily constructed using retaining walls. Water along the shore was murky a fair amount while we were there due to the rains and wave action. Nowhere did we see more than a few feet of sandy bottom right out from the beach before the seagrass began.
You go to AC for nice people, good food, affordable prices (if you choose; you can also choose to pay way too much - up to you), nice snorkeling, very good diving, and relaxation. We're glad we went, and we came backed exercised (kayaking, bicycling, snorkeling), relaxed, and fat/dumb/happy (burp!). Would we go back? Probably not until we exhaust a long list of other places to satisfy our endless wanderlust, but, yes, we can recommend AC for people who want the things it offers.
Thanks again to everyone on the message board for the wonderful community that you present and the great advice that you give, and a special "Hullo!" to Joe and Barb from Vermont who we met on the board and then had dinner with on AC - a charming couple who we plan to keep in touch with.
-Jay and Yoshiko