In Deep

Roatan’s water activities score with cruisers

By: Bob Demyan

I’m not usually one to kiss and tell, but when you’re standing in four feet of water with your lips puckered up on the snout of a dolphin, well that’s something worth talking about.

I was becoming fast friends with Ronnie, one of the dolphins at Anthony’s Key Resort on Roatan, the largest and most developed of the Bay Islands, just off the coast of Honduras.

An increasingly popular stop on the Caribbean cruise circuit, Roatan was, for many years, a well-kept secret among the scuba set, renowned for its spectacular and inexpensive diving. Well, the diving is still there, but Roatan is a secret no more. With the opening of a cruise ship dock in 2002, Roatan now plays host to about 300,000 cruise ship visitors each year.

Let’s say this right up front: Roatan is not the port of call for the power shopper or casino hopper. There are some nice stores and local crafts, but everything in Roatan still revolves around the bounty of the sea. World-class scuba diving, snorkeling and yes, encounters with dolphins, still rule on Roatan.

The three major lines visiting Roatan Norwegian, Carnival and Royal Caribbean all book dives for their clients on shore excursions. They typically use Roatan’s largest dive operation, Anthony’s Key Resort. Manager Samir Galindo, said that cruise ship day excursions are making up an increasingly large portion of his business.

“During the high season, typically October through April, we average about four ships a week,” he said.

Each of those ships brings 1,200-1,300 people ashore, and many of these cruise passengers have heard about Roatan’s excellent diving.

What they may not have heard is that Roatan really does offer something for everyone. When it comes to diving, choices abound. Your clients can enjoy dock-to-dock service that makes maximum use of those shore excursion hours, or they can opt for smaller, more intimate dives that end up on gorgeous white sandy beaches.

Personally, I prefer the small and intimate diving experience. That’s just what I found with the Inn of Last Resort. With its tongue-in-cheek name, the Inn of Last Resort is anything but. Situated on four acres of Roatan’s north shore, the Inn feels like a Jimmy Buffett song come to life. Owners Donna and Andy Arcaya have created a laid-back island getaway that will easily knock one’s blood pressure down 10 or 20 points.

Donna met us at the dock and got us quickly out of the crush and into the water. Since Roatan’s most popular dive sites are all minutes off shore, boat rides are quick.

Our first dive was on a wreck called “El Aguila,” situated 110 feet below the surface. Swimming among the coral-encrusted ruins of this 230-foot cargo ship made me feel like a kid again. As if that weren’t enough, a six-foot-long green moray eel slithered out to let us know this was his neighborhood.

Not wanting to wear out my welcome with our new razor-toothed friend, I headed for the surface. After one more dive, our dive master returned us to the resort, where I was soon lounging in a hammock on a deck built over the water.

After the peace and seclusion at the Inn, I was spoiled, but duty called. Next stop: the white sands and turquoise waters of West Bay beach. Almost a mile long, West Bay is the postcard version of a Caribbean beach. Many non-divers on shore excursions skip everything and head here. I decided to hit the beach later, after a couple dives with West Bay’s top dive shop, Bananarama.

Owner Ron Smith left Florida several years ago for Roatan and he’s never looked back. Like most dive businesses here, Smith has benefited from the cruise trade. Many customers, he said, are return business.

“People like how we take care of them,” he said.

The “we” at Bananarama includes Smith’s dive masters, the husband and wife team of Anja and Liber Garrido Barnet. Passionate about Roatan’s marine life, the couple spread that enthusiasm.

Later on, it was off to Anthony’s Key Resort, but not for a diving excursion. I went for the “dolphin encounter,” where I met my smooching dolphin pal, Ronnie. Eight of us were shuttled by boat to an open-water enclosure where we spent about an hour with Ronnie and seven other dolphins. The first 25 minutes we stood in the water with Ronnie’s handler as Ronnie introduced himself, letting us pet his belly, rub his head and marvel at his agility. Then we snorkeled with the dolphins for about 30 minutes.

A photographer snapped shots that were later available for purchase. The photos were hard to resist. After all, it’s not every day that I get to peck a dolphin on the snout.


Anthony’s Key Resort

Bananarama Dive Center & Resort

The Inn of Last Resort

Anthony’s, Bananarama and The Inn of Last Resort all offer commission for IATA-certified agents.