BELIZE CITY, BELIZE-BANNISTER ISLAND (ALSO KNOWN AS STARFISH ISLAND NOW)
I have to admit, I’m not one of those that normally book a ship excursion. After all, I’m a member on Cruise Critic where there is a wealth of information of places to go and things to do on your own for half the cost and a longer period of time to get your money’s worth.
So, after A LOT of research, we decided since this was a tender island, it just made sense to book an NCL excursion that took us DIRECTLY off of the ship and to where we were going. This meant that we would be one of the first to get off the ship, not have to wait in a line to tender to the main port then another tender to where we were going if by boat like this tour, and we would have our own tender with just the people that were going on the excursion.
We booked Bannister Island. A lot of people have said they enjoyed this place and how beautiful it was. Yes, I read all of the complaints about wearing your water shoes to the island because the sand was not the powdery soft stuff but instead it was the crushed up shells and would hurt your feet. This does not bother me; we wear our water shoes to each port we go to every time no matter what. No biggie. I figured it was worth a shot. I like to do different things...unless it's just one of those places I ABSOLUTELY adore and have to go again next time in port (so far, my "have to repeat places" have only been Maho Beach in St Marteen, Sapphire Beach in St Thomas & Chankanaab in Cozumel).
I viewed pictures of people sitting on the benches under the papalas IN the water…it seems to be “the” thing to take your picture there. I viewed the pictures of the really neat fan-like palm tree where everyone has to have their picture taken too. One of the biggest things that lured me to this island was everyone reporting that they managed to see starfish there. Also, others had reported it was possible to see a manatee or some dolphins at certain times. Who could pass this up? I had to try it!
The boat picked us up right at the ship, which meant no tenderng for us and this was amazing. We headed to Bannister Island and we were going to get 4 short hours at the island, which is one of the things I hate about booking a ship excursion, but it is what it is.
We arrived at Bannister Island. Pulling up, it looked just like the pictures I have seen others post before (of course it did, why would it have changed?). The side they dock on is the “non-swimming” side and you don’t go on that side for any activities. There is the welcome to Bannister Island sign on one of the buildings that everyone takes a picture of and I was not an exception.
We took a look around and then we found our “spot” and dropped our things. We chose to stay on some type of octagon bench/table with the palapa over it. Our beach day yesterday had us a looking a little “red” and we wanted a little bit of shade in case we needed it. I could immediately see the crushed shells in the sand and kept my water shoes on while I walked out and felt the water. It wasn’t too bad. It took a few minutes to get use to but then it felt nice.
I did notice that those same octagon tables that were out in the water no longer had the palapas over them. Could the hurricane have taken them away? There wasn’t one on either of them.
Hmmm My hubby, what the photographer he is…took a picture of ??? is that me sitting out there? I can’t tell-It is an object in the water with the sun in the background. LOL
It was kind of windy when we got there but very sunny and so warm. Wind, cold, sleet or snow wouldn’t stop my daughter from jumping right in to the water. Away she went!
As you can see from the pictures when we arrived, they have floatie mats for you to use (free of charge). There always seem to be some laying around for use. People would use them and then lay them by the water when they came in. There was no floatie-hogging that day from what I noticed.
The hubby went to go get some drinks. He snuck in a White Russian (which he NOW tells me was $8.00 and he didn’t taste a bit of alcohol) and he got me a Coke Light (which was $2.00)
There was one of the local island dogs and Sakari had fun throwing sand up in the air and the dog would jump about 3’ up in the air after it and make a big splash. This lasted for a while.
Ok, put on your walking shoes (since there is shells on this beach) and we are going to take a tour now of this small island with pictures below.
You will see the volleyball nets (yes, there were people who played volleyball that day and the "local dogs" played with them. It was hilarious!)
In the picture with the volleyball nets, you see small looking umbrellas toward the middle of the picture. Those are the outside showers. Don't think they are going to work because they DON'T. You will put the string and get a drip-drip-drip. There wasn't even enough to wash the sand off of your feet. The big hut in the back is the BAR and covered area with tables and chairs that you can sit at to eat lunch.
To the right of this picture are the bathrooms. Toward the left of the picture is the "Bannister Island store". Um yea, not much in there and what is in there, I can't imagine anyone ever buying. They had maybe 2 different "Bannister Island" tee shirts and they were really crappy looking. When I ask if this was the only store on the island for souvenirs, even the employee laughed like she knew it was pathetic. They do have a deck there with plenty of shade and some tables and chairs.
The area past the store I was not sure what it was. My husband was talking to one of the employees that worked there and they said there is someone who lives here on the island. Maybe this is their place?
Walking on down toward the water you will find the playground. It didn't really look like something I would want my daughter to play on. You could tell that it had been there for a long time or it had really taken a beating with the water, sand, salt over the years. The wood looked like it was really worn and I was afraid of splinters and such. So, we stayed away from there.
The famous "fan" palm tree is located right in front of the hut where you eat at. We had to do the "family" pictures there. Sakari made her some friends that day and they had a blast hanging out during the day.
Since this is our Christmas cruise, we took a Santa hat with us. So, we ended up taking pictures with our Santa hat on in this area. Daddy stole my hat and wanted in on the action. I ask him if he wanted me to sit on his lap since he was playing "Santa".
Let’s going swimming and snorkeling to see what we can find now that I have given you a bit of a tour of the grounds.
Remember I said that Sakari didn’t waste any time heading for the water? Well, neither did I. After putting my stuff down, I immediately pulled out the snorkeling equipment and headed for the water and out I went.
You can tell in the water, in the darker areas, that there is mostly sea grass, but it’s out a ways. So I knew that is where I was headed. It’s not too deep at all, even when you are pretty far out. I headed kind of straight out from us and to the left (in front of the deck that hung out over the water). I was on hunt for those star fish that I had read about. It probably took me about 10 minutes before I found the first two within maybe 5 feet of each other.
I gently picked them up and swam a little ways back and held them up in the air for my husband to see my “catch of the day”. I swam back to shore to show Sakari the starfish and snap a quick picture, keeping them in the water, holding them flat in the palm of my hand bringing them up only long enough to get a picture, then back down they went.
The only other time that Sakari had held or seen a starfish in real life (other than the pet stores) was at Maya Chan when they found one and David picked it up and passed it around for everyone to hold. So this was very exciting for her and she kept saying “remember when I held that starfish” referring to Maya Chan the previous year. Of course I had to have a picture with them too.
I knew that there were other families there along the shore line, so I swam over to them to show them the starfish. I knew their children would love it and it was a great opportunity for a picture. I was the hero of the day and I had families coming up to me during the day thanking me for finding the starfish and giving them the opportunity to take a picture with it. They told me it was the highlight of the day for the kids and one they would never forget.Then I quickly took them back out to where I found them.
So I had came here and accomplished what I had hoped...to find starfish. I felt satisfied after that and just decided to snorkel and explore for awhile.
There was a few coral here and there, but this really isn't much of a "snorkeling" place, unless you are looking for starfish.
I came across something that looked like a "tree"...I believe it was some form of a sea worm (otherwise known as a feather duster) but it was HUGE...I mean HUGE. I have never seen one this large before if that is really what it was. It had grown up through a pipe that was sticking up and it was probably about 6” or so taller than the pipe at this point. I’m guessing it was maybe about 2’ tall although you can't tell by the picture. I was floating up on top of the water and had the camera zoomed in on it.
I only seen one sea fan this day. I really was pretty but at the time that I found it, a cloud had rolled in over the sun and the camera did not capture the beautiful deep bright purple that it was up through the middle of it. Oh darn! Most of the sea fans that I have found before are all purple...all over.
Well here I am minding my own business, snapping pictures and TRYING to get the settings to stay where I want them to (and it was not working well…every time I turned around it had changed settings on me. It wanted to keep changing from the underwater setting to a “beauty” setting. At one point it changed my white balance and I got the HORRID green pictures that you use to get with the disposable underwater cameras back in the 80’s and 90’s. Remember those? The one’s you had to have developed at the store and you couldn’t wait to see all of those underwater fish pictures you took only to find out you could barely make out what they were type of pics). Ugh! I really like this camera but I just don’t like the setup of the buttons. It makes it really hard to swim and not hit the buttons. I even had a few problems on land when I wasn’t swimming and you’ll be able to tell what pictures those are when I come to them.
Anyhow, back to minding my own business…there she was; another beautiful bright red starfish.I gently brought her up to the surface, snapped a picture, showed the hubby and daughter from a distance and put her back down and off I went.
Oops, sorry about any "water spots". I didn't think to shake the camera off before taking a picture. With my 2 old camera's there was no "shaking" the camera to remove the water spot, which sucked. You either had to use it in the water only, then dry it off to use on land. With this camera I found it easy to come up and take a picture and the water came right off with a little shake. I'm not sure if it was just the design of the lens and the way it was situated or not. One other quick note on this new camera vs the old. With the old camera, when you put the settings on the water mode, if you brought the camera up out of water to take the picture, you would get a horrid orangish cast if you didn't switch it right back to a land setting. I did not find that with this camera. You could go in and out of water with no color cast at all. (Or maybe I just didn't have the right setting on it to begin with...who knows) LOL. However I'm not seeing great snorkeling pictures with it so far. It doesn't seem to be as clear as the Canon was. Maybe it was the water, maybe it was the sun, I'm not sure at this point.
I did find several things that looked like some type of sea sponges. There were tons of these holes everywhere in the water. I watched several of them for awhile and never did see anything come in or out. I thought maybe they were some type of crabs or something. Someone mentioned in another thread if Bannister Island still had all the crabs because no one had mentioned them for a long time. I didn't know if they meant in the water or out??? Anyhow, they had some pretty nice sized holes so if they were crabs, they must have been pretty huge.
Where are all of the fish??? Oh yea, you won't find many fish in areas that only have sea grass. Well, I managed to find a handful. My pictures are terrible...once again, blame the camera and learning setting...or maybe it's just the camera. I know I'm capeable of producing better snorkeling pictures. I've done it with my other camera. Maybe this is the downfall of this new camera.
Not a very good angle, but I was able to spot a Stoplight Parrotfish in the terminal phase hanging out with two other fish that blended in to the sea grass so it was hard to tell they were there at first. You really had to look hard. I seen a couple of Pluma Porgy fish here and there and maybe a handfull of Azure Damselfish and I think those fish are so pretty.
I couldn't tell what this skinny long fish was hanging out in the water, but he was swimming in this sea fan and keeping his eye out on me. It was over by the deck that hung out over the water. I finally decided to leave in the fear of "momma" might be lurking somewhere. You know how you get that "feeling" that you are being watched? I know barracudas hang out under docks and we have swam with them before and they watch you like a hawk. That was the feeling I was getting from this little guy. I left him alone after taking several pictures that seem to never get me a good shot of him and I kept kicking up the sand which was making things worse and blurry.
There was the stick coming up out of the water, which was pretty much straight ahead of where we were sitting. I had wondered what it was for so I decided to swim over that way. You know how when you have goggles on and you are pretty much focused on what it exactly down in your viewing area and it’s kind of hard to see what is around you when you are looking straight down? Well, I came up for a moment from swimming to see where I was in position to the pole sticking up and seen I was close and turned around and went back under and WOW, there were several HUGE, DEEP holes. In the middle of no where. Like you wouldn’t even know they were there and could step off in to them and never realize it. One minute you could be standing on the ground in the water, the next gone! BEWARE!!!!!!!!!!! I have NEVER heard ANYONE mention these before on any of the reviews or post about Bannister Island. There are no signs telling you about this either. I found 3 of these holes to never-never land. I stopped one dad who was out there very close to them and he was pulling his son on one of the pink life rafts. I stopped him quickly and told him he was about to go down in a hole with a few more steps. He looked under and then came up and gasp. YIKES!!
I started trying to take some pictures of these holes, they were not turning out too good. The sun was behind some clouds and I was once again kicking up the sand trying to stay back…after all, I don’t know what could be down in those holes and what could come up out of them. I can tell you there was a lot of fish hanging out in this area though, both on the sandy bottom and in the hole. These holes are a lot bigger than what they appear in the pictures.
The fish is the pictures by the hole were huge. Like so far one of the biggest fish I have seen. It was probably close to 2' in length. I've swam with some really huge queen fish and it was about 3x the size of those.
Those both came out of the hole all of a sudden and it was unexpected. I have learn that when I see things I have never seen before or I'm caught off guard...I panic trying to get the picture. I zoomed in, which didn't capture the size of the fish and made for a crappy picture in the end. I have no idea what type of fish this is. I had never seen one before with the red fins and black spots.
I was taking pictures of the fish and when I found the 3rd hole, I caught something yellow out of the corner of my eye...Yep, another starfish. Well at least in the water, he looked yellow. I swam back to tell the hubby about the "holes" in the water and to get another picture of the starfish with Sakari since I didn't bring the last up for her to look at. After telling the hubby about the "holes", he wanted to go out to check them out and see if he could get any good pictures. He couldn't even find them.
The hubby spent most of the day perched in his chair while I snorkeled. If you can tell from the picture, I was out snorkeling and zoomed in on him and caught him yawning. LOL Such a hard life.
It was starting to get windy again and a little cloudy. We decided to pack up our things and go to the “bar hut” and see if they had anything to snack on. We didn’t really want to spend the money on a lunch since we would be headed back to the ship shortly. We ended up buying some fries, which cost $3.00 for the basket and there were A LOT!! All 3 of us ate them and didn’t even finish the entire basket. There is a huge area where you eat (if you so desire) and the bar area. There is a little stand that sits directly behind it that you can buy soda, fries, hamburgers and hot dogs there.
All of that drinking I have been doing (soda)...I feel the need to take you all to the restroom. The restrooms were I guess what you would expect from a small place, on an island, in the middle of no-where! The restroom was something left to be desired that was for sure. Are you ready for this???? NO RUNNING WATER TO WASH YOUR HANDS. Yep, you heard it right. No water. Just like you got a few drips out of the "showers" outside. So BEWARE.
We let Sakari play with her new friends for awhile and noticed that it was getting close to 12:30 and started to head toward the dock. I took one last picture of Sakari on a tree right there by the dock.
As we pulled away, they stopped the boat and pulled sideways so that we all could get a shot of Bannister Island.
They told everyone on the boat that they would be dropping us off right at the ship just as they picked us up. However, anyone who wanted to go to the port of Belize was welcome to stay on the boat and they would take them and drop them off there if they wanted. I'm not sure if anyone stayed or not. It was a nice gesture but we were covered in salt water and sand and with no running water at Bannister, we decided all we wanted to do was to get back to our room, shower, get clean clothes on, and go get some food.
If you can do this tour on your own (since I do believe they offer it in port but the draw back is you have to tender to port and then catch the boat to Bannister), then I would do it. Only because I’m sure that it’s cheaper that way. The price we paid to visit there by using NCL was definitely not worth it especially since it didn’t come with a meal or drinks or anything. Plus, you did not get a full day there (just like any other place you book with them that is a beach break it seems like).
However, if you are one of those that like the security of using the cruise lines excursions, this is perfect for you because of the pickup and drop off right at the ship.
We were the only group here for the first 2 hours or so and then 2 other groups came and it was a little livelier then. But nothing too bad and still plenty of room and space.
The place was pretty and there were plenty of pretty “picture” opportunities here.
If “no running water” is a make or break for you, then this is not the place for you unless they fix it.
The one and only drink the husband purchased (White Russian costing $8) taste like it was a non-alcoholic drink…so therefore a rip off for that amount.
Soda $2.00 and it’s a bottle…well worth it and ice cold.
The fries were HUGE and well worth the $$ paid ($3.00).
Yes, there are crushed shells in the sand, so if you are tender footed, you will need water shoes. I had mine off most of the day and my daughter had hers off all day.
Oh almost forgot to mention…I spoke with a guy when I went to take a picture of the “Welcome to Bannister Island” that said he was out in the water when he first got there and was videotaping and a huge stingray went right underneath him. He said he got it all on camera. Man I miss all the good things. First the dolphins at Almaplena, now the stingray at Bannister.
The floats and canoes were free to use if you wanted.
Them offering to take you to the port for free if you wanted, a nice extra touch.
If you have never experienced the starfish…this is definitely the place for you! That itself was worth the experience we had there. Especially since my daughter got to experience it once again. We snorkel as much as we can while cruising in each port and you don’t come across starfish very often.
Would I recommend this place to someone else? Hmmm, that’s a tough call. I would recommend it solely based on the starfish experience alone. As for an island that you “must” visit, nope, I wouldn’t recommend it for that. It’s one of those on my list of “been there done that now” and I will cross it off the list to say I’ve had that experience and won’t be going back.