The first stop on our Royal Caribbean cruise was Labadee, Haiti. We decided that the best way to kick off our cruise was to mix a little culture and a little adventure and leave the relaxation time for the sea days.
What is Labadee?
Unlike the other stops on our cruise, Labadee isn’t a town but a private resort leased by Royal Caribbean. The cruise line has been leasing the property since 1986 and has recently extended the lease to 2050, creating a tourist oasis full of activities and non-stop fun. Royal Caribbean employs about 300 Haitians at the resort and pays the Haitian government $10 for every tourist that comes ashore. But it is important to remember that when you step off the boat in Labadee, you aren’t seeing the real Haiti, but a private paradise created by Royal Caribbean, and the largest source of tourism to the country.
Things to Do in Labadee
If you’re looking for relaxation, Labadee has plenty of beach to kick back on, or you can do what my parents did when they visited years back and fall asleep in a hammock and almost miss the boat.
You can also walk through the artisan market where 200 locals will try to sell you their wares, and this is where you will get a glimpse of the real desperation of Haiti. All of the “handmade” items are the same across the hundred stalls, and most merchants will push a “free” item on you and sell you another at an inflated price. When they run out of something, they will go to the hundreds waiting at the fence dividing Labadee from the rest of Haiti and restock their items as cheaply as they can.
But if you’re looking for something more active, Royal Caribbean has packed Labadee to the brim with things to do. They offer ziplining, a water slide, a roller coaster, an aqua park of inflatable fun, parasailing, kayaking, jet skiing, walking tours, and of course snorkeling.
Labadee Historic Walking Tour
Our first activity of the day was the Labadee walking tour, which the Royal Caribbean website touted as being a history and culture tour of Labadee. But of course Labadee has no history other than Royal Caribbean. Though the cove is named for Christopher Columbus, he did not land near Labadee. Our guide spent the majority of his time telling us the various medicinal properties of plants and explaining the difference between buccaneers and pirates. The most useful information came at the end of the tour when members of the group began asking our guide about the government of Haiti and the culture, and he told us about working for the cruise.
Labadee Snorkel Safari
After lunch, we went on the Labadee Snorkel Safari. This excursion boated us out to the better spots for snorkeling; you won’t find much worth seeing if you snorkel yourself on the beach. The boat ride gave us a great view of the mountains and our massive cruise ship set against it all.
This was my first snorkeling experience, and it went completely against my instincts to breath with my face in the the water. Because I struggled so much, I didn’t enjoy the snorkeling tour as much as I would have liked. Though it was incredible being able to see all the coral. Kevin took control of the underwater camera (a cheap waterproof digital camera bought specifically for this purpose that served us very well) and had plenty of fun.
If you didn’t want to snorkel or weren’t a strong enough swimmer to keep up, you could take the tour instead with a guide in the rescue canoe. But I didn’t want to be that person who needed the rescue canoe, and I wanted to have gotten a full snorkel experience, so I pushed on. Besides, I wanted to see the ocean’s secrets, and you can’t do that from a canoe.
We were in a large group, and that made it difficult to navigate when everyone is swimming into each other. Our guide pointed things out as we went and passed around some sea life, but most of the time it was hard to hear him, so we just spent our time exploring on our own on the edge of the group. Unfortunately, we didn’t see many tropical fish out.
It started to rain as we headed back to the boat. As the boat leaped over the water back toward our ship, our guides broke out the rum and punch and we had a party in the rain.
Tell me your snorkeling stories in the comments!
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