Our ship docked at Mahogany Bay, Carnival Cruise Line's purpose-built tourism village and beach complex. We were booked on the Museum, Cameos, & Village shore excursion in the afternoon, but we left the ship early to look around and eat lunch. Obviously we could have eaten on the ship, but we wanted to try some of the local food.
Unfortunately, the tourism village did not have a full-service restaurant, and we didn't have time to go somewhere else before our shore excursion. So we had to settle for nachos at a bar named Fat Tuesdays. The nachos were okay, and I also tried a Honduran beer named Salva Vida, which tasted like a typical American macrobrew. The service at Fat Tuesdays was excellent, there was a DJ playing some fun music, and our table had a nice view of the bay. Still, it would have been nice to have had the opportunity to try some authentic Honduran food.
This tourism village and beach complex serves a few vital functions for cruise ship passengers. Many passengers just want to spend the day hanging out on the beach, and Mahogany Beach provides a nice clean beach just a 15-20 minute walk from the ship. For passengers not wanting to walk that far, there is a chair lift, but it costs $10 and only covers about half the total distance. Mahogany Bay also provides haggle-free shopping for people that don't want to venture too far from the ship. For passengers that do want to explore other parts of the island, there are taxis and rental cars available. For more adventurous types, you can even rent ATVs, which are apparently legal to drive on Roatan's roads. Finally, Mahogany Bay simply provides a place to hang out while waiting for shore excursions to leave.
My favorite part of the Mahogany Bay complex was a small hut set up to provide information about the local Garinagu People. Descendants of Carib, Arawak, and West African people, their unique culture has been proclaimed by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. I also liked the pistachio gelato from Crazy Ice Gelato, located in the middle of the village plaza. Gelato certainly isn't traditional Honduran cuisine, but it was quite tasty.
The best selection of merchandise at Mahogany Bay is in an area built to resemble a traditional market along the back side of tourism village. The main focus here is traditional crafts as well as typical souvenir stuff. You can also buy Ziploc bags of Honduran money in various denominations. I always like to collect some money from the various countries I visit, so I bought a small bag with a few bills and several coins. I also bought a bottle of hot sauce, which is another item I frequently collect while traveling.
Our Museum, Cameos, & Village shore excursion met in the central plaza, and we walked a short distance to board a tiny bus. It was scheduled to leave at 1:15, and once we were on the bus, our guide informed us that we would spend the next four and a half hours exploring Roatan. The problem was, passengers were supposed to be back on the ship at 5:30. Our guide's remark immediately resulted in several comments from the passengers, but our guide assured us he was correct. I'm still not sure why he said four and a half hours, because we returned to the ship three and a half hours later, which is exactly how long the tour was supposed to last.
Our first stop was the Roatan Museum and the Roatan Institute for Marine Science, both located at Anthony's Key Resort. At the Roatan Institute of Marine Science we watched a short presentation by one of their marine biologists who described the marine life found in the waters surrounding Roatan. Following her presentation, we had a few minutes to look around at the institute's exhibits. Next we went to the Roatan Museum where our guide told us about various artifacts from pre-Columbian through colonial times.
Next we drove to the West End Village. For visitors wanting to experience a more authentic taste of Roatan, the West End Village is a much better choice than staying at Mahogany Bay. Here you will find restaurants, bars, Internet cafes, hotels, and a large number of souvenir shops. Prices here are much cheaper than in Mahogany Bay, and haggling is expected. Since Roatan is one of the world's premier scuba diving destinations, the West End Village also has a large number of dive shops as well as hotels that cater to divers.
Our guide took us to a restaurant and bar located at the end of a pier. We were given a complimentary drink and watched a short program featuring traditional Garinagu music and dance. I don't know the name of the restaurant, but they had a list of specials that included conch fritters, mustard snapper, and coconut shrimp. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to eat here, and I was really still full from eating a huge pile of nachos at Fat Tuesdays. We were given a few minutes to shop before getting back on the bus and heading to the cameo factory.
The Stone Castle Cameo Factory in Roatan is the only one of its kind in the Americas. In 1960, Franco Tammaro was born on his parents’ ship while it passed through the waters off Roatan. Franco's father was a gemologist and explorer, and carving cameos has been a Tammaro family tradition since 1851. After traveling around the world and studying architecture at NYU, Franco Tammaro returned to Roatan and decided to make it his home. In 1999, he founded Stone Castle, which serves as his home, workshop, teaching institute, and boutique. Today, Franco's cameos are sold all over the world, but his main client base is in Japan. Concerned that the art of cameo carving might disappear, Franco has taken on twelve local apprentices to help preserve this vanishing art.
After leaving Stone Castle Cameo Factory, our guide took us back to Mahogany Bay and we returned to our ship. I was standing on the balcony while the last of the passengers were returning to the ship. All passengers were supposed to return by 5:30, but a few were a bit late. As these stragglers walked along the pier towards the gangway, dozens of passengers on the ship were heckling them. Most of the latecomers yelled back apologies or just waved, but one woman made an obscene gesture and shouted several vulgar remarks. Based on her behavior and tardiness, I'm guessing she spent most of her time in Roatan at a bar, and simply lost track of the time. Despite these less-than-punctual passengers, the ship left at 6:00 pm, right on schedule.