The following was created in partnership with Royal Caribbean. Check out the new sound of adventure on board their newest ship, Symphony of the Seas, sailing from Miami starting this November. Come Seek the Royal Caribbean.
Roatán, Honduras, a 31-mile-long, 5-mile-wide dollop of sand and forest off the northern coast of Honduras ticks all the boxes of a quintessential island paradise. Palm-fringed beaches? Check. Exotic animals? Check. Laid-back restaurants, tropical drinks, and freshly caught seafood? Check, check, and check. From the lively streets of the West End to the formerly pirate-infested coves of the pristine eastern shores, this Honduran hotspot offers a diverse array of activities that are sure to satisfy all types of families.
Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas stops here for just this reason. Not only is it the world’s largest cruise ship, with its 18 decks, dozens of restaurants, and the tallest slide at sea, it also bring families to bucket-list tropical destinations like Roatán. So what should your family do while docked here? Sit back, enjoy a round of mini golf on deck 15, and read up on what to do in this tropical paradise.
1. Spotting Sloths and Meeting Monkeys
They say that when you set foot on Roatán you need to adjust yourself to “Island Time.” Some here take this concept to the next level. Namely, the sloths in French Cay. These googly-eyed mammals, orphaned and rescued from the mainland, can be found hanging in the branches of mangrove trees (or around your neck, if you’re so inclined). If the sloths don’t get the kids’ early-morning adrenaline pumping then getting up close with a capuchin monkey surely will. Just make sure you don’t have any valuables on you when you enter; these monkeys are known for being extremely light-fingered.
2. Starfish Alley
If you want to kick this trip into full gear, head over to the West End, your base for an afternoon of adventure. First up: a family-friendly snorkel session down starfish alley. This popular spot is like an underwater Fantasia riddled with red-cushion sea stars. With a maximum depth of just 8 feet and few protruding corals, it’s perfect for beginners who are still finding their sea legs. Several outfitters rent snorkel gear along the beach in the West End, and you can hire a cheap water taxi to drop you off right atop the alley.
3. SUP the Bay
Paddling in the serene waters of Half Moon Baby, the crescent-shaped cove at the heart of the West End, is a popular and relaxing activity. Head from the West End to nearby West Bay where you skirt the edge of the barrier reef and may find yourself paddling alongside turtles, rays, and other marine life.
If you’re hunting for a memento of your time on Roatán to bring back aboard the Symphony of the Seas, a good place in the West End to start your search is Rusty Fish, where you can purchase playful handmade crafts and quirky artwork made from recycled metal, wood, plastic, and glass. The majority of the raw materials used here come from the municipal dump, but you’d never realize it by the time local artists are done transforming them into jewelry, toys, handbags, and wall-hangings.
Looking for something a bit more refined to put on the wall back home? Check out the work of local photographer Shawn Jackson at his nearby gallery. Jackson has mastered the art of capturing the underwater world in all its ethereal glory. See if the kids can spot some of the fish you saw on your snorkel trip hamming it up for the camera in Jackson’s striking snaps.
5. Roatán Rum Company
The rum-curious should take a detour to the Roatán Rum Company in nearby West Bay. Adults can sample some complimentary handcrafted rum infusions, but don’t leave here without trying the rum cakes (don’t worry, almost all of the alcohol gets cooked out and only the flavor of rum remains, making it safe for the entire family). The 360-degree views of the crystalline Caribbean from this hilltop spot — dubbed “Rum Point” — provide the perfect backdrop from which to say your goodbyes before heading back to the ship.
6. Steel Pan Alley
If you want to make your Roatán vacation booming, sign the family up for drum lessons at Steel Pan Alley in Gravel Bay. Steel pan music is the unmistakable soundtrack of any Caribbean vacation, and this crash course aims to turn you and the kids into novice pan players in just two hours’ time. Steel Pan Alley is the pet project of a retired California schoolteacher who wanted to instill steel pan music as a way for Bay Islanders to make a supplemental income. Money raised from the tourist classes helps fund the school’s main objective: offering free music lessons for the children of Roatán.
7. Hiking With Iguanas
If you decide to hike just about anywhere on the island, be on the lookout for the Roatán Spiny-tailed Iguanas, found only here in Roatán. If you want to better your odds of seeing this prehistoric creature, head on down to Arch’s Iguana Farm, a 12-acre reserve in French Cay. Be sure to watch your step as some 4,000 iguanas roam freely within the reserve looking for food (many are released back into the wild each year to help maintain a steady population). Ask at the entrance for some leaves with long stems so the kids can safely watch the feeding frenzy in all its glory. Non-reptiles spotted in the area include a white-faced monkey, macaws, and coatis (cuter cousins of the common raccoon)
8. Flamingo Cultural Center
In the midst of Roatán’s rural eastern half lies a place where you can steep the family in the traditions of the island’s often-overlooked Garifuna community. The Garifuna are an ethnic group descended from Carib people of the Lesser Antilles and Africans who were brought to the Caribbean in 1635 on two Spanish slave ships that foundered off the coast of Saint Vincent. The would-be slaves escaped by finding shelter onshore in the Carib communities, where they intermixed and intermarried, eventually fusing into a single culture. The British relocated them to the Bay Islands of Honduras following the Garifuna Rebellion of 1797.
The Flamingo Cultural Center, located along the waterfront in Punta Gorda, is charged with preserving the legacy of the Garifuna people in the Bay Islands through dance, music, art and oral history. Depending on the day you visit, you might participate in a food demonstration, watch a traditional folk dance, or catch an artist in action. For many families, the authentic interactions here are a highlight of their visit to Roatán.
9. Mangrove Tunnels
Legend has it that the spectacular mangrove tunnels near the modern-day fishing coves of Jonesville and Oakridge were carved out by pirates centuries ago and used as safe havens from which they could attack passing ships. See for yourselves as you channel your inner Blackbeard on a tour of the area aboard a motorized dory (canoe). You’ll pass through tight channels and emerald lagoons searching of migratory birds and native waterfowl, all the while listening to the local lore.
10. Made in Roatán
If you’re looking for a memento to remember your stay by, support the local economy by heading to the aptly named Made in Roatán. This cooperative artist’s shop near the Coxen Hole cruise port lives by its motto of “helping people help themselves.” Everything you purchase — from the handcrafted sea-glass jewelry to the hand-carved wooden sculptures — is made on island by local artists.
After your island adventures, it’s time to get back aboard the ship to enjoy all it has to offer — like the AquaTheater or the Ultimate Abyss, the largest slide at sea. Then, it’s off to paradise once again, on to your next island destination. Because that’s how Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas does vacation.