Flying over the glowing blue waters of the Meso American Reef, the longest in the world, our airplane banked over the lush island of Roatan and I felt like I was in a movie. But it was real enough and my first tropical adventure with my sweetheart since the “before times.” We were giddy after our short flight from Dallas and full of anticipation to finally experience Anthony’s Key Resort.
Thirty miles from mainland Honduras, the Bay Islands bear their remote tropical blessings with grace and endurance. Roatan, the largest, once sheltered pirates. British slavers abandoned their living cargo, the Garifuna people, there in colonial times. Today they thrive in their own Punta Gorda community and Anthony’s Key invites them to perform at the resort.
Until recently, a handful of cruise ships filed into the deep-water port daily at the island capital of Coxen Hole. Tourists crisscrossed the island to enjoy the beaches, wildlife encounters, adventure sports, strong drinks, and fresh seafood. Then, as the world hit pause, a sudden, stunning quiet fell. Accustomed to food imports from the Honduran mainland, Roatan found itself marooned and hungry with more people than jobs. But one thing the islanders have grown accustomed to is change, and they are working towards more sustainable tourism. For those of us lucky to visit now, the best of the past endures, and much remains to celebrate. One benefit was finding a deal at the all-inclusive, family resort of Anthony’s Key, and shortly after getting our vaccines, we booked flights.
Roatan’s off the beaten path but easy to reach by direct flights from several American airports. We chose a nonstop flight from Texas to Juan Manuel Galvez International Airport. Returning to the U.S. was the easiest I’ve encountered with my TSA Trusted Traveler status. There was no perceived jet lag because the entire country of Honduras is on U.S. Central Time. After landing, we gathered our bags, stepped out into the lush air, and boarded an air-conditioned bus to our destination, Anthony’s Key Resort.
As with many destinations in COVID times, we needed tests, and the correct tests, no more than 72 hours before leaving the states with the same for our return. An official app kept all our medical certifications and insurance declarations accessible. Other travelers carried printouts. Anthony’s Key Resort had a testing office onsite and the results for our return trip were sent to us by email within a few hours.
Pro Tip: Testing requirements are changing weekly. These were the requirements for spring 2021. Check with your airlines and contact Anthony’s for current certifications for arrival.
Anthony’s Key Perfects Hospitality
The resort has honed its hospitality skills over the past 50 years. Anthony’s is locally owned and staffed, so I knew my presence would help neighboring families. One concierge arranged for her daughter to drive me to a Coxen Hole pharmacy when I needed contact lens solution. Our dive tender talked about taking over his family’s restaurant business but felt his prospects were better at the resort. All the well-trained staff took cheerful care of us.
Set well away from the main road, Resort buildings sloped up a hillside from a long dock lined with small boats, shops, and a petite history museum. Guests can choose to stay in bungalows that circle a small cay or in quiet hillside cabins. A new reception area and dockside restaurant will soon eliminate the need to climb stairs to the treetop dining room for disabled guests or those with health challenges.
When we arrived, I was happy to stretch my legs as we wound up the stairs on the jungle hill, passed the main office, walked through the Frangipani Bar, and were seated at a small table overlooking the water. Then we were told about our keys, the daily schedule and served welcome drinks — rum punch for adults and virgin pina coladas for younger guests. Tree limbs dipped beyond the balcony. Between sips, I glanced out to follow small boats speeding back from morning dives. Their wake sparkled in the warm air. My travel fatigue evaporated in minutes.
Get Into The Swing Of Things In A Personal Lanai Hammock
The island cay sits across a small channel from the main buildings. I’d summon the shuttle panga with a bell to traverse back and forth from my room, to dive boats, and meals. The short trip took less than two minutes, just enough time to admire the view before moving on.
As the small craft swung into the channel, I could watch paddle boarders and kayakers. Most were teens taking a break from their families. There are lots to do with unlimited dives, snorkeling, massages, sunbathing, paddle boarding, and kayaking. I managed 19 dives in less than a week, taking advantage of the dozens of close dive sites.
The over-the-water bungalows book out months ahead of time. Each has a water view and a separate patio. Most days, I took to our hammock between dives, swinging gently in the shade above a hedge of mangroves in the shimmering water. Other afternoons, when we weren’t doing a night dive, I’d walk straight from our little ferry and jump into the cay pool. The freshwater was refreshing and the dark grebes put on a show as they competed for attention in the trees above. The patio bar opened as we arrived and soon a friendly happy hour commenced. A nap later and it was time for dinner. Island time that is.
Diversions In And Out Of The Water
Anthony’s knows that families have different ideas of what makes a great vacation. It is renowned for its scuba programs including a school for PADI certification and a full dive shop. The shop was pivotal in keeping me going as my old computer needed a battery and my regulator hose began leaking. What could’ve been a disaster was barely a blip and quickly fixed. The Seaside Gifts and photoshops are filled with island-made souvenirs and necessities. Photo Roatan was well stocked with equipment to rent. The dock was lined with a fleet of state-of-the-art dive boats. A modest spa is built next to the cay pool and I heard that the massages were wonderful.
Where Dolphins Roam And Snuggle
A short ride north of the resort, and close to the mouth of the channel, sits Bailey’s Key. Several large pens, most out of sight from visitors, are home to a unique aquatic research program that’s integral to the well-being of the local underwater life. Bailey’s houses several dolphin families who have contributed to studies about their family life. The Roatan Institute of Marine Science is housed adjacent to Anthony’s with displays, classrooms, and research labs.
I was initially reluctant to get in the water with dolphins after other less-than-desirable, forced encounters with these amazingly intelligent animals at aquatic parks in the states. But my hesitation gave way as several of the scientists we’d met during our stay joined us in the water. After a short instruction and introduction to the elder dolphins, we waded into the deeper end of the pen. I was excitedly waiting and watching as dolphins swam around and between us but could only see an occasional fin. Then I noticed one of the scientists’ free-diving and watched as he grabbed seagrass to offer the dolphins. They loved it and him. Getting below the surface was key to the encounter. Over the next half-hour, our small group gulped air and jumped repeatedly into the warm water as the dolphins came close enough to stroke. One mother brought her baby near and another fell in love with my bright yellow GoPro handle. She came close enough to nose the grip repeatedly. I’d been warned and loved her attention. Dolphins love to play with colorful toys.
The Dolphin Encounter Program has changed over the years. Trainers once invited dolphins into the open ocean to meet divers, but the program shifted as the pods retreated to their own pens. I’m glad I was able to join them swimming freely in their home.
Island Life Outside Of The Resort
Roatan has so much to offer visitors around the island. We spent one afternoon at the Manawakie Eco Park learning about the local herbs and history, hung out with monkeys, parrots, and even hugged sloths. The West End District is on the same side of the island as Anthony’s and is a fun day trip with shops, cafes, and bars. Further north in West Beach, beach clubs and several less dive-centric resorts reign.
Our last Resort night was a fiesta dinner. Under a giant palapa, a huge barbeque roasted chicken and sausages. Big bowls of the island-spiced beans, fresh breads, and salad filled a table. Drink orders kept the blenders whirring. Then as the dinner wound down, we were invited to pick out hermit crabs for a race. I was more interested in the drummers lining up in the shadows of the palapa. Within minutes, their beats filled the night, then dancers in flaring skirts stepped forward. One elder kept time tapping an old turtle shell and then several Garifuna men shuffle-stepped to the center. They were masked and dressed in flowing fabrics. The fiesta performance drew on the long traditions the Garifuna people brought to the island. We were lucky to join it all. Most visitors only see them in Punta Gorda on festival days where there is a Garifuna Heritage Preservation Site. When I return to Roatan, I’ll bring the rest of our family. We’ll dive for certain, but I can’t wait to take them dancing in the northern village.
Pro Tip: While Anthony’s staff worked hard to keep mosquitoes and biting flies at bay, we took to spraying with bug repellent several times daily. I tried a locally sourced, botanical spray at first but found that reapplying layers of the oil made it impractical. As much as I dislike Deet sprays, those are the best to keep the biters away. Sprays are easier, quicker, and kids won’t complain as much about being doused.