Todd's Question

I receive a good number of emails from folks all over the world looking for useful information on relocating to Belize. I thought I'd start sharing them occasionally in case you might have similar questions. Your welcome ;)

Todd writes...

"I am a college graduate in the United States and would like to move to Belize for a change in lifestyle and better employment prospects (potentially to start my own business.).
I recently emailed Keith (at B-Lease) to inquire about low-cost, long-term rentals in Belize, but I was wondering if you could provide me with additional information on what you did to prepare, such as how much of a nest-egg you set up for yourself before moving. Was it easy for you to find employment once you arrived? Are there any consulates that I can turn to for assistance when I arrive?
I only have maybe six thousand dollars in the bank, which covers plane, rentals (at $450 or less), and the fees that one must pay to stay in the area. Are groceries relatively inexpensive?
Any information you could provide me with would be much appreciated!"
My response...

Off To See "The World"

I was recently invited to spend a few days aboard "The World" which, at 644.2 ft in length is the largest privately owned residential yacht on the planet. Although it resembles a cruise ship it is far from the detached, assembly line feel of a commercial cruise line. To put it in perspective, The World can comfortably accommodate 1,500 people however at any given time the average number of residents and guests on board is only about 150-200. It is a very intimate experience.


 Having grown up with exposure to the finer things from time to time, I looked forward to visiting The World and even expected to have my skirt blown up a little. The reality was far beyond my expectations; in fact the whole experience was surreal. It felt like one long Hollywood movie clip. First off I had to go through what seemed like a CIA background check to obtain security clearance a few days before my arrival. The World's security team wanted to know everything but my elimination schedule if you know what I mean. Beyond that, the port security in Montréal where I boarded the ship was stepped up for this visit so there was a lengthy process of checking my documents upon arrival, the typical cha-cha through a metal detector as well as a thorough search of the car that brought me in. (Someone probably called ahead and warned them about me!) After my initial clearance, I was free to come and go with nothing more than a flash of my World issued identification card. I was beginning to feel like I had stepped into an episode of the X-Files.

Rock Star Treatment

Once on board, I was photographed in order for the ship's crew to memorize my details and provide me with the most personal experience possible. To the residents, the crew are like family but to me they were like Gods, all knowing, all powerful... they could manifest fine wines and mouth watering desserts, heavenly massages and celebrity lunches all at the wave of a hand. 

As I began to settle in and become accustomed to this superstar treatment I found myself feeling more and more like Jack Torrence in The Shining, when he was greeted by Lloyd in the Gold Room. Each and every one of the 250 crew members on board now knew my name, hometown, suite number, itinerary and what I last ate. It was almost creepy... almost. This time I was being asked "Was the Peking Duck to your liking this evening Ms. X?" by a handsome young server in the Regatta Lounge. This laid-back hideout quickly became my favorite place to retired after dinner, where I would sip amaretto and take in the familiar and unmistakable sounds of five-star lounge entertainment. This was the highlight of the trip for me; it was reminiscent of younger days and countless evenings spent with my father in some of the most upscale (and some of the shadiest) restaurants/piano bars between Chicago and Southeastern Michigan. That was where I gained my appreciation for a good "Piano Man". 

Accommodations

The World offers residences of varying sizes, from small studios to a massive penthouse which comfortably sleeps twelve people. My accommodation was a mid-range two bedroom, two bath suite which was surprisingly roomy. I was expecting the typical cramped, cruise ship style cabin and was pleased to find my suite was more like a New York apartment, only bigger and with a killer view.


A plush bear, fresh cut flowers and welcome note from the captain made me feel right at home.


The highlight of my quarters was my private bathroom, of course. (A little background: For those of you who know me well, you know I have a real thing with bathrooms. A bad one is always a deal breaker for me.) This time, however I was in luck. Again I was expecting a cramped, very simple version of a residential bath and again I was pleasantly surprised to find a well appointed, luxury spa style bath complete with double sink, jacuzzi tub and separate glass & tile shower. Total heaven... I will admit this is where I spent most of my time on the ship. What can I say? There's just nothing like a great bathroom.



The World Spa

On day 2 of my visit I suffered an unfortunate shopping accident (snagged a fingernail while trying on clothes) and needed to visit the ship's spa facility to have it repaired before dinner. The spa as I expected was a world class, 7,000 square foot utopia! The highlights were a gorgeous aqua spa, Asian style massage huts and a lounge area that I had to be pried from when it came time for my manicure. The spa offers massages, body scrubs, facials and tropical rainmist among other services to pamper and restore residents and guests as they sail around the globe.

This time dressed in what looked like simpler versions of traditional Karate outfits, the staff once again provided a very personal experience. Gina, the crew member who gave me the (best) manicure (of my life) chatted about my experiences aboard The World as though she had been at my side the entire time while another crew member served me champagne and fresh berries. It was pure bliss.

When my spa experience was complete, Gina insisted upon escorting me back to my suite to make sure I didn't lose my way as I needed to avoid the grand staircase. After all, it was pushing six o'clock and casual attire is prohibited in the main areas of the ship after six. Jackets only please.

The Dining Experience

 With world class chefs the dining experience speaks for itself. Executive Chef Peter Hoefler has outstanding credentials and more than 25 years behind him working in places like The Drake Hotels in Toronto and Hong Kong, The Bellagio Las Vegas, The Plaza Hotel in NY and the list goes on. Without a doubt he is the perfect man for the job of overseeing the ships numerous restaurants, a staff of 50 crew members and the exclusive "Call A Chef" program in which residents may request in-suite personal chef service when they would prefer to entertain at home. He has transformed the dining experience aboard The World to a level which rivals any land based 5 star restaurant.

Although I only sampled three of the various dining experiences on board, I was particularly impressed by East. Asian cuisine is one of those things that must be done very well or not done at all. East made the top of my sushi list at the first bite of Maguro, beating out the best of the best from places like Toronto and Manhattan. I even ate (and thoroughly enjoyed) the Unagi. A first for me; definitely impressed. 

The wine cellar aboard The World is also worth mentioning. With a holding capacity of 12,000 bottles, residents have a selection of 600 different wines from 18 countries. Now that's my kind of wine cellar.

Concierge Services

Although a personalized itinerary had been prepared before my arrival, it was impressed upon me that I should not hesitate to consult "Concierge" if I should have any special requests. My itinerary was so detailed and so tailored to my personal taste that it really didn't leave any desire or much room for further requests. A car had been arranged to take me to some local historic sites and points of interest. The only thing I needed to add was some shopping as I had failed to pack appropriately for the weather. Well, before I could follow along on the map, Charles, my driver had whisked me off to Rue St. Denis where my host followed behind me into each shop, waving his hand at store employees as I expressed my approval of various articles of clothing, shoes etc. I really must learn the secret hand wave because every time it happened, my selected items were immediately boxed and put in the car for me. A girl could get used to this!

My arranged tour of the city was well-balanced and included sites such as Galerie de Bellefeuille, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, Montréal Botanical Garden and Plateau Mont-Royal. I also had a chance to enjoy a few local culinary specialties (although I must say that I regret trying the foie gras poutine at Au pied de Cochon since I am very much against the cruel treatment of animals.) My favorite was Chez Lémeac, a fashionable French bistro on avenue Laurier Ouest in the Outremont area. Great menu, atmosphere and wine list as well as very generous portions of some of the most delicious food in the city.

What I Missed

Four days aboard The World is hardly enough time to experience all there is to offer, especially when she is docked in a port as beautiful as Montréal. On my list of on-board facilities and amenities to explore were the pools, tennis court, golf simulator, bali beds, tea room, cigar club, art gallery, library, medical center, night club, theater and last but certainly not least I wanted to squeeze in a fitness class with Juan, the ship's in-house Latin lady-killer zumba instructor... you know, just to see what all the fuss was about. I also wanted to photograph more of the interior of the ship. Unfortunately I was too busy shopping, eating and being pampered to even make it half way through my list. 

Fortunately I have been invited to visit again, being given my choice of port over the coming year . I have no idea how in the world I will ever choose. With destinations like the Bahamas, Aruba, Canary Islands, Morocco, Ireland, Italy and Madeira to choose from I might need some input on this one. To add to my indecision, I have been given the additional option of joining The World's residents on an upcoming expedition. Past expedition sites have included Antarctica, The Bering Sea and Madagascar. I had the pleasure of watching a video of a recent expedition to Melanesia/Polynesia and was left speechless. The World calls in experts in each geographic region to fill these trips with rare and authentic adventures. What an amazing opportunity! Stay tuned for updates on my adventures with The World.


Cost of Residency

Now for the fifty million dollar question... What does this lifestyle cost? There are criteria to be met before you can be considered as a resident and the first item on the list is a minimum net worth of US $10 million. This is no surprise since a small studio onboard starts at $650,000 and the 6 bedroom penthouse was recently listed on the market at $10 million. These prices really aren't unreasonable at all considering the cost of similar units in some of the world's more exclusive neighborhoods, the luxury environment and the elite status that comes with ownership however keep in mind that the ship is collectively owned by it's residents and there are maintenance costs associated with such ownership. Think fuel, crew compensation, port charges, food, wine & spirits, waste management, general repairs and upkeep of the ship itself... ouch. It's probably a safe bet in this case to say that if you have to ask you can't afford this lifestyle.



Just before I closed my eyes on my last night aboard, I took a moment to drink in the beauty of the view from my bed, reflect on the entire experience and capture the image below. There is no doubt in my mind that I will return again to finish that list of "must-do" things aboard The World.

My surreal, 'extended film clip' experience ended in true Hollywood fashion, with the entire crew lining the gangway as I disembarked, all smiling and bidding me adieu. It was like the ending scene from James Cameron's Titanic when (now dead) Rose approached the grand staircase to meet Jack and the ship's crew and guests lined the room to greet her... ahhh, Hollywood I love you! 





South Ambergris Caye Walkabout

We've developed a bit of a routine in our day, walking and doing in and around our South end neighborhood. Here's a little tour... enjoy!

This is our adorable street, Marina Dr. is what it says on our BEL bill but I've never actually seen a posted sign anywhere. At the far end sits the Sausage Factory and Caye Coffee and this end leads to the beach, right at Xanadu.


This is our neighbor's yard. It's rather rare to see so much grass around here, most of us have sand. It's a nice reminder of home and I love walking through it after a few hours of sandy beach and dirt roads; feels cool, soft and fresh under your feet!


Here is another neighbor's yard and Nemo, one of their three dogs. Multiple dogs are pretty common here where residents need to be conscious of home security.


On to the hustle & bustle of our main street. We typically pick up a quick bite at the bakery, Super Buy (South) or the little restaurant on the corner (help me out if you can think of the name) and then head over to Marina's store for some fresh bait ...and rum on the weekends.

Most of the local fellas who live on our street gather down on the beach to bbq and share a few laughs on Sunday afternoons. We were quickly made to feel very welcome and it has replaced our old family tradition of Sunday dinner at mom's. It gives the kids a real sense of belonging here and they absolutely love picking up fishing tips from the best!

Go Nature, one of my favorite shops...

If we happen to have errands to run or the kids want to go visit the dogs at Saga, we head a little farther into town. We usually walk along the beach as it is cooler and more enjoyable than talking the hot, dusty backroads.

Shady, breezy and cooler...


Hot and dusty...

 
 Besides, if you take the beach you are almost guaranteed to see something cool.


Then it's off to fish, swim and explore for the remainder of the day.

We start out at the end of our lane, near Xanadu Resort. There is a small pier and some rocks where we sit, climb, contemplate life, fish, observe and chat with friends. (This is also where our Sunday knees-up happens.)


Xanadu
Xanadu
Then we head down the beach to Banyan Bay where the kids love to swim, fish and climb the palms to pick coconuts and jump into the refreshing Caribbean Sea. 

Banyan Bay
Banyan Bay



Banyan Bay
Banyan Bay

Banyan Bay

 Fabulous view along the way...


 Sometimes we stop to make new friends.

 

Then it's over to Banana Beach to see our old friend Beauty. 

Great place to stay by the way; I recommend it to all our friends who come visit, especially those with kids. They have 2 swimming pools, a restaurant and a beachside bar. It's cheap & cheerful and conveniently located. Security knows us and they watch diligently over the kids as they fish and play on the beach. We love it here!


 Our walkabout is never complete without a little fishing at Mata Rocks. This seems to be the best place to see Permit. (You can see the "big pier" in the background here. We have no clue if it has a real name but it's always on our list of places to stop.)



Below is the view from the "big pier". You can see why we make it a daily stop. You can see for miles and it's a good place to see stingrays and big fish from afar. It's quite a height but the local youth don't mind; they can be seen gathering here on sunny days, running and jumping into the waist deep water below, often with their dogs following.

Ours will have none of it; the nanny once pushed him off the pier and he had to swim back to shore through some deeper water... he is big-chested & front heavy and had a really hard time. Needless to say, I wasn't very please to hear about it but like so many other things, you have to keep in mind the cultural differences here.

The wooden maze that supports the massive deck makes for a great jungle gym type climber. My monkeys find it very suitable, climbing up and down for hours.


Sometimes we go as far as Victoria House if it's early enough. Before 11 am you can usually catch a few barracuda hanging around. 



After a full day we backtrack...


 ...and finish off our adventures back at Banyan Bay for a late afternoon dip as the sun begins to set.





A little more night fishing to catch some bait for the morning...


A quick stop at Marina's to pick up some dinner and eggs for the morning and then back home. We feel very safe in our neighborhood walking at night, more so on the streets than along the beach because there is a lot more action up on the streets at night with food vendors, bar patrons etc.





Almost home... our blood has fed an army of mosquitoes by this time.






























So this is a typical day in our Belize life and hopefully paints a good picture of South AC for anyone considering a long term stay in this area.