Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

How the First Cruise Ship Came to Roatan

While today the Port of Roatan is a world recognized cruise ship destination it once was just a pristine reef sloping into the deep. Coxen Hole didn’t have a cruise ship dock.

The Methodist Church damaged and weakened by Hurricane Francelia and Hurricane Fifi once stood nearby. The church’s congregation moved to a new worship building up the hill and a few hundred feet away.

The first cruise ships began coming to the island in 1980s. This pioneer was the 500 foot long Ocean Spirit, and by far the biggest ship to visit Roatan to that date. She ended up visiting the island on regular basis.

While Coxen Hole was a quaint sleepy town, in the 1980s the dive industry had already discovered Roatan. Ocean Quest International, the world’s largest diving operation at the time, was eying Guanaja and Roatan, both known for their pristine coral and tall dive walls. The company wanted Ocean Spirit, their live aboard flag ship, to make regular stops in the Bay Islands on a week-long dive cruise from Florida.

One of the people who helped in creating a welcome environment for international divers was Alejandro Monterroso. In the 1980s Alejandro lived on Roatan and had his own dive shop in Coxen Hole, next to Key View Hotel. It was called South Shore Divers. “This was the Waldorf Astoria of Roatan,” remembers the seaside hotel Alejandro.

Alejandro remembers that one day a man named Laurence August knocked on the door of his dive shop. August was an executive for Ocean Quest, an international company that operated Ocean Spirit and was looking to come to Roatan and Coxen Hole in particular.

On September 5, 1989, Ocean Spirit visited the island.

Mr. Allan Hyde was chosen to be the port agent for Ocean Spirit. An appropriate spot was chosen in Coxen Hole and a roughly 12” by 12” square cement bollard was poured that helped to secure a rope that tied the ship to land. This would prevent Ocean Spirit from spinning as she discharged her dive boats from her stern.

On September 5, 1989, Ocean Spirit, the biggest ship that has visited the island until then, came to anchor off Coxen Hole. At 20,000 tons Ocean Spirit was the easily the biggest dive ship in the world. The vessel was over 110 feet high and had ten deck levels.

The dive and excursion cruise ship accommodated 360 passengers, 198 crew and 32 diving staff. Ocean Spirit even had its own decompression chamber and carried 10 dive boats that could be launched with a special high speed overhead crane.

Roatan along with Guanaja were placed on a regular schedule for visits by Ocean Spirit based in Southern Florida. Every week the boat would leave New Orleans, head for stops in Guanaja, Roatan, then for Belize, and Cozumel before returning.

These were different times. Back then Honduras was a military dictatorship and as there was a CIA sponsored civil war going on in Nicaragua, nearby Roatan was a place to take a break from the action for American GI and CIA company men.

Eventually, in 1990s Honduras’ Empresa Nacional Portuaria built a cruise ship port near the site. In 2008 Royal Caribbean took over the management of the port from Empresa Nacional Portuaria. In 2018, ITM Group, a Mexican conglomerate that operates cruise ships all over eastern Caribbean: Costa Maya in Mexico, Taino Bay in Dominican, took over operation of Port of Roatan.

In 2020 a second birth was added so two cruise ships could disembark their passengers at the same time.
Sheltered from wind and currents, and with ample enough room to maneuver Coxen Hole became one of the safest terminals for cruise ships in the Caribbean. Many cruise ship boat captains consider Port of Roatan as one of the easiest to enter and leave ports in the Caribbean.