Return of the
Our 15th Annual Equinox Cruise

MARCH 15 - MARCH 24, 2003

( 9-Day Round from Houston)

aboard Royal Olympia's "OLYMPIA VOYAGER"

[El Castillo pyramid]


Sail aboard Royal Olympia's brand new Olympia Voyager, on the Maya Monuments, Temples, and the Return of the Equinox Sun Serpent Cruise. The cruise, March 15-24, 2003, will feature expert lecturers and an optional escorted trip to Chichén Itzá for the Equinox event.

[Chichen Itza] On March 21 at Chichén Itzá — The shadow serpent descends the steps of the Maya pyramid of Kukulcán, signaling the beginning of spring. During the excursion to celebrate the Return of the Equinox Sun Serpent at Chichén Itzá, you will witness this impressive performance of light, shadow and stone. A symbolic celestial serpent of sunlight will descend along the primary staircase of the great El Castillo pyramid -- from sky to earth -- an event that happens only as the sun prepares to set at the time of the equinox.

This 9-day sea and land odyssey offers you a unique opportunity to participate in a comprehensive and stimulating program of educational, cultural and scientific activities while enjoying the social and recreational pleasures of cruising.

[the Olympia Voyager] Discover archaeological treasures and natural beauty on this voyage back in time. Join in optional shore excursions that meet the desires of the adventurer who is fascinated by peoples and cultures as well as natural and man-made wonders. Royal Olympia Cruises' Special Projects Coordinator Ted Pedas and a team of distinguished experts from a variety of fields will lead you throughout your extraordinary journey and enrich your understanding of the enigmatic Maya. What better time than today to look at times and places in our living history — when we stand at the threshold of a new millennium.

[Ted Signature]


Dear Adventurer,

I take pride in inviting you to sail into history with us on my fifteenth discovery cruise to the land of the Maya. Since first developing this itinerary in the 1980's, we have had overwhelming response from adventurers like yourself who seek unique and rewarding travel experiences. Join us on this remarkable journey to natural wonders and exotic historical sites - to witness the great feathered serpent descend to Earth. We will marvel at the ancient world of the Maya and share with them a timeless astronomical rite.

On this fascinating sea odyssey aboard Royal Olympia's brand new, Olympia Voyager, you will have the opportunity to view a recently rediscovered phenomenon of light and shadow that is best observed at the time of the vernal equinox, at one of the Western Hemisphere's largest and most impressive pyramids. Other than the ancient Maya, few people have ever witnessed this spectacle that occurs during equinoxes at the great El Castillo pyramid at Chichén Itzá in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Now you, too, can take part in the pageantry and ceremony. The full-day optional excursion makes this cruise a truly unique travel experience.

Share with us a timeless astronomical rite during our " Maya Monuments, Temples and the Return of the Equinox Sun Serpent" sailing. We include the opportunity to take a full-day excursion to Chichén Itzá to witness, at sunset, the Equinox Sun Serpent descending the steps of the great El Castillo pyramid. This amazing celestial phenomenon of sun and shadow on stone is believed to represent the return to earth of the Maya god Kukulcan. Its meaning is only one of the many fascinating aspects of Maya culture that you will discover during lectures, round-table discussions and casual conversations on deck with our onboard lecture staff.

Worldwide interest is continuing to be generated in the extraordinary achievements of the ancient Maya civilization. A series of dramatic discoveries recently shed new light on the Maya which let Time magazine to proclaim “Mayamania” as one of the top ten science events of the last decade.

This voyage offers you more time in the land of the Maya than any other cruise itinerary. In addition to the tour of Chichén Itzá additional optional excursions are available to the magnificent ceremonial centers and enigmatic ruins of the highly-cultured Maya civilization at Tulum and San Gervasio in Mexico; Copan in Honduras; Tikal and Quirigua in Guatemala; Xunantunich, Altun Ha and Cahal Pech in Belize.

What makes this cruise so extraordinary?

[Maya Equinox brochure] It is more than just a casual visit to picturesque sites. It is an educational voyage as well, led by distinguished experts who will lecture and guide you through the multifaceted riches and mysteries of the fabled Maya culture. Our lecturers will provide insight into the Maya civilization — one whose culture, politics, religion, and daily life were centered around astronomy, sky lore and mythologies — in an effort to unravel the mysteries of one of the world's most puzzling, yet advanced, civilizations.

The excursion to Chichén Itzá is designed to encompass the experience of an ancient Mesoamerican deity, the “feathered serpent,” descending the temple steps to Earth. Ancient sun-worshippers around the world always welcomed the first day of spring with awe and wonder. Nowhere is this more evident than in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula where a natural phenomenon becomes a breathtaking rite of spring each March at the great Maya pyramid called El Castillo.

Now you can witness the same event celebrated by people a thousand years ago. As the Sun sets on March 21, 2003, the pyramid's western face will be bathed in the late afternoon sunlight — casting a rippling shadow onto the side of the north stairway. As the Sun sinks further and the shadows become longer, an undulating ribbon of darkness appears to run from the top of the staircase to the bottom, giving the illusion of a diamond-backed snake descending the steps of the pyramid. By sunset the shadows turn into a sequence of seven well-formed triangles — a fully developed serpent of sunlight. The entire north face of El Castillo is now dark, except for these triangles of light leading down to a massive stone-carved serpent head at the bottom. Very few phenomena live up to their reputations — this is one that does.

From the towering El Castillo pyramid our escorted tour will cover the remainder of this largest and most-restored archaeological site in Mexico. Here we will explore the temples, altars, ball courts, and market places. Special focus will be given to “El Caracol,” an ancient astronomical observatory.

The Maya civilization was centered around the timeless and recurring cycles of the heavens. Their sky lore and mythology offer a unique perspective of the Universe - one that is still being revealed today.

We look forward to welcoming you on board and enjoying with you the excitement, mystery, adventure and warm camaraderie of our Maya Monuments, Temples, and the Return of the Equinox Sun Serpent cruise. Come…join us as we visit these fascinating lands brimming with the mysteries of an ancient civilization.

Join us on board -- the adventure awaits!

         Ted Pedas

Project Coordinator
Maya Monuments, Temples and the Return of the Equinox Sun Serpent

Travel With An Outstanding Team Through Maya Antiquity

This journey to The Land of the Maya is a voyage of adventure, discovery and exploration to fascinating lands brimming with the mysteries of a fabled civilization. This is a very special opportunity to travel with a distinguished staff of Maya experts who will broaden your understanding of these remarkable people.

Our team of scholars will weave a tapestry of fact and fiction from the history, architecture, sky lore, mythology, archaeology, natural wonders and mysteries of the intriguing peoples of Mesoamerica.

Indigenous perspectives will complete the picture as local professional guides accompany passengers on optional shore excursions. They will lead passengers by their imaginations, taking you through ancient realms of sentinel ruins and enduring artifacts, recounting the stories handed down from generation to generation.

Distinguished Experts and Professional Guides
Dr. Anthony Aveni
Russell B. Colgate Professor of Astronomy and Archaeology at Colgate University, Dr. Aveni is an archaeoastronomer and noted authority on the astronomical accomplishments of the ancient civilizations of Mexico and Central America.

  • Stairways to the Stars: Watching the Serpent Descend and Other Maya Cosmic Mysteries—Who saw the equinox serpent first, how did it come to be a public spectacle, and what did it really mean to the ancient Maya? (Focus on Chichen Itza)

  • Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico — Dr. Aveni tells why civilizations who once lived on ancient American soil were more advanced than the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians.

  • The Maya Experience - Part I and Part II — Roundtable discussions (moderator)
Dr. Rebecca Storey
Associate professor of anthropology at the University of Houston, Dr. Storey has studied human skeletons from the Pre-Columbian high civilizations of Mesoamerica for twenty years and is considered an expert on the anthropological demography of Mesoamerica. She has been in charge of the study of the more than 600 skeletons excavated at the Classic Maya site of Copan, Honduras.
  • Bones and the Cenote — The Maya civilization is 2500 years old. Around A.D. 1000 this civilization had reached an impressive degree of complexity and accomplishment, but then it collapsed. Where it survived the Maya continued to hold on to their cultural identity - from the collapse to today. Dr. Storey will look at the history of Maya health and lifestyle through the 20th century.

  • Monumental Inscriptions: Decoding the Maya Code — A hands-on workshop for passengers to learn how to interpret the Maya glyphs.

  • What's Happening at Tikal, Quirigua, Altun Ha, Xuantunich and Cahal Pech — An illustrated close-up of Guatemala and Belize's major Maya archaeological wonders.

  • The Maya Experience - Part I and Part II — Roundtable discussions
Dr. Randolph J. Widmer
An archaeologist from the University of Houston, Dr. Widmer has directed wide-ranging fieldwork and research projects, and has appeared in the PBS series “Out of the Past: An Introduction to Archaeology.”
  • What's Happening at Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Copan — An illustrated close-up of three archaeological wonders of the Maya.

  • Monumental Inscriptions: Decoding the Maya Code — A hands-on workshop for passengers to learn how to interpret the Maya glyphs.

  • Coral Reefs: The Tropical Rain Forests of the Sea — The world of the coral reef and its sometimes odd and unique inhabitants is a fascinating one, brought to life by someone who completely enjoys and respects this unique ecosystem.

  • The Maya Experience - Part I and Part II — Roundtable discussions
Ted Pedas
Project coordinator for the Maya Equinox, Amazon River, Aloha Odyssey and South America Circumnavigation cruises, Ted Pedas is acknowledged as a pioneer in the specialty field of ocean-going science travel programs.
Circumstances beyond our control may change lecturer participation.Royal Olympic reserves the right to substitute vessels and/or itineraries

Fact Sheet

[Maya Priest] Ancient sun-worshippers around the world always welcomed the first day of spring with awe and wonder. This day, rich in religious significance, marked the reawakening of the land. It was celebrated in ceremonies, cults, mysteries, rituals and prophecies.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, where a natural phenomenon becomes a breathtaking rite of spring each March at the great Maya pyramid called El Castillo.

The Maya left us many clues to their lives — among them the cities, now in ruins, that were important centers of commerce, culture, politics and religion. One of these is Chichén Itzá, the site of El Castillo pyramid.

The construction of this magnificent monument is a lasting testament to the importance of the movement of the sun and other celestial bodies to the Maya's religion and daily life. Archaeologists and astronomers have deciphered the meaning and usage of the pyramid. Evidence shows that El Castillo was a monument to Quetzalcoatl, also known as Kukulkan, the plumed serpent god.

The building also was a complex calendar. On each of its four sides 91 steps ascended. These, plus a step to the temple platform at the summit, total 365, the number of days in a solar year. The stairs divide nine terraces into 18 sections, the Maya counterpart of months in the year. There are 52 panels above the terraces, each one marking a year in the Maya cycle of years comparable to our century.

At the foot of each stairway was the stone sculpture of a plumed serpent's head. The feathered rattlesnake was a manifestation of a Maya deity. The yearly descent of the feathered serpent at El Castillo reaffirmed their belief in life after death and the return of the season of growth.

El Castillo is placed so that on the vernal equinox the late afternoon sun shines through the terraces of the pyramid to form a pattern of shadow and light on the north face balustrade, making seven triangles. As the sun sinks the triangles move, giving the illusion of a diamond-backed snake descending the steps of the pyramid, its great head lying upon the ground.


Mar. 15 (Sat)Houston, Texas  5:00pm
Mar. 16 (Sun)Gulf of Mexico/Caribbean Sea   
Mar. 17 (Mon)Isla de Roatán, Honduras 2:00pm8:00pm
Mar. 18 (Tue)Puerto Cortés, Honduras7:00am10:00pm
Mar. 19 (Wed)Santo Tomás de Castilla, Guatemala7:00am10:00pm
Mar. 20 (Thu)Belize City, Belize [red dot]7:00am6:00pm
Mar. 21(Fri)Playa del Carmen, Mexico [red dot]5:30pm11:00pm
Mar. 22 (Sat)Cozumel, Mexico7:00am Midnight
Mar. 23 (Sun)Yucatan Channel/Gulf of Mexico   
Mar.24 (Mon)Houston,Texas8:00am  
[red dot] Disembarkation by tenders(boats)


9-Day Maya Equinox
Cruise Fares

Book Now and Save 45%

Category and Description

Tariff Rate
US $
Early Booking Rate - Save 45%
SA Deluxe Sky Suites (Oceanview) with Balcony 5,745 3,225
SB Deluxe Suites (Oceanview)  4,845 2,730
SC Deluxe Junior Suites (Oceanview) 3,655 2,076
TA Deluxe Oceanview Staterooms 2,755 1,592
TB Deluxe Oceanview Staterooms 2,665 1,531
TC Deluxe Oceanview Staterooms 2,555 1,471
A Superior Oceanview Staterooms 2,420 1,395
DA Special Inside Staterooms 2,285 1,322
D Superior Inside Staterooms 2,185 1,267
F Standard Inside Staterooms 1,885 1,102
G Inside Staterooms 1,740 1,022
  3rd/4th Adult 1,450 863
  3rd/4th Child 1,125 684
SI Inside single guarantee 2,755 1,581
SO Outside single guarantee 3,560 2,023

Port Service Fees of $145.00 included in the fares above.

*Hotel add-ons, shore excursions, air add-ons, and air taxes are in addition to the listed cruise fares. 

Cruise only fares in the U.S. $ Per person based on double occupancy, except 3rd/4th and singles.
SO and SI cabin and category assignment are at Royal Olympic's Discretion



[Maya Priest] Houston, Texas
The largest city in Texas and an inland seaport is linked to the Gulf of Mexico by the Houston Ship Channel the city is one of the top manufacturing and financial centers for the South of the U.S.A.

Isla de Roatán, Honduras
Largest of the Bay Islands, an archipelago thirty miles off the coast of Honduras, Roatan is incredibly picturesque, undeveloped and unpolluted. Protected by the world's second largest barrier reef system, the surrounding profusion of spectacular marine life beckons divers and snorkelers alike.

Puerto Cortés, Honduras
This is the port city for San Pedro Sula, the industrial capital of Honduras. Join an optional day trip to the Maya ruins at Copān. Unparalleled in its architectural beauty, Copān is the fairest of all Maya sites for its heroic sculpture.

Santo Tomás de Castilla, Guatemala
Santo Tomas was built by United Fruit in the early 1900's as a "company town." Today it provides us with easy access by plane for an optional excursion to the spectacular Maya ruins of Tikal. Or visit Quirigua on an optional Motorcoach excursion.

Belize City, Belize
Formerly known as British Honduras, Belize is a charming stop on the Maya Route. North of Belize City is Altun-Ha, a Mayan ruin discovered in 1957 by a road construction crew. Several buildings, including a 60-foot temple, have been excavated.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico
With its tranquil, white, sandy beaches, Playa del Carmen is a magnificent blend of ancient history and timeless beauty. From this strategic point on the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, passengers will visit and explore spectacular Maya ruins, including an optional full-day excursion to experience the "Return of the Equinox Sun Serpent" in Chichen Itza.

Cozumel, Mexico
Called "Cuzamil"--the "Island of Swallows"--by the ancient Maya who built the religious center of San Gervasio, this island was later a haven for pirates who preyed on Spanish ships laden with Inca gold. Today it is known for its glorious beaches, exciting night-life and off-shore coral reefs.Cozumel's pristine beaches, colorful marine life, and excellent water sport opportunities appeal to a wide variety of visitors. Passengers may also opt to visit the Maya ruins at San Gervasio if time permits.



A thousand years ago at the beginning of Spring, the Maya inhabiting Mexico's Yucatan peninsula gathered around the great El Castillo pyramid at Chichén Itzá to celebrate a central myth of their culture with the setting sun. Now you, too, can witness this impressive performance - an event that happens only at the time of the equinox.

On March 21, as the sun begins to set, a long undulating ribbon of darkness travels down the pyramid's primary staircase. A serpentine pattern of seven triangles appears, one at a time. The entire north face of El Castillo is darkened, except for the triangles of light and the massive stone serpent head at the bottom - and then they vanish dramatically.

This symbolic mixture of sun, shadow and stone is a representation of the mythic descent of the "Feathered Serpent" Quetzalcoatl - whom the Maya knew as Kukulcán.- to Earth and a celebration of the return of spring. Very few natural phenomena live up to their reputations. This is one that does!

An escorted tour of Chichén Itzá, covering not only the equinox phenomena but also the major sites of this largest and most restored archaeological site in Mexico, is optional for passengers on the Maya Equinox Cruise.


[priest head]An exciting program of optional excursions will transport you to the incredible and enigmatic remains of the highly cultured Maya civilization. Full-day excursions to Quirigua-Rio Dulce, Copan, Tikal, Tulum, Coba, Cahal Pech and Xunantunich, half-day tours to San Gervasio and Altun Ha, and an island excursion to Roatan will be available for purchase during our cruise. For details and fares on these special excursions, please ask for our informational brochure when you reserve your cabin.

San Gervasio, Mexico
Found in the heart of Cozumel's jungle, San Gervasio was an impressive Maya ceremonial center. Here one can still see classic Maya arches and platforms as well as an altar to the goddess of fertility.

Copan, Honduras
What was once a great and powerful Maya center is today one of the world's most beautiful archaeological parks. Here one finds many skillfully carved stelae -- shaftlike stone monuments of magnificent portraiture and design. The "Great Plaza" and "Acropolis" contain pyramids, courts and temples where astronomy and mathematics reached brilliant heights. The 64-step hieroglyphic stairway has more than 2,000 glyphs carved on the facing of each step. Though largely undeciphered, this massive stone manuscript is thought to represent 200 years of history.

Quirigua, Guatemala
Founded in the Early Classical Period (250-550 A.D.) this is the site of some of the Maya's tallest and most spectacular stelae, including the largest block of stone ever quarried by the ancient Maya. These vertical monuments symbolize Maya leaders and priests, depicting the portraits of rulers.

Tikal, Guatemala
Amidst the thick, tropical rain forest rise the excavated ruins of Tikal, the most outstanding Maya city. It boasts towering temples, sophisticated stone dwellings and elaborate carvings that exhibit Maya mathematical and astronomical excellence. Most majestic of these are the 228-foot-high Temple IV and the Great Pyramid of the Lost World. Flourishing during the 3rd and 4th centuries, Tikal represents to the "New World" what Athens was to the "Old World" -- the birthplace of civilization.

Altun Ha, Belize
One of the more recent discoveries, the ruins of Altun Ha date from the Classical period. Believed to be a minor ceremonial center on the Caribbean trade route, Altun Ha has six temples-including the 60-foot tall Temple of the Sun God.

Cahal Pech, Belize
This partially restored Classic Maya site has 34 structures, including two ballcourts, surrounding seven plazas.

Xunantunich, Belize
A classic ceremonial center, Xunantunich features a 135-foot temple decorated with an ornate stucco frieze. It thrived well into the Terminal Classic when most other sites in the Maya world had collapsed.

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