What's it like to arrive on a cruise ship in Jamaica? Our Island Expert Deanne Allgrove tests out what it's like to be a tourist in her own country, the beautiful Caribbean island of Jamaica...
Living on an island like Jamaica sometimes means never seeing what visitors see. Many tourists play behind the walls of large all-inclusive hotels and often only leave on planned excursions - a round of golf, a road trip to go play somewhere else or a guided tour.
(Cocktail, book, suntan oil...beach bliss. Photo by Deanne Allgrove.)
Playing tourist at home to me means re-discovering beautiful waterfalls I vaguely remember from my childhood, lazing on the same white sand beaches I did as a teenager, visiting mountainside retreats someone has told me about and participating in a bunch of activities I have never tried before. However, I became a little curious as to what someone might do when sighting my island home for the first time.
What better way to experience this than to allow myself to get swept up with the excited crowds disembarking from the enormous cruise ships that dock here? I made arrangements to stay with a friend in Montego Bay and drove down on the weekday that most ships dock in Jamaica as they make the rounds of the beautiful and varied islands that dot the Caribbean Sea.
(On the road through Jamaica. Photo by Deanne Allgrove.)
The scenic drive took me on my inaugural drive on our most recently completed highway which rises into the mountains, replacing the sometimes harrowing drive full of endless hairpin turns of Mt. Rosser, known locally as Mount Diablo, a well earned name! I enjoy driving in Jamaica and the highway still allowed me, upon exiting, to enjoy the twists and turns of Fern Gully, a lush winding road laid in an old riverbed, which then spills out onto the road descending into central Ocho Rios. And there she was, a large floating playground dominating the horizon at dock in the heart of the small famous town on the north coast.
(A cruise ship on Jamaica's north coast. Photo by Deanne Allgrove.)
This wasn't my final destination however. I enjoyed the scenery a little more as I passed a ship docked in the historic town of Falmouth and finally arrived in Montego Bay where yet another ship sat on the far side of town, known as Freeport, where I would be spending the night.
I only had one day and so decided to focus my time on Gloucester Avenue, otherwise known as the infamous "Hip Strip" in the heart of Montego Bay. I headed out only to be faced with traffic consisting solely of tour buses and private chartered drivers, all patiently parked and waiting to scoop up everyone disembarking from the ship. I finally made it through, drove to the other side of town and found a parking spot on the main street. Now, as much as I was trying to experience what a cruising passenger will encounter, I realized that I was already on a different path. The street was fairly deserted. The majority of passengers seemed to have all been whisked off to local adventures such as touring the nearby great house of a former plantation, home of the ghost of the famous Annie Hall, also known as The White Witch of Rose Hall.
After reading signs and asking several people, a local elderly man made sure I knew that I needed to pay for temporary parking or risk my car being towed. I sorted myself out and decided to stroll along the strip. No tourists were in sight, but locals were already gearing up for the expected business to come. I popped into Cafe Tease for a delicious cup of coffee.
(A good spot for a cup of coffee. Photo by Deanne Allgrove.)
As I watched, stores opened up and sidewalks were swept while performers in full regalia hung out chatting as if they weren't standing on stilts!
(Good morning, Montego Bay! Photo by Deanne Allgrove.)
With no one around I decided to focus on the main draw of any island and I sought out the beach. I paid to go hang out at Doctor's Cave Beach. For a mere US $6, you gain entry to a stunning beach whose waters were reputed to have healing powers and became a popular destination at the turn of the century. I didn't hang out in Montego Bay much as a child and, although it was by no means my first time there, it was rare enough that I still felt that it was still in keeping with my pseudo tourist experience. I chose to forego the offer of a beach chair and umbrella and just laid out in the sugary sand as close to the softly lapping water as I could get. I indulged in the mandatory treats of coconut water straight from a chilled coconut as well as a sweet mango daquiri. I laid back with my book and did what any good tourist should make sure to do. I relaxed.
(Ahhhh...a chilled coconut. Photo courtesy of Deanne Allgrove.)
The cruise ship's presence finally made an impact as groups of people appeared. Families, honeymooning couples, giggling groups of girlfriends and older retired companions partook of the calm, clear waters, floating trampoline, beach volleyball court and all delightedly soaked up the sun.
(What travelers come to Jamaica to enjoy. Photo by Deanne Allgrove.)
The roving staff and bartenders are practiced at handling the busy atmosphere. Everyone remained relaxed and when I headed up to the bar, my order was dealt with quickly and pleasantly and within no time at all I was seated and enjoying grilled shrimp and delicious bammy (made from cassava).
(Tasty grilled shrimp with bammy. Photo by Deanne Allgrove.)
I was not quite ready to end the experience but was turning quite crispy from the sun, so I packed up my things and headed to Margaritaville at the far end of the strip. I was assured that my pass for Doctor's Cave was good all day should I wish to return, which was good to know, but the stamp they gave me wiped off with the suntan oil I was wearing so be warned!
(The view from upstairs at Margaritaville. Photo by Deanne Allgrove.)
At Margaritaville there was a bit of a party atmosphere. Midday and midweek, it still felt like the beginnings of a spring break party about to get cranked up. There is enough room however, that by the time I was seated upstairs it was completely relaxing. As I sat and gazed out at small sailboats, happily sipping on a delicious frozen margarita, my gaze slipped left to the large cruise ship sitting on the far side of the bay. I always wondered why people chose cruises over flying in, but if this is just a taste of one day on one island, what a wealth of experiences await in a week long cruise! I kinda get it now.
Our thanks go to Deanne for another terrific Jamaica post. You can check out her author bio on our Island Experts page.