Jamaica, situated south of Cuba and west of Haiti, has all the natural attributes most people associate with a Caribbean island. One of the Greater Antilles, and the third largest island in the Caribbean with 4,400 square miles (after Cuba and Hispaniola) Jamaica mountainous isle with a peak rising 7,284 feet, and it offers everything one expects to find on a tropical idyll: white sand beaches, lush vegetation, beautiful waterfalls and historic great houses that exemplify the island's plantation economy.
Most popular ports of call in Jamaica are Ocho Rios on the north coast and Montego Bay (Mo Bay to the locals) 67 miles to the west. The same, or similar, shore excursions are offered from both ports. Organized programs ashore, bought on board ships, are an excellent option at either port since there is little of interest--aside from marketplaces--in the immediate proximity of both ports and local vendors and haukers tend to be very persistent, following passengers around trying to sell their wares. On occasion, people may also approach you to sell you marihuana--though marihuana is readily available, bear in mind that it is illegal.
Among the top choices for shore excursions offered from both Ocho Rios and Montego Bay is a visit to Dunn's River Falls, a breath-taking waterfall that cascades from a hill through a rocky 600-foot "staircase." Surrounded by spectacular greenery, it ends at a sandy beach.
Visitors link hands to climb Dunn's River Falls (bathing suit, aqua socks or rubber-soled shoes are recommended). Even though led by local guides who know the easiest way to climb, slips and falls are common, but the babbling water is cool and refreshing, and forms pools along the way where you can relax for a bit.
Guides usually offer to take pictures of the climbers in action--definitely keepers--but take care to protect your camera in a waterproof bag. The setting of Dunn's River Falls is so beautiful it has been featured in several Hollywood films including "Cocktail" with Tom Cruise and the James Bond movie, "Live And Let Die."
Excursions to plantation great houses generally offered on cruise ships include those to Brimmer Hall Estate, Prospect Plantation and Rose Hall, all of which offer glimpses of the island's colonial past. At the first two, Brimmer Hall and Prospect Plantation, visitors can also see such present-day crops as pineapple, papaya and bananas while touring the plantation on tractor-drawn jitney rides. Rose Hall, a two-century-old mansion, is arguably the most famous of Jamaica's great houses, once the home of Annie Palmer, who it is said, dabbled in witchcraft and haunts the place to this day.
Other popular shore excursions offered from both ports include river tubing on the Chukka River and other rivers; river rafting on the Martha Brae and other rivers (passengers ride on bamboo rafts manned by an oarsman and equipped with a raised bench for two). Still other options include horseback riding programs; excursions to gardens such as Fern Gully with a wide variety of ferns; and tours to the Appleton Estate in a pretty valley by the Black River. The latter offer a look at rum-making in Jamaica through the ages beginning with extraction methods in 1749 when they started producing rum on the Appleton Rum Estate to distillery methods of the present time--with the opportunity to sample the product, of course.
Foremost among other local flavors in Jamaica are typical dishes like jerk pork and jerk chicken (chances are good these dishes will be on the dinner menu onboard your ship during the call in Jamaica) and Red Stripe, a popular local beer. Yet another local flavor "must" is coffee from Baron Hall Estate and other Jamaica Blue Mountain plantations, where the beans are grown at altitudes of 2,000 feet and more--local tour operators offer excursions to coffee estates for a look at the process, sampling the delicious brew, and taking some bags of it back home.
Good souvenirs, in addition to coffee beans, are handicrafts including woodcarvings and straw items, and paintings by local artists. Less long lasting, but nevertheless, fun is getting your hair braided--if you have long hair, you will definitely be approached frequently by locals offering this service.
Cruise lines that visit Ocho Rios and/or Montego Bay include Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, MSC, Princess and Royal Caribbean.
For additional information, log on to www.visitjamaica.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun