Montego Bay, Jamaica
Carnival Cruise Lines makes booking excursions safe and easy through their website and guarantees you will not be left behind. Booking through a 3rd party site can save you a lot of money, and some will also guarantee you back on time, but there is definitely a greater risk when you take that route and there is plenty of evidence to this fact on the internet. Check the Google Box if you don’t know what Pier Runners are. So with this in mind I have almost always booked in advance and almost exclusively with Carnival. Outside of Mr. Sanchos in Cozumel, we had not really taken any risky adventures at port. Montego Bay would be a first for us as our plans changed and we went on an adventure of our own choosing.
Prior to sailing, while still planning the trip we made reservations for an all-inclusive day at the Sunsplash Resort, but after watching my parents drinking habits over the first two sea days I didn’t think they would get much out of it. I figured we had Nachi Cocom in Cozumel for a good beach day and so we decided to skip the excursion and just check out the port. So we took our time, had a nice breakfast and then hung out on the lido deck until the majority of folks had been able to disembark and head off to their various activities. The mountains of Jamaica are lush green and slope ever upward from the coastline and the scenery is beautiful even if you don’t get off the ship.
After the gangway cleared, Dawn and I collected the folks and headed down to Deck 0. The gangway is not easy to navigate in a wheelchair. Not at all easy, but luckily another hard working Carnival employee stepped in and helped me get my mom safely to shore. Finally ashore we snapped our first pictures in Jamaica with this wild Reggae Dude that whispered “tip me, tip me, tip me” the whole time and then made our way towards the Port Terminal to do some shopping. One of my favorite memories of all times was made when I sat wife and parents by the reggae band and had them join in. I will never forget it, but just in case I caught it all on video.
Since I had made our plans so far in advance, I was not really all that sure what to expect at port, but what we got was far less than I had imagined would be there. After making our way across the expansive, yet empty terminal building to the far doors, we were met by a cacophony of cabs, hustlers and other folks walking around trying to fill excursions or tours. I got a little direction from one of the Security Guards and we made our way to the small shopping area to the right of the terminal building itself. There were not more than 15 shops selling souvenirs and local specialties. There was not much shade and not much to do. So we poked around the shops and picked up a couple of small things. It was fun just being there with mom and dad, and my wonderful wife, but I suggest booking something to see the rest of the island and somewhat regret not getting my parents off in time to do the originally planned excursion.
Eventually we loaded the parents back on the ship and Dawn and I decided to take an adventure. We headed back to the terminal where I found the head of security and asked him to point me in the right direction. We had decided to take a river rafting trip so that we could take in more of what Jamaica had to offer and we wanted to do it on our own. So he hooked us up with Francis and we headed off for a private island tour in a very nice and comfortable van. It felt safe enough since we picked it up in the confines of the port terminal and they signed him out and took down his information before allowing him through the gates.
We were still unsure exactly how this all would work, so we had Francis clarify. Turns out he was going to stick with us throughout the day and we had rented his cab for $140. The island of Jamaica is as beautiful we have heard and the ride took us through both the countryside, and downtown Montego Bay. Travelling about 30 minutes landed us at the Martha Brae River for a day we will definitely never forget. The rafting company goes by the same name and is tucked just off the road that follows the winding river. The river is rumored to be named after a Taino witch that led Spanish Conquistadors to a cave full of gold that she then flooded killing them all and sacrificing herself. The gold was never found and may line the banks of this serene aqueduct that cuts through the rainforest to feed the town of Falmouth below.
Francis kept us company while we purchased our tickets for our 3 mile trip and stood by until we were safely on our way and under the watchful eye of Captain John. The trip cost is $65 per person which is in line with the cost of the excursion on ship when you factor in transportation. The river rafts are literally just bamboo poles strapped together, but they are more sturdy and comfortable than you might imagine. The river is not that wide or deep, so we felt pretty safe discarding our life-jackets and letting the Captain carry us on our 2 hour ride. Usually you can expect the trip to take about 90 minutes, but Captain John took the time to share his culture, local knowledge and even his craftsmanship while we made our way past the beautiful banana trees and wildflowers including Poinsettias and Tulips. Along the banks he let us touch the Mimosa or Sensitive Plant which withers its leaves when touched. Captain John truly knew his river and made our day perfect with his songs and his stories of the Calabash and Jimmy Durante. The highlight of our trip was a gift he presented that he had carved while we made our way downstream. With just the knife from his pocket he created a wonderful souvenir that we absolutely cherish!
At the end of the trip Francis was waiting as promised, and he offered to take us shopping or anywhere else we wanted to go, but I wanted to get back to the ship with more than enough time to get back on board and not have to worry about watching her pull away without us. So we made our way back across the island and he dropped us at the front gates to the port terminal and our awaiting ship. A bit of comedy ensued here as I was short on cash and had to run up to the 11th deck and back down to pay for our cab ride, but it all ended well and I got a workout on the stairs. Dawn kept Francis company so he didn’t worry, but he did not seem overly concerned. Must be that Irie spirit, but it was indeed all good.
Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Grand Cayman is a tender, or water shuttle, port. For the uninitiated, that means the ship drops anchor about 1/2 mile from shore (that is a guesstimate), and you take a smaller transport to the port. I was well aware of that when we were making plans and didn’t book anything for this port, as I didn’t think my mom would enjoy that smaller boat and the way it rode the waves. To say these are a little rockier than a 130 ton cruise ship is an understatement. However, I will say loading a wheelchair on there looks easier than that long gangway and there are more people there to help. Either way, we left the folks on the Dream and Dawn and I headed to shore on the first tender off the ship. With FTTF, we were able to relax and take our time before heading to the rally point for the tender boats and still get off with the first group. Faster To The Fun is worth it anytime you have tender ports.
After you get underway the tender boats tend to smooth out and you can enjoy a beautiful trip to shore. I particularly like these trips as you are closer to the water and can get a much better view of the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean. At the pier we made our way out to the main drag and started wandering the port area. Harbour Drive is lined with the usual shops you will find at any other port, but you might notice the prices are a little higher. There are plenty of taxis to carry you to Hell or 7 mile beach, but we just decided to walk around and find our own thing.
Cayman Cabana Restaurant is hardly a standout on the waterfront battling for attention amongst the Big Box Restaurants you find everywhere you go, but we found it and thank God we did! It was awesome! Our bartender Dani, an expat from Canada, was bright and upbeat, but a little preoccupied. She was understandably excited as her dad was coming in to see her, and so was probably not on top of her game. Don’t get me wrong, we still had great service as the manager was there to pick up any slack and did a great job. As a team, they were as good as it gets. Dani was entertaining and the boss made sure we did not want for anything. They hooked us up with quite a few extras as we were the only ones at the bar, so that was a big plus, and the Conch Fritters were fantastic. Definitely check this place out if you get a chance!
Later in the afternoon, Sharkeez Bar & Grill caught our eye. I assumed they would have Wifi for customers, so we headed up to the bar and grabbed a drink so we could check our messages and Facebook and make sure our friends and family were safe. I must admit that we weren’t expecting much and were just there for internet access, but the drink quality would definitely be worth going back. I ordered a Miami Vice to keep it simple and it was seriously the best frozen drink I have ever had. Or at least I remember it that way. I was starting to feel the effects of the bug that would effectively end my cruise fun at Grand Cayman, and later that day realized I was in for a rough ending to my trip.
Did you know that you can purchase antibiotics over the counter in Mexico? We were well aware of this fact, and that is the only reason I made it off the ship in Cozumel. With major apologies to my parents and wife, I had skipped dinner the night before and canceled our day at Nachi Cocum. I am still disappointed that they weren’t able to enjoy that, but I was feeling terrible and had done my best not to be around any other passengers that might catch what I had. We managed to make it off the ship and spent a little time shopping at the port before I had to head back and get some rest. Dawn picked up the meds for me, while mom and dad did a little looking around. We managed to get some great pics with the ships in the background and there are memories of this day that I will never forget, but I really do wish they could have done more at the ports.
After Dawn got my parents and me back on the Dream, she actually went back out to the port on her own. I was extremely proud of her as there was a time when she wouldn’t leave the room without me. She headed back to Fat Tuesdays where she got herself an adult beverage and caught up on Facebook. Feeling a little liquid confidence now, she also browsed the shops, picked up a few more souvenirs, chatted up strangers and from what I am told, had a great afternoon flying solo. Puerta Maya is a fantastic stop and she felt perfectly safe being on her own here as we had been to Cozumel twice recently and she already knew the lay of the land.